RON SCHALOW: The North Dakota Way

“Hey Orville. Have you ever been to Minnesota?”

“Oh, Stanley; you’ve finally lost it, haven’t you?” Orv asks in a soft sarcastic voice. “Should I call the rest home for you?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” responds Stan in a monotone voice. “I resent something. Besides, my delightful impishness has frayed some nerves over there. The split wasn’t amicable.”

“We both live in Fargo, you nut. I’ve been to Minnesota thousands of times.”

“Thousands,” contemplates Stan. “Are you bootlegging again, Orv? Cigarettes would sell like crazy in the inner outback of the loon State. I was fishing one time, and a loon flew about 10  feet over my head — I don’t think he saw me when he lifted off the lake. It was HUGE! I could hear its wings flapping like crazy just to stay airborne. It was like whip, whip, whip, whip, superfast. Like a 40- pound hummingbird.”

Orville sighs. “I’ve never bootlegged anything, ever, and you know it.”

“Good answer,” says Stan proudly, with a wink. “That’s exactly what I told the Mounties. Exactly.”


“I was hoping that they would be wearing those stylish red costumes,” sigh Stan, “but they were sporting dull brown suits from Kmart’s Amish Collection. I don’t know where they hid the horses. As animals go, horses are one of the toughest to hide. Howler Monkey’s are the hardest.”

“I’m losing my temper,” warns Orv.

Stan’s not deterred. “Oh, you’re always losing your temper. Lose something else. Say, have you noticed the people of Minnesota being more friendly? I’ve been there a thousand times on my rogue menthol cigarette route. and on an individual basis, I don’t see how the Minnesotans are any nicer than the North Dakota people, and some of the people in North Dakota are downright hostile, like you.”

“Shut your pie …”

“The same with South Dakota. I lived in Rapid City for a time … there appears to be a mountain right in the middle of it, which threw me, but they seemed to be of average niceness, considering the topography. Luckily, the authentic biker gangs that showed up to raise hell in Sturgis, and worked their way over to Rapid, were pretty decent, even when they were distributing their inventory of drugs and guns. I had a nerve-wracking conversation with the vice president of the Bandidos but survived by playing normal. They had some pretty nice firearms, but my mind was still preoccupied with the mountain in the middle of town, so I passed. One of the fella’s went by the name of Thumper … it was stitched on a vest patch, and I don’t think he was named after a Disney character. They probably have a Facebook Page by now. Minnesota nice, they say. What say you, Orville?”

Orville is startled out of a trance.

“Is Minnesota nice, or is someone pulling our leg?” asks Stan, again. “Not counting when you’re there, of course.”

“Are you serious?” barks Orv.

“Absolutely. I was getting over 100 cases of liquor, plus pounds and pounds of loose tobacco, over the Manitoba border every week. They hate American cigarettes up there, so they just roll their own, I guess. Their cigarettes are probably $92 a pack by now. You can just drive into Canada with anything, except a Howler Monkey, as long as you don’t use a road during daylight savings time. They get a little picky about contraband, otherwise. Keep your lights off, Orv. I can’t stress that enough. And no turn signals.”

“Not about that, you goofy lib&$#%!”

“What do you want to talk about, Orv? Are you having trouble with loons? Those birds are attractive, but they’re extremely unpleasant. They are like emu-sized barn swallows, those aggressive little #*&@#$&*’s. They don’t smoke, though. Not in public, anyway. Obama was like that.”

“I thought you wanted to know about Minnesota? Don’t start talking!” warns Orville. “I don’t think Minnesota people are any nicer than people from other places. Satisfied?”

“And you’ve been around, right, Orv?”

“How long have we known each other, Stan?”

“O’boy, a math question. How much time do I have left?”


“What is 50 years, Alex? That is a popular show. Gives me a headache.”

“So, you know I’ve been around. Why do you ask questions, that you know the answer to? @%&*$# commie doofus.”

“Why do you need to be a safecracker to open any package from Best Buy? I sure don’t know. I damn near needed to be hospitalized trying to open a Harry Chapin CD. Why did some @$$hole steal my beloved 8-track and suede jacket? Beats me. Or was my suede couch beloved? We used to call them davenports. Why? Was it the annoying syllables? I don’t know.”

“More liquor, please.”

“Why won’t anyone steal my identity? I’ve published my Social Security number on Craig’s List, for crissakes, whoever the hell Greg is. Lot’s of puzzlers. Why did the tobacco lobby say something about a cigarette tax not being the North Dakota way? How would they know? I don’t base my way on ads, and they know it. Don’t we usually just give our tax money to Harold Hamm and let him work out something fair? Did anthropologists study us without our knowledge? Politicians say it, too. They stand in a field of headstones, looking puzzled, and promise to take the North Dakota way to D.C. What the hell is the North Dakota way? We have a way?”

Orv makes his move. “North Dakotan’s are honest, hard-working and do things the right way, you Marxist moron. Everyone knows that.”

“I don’t think everyone got the memo on that, Skippy. I’m all for people feeling good about themselves, over something imaginary, but aren’t there some guidelines?  As a cigarette smuggler, you’ve seen the underbelly, and a bit more, haven’t you, Orv? Don’t lie. I’ve known you for 76 years and will spot any fibbing, or hair plugs.”

“You shut up, and don’t call me Skippy, you #%&*!@ loon!”

“Don’t even try to keep one in captivity,” advises Stanley. “They eat about 40 pounds of fish per day, and not the cheap stuff, so don’t even try to palm off any bottom feeders, like the sedentary Yellow Striped Portfish. Your loon will gag at the sight. Never give one a lobster tail, or they won’t touch anything else. You’ll need to fill up your swimming pool with feisty crustaceans, really ornery, especially if you forget to transition to chlorine free water. Truthfully, they won’t be happy no matter what you do.”

“I don’t have a pool, or a loon … oh gawd, I’m getting sucked in,” moans a distraught Orv.

“I’ve met lots of people, Orv. Of course, you know that, since you were one of them. Remember the bar I had? Lots of types frequented that joint, and some of them were doing things the North Dakota way, but many of them were operating in at least five of the seven circles of hell. Not that I cared. Most of the circles were good for business.”

“You hypocritical self righteous lib&*%$@#, and %!@%$#!”

“You got that right, about 5,550 times. I was a real @$$hole, selling poison to folks who couldn’t afford it and certainly didn’t need it. You didn’t want to light a Marlboro up near a few of them. Roman Candle city.”

“I remember,” murmurs Orville, as he thinks back. “I guess I called you the H word from the beginning.”

“Clyde would drink one liter of Blackberry Brandy sitting at the bar every friggin day, turn into a real @$$hole, and then take another liter home with him.”

“Yeah, Clyde. Skinny little bastard.”

“And he was a crop-duster,” yells Stan. “I think he could fly a helicopter, too. He kept offering rides, but nobody ever took him up on it that I know of. Hell, booze likely killed him, or he got the lung cancer, but personal responsibility is everything, right, Orv? They all made their choices. Some walked through the door trembling, just like a meth head. Were they stumbling around in a North Dakota fashion? No. But, I was doing things the North Dakota way because I was making money in a legal enterprise. My customer’s problems, were their own.”

Orv gleefully reminded Stan of something. “You were a drunk, yourself, you Windsor absorbing numbskull, and still stumbling around!”

“Oh, no kidding, but now the funny walking is Parkinson-related. My brain isn’t that coordinated, either. And thank Odin for plastic liquor bottles.”

“People were finding those under their couches, all over town.”

“Those were carousing bottles, but when the vampires retired for the night, I was in a higher class, and hanging around other drunks in suits, with money. They were doing things the North Dakota way. Drinking and making money. Money above all else, and constantly looking for their next score, but in a respectable fashion. Their tremors were the same as anyone’s before the first drink, or seven, but minus the judgment the lesser drunks lived with.”

“Harold had his own driver, just for drinking,” recalls Orv, almost wistfully,  “which was always. Nobody looked down on him, though. Just the old duffers who still worked for a living.”

“Those guys were a hoot. I used to work behind the bar every weekend night, just to take care of that bunch. I would have five boilermakers before an evening shift, slap some backs on the way in and then fill a Mason jar with ice, Windsor, and a splash of water, for my health. Then I took my place among the rabble, to keep them happy, while 95 percent of the bar was filled with college kids. We shook dice for rounds, when I was the only one who could afford to lose. Those guys were the North Dakota way, as much a anyone. Work decades, become an alcoholic, lose your family and hang at the end of the bar.”

“I liked those guys,”says Orv, “but they’re all long dead. Why are you still alive?”

“I figure I’m pickled. That’s probably why the loons and mosquitoes don’t bother me. Anyway, I was hooked up with the Canadian mob. Not scary in the least. They were buying the booze from me with big rolls of cash, big enough to choke a Mountie’s horse, and then they would find some stooge to drive the liquor across the border, in the crappiest vehicle that still ran, and if one of these guys got caught, the big shots would just let the guy go to jail, and eat the rest.”

“I didn’t ask you about that. I knew about that, Stan. I was there, and you keep telling me the bootlegging story.”

“Don’t get involved in that racket, Orv. Even if you could pass for a Canadian, there’s no reason to move up there.”

“I wasn’t …”

“Did I tell you about my best drunk toss?”

“A thousand times.”

“Anyway, I was standing on the stairs that led up to the DJ booth. Don’t play ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ one more time, or I’ll sick my loon on you, and stuff an Eagles 8-track down your throat. Anyway I spot this guy coming through the front door. Trouble, right? He gets into a fight every friggin time he comes in. Not occasionally. Every time. The doorman didn’t know he was a problem child. I can’t get to him quick because of the crowd, so I run downstairs and through the lower level bar and up. I come up right behind the joker, and in three minutes, he had already knocked a full pitcher of beer out of a woman’s hand and punched some dude.”

“Oh, and then what happened, Stan?”

“This is the good part, so shhh. I got my arm around his throat, drug him to the front door and threw his body out onto the sidewalk.”

“Then what, Stan?”

“Shhh. His cowboy hat fell off, so I picked it up and tossed it right on his chest. That’s the North Dakota way. Some salty language was exchanged, and lethal threats were made, which is also the North Dakota way, but there was not a cemetery in sight. My last, and best.”

“You got screwed over by the @$$hole suit wearing drunks,” reminds Orv.

“Yup. Thank you, Orv, you di&$. I was just one of their marks. They could see me coming from the Manitoba border. Probably the Montana border, too. It sucked, but that’s the North Dakota way. I was stupid, but you don’t get any points for being dumb.”

“You’d be rich.”

“Eff you, nicotine peddler.  Take what you can, from whomever gets in your way, and if you’re an oil czar, just order the state to spray everyone down with cold water, in freezing weather. That’s the North Dakota way.”

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