Author: © Chris S. McGee
Publisher: Harvard Square Editions
Publication Date: April 22, 2016 (Earth Day!)
A week later, Saturday morning 2:00 a.m. It was dark, midnight-blue dark. We had waited for the new moon. Armed with the tools of the trade, we made our way through the thick brush. Having chosen the I-70 corridor again, placement of the signs was critical. Ones that were too close to the road were off limits. The other criteria for a possible hit included surrounding foliage enough to offer cover at a moment’s notice, a place to park on an outer road that was not visible to any homes or businesses, and in the event of crisis, if we had to leave our vehicle, well, then we were screwed. There weren’t many places where billboards sat along I-70 in Missouri that didn’t have something else close by. This was tricky business.
“Owwww,” Lake whispered, as she followed me through a thick stand of eight-foot river birch, one snapping back and slapping her in the face.
“Yeah, I’m tough. You don’t worry about me mister.” Lake rubbed her face where the branch had hit her.
“We can turn back right now.”
“No, I’m doing this.”
I turned, and we continued until we could see the sign from the trees. We’d chosen ‘SAUCY TIME ADULT SUPER STORE’ as our first prey. This sign was especially embarrassing when family and friends came to visit, and we were driving them back from the airport in Kansas City. ‘WELCOME TO MISSOURI’ was hard enough sometimes. It would be a pretty drive if there were no billboards at all. Old barns and stretches of woods and hills dotted the landscape, but even one billboard can ruin a beautiful landscape. Visual pollution was low on the list of societal concerns. For a short but significant stretch, I-70 was dotted with ‘NUDE DANCING’, ‘SECRET FANTASIES’, ‘PORNO EXTRAVAGANZA’, and the list went on. Lake called it pornography alley. Unfortunately, the only one we could take down was this one, which had wooden posts. All the rest broadcasted high above the ground on the galvanized columns of the New World.
“Okay, we’re going to start with the posts on each end and then work our way in. We stop after each cut and inspect the sign, we don’t want to get squished. As soon as we know which way it’s going to fall, we cut the remaining posts. You understand?”
“Got it,” she said with a head bob. She was holding the idling new orange chain saw and I had a used one I’d purchased again with cash at a thrift store. With two saws we’d be able to work quicker and thus have less chance of being caught. I could tell she was scared, and I didn’t want her to know I was, too.
“You’re doing great.” It was a whole different story with her out here with me. I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but of course I did because I had a partner and lover wrapped up in one, at least tonight.
With chainsaws running, we cut through the first two ends and stopped. I checked for any obvious lean. It was definitely going down on the side we were cutting from. I motioned for us to switch sides. Positioning ourselves on the two inner posts, I gave the nod to start cutting. Halfway through the cuts the sign began to bend. I grabbed Lake’s shoulder and pulled her back as the posts cracked and the sign crashed to the ground.
“Oh my God!” she shouted in a whisper.
Lake stood in awe. With the chainsaws idling but still in hand, I indicated it was time for the last step. Lake followed my lead, as I began to cut across the downed sign, making it impossible to salvage. A minute later, the billboard was in pieces. I then took the green spray paint, and in large, capital letters wrote ‘MR. GREEN JEANS WAS HERE!’ across the cut-up pieces of plywood. In total, the whole job took no more than five minutes. Lake pulled out a camera and took a picture with flash.
“What are doing!?” I yelled.
“I’m going to start a scrapbook.”
“No, you’re not. Let’s go.” We both ran through the woods and jumped in the truck.
“Jack, that was incredible!” Lake screamed as the truck picked up speed on the outer road.
“Yeah, try to match that rush,” I stated, as I checked the rear-view mirror.
“Oh my God! I’m shaking!”
“No more pictures baby.”
“I know, I completely forgot about the flash,” She said apologetically.
“No, we can’t have any evidence anywhere. No more pictures,” I stated as fact.
“Okay Clyde,” Lake agreed with a smile. She was on cloud something or other. We both were. Now, on to the next piece of visual pollution, ‘TESTICAL FESTIVAL’. Which in reality was just that, a festival that celebrated the eating of cow testes. Animal agriculture is 40% – 50% of our greenhouse emissions, more than transportation and that’s outside of the immense cruelty millions the animals are inflicted with each year. It becomes so easy to find targets these days, it is as though we are born into blanket of abuse, and the easy way out is to pull up the covers and pretend it’s not going on.
The last sign offered much better parking. The last two posts on ‘TESTICAL FESTIVAL MUMFORD MISSOURI’ were encased in a metal skin. It wasn’t too thick, only meant to serve as protection from the moisture. I thought the chainsaw would rip through it without any problem. I motioned for Lake to move away. As I placed the saw against the metal it instantly kicked back and flew within inches of my face and I fell back on the ground with the chainsaw still in hand.
“Let’s go,” Lake said.
“No.” I got the saw started again and held tight. Once through the thin metal sleeve, the posts went like butter. Boom! Down went TESTICLE FESTIVAL. I handed Lake the spray paint and she did the honors of signing. I then finished by cutting the plywood into pieces.
“You go baby!” Lake was doing some kind of war dance. Her father had been full Greek and on her mother’s side, there were stories her great-great grandmother had been full Iroquois. Both her parents had passed. She hadn’t talked to her sister in ten years. This dance had more to do than just the downed sign.
“Let’s get out of here!”
Back at home, we sat on the deck and stared off into trees. It was just an hour before sunrise and a few birds could be heard beginning their morning conversations.
“We just changed our lives didn’t we?” she asked.
“Pretty much. I mean we can’t tell anyone, but there’s a certain something that’s going on” I replied.
“I feel the somethin. We should wear gloves from now on,” Lake said as she felt herself taking on a persona she’d never known.
“We should,” I replied, taking a deep breath.
“Owwwwwwwwww!” I let out my best wolf call.
“Owwwwwwwwww!” Lake let one go too.
An owl replied in the distance with his own call. We were in it now. Together.
Lake was doing yoga in front of the TV. The local 6:00 a.m. Monday early news was reviewing the weekend’s stories. I sat in our red, thrift-store, 50’s armchair drinking coffee and trying to concentrate on the news. I wasn’t having much luck. Lake’s turquoise tights and her one-size-too-small T-shirt was proving to be too great a distraction. We’d be married twelve years and my attraction to her had only increased. Summer break was two weeks away, and we’d be able to spend every day together.
I forced myself to look back at the TV. “Baby! Look at the TV!” I shouted.
She was doing a downward dog and raised her head to see a shot of the downed ‘SAUCY TIME ADULT SUPER STORE’ billboard. A young correspondent started his report.
“We’re on I-70 west of Manchester about nine miles. This billboard and one other were vandalized this weekend. The police have no leads at this point. However, the vandal or vandals left a tag. ‘Mr. Green Jeans.’ If you have any information regarding this crime, please call ‘Crimestoppers’ at 1-800-NOCRIME. Your identity will be kept confidential. This is John Savannas, back to you Sheri, what a story huh?”
“John, wasn’t Mr. Green Jeans Captain Kangaroo’s sidekick?” Sheri asked.
“Well, Sheri, that’s before my time, but I don’t think this is the same Mr. Green Jeans. It also looks like there might be two more billboards connected to Mr. Green Jeans. Three weeks ago, two other signs were cut down just outside of Manchester on I-70. Both those signs have since been repaired and are back up. Police say a chainsaw was used.”
“Okay, John, thank you. Seems Mr. Green Jeans doesn’t like billboards. We’ll keep you updated on this unusual act of vandalism. Now, let’s turn to the weather…”
Lake and I stared at each other, mouths open and eyes wide.
“They said Mr. Green Jeans four or five times! Far out!” Lake yelled as she started a sun salutation.
“I’m going to hide the chainsaws.” I was on my feet and heading to the back door.
“What?! Where?” Lake followed me.
“In that hole on the bluff face.”
“Baby, there’s no way they can link this to us.”
“I agree. But I’ll feel better if those saws aren’t in the shed.” I was out the door.
“All right, I’ll help, let’s do this quick. We have to get school.” Lake hurried after me.
On the back of our five acres, was a twenty-foot rock outcropping. On its face was a dead-end, dry cave. It extended about ten feet back into the rock and was big enough for one person to climb into comfortably. I climbed in the hole and Lake handed me the chainsaws. We filled the front of the opening with some dead branches and headed back up the hill to the house.
On our drive to work together, we sat in silence for the first few minutes. We had started to carpool when our schedules coincided to lower our carbon footprint, and found that it was actually kind of fun to take the twenty-minute drive together each morning.
“You think they’ll look for fingerprints?” Lake asked as she moved into the passing lane to get around a pickup truck that had its back window covered in one of those stick-on, American flags, a bald eagle imposed over the flag giving the finger with its talon and the words ‘Jihad This’.
“We’ll wear gloves from now on, or just remember to wipe them down,” I said, looking up at the truck’s driver; a middle-aged man looking older than he probably was, smoking a cigarette staring down at me from his brand new, cherry-red, 4×4, long-bed Ford. Lake had six bumper stickers of the environmental ilk pasted on her Subaru. It was like two worlds passing each other. It happened daily all over this country. It was difficult, at first, moving back to Missouri. Lake had never been here before, and I had never intended to move back. My mother was happy, though, and that sealed the deal. It was also much cheaper to live here and being teachers, we wouldn’t have to be chained to a mortgage as we would have been in the Southwest, where we couldn’t touch the prices on anything decent. The overall consciousness of the Midwest challenged us, but there were significant pockets of people we could relate to, and we had some extra money to travel at least once every two years. Two years earlier, it was Costa Rica. This year it was either our five acres, long summer days in the yard and garden or the great Southwest. Unless we were arrested.
“I have an idea!” I said, as Lake pulled into Boone High School.
“Tell me tonight, okay.” Lake was visibly shaken from the newscast.
“Okay. Love you,” I replied, hoping out of the Subaru, knowing that I sometimes didn’t let things settle before I was off onto something else.
“Love you too, baby.” And she was off to her school, just a mile away.
Walking into Boone High School, I noticed my gate going down the halls had new buoyancy to it. A little bad-ass trot if you will.
“Mr. Creek, what’s up?” De-Shawn, a seventeen-year-old kid whose father had been in prison since he was five, laid out a hand for some skin as he passed.
“Hey De-Shawn, how’s it going, man?” I locked my fingers into his for a quick shake.
“Did an abstract last night, Mr. Creek.”
“No kidding, I’d like to see it.”
“My grandma said it was real good. I called it ‘Life on the Curb’.”
“You got it going on, dude. I like that title,” I replied with a genuine smile and looked into his eyes.
“See you in class, Mr. Creek.” De-Shawn continued down the hall to his first-hour class.
This is the only reason I keep teaching. The relationships I make with the students were my strong suit. I wasn’t much on dotting i’s or crossing the t’s. I figured so many of these kids came from such awful homes where neglect and often other of forms of abuse happened daily, that there was no way school was going to be a place of success, unless someone showed them they cared. It wasn’t always easy to break their shell; these kids didn’t trust anybody, especially not a middle-aged white guy. Some of my colleagues ran a tight ship in their rooms, and these kids on the borderline quickly became disengaged and fell behind. I figured if a kid started to feel good about himself, then he would produce. If he didn’t he would shut down. If he dropped out, society wouldn’t be kind to him. What was the good in that? I stayed low to the ground at Boone High and most days ate lunch alone. I didn’t speak up at faculty meetings when inside it was killing me not to say something. I knew that if I did voice an opinion, then I was in it. And I wasn’t about to take on what I considered a broken public education system. That devotion would only end in despair. No, I would go on making a difference one child at a time and one billboard at a time.
When the final bell rang that afternoon, I was anxious for Lake to pick me up. I sat outside on the school’s front steps and pondered my new idea for Mr. Green Jeans’ exploits.
Lake liked her job and was very good at it. Her Special Ed. classroom was the talk of the district. She taught students who were mentally and often physically handicapped. She focused on life skills, like doing the dishes, laundry, cooking, going out into the community and volunteering at the food bank. Her kids weren’t going to learn to read and write, they would never have the capacity for that, but some might live somewhere outside their parents’ home someday. Simple life skills would serve them more than anything else they could be taught.
I heard her before I saw her driving into the parking lot. Windows were down and she was rocking out to one our favorite musicians, Van Morrison. Old school. This was a good sign.
“Main Squeeze?” Lake asked as I got into the car.
“Love it,” I replied, dropping my book bag at my feet.
“Good day?’ I asked.
“Debra pooped all over herself in the cafeteria, Charlie stole all the markers off my desk again, but the rest of them had a good day.”
“Sounds like about a 7.5.”
“So?” Lake looked over at me.
“So?” I replied.
“How you feeling?” asked Lake
“Got a little skip to my step today.”
“Yes, I do. And you?”
“I’m hopping a bit,” She said with a snicker.
We found a table at the window. As we waited for our food to arrive, I revealed my new plan for ‘Mr. Green Jeans’.
Chris S. McGee’s debut eco-novel, Mr. Green Jeans, takes you on a climate change, charged adventure. A middle-aged married couple throws caution to wind to help the planet. Traveling from the Midwest to Southwest in a converted VW van, they clandestinely exhibit their earth messages. Their actions soon become viral, and a following erupts. But there are those who want to shut them down, and with that, Jack and Lake Creek’s lives change forever.
Chris McGee is a writer who passion for environment keeps him awake at night and wakes him in the morning. He understands the dire environmental plight we currently face and Mr. Green Jeans is the first book in a series with Jack and Lake Creek, steadfast eco-stewards.
Praise for Mr. Green Jeans
“Exceptionally well written from beginning to end, Mr Green Jeans is all the more impressive when considering that it is author Chris S. McGee’s debut venture as an eco-novelist. Mr Green Jeans is very highly recommended, especially to the attention of environmental activists, and will make an enduringly popular addition to community library General Fiction collections.” -John Taylor, Midwest Book Review