With profound apologies to the ghost of John Steinbeck, I offer the following –
A few miles south of Lucedale, Miss., two dusty travelers pause by the roadside. Both are dressed in denim trousers and denim coats with brass buttons. Both wear black, shapeless hats and carry tight blanket rolls slung over their shoulders. The first man is small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him is defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose. Behind him stands his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes and wide, sloping shoulders. He walks heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws.
George Clinton (Photo credit: Burns!)
The first man takes off his hat and runs his fingers through his greasy black hair.
“I’m beat. Let’s rest here by the side of the road awhile, Lennie.”
His companion mumbles assent and the two flop down on a low bank. The first man spies a discarded newspaper on the ground and absent-mindedly picks it up.
“Whatcha doin’, George?” asks his companion, eyeing the smudged paper curiously.
“What’s it look like I’m doin’, you dumb ox,” the first man growls. “I’m readin’ this newspaper.”
“What for, George?”
“For God’s sake, Lennie. ‘Cause I wanna know what’s goin’ on in the world. Don’t you ever wanna know what’s goin’ on in the world?”
“I don’t know nuthin,” Lennie mopes. Then, brightening, “Will you read it to me, George? Please?”
“Awright, anything to shut you up!” George holds the paper at arm’s length, studying it. “Well, I’ll be …!” he mutters.
“What is it, George? Is it somethin’ bad in the newspaper?”
“I’ll say. Listen at this, Lennie. Says on January 6 the George County, Miss., School Board voted 5-0 to ban three books from the high school readin’ lists and library. One of ‘em is John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” about two itinerant farm workers durin’ the Depression named Lennie and George.”
“Hey, that’s us, George! What’s that mean, George? What’s itinerant?”
“Means we all the time travellin’, lookin’ for work.”
“What’s it mean to ban a book, George? Is that bad?”
“Hell yeah, it’s bad, you dumb jerk,” George snaps. “It means can’t nobody read about us in that school. Kids can’t read about you and me and how hard we got it. They can’t know what it’s like out here scrappin’ for everythin’.”
“Why didn’t nobody stop ‘em, George?” Lennie asks, confusion crossing his face.
Staring at the paper, George answers, “Seems a coupla folks spoke up at the meetin’. One of ‘em, a retired engineer named Jim Corley, said, ‘I don’t think a small group of people has the right to decide what my children will read.’”
“That makes sense to me, George. Then what they go and ban us for?”
“What’s profanity, George?”
“It’s cuss words, Lennie.”
“Like how they all talk in the bunkhouse?”
“Yeah, like how they all talk in the bunkhouse. Seems folks don’t want they kids talkin’ like that and they figure if they kids read ’bout us they’ll go all roun’ embarrassin’ they granmammies and granpappies.”
“That makes sense to me, George.”
“Well, that figures,” George snarls. “It could only make sense to an idiot, somebody dense as you. Listen, you. It don’t make no sense at all. Goin’ to school’s s’posed to be all ’bout gittin’ a education, openin’ your mind to the world.”
“I ain’t got no education, George. They wouldn’t give me none.”
“I know, Lennie. And anybody unlucky enough to be a kid in this place ain’t gonna git one neither. Listen here what the president of the school board says. Mr. Tim Welford says, ‘We are a small, Christian-oriented, Bible Belt community with strong religious convictions. We believe that the majority of the community agrees with us.’ By God! Christianity ain’t about tellin’ folks what they kids can and can’t read!”
“Are we Christians, George? Do we agree with Mr. Welford?”
“Hell yeah, we’re Christians, Lennie! And, hell no, we don’t agree with Mr. Welford. He’s got it all wrong, you see. He’s done gone and put this little ole dirt county on the map, made a laughin’stock out of it. And all ’cause him and a few folks got closed minds.”
Lennie’s expression changes from confusion to fear. He shuffles his big feet in the dust, flails his arms and cries out in distress, “I’m scared, George! This is real bad! I don’t like this place, George. Can we leave?”
George shakes his head, flings the newspaper aside and readjusts his felt hat. He stands, dusts off his backside and pulls Lennie to his feet.
“It’s real bad, awright, and I don’t like this place neither, Lennie. Let’s git on down the road ‘fore they decide to ban somethin’ else, like the Constitution.”
The two men regain the road and disappear, perhaps never to be seen in George County, Miss., again.