Strom's Curtains

Illustration by Calef Brown

Tom called with the news: The last thing Strom Thurmond heard before he died was that the Supreme Court had rejected the state of Texas’ offer to hunt down and incarcerate adults for consensual fucking.

“Did he finally die? Seriously?” (I’d already heard about the court decision.)

“Yeah. You didn’t hear?”

“When?”

“Yesterday.”

“Wow. That’s wonderful. That’s the most recent news I’ve heard all day.” I’d been up all night, driving to the Abstinence Convention in Las Vegas. At sunrise I passed through Baker while listening to the Minutemen playing “Themselves,” so my thoughts turned, predictably, to James Baker, to the 1988 election, the Willie Horton ad campaign and Lee Atwater. And now, as Tom mentioned the passing of the Senate’s seniormost racist fuck, I recalled that it was while in the throes of statistical research at the Lee Atwater Invitational Dead Pool several years ago that I’d taken a formal vow to perform, upon hearing confirmation of Strom Thurmond’s death, a full-blown mooga-mooga, the exuberant, wing-flapping, tap ’n’ shuffle sidling dance immortalized in Howie Schneider’s late-’60s daily comic strip, “Eek & Meek.”

I explained this to Tom.

“So do you have to go and dance now?”

“Nah. Too wiped out. I’ll get to it later, after a nap. Maybe do it as a closer.”

* * *

We oppose and condemn the action of the Democratic Convention in sponsoring a civil-rights program calling for the elimination of segregation, social equality by federal fiat, regulations of private employment practices, voting and local law enforcement.

—from the States Rights Democratic (“Dixiecrat”) Party platform, 1948

“And I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches.”

—Dixiecrat presidential candidate Strom Thurmond, July 17, 1948

Not long ago, by any reasonable measure, I was born into a house on Lynwood Drive in Champaign, Illinois. And next door lived Strom Thurmond in the form of a family named Curtain.

The Curtains were upright American citizens, churched and starched into a glazed, proud and angry ignorance. Righteously self-censoring robotic patriots whose theocratic manifestations the rest of us were advised (in every textbook, in every ad) to respect by default. Armed to the teeth with Good Books.

There were four of them: Mr. and Mrs. Ned and Nancy, and their matching towheaded spawn. Little Nancy was 11, the same age as my big sister; young Ned was 8, same as my big brother. Male Curtains dressed for church in crewcuts and scowls; the females with dresses and sneers. “Ganymede,” my father answered when I asked him where the Curtains were from. “About 400 million miles thataway.”

One fine Sunday afternoon, right after church, little Nancy Curtain was sent out on patrol on her big black heavy Schwinn cruiser. My sister was walking down the sidewalk as if she had legitimate neighborhood business, unaware that the Curtains had imposed a curfew. It occurred to young Nancy that if she were to hop the curb onto the sidewalk, she’d have a pretty clear shot at my sister. So that’s what she did — built up speed and ran over my sister from behind. My sister screamed and fell forward onto her face, too hurt to rise, which made it a simple matter for Nancy Curtain to circle back and run over her again. And then, for good measure, once more.

No apology from the parents: Shulman’s a Joosh name. My sister had committed something called a “sin,” and this sin — not being a Christian — was a crime properly addressed with a bicycle attack.

But as much as the Curtains hated us, they despised the Smiths more.

Dr. Smith had just gotten a tenured teaching gig at the same school where my father taught, so he and his wife and two children decided to move into a new house. My mom went house-hunting with them, and they found a place just two blocks from us.

On moving day, the four Curtains welcomed the four Smiths by blocking their driveway with picket signs: NO BLACKS IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD! SAVE OUR PROPERTY VALUES! SAVE OUR FAMILIES! COLOREDS GO HOME! and amazing shit like that. I’m told that they remained there for three hours and uttered not one sound.

You see, even though the Smiths were Christians, they had displeased the Curtains by maintaining criminally high levels of skin pigmentation. The Curtains had asked Jesus how to handle the matter, and Jesus advised the Curtains to go picket their neighbors.

Unfortunately, Jesus’ plan backfired: A dozen or so considerably more neighborly neighbors (all palefaces) showed their support for the Smiths by carrying boxes and pouring lemonade, crossing, repeatedly, the Curtains’ picket line.

It’s not terribly polite to go making with the mooga-mooga on a grave, but in rare cases such as Strom’s — when an ancient and monolithic champion of hatred and ignorance finally shows us the courtesy to leave — how can we not? It’s not as if the motherfucker was murdered or anything.

Ready? Begin:

Mooga-mooga! Mooga-mooga! Mooga-mooga!

(Repeat.)

* * *

This week’s column is brought to you by over-the-counter pain relief from Canada. Each tablet contains 300 mg. acétaminophène, 15 mg. caféine and 8 mg. codéine. Canada: Je tiens à vous remercier pour ce week-end inoubliable.


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