DOWN WITH POWER
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L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 1,094, November 22, 2020

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The Land of Ooog
by Paul Bonneau
pjb1@protonmail.ch

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Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Some time ago I was living in Wyoming, and somewhere in there I decided to write a book, my first and only such attempt. Well, it fizzled; I just don't have the drive for that sort of thing. However it just occurred to me that people might be interested in it, as far as I got with it. Might give some chuckles. If any real authors think it's a worthy start, and want to run with it, let me know…

 

The Land of Ooog

George Hart lifted the spud bar out of the bed of his pickup, and started picking at the gravel and rocks at the side of the road. When the hole was 2 feet deep, he started working on the next one. His neighbor pulled his truck to a stop nearby. "Want some coffee, George?", holding up his thermos.

"Yeah, Tom, if it's drinkable."

George looked dubiously at the paper cup Tom handed him. "How long has this thing been rolling around on the floor of your truck?"

"Oh, it's fine. The cat vomited on it a while back, but that just adds flavor, don't you think? Hey, you're putting a sign up."

"What an observant fellow. Yeah, that's what I'm doing. Wanna help dig?"

Tom, ignoring the offer, walked over to where it was lying on the ground and said, "A hell of a sign. Looks like you spent some time at it. You always over build things, George. But, I guess I don't get it."

"What's there to get? It's plain enough." The sign had four words, all capitalized, one word per line and aligned on the left:

Opted
Out
Of
Government

Tom remarked thoughtfully, "Ooog."

"Tom, I always thought you might be clever, and now you've proved it."

*****

Needless to say, in the little town of Wagontire, Wyoming, George's sign instantly became the center of many conversations, and the gravel road in front of his farm experienced a heavy increase in traffic for a while.

Jason Hurlbutt, one of the county commissioners, drove onto George's place a couple days later. He got out and waved at George, who was out fixing a cranky piece of farm equipment. George muttered under his breath, "Chickenshit bastard…," but managed a smile anyway. "What can I do for ya, Jason?"

"Oh, I just thought I'd come out and see how you're doing." He looked vaguely around, obviously a bit uncomfortable.

George, wanting to get back to work and not waste too much time, said, "Like my sign"?

"Er, yeah, I was wondering about that."

"Well?"

"What's it mean?"

"It means I'm off the reservation, Jason."

Jason considered that. "Well, what are you going to do?"

"Get back to fixing this tractor."

"I mean, after…"

George sighed. Maybe the sign wasn't such a good idea after all, since it meant putting up with conversations like this. "Jason, I'm just going to do what it suits me to do. I no longer need any government so-called 'help'. So don't bother to offer any."

"Well, if that's all it is… I mean you're not going to make a terror attack on the county courthouse or anything, ha ha?"

"Geez Jason, you've been watching the idiot box too much - those Homeland Stupidity ads. You ought to get out more. If I decide to attack the county, you'll be the first to know."

"Heh, that's funny. Well, OK, I guess I'll be moving on. Lots of work to be done today."

"OK." George bit his tongue and refrained from commenting about Jason's "work". He just shook his head as Jason drove off, and rummaged around in the tool box for his impact wrench. "Worthless leach," he grumbled.

*****

A couple of days later George noticed a black Suburban with heavily-tinted glass slowly driving by on the road, looked like twice a day. Then it stopped. His opinion of Jason just dropped that much further.

After that happened, he went along the front of the property, where there were some big willow and cottonwood trees along the irrigation ditch. He took his time looking up and around the trees. Finally he spied a box up there, apparently some surveillance device. Most of it must have been battery, to power whatever other workings were in there. He retrieved his rifle, came back and shot a couple holes through it. Then he got a pencil and some card stock and wrote on it, "I shoot trespassers and other varmints," and nailed it to the tree.

On his next trip into town he noticed a lot of smiles from people. Some were warm and genuine, and others looked pasted on. There were of course a lot of questions about his sign, what it meant, but he just kept his responses pretty vague because in fact he wasn't sure either what it meant, what he intended to do. He just knew he was fed up, and told people that. Most agreed. Everyone had the Internet and knew what a cluster-fuck government had made of everything, or at least they were aware things were going terribly wrong even if they had not yet figured out why.

George just kept working his farm (as much a ranch as a farm), but started moving it more in the direction of subsistence and away from cash crops. He didn't want enough visible income to tax, and was disgusted with the price he was getting for hay anyway. He also bought a few hardened steel round targets 19 inches in diameter, about the same size as a man's chest, and put them on wood stands and distributed these around the farm. Now and then he's stop his tractor, range the target, consider the wind, and see if he could get a hit with one shot. His percentage of hits steadily improved, so he kept increasing the distances, and shot even when the wind said "hopeless".

His extensive shooting also piqued interest in town; not the sort of thing farmers spend their time on. Most took 3 years or more to use up a box of ammo.

George was getting on, in his 50's. He knew there was a limit to how long he could farm, but he was pretty tough and wiry after long days of hard labor and decent food, and had a few more good years left in him. He figured it was about time to start living the way he wanted, and not always constrained by what was considered "acceptable" or "responsible" any more, certainly by those in the ruling class or by the idiots called "pundits" or the local equivalents he knew as busybodies. He didn't give a shit. Strangely, though, the more he got this way, the better he treated, and was treated by, decent people. He found he really preferred this way of living. He felt more alive.

That year he poached a farm deer, as he had done occasionally before, but this was the first time he didn't feel a little bit guilty about it. After all, he had opted out of government. He no longer needed "help" from Game and Fish, and his farm had fed an awful lot of deer anyway. As usual, having eaten a lot of alfalfa and beet tops, the deer was a lot more tasty than any mulie had a right to be.

When the property tax bill came in November, he stapled it to the kitchen wall, but did nothing else about it.

A few months later he got a call from Joan in the Assessor's office. "I didn't see your tax payment, George."

"That's because there was none. I have opted out of government. I no longer require your 'help', Joan."

Silence. Then, "Uh, George, that's not going to work. You have to pay taxes like everyone else."

"Why?"

She stammered, "Well… t-to keep the county government going. To provide services, of course!"

"I don't want county government going, Joan. My preference is that it should stop. And I don't need what the county calls 'services', either. What services I need, I will find on the free market, and pay for honestly."

"Well, I don't want to argue it. You know what is going to happen. If you don't pay, your place will be auctioned off!" She paused, drawing in a breath. "I don't know why I am getting upset. You just know how this works, George."

"Yeah, I do. Thanks again for your 'help', Joan. See you later." He closed the cell phone and put it in his pocket, wondering again why he had never taken a sledge hammer to the damn thing.

He didn't have a very good opinion of the kind of people who would work as tax collectors, no matter how nice they acted when he saw them in the county clerk's office. They could well afford to be nice, given what plush and secure jobs they had. The state, known for rugged individuality, had more government employees per capita than any other in the nation, so the work loads had to be pretty low compared to those of bureaucrats in the big cities.

*****

The wheels of government grind slowly, but exceedingly fine. In time, after many delinquency notices, the county auction which included George's farm came up, and he went down to the courthouse for it. He had some papers in his hand, which he started handing out to the people there who were looking to bid. They read this: "My farm located at #27 Lane 6 has been placed up for auction by the county. However I have opted out of government, so the county employees who put it on the sheet have made a mistake. My farm is not up for auction. Anyone who attempts to take it from me, after I have put my life into it, will be biting off a heck of a lot more than he or she can chew. There are a lot easier and safer ways to make a buck."

George was carrying a 1911 pistol openly. The bidders all noticed this.

No one bid on his place.

After the auction, the sheriff, John Schwartz, came up to him with one of his sheets. "George, you can't do this sort of thing. It's illegal to threaten people. I should arrest you and have you thrown in the pen!"

"That was perfect, John. In one sentence you tell me it is illegal to threaten people, and in the next you threaten me."

John just looked at him, while turning a shade of red. Finally, "Why don't you just pay your taxes? Hell, it's farm land, you guys get all the breaks anyway. It can't be more than $500 a year for that place."

"It's my place John. Not the county's. It's a matter of principle; remember what that is? I don't pay rent on something I own. Since I opted out of government, the county is no longer my landlord. But I'll tell you what. If you guys in the government gang come clean, and just tell all the property owners around here that they are actually renters and that you are their landlord, I will consider paying the rent again. At least then it will be out on the table, and the relationship between people and government will be clear. I prefer being honest with people, don't you?"

"George, I like you, and appreciate that you've let me hunt on your place. But I've got a job, and with this job I just can't let things like this slide. I have to follow the law."

"Why?"

"Well of course…" He sputtered, becoming tongue-tied.

"Seriously, why? Why do you have to follow the law, knowing it is so much bullshit, passed by the kind of people you wouldn't introduce your daughter to? You have free will, don't you? You have a choice. The hand of God will not come down to smite you if you let things slide. You won't even lose the next election - in fact if you arrest me you'd probably have a harder time of it. And don't tell me you never let things slide in any manner before. I know you caught one of your deputies drunk driving a while back, and he never ended up arrested or fined."

"This conversation is over! Don't do it again!" John walked off in a huff. George called after him, with a grim smile, "Thanks for your 'help', John!"

On his way home, he noticed a small sign in a window of a home in town, just on a piece of paper, "OOOG".

*****

Paul Lemieux sat looking at his driver's license. It had expired two days ago.

He had tried to get a Wyoming license before but they had been difficult about it, demanding a state approved birth certificate. Well, all he had was the certificate from the Catholic hospital where he was born back in Michigan. It had worked forever, but not with that snooty Wyoming bureaucrat, so he gave up and had just kept his previous state license for driving after he had moved to Wyoming. He was just tired of dancing with bureacrats and begging to be allowed to drive, which is all a license amounted to, besides being just another tax used to support the very bureaucrat extorting the money from him for the license. One wondered why they kept up the pretense of being state employees, rather than just pocketing the money directly. Oh, yeah, there was that comfortable retirement on the taxpayer's dime they were looking forward to; that was the reason.

And now it was even worse, since the state had swallowed all that Homeland Stupidity crap (no doubt accompanied by federal grants of some sort - bribe money - to create even more bureaucrat jobs). All sorts of biometric crap going on the licenses these days, too. What a frigging police state! I guess it was too much to expect the legislature not to act like a bunch of whores about it, rather than getting some backbone and stopping the imposition - although he knew that thought was unfair to real whores. But now he knew the begging and kowtowing was even worse, and not being an illegal alien there was no way for him to bypass it (he'd just read Vin Suprynowicz' rant on the subject, "An Alien in My Own Land", though he had a sneaking admiration of "illegals" so conveniently bypassing this stupid law).

Paul was not interested in carrying a national ID.

What was even more maddening was that Wyoming had not even required driver licenses at all, as late as 1948. That was the year he was born. He'd been driving for well over 40 years, with only a rare infraction - usually a paperwork "violation", like that dammed proof of insurance that had turned into a gravy train for insurance companies and for cops handing out tickets.

He put the license back in his wallet; maybe he could just play dumb with the next donut gobbler who pulled him over. Sometimes that worked. And while he had tried open carrying his pistol a couple of times before, he decided from then on he would always wear a gun while driving, in a cross-draw holster too so it was easy to access while seated. Let the cop think about that while he looks at my expired license, he thought. He was determined not to get beaten or tased like he had seen in so many online videos - not that that was very likely in Wyoming, where the fraction of cops who were complete bastards was pretty small. But, it was not zero.

"I'll have to start practicing my quick draw and see if I can avoid shooting myself in the process," he mumbled.

He knew about what George Hart was doing, of course. Everybody in town had speculated about what it meant. He had thought for a while about it, then had got out a piece of paper and with a heavy marker wrote the letters "OOOG" on it, and hung it in his window. Then he went to bed and slept better than he had in several weeks.

*****

"Bill Smit came in today, telling me what you did down at the county auction. Are you mad?"

George had just been drifting off after his weekly frolic with Anne Wood. He came around, saying "Wha, what?"

"George, I've never known you to be a publicity hound, but I'm starting to wonder. Everybody is talking about your latest adventure down at the auction."

"Damn, Anne, can we talk about this tomorrow morning?"

"I can't sleep thinking about it. 'Fess up!'"

"Well, no one is going to take my land. I didn't want to have to shoot somebody, so I gave them all fair warning. What's the problem?"

"The problem is, I get to hear all the local gossip in that restaurant. Half the people think you are a hero, and the other half think you are nuts and dangerous and ought to be arrested, and the last half don't know what to think. Well, which is it?"

"Clearly the latter. That's why you love me." He decided to ignore her math transgression and went to tickle her, but she was having none of it.

"This can't turn out well, George."

"Why can't it? Do you own a crystal ball or something? Taken up Tarot?"

"Be serious!"

"I am serious. How do you know how it will turn out? Can things only turn out well if you stay strictly within the boundaries drawn by the rulers? The Jews in Nazi Germany tried that, and look where it got them. Maybe it will turn out good, maybe it will turn out bad. Either way, I won't care. Humans are not meant to live forever, with easy indulgent lives. They are meant to be challenged, tested. I love that you are a woman, but you're not equipped to think about this."

"What is that supposed to mean!" Her voice took on an irritated, rising note.

"Men and women look at life differently. Women think everything will always be the same, except maybe trending a little better, or a little worse, as time goes by. And that is not a bad way to look at things; in fact it is almost always more accurate than the alternate view. But when that view fails, it fails spectacularly. In times like these, the more masculine view is here to keep us from completely blowing it. We - men that is - expect bad things, war, to happen, and prepare for it - and the ones who don't prepare are sacrificed. That's why it's men who are gun nuts, not women. Chaos is in our blood. We've had feminine times for the last 50 or 60 years, now it's getting masculine again."

She stared hard at him, saying nothing. Then she made a growling noise, flopped over, and said, "Bad night!"

It took 3 hours before George could get to sleep again.

*****

John Schwartz, the County sheriff, sat next to George in Anne's restaurant the next morning. He said under his breath, "There's feds running around here."

George nodded. "Yeah, I shot a hole through their surveillance device, if that's what it was. On my property."

John looked at him. "Well that is a nice, responsible thing to do. I'm guessing they know about your performance down at the courthouse too. By now you must have a big file in their laptops; probably has everything ever happened to you since you last shat your diapers in your momma's arms. I'm sure they figure you're the head of the local Al Qaeda."

George just smiled.

"Aren't you worried? You keep telling me this is a police state, but you don't act like that's so."

"I don't know John. I used to worry a lot about that sort of thing, but maybe I've reached Nirvana or something, especially after visiting Anne when she is in a good mood." He winked at her, and she stuck her nose in the air and bounced away. George sighed and considered he had more time to spend in the dog house; for what reason, he couldn't fathom. Oh well… "I mean, why worry? Just like Alfred E. Neumann. What's the worst that can happen?"

"Well, they could shoot you like a rabid dog. You know they are capable of it, at least a lot of them."

"Yeah, that would be bad - especially if I didn't get to take a couple of 'em with me. But I wouldn't care, because I'd be dead. And look at the other advantages. No more worries about cancer, heart attacks, living like a vegetable, or shitting in diapers again. So there are upsides."

John shook his head, and they both addressed their plates for a while in silence.

"I was wondering why you don't run those goons out of the county, or at least call 'em on the carpet to tell them they can't do any enforcement actions without your participation, like that sheriff over in Big Horn County used to do."

"I was thinking about that; but it's easier said than done. You know the attitude those types have," John groused.

"John, they are all a bunch of pussies. If they came along on a hunting trip with us we'd leave 'em in the dust. They probably know nothing about tracking or survival or getting on with minimum resources. All they have is a fancy paper from some bullshit University, and some expensive equipment."

"A lot of those guys are ex-military."

"So what, so are we!"

"Well, I'll probably pull 'em over and ask them what the hell they are doing in my county. Just for laughs."

"That's the spirit. Bring that gorilla you just hired, to back you up." He watched for a moment, eyes twinkling, as John made ready to leave. "Say, when's the next auction anyway?"

John just scowled at him and said nothing, and started out. George called out, "Waitress, got any donuts to go for our man in uniform here?" He snickered good-naturedly. "No, the deputies came in earlier and cleaned me out." The other patrons chuckled.

George smiled into his coffee cup. He figured John would do nothing about his next round of auction "threats". Good. He would hate to have gotten into a fight with him. He guessed John was going to cast his lot with his friends and neighbors instead of the state or feds.

*****

Old Henry slowly worked his way over to the counter at the Broken Tire Motel, when the man came in to talk to him. "Damn arthritis!" he cursed under his breath.

"Good morning," said FBI agent Moody. He received a begrudging nod from Henry in return. "We'd like to stay maybe another week."

Henry said nothing, just staring back. Then, "Say, I heard you fellas are feds. That so?"

"Yes, FBI." Moody noticed a narrowing of eyes from Henry. Sure wasn't like the old days when people used to look up to me, when I said that, he thought.

"I'm afraid you won't be able to stay here. I'm shutting down for a week or two. Or three. Going fishing. You'll have to move on. By the way, we don't have any of them Al Kady fellows around here - do we, Mohammed?" He directed the last at the dark-skinned young man just coming in the door with a couple of garden tools. "Mohammed" said, "Ah, no," and looked down quickly, passing through as quickly as he could. "So," Henry continued, "you can set your minds at ease about that. Unless the terrorists you are looking for are Vets. Or Constitutionalists. We got a lot o' them types. Anyway, you're already paid up so you can just go when you want, long as you're out before 11."

Moody appeared to be struggling to control himself. He turned and walked out.

Jose' came back in from the kitchen. "Why you call me Mohammed, Henry?"

"Just to piss 'em off, Jose'." He thought for a minute, then, "Say, you'd better pull out of here a day early if you can. Might be safer for you, if ya know what I mean. Let me know if you can make it back next year, OK? You've done a real good job around here."

"OK, I will do that. Good luck with your fishing, Henry."

Moody approached the black SUV, where the 'youngster' Eckert was sitting. "We've been evicted. Let's get our stuff out of the room. That bastard. That old bastard, I knew he'd be trouble when I first saw him. I felt like busting his chops, but I'm already in enough trouble as it is. So we'll just have to drive from Billings every day, damn it. Fuck this town. I never saw a place with so many cranky old fuckers in it, and half of 'em carry guns too. Seems like that picked up after we got into town. Damn this place!"

A gust of wind ripped the door out of his hand and nearly torqued the hinge. Moody grabbed it again and cussed some more.

*****

George Hart was walking down the street when he saw Joan Halpern, the assessor, walking toward him. She saw him and assumed a look that varied between schoolmarm and concerned mother. George sighed.

When she came up to him she said, "George, I'm worried about you. I'd hate to see you lose your place."

George thought for a moment, then decided to speak his mind as had become his habit lately. "Joan, have you ever thought what a disreputable profession it is, collecting taxes? Doesn't it make you feel like a common thief, or a Mafioso running a protection racket?"

Joan turned a deep shade of red. "How could you say such a thing!"

"I don't know, Joan. I was just laying in my bed last night, wondering what it would be like to have your job. Wondering about all the tricks and rationalizations I'd have to play on myself to have any self-respect left. Do you do those things? What do you see when you look in the mirror every morning?"

She clamped her mouth shut in a thin line and pushed past him, without a word.

"Well, I burned that bridge, I guess," he muttered to himself. "Put her down in the enemy column. Of course, she was already there, despite her nice manner when you come in to pay your protection money. She's one of those types who would electrocute the subject to death in that Milgram experiment, and feel righteous after doing it. I can't understand that mind-set." He shook his head, continuing on into the hardware store. All he was looking for was an O-ring, which the owner gave to him for free. He'd noticed a lot of people treating him very nice like that, just little things, recently.

There had been some vague talk about getting up a collection to pay his taxes for him, but he quickly squelched that notion. A ridiculous idea anyway. But there were a lot of decent folks there, who despite their foibles did look out for each other. Some of them, anyway - the ones who had not prostituted themselves for the state. Even some of them were pretty decent too, but hadn't been honest with themselves.

(That's all so far.)

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