Content to stir up the pot on politics

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2000

His Lemon Creek home is immaculate, with a crystal collection, ceramic figurines and shades of rust, beige and brown. It doesn't seem like a place where a man with a business card identifying himself as ``The Malcontent'' would live.

But here is John Wilcox sitting at the dining room table with the stems of his glasses pushed high into his very short crew cut. He's ``alive and sober'' and ready to talk, ready to let his feelings be known, on just about any topic.

At 71, he's been retired from the trucking business for 27 years. Retired, maybe, but still hard at work as both a sort of megaphone of public opinion and a collector of metals.

Some people who don't want to confront the Juneau Assembly, for example, will give him a call. Some of his sources, Wilcox said, are buried deep within the city and state bureaucracy. They vent to him, and he vents elsewhere. KINY-AM radio's 11 a.m.-to-noon call-in show ``Problem Corner'' is Wilcox's preferred venue.

``They know that I'll get the word out,'' he said. ``Most of the time I hear about people leaving before they leave. I've always been fairly involved with things.

``I generally have something to say one way or the other.''

He specializes in waste - of both the metal and government variety.

You can almost see Dennis Egan's eyes roll when he's confronted by the Wilcox name. As Juneau's mayor and host of ``Problem Corner,'' he gets a pretty stiff, pretty regular dose of Wilcox's brand of community activism.

``Oh my God,'' was Egan's initial reaction when asked about Wilcox. ``The Malcontent.''

Though the radio station sometimes gets complaints about Wilcox's uncanny way of always getting through on the show, Egan appreciates The Malcontent's energy and sense of humor. He noted that it doesn't take a whole lot of analysis to figure out how Wilcox feels about an issue.

``I like John,'' Egan said. ``You never fail to know where he stands. He's never in the middle of the road on anything.''

Egan said Wilcox's visits to assembly chambers have fallen off dramatically, but City Hall remains a Malcontent stomping ground.

But most weekdays, Wilcox takes morning coffee and coffee talk at Donna's Restaurant near the Juneau Airport. In the early afternoon, he and his wife Vergie have a habit of meeting with a regular group of friends at the Nugget Mall.

Wilcox said he ``probably'' has a problem with government, though his laments tend toward the local rather than national variety of issues.

``I'm glad we don't get as much government as we pay for,'' he said. ``(But) I'm not really against government. What I'm against is waste. They keep hollering, `We don't have money for this. We don't have any money for that.'''

Chris Garrison at Alaska Litho, a boyhood friend of Egan, made Wilcox's nickname business cards as a gift ``because he's neat.'' He thinks The Malcontent helps keep people interested in what's going on, and helps keep local politicians on their toes.

``John's a good guy,'' Garrison said. ``He keeps the stir pot stirred with the city. I wish there were more people out there who did that. Government would probably run better.''

Wilcox's yard is orderly, but cluttered with copper, aluminum and stacks of 55-gallon barrels. He sells the barrels - ideal for burning scrap wood - for $10 each. The metal, some 40,000 pounds of it, will be turned into money at some point.

All the metal is nonferrous, he said, because iron's not worth much anymore.

``My kids call me the junk man,'' he said.

It must sound like a chorus.

He and his wife have six kids, 12 grandchildren and six more great-grandchildren. The last number will be up to eight before the end of the year, he said.

Vergie has found a practical way to live with her husband's boisterous talking. Telling him to be quiet just doesn't work.

``I don't pay attention to him,'' she said.

Wilcox smiles at the remark: ``At the mall, she tries to shut me up, but I don't hear real well.''

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