One April, my family bought a used dog named Boots for $25. We drove a green Plymouth sedan to a half-deserted trailer park 20 miles south of town, where a bare-chested white man in his 20s stood staring into the sky, leaning against a rusty mobile home, arms folded behind his back. Somehow.
We parked and walked. The man looked like James Dean. A black Labrador retriever, not named Boots, appeared at his side. Then a woman holding a quiet baby. Away from the dog. Expressionless, they watched us approach. The woman waved to us slightly, then placed a cigarette between the man's lips.
As we got closer, impossible visual information coagulated into something hitherto outside the scope of my consideration: The arms folded behind the man's back were not folded behind the man's back. From the periphery of where his arms no longer were, thick skin was pulled tightly into deep, fleshy asterisks, twisted and tied at the center like Hefty trash bags.
We stopped and greeted each other with somber nods and hellos. It was hard not to look into the asterisks. The woman lit the man's dangling cigarette. The black dog growled. The woman said, "I'll get Boots" and went inside. A few seconds later, the screen door opened and a small, cuddly dog trotted out. Instantly, the black Lab went nose to nose, snapping and snarling, reducing the smaller dog to wilting shivers. The man barked, and the Lab tore off behind the trailer. The small dog regained its composure and welcomed our strange family's pettings and pattings. "His name's Boots," said the man.
"We'd like to keep him," said the woman, "but as you can see, the two dogs don't get along so good."
WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, I BELIEVED that when a healthy American boy turned 18, he had two choices: Vietnam or Canada. This belief lasted only a few weeks, up till my discovery of a third option, jail. And a fourth, money. My family didn't have money, so I spent a few hours each week sitting cross-legged on the floor of our local head shop, the Cellar, hoping to discover -- by fiercely eavesdropping on hippie-freak political discussions while reading underground comix -- somewhere besides Canada, Vietnam or jail in which to spend my future.
The Cellar, located on the second floor, trafficked not only in drug paraphernalia, posters, bumper stickers, beads, incense, stained-glass butterflies and so on, but in passionate politics. I recall being drawn away from Zap Comix by a novel theory as to why the war in Southeast Asia had begun: 70 percent of the voters in Vietnam, some wildly gesticulating pinko pothead graduate student claimed, had elected a president who was not interested in maintaining the same level of heroin trading with investors from France and the United States, so when France's government represented its investors' interests by saying No fair!, the United States, on behalf of its own investors, had chimed in Cheaters! The election was fixed! and fabricated evidence of election tampering, so that the big dog could show the little dog the civilized way to protect something; or prevent something; or at least sell something.
With membership skyrocketing since 1995, the Landmine Survivors Network (www.landminesurvivors.org/body.html), "a nonprofit organization created by American landmine survivors to help the hundreds of thousands of civilian landmine victims and to prevent new ones," sponsors comprehensive rehab programs and awaits the United States' signature on an international ban.
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Wak-A-Nixon (www.superpants.com/wnix) is a mouse-clicking game for ages 3 to adult. Click on the Nixon heads as soon as they appear. Bonus points for Reagan heads. Penalty for antagonizing Jimmy Carter.
In 1967, children's-book illustrator Tomi Ungerer created a poster about gifts from France. Imagery: Clenched in a pale hand at the end of what appears to be a man's blazer sleeve, the Statue of Liberty is forced down the throat of a man who, apart from his cartoony yellow skin, resembles Picasso's mother-with-dead-child character from Guernica. Title: "Eat" (http://lists.village.virginia.edu/sixties/Graphics/Track16/Eat.gif).