Thursday, January 8, 2009


Billy Ray Barnwell here, I’m sure it will prolly come as no surprise to you, but a lot can happen in a hundred years, and each and every year is memorable for various reasons, take 1901 for example, in that year A the queen of England, Queen Victoria, died after a long reign and B President William McKinley was assassinated in the United States and C the recent end of a war with Spain brought the formerly Spanish territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands under U.S. control, but as often happens headlines in one century wind up as mere footnotes in the next and by The Year of Our Lord 2001, which is what A.D. which is short for Anno Domini means in our old friend the Latin language, it turned out that A Victoria’s name, when it was mentioned at all, was usually followed by the word “secret” and B the mountain in Alaska named for Mr. McKinley had been called Denali for some time to please the Inuit population and C persons of Hispanic descent, far from being conquered, had become America’s largest minority group. Like I said, a lot can happen in a hundred years. Consider the case of Palm Beach County, Florida, which a hundred years ago didn’t even exist on a map, it was just the northern portion of a very large Dade County (think Miami). Even forty years ago, traffic practically evaporated in South Florida at the end of the winter tourist season, why a person could just about lie down in the middle of U.S. 1 and take a nap, a person might even see crabs crossing highway A-1-A (please, no cracks about your Aunt Mabel and Uncle Claude in Boynton Beach). By 2001, however, discussions about Palm Beach County were not about the increase in automobiles or the decline in crabs but about the disputed 2000 presidential election between Vice President Al Gore of Tennessee and Governor George W. Bush of Texas, well you may not want to believe it, but a hundred years from now people may not care about the role Florida played in the 2000 election, they may not know what a butterfly ballot was, they may not have any idea what chads, dimpled or otherwise, were because for better or worse, life does go on, as proof let me ask you this question, when was the last time you became apoplectic over the 1876 election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes? Anyways, I wrote a poem called “The Ballad Of Palm Beach County (Centennial Edition, Annotated)” which you will be reading shortly which may make you smile or laugh or even cry, but I hope it will make you think about some other things as well, such as A the historical inaccuracies that sometimes creep into what passes for scholarly research and B the arrogance and self-assumed superiority of some researchers and C the way some people blindly accept as fact whatever is presented to them and D the enormous chasm between the haves and have-nots in our society and E the false impression of us that future generations may have and maybe even F the ever-so-remote possibility that our own impression of previous generations may not be entirely accurate. I realize that’s a lot to ask one poem to do, but hope still manages to spring eternal in the human breast, to coin a phrase. Whatever your reaction turns out to be, I now send my poem forth into the world, along with two more hopes, G that it will give you pleasure, pause, and enough food for thought to make a meal and H that its purpose, unlike the remains of the Key Biscayne Zoo, does not remain a mystery.

The Ballad Of Palm Beach County
(Centennial Edition, Annotated)

(Note to reader: Research by anthropologists and archaeologists at the National Archives indicates that these are the original lyrics sung by the great Nathaniel and Wyoming, the Joads, in 1994. To get an idea of what late twentieth-century audiences must have experienced, read through the entire song once, ignoring the footnotes. Then, read the song again, this time referring to the footnotes. In so doing, you will understand better the song’s many obscure references, and you will also be in compliance with President Lopez-Walesa’s executive order.)

Oh, Burt Reynolds(1) has a ranch in Palm Beach County,
And Jack Nicklaus(2) sells new cars in Delray Beach(3),
Cubans migrate north from Dade, but the people in Belle Glade
Know that livin’ in the fast lane’s out of reach.

Perry Como(4) owns a mansion in Tequesta,
And Rose Kennedy’s(5) forgotten how to die,
Lots of money down in Boca(6) is derived from leaves of coca,
But the people in Belle Glade go home and cry.

For the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields(7) all day long,
And the children pray(8) that Daddy won’t get fired,
And they pray that God(9) will keep their Mama strong.

Oh, the snowbirds(10) come and go each spring and autumn,
And Rose Kennedy just turned one hundred five;
And they call their banks from condos while the symphony plays rondos,
But in Belle Glade people fight to stay alive.

All the fishing boats go out on Okeechobee(11),
And the tourists(12) all complain about the heat,
And some citizens of Broward say their congressman’s a coward,
But in Belle Glade there is not enough to eat.

And the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children pray that Daddy won’t get fired,
And they pray that God will keep their Mama strong.

Oh, the honky-tonks(13) are full on Dixie Highway(14),
And Rose Kennedy’s one hundred seventeen;
Tourists sail on the Atlantic, but in Belle Glade things are frantic,
And it looks like one more year in old blue jeans.

Burt and Loni raise their child(15) in Palm Beach County,
And the Kennedys throw parties all year long,
And the rumor mill is juicy with affairs in Port St. Lucie,
But in Belle Glade people know there’s something wrong.

For the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children cry ‘cause Daddy just got fired,
And they pray that God will make their Mama strong.

On the coast they drive fast cars and chase loose women,
They water ski, play golf(16), and just have fun;
While the folks on A-1-A(17) just grow richer every day,
Out in Belle Glade seems like work is never done.

So the tourists come and go, Rose lives forever,
And the coca down in Boca is high grade,
But the people that God sees are the ones down on their knees,
And God hears the people praying in Belle Glade.

Yes, the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children pray that one day they’ll be hired,
And they thank the Lord their Mama was so strong.(18)

(1) An actor remembered not so much for his thespian abilities as for numerous sexual liaisons with various beautiful, mostly older women. Among them were actresses Dinah Shore, Sally Field, and one Loni Anderson, about whom little is known (see “U.S. Supreme Court, Reynolds v. Anderson” in the Encyclopedia Tropicana). Unsubstantiated rumors persist even today of Reynolds’s alleged trysts with publisher Helen Gurley Brown and the legendary eight-term governor of Texas, Ann Richards.
(2) An obscure athlete, possibly a golfer.
(3) A town once located on the coast. Delray Beach and other coastal communities mentioned in this song apparently thrived in the days before the successive calamities of Hurricanes Andrew, Ivan, Hannah, Marcia, Penelope, Steve, William, Yasmin, Agamemnon, Hildegarde, Eunice, Bertha, and Claude.
(4) May have been a singer.
(5) Great-great-great-great grandmother of U.S. president Shriver Schwarzenegger Cuomo Lopez-Walesa.
(6) Boca Raton, a coastal town destroyed by Hurricane Steve.
(7) In the days before the Great Disasters caused a population shift inland, the current state capital was an agricultural center.
(8) A religious exercise formerly thought to have value, now discredited.
(9) A deity worshiped by the pre-Presleyites.
(10) Possibly tourists (q.v.) or egrets (white-plumaged waterfowl, extinct)
(11) Before public pressure caused the Florida State Legislature to convert Okeechobee into a gigantic rollerblade center, it contained water.
(12) Until marauding bands of vigilantes (see “Posse Floridus” in the Encyclopedia Tropicana) discouraged all but the hardiest of travelers, persons known as “tourists” or “snowbirds” (because of their pale skin and seasonal migratory habits) visited the Florida peninsula on a regular basis, their arrival usually coinciding with the snows in the North. Some historians believe that the great calamities hastened the demise of “tourism”; others attribute it directly to the cataclysmic earthquake along the Santa Katherine Harris fault that destroyed Janet Reno World south of Orlando in the autumn of 2025.
(13) Places where “honkies” (Caucasian pre-Presleyites, many of whom, according to The New World Order Dictionary, were rude drivers, hence the name) “tonked.” Tonking, according to the NWOD, consisted of desperate and sometimes pathetic attempts to arrange sexual liaisons with honkies of the opposite gender while dancing to Elvis Presley recordings. Many historians believe that tonking also involved the consumption of large amounts of alcoholic beverages, but this has been vehemently denied by the Society of Reformed Neo-Presleyites.
(14) The name is of unknown origin. Some scholars believe this one-time major thoroughfare was named in memory of Ms. Dixie Lee Ray, an early chairperson of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Others of equally reputable stature believe Dixie Highway was named in honor of a paper cup. References in earlier editions of the Encyclopedia Tropicana to a “Mason’s and Dixon’s line,” alleged to have divided Pennsylvania (supposedly part of “the North”) and Maryland (supposedly part of “the South”) have now been thoroughly discredited by the diligent research of the National Archives anthropologists.
(15) Quinton Reynolds, the infamous Senator from North Dakota who led an incursion into New Cuba in 2039 in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow King Elian II.
(16) A game, no longer played, believed to have originated in Scotland at the St. Andrew Lloyd Weber Country Club, in which players such as Jack Nicklaus (see footnote 2) used dowels to try to move small spherical pucks into a series of sandy areas, or traps, near manicured lawns. If the players, called “golfers,” succeeded, spectators often burst into applause. Thus, a new word, “claptrap,” was added to our language.
(17) Traces of this road can still be seen in a few places where rubble has been cleared.
(18) “The Ballad Of Palm Beach County” (originally called “The People In Belle Glade”) was adopted as the new national anthem on August 23, 2087, by the 150th Congress, replacing “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog.” The tune sung by the Joads in 1994 has unfortunately been lost to us due to the tendency of late twentieth-century musicians to record their work on compact discs (CDs). The familiar music now used with our national anthem was originally known as “To Elian In Heaven,” a tavern drinking song composed by Katherine Harris Bush a few days before the fatal 2025 earthquake that destroyed her villa on Francis Scott Key in New Cuba. Archaeologists exploring this hallowed site in 2101 discovered evidence of earlier buildings known collectively as the Key Biscayne Zoo, whose purpose remains a mystery.

and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.

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