Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

February 14, 2004

Supper at Moran's

Went over to Winger to eat at Moran's for Dad's birthday. Winger is about a 15 mile drive, but it went pretty fast after all of the longer drives I have been doing lately.

They come from far and wide to eat at Moran's. The salad bar is the best you'll ever find. Their ribs are fantastic. So is their broasted chicken.

So, you drive 15 miles for supper, the place is full, and you know over half the people there. Such is life in the depopulated upper Midwest! At the next table were cousins from Twin Valley. Elsewhere, there were three separate sets of local neighbors, as well as people I knew from Mahnomen and Fosston. It is fun working the crowd and visiting, but if anybody was looking for a romantic Valentine's getaway, they didn't find it. In fact, two of the couples, each of whom seem to have gone out for Valentine's, just moved to a table for four and talked about crops.

Yesterday noon, I went into Eats and Antiques, a cafe in downtown Fertile, for a roast beef dinner. Good to have a hot meal when it is cold outside. They get your food right away, so its almost fast food--but you'll never get out of there in less than an hour if you care to be polite to all the people you see.

My problem is that as I move from booth to booth visiting, I sometimes work my way out the door without paying. Once I remembered a day later, called them, and they said, oh no big deal. Just remember and pay twice the next time.

BUT EVEN OUR INNOCENT LIFE sometimes has bumps. Yesterday, a man living west of the Post Office was arrested by a drug task force. He claimed he was John Johnson (quite the creative alias) but in fact he was John O'Keefe, originally of Grand Forks, but wanted on a warrant in Idaho for running a marijuana operation where over $6 million worth of dope was discovered by law enforcement officials earlier this year while they were searching the area for something else.

O'Keefe skipped town and came to Fertile! Yes, when people want peace and quiet...but, his Idaho plates were somewhat conspicuous. They found marijuana plants growing in his basement under lights at the residence on East Washington.

There are a lot of people in town who didn't have a clue where East Washington was yesterday who now know that is what that street east of the Post Office is called.

I suppose they had to arrest the guy, but you know, we need all the economic activity we can get. Can you imagine if he started up a $6 million operation here. The jobs! I wonder if he had kids in school? That would be too bad. And he would have to get fertilizer and soil and pots and hoses somewhere.

SPEAKING OF STREET NAMES--the gravel road which goes east off of MN 32 two miles south of Fertile now sports two spanking new street signs, one on each side of the intersection--with two different numbers, both in the 100s. I believe one calls the road is a street and the other says it is an avenue. The road is the county line. Apparently the two counties couldn't agree on what to call the road, so they each came up with their own number to fit their own stupid system. As if it matters--nobody lives on the first mile of the road, and some winters they don't even bother to plow it.

February 13, 2004

How to Stay Young

by Satchel Paige

1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Baseball's crazy geniuses

Read an essay about Ted Williams' last day in the major leagues. He hit a long home run in his last at bat. The at bat was immortalized in an essay by John Updike entitled, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu."

The essay I read last night was by Ed Linn, who eventually wrote a biography of Williams. Linn's essay is an attempt to give greater perspective on Williams. He was ugly to reporters. He baited them and then swore at them. If they just went away, he seemed starved for attention. So, he would draw them in and then abuse them.

After reading about Ty Cobb's craziness, one is led to think that people have to be a little nuts to really excel at baseball. The same intensity which led Cobb and Williams to be such great players also ruined their private life and most of their friendships. Pete Rose is another example: he broke some of Cobb's records, but he clearly has some of the same character defects which so often appear in great players. Babe Ruth was out of control as well, a miserable man to his family. So was Mickey Mantle.

Billy Martin's genius as a manager seemed tied to his utter juvenility. He never reconciled to life's (baseball's) essential unfairness, and was an angry man until he died drunk on Christmas day. That anger made him a good manager for unmotivated teams with talent. He could get them to play out of their heads for one year--then he wore out his welcome and got fired. Always. He also wore out his players, especially his pitchers. But for one year, there was nobody better than Billy.

George Steinbrenner knew this, I suspect. That is why he fired Billy four times and kept hiring him back. For one year.

Kerry denies allegations

On the Imus in the Morning radio show out of New York (which is carried on MSNBC), John Kerry said "there is nothing to report" about allegations that he had an affair with a 20-year-old intern. Good. One hopes this is true. For if it is not, he's in trouble. And then we'll have another one of these unbearable scandals on our hands.

I listened to the interview. Don Imus has a good way of asking direct, sometimes uncomfortable questions in an inoffensive manner. Kerry was very self-assured, and brushed off the allegations with good humor. After he hung up, Imus said, well, there you have it. If he's not telling the truth, he'd done.

The internet hounds are backing off, wondering where all of this came from. Gossip travels the speed of light on the internet. Sometimes it is true, most of the time it is not.

February 12, 2004

New intern problems

The story broke on the internet this morning: John Kerry supposedly had an affair with a 20-year-old intern which lasted up to last year. Here we go again. The old media hasn't picked the story up yet, but the internet is buzzing. I wonder how long it will take for the story to hit the big time. Reportedly, the National Enquirer is putting the story on its cover tomorrow. It is a mistake to excuse the story simply because it appears in a tabloid--most of the Clinton scandal appeared in tabloids and on the internet first.

Some speculate that the story is the result of what is called "push polling," one of Karl Rove's favorite devices. Here is how it worked for Bush in the South Carolina primary in 2000: Campaign staffers called as many people as they could posing as poll-takers. The question? "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew that he had fathered an illegitimate black child?"

The purpose of the poll was, of course, not to find anything out, but to imply that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. The rumor flourished. Bush won Carolina.

The Trail

One thing you can do at 11º F is cross country ski. With all the snow, however, you sink down pretty deep the first time you break a trail. In the open areas, there is close to two feet of soft stuff. The first time over is tough, the second time a lot easier, and the third is a breeze.

If we knew of some neighbor kid who would take a snowmobile over our trail through the woods, that would be ideal. However, there aren't even snowmobile tracks running through the ditch. We mustn't have any neighbors with sleds.

A strong south wind today. Warmer temps must be coming, but until they do, even a south wind can be brisk. The trail through the woods is protected, however. I heard a few birds.

It was about 23 years ago, the summer of my junior year of high school, that I got the notion to take the skid steer loader and make a trail through our woods. Before that, I had made small trails with a lopping shears, but going all the way through the big woods required something bigger.

Dad was indulgent. I never heard him complain, even though I think I stuck a stick through the radiator of the loader one time. I know that if some kid were to take the loader out and do the same thing today, now that I own the loader, I would look askance.

But once The Trail was broken, we used it often, first as a trail for my Honda 50 motorcycle, then as a trail for the three wheeler, and finally as a ski trail. The deer use The Trail, as do the hunters. And, Dad uses the trail to go find firewood.

The most fun was when the city cousins would come in the summer and we would take turns making a circuit on The Trail with the three wheeler. It was about 1/2 mile from start to finish, I suppose, and we timed each other.

Now, I have my eye on a spot in the woods in the middle of The Trail where I want to build a little house. I would then open up The Trail big enough to turn it into a driveway.

New housemate

On a whim, I ran up to the Humane Society in Crookston yesterday and picked up a cat. It is named Nemo. It is gray with green eyes. It meowed like crazy on the way home.

Nemo explored every corner of the house for the first hour or so, meowing all the while. While I was on the phone, I heard some particularly urgent meowing from downstairs, so I went down to discover Nemo in the rafters over the downstairs shower.

I left him up there, figuring he could find the way down, and went back upstairs. A few seconds later there was a big crash, and the cat came shooting up the stairs and through the living room, where it sat on the window seat and sneezed for the next half hour. I wonder what it got into down there.

Nemo is a lap cat. I form a lap, it jumps on it. Then he rubs his head on my goatee. However, it seems unable to curl up on my lap without falling off. When I was in my recliner, the cat fell belly up beside me and just sat there for a half-an-hour as I read.

When I went to bed, 10 minutes later, whump, up on the bed comes the cat and curls around my feet.

So, we have some good routines already in place, less than 24 hours after meeting.

February 11, 2004

Baseball in a Blizzard

As the wind blew the snow around outside last night, I sat by the fire and read a book entitled The Baseball Reader edited by a man named Charles Einstein, sent to me by Don from the baseball bus. The book is a collection of fine baseball writing taken from newspaper accounts and magazine articles.

The most fascinating was an account by a writer of the last four months of Ty Cobb's life. Cobb knew he was dying, and he wanted to get his side of the story written, so he asked this writer to live with him so they could work on his autobiography.

Well, the writer soon found out what all who had crossed Cobb's path in the decades past already knew: The man was seriously mentally deranged, even psychotic. He punched people who looked at him wrong. He carried a gun. He drank constantly, from morning to night. He had alienated all his friends and family.

You think athletes are given a free pass today? Cobb once got in a fight outside a bar and was stabbed. He chased down the assailant and beat him to death. The next afternoon, with a bloody bandage visible to all, he went 3 for 5.

The essay is twenty-some pages long with nary a wasted word, so an attempt to summarize it here would be futile. However, it centers around a night when Cobb, near death, drunk, with cancer eating his spine, with a bad heart, diabetes, demands that his writer friend drive him from his Lake Tahoe home down to the casino in Reno. Through a blizzard. The writer, seriously fearing that Cobb would shoot him if he didn't comply, had no choice. The tale takes many twists and turns, but ends up with Cobb taking a swing at a casino employee.

THE LONGEST ESSAY in the book is about Satchel Paige, arguably the greatest pitcher of all time. The essay was published in Collier's in 1953, when Paige finally was allowed to pitch in the major leagues. Paige was a big time character, and stories about him could fill several books.

I did not know that he pitched for Bismarck, ND in 1934 and 1935. He and his wife lived in an abandoned rail car there because no place in town would rent to blacks.

I also did not know that Paige had several opportunities to pitch against major leaguers in exhibition games. Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Dimaggio and others regarded him as the best pitcher they ever saw. Yet, he was not allowed to play in the major leagues due to the color barrier.

A THIRD ESSAY was about Connie Mack, the legendary manager/owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, today the Oakland A's. Mack managed the team until he was nearly ninety.

What I didn't know, however, was that Connie Mack was virtually present at the creation of baseball and helped shape the modern game.

Connie Mack was a catcher. In the 1880s, catchers stood way behind the plate and caught the pitcher's delivery on one bounce. It was Mack who moved right behind the batter. His purpose? To tip the batter's bat with his glove.

February 10, 2004

Getting settled

The first day home after a long time on the road means confronting the piles of stuff that have accumulated in my absence. Mostly mail, and most of that is junk. It is very easy to get rid of the bulk of it. Two waste baskets full. In fact, the stuff that mattered boiled down to about 1/2 inch of papers. I kept some other things to "look through later," which means I will find them on my shelf in about a year and throw them out then.

It was nice to open Christmas cards in February. Got a nice box of baseball books from Don, the man who sat behind me on the baseball bus. He's a retired English professor who has written a couple of books, so we had writing in common as well as baseball.

So, in the past two weeks I have visited with or heard from the four parties which sat nearest me on the bus. It's sort of like hearing from the people you went to Bible camp with.

Yesterday I got a call from a local person who is considering going on a baseball tour next summer wanting the number of Jay Buckley tours. He and his grown daughter are considering going--the baseball tour is an ideal way for grown kids to spend time with their retired or aging parents--we had several such groups on our bus, and all of them seemed to have a great time.

THIS IS A REAL winter, one of those where there is so much snow on the ground that any little wind starts pushing it around and causing that spot by St. John's church to drift in. It is the first spot on our road to fill in. I kind of like to hit that drift hard and hear the big "whomph."

Winter's like this are a whole different world. The snowbanks on the side of the road cause drifts--constant drifts. If there isn't much snow, it doesn't matter as much when the wind blows. That's called an "open winter," according to the old-timers. Open winters are a good thing. But if there is a lot of snow, you not only have to clear it off, but if you pile it up, you have to clear again when the pile creates another drift.

I include this for you Californians so you know how we suffer up here in Minnesota and why we have so much virtue.

February 09, 2004

Home Again

The horse goes faster when he gets closer to the barn. After proceeding at a stately 150-mile-per day pace for about four weeks, I bolted home from Butte, MT in two days. The roads weren't bad, relatively speaking. After struggling over the mountain pass between Eugene, OR and Bend, OR, anything on flat land seems easier. The passing lanes were a little frosty, but the driving lanes were dry.

I stopped in Bismarck for lunch yesterday. It always happens the same way when I get close to home after a couple of months away: I think I recognize everybody! People start looking like they do at home. Last year, I stopped in the Fergus Falls grocery store before heading home, and all the customers looked like I should know them. This year it was the Wendy's in Bismarck, and later the Hornbacher's in Fargo. Friendly people, but in a herky-jerky sort of way, less smooth than in warmer parts of the country. Their body movements go along with their accent. I probably should say "our" instead of "their."

I had been inside the door of my house ten seconds when the phone rang. It was Dad. They had some supper ready over at the place. Mashed potatoes, gravy with peas, chicken, salad--and squash. A nice welcome home. Also, Dad had stopped in and turned up the thermostat, so the house was good and warm.

The snow is deep. Thank goodness for Vernon and his neighborhood snowplow ministry. My driveway is beautifully clear, as are the drives at the nursery.

The trip went very fast. Nothing but the snow depth has changed here in Minnesota in the two months I was gone.