Ron Paul Country: Mongolia in California

Ron Paul Sign

California is, for the most part,Mongolia. Erase the coasts and the canals that suck water from the north to feed Big Asparagus and whiten the teeth of Valley Girls, it would be as desolate as the steppes of Central Asia. Driving throughthe high desert between Bakersfield and Las Vegas I note two landmarks: a graveyard for embalmed airliners, in permanent holding pattern at Mohave airport, and a shrine for Republican presidential
candidate Ron Paul. Paul is what is known as a Libertarian, a sect of American politics that wavers between admirably cranky conservatism and loco-weed lunacy: just right for the build-a-wall, save-the-republic denizens of this landscape of coyotes, cactus and bullet-riddled road signs.


Big Trees

Stout RedwoodsStout Grove — Photo & Review: Russell Johnson

On this Fourth of July I am looking out my window at something that transcends our brief, troubled time, a being whose living cousins were born before Jesus, who have survived the scores of scoundrels that have spread misery across the earth in the name of patriotism, faith, greed and getting the trains running on time, who will live long past the time when St. Peter will put Bush and Cheney in a lineup of “usual suspects” and Kim Jong Il keels over into a vat of rotten kimchi.

I am looking at a California Redwood. I feel its quiet presence: comforting and permanent. I want to hug it…but it is Big Momma ten times over.


The Monterey Bay Aquarium

Jellyfish, Monterey Bay Aquarium ©2005 Russell Johnson

For a moment recently, I wished I were a jellyfish. Now, a jellyfish that has washed up on a beach looks disgusting…like a discarded Ziploc bag. But the Jellies at the Outer Bay exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California have reason to be envied.

Imagine spending your life tumbling languidly in liquid suspension while thousands of admirers ooh and awwh. Not bad for a gelatinous blob without heart or brain. Jellies can, however, see, smell (so scientists say) and taste even though they would make terribly inarticulate restaurant critics. And even though the sight of one is enough to make a diver convulse in terror, most species of jellyfish, unlike many objects of beauty, are not the least bit dangerous.


Game Hen: Manhattan’s Tic Tac Toe Playing Chicken


So, why am I in New York looking for a chicken.

I first learned about a certain curious cluck in my local newspaper. At a trial in Marin County, California, where I live, a psychologist testified that the fact that a defendant in a murder trial was able to compete in a game of tic tac toe proved his mental competence. The defense cried “fowl”, citing the chicken on Mott Street.

“Hey, chickens are dumb.  If a chicken can do it, even a mental incompetent can do it.”

I begin my search on Mott and Canal, on the edge of Chinatown.