Trillium

May. 11th, 2012 07:26 pm
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We have a Save-A-Lot in town. Save-A-Lot sells groceries cheap. They sell mostly their own distinctive house brands, and their selection is limited, but it's a great place to stock up on basic canned goods, sauces, crackers, that kind of thing.

We also have a lot of tourist grocery stores. These places are usually out by the lake or where the "main" County Road crosses the river. They sell a little bit of this and a little bit of that, like convenience stores, only considerably more run down (since most of them have been there and unchanged for many decades)and with fishing licenses and live bait.

Canned goods at these backwoods stores are usually the big national brands, labels faded because they've been gathering dust for years; the only thing on them that is up to date is the price tag, which is regularly updated to keep up with the rate of inflation and keep the prices at highway robbery levels. Otherwise that 30 year old can of beans would be quite the bargain by now.

Today I worked late in the field. Coming home from the opposite direction from usual, I remembered that this particular lakeside tourist grocery used to have pretty good pizza. I pulled in and ordered one to take home.

While I waited for my pizza I wandered around looking at the shelves. About half the shelves were empty; it appeared the store wasn't doing too well.

Then I noticed something else. The mustard, ketchup, and steak sauce were Kurtz brand. The beans were Cowboy Billy's. I will stop now before I list every brand Save-A-Lot sells in their discount grocery store a few miles north of this market, but that's what they were, Save-A-Lot brands.

Apparently what the Backwoods Tourist Grocery Store of Today does is goes to town, stocks up on the specials at Save-A-Lot, marks the prices up by 300%, and re-sells them.

I guess that would work.

Oh, trillium? Why that? Haiku, that's why.

Ghost of snow that was
The forest floor is white with
Trillium blossoms
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"If you should happen to need to go into the woods, don't wear brown. Or white." I paused a moment to consider. "On second thought, it would probably be better if you didn't go into the woods at all."

Teph looked at the calendar. "Oh, yeah. November 15th. Opening Day."

Ah yes, Opening Day, the Upnorth National Holiday, where there is nothing deadlier than a white handkerchief (if anybody carries those any more). Because when you yank it out of your pocket to catch a sneeze, it flashes and flutters around just like the white tail of a startled deer bounding away through the underbrush. It's likely to get your fool head blown off.

Not that this happens often, to give the hunters credit. Usually the drive up here is the most dangerous part of the hunt.

Back in the late 1950s, my relatives tell me, they closed the Upnorth schools for the first week of deer season because between the people gone hunting and the people working to sell things to the Red Army, as they were called back then, nobody was going to be sitting in any classrooms anyway. This was in the years before the freeway came this far north, and they'd close the state roads too, or at least the southbound side of them. Both lanes would be bumper to bumper traffic heading north, driving like mad, the night before Opening Day. If you wanted to go south, you'd have to creep southward along the gravel shoulder, facing the glare of headlights all the way.

Today, the Red Army has become the Orange Army (by law) and Opening Day isn't quite the big deal it was back when it was the only thing going on up here between Fall Color Tours and Spring Morel Mushroom Picking. But it's still pretty big. Last night the roads and stores and restaurants and bars were swarming with hunters.

Today, heeding my own advice, I took my noon walk through the driveways and parking lots of the box stores near my office, not in the empty woods out back. (We have urban sprawl here too, except without that "urban" part.) The parking lots were STILL swarming with people.

Which raises a bit of a question. If the hunters are supposedly hunting all day (although there is about as much all-night drinking and card playing and sleeping it off afterward as there is hunting, I'd guess) then who was doing all the shopping at noon?

Well, another tradition of Opening Day is that the lonely, upset, sorrowful wives, left behind when The Guys all go out to The Camp, stay lonely etc etc until The Guys are out of sight. Then they grab the checkbook and the credit cards, assemble in swarms akin to locusts, and Descend Upon The Stores.

In today's less sexist world we don't have quite the division of labor they did in the old days, but there's still a lot of that going on. Old Upnorth National Holiday Traditions die hard.
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1.

I've passed this way a hundred times
I've seen these trees a hundred times
But not all.
So for those of you today
Just raising your first shoots to the sun,
Welcome.

2.
Two blue butterflies
Feasting on a dried dog turd:
Life's what you make it
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1.

Neighbor said "I wish you'd do this more often."
I said "I only do it for you and the other neighbors.
If it was up to me I'd let the woods grow wild
Right up to my walls.
Besides, I'm working under
a terrible handicap here."

She looked puzzled, so I explained,
"I'm sure I could do a much better job
If only I gave a damn."
She laughed and said
"You may have a point."

2.

TV guy said
The grass really is greener
On the other side of the fence.
It's a matter of viewing angle;
You can see down between the blades of grass
To the muck, filth, and trash
Below your own feet,
But you can't see that on your neighbor's side.
I don't think he was trying to be metaphorical.

3.

Round and round and round and round
Making no progress at all
and then you're
suddenly
done
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Behind me the sky had opened. It was a downpour out there now. "I shoulda worn my poncho in."

"Yeah, who cares what it looks like long's you stay dry. Sit anywhere you'd like."

The four open tables were the big ones, each set for eight places. All the smaller tables were full. There were even three guys crowded around a little table sized for maybe two, rather than use one of the big ones. One of the three had a vest labeled DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION.

I shrugged and sat at the big table nearest the wall. It wobbled. There was a whiteboard on the wall that had TODAY'S SPECIALS handwritten in green above a large blank space.

"Anything to drink?"

"Coffee, please. Any specials?"

"I'll ask. I just got here myself."

She poured my coffee, then walked to the far end of the building, which wasn't very far. I could probably have heard what the cook said except that the two quartz clocks on the wall chose that moment to cut loose with their cheesy electronic chimes, marking the three-quarter-hour; quarter to twelve, for the clock in the corner, quarter to one for the one on the back wall by the Department of Transportation guys.

They were being a bit noisy right then too. They were having an animated discussion of soil borings, and getting the vault toilets, picnic tables, and trash barrels set up at the roadside park. And that danged pump handle. Have to find that danged pump handle. I hope Jim took it off and put it somewheres for the winter like he was s'posed to, and didn't leave it there all winter so some sumbitch stole it on us again.

The DOT guys were part of why I was here. They, the plumber, the electrician, and the three retired farmers. When you're looking for a place to buy lunch in one of these small towns, look for trucks. Working trucks, mind you, not the boy racer trucks with the chrome pipes and the painted flames, and not the shiny yuppie trucks the summer people drive. If you find a restaurant with a row of work trucks outside, you know it is the best place in town. It may also be the ONLY place in town, but in any case you won't find anything better.

The waitress wandered back. "She says we have an Italian Panini. Comes with soup or salad for $5.99."

"What's in it?"

"Italian stuff."

Not such an encouraging description, but what the heck. "I'll try it with the soup. please."

"All right, but we're running slow. The rain. All the guys came in for lunch at once."

"That's all right. I did the same."

She was back with my soup right away, though. And I had just enough time to examine the two clocks-- both had smiley-face stickers on their fake pendulums that said FOR SALE; both were done in a horrible 1960s pseudo-space age fake cuckoo clock style, even though they weren't cuckoo clocks, studded with log-looking sections of tree branches varnished with the bark on; one was painted with green flower stencils and had a barometer, hygrometer, and thermometer in a row below the clock face, while the other was almost covered in a rainbow of random glass beads-- before she came back with my Italian Panini.

Somehow I think this delicacy is something they could only have invented here in Northern Michigan.

What they had done was they had taken a veal parmesan patty-- what they call veal parmesan here, a patty of ground veal (probably), breaded, deep fried, slathered in spaghetti sauce and sprinkled with cheese that is as likely to be mozzarella as parmesan, no matter what the name of the dish may be. They took the whole thing and slapped it between two slices of bread that looked vaguely Italian in one sense or another. Then they'd grilled it in some kind of sandwich press until it was thin, golden brown, and the cheese and sauce had become integral parts of the bread.

It was delicious, actually.
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The snow melted back. And then we had a blizzard. And it melted back again and then we had a blizzard.

Now it's almost gone. It's supposed to hit 70 f tomorrow. We go straight from winter to the middle of summer.. oh well.

My house lot has several large red pines. (After so many years living around them I can tell reds from whites by sight-- the bark of the red pines is, well, red. But if it's a small tree and hard to identify, count the needles. Reds have three needles per bunch, three for r-e-d, while whites have five.)

We also have four white spruces. They were growing in front of my mom's cottage, up in the Upper Peninsula, and they were in the one cleared space between the house and the lake, so they were going to block the view. Mom and my stepdad, Don, who died a few weeks ago, were planning to chop them down-- it would have been more like "clip" than "chop" at that point, actually-- but I had this blank spot in my yard where I could use a windbreak and a privacy screen. And I wanted to save the little things. So we dug up the four white spruces and a tiny cedar tree. I put them all in the trunk of my car, brought them down here, and planted them.

The deer ate the cedar, but the spruces took- even the mangled, scraggly one that had lost its top. I didn't think they could regrow their tops once they lost them, but it did. It's a healthy and shapely tree now, as are they all. And tall, so tall now! When did that happen?

They say that pines and spruces are evergreens, but they aren't, really. In the middle of winter they are almost as gray as everything else. But with the spring their colors brighten again.

That is the first sign of hope for the new summer, the first green of spring, then. The pine needles are green in the sunlight. The woods are beginning to come back to life-- and so am I.
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After work I walked out with a Carl. He said "We're having a barbecue at my house. Fresh venison."

"Grilled venison?"

He nodded. "You'll notice one of the F-150s is missing from the motor pool row."

I groaned. "One of the new ones?" Brand new, and bright red too; the perfect color for a Ford pickup truck, ever since the bright red Tonka toy Ford pickup my grandmother had for me to play with every time I visited. I wonder whatever happened to that thing? But it's OK; I have my own red toy 1950s Ford pickup on my desk. Some of the things of our childhood we never do outgrow.

Carl nodded. "Only six thousand miles on the thing. I was driving it over near Mio and a spikehorn buck ran out right in front of me. PRANG! Smashed the whole front end."

I frowned. "They try to make them look like they're milled out of a solid block of steel, but the front end's nothing but flimsy plastic. I bet it smashed the hell out of it."

"Sure did. Smashed the grill, the bumper cover, messed up the hood latch. She was leaking coolant too, so we're looking at a new radiator. It'll probably be two, three thousand dollars worth of damage-- or if it isn't, they'll be sure to charge the State that much to fix it, anyway. Honest Businessmen."

"Cheap plastic grill, but you can bet Ford will charge hundreds for that alone."

"Probably cost 'em six bucks to make."

I snorted. "More like six cents. Bob hit a deer the other day too. I heard him talking about it. But he's not going to spend any three thousand dollars to repair the damage."

Bob drives junk cars. That's wise, actually; I'd do it myself, if I had any sense. His minivan wouldn't cost three thousand dollars, and it's too rusted to stand extensive body work anyway. He said he'd picked up the shattered bits of his grill and glued them back together. The front edge of the hood was munged up, but one of those acrylic bug deflector spoilers glued on there covers most of that, and then a twist of wire will keep the hood tied down in place of the busted latch. Done.

"That's different," Carl said. "I was just driving along minding my own business. Bob was half in the bag, coming home from the bar."

"Maybe. It makes a better story if he says he was drunk, and you know how Bob is about stretching a story."

"Yeah. Almost as bad as you are."

"I represent that remark... but anyway, I don't think it matters whether you're drunk or sober, when a whitetail decides to do a kamikaze on ya."

"Yeah. My girlfriend hit one last week, too. Or it hit her. Ran out of the woods and right into the side of her car. Thousand bucks damage, and the deer didn't even stop; it just turned around and ran back into the woods."

Most of the people I know have hit deer. One person I know has hit six. Another ran into an elk- American Elk, that is, also known as wapiti, not moose, which is our equivalent of the European elk. She hit the elk, got out of there, and went back later to pick up the dead elk, because when you grill a critter around here you get to keep it. But someone else had already taken it away. Venison is an acquired taste, but elk tastes just like beef, or so THEY say. Whoever THEY are.

You think hitting a hundred-fifty pound deer's going to mess you up, try a thousand pound elk.

It's just a fact of life around here, and aside from drunkenness on snowmobiles it has to be the number one cause of accidents. There are two kinds of drivers; those who have hit a deer, and those who will some day.

I remember when I worked on a survey crew up here, many years ago now. For a few days we worked along a gravel road that provided a shortcut between two "major" paved roads, or as major as any in that area.

This particular road was only a mile long, and it wasn't even in the woods; just empty potato fields on both sides. As I was walking along that road at sunset, ending my day, I wondered what all the litter in the ditch was. Where had it come from? There wasn't even a fast food place in that county. And what was it? The shapes were kind of strange.

And then, with horror, I realized what it was. The litter was a layer of deer bones, skulls, antlers, of all the deer that had been road-killed along that mile of road. Mouldering with scraps of hide, moss growing on them. I could have walked the mile on them and never have touched the ground.
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Pristine North, heh. Yeah, I hear you. People call this God's Country, think it's untouched by the Hand of Man. They have no idea.

I'm Third Generation up here, you know. We go way back. I know about the old days.

My grandfather worked at the tannery on the shores of Lake Bigbucks. It's all million-dollar condos now. Back then it was a tannery.

These tea party guys, against environmental regulations, safety regs, unions, they have no idea what went on in the old days. That tannery ran, and the salts and acids and scraps of rotting hide, hair, rancid fat, blood, all went right into the lake. No safety gear, no guards on any of the machinery. If you fell in a vat, burned yourself working the boiler, got poisoned by the chemicals or just got old so you couldn't work any more, get out. We don't need no broken down bums like you, and never mind you worked here twenty years. Go starve somewhere else, this is private property.

And no union, either, so the boss could do anything he wanted. Those guys worked their asses off, and half the time they didn't even get paid.

You see, if you had a good month and made a record amount of leather, that became your new quota. If you didn't meet your quota for that month the boss wouldn't pay you.

I said my grandfather worked in that tannery. My dad and my uncles did too, as children. They didn't get paid, you understand. They were just there to help my grandfather make that impossible quota, so HE would get paid.

The rich will be with you always, and they live in million dollar condos now, where that tannery used to be.

Sooner or later a big storm comes along; they always do. When it does, it churns up all that corruption that got poured into Lake Bigbucks a hundred years ago, and it turns the lake as red as blood. The rich people look out the windows of their million dollar homes at the storm and see a raging lake of blood, and they have no idea why.

Stand By

Oct. 24th, 2010 11:23 am
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I never got along with ham radio operators.

Since I was a teenager I've listened to shortwave radio broadcasts-- also far-away AM radio broadcasts at night, what [personal profile] tephra or [livejournal.com profile] tephralynn calls "Listening to Static." There's no real reason to do it any more; you can get all the foreign information you want, direct from foreign sources, over the Internet. (Until the Tea Party brings the McCarthy Era back and starts protecting you from truths they want to pretend don't exist.) Back then, though, if you wanted the foreign perspective on the news, uncensored, you got a shortwave receiver.

Story! )

Boxtops

Oct. 16th, 2010 12:06 pm
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Somewhere in my vast DeadJournal Bookshelf of Journals about Nothing, I stated their mission. In fact, I have them because I simply enjoy the act of sliding the point of a fountain pen across good paper, and so I have to come up with something to do while I'm doing that. That's the sad, futile truth of it all.

But my DeadJournal's other purpose is to document the obscure and forgotten-- such as the fact that the most common milk container of my childhood was the half-gallon paper carton. Or the way light switches worked. (Usually as the common flip switch of today, but in really old houses you'd come across pushbutton switches- on top, a big black button with a white dot in the middle, and on bottom a plain black one. Push 'em in and with a loud CLICK they'd turn the lights on or off. And there was one house I lived in that was built in 1954 and had these Atomic Age little knobs you'd have to turn. No, not dimmers; just left off, right on. They were internally illuminated and kind of streamlined, and only served to slow down the act of turning the lights on and off. But after a couple of months in that house you'd just hook a finger over them and spin them coming into or out of a room, fast as any other switch, without thinking about it.)

Think about it. In the future they'll know all about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's affair with Marylin Monroe, and the Vast Conspiracy of the Kennedy Assassination, whether or not any of what the know is true. But they won't know about PF Flyers or that Oxydol laundry detergent was white with green flecks in it.

So was born Old Fart Theater, wherein I will bore the one or two people who actually look at these entries with details of Deserves To Be Forgotten History, and how I walked thirty miles through deep snow uphill both ways to get to the computer bunker to submit my pack of punch cards to the Computer Acolytes. But we were GLAD to have our punch cards. We were THANKFUL. Because we knew there were people worse off than us who didn't have punch cards at all!

So what about boxtops?

In 1962 or so there was hardly a breakfast cereal that wasn't offering some toy or other in return for sending boxtops through the mail. The deal would be something like $1.25 and one boxtop, or 25 cents and three boxtops, to some address, and they'd mail you a toy in return.

I can remember two toys I got that way. One was a fairly large F-100 fighter plane toy that had a little spring gun in its nose to fire plastic darts; the extra darts snapped into racks under the wings, where the real plane carried rockets or bombs. It was molded in heavy mottled gray flexible plastic that was meant to be silver. A pretty cool toy for what it cost.

The other was a red plastic race car that had a rubber band powered propeller. Wind the prop up, let it spin, and off the car would go. The cool thing was that you could turn it upside down take the wheels off, take the snap-on driver's head off the top and put it on the bottom, and it became a propeller driven bathtub boat.

Of course it all went through the US Mail, because we had nothing else. And it always went to the other guy in town who had my name before he turned it around and sent it on to me. The postman (and they were all men) never read the actual addresses, he just knew where everyone in town lived. That was common in those tiny rural towns at that time too.

You sent actual money through the mail for this stuff. Credit cards? What's a credit card? Most private citizens didn't even have checking accounts back then.

Of course this sort of thing wasn't just for kids. Raleigh Cigarettes offered coupons on each pack you'd save up and send in for various prizes, if you lived long enough. Betty Crocker had coupons for different housewares. And of course S&H Green Stamps was the granddaddy of them all.

(to the tune of Greensleeves)
"Green stamps were all she gave
Green stamps were all I took
Green stamps that I could save
And I pasted them all in my Green Stamps Book."

And pasted and pasted and PASTED, every time Mom came back from the grocery store. Eventually we'd get enough Green Stamps for something or other. I presume you could mail them in, but as I remember it we'd actually gather up our sack of completed Green Stamp Books and go off to a department store in The City, where off in a quiet corner they had a room full of things you could get with your stamps.

We ate off plates we got that way, and lit the living room with lamps we got that way, for about 20 years. Wasn't the best quality stuff, but it wasn't throw away quality either.

About the only way you're going to run into references to that culture of boxtops, or coupons, or trading stamps, and the prizes you'd get for them, is the Green Stamps song I quoted above. I still hear that on the radio every once in a while.

And then there's the Rocky and Bullwinkle episode where Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale have a plot to destroy the American economy by counterfeiting boxtops. That one probably goes over the head of any modern viewer.

But you know what? It would have worked.

Evergreen

Aug. 23rd, 2010 06:29 pm
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North of the highway, side by side, are
Evergreen, Hebrew, and Grace Lutheran Cemeteries with
Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery across the road.
You would think that here, at least,
We could all be together.

$ 348.00

Aug. 13th, 2010 05:46 pm
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Once upon a time Banquet Chicken Pot Pies cost 35 cents each.

This fact is impressed firmly on my memory because an ATM broke down one Friday afternoon. This would be no big deal today, but back then ATMs weren't networked. You went to your bank's or you didn't go. Not only that, but the tellers closed up shop at 3:00. So if, for example, you arrived at the bank at 3:30 on a Friday and found that the ATM had already broken down you knew you were in for a long weekend with only whatever cash you happened to have on you. Which, presumably, wasn't much or you wouldn't have gone to the ATM in the first place.

At this time I didn't know any grocery stores or restaurants that took credit cards, either. I didn't know why this was. One of my fellow students had told me there was a law against those places taking credit cards. I don't know, maybe there was.

So there I was, with $1.52 in coins in my pocket, standing in front of a busted ATM on Friday afternoon and wondering what I was going to eat for the rest of the weekend. I walked to the grocery store and bought a dozen small eggs and a Banquet Chicken Pot Pie.

I boiled the eggs in my hot pot. For Sunday dinner, as a treat, I baked the pot pie in my toaster oven. I wasn't supposed to have any cooking equipment in the third floor attic apartment I rented in that big drafty old firetrap of a house, but I could do that much.

It was at about that time that I bought my first color TV set, a 13 inch model from RCA. At $348 it was a ridiculous extravagance for a poor grad student, but I enjoyed it.

I guess I got my money's worth out of that thing. For many years it was my only TV. When I got a bigger, cheaper one, I retired the RCA to my mom's cottage in the Upper Peninsula.

With the cruel wear of years, the folks don't get up to the cottage any more. And the old TV set has become obsolete. It can't pick up modern signals. Sometimes I feel like that myself.

This week I finally replaced it with a new, digital set. I put the old set out along the roadside for the trash collector. I couldn't look to see whether he actually took it, or whether somebody else came by and took it away before the truck came.

Banquet Chicken Pot Pies now cost $1.00, if you can find them on sale. With antenna and accessories the new 19 inch, flat screen, high definition digital TV cost $348.
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I walked into the house and straight to the computer. I told Teph "I have an idea for my LJ post, and I have to get it done while it is.. heh heh.. fresh. So to speak."

She eyed me suspiciously. "What does that mean?"

"You shall see."

***

My latest shipment of Coffee from the Company Formerly Known as A&P, from the exotic Land of New Jersey, is still most of a month off, and I'm running low. So I was in the coffee aisle at Shifty Acres picking out a plastic can-oid thing of Folger's Black Silk when the manager walked by. I looked at him, opened my mouth, closed it, opened it again.

"Can I help you find something?"

"Well, no, um, ah, it's not really a.. I mean, I don't think I should, ah.."

"Really, I'm here to help you. What do you need?"

I cleared my throat. "I wondered if you knew you had a truck from a rendering plant parked out in front of the store."

He gave me a blank look. "Rendering?"

I nodded. "From Rose and Company." That's not the real name, of course-- I almost never use real names here-- but the real name is just about as ironic. "It's a rendering plant down in Saginasty. You know how they talk about making glue out of cattle hooves? That's the factory where they send the dead cows to do it. Not the hooves alone, of course, the whole dead animal..."

He paled. "Are you telling me we have a truckload of dead cows in the parking lot? Just parked out there like one of the customers?"

I shook my head. "Nah. It might be dead horses or pigs. I've been hearing of bovine tuberculosis in the captive deer herds at some of the game farms, so it might even be captive deer."

I knew about Rose and Company because I used to work down near Saginaw, or Saginasty if you prefer to call it that, as many of us do. Frank and I went out to check on a complaint there once.

Let me tell you about Frank. Descendant of dying farm towns that I am, I had never worked much with any Black guys until I worked with Frank. Now, he was and is just about the sweetest, most courteous, soft-spoken men I have ever known. Killer handsome too. He's also about five feet twenty-seven and looks like if he ever had a dry throat he could punch down a stone wall and squeeze water from the cobblestones to slake his thirst-- but he wouldn't, because somebody worked HARD on that wall and knocking it down would be impolite.

I was brand new on the job at the time, so Frank went in to talk to the rather angry, abusive, and unreasonable old man who ran the place (who for some reason was more polite with Frank than he ever was with me). I walked around outside and documented what we could see and, more importantly, what we could smell.

Even that was no great treat, let me tell you. I never got within 100 yards of the place, but the smell just about made me hurl right there on the street. I would say the smell was enough to gag a maggot except that there was ABUNDANT evidence that the smell didn't inconvenience maggots in the least.

Flash forward about 20 years, and I'm facing a pale grocery store manager who has realized that he has a tractor-trailer load of dead cattle-- or perhaps diseased deer, if he's lucky-- in front of his store on the hottest day so far this summer. Rapidly decomposing. At the meat market entrance of the store, no less.

"So what do I do?" he whispered.

I shrugged. "He's parked out there like a customer, so probably he is. If he leaves soon, no problem."

"I'll keep an eye on it. Thanks for telling me."

I smiled and nodded. Then I went over to the wine section and bought a bottle of something strange.

See, I'm an air quality guy, so if that truckload of dead animals is wandering around the county and a phone call gets made, sooner or later it gets to me. However, we have an absolute zero tolerance policy with regard to alcohol. So if I have any alcohol in my system whatsoever, I'm required to say "I'm sorry, I've been drinking, so I can't go out on this call."

Because twenty years ago the smell of a rendering plant would make me puke if I caught it a hundred yards away. And you know what? Some things haven't changed.

The "wine" is imported from Denmark. It's called Cherry Kijafa, described as "Cherry Wine with sugar beet alcohol and other natural flavors added." It sounds horrible, but it's actually borderline delicious.

Of course the sugar beet alcohol bit, by coincidence, reminds me of another stink I encountered on the job. Another stink that almost made me puke right on my boots. But that's another story.

The Border

Jun. 22nd, 2010 07:56 pm
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It's always been there, for better or for worse, snaking in and out among the islands at the end of the Upper Peninsula.

It is pretty easy to find yourself on the wrong side of it by mistake. When the British evacuated Mackinaw Island, after the Revolution, they built their new fort on their side of the border. Or they thought they did. It was on Drummond Island, which ended up being US territory, so they had to move it again a couple of years later.

Easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the border, and even I did that once. We were out fishing on the boat of a friend of my father's, up somewhere near Munuscong Bay. Pulled into shallow water, caught a couple of bullhead and tossed 'em back. Bullhead are a kind of catfish and supposedly pretty good eating if you can skin them out, but it's a real pain to do it, so we didn't bother.

It turned out we had been fishing in Canadian waters. If they'd caught us, we'd probably have lost the boat and all our fishing gear. That's a pretty high price to pay for a couple of "trash fish."

But nobody caught us. Probably nobody cared. The border never meant much. Both sides of my family settled here after coming through Canada for a greater or lesser period of time. I suppose they took care of the legal formalities of immigration at one time or another; in any case, my parents were born here, and I was born here, which makes us all US citizens by default. Unless certain laws proposed in Arizona should happen to go nationwide, I suppose.

We used to be able to go over to Canada and back without any special documentation at all. Now we need a passport, or at the very least a special driver's license. I have one. It has an RF ID chip inside it, and comes in its own special RF resistant sleeve so that scam artists, or perhaps I should say "scan artists," can't read the personal information the State swears isn't there, automatically, just by my walking past their scanner.

The border never mattered, but I guess it matters now. There is something in that which saddens.

History

Jun. 12th, 2010 11:22 pm
hafoc: (Default)
Let's see if we can make last week's entry into something approaching a poem. Here goes:

History

Watching the silver mist fall, remembering
abandoned farmhouses gray in mists now gone
and the old apple trees gone wild
last sign of failed farms

Thinking of history and how they tried
and failed to farm this pinewood sand
gray houses falling in

Thinking of history, gray houses passing in the mist
from the front seat of Dad's Delta 88
hunting for hunting places
some game on AM from another world
play by play blanked
by the lightning spark each time
the windshield wipers
hit bottom

And now that too is history, all of it
gray houses crumbled and gone
groves of gnarled apple trees
blossoming in falling silver mist

Thinking of history
and that was what history looked like,
if I'd only known it
looking out at the falling silver mist
thinking about history
And this is what history looks like now.
hafoc: (Default)
My mom sometimes waxes nostalgic for the Good Old Days of the Great Depression and World War II. When she does, it often about some of the fine cuisine she enjoyed way back then.

Actually, what they had wasn't at all bad. This grandfather was the prototypical Michigan And-Farmer. He was a Carpenter And-Farmer. The carpentry brought in the money. The farm gave him his self-identity and a great deal of self-sufficiency.

They had cattle for their own beef, milk, and butter. (Raw milk is RANK, by the way. And never, EVER arm-wrestle with someone who makes butter in a hand-cranked churn.) They had pigs we kids liked to feed and scratch behind the ears- nothing like sitting at breakfast and saying you'd like to feed the pig and have Grandpa laugh, point at the plate, and say "The pig is feeding YOU." They had a garden for fresh and home-canned vegetables. Grandma baked all her own bread, five or six loaves at a time, and had enough supplies on hand that she could have done so for a month at least before having to go to town. That sort of thing.

They had a great plenty, and knew to be grateful, because most of the other kids who walked to the country school had bread with lard spread on top for their lunches, nothing more. Grandpa lost a lot in the Depression, but he kept the farm, and they always had plenty to eat. Most of the people in that area did not.

Maybe that's why, for as long as she lived there, Grandma ran her own private welfare program. The name of the program was If You're Here, You Eat.

Preachers, of course-- with that unique sense these guys have for sniffing out ways for "the Lord" to provide them their living, the local preachers tended to wander by, accidentally just at dinnertime, far more often than could be explained by random chance. But it didn't matter who you were. Hired hand, cousin, grandkid, TV repairman, salesman, stranger walking down the road, if You Were There, You Ate.

And it was wonderful food too.

But it's not the homemade bread or the pot roasts (always a beef roast and a pork roast in the same roaster) my Mom remembers so fondly. It is some of the true Depression Cuisine, the food that made the Great Depression so depressing.

One dish is Boiled Dinner. The recipe is easy: throw a bit of greasy "picnic ham" and quite a bit of bone into a pot with lots of water. (Water is cheap.) Throw in potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage. Boil until all flavor is removed. Season with salt, if you're lucky. Maybe some pepper, but probably not.

The other is the Ground Bologna Sandwich. For her it is a memory of the church youth group gatherings when she was a teenager. There was no fast-fooding it then; Ray Kroc was years away from asking himself why two brothers named McDonald needed not just one, but MANY of the multi-headed milkshake mixers he was selling. Food with the gang meant sandwiches at somebody's house, and ground bologna was... affordable. You can say that much about it, anyway.

Not that the bologna was bad. In fact, here in Mitchigen we have excellent bologna. It comes in rings, just as if it were a real sausage, which it is. We're having sausage and sauerkraut tonight, and the sausage is real Kogel Ring Bologna. None better. It took talking with Tephra, who is not from around here, to realize that not only is sandwich bologna (known here as "Big Bologna") more common than the real stuff-- most people don't know there IS such a thing as real ring bologna. And just when I thought Mitchigen didn't have its own cuisine!

But being in a ring, shaped like the real sausage it is, ring bologna isn't convenient for sandwiches. So they'd take this good bologna, grind it up with some pickle relish, mix it with that abomination from Hell known as Miracle Whip, and spread it on bread to make their sandwiches.

It is horrible. But at least when Grandma did it, it was on really good bread.
hafoc: (Default)
Atlanta, a little town not far from here, is the first place I can remember. We moved away before I entered school, but we still kept coming back to visit. I think, as I guess I've hinted in a poem I posted here, that my dad loved this area and hated to leave it. I think he might have been happier and lived longer if he'd ignored the siren song of the Bigger Career and remained as Superintendent of a small, remote backwoods town (as it was then).

Be that as it may, we kept coming back. One of the reasons was hunting for Morel mushrooms in the Spring. We'd load up, drive up here, take a motel room, and go out in the woods looking for mushrooms.

I think I might have identified the motel where we stayed, although I'm not sure. I didn't drive, so of course I don't remember how to drive to it. I remember it was painted green. The rooms were paneled in knotty pine, and were larger than most motel rooms. They had a kitchenette built in and were supplied with a few cooking utensils, some plates, an electric kettle and some little packets of instant coffee, tea, and sugar. It was a classic 1950s setup, and being as this was probably in the mid to late 1960s only ten to twenty years behind the times-- remarkably advanced, for here.

Having a kitchenette was important, since a large part of the experience was cooking and eating the mushrooms we'd found. Mom and Dad would fry them up in butter and eat them.

The sad thing is that I hated mushrooms back then, especially morels. They have a distinct taste that's strong, for mushrooms. I didn't want anything to do with them, so I don't remember where we found them or what kind of tree to look beneath.

I do remember that we hunted mushrooms on some hunting land my dad had owned. "Had owned" is the operational phrase here, because he'd sold the land when we moved away. But mushroom hunting introduces a strange form of land ownership. People are fiercely possessive about their prime 'shrooming spots. They'll tell you where to hunt a whitetail buck, and if they're REAL friends they might tell you about a prized fishing hole in enough detail that, if you're good enough, you have some small chance of locating it; but tell you where to find morel mushrooms? Never.

So we'd go out to the land our family had once owned, and we'd come back with bags of mushrooms. And once, with a pair of mushroom hunters up from Ohio we'd collected out there. They were hopelessly lost. "We followed what looked like a phone line, but it didn't seem to go anywhere."

Dad nodded wisely and said "I strung that wire. It goes around the boundaries of this property. The property line doesn't follow any road or natural features. It's hard to make sense of, and easy to get lost out here."

We got them back to their car. They gave us some nice hand-made rugs the wife had made, but they didn't give us any of their mushrooms. And then we went back to our own motel room, and the smell of Morel mushrooms fried in butter filled the place. I wrinkled my nose at it.

I love the things now. I've gone out looking for them, but in the years since I moved back up here I have NOT FOUND ONE.
hafoc: (Default)
My life is an open book
Eight and a half by eleven
Leather looseleaf from Omaha
Black ink for business,
Blue for home,
Pencil for tentative
Orange for too damned cheap
To toss even an orange ballpoint.

I had that Open Book open beside the desk when the cell phone rang. It was Jon with a PEAS call, some kind of problem over in Alpena. I'd been planning on going over there Friday, but I realized it was Good Friday, and while I don't observe a holiday on that day most of the people I'd be going to see, do. Well, all right, I'll halfway make up for it by investigating a complaint on a weekend. It's also not a bad thing to remind the honest businessmen that I can show up any time, even on Easter weekend.

But the weekend coffee I'd had before the call came in made certain I had to stop somewhere on the way over. The little town of Atlanta is on the way. For one reason or another I'd never stopped at Freddie's. I stopped there today.

Freddie's is what passes for a grocery store in Atlanta, I guess. It's a gas station with a party store attached, maybe a bit bigger than average. I pulled the Mustang next to the gas pumps. I fed the pump my credit card. When the card reader told me PRESS BUTTON TO SELECT GRADE I noticed there was only one gasoline button, for regular. That's all right, the Mustang takes regular, but it was a bit odd.

I finished with the gas and went inside. Place seemed a LOT bigger inside than I'd thought it was, and it was packed to the rafters with stuff. "Excuse me," I said to the lady at the checkout, "but do you have a rest room?"

"Sure. All the way in the back. Go to the end of aisle five and look for the blue door."

Or that's what I thought she'd said. Aisle Five was canned vegetables on one side, canned meat and then assorted snack foods on the other, and it was quite the long aisle. When I got to the end I was facing the fresh meat counter The frozen food wall was a little ways off to one side and the cold beverage wall off far away to the other. There was no blue door but there was a passageway, with a surprising assortment of insect repellents (well, this IS Northern Michigan after all) on one wall and fishing lures and tackle on the other. It had no blue door, but it had a blue FLOOR. Maybe that's what she'd said.

But this led to another big room, almost like a warehouse in its plainness. This was where you'd find the pet food and some lawn and garden stuff; also the greeting card wall and, for some reason, crate lots of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup. And the rest rooms. They were in the far back corner, near the greeting cards.

After taking care of business I made my way back to the front of the store by a different route; down the beverage wall. The opposite side of that aisle was miscellaneous cleaning stuff, matches, charcoal, some camping odds and ends, and the center of the aisle was a wall of wild bird seed in 50 pound bags. I was looking for a canned iced coffee drink, and they didn't have any there, but up at the front of the store they had a section for individual drinks and small snacks, adjacent to the liquor wall. (Beer was off in the far end of the FRONT room, unless you wanted warm beer in cases; some of that was off near the chips.) Sure enough, they had my iced coffee drinks. Several different varieties, in fact. I chose a mocha with ginseng and guarana.

I'd been looking for another money clip, since mine is getting a bit ratty after years of use. Couldn't find one anywhere. Freddie's had them, at the cash register, for $3.50. The straw hats on sale kind of hid them, but there they were.

Interesting place.

Edit: I read this to Teph, adding the bit about waiting (canned coffee in hand) behind the lady in curlers who was buying half a dozen bottles of drinking water, assorted canned goods, a bag of potatoes and a frozen turkey. How this wasn't what you usually found at a gas station convenience store. She came up with the perfect name for Freddie's: Tardis Mart!

Studs

Dec. 15th, 2009 06:32 pm
hafoc: (Default)
In the town where I finished growing up we had at least one good mechanic and at least one bad cop.

Joe worked at the Ashland station, until Ashland closed all the stations in the area. Then he moved to, reopened, actually, the Phillips 66 station out by the freeway.

He worked on my dad's long succession of Oldsmobile Delta 88s. He himself drove an old black Impala, which he kept in beautiful shape. I owed Joe a lot; aside from my safety whenever I rode anywhere in the family car, he introduced me to the joys of pornography via the pin-up girl on the tool company calendar on the shop wall. She wore a demure bathing suit, but it was printed on a separate layer of clear plastic that peeled up.

Eventually Joe decided he needed a newer car. He sold the black Impala to Dad, and Dad gave it to my older sister to drive back and forth to the University, about twenty miles away.

The cop-- oh, let's make up a name for him, completely at random. Let's call him Officer Fife. Officer Fife wasn't a bad cop in the usual sense. No, far from it. He was a young kid fresh out of cop school, and he was frightfully earnest. Wore his hair in a military buzz cut. He didn't speak, he barked. Worked out and ran laps to keep in condition and to better attract the future Mrs. Officer Fife, if and when he ever met her. Read the criminal code and training manuals on his days off.

The problem with Officer Fife was that he had no judgment. I hope he gained it as he gained experience. Most people do. Some, of course, don't have the ability. At the time I rather suspected Officer Fife was one of these, but of course I don't know.

He first got into trouble with the City Council for wrapping a police cruiser around a tree, about three weeks after he'd done the same thing with ANOTHER one. This was especially embarrassing at the time because they only had three police cars. Singlehandedly, Officer Fife had bent two of these. The third was out of service too because it got wrecked, or ruined at least, in a high speed chase down US-127. They got it up to 120 miles per hour and it threw a rod. Left them sitting there on the southbound lane shoulder at the end of a hundred yard trail of oil and bits of metal. Rather pitiful, really.

What got him fired, though, was taking a shot at a guy for doing a U-turn. It was a motorcyclist who pulled out of one of the angle parking spaces in front of the courthouse, did a yoo-ie, and headed back the other way. Motorcycles are loud, so he didn't hear Officer Fife shout "HALT!" Whereupon Fife, assuming the motorcyclist was fleeing, pulled his .357 and launched one.

He was immediately fired. Too immediately; Fife sued the city for failing to follow due process, and got his job back. My memories may be distorted by the mist of years, but as I recall Fife stayed on the force for several more years before moving on.

Now, I don't know whether they still allow studded snow tires in this state, but back then they did. That was part of another Officer Fife incident, where the good officer knew that the universal small town terrorist, Some Kid, had been shooting out the department store windows with a .22. Fife announced he knew where Some Kid was and was ready to bring Some Kid in and sweat a confession out of him. About that time somebody mentioned that Tony Vivaldi, who ran the little grocery store across the street from the department store, had (for reasons known only to himself) jacked up his car so that one of the rear wheels was off the ground, and had then gunned the engine for an extended period of time, spinning the elevated wheel at what amounted to a significant fraction of the speed of light. And Tony's car had studded snow tires. Sure enough, it turned out that Tony's tire had thrown most of its studs, and several of them had gone through the window across the street. Once again, Some Kid had eluded the clutches of justice!

My sister's "new" Impala came with a set of studded snow tires on. They were kind of old, but they'd serve to get her through the winter. Dad planned to get new ones in the spring.

But he hadn't quite gotten around to it when March came around. It was legal to run studded snow tires, but by the end of March they had to come off. Dad couldn't take them off; he had no other tires to put in their place. Instead, he did the next best thing. He jacked the Impala up, got out his pliers, and pulled all the studs out of the tires.

That left the holes where the studs had been, though. And you know what? Those tires snarled when they went down the road. Sounded just like they still had the studs in them.

One weekend day, after my sister had to cover for another teaching assistant at the University on a day she'd planned to have off, she was driving home, and not in the best of moods. I should mention here that my sister is smart. SCARY smart.

She was coming into our town on one of the back roads when who should she encounter but Officer Fife. He did a bootlegger's turn and hit the lights and siren and came up behind her. She pulled off the pavement, into the slush, stopped the engine, rolled down the driver's side window. Fife strutted to the window, thumbs in his belt.

Sister batted eyes at him. "Oh my, Officer, did I do something wrong?"

"Do you know what the date is, ma'am?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Officer. I have no idea what the date is, but I can find out, I think. Let me--"

"It's April Fourth. Do you know what the last day for studded snow tires is in this state?"

"My goodness Officer, is there a last day for them? Do they expire, like milk?"

Fife sighed. "The last day for studded snow tires is March 31st. You have to take the studded snow tires off your car on or before that date. Do you have studded snow tires on your car?"

"Mercy me, what are studded snow tires? These came on the car, and you have to put air in them or something. Or they'll break." Sister had WATCHED Dad pull the studs out of those tires. She knew they weren't studded, not any more, but she was in a bad mood and Officer Fife was being a ****head. Even more than usual.

Fife sighed in a long-suffering manner. Then he got down on his knees, in the slush, to look at the rear tires.

He frowned. He got right down, almost face down-- well, I don't think he meant to, but the road was slippery-- so he could examine the tires a little better. He got up. His sharply pressed uniform wasn't so neat as it had been. "Could I ask you to pull ahead about two feet, ma'am?"

Sister complied. Fife got down to examine the areas of the rear tires now newly exposed to his view.

He came back, finally, rumpled, soaked, and muddy. And now HE wasn't in the best of moods. "You may go, ma'am," was all he said.

"Oh my, thank you, Officer."

"Go."

She went.

My sister can be pretty mean when you provoke her. Trust me, I know.
hafoc: (Default)
"Yeah, I hear you that the stock engine is plenty, especially in the snow. And yeah, even the stock engine would be big by the standard of the old days. But two hundred horsepower wasn't enough for ME back then. Oh, no. I was running four, maybe four-fifty.

"We had a Shelby Boss Mustang. That Mustang poster over there by the parts desk? Second one down, that body style, but ours was black. It was a riot. Too much power, way too much, you couldn't keep those rear tires planted even if you tried. But we were kids, what did we care if we smoked the tires?

"It was all good until the day my brother and me rode home in the back seat of the prowl car. Cop drove the Mustang home and parked it in our driveway, Big Cop drove the prowl and parked it right behind. Dad came out of the house. Big Cop handed him the car keys, Dad said 'Thanks, I'm keeping 'em.' Handed him my license, Dad said 'Thanks, I'll keep that too. Why?'

"Big Cop said 'Oh, it's something to do with going a hundred and seventy miles per hour on the freeway.'

"Dad turns to us, waves at the Mustang, and says 'That hog ain't moving out of this driveway until it's sold.' He was good as his word, too. I never drove it again. I did end up working on 'em for a living, though."

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