Opening the paper yesterday brought a real shock: Bill Yates, former Morro Bay Mayor, had died after a long battle with lung cancer. He was only 66 and I feel so sad for what his family must be going through now. It's an awful loss.
It seems only a brief while ago that Bill and Bill (Morem) and I were fellow scrivners at the now defunct Sun Bulletin, Morem the assistant editor and Yates and I scribbling away on our columns. And I remember well when he and his wife opened their beautiful jewelery store, Zephyrine, in the new Marina Square complex. The store gleamed with diamonds, gold, silver. I always thought it odd that Morro Bay could support such a high-end store, but obviously enough tourists and locals headed in their door so it thrived.
When Bill got into politics, I'd see him often around town. He was unmistakable, a large, smiling man, eyes twinkiling with amusement, as if everything he saw going on was great fun. And he could be spotted a mile away. Who else in town wore those signature colorful Hawaiian shirts? The term "booming" comes to my mind when I think of Bill, though he was actually quite soft-spoken.
His four terms as Mayor covered a lot of Morro Bay's recent history -- remember the massively frustrating, delayed, wrangled-over, finally finished "Twin Bridges?" It must have taken a LOT of humor to have gotten through that tangled mess. Or to get through Morro Bay Politics in general. And anybody familiar with Morro Bay Politics knows what I'm talking about. And I'm sure his humor must have failed at times when Morro Bay's own "Sewer Wars" erupted and the community headed for a Coastal Commission Train Wreck. I would sidle up to him at those meetings and say, "Bill, I have two words for you: "Los . . . Osos." And he'd laugh.
In the middle of all this politicking and mayoring, Bill went on hiatus; He got on his boat and sailed off to sea in his sloop, "Obsession," to try to sail solo across the Pacific. And that's the way I will now hold him in my memory -- his earthly suffering over, his boat is running clear and free, the zephyrs are cool, the sea gleaming, and there's nothing ahead but crystalline weather and beauty all around him. And he's smiling. And, yes, wearing one of the loudest, most colorful Hawaiian shirts in the universe.
And Then There's Fred Phelps
On the same day that Bill's death was in the paper, so was the announcement of the death of the appalling "preacher," Rev. Fred Phelps, head of his own ugly cult, The Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps, you will remember, used to show up with his small gaggle of followers to picket funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan. They'd carry signs declaring that God hated the soldier who was being buried that day, or signs saying "God Loves IED's" or "God Hates Fags", and so forth. From military funerals, the cult followers (i.e. his children) moved on to staging ugly, hate-filled protests everywhere for any reason whatsoever, carrying signs that God hated whatever and whoever. Phelps was particularly loathsome when it came to gay people and finally ended up declaring that God hated America because America actually allowed gay citizens to live here.
The first response I had to reading of Phelps' death was to gleefully wonder if thousands of people would show up at his funeral carrying signs saying, "Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish," but that would have been hateful and would have just perpetuated the Ugly Cycle of call and response, Tit for Tat.
But Rachel Maddow, on her show last night, had a far more wonderful (and accurate) take on what Phelps' sick hatred actually accomplished. Instead of hating Phelps back, people started mocking, then laughing. Rachel showed photo after photo of very clever people who started showing up at Phelps' numerous picket lines with signs of their own, signs that said "God Hates Figs," with the Biblical reference given (Yes, apparently God does hate figs. I have no idea why, but it's in the Bible, so you have been warned.) Or they'd show up with a huge sign saying "God Hates Signs." One after another, people started to top one other with witty riffs on the "God Hates" meme. It soon became one big hilarious Photo Op.
And instead of giving Phelps' ugly hatred some kind of hateful opposition, thereby casting him in the role of martyr, their clever mockery made Phelps a fool, a risible fool. And made his premise, "God Hates . . . . (fill in the blanks)" the one big absurd joke it actually was. And while Phelps marched in one direction, the country was marching in the opposite direction.
As for Phelps himself, God will deal with him, I'm sure. And when He does, I hope He'll pay particular attention to Phelps' most profound sin: He poisoned his own children's minds with his own sick hatred. That's unforgivable.
There's an old Native American saying, "When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice."
In this case, there will be two funerals, but we'll only need one Kleenex.