Vigiling in Tacoma
ADVENTURES OF SAM
By Kristi Nebel
United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
January 12, 2007
Sam is in the shed. He won’t be rejoining us until his condition improves. His latest misadventure happened last Thursday. I picked him up at Jane’s house to join our vigil and he fell out of the back of my van. I’d left the tailgate loose. I heard him slip out, and managed to pull over to the side of the road. I dashed out to his side, but had to stand back while three miscreants whizzed over him, bump, bump, bump. They were in a residential neighborhood, speeding at around 45 mph, and must have seen me in the street, distraught. If they had been obeying the speed limit they would have seen him. So I don’t have any sympathy for their punctured tires. They should have seen the 2” raw screws poking up from his wooden legs. The third car did the final damage, bending the screws so he can’t be assembled until repaired.
Sam, approximately 3 feet wide and 7 feet tall, is a painting of Uncle Sam, created by Burk Ketcham, mounted on a frame for our weekly war protests. Half of his visage is a skeletal death specter with gun in hand. He reads, “I KILL FOR OIL.” He has made enemies before. In the four years of his existence he has inspired death threats on the streets of Tacoma.
Two years ago I stood holding a big sign a dozen or so yards downhill from the corner of South 38th and Steele where he stood in front of Steve, my dearly beloved, while the usual rush of six lanes of traffic sloshed in and out of the Tacoma Mall. I saw a very tall, well-built young fellow with a short haircut wait calmly for the light to change and cross the six lanes to the corner where they stood. Silently, he began to pound on Sam. I’m sure he thought Sam would crumple quickly, and then reveal Steve’s vulnerability for his next blow. But Sam held up quite valiantly thanks to his wooden frame. Instantly two things happened; I ran as fast as I could up toward them shouting “STOP! STOP! I HAVE A CELL PHONE AND AM CALLING THE POLICE!” Consecutively, another well-toned young man with a short haircut pulled up to the corner, stopping for the light, and rolled down his passenger-side window. He leaned over and said, “You can’t do this. I’m a witness and I’ll see you in court.” At that point the assailant calmly, silently, began to walk away. Steve pulled out his camera. I wanted him to get a good photo of the man. I trotted behind him repeating, “Turn around! I’m blowing kisses!” About six yards down South 38th he finally turned around and gave me a look that said, “One more kiss and you’re dead meat.” I didn’t have a cell phone.
A month ago Sam stood vigil in front of Steve at 6th and Sprague, another intersection with five lanes of traffic. A driver in a pickup truck pulled up to the long light and hopped out to confront them. I watched from another corner of the intersection. He was doing what our friend Joe calls the “coco dance,” a sort of animated primate movement of elevated arms with jerky elbow motions and rapid hops from foot to foot. It’s proved in many cases to be a dangerous precursor of things to come. Joe was worried too, watching from another corner. Occasionally, he looked around at us watching him. I could see it was a completely one-sided conversation. Meanwhile the traffic lights changed again and again; they each take three full minutes, which is why we pick that spot, along with dense traffic. I spied a tiny torso of a boy leaning out from the driver’s side window of the pickup truck. The little guy, abandoned in his daddy’s car, was frightened as all the cars pulled around and past him. He was entreating him to return. Ten minutes or so passed as the small child repeatedly called, “Daddy!” He looked terrorized. At last the man returned to the truck and his son, and as he turned the corner, screamed a foul curse and gestured obscenely out the window at Sam and Steve.
The gist of his argument, Steve later related, was that he thought Sam’s disturbing image set a bad example for children at a nearby school.