Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On John and Jesse

Some thoughts on notoriety and nothingness.

John Dillinger (right) was the last great outlaw of the Wild West. If one replaces the horse power in his Ford V-8 for a real horse, exchanges his sub-gun for a six-gun, there is little to distinguish Johnny from Jesse. Both had rural roots, both rose during tough times, both led gangs, both robbed banks, both made dramatic getaways, both captured public imagination, both were filled with bravura, both shared that something-special which separates legends from common thieves, and both outlaws were laid low not by sworn enemies but by sworn “friends.” More importantly, neither John or Jesse allowed their “profession” to trigger the worst in each. Many a time, had stress won and nerve failed, or had a sadistic streak surfaced, the scenes of their robberies would have been awash with innocent blood. And yet they never were.

I once visited Dillinger’s hometown and the scene of his first petty crime in Mooresville, Indiana. I spun around on the same streets young John spun around on. I saw many of the same sights he saw as a kid. On my way out of town I took some photos of his old boyhood home. Interestingly enough, on my tour that morning, the fellow who eagerly told me where all these places were was a Mooresville policeman. Judging by his enthusiasm, it was obvious the cop was as fascinated by Dillinger as I was. But there was something more. I believe the gentleman secretly admired Johnny. And I see nothing wrong or unusual with this.

I have had numerous law enforcement types on my Jesse James bus tours. I think we all, cops included, secretly admire the successful bank robber who avoids violence whenever possible. Honestly, 99% of us are about as noteworthy as an ant on an ant-hill. We shuffle through life, running from the light, going along to get along, fearing to risk, fearing to fail, fearing to fall out of step or fall from fashion. And we do this with all the mind-numbing anonymity of those professional street crossers in Grade-B Westerns. We read history, we write history, but we don’t make history. For whatever reasons – guts, brains, talent – almost all of us lack what it takes to be remembered even 15 minutes after we are dead. We are intrigued, fascinated, and awed by those who take the risks and make the history. We live our lives vicariously through them. I think inside all of us there is a Jesse James or John Dillinger banging to get out.


NOT Great With the Kids—A 13-month-old child was attacked the other day by the family pit bull in nearby North Port, Florida. The toddler was dragged across the room and would have been killed and perhaps eaten had not the father forced the animal’s jaws. Even so, the little boy underwent major surgery to remove part of a crushed skull and repair damage to his horribly mauled face. Since the standard refrain following such an incident—“he was great with the kids”—wouldn’t wash after this almost-fatal attack, the father simply shrugged and admitted that he had no idea what set the dog off.

When I was four-years-old, I too was attacked and almost killed by a dog. Unlike the above animal, however, I know very well what the cause of my attack was—this big, healthy farm dog that I wanted to pet was chained up and angry with the world. And who could blame him? Such was not the case with the pit bull above. He was fed and unfettered and should have been happy with his environment. But he wasn’t. Allowing a child to “play” with a breed of dog hard-wired for vicious, unpredictable and bloody attacks, is like allowing that child to play with a live hand grenade.


Under the Microscope--Louse