Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
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When I was young, I saw a lot of John Wayne. I watched him kill a lot of people. All of them bad, most of them Indians. He was also pretty good at killing Japanese, but not so good at killing Germans. Not as good as his simpering sidekick, praise the war and make a Buck Reagan. Buck Reagan not only killed battalions of Germans, he also freed concentration camps.
John Wayne didn't die. Heroes never die. Not in the movies.
When I was in Marine boot camp they showed us John Wayne movies. In Marine boot camp you couldn't leave the base, you couldn't go to the PX, you couldn't buy soft drinks, ice cream or candy. You couldn't have cigarettes, beer, or women. Instead, we had John Wayne. Usually, he wore a Marine uniform and killed a lot of Japanese.
A seventeen-year-old Marine boot is one of the dumbest things on earth. Almost as dumb as Wayne's fey sidekick, Where's the rest of me Reagan. Even boots knew that catsup wasn't a vegetable. Catsup was an hors d'oeuvre. As a seventeen-year-old boot I didn't understand why we had to use the atomic bomb when we had John Wayne. He could kill as many Japanese as anyone could enjoy seeing die. And he didn't cost much more than the research and development of the atomic bomb. Not if you threw in the research and development of the B-29.
And John Wayne didn't die.
John Wayne didn't do much in Korea. John and his inane sidekick, Joe McCarthy is a Lefty Reagan, were missing in action. Lefty Reagan knew that killing Koreans didn't pay much. Killing Indians paid better. Wayne killed them on the big screen in flesh tones. Reagan killed them on the little screen in black and white makeup.
And John Wayne didn't die.
After Korea, John Wayne and I went our separate ways. I was busy going to school, getting married, starting a career. I didn't have time to see him anymore, but I knew John would be all right. John and his sappy sidekick, G.E. for dim bulbs Reagan. John Wayne didn't die. I didn't see The Alamo. I don't know how he got out of that one.
John Wayne had his own problems in Vietnam. He killed a lot of Viet Cong but no one enjoyed it. Oh, at the drive-in a few people cheered, but they were blowing grass and thought he was killing Indians. The Viet Cong had a Benevolent and Protective Society in Berkeley and other one horse rodeos. The Japanese didn't have a Benevolent and Protective Society but they had Toyotas. And yen for Wayne's rising sidekick, Joe Isuzu Reagan. So John went back to killing Indians. Nobody cared about Indians.
John Wayne didn't die.
John also killed some bad men. They were so bad that watching them curl up and croak was almost as pleasurable as watching the Japanese fry or seeing gutshot Indians run over by their own horses before being scalped by Christians. But bad men weren't massacred. They died one by one, like men. There was a Benevolent and Protective Society for Bad men, headed up by John's simple sidekick, commit a crime and pass the Buck Reagan. Bad men who were bad enough to escape John's blazing six-gun were assured a place in Buck Reagan's Cabinet.
John Wayne didn't kill women. No need to. Some things were lower than Indians. John Wayne didn't marry them either. He wasn't afraid of bad women, although good women gave him a scare or two. Nothing scarier than a good woman when she was breathy and in heat. John Wayne put women in their place. A little higher than a prairie dog. A little lower than a dead horse.
But John Wayne didn't die.
John Wayne became the hero of America, replacing such impostors as Lindbergh, Clarence Darrow, Albert Einstein, Audie Murphy, William Faulkner. He became the icon of the west, replacing such impostors as Sam Houston, Chief Joseph, Teddy Roosevelt, Bill Haywood, Will Rogers.
John Wayne was spit and image of the American hero. He was tougher than a longhorn steak until real bullets flew. He was meaner than a side-winder if someone sat on his hat, beat his woman or was discourteous to a horse. But only on film. He stood tall, walked proud, and pretended the deeds that sent Nazis to the hanging tree and his addled sidekick, freeze a vet for HUD Reagan, to the White House.
John Wayne was charmingly inarticulate. He had only twelve words in his vocabulary other than Winchester, six-shooter, kill, shoot, maim, horse, dog and pilgrim. Six of the remaining words were conjugations of "Wal." Don Quixote might have been addled but he wasn't incoherent. In the theater, even heroes have to speak. In novels, even stupid men have to be able to think. Starve a kid and make a Buck Reagan wasn't inarticulate, he was just dumb. It took movies to give us "yep" heroes. Movies started out silent anyway. They remained dumb, they just added sound.
John Wayne didn't need nobody. He didn't ask favors. He didn't take handouts. He pulled himself up by his own six-shooters.
John Wayne had no self-doubts. His opinion was right and you were welcome to your own as long as it agreed with his. He was on the right road, headed in the right direction and if you didn't get out of his way he'd kill you. Or maybe just maim you if you had made an honest mistake. Although he sometimes let women and children live. Unlike his inept sidekick, don't give a Hoot Reagan.
And John Wayne didn't die.
John Wayne never broke a sweat for daily bread, toiled at a repetitive and humbling job for minimum wage, or was gainfully employed, except at killing people. His only skill was violence, but it was the skill most honored and most envied by his countrymen.
And John Wayne didn't die.
John Wayne loved freedom. The freedom to go wherever he wanted to go, to whatever he wanted to do, and kill anyone who wanted the same. He was the quickest to violence. Always. Leaving slower men dead in the street.
Wayne had values. Good horses. Good dogs. Good whiskey. Good violence. He hated bad violence and killed bad-violent men. He was more violent than anyone, but for a good cause. He only killed those he though needed killing. He had a code that permitted no extenuating circumstances and no exceptions. Except himself. And his fatuous sidekick, Save the Rich Reagan.
John Wayne was innocent. No matter how many people he killed, or how much pleasure or satisfaction he got out of it, he maintained a boyish innocence about the whole bloody business. Well, sure, some good men died too. And some women caught in the crossfire. And some babies. Some babies always die. But when you look up there and see old glory waving in the breeze, high up there, on top of the Savings and Loan Building, it makes you wish the taxpayers weren't so gol darned cheap and had given you a few more bullets to waste.
John Wayne didn't lose. Right means might so John Wayne couldn't lose. John Wayne wasn't at Wake Island or Corregidor. Because John Wayne didn't lose. He left Vietnam early. I didn't see the Alamo. I don't know how he got out of that.
John Wayne didn't lose and John Wayne didn't die. They had to bring in an Australian to bravely and defiantly kill Indians in a gallant last stand. Custer died. John Wayne didn't die. I've been in the Alamo. And I know that John Wayne is in there somewhere. And he's alive.
Okay. Some red-eyed insomniac with sixteen VCRs is going to say John Wayne died in Vietnam. I've been out of boot camp a long time. I'm a college professor now and no one is smarter than a college professor. Except John's lambent sidekick, cut and run in Lebanon, Duck Reagan, who couldn't remember who was president while he was in the White House, whether or not he sold arms to Iranian terrorists, or what use was made of trees. "Well, I know when I was president they caused pollution. It was called trickle-down smog."
John Wayne didn't die. His spirit transcended him, passed into the souls of Americans everywhere. The story that St. John bodily ascended into heaven while his back-shooting sidekick, praise a vet and make a Buck Reagan went to hell is probably not true. That's an exaggeration combined with an understatement. No, John Wayne passed into the spirit of American who died in Beirut, Grenada, Nicaragua, Libya, Panama, Iran, Iraq. John Wayne didn't die.
A few years ago I interviewed some Kickapoos who clung to their tribal ways, resisting if not denying the twentieth century. How do you learn what it means to be a Kickapoo? I asked them. How do you learn what it means to be a Kickapoo man, or woman? How do you know what is expected of you as one of these people?
From the stories, they said.
The stories the grandmothers and grandfathers told us, they said.
I asked them to tell me the stories but they wouldn't. If I knew the stories, I would be Kickapoo, too.
What are the stories that tell us how to be human? That tell us what is good, what is true, what is beautiful?
The Kickapoos never heard of Shelley, but I think they would have agreed that you become what you behold. What are the stories that tell Americans how to be men when women and children don't measure up to your standards for them? When other men don't get out of the way of your ambition? When teachers, parents or peers try to fence in your ego? When inferiors like Libyans, Panamanians, Nicaraguans pretend they have the same rights as you have?
St. John had the answer. St. John taught us, big and powerful is good. Small and weak is bad and must be killed. Or at least exploited.
St. John told us that a man should take everything he can get, and the quickest way to get it is with a gun.
St. John taught us that the first to use violence is the winner, the fastest to the trigger is the hero.
John Wayne didn't die. John Wayne lives in the souls of those who believe bullets speak louder than words, who believe a gun, a quick draw and a steady aim are the only Bill of Rights we'll ever need.
John Wayne must die.