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Controllers by Mike Strong

The PMA might have operated in a feedstore similar to this long-abandoned pet and feed store in Zephyr, an unincorporated town in Brown County, Texas
Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The PMA might have operated in a feedstore similar to this long-abandoned pet and feed store in Zephyr, an unincorporated town in Brown County, Texas

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “The Time It Never Rained” by Elmer Kelton.

Take a close look sometime at the people who sit on boards, or are donors for an organization for which they have no direct experience. Or new folks on the job, hired as supervisors, armed with regulations, who really need to learn the ropes before they start throwing those regulations around, like the border patrol in the book.

Charlie Flagg, our main character is obstinate, self-reliant and ultimately lasting through everything the climate throws at him and everything the bureaucracy throws at him. Charlie never gives up. West Texas never gives in either. The bureaucracy is just there.

And from that foundation we get the book.

I can recall one dance organization which had a working model of how to work their school. The board, filled with people who were on boards of banks and other such business organizations, essentially fragmented the school and the teachers and lost students and lost a leased space which had worked for several decades. A dance school doesn’t have classes the same way as a regular school or university.

None of the board were either dancers or dance school teachers.

In the school there were various trades, labor for lessons. It allowed a handicapped father, for example, to provide lessons for his young daughter by doing janitor duties. He was good at it too. Until, one day, after a changeover at the school, he was told the arrangement was not to continue. He had to take his daughter home on the bus. Who knows what that talk was like?

Then the board decided that there were hard deadlines to sign up for classes. But that isn’t how classes in a dance school work. Often you have persons coming in and out of classes at various times during a scheduled session of lessons. Sometimes sampling, or just shifting. Either way, the students paid per lesson.

Not allowing those students to join the class after the cutoff date meant the classes lost the students, and their money, which probably paid the instructor and or the rental for the space for that day.

And what did the teachers want if they only had 1 or 2 students? Cancel the class or keep it going? Well, to stay there in the dance studio and keep going. At minimum it paid the small rent for the space. At best, usually, the attendance picked up and you stayed on the list of courses which meant people could show up to finish a session.

At one point a new, trendy, fashionable “plex pod” opened up, merging residences and commercial spaces. The board decided to vacate the old space (which allowed the school to rent out space when they weren’t using it) and go to the new plex at double the lease and no ability to lease out space to teachers separately.

They lasted a couple years and didn’t have the money to continue. They couldn’t go back to the previous space. A couple of dance companies scarfed that up and were making a go of it. So now they send out emails and post to Facebook for classes at two widely separate locations in the city where they are renting by the class, as guest renters. They’ve also started redoing labor trades for lessons. And a number of teachers long moved elsewhere.

When we get to chapter 16 in the book Charlie visits the feed store just after a federal auditor. The auditor tells Jim Sweet, that he owes $30,000. Sweet tells Charlie that the federal auditor, “… as much as told me he was goin’ to prove I was a crook—all us feed dealers was crooks, and all the ranchers too. … He’s been through every scrap of paper in the place except in the toilet. Now he tells me I been in violation of drouth feed regulations to the tune of $30,00 … It’s easy for a politician to make promises when he’s just passin’ through and don’t ever have to come back.”

“The county PMA committee would certify that a rancher needed a certain amount of feed, and we’d give it to him.”

“Now the Department says it wasn’t legal because we didn’t follow the rules they hadn’t got around to writin’ yet.”

Yup, that reminded me of the dance studio. Makes me identify with our main character, Charlie Flagg in “The Time It Never Rained.”

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

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