Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chats by the Woodburning Furnace

Dawn's new living room furniture.
Gavrillo here.  "Above the grass" as they say in the local parlance.  The Oxford English Etymology says the word is a relative of parole. Interesting. As if I haven't recently been hit by a string of shitful health issues, last Thursday I'm shivering so bad under three layers and a blanket, I call the doctor.  Actually, she called me.

"Howyre doin'", she says.

I fill her in on my condition since I'd last seen her, two weeks ago. Reports have been filtering in from two Mayo facilities, one in La Crosse and the other in Rochester.  Without actual details, they are clinical reports of tests that show an esophageal mass in my throat.

I leave out everything but my current shivering and an occasional inability to eat or drink anything.  She solves the latter "worry" by telling me to go direct to emergency in Rochester if I'm unable to drink or eat anything for a protracted period.  No ass kissing, no disclaimers, just get help. She's a sweetie. Smart too.   

She squeezes me in 45 minutes later for a few tests.  Chest X-Ray, white blood cell count and the usual cold hands, warm heart stuff.  I've got pneumonia. She hands me a prescription for an antibiotic after scanning her computer for the best possible medication to treat my condition.  The antibiotic works fast.  "In 24 hours if you're not feeling better, call me."   In three hours I'm back in fightin' form. Well, almost.  The antibiotic is a short course of five days.  I sleep most of the afternoon in the leather recliner at the top right in the picture.  Mandy sleeps in her chair across from me, protecting me from wolves, bears, lions and tigers.

When I saw this picture Dawn took of the living room ( front room if it were in a Milwaukee Bungalow), I was surprised at how comfortable it looks. It really is comfortable.  The old couch was too low to the floor.  After twenty five years the support gave way and one needed a small crane to lift yourself out.  The new couch is higher off the floor and the armchair/recliner in the foreground replaces a leather recliner with a leather ottoman no one ever sat on, except for the cat. We moved that across the room for the Pooch.  Now both animals have their own chairs.  The cat likes to piss off the dog by stealing "her chair.'  We intervene in these sibling rivalries.

We bought the furniture from a local, family owned company.  I could go on and on on how their business changed over the years. The saleswoman tells us the furniture is US made.  A real plus.  They didn't charge for the forty mile delivery trip.  We discuss a furniture giant with home offices not far from us whose product is mostly made in China. "Inexpensive crap."   I suggest to the saleswoman that good customer service can overcome the retail giants like Wal-Mart whose cheap bunk beds steal a major portion of their business. Not to mention the metal rungs on the ladders for the bunk beds fall apart, creating a safety hazard.  I  think of Jorge's recent purchase of a platform bed from Wal-Mart.  His chief concern, low cost. Safety, reliability and durability are not in his mind.  Who are you going to blame?  Impoverished people (except for cheapskate Jorge) who can't afford better quality, manufacturers, or retail giants?  It'd be a start if, one by one people started thinking about long term benefits versus short term pretty. I see it all the time. On the curb that nice new recliner sits between the sidewalk and the street with a free sign stuck to the back.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Crooked River Rambling

A fistful of catnip
The dog won't go outside without me. In a pinch, she'll run outside, do her business and sit by the back door.  The temperatures here in the sub-arctic have been mild-mid thirties, but the wind chill factor with gusts of wind to 26 mph make it nippy.I was upstairs yesterday when I heard- Thump, Thunk and Crash.  I went downstairs to check it out and found that the metal chimney cap had blown off onto the deck. Cripes. Vertigo which my doctor claims is due to ear crystals gone awry, make me unsteady on a ladder.  Never was comfortable about heights anyway.

A trip to the Amish farm to round up help will cure Mandy of her winter blues.She can nuzzle her Mom's snout and look for a chicken head to gnaw.   It'll also give me perspective. The ridge top farm is  busy with trucks pulling in the yard, corn shelling and horse trailers parked next to the workshop.  I stop in the main house to ask for the "boss".  "In the barn," is the Matriarch's reply.  I cut through a portion of fence in the barn yard with a makeshift gate-a short piece of hog panel-and follow a worn path to the barn.  A crumbling wall on the east side of the barn has been nicely repaired.  The horses are standing at attention hitched to a manure wagon.

"Mandy, get otta there," I tell my dog.  The Patriarch confuses the pup with the Mom.  "Oh she's all right," he says.

The hooves of these workhorses are like small anvils.  A blundering dog could quickly be dead and maimed with a swift quick.  Happens all the time to farmers with a much smaller cow hoof.  The Patriarch is shoveling manure in his shirtsleeves.  "If you keep moving, you don't get cold," he says in response to my amazement.  I keep a close eye on the dog because the other trick she pulls is to roll in fresh manure.  It hides her scent, predator animal that she is, but makes for a long ride home.

Besides spreading manure, my friend has corn to shell and cobs to spread on the strawberry patch.  I agree to come back in the afternoon. He says he'll screw the chimney cap back on.  By way of trade which I insist,  I'll drive him to another farm for horse shoe nails.  As I'm standing there and the Patriarch is shooting two kinds of shit, the warm stuff and the other,verbal baloney, I remember I 'm supposed to take my car in for a tune-up. Cripes. 

When Mandy was a pup, she was  fantastic about walking on leash. We make the eight block run from my mechanic in town to the retirement home without incident.  A few households had large, menacing dogs behind wooden fences missing boards. An occasional squirrel was part of the scenery. Grown up Mandy has to check each and every telephone pole, fence post, every scent marker left by a dog in the last century. "Come, come on, cripes, let's go, jeez, Mandy," I repeat block by block until we reach Dawn's car in the parking lot.

The actual cap attachment takes three minutes excluding preparation- hauling two ladders from the shed, getting the right socket tool, hauling the cap up to the peak.  On the way back to the Amish farm, we take the county road over to Jimtown Road and stop by another Amish place. The house looks like a double wide dropped in place in a big  hurry. Next to the house is a shed/carriage house/garage under construction.  Three small Amish children stand in the picture window looking at me and Mandy in my truck. The Patriarch stands at the back door. A young Amish wife comes out coat-less and walks to the shed.  The Patriarch comes back to the truck with a cardboard box in hand.  "How much do you think these cost?" he asks me.

The box, which is the size of an 8 oz. cardboard milk carton would cost no more than $5.00, even at the expensive agri-center in town.  "$17.95," he says.  He pulls out a shiny nail.  I assume it's stainless steel which accounts for part of the cost.  It also appears to be a cut nail made from sheets of steel, rolled and flattened and cut into wedge shaped nails.  Other than the color, they are the same shape as the nails I pulled out of the 100 year old church pew, I recently refurbished.

I pay my mechanic for the tune-up and give him a nine pound bag of Kennebec potatoes.      He puts the potatoes under the counter as if someone might try and walk away with them.

Monday, December 26, 2011


chicken preparing to cross the road-dog wondering why

I read a news digest magazine that's funny, informative and scares the shit out of me. More on that to come.

Jorge drops by. Not an unusual occurrence, although he's been an infrequent visitor of late due to an overwhelming bad attitude on my part.  He hands me his copy of my news magazine that I usually borrow from the library. Being a cheapskate, he signed on for the free trial subscription. A label on the front says Your Last Issue. The library has been shut since last Friday.  I forgot to ask my library angel if they had the latest issue of  The Week the last time I stopped in because the main topic of conversation is my recent illness and the loud mouth who works at the retirement home with my wife.

"I aint dying," I tell Janie, the 80 some year old library director.

Tressie, the loudmouth, overheard a conversation and tells all that I'm on my way out.  But then again she's a Republican, married to an obnoxious alcoholic, won't divorce him because it aint proper in her religious views, won't tolerate any salacious stuff in print and is socially numb to the point of ridiculousness.She's also addled.

She worked for a while at a group home in the town closest to us- a distance of 2 miles-minimum.  She was walking the highway that runs by our place on her way home, another 6 miles minimum. Eight mile walk. probably hummed Eminem's songs all the way. We have out-of-town guests.  She rings the doorbell and asks if someone could give her a ride.  The guests take pity on her and drive her home. If you want to imitate her voice, take your thumb and index finger and pinch your nose shut. Slowly say, "Can you give me a ride?"  Don't ask where her car is-her husband took it to the bar or crashed it into a tree.

Case in point.  The library director hides any baked goods brought to the library for the afternoon coffee break with volunteers and the assistant director because Tressie will show up regularly at break time.  She'll consume more than her share. If she remunerates the break treat fund, it'll be in the form of store bought cookies gone stale.

Oh, yes,  back to the news magazine.

There's a blurb about a Consumer reports test of 31 popular apple and grape juice brands under the byline of Health scare of the week, subheading -Toxins in apple juice.  Ten are found to have high levels of arsenic and lead. Higher than FDA's limit for bottled water. Unsafe for children who drink more juice than adults.

We live near "Apple Valley"-the Gays Mills area-30-some miles away. It has some of the most scenic rolling hills and Grant Wood tree-lined hills I've ever seen. In fall it's breathtaking. Every September an apple festival brings people from surrounding states to purchase anything from juice to pies to apple butter. You can pick your own apples or fill a bag from huge wood bins that line the front of the apple stands.
Crowded apple barn during the fest.
 The one, lone organic apple orchard, which the chicken photo was taken is struggling.  It's not on the apple tour-state highway 71 which runs across the ridge tops from highway 61 ( Soldier's Grove) to Gay's Mills and beyond.   Instead of spraying their trees, they have chickens who patrol the ground,eating insects.  Hogs, sheep and various other free range critters run the place.  If you don't mind a bug or two in the core of your apple, you can get fruit without arsenic, lead or gawd knows what.  Nubies that we were in 2004, we picked our own half bushel for $10 from another orchard with the disclaimer to wash the fruit before eating.  Then we found Turkey Ridge.  For $10 we got a bushel of rejects, apples with a few imperfections that couldn't be used for organic apple juice.
the resident mouse catcher
A neighbor got fed up with their wandering sheep and sent the sheriff.  The day we visited and took these pictures, a hawk swept down and tried to carry off one of the hens.  We met Three Toes Tommy who survived the winter of '00 .  He sacrificed the toes in order to keep his perch place on the front porch.

Even the sheep are laid back.  I canned so much apple sauce that year, I haven't been back for more apples. 
The big apple in Gays Mills.
 To find Turkey Ridge, you turn right at the caboose on highway 71 which runs out the back side of Gay's Mills. Another right on the road to the ridge will get you close. If you go, avoid taking a ride with Jorge.  Lately he's been into eating smashed potatoes(ours) with garlic and olive oil. Trouble is, he uses a whole bulb in his recipe.  The odor is horrific. It was all I could do to keep from hurling on a short trip to town for juice and barley.  My normally industrious Amish grocers were on holiday, this day after Christmas.  I'm forced to run to town. 

Got Wool?

Gift shop at an orchard on highway 61.
Apple valley scenic shot.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hoar Frost

Looking SE at the marsh at the edge of the cornfield.
Pooch the cat sits on the sidewalk opposite the kitchen window.  He alternately raises one paw and then the other.  "I'm cold," he meows. All I see is an open mouth and a burst of steamy breath.  After a recent light dusting of snow, the temperatures dip into the single digits.  High humidity in the form of fog in the late afternoon from temps reaching upwards in the 30's, covers  tree branches with frost.

On the first official day of winter, we make a major change in life in Kickapoo Center.

The telephone company sends a techie to install high speed Internet. He arrives early in the morning before Jorge comes for his morning coffee.  He leaves with apologies 5 hours later after drilling into one of the air ducts for the forced air furnace.  In his defense, our basement is a maze of wires, beams and former structures that have nothing to do with life in the 21st century. What does that mean?

It means that in a past life as a one room school, someone decided that low voltage wiring was state of the art.  Don't ask me about details.  The last remnant of the low voltage wiring was a switch panel on a wall between kitchen and living room.  There were 12 push buttons.  Only one actually controlled lighting.  And that one quit after four years. The result is that we have recessed lights in the ceiling that are always live.  If I feel especially festive in this season of long, dark winter nights, I'll install energy saving lights in the fixtures. They give the living room a nice glow. The down side is that it keeps the cat awake.  He prowls at night, reverting to a nocturnal ancestral urge.  Usually the fixtures are empty and the lights non-existent.

The modem for the Internet is installed near an outlet in the basement.  Basement outlets are scarce. There is not much choice. I ask the tech if plugging it in the furnace room will affect the unit because of the heat from the wood furnace.  We decide on an outlet over the slate chalkboard for the basement classroom.  The only draw back will be a decision to sell the real slate chalkboard.  Then, the modem will have to be temporarily removed.

No longer will I moan and groan about downloading pictures or updates.  Information I'm researching is fast and helpful.  I can find the right recipe in less time than it takes to start water boiling.  Dawn and I decided to
( wait for this) with the high speed Internet, to add basic TV channels.  After 7 years without TV our life  takes a major turn.  One noon I note that I decided to watch a cooking show instead of reading the book by John Irving lying on the kitchen table.  I reverse the decision, shut off the TV and go back to Prayer For Owen Meany.  Over all in the ensuing the three days,  we are much better informed. How's this?

We switch from the DVD of a defunct TV series late last evening to PBS.  The program concerns Wisconsin wildlife.  No, not the bar scene in the state capitol. We stay up much later than normal watching a segment about white ( albino) deer herds in the North and efforts of wildlife biologists to monitor wolf activity in the state. I didn't know that Wisconsin has a pine marten population that is declining. 

Thanks to Governor Walker, I learned that budget cuts to education have affected the university system disproportionately.  An official for UW-Lacrosse bluntly explains how cuts to their budget are in the thirty some per-cent range while other educational institutions (don't remember which segment) were de-funded to only 7%.  Skippy Walker and wife's holiday cheer commercials on the tube provoke curses and verbal insults to the deaf TV monitor as a result. Like my grandmother who felt the TV was real with little people running around inside the box, we utter sneers," Yeah, you're concerned you hypocrite."

I push three RECALL WALKER signs into frozen soil which Jorge got with donations to the Democratic headquarters.  In red and white letters they urge people to make a positive change  for the good of the state.     

Sunday, December 18, 2011


My mother's last name was Loie.  Her ancestors came from the Alsace/Lorraine region of France.  Loie is an Americanization of L'Oie.  My wife's maiden name translates to Swan by the Lake. Strange that the two important women in my life are a swan and a goose.
 copyright -Seven Roads Gallery 2011, all rights reserved

Mom never changed her name after the brief encounter with the ne'er-do-well that was my father.  In the present day that's not unusual.  My daughter didn't change her maiden name after she married.  The other daughter didn't have to change her name because the Hun she married had the same last name. Go figure.  My son is in a serious relationship. If he marries, he'll probably be the one to change his last name...

...The customer who enters the store after the Albatross Man remarks,

"Didja know there's a dead seagull  stuck beak first in a post in the parking lot next to your store."

I offer a disgruntled, "No, I didn't know."

I put those wooden posts there to mark our precious, four reserved parking spaces.

The Chinese say that the first transaction of the day mirrors the remaining portion of the day. There is no green space for a proper burial of the seagull.  Pavement in the form of concrete or asphalt cover the parking lots on either side of the building, circa 1875, and every available inch of usable space.  There's a one-way street in front of the store and an interstate highway spur on concrete pillars above the ground level.  It makes for a lot of noise and no green space. Not a tree, not any grass, not even weeds. The old oak wine barrels I planted geraniums and petunias on a pleasant May morning outside the front door were unceremoniously dumped over, flowers discarded like weeds and stolen early one morning when pedestrian and car traffic was non-existent.

I ponder the alternatives, choosing the one that wouldn't have me closing the store and walking the mile to my parking space in order to bury the bird along the lakefront.  The thought of the police stopping to question me about the dead bird in my hands is a deterrent.  I toss the bird behind the eight foot high pile of snow the plows have pushed near the building. In the course of the winter, the bird moves with the help of front loaders and snow plows to new burial places each time there is a new snow.

The Chinese were right. the rest of the day becomes a saga of strange, odd and unbelievable.  When Dawn arrives after work she removes the Albatross Man's discarded clothing.  The energy in the store changes immediately.  


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Spirits

Here's an amazing fact.  Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, written in the mid 1800's has never been out of print.  My favorite version is the one with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge.  The story is an attitude arranger.

Three years ago on December 22nd Dawn and I drive to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.  It's her birthday.  Mis-communication, over zealous ass-covering on the part of my, then,  primary care physician and just plain errors of fact create the unfortunate timing.  We drive through a blizzard to La Crescent, MN and the rest of the way is a "white knuckler".  I'm scheduled for MOHS surgery, for a benign version of skin cancer.  One of two surgeons identifies six areas of sun damaged skin.  "You want to do this all today or schedule several visits?" he asks.  Considering the cost in time and money, I opt for "all".  In the background is a local radio station reporting a weather alert.  Ice storm due this evening.  The duty nurse deflates our already slack sails when she says, "I can't believe people drive through this kinda weather for a non-life threatening operation."

Yesterday, Dawn and I repeat a similar adventure without some of the foibles. This time the drive is to Mayo in La Crosse. It wasn't in La Crosse in 2008.  The procedure is a 15 minute insertion of a camera and scope down my esophagus to determine what the heck is causing a blockage. Total time is 3 hours.  The doctor is competent, the nurses the same.  A nervous RN who checks me in looks panicked when I answer questions like, "Do you have any problems with intravenous injections?"  with  "No, only when the nurse is incompetent."  It turns out that I have an inflammation in the area of the schatzki ring instead of a stricture.  Oh, wow.  More tests.  On the bright side, we'll do some Christmas shopping after Mondays Cat Scan.  Pooch the Cat isn't gonna take the scanning lightly.  It'll be punishment for knocking an egg off the island this morning. I purposely laid the whole, uncooked egg on a dish towel to keep it from rolling off the counter. The little turd.

If I slept with the digital camera, I'd post a shot of the two animals sitting at the doorway of the breezeway looking out at a two inch blanket of snow with a "What the hay?" expression.  The cat blazes a trail around the house, keeping a sharp nose out for tunneling mice.  Mandy the dog follows with her nose in each of the cat's tracks. "Yup, that's a cat track. Yup another cat. Yes, that is a cat track. And on and on."

I've been wrestling with the conclusion of The Albatross Man.  I've made some changes since the original version in 1996.  Tom Marks, a former neighbor in a closely knit block of us young marrieds back in the 70's  remembers Christmas as the time when his Dad dragged him from tavern to tavern. Milwaukee had 5000 taverns back then. One on each corner wasn't unusual.  As the kids grew up and moved away, we started doing what a number of folks did. The decorations became simpler, the get-to-gethers more difficult.  Pagan tendencies( from paganus:rustic or peasant) sometimes took comfort in the return of the sun after December 21st.  Close encounters with my own Catholic and Hispanic Catholic traditions taught me St.Nicholas saved children from death by tossing three bags of gold through the window of a place where children were known to be harmed in exchange for the children.  The symbolism still exits in the form of a sign with three balls outside an old fashioned pawn broker. OK, Jim run with that one!

Some Christmas' were so hectic, especially after I got divorced withjoint custody of three kids, that it became tradition to honor Buddhists out there by eating Chinese food on Christmas Day evening. Working in the public sector, every year I'd get a little misty eyed when my cherubs-both students and kids performed on stage.  Each ornament with variations on the theme of "favorite teacher"  is still packed away in the barn. A career in retail created  a distaste for the excessive commercialism of the season. I loved the money however.  It enabled us to survive January's low sales.

There was no moral of the Albatross Man story in 1996.  In the final installment, I''l consider one.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Albatross Man At Christmas, Part Three

Question of the ages.  Why does my dog stretch both front and rear legs after eating a meal?  The other question of the day; Will the today's sunshine be followed by more miserable weather.

In search of a can of diced tomatoes, I stop at my Amish friends' farm.  The new bulk store building is complete except for one window on the far side.  The building is typical Amish white steel with a green steel roof.  They have beans, tomato paste and pumpkin pie filling , but no diced tomatoes.  Wilma greets me outside the front door as I step down from the old building.  "Nice weather we're having," she says, grinning.  Their farm is on a ridge top. Frequently I'll forget that detail and wander over without a coat and regret my failing memory.  Today the wind gusts to 25 MPH.  The ambient temperature makes the real chill index of -20.  I look at her bare legs.  "I'm cold but you're wearing a dress."  Sheesh.

In the dark closet that is my imagination, I realize that I have traded places, bi-located if you will.  Parallel life. I'll explain this in a bit.

I pull up to Jorge's place hoping he'll have a can of diced tomatoes so I don't have to drive 25 miles to town. I see his shadow in the window.  It's 2:30 pm. He's  taking a nap.  Perfect timing.  The printed sheet that serves as a curtain is torn from the window. One of his dogs has made a flying leap over the couch at the window.  He opens the back door and flying leap dog jumps up at my chest. I grab Chase and give him a hug.  The other dog is barking viciously.  Jorge  puts him in a wire cage that takes up most of the living room.  "Come in," he says.  Sam's loud barking in the wire cage forces us to retreat to the kitchen to talk.  Jorge notices that Chase, the flying dog is chewing on something.  He takes the something from the dog's mouth.  It's a push pin with the plastic top.  He repeats the procedure several more times, muttering, vet bill, dumb dog, until all the pins are located. I have a brief enlightened moment when Mandy, my dog comes to mind.  She's got a golden halo.Wings would be too weird.

Parallel lives.  I have traded bizarre times in the city for more zany antics in the country.  The atoms are all the same . They've just reversed polarity.

The Albatross Man makes his way slowly through the entire store.  Too slowly.  The cloud of dead seagull germs hovers over his head like the cartoon character in Peanuts. He steps up to the front counter.  "All set?" I ask eagerly.  He gives two grunts and a head shake-yes.  Ringing up the $9.95 piece of buckskin, a few bells and assorted crafts items which escapes my memory because of the sight of dirty hands and filthy T-shirt, the total comes to around $37.  Relief, satisfaction, guilt follow.  Am I taking all this man's money?  Will he be able to eat tonight? It's the first sale of the day.  Christmas is two weeks away. Sales have been down.  If we don't have a good holiday season, we may not last another year.  When he hands me the money, all thoughts of remorse disappear. 

While I'm packing his purchase, the Albatross Man begins the reverse procedure of getting dressed in the stairwell.  The feathered cap I notice is actually the wings of the dead seagull attached to either side of the cap like a Mercury headdress. He leaves the store, forgetting one of his garments.  I figure he'll be back for the vest, when he notices it's missing. Oh, no.   

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Albatross Man At Christmas, Part Two

Author's Note:  This, above, is a fanciful critter.  Closer to an Albatross in genus and specie, it's range is the subarctic.  A telling sign is the blue face. If you're really sharp, the snow gives it away. When we parted ways yesterday, the Albatross Man was cheerfully removing the dead bird from his belt to place it outside.

Part Two-
I walked into my oval office with the one-way mirror which is adjacent to the walk-in safe, a leftover from the days our building was a high class fur coat emporium.  The phone book in the shelf on a file cabinet would have the non-emergency number for the First District police station.   It's always helpful to know what the cops will do before one instigates a course of action. Awhile ago, I  had a customer who became irate when I wouldn't let him use our private bathroom in the rear of the store.  In the summer months when the lakefront festival season hosts a different ethnic venue each week, drunks, sickos and people wanting to steal something have asked to use our rest room.  In one case, a group of gypsies let their three year old pee in a corner to distract an employee showing jewelry. A quick call to the desk sarge was met with, "How soon do you want us there?"  in response to the disorderly customer. The official rule was that we didn't serve food or drink.  No bathroom access needed.

Memorizing the non-emergency number, I came out of the office to find the vagrant carrying a fist full of bills, like he had found them on the floor and grabbed as many as he could.   It was a not too subtle way of reminding me, "I am a paying customer."  I walked to the cash register and checked the locked the drawer, just in case. It wasn't our cash. He learned quickly that cash heals all doubts on the part of a store keep.

"Did you know there's a dead bird on your doorstep?"  the next customer walking in the shop asks me. Wow, This is great for business, I ponder.  I told the customer, "It belongs to that guy," pointing to the back of the store.  I hoped that with additional back-up, I'd at least have a witness.  The new customer understood in one look and didn't say much after that.  I grimaced at each step he took. I cringed when he touched something.  Dead seagull germs could  have their own festival inside the store.  When the Albatross Man asked a question, no words came out.  He just pointed with his fist of money and grunted.  We sold tanned buckskin for craft work.  Grunt, point.  "That there piece of leather is $9.95, sir,"  I said. The sir part is hard to get out.

This ain't Manhattan. It's downtown in the Midwest.  I'm still slightly hesitant to hustle the guy out.

On a business trip to New York, my wife and I stop in a deli.  An old guy is rolling a two wheel, wire cart down the aisle pushing  customers lined up at display cases out of the way.  There's not much room between small cafe tables, a line of people being served and the aisle.  A guy behind the deli counter cusses and says, "Get that cart outahere," in a New York voice.  The old guy swears back at him, ignoring the command.  The T-shirted deli attendant comes from around the counter, grabs the guy by the elbow and hustles him out a side door.  No one looks askance, except meek old Wisconsinite us. 
Closer to home, actually on the lower downtown and south side of of Milarky where Jacques Vieau had a trading post, seagoing freighters through the St.Lawrence seaway would pull up to load and unload load at Jones island and Hispanic people found inexpensive housing, my wife and I are eating dinner at a Mexican dive famous for the shrimp soup and huachinango in a garlic sauce.  A seedy looking man stands in the doorway to the restaurant, waiting for the bus out of the cold.  The employees of the restaurant are familiar with the guy.  A whole lot of posturing goes on as they escort him to the sidewalk.  We can hear the cussing.  He's wearing gloves.  He swears at the waiter, rips off the glove from one hand, and gives the guy with the white apron, "the finger".  In this case it's pretty startling because he has no fingers on that hand. 

I have digressed.  Fear does that to you.  One goes through considerable mental gymnastics in a short period of time. The Albatross Man looks vaguely familiar.  Could this be a chunky version of Pee Wee Herman?   

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Albatross Man At Christmas

Author's Disclaimer: This is an excerpt from "Dog Stories" by Roger Gavrllo copyrighted 1996.
The photo is not an Albatross.  The bird in question is a seagull. The above is a fanciful chicken with extremely long legs. The store in question is two miles from the shore of a Great Lake.  White men used the term "Great Lake". The Native Americans, called it Kitchi-gummi, sometimes Michi-gama and one source said "stinking water" was a third translation. An Anishnabe man (the real name for the Ojibwa)  from the St.Mary's band "up Nort"   told me it was called Bad Spirit because of the number of people the lake swallowed up each year.  I used Albatross because the word had a ring to it and evokes many  images from history and legend.

The crash at the front door fifteen minutes before opening time at first startled me.  After I dusted myself off and stood up, my ire was peaking.  "Gol durn 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 someones camouflage hat and what looked like feathers on either side of the brim.  He was sitting on the front stoop.  I hoped that in a few minutes he'd continue his itinerant , homeless ways and move on.  I wouldn't be forced to yell at him for blocking the door or call the police.  

At opening time I unlocked the door. To my dismay, he's still there.  "Morning," he says.  I tried not to pay attention. There are a half dozen things to do at opening time, like locking cases, drawing back the steel security gates in the display windows and turning on overhead lights.  When I returned to the entrance-way, the Albatross Man is turning off his head phone set.  It saved me an additional irritation of informing him of a ban on loud radios in the store. The music is so loud I can clearly hear the tune playing before he turned it off. Perhaps he read my mind, saw my defensive body posture or  has drawn the same reaction from a dozen other downtown store keep.  "Turn that darn music off."  

I grimace when he undid his inner coat and zipped up his pants.  Although not a large man, he sported an ample gut that hung out under his red T-shirt and poked through his partially open trousers.  In my mind I rehearse the description for the beat cop after I call 911.  "Small man, not more than 5'8" , partially bald, peanut head, large gut, camo clothing and a hat with feathers on it."  

That's when I noticed a seagull under his belt.  At first it appeared to be the comical rubber chicken from the Milton Berle show in my youth.  The bird-actually a juvenile seagull because of the speckled body- was tucked, bright pink feet-first under his belt.  The lifeless head knocked against his thigh when he moved.  My non-reaction to the entire spectacle unfolding before me was the most intelligent thing any enlightened person like me could say.  " Is that a dead bird you're wearing ?" 

"Why yes," was his reply.  

"Take that thing outahere," I say with a raised voice.

"Can I put it down on the steps here?" he asks.

"No you can't. Besides it's illegal to kill these birds," I tell him. I am beginning to get angry.

"I didn't kill it," he says.

"Well, it's still against the law to possess this bird," I said next. " Take it outside."

Which is what he promptly and politely did without further argument.

to be continued


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Christmas Report

Droll.  "Make fun of," says the dictionary.  Winston Churchill said, A joke is a serious thing.  It's the kind of  day when the sum total of waggishness in Kickapoo Center is taking a stool sample to the vet. Not mine, the dog's.  This snit-itus musta been the result of a night tossing and turning on the couch.  No, Dawn didn't kick me outa bed. This throat condition is getting out of hand, hah! Out of hand, get it? Can't sleep, can't eat. What else is there? 

My son, the perennial do-gooder sent his Christmas cards out early.  He didn't grow up on 77th street like I did. One holiday I looked up the chimney flue above the cement logs that never burned down and noticed that the opening was nicely cemented shut.  A recent news report tells of a Texas man who locked himself out and tried to get back in via the chimney.  Musta been in East Texas where folks don't know that chimney's have dampers.

I'm taking a serious look at sending out Christmas cards.  Most of the cards we get in the mail are from people we haven't seen in ten years.  They're not people I regularly communicate with. But they send us pretty cards and letters with news about the kids. The really appreciated cards are from people like neighbors, Gordie and Carol, who wish us well and thank us for the sweet corn last summer. I have to decide between fun and serious. 

In this card I combined fun and serious.  Dawn made the Santa  from a mutated birdhouse gourd. The kid riding a snowball and two skiing snowmen are ornaments handed down from my Grandmother. circa 1910.

One "year in review" we receive in the mail is still printed on an Underwood typewriter with O's and E's so dirty they get filled in with purple ink when the author finds an old mimeograph machine in the back room of PS #421.  She sneaks in a coatroom to run off duplicates after a busy school day.  She's a single woman, substitute teacher and dispatcher for a security service.  She travels in summer visiting lighthouses around the world.  The last time I heard from her, she was stuck in Wales. There is a Wales, Wisconsin,  but this was across the big pond.  Her visa, credit cards and purse were stolen.  In the e-mail to myself and other correspondents, she asked that we send her money.  Just to check if the e-mail was for real, I asked a security question, only she would know.  I never got an answer. When she got back to the states, she reported that her computer also got hacked.

"Barney got promoted off the loading dock. Tricia and Sammy just completed residency at  Lost Souls Hospital in Mittsburgh .  Bubba had surgery on a webbed finger. The dog ate a whole bulb of garlic."
...And we made it through another sub-arctic winter, a raccoon took up residency in Mandy's doghouse, the unvarnished railing to the upstairs is finally completed and I can still make a killer omelet.

Looks like a cheese, mushroom, spinach omelet with a side of brown rice for the furry, black and white kid, only nine minutes till tender and nutty.

 I gave the doghouse to Jorge. If he curls up, there's just enough room for him and his mutts.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seeds For Change

Sunday, December 11,2011

The seed catalog came in the mail.  To a dirt wrangler like me this is similar to getting a combination Rolling Stone , Interview Magazine, The Week, The Bible and a long term subscription to Playboy in my mailbox.  You, too, can get one by going to Fedco Seeds.

A guy named C.R.Lawn founded the co-operative.  Google his name and you'll find that he's been a keynote speaker and highly regarded for his down to earth wisdom on topics near and dear to me.  The black and white seed catalog is filled with curious drawings, information about seeds the company offers and a range of topics of note to people who work the land.

One such topic is global warming.In a half page section of the catalog is a no nonsense report of the climate changes in the northeast .

Lawn gives an update of Fedco's decision to join 82 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Monsanto to halt "uncontrolled spread of transgenic seeds".

As I typed the last sentence, the power went out, our wireless doorbell went off and I assume this is a signal from God not to write anymore about this David versus Goliath issue. Read the catalog description. First hand is always best.

The last item of note in the catalog is a two page spread on FDR's Fireside Chats and their application to the present economic times.  It'll drop your jaw. 

Shelling beans in the living room, I slip in a DVD of the All In The Family series. Each episode begins with a song I  thought was the Republican National Anthem.  After I few episodes I skipped over Archie and Edith at the piano singing, "Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again,"  or "Didn't need no welfare state, everybody pulled his weight," but the last line tipped me off that the song is a parody.

"Gee our old LaSalle ran great." Do you remember ever seeing a picture of a LaSalle?  The writers of the song are saying in a tribute to the old days that the "old days" were indeed a bummer.  Hoovervilles ( shantytowns) were prevalent.  Car companies went under before ever becoming a brand name.  And Hoover?  His name will be remembered as it is now for someone who did nothing in a time when a real statesman is needed, like Sir Winston Churchill in WWW-2.  The other Hoover? I see him portrayed more and more  in current cinema as a control freak who liked to cross dress.  What a legacy! 

Order the catalog. If you can, join the co-op.  They have a low income factor.  Even if you don't garden, you'll help the rest of the people who provide your food.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Snits and Scoffing

I am amazed. No, not because the sun is shining after 372 days of sullen, dirty-sheet gray weather, but because snit is not in either of my dictionaries.  Snigger, sneer, snipe, snot and snob all figure prominently.  I am not getting up from this chair to go to the bookshelf. 

Snit-it's probably why Jorge hasn't called.

"Hey, ya got coffee?" 

I'm in a short snit because I'm not feeling well.  I'm used to playing while injured.  I did a whole season of championship organic gardening with a hernia.  In between, I suffered through bouts of gut wrenching arthritis with the pleasant name gout attached to it.  Every time I hear that word, the image of a fat demented king gnawing on a turkey leg, dirty bandage wrapped around his toe, comes to mind.  My former physician's solution for hypertension was a generic drug which elevates uric acid levels.  Hence the swelling of joints and accompanying pain.  Then, he prescribed a medication for arthritis which elevates my BP. 

I have a new health provider, the same woman Dawn, my wife uses.  I love her so much I brought her potatoes after a visit to the clinic recently.  If I give you potatoes watch out.  It means commitment. 

Ailments which cause an undue amount of focus on a natural function like walking, breathing and eating disturb me. The stricture of my Schatzki ring makes eating an hour long event with copious amounts of water to help wash down food.  This morning's first entree was oatmeal, brown sugar and organic apple sauce.

So that explains a bad attitude. Not because of the oatmeal. I know it's good for me, but I'd like to make some crepes, especially the ones Jeff Smith makes with beer.

Scoffing is something I do.  It's accompanied by eating crow frequently. Crows are a protected species, by the way, under the Migratory Species Protection Act, so don't call up the DNR.  It is a metaphorical statement. 
My high school when it was brand new. Note the cars.  It was the former German-English Academy.
From grade four through the end of high school, I was imprisoned in this building. At the extreme left, jutting out from the structure is the auditorium.  It's where we had school wide assemblies, Thanksgiving and Christmas pageants. The main entrance is the center edifice with two sets of steps.  Twenty minutes a day we were required to perform tasks for the school. It was called "work service."  If I was lucky I got assigned office monitor because the principal and vice principal had a office on either side of the entrance.  The administrative offices were located there. If I was real lucky, my second wife was assigned duty with me.  She was a Norwegian blond, soon to be cheerleader.  She'd do things like ask me a saucy question,

"Do you ever wonder what it's like?" 

It being having sex-we were only eighth graders.

Then she'd get up. kiss me softly me on the cheek with a shy wink, and walk away as the bell rang.  Whoa. Think about what the little snot did to me on purpose, an eighth grader with soaring hormones.  It will figure prominently in my future life with her. 

The far right attached building is the gymnasium.The first floor was reserved for elementary grades and the upper floors were secondary school.  There was a third floor with the biology and chemistry labs.  Two staircases led from the third to the second floor.  One was reserved for seniors, only.  You could get the crap beat out of you for unauthorized use of the senior stairs.

There were 54 people in my graduating class. The school was the only co-ed  private school in the city, so my senior class was equally divided between girls and boys.  27 women were people I saw every day of my life from fourth grade on. Made it hard to find a date for the Prom. Especially if you weren't a jock, a lawyer, doctor or banker's son. Maybe that's why I hung out with the outcasts like the local Mafia boss's son and a crazy kid who lived across the street.  Going outside the building was verboten during school time.  I got solitary confinement and three days suspension for having lunch with Joe across the street.

I was pretty impressed with the new Pontiac my ma purchased when I turned 14  The bubble burst when everybody turned sixteen. Some classmates got their own Porsche's and TR-3's.  My mother, bless her heart, was a high school teacher all her life.She had two degrees from UW-Madison.  As an only child she knew the value of giving me a good education. I scoffed most of my life at the education I received.  Mom. rest assured, you were right.  I did get a good education. 

I learned to despise the wealthy and privileged. I didn't learn some lessons very well when I married one wealthy snot-the cheerleader- but I scored high that year on envious, go-figure  looks. Besides, I was a farmer, lived across the road from a commune, wore bib overalls. and wasn't bald or  fat and bored with my life. I showed them.  She left after three years to have an affair with a wealthy, fat advertising exec from Chicago. Like my son, it takes a couple of hits with the cosmic slap before sanity is restored.
Enter Dawn, my wife, not the time of day.  She started this sweater before Christmas and finished it in July. I scoffed one hot July; squirming when she asked me to try it on. She grinned with that special feeling one gets after months of hard work.    The humidity makes you break out in a sweat if you even think about work. A sweatband was required apparel.

This morning Mother Nature throws another cold one at us.  I'm chilled.  I don't have the energy to start a fire in the wood stove. With the sun out, it'd be 75 in the house by noon with even a small fire.  I think about a rationalization Dawn and I made when we decided to move back to the frozen tundra.

You can always dress up for cold weather, but in hot  weather there's a limit to how many clothes one can shed.  There's a reason why the Arabs wear those flowing robe besides hiding an assault rifle. I cropped my head so not to show the feathers hanging out the sides of my mouth. Yeah Dawn.  It's a great sweater.        

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


One of those annoying news snippets on the front page when I go online with this dinosaur  computer which talks back and refuses to load my e-mail, stopping my muse in the middle of the river gets my boots wet and my bacon soggy was-wait for it,

"Men spend ten more minutes a day grooming than women." 

"Oh so what who gives a shit,?"

I'll have to ask Jorge if that's true for African-Americans. 

When we moved to the country, we inherited two sheds of junk.  I have a ton of my own junk and don't need no more.  Moving across the country, we loaded up everything we thought we'd need in sunny Arizona into two moving vans. Little did we know that one of the trucks was leaking transmission fluid.  It refused to go forward in Grants, NM.  I give Penske credit for customer service.  They towed that broken down van all the rest of the way to Sedona.  When we moved back, we needed two of the same size trucks.  We'd accumulated more stuff in the five years in AZ, so we had to make a second trip with my pick-up hauling a trailer.

Coyote here is getting a Doo from the hairdryer I found  in the barn.  It also can be used for frontal lobotomy. The gen-u-wine chrome and Naugahyde chair  adds a measure of comfort.  Farmers don't throw anything away.  Just look at their front yards.  If you drive north on our state highway, the serene natural beauty of the countryside will suddenly shock your sensibilities when you come to a salvage yard right on the highway.  Dawn says,

"I thought they had to put up fences around those eyesores," 

when we first passed by mountains of rusting junk.  The worst thing about the junk yard is that it's adjacent to a wild-life waterway formed by lowlands adjacent to the river.

Two old stoves, dead birds who crawled inside the stoves to get warm, a rusty trailer, chicken wire, 4X8 sheets of rubber backed plywood,  broken concrete, pine logs , 4,000 sheet metal screws in an old broiler pan,  a usable straw broom are only the top of the heap.  When we remodeled the upstairs bath, we had a local hauler deliver a huge, black dumpster  to get rid of all the detritus.  Since then, the town  has a spring and fall clean-up where we donate scrap previous residents left behind.  Thanks to Joe Childs we can tell a wonderful story of the Ford's brakes giving way on Freymiller's Hill as we began to carry a 500 gallon oil tank to the dump. I had intended to create a metal giraffe sculpture until I realized I didn't have a welding machine.

The sun's shining and Mandy hasn't been fed.  The cat is inside for a warm-up.  I've got big decisions on what to do today.  Inside or out?  The choices for inside are exciting.  Take all those dry pieces of bread, toss 'em in the blender and make bread crumbs.  Finish the drywall around the inside window in Dawn's studio or  paint behind the wood sconce installed over the kitchen sink when the kitchen was remodeled two years ago.
Outside, I have to figure out how to bury the compost after a particularly chilling overnight. The white crust on the gardens is a telling sight of frozen soil, but-hey.  Mark 12/5/2011 as a special day.  I had oregano alive and well in the garden.  I took it from under the cold frame and moved it to the summer kitchen.  At night there's a purple glow from the garage window from the grow light I hung over the herb.  A long term goal is to replant it in the greenhouse, once that's up.  That's another story for a different day.

Oh, the title? A case in point for dementia.  I originally intended to write about my formative years and the two schools I attended from kindergarten through high school.  The main thought would have been; My teacher's could have ridden with Jesse James for all the time they stole from me. I didn't write that, the late poet Brautigan did.  But it's true. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The View Near The Bridge

Off to the right my dog stands expectantly with the yellow lid of  of a kitty litter pail clamped between her jaws. It's the rural version of a Frisbee. "Stay," I command.  On a rainy, foggy, misty day like today, it would be doubly stupid for both of us to be run over by a pick-up with a deer rack on the tail end. 

Yeah, this is OK I ponder, but a middle of the road shot would be better.

Now that Herman Cain is out of the race, perhaps I could run for office on a middle of the road platform. I wouldn't be any worse than one of the Republican hopefuls who doesn't know that the U.S. doesn't have an embassy in Iran.  I don't jog with a pistol.  I don't jog period.  I haven't been a ruthless businessman, don't have a drug problem or have skeletons in this office closet, save for a thwarted project back when Nixon was running for re-election. The idea was to take a picture of a penis and attach the slogan " Lick Dick in '72."  I won't divulge details, just make up your own story. It would be ten times better than something a bunch of drunken hippies came up with after too many cold ones.

Ah so young and so clueless.

The Middle of the Road

This is what happens when it rains all day, the animal children have been following you around like lost souls, yet when you show them the door they stand there gazing at the weather, looking back to you with, "I'm not going out in that," eyes.


I am tempted to nominate Mandy, my dog, as dumbest dog of the day. DDOD.  That is until I called Jorge to complain about today's weather-combination of rain, fog, sleet, snow and  ice-through Sunday afternoon.  It is after eleven in the morning and he's asleep on the couch. I can hear the TV news announcer in the background. I'd woken him up.

"Why are you asleep?" I ask.  "Didn't you go to bed last night?"

"Naw, didn't get much sleep.  Chase was barking at something outside most of last night," he tells me.

"So Mandy is the second dumbest dog of the day, "  I tell him with the following explanation.

It's a dark and dreary rainy 7 am Saturday. Mandy climbs on the bed.  Pooch the cat is comfortable at my feet, stretched out in a thin line.  Mandy licks my hand, then decides there's more nutritional value in my whiskery face. Plus, she can clean her tongue of morning catarrh on two days growth of beard. I decide that since I am an old fart, I should look like one, but only a debonair old fart. I'll grow a goatee.

"Oh Daddy, I luff you so much," she tells me with wet kisses.   Geez.

I ignore the dog, hoping that she'll fall asleep. No such luck. Lick, slurp, lick. Slurp some more. Then she turn her attention to the cat. Snip, snurfle, nip.

I get up and walk downstairs.  Pooch the cat follows like the good dog he is.  I let him out.  Mandy doesn't follow. No click-click of toe-nails on the stairs. I open the door to the storage space under the stairs where we hang all keys: the house ( five doors-five keys), the garage, outbuildings, three cars and twenty-nine master locks.  This is usually a signal, "He's going outside".

No Mandy.  Next, I jingle her collar. The tinkle of rabies vac tags says, "We're going for a ride."  Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than, "going for a ride."  When I was a kid I remember pleading with my Dad to take me for a ride, anywhere.  I taught her well.

No Mandy.

Finally, I walk up the stairs. push her off the bed and cajole her to go outside in my most pleading, pretty- please voice.  I can see the cartoon balloon above her head, "Oh well I'll humor the dufus." She stands in the breezeway looking at the falling rain.  I slip on my overcoat and don my muck boots.  She follows while I put the log propping the door to my Chevy closed to one side.  Once it's safe inside the garage, I can find out why the door handle sticks and so the car can drip water all over my workshop floor. I walk to the dog pen to check on the tire of the truck.  I'd overloaded the truck with slab wood from the Amish and a back tire went flat.

"Crap."  I forgot to close the driver's side window.  The bench seat is soaked.  The tire is OK, therefore I drive the truck to the front apron of the garage in case I have to get out the compressor to fill the tire. My sweatpants feel like I peed in them from the soaked seat. The truck bed fills a depression in front of the garage with rain water collected overnight.  One more, "crap."

Ahah! I remember, Mercury went retrograde according to Dawn, the astrologer.  Mechanical things will go awry.  Communication will be difficult, legal issues and signing contracts are to be avoided.

Dawn and I spend a good deal of the morning trying to figure out how to get out of Dodge City with our hides intact and a reasonable amount of cash in our pocket.  We want the positive things we moved to this area for like clean water and a pristine natural environment without a depressed economy ( we reached a low point when one of Dawn's framed paintings sells for $7 at the Amish auction and a wooden barrel with a quick sketch of a chicken is quickly snatched up for $20) , lack of amenities( forty-four miles for decent Chinese food) intellectual poverty of the residents ( Scooter, the local cop is still on suspension without pay-the town has no police force) and a climate without the bipolar lows of -22 degrees in January and near 100 degrees in the height of summer with cloying humidity.

Jorge Googles St.George, Utah. Oh boy. Road trip!