Saturday, November 29, 2008

Joe Refrigerato

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

My first wife wasn't the brightest light bulb. But... she was well meaning. Together and with the help of a thing called joint custody, unheard of in 1984, we raised three decent kids. In 1984 they were 14,5 and 2 1/2 years old. I'll admit I could be a snot sometimes. When I didn't want to explain something, I'd make up an answer. If the answer involved the name of a person-I gave her Joe Refrigerato an Italian person of some note. "He invented the refrigerator," I'd explain. "You know, like Thomas Crapper who invented the toilet." She'd buy the explanation and I could move on to other areas of discourse.

For the first time in the history of this blog, I'm introducing you the man known as Joe Refrigerato. I took this photo early this morning as he was resting.

Yes, I know. You are disappointed by my ruse. Perhaps even pissed that I wasted your time. So go back to the cartoons you were watching on Saturday morning TV. For those intrepid explorers who'd like to accompany me on a descent into unexplored regions of Kickapoo Center, jump into the LandCrusier and buckle up.

Everyone has a refrigerator like mine. Photos of grandkids, number one son(my wife's first born)friends and family. My daughter once complained there were no pictures of her. It's true. I don't know why. There's even a picture of Pucci stretched thin on the back of the couch. The pig and cloth snakes are requisites. The Pooch, if bored snatches one of the magnets and plays ice hockey on the floor. When my youngest daughter-the one I have pinned my hopes on to make a name for the family-was teaching in Japan, I scotch-taped a newspaper clipping from 1944. It showed the various time zones with the caption, Today's battles are fought tomorrow I taped it to the frig with the hopes that I'd know the time difference between Kickapoo Center and Hanowa Township. It didn't help.

Keep your hands and legs inside the car, please. We will descend into the far reaches of the interior. In my days as an inner city teacher, I had an occasional home visit. Refrigerators served as a handy reference point to the nature of deprivation of my students. I do not know what my refrigerator says.

Not the best of pictures. Hidden behind the fresh butter is miso from the turn of the century. I believe the theme here is vegetarian We like to trick ourselves into maintaining a heart healthy diet. That's why the upright freezer in the garage is crammed with meat. There's a hierarchy involved here. As you descend from the top shelves to the bottom most shelf, the age of the bottles increases.Next to the tomato juice and unopened bottle of maple syrup is a bottle of Goya Chipolte marinade. I believe it was purchased in Madison at Yu Wah grocery store off Park Street. I lived in Madison during the summer of 2004. The only numbers on it are 4181. If that is an expiration code, it predates two of my children.

Moving from the door to the shelves of the body of the refrigerator, we have an intimate look into the lifestyle of Bertram R. Bubnick. The ranking of product according to age is different.

The upper left hand shelf is reserved for opened jars of canned goods. Three different kinds of salsa, apple butter, pickles, olives and sun dried tomatoes in olive oil which has congealed to a yellowish grease await the intrepid. The container of egg substitute was moved there recently to make way for something on the main shelf where filtered water, milk, old green tea and a box of Merlot rest. There's a handy thermometer to check the temperature range of Joe. Not only is it hard to read, but it is so far back as to be inaccessible. Way back, yup, the plastic container of baking soda that's been there since the refrigerator was purchased. I don't believe that marketing ploy about washing it down the sink to keep drains sweet smelling. Have you ever smelled your drain? If you have, do you want to smell mine. There's dog image here bordering on offensive.

To tell the truth, I've been wasting time waiting for the town dump to open. If this has been entertaining, well.... If not, too bad. In a clear box in the far recesses of Joe is the last of a teeth whitening contraption. Because it involves keeping my mouth shut for an extended period , it has gone unused for years. Maybe tonight as I watch another episode of MI-5. In the meantime, hold onto your shorts. Tomorrow we're going to tour my drawers. The ones in the upstairs bedroom facing west. Oooo won't that be fun.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Stolen Shoes

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

Meeting of Most Exalted Supreme Gnomes

From left to rightDelmar Denton(lower left) Newton Ulm, Wayne Snut (pronounced snoot)-Most Exalted Supreme Gnome & Elfred T. Nome

Friday morning. Twenty degrees. Pucci comes in three times, once through his newest entry point-the kitchen window which has no screen. While he's eating raw turkey gizzard, the Council of Gnomes is meeting in the addition to the Kickapoo Center Schoolhouse.

After a roll call and approval of the minutes of the last meeting of the High Command of Gnomes, crow marshals-at-arms shush the crowd. The gnomes are upset. They have no shoes. Someone snuck into the gnome tree house near the berm on the east fence line here in Kickapoo Center and stole shoes. Annfred Manly is the first to discover the theft. She's the wife to Manfred Anley, assistant manager of Gnomesworks Inc., a security firm known world wide for it's expertise in guarding valuable possessions. This could prove to be embarrassing to Manfred. Annfred is slipping out of her slippers and looking for her shoes. Where are those sheepskin lined cozies? Looking under the couch, behind the refrigerator and under the bed, she couldn't spot her shoes. She goes to Manfred. "Have you seen my shoes?" she asks. " I think someone is sporting with us,"she replies with an irksome tone. Manfred replies,"No! Have you seen mine?" A quick check with Thelma, Wilma and Uma, their daughters, reveal their shoes are also missing.

This is indeed strange. Stolen snuggly shoes. Gnome shoes are finely crafted of the finest sheepskin and wool. They are sturdy, strong and waterproof. Made in Italy by the firm that manufactures name brand apparel, Gnucci, gnome foot gear are famous in all Europe and America. There is a three month waiting list for a new pair. This is surprising since gnomes all wear the same shoe- size 6, narrow width. A quick call to the Most Supreme Exalted High Commander, Wayne Snut(pronounced snoot) brings about a crowded meeting in the mess hall of the gnomeworks.

Delmar Denton wants to organize a posse. Delmar watches too many cowboy shows on GNTV (gnome TV ). "That's what they do in the John Gnwayne movies," he says. Elfred calls for order. "See hear citizens," he snorts in a loud voice. "There's gno reason to go off half cocked." Newton Ulm agrees. " I say we launch a formal investigation." Wayne Snut(pronounced snoot)-the Most Exalted High Supreme Commander bangs his fist on the table. Frightened by the gesture, the crows flap their wings and fly up to perches high in the mess hall. In the back of the room a tiny voice calls out.

"Yoo-hoo, yoo-hoo." the voice tinkles like ice in a glass. It's Esther Biden. She lives in the marsh grass barely below the berm. She's not a gnome nor is she an elf. She's one of the little people who are seldom seen except on those cold winter nights when a wisp of smoke, a dash of snow and a flash of light glances off her frosty frock as she gathers firewood for the fancy Foosmelsmeg (pronounced Foolsmelsmeg )gnome wood stoves. "I think I know who snuck off with your shoes," she says in a high tweety twang.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cristo Crucificado

Seven Roads Gallery Private Collection

Psalm 22

Yea, dogs are round me;
a company of evil doers encircle me;
they have pierced my hands and feet-
I can count all my bones-
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my raiment they cast lots.

I've mentioned previously that I worked for a Mexican import store in Arizona. They specialized in furniture, jewelry, crafts and Mexican folk art. Many of their contacts were itinerant dealers who regularly traveled a circuit of stores in New Mexico and Arizona. It was and is a hard life. One such peddler was a man selling Navajo crafts. The owners of the store weren't interested in American Indian crafts-Arizona is besieged by Indian goods. As an intermediary, I was chosen to talk to the dealer and send him on his way. Looking at a pick-up truck filled with bows and arrows and other paraphernalia, I noticed this crucifix lying on the top of the pile of Navajo crafts. The dealer took it in trade for other goods. His disinterest in the piece was obvious. One arm was broken. The Cristo was attached to a dirty two by four cross. I was entranced and intrigued.

In restoring the piece, the challenge was to keep the integrity of the work intact while repairing defects. I removed the Cristo from the greasy 2X4. It was apparent that the carver found the most immediate section of lumber lying around. The grease on the cross came from an automobile or similar vehicle. The image-a board lying under a leaking truck. I found some clean, weathered lumber to replace the cross. The carving itself was very dirty. Carefully removing a layer of brown sludge, I was enthralled that the robe of Christ was a bright red with gold trim. His features appeared prominently once the overcoat was removed. Eyebrows, eye color, hair color leaped out at me. Many more details emerged once a careful cleaning ensued.

It is pure conjecture on my part, but I don't feel this Cristo came from a church. The artist is unknown. It was carved and abandoned for unknown reasons. Many Mexican folk art pieces are covered with mixtures of roof tar, stain, kerosene, motor oil and worse to give them an aged look. This may have been the artist's intention.

Restored, it belongs in a place which highlights both its art value and the religious significance.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Winter of '07

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

Jonathon Pine in the front forty ca.'05

"Nonsense is used to point to the beyond of rational sense."

The sun is shining. Today begins at 15 degrees with a predicted high of 43. At 7am it's 62 degrees inside the house. I last added oak, maple and black locust to the woodstove during the second episode of Burn Notice At that time it was 76 on the wall thermostat. Pucci takes a quick breakfast of fresh goose liver and heads for his post outside. He comes back in at 9-brunch time, where he has more fresh liver, raw turkey and gizzard. My throat is swollen from snoring. I can feel my uvula at the top of my palette. Hot teas with lemon and honey helps ease the swelling.

Venison fever is peaking. At Enis' farm, a skinned doe hangs from a tree in the front yard. There's an aluminum step ladder nearby. It is roughly skinned. The shoulders and back look bruised. In the neighbor's lean-to shed next to the horse corral, a doe hangs from the ridgepole. Slung over another part of the pole at the peak is a deerskin. It looks like a saddle. The Pooch stops below the hanging doe gazing fondly at the deer. There's an old fashioned wood step ladder-I'm guessing it a ten footer- next to the doe. I watch the cat to see if he'll climb the ladder. I walk away and whistle for him to follow. It takes five whistles before he comes out of the shed.

I'm worried that the stuffed nose, snoring at night, runny nose and sneezing will point to one solution-get rid of the cat. I try numerous ways of avoiding allergic reactions. During the day I close the bedroom door and plug in an air purifier. I close the heat vent at the floor since I know that the wood furnace has no air filter. We dry clothes in the basement to add humidity to the air. The Pooch stays outside during the daylight hours. What more can I do? I'm depressed. The stress of an upcoming kitchen remodel adds to my woe. There's only one cure-humor.

Surfing My Documents I find an episode from the previous winter.

The winter of ‘07

On the calendar, winter is a long and thick rubber band, stretching from December to March, give or take a few days. I’m puzzled about the psychological stress factor induced by winter. The really dark days of winter are of short duration. In our northern climate, only February is truly winter . There is always a January thaw. March can come in like a lamb or lion. February. Deepfreeze. Snow. Gray, cloudy days. That’s true winter. It doesn’t last. Yet, a tough February, one short month of below zero nights and blizzards are equally stress inducing in comparison to six month summers in Arizona. First, I learned that winter and summer are reversed. Let me explain.

Summer in Arizona has many similarities to winter in Wisconsin. On one of those scorching days in late June; when the surface temperature of desert highways reach 130 degrees; when cars pull over on the apron with their tires on fire, people burrow deep inside their stucco single story, flat roof houses. The AC operates 24 hours a day sending monthly electrical bills into triple digits. No one risks walking, anywhere. The streets are deserted. Typical activities involve the ritual of a sunshade in the windshield, a driver’s side window cracked a half inch so the heat inside doesn’t implode/explode the glass and the quick dash to the store-office-restaurant. Reverse the temperature and season. The scene is the same. The temperature is below zero. Cars are buried in snow to the rooftop. Any activity includes the ritual of a five-minute warm-up and window defrosters. Hats, scarves and mittens are necessary on the quick dash from the car to the store, office or restaurant. So, why does only one month of true winter invoke stress? Curious.

I walk into the post office. The bill I’m mailing for electrical service, which has climbed into three digits, has a business reply envelope and requires no stamp. At first, I attribute the gift of "business reply" as a customer perk. Then, reality sets in. The electric co-op is making a bundle and can afford to give away postage. Elaine, dressed in her hunter green parka and red woolly scarf, leans on the counter talking to the postmistress. “Ya, it’s been a long winter,” she says. “Too damn long, “I mumble. The other customer waiting for postage on her package laughs. I walk to my car which is in need of gas. I’m holding off filling the tank, hoping the price will return to a more affordable cost per gallon. The recent 25¢ hike has no rhyme or reason. My friend Jorge stops along the highway on one of his many jaunts between the city and home on the hill. The woman at the BP station forecasts higher gas prices. She can’t explain the hike.

Putz. I spend the morning putzing. The seeds I laid on newspaper to dry in our basement warmed by a wood-fired furnace, need to be labeled and stored in envelopes. I’ve sorted ten varieties into size and condition. I stack, wash, clean, polish and re stack a dozen different things. After lunch, I read the last chapter of another book on the Knights Templar and doze off. I have no ambition, no plan, and no project so I don’t limit my dozing to a ten-minute catnap.

I have to get out of the house. I’ll mail that electric bill and take some books and videos to the library. In desperation the other day, I borrow Arnold Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Steven Sagal DVD’s from the library. I’ve seen all their videotapes. The librarian buys used DVD’s from a woman whose son has tired of the karate and kick boxing themes. This local lady needs the $2 per movie Helen gives her to invest in a carton of cigarettes. I park next to Agnes’ aging red Geo Metro rusting at the rocker panels, wipe my feet as the sign on the front door requests and walk inside. The same four people are at work at the bank of computers.

I push aside the usual assortment of mail, return items and magazines that Helen delights in perusing and park my Wal-Mart plastic bag. “Incoming,” I tell the librarian. I walk through the stacks, which I’ve searched meticulously last week and remember there’s a section labeled mysteries. This town of 395 people has a library better than the library on Park Street in Madison. It’s all a result of the energy and hustle one 80-year-old woman. Detective stories and mysteries are a poplar genre in the publishing field so each author has eight to ten titles on the shelf. Hillerman, J.D.Robb, J.A Jance, Nevada Barr, Kellerman and his wife Faye, Robert Parker- a lot to choose from. My criteria for selection are controlled and precise. Check the copyright date, read the jacket description, look at the photo of the author and flip through the pages. I pull out a book. Inside is a newspaper clipping.

The clipping is two paragraphs long. The first paragraph tells of a California Court case. The judge overturns a lower court ruling and awards an amputee $80,000 when a Mexican restaurant denies him access to the employee restroom. The main restroom is on the second floor. To get to the employee restroom, one has to walk through the kitchen. The restaurant owner cites health, sanitary and security reasons for denying the disabled person bathroom access. “People would steal from us, “he says. The judge does not agree.

I think about the time I told a customer in our Milwaukee store he couldn’t use the bathroom. He became irate. As he was calling the police on his cell, I called 1st district on my office phone and spoke with the desk sergeant, explaining the situation. “How long do I have to tolerate this abuse,” I ask. “We can be there in five minutes,” the sergeant says. “We’ll arrest him for disorderly conduct.” When I return to the display area, the caller walks out in disgust threatening to tell everyone about the incident.

The second paragraph is cut off at the bottom. A woman gets a judge to issue a restraining order against her soon to be ex-husband. In court, she complains about him. He has a key and he sneaks in at night. The judge is suspicious because her demeanor does not show a high degree of concern about the late night visits. He asks,” Are you sleeping with him?” The reply is cut off. You finish the scene.

On the same page of the book is a short note. Dorothy L. Sayers, March 12. Today is March 5. How long has the note been there? I make a mental note to come back next week Monday, March 12th and look through a dozen 1930’s detective novels by the English author. I could look now, but what if there’s nothing there? What if there’s another note? Would I be chasing a mysterious note writer from the past? I’ll wait to see what happens.

Humor. I'll look for it today.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rap in Iran ( It's Against The Law)

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century or

I'm glad I'm not a turkey.

"Say what you will about melodrama, it beats confusion."

Leif Enger-So Brave,Young,and Handsome

Baby Crows Dancing on a Drumhead(bite size uncommon crows) from Seven Roads Gallery

see more crows at

I'm pounding pork loin. I buy it in bulk and flatten it with a rolling pin. Voila! I now have pork steak. I pack the ground pork loin into plastic freezer bags for later use. It saves approximately $1 per pound over the same fatty ground pork available locally. It's dark outside. I look up at the kitchen window. My neighbor's tractor is coming down the town road that is our driveway.

Pucci and I have completed the daily perimeter check. No deer. Nothing. Quiet as a church on a Monday morning. Our afternoon walks are earlier than planned. During hunting season, I want to be sure that we are visible. The route is shorter. The pooch and I do not venture into the deeper woods. We walk down the lane into the field below the east fence line.

The plat map labels this the town of Kickapoo Center. Once a thriving town with a sawmill, store, church and one room school, it no longer exists. Three out of four years the Kickapoo River floods this lowland area. When a French voyager jumped out of his canoe, supposedly after an argument with one of his mates one hundred years ago, he camped nearby. French voyagers were short, stocky and strong. Like thick tree trunks, they carried heavy loads and a canoe on their backs. Intellectual vitality wasn't part of the gene string. To this day there are many leftover geographical references to a voyager term for "wife/companion/main squeeze". When asked about their female companion, a voyager would first grab his crotch with a meaty fist. He'd then reply, " Eh, you mean my squaw!" Squaw translated literally meant pubic hair. S(c)ee you next Tuesday, is the euphemism. His companion-something to wrestle with under the covers at night. She kept him warm. Thus you have Squaw Peak in Phoenix and a collection of other offensive notations on a map. Flatlanders have no idea of the origin of the term. When the name is explained their indifference is equal to the disregard for the offensive stereotypical sports team names and logos: redskins, braves, chiefs and so on.

Pucci leaps and bounds over the flattened marsh grass. He scopes out every tree as a possible lookout. He's aware. Once he sat and watched an airplane overhead . He followed its progress from the southern horizon until it disappeared in the north. When our walk is over, he scoots inside. He knows there is a tasty treat waiting for him. He's glad to be out of the cold.

When Ron's tractor pulls to a halt in the driveway, I see that he's hauling something with the platform attached to the rear of the tractor. I quickly grab my denim jacket and go outside to see what he's got.

In the middle of the neighbor's cornfield behind Ron's farm is a cemetery. It is small, surrounded by a wire fence and weeds. There are three or four gravestones. the newest headstone is dated early 1900's. The older ones are limestone slabs. One leans against an upright marker. My neighbor is hunting late in the afternoon. He lies near the cemetery warm in coveralls and a blaze orange jacket. A dark, almost black doe appears at the edge of the cornfield below him. He cannot make a shot. The doe is facing in the opposite direction with her butt end toward Ron. Another doe appears. There's some confusion. Ron fires. It's a direct hit. He walks down toward the fence line. The doe has run some distance after the hit and as I understand it, she lies near a corner fence line at the end of the railroad grade that used to run to Kickapoo Center and the sawmill. Near the fence in the weeds is the last of the crows that floated away in the June flood. The crow is almost indistinguishable because of the weeds. He sees a flash of yellow. The beak. Driving the tractor down through several gates, Ron loads the doe and the crow onto the flat platform. When he pulls up in front of my kitchen window, I see a huge doe and a welcome sight. The crows have come home again.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Winter In Kickapoo Center

Jonathon Pine on the east fence line.

"My wife got so she couldn't see me anymore."

Lief Enger in

So Brave, Young and Handsome

Returning late in the evening from a supply run to Lacrosse, I park the truck in the garage. $153 at Menards for drywall and birch plywood at $49 a sheet. Yes, oh sheet! $15 for an air filter for Fred, the riding mower-or is it Ted? I don't remember. I get the names mixed up. Hobby Lobby is closed on Sundays. I drop my wife off at Shopko and I park behind Sears in the mall. $63 for air filters for the Sears hepa filter air purification system. $23 at Michael's Crafts and supplies. The scent of cinnamon in Michaels makes me gag. I wonder if the heavy scent is intentional to spur customer sales. $54 in the liquor department of Woodman's. Bev-or is it Betty-my wife's names-I don't know I get them mixed up. She says she spent under $100 for groceries-a new record low. The price of gas has fallen to $1.89 a gallon. We decide to forgo dinner at Fiesta Mexicana. The savings will pay for the gas used in driving the truck to Lacrosse. Months ago, I kept track of mileage and consumption. The cost for the 120 mile round trip was $28.

Getting firewood for the wood furnace in the basement, Pucci sneaks outside. He makes a fake end run and drives straight through the middle of the line. The last I'd seen him, he was taking a pee in the litter box in the basement. He's heading for the front field. "No," I say. " No," this time louder. Finally, my most decisive "NO". He stops dead in his tracks. I carry him back to the house. The little shit doesn't know how close he got to spending a cold night outdoors. No warm body to nuzzle against. No midnight snack. No chirping bird play toy at 1 am. Later I understand he wanted to get outside to take a crap. Oh, yeah, I remember now. Pucci thinks he's a dog.

The fire in the furnace is burning at half way before chimney fire on the magnetic dial attached to the pipe entering the brick chimney. I pick the Pooch up and carry him outside. I explain to him, " See, it's pitch dark. There's no one out here, only possums and raccoons. You'll be bored," I say. Part of me says it's ridiculous to be talking to a cat. You've lost it, Bert. Gone over the top. I cut some fresh, raw pork loin for Pucci-his favorite. As he's finishing the scraps in the bowl, I mention to him, "You always leave one piece behind." He looks at me and reaches into the bowl with his right paw. He tries to hook the last piece with a claw. The chunk of pork falls off back into the bowl. "I think the cat understands English." I tell Betty. I don't feel stupid anymore.

El Gatto walks across me several times and settles next to my face on the pillow. I roll over and ignore him. At 12:30 I wake up with a sneezing fit. Four, six times-blow my nose. It won't stop. I pinch my nose shut. That doesn't work. I hold my finger under my nose. That doesn't work. The Pooch follows me downstairs. I give him a fresh bowl of water and turn on the bathroom light. I look for the sleep-ease tablets in the medicine drawer. It's a good thing we don't have small children. That drawer is a deathtrap. OTC medication without boxes, tubes of toothpaste, floss, tweezers, stretch bandages, cough drops, razors, combs, and brushes are strewn across the bottom. I peel the edge from a sleep-ease and take half a dose. For the rest of the night I'm oblivious to Bev, or is it Betty turning on the light to hunt down a Japanese beetle, Pucci playing in the kraft shopping bag downstairs, his subtle kitty moans when he rolls over in his sleep. In the morning I drink coffee laced with chocolate and steamed milk. It helps a little. I am thick in the head.

I'm too lazy to start a fire. The thermostat is set at 60. I turn it up to 69. The propane furnace works quickly and I back off the heat setting to 65. During the night it snowed. Wet, heavy, clinging snow. Pucci won't touch the snow. He walks on the deck along the side of the house which is protected by an overhang. Small animal tracks lead from Jonathon Pine's daughter, Gertrude, to the bird feeder. The live trap sits empty on the deck. Tom swings lazily in the pine tree. Dead calm. I remember Betty saying that Newton Ulm doesn't have eyebrows. I check the picture.

Betty is correct. Newton sports a bushy full white beard. No eyebrows. The lack of eyebrows can be attributed to his recent purchase of a pig farm. The smell of one hundred pigs in a confined shelter can burn the lining of one's nose. Sense of smell-gone. Two hundred pigs in a sty-one's eyes tear and dry up. Three hundred piggies in a barn-the concentrated ammonia smell from the manure will burn off eyebrow hair. More than that many hogs-well, the neighbors will gather in a mob, light torches and hunt you down. They'll petition the DNR, the County board, the All Mighty himself(or herself) and shut you down.

Newton Ulm circa 1994 with eyebrows

My daughter's husband dreams of owning a pig farm.

(The last time I checked with her, she doesn't have time to read my blog. I can write (without fear of a phone call).

Her husband is "deathly afraid of snakes". He hates to split wood and doesn't do dishes when they go camping. On a trip home from the city NPR's This American Life" features a story about Rufous, or is it Rex-I don't remember. He's a 400 pound pig. The narrator is a chef. He tells how about the taste of pork in a special recipe. I'll leave off the salient, gory details save for this: Pork from an uncastrated hog is fit only for making pepperoni. The testosterone taste is masked by the pepper. The narrator tells of the anguish of dealing with a pet hog destined for the table. Others laugh(including myself) at the terminal dumbness of naming a hog one will turn into pork chops. I learn the hard way. My ex-wife and I raised Flopsy, Mopsy, Peter and Cottontail on a farm near Sheboygan. Oh yeah, I forgot about Fred, my favorite. Fred had a scar above one eye and broken cartilage in his ear. One ear up and one ear down is my image of Fred. He'd come when you'd call. Fred ended up as Sulse . That's the Polish name for the head cheese, my step father made. I'll include photos of my son-in-laws eyebrows when he buys the pig farm.

Note about typos

It was a tough decision to delete typos. For example when Pucci dropped the pork into his bowl, my alter ego used chink instead of chunk. I rather enjoy the sound "chink" when pork hits the bowl. Drinking coffee "laces" sounded exotic. Almost like drinking coffee at an outdoor market in Nigeria.(Actually) "Little Haiti" according to the producers of Burn Notice a TV series we watched on disc the other night. Is it a typo or an intentional image? I won't tell.

Finally, welcome Bulldog and Crab I hope you took the time to get this far in a too long narrative. By the bye. 4 pieces of beef jerky at the Village Market sells for $4.95. Your two gallon bags of venison jerky- a conservative estimate 20X VM's price or $100. You may want to dole that stuff out sparingly during a card game. Better yet-use the jerky for chips instead of plastic discs. Here's the image.

Bulldog holds the cards close to his face. There's a mountain of jerky in the center of the table. Bret Maverick sits across the table with a dead pan face. Bulldog lays his cards on the table. A straight flush. Bret turns the table over while pulling the Colt from his waistband. "You dirty, no good cheating,lying carp," Bret spits(literally) at Bulldog. Bulldog calmly looks Bret in the face, holds up his right hand in a gesture of peace and equanimity. "No see here, Mr. Card Shark," he says. "I not here to make friends, " Bulldog says with a fake Mexican accent. Bret slips on peanut shells and sawdust on the saloon floor. The Colt discharges. Bulldog grabs the jerky and heads for the door. The bullet ricochets off the mirror behind the bar. It lodges in a piece of jerky in Bulldog's hand. The lead shot is smashed flat. The jerky (or is it singular?) jerk is unharmed. I'm only kidding.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Yer Uncle.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Guadalupe and San Antonio

Life at Seven Roads Gallery

Today's featured artist: Javier Ramos

Seven Roads Gallery was based outside of Sedona, Arizona between 1999 and 2004. Living in a rural suburb 15 miles south of Sedona, we commuted to Flagstaff for a year. To make a long story short, there were too little sales and too many shops catering the Grand Canyon tourist trade. As artists we were dismayed at requests for photo albums, cheap Navajo trinkets and the s.o.s. (same old stuff).We closed the Flagstaff location sometime around 2001.

For a time I worked for an upscale Sedona shop called Mexidona. The retired owners began the business with Talavera pottery displayed on funky furniture they bought from itinerant Mexican peddlers coming up from Nogales. The demand for the funky furniture caused them to expand and remodel the shop that was formerly an appliance store. When the owners sold the business to a the son of a wealthy Sedona woman, I migrated with the manager to an art co-op down the street.

The art co-op sold space to local artists to display their work. Sedona draws approximately 3 million tourists a year to the new age capital of the universe. The law of supply and demand means that the co-op had a proportion of tourist related crafts as well as higher end, quality artwork. Like Mexidona, there were always the itinerant Mexican peddlers. Jose Medrano was a regular to both Mexidona and the art co-op. The variety, quality and value of his wares made a visit from Jose seem like Christmas. While I produced my own furniture and artwork for a space I rented at the co-op, I also had access to purchase many Mexican crosses, retablos, a few santos and paintings. The work of Javier Ramos is one example. There is no provenance for Javier. "What you see is what you get" to coin a trite phrase. As an art professional with a bent toward the rustic and primitive,Javier Ramos is valued as a wonderful artist.

The example above is an ancient canvas stretched over a decrepit,wooden storm window frame. The layers of cracked,peeling paint-red, blue and white-gouges in the frame, a poorly repaired injury to the canvas above Guadalupe's right shoulder make this a rustic gem. For information on purchase, go to Click on the folk art tab and scroll down to "Ramos painting".

Friday, November 21, 2008

Casting Lots

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

today's quote: Jail ain't but a collection of corners" Leif Enger

(Newton Elm in a photo ca. 1922)

Casting Lots

The ground is covered with tiny crystal sparkles. At seven am the morning sun back lights a serious case of frost. The temperature is 10 degrees. The Pooch goes out via the back door and reappears on the deck railing, pawing at the kitchen window, wanting to come inside the house. He eats a bit of dry cat food and goes outside again. Ten minutes later he’s sitting under the bird feeder looking up at birds landing and taking off from the cast iron bowl in the feeder. He sees me in the kitchen window. The railing is slick with frost. He jumps up and almost misses the 6 inch wide board. He hoists himself up with one paw and repeats the earlier performance. I can’t hear him, but I see his mouth move with an-I -want-in-meow. Now, he follows me around the house.

I go upstairs to close the door to the bedroom. I’m allergic to dust, cat dander and hard work. The first two cause nasal congestion and sneezing. The last- procrastination at a computer. If I keep the bedroom door shut, Pucci will not be able to sneak upstairs after lunch for a catnap. He compromises while I’m fiddling around in the bathroom by lounging on a red, wool trade blanket in the futon bedroom. Then he follows me downstairs. Another brief snack, a round of grooming and he’s back outside. I make a list of things I want to accomplish today.

Yesterday, the Pooch climbed the woodpile looking for mice. He spots Tom the gnome under the bottom row of logs. If Tom were a mouse, Pucci would grab him by the scruff of his neck and toss him on the lawn for a game of mouse toss. Tom waves at Pucci. Pucci ignores Tom. It’s not good to be caught conversing with a gnome. Pucci’s local reputation as a serious mouser and overall game stalker is important to him. “How’s it going, Pooch?” Tom asks. “Not bad, yerself,” replies Pucci. With introductory greetings out of the way, Pucci inquires as to Tom’s appearance at the woodpile. “Aren’t you supposed to be keeping an eye on the front yard? “ he mentions. “I’ve been hired by Newton Ulm to find a new home for Elfred’s mother. The old tree is damp and cold. The chimney is plugged and a woodpecker has made a nest in the hollow caused by a broken limb. The constant pecking at insects is driving Mom batty,” says Tom.

“Who’s this Newton Elm ?” Pucci asks. “He’s a mystery,” Tom says in a whisper. “ No one seems to know where he came from, “ Tom adds. “The only photograph ever taken of Newton Ulm shows him in traditional gnome garb-red pointy hat, black belt with a shiny gold buckle and tight red pants covering an expansive belly. His face is blurred. One cannot see the color of his eyes nor the size of his features.” Pucci is suspicious.

Elves are notorious pranksters. Those elves who make cookies-the Keebler Elves-are always making naughty cookies that the company has to toss out. Like nose hair macaroons or moss covered Mexican wedding cakes. The only reason that the company doesn’t fire the lot of them is that 99% of the time they work long, hard hours. The pranks are a way of releasing steam-so-to-speak. Readstown has no Elf bar where they can hang out and drink hard cider. It’s a widely kept secret that Santa Claus has an elf resort at the North Pole. After the Christmas season, the elves swim and cavort in the hot springs. They treat their elf wives to facials at the day spa. At night- frolicking square dances. Even the reindeer have a dude ranch where horses act as waiters and waitresses. All-you-can-eat oat and hay buffets with a large underground artesian spring which is naturally carbonated keeps the reindeer from running off to Lapland chasing shamans and eating lichen-their favorite food.

If I haven’t already said so, Newton Ulm is a gnome. Gnomes are the Baptists of the underground folk. They work hard and take their job of guarding valuables seriously. They could be compared to the Pinkerton detectives above ground. Tom is looking for a hollow log. One with ample space to make a kitchen with a fireplace, two bedrooms, a bath and a living room. Gnome carpenters will add a sun room in the spring. Once he finds the right log, Tom will report back to Newton who will assign a crew to move the log to an appropriate site near a natural spring. Mr. Ulm will oversee the construction and remodeling. After the work is done, he will move on to ice fishing and snow boarding up North. Snow boarding is his only vice among many virtues.

The thrill of dashing through the snow on a pine plank breaks up long hours of monotonous waiting in an ice shanty on a frozen lake. Fish are a mainstay of a gnome diet. Fresh fish are available all winter on Thursdays at the gnome market outside of Mt.Sterling, next to Johnson’s One-Stop. Fresh fish are used as barter in a complicated hierarchy of fish currency . Two bass equal one walleye. Three walleye will buy four carp but only one salmon. That’s the reason why folks above ground referred to some forms of currency as a “ fin”. Newton keeps a fish bank in his hometown where locals deposit their catch and can trade for butter, salt and cheese. Eggs are scarce in winter so Newton only trades for eggs from April to September. The rest of the year he markets pickled eggs in brine at the cider house.

Newton Ulm is a rich man who owns a fish bank, a construction company and has interests in several sawmills and logging operations. He’s a kindly man, yet drives a hard bargain. I scatter Pucci and the little man by firing up my chainsaw. The cat goes to a cardboard box in the woodshed. I filled the box with felt scraps so he can watch me cut logs and keep an eye out for shrews who come to the woodshed looking for cover. In the Pooch's eye, it’s all food. There’s the big man with the chain saw who symbolizes a large pork chop because whenever Pucci is around me food appears. The shrew and mice are appetizers. Tom goes off to make a gnome call to Newton Ulm telling him that the black locust is too small for use as a home. Pucci reminds Tom as he saunters away that Stan, the woodman, will be returning will bigger, oak logs. With Stan, however, your guess is as good as mine when that’ll happen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The County Fair

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

Quote of the day:

..."(he) Had eyes Luther'd seen before in the white poor-spent his whole life eating rage in place of food. Developed a taste for it he wouldn't lose no matter how regular he ate for the rest of his life."

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane

Today's Vocabulary Word: Spurge: what comes out of a jet engine after collision with a bird.

The second week of September, right after Labor Day, Vernon County holds it's fair. I generally avoid the fair. The kiddie rides aren't for me. The food, a tad expensive, unless you're willing to consider it a donation for whatever local church is serving meat loaf and smashed potatoes. My friend Dogg runs into Stan the logger at the fair. Afterward, he tells me that Stan sells cull logs and will deliver them right to your place. "Get a hold of him right away," Dogg tells me. "If you want firewood, you need to get on his list." I call the number in the book. First, I call in the evening. The next time during the day. I get a busy signal at 8 pm. and an answering machine around noon. I leave my name, phone number and a brief message. "Call me," I tell the answering machine. A week transpires. No word from Stan. I talk to Dogg. "Keep after him, " Dogg says. I leave another message. Finally in desperation, I talk to a relative who works with Dogg. She gives me his cell phone number. Stan answers on the first ring. I repeat the same message as I did for the answering machine. Stan says it'll be about a month. "That's fine," I say. Dogg is going in the hospital for an operation on his thumb. He'll be unable to help me cut and split the firewood for about two weeks. September becomes October. I send Stan directions on how to find our place.

The third week of October, I'm getting restless. No word from Stan. His relative says you have to keep after him. Her exact words, " He's Polish ya know." Dogg tells me about Stan's brother who has the nickname No Show Joe Dogg used to work with Joe until Joe started losing jobs that he'd begin and never finish.

I'm worried. We have a two week supply of silver maple and a bit of elm and oak scavenged from a woman that Dogg meets at Wal-Mart. We work at cutting a large elm tree that has fallen in her yard. We remove most of the elm and fill our truck with oak lying at the edge of a hayfield. Then the deal with the woman goes south. She allows someone with big equipment to remove most of the oak in the hayfield. She hesitates allowing us to cut limbs from a logging operation at the edge of another field-offering excuses. On a day after work, when we're cleaning up the last of the elm, Dogg asks about bow hunting on her land. Her answer to Doug's request for permission is, "Probably not." Well, that sucks and we leave. In desperation, I ask my neighbor about cutting a downed oak in the field below his farm. He gives me his usual, "We'll see what happens." This is another way of saying probably not" I call Stan's cell. "It'll be about a week," he says. A week passes by and no firewood.

I ask my Amish friend Enis about the Amish family that sells firewood off the highway. Advertising cut stock on a sign near their white farmhouse , I see old fashioned wagons with metal rimmed wheels filled with split oak. Enis says he doesn't know anything about them. I'm getting a dozen eggs and a scraggly looking man with an unkempt beard delivers a trailer load of split firewood. It appears to be a tough year for firewood. Enis is tight lipped and I don't push it.

My wife and I are taking a short trip to the city to celebrate her father's 87th birthday. Stan calls on the Thursday before we leave. "I've got some black locust," he says. "I don't know anything about black locust," I tell Stan. He describes the logs, tells me where they came from and advises me to come up to his place off Highway 14 to check them out. "Some people prefer black locust," he says. I consult with Dogg.

"What d'ya know about black locust?" I ask. At first Dogg confuses black locust with iron wood. He tells me to have a number of back up chains for my Stihl. "It'll eat 'em up," he says. He says I should go to Stan's place, take my chain saw and do a test cut. "Check it out," he says. I look up black locust on the net. Wikipedia tells me that it makes excellent firewood and long lasting fence posts. The wood is rot resistant. It's snowing when I get to Stan's blue house off a county road. There are cars and trucks parked behind the house, but no one appears to be around. He has a sawmill 100 yards behind the house and logs stacked everywhere. There's a pile of stacked 4X4's. The yard is muddy. I walk carefully up to what looks like the pile described to me on the phone. Most of the logs are 5-8 inches in diameter. They're green. You can see the green inner bark where a few are bruised. I fire up my 16" Stihl and cut the end off a log. Seems all right to me I tell myself. To be certain, I double check with Stan on my cell phone before I leave the wood yard. "Looks good, " I say. " When can you deliver ?"
"When do you want it?" he asks. I think about our trip and tell him Monday. Stan asks when I'll be back from the city. He suggests late Sunday or Monday.

I call Dogg and set up a time on Monday when he can come with his log splitter. "10 am after I go out bow hunting, " he says. Dogg pulls up towing an old splitter behind an equally old pea green pick-up truck. We split leftover silver maple in the front field and move to some maple I salvaged from the flood on the south fence line. Snow and sleet alternate as we split all available firewood, including some previously split oak and elm. Stan said he'd arrive about 10:30 Monday morning. It's 12:30. I call him on his cell phone. "Had a few hoses break," he says. For the past week, he's been addressing me as Mister_______. "I'm on my way, just passing the junk yard."

Stan drives down the town road to our place. We consult over the best place to drop the logs. His logging truck is piled high. Now that I've met him, I realize I've misjudged him. He's younger than I thought. He's not obese and very polite. Dogg brought along the rack from a buck he found-shot with an arrow and left for dead. The two of the them gush over the 12 points on the rack. Dogg tells the buck story while Stan wonders what kind of score the rack would total.

Stan is hesitant to drive in the neighbor's cornfield without permission. "$250 fine ya know for trespassing," he says. I'm guessing he's had a few run ins. Then, a stroke of luck. The new neighbor, who traded his farm in the Beaver Dam area for this 400 head dairy farm, drives up in his John Deere. I introduce myself and ask permission to dump the load along my south fence line. The new neighbor says, "Sure, no problem." He adds, " I'm not Mike," referring to the former owner who was always at odds with neighbors and the local authorities. As he drives away towing a spring tooth and disc cultivator, Stan says with admiration, " That's a $250,000 tractor ya know." Later the new neighbor stops and tells the splitting crew while I'm off dealing with a workman who's installing a new deck door, " I'll wait to plow the section closest to you until spring." I'm thrilled that he's considerate and generous in case Stan can deliver a new load of oak logs. My original request was oak for its long burning and great heat potential.

Stan goes to work unloading the logs. On the rear of his truck is a hoist or crane. He plants two stabilizer feet firmly in the grass and lays several logs on the ground to keep the other logs off the wet soil. Then he piles the logs perpendicualr to the foundation logs. Obviously he's done this before. Dogg looks up at the electric wires overhead which are waving in the breeze. "I hope those are telephone wires," he says as Stan brushes the top of his crane with the wires.

Now I understand why people are so tolerant of Stan's idiosyncrasies. The pile of black locust is huge. It's a real deal, in spite of the hours I'll spend cutting and splitting. Once safely stacked under my lean to and in the basement, the wood should last most of the winter. The promised load of oak will set us up for the upcoming year.

We work in godawful conditions. Rain, sleet and chilling wind. My son and I haven't had lunch. We knock off for a short sandwich break. Dogg continues splitting cut logs. When we return, Dogg is ready to quit. He's wet and cold. I don't argue. As were walking away, out of the corner of my eye, I see a little figure scurrying over the logs. I don't get a good look, but it appears to be Tom, the gnome who swings in the forty foot Norway pine in the front yard. I'll come out before dark and see what he is up to.

No Fear

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

El Gatto sits under the bird feeder. His head moves like a bobble head on the rear ledge of an automobile. Every chickadee, nuthatch and junco that lands on or near the bird feeders causes his head to rotate up, down or sideways. In the back yard, three blue jays eat corn that sparrows have strewn from the squirrel proof feeder. Two more jays perch in the silver maples. I've tripped the latch of the live trap on the deck so Pucci will not get trapped inside. Yesterday, something ate half a bowl of birdseed, scattering it over the newly painted deck. I suspect raccoon or possum. They be will given a new home outside of town. The prospect of another day of wood cutting keeps me inside at the computer where it's warm and toasty.

Cutting wood at this time of year involves layering of clothing and advance preparation. I fill two saws with gas, check the bar oil reservoir and adjust the tension on the chain. My 26 inch Stihl isn't feeding enough oil to the bar. I check the instruction manual and discover that model 350 has an adjustment for oil consumption. I'm pleased that the problem is a simple one. The day is sunny and in the 20's. I start with a long sleeve t-shirt, a long sleeve denim work shirt and over that, an old sweatshirt. The final layer is my denim coat. No matter what foot gear I wear, I end up with a shoeful of sawdust.

I'm working against time. Wisconsin weather can be unpredictable. Two weeks ago the days were sunny and warm-in the 70's. Living in Wisconsin most of my life, I am skeptical about the balmy fall weather in November. I harvest radishes and spinach into the first week of November. I tell my Amish friend that it won't last. And, this sun won't last. Snow will fall. The logs will turn icy. It will be wet and miserable sawing wood. Oh goody, something to look forward to on days when dusk starts at a little after 4 pm. Therefore, I need to get off my butt and saw black locust cull logs. The following is an excerpt from Bert's diary.The time is a little before Thanksgiving in 2007. I was working in the dairy department of Wal-Mart.

No Fear

No Fear
( small farting noises of appeasement)

Even the font I use has a double meaning. Comic Sans MS.

Comic. Sans(French for without). MS ( meaning or substance)

For the past week, mornings have been a frosty white glaze on the grass trees and weeds. The chickadees flit around the cast iron bird feeder bowl bought at a small gift shop on Minneapolis’ Northeast arty side. I dole out small cottage cheese containers of special blend bird seed: peanut hearts, safflower, black oil sunflower, cracked corn and what-not. After a celebratory breakfast of hash browns and venison steak-it’s my day off- the decision making crisis begins. Work or play or e-mail?

Work involves clearing weeds from the last two garden plots and tilling the soil. I’ve already given up getting the gardens in shape before the first white wave of snow hits. My Troy-Bilt horse is full of gas. I spent nine plus dollars on a fuel stabilizer so I don’t have to think about tucking my tiller baby in for the long cold winter. I’ll pull her into the garage on a slow winter day and get her ready for 2008.

A picture of a rustic kitchen utility table from an eco-friendly catalog catches my eye. Made of barn wood, it has two drawers and a bottom shelf for storing kitchen implements. Making drawers on a table is a challenge. I’ve done only one table with drawers in the past. To my amazement they worked easily. In the same magazine, I notice a simple chalkboard. Something I can crank out a half dozen. We don’t need a kitchen utility table.

(Bert's note: you can view this utility table at shameless self promotion)

Chalkboards ? There’s a portable chalkboard in the barn for road-sign use. Next to the back door in the entrance way, one is used for daily communication. A small square note-"see chalkboard"- moves around the back door window to alert my wife that there’s a new message on the board. Sage in the paper bag on the cedar chest. Carrots in the frig. What to do. What to do? Oh my. My wife gets the message and freezes the carrots we found in the weeds at the back of garden number 7. The sage is hung in the garage to dry. Stripped of stems and twigs, it waits further refinements before being put into Ball jars. The smell is rich and oily. A full size slate chalkboard in the basement is one of the last reminders of the Kickapoo Center schoolhouse. In the garage are small, hardboard blackboards. This year’s potato harvest totals, remnants of a lecture on santos and discarded scraps of hardboard are turned into chalkboards. I do not need more chalkboards.

I need to create something/anything. On the table in my workshop is a nicho recently completed. The door used to close without additional hardware. In the few days since the final touches: (paint, cobalt blue glitter, bright blue stars, a Santa Fe cross, a silver sacred heart over the doorway, three stars hanging from the inside roof, rusted nail adornments, faux braces, a four color paint finish)and my nicho/outhouse has dried out. The door is slightly ajar. It needs a cupboard latch. Perhaps I’ll make a rustic turnbuckle. If I find a seated pig and a miniature toilet, it’ll be an outhouse. Mayhaps, I’ll make it a two-eater for company.

I meet my wife for dinner at a Mexican restuarant. The former drive-in on the outside of town, then Karen’s kitchen, has been renovated into a Ridger Café. I didn’t believe my wife when she coined the phrase. Ridgers: the people who move here from cities for the small town amenities. They isolate themselves from the locals by installing their children in the local Waldorf School, shop at the co-op and mostly hang out with a small group of new age friends. Children are numerous. They run wild. The door to the cafe, which has no protective entrance way, opens and closes frequently as they run to the parking and back to mom or dad. Outside the temperature is in the 30’s. We keep our coats on for warmth.

Small talk.

Two Wal-Marts in Wisconsin are fined 90 large for price gouging. Eggs in the local Wal-Mart jump an average of 50¢ a dozen in the week before Thanksgiving. The dairy manager hands me a print out from egg-central in Arkansas. The total sales of eggs for the season and all Wal-Marts is unbelievable. Wal-Mart is beefing up the bottom line by catching folk when they need eggs the most. We start feature tracking eggs. That means we constantly adjust the POS system. During the holidays egg sales will soar. The POS system will send us eggs in proportion to sales. When the holiday subsides, the POS system will send us fewer eggs when the demand recedes. We adjust. I photograph the last palett of eggs sent from the warehouse. They double stack paletts of eggs. Even the jumbo eggs on the top palette are leaking egg yolk. It takes me an hour of precious time at the end of the day to clean the mess.

The dairy manager applies and interviews for the assistant training program. He’s smart and has a young family. The starting salary is an incentive. He doesn’t care if he doesn’t have a life. If he leaves I may be approached to fill the void.

Wal-Mart, mass marketing, feature tracking, co-mac displays, price matching, comp surveys and accident free days assail my consciousness. Staying out of the fray becomes my main objective. The dairy manager gets back at “The Snake” in receiving by turning him in via the ethics hot line. An ICS supervisor, the former police commissioner of Bridgeport Massachusetts flirts and teases “Produce Girl, Jewelry Girl, Silent Girl and now Meat Lady. Fingers touch in back hallways. Small, close conferences in the freezer are noticed. The cart boy( in Wal-Mart language: code 20) and a Customer Service Manager are told to leave the premises when necking in their cars (both are married) The pretty, young overnight woman in our department tells me the dairy manager’s brother in-law, “creeps her out” when he stalks her with over-friendly offer to help. Management goes into sexual harassment frenzy & protective mode.

No fear.
(small farting noises of appeasement)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A. L. Terego

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

I'm beginning to see a pattern. My daughter labels it, Eat, Sleep, Repeat

My label: eat, eat, eat again, drink wine, watch movie, sleep, start project, never finish, repeat

Some projects are never ending. As a Gemini with a foul moon rising, I hate repetition. I don't exercise. I'll eat soup for breakfast. I find very little comfort in performing the same action, the same thing, day after day.

One thing I adhere to strictly is the way I put on my shoes. After reading A Thousand Splendid Suns I make sure that I put on my right shoe first. Any other way brings bad luck.

I was curious about shoe superstitions, so I went on-line. Shoes on a bed:bad luck. Think about it. I had a boss who told me you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes. When he'd send me to the trailer park to hire temporary Hispanic workers, he'd tell me to check out their shoes. Those who wore sturdy shoes would be the best workers. I alternate between a pair of low cut black Coverse All-Stars and a beat up pair of cheap Wal-Mart running shoes that used to be white. They are now scuffed and beaten. Inside I have new Dr.Scholls liners and a 327 cu. in. V-8 engine. I can run faster and jump higher than anyone on my block.

I have, in my paw, another incomplete project. This time its a faux gemstone cover, Signature brand, blank diary with gilt edge pages, a sewn binding and a ribbon bookmark. The first few pages are filled with quips like: Line your nest with the fur of your enemy. or Fat girls ride bikes only in a cemetery. and Escape velocity is 7 miles per second. It is coffee stained at the upper right hand margin through most of the blank pages. The first ten pages have been torn away.The first entry dated 1/30/97 is an I Ching reading. The reading asks a question about moving to Arizona a year before the event. I don't look up the Hexagram, nor the image because I already know the outcome. Here's the second entry

Ain't no use in talking if nobody's listening. Smudging is the punctuation in a ceremony. It makes the intent clearer. The feeling comes through clearer.

Walking to work, the temperature(outside) is a warm 45 degrees. on this St.Patrick's Day. Again, the contrast of winter is apparent. One rushes to get away from the cold, the wind, the snow and the assault on your physical self. It is a luxury to walk without gloves and not have cold hands. I don't brace myself for the obstacles winter puts in my way. This includes snowbanks and pools of melting snow water. The memory of relaxing in the sun; How it feels to be content and warm comes back with a pleasant sensation. Two geese stand on a thin sheet of ice in the middle of the river. They eye me carefully, mistrustful of the tall moving object above them on the bridge. Inside the old building that is my store, the air is colder-trapped over the weekend.

The back of my head aches. Various other dull pains confuse the moment. What am I doing to create these feelings? Too much caffeine, again. Eating too often in a hurry causes the acid content of my system to escalate. We put so much aside to deal with later. Later is exactly what it is: later. It is always later. Ending line for this segment:

I wanted to get closer to God but someone was sitting in my seat.

The wolf image at top is part of the permanent collection at The artist is Foster Swanke, an 87 year old man currently residing in Kenosha, WI. He is father to our featured artist-Linda Miller. You can see more at

Monday, November 17, 2008

Elf or Gnome? ( For Sophia)

Life In Kickapoo Center At The Turn Of The Century

A rare photo of Elfred T. Gnome anxiously waiting for a train at midnight in Chicago's Union Station.

His mother is ill. She lives under a gnarled oak tree in a field behind Gustafson's farmhouse on Elk Creek Road in Liberty Pole. For 35 years the Gnome family worked and lived with the Gustafsons:hard working Norwegians with no sense of humor. Dad died several years ago in a farm accident. No one really knows what went wrong.

There was a party at the gnome center outside of Esofea. Folks who attended said that a good deal of hard cider was consumed by the gnome menfolk. Floyd( Elfred's father) left the party early because old man Gustafson was night plowing the cornfield and needed a hand. Floyd would ride the horses while Gustafson manned the reins. His perch was high on the mane of the left-hand horse named Bill. He held a kerosene lantern high for Gustafson. If he whispered loud enough, Dolly, the other part of the team could hear stories the gnome would tell the horses. He told the team tales from the old country about mythical giants, muscular, snorting horses, battles with Norsemen and ribald parties with blonde, buxom Norse women. It kept the horses entertained during an otherwise mind numbing job. Things could be worse. They could be Amish horses hitched to a buggy for hours at a tree behind Wal-Mart waiting for the Amish family to finish shopping.

Floyd was a bit sloggish. Holding on to Bill's mane with his left hand, he reached inside his trousers to scratch an annoying itch on the inside of his thigh. That's when Gustafson hit a limestone boulder. The horses stopped dead. Floyd flew over the heads of the hitched team into the swamp at the edge of the cornfield adjacent to the Kickapoo River. Floyd couldn't swim. The bullfrogs in the swamp ignored his tiny calls for help. Bullfrogs are mean. Gustafson never knew why his team was so patient and hard working. He did not know of the fine job this gnome performed keeping the horses entertained.

Finally, a raccoon passing by heard the calls for help. Save me. Please help me for I am drowning. Haaalp! said Floyd. The raccoon dipped his furry paw into the water and pulled Floyd out onto the grassy bank. By this time Floyd's wife and several children heard the shouting. They carried him back to the oak tree and laid him on his rope bed. By morning Floyd had caught a cold which turned to pneumonia. Doctor Atley was called. He looked grave with his white whiskers and round belly. I'm afraid I can't help him, he said. Keep him comfortable and warm. Brew him some tea with lemon and honey. A few days later, they held a brief wake and buried Floyd in the Kickapoo Center Cemetery off the highway around the bend at the junction of County Road U. If you visit the cemetery there a tiny marker made of wood down the hill under a locust tree. It reads Floyd: a gnome with a large heart in a tiny bod:1884-1994

The trip from Chicago was hazardous. On assignment for a jewelry trade show at the McCormick Center, Elfred receives a message via elf wire. Mom baked bread early that morning. The wood stove heated the kitchen nicely now that the first snow had fallen and temperatures outside in the coulee behind Fred Gustafson's dipped into the 20's. She tripped and fell while carrying a tray loaded with wheat bread.

Gnomes aren't allowed in the first class cabins. In fact gnomes aren't even allowed on trains. That's because people cannot tell the difference between an elf and a gnome. Elves are mischievous. Gnomes are not. Elfred found a spot between two cars where he could ride unnoticed.

To be continued

There's something wrong with this story, Sophia. Can you tell what it is. Imagine Floyd riding on the horse's back. Can you see him scratching his itch? Can you see him falling off the horse when Gustafson hit the rock. You can? Good. What is wrong?

You can find more about Elfred, the gnome at or at

part two of Elf or Gnome

That's quite a worried look on Elred T. Gnome's face. Midnight in Chicago at the Union Station. Waiting for the train. Hopping aboard before the conductor catches him. Finding a hiding spot between two cars. He's cold. He hungry and he's tired. The ride from Chicago will take four and a half hours. He hums a gnome song to himself. As the train begins to pull out of the station, a Dutch girl stares down at him.

She's holding her skirt because this is the Windy City you know. "Hey, little fella" she says in perfect English. "What are you doing down there?" At first he's frightened. He's never seen a Dutch girl, at least not one this big. Back in Liberty Pole all the girls were either elves or gnomes. The others were Norwegian.She extends her hand in a friendly gesture. "I have a berth in the next car, she says. Carrying him in her palm, she hides him under a handkerchief until she reaches her compartment. She sets him down on the leather cushion and lowers a folding table from the cabin wall. "My name is Bertha," she says. Elfred tells her his name and the reason why he's on the train. " Oh my that's terrible," Bertha says to him when he tells of his mother's fall. On the floor next to the table is a canvas rucksack. She opens the pack and takes out some strong cheese and crusty bread. She opens a small bottle of Dutch grape wine and pours a thimbleful for Elfred. He's warm now and happy. The bread and cheese make him drowsy. He falls asleep.

When he awakes, the train pulls into the station outside Liberty Pole. It's still dark. He wonders how he'll find his way in the dark to Gustafson's farm and his mother. The Dutch girl sees the look of concern on his face. "I'll take you, she says. She pops him into a pocket on her apron, holding it open slightly so that Elfred can breathe and tell her directions to the oak tree.

When the two arrive at the oak tree the windows are glowing with a warm light. The tiny door to the gnome house is too small for the Dutch girl. She says good-bye. She walks in the direction of the Osterlink family over the hill and down the road from Gustafsons. She'll stay with them and help with the summer farm chores:putting up hay, milking cows, baking bread, weeding the garden and tending the herd of goats for making feta cheese.

Elfred opens the door and walks inside. His mother is lying on a straw mattress next to the wood stove. Several of Elfred's brother's and sisters are taking care of her. "Oh Elfred," she says. "I'm so glad you're here." he can tell she's resting comfortably. There's warm bread on the table and tea with honey. Elfred's brother Manny, his sister Annalie and his younger brother, Fred Jr. are sitting at the table making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Elfred loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, especially if the jelly is peach marmalade. After the tea and sandwiches are eaten they all join in with a rousing chorus of a family favorite,the song My dog's bigger than your dog. Mom is snoring on her straw mattress. For now all is well. Elfred decides he needs to stay closer to home. Perhaps he can get a job at the elf factory in town making toys. Or, maybe a night watchman, because that's what gnome do best. Guard precious valuables.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

First Snow

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

November. The week before the Great American Manhood Spectacle. Six hundred thousand people descend upon the woods and fields of the state to try their hand at fetching one of the King's Deer. I hunt for the meat, as do many of my neighbors. I've learned that I can save hours of cold fingers and toes by trading vegetables for venison. I'm happy for the hunters. With the new snow, tracking is easier. It also means fewer deer that are killed and wasted when the hunter can't find his quarry.

For a few weeks The Pooch and I will be confined to walking the perimeter of our land. I briefly considered getting the Pooch an orange vest. It would end up in the same place as the $8 engraved collar I purchased in Minneapolis. I've seen the Pooch drag various kills under his porch hideout. I imagine a pile of fur, bones, small objects like the collar and an orange vest.

What a contrast between seasons. November seems to go on forever. Rain, gray skies, leafless trees, cold and more gray. Gris, in French. For the most part, I tolerate the dreary by keeping busy and planning for the spring and summer. When I lived in Arizona, people had all sorts of rationalizations for the extreme heat and sucking dry air. I rationalize crappy weather with , "We had an extended, beautiful fall, " or ; " One can always add more layers to combat the cold." In Arizona you wouldn't want to walk around naked to combat the heat. Actually a layer of white cotton helped dissipate the sweat and fire. Life for folk below the Arctic Circle revolves around holidays and family. The distance between our family members and responsibilities of work don't allow much time for celebration of holidays. In the past, both my wife and I would be scheduled to work on a holiday. There was a time as a businessman when I worked 7 days a week for two years. Now that I am semi- retired, I have more time, however the work load hasn't decreased. Oh woe is me! I grab an old journal-the one with a black cover and the image of a cat in embossed silver on the front. I'm good at titles. I named this journal segment Pushy and subtitled it "Summer of 1996. Here's an example. Unfortunately, there are parts of the entry I can't read because of illegible handwriting. It's unusual because the first entry is dated 6/26'96 . A few I Ching readings about potential real estate deals intervene. Then, there's a gap for a entire year. This is the last entry before abandoning the journal.

Summer of 1997

31 years
sweat falls off you like apples from a tree
stuck inside of Memphis again
with the
(here's where illegible possibilities come in)

with the yellow cat vomit

at the back door
and the witch who runs the Hand of Glory
cleans her windows
tits hanging
with a bleached and cropped smile.
Been to better places.
The blonde with the better offer
calls from the high desert.
The twisted woman calls in her husky voice
to confirm your leaving
you don't give her a window-
you give her a crack and
wonder what she'll do.
Words at high noon
with your broker
pushing the river
in less than 10 minutes
while learning how to spot counterfeits
and change the course of lives

( I first misread this to be "the curse of eves")
with a T-shirt
and an unlucky number

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Life In Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

The Pooch is spending more time downstairs sleeping on his favorite chair. Thus, I am able to sleep "perchance to dream". I am flying. To stave off the fear of falling, a big symbolic fear all my life, I tell myself that I can maneuver like a skydiver, perhaps bringing myself to a safe landing with a slow glide to the ground. In the dream I fly higher. Now, I'm worried about flying too high. It'll get cold up there. The air will be thinner. It reminds me of the short flight with a college buddy-Stoney Burke, who took me up to 10,000 feet and lit his Bic lighter to show me that the air was indeed thinner at this altitude. Thin air. freezing temperatures AND electric wires. Where did they come from? Bizarre. I wake myself up several times. My throat is sore from snorting and mouth breathing. Blame it on Pucci.
Somewhere between three and six am, the nightly ritual begins. First, he announces his arrival with a few meows. He'll jump on the bed and begin to stomp on the sheepskin I placed at the opposite side of the mattress to keep him off my pillow. A soft surface reminds him of his mother, a nest and life as a kitten. Then the restless series of attempts to nestle up to me on my pillows. PFFTT his tail is in my mouth. Oh, ick he's trying to lick my mustache. Catlips oh no catlips his rough tongue scrapes the skin off my nose. He purrs like a small engine warming up. Then he moves to my side. Remember, this is the kid who spends hours outside in below freezing weather. Is he trying to keep warm? At six thirty I give up trying to sleep. I shuffle downstairs, open the brand new highly insulated door to the deck and open the storm door. Pucci looks out. Determines it is safe and crawls under the storm door. He never chooses to walk around the door. It is routine to him to crawl under the door. Like a soldier at the front he mans his posts. First, at the top of the steps looking out to the north and the garden fields. Then, he trots to the back of the deck to check out the backyard and the south fence line. All clear. I notice that the storm door fogged up rather quickly which means it's below freezing out there or that the new insulated entry door works very well.
Booting up my computer I check the documents file for golden oldie stories from the past. I find one titled Berlin. Because the documents are listed in ABC order, it's one of the first but fairly recent. It's dated July 5, 2007-my mother's birthday.



“You can never leave Berlin.”
George Clooney to Cate Blanchett in The Good German.

I don’t know what it means. What I do know is that this film noir shot entirely in B&W mirrors the day: July 4,2007.

Cate Blanchett eventually boards a plane to leave Berlin in the last scene of the movie.

I pull in the driveway Tuesday evening after another siege at Wally World. The head lights reflect off of tall foliage in the garden. “That’s strange,”I think. I don’t remember the plants in the garden being that tall. “Oh, no. Oh, no.” The second half of a diseased soft maple falls in the garden. In a rainstorm that totals 6 inches of rain over a brief two hour period, Linda goes to the onion drying shelter which collapsed under the weight of too much, too soon. The ridge pole separates. Gallons of water pool in the plastic fabric at the eaves causing it to collapse. A few minutes later the 100 year old maple, over 80 feet high, falls to the ground with enough force to poke a 5 inch perfectly symetric hole in the industrial, plush carpeting recycled from the assisted living center in town which I laid in the cabbage patch as mulch.

The bean garden,spinach, corn, broccoli and cabbage have a swath cut through them like the tornado that passed through the small town 2 miles to the east a few years ago. In my driveway, musing, looking at the devastation, I mutter,”Oh, well that’s less work in the garden.” Today, reality says I worked for months to create the most beautiful, perfect garden of my whole life to have it partially destroyed in a few moments. The evil maple tree got its revenge.

My neighbor Ron is standing near the Shirofumi edible soybean plants late in the evening as I return from work. Linda is next to him. “Looks like the deer ate your soybeans,” he says. Sure enough, the soybean plants are topped by curious deer attracted by the fresh foliage in the garden. Insult after injury. The morning after, a proverbial dumb bunny suffers because he chose to spend some time in the bushes near the kitchen window.

After Ron, Linda and I confer, I decide to turn on all the outside lights (5 spotlights in total not counting the automatic light at the garage peak). I light up the pole shed, tuning the radio inside at full volume to a Christian station. “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior,” the voice booms from the tin shed.I park all three vehicle near the carnage giving the impression that we are waiting for you…you@#$% deer. I tie Wal-Mart plastic bags to the antennae and rear side mirrors to create additional deer discomfort. Then it begins to pour. Again.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Amish Underwear

Subtitled: Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

This is my friend, daily companion and political adviser. After a grueling day of composition at the keyboard and chain sawing black locust, I learned a few new things about "the Pooch".
He's not afraid of the noise made by my Stihl. At one point I had to chase him off the pile of smaller cull logs my son and I set off to one side of the mountain of logs Stan the firewood man delivered and dumped on our south fence line. I am uneasy about him being so close to me while I'm cutting logs. I also learned he's not afraid of water. On our daily walk before sunset,we skirted the partially plowed corn field behind us and cut across into marshland. There's a set of tire tracks through the tall grass. The neighbor's son-in-law drove his truck over the dry marsh during the first part of the deer season to pick up a deer he'd shot. The tire tracks collected recent rainfall in low areas. The Pooch walked through elbow deep( on him) water if there was no alternative. He is one smart puppy, however, keeping to the high ground middle of the path whenever possible.
At the end of our walk, there's a tree near our driveway which is also the town road. It's an old box elder leaning at a 65 degree angle toward the driveway. In the fork of the tree I added a wood shelf for the Pooch to survey the countryside. When my neighbor, Ron, found the second wooden folk art crow washed away in our June flood, I added that to the perch. The Pooch climbed the tree, first testing the bark for slipperiness with his claws. When everything was to his satisfaction, he began a quick ascent to the farthest limbs. My guess is that he was about 15 feet off the side of the hill, further if he fell toward the road. I'm nervous. He chews at few of the branches, looks around and watches the cars on the highway. Then he decides to jump from one small limb to another. "No Pucci," I yell. The best way to get him down from the tree is to walk away. " I'm going in now, " I tell him quietly. "Goodbye." I don't look back. After he realizes his best buddy isn't kidding, he climbs down in the same manner as he went up. He hugs the tree with his front paws and slowly slides down catching the bark with razor sharp claws. I'm relieved.
So what does this have to do with Amish underwear? When there's only a 16 month old cat to talk to from 7 am to 5 pm, my mind wanders. Pulling weeds in the garden in the summer, the craziest tunes pop into my head. Where they come from, I have no idea. A recent book I borrowed from the library suggests that ideas and inspirations come from the spirit world. When you are inspired with an idea, the book suggests that you are acting as a medium. So why am I wondering whether the Amish daughters of an Amish friend wear thongs or old fashioned bloomers? More crazy thoughts to follow.
Keep your stick on the ice;we're all in this together.

Lo Siento

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

It’s the end of a pleasant early November Saturday. I’m pulling a board from the old white fence on the eastern portion of the property line. I began with the thought that I’d remove all the remaining ragged, chipped 10 foot pine boards. I realized that I had no place to store the weathered lumber before turning it into rustic art projects. Therefore, I am removing only one board. That single 10 foot board will lie on the garage floor for a day while I hope for an inspiration to complete a work in progress.
The work in progress involves a miniature rustic Mexican door with a cast iron spiral doorknob. It was intended to be part of a retablo. Months ago I created a framed retablo made from old boards. I framed the retablo with a green inner border and a blue perimeter frame and sealed the surface with yeso and paint. It’s been hanging in the garage for 9 months as an unintended test project. When it survived the 9 month waiting period without checking or cracking, I spray painted the white inner surface with a final coat of gloss white paint from Wal-Mart. The other duplicate retablo made at the same time was similarly spray painted with flat white paint. Linda choses the flat white retablo for a crow painting. I decided to create a work of art entitled Behind The Green Door. My miniature door is finished with chipped white paint and a sky blue wash. It has nothing to do with Marilyn Chambers, the famous porn actress. Because of the vagaries of the haphazard construction techniques I employ, the miniature door stuck out from the surface of the retablo. The ornate Mexican hinges I’d chosen to attach it the white painted surface would have to be hidden on the inside of the door. The hinge pin made the door lie uneven on the flat surface of the retablo. In short, I fucked up. I have a miniature door. I have an idea for a painting Behind the Blue Door and no way to complete the painting. Back to square one.
Thus, I am removing a board from the fence late Saturday afternoon for additional lumber with hopes that enough caffeine and a sick day off from Crazy World will bring an inspiration, an insight into the world of creativity which has its own locked door.
There’s only one birdhouse remaining on the fence. At one time in 2006 there were seven mouse condos lining the fence. One was taken over by a toad. This remaining birdhouse has a side flip-up door to remove for cleaning at the end of the nesting season. Months ago, I flipped it up and removed the occupants. I left the door up to discourage future squatters and unceremoniously evicted any mouse tenants in the other birdhouses. Some meeses were quickly stepped on lest they multiply and invade our basement in the fall, pissing and shitting in the insulation between the studio and 1st floor bedroom, creating a rank odor of mouse ammonia in the furnace room during the high heating season. The birdhouses that were still reusable were relocated to the garage for renovation. The others were tossed over the fence or thrown on the burn pile.
My curiosity gets the better of me. With my handy Wunderbar crowbar I flip up the side clean-out. Over the summer, high winds, rain and hail slowly lowered the door to the point that the gap between the side and floor was less than 2 inches. I see a fuzzy nest of grass, fur and weeds. Looking closer I notice two meeses peering over the top of the nesting material. Because Moe and Larry or Laverna and Ted appear to be standing on their tiptoes peering at me, I chuckle and quickly close the flip-up side.

I return to the mouse house after reinstalling the batteries in my camera, adjust the settings and get ready to aim and shoot at 2 second intervals. Moe in the back is wide eyed. Laverna is shy and hunkered down a bit in the fuzz. I take six shots from different angles and distances. Something’s wrong here because I slowly lower the side door, making sure the door is tight against the floor of the house. I walk to the next ten foot section of the fence and remove a board. Inside the mouse house Ted and Larry are wondering, “What the fuck! We were thrown into the weeds at the bottom of the fence running to avoid the giant’s big feet. We spent months running up and down the fence post getting ready for winter.”
I imagine several scenarios for removing the occupants of this last mouse condo. None are nice-some are karmic blunders like shooting the last rabbit to inhabit Kickapoo Center. The kindest thing to do would be to allow them to spend a warm and cozy winter running to and fro, from platform of cracked corn at the foot of Jonathon Pine to home again settling down for a long winter nap while snow falls gently on their roof.
Yet this is the country. A black and white cat sits hump backed with its tail curved around it feet. The early morning sun warms her black fur. She walks with a limp from a fight with a raccoon. She’s watching the squash garden with intent to capture field mice who have claimed the 30X40 patch of rotting squash as their larder. Crows gather around the lone scraggy, silver maple hoping for a mouse treat tossed from the pole shed and one of Uncle Bob’s 12 peanut butter baited Vee traps. The crows are busy battling the first pileated woodpecker we’ve seen in our 3 year term as tenants of the Kickapoo Center schoolhouse. An ugly possum waddles quickly across the front yard, its white face and sinister grin and smooth rat tail stand out in the floodlights on the deck as it sneaks to the neighbor’s chicken coop for an early morning feather and chicken guts dinner.
I sneak up behind the fallen trunk of the garden-buster silver maple and toss the black cat a piece of leftover Cornish Hen. She stares at the chunk, waits and slowly stalks the chicken meat. Having determined it will not fight back, she grabs the cheecken in her jaws and runs to the fence line for a guarded snack of white meat. The other pieces I toss over the log are ignored by the cat and quickly spotted by the crows. A lone hawk slowly circles the area over the river, woods and pasture waiting for a meal.

*Explanation of subtitle
A Hispanic couple asks for bags of chicken thigh quarters in broken english. I want to practice my Spanish. After checking the meat cooler for back stock, I walk to the floor to tell them I am sorry, but there are no remaining bags of chicken leg quarters. I speak Spanish with an Anglo thought pattern and utter in Spanish Lo Siento Nada. Translated that means, “ I’m not at all sorry.” They quickly laugh and correct my gringo Spanish.