Few readers of The Monkey Wrench Gang know that Bonnie Abbzug was based on a real woman–a real dancer from the Bronx. She and Ed were a couple when Ed began writing the book and they remained friends until his death in 1989. She is our guest author here; this piece is her own take on Ed, his philosophies, his legacy, and on “political correctness” (that Ed would never have indulged in).
Two score and five years ago, Edward Abbey brought forth upon this continent environmental activism. Now we are met on a great battlefield against witless policymakers, deceitful poison-spewing enterprises, great land masses afire, extirpated flora and fauna, and exploding human populations, testing whether this nation or any nation can long endure. It is for us today to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us.
Ed is long since departed to that special part of heaven reserved for atheists, celebrating eternity in the company of passenger pigeons, Javan tigers, and joyful Lonesome George with his many offspring. In Desert Solitaire Ed observes, “Time passes slowly, but not slowly enough.” True. It’s 52 years now since Desert Solitaire was published, 45 years since The Monkey Wrench Gang roiled off press, and 31 years since Ed left this weary world behind.
He did not, however, leave it very far behind. In fact, he’s not actually gone: In just the past few years five new books have been added to the pile already written about him — yet another scheduled for this coming April — along with dozens of recent anthologies that include his works, and print and website articles mention him every week.
I am always happy to see that he lives on and that most of the writing about him welcomes the memory of his insight, wit, articulate crankiness and, occasionally, charm. And his launch of the environmental activist movement. That said, there is also chronic background noise that I am grown weary of. No, Ed was not a bigot. No, he was not a misogynist. And, no, Ed did not throw beer cans out of car windows.
The frequent references to his beer can flings come from a sentence he once wrote about doing that, followed by the justification: “Beer cans are beautiful. It’s the highway that’s ugly.” As to the person or two who witnessed this misbehavior, Ed was just being cute. Actually, he was much more likely to pull over to pick up beer cans left roadside than toss them there … depending on the road.
It is unclear that anything can be done any more to save the Utah desert that Ed so loved –particularly as the current administration savagely assaults it on a huge scale — or for that matter save the rest of the world, In time, climate change or some other natural, or unnatural, disaster will reduce the world’s soaring population. When that time comes cities will go up in flames and nuclear power plants will melt down, or explode, but at least cockroaches and scorpions have demonstrated some ability to survive nuclear radiation. And maybe a few H. sapiens to start over again. And do a better job.
With some exceptions involving low IQs blathering on social media and in newspapers, prejudices held by Americans are not about skin color but about recidivist criminals, illegitimate parents, drug gangs and their addicts, and chronic welfare recipients of all races. While there are those who accuse Ed of racial bigotry, I certainly never saw, nor heard about nor read about anyone claiming to have seen him act hostilely toward anyone based on race, an actual Homo sapiens in his company, the true test of prejudice. Just like most of us — with this exception of stupid people — over the years Ed had friends who were black, Hispanic, native American, even Jewish. It’s true that he was, however, interested in closing our borders to immigrants to our overdeveloped country — today, as he feared, with grave environmental concerns or outright crises in every state of the union — and, due simply to our geography, he was particularly concerned about refugees from South American countries who had way too many children then, and today are often the impoverished victims of collapsed economies, terrorist plagues, corrupt regimes — and education systems that fail to accommodate the poor (who still have the most children) — and leave them hardly able to read. As here.
Ed’s concern was that the more people seeking escape from foundering countries that we admit, the more who will come, which is, to say the least, proven true. “Help them at home” was Ed’s philosophy these decades ago, not abandonment. Today the problem is the same in Europe, increasingly turning away desperate foreigners seeking food, shelter and safety. Yes, they should be helped by all stable countries working together to make their homelands safe and sustainable for them; and distribute birth control. Is there still time? Unclear, but our indefinitely maintaining open doors to tens of millions of tempest tossed is no longer possible as the climate change disaster escalates and violated, previously undisturbed ancient environments release new viruses. Just since 1929 when Ed was born the world population has increased from 2 billion to 7.8 billion, this growth now overwhelmingly in failed states, while rich countries poison the earth and sky and violent men in conflict zones murder each other, babies, their mommies and unarmed men. As always.
Privileged white male? No
Ed unambiguously aimed his disparagement at stupid, corporate whites who are permanently destroying this country’s natural environments to make a buck for themselves, their shareholders and create — temporary — jobs, and to lazy “industrial tourists,” also overwhelmingly white, who do not get out of their cars to actually take a walk through our parks and forests; what’s left of them.
The author of the book most recently published about Ed — I will not name it — was written by a woman who speaks of “white male privilege.” Well, I don’t know what rock she’s living under, but anyone looking for a job today that pays a living will very often see a paragraph about “diversity” at the bottom of each job description in companies large and small. If privileged whites looking for jobs find themselves competing with qualified minorities, if the company lives in the 21st century the odds are goodbye job. As to ESL migrants who seek work as assembly line workers, farm workers, cleaning staff, consider that these jobs often will not support a family and robots are speedily developing those skills. Nor is it a secret that U.S. universities long since ease admission standards to favor underprivileged and privileged blacks over privileged and underprivileged whites and Asians, to settle past debts.
Ed found women to be “morally superior” to men, which is true. Most men are jerks. Indeed, if all the men in the world disappeared tonight there would be peace in the world at breakfast time tomorrow. Everywhere. In our time together, however, Ed did have the traditional idea that my job was to run the household and his job was to provide, change flat tires and do the heavy lifting as he explained in his 1973 letter to MS Magazine, “Dear Sirs.” In fact, however, Ed knew how to scramble eggs sort of, and I could manage a power drill and countersink, so we thrived, then.
No, Ed was not a misogynist, but yes he was a promiscuous male. Consider however that as his fame grew, so did the number of women prepared to fling themselves at him, knowing full well he was married, as he was most of his life, to a bunch of different women. So, his complicity in his promiscuity was merely 50 percent, nor is he the only man who behaves this way in the same circumstances. Most men are jerks. Ed dropped me a line when his fourth wife dumped him, reassuring me that he was well. “We Abbeys are tough, if stupid.”
But, stupid is as stupid does. Ed was often vulgar in the journals he kept — now published — and, as time passed, in his books. This did not, however, reflect how Ed really acted around people, men or women. He was polite and actually rather shy as he himself and his friends frequently observed. Indeed, his conversations with people he did not know well were often awkward. More than once someone walked up to us when we were taking a stroll or at an event and greeted him with “Hello Ed. How you doing?” Ed would stare at the ground and shuffle his feet as he contemplated his answer. Eventually I would say, “Ed’s fine, thank you.”
In the months before he died we were at a party in New York City where Russia’s poet laureate, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, was a surprise guest. As soon as we were introduced I started reciting a lovely poem he had written many years before and after expressing his delight that I had committed it to memory he informed me this love poem was about his third wife. Before long these two men, both 6’2″, were standing with an arm around each other’s shoulders singing a song they knew in common. I no longer recall what the song was but I remember looking at them thinking these two men between them had 10 wives and ten children. Yes, they were both geniuses, but also jerks. Most men are jerks.
The First Pass
In the rich passage of time, among the many memories I carry of life with Ed is the original first chapter of The Monkey Wrench Gang, a book I read page by page as it was coming out of his typewriter. It opened gloriously with the blowing up of the Glenn Canyon Dam as chunks of cement flew high into the air and the mighty Colorado River was mighty once again as it flooded joyously, free at last, through the Grand Canyon. Alas, Ed tossed that scenario because he thought it was “too unbelievable.” Not for me. I believe it, I believe in it. I hope for it, and await the glory of that day. May it come soon.
Discussion with Edward Abbey, February 2020:
“I don’t give a dam. I take them. When no one’s looking.”
Ed is alive and well. He lives in a cave in a location I will not name.
It’s high summer on this starlit night as I’m walking toward a familiar shadowy silhouette sitting cliffside, his legs dangling over an 8,000-foot drop into the red rock. It is a quiet night, just the sound of crickets and the shadow’s flute gently singing, a million stars sparkling overhead.
“Ahoy Swabby,” I yell into the starlight, “t’is Princess Bonnie, your best beloved. How art thou?”
“O, shut up” Ed says. “You sound like a jerk.”
“You’re the jerk,” I inform him, “living in a cave here for 30 years when you could live with me in midtown Manhattan.”
“Yes, Genius, you know how I love those 100-story skyrapers, noise, filth, and what if someone recognizes me?,” Ed replies. “I’m supposed to be dead.”
“Fear not,” I respond, “No one in New York has ever heard of you.”
“I’m hungry. Did you bring any food?”
I reply in the affirmative and start unpacking the food basket I brought, a bunch of bananas at the top. “I read at the National Institutes of Health web site that people have 50 percent of their DNA in common with bananas.”
“Well I would have no problem believing that because I have definitely met bananas that are smarter than people,” Ed says as he chows down, adding “What’s a web site?”
Before I can answer he changes subjects. “So, let’s get on with it and damn the dam. Tomorrow we will rappel down into the Canyon and befriend the lonely river as it trickles to the sea, sadly missing its silt load. And its humpback chub load. And razorback suckers.”
“O, alright already, let’s finally get this done. What’s the plan, like, how will we rappel down carrying a few hundred pounds of dynamite,” I query, “and caps?”
“No problem. We’ll work that out in a dry run in the morning and after that set a future date. How’s Valentine’s Day?”
“Sounds lovely. Are Ken and Dougie going to help us?,” I enquire.
“Of course,” Ed replies. “Doug is taking helicopter piloting lessons right now and Ken will stand by with a raft for after he crashes it.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Wish us well.
Political Correctness is Incorrect
PCness hurts no one more than the minorities that bobblehead reporters, news anchors and opinionators claim to speak for as they pull down a shade on the actual facts, blocking the sunshine needed for honest discussion about how to move forward.
Ed predated this “political correctness” now swamping American media, nor, obviously, would he have ever indulged in it. Ed was happy to end the invited talks he would give on college campuses and at public events with, “Is there anyone I have neglected to offend?”
What is the “wealth gap”?
Clearly, this is a stupid way to use the word wealth even though it gets ink daily. The basis of “income inequality” in the US is between high school dropouts, high school graduates and college graduates, of all races. It is in large part a self-sustaining problem as undereducated parents, of all races, are much more likely to live in wealth-gap households and raise income inequality children.
Fact: Not all children are academically inclined, or enabled. With a sunshine discussion, the wage gap for them could be substantially diminished with an aggressive return to vocational high schools coast to coast — schools like the one I went to, for example, for students who heard the call of the performing arts: dance, music, drama. I have friends who never went to college, a few who did not even graduate from our high school, who went on to successful careers in their chosen vocations. Thus, in the village where my house is you can get a same-day appointment with a doctor, but heaven help you if you need a plumber, roofer, electrician, or a landscaper to bring down a dying giant sequoia leaning toward your house. Get in line.
More sunshine: Much of the problem originates with children who suffer from insufficient adult attention, more of a problem in single-parent households — conversation, reading, visiting dinosaur skeletons in museums — during the most important years of neurological wiring of the brain, and culling: birth to age three. An online search will reveal that this is supported by a substantial body of research. This early-onset developmental deficit can never be corrected. It is rarely mentioned in discussion of the $180 billion controversy about the Head Start program for children in poverty, with numerous studies finding that its benefits often fade by the middle of grade school years. Head Start starts too late.
According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2013, 71% of blacks and 53% of Hispanics gave birth out of wedlock, of course dooming many of those children to poverty and some to outright hunger. Same for whites, who are always a larger such population but a smaller percentage at 29%, and Asians at 17% in this study. A CDC 2018 publication, National Vital Statistics Report, found that births to unmarried mothers per 1,000 population in 2016 were 58 for blacks, 68 for Hispanics, 30 for whites and 16 for Asians. Some other studies find these numbers are showing signs of going down, but the racial gaps remain.
Alas, the PC bobbleheads do find their way around. A few years ago the editor-in-chief of American Scientist, Jamie Vernon, cited a study at Rice University, where 5 percent of 7,123 students were black in 2018: “A study by Rice University found that 90 percent of African Americans are most likely to value a post-secondary education.” Here the word “value” has no assigned meaning, nor did he clarify if black PhDs were surveyed or high school freshman, and he failed to mention that blacks also have the highest college drop out rate. Vernon goes on to quote a 2008 paper that says “46 percent of science papers analyzed were published by authors with only Anglo last names.” Well, did you ever meet a black man named White? Or an Asian named Lee? Or a Caucasian woman who used her married last name? And of course he goes on to discuss income inequality without finding any tie to single-parent households. No sunshine.
Here is another stupid word. If everyone is privileged, no one is privileged. Look it up.
Much of our underprivileged problem is of course also due to undereducation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017 blacks dropped out of high school at a rate of 22%, Hispanics at 20%, whites 11%, Asians 9%.
As above, such numbers vary depending on the source, and the numbers vary by state. Still, with 60% of the US population white, there are more whites doomed to underpriviligedness than minorities, but that gets no press. A GED offers no lifetime income benefits compared to a four-year high school degree and is not included in the study above. A GED does however enable enrollment in community college, which is dirt cheap in most states, and with $120 billion in loans and grants available annually for higher education federally, by state, from corporations and NGOs.
In the US, it’s time for school administrators and politicians, and the press that gives them leash, to shut up about skin color and listen to the children of all races who are not academically inclined about where their interests lie — after they have been exposed to different careers in vocational high schools — and before they wind up in jail. Unsurprisingly, up to 75% of the US state jail population is functionally illiterate, thus doomed in majority to a lifelong unemployment struggle.
A CBS/New York Times poll in 2015, “The State of Race Relations in the U.S.,” got lots of coverage about how bad things are here. Deeply buried amid all the negativity — the last of 42 questions — the poll asked whites “Are any of your close friends black?,” and asked blacks “Are any of your close friends white?” Positive responses were 69% and 77% respectively. The positive answers to “race relations in your community” were even higher. Had the word close not been added, obviously the positive responses would also have been even higher, but anyway these responses make questionable more than a little of the poll’s negativity that came before. The poll did not address this disparity in its discussion of the results. Further, had these two questions been first instead of buried, perhaps the scandal-seeking press would not have dived on it. So, this again raises the question, how much of today’s negative assessment of race relations is traceable to believers in the constantly negative, politically correct press coverage?
With one sheepdog I could herd 90% of America’s reporters.
Done. Is there anyone I have neglected to offend?
BONNIE ABBZUG is a dancer from the Bronx .
(Photo of the author in Logan, Utah. 1967)
To comment, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Zephyr Policy: REAL NAMES ONLY on Comments!
Don’t forget the Zephyr ads! All links are hot!