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Jane Ahlin, Published February 09 2013

Ahlin: ‘Mr. Bumble wannabes’stir Mary Contrary’s ire

Having slipped on an icy spot in my own driveway, I was questioning the wisdom of an early morning trip to the grocery store. However, we were out of butter and short on eggs, and I had some baking to do. Fearing more ice, I drove slowly, and upon reaching the grocery store, pulled carefully into the parking lot. I got out of the car, keeping my eyes on the ground to avoid slippery patches. Unfortunately, concentrating kept me from spotting a hand-lettered sign until it was too late to avoid the sign or Mary Contrary, who was holding it.

I felt myself sigh: A bad day was about to get worse.

The sign read, “Tell Muriel to Help the Post-born.”

“Your sign makes no sense, Mary.”

“Well, good morning to you, too, Sunshine. Aren’t we cranky this morning.”

“We aren’t anything, Mary,” I said as sternly as I could. “I am in a hurry.”

“Blood pressure, blood pressure, Sunshine.” She smiled, blocking the door. “All you have to do is sign my petition.”

“Don’t push your luck, Mary,” I said, “and keep it brief. Who is Muriel? What are you talking about?”

“Oh, oh, looks like somebody hasn’t had her morning coffee.”

“Mary …”

“Just joshing, Sunshine” She hurried on. “Here’s the thing. North Dakota’s Legislature is hugely Republican, which means what Republicans say, goes. And so far, they sound like Mr. Bumble wannabes.”

“Mary, are you referring to the cruel, puffed-up workhouse boss in Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’? That’s not a nice comparison. Aren’t you being mean?”

“Well, let’s talk about mean, Sunshine. Isn’t it mean not to give a hoot about the post-born? Why, Republicans voted against putting money into the milk program for poor kids, and they got rid of proposed Head Start funding for pre-school kids by turning the bill into a ‘study.’ ” She grimaced. “You know how that works: They don’t have to outright vote against it, but they get rid of it all the same. Heck, they aren’t even interested in supporting the bill put forward by one of their own, a bill for stabilizing child care across the state – money that’s needed big-time. Out west, particularly, child care centers are closing because they can’t pay workers what it takes to keep them.”

Mary shook her head. “And forget about upping the minimum wage, which would be a big help to struggling families with post-born kids. This Legislature is only hot for cutting taxes on oil companies.”

“I see your concern, Mary. Frankly, with North Dakota’s billion-dollar-surplus, I also find the Legislature’s attitude toward children and families hard to fathom.” I paused. “But why do you use the term ‘post-born’? And who is Muriel?”

Mary sighed audibly. “I try not to go too fast for you, Sunshine, but you’re always a wee bit behind.”

“Mary …”

“OK, OK. I’m just using language the Republican Legislature understands. They love talking about the ‘pre-born’ and passing laws that make every North Dakota womb a ward of the state, not to mention making birth control and IVF official state business. It isn’t until kids are kids and families are stressed that the Republican Legislature loses interest. So I thought a change in terminology might help.”

Mary shrugged. “As for Muriel, well, it’s such a warm and friendly name.” She smiled. “See, if I tell people to call their Republican legislators about helping families, they get all depressed, expecting it to be a waste of time. But if I say, ‘Pretend like you’re calling Muriel,’ folks feel good and expect good results. No question, North Dakota needs good results.”

“Mary, sometimes you’re weird,” I said as I signed the petition.

“Sounds like the old pot calling the kettle black to me, Sunshine.”

“Goodbye, Mary.”

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.