Feeling Blue in a Red State

My neighbor scares me by Victor Bonderoff

My neighbor scares me by Victor Bonderoff

Blow a kiss? Fire a gun? Bonding with your neighbor can be a blast, but not always in the best way writes one veteran scribe who went for a walk and stared down the barrel of an ugly reality in her own backyard

By Carla McClain

A beautiful part of the world this is – rural southern Arizona only a couple dozen miles from the border with Mexico. Big sky, big mountains embracing a valley of rolling grasslands and evergreen oak trees. A land of quiet, peace and tranquility. Usually.

Walking home from an evening trek with my dogs, high on the solitude of nature only, our reverie was shattered by gunshots – one, two, three, four – a terrifying sound that triggers fight-or-flight in the primitive brainstem, much like the rattle of our venomous snakes when you get too close. I whirled around, to see the distant figure of a man up on a hill, his arm raised, his weapon aimed….at us. Having no time to flee and no way to fight, I screamed, a demented howl of sheer terror. The dogs, as shocked as I, chose flight – straight out the half-mile dirt road to the highway, into yet another lethal threat.

With cars swerving and tires screeching, I ran to the house, jumped in my car and raced to the road, ignoring the gunman. Miraculously, my four dogs were still upright and breathing, unhurt in this melee. After herding them safely into the car, we drove home, every one of us shaking uncontrollably. Who was the madman with the gun? Why was he shooting at us? Where did he come from? Would he come back?

After a sleepless night, those questions were answered. A friend called to say she heard what had happened, told me who it was – a longtime neighbor who knew me and my gentle animals well – who said he fired at us because “he felt threatened.’’

OK, got it. Welcome to Arizona – one of the first states in the nation to happily jump on the “stand your ground” bandwagon, passing the law that says yes indeed, you can use lethal force against a person, any person, an unarmed person, if you “feel threatened,” that is, you feel your life may be threatened. That’s all you have to say to get away with legal murder in the gun-nut red states that so love this kind of crap – to blow away some poor shlub who “looks suspicious,” or who plays the car radio too loud in a fast-food parking lot. If there are no witnesses, you can make up any story at all to explain your supposed threat, then holster your heat and walk away scot-free. Someone else will bury and mourn the dead.

I wasn’t dead, praise heaven, but I sure got yet another ugly dose of the harm a bunch of red-state lawmakers can do in this increasingly paranoid, violent and polarized country we call America. As a longtime newspaper reporter, I spent years observing and chronicling the deeds of Arizona politicians determined to legislate us back to the cruelty of the know-nothing stone age.

I wasn’t dead, praise heaven, but I sure got yet another ugly dose of the harm a bunch of red-state lawmakers can do in this increasingly paranoid, violent and polarized country we call America. As a longtime newspaper reporter, I spent years observing and chronicling the deeds of Arizona politicians determined to legislate us back to the cruelty of the know-nothing stone age.

Sometimes their behavior was almost funny, prompting bemused and astounded headlines on the national stage – one of our governors yapping  about “pickaninnies” while shouting that a scoundrel like Martin Luther King would get a holiday in Arizona over his dead body. That is, until the Super Bowl threatened to pack up its billions and exit the state unless we did pass the MLK Day. Another governor shaking her bony finger in the face of the president of the United States before he could even say a word of greeting to her on the airport tarmac in Phoenix.

But more often, the impact is tragic, even deadly. That bony-fingered governor, Jan Brewer, instituted very real death panels here in sunny Arizona, when she started throwing Medicaid patients needing organ transplants off the organ waiting list early in her tenure. This, while Mama Grizzly in Alaska was yelling about “death panels” in the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare – a truly laughable charge so far from reality you wondered what hallucinogens were altering Palin’s strange mind. In Arizona, the death panels were no laughing matter. They were real. People died.

This to save the Arizona a piddly $5 million in the face of a $1 billion deficit (after the Republican president wrecked the national economy). It got so bad the state’s largest newspaper dubbed Brewer “Gov. Grim Reaper.” That nasty waggy finger appeared – and was flashed around the world – when she got her panties in a bunch over Obama’s refusal to deploy the entire U.S. military to stop the  brown hordes storming the border (which had trickled to their lowest numbers due to no jobs in Arizona or anywhere else, but never mind that itty bitty factoid).

And the beat goes on….

Arizona’s devotion to the death penalty wavered not a whit after last year’s torture, aka execution, of a prisoner who gasped and snorted and choked for two hours, struggling to breathe, after being injected fifteen times with unproven and supposedly lethal drugs already known to be inadequate for the job. Arizona’s solution to that ungraceful kerfuffle was to say no problem, we’ll use only one of the useless drugs instead of two. That should work swell.

And of course we’ve eagerly joined the inexplicable red-state race to starve all public schools and universities – a move that threatens the future of every youngster with the misfortune to grow up here. Oh, don’t forget the classy move by the county Republican Party here shortly after the attempted assassination of our congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords – a shootout that took the lives of six people and much of Gabby’s brain. They decided to, uh,  celebrate that event by raffling off a Glock pistol as a fundraiser. You know, like the gun used in the massacre. Nice touch. Who wouldn’t want one of those now?

And so, every once in awhile, I get a bewildered phone call from someone in the family back East…..Aunt Carla, how can you live there, how do you stand it?

All I can say is…Arizona remains a stunningly beautiful state, full of natural wonders of astounding magnificence, from its deserts to its grassland valleys to its alpine mountains, all of which endure despite the harm caused by the humans. I sing a line in a John Prine song often covered by Bob Denver…

Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, go to the country, build you a home.



Carla McClain is a veteran journalist who lives in Sonoita, Arizona.

Photo illustration by Victor Bonderoff.





5 Replies to "Feeling Blue in a Red State"

  • Mike October 5, 2015 (4:15 pm)

    Carla, I’m wondering if you might be interested in writing for a local audience at http://www.blogforarizona.com. Check us out and let me know if you might want to join us. MbryanATgmailDOTcom.

  • goodwithnogod September 21, 2015 (6:35 pm)

    Good but scary article Carla. It sounds like the “cartel paranoids” at Casas are out to get you and get a gate at the entrance of Casas.
    Guess I got out of Casas in time cause the same folks didn’t like me much either. Take care, Very Old Jim (also an old neighbor)

  • Rick Boyer September 20, 2015 (5:28 pm)

    Fine article – but the song quoted towards the end – “…blow up your tv, throw away your paper…” – is a John Prine song – not a John Denver song. It was great to see those lines quoted – it is a typical John Prine song – clever, heart felt, funny, unique. I assume the author, Carla McClain, has heard and enjoyed the song. And perhaps she knows and enjoys John Prine. In any case it would be nice to have that error corrected somewhere – and for John Prine to get a bit of the credit he so much deserves for being one of the consistently best America songwriters (and performers of those songs!).

    • kmoexpress September 20, 2015 (5:45 pm)

      Thanks for the sharp eye! And your knowledge of Prine numbers. We can fix anything here at The Ex-Press… no muss, no fuss, we’re smart, In Spite of Ourselves…. we call it Sweet Revenge on corporate media… okay, I won’t bruise anymore oranges. Thanks Rick!

  • Dave Chesney September 20, 2015 (3:49 pm)

    Gripping image from Victor Bonderoff and a hard to comprehend situation (by Canadian standards). I look forward to more stories by Carla in EX-PRESS.

Ex-Press Yourself... and leave a reply