Side Trail Story
Jakob Lefkowitz
Steve Levi


Side Trail Story

Paradise, contrary to the exposition of philosophers, is not a place of indulgence. It is a land without them. It is a location with no in-laws, tariffs, permits, traffic signs or badges. The worst of these afflictions of civilization was the last for once a piece of metal is pinned onto the cloak of a man he becomes an automaton. He loses his human perspective and enforces a world of black scribbling on white paper designed to protect blue blood from red ink.

Jakob Lefkowitz was Mayor of Hootlani because he had no traceable legal paperwork. In America. His second virtue was that he planned ahead. This is not to say he was a disreputable schemer who plotted entrance into a bank after hours with both a safecracker and torch holder. Rather, he established scenarios in his mind. He didn’t resolve issues on the fly; he solved them in his head before they arrived. As an example, he convinced the Portland Steamship and Lighterage Syndicate to send office materials to Hootlani for the newly-established city council – at no cost to the City Council – because he knew that at some time proclamations would have to be issued. He also demanded the City Council meet at regular intervals even if it had no business to transact because he knew, someday, somehow, someone would arrive and question the legality of the City of Hootlani.

He had reason to be concerned.

That was because he was playing fast and loose with the United States Constitution.

While it could never be said that he was a scholar of the United States Constitution, it could be said that he had, at the very least, read it. And understood it. What he also did understand were the causes of the Great War between the northern states and the southern states that had happened in his childhood. One of the particulars of that conflict he had found most fascinating was the debate over the tariff. It was not the dollars or the concept that caught his attention but what came to be known as the Nullification Movement. This had been the effort by the South to establish the right of any state to ignore any law passed by the United States Congress and signed by the President of the United States. Nullification was actually a power of the federal courts but only if those courts were asked their opinion.

But it was not the Nullification Movement that caught his attention but the flipside of the issue. The Nullification Movement was an after-the-fact pipedream. That is, it was established to fight something that already existed. A better approach, particularly for a man like Jakob Lefkowitz, was to solve an issue before it became a problem. In this the United States Constitution gave the American people a meadow of maneuverability if they moved faster than the federal bureaucracy. That latitude came courtesy of the Tenth Amendment which stated that the “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The instant Jakob Lefkowitz was made Mayor he hitched the 10th Amendment to the City of Hootlani like a plow horse to a furrow maker. Alaska was not a “state” so there were no state laws. This was the weakness he exploited. There were no state laws concerning prostitution, opium or the sale of alcohol. There were some federal laws concerning these items which, in Hootlani, were called revenue. But, as there was no state to which powers had been delegated by the United States Constitution, Lefkowitz and the Hootlani City Council delegated the same unto themselves. They made prostitution, the possession of opium and the sale of alcohol legal “within the limits of the City of Hootlani.” And, at the urging of Lefkowitz, the City Council extended the city limits to include all lands on the western side of the Caribou River for mile above and below the Hootlani dock and two miles into the forest to the west. This, Lefkowitz assured the City Council, would keep wily entrepreneurs from avoiding city taxes by setting up shop on the far side of the river – with the exception of Billy the Loon and Harry Dunbar who had already filed for homesteads there.

This single act made Hootlani an open city and it was not long before farsighted businesses established their home office in Hootlani where opium (not so much) and liquor (quite so much) could be legally sold. Once in Hootlani, at least on paper, the opium and liquor was sort of, somewhat legal. That is, it was legal as long as no federal agency made an effort to overturn the actions of the City Council of Hootlani. This Lefkowitz knew. He also knew that Washington D. C. was a long way from Hootlani and even if someone in some hall of some building in Washington D. C. yelled and screamed, it was going to take a lot more than one other person to listen and do something about prostitution, opium and alcohol on the other side of the earth in the middle of nowhere.

The key to being left to your own devices is being able to defend those devices. That happened in Hootlani in the late fall the Year of the Steamship when Hootlani received its first illustrious visitor: a United States Marshal who was coming downriver from Jabbertown with a miner who had killed his partner because he believed said partner had been transformed into a gigantic mosquito that was threatening to suck him dry. So he killed his partner and then, when sober, claimed self-defense.

Against the mosquito.

The residents of Jabbertown felt differently and so did the United States Marshal’s office. A deputy marshal from Juneau was sent north to escort said miner to “the nearest steamship dock,” that being Hootlani, “and from there to Seattle where he is to be incarcerated at McNeil Island until he regains his senses whereupon he will be tried for murder.”

While in Hootlani the deputy marshal had been ordered to look into rumors of prostitution and the sale of both opium and alcohol. This Jakob Lefkowitz was prepared for. Prostitution was legal, he assured the minion of the law, because there was no state law prohibiting it. The importation of opium was already legal under federal law. What was illegal was importing it without paying the import fee. Hootlani, of course, did not condone the smuggling of opium without paying the import fee, but once in Hootlani there was no way to distinguish between legal and illegal opium.

The same was true for alcohol. It was the job of the Revenue Cutter Service to stop all illegal alcohol from reaching the shores of Alaska. If such were landed, the City of Hootlani had to assume that it was legal. Even if there was some illegal opium or illegal alcohol, inspection thereof was not the job of a municipal official. It was the job of the federal government and that entity was welcome to send an inspector to Hootlani at any time to look into any suspected illegal items.

The United States deputy marshal knew when he had been beat. So, apparently, did the governor in Juneau. A letter of dismay was sent to Mayor Jakob Lefkowitz and the “distinguished City Council of Hootlani” the next year which Nellie the Pig consigned to a wood stove before it was read.