Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Let's Get Something Straight…

…”this kind of thing” definitely does happen in small towns and always has. As the BTK killing spree of Dennis Rader in Kansas started to become known, the familiar phrase was heard from everyone who lived near his hometown, Park City, a Wichita suburb. And news anchors picked up on it, as usual. The litany never varies when people are interviewed after a horrendous event in a small town. “This is a quiet town…we're respectable people…we were so shocked…this kind of thing doesn't happen here…that's why we moved from the city.” And then the reporter says the townspeople always left their doors unlocked, that they trusted everyone, but no more, alas. So goes the myth about small towns. The one true thing about the small Illinois town I lived in, is that we did leave our doors unlocked. Three thousand people lived in my hometown. It was smack in the middle of cornfields. It was a quiet town. A very pretty town and it still is. It's a typical midwestern town. My hometown was 99% Republican. But I always suspected my mother was a Democrat. She never said so directly but she refused to vote in primaries where she would have to own up to her political preference. There were ten churches in my little community. They were all packed on Sunday mornings. However, for all the quiet, pious, upright, forthright teaching going on, stuff happened. During the 20 years I called this town home back in the 40's and 50's, the stuff included incest, molestation of children, shootings, and gay highschoolers. The newspaper editor contracted syphilis when the circus came to town, there were pregnancies in high school, some ended in abortion, football players got drunk after games, the Catholic priest and his housekeeper openly lived as man and wife for 25 years, two boys in my class in high school dated and slept with two female teachers, a respected matron was put on probation for prostitution, and my uncle smuggled cocaine in his wooden leg. Crimes and misdemeanors have not suddenly appeared in rural communities. Ask your grandmothers if you don't believe me. The new wrinkle is that the bad stuff is not being kept secret anymore. There never was a simpler time. There never was a time of innocence. And the reason is that towns, big and little, are populated by human beings. Human beings are the same all over. And they have not changed in 6,000 years, if the Old Testament is a true testament of human shenanigans. Five thousand church-goers will be as adulterous, murderous and thieving as five-thousand unchurched citizens. Five thousand yokels will be as lustful, immoral and sinful as five thousand city folks. Only one thing has changed, people lock their doors now. Why? Because they believe another myth: a locked door will protect them from humans acting like humans. It won't.

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