Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Mississippi Tea Party: The New Dixiecrats?

In 1948, a segregationist political party called the States’ Rights Democratic Party or better known as the Dixiecrats was formed. The party was a breakaway faction of the Democratic Party, and its ultimate goal was to protect the Southern way of life from a federal government that many in the South felt to be overbearing. Although the party was short-lived, historians agree the party began the weakening of the old Democratic South. After 1965, as the old school segregationists began to die off or retire, they were replaced by the new kids on the block such as Trent Lott and Thad Cochran who joined the Republican Party partly in an effort to put the segregationist label that plagued Southern Democrats behind them, and primarily because the Republican Party of the time stood for local or small government in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson.

In an interesting parallel, 2009 saw the beginnings of the Tea Party Movement. Like the Dixiecrats, the Tea Party focuses on downsizing the federal government and putting more control back in the hands of local and state government. Like the Dixiecrats, the Tea Party advocates government in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson. The Movement can be also described as a breakaway faction of an established political party – this time the Republican Party. In the eyes of the Tea Party, the Republican Party no longer stands for limited government, nor does it stand for the best interests of the people. Therefore, their goal is to take back Washington by ousting the “Republican establishment.”

Although these parallels could be argued as coincidental, the similarities in ideologies are nevertheless there. There is nothing wrong with an ideology that supports less big government and more local and state control; however, there is a disturbing parallel that may exist between the Tea Party and the Dixiecrats that should make all Mississippians cringe. The parallel that I am referring to is the old segregationist ideas of the Dixiecrats and the intentional or hopefully, unintentional racial division the Mississippi Tea Party seems to promote.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 the Tea Party backed candidate, Chris McDaniel, lost a very close Republican senate primary runoff to Thad Cochran, the incumbent who represented the “Republican establishment.” On that night, race became an issue once again in Mississippi. In a state, where since 1965, politicians have for the most part tried to separate themselves from the Southern image of racism, June 24, 2014 could be looked upon by many as the night the Mississippi Tea Party seemingly took a dramatic step in the opposite direction by turning the runoff into a heated racial debate. For someone watching the runoff election from the outside, it would have been easy to assume, especially in light of the online and post-election comments about liberal Democrats, that the Republican Party is reserved for white voters and the Democratic Party is reserved for black voters.

WLOX television in Biloxi, Mississippi broadcast a live stream of the election results throughout the night. During the live stream, viewers could go online and submit comments about the results as they were reported. As the voting results came in and the viewer comments were posted, two things became very obvious: (1) The Tea Party’s hope for the Mississippi Republican nomination for US Senate was in trouble, and (2) Racism is alive and well in Mississippi. The racism issue was of course troubling, but it is even more troubling when you stop to think about all the hard work so many Mississippians have done over the years to erase the state’s image of being a racist state. However, whenever you open the airways to public comments, you are bound to get a fair share of unsavory remarks including those with racial overtones. The crowning moment came when an angry Chris McDaniel accused liberal Democrats, many who are black, of crossing party lines to vote illegally in the runoff; intentionally or unintentionally, his words turned the night into a race issue.

It is open for debate as to how big an impact crossover voting actually had on the runoff results. The real reasons for the Tea Party loss could just as easily be blamed on McDaniel’s reckless comments on state education funding, the fact that many supporters of Thomas Carey, who finished third in the June 3rd primary, gave their support to Cochran in the June 24 runoff, or voters woke up to the obvious realization that a junior senator was not likely to have much impact or clout in Washington. In Mississippi, where crossing party lines is legal, a losing Republican candidate crying foul over Democrats, black or white, crossing the line to vote in a Republican runoff is about as ridiculous as a football coach crying foul because his team did not prepare for the play that led the other team to a game winning touchdown – like a coach, the candidate should know the rules and be prepared for whatever his opponent throws his way. Doing whatever it takes to win within the rules/law is just good political smarts, and reaching out to all eligible voters was politically smart on Thad Cochran’s part. By reaching out to Democrat voters who had not voted in the June 3rd Democratic primary, Cochran showed the kind of political savvy it takes to get things done in Washington, and he showed his willingness to embrace all people regardless of their politics or race. For whatever reason, Chris McDaniel did not reach out to Democrat voters as his opponent did, but when he realized those voters may have cost him the senate nomination, he was quick to cry foul and point his finger at liberal Democrat crossover voters for swaying the election in favor of his opponent. However, his apparent lack of interest in Democrat voters prior to election night poses an interesting question. Was not reaching out to Democrat voters a political miscalculation on McDaniel’s part, or was it a deliberate act of a political cleansing along racial lines that backfired? I would like to believe that McDaniel’s failure to reach out to Democrat voters was more of a political miscalculation than an intentional act to promote segregation of voters by party. Unfortunately, based on McDaniel’s angry comments and his refusal to concede gracefully, the Tea Party in Mississippi may have become in the minds of many, especially blacks, the party of the white middle class. If that proves to be the case, then sadly the Tea Party and the Dixiecrats have more in common than Mississippians, Republican or Democrat, can afford to embrace.

For Mississippi to continue to move forward, it is paramount that we constantly remind ourselves of the words Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” For the people of Mississippi to ultimately find and embrace the life, liberty, and happiness they deserve, we must forever be reminded of and hold tight to Jefferson’s words, “all Men are created equal,” regardless of the color of their skin or their political beliefs. Our history is filled with our failure to acknowledge and hold these words dear to our hearts, and we as a state have the ugly scars to show for that failure. Therefore, let’s hope that the parallels seen between the old Dixiecrats and the Tea Party are merely coincidences; Mississippi has come too far to take a step backwards.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 28, 2014

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The Shame of Mississippi: The Plight of Common Core

Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, recently made it clear he wants to kick common core standards out of Louisiana.  Almost immediately Mississippi’s own free thinking governor, Phil Bryant, followed suit by stating, “I think Common Core is a failed program, and the United States is beginning to realize that.  Governors all across America are realizing states can do it better.”  Really?  Mississippi became a state in 1817, and in the 197 years since Mississippi gained statehood, I would like Governor Bryant to tell the people of Mississippi when education has ever been a priority and when education has ever been done better than what is currently happening through the hard work and dedication of teachers across the state who are working to implement common core standards?  How does Governor Bryant know common core is a failed program?  Is it a failed program because he wants it to fail, or is it a failed program because that is the direction he believes current political winds are blowing?  Either way, as governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant should be ashamed of his lack of support for common core standards, which equates to lack of support for the teachers and children of the state.

In fact, all politicians opposing common core standards should be ashamed of themselves.  They are not opposing the standards based on hard evidence that the standards are not the right thing to do or will damage children.  They are simply opportunists riding on the coattails of big government phobia, doomsday preppers, and ignorance that are currently strangling this nation, and they are doing it for personal and political gain not for the good of the state of Mississippi as they would have people believe.  Their finger pointing, fear mongering, and chest beating are nothing more than a smoke screen for backroom and backwoods politics.

Parents opposing the standards should be ashamed for listening to the political doublespeak of politicians more interested in votes than the truth.  They have been so filled with misinformation that they are more concerned with the possibility of big government meddling in their affairs than they are about what and how their children are being taught.  They are okay with the old sub-standard status quo as long as the government stays out of the picture, but ironically many of these same individuals are pro charter schools and vouchers, which are directly tied to government at both the state and federal levels.  What is the deal?  Mark Twain said people get upset with things they know nothing about, and that appears to be the case for many parents who oppose the common core standards.

As for the teachers and former teachers who oppose common core standards, they should also be ashamed.  They should know better than to get into bed with politicians who have at best only marginally supported them over the years.  It is hard to believe there are teachers in a country built on freedom of speech and independent thinking who would choose a teacher centered system where a child is told what he or she needs to know, believe, and think over education standards that advocate teachers as facilitators of learning who encourage children to explore and think for themselves rather than be told how to think.  Like the parents, these teachers are not bad people, but they are blind to the realities of the world in which we live.  Today’s children are not the children of 20, 25, or 30 years ago, and any teacher worth his or her salt understands that a teacher cannot teach children the same way as they did 20 years ago.  The old “feed and regurgitate” method of teaching does not work in today’s world!  In a society where knowledge is doubling every twelve months, children can no longer get by as passive learners depending on rote memory as past generations have done.  If Mississippi children are to compete nationally and globally, they will need to be critical thinkers and have a conceptual understanding of the world in which they live and work.

Finally, as a state ranked number 51 out of 51 in education performance, the people of Mississippi should be ashamed for even being entangled in a fight to implement common core standards.  Mississippi has experienced fully the impact of the alternative choice, and it has taken the state straight to the bottom.  Therefore, why not embrace common core standards and give Mississippi children a fair chance to rise to the top where they belong?  Besides, Mississippi politicians have 197 years of proof behind them that when it comes to education, they do not know what is best for the state’s children, so why not support common core standards and give our children a chance they have never had?  The common core standards are the best hope for Mississippi children to get on an educationally level playing field with the rest of the nation.  Mississippi adults should be ashamed if they deny them that chance.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 21, 2014

We’ve Lost the Key

Nobody plays cowboys and Indians anymore,
We’ve lost the key that opens that door;
Nobody fights pirates on a far exotic shore,
Or rescues damsels of round table lore;
No one rides a stick horse anymore,
We’ve lost the key that opens that door.

Cardboard rockets don’t fly to the moon anymore,
We’ve lost the key that opens that door;
We can’t play without worrying about the score,
Or draw and play hop-scotch on the carport floor;
There are no more galaxies for us to explore,
We’ve lost the key that opens that door.

Tethered to a box by an electrical cord,
Without video games we’re grouchy and bored;
Thumbs in great shape the body ignored,
Digital numbers and beeps our coveted reward;
Nobody plays cowboys and Indians anymore,
We’ve lost the key that opens that door.

When was the last time you saw children entertain themselves without their faces glued to a television or a video game screen?  Without television, computers, electronic tablets or video games, today’s children are lost when it comes to knowing how to play and use their imagination.  It is like they are waiting for orders or directions on how to play; they have forgotten how to play on their own.  Most people point to electronic devices as the culprits, but of course, the problem is as much a parental problem as it is a problem with the electronics.  However, regardless of who or what is to blame, it is clear that children no longer know how to play or use their imaginations.

In today’s world, new ideas, images and even concepts are created for children inside the video consoles where many of them spend as much as 13 to 22 hours of their lives each week.  They spend far more time connected to electronic stimulation than they do connected to human stimulation such as family and friends.  Why think or be creative when there is an electronic box that can do it for you?  Why chance being ignored, put down, bullied, or unloved, when the machine can create a perception of reality in which the child is the center of a universe filled with hope, love, and even revenge against those who would hurt him.  The problem arises when the child can no longer separate the reality of the machine world from true reality.  For the child, the video world becomes an escape from the problems of the world in which he lives, and the machine becomes dominant in his life causing his imagination to become passive, lethargic, and eventually non-existent.  As the child grows lazy and more dependent on the machine, the machine supplies all the stimulation his brain needs, and he actually loses touch with what are some of the most important aspects of being human – the ability to imagine and the ability to recognize and command  his own reality.

A child creating an imaginative world in his backyard or on the playground is far different than a child being totally immersed in an imaginative world created by a machine.  On the playground, the child is surrounded by the real world, so even in the child’s most imaginative moments he maintains a certain degree of touch with reality.  However, for a child wrapped up in a machine created world, what is real and not real becomes blurred, and over prolonged periods of time the brain may begin to have difficulty distinguishing between real world reality and machine reality – continuously being connected to such stimuli can actually cause a child to lose touch with the reality of the real world outside the machine.  The machine takes over the imagination.  It creates a world in which there is no need for a young mind to reason or be creative.  Reasoning and creativity is manipulated, all the child needs to do is react to the embedded cues and be rewarded with the bells and whistles of mindless accomplishment.  I hesitate to call it brainwashing, but that is exactly what happens when a child’s imagination is replaced by the replicated cues and mathematical arrays of a machine.

Now I am not saying children should never play video games, but I am saying the amount of time they spend doing so should be closely monitored by parents.  When used properly, video games can be entertaining, educational, and stimulating in a positive way.  Games can help children visualize imaginative worlds in which they can use their own imagination to build on or enhance.  This is done through physical play or role playing.  In years past, children watched television and then went outside to play and recreate the worlds they had seen on television.  The TV stimulated the imagination, and then children acted on their imaginations to become the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Flash Gordon, a Texas Ranger, Geronimo or whoever.  Today’s children are not given the same opportunity to act on their imagination – that is the difference.  The electronic devices not only stimulate the imagination, the devices become the imagination.  Active imagination is exchanged for passive imagination.

An active imagination is healthy; it maintains touch with reality while a passive imagination is created with little participatory interaction, which means reality can often become blurred.  An active imagination on the other hand exercises the brain, and it can take us anywhere in the world or the universe if we will just let go.  From an active imagination comes creativity that can change the world if we dare.  It has the power to reshape the continuum of time and the universe itself.  In fact, imagination and love may be humanity’s closest connections to God.  Imagination is God’s gift; it is love, faith, and compassion laid bare on the backs of sparrows rising to embrace the closest thing to immortality that we will ever know on this earth.  Imagination is the key to humanity; it is the key to the future of our children; it is the door through which the future of mankind has always traveled and must continue to travel.

Electronic media was not intended to replace the human imagination, but rather to help it expand.  However, rather than a vehicle to awaken our consciousness, we have allowed it to become a vehicle that, if not stopped, will slowly enslave us.  Parents do not need to completely deny children the use of electronic devices, but they do need to exercise their parental responsibilities and limit as well as monitor what their children are absorbing by way of these devices.  Children need time to exercise their imagination without stimuli from a machine.  They need time to exercise being creative and not have a machine be creative for them.  We cannot afford to allow our children to lose touch with their imagination.  We must help them find the key once more that will rekindle the imaginative fire within them.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 15, 2014

 

Lunatics

I have not witnessed a pickup game of baseball, a child riding a stick horse, or children entertaining themselves outdoors in a very long time. Most children I see today, including my grandchildren, are glued to an electronic device that clearly has an intoxicating and controlling effect on their minds. Try to get a child to shut off their Ipad or video game, so they can concentrate on something else such as homework or heaven forbid family, and you will be met with resistance. Try to take the device from them, and you best be ready for it to get physical. It is not uncommon for normally calm easy going children to become raving lunatics when someone dares get between them and their electronic devices.

To a point, I am probably as addicted to electronic devices as any of my grandchildren, but unlike my grandchildren, there is little chance of brain or visual damage – my brain and eyesight have been shot for years. Also, as an adult, due to my maturity, knowledge and experiences, I can make decisions as to what is good or bad for me, but children are in the developmental stages of their lives, so they need the guidance of an adult to help them make decisions of what is best for them. Although a child may seem mature beyond his years, he is nevertheless still a child in need of nurturing by an individual who is not afraid to be an adult. However, these days, people who are willing and capable of being an adult with children seem to be a dying breed. To be blunt there is nothing wrong with electronic devices that parents acting like adults and using common sense cannot fix. A child sitting in front of a television, computer screen, video game, or an Ipad for hours at a time is an adult problem, not a kid problem. Face it; there is nothing justifiably right about allowing children to sit hour after unsupervised hour with an electronic device in front of their faces. Using these devices socially without parameters, as babysitters, or just to keep children out of parent’s hair is not good parenting! It is morally wrong for parents to allow it to happen.

In Walmart one afternoon, I watched in amazement as a ten year old child repeatedly ignored her mama’s request to turn off and put her Ipad away.   Finally, the mother who was shopping with a friend gave up and walked away. The friend was shocked and asked the mother if she was really going to permit the child to defy her. The mother shrugged and said she would rather just let the child have the device than go through the “hell” she would raise if made to shut it down.  WHAT?  Who is the adult here? My mama would have “raised hell” all over my butt! Since when have parents started giving children the same rights, permissions, and latitudes as adults? When I was growing up, there was only room for two adults in our house, and my mama and daddy made sure I knew I was not one of them. My daddy made it clear I was wearing his clothes, eating his food, sleeping under his roof, and being transported by his car, and until I was ready to fully take on and pay for those responsibilities, I would answer to him as “sir,” to mama as “mam,” and I would Like It.

The world has not changed that much. The last time I checked adults still had the upper hand on children. The gap only closes when mamas and daddies shirk their duties as alpha members of the tribe. In a tribe there are chieftains, there are Indians, and there are papooses. The mama and the daddy are the chieftains. All other members of the tribe are papooses until they start paying their way then they are promoted to Indian, but for an Indian to be promoted to a chieftain, he or she must move out and establish a separate tribe. It is a simple world. If the child provides food, shelter, clothing, and the device, the child is the chief, and the mother needs to retire her mama shingle and spend her days watching reruns of the Brady Bunch and not worry about the Ipad at all. On the other hand, if the mama provides food, shelter, clothing, and the device, then she is the chief, and by being so appointed, she needs to teach the child what “hell” is when she doesn’t mind her mama. These days, for whatever reason, it is sometimes hard for parents to understand that part of being a mama and daddy is having rules and consequences for those rules when they are not followed. Therefore, it is not rocket science; if the child defies her mama, the device should be taken away for a day.

OH MY GOD! MUFFIN WILL THROW A FIT!

Bless her heart. Okay, take the device away for a week, and do not feel sorry for Muffin after an hour or even a couple of days and give it back to her. She, not the mother, made the choice to lose privileges for a week.

OH SWEET LORD, JESUS! MUFFIN WILL HAVE A KNIPTION FIT!

Who cares! Send her to her room with instructions not to resurface until she is under control, but first remove the television and home theater system with Ipod docking, computer, Ipad, radio, and cell phone from her room. However, you might want to leave a book or two in the room. It may take a while, but over time brain electrodes will start firing again, and she will recognize what a book is and maybe even how to read one.

LORD, LORD, PLEASE HAVE MERCY! MUFFIN WILL RIP THOSE BOOKS TO SHREDS!

SPANK her butt! Ground her from activities with friends, and deny her access to any electronic devices for at least a month!

REMEMBER THIS . . . . . . . .

IT IS YOUR HOUSE! Would you allow some out of control lunatic who has never paid a dime toward putting food on your table, has never paid a single house payment, never paid a dime for the clothes they wear, never paid a cable, phone, or Internet bill, doesn’t own a car, couldn’t pay the insurance if they did, disrespects you, disrespects herself, and just plain and simple is a jerk to you in every sense of the word to take over and run your household? The answer is NO! Although you love her with all your heart, and you would lay down your life for her, you DO NOT have to put up with her CRAP! That raging lunatic screaming from her bedroom because you took away her Ipad is a guest in your home; REMEMBER, your home is not her final mailing address! Besides, there is no law against a parent being an “Indian Giver,” you bought the Ipad, so you can take it back and do whatever you please with it. Sell it on Ebay, and see how willing she is the next time she gets her panties in a wad to disrespect or defy you. Besides, as a rule of thumb, you should never negotiate with terrorists, lunatics, or children.

Finally, since we are talking about lunatics, if you want to really have some fun, try this. As your sweet little baby screams like a crazy person from her room how unfair and mean you are and that you are the worst 5th grade mother ever, kick back with your favorite beverage, pump up the volume on some Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Doobie Brothers (maybe a little dated for a mama with a ten year old, but you get the drift) and sing along at the top of your lungs. Life is good, and if you are really daring you might even what to put on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The New Generation DVD. It doesn’t get much better than watching Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger screaming like lunatics in a cheap slasher movie – unless maybe, you are a parent dealing with a lunatic of your own.

[The script slowly fades as the camera pulls away]

[The night is pitch black, not a star in the sky]

[In the distance a Chainsaw can be heard sputtering and coming to life]

[Screaming, Leatherface lunges from the shadows swinging a chainsaw wildly over his head]

[As the screen goes black, we hear Matthew McConaughey say, “Alright, alright, alright.”]

[Silence]

[Black]

JL

©Jack Linton, June 8, 2014

Requiem for a Cockroach:  Why I Don’t Like Turkey

With the utmost sincerity, the veteran stock boys told all new hires about a roach the size of a golf ball that once dropped from an air vent onto an unsuspecting stock boy’s head, and scuttled straight for his ear where it disappeared.  Waylaid by the gruesome details of a rabid cockroach cutting, grinding, and eating its way through the brain from one ear to the other, the helpless newbie often battled the heebie-jeebies for days.  To make matters worse, the boys took great pleasure bouncing beans off the new guy’s head and shoulders when he was not looking, which caused the poor fellow to jump and brush frantically at his head and shoulders to knock away what he believed to be a diseased ear-canal seeking insect.  This went on until the new guy became immune to their shenanigans, or quit the job.  Today, this sort of thing would be called hazing, but in 1970, right or wrong, it was regarded as innocent fun.

MacGregor’s Family Center on Bendale Drive was infested with cockroaches.  The infestation was not epidemic, but the scavenging insects were quite common to say the least.  Their favorite place to hide was under the meat counter and in the grocery section of the back stockroom.  When working in stockroom section “R,” the area set aside for stacking boxes of breakfast cereals, cornmeal, flour, and sugar, the stock boys wrapped rubber bands around the bottom of their pants legs to prevent roaches from darting up their pants.  Most of the time this was not a real problem unless business was slow and merchandise sat in the storeroom more than two or three days, then section “R” became a favorite nesting ground for the pests.  What really freaked the stock boys out though was a flying cockroach.  A roach running up your leg was one thing, but one landing in your hair and scurrying down across your ear was enough to cause nightmares or send grossed out bodies scurrying for the exits never to return.  Maybe it was the story of the cockroach attack, or maybe it was an inborn primitive aversion for what one primitive tribe in New Guinea referred to as flying dung balls that caused such freakish reactions, who knew, but an airborne cockroach could make the bravest of the brave shudder and feel creepy all over.  Fortunately, flying cockroaches were rare.

Although the armor plated scavengers could be a problem, the biggest scavenging problem for the MacGregor’s Family Center was Colletta Roach an odd little woman with an appropriate name who visited MacGregor’s every Thursday of the second and fourth weeks of the month.  She was in her late fifties, extraordinarily overweight, wore the sleeves of a black cardigan tied loosely around her neck, and the sleeves of an old green jacket tied tightly around the middle of a sack dress made of blue cotton that hung from her hips to her ankles.  She walked like she had a tin can stuck between her legs, and shoplifted a 15 to 20 pound frozen Butterball turkey every other week.  Bowlegged, she sagged in the middle and always clomped straight to the Butterball turkey bin at the end of isle seven when she came for her bi-monthly visits.  There she rolled and lifted each frozen turkey while singing softly, “My, my, you need a new home,” but not once in three years had she ever bought and taken a turkey home.  However, it never failed that a turkey was missing after she left the store.  Mr. Roberts, the store manager, started sending a stock boy to inventory the turkeys whenever Colletta came to visit, and sure enough, after each visit a turkey had vanished, which by association alone pointed to her guilt.  However, no one could prove she was the great turkey thief since no one had a clue as to how she could be committing the thefts.  In fact, at first the lady employees were not convinced she was the culprit, but all the stock boys knew beyond a shadow of a doubt she was the theif, yet none of them had managed to catch her with a turkey in the three years since the turkeys started disappearing.  The stock boys said she was lucky – uncommon lucky.  I on the other hand knew it was more than luck; she was sneaky – uncommon sneaky is what she was.

I became acquainted with Miss Colletta while working briefly as a stock and bag boy at MacGregor’s Family Center in 1970.  There are not many things in this world more boring than stocking shelves in a store, especially in a large store like a MacGregor’s.  We often spent our days trapped in the deep congested bowels of the store breathing air that smelled of Johnson’s baby powder, ten day old meat patties, and vinegar.  Other than chasing and popping cockroaches under our sneakers, the work was tedious and mindless, so whenever Fred, the self-absorbed assistant manager, announced in his best John Wayne voice, “Attention, pilgrims.  Assistance needed at register three,” I always made a mad dash for the front of the store.  At least when bagging groceries, I had a chance to get outside to round up grocery buggies or assist customers with loading their merchandise in their cars, which sometimes resulted in a fifty cent or even a dollar tip.

My favorite benefit of being on the bagging line though was surveillance. Mr. Roberts kept a notebook with descriptions and names of any suspicious characters, i.e. shoplifters, and there were many, who frequented his store.  When one of these suspect characters entered the store, he or Fred would immediately snatch the closest stock boy off the bagging line, and send him to follow and closely watch the suspect.  The stock boys loved it when they got to “tail” someone; it added a sense of adventure to their otherwise mundane lives, and the person they loved to tail most was Miss Colletta.  Since year two of the turkey heists, there had been a standing rule among the stock boys that whoever spotted Colletta first became her shadow from the time she entered the store until the time she exited the store.  This was important since a $25.00 reward for the capture and/or information leading to the capture of the guilty party had been set up by the district office.  That was big money in 1970, so every other Thursday the stock boys literally fought to be up front near the registers to improve their chances of being the one who tailed Miss Colletta and hopefully collect the $25.00 dollar reward.

However, catching Colletta Roach had proven to be impossible, but not from the lack of trying.  We tried everything we knew to catch her, but catching any shoplifter was no easy task in 1970, especially one as cunning as she.  To say she was good at crime would be the understatement of all time.  The raspy breathing, old lady was simply masterful.  Over time, her work became legendary, and in future years whole seminars would be devoted to studying her.    Until Colletta Roach came along, it was unheard of for a fifteen to twenty pound turkey to be stolen.  Most shoplifting occurred with small items that could easily be stuffed under a shirt or inside pants where unless store personnel stood at the exits with eyes glued on passing crotches, there was a high probability that stolen merchandise could be railroaded out of the store without detection.  However, a twenty pound turkey stuffed under a shirt or inside pants would be near impossible not to detect leaving the store, so how was she doing it?  She did not carry a purse or  a bag large enough to carry a large Butterball turkey, so it was only natural for the stock boys to begin to suspect there was some powerful magic at play.

In 1970, security cameras that could record were not readily available, so surveillance was hands-on, which meant store personnel had to be creative and sneaky themselves.  When management in stores like MacGregor’s Family Center became suspicious of a customer, the stock boys became the first line of defense, which meant they went into stealth mode.  They lurked in the shadows, they stuffed themselves inside and under display cases, and they discarded their blue MacGregor’s vest and attempted to blend in with the shoppers.  They also hid in the clothes racks outside the changing rooms where they would secretly count the number of items customers took into the changing room and then count them again when the customer exited the changing room.  Mary, a cashier, was the first to suggest posting a sign on each changing room door stating no more than three items at a time were allowed inside.  She also suggested that an employee be stationed outside the door to monitor the policy.  However, Fred argued that such a policy would be rude and show a lack of trust for the store’s many honest shoppers; never mind that he and Mr. Roberts were often chastised severely by upset female shoppers for allowing big eyed teenage boys to hide in the clothes racks outside the women’s changing rooms.  Eventually though, he allowed signs limiting the number of items to three to be posted; however, the changing rooms were never officially monitored or the rule enforced.  No one wanted to be rude.

The biggest problem with the changing rooms though was not the number of clothes brought in and out, but rather the switching of old clothes for new clothes inside the changing room.  The first time I heard of this, I was shocked – I could not believe people would do such a thing, but they did and do.  For example, some unscrupulous people would enter the dressing room with a new shirt and matching pair of pants on hangers, and a few minutes later exit the dressing room wearing the new shirt and pants with their old musty clothes on the hangers.  They would hang the old clothes on the rack and walk out of the store wearing the new clothes.

I remember distinctly when Fred came up with what he thought was an ingenious solution for this problem.  He put a stock boy or one of the female cashiers on “sniffing duty” outside each changing room door.   When a customer exited the changing room and hung clothes back on the rack, it was the job of the sniffer to fetch the items and sniff under the sleeves of the shirt or sniff inside the pair of pants or dress to be sure the clothes on the hangers had not been previously worn.  More likely than not, the sordid worn condition of most clothes left behind left little doubt that the clothes were used, but with the growing popularity of new clothes designed to look faded and stressed, Fred insisted on the “sniff” test to be sure.  This went on for quite a while until Mildred, a new cashier, got really sick after sniffing a pair of jeans that had been switched on the hanger.  She actually had to be transported by ambulance to the emergency room of the local hospital.  The poor girl never returned to work.  Store lore said the smell was so foul that she went into convulsions while in the ambulance and never woke up.  I am not so sure that is true, but Mr. Roberts nevertheless stepped in and ended the sniffing practice after she left sick.

The most useless surveillance ever devised at the store was Mr. Robert’s crow’s nest.  He had a platform built just below the ceiling level in the stock room and a window cut into the wall, so he or Fred could sit up on the platform with a pair of binoculars and watch over the whole store.  I am not aware of a single shoplifter ever being spotted from the crow’s nest.  The truth be known, there was probably more girl ogling from that platform than any actual surveillance.  The crow’s nest however was an excellent place for the stock boys to bounce beans off a new stock boy’s head as he walked by unsuspecting below.

However, due to luck and stupidity, we caught quite a few shoplifters.  The easiest to catch were the middle school, high school, and college kids who came in and tried to walk out with 45 rpm records, LP albums and of course 8-track tapes.  Their methods were not very well thought out or original.  Without fail they, they would saddle up to the record racks or tape bins as close as they could possibly get, and looking nervously or in their minds coolly from side to side, slide a 45 record, an LP album, or an 8 track tape down the front of their pants.  How they thought they could get away with it I don’t know since they were easy to spot walking out the door with the corners of an album pushing out the sides of their shirts.  Getting out of the store with a 45 rpm or 8 track tape stuck in the front of their pants was not much easier.  To keep a 45 rpm record or 8 track tape from slipping too far down between their legs, they would squeeze their butt cheeks so tightly together that they looked like a duck flat footing it to water as they tried to exit the store, which made noticing the crime and consequently the apprehension of the criminal quite simple.  When it came to spotting shoplifters, we were experienced observers who knew what to look for, and that is why it was so frustrating not being able to catch Colletta Roach.  Her turkey heists were perfect; there was simply no visible evidence of a crime other than a missing turkey from the frozen turkey bin after she left.

Now people with common sense might ask, why didn’t someone pat her down, or have a female employee search her if she was believed to be stealing turkeys?  Believe me, that is what we wanted to do, but there are things called store policy and the law that prevent such common sense actions.  Basically, as long as the suspected shoplifter was in the store, we could not do anything, and if we stopped a suspect once they were outside and it turned out they did not have anything on their person, we would be fired on the spot.  Therefore, to catch a thief you had to have visual evidence of the crime, or it was to your best interest to let the suspect walk away.

For three years, Colletta Roach had been walking away, but that almost changed with turkey heist number 75.  One of the other boys had beaten me to Miss Colletta that Thursday, so it was by pure chance that I happened to exit isle nine about ten feet down from where the frozen turkeys were kept.  Miss Colleta was standing in front of the turkeys admiring a turkey she was holding in her hands.  David, the stock boy who had her under surveillance that day, was directly behind her watching from behind a blue and red rack of Tom’s Peanuts and Snacks.  It was obvious by the way she had positioned herself in front of the turkeys that she knew he was there, but she had not seen me.  I could see her clearly holding a twenty pound turkey, and I remember thinking, I am actually going to see how she does it.  I AM GOING TO CATCH COLLETTA ROACH RED HANDED!  I could already feel that twenty-five dollar reward in my pocket.  I sensed a promotion and a significant raise to my eighty-five cents per hour wage.  Then fate stepped in and any chance I had for a promotion, a raise, or the reward evaporated on the wings of a flying cockroach.

The flying roach was huge!  It buzzed my head leaving an image of a dragon flying in to destroy me, the hero, and my dreams, but it was not after me; it was after Miss Colletta!  I don’t know where it came from, but the bug dive bombed straight into her do.  Her face contorted, her eyes bugged, and her mouth gaped open with a sudden gasp followed by a deathly scream as the air rushed just as suddenly back out.  I heard a crash and saw David sprawled across the top of the Tom’s snack rack.  The back legs of the roach wiggled frantically just above the surface of Miss Colletta’s hair as it struggled to reach her head through her thick matted mane.  Instinctively, she slapped at the roach drilling its way toward her scalp forgetting she was still holding the twenty pound turkey.  The turkey met the cockroach and Miss Colletta’s head with a simultaneous pop.  Her knees buckled, and she dropped to the floor unconscious, white bug goo running across her forehead and oozing down onto her ear.

I don’t know how much money Miss Colletta collected from MacGregor’s over that little incident, but it was sufficient enough to keep her away from the store for several months.  During that time not a single frozen turkey went missing, which corroborated our suspicions that Miss Colletta was guilty as charged.  You would have thought Mr. Roberts would have been a hero with the home office since Miss Colleta was finally gone from the store, but the MacGregor home office demoted him and transferred him to a store in Arkansas.  They felt it would have been cheaper to let her continue to shoplift a couple of turkeys a month for the rest of her life than to pay what they considered to be an outrageous sum for the mental and physical injuries she sustained from the attack of the flying cockroach.  They blamed Mr. Roberts for the unresolved turkey heists, the cockroach attack, and what they claimed were overly frozen turkeys that proved to be hazardous to the health of a customer.  All the stock boys thought Mr. Roberts got a raw deal, but what upset them and everyone else the most was that Fred was promoted to store manager.  The only good thing about Fred being promoted was that nothing really changed at the store.  He ran the store exactly the same way Mr. Roberts had run it; he was not smart enough to do it any other way.

Since she was now practically rich, everybody thought that was the last that would be seen or heard from Colletta Roach, but frozen turkey number 76 disappeared exactly four months to the day of the great cockroach assault.  Yes, Colletta Roach was in the store, and no, it could not be proven that she had taken the turkey.  The mystery continued for four additional turkeys, but then came turkey number 81.  This time I had Miss Colletta under surveillance.  Like all the other times, I watched and followed her around the store until she finally stopped in front of the frozen turkeys.  I stood behind the Tom’s Peanuts and Snacks rack exactly where David had stood the day Miss Colletta had been assaulted.  I watched as I am sure he did with a sinking feeling as she positioned herself between my line of sight and the turkeys.  It didn’t seem like she was there more than a minute when she turned, waved at me, and wobbled pass me up isle seven.  She had started what we called her victory waggle.  Before leaving the store with her suspicioned loot, she always walked up isle seven, down isle eight, and up isle nine where she exited the front door.  I signaled for David who was hiding behind a display of Sunshine Chip-A-Roos chocolate chip cookies on isle six to quickly inventory the turkeys while I followed her.

I was trailing behind Miss Colletta on isle seven by about twenty feet when I saw David from the corner of my eye running toward isle nine.  The next thing I heard was glass shattering against the floor and muffled profanity.  Miss Colletta froze with the sound of breaking glass, but then continued to the end of the isle where she stopped briefly and looked back over her shoulder at me.  She was playing with me, and there was not a thing I could do about it.  After wobbling to the end of isle eight, she turned to her left and started up isle nine – for her the home stretch.  At the far end of isle nine at the front of the store, David was sweeping and picking up broken glass from a thick oozing puddle in the middle of the isle.  Apparently, in his haste to beat us to the front of the store, he had knocked a bottle of Karo Syrup off the shelf.  When he saw me, he started waving his index finger high above his head and nodding his head up and down to signal a turkey was indeed missing.

I felt ecstatic; we had her!  But, just as quickly I started to have doubts.  Here I was following a fifty plus year old woman who I knew had a stolen turkey somewhere in her possession, but there was no visible evidence, no handbag, no nothing in which she could be carrying a twenty pound turkey.  By store policy, I could not stop her in the store, and once she was outside the store, there would be no physical evidence to warrant enough suspicion to bring her back into the store.  She was getting away with it again.  About ten feet from the end of isle nine, she turned, looked straight at me, and blew me a goodbye kiss.  It was over; she had won again.  She turned back toward the front exit door and stepped squarely in the puddle of Karo Syrup.  Her foot flew from under her and she became air borne her dress floating upwards over her head.  She hit the floor with a sickening thud and lay there her arms and legs spread widely.  The sleeves of the cardigan and the green jacket came unwrapped and spread out about her giving her the appearance of having eight appendages attached to her heaving body.  She lay breathing heavily, her dress pulled up over her face.  And then!  And then!  And then, there it was the FROZEN TURKEY!  The turkey lay against the crotch of the biggest pair of leopard print panties I had ever seen in my life.  It was hooked by a large shark hook which was tied to a rope harness that stretched around her enormous middle.  She had commandeered eighty frozen turkeys by lifting her dress, hooking the turkey with the shark hook, and walking out the front door with the turkey dangling between her massive thighs.

Fred made a reluctant call for an ambulance, and then made the most joyous call of his career to the police.  By the time the ambulance arrived, Miss Colletta was sitting up rubbing the back of her head proclaiming for all to hear that her back was broken and that she was going to sue Fred and MacGregor’s Family Center for everything they were worth.  When the ambulance arrived, the EMTs checked her over very thoroughly, and then cut the turkey harness from around her waist.  They could not find anything seriously wrong with her, but they decided it would be wise to transport her to the hospital for additional tests and treatment since she was now not only complaining of a broke back but moaning that both legs were broken and she felt a heart attack coming on as well.  They gave her an aspirin, fit her with a neck stabilizer, strapped her to a spine board, and with the help of Fred and four stock boys, lifted her to the transport cot.  Later at the hospital, it was determined by a team of doctors that other than bruised buttocks and chafing on the insides of her thighs caused by the frozen turkey sliding back and forth, Miss Colletta was physically okay.

Meanwhile back at the store, cleanup of isle nine had begun.  Mopping and cleaning the syrup from the floor was easy, but no one would touch the turkey.  Finally, we agreed to share in the extraction of the tainted turkey, and took turns rolling it soccer style down the aisle and out the back door where Fred was waiting with a camera.  Fred, holding the infamous turkey, posed with the stock boys as Mr. Bobo the evening janitor snapped several rolls of pictures.  For the first time ever, Fred seemed almost human; he handed out colas and moon pies to everyone.  It was a joyous time in the history of the local MacGregor’s Family Center.

Of course, Colletta Roach sued MacGregor’s once again, and of course, once again she won, but she was not so lucky with the criminal charges.  Her trial on eighty-one counts of shoplifting, and the media coverage it received turned out to be a fitting eulogy for her legendary crime spree.  She never returned to MacGregor’s Family Center since the store was closed permanently by the home office while she was doing prison time in Camp 25 of the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County.  David and I both left MacGregor’s shortly after splitting the twenty-five dollars reward money for solving the case of the missing turkeys.  David was never able to get the awful sight of Miss Colletta’s leopard print panties out of his mind.  Today he lives in New York City where he owns an internet lingerie shop for oversized women, and attends therapy once a week.  As for me, I was lucky, other than a deep seated loathing to any type of clothing with spots or dots, large fish hooks, and turkey, I have lived a fairly sane and uneventful life.  And Fred?  Fred was fired not too long after the capture of Miss Colletta – the highlight of his MacGregor’s career, but he went on to make millions as the founder of a line of cheap discount stores.

As for the moral of this story, there is not one other than beware of flying cockroaches, watch where you step in the grocery store, and if you buy a frozen turkey, wash it well when you get home;  you never know where it may have been swinging.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 2, 2014