Heard around the West

 

What, me worry? That's the question Alfred E. Neuman has been asking ever since his creation in 1950 by Al Feldstein, a Brooklynite who recently moved to the Paradise Valley, near Livingston, Mont.

Sacred cows from political pundits to the pontiff were all fodder for Feldstein's Mad Magazine, which encouraged kids to question authority and mock cigarette ads. These days, the 72-year-old Feldstein says he's happy to live in the middle of a 270-acre conservation easement. There, he paints pictures of cowboys, and he and his wife raise llamas, burros and horses, along with providing a home for 19 cats. Feldstein recalled for AP that at its heyday during the late 1970s, Mad received a letter on Buckingham Palace stationery signed by "Charles." The letter said jug-eared Alfred E. Neuman was no relative of royalty: "He looks not not the least little bit like me. So jolly well stow it." Feldstein says he always thought the letter really was from the prince: "He certainly acts like a reader."

Sometimes stories about the West seem created by the writers of Mad Magazine. From AP came this calm account about Spokane, Wash.: "A classified FBI document warning that terrorists linked to paramilitary groups might be plotting to bomb federal agencies during the holidays was sent by mistake to a movie memorabilia shop here." The memo even named the revolutionaries, who were said to have stockpiled explosives. Oops.

From environmental crime cops who were meeting in Park City, Utah, came this report of a new and peculiar glacier, this one created by an immense dumping of chicken fat. A hauler of waste generated by food processors thought he'd found a place "in the middle of nowhere," reports the Park Record, but the "long white glacier flowing through a canyon where no such geographic feature should have existed" was spotted easily from the air, and the perpetrator pursued.

If it's a drug lab, look for the color red, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Methamphetamine dumps in California have become "the No. 2 job" for the state's hazardous-materials cleanup teams, costing taxpayers almost $7 million a year. Drugmakers create seven gallons of waste for every pound of meth, also known as speed or crank, and "the cookers show no concern whatsoever about their disposal." The toxic red sludge usually ends up in orchards, waterways or somebody's backyard.

The headline in the Denver Post said it all: "Dispute over Olympics' official "malt beverage" coming to a head." It seems Olympic organizers stand to make $50 million by allowing Anheuser-Busch to sponsor the 2002 Olympic Games. Do beer and Utah go together? No, says a coalition opposing the partying image associated with alcohol; this is "something we as Utahans should unite against." This is not a surprising position since some 70 percent of the state's population are teetotaling Mormons. Calling beer a "malt beverage" is not expected to mollify critics who want to ban all alcohol advertising during the competition.

It's not just imbibers of alcohol under attack in Utah; 19th century artists can also find it rough. Four works of French sculptor Auguste Rodin were recently bounced from a show at Brigham Young University because his sculptures might arouse unseemly lust in museum-goers. Said Campbell Gray, director of the Mormon Church-owned BYU Museum of Art: "We have felt that the nature of those works are such that the viewer will be concentrating on them in a way that is not good for us," reports the Idaho Falls Post-Register. The censored pieces include the much-reproduced work The Kiss, as well as Saint John the Baptist Preaching, The Prodigal Son and a Monument to Balzac.

Of course, some 19th century types were, as we know from our enlightened vantage point, creeps. Continuing a tradition originated a few years ago, historian Dave Walter wowed a couple of hundred people at the recent 24th annual Montana History Conference with another of his talks on "Jerks in Montana History: Speaking Ill of the Dead."

One of his unforgettable jerk histories, that of "Sir St. George Gore: Elegant Victorian and Slob Hunter," can be found in his new book, Montana Campfire Tales: Fourteen Historical Narratives, published by Falcon Press in Helena, Mont. Gore was an apt name for a British baronet who so rav-aged wildlife while hunting in the Yellowstone Valley that Crow Indians, in 1856, complained to the U.S. Indian agent at Fort Union. An eco-tourist, 19th century style, Gore traveled with a medieval panoply of wagons, hunting dogs, horses, an arsenal of weapons, cooks, strong drink, a valet who doubled as a fly-tier, a large collection of leather-bound classics and a "fur-seated commode with removable pot." Bachelor Gore lived to destroy, seldom touching a carcass unless it boasted a trophy head. Walter says that in three years Gore was able to "maintain his decorum" while spending $250,000 to kill - as fast as possible - an estimated 4,000 bison, 1,500 elk, 2,000 deer, 1,500 antelope, and 500 bear. What were wild animals to the highly educated and refined Englishman? Moving targets or heads on a wall.

Coming up: a "jerks" book, says Walter, featuring chapters on "Klutsky Klansmen under the Big Sky," "Calamity Jane: Sleaze of the Frontier" and "No Paper Trail: Crooked Agents on the Crow Reservation."

Finally, few will forget the survivor tales of Denver International Airport during that October snowstorm. They won't if Denver's alternative weekly, Westword, has anything to say about it. Cartoonist Kenny Be's revised snow emergency plan suggests that sno-cats be sent along clogged highways "to hand out snow shovels to stranded motorists so they can help clear the roadway for the Broncos' bus." The best suggestion for those stuck for a weekend in an airport with fast-food joints closed: "All artwork in DIA terminals will be dismantled and replaced with art made from food - gingerbread houses, Spam statues, bean murals - that can be eaten by stranded passengers." And television reporters on location in actual snow will be limited to saying "Blizzards bring out the best in people!" just once per broadcast hour - and never while news crews are showing gridlock.


Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

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