October 15, 1995
THE MIAMI HERALD
OF THE LAWN RANGERS
Saturday night in the beer tent, which is where everybody
goes after the day's festivities at the annual Broom Corn
Festival in Arcola, Ill. A group of us guys were standing
around, shouting snippets of conversation over the din of
the band, when we saw a man's naked rear end advancing toward
us through the crowd. The owner of the rear end was walking
backward and bending over, so we couldn't see his head or
upper body -- just a disembodied, naked butt shuffling our
us, a group of women suddenly noticed the oncoming butt. To
say they were startled would be an understatement.
"Look!" they gasped, pointing at the butt. "He's
. . . He's . . . It's . . . "
"It's OK!" we assured them. "It's only Ranger
Ranger Doug Reeder is a member of an organization I belong
to, the World Famous Lawn Ranger Precision Lawn Mower Drill
Team. It was founded 15 years ago by some guys in Arcola,
a small central-Illinois town that each fall hosts the Broom
Corn Festival, a celebration of the glory years when Arcola
was a leading producer of the corn used to make broom bristles.
The highlight of the festival is the Broom Corn parade, and
the most elite marching unit in the parade, as measured in
per capita consumption of keg-dwelling beverages, is the Lawn
When you talk about dedicated service organizations -- when
you talk about decency, integrity and leadership -- you are
not talking about the Lawn Rangers. We are not one of those
organizations -- and here I am thinking of our arch-enemies,
the Shriners -- that try to justify their existence by occasionally
doing something useful. What we do is push lawn mowers and
carry brooms. At various points along the parade route, we
stop and astonish the crowd by performing broom-and-lawn-mower
maneuvers with a level of smooth precision that you rarely
see outside of train wrecks.
I've marched with the Lawn Rangers in four Broom Corn parades
now. My friends ask me why I keep going back, but when I try
to explain it ("We're pushing lawn mowers, see, and we're
wearing masks, and we're tossing brooms, and . . . ")
it just sounds stupid. This is, of course, because it IS stupid.
But it is more than that: It is also extremely immature.
I refer here to what goes on during Ranger Orientation, which
takes place before the parade in Ranger Ted Shields' garage.
This is where we Rangers get ourselves into peak physical
and mental condition by consuming refreshing beverages and
a scientific training diet of bratwurst; this is also where
we teach our precision maneuvers to the rookie Rangers via
a brutal training regimen that can last as long as five minutes.
And above all, this is where we hold the Ranger Business Meeting,
which could well be the single most tasteless annual event
in America, surpassing even the Christmas retail season.
Two years ago the governor of Illinois, who was running for
re-election, showed up at the Business Meeting, apparently
thinking it was a collection of normal voters. As he approached
us, he realized that he had made a huge mistake and stopped,
with his mouth maintaining a rigid professional smile, but
his eyes revealing the stark terror of a politician who realizes
that he's in danger of being photographed shaking hands with,
for example, a man wearing a hat festooned with a lifelike
replica of the male anatomical unit.
The governor left quickly, which meant he missed the Business
Meeting, including the much-anticipated performance by Ranger
Reeder. Out of respect for a fellow Ranger, I am not going
to comment upon Ranger Reeder's mental state, except to say
that he has the kind of penetrating stare and intense smile
that would make him a prize recruit for the U.S. Postal Service,
if you get my drift.
He is a legend among the Rangers. Each year -- this is the
highlight of the Business Meeting -- he gets up a ladder,
turns his back to the audience, and presents an extremely
explicit dramatic rendition, using props, of a song or poem
involving the word "moon." Each year his performance
gets more elaborate; this year, it concluded with actual fireworks
shooting out of a tube that was . . . Well, I can't tell you
where the tube was, except to say we were all amazed that
Ranger Reeder did not require medical treatment. But he showed
no ill effects, and was in superb form that night in the beer
tent, where he continued to personify the "moon"
theme by backing slowly through the crowd. Every now and then
you'd look down, and there would be Ranger Reeder, serving
as a proud symbol of Rangerhood, making the rest of us proud
to be part of this crack (rim shot) outfit.
the next solid year, American voters are going to be relentlessly
hounded by presidential contenders, all of whom are going
to assure us that they represent mainstream, heartland values.
I say to those candidates:
Maybe not everybody in the heartland has exactly the same
values. Maybe it would broaden your perspective to come to
Arcola next fall, march with the Rangers, hang out in the
beer tent, watch Ranger Reeder in action. He would make an
awesome secretary of state.
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