LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — ‘This Secret Luminous Place … Where All Bibliophiles Go’

“That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. … Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.” — George Saunders

My next door neighbor’s ash tree glows in the dusk, so each day I lounge on my patio and admire it. Our ash tree is a study in contrast, the leaves all blown away in the wind of three days ago.

On Thursday, after my daily chores were complete, I curled up in an armchair and finished the novel I’ve been reading, “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead, a Pulitzer and National Book Award winner. In my view, the accolades he received are all on target and, for a time, I escaped to the luminous place Whitehead describes in his book.

I’m a lifelong bibliophile, as is my mother. Her parents bought her books such as all of the Nancy Drew books, “Bambi,” “Heidi” and others, and she saved them all for her children to read. Her copperplate handwriting within the book makes me smile.

My favorite place in my high school was the library. When I was attending college, I worked in the library. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English, with a minor in library science, I went to work at the Dickinson (N.D.) High School library as a paraprofessional.

In April of that school year, the director at Stoxen Library (Dickinson State University), Bernnett Reinke, got in touch with me. There was an opening, and they wished for me to apply. I worked at Stoxen Library in various positions for the next 26 years, performing a wide variety of jobs, everything but janitor, and I retired as the director.

October is the month for the semiannual used book sale sponsored by the Bismarck Friends of the Library organization. Jim and I made a pass through the sale on the opening morning, and Friday I took my mother. I saw many friends there, happily browsing the tables chock-a-block full of treasures. One friend was buying a stack of books for her Little Free Library in front of her house.

My taste in books like in music is very eclectic, although I probably read more non-fiction, truth be told.

Once I’d returned my mother to her home, it was such a gorgeous day that I decided to take a walk somewhere near to the river.  I chose Chief Looking’s Village, in northwest Bismarck, with its sweeping vistas of the valley. I also sat for a spell in the peace of Sonali’s Garden and soaked in the sunshine. The ladybugs were busy in the garden and squirrels chattered in the nearby trees. Thank you, to the Seths for creating this wonderful place of peace.

One of my final chores before supper was the annual cleaning out of our wren house. Sadly, I found this clutch of six abandoned eggs. We will never know why this nesting failure occurred, although one theory could be that wasps chased off the wrens. I carefully gathered the eggs to bring indoors and we scattered the twigs in the yard, perhaps to be reused by the birds next year. I’m still watching for the sandhill cranes over Bismarck, and there are reports that they’ve been spotted over Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Here is what my husband has to say about the autumn season.

“And the seasons, they go round and round …” — Joni Mitchell

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — ‘Steamboats In Dakota Territory’: A Book Review

“Steamboats in Dakota Territory: Transforming the Northern Plains,” Tracy Potter. The History Press, 2017, 140 pages.

I can think of no one more qualified to enlighten readers on the history of steamboats in Dakota land than Tracy Potter, Bismarck, the author of the book “Sheheke: Mandan Indian Diplomat.” Potter is deeply read in history and his work leading the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation steeped him in the background for this volume.

He sets the scene in his introduction and the initial chapters, describing the world of the Native Peoples as well as early explorers and trappers, who used the Missouri River for their travels. Then, the steamboats began to arrive:

“Steamboats’ speed and power transformed a region and forever affected relations between the United State and the several Indian nations of Dakota. …Steamboats provided a distinct and overt technological advantage to the American. They carried large loads — of trade goods, men, guns and cannon. They were impressive, useful and an object of considerable skepticism among the Indians.”

Prior to reading this book, I knew only the most rudimentary facts about this colorful chapter of history and its impact on the development of the area.  Potter’s extensive research and the book’s bibliography are appreciated.

Potter tells the tales of Kenneth McKenzie and Grant Marsh, and of steamboats Yellow Stone, Spread Eagle, and the famous Far West, the steamboat forever linked to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He also highlights the steamboats of the Red River and Devils Lake and describes the deeply sad story of the steamboats role in the spread of smallpox.

The photographs that illustrate this volume help the reader imagine a time period when the banks of the Missouri at Bismarck and Pierre, S.D., were bustling with steamboats, their crew and passengers and the economic activity they drove.

“For the non-Indians involved with steamboats, they provided relatively rapid and generally safe transportation, commerce and communication. Steamboats stimulated the growth of cities, and as settlements increased in number and size, the boats stitched the region together. … For the twenty-first-century reader, most of all what steamboats provided were stories.”

The book is available at the Fort Lincoln Commissary, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Pick up this book, sit back, and enjoy the stories.

More photographs from Steamboat Park, Bismarck.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Crazy About Books

I said I wasn’t going to do it again.

But once again, I purchased another stash of used books, this time at an estate sale in our neighborhood in Bloomington, Minn.

I wish I had known the folks who owned this house. It was full of books on every conceivable subject, from great works of literature to volumes about home repair and cooking. I coughed up 10 bucks for a dozen of them. Most I’ll save for winter reading, when I have an aversion to being outdoors in the cold.

But two of the finds are on my night stand already.

  • “My Irish Cook Book” by Monica Sheridan. (I fell in love with that cuisine during our visit to that country last year.)
  • “Giants In the Earth” by O.E. Rolvaag, a novel first published in Norwegian and then in 1927 in English. It’s set in 1873 in what would become the state of South Dakota. Rolvaag attended Augustana College in that state and later St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where he eventually became a professor.My interest in Norwegian heritage has intensified as I’ve aged. My sister, Susan Vorland Hanson, is currently visiting Norway, and I’m eager to see her pictures and hear her stories. Perhaps I’ll get there myself one of these days.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Chuck Klosterman

I met many bright students during my long career at the University of North Dakota. One of them was a kid named Chuck Klosterman, who had grown up near Wyndmere, N.D., and showed up as a freshman in 1990.

I recall him as a slightly outrageous and very humorous writer for the Dakota Student newspaper.

Klosterman’s first book was “Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota,” issued in 2001 by Scribner, Ernest Hemingway and Scot Fitzgerald’s publisher.

His 10th book, “But What If We’re Wrong: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past,” was published in 2016. It visualizes the contemporary world as it will appear in the future to those who will perceive it as the distant past.

One critic wrote “I have often wondered how the times I live in will be remembered once they turn into History. It never occurred to me to figure out how to write a book about it, though, which is one of the reasons why Chuck Klosterman is smarter than I am.”

Dorette and I were in Park Rapids, Minn., a few weeks ago. I noticed the book at Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery, one of the two excellent bookstores in that small town. It now waits on my night stand to be read.

Klosterman spoke at the 2009 UND Writer’s Conference, but I see nothing on Google documenting that the University of North Dakota or its Alumni Association have given him any formal recognition for his achievements.

If not, it’s long overdue.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — The Sun Still Rises

I’ve just reread Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” written when he was in his 20s and living in Paris.

The book is presented in the first person by the character Jake Barnes, a newspaper reporter who like Hemingway had been injured in the World War I.

I’ve always liked the novel’s first sentence, “Robert Cohen was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton,” and the last, Jake’s reply to Lady Brett Ashley’s regretful “Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together.”

“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

The action is set mostly in Pamplona, Spain, during the annual bullfighting festival, which still takes place. Several people were injured this year during the running of the bulls. I’ve been to Spain a couple of times, but have not visited that town let alone had that experience.

You may wish to consider reading Lesley Blume’s book “Everybody Behaves Badly,” which recounts the actual people and events upon which “The Sun Also Rises” is based.

Some of the novel is set in Paris, with references to places that still exist.

For example, in 2005 I took the above photo of the Boulevard Montparnasse with the bistros La Rotonde and Le Dome on opposite sides of the street. Not far away is La Closerie Des Lilas, a cafe/bar where Hemingway wrote much of the book.

I’m penciled in to attend an International Hemingway Conference in Paris next year. Here’s hoping circumstances permit me to do so.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Laura Ingalls Wilder

When I spotted that the Bismarck Tribune was looking for someone to review “Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder” (Nancy Tystad Loupal, editor, South Dakota State Historical Press, 2017), I immediately contacted the editor.

Me with my collection of LIW books (photo by Jim Fuglie).
Me with my collection of LIW books (photo by Jim Fuglie).

Our home library has an entire shelf of books by and about Wilder, the famous prairie writer, and I’ve read them all, more than once. I still have all of my copies of the Wilder children’s books, historical fiction (mistaken by many to be nonfiction) given to me by my mother in the 1960s, and it was only this past winter that I gifted my hardcover copies of the Garth Williams’ illustrated copies of her books to my stepgranddaughter.

My mother wanted me to remember that while we were living in various Army posts around the world, I was still a child of the prairie, and what better way to do that than to read Wilder’s books?

Now, in my fifth decade, I find myself inspired by the knowledge that Laura was already in her 60s when she began writing her books, and thus I forged ahead with starting my own blog, WildDakotaWoman.blogspot.com.

Readers of Wilder are always eager to read more about her life and to visit the places she lived, as I have done over the years. This new collection of essays, a publication of The Pioneer Girl Project, by a number of notable Wilder scholars, will not disappoint. This book is a follow-up to the wildly popular “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” (SDSHS Press, 2014).

The writers of the essays explore in great depth the issues surrounding the contributions of Wilder’s daughter, Rose, to her mother’s books, Laura’s path to becoming a published author, the myths and truths found within her books and the lasting appeal of her writings. “As Wilder’s letter to (Rose Wilder) Lane attests, whenever these two strong-willed women did not see eye to eye on the manuscript, Wilder usually prevailed.”

Countless readers have been deeply touched by her books and the lessons within them, and it is fascinating to plumb the reasons why her books resonate to this day. “Once again, Laura Ingalls Wilder had proven just how relevant she was to another generation.”

Here is one of my favorite Wilder lines, quoted in the book, from a letter she wrote:

“Almanzo (her husband) still loves horses as well as when he was that Farmer Boy, but he doesn’t drive them now. He drives our new Chrysler sedan instead, at least he holds the wheel. Of course I do the driving with my tongue.”

In the essay entitled “Little Myths on the Prairie,” Michael Patrick Hearn states “It is a clean, concrete, muscular English, almost Biblical in its cadences, Hemingwayesque in its clarity and precision. It is the journalistic style Wilder burnished all those years writing for the rural press. …She dispensed with the gratuitous.”

Focusing on the settings of her books, John E. Miller writes, “The prairie, in Wilder’s writings, was a place of wonder and delight, a rich storehouse of life that pleased the eye with luscious sights of wild flowers, tall grass, animal life, and water flowing in streams and contained in lakes.” She “felt a close connection to the land and used [her] craft to express the spirit of the region.”

“The Little House series is an act of creative, edited memory.”  It has given countless readers insights into her prairie world in all its glory and has shaped a love of a unique landscape.

“The Little House is always there, a cherished place where we can go if we need it. And we will.”

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Slope County Memory Lane

We had the most delightful guests this week for supper. My mother, Marian Crook, and her sister, my godmother, Junette Henke, came for the afternoon.  Fresh walleye was on the menu.

While Jim pounded away on his keyboard in his office, we three women sat at my dining room table with stacks of papers and maps and books and went down Slope County memory lane.

My aunt is one of the authors of “The Slope Saga.” In the photo above, they are looking at my copy of the book, which I treasure, and refer to frequently, to which my mother also contributed. What a great thing those folks did when they published this book.

I remember as a youngster, spending the night at my aunt’s Slope County ranch, sleeping on the sofa bed and waking up to see my aunt “burning the midnight oil,” reading and working on the book, and wondering, “does this woman ever sleep?”

When I told her this, she chuckled. She and my Uncle Alan brought home boxes filled with The Marmarth Mail and sifted through it for material, along with stacks of the submissions of everyone from the county. I guess they had a system.  It still boggles my mind.

Now, when I look at the stacks of articles and books in my “office,” I laugh and think of them. One thing really does lead to another, it turns out. Junette encourages me to write my own stories, and so I do.

They both are still as sharp-witted as ever, playing a fierce game of pinochle at their respective assisted living centers, and I mine their memories for interesting tidbits and answers to puzzles I have, things that I had little interest in as a teenager, but want to understand better now. Junette says she now sees no reason to take some of this to the grave and is very eager and open with the details of heretofore untold stories.

They both also have a terrific sense of humor, and I think they are pleased that I am so interested in North Dakota’s rich history, and in Slope County’s (although I live now in Burleigh County). Certainly, they are interested in the little nuggets I dig up with resources beyond their wildest imagination.

While driving along in the car, my mother and I talked about the news reports (and my husband’s blog account) of the State Water Commission granting more rights for industrial use of the Little Missouri River water. My mother said, in her octogenarian wisdom, “people need to understand that ‘water is gold!’ ” She is dismayed by what she reads is happening. She lived through the Dirty Thirties and the Depression.

As for me, I have vivid memories of the crisis created at our ranch when we would have difficulties with the well. We had lovely, clean water from that well, and we hung a metal cup on the windmill so that anyone going by could pull on the hand pump and take a quick drink. I remember that the Getz’s, our nearest neighbors, had soft water, but ours was HARD and filled with iron. When I left for college, I struggled somewhat to adjust to the Dickinson, N.D., water. I was, no doubt, used to the taste of our Slope County well water.

But I digress.

By the time supper was served, Aunt Junette had gone back in her memory and drawn an old trail on my map, a trail I will write about in a future blog. The day ended with much laughter, and many fond memories were shared. And I knew more about my ancestors than ever.

For dessert, we ate the last of the weekend’s juneberries, with a little ice cream, and we all agreed that these were “drought juneberries,” a little small and hard and not as tasty or juicy as they should be. We all enjoyed the treat nonetheless.

I told them a funny story about the recent harvest. When Jim and I were in the patch and my bowl was almost full, I got tangled in the brush. I knew I was going down, but I managed to keep the bowl upright! Now, that is getting my priorities right. The berries survived and I was unhurt.

Thank you so very much, Mom and Junette. I do love you both so!

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Hemingway Lives

The latest issue of the New Yorker, dated July 3, includes one of the best essays about Ernest Hemingway I have ever read: “A New Man: Ernest Hemingway — revised and revisited,” written by Adam Gopnik.

It is in part of a review of the new biography, Mary V. Dearborn’s 735-page “Ernest Hemingway.”

That one is on my book shelf waiting perhaps for this winter, when I will be more interested in reading than, say, walking around Lake Calhoun just minutes away from our place in Bloomington, Minn.

Here are some excerpts from the long piece. Anyone with more than a passing interest in the individual who is perhaps America’s greatest writer owes it to himself or herself to read it in its entirety.

Some of Gopnik’s commentary deals with Hemingway’s gender reversal fetishes, found most spectacularly in the novel “The Garden of Eden,” not published during his lifetime. The subject was considered immoral a half-century ago, but hardly raises an eyebrow now.

But, Gopnik says, “The new attempts to make Papa matter by making him a lot less Papa and a little more Mama are, finally, not all that persuasive. Hemingway remains Hemingway — the macho attitudes continue to penetrate the prose even when the gender roles get switched around. And those macho attitudes include many admirable things: a genuine love of courage, a surprising readiness to celebrate failure if it is bought with bravery, an unsparing sense of the fatality of human existence, a love of the small pleasures that ennoble it.”

He quotes a paragraph from “The Garden of Eden”:

“On this morning there was brioche and red raspberry preserve and the eggs were boiled and there was a pat of butter that melted as they stirred them and salted them lightly and ground pepper over them in the cups … He remembered that easily and he was happy with his which he diced up with the spoon and ate with only the flow of the butter to moisten them and the fresh early morning texture and the bite of the coarsely ground pepper grains and the hot coffee and the chickory-fragrant bowl of cafe au lait.”

Comments Gopnik: “The flow of the butter and the bite of the pepper” — there is more effective gender-blending in his breakfasts than in his bedrooms. The pleasure he takes in the world’s surface is more plural than the poses he chooses on the world’s stage.

“Always an epicurean before he was a stoic, Hemingway is at his worst when he is boasting and bluffing and ruling the roost, at his best when he is bending and breaking and writing down breakfast. Macho and minimalist alike, the sentences are thrilling still in their exactitude and audacity.

“Coming away even from the sad last pages of his biography, the reader feels that Hemingway earned the epitaph he would most have wanted. He WAS a brave man, and he did know how to write.”

RON SCHALOW: Enjoy This Excerpt From Ron’s Book: ‘Perfect Whack Jobs’

Forward: Over 8 million people in the United States have suicidal thoughts —  also known as suicidal ideation — at least once in any given year. For a large subsection of this group, the thoughts never go away, mainly due to chronic depression or bipolar disease. This describes most of the characters in “Perfect Whack Jobs,” a dark comic novel.

Assessing these broken people an unused commodity, a powerful gaggle of simple minded @$$holes concluded this: Since these people think about taking their own lives anyway, they shouldn’t mind doing a little suicide bombing for our country.

Why? Because in 2006, George W. Bush was unwilling to send troops in Afghanistan across the border into Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden and most of the al-Qaida terrorists had fled.

So, a mercenary-type organization was enlisted to breach medical files and scoop up 11 of the supposed suicidal types against their will and hold them in a secret location, until the green light is given.

The Blackwater-type firm soon learns that it is dealing not only with depression and manic depressive disorder, but also psychosis, psychopathy, sociopathy, hallucinations, short attention spans, anxiety, phobias, fear, poor memories, denial, brain cell loss and chronic pain.

Also, dependence on legal drugs, illegal drugs and alcohol. And 11 different personalities with different ideas about how and when they might like to die.

The first arrival is Charles “Sig” Sigismund. In Chapter 2, “Big Pink Pill,” shortly after Sig regains consciousness and experiences a seizure, his handlers try to do an entrance interview with Sig, who has indifferent feelings about life, and death.

“Perfect Whack Jobs” is based on 40 years of dealing with the fractured brain I was issued 60 years ago, and mountains of research, with the hope of giving voice to the many angles of a complicated issue.

Big Pink Pill

Still on the Darkroom floor since the seizure released him, Sigismund has rolled over onto his back, is gazing at the black ceiling, and babbling again—as Agent Johnson sits on a chair a few feet away just staring at the new recruit with a look of bewilderment.

“Whoosh, right by us, then splat! The lawn is way too wet, so this won’t work. But he could have died from something else, right? He doesn’t like it when you tease him. This isn’t tuna! If he bites your hand off, then what? How grotesque. That’s just gross. How can you eat that? Well, dial 911 again and—”

Agent Nitti walks in and leans over Sigismund. “How are you, Charles? Can you stand up, yet? Give him a hand, will you Johnson?”

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned, and you’re not going to believe—”

Nitti snaps his fingers in Sigismund’s face. “How are you, Charles? Hellooo!”

“Hello—what? How are I, Charles? I, Charles, are down, man. It’s terminal. I’m alive, but I’m not bragging about it, and no one should mention it outside these walls.”

“Charles, are—”

“You guys go on ahead without me. Escape this cursed land. Find controversial work in the big baggy metro cluster of slim purse laden debutantes.”

“You’re not dying, Charles,” assures Nitti. “Try to get up, please.”

“OK, man. Don’t warble while I’m in decay, though. It fogs my new cataracts.”

“You’re doing fine, Mr. Sigismund,” reassures Johnson.

Sigismund struggles to his knobby knees and strains to get on his feet, while Johnson crouches behind him, ready to catch him if Sigismund loses the battle and starts to fall back to the carpet. He stops for a moment to squeeze his head at the temples with the palms of his hands. “I can do it. I can do it.”

“You can do it.”

Sigismund’s knees start to give way. “Oops, I can’t do it.” Johnson grabs Sigismund under the armpits and sets him on his feet like he is hollow. “Thanks, man. I don’t have any singles on me, I’ll find you later.”

“You don’t need—”

“Hand me the seven iron, please.”

“It’s not far, Mr. Sigismund.”

“A nine?”

“Just walk towards Agent Nitti. Do you see him?”

“That big son-of-a-bitch by the enormous rusty juke box? That’s a Nitti, huh?”

“The big son-of-a-bitch is Agent Addison. The big jukebox is Nitti.”

“Oh, a musical son-of-a-bitch, eh.”

Sigismund manages his way through the doorway unassisted; but he ducks and covers his head as he passes through the eight foot high opening. “Whew, that was close,” he mumbles, as he tries to straighten back up without putting a hand on the wall or falling. “Have I been drinking mouthwash?” Glancing up, as he shifts and twists for balance, Sigismund sees the silhouette of a tall thick man standing in the middle of a short hallway. There is a white wall and a well lit intersecting hallway about six feet behind the shadowy man. Opened handed, the man’s left arm is cocked away from his side to direct Sigismund like an usher through another doorway. The outline reminds Sigismund of the night he was held up by a big man with a big pistol, which prompts him to reflexively hold up his hands as he marches towards the office door at the invitation of the one dimensional man, who he knew was Nitti, forgot was Nitti, and now realizes it was Nitti all along. “How do I get the taste of minty freshness out of my mouth?”

“Sit down and have cigarette,” suggests Johnson.

Sigismund rounds a corner that isn’t there in the middle of the hallway, and stands frozen in the doorway of a small bright room. His eyes resent the artificial light and his feet sense a long drop with one more step. He waits for a moment until his vision clears up, holding on to the door frame for moral and physical support. “Go on in, Mr. Sigismund, I’m right behind you,” comforts Agent Nitti.

“I need a cigarette for my breath, man.”

Agent Addison shows up in the hall behind Sigismund and Nitti, and tells Johnson, “I’m going in with Nitti on this first one. I’m curious about this flake.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go check on Carlsrud; see what he’s up to, get him to the security room on time for his shift, and plan on meeting with me and Nitti in a little while. I’ll find you.”

Nitti takes a seat at his chair in front of the desk and says, “Charles, I’m Agent Roland Nitti. Have a seat. Yes, right by the desk, there. The man in front of the door is Agent Leonard Addison.”

“Hi Len. Stay off the new couch.”

“How often do you have seizures, Mr. Sigismund?” asks Nitti.

“Sometimes—I don’t know,” sputters Sigismund, as he slowly lowers his rear end into the chair.

“Not every day, I hope.”

“I dabble, but I’m not pernicious.”

“What does—”

“Big black room. Small white room. Who brushed my teeth?” Nitti slides a fresh open pack of Sigismund’s brand of cigarettes across the desk. Sigismund grabs it before it stops and immediately pushes out a single.

“I know your name. You didn’t have to tell me your name, you gratuitous name teller.”

“Sorry, I didn’t—”

“Sometimes, I see a teeny motion picture in my head of me flopping around like an electric trout on the dock, but the frames are out of whack; I think because the projector is dusty and old. It’s noisy. Trapped tight in this secondhand ramshackle body. A big ropey dopey storm. Snap, fizz, crackle.”

“Are you—”

“What is this; like a preemptive inquest court, or a short-handed tribunal?”

“Neither of those.”

“I won’t be a witness against the unruly mob. My name is Sigismund O’Rourke. A senile pharmacist killed my Great Uncle with cruel innuendo and there were no immaculate magisterial proceedings like these.”

“Do you want a sedative to help calm your body, Charles?” offers Nitti, as he settles deeper into his executive high-back swivel chair, and spins it a notch to the left, so he is directly in line with Sigismund. “You’re shaking.”

Sigismund takes a long drag off his cigarette. “No thanks, man. I need to get home before they eat all of the tamales.”

“Tam—”

“Is this one of those stupid team building exercises? I don’t do those anymore. Go on the roof, fall backwards, and we’ll catch you, my ass!”

“Just a talk. Did your friends really put you in a coffin once?”

Sigismund’s attention and eyes lift. “Who told you that?” He studies Nitti’s face and shoulders looking for familiarity, but the squared jawed man with short cropped brown hair sitting across from him doesn’t register.

“You did; kind of.”

“Never did, Quidley; you’re hallucinating. No way will I make the green with a nine in this wind. Copy that. I didn’t green light the ransacking! I never squeal, man.”

“Mr. Sigis—”

“I’m a goddamn cement vault, so you’re in huge trouble with the FISA boys now, mister, you paltry wiretapper! What the hell do you think you’re doing?—I’M playing the Titleist—don’t touch my ball! Jesus!”

“You mentioned the coffin out loud. Did somebody do that to you once?”

“Oh, I get it—you’re legislating from the bench, aren’t you? I knew this wasn’t a normal referendum. And no wonder we ran out of the good cheese, considering the size of these rats. What are we supposed to do with all these stupid saltines, now?”

“Mr. Sigis—”

“Great Scott! Look at the superdome on this guy’s shoulders,” rails Sigismund, while gesturing with his thumb towards Addison.

“I’m standing right here,” objects Addison. “You’re talking out loud.”

“He must have a hard time shopping for dusty fedoras. Have you ever weighed it? Roy has a huge head, but nothing like that gourd.”

“Shut up, Sigismund! You know I can hear you.”

“You’re a big man, too, Mr. Niblets. I’ll bet you can crack walnuts with your earlobes.”

“I can’t, but Agent Addison can.”

“Fuck you, Nitti.”

Sigismund continues. “I used to be pretty big once, too, but heavy smoking, devoted drinking and nominal eating really slimmed me down. I might have been over 200 pounds, once, but that was awhile back.”

“Those things—”

“I’m fairly strong for a fanatical alcohol enthusiast, but not so hefty or bulky. I’m a low functioning drunk, otherwise.”

“Tobacco and liquor definitely take a toll,” agrees Nitti. “Do you know where you are, Charles?”

“It looks like an office, but I don’t want to jump on any rigid conclusions. It’s not an Arby’s. You already said it was an office. How would I know? But it’s nice, though. No question about that.”

“Yes, it’s an office, but—”

“This is a snappy outfit, too. I don’t have many clothes in my closet with seven foot zippers.”

Nitti sighs and shakes his head.

“Please; call me Armando,” continues Sigismund, while looking quizzically at his shoes. “Or call me Sig. Yeah, Sig. I respond to Sig. I used to be a high functioning drunk; last Wednesday for an hour in the morning, I think.”

“Last Wed—”

“You know, your shadow out there in the alley looked just like a shadow that robbed me about eight, nine years ago in Columbus. Or, Akron—it was definitely in Ohio; stupid swing state. Anyway, a shadowy human form, just like your shadowy figure, exactly the same, stepped out from a doorway as I walked on a downtown sidewalk at night, and the man held a gun out to his side at the exact same angle you held your hand—”

Nitti tries to interrupt the filibuster. “Mr. Si—” But Sig isn’t having it.

“Ah, ah, ah—I think he wanted to establish the dynamics of the criminal victim relationship between me and him, and firearms always trump two handed fist hockey in a sidewalk drama. The gunman pushed me into this really crappy abandoned building. Hobo raccoons, wearing sunglasses, at night for some reason, openly scoffed at the cruddy premises in a derisive manner. They seriously dissed the prem. Then, I said, ‘you must be kidding me, man,’ and you know what he said?”

“Sig, I—”

“He said, ‘nope.’ Pithy, huh?”

“That was a long story with no clear point, Sig. Do you want to know where you are, now?”

“It was an anomaly. I had it partially memorized. There’s more to it, but I lost interest.”

“Can we—”

“Did you notice what I did there?”

“Not real—”

“I hijacked the conversation without any concern for your feelings or schedule, and I’ll do it again. That’s the kind of egotistical jerk I am. You’re in my steely sweaty grip, Nibby. I’m going to force you to listen to random tedious stories until you surrender the valuable jewels. They aren’t priceless.”

“Your cogent recitation of that story makes me wonder if your head isn’t screwed on tighter than it appears at times. Seriously, do you want to know where you are?”

Looking down again, his eyes flitting every which way, a once again preoccupied Sig says, “A little. Say, have you seen a bottle of Windsor around here? It was squeezy plastic. Not brittle at all. Much safer. Very cogent. Actually, any bottles of liquor that turn up are probably mine. Do you have a cigarette?”

“You’re smoking a cigarette.”

“Please, call me Sig or Sig. I prefer menthol, but right now I would smoke the ass end of a Moldavian parakeet with Legionnaires disease.”

“You’re smoking a cigarette, Sig!”

“Hey, I’m smoking a cigarette. What are you trying to pull, Joe?”

“I’m not trying to pull anything, and my name is—”

“Is this the China year of the rascally ring tailed lemur, or the amoral mongoose? Riki Tiki Tavi; that agile little reptile murderer.”

“This is the United States year of 2006, Sig. What’s the last thing you remember before waking up in the room with the bed?”

“Remember before 2006, huh? O’boy, that’s an iffy.”

“No, no; what do you remember doing right before you woke up here, Sig?”

“Woke up? Recent happenings, eh? Did you hear about Malloy? The warehouse guys shipped him to Saipan.”

“Does cold mud ring a bell?”

“Is THAT why my scrotal region has an inch of frost on it?”

“Most likely.”

“Yeah, that’s it; frigid French silk mud. I couldn’t get any traction, and my left foot just spun and spun, so I remained stuck. No limited slip differential, you know. Do you think I was trying to bury myself?”

“It was two hours in the mud,” informs Nitti. “If you were wearing shoes, they’re still there.”

“Were they brown Bruno Magli’s?”

“They didn’t look. You were wearing Bruno Magli’s?”

“I doubt it. Well, these shoes aren’t too bad. Three hours? I don’t think they would be good for dancing, though. What? No warning shot? That’s not cool, Sister Mary Catherine Muldoon of Assissississi!” Sig gasps for a breath. “Two hours? My muscular ass hurts in the gluteal region. Did Flansboro shoot me with a rusty crossbow?”

“No, just a needle.”

“A knitting needle, oh, woe.”

“And I’m sorry about the delay in getting you out of the mud. I wasn’t there, and I’ve already chewed out the Agents involved, and of course you have my apologies.”

“How you did that? What, now?”

“The Agents were hoping you would wander out of the muddy field by yourself so they wouldn’t have to go in the muck after you. Evidently, you got in there pretty far before getting bogged down, and—”

“My contractions were six minutes apart!”

“AND—when it became evident you weren’t going to budge, they started wagering on how long you would stand there before falling down. If they hadn’t gotten tired of waiting, you would probably still be there. Of course, if the Agents hadn’t been there at all, you would likely still be in the mud at this moment, so, in a way, it was lucky they were there.”

“There, where?”

“Stuck in a potato field just across the highway from the Comet bar.”

“I mean what State or Province? Or both—I fell asleep right on a northern border one time.”

“Oh. Kansas. Horton, Kansas.”

“Kansas, eh. Never been.”

“You’ve been, now.”

“And you guys pulled me to shore? What for? I was perfectly fine, except for the hypothermia, but that’s an old hat.”

“Because we—”

“I think my knee caps were locked, because the mud was past my ass. It was a major issue of human anatomy that made me flop-less, ergo un-collapsible.”

“We wanted to—”

“That would have been hilarious, though—face down in the mud, drowning like a walking catfish. Seriously, though; those dudes were wasting time on the clock. Amateur gamblers should never leave the halfway house. My gazellish thighs are feeling a little tingly. My whiskey, cigarettes—any word there?”

“You HAVE cigarettes. We’ll see about the whiskey later. Right now, I—”

“And what’s the deal with my other valuable stuff?” shouts Sig. “My clothes are gone, my favorite lighter is gone, my head meds are gone, my lip smear is gone, my huge wad of money is gone, my solid gold pocket watch is gone, my keys are gone, my monocle is gone, and I think I was out of cigarettes, but if I wasn’t out, my cigarettes are gone, and I’m wearing this sandpaper scratchy puke green one piece outfit, and my shoes are in the mud, which is my fault, but seriously, what’s the deal, man?”

“Can I talk?” asks Nitti. “For real?”

“Who’s stopping you?”

“OK; the deal is we took all of that stuff and put it in a box. You were stripped naked, sprayed down like a Chevy, and fitted with new underwear, socks, and the jumpsuit while you were out—and shoes.”

“Whose Chevy was it?”

“I have your medication in my desk and you have a CIGARETTE in your hand.”

“Your medication is in MY desk? Where IS my desk, anyway?”

Nitti ignores the questions. “There was also a second small plastic box in your pocket, filled to the top with some pretty potent sleeping pills that I’m curious about.”

“You’re a curious guy, Joe. It’s starting to get on my nerves.”

“There are enough doses in that box to knock out a rogue cape buffalo for a week, and then kill it. Do you have a pet ox at home with insomnia?”

“No, Gerald only has occasional restless nights and no job, so he watches a lot of TV, but he’s really not the issue.” Sig takes a deep breath. “Those are my out pills. If I am ever in a situation that is too much to bear, I plan to take a handful of those little green pills and permanently escape.”

“Oh.”

“I don’t know if I can bear this situation, yet. What do you think? Can I?”

“I hope so,” answers Nitti.

Sig pauses and shakes his head vigorously. “You could have at least used some conditioner in my hair—I’m a frizz.”

“You can shower again after—”

“I had a Chevy Malibu when they used to put engines in cars—a 747 double barreled and carbonated.”

“That’s inter—”

“Since you have those green pills instead of me indicates a breakdown in my exit strategy. I’m quite stymied.”

“Let’s talk—”
“What kind of sprayer did you use, anyway? I’m feeling a little bleached, a little sand-blasted, and my oldest coat of outer skin definitely went down the drain—I’m tender to the touch and pinky.”

“Sig, can we—”

“The underwear is wonderfully comfortable, but I resent being anesthetized while strange people monkey around down by my lower regions.”

“I’m sorry about—”

“I like to be conscious when strange people monkey around down by my lower regions.”

“Sig—”

“It’s a travesty and sham to suggest that I had anything to do with that fire. I had nothing to gain, so knock off the insinuations, Marko.”

“Fire?”

“How do you put clothes on a grown dead man anyway? I have a gymnastically hard time when I’m mostly awake.”

Nitti sighs once again and forges on. “They use a hydraulic lift. A harness is put under your shoulders and the device lifts you upright with your feet off the ground, so the dressers can just slip on underwear, socks, and jumpsuit, and vice versa. It helps if the person is in a coma.”

“Vice versa, eh. Yup, it’s the 8th grade all over again. Remember when I cut off Roy’s thumb in Mr. Ralston’s stupid shop class? Wee doggies. Talk about a rush to judgment on that incident.”

“Are you hav—”

“It was a routine band saw accident, but he never bowled again,” Sig continues, “at least not with any precision.”

“Of course—”

“The blame game really kicked in quick that time.”

“I’ll bet—”

“And, I’m not out of order, this whole parade is out of order, what with grown men driving tiny cars, and immense equine defecating without remorse and little children being lured into traffic with low caliber high fructose sweets.”

“SIG!”

“I thought I had gone blind, you know. I thought maybe I was leg bitten by a hairy Chihuahua-sized tarantula, which rendered me into a venom induced immobile and sightless state. It turned out I isn’t paralyzed, but who knows if the culprit is still in the garage.”

“We need to move this conversation along, Sig, please. Can you concentrate?”

“I had friends, you know. I used to make money that you could fold. Before I got stuck in the mud and shot in the ass with foot long tranquilizer darts, I dated women of refinement, women of less refinement, married women, and women about to be married, and they all giggled at my stupid jokes and I thought I was so hilarious.”

Nitti just sits back and shakes his head in defeat.

“And since they were all gorgeous, and kind, and smart and sweet and had long fragrant hair, I fell in love with many of them within hours, proposed within days, freely gifted them with diamond pendants, sent sentiment appropriate colored roses, only by the dozen, vigorously ignored the women who loved me back, and relentlessly stalked the fetching females who wouldn’t have me in a million years. I found the world’s most perfect woman four times; each of them my salvation, and all so far out of my league that people assumed the gods had gone crazy, but I cheated on three of them. I always needed just one more thing, or person, in my life to be truly happy. Surprisingly, I started to spiral downward—”

Oh God; here comes the segue. That’s all very int—”

“Isn’t that gullet gaggingly syrupy? What a dish soapy cliché! I wretchingly recite that painfully rancid and sickening women of days past denial oath garbage, like the Lord’s Prayer, whenever I remember to eulogize my vervy relished life era. Habitual self pity. No moderation for me. The horror, the horror—hah!”

“Oh, geez—”

“I memorized that string of words, too. Is this an asylum? But, what a load of crap. Oh, poor me. I could have had it all, but it slipped through my fingers. Boo hoo hoo. Vomitorium city. My life could have been different, but for the love of a good women, if I wasn’t such a drunken whore pig cutlet.”

“I give up.”

“I used to believe that crap. I didn’t know my brain was diseased, but that’s no excuse for falling apart like a Pinto and getting shot in the ass. Those lemon flavored days are gone and I can’t go back, so waa waaa waa. Cry me a lazy little river band of toxic polluted gloppy wet tears. Could I be more pathetic, or crawling with tickly brown recluse spiders? Doubtful. Do you know a guy named Roy? You look just about like this guy I know. Everybody calls him Roy, but I think his real name is Roy. Roy? You’re not Roy!” Sig goes quiet and squints at Nitti.

“I know I’m not Roy. I told you my name a long time ago. You said you knew it. It’s Agent Roland Nitti.”

“What?” spits Sig. “Are you stop-watching the seconds? Cooking the books? Is this some kind of stupid mud race or laundry commercial? I graduated something cum loud with honors, but I won’t do high definition reality television. It’s demeaning to the viewer, and the occasion I lingered below the waves is a matter of public record, so get the hell off my plot!”

“I’m not timing anything; I was just making a point. What’s with all the yell—”

“OK Roy, look, if you haven’t seen my dog, just admit it. I don’t have time to chat with you right now. Frankly, I’m beside myself with distraught worry.”

“Your dog? No, wait!”

“He’s brown; with bleached blonde hair—talk about an intransigent whore. He was staying with friends in the city, but he bolted. He met them in junior college. They were all urinating on the same tree behind the student union, and after a full round of painful rabies shots, it was all cheesecake and peach cobbler. They must have had a maudlin dispute, and he stormed out in a huffer. He’s inflexible about too many minor things. Everything has to be a big freaking melodrama. And, I’m pretty sure his name is Roy. He’ll answer to Roland, but I wouldn’t call him that, unless he’s wearing his catcher’s mask. It might be better if you don’t try to talk to Rollie at all. He freaks out if you use bad grammar, and your speech patterns are a little rough in the transitions. I would just get my throatal and groinal areas covered and be real still, if I were you, and radio for backup. Frankly.”

“Charles. Hellooo? We’ll look for Rooo, er, the dog later. You haven’t taken your medications for awhile, have you?”

“You’re not supposed to mix them with alcohol. I do, sometimes, quite often, daily, but you’re not supposed to. It makes you strange, they say. Crush them, and cook them in your meatloaf, and serve it with a side of green colored string beans.”

“How long as it been? Sig!”

“And that’s good advice, I’m telling you; especially the big pink ones. Have you ever seen the size of those pills? They look like Mallard eggs. I passed out ice tea cold, almost died rigid, trying to choke one of those orbs down—and that was the best pink egg experience I’ve had by far. The barn swallows have been irritable this year—the bugs forgot to hatch, you understand. It could have been a peanut M&M.”

“It was probably a Depakote. They’re pretty big and pink. I don’t see them on your chart, though?” Nitti is intently thumbing through Sig’s file. “When was the last time you took a big pink pill or any of the smaller pills Dr. Weiss prescribed for you?”

“Dr. Weiss! That generously proportioned mollycoddler! Look, I don’t know what he told you, but that moony faced guy is no certified doctor on this continent. Roy is a better doctor than that quack. And his barn smells better.”

“You’ve been seeing Dr. Weiss for almost nine years! If he’s a quack, why did you keep going to him for all those years?”

“I take 38.2 milligrams of aspirin for my heart every day. I smash it with a heavy oak mallet and snort it right into my membrane. I hasn’t had a heart attack since.”

“You had a heart attack?”
“Barely. Hardly worth the effort. They fed me a lot of Maplewood ice cream, though. Pretty runny. I don’t think the nightclub was really set-up right to handle a massive genital heart attack.”

“Uh, huh. Can we talk about your medication some more?”

“What was my percent when you brought me in?”

“Your percent?” wonders Nitti, aloud. “No! Wait! I retract the question.”

“Too late, Snookie. The content of my discontent is the percent to mark my decent. And—that’s what they inexorably decide when I get picked up by the main man.”

Nitti buries his face in his hands.

“A sleepy sheriff guy drains a pint of bakery fresh blood from my arm to check my percent, and about some time later, another dude hollers, ‘Holy Christ, are you sure the mendaciously handsome guy is totally alive?’ Then, they poke at me with an old bent pool cue. Sometimes, I lie really still like a dead hedgehog and hold my breath, and stop my heart, and the crazy eyed youngster with the underprivileged mustache gives me a good jolt in my upper torsel area with those shiny trodes. If you have a Hot Pocket in your back pocket, you need to wait about 20 minutes for it to cool before you can eat it.”

“You’re not in jail. You’re not under arrest. Goddamn it, Sig—”

“You’ll burn the roof of your mouth, painfully so. That’s what I heard from reliable sources, anyway. Roy said his bridgework fused together one time. All he could eat for a month was tangerine margaritas.”

“YOU ARE NOT IN JAIL!” yells Nitti.

“What? I’m not incarsabated? Wait a minute! You’re not Dr. Weiss—are you? You scalpel happy hack! No way am I paying for this drive by session. You made this appointment, not me.”

“I’m not Dr. Weiss. Christ. I’m Agent Roland Nitti of Coal River Shield.”

“I’m not buying any stolen merchandise, either, if that’s your ingenious game plan, so if you’ll kindly leave the premises, I have some reading to catch up on. I’ve got National Geographic’s piled up to my rib cage, and no time; absolutely no free time. The planet is going to hell, but the pictures of it are still spectacular. There are way too many balloons on this boat. No wonder it won’t sink.”

“OK, Mr. Sigismund, Sig, this isn’t working. I’m beat. You’re regressing for reasons I can’t explain. We’ll try again later. Agent Addison, just take Sig to the dorm and find him a bed, I guess. Have Carlsrud keep an eye on him, so he doesn’t wander.”

“Wait a minute—really?” interjects Addison. “Can’t explain his regression? Well, here are a couple of thoughts, professor. Double dose in the ass, frozen below the waist, high altitude plane ride, nominal sleep, no alcohol and who knows what else for hours, seizure—just for starters. Crimony; they spin a guy around like a gyroscope when they spray them down. I get dizzy just thinking about it. Or, he could be past his expiration date, brain-wise, I mean. Geez! That 60 inch blow dryer is no picnic either.”

Sig leans over and whispers to Nitti, “I think that, what do you call them?—a giant whatever, is talking to you, Roy. I don’t know what it is. Take evasive maneuvers. Or stay very still. One bit me, and my radiator system overheated and sprang a toxic leak. Shhhh.”

“I know that, Leonard,” counters Nitti. “I was talking to him, not you.”

“Riiight,” returns Addison, dismissively. “Like he understands what you said.”

“Shhhh! The kids are listening,” whispers Sig. “Seriously, get some counseling, before prices go sky high. Ask the Bishop if eight inch titanium vampire stakes are OK.”

“Come on, Sig, let’s go,” grumbles Addison, as he taps Sig on the shoulder.

“Nice talking to you, Roy. Don’t tell the old man we were out here. Nothing good can come from it.”

ERIC BERGESON: The Country Scribe — ‘A Treasury Of Old Souls’

Eric discusses his book “A Treasury of Old Souls,” a collection of stories about the older people he knew growing up in a rural setting, and how they shaped his view of life, death and what really matters.