Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century
The day of New Year's Eve. New Year's Eve Day? Let's try December 31st. I'm severely maimed. The Pooch jumps on my lap while I'm writing. Then, he jumps on the computer tower, sniffs at my Mother's picture on the wall behind the computer, looks at Gertie's picture above my Mother( Mom-there's no hierarchy here) and jumps from the tower to my shoulder. Then he goes from my shoulder to my lap. Each movement is actioned ( I made this word up) with claws extended for maximum traction. All of the above has to be accompanied by loud purring. He's been outside since Dawn left for work. I look at the garage thermometer while I'm scooting through the breezeway between house and garage grabbing a breakfast potato. The gauge reads below zero. I don't stop to check how far below zero. The Pooch has breakfast and climbs to my lap to warm up before another extended trip outside. I don't tell the Pooch that the carpenter installing new windows in our kitchen refers to him as a she repeatedly, irregardless of my he references. The Pooch would be miffed, but he holds no grudge.

On the return trip from the Amish up on the ridge top, I spot the Pooch slowly winding his way through snowdrifts on Loeser's corn field. I try to remind myself that this is probably the same cat I saw in a rainstorm a few weeks ago. It's fur was scraggly and matted from the rain. Now, I'm not sure because the striped tabby looks fatter and well groomed. When I get home, there's no Pooch to greet me. My last words when I left were, Go home. I yelled because he was sitting behind the car. Usually, when a vehicle starts he runs like a bat out of hell for safety. So, I start backing up toward the Pooch. Being smarter than the average cat, he gets the message and runs toward the garage. But did he take my words to heart and actually return home-his first home-the one before the neighbors took him in? There's no way he could have made it across the river. The good guy on my right shoulder says. The river's frozen, says the devil on my left. My last words to the carpenter should be cast in stone and mounted on a pedestal in the front yard. Oh well, it's his hide.

I have repeated these words often in the past. Most often they are connected with one of our four children. I have to disassociate myself from worry , anxiety and grief that follows some of their actions. When I intervene, invariably I'm on the losing end. The image: Curly of the Three Stooges with a soot blackened face and an tattered, exploding cigar in my mouth.

After a brief stint at the library in town consoling the 82 year old head librarian who's suffering from a miserable cold, I head down US highway 14 toward the Amish. I avoid the back roads which are icy from recent rains. The place looks deserted. In warmer months there are geese wandering in the gardens, young chickens grouped outside a low roofed shelter next to the driveway, turkeys strutting and gobbling, perhaps a horse and buggy tied to a railing and various cows, horses and people ambling about. No one is in the workshop. Now that their driveway is officially a town road, I see where the plows have pushed back the snow and ice, leaving wide open spaces for parking. The farm is a central hub of the Amish community. Someone has strewn ashes on icy parts of the walk to the house. It's a practice I avoid since it tracks soot into the house. There are three dogs on the porch. The black and white mutt barks at me. He slowly rises. He doesn't look happy that I'm approaching the house. His demeanor is that of an animal ready to lurch out and bite your leg. I'm familiar with the tactic and start talking to him in a calm voice. Hey, how'ye doin' pooch? There's the new rust colored, fuzzy puppy who is excited to see me. He's grown in the two weeks since I last visited. Curled next to him is a tiny spaniel puppy. I knock and enter.

The exchange is brief. I give the Mrs. a few egg cartons and ask about eggs. We only got five this morning, she says. Yesterday it was six. This is significant when you are raising- I'm guessing- 600 laying hens. I'm offered non-organic eggs they sell for other providers. I tell the Mrs., I can wait. She repeats a similar tale, to mine. We had to buy eggs these past two weeks. One of the daughters is decorating a large rectangular cake. She turns around to listen when I boast of the amount of goose both I recovered from the carcass. The Mr. is off installing kitchen cabinets. I drive off down the back roads to our place. I notice the Village has heavily sanded the road. I still drive slowly. That's when I spot what I think is the Pooch hunting for a meal.

To fill the void created when the last of the visiting kids leaves for the city, I marinate some finely chopped pork loin. The Joy of Cooking has an interesting "beer marinade". I sizzle five blue corn tortillas in olive oil and stack them between layers of paper towels before dinner. The final task will be to shred lettuce, chop tomatoes and mix some feta and Gorgonzola cheese for a topping. The task today will be to duplicate another festive meal for what will largely be a non-event. We don't have TV, so we won't staying up to watch Dick Clark in New York. Dawn has to work New Year's Day.

I fantasize about getting away from the cold and snow. Mexico comes to mind. I'd love to visit Puebla in the interior. I'll write of the trip. The devil on my left shoulder reminds me about terminal diarrhea on a trip to Isla Mujeres, crippling myself on a hidden concrete step on a beach in Cozumel, stranded in an airport is an isolated area listening to fractured explanations of the reasons why there was no connecting flight-Manana, manana- greedy cab drivers fleecing unsuspecting gringos, the squalor of Tijuana, donkeys painted like Zebras, prices cheaper than K-Mart, a taxi festival in the middle of the day paralyzing traffic and transportation. The good guy on the other shoulder stands mute. With good reason. Hey, how about a little help here, guy! I moan.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Id and the Ego

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

Dark. Forest green. Mint green. There is a soft LED light glow coming from the right side of the picture. A reflected light from a TV screen would be brighter. Is the person a man or a woman? Is the other person holding up the alien's head in the foreground ? What are they doing ? Where are the two figures ? There's no discernible clothing. The figures are neither smiling nor frowning. Stare at the picture for several minutes. What do you see? Do both figures have open eyes? No ? Yes ? One, but not the other.

On a pleasant, warm day in December, my son drives from the city to Grandpa's Farm as my granddaughter calls it. I excel at being silly. I ask her, Where are the cows? Are there any pigs ? " Nooo," she replies with a silly sarcastic 3 year old voice. Are there any chickens? "Nooo," she says again. "It's a farm Grandpa!" she asserts.

Before the holiday, my son spends several days here at the farm helping me with a load of firewood. I give him a T-shirt with the transfer image of Dawn's painting of The Id and the Ego . He says people were curious about the artwork. "Oh that," says Dawn. "I painted that years ago." I'm guessing it was painted during her tenure as a student of fine arts at the university. It says a lot to me. But that's for me to know and for you to find out. Nyaah. Twhfft.
(That means I'm sticking my tongue out at you.)

One gift to Dawn from my son is an art book of paintings of women reading. The title paraphrased because I'm too lazy to get up and verify my failing memory is, Dangerous Women Who Read. The book and a gift of four coffee blends causes my eyes to well. One of the coffee blends is a Milwaukee Blend. At the bottom of a picture of a classic Milwaukee bungalow is the caption...snowed in, twenty below zero, school's closed, a typical Milwaukee snowstorm. I remember those delicious snow days. It's a day when you got the chance to greet your neighbor outside shoveling snow and find out what's transpired the past two months.

I miss parts of the city. I love living in the jewel of the Driftless Area of Wisconsin but I miss the amenities, the neighborhoods, the people. Dawn tells her boss that she has run into far more weird people in this area than she ever knew in the city. When Dawn elaborates, her boss sighs , "Oh my!" The paintings in the book are from famous artists of the past. Dawn notes that one painting, according to the artist Vincent Van Gogh, took 45 minutes to complete. Forty five minutes ! she exclaims. " I wish we could do a book like that," I tell Dawn. She scoffs. I don't have enough material. Material! I echo. " Look around you." I've never been concerned that anyone reads what I write. It's purely a selfish expression. I've been entertaining myself with these musings for 37 years. Think about that. On my report card at the Pearly Gates St. Peter reads, Keeps himself amused. Yet I'm frustrated by the response or lack thereof, to Dawn's serious artwork. The gnomes are well received. Fame is not the question nor the answer. 37 paintings discovered in storage after the artist passed away is not what I imagine for these works.

I make it an affirmation of fact in 2009 and put it out to those salient beings who have guided us in the past , in the present in the future. Dawn's artistic works will receive the recognition she deserves.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century
From the window of my office I look at the bird feeders hanging in the silver maple. There is an empty Droll Yankee clear plastic tube feeder, and a pecked away suet grate hanging adjacent to the dark brown squirrel proof feeder. I haven't filled the Droll Yankee because the birds can empty it in less than two days-most of the cardinal mix at $33/50 lb bag ends up on the ground. Sparrows, like many fowl, scatter seed with a sideways motion of their beaks. The instinctual movement allows them to get at the good stuff on the bottom. Perhaps, they're just looking for bugs.

Scattered seed under the squirrel proof feeder draws a crowd. Six blue jays, two cardinals and a junco compete for the remnants. No, there isn't a partridge in a pear tree. When I went out to clear the snow off Dawn's car, it was snowing ever so slightly. Like God was throwing powdered sugar around. Now, looking at the jays and cardinals, God is dumping a fifty pound bag of flour with the help of an industrial six foot diameter barn fan. Gosh ! I exclaim. Then I call up George Carlin to finish the rest of the expletive. Cheeseus H.Keerist, enough is enough already. I'd hoped to do some last minute shopping, elbow my way through a throng of people, complain loudly on the slowness of the clerks, blow my horn angrily at donkey drivers, get last minute bargains and hum along with the Christmas music on the loudspeakers. Sheet!

Crows by the Fence is Dawn's painting of our east fence line. In 2006 I was lucky enough to get three deer during hunting season. I dumped venison refuse over the fence and down the hill. Crows had a feast that winter. The painting is exceptional for the fact that it was painted on an old cabinet door I turned into a classic retablo-painting on flat board. At the bottom of the painting , if you look closely, you can see the line of the tongue-in-groove boards that make up the old door.

It seems like it was just yesterday that I went to Wal-Mart to do some shopping. Oh, senior moment-it was yesterday. The parking lot is full. Randy the cart collector can't keep up with people filling his cart corrals. They've closed the entry doors so the clerks don't have to wear coats, scarves, mittens and hats while checking people out. One has to walk in the out door avoiding exiting patrons. Phyllis, a customer service manager is standing near the clothes racks waiting for a problem at the registers. "Just couldn't stay away? she says. I smile and mumble. I avoid the grocery side because I know too many of the employees there. I'll never get my shopping done. To limit my shopping experience, I took a basket instead of a cart. As I survey the front registers, hoping to find a short line, I notice several assistant managers working the registers. One is a new manager I saw at Woodmans in Lacrosse on Saturday. Good for her. The other is the manager who gave me the twenty minute lecture about conserving box cutter razor blades . I briefly consider taking her line to harass her now that I am a customer. But time is of the essence here. I jump in the line of the woman who works the garden center . I remember her telling me how good she was at plowing when she and her husband owned a farm. "I never took out a fence line, " she says. As a cashier she would be mowing down fence lines and getting stuck in the mud. She's slow and methodical. The customer has a pair of jeans with no UPC. Phyllis runs to get another with the code intact. The woman in front of me is rolling her eyes, slumped over her cart, sighing heavily every three seconds. When I get to the front of the line, Carol asks if she needs to see my ID. ID? I'm buying fuel line antifreeze. Carol reminds me that you have to be 18 to purchase HEET. "What d'they do?" I ask; "drink that stuff?" As Carol is bagging my $37 worth of cookies, candy and fuel line anti-freeze, the cute manager of the sporting goods department passes by. She gives my arm a squeeze, wishing me a Merry Christmas. Yes, there is a real Santa Claus.

There are more cars in the parking than when when I arrived. My car is further away than I remember. My biggest fear is forgetting where I parked my car, like the time I couldn't find the Prism. I'd forgotten that I'd taken the truck to the store. My next stop is the Village Market and then to the meat locker in the next town. I'm doing well on my quest to make it home before dark. I'd left at noon. The meat locker isn't as busy as Wal-Mart, thank God. The two old lady clerks are over a hundred years old. I have to ask for items I don't see in the freezers. Several of my purchases have to be vacuum packed & shrink wrapped. The guy behind me falls asleep leaning on a counter. When I get to my car, the trunk lid is frozen. Attempting to get it open, I bend the ignition key. Inserted into the ignition, the key won't turn. Dawn left me her keys when she left for work that morning. My keys were buried under a pile of rubble on the kitchen table. I can't call Dawn. The car won't start, the clerk at the video store can't bring up our account on the computer, the cashier at the Village Market scans a coupon for the customer in front of me. It adds $1.25 to the bill. "What the hay !" Then I forget to stop at the florist to pick up the bouquet for Dawn's birthday. Cheesus H. Keerist.

There's no ending here. Talking to the santero in Arizona, he says, "Get a moving van and come back."

post script addenda: I had to come back to this episode 1. To see if I was in a pissy mood when I wrote it. Often it takes more than 45 minutes for the morning cup of coffee to absorb into my veins. 2. To add the part about the cute sporting goods manager. Of all the events of the season thus far, her simple gesture was heartfelt. And 3. To add afternoon memorabilia.

The Pooch catches another bird. I'm hauling the wood sled to the back door. When I see he has a mouthful of gray Junco feathers, I say,"I can see you there!" He's waiting to sneak up on me with a Christmas present. "That's naughty." I tell him. (Actually I use more colorful language) I think of ways to get him to stop killing birds. This one isn't dead. When he drops it at the back door it flutters away. I pick it up and offer the bird a few words of commiseration. "At least you could kill the poor thing quickly,"I scold the cat. He takes my words to heart later on. I see him finsihing off the head and crunching the body. At least it wasn't wasted.

Now he's feeling frisky. He follows the sled to the woodshed. Climbing a pine tree, he misses a branch and falls in a snow drift. Next, he's climbing the wood pile in the shed peering out the gap between the sidewalls and the roof. It's a truly Kodak moment. I'm trying to make a path for the sled in the deep snow in preparation for hauling heavy loads of maple, black locust and oak. The Pooch follows. I'm going too slow for him and he crawls under the runners of the sled. Then he hops on board. A minute later he jumps off, bored with the ride. At all times I scan the area to locate the fur ball since he sneaks up on me often. When I'm splitting wood this could be disastrous. Clunk . I hit him on the head when he runs under the snow shovel while I'm clearing a path. " You dumbbell. Are you all right? I ask. Lunch is leftover turkey salad on a tostada. I bring the bone to him on the deck. His next action mimics his name. He grabs the turkey thigh bone and takes it to the sidewalk where he can gnaw off the meat. What a kid. Really. It's like having a five year old boy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Life on the Other Side of the Universe
We interrupt this regularly schedule blog to bring you this special program. The program featured in this spot will return tomorrow, same time, same channel. First a word from our sponsor, Henway.

Thank you for tuning in to Uncle Bob's story hour. In this segment Bob tells why Christmas isn't his favorite holiday. We're not talking Scrooge here. Uncle Bob grew up in a foster home. To be succinct, it was a wonderful childhood. My foster parents were blue collar. Step dad was a beef boner at a small meat packing house and mom was a short order cook and housewife. To make things complicated, I also had a real mother who visited me regularly. It would take too long to explain the arrangement. Perhaps in the future. Dad was 2nd generation Polish from Northern Minnesota. Mom was Yugoslavian, arriving here at age 4. The two were polar opposites. Dad could cook better than Mom and often did in his basement kitchen. Frequently overheard remarks from my Dad were, " Aw you're full of shit." ...And she was. A few examples; Mom wanted to side the house with aluminum (beer cans);she could be found in the basement burning money in the incinerator; and she would disappear at Christmas.

The role model I had from my parents, (three mothers/two fathers) is perhaps the reason why I have married three different women. There's the Slav mother, my real mother(who was a saint) and my adopted Native American mother(likewise a saint). My step dad held everything together working in a cooler all his life and putting up with the likes of Mom. My real father was a worthless shit who gave my mother an engagement ring, a baby and left town-in that order. I've never met him nor had a desire to find out about him.

Twenty four years ago, at Christmas, I left my wife of 16 years. In 1984 I had three children, one who was younger than my 3 year old granddaughter, a 5 year old son and a teenage daughter. I raised them with the help of an unknown legal arrangement at the time called joint custody. I'm surprised my children aren't self destructive from the week on/week off schedule. Included here in the list of saints is my current wife who helped fill the void of mother. In 1984 I was heavily into drugs and alcohol. So was my wife. Things weren't going well. I felt like my brain was being pulled through my nose. To make things worse, I had a crazy girlfriend.

Christmas is normally hectic. When you're divorced it becomes an orgy. The kids have multiple parents/step parents, grandparents and two households. I can remember my youngest standing in a sea of wrapping paper saying, "Is that all?" When I was young my real mother would arrive with a mountain of presents. Piled next to the fake fireplace was my mountain of presents and the small hills of gifts for my step-sisters. I was a selfish shit, too. I wouldn't share anything One Christmas,I wore out a train set running the engine until the transformer burned out.

I could go on. You'd be running for the bottle of an alcoholic drink of choice to forget this story. Take my word for it. Christmas was and still is a journey in a weeks time from the South Pole to the North Pole. My present wife's birthday is 3 days before Christmas. After Christmas is our anniversary; We were married in small Claims Court for tax purposes. Various other relatives were all born about the same time. As I write I have to pick up a birthday present I spaced out because of bad weather, crowded stores and a frozen trunk which bent the key to my ignition making it near impossible to start my car. Woe betide me.

This, then, is an excerpt from Dog Stories dated December 20,1996. It is titled The Albatross Man at Christmas

The crash on the front door at 15 minutes before opening time at first startled me. When I dusted myself off and stood up my ire was peaking. "Gol darn these idiots! Don't they know we open at 10 am?" I went to the front window to identify the source of the noise. I could see the top of someone's camouflage hat and what looked like feathers on either side of the brim. He was sitting on the cement stoop. I figured that in a few minutes he'd continue on his itinerant ways and I wouldn't be forced to tell him, "Stop blocking the door."
Get the heck off my doorstep!

At opening time, I unlocked the door. To my dismay, there he was. "Morning," he says. I try not to pay attention. There are always many things to take care of in the opening sequence. Unlocking certain cases, turning on lights, checking the radiators were just a few examples. As I returned to the entrance way, the Albatross Man was turning off his headset. It saved me the trouble of telling him we don't allow noisy radios in the store. I think he read my mind. Perhaps this was an established routine for other stores he visits.

I grimaced when he undid his inner coat and zipped up his pants. Although he was a small man-not more than 5'8", he sported an ample gut that hung out under his red T-shirt and peeked through his partially open trousers. I rehearse a description in case I have to call the police. Small man, partially bald with a five day beard , peanut head, large stomach, camouflage clothing and a hat with feathers on it.

That's when I noticed he was wearing a seagull under his belt. At first, it looked like the comical dead rubber chicken from the old vaudeville days. The bird's feet were bright pink and the head knocked against his leg as he walked. My non reaction to all this was a wonderful statement of a lack of intelligence. I can only say I haven't reached enlightenment.

Is that a dead bird under your belt? I ask. He replies, Why yes, it is. Take that thing out of here! He does so- promptly and politely.

I walk to my office and look up the non-emergency number for the First District police station. When I come out of my office, I see he's proudly holding up a fist full of money. It was a none too subtle way of saying, I'm not a vagrant. The next customer walks in the store. Did you know there's a dead bird on your doorstep? she says.

I reply, It belongs to that man. pointing to the Albatross Man in the back of the store. The female customer understood with a quick look. I grimaced at each step he took. Anytime he touched something, I winced. I'm thinking there are dead seagull germs all over the place. When the Albatross Man asked a question no words cam out. He just pointed with his fist of money and grunted. That there piece of leather is $9*.95, I tell him. I add sir to the end of my reply. It's like pulling a sliver out of your tongue.

In my imagination, I may still have to manhandle him out the front door. I think about a recent business trip to Manhattan. I'm in a deli. There's an elderly gent with a wire, two wheel grocery cart trailing behind him. The soup Nazi behind the counter tells the gent not to walk through the line of customers waiting for their knish or bagel and coffee. The old man balks. The counter clerk swears. The old man swears back. The clerk takes him by the elbow and tosses him out a side door. Like a home movie, my mind switches to a popular Mexican restaurant on National Avenue in Milwaukee. There's a man standing in the shelter of the restaurant entrance way waiting for a bus. Evidently this scene has been repeated in the past. The employees of the restaurant grab the gent. There's a whole lot of posturing on both sides. Swearing ensues. I glance at the man's left hand. He has no fingers. Mr. No Fingers gets tossed out to the middle of the busy thoroughfare. He holds up his left hand as if to give them the finger-except that there's no finger . It's great entertainment while eating one's chile relleno. But I have digressed.

The Albatross Man makes his way slowly through the store. Much too slowly for my taste. Like the cartoon character, a dusty, smelly, cloud hangs over him. The cloud is dead seagull. Actually not an Albatross but an immature mundane seagull found all over the Great Lakes. As he steps up to the front counter I ask, Are you ready to check out? Two grunts and a head shake mean yes. I forget what he purchased because I'm distracted by his dirty hands. The total is $37. relief, satisfaction and guilt follow. It's my first sale of the day. The Chinese say that your first sale will tell how your day will go. My guilty conscience says he won't eat today., because he spends all his money. He hands me 37 one dollar seagull tainted bills. All remorse disappears.

As I package the Albatross Man's goodies, he begins the reverse process of getting dressed. Then the Piece DE Resistance.
I glance at his feathered camouflage hat, now clearly in view. The feathers I see are more than just feathers. They are the intact wings of the juvenile seagull, ripped from the carcass and pinned to either d=side of the cap. If you forget for a moment his Pee wee Herman like appearance, he could be the mythical figure of Mercury. When he exits, he forgets one garment. Oh no, I moan. He'll be back! The next customer walks in and asks, Do you know there's a dead bird stuck beak first in a hole in a wooden post in the adjacent parking lot? I respond with a disgruntled No!

There's no place to bury a dead bird in downtown Milwaukee. Everything is paved with asphalt and concrete. I toss the bird and the man's clothing onto a snow pile next to the building. I'm hoping the rat population will take care of the remnants.

For the rest of the winter, through many snowfalls and frequent snowplowing, the seagull and the shirt move their way around the parking lot.

Oh by the way...What's a henway . About three pounds, is the answer.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the century

"It looks like we're getting some weather out there," I mention to the cat.

He's looking out the window at the juncos , chickadees and cardinals on the deck. We can't cure him of his yearning for feather sandwiches. With the thermometer plunging to -20, the birds are slower to react. The little shit takes to flying leaps at the cast iron seed dish whenever ever a junco lands on the rim. He's able to leap and swipe with a ambi- dexterous paw in a single motion. Most times he knocks over the seed bowl. A few times he hooks a bird. The picture of the Pooch at right was taken in better times. I use it as my desktop background for this computer. It helps in keeping me from going stir crazy.

There's a foot of snow on the ground. It could be twenty feet for that matter. Thursday, it snows all afternoon and night. By 10:30 am Friday morning we are still not plowed out. The retirement home at which my wife is employed is quarantined because of flu. To keep the outbreak to a minimum, the place is closed to visitors. My wife does not attempt to go to work. On Saturday morning we scheduled a trip to the city. My daughter is having a holiday party. We book a reservation at a fairly inexpensive downtown hotel for Saturday night. Since my wife's birthday is Monday, we'll do some shopping, stock up on essentials, have dinner at a sushi restaurant-something as alien as desert cactus out here in Coulee Country, and enjoy a day where I'm not feeding a wood stove every hour or thawing the cat over the radiator in the back hall every twenty minutes. I'm kidding of course. I thaw him out in the bath tub.

Curious about the weather forecast, I boot up the NWS site for Lacrosse. From the National Weather Service web site I can access weather over the state. Wisconsin DOT provides access to cameras at strategic locations on the Interstate Highway system. These two services will provide information to enable a safe trip across the state. The forecast looks bad, Snow when we leave, snow when we return. Bitter cold in between. I ask my wife if she remembers being stuck on I-17 in Arizona for 3 hours. She buries bad memories. I recall moving to Arizona in January of 1999. Three days in a Motel Six in Elk City Oklahoma because of a panhandle low that dumped a foot of snow on I-40.

I spend most of Friday afternoon with my hand glued to the keyboard mouse, checking radar, overpass cameras at Moorland Road, Madison weather, cameras on the Beltline. We must cancel the hotel reservation no later than 6 pm, Friday if we decide to stay in Kickapoo Center. I call off the trip at 3pm. "If I don't get out of this place, I'll go nuts," I tell my wife. She's perfectly content with the weather. Her family heritage is Irish, German and Norwegian. Genes that thrive on deprivation, cold and bad weather inure her to wonderful Wisconsin winter weather. Her maiden name translates from Hopperditzlmasterglug to Dawn by the lake.

When her forebears came over to this country, they shortened the name to fit on the official papers- Hopperditz. I call her Dawn. It is curious to know some one who has the same first and last name. Dawn Dawn. In Bill Bryson's book The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, he writes of a nerdy friend named Milton Milton. Parents often have a fractured sense of humor. My ex-wife's parents gave each one of the kids a name staring with "J", and a middle name in ABC order. It's good they only had three kids.

Saturday morning the snow has subsided, the road is plowed and I'm antsy. We head for Lacrosse for supplies. All the kids are coming to visit in the next week. There's no sushi restaurant in Lacrosse except for the small sushi island at Festival Foods. It's a step up from the frozen sushi at Wal-Mart, but not much better. We stop at our favorite Mexican restaurant-Fiesta Mexicana, on the south end of town. It starts snowing the minute we sit down for tortillas and salsa. By the time we get back on Mormon Coulee Road for the trip to Onalaska and the grocery store, it's coming down in sheets. Dawn buys the groceries-$125 worth of essentials like eggs, chicken wings, pork loin, bacon, four pounds of butter and I buy the wine and beer. I find a nice organic wine to include in the gift baskets for the kids and stock up on jug wine for Dawn. I splurge on a twelve pack of Rolling Rock. On the way to Woodman's grocery store there are three cars off to the side of the road, stuck in deep snow. People drive as if they're invincible. No matter if you have twelve wheel drive, a car doesn't stop quickly on ice and snow. They cut in leaving no stopping space. They speed. They pull out without looking or caring. We return home by 3 pm. The state highway that runs in front of our place hasn't been plowed. It snows all Saturday night.

My neighbor drives down the town road that is our driveway late Sunday afternoon. His Massey-Ferguson has a road scraper attached to the back. He clears the road and the other part of the drive where my F-150 is buried in snow. Out of gratitude, I hand him a zip lock bag of venison/beef jerky and some holiday nut mix. He cut off his pony tail awhile back, but has grown a large flourishing mustache. Ice and water vapor freezes to his mustache. It looks like Niagara Falls in winter. Ten minutes later the town plow comes through. I shovel paths to the site where I dump wood ashes, a path for the cat to patrol the perimeter of the house and paths to the bird feeders. In the afternoon, I look out the kitchen window and see the black and white feral cat sitting on my cleared walk. When I go out to the deck to chase it away, The Pooch shoots out from under the deck. In two seconds there's a whirling, writhing mass of cat bodies and yowling. "Get outta here ya bum, " I yell at the black and white Tabby. Afraid that I'm going to attack him too, the tom cat dives into the deep snow in the front yard. Like a porpoise on the ocean, I see the cat leaping up in the air to clear the 15 inches of snow on the ground. I know better than to approach The Pooch. He's pissed. I grab a box of Katty Shack treats and shake the box. He hesitates for a minute, but retreats into the house. I scan his fur for signs of blood and see that he's unharmed. He's put on extra weight since he arrived here last February, therefore, he outweighed the hungry intruder. Dawn says he's pretty ballsy even without them.

I could qualify as a weather expert for all the time I spend analyzing charts, forecasts and data. It doesn't look good for Tuesday and Tuesday night. My son would be driving back in poor weather and limited visibility. I call him to explain that it's not worth the trouble and danger to spend 24 hours "on the farm'. We're both disappointed. I looked forward to some help with a dwindling wood supply. It's so cold that I had to adjust the plungers on the storm doors to close quicker. If I forget and go from the house to the garage after washing dishes, my hands freeze to the metal doorknobs.

I'm worried about the effect of the weather on the gnomes. In a brief moment when the temperature rises to a balmy 21 degrees and it isn't snowing cats and dogs, I catch one taking a leak outside the Norway pine by the east fence. "Who are you?" I ask. It's the solstice. He looks startled first being caught with his fly open and second because the Big Book Of Gnome Rules requires gnomes to identify themselves on the solstice. I'm gleeful for the help around this place. The first thing I'll have him do is attach skis to the runners of the wood sled. Nap O'Yarby's the name he says. He pronounces the last name Oiy Yarby. He talks like a Jewish gnome with an Irish Cockney accent. "What kind of name is Nap ? I ask. It's a nickname, he says. Under this red cap my hair's a mess o' nappy nits. Kinda like me eyebrows, only worse. I ask him about his three buddies. Ain't tellin', he says. Ya can't make me, neither, no how. Nickname, nappy nits, neither, no how. I'm wondering if his speech patterns are like the African language which is composed of a series of tongue clicks and clucks.

By now my hands are freezing and he's none too happy with his Johnson hanging out. I go back to the house to make dinner. We're having pork cutlets and a rice and orzo dish. Dawn insists on having peas. As we're pouring a glass of jug wine and settling down to The Christmas Story movie on TV- the one about Ralphie and the Red Ryder B-B Gun- I hear an awful racket at the back door. There, dressed in raccoon fur coats are all four gnomes. They're wearing mukluks on their feet and fuzzy fur mittens. One of them is holding a bottle of scotch whiskey. They're singing old English Christmas Carols. Should I invite them in?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Count Your Blessings

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

On the highway that borders the north section of our property, a stainless steel milk tank truck crawls along at 5 mph. In times of heavy snow, the rural carrier holds our mail. We'll get a note later saying that it couldn't be delivered because our drive( the one that is a town road) was not plowed. Whatever happened to the mail must get through.

The few vehicles on the road are trucks passing by in a swirl of snow. Like the milk trucker, they must get to work. As soon as it gets light, I dress in blaze orange, new work gloves and a ski mask. I shovel paths around the house and the garage. The Pooch must get through. There's a drift in front of the back door. I left the heater on in the garage so I can finish the art easel for my granddaughter. I'm at the painting stage. The front portion is an easel and the rear is a blackboard. The plans for this easel are from one of those Sunset books. It wasn't until I clamped the pad of art paper to the top of the art easel I realized a few flaws.

My granddaughter just turned three. She'll have to stand on a chair to paint with the easel as pictured. I call in the expert. My wife. Together we confer that I'll have to add a feature to allow the cardboard back of the pad of paper to slip behind a slot I'll create lower in the front of the easel. We planned to drive to the city and deliver the easel as a Christmas present. Southeastern Wisconsin , according to my daughter has between eight and twelve inches of snow on the ground and more to come. The route involves driving on the Beltline in Madison and taking the interstate to Milwaukee. A friend recently drove a daughter back to Green Bay in a snowstorm. When she told me how long it took, I was mildly disturbed. The description of cars in the ditch took me back to the time we visited Flagstaff, Arizona in a snowstorm. You think Wisconsin's weather is bad, try this.

Our hotel is at the intersection of I-17 and I-40. I 40 comes from Gallup and ends in Los Angeles. A forty five minute drive south on I-17 takes you to Sedona. We take the on-ramp south and in less than a mile traffic is stopped dead. There's a long line of trucks and cars in both lanes of the highway. So, we wait in the car, engine running. A car pulls up behind us. They're impatient to get to their destination. The driver of the car decides to cross the median and turn around. Yes, you guessed it. The ground is soft and they get stuck. When the occupants get out of the car to push the convertible out of the mud, they're wearing shorts. They were on the road from LA, hoping for sunny, warm weather in Sedona. Flagstaff at 7000 feet is higher than Denver. In some years the city is buried under two hundred inches of snow. There's a major Naval astronomical observatory outside of town. Flagstaff also has a ski area known as the Snowbowl.

I remember telling my wife to get out of the car. Just a minute, I am not Simon Legree. I ask her to speak to the trucker behind us. If he can move we can turn around and drive back down the on-ramp. She does and he does and we get back to the place we originated three hours later. There's an ongoing debate on who is smarter-the Pooch or me. On one hand, we have Pucci who is smart enough to walk close to the house avoiding snowdrifts above his ears. When he reaches the deck, he slips quietly under it hoping to catch an unsuspecting bird. His master on the other hand shovels paths for El Gatto to follow. I put the camera on the kitchen table, hoping to catch a shot of him covered with snow. The above photo is all I get. But, then I'm in a warm house and he's sitting in the dirt under the deck hoping for a mouhtful of feathers.

Pffwwwt, he spits out the feathers. No matter how often I yell at him, he insists on catching birds. To him,it's a live cat toy-something he'll wait for hours in a crouched down position, tail straight out, ready to spring. He doesn't eat them. Dumb animal. Dumb owner.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Firmer Measures

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

Ah, fer sure! Ain't life grand. The temperature on the garage thermometer reads eight below. The Pooch-o-meter reads ccold. I decide not to brave the elements and walk outside in sweats and felted slippers to fill the bird feeder. So I slip on my Pac boots, tuck in anything hanging out and walk to the garage to fill the old coffee can with Premium Cardinal mix from Nelson's Agri-Center. Juncos sit in the cast iron dish looking at the kitchen window forlornly. The Pooch is at the back door before I can dump remains from the coffee can into the squirrel-proof feeder in front of the kitchen window. In fifteen minutes he'll have forgotten how cold it is and meow at the door to be let outside.

At 4:45 am he comes upstairs. He'll walk on top of me. "Wake up", he says. Then I feel whiskers brushing my face. It's not my wife. He's licking my nose. The Pooch moves around several times before he decides to settle in for a nap. His butt is up against my face. The final insult: he starts sneezing. Hey I'm the one who's allergic here! At quarter to six, I'm fully awake. Time to pester my wife. The next thing I know, I've drifted off to sleep and the alarm is beeping. There's no Pooch on the floor or the bed. I walk downstairs. It's suspiciously quiet. Next thing I know, I'm being cat-attacked. The Pooch's version of counting coup is to run toward a person, grab a leg with both paws, hang on for the required dangerous two seconds before the person realizes they are being attacked, and then run away snickering. What? You've never heard a cat snicker? He repeats the stalking two more times, each time generates a clogged-up nasal chortle on my part. You shit you! I exclaim.
If I haven't regaled you with the true life adventures of Life With Poochie, I'll have to resort to firmer measures. One last thing. Attention Deficit Disorder Gatto is alternating between a forlorn meow, jumping up on the chair next to me and giving me that Aw come on Dad look and sprinting off to the deck door.

Previously, in Life in Kickapoo Center I explained how I got started in this business, long before blogs became fashionable. The picture I insert here is of an episode entitled, The Adventures of El Gatto and Don Diego De La Vega Del Alhambra De La Rosa. That's me at Halloween riding a tin horse in front of the furniture in Sedona I was employed for a period of 4 years.Yes, I have a penchant for pen names. I'll let you in on a secret. I intended to show the cover of another of my writings around the same time period I'm a Priest Not a Saint. Both the title and the drawing of a man standing on the surface of the water preaching to a crowd on the shore were stolen. I rejected My Thong is Humming because the picture of the wrinkled elderly woman on the cover is offensive to anyone over the age of 60. Clever Words bring Forth No Buttered Turnips has a great picture of my stuffed rattlesnake , but again, the title words are borrowed.
I need a segue to my life in school.

Ah, Bill Bryson to the rescue. In The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid he writes of his teachers:Miss Grumpy, Miss Lesbos, Miss Squat Little Fat Thing and the principal-Mrs.Unnaturally Enormous Bosom.

My introductory kindergarten experience in Catholic school was of a nun on each arm and leg carrying me bodily into the brick building on 77th street. I didn't like the seersucker pants I was forced to wear. After third grade, I was sentenced to 9 years at an exclusive private school in Milwaukee. Mrs. Enormous Bosom was the 4th in a succession of teachers in sixth grade. It's highly unlikely that Nelda Turznick is still alive after 50 years, but my memories of that year and the other teachers who left because of nervous breakdowns or mental infirmities are vivid enough to make me hesitate using their names. Nelda would move around the room like a prison guard, watching us carefully. Every so often her crossed arms folded underneath the enormous bosoms would boost them several inches, as if Maidenform constructed a faulty bra and she needed to readjust those puppies before they got loose and smothered us all.

In seventh grade there was the mandatory fingernail inspection. High school couldn't end fast enough for me. My math teacher was a tortured Marine in the Korean War. The shop teacher had only one leg. The music teacher and the comely blond gym teacher had a thing going. The music teacher's nose was long enough to hang laundry from it and was often red and runny.My classmates were the same 58 people I saw daily from fourth grade through senior high. To add insult to injury, after 5 years drinking my way through college, I became a teacher. Good God, no wonder I spend my mornings weaving my way through this mental abyss. What's the alternative, besides a bottle of scotch? Yesterday, for fun, I cleaned my office. Right now, the temperature in my workshop is 37 degrees. The wood stove needs filling, the breakfast dishes sit on the table. Today's list of fun: splitting black locust, finding the sled I use for hauling wood which is buried in snow on the south fence line or shucking dried corn hanging on a clothesline at the back door.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Zombie Strippers

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

Ah fer sure! Ain't it grand. Another 2-5 inches of snow on the ground. Last night's movie turned out to be a dud. I was hoping for a camp movie starring the former Freddy Krueger. Look on the bright side.My wife goes shopping with a gift certificate she won attending an in-service. She shops like the rest of the world around here. Run for your lives it's gonna snow! Insert pretty picture of snow here:

At the Village Market, she picks up one of those women's magazines near the front. Not the ones with the picture of Martian babies or another story about Brad and Jen. This is the one with the permanent headline about losing fifty pounds fast. My wife is an intelligent person. She's talented,too! Gee, honey, I'm not being sarcastic. Honest. You know I love ya, especially when you come down to the basement clothesline for a sweater in the morning.

This issue of the magazine has no fat article. It's a holiday issue. It should be termed The Paranoid Issue Here are a few sample banners.

Cure Your Holiday Stress.

Have a Stress Free Holiday.

Why Your Multivitamin May be Putting You At Risk...

Protect Your Breasts From Cancer.

Home Remedies That Really Work.

Ok. Shoot me! I thumb open the magazine. The article is titled, What Your Christmas Tree May Be Saying About You. We don't put up a Christmas Tree. By the time we get the thing decorated with ornaments(mine, hers,family heirlooms, ornaments from past life gifts-we both were teachers) Easter is around the corner. Besides, we have five, forty foot Norway pines in the front yard. Each has a name. Each has a face, if you don't count Grandma Pine. I haven't gotten around to her. I walk out to Jonathon Pine to see what he's saying about me. He's really angry. I ask Tom the Swinging Gnome to translate a bunch of garbled Norway Pine language.Tom says he over heard Yarb Firdman talking about four gnomes buying a Norway Pine.

When I heard it was me, I couldn't believe it, he says.

Do you know how much of a ruckus those gnome make? It was bad enough when the mice moved into the birdhouses onto the fence, he complains.

All night long the shouting, cursing, drinking-clanking of beer steins, spilled swill all over my roots, venison jerky farts. Jonathon is red in the face. Tom is having difficulty following along.

I had no idea it was that bad,I say. I look at the base of the tree. Four very contrite gnomes stand there. They are hung over and tired. "Wassamatter", one of them growls. "Ain't you never seen a gnome before?"

All you you toads, I yell.

Outta my tree and my life!

"We paid good money for this tree and we ain't going nowheres," they all shout in unison in their squeaky helium voices.

I'll call Yarb Firdman to come over and talk to the bunch. If he can convince them to quiet down, Jonathon Pine will settle down. Then, there will be peace in the front yard. If I can learn their names- it's only a few days until the solstice, then I can put them to work.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dead of Winter

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

I've been writing for 37 years. In college I was determined to write my life's story. In an unused 2nd floor bedroom of a rented house in Oshkosh, I set up my writing chamber. My memoirs never got past the first page. One of the reasons, perhaps,is at that point I had no life to write about.

In 1971 I commuted between Milwaukee and Oostburg. It was 45 miles long and over an hour's drive. It was a simultaneously boring and dangerous. The first leg of the journey was either a narrow two lane County KW- or a stretch of highway 141, notorious for the deaths of teenagers. Highway 141 in 1964 was a three lane highway with a curb. The middle lane was a passing lane. In '64 there were counties on the outskirts of Milwaukee that were beer friendly. If you were 18 you could legally drink. Add music, friendly young ladies and inspired farmers who turned old outbuildings into bars, you have a recipe for disaster. They called them "teen bars". Between 11 and bar close, the sheriff could wait to pick off drunken teenagers on the highways. Those who didn't get picked off by the constabulary, got their picture in the morning paper. The picture was a late-at- night flash camera whiteout . The scene was a twisted wreck that once was an automobile.

I drove $100 specials. Cars I picked up from relatives. One was a 1960 Pontiac Catalina on its last legs. It suffered through years of abuse at my hands while I was in high school. By 1971, the exhaust system was failing and the engine- iffy. I'd drive with one hand and jot notes about anything and everything. Then, I'd put together these notes into a mimeographed booklet complete with hand copied tracing from books and magazines. I still have those "gems" in a scrapbook on a bookshelf in my current office. One example was called, The Life and Times of Amelia Earhardt. I think the stretched link between myself and Amelia was my mother and Milwaukee. I'm afraid to go back and read it. You don't want me to go there.
The imagery and wisdom in those writings are as dubious as this tree.

Who in their right mind would put a face on a tree in their front yard?

I caught myself the other day. On the side of the road was a dirty, pink-plush teddy bear. It looked like something a really good marksman would win at the state fair. My mind went into high gear. I started to create a whole scenario about the bear. Wait a minute, get a hold on yourself, I told myself. In the movies this would be a time warp.

...On my way home from another day as an inner city teacher, I've got the radio on in the old Pontiac. It's tuned to the devotional hour. "Hail Mary Full of Grace the Lord is with Thee..." A congregation in the background mumbles and murmurs . On the side of the highway is a black woman with a child and suitcase. She's thumbing a ride. I drive dumbly past the them. My mind is numb from the day's assault on a young, inexperience teacher. I don't react. Then, "Oh shit!. I should have stopped. Well, maybe not. I don't want to get involved." Thirty minutes of self loathing follow.

Prior to this blog,I shared many of my written experiences via e-mail with a friend. She will attest to my penchant for straying off topic. Remember, this is about living in a small, rural community in 2008-a little past the turn of the century. So, to keep the imagery clear, look at it this way.

I'm on the throne. I read in the bathroom. Seed catalogs are the best, since they require little follow-up. I'm reading about the Don Juan of radishes. It's a radish that will cross pollinate readily with any species. I want to write about Don Juan-the radish. Uncle Bob leaves the bathroom with the end of the toilet paper roll attached to the heel of his shoe. Uncle Bob goes to the basement and forgets why.

This is the front of my Christmas card for 2008. The inside reads, Happy Holidays. There's no place like Gnome for Christmas.. Hiding behind two Stein Garden Center artificial trees is a gnome. He's flanked by two skiing snowmen on Popsicle stick skis. At right is a child dressed in a snow-suit riding a snowball. A rabbit with antlers is pulling the child along. I'd guess the snow child belonged to my Grandmother. It's worth something as an antique. If you didn't send me a card this year, you won't get a paper copy. Be happy with this. You can also be glad I didn't write about a number of things; i.e. the title.

My wife says three people have died recently at the retirement home. She hopes that's the end of it. Dogg tells me a relative in Alaska retired after years of work making big bucks on the pipeline. He died, too.

All the cashiers at Wal-Mart on my last visit are bundled up in coats, scarves, hats and gloves. One cashier tells me about the latest remodel, the new doors ( all of which she says,"
We paid for.") and the inability of Wal-Mart to reconfigure the front doors so that 15 mph winds and temperatures of -3 do not waltz in merrily in the 30 minutes it takes for the automatic doors to close.

I also didn't do a piece about the Pooch, his litter pan and the bag of cat litter next to it. In my musing I think about putting something new for him to read next to the box. I will leave you with one last image.

In The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I'm at the part where Bill tells about his lack luster performance in kindergarten.

I always did everything wrong. I forgot to bring back official forms on time. I forgot to bring cookies for class parties, and Christmas cards and valentines on the appropriate festive days. I always turned up empty handed for show-and-tell. I remember once in kindergarten, in a kind of desperation, I just showed my fingers.

I saved you, too, from any discussion about the sun not rising this morning ;It not getting light until 7:20 am and lazy birds . Wait one minute. There's someone at the door. It's Yarb Firdman.

"What's up Yarb?" I ask.

"There's a for sale sign on your Norway Pine tree in the east forty, " he says.

"For sale?"

"Yup, fer sail."

"Why those no good scoundrels, I reply. "They can't sell my tree!"

"Past tense, Bubba. Sold, says Yarb."

I ignore the "Bubba" remark. "Who bought the tree?"
Yarb says that the four gnomes the Pooch and I met down by the river put 40 cents down with a balance of thirteen thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine dollars at 12% interest. It seems that a dime is all the cash a gnome can physically carry at any given time.

"Wait till I get my hands on the broker," I retort.

"Broker's a polecat who left town," Yarb tells me. " You don't want to get near that sachet kitty."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Streetside Moochi

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

Streetside Moochi is about superstitions. Specifically-shoes. It's inspiration was the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseni. He also wrote The Kite Runner. I decided not to continue with the drizzle about working at Wal-Mart. "Enough is enough," to quote Barrack Obama.

Incidentally, it was drizzling this morning as I let the Pooch out. Every fifteen minutes he appears on the deck railing closest to the house. He bangs on the window with his paw. "I wonder, who has trained whom after the fourth time I open the deck door.

“A quarrel will follow if you put your left shoe on first, unless you put it on unintentionally on a Friday.”

I think of my Yugoslavian stepmother who spread salt on the bedroom floor at night to determine whether ghosts walked in her shoes while she slept.

“It is an ill omen to hang two shoes tied together.”

I wonder if the LL Bean gum boots still hang tied together on a nail in garage.

“Putting shoes on a bed invites death into the family.”

It is bad luck to put new shoes on a bed (or a table) .

It comes from the tradition of dressing a corpse in new clothes and shoes and laying them out so everyone can give their respects) - (UK / Scotland)

To undo a superstition look at yourself or your tongue in a mirror and smile.

A belief not based upon reason or knowledge, so says Wikipedia.

It’s good luck to wear yellow underwear.

I don't have any yellow underwear.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bleeding, In Trouble and in Pain...

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century
The photo is to remind me of a time when the world wasn't white. Looking out the second floor window this morning, my first thought is: Darn, it snowed again. The snow cover is so complete it looks fresh.

My original intention today was to write a short list of new titles for future excerpts. For example,

There's another orb, ya know! An explanation would get me in trouble.

The title for this episode listed above comes from The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. Use your imagination.

How about Nigger Babies? At breakfast my wife and I discuss childhood memories and candy.

Another Bryson image:

Licking Lincoln Logs.

Surfing old documents I come across a good one. Since it is rather long, I will post it in two parts. That gives me time to fool with the gnomes today. I'm waiting until solstice to find out their names. Until then, these guys know how to party.

Hidden subtext message to Bulldog...

Psst. do you know how hard it is to resist sampling new venison? I'm nearing two full gallon bags. Mmmmmm. Tasty stuff.

Spittle 2007

It rolls off your tongue and is hard to control.

I like the word because of the way the combination of letters rolls off your tongue. In the Oxford dictionary of English etymology, the word is a sub form of the Latin noun supere. The Old English derivation was spatl. It describes much of the last month. I hunted for apt descriptions of the way I feel. That’s what comes through. The weather is foggy, rainy, misty, dreary. It precludes any outside work. Mud season.

Saturday, my wife and I work ourselves close to near exhaustion, cleaning up 2 of 11 garden plots. Removing 8 ‘ weeds with tough fibrous stems, roots that run straight to China, then to hell and back. We take the chain saw to wood boulders that lay strewn in the old spinach patch, haul cut blocks to the wood pile or cart really huge log slices by dolly to a parking place next to the stump. It takes most of the afternoon. By four pm, I’ve mowed the front lawn and decided the rest of it could wait. My wife can mow the backyard. I will cut the highway side with the gardens and so on after work on Sunday. Monday, I’ll be hanging on for dear life, as the mower slips and slides on the berm hill. We take a nap. Sunday it rains-all day. Pools of water all over the place. After a week of intermittent rain, the river is up to the top of its bank.

I stand on at the second floor window at 6:30 am Tuesday and survey the scene. The herb gardens are a mess of weeds. What’s new? I wrestle with the idea of just clear cutting the 3 remaining plots of perennial sage, thyme, chives and the annual basil. The fourth plot was an overflow for onions. When they were removed, itinerant sunflowers take over the plot. Now, all that remains are the woody stumps of eight foot tall sunflowers. Garden #1 is a deep-green patch of mammoth clover that might bloom if we have some sun. Garden #2 is a lighter shade of pastel green clover. I planted it two weeks after number one. My gaze skips to garden # 9 which has been retired permanently. It looks healthy and grassy green from the mix of clover and $9 /lb grass seed from the hardware store. Plots 3 & 4 are a pleasant shade of newly tilled burnt umber. The plan is under way.

My work day Tuesday starts at 11 am. I’ve been working the 7-4 shift since October 7th because the dairy manager is on vacation. In the Wal-Mart way that means I did his job and my job too. Add under staffing and an incompetent night crew, a new hire who exhibits three distinct learning disabilities: has bulging eyes, an irritating nasal twang that’s suggest her alcoholic parents produced an alcoholic syndrome baby and an inability to pay attention. Chronic ADD. That’s a recipe for gruntling. Major disgruntling.

I’d like to join the members of the afternoon truck unloading crew who, when informed that their 2-11 pm schedule had been changed to 4pm to 1 am, gave notice and will begin working in Richland Center for Rockwell ( Allen-Bradley) at a beginning wage of $13.50/hour plus overtime.
One member of the crew stops to gossip and spits when we talk of the 18 years she worked for Wal-Mart. “That’s the thanks I get”, she says. I surmise that the new manager from who looks like Mussolini with a buzz cut, is following a directive to reduce salary costs. Long term employees are an economic dead-weight. Our Wal-Mart is heavy with staff over the age of 65 who are supplementing meager social security(none at all if they were farm workers and paid no SS tax). Imagine the store as a clipper ship. It lists to the far left side, almost to the deck rail.

The grocery side is staffed with younger people who actually perform 8 hours of hard labor. The other side of the store, the soft lines, electronics, hardware, automotive, house wares are staffed with septuagenarians and posers. They’re overweight, infirm, a few actually crippled, and gravitate to positions that allow for maximum leaning and little or no work. I see them frequently huddled in the backroom talking about nonsense or on the sales floor shifting merchandise one place to the left.

For example, on a trip to the town dump, one of the road crew from the Town of Kickapoo asks me about Ed in sporting goods. According to an Assistant Manager, the position requires an intimate knowledge of state and federal regulations regarding firearms. As a result, it is one of the higher paid positions. Jeff tells me Ed is dumber than dirt when it comes to selling rifles or ammunition. Wal-Mart eventually drops Ed and eliminates rifles. Second quarter profits are down and the stock price has dropped from $48/share to $43. In another cost cutting measure all employees have their schedule trimmed by two or three hours. “Do more with less.”
For breakfast, I grab four small white onions and slice until my eyes brim with tears. I toss in another yellow onion, diced venison steak, a fresh potato and the piece de resistance: a can of mushrooms. I simmer the combination in olive oil until the onions are separated and tender. My wife joins me for breakfast in the 10 minutes she has before making the 20 minute drive to town. “I won’t belabor the point,” I say. “Last night at dinner I described some of the more noxious events of the past week.” Included in the description is the quote from the new hire who already has been nicknamed Yah-Yah,

”What do you want me to do with these coffee creamers: the perennials and cream?” With an astonished look, I note that she can’t read or conversely-is dyslexic. Pralines & Cream.

The day before, I ask politely, as I move palette stacked high with 100 cases of frozen food into a freezer, “ Please don’t stand behind me.” She’s peering over my shoulder to look at the palette as I move in into the freezer. “Do they go in a certain way? she asks. “No, “ I reply. She doesn’t hear me because she’s not able to assume multiple tasks. In her mind she processes information much like a computer with little or no memory. Given instructions which contain subtasks, she’s off and running like a racehorse scared out of the stalls before I can complete a sentence.
Another time, she walks into the dairy cooler. I begin to explain that there are additional palettes of milk in another cooler. Before I can complete my sentence…”You need to bring the 2% milk down to this cooler", she asks if we carry organic milk. I walk to the sales floor and begin my explanation again.

After repeating,” Don’t stand behind me!” several times, more forcibly, because I almost step on her, she retreats and breaks into tears. A customer asks for assistance finding an item. She follows me around the store as I look for molasses which is stocked in the breakfast food aisle. On the sales floor she chats incessantly with customers.

As an corollary image, picture the retarded man who hangs out at the Village Market. He’s forty, has red sandy hair in a buzz cut and shaped like a pear. When you enter the store, he’s sitting on a bench. Retarded Rudy begins a long description of the pizza at Subway. His nasal twang grates your ears as he says,” I eat pizza at Subway. It’s really good. Do you like pizza?” I avoid eye contact and mumble some platitude. I see customers react in similar fashion to Yah-Yah. Other associates roll their eyes.

My statement to my wife is short. For me, short is astounding.

“We gotta do something”, I tell her during the Kickapoo Corners dinner of catfish breaded with cornmeal and sour cream and chive fries. I describe the rock, the hard place and the cramped space in between in which we currently reside.

When I arrive at work at 11 am, I’m am confronted with a swarm of magpies. “Did yah hear what happened to Yah-Yah?” they ask. After the fourth person asks me the same question, I respond with a surly retort.” She hurt herself lifting cases of orange juice,” I’m told. “Roberto took her to the hospital.” Roberto is the new manager. “She’s under a doctor’s care and cannot lift more than ten pounds.” Today’s the day my manager is scheduled to return from vacation. He’s not there when I arrive. I ask for assistance with the load of work. Roberto assigns ICS associates to work the freezers. Meanwhile, the dairy portion which is over half the grocery portion of Wal-Mart is neglected. The shelf of Great Value butter which holds over four cases when completely stocked is empty. It’s one of the items Wal-Mart rules state very plainly:

Never let the butter run out

I don’t care. Counting on my fingers, I determine it’s taken all of 7 months to become jaded and cynical. Wal-Mart fosters incompetence, mediocrity and arse kissing to a credo we all label The Wal-Mart Way.

When the dairy manager returns the next day after a span of 10 days off, I’m suspicious of his “diarrhea” excuse. He hasn’t survived working in grocery business since he was 18- 8 of them at Wal-Mart (meat, photo lab, dairy, bakery, cashiering, God knows what else, by being a model citizen. There’s the Wal-Mart way and then there’s the Bulldog way.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Las Vegas in 1952

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

On my Yahoo home page, there's an article about Betty Paige. The photo at left is not Betty Paige. It's my wife in a self portrait completed in 2007. Since she's a former kick boxing teacher, brown belt, scoring #4 in the National in Minneapolis in the 80's, I'll not be saying anything humorous, sarcastic or otherwise. Life's to short. Anyhow, Yahoo also reports that scientists are using sarcasm in studies of dementia in people under 65. I'm afraid to read the article.

Betty Paige died at the age of 85. She was a pin-up icon. My first introduction to Betty Paige, other than the women who wore her famous short bang haircut, was a movie from Netflix called The Notorious Betty Paige Exhaustive research on the net viewing nude shots of Betty, I determined her nipples were nicer than Ms.Mol who portrayed Betty in the movie. In a photo-opp shot with Hugh Hefner in the 1990's, I understood why she didn't want to be photographed.

I worked with a woman at Wal-Mart who looks like the present day Betty Paige. She has an upswept bouffant grey hair style, always wears a Mickey Mouse denim shirt- size 3x and is notoriously nasty-until you get to know her. Screaming kids on the floor were "maggots". I'd move something out of her way in the back room and she'd reply,"Ask me if I give a shit." Early on, talking to her was a sure bet for a desire to cut your throat. She was almost as wide as she as her 5 foot 6 height. She has a sister named after a fruit. So, I understand why Betty wanted to keep her 1950's image sacred.

In defense of Madame X at Wal-Mart, I learned that at a former occupation, she rode the train daily to downtown Chicago . In Chicago you do not make eye contact with strangers. It's like the monkeys at the UW research station where my step-son cleaned their cages. He told me, "Never look a monkey in the eyes. It's an aggressive gesture sure to get a monkey irate." Madame X said to be safe on the train she developed an, "I'll rip your throat out," attitude. "Mess with me," that look said to anyone giving her a second look, " and you're dead." It never went away.

I also learned later that underneath the crust was a marshmallow. Talking about someone whose husband passed away, she would tell me about her mate. "When Bill died, I figured life goes on." Speaking of someone who was having an affair with the grocery gigolo she'd say, "I'm not anybody's catch, but I don't see what the attraction is."

I've been worried about the Pooch lately. He sleeps on a footrest for a Danish modern chair in the studio. He no longer comes up at 5 am, meows his hello and settles next to my face. Yesterday we went for our first afternoon hike since The Big Snow. We walk the plowed road and folow Ron's tractor tires out to the corn field. I've determined in advance we'll do the circle tour down through the swamp grass, hang out by the burned dead trees by the river and come back up the town road that is our driveway.

The Pooch cuts through the weeds between our south fence line and the corn field. When he gets to the woodpile, he climbs the black walnut to get a better view. Down back to the ground Pucci wades through chest high snow. I urge him on. The snow is shallower in the corn field. Deer have followed tractor ruts. I'll break a trail for the Pooch. In the dip between field and fence line, Pucci starts sneezing. He's actually wading through the white stuff. It's getting up his nose. I walk over and pick him up. For me the going get hairy as I stumble through weeds and snow calf deep. I'm only wearing running shoes.

I deposit the cat on the fence rail so he can walk above the snow while getting a good view of the bushes and east fence line. Half way down the fence, ice sticks in his paw. He begins to turn around. This is getting ridiculous. There's more to come Oh boy, I can't wait. Giving up on the afternoon hike, I pick up the Pooch and carry him to the deck. He's so relieved to be back on solid ground, he disappears in his hidey-hole under the steps. It's going to be a long winter.

Tracks in the snow tell remarkable stories. Around bushes sticking up in the snow are dozens of bird tracks. They can eat the seeds off weeds that were too fragile to perch on before the snow. I follow deer tracks and determine that a major route is across the highway,our road and back to the woods along the river. An opportunistic raccoon follows the deer tracks.Last night there was a full moon. I'm restless. I come downstairs to check on the Pooch. Without lights on in the house it truly is "The Dead of Winter".

Oh, Las Vegas in 1952? That's when the town got their first stop light.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Venison Jerky

Life in Kickapoo Center at the turn of the Century
To wear the coveted chef's hat
called a toque a chef has to be able to prepare eggs 101 ways. Therefore a toque has 101 creases. This chef's hat is not white. There are no creases, just pleats. I'm preparing for my imaginary TV show called "Jerk Cooking" or "The Jerk in the kitchen:Uncle Bob."

Bulldog leaves a message on the hidden answer board next to the payphone. "Psst, I got venison," it says. I travel to Wal-Mart to pick up ingredients. An hour later, I've spent $111. I needed that small Wearever sauce pan. There's more white sale T-shirts. I find ribs marked down to $1.40 per pound. Lord, I don't remember some of the things I purchased. In my defense I turned down the guacamole. It was $4 for the prepared package and a buck a piece for fresh avocados. I remember now that I forgot something. What it was, I don't remember.

One venison roast weighs 3.5 pounds. It looks like a small white basketball. I unwrap it, noting the date it was frozen. The hunter was smart to pre-wrap it in plastic. No freezer burn. My slicer has a full tank of gas and a new saw blade. I've oiled all the gears. It groans as I cut through the roast. I set the slicer to a little left of thin. I have pieces of venison as large as pie plates. "Wow!" I exclaim to nobody. The cat is outside stalking birds.
What you see is one half of the mountain of meat. Pay attention here, because I'll divulge my recipe for jerk in Uncle Bob's the kitchen. If you send money I'll send shots of naked venison.

To backtrack a bit, we have a groaning slicer. Mounds of thin sliced venison on two dinner plates, a counter top at right with various measuring cups, bottles of soy sauce, Worcestershire, dark brown sugar, cooking sherry and a plastic tablespoon. It is important to get the venison in the marinade before the meat defrosts and turns to limp, thin slices that fall apart. Oh, I forgot to mention the most important culinary device. See the blue pan to the right of the old fashioned scale? It is a special marinade pan and probably one of many sources of embarrassment.

My wife sends in those Publisher's Clearing House contest blanks. Every once and a while she'll order something to keep her name on the mailing list. The mole repellent devices I laughed at silently. They look like a giant blunt metal fountain pen. Two "D" cell batteries make it emit a buzzing sound on a repetitive basis. I have pushed those 2 green posts all over the front lawn. Moles run from them. I've heard them say, "Run for your life it's the buzzer. Oh nooooo!" The marinade pan has a nubbed bottom and top. It allows the marinade to freely move through the selected meat or poultry. It has a tight seal and can be flipped over. Tonight, before retiring I'll flip the jerky mix. After 24 hours in the refrigerator, longer if you have a bad memeory I'll line the shelves of the EXCALIBER .That's my baby. In reality it belongs to my wife. It was one of my more romantic presents. What the hay, her birthday falls three days before Christmas. I get desperate.

So the sink is a mess. There's a mountain of dishes to wash. The recipe you ask? This is version #3. That's version not venison. Wal-Mart soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce (gee I'm glad they invented spell checkers) dark brown sugar, cooking sherry, Louisiana hot sauce, paprika and coarse black pepper. When it hits the dehydrator shelves I'll dust with cayenne for a little zing. How much zing, other quantities-send me money. I'll leave out the naked venison shots.