MEAN MISTER MUSTER

After a bellyful of paid informant Ron Frazier and undercover FBI agent Michael Fain, it's possible to lose sight of what a great country America is.

Defendant Dave Foreman, though, has managed to keep his grip on reality. Over lunch one day he explained his sense of patriotism: "Ronald Reagan and George Bush are Tories. I'm not trying to take down the symbols or icons of America--I'm trying to take them back."

Finding the flag behind the likes of Frazier and Fain is disheartening. The shame of it makes you want to look away. So as the trial broke for a two-week hiatus, I left for the annual muster in Marblehead, Massachusetts. After seven weeks of legal theatrics, I felt like I was up to my hip boots in sewage. Yes, I went looking for some action that would restore my faith in America. What I found was a fireman's dream--and a cop who underscored everything that was wrong with the Earth First! prosecution.

Since the Civil War, firefighters have gathered in the fields of New England to test their skills against teams from neighboring communities.

The center of the competition is the hand tub, an ancient machine meant to be drawn to a fire by hand or horse. Once on the scene, a hose was extended to the nearest source of water, a pond or a trough. Teams of as many as sixty people pumped up and down on two long bars on either side of the tub, sending an arc of water into the flames.

Today local groups uphold the ancient ritual.
My friend has restored a more or less defunct tub, the Okommakamesit, built in 1861.

The musters, where teams fight to see who can pump a stream of water the farthest, are a slice of National Geographic Americana.

There are honest-to-goodness people in the photographs of the National Geographic who always inspire questions: "Look at that grizzled old puss chewing tobacco; I wonder if the mule resents pulling her plow?" or, "Doesn't anyone in Milwaukee have a neck?" In this particular print from the muster edition of the National Geographic, the characters have names such as Larry "Earl" Doliber, Rita Goodwin, and Danny "Big Bopper" Loomis.

Come, step inside this Yankee Doodle tintype of tradition, take a look at how disturbing Americana is behind the scenes, and observe the benign role of law enforcement.

The muster competition in Marblehead was preceded by a parade down Main Street accompanied by fife and drum corps, antique cars, howling fire trucks and teams of rowdies pulling their tubs. Though Marblehead claims it is the birthplace of the American Navy, today it is overrun by the effete yacht set, which contests space with more indigenous lobster fishermen.

As the parade wound past the Rip Tide Lounge at about 11 a.m., the locals tying on their morning package stepped outside. The men with massive beer guts, referred to by townies as "Schlitz tumors," cheered the hometown boys from the "Oko's."

The tubs are inscribed with nineteenth-century mottos of civic commitment such as "We Will Try" and "Fear Not--We Come." Yes, the slogans land a bit muffled upon the ear 140 years after they were first printed on the side of the tubs, but in the wake of the morning sickness induced by the government's star witnesses in Prescott, these sentiments of community resolve were soothing, even uplifting, in the corniest and best sense of patriotism. I pictured the Earth First! picnic in the Arizona park shortly after the conspiracy trial began. That was the picnic where the FBI openly videotaped friends and families passing covered dishes back and forth. I tried to imagine the government's van stenciled with the legend, "Fear Not--We Come."

At the head of the "Oko's" gang was Doliber. Not far from where he paraded, an old cove carries his family's name.

People have the wrong idea about New England.
Popular mythology paints New Englanders as stoics where tradition, Cabot and Lodge prevailed.

Well . . . , yes, tradition is everything in New England, but the only reason Cabot and Lodge got the reputation for talking only to each other was that they were appalled by the behavior of the people living in the rest of New England.

People in the Northeast are every bit as eccentric as anyone Faulkner ever created.

It is true that the Dolibers were the first whites to settle in Marblehead. It is also true that they settled there after being exiled from Salem for rude conduct. No one in the clan is stuffy about lineage; instead the descendants prefer to remember the great-grandmother who marched about her home stark naked well into her eighties, a habit that routinely scandalized the area mailmen who were accustomed to opening the front door and putting the old girl's mail on the hall table only to glance up and see her bent over, scrubbing the floor, without a stitch.

Since he came from such hardworking stock--his father ran the town gas station--it was only natural that Doliber would volunteer to restore the "Oko's" when danger threatened.

Unlike many of the other clubs that maintain tubs, the group behind the "Oko's" was democratic in the sense that anyone could join. Soon there were two factions attempting to rebuild the "Oko's" and strangle each other if time permitted.

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