Putting the 'Bash' Into the Wabash

Though I was born and raised in Illinois, I spent a good deal of my childhood in Indiana. We had a lot of relatives there, and a family-run department store, H. Gordon & Sons, was based in Gary. Alas, it eventually went out of business in the 1970s when the city of Gary did, as well. (Harry Gordon was my great-grandfather.) My beloved Grandma Rose lived in an area known as Miller Beach, on the shores of Lake Michigan just outside Gary. As a little kid, I'd spend summers there with her, and with the multitude of relatives who lived nearby (some even within blocks, walking distance along the sandy streets), and my family would visit there often during the year, including annual car trips there for Thanksgiving.

So, I have a lot of ties to Indiana. I even was accepted to Indiana University. In fact, it was my first college acceptance letter, which is always a huge relief. (A greater relief is that I ended up going to Northwestern...) My second-cousin Margie (my mother's first-cousin) was a massive lover popcorn -- massive -- and I recall the joy she had when discovering a popcorn factory that made such high-quality corn that she'd drive 70 miles round-trip from Gary to Valparaiso to buy 25-pound sacks. We were the lucky recipient of her gift packages of the stuff -- my introduction to this, at the time, local company, Orville Redenbacher. Margie's husband Stanley was long-involved with Illinois Senator Paul Douglas to save the glorious Indiana Dunes -- an effort which eventually succeeded when it was made a National Lakeshore.

So, it's heart-breaking to see Indiana's passing its Intolerance Bill -- and no matter what paper they want to wrap it in and call it, that's what it is. Though it's not as surprising as some people seem to think. After all, Indiana was one of the largest centers of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th Century. In 1925, over half the members of the Indiana legislature were members, and endorsement by the Klan was a near-requirement for politicians.

Times have happily changed. But intolerance sadly still lives strongly in Indiana. And despite what the lyrics say in the official state song, the moonlight is not fair tonight along the Wabash River. It's about as unfair as one can imagine.

As such, I thought it would be appropriate to pull out a satiric piece I wrote for the Huffington Post almost four years ago to the day, on March 25, 2011. (I reference it as "satiric" because, at the time, far too many readers -- and one would have been too many, but it was more... -- thought the article was serious!) Though the specific subject matter is different from the news today, the point behind it in many ways is even more appropriate.

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Illinois Citizen Group to Build Wall on Indiana Border

A private citizens group in Illinois today announced plans to build a wall along the Indiana border to keep out those they say are streaming across the unprotected state line. The problem, they say, has been growing for the past 30 years.

"Ever since the oil refineries in Gary began closing in the mid-1970s, people there have had to find other income," states the leader of the group, T. Herbert Duffy. "They've been streaming into Chicago ever since."

Duffy's organization was founded four months ago in mid-January. "We didn't actually care about immigration," he acknowledges. "We just got together because it was so butt-numbing cold that all anyone could do was sit in the basement shivering. So we came up with the idea of this club."

At first, the only agenda item was to complain about shoveling snow. It was only after the Spring thaw came that the illegal Indianan idea popped up. "Our wives kicked us out of the basement, and we needed another problem or they'd make us come home. That's when Phil started complaining about having lost his job, and blamed the Illegals from Indiana."

Although the man had worked in a Galesburg tractor factory that had closed in order to manufacture cheaper overseas, the Minutepeople still knew they had their issue. "It just pissed us off, all those illegal Indianans sneaking into Illinois to steal our jobs and womenfolk. A couple of six-packs will do that."

The mission grew from there. Starting from only five disgruntled men, they began recruiting, and found that there were enough people who wanted to get out of their house or meet singles that the club grew to its present total of 57 Minutepeople.

"That wasn't our original name," Duffy acknowledges. "We wanted to call ourselves Minutemen. We even had a lot of t-shirts made up. But someone thought there was another group with the name. Back in the Civil War or something. [Editor's note: it was the Revolutionary War.] We figured it was better not to get sued, so we changed it." A similar situation impacted the women in the club. "We had intended to call them Minutemaids, but we got a 'Cease and Desist Order" from the orange juice company. So, we're all Minutepeople."

The name has its own sense of history, Duffy relates. "My wife would ask me to take out the garbage, mow the lawn, and I'd all always say, 'In a minute, honey. In a minute.' The name just stuck."

As attention to the wall-building grows, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has announced that he is ordering members of the State National Guard to the Illinois-Indiana border. "We will be sending four National Guardsman," a spokesman for the Governor's office reports. "There are going to be a lot of drunk guys with loaded firearms in the hot sun, and we don't want another Dick Cheney incident."

At present, the wall along the Illinois-Indiana border stretches 12 feet. The Minutepeople hope to have it completed by the end of August, though Duffy figures late-Autumn.

Many experts figure that it will take at least several hundred years. Some suggest longer. "With soil erosion and the natural corroding of cheap materials they bought," states Lawrence Eberhardt of Eberhardt Fencing, "within 30 years they'll likely have to start repairing their earlier work.. Then, each year the later-construction will begin falling apart. This could stretch until eternity."

Duffy and the Minutepeople remain undaunted. They insist they will finish the wall. It's a mission now to the club. "I know some people have said this is all racist, but that's not true. If Indians want to live in Indiana, that's fine. We have some right here. But wherever you live, you don't enter somebody else's land uninvited. That's been true in America ever since the Pilgrims landed in America."

Duffy is clear to insist, that it's not just Indians the Minutepeople want to protect Illinois from, but all Illegals. The problem, he says, is that there aren't enough border guards in Illinois. "Or actually, any." That's when they knew they had to build the wall. "To keep all illegal immigrants out. All."

When asked if that includes illegals from Kentucky, Duffy hedged a little. "That's the really squiggly part of the state border," he noted, "and it's pretty hard to build a wall on something that shape. We can bend our metal piping a little, but not that much."

However, the Minutepeople are concerned about illegal immigrants from Missouri. "In some ways, they're worse than Indiana," the Exalted High Poobah noted. "Who wants all those St. Louis Cardinals fans here?! The Cardinals suck.." But the Minutepeople don't have any plans to build a fence along the Illinois-Missouri border. "No, that's why God created the Mississippi River," states Duffy. "If anyone from Missouri tried to swim across, their fat butts would sink."

The river, however, is only the first line of defense against both the Missouri and Iowa borders. "If any Illegal tries to drive into Illinois over bridges, you can see them coming. And since it's mostly single file, that makes them easy to pick off. Also, we're buying landmines to plant along the shore."

That only leaves the Wisconsin border to the north.

Duffy admitted that initially the Minutepeople had forgotten about the northern border. But after a good laugh and a couple of beers, he said they all realized, "We really got nothing against Wisconsin. Cheese, beer, how can you not like them? Hate the Green Bay Packers, but the Bears rule, so what? The only thing about Wisconsiners is that when they come here they drive tractors really slow down the middle of the road. Forget 'em. They're like us, they're okay."

It's a difficult mission, but one that makes Duffy's wife Helen extremely proud. "I know the Tribune did a big state poll which said 98% of people in Illinois thought the Minutepeople were idiots, but I don't believe polls. I'm sure it's less than that. We do get about 75 phone calls every night yelling at us for being un-American, but I don't believe phone calls either. I'm sure they're just wrong numbers. And every morning our house is covered with eggs, but I don't believe the egg-throwing. I'm sure they're just trying to give us food for our important work."

In the end, T. Herbert Duffy is proud of all that he and his Minutepeople have accomplished in so short a time. "Some may call us vigilantes," he says, appreciating his 12-feet of fence, "and while that is true, it's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it got us on TV."


To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about this or many other matters both large and tidbit small, see Elisberg Industries.