Until recently, the charming little town of Hiccup on the Mexican border was a progressive community which boasted the most thriving smuggling and gambling economy in the state. However, conflicting social forces among the citizenry all but demolished the city; and in hopes of preventing similar occurrences elsewhere, the story of Hiccup’s decline is printed now. There lived in Hiccup two gentlemen of very divergent beliefs who were given to stating at every opportunity that the town was not big enough for them both. One, Mr. Johnson, was a former dirt farmer who, in his fiftieth year. suddenly became rich with the discovery of oil on his property. The other, Mr. Jones, was the son of a wealthy banker. He did little for a living, although he had at one time been employed as a vice-president of his aging father’s enterprise. Mr. Johnson, as all the town knew, was an atheist of the worst sort. He refused to take a moderate attitude on matters of religion, and not contenting to call himself an agnostic and confide quietly to his neighbors that he was still objectively searching for the True Religion, he often shouted loudly in public that there was no God and that Mary was His mother. Moreover, he had sworn out an injunction to have the Baptist church’s electrical chimes removed from the belfry because they created a public nuisance on Sunday morning. He had often told practicing Christians that atheism would one day conquer the world. Mr. Jones was a deacon in the Baptist church and a very devout man of God, in his own way. It was in his power to hire and fire the preacher, which he often did; and he had very graciously leased part of his ranch to his church to use for a summer camp. He believed that the concept of the Trinity and that of Free, Private Enterprise were the two most important ideas in the Bible. Further, Jones had been heard to say many times that Christianity would one day conquer the world, and perhaps the universe as well, if God was willing for man to probe into outer space. As often happens in such cases, the townspeople, numbering about 200, began to take sides in this conflict of ideologies and personalities, and before long Hiccup was pretty evenly divided into proJones and pro-Johnson camps. In general the dominant financial interests in the town lined up with Jones and many of the dirt farmers fell in behind Johnson, but the citizenry at large chose camps primarily on the basis of personalities. For a while the schism was of a rather intangible nature, expressed primarily by snide remarks exchanged in the grocery store or an insinuation from the pulpit of the Baptist church. But the rift widened suddenly with the mysterious death of a teller .in the Jones hank. It was whispered In the Jones camp that murder was the cause and had been perpetrated by one of Johnson’s henchmen as a first step to Johnson’s taking over the hank, and consequently the town. A few nights later the town’s leading barber, a member of the Johnson camp, was found with a knife in his back. And thus a full-fledged feud was on. In the course of the next several months, two or three dozen residents were murdered, and terror reigned in the unpaved streets. There were even two or three gunfights involving large groups of partisans, but although several participants TH11.: TEXAS OBSERVER Page 2 November 23, 1962 were killed or maimed, the results were inconclusive. Economic Competition The contest took non-violent forms as well. Johnson and his followers withdrew their money from the Jones bank and proceeded to build one of their own. It was an impressive structure, more stylish than the Jones building, and the first two-story architecture in Hiccup’s history. Johnson, in the cornerstone laying ceremony, observed that it was a testimony to the indomitable spirit and boundless imagination of atheisma philosophy, he reiterated, that would one day rule the world. There was consternation in the Jones camp, and the following Sunday morning Jones arose during church services and said he was sure it was obvious to any objective observer that inasmuch as the bank had been constructed by atheists and scoundrels, it was bad architecture, and would undoubtedly collapse within the year. He would rather go without a bank, he said, than have one which was built by the hands of craven murderers. Then he announced with ill-concealed pride that plans were now underway for a new three-story dry goods store, complete with an elevator and wall-to-wall carpets. There was such rejoicing that the rest of the worship services were dispensed with. In an amazingly short time, the new Jones Dry Goods building was erected, and, as’ promised, it contained an elevatorthe first in the town’s historyand, wall-towall carpeting. At the dedication ceremony, Jones observed that here, for all the world to see, was an example of the superiority of the depthless ingenuity of Godfearing men and women over the animal cunning of scheming atheism. It was a day of rejoicing in the Jones camp. Only days later, at a barbecue given for his friends, Johnson made a short speech ridiculing the new dry goods building as pompous, vulgar, and built at the e.71: then introduced to the crowd an architect he had brought from New York to design one of the largest hotdog stands in the United States, which was to be located right in the center of Hiccup. And so a veritable construction war ensued. Before the Johnson Hotdog Emporium was even finished, Jones hired an architect from Los Angeles to construct a four-story bowling alley with a swimming pool on the roof, all for the greater glory of religion. Johnson countered with a municipal auditorium, stocked with a 120-piece string orchestra from Philadelphia, to be known as the Hiccup Symphony Orchestra. Jones got to work on a football stadium. The race continued, each camp claiming that the other was about to go broke, each calling the other evil scoundrels, and both secretly despairing because there seemed to be no end of construction in sight. Finally, one night about a year after the construction war had begun, the word mysteriously spread in the Johnson camp that the Jones camp was getting ready to dynamite the Johnson buildings. Only the habitual calm of Johnson himself prevented panic in his ranks. “We must act rationally,” he told his assembled followers. “I’ have suspected for quite some time that Jones and his thugs were going to realize that they were no competition for. us, and would try to destroy us by force. But have no fear. I have accumulated some dynamite myself. If we get the idea across to them that if they dynamite us, we’ll dynamite them right back, I doubt if they’ll be very anxious to toss the first stick.” To let the Jones camp know that their enemy had dynamite, Johnson and some of his lieutenants went out to the city dump the next morning and set off a few sticks. It made quite a noise, breaking windows in town and killing a family of gypsies that had pitched a tent nearby, unaware of what was going to happen. The Jones camp was furious. Jones made a speech that very morning, accusing the Johnson people of war-like, aggressive, totally unprincipled and un-calledfor action. In case the Johnson camp thought he or his friends were intimidated by such a brutal Chandler Davidson show of force, he said, he invited them to observe a little demonstration he had planned for that afternoon. It turned out to be an explosion set off in a gully beyond the city limits. It was more powerful than the one that morning and accidentally killed several cattle that had wandered into the danger zone at the last moment. The Peace Effort Dynamiting by both sides continued every day thereafter. A number of people were killed or injured by the debris from the ever-larger blasts, but both camps issued statements saying it could not be helped because the dynamitings were in the cause of peace, and if a war broke out, many more people would be killed. It wasn’t long until both Jones and Johnson were having trucks of dynamite coming into town daily, and soon the storage of it became a problem. At first it was cached in individual homes, but later the new buildings both sides had built were converted into storage space. After a while even these became full, and it was necessary to build silos especially for the dynamite. The streets were still unpaved, and many people who had been contributing to the peace effort through property taxes were in extremely narrow financial straits. Neither side complained, however, because both knew that sooner or later their cause would triumph and the enemy’s demise would usher in the millenium. The peace race continued unabated. Both sides admitted gleefully that they had enough explosives to eradicate every living soul in the area hundreds of times over. Both sides pointed out in very grave tones that the use of the dynamite had become unthinkable and that the continued importation of it by the truckload only decreased the likelihood of its being used. A high-ranking official in the Johnson camp had first come up with the theory of prevenience, which had been accepted by both sides. Roughly, it went like this: “If one side knows it will be killed if it tries to kill its enemies, it will not try to kill its enemies. Now ten sticks of dynamite will destroy the opposite side entirely. Thus, if each side has ten sticks of dynamite, each side will not use this dynamite, because it knows it will be destroyed. If each sides has 20 pieces of dynamite, the preventive value of the explosives will have doubled, because a person will be twice as hesitant to start a war if he knows he Would be destroyed twice over. Thus, if each side had 200 pieces ::X:::1:”:.:::. of dynamite, the chances of war will be ten times less than if it had only 20. If each side has two million pieces, the chances of war will become very small indeed. As our dynamite increases toward infinity, the chances of war will become infinitesimal.” Citizens Take Steps During this period many people became unaccountably nervous, and some developed ulcers. Children often woke up at night screaming. To soothe the citizens’ fears, both sides set up what came to be called a Dynamite Protection program. Speeches were made and pamphlets distributed saying that, although the simultaneous sticks of dynamite in Hiccup would be disturbing, and might result in death and the loss of property, it need not entail utter catastrophe. “In fact,” learned men on each side said, “while the 20,000 sticks of dynamite which we own would undoubtedly destroy the enemy hundreds of times over, it is entirely possible that the enemy’s dynamite is defective. And further, it is quite probable that, as the enemy is, as everyone knows, a bald-faced liar and full of bluff, he really doesn’t have all the dynamite he says he does.” A few people on both sides were imprudent enough to voice their doubts concerning this theory, but they were immediately labeled crackpots, cranks, and even enemy sympathizers. One fellow, an old retired lawyer in the Jones camp, pointed out that even if the Johnson camp had only onetenth of the weapons they claimed, they could wipe out the whole of Hiccup. He was put in jail and heard from no more. What little money was not being spent on dynamite was channelled into the Dynamite Protection program. Several citizens in both camps were designated D.P. directors, and they argued very persuasively that people could survive a dynamite explosion and that, indeed, such an explosion might not be so bad after all. They handed out free bandaids by the thousands and charged only a nominal fee for bottles of antiseptic. They also handed out a little booklet instructing the citizens how to act if the dynamite should explode. It read, in part: “If you hear a tremendous noise, and feel a tremendous blast, the dynamite has probably been set off. Don’t look in the direction of the blast Pull your hat down over your eyes. Put your fingers in your ears, and seek shelter. If you have plenty of warning, leave town. But whatever happens, even if you are horribly mangled and your family is blown to smithereens, keep your chin up, remain calm, and apply your bandaids and antiseptic as needed. Then wait for further instructions from your D.P. director. The right will prevail!” Surprisingly, the people in both camps were calmed by this pamphlet, especially because it had the approval of their leaders, Johnson and Jones; and people soon began talking again about the possibility of a war, and speculating on who would wan in case it came. The Confrontation Throughout the peace race, each side continued to antagonize the other by spiteful little tricks. Once the Johnson forces burned down the Jones barbershop, and the Jones group retaliated by dragging off some Johnson outhouses. Whenever a new family moved into town, both sides wooed it with offers of money and comforts and prestige, and the side that lost was inevitably angry, and would perform some act of revenge. The real bone of contention, however, was the White Horse bar. Situated in Johnson territory, it nevertheless was run by Jones supporters, which created a real problem. For the bartender and his help to get to work of a morning, they had to walk through a crowd of hecklers belonging to the Johnson crowd. And so did the patrons, who were, of course, Jones followers. There had been harsh words
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