Stacy Park is a little gem of a park–about eight acres–located in the center of the Travis Heights neighborhood in south-central Austin, Texas. It is centered around Little Stacy Creek, which is a dry creek running through its center. In the south end of the park is the neighborhood elementary school, Travis Heights Elementary, which has been there in one form or another for eight decades now. Right next to the school is Stacy Pool, a spring-fed half-Olympic pool that is swimmable year-round. Stacy Pool, its shower and dressing rooms, and a fair piece of the elementary school are all WPA projects from the ’30’s, and show the quality design, construction and craftsmanship that most all the WPA edifices share with us nowadays.
Austin always considers itself the exceptional city in Texas, with some justification. It’s always been the home of the big state university, and has had, and been proud of, the sociocultural spinoffs that having a large university in your backyard gives you. That certainly isn’t the case for some of Texas’ other college towns. Well-educated town–probably a majority of the adult white inhabitants have a college degree–Austin overall probably is second only to DC for degrees per capita. Home of the state capitol makes it home base of all the state bureaucracies, and until three decades ago most all the economic activity in town revolved around government jobs of one sort or another. Not the best paying jobs, but steady. IBM moved here in the ’60’s, and the chip makers in the ’80’s, and they brought real money to Austin for the first time. That and the FIRE job market got hot with companies moving or expanding their operations to Austin from Houston or Dallas. No manufacturing job market in Austin outside the chip industry, and that is going away even if no one here talks about it, as new plants aren’t being built. Never has been a manufacturing town, never will be, as the powers that be don’t want it that way. Austin is the poster child for the post-industrial American city, a nice clean place to live where nobody gets their hands dirty because most everyone has a college degree and an indoors job with a computer on their desk.
The Travis Heights neighborhood got built mostly in the ’30’s. It is one of the nearest neighborhoods to downtown, but it is on what until fairly recently was considered by the movers and shakers the wrong side of the Colorado River. It was on the right side of the Interstate, at least–Austin still remains highly racially segregated by I-35 running north-south through town. People didn’t build that big a house in the ’30’s and 40’s, and that limited the neighborhood’s attraction to the wealthy, who mostly preferred a newer bigger house in one of the fancier suburban neighborhoods. Until about ten to fifteen years ago the neighborhood had a lot of ordinary non-yuppie types living there, a lot of the overdegreed white-collar government employees you always find in a college town. They sent their kids to school to Travis Heights Elementary, and a lot of them joined the local and active neighborhood association. For better or more likely worse, the past decade brought in some local affluence and a whole bunch of out of state money that is buying the neighborhood’s old houses and tearing them down and building 6000 square foot pseudoSouthwestern McMansions. Which I suppose is a little better than the faux-Georgian red brick and white pillars McMansions that have devoured Houston and Dallas’ older neighborhoods.
Twenty years ago now I was living in half a duplex my mother owned on the neighborhood’s main drag, Travis Heights Boulevard. Probably now it is the last duplex in the neighborhood, back then it had some company. I lived there for five years, in the first post-graduation from college years, and I had a pretty good time there. I didn’t have any kids so I didn’t pay any attention to the school, and I wasn’t interested in the neighborhood organization. I moved on but still hung around the neighborhood some, and would visit Stacy Park from time to time. One day back in ’94 or ’95 I was walking through the park for no particular reason and all of a sudden I started to see things. ALL of the greenery under the parks’ trees, most all the greenery along the creek, all the greenery wherever the City didn’t mow, it was all poison ivy. Poison ivy vines as thick as my arm growing up the trees on the schoolgrounds. Half-acre thicket of poison ivy right next to the school, five and six foot tall stuff, with tunnel-paths the kids had beaten through it to get to and from school. The horrible nasty shit was every-fucking-where. Where had I been all these years not to notice it? What was going on with this shit growing all over a park? And the schoolyard–those poor bastard kids must be getting it on them every day they play outside. I was shocked.
Scratched my head for a while, and then went off to the elementary school to see the principal. Woman by the name of Marilyn Butcher, elementary education lifer, close to retirement age, one of those who genuinely likes kids and isn’t either a chairwarmer waiting for retirement or a hustler for bureaucratic position. She most graciously thanked me for my concern, and explained that she was well aware of the problem. Yes, kids got poison ivy burns all the time at that school, she would see them all the time burned and scratching in class or in the lunchroom. She’d noticed it right from the first when she started, and had tried hard for the first year she was there to get somebody to do something about the problem. Problem was that the school and park were so old that they had never been platted properly, and there was great dispute between the school district and the city as to whose land was who’s. Consequently, any problem with the grounds always turned into a buckpassing finger-pointing exercise between the city Parks Department and the school district. She explained that she had worked hard at it that first year, and finally got the school district to send out crews one day with spray equipment to spray the poison ivy. Problem was that the next day the phone on her desk rang, and on the other end of the line was a senior administrator from the EPA in Washington, DC, who was calling her to do her the favor to explain to her that as there was a creek, Stacy Creek, which flowed from the Stacy (pool) Springs in that park, that she couldn’t use herbicides within a 200′ distance of any of that water or waterway, so her cooperation in the matter would be appreciated, thank you. Not the sort of phone call anybody wants to get. That was the end of the spraying, and the end of the poison ivy control efforts on her watch, she said with regret.
But that episode is a pretty good example of the neighborhood and a lot of people there in post-industrial Austin and how they customarily do things. Smart educated people who know the system and how to use it–it aint easy to use a telephone that well to get the Feds to move that fast–that takes lots of bureaucratic know-how and practice. Takes being a bit or more of a fink, too–nothing stopped them from phoning Ms. Butcher straight out and telling her about their concerns, but instead they thought better to drop the legal hammer right off by dropping the dime on her right off the bat. And probably something of a liar, too. There’s plenty of herbicides legal to use in that area, most all the common and inexpensive ones are entirely legal, so something widely at variance to the truth was told to the EPA by whoever it was who picked up the telephone and made the call.
I left Ms. Butcher’s office and made a bunch of phone calls to the City parks department and to the school district. Sho’ ‘nuf, both agencies were good and gunshy about doing anything on the poison ivy, and they were both terribly understaffed and overworked and really, Mr. White, the only legal way to take care of the poison ivy is to pull it all out by hand, and we just can’t do that. At the time I didn’t know jack about herbicides other than the usual ignorant scare articles you read from time to time in the newspaper, so I thought I was being told the truth by the senior Parks and School administrators I talked to about herbicide usage there in the park/schoolyard. Well, hell, I aint got nothing better to do, said I, so I decided to pull it out and just solve the damned problem myself.
Spent a couple of late afternoons after work pulling out poison ivy. Put on my old commercial fisherman’s raingear (which is also pretty decent chemical protective gear), and pulled poison ivy out. Showered in it afterwards in the pool showers, which got me some weird looks. I realized fairly quickly that it was going to take a huge amount of time–at least 400 man-hours–to pull out the poison ivy, and to me that looked like a good year-long project and then some. Particularly once I learned the hard way one Sunday about the facts of life of chemical protective gear.
Facts of life about chemical protective gear are worth knowing and passing on. Chemical protective gear is rated against exposure to different chemicals for a varying certain period of time. It isn’t like wearing a suit of armor that the arrows always bounce off of–its more like a badly laid roof that is going to start leaking once it rains long enough. After eight hours of work in the park the next day I had poison ivy burns all over my legs, arms, and belly, and that was no fun. Nothing like getting a good chemical burn with a fierce burning itch on you to make you pissed off, and I was.
I’ve done enough gardening to know about pulling up weeds, and I was starting to have some severe doubts about the efficacy of my efforts anyway. Poison ivy is an interesting plant, very strong and dynamic, very successful in growing and spreading. Spreads both by root runners and by seeds–plants produce little white berries that the birds eat and spread. The runners are real aggressive and make a large and tangled web underground that sprouts up plants that normally run 2-4′ in height. Leave it alone long enough you’ll see it over 6′ tall coming out of the ground like stunted deformed trees. Poison ivy is in these parts plenty vigorous enough to choke out everything else growing around it except for full-size trees. It is a woodland merge plant–it isn’t happy in deep woods or in open fields but is the most successful plant, given a chance, (in these parts at least) at the edges of wooded areas. Seeing as most all urban wooded areas are mostly woodland merge areas–small skinny patches of trees with lots of perimeter–poison ivy is very happy in modern urban areas. The vines can also grow up trees, and what generally happens then is that the root network starts pushing all its energy into that one vine. An arm-sized poison ivy vine growing up to the top of a 35′ tall oak tree will have a huge root network near the size of the oak tree’s. Where this matters is that if you just cut the vine growing up the tree, you won’t necessarily kill the poison ivy plant. It will sprout up madly from all the root network and the problem will be worse than before, you’ll have a small thicket of poison ivy instead of one vine in a tree. Poison ivy, being a woody annular like a tree, puts out a growth ring every year like a tree does. Gets bigger around each year, the vine gets longer and bushier every year. Some the vines in the trees as big around as my arm had better than 30 annual growth rings, each one of which showed another year of groundskeeping neglect by the city and the school district. I cut a section out of one of the bigger poison ivy vines, shoved it into a ziploc bag to make what the folks in B-school call a sales tool, and went off to the neighborhood organizations’ meetings. It was show and tell time.
Back then, the Travis Heights neighborhood had one of the bigger and more active neighborhood associations in Austin. Every month they leafletted my door with their bulletin, and you’d see regular mention of them going in front of the city council on various issues. Decided to go to one of their meetings with my sales tool, and ask them what they thought about the problem, and what they wanted to do about it.
Meeting was one weekday evening at one of the local church’s meeting rooms. Attendance was about 25, most people there ran younger than average for a civic group these days–I figured them as mostly first-time homeowners in their early 30’s. Entirely Caucasian group, with the exception of one Latin-American fellow. Meeting came to order and went off to the main piece of business–the question of whether or not some developer was going to put some apartments in the neighborhood. Everyone there was exercised about having apartments anywhere near them. Stated concern was property values, but to my ears the words “apartment complexes property values” coming from an all-white audience had an echo of “Negroes!” to it. Don’t think my ears were wrong. Question came up as to if there was new business, and I raised my hand, told about the poison ivy, passed around my sales tool, which was really looking most spectacular, as it had oozed out a bunch of nasty-looking tar since I’d shoved it in the ziploc, and asked what people thought should be done. One of the officers, a woman my age, said in an irritated and dismissive tone that there wasn’t any poison ivy problem in the park because her boyfriend had taken a machete out there last year and cut it all down. Next order of business, please. I pointed out to her that her boyfriend missed at least this vine, and I believe a whole lot more, because I’d pulled it out by the school for thirty or so hours so far and hadn’t made a dent, really, yet. People became quite upset at my suggestion to use herbicides on the poison ivy–“Chemicals are bad for the environment!” “We want our park to be organic!” “We’ll all get sick from it! And so will our kids!” “I’m sure there are natural ways, and besides it is a part of nature anyway, and you can’t fight nature, you know.” I pointed out to them how little–maybe 2% of the job–I’d done in 30 hours of weeding by hand, and that I doubted my efforts’ effectiveness on account of the roots left behind.
During the course of the discussion it came out that the neighborhood association had several years earlier told the city that it wanted Stacy Park “natural”, which the city took to mean that they didn’t have to mow it any more. That explained a lot of the poison ivy around the school. Happy confluence of interests there–the neighborhood got a “natural” park and the parks department got to do less work. School got the poison ivy mini-forests by its front doors. Towards the end, the Latin-American fellow–a rico gauchupin, not an indio, said, well, why don’t we get the sheriff to send some prisoners out to pull the stuff out? That suggestion met with nods of approval from everyone in the audience. I don’t think I hid my irritation at him and his suggestion too well when I asked if anyone here wanted to defend the rightness and justice of having persons fundamentally at gunpoint fix a problem that is our problem of our own making in our own neighborhood park? Nobody rose to the bait, and the meeting moved on to other business, real estate related. It was clear that they weren’t any interested in the poison ivy problem. It was also clear that the real purpose of the neighborhood association was to promote their own real estate investment and speculation, that it had no real civic agenda or intent. Neighborhood associations–just another real estate industry front group. Financial gain is the main motivation for what likely was the only significant community activity of the young white professionals who went to those neighborhood association meetings.
Next stop was the Travis Heights Elementary PTA meeting. Now the student body of that school is an interesting mix of yuppies’ kids and kids from the Section 8 apartments nearby. PTA meeting was mostly white, but there were a couple of parents from the apartments–they were brown skinned and/or badly dressed single white mothers. I brought out my sales tool, and passed it around, and made my pitch for doing something about the poison ivy. The teachers in attendance didn’t volunteer anything on the issue, but once they were asked, they were willing to at least say yes, they saw kids burned all the time. Weren’t willing to say much more. Issue went around and nobody much had anything to say for what to do, but all agreed that yes it was a problem and something should be done about it. A couple of parents then said that the problem was just making the kids mind, telling them not to walk through the poison ivy. Fair amount of assent in the crowd to that idea. I pointed out that probably most of them couldn’t recognize poison ivy if it was in front of them, so how could their kids? Anybody here ever take the time to educate your kids about what poison ivy looks like? Silence there. Besides, I said, they are little kids, and you know as well as I that the littlest ones simply don’t have it enough upstairs to learn and remember something like that. They are kids, not adults. Nobody disagreed there.
Then one of the yuppie parents came up with the bright idea about having prisoners from the county jail pull the poison ivy. I pulled the gloves off some more this time, and laid into that person for their willingness to shove a nasty problem like this onto the backs of persons our society has stripped of all their rights and liberties, foremost the liberty to decline a job this nasty. I also pointed out the quality of medical care available to them courtesy of our system of incarceration, and asked if they themselves were willing to get chemical burned and then get treated by jail doctors. I asked them why they themselves weren’t willing to do the job to protect their own kids. What sort of danger to their kids’ health and safety does it take them to act and do the hard work to fix the problem? Maybe I convinced them from my arguments’ strength or maybe I silenced them from my anger and passion, maybe some of both, but nobody had any response. The issue was still hanging there when about the only brown skinned male there, wearing a suit, spoke up. He was a mid-level bureaucrat in the school district, and announced that he’d do something about it. Everyone there said sure, Jose will solve the problem, and that was it for that item on the agenda, on to the next, right. Jose took my number, said he’d call me right soon. Still waiting for that call, all these years later.
At that time I was spending a fair amount of my late afternoons hanging out at the local motorcycle shop for the beer-thirty gettogethers of the South Austin Power Bullshitters, as we proudly called ourselves–we decided that we were all too old and lightweight these days to call ourselves the South Austin Power Drinkers. Bunch of the usual cast of characters who like motorcycles more than is good for you, most all blue-collar. Crying in my beer one afternoon about the story to date one of the fellow SAPBS, who ran his own landscaping business, who interrupted me and said hell, Dan, here’s $50 worth of this toxic as all hell ag herbicide, just go spray the shit, that’ll do it. Maybe it is illegal to use next to a creek like that, he said, but what the hell, Stacy Creek has been a dry creek since ’65 or so when the City dynamited a sewer line down the center of the creek and destroyed the natural water contours. Used to be real nice little creek that ran year round, before the City’s sewer line went in. Hellfire, the City has been using chlorine in Stacy Pool since the ’80’s, and seeing as they dump the chlorinated pool water down the creek every evening when they drain the pool they’d kill any fish there anyways even if they hadn’t destroyed the creek’s natural flow in the first place. City bitching about hurting the fish–they’re crazy. Goddam city–here’s the chemicals–shut up and get to work, ok?
Next Sunday, put on my protective gear, got a backpack sprayer out, and went spraying up and down the creek. This was before cell phones became ubiquitous, which was good–nowadays cell phones are the number one best tool for tattletales. Still had to fend off some serious questioning from several faded hippie grad student lifer types about what I was using and who I was doing it for. Had a good cover story, complete bunch of lies all of it, that kept them satisfied enough, and didn’t have my pickup parked anywhere near, either. Blasted a whole lot of the poison ivy into the poison ivy hereafter, didn’t get burned too bad in the process, it worked out well.
Went then off to another official visit. Back when I was going to UT, there was this pair of right cool characters who ran for, and won, the student government presidency. They ran on an absurdist platform, calling themselves the Art and Sausages Movement, ran an entertaining campaign and didn’t do too bad a job as SG Pres and VP–besides funny they at least tried doing something worthwhile with their offices, unlike the fratboy Future Politicians of America who usually ran SG. Jay Adkins was the Art and Sausages president, and he later wound up going to law school–good match for someone with his intimidating verbal facility and quick mind. I’d since heard that he’d gone off to work in NYC, his native stomping grounds, as a public defender, where he was proudly fighting the Man, and afterwards then went off and worked for the NYC DA’s office. Jumping ship like that is apparently fairly common in the legal profession; never understood it myself. Heard that he’d recently moved back to Austin, and was now working in the Travis County DA’s office. Jay Adkins is someone I wouldn’t want to face across a courtroom–very very very quick on his feet, someone who can really spin up an ironclad line of shit real fast, which skill set is probably 85% of all you need as an attorney.
Called up his office, told his secretary that I’d heard that he was back in town, and wanted to drop by and discuss things. She asked me, with the usual suspicion in her voice that a call like mine usually gets, just what sort of things. I said that the two items to discuss were Art and Sausages, tell him that, exactly. Suspicion oozed out from the phone receiver with her reply that she’d be getting back with me on that. Couple of hours later, my machine fielded a nice call from her saying that sure, Mr. White, come on by Friday after 4, that’d be fine, thank you so much.
Walked into Jay Adkin’s office with my running for office personality on, “Hi Jay, Dan White, Howr Yew, How’s ol’Skip doin?” Clearly he didn’t recognize me for shit, he would never have had reason to, doubt I’d ever exchanged more than 50 words with him in our UT days. But that’s one of the prices you pay for running for office–everyone who ever voted for you thinks that they own a piece of your time, and basically they are right, too. Jay and I exchanged pleasantries for a bit while he struggled to remember me, and then I ran a typewritten sheet across his desk, told him I wanted him to run it in the Travis County Bar Journal. He asked what it was. I said that it was a call for all the attorneys in Travis County to go by Travis Heights Elementary and pull out the poison ivy. I’d done my share, gotten my chemical burns, now it was y’all’s turn. Jay put on an extraordinarily sour expression, and said, Mr. White, just why do you want attorneys to go pulling out poison ivy? I said look Jay, you all in the legal profession say that that’s the only lawful way to remove it, so you all can step up and show us that you mean it, that that is a reasonable law for all of us to obey, and you don’t consider that an unreasonable imposition to put on a person, pulling out poison ivy by hand, and furthermore in doing so you all will show your fitness for the leadership positions in our society that you all occupy by showing your concern and willingness to face hazard to protect our children, the most vulnerable members of our society, from this clear and present danger to their health and wellbeing. Jay just shook his head and stared at his desk–he wasn’t expecting this headache this late on a Friday. I said “Look, Jay, it’s a real problem, and that’s my solution. You say you can’t use herbicides and spray, because the law says that herbicides can’t be used within 200′ of a creek. Even a dry one like this that is a chlorine toilet that gets flushed once a day. Do you have a better solution?”
Jay stalled and bloviated for about six seconds about how he has to deal with this sort of idiotic thing in the law every day, and then lit up–“Well, I’ll go talk to the Sheriff and have some prisoners on a workcrew pull it out.” I nodded my head in assent, and said that that was a good idea, only thing was this one little problem I saw with that. “What’s the problem? Seems good to me.” Well, Jay, I said, the problem is called the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution. Bam you could see the gears spin up quick in Jay Adkins’ brain–“Ah, yes, cruel and unusual punishment, I can see that, but they do have medical care there in the jail, hmmm.” Well, Jay, they do, and maybe you consider it adequate if nobody much else in this world does, but suppose someone on the crew has an allergic reaction on the site–those allergic reactions can be serious, you know. “Ah, yes, I suppose anaphylactic shock could be possible, maybe even leading to respiratory distress, asphyxiation”–Jay fluidly rattled off all the symptoms one after another.
I was prepared for that argument that day, and I thanked God again that I wasn’t having to argue with him across a courtroom where he’d be trying to send me down the river for something or another; just doing his job you know. I put on my best imperious professor tone of voice, pointed my index finger straight at him, started snapping my fingers, and said: “Mr. Adkins–your patient is in anaphylactic shock, with tachycardia and is in Cheyne-Stokes respiration. Snap Snap Snap You have the syrette of atropine in your hand, that is of course always readily at hand to Travis County work crews in the field, to inject the patient with. Snap Snap Snap Tell me, Mr. Adkins, is it an intramuscular or an intravenous injection you are giving him? Snap Snap Snap Which is it, Mr. Adkins? Snap Snap Snap You are running out of time, Mr. Adkins. Snap Snap Stop Pause. Too late, Mr. Adkins. Your patient is dead. You just killed him.” Shift to my normal voice, put my pointing finger down, shrugged my shoulders and said: “Best stick to the law, Jay. Easier gig than medicine. By the way, it’s intramuscular. Jab it into the front of the thigh is best.”
Jay Adkins doesn’t lose arguments like that too often, and the wind was out of his sails then and there. I said, look Jay, it’s a real problem. I’ve done my share to solve it legally by pulling that shit out, and it didn’t work and I don’t think it really is going to. Who knows maybe my spraying with the herbicide I used was a perfect legal trifecta of breaking Federal, State, and City law all three. Now if I’d been busted, you’d be across from me in a courtroom trying to put me away for the max, no doubt, reaching into that bottomless sack of sanctimony all you public sector attorneys tote around with you all–the usual ‘The law’s the law, we all have to obey it even if we don’t like it’ sort of shit. But right now, between you and me, man to man, just what did I do that was wrong? What would you do if your kids were being burned from it? What is the solution? Why should we put up with this? What sort of answers does all your legal education and experience give us?
Jay Adkins sat mute for a long minute, and then he struggled a bit for words, shrugging his shoulders, and said something about the world being what it is. It was clear that he had no answer and that the conversation was over. We made our farewells and I left. The call for volunteers never ran in the Travis County Bar Journal, either.
So where does all this story leave us? The poison ivy is still there–I wound up moving out of state shortly afterwards, and the facts of life are that killing plants with herbicides requires followup that I didn’t do. It’s not as bad as it was, but still it is an embarrassment and a disgrace.
Is poison ivy really all that difficult or that insoluble a problem? Well, no, it isn’t, I have since learned a bunch on the subject and done a lot of very successful poison ivy elimination jobs. EPA signed off (31 years ago now?) on an over-the-counter herbicide called Triclopyr (Made by Dow Agrisciences, commonest trade name Remedy) which is right effective and is legal for use right next to lakes, rivers, and creeks, even dry ones too.* Still, nobody has done anything since on the problem there at Stacy Park and Travis Heights Elementary, and for that matter, anywhere else in Austin, where all the parks and public lands are quite dreadfully overrun with poison ivy.
Since I left Austin and came back I’ve heard that other people have gone in front of the same organizations that I did and were told the same bullshit things I was. City still doesn’t do anything, nor does the school district–city is entirely unaware of Triclopyr, as it until recently had a hardshell enviro running the parks department who refused to ever use chemicals of any sort in any of Austin’s parks, and besides, they are so overworked and understaffed still, you know. Couple decades of that kneejerk thinking means nobody knows anything about herbicides in the Austin city bureaucracies, because that top-down mandate meant nobody ever had the incentive to learn anything and stay professionally current and competent on herbicides. Seems fairly obvious that’s something the parks (and public works) departments ought to know about, but they don’t, and we all are suffering from their professional incompetence and the dead hand of the bureaucratic past. School district maintenance staff wasn’t aware of Triclopyr, for similar upper management enviro kneejerk reasons. I brought them up to speed on it recently, but I aint holding my breath on their doing anything now that they know what to do. My bet says that bureaucratic inertia will trump everything else like it usually does. The poison ivy is still there at the elementary school, and kids are still being burned by it.
I learned a lot from all this. Biggest surprise to me was the considerable unconcealed irritation and down right ugliness in so many people when I brought the poison ivy problem to their attention. Nobody ever said “Oh really?” when I brought the problem to their attention; such evidence shows they’d known about the problem before I came along. What did this irritation of theirs show? Maybe my bringing it to their attention, particularly in public, was forcing them to face their laziness and unwillingness and inability to work at solving this problem, and they took their internal frustrations out on me. Understandable, but dreadfully poor manners on their part.
The universal solution fronted of having prisoners do the job–I can see the upper class Latin fellow at the neighborhood association thinking that, every single society south of the Rio Bravo thinks like that, but seeing that fundamentally fascist an attitude that prevalent amongst the Travis Heights residents, most of whom consider themselves politically progressive and right-thinking, and seeing it in someone who is as much a political lefty as Jay Adkins is (or was, once, at any rate) worries me greatly. Not that long ago the southern states’ chain gangs and road crews were regarded throughout the rest of the United States and the rest of the world as well as a barbaric embarrassment to decent humanity. Now, universally, educated white professional America sees nothing wrong with their modern-day iteration and turns to them right off the bat to do a hard physical job they won’t do themselves, or pay someone else to do for them. Ugly attitudes of entitlement, of being entitled to this free corvee labor, underlying this.
The assent of a majority at the PTA to the solution of just yelling at the kids to stop getting in the poison ivy–that attitude is pretty mean and ugly and maybe is fascistic as well. Seeing the neighborhood association for what it really is, a group of real estate bit players, well you can’t really expect people who are out to make an effortless speculative killing to be too worried about anything much else, can you? Mammon is their god and He takes all their efforts and time, you know. The virulent anti-chemical use attitudes I encountered are not based on or supported by their proponents’ own technical/scientific knowledge; they all lacked any such knowledge or expertise. That was bad, but what was worse was their closed-mindedness to argument on the issue of herbicide usage. Maybe that’s what you have to expect from mature adults with liberal arts degrees–it’s the inevitable logical progression from being a leather-wearing cigarette-smoking vegetarian in your college days to being an adult with fundamentally naive anthropomorphic sentimental attitudes about kindly old mother nature threatened by mean old nasty chemicals.
People being terrified of breaking the law, and getting crosswise with it even when it is done from an as needs must case here, that’s understandable. There never seemed to me any much argument possible with public sector attorneys unless you had an attorney or a bar card yourself in your back pocket. They are all deaf, at least professionally. What isn’t understandable is the continuing faith in the law, and obedience to it, to solve problems–here it is creating one, one that is hurting their kids, and it is absolutely indifferent to that fact. Jay Adkins is as decent a soul as the public sector law has working in it, and at least has the decency to acknowledge the law’s failings. My experience is that most people in it don’t, they instinctively snap their minds shut at the first sign of cognitive dissonance. Clear enough then that no solution to any real problem is going to come from them and their profession–it and they aren’t about solutions and work to solve problems, it and they are all about obedience.
So this is a fair piece of our society nowadays, its institutions and the people who make it and them up. We are the most educated generation to ever walk the face of the earth, and we think and act like this, in the face of a fairly simple and straightforward problem like poison ivy on a schoolyard. The key beliefs on display amongst the white educated professionals I dealt with were unquestioned fearful obedience to authority, resignation to and acceptance of governmental injustice, and monetary greed. Toss in physical laziness and a good degree of close-mindedness, too. These belief sets trumped what would normally be considered the paramount human belief set, protection of your children from injury. It also seems obvious to me that if we as a people and society are this lame on a simple and easy to fix a problem like this we damned sure aren’t going to be any better at any other bigger and harder problem we face. Is there any much hope? Or are college-educated white people just worthless?
*Poison Ivy Killing Instructions. Read and Follow Closely.
First, buy the right chemical. Dow Agrisciences Remedy, bought in the gallon container (sorry, not available in quarts) for around $100 at the ag supply houses, mixed out at 75-1 (that’s 75 parts water to one part of Remedy) with a little bit of dish detergent to help it stick to the leaves (say 1 t per gallon), kills at a 90% or better rate when sprayed on the leaf surfaces of poison ivy. For the big vines running up the tree mix up some 1:3 mixture of Remedy and paint thinner* and spray or brush this mixture on an 18″ long stretch of the vine’s bark. It’ll die top to bottom, leaftip to root hairs, in three to five weeks. You can spray vines with this solution in the winter months and kill the vine successfully if you want to try doing it that way. If you just have a little poison ivy, go to the big box home improvement store and buy a quart of Ortho Brush-Be-Gone, which is an 8% or so mix of Triclopyr. (Remedy is 60-something %) Mix it 5-1 (Five parts water, 1 part chemical) with a bit of detergent for spraying leaves. Between poison ivy being so hard to kill, and your not seeing and spraying all of it, you can figure that it will take three passes over the spray area, with a month between each, to ensure you have killed it all. You can also figure that if you’ve got some, so do your neighbors, and the birds are going to keep bringing it back to your yard, so an annual patrol is called for. Poison ivy control–it aint rocket science, its just work.
* corrected ratio on Sept. 16, 2011