Stupid Ways, Overwhelming Numbers

By Steve Bunk

This particular long-haired guy was newly arrived in McCall from Los Angeles, which had the risible reputation of a laid-back place. Laid back if you were from New York maybe, or Tokyo, but hardly to the early-twenties crowd slouching around the porch of Lardo Saloon & Dance Hall, across the street from Payette Lake. Let’s call the newcomer Jake, because I barely knew him and certainly can’t pluck his real name from the entangled ecosystems of memory spanning four decades, and more important anyway is what everyone called him. We called him a Flatlander, the same thing we called everybody else who drove against the down-rush of the Payette River up the twisty highway from Boise to the lake in the mountains. The designation of Jake as a Flatlander was generally preceded by a salty adjective, because we were a salty bunch back then, salty and affected. But don’t worry, in this story you get the low-sodium version of our affectations.

Words were important to us. We didn’t make up many of them but we had a patois, that verbal secret handshake familiar to professionals and high-schoolers. Like any good jargon, it was a kind of shorthand. It was a bit impoverished, I suppose, but it tickled us. We said “anyway” a lot, because it could mean all sorts of things depending on the context. We said “seriously” when we meant the opposite. We pronounced “all right” as “aw reet” (I warned you we were affected), and the second word of “you bet” was drawn out like a whole note in common time. We had a lot of other sayings that I’ll forgo in deference to finer sensibilities. The point is that with jargon, the right word or phrase can stick your target wriggling on a pin, and Jake was a Flatlander. What more needed to be said?

He tried to be accepted. He talked up a storm, assailing us with what he hoped were engaging tales of life in L.A., in the Flatlands. He offered gifts and blandishments. He showed off his vehicle, which was long and low-slung, a Flatlander car. We drove pickups, the older and more beat-up the better. If it had been left out in the weather for years and the paint was destroyed and the windshield cracked, then you might receive a laconic, “Nice rig.”

We folded our arms and frowned at Jake, not because he was Jake or because we thought he might go away. It was out of pride. This was our town, and we knew it was as beautiful as any to be found. We were the chosen ones, not him. He was a Flatlander who talked too much and drove a dumb rig. When would people like him stop coming? When it was too late? When they had trashed the place with their stupid Flatlander ways and their overwhelming numbers?

Jake understood this. He knew he had lucked out to find himself in McCall in the summer of 1974. Everyone understood it. The few hundred of us working and socializing together were roughly the same age, and we all recognized it as a golden moment. In the wider world, the hopes of the Sixties had collapsed into cynicism, war, and other unbridled behavior but in this little town we were sheltered from such cares by immersion in Nature, which was ours through good fortune, the strength of community, and the freedom of youth. It was an idyll weak of ambition, strong on fun, and not to be taken for granted. This was why we feared and loathed the Flatlander, even though we were all Flatlanders.

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