From Lawn-Boys to B-2ís: Americaís penchant for mowing Ďem down
Date: Wednesday, March 14 2007
Mike Palecek interviewed by Jason Miller
ďI just look around and see people mowing their lawns on the same day we start to bomb Iraq and it drives me wild.Ē
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed three of Mike Palecekís novels, I felt particularly fortunate that he agreed to engage in a cyber-interview with me. His irreverent satirization of the myriad of ills plaguing the United States is unparalleled amongst current authors of sociopolitical fiction. Palecek may hyperbolize, but his fertile imagination has afforded US Americans a priceless opportunity to stop and examine what we are becoming as a nation. And he has done so in a fashion that is both absorbing and entertaining.
In some ways Palecekís offerings are analogous with Sinclair Lewisís It Canít Happen Here. Though in Lewisís case, he was prognosticating. Palecek is documenting what has already transpired.
Without further adieu, I give you the interview with Mike Palecek:
1. Readers will note with interest that you went from being a seminarian to being incarcerated in federal prison. How would you explain this ostensibly glaring contradiction?
"Well, first off, I would say being a seminarian isnít actually so great and being a federal prisoner isnít actually so bad.
And going from one to the other is perhaps a natural progression, that is, if you are paying attention. If not, then, the progression is to parish priest and bishop, I suppose.
Thatís all very cocky and vague, sorry.
Well, I went first on a long drive in my dadís í59 Chevrolet and my dog, and a cowboy hat I bought in Fort Collins, after graduating from college, suppose it was everybodyís big journey to find themselves on a truth-seeking adventure. I ended up sitting in a monastery in Oregon. I suppose I just drove past and went up and started asking question. They said I couldnít keep my dog, so I went home, back to Nebraska. I later parked the car on the curb and walked up to the rectory at our church and turned myself in, to the church, said I wanted to go to seminary. I mean, I remember being feverishly trying to find out what to do with my life, maybe it was for years, months, I donít remember. And maybe I came to the point that this is where it all lead. I do remember the thought crossing my mind that I thought the priesthood was going ďall the wayĒ. My mother was very Catholic, going to Mass every day. I think my dad just went along. Iím sure part of it was that I knew I would be making my parents happy.
Okay, then I went to seminary up in Saint Paul, again with dadís car, dog stayed at home, cowboy hat, too.
And, well, Fr. Dan Berrigan(a) came to speak at Macalaster, a college in the same neighborhood as St. Thomas. I went over there, met him, he came over to speak at St. Thomas, and the things he said about the church, the United States, the gospel, all lit a fire inside of me. Iím sure I also fell for what I perceived as the glory of being a religious outlaw.
I went to Washington, D.C. over Holy Week break, the Berrigans were there, lots of relatively famous people that I didnít know were famous at the time. I saw Fr. Carl Kabat(b) pour blood on the White House of Jimmy Carter, started reading, asking questions, finally left seminary, went to prison, went crazy, went home.
Anyway, I surely would not have had to leave the seminary to do these things. I donít think I would have anyway, so it was not really a progression, but for me personally I see it as coming from learning, studying, maybe grace, who knows, to go from the seminary to prison."
2. Given your obvious disgust with many aspects of the fascist nation in which we live, how did you reconcile representing the Democratic Party in your bid for US Congress in 2000?
"I donít see the contradiction.
Okay, Iím trying to be clever again. I really do. Let me try to explain.
I was more of the anti-Democrat candidate.
As a child I remember asking my parents in the kitchen one day what we were. I knew we were American, Catholic, but were we Democrat or Republican? This was during Nixon, Kennedy, I think, but that would put me in kindergarten. Well, maybe kids talked about those things then. Anyway, we were Democrats, I learned.
As a protester in the 1980s in Omaha I despised the Democratic Party. Actually, I also despised other protesters, the ones who did not ďrisk allĒ, go to jail, kept their liberal ideas and their lives intact, while I was losing mine.
Anyway, I lost my mind in prison. We left Omaha, came to Iowa. One reason was that Ruth and I wanted to find a good, nice place to raise our two children. Well, we went to Minnesota for that first, then Iowa. And for many years I did mostly nothing as far as protesting. I was a stay at home dad, trying to write novels, and had an early morning paper route. I would read about the local congressman and one day I thought, I can do this.
See, this is an overwhelmingly Republican district, so not many Democrats even want to run. I thought that by running, getting on the ballot, I could get the things that I thought were important on the table.
And so, I need to start cutting these answers down, thatís what I did. I got on the ballot and tried to talk about prisons, military, immigration, which I saw as the most important things. The Democratic Party did not embrace me, not at all. I think I embarrassed them. At least, I hope I did. They did and still do wish to put their ear out the window to find out what others are thinking and talking about and then make that their issues, rather than searching their hearts and making that their issue.
When I first ran, well, my mother had just died, I had some money from that, and I used part of it to buy a full-page, back cover, full-color ad on Easter Sunday in the Sioux City Journal. It said something like, Iowaís Democrats say, shut down the 185th [Iowaís National Guard unit in Sioux City], kill the death penalty, welcome Mexicans, shut down prisons.
Thatís what I thought Democrats should say, so I said it for them.