April arrives on Snoose Boulevard as a softly blowing southerly breeze . . . not yet, but very soon after. When, high in a tangle of telephone wires, the first red-ribboned bird of spring trills its vibrant reveille; when the sun breaks through lead-grey skies to warm the snowbound spirits of the February folk below; when the snows of March, still drifted shoulder high in back lots and alleyways, begin to decay from within, and countless little rivers wend their way home to the gutter and disappear down sewer grates, to join in raucous chorus through the corridors and canyons in the belly of the city, then the West Bank slips its soiled gown of winter, and the fierce north wind at last subsides – seduced by the gentle breath of springtime.
Rites of an Urban Spring
And so the three companions passed the afternoon, as they have passed so many afternoons before and since, engaged in horizontal pursuits – the flexing of sand sifted toes and the gazing into the clear blue sky and the passing of superfluous gases into an already saturated atmosphere. Though Tokay Red was more verbose than usual, after he had recounted his discovery for the umpteenth time and in the umpteenth different version, the other two had retreated into their own fantasies which they punctuated with brief naps and occasional pulls on the last of yesterday’s wine.
Report from the Front
(The First Battle of Snoose Boulevard)
For several days, Gwendolyn had suspected that she was being followed. Young men in dark suits, snap brim hats and sun glasses seemed to be lurking everywhere. She didn’t find this particularly alarming, however, as several of her colleagues had had similar experiences. One of her friends has survived thirty seven attempts on her life by Bulgarian spice merchants this summer alone. Another suffers the indignity of periodic abduction by extra- Venusian biologists who hope to breed her to Elvis Presley, whom they are holding hostage in their unidentified flying lemon meringue pie space craft. Gwendolyn knew that it was only a matter of time until someone came looking for her.
A Brief History of the Snoose Boulevard Renaissance
These students understood only too well that they were paddling against the current of the evolving art scene. Even at their own school, younger professors had introduced ideas from pop art and feminine art and the art of ethnic identity, ideas implying that the aesthetic values were in constant flux. New voices asserted, at high volume, that art must shock the sensibilities. Others replied that art has value only as it advances the cause of Truth, Justice and the American Way. Still others, chanting their mantra, “Less is more.” insisted that true art lies only in the total absence of art.
(for want of a real title)
We, who by dint of dubious talent and admitted character flaw, have survived and even thrived without ever resorting to the indignity of a regular job in a regular office, have necessarily traveled light, and few of us had saved so much as a pair of granny glasses. Still, it seemed only fitting that we salute the occasion properly clad. Fortunately, we still had our hair “shoulder length or longer”, and the cutoff jeans most of us were wearing had been a staple of every wardrobe back then. Wild flowers were plentiful. And the juice of the several varieties of berries, when mixed with the rendered fat of the pig we had borrowed the night before, made an excellent, if perishable, body paint. Far out, man!
I remember one night outside Saint Joe – raining to beat hell and cold as a Koochiching County shithouse – this pretty little dark-eyed girl climbs in the car I’m riding. She can’t wait to get out of her wet clothes and curl up next to me – just for body heat. I give her some grub and I keep her warm all the way to El Reno. Then she jumps off, and I never seen her again. There was others too – lots of them. For a while there, every time I showed up in a jungle, women would be waiting to see what I was carrying in my pack. Them was romantic times for a traveling man.
Wonderful World of Winter Sports
The Tournament enjoys great current popularity and boasts a legendary tradition rivaling that of North Dakota’s Cow Pie Toss and The Iowa Flatulence Competitions. The sport has evolved during long winter evenings into the highly structured games we so enthusiastically support today, overtaking and surpassing the popularity of soccer and bocce and other contests the many immigrants have brought with them from their homelands, and it may soon challenge baseball as the great American pastime. But it began, more than a century ago, as casual doodling during the elimination of superfluous bodily fluids.
Inquiring Minds at Christmas
The wind sought out the two men where they sat on empty nail kegs in the recessed doorway of the long abandoned River Rat Cafe. It probed with icy fingers into the rents and split seams of their ragged clothing and ferreted out the many pathways through the newspaper insulation they wore beneath their coats. As they well knew, it was imperative that they maintain a level of alcohol in their systems sufficient to keep their blood from coagulating in the cold. And they diligently applied themselves to the task. Fortunately, today they enjoyed resources adequate for the purpose, and, all things considered, this was just about the best damned Christmas Eve they could remember.
Report from the Front
(The Second Battle of Snoose Boulevard)
Little boys and full grown men harbor in their souls a primeval fascination for holes in the ground. An unexplored hole is a vacuum in their knowledge – a vacuum that wants filling. They have many good and credible reasons to probe the virgin depths of any newly discovered hole, to explore its unknown reaches and illuminate its dark recesses. And if, for some reason, no hole exists on a given property then they will find good cause to dig one. It has always been more desirable to burrow under an obstacle than to go around it. Anyway, there are gold and diamonds and shortcuts to India lying there just beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered. And the often ill-advised search for them has produced some truly fine specimens of subterranean trespass.
A Story for Another Time
(Braving the Halloween Blizzard of 1991)
I believed that negotiating the sidewalks back to the bus stop would be, if anything, even more eventful than my journey to the bar, but, as I left, I was pleasantly surprised to find that someone had shoveled the sidewalk, beginning directly in front of the door and leading off in the direction I intended to go. But the snow continued to fall heavily, and the wind swirled it vigorously around me. Even as I walked, the newly shoveled path began to fill in again behind me, so that by the time I reached the corner, it had already drifted shut in front of the bar I had just left.
Adventures in a Skinner Box
He lay there with his face pressed into the aromatic carpet of spruce and balsam needles in a vain attempt to stifle the sound of his labored breathing. He could hear Knute pacing back and forth through the tall grass, brandishing his unholy weapon and shouting what he believed to be obscenities. And Einar was certain that Knute could hear him just as clearly as he could hear Knute. Or, if not his brother, then god knows what other creature might be listening and, even now, measuring him against its calibrated appetite. He knew all the fairy tales, and he understood the fate that awaited the unfortunate child who strayed beyond the protection of sustaining sunlight.
“Who are you? And why do you intrude upon my woods?”
Technically, of course, it is against the law to spear fish during the spawning run and to shoot game animals out of season. But no one ever took that to mean that residents of the community should be denied fresh meat on their tables. In the minds of the citizenry it simply meant one should not be so careless as to get caught with a recent kill hanging in the woodshed. Poaching was not a criminal activity to be furtively practiced; it was an intellectual pursuit – pitting the wits of the hunter, first against the wariness of the game, and then against the vigilance of the game warden. It was a challenge – to be enthusiastically joined. Television, you understand, had not yet come to the North Woods. Back then hunting and fishing were about our only recreation.
These men who ministered to our neglected souls during my childhood were of the same caliber as those who oversaw the administration of ignorance and misinformation in our classrooms. Inspired preachers and inspiring teachers, the orators and philosophers and idealists, would naturally gravitate, after their internships in the southern farm country, toward lucrative and respected positions in the larger towns, perhaps eventually to Duluth and the Twin Cities and, for the truly gifted, even Chicago. The failures, on the other hand: the whiners, the blusterers and the fulminators would rise like bubbles of superfluous gas from the fermentation of mortal intercourse to settle in the northerly outposts of civilized society − the logging communities.
One Last Sad Song for Peggy Mattice
Peggy died and went to hell
and the devil ate her liver,
But still she haunts the muskeg swamps
along the Bigfork River.
Hey Johnny come home; she needs you.
Johnny come home to your wife.
Your sweet Peggy is dying;
she’ll be dead for the rest of her natural life.
Johnny come home to your wife.
Let us reflect for a moment on this enchanted hour of adolescence, when awakened passion overwhelms the hesitant heart and renders logical contention irrelevant; when parental exhortation and reasoned contemplation are banished into the shadows of neglect, to wither and perish in the gloom. Recall the raging appetite of youth that numbs its harried victim to all other hungers − all other thirsts. Remember a time when we too have happily suffered starvation and endured the symptoms of incipient dehydration sooner than deny this consumptive craving, borne of hormonal secretions newly coursing through our veins.