Editorial: Banned in Duncan

Photo By Dexter K. Oliver: “Last Goodbye” is the final installation in a series of what the late, great Dutch Salmon of High Lonesome Books in Silver City, New Mexico called rare and collectible books. The author has imposed a self-ban from public commercial sales in Duncan after a sales clerk had an unpleasant encounter with a customer over it.

Column By Dexter K. Oliver

I should have known better than to get others involved in peddling my often contentious writings. I’ve had some people so mad at me that the spittle flew when they got in my face screaming their displeasure. I just shrug it off. At least I made them actually think for a change. But that kind of aggravation is above and beyond the call of duty for the volunteer sales folks at the Country Chic art gallery and gift shop which also houses the Duncan, AZ Visitors’ Center where my books are sold.

The final one of the dozen I’ve written and self-published (see The Gila Herald editorial “Last Goodbye”, Sept. 22, 2022) is a nonfiction (as opposed to my novels and short stories) example of why controversy is the antidote to complacency. It was supposed to encourage the reader to ruminate about the various subject matters which may well be new or presented in an unorthodox fashion. It could bolster or challenge preconceived teachings or beliefs, and it might either strike a familiar chord or touch a nerve in an uncomfortable manner. All of which were meant to stimulate the brain cells.

A man recently stopped at the shop, bought a copy of that book, read some of it in his truck in the parking lot, and returned inside to slam it on the counter and declare it unfit for public consumption. The sales lady was understandably upset that the stranger was trying to shoot the messenger since I was nowhere around to get the proper blame. She offered to give him his money back but he refused and stormed out. When I learned of this I immediately yanked the copies of that particular book, thereby banning its sale at any commercial venue in Duncan.

Photo By Dexter K. Oliver: The book is now banned from commercial sales in Duncan, Arizona.

The publication has a photo of the author on the front cover holding a 12 gauge shotgun in one hand, a Bible in the other, and a T-shirt that reads “God, Guns, and Trump”.  In red letters below the picture is the word AVISO (“Warning” in Spanish) in red letters and the words “Best Suited for Independent Thinkers”. Which is followed by the admonition, “And never judge a book by its cover”. On the back of the title page inside are some quotes, including one by the actor Jack Nicholson in the movie, “A Few Good Men”, where he snarls, “You can’t handle the truth”. All of which should be as clear as the buzzing sound of a rattlesnake advising one that this situation may well be outside of their intellectual comfort zone.

Of course, the very idea of the truth has been so adulterated and degraded in the past seven years that one could almost feel empathy for those who can no longer discern it. It states in John 8:32, “And you will know the truth, and it will set you free” but that horse has already left the barn.

Uncritical minds got in lockstep when ex-President Trump announced, “What you’re seeing and reading is not what’s happening”, followed by his advisor Kellyanne Conway trying to sell the concept of “alternative facts”. Not to be outdone, Trump’s favorite attorney, Rudy Giuliani (after Michael Cohen was thrown under the bus and suddenly grew a spine), stunned politicians and philosophers alike when he declared, “Truth isn’t the truth”. Chaos and confusion have always been hallmarks and smokescreens of con artists. The number of people who are not only comfortable with their ignorance but also arrogant and defensive about it is growing.  We all know many of them.

Satirists and real truth seekers, on the other hand, from Diogenes, Jonathan Swift, and Mark Twain up to the likes of George Carlin, have always been quick to point out when the emperor wore no clothes. Carlin in particular used his sharp wit to target the regurgitated bunk that flows as so much hot air every day in America (and often twice as much on Sundays). He was funny, frank, and ferocious in spotlighting the taboo elements of language, psychology, religion, sex, drugs, and education (or the lack thereof) that are the bedrock of the truth.

Most of the 400+ magazine and newspaper articles I’ve written were based on my personal experiences. However, I learned the foundational basics of fact-finding and analysis while getting a bachelor’s degree at the University of Arizona and enhanced that ability ten-fold during four decades of writing for public perusal.

This was well documented in an investigative research book of mine, “Whipping Dead Horses”. The exhaustive scrutinization included, but was not limited to, on-the-ground fact-finding, report reading, and interviews with the main players which included Forest Service rangers, staff, law enforcement, sheriff’s deputies, attorneys, FBI agents, judges, politicians, ranchers, and others. Sifting the soil for elusive nuggets of the truth is not something most people are given to do. I know very few who are willing to take a deep dive into research that is part of my routine.

When science, common sense, and investigative rigor give way to blind faith and apathy the results are bizarre conspiracy theories, belief in folklore and fantasy, and convictions that dreamt-up entities like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are real. My nonfiction writing reflects the former, not the latter. So when people get upset by something I wrote it is usually obvious that they are feeling threatened in some fashion, in their life-long assumptions, conclusions, and even basic persona. All I do is hold up a mirror, if they don’t like what they see, c’est la vie. Instead of a light bulb going on over their heads in a moment of revelation, the customary response is to thoughtlessly strike out against any new ideas or viewpoints. This is fine if they want to do it to me but not copacetic when they pick on a random 70-something salesperson.

So, following the guidance of blues legend B.B. King, it is time to make like a mole and go underground with my last book. I was already considered some sort of outlaw writer anyway, now I can be a contrabandista selling the book on a black market known only to the cognoscenti who can provide the correct passwords. I can visualize the scene: a dimly lit street corner by the local Riverfront Bar at midnight, a man in a trench coat with a fedora pulled low, waiting patiently for a clandestine meeting, the book wrapped in plain brown paper and held under one arm while both hands are hidden from sight in the coat pockets.

A banned book always has a certain flair to it, often becomes a collector’s item, and definitely doubles in price. Cash only now, thank you.

Dexter K. Oliver is a freelance writer and observer of the human condition from Duncan, AZ.