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.
A Barrel of Gaffes
16 hours ago