Nov 29, 2010

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Border Patrol Officers

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The last time I travelled anywhere with both my mother and my father together was the year I turned sixteen, when we all took a brief vacation in South Texas. During our trip, we paid a visit to the small town of Selma, where, at the Blue Bonnet Palace (a rodeo/bar/country music venue), we watched the inimitable Willie Nelson perform.

It was a bit surreal for me (a kid who’d spent the majority of her years in New York City and Boston), the experience of being surrounded by a bunch of dudes in ten-gallon hats drinking Lone Star at the bar, while in the adjacent arena, real-live cowboys rode real-live bulls. We actually caught a few minutes of the rodeo before Willie came onstage, and I’ll never forget the moment of prayer before the bull-riding began. All the men removed their hats, holding them to their chests as the announcer spoke solemnly into his microphone.


Haha. I wonder what that prayer would sound like in Hebrew? I whispered to my mother, who elbowed me sharply. A cowboy shot me a look.

Anyway, I hesitate to speak much about Willie’s performance that evening, because the experience for me was so profound, that any attempt I make to articulate its awesomeness will most undoubtedly verge on the trite. I will just say that, during the casual, general-admission show, I stood near enough to the small stage to count the individual sections of Willie’s braids, the many folds in his bandana. The thing I remember most, though, was how soothing his voice was; the sound of unflappability and peaceful resolve.

These moments marked some of the happiest I’d ever spent with my parents together—ironic, in a way, as they were also some of the last. My mother and father separated permanently just a few months after we returned home from Texas.

I thought of our Texas trip often this past weekend, having just learned of Willie Nelson’s recent arrest at the U.S./Mexico border in Texas. The 77-year-old performer was taken into custody Friday, when a border patrol officer found six ounces of marijuana in his tour bus. He was released on $2,500 bail, but could spend an additional six months in prison for the crime.

Nelson, of course, has been a longtime proponent of the legalization of marijuana as the co-chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), but what many may not know is that the star has also dedicated much of his career to other philanthropic endeavors. Among the causes he has championed are that of the family farm (co-organizing the first Farm Aid concert in 1985), the environment (he founded Willie Nelson Biodiesel, a company that is marketing bio-diesel bio-fuel to truck stops), animal rights (including campaigning against the slaughter of horses and advocating humane conditions for farm animals), and gay rights (in 2006, he released the song Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other, an anthem of advocacy for the awareness of gay rights and acceptance). In 2007, he founded the Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute. Of course, in my own little tselfish, Tsada world, none of these accomplishments compare to the gift he gave me that night at the Blue Bonnet Palace—one last placid, joyful evening with my parents, together, as a family.

I'm aware that to some, 180 days may seem like a short sentence, especially given the amount of time others have spent incarcerated for drug offenses.  Still, I’ve got to wonder--if Willie, who will turn 78 in April, spends those six months in jail, what do we stand to gain as a society? More importantly, what do we stand to lose?

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the Tsaritsa said...

When I first heard about this I was really mad. Stop hassling Willie Nelson, for pete's sake! Everyone knows he's a stoner, just leave him alone. Sheesh.

I like your memory of seeing him perform. Countin...g his braids sounds like something I'd do as a child, or now.

tsada kay said...

Thanks, Tsaritsa! I love this country, but I really think we've got our priorities skewed a great deal of the time. It's a plant, he's an icon. FREE WILLIE!

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