Heard around the West


When the mighty stumble, satirists have a field day. California, the sixth-largest economy in the world, became an easy target once its halfway deregulation of electricity triggered billion-dollar deficits.A commentator on the Web site F--kedCom- pany.Com chortled, "All this whining and complaining that there's no juice to run the Jacuzzis and there's no way to heat up Hot Pockets in the microwave - shut up, you causers-of-your-own misery!" Another inquired, "Can't California just go into the Pacific now?" In the satirical newspaper The Onion, a so-called "man in the street" offered this advice: "There's only one thing to be done. Nevada and Arizona: Give California all your power. Come on, it's not like you matter as much."

Those muscular guys from Vail, Colo., who fold and flip lawn chairs as if they were rifles, have become notorious, if not famous, for spicing up parades. The laid-back resortniks in their Bermuda shorts and cheesy Hawaiian shirts specialize in chants that celebrate sloth: "I got myself a new beach chair. This is where I park my derriere." Vail's Precision Lawn Chair Demonstration Team hit the big time in January. It was invited to participate in George W. Bush's inaugural parade through Washington, D.C., where, unfortunately for those bare knees, rain and wind dampened the day. Another group from the West also battled chilly weather to add wit to the presidential swearing-in. Idaho sent its Red Hot Mamas from Coeur d'Alene, 70 strong, and running the gamut in age from 35 to 76. Synchronized shopping is their routine, with all wearing red house dresses covered by blue aprons. Unlike the Rockette dancers of Radio City, however, the Mamas schlep shopping carts behind their backs in a kick line that wows the crowd. What's more, says Associated Press, each dancer sports a post-consumer hat that rises four feet in the air. It's built of stacked cereal boxes, milk jugs and bags of potato chips.

Aspen, Colo., had better stop bragging about its gazillion-dollar houses. Last year, says AP, the average house in Jackson, Wyo., sold for $1.25 million, a big jump from the $825,000 that a single family home went for on average in 1999. This year is already raising the bar. One house in Jackson Hole Valley recently sold for $40 million - a jump from the high of $29 million in 2000. Only two years ago, the big seller went for $7.5 million.

The Independent in Colorado Springs often enrages cultural conservatives. The alternative weekly paper routinely runs sexually oriented ads and what might even be more provocative - announcements of atheist get-togethers. Now, the American Family Association has put pressure on some supermarkets to consider the paper "adult material." That means King Soopers and Albertson's could stow the paper under the counter and effectively "disappear" it, reports the Independent.

Smiting smut would meet with approval in the towns of Rem and Pleasant Grove, Utah. The owner of video rental stores there believes it's his duty to free movies of explicit sex, violence and nasty words. Ray Lines of CleanFlicks deleted nudity in the movie Titanic, "and in Saving Private Ryan, soldiers die but they do not bleed a lot," reports Michael Janofsky in The New York Times. From Schindler's List, Lines cut out scenes of naked people in concentration camps "because he felt their appearance overstated their dehumanization." Directors deserve respect, Lines allowed, but, "I don't think teenagers, and adults, for that matter, need to see all that sex and hear curse words and see all that blood and gore." Lines, father of seven daughters, says he consulted his lawyer, who apparently assured him that the censorship was on firm legal ground. But film company executives say the lawyer is out to lunch; censorship on the retail level violates copyright.

It could be that throughout Utah, small-town censors have become emboldened by the presence of statewide "porn czarina," Paula Houston. In appointing her, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said she would battle smut, and Houston vowed, "I, for one, will not allow pornographers to hide behind the Constitution."

In rural Kane County, Utah, Sheriff Lamont Smith believes he's sort of a czar himself. According to Southern Utah News and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Smith has declared that his law enforcement authority in Kane County "is equal to that of the president of the United States." Even within the federally managed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Smith says, roads are a county bailiwick. And he says he wants every one of them to remain open.

Meanwhile, Nevada is in no hurry to regulate much of anything. Nevada, in fact, can hardly get its state lawmakers to gather. They assemble in Carson City only every two years in a session lasting four months. Nevada representatives love to congratulate themselves for not becoming politicians; instead they hold "real jobs" such as waitress and pastor. Police officer Richard Perkins, who serves as speaker of the Assembly, says, "We're still the Wild West and we still are anti-government." Rancher Dean Rhoads adds, "The view of my voters is: The longer we're here (in the state capitol), the more harm we create." As always, there's a downside to this claim of fierce independence. Somebody has to do the public's work, so "lawmakers rely heavily on the hundreds of lobbyists who work the hallways," reports the Los Angeles Times. The biggest and most generous lobbyist of them all is the gambling industry.

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 bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

High Country News Classifieds