Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

June 19, 2004

When the switch flips

When dealing with the public all day, I try to maintain equanimity. People are interesting. They come in all shapes and sizes. They all try the best they can, even if they all aren't always pleasant. Each is playing out his or her life in their own way. Everybody has their share of pain. Try to make their day better, even if they don't seem to want to have a good day.

Well, after a couple of months of that, I can sometimes feel the switch flip, especially when people arrive after closing on a Friday night. The public starts looking grotesque. You want to ask them why they're so blame fat. You just want to say, sorry, we're closed and we're leaving. If you didn't sit in your house and drink gin tonics all day, you might have been able to get here when we are actually open. One of your plants died and you want another one free? Well, first let's go back and look at the ones you didn't take home. They're all healthy, how did you manage to kill yours?

Of course, this never pays. It has been four years since I gave into the impulse to explode at a customer. Sometimes it is hard to contain one's sarcasm, but it is always necessary.

I guess Grandpa once lost it and chased a customer off the place with a pitchfork. The things you wish you had on video!

June 18, 2004

The sin of getting down to business

With some older men around here, about the nastiest thing you can do to them is get to the point. They don't want to get to the point. They want to dance around it a while. Show up, grab some coffee, hem and haw--and sometimes you never find out why they came in the door. They eventually amble out and leave you wondering, or, if you're lucky, they'll finally start a sentence with, "Say, I was wondering..." and then you know they are ready to deal.

This goes against my every impulse. Business is business. Let's get right to the point. If you want a tree, I'll get you a tree and then we'll be done with it. If we talk after that, fine, but don't hem and haw and carry on about the weather and other such useless pitter patter as a sort of prelude.

So, I catch myself trying to force the issue. Why are you here? What can I help you with? This makes these men grimace. They look away and divert the topic even farther away from anything related to the business at hand. Their hands jam deeper into their pockets. Their message? You are not going to rush me. You are going to go at my pace. I am not going to tell you what my point is until I am damn well ready, and that will probably be in about fifteen minutes, if that. In the meantime, you must listen to me hem and haw.

I suppose a business transaction is their only chance to be on stage. They have you by the scruff of the neck, and they want to enjoy it while they can. To rush them is to deprive them of a chance to be important, and everybody needs that.

June 17, 2004

A grim day

When I took out the measuring tape and stuck some stakes in the ground, I saw how many more oak would have to fall to make way for my house. I stalled for a couple of hours before deciding to go out and finish the task.

It is sobering how easy the mighty oak fall. I am uncomfortable having that much power over something which has lived 100 years.

Then, the chain saw busted. With typical patience, I ran to town for a new one.

As I drove back into the nursery, our mail carrier flagged me down. She was shaking like a leaf. She had just discovered our nearest neighbor to the north, Lyle, dead. He hadn't picked up his mail for a few days, so she went up to the house and found him.

She was understandably disturbed. I called 911 and told them that Lyle was probably dead. They sent out the paramedics, anyway. After the paramedics came, the mail carrier and I went over to find out what we suspected--Lyle had been gone for some time.

You feel bad--for Lyle, who went so long without being discovered, for the mail carrier (who had befriended Lyle enough to be concerned) who is going to have to live with that scene for a long time, and for the paramedics, whose job it is to go in there to make sure there is nothing they can do. They are neighbors. They were shaken as well. They were a comfort to the mail carrier, who felt terrible for having waited a couple of days to check on Lyle. Well, its not her job to check on people who live alone--it was above and beyond the call of duty for her to drive in the yard in the first place.

We stayed until the sheriff arrived. He had some questions. I knew some of Lyle's relatives, so I went back to the nursery to get the phone numbers. When I delivered them, the sheriff said he would take care of the rest.

Lyle was a recently-retired bachelor. He kept to himself. Today was the first time I had been in his yard in my life. He showed up at the nursery every now and then. He was always very pleasant and cordial. His parents worked for my grandfather for many years.

I went back to sawing oak with an even greater sense that life is fragile.

I am also thankful for living in a place where they mail carrier cares enough to check on you, and where there are neigbors who take paramedic training--and who are always there in the grimmest of situations, absorbing things nobody should have to see, always calm and professional, but never jaded. They are true neighbors!

That means you, Lynn!

June 16, 2004


After several days of delay, I finally took on the task of felling the oaks which are standing where my house will be built. I did this reluctantly, as I do not like taking down oak. Ash, poplar or box elder, fine. But oak? It just feels wrong. And some of these are approaching 70 feet in height.

But they went down nicely. Ken came out to help and we made a good team of woodsmen. Only one of the trees fell the wrong way. The chainsaw only got stuck once. We used the skid steer to pull a couple down when they became entangled, otherwise things went smoothly.

RYAN the ace realtor has already sold my house. It was on the market for all of one week. Of course the sale is "pending;" and now comes the complicated part for the buyer--getting the financing through.

That means finding a place to hang my hat until my house is finished. I looked in the paper for places to rent. Sure enough, there was a house in town. So, I drove by it. 209 Lincoln Ave. NW. Had to figure out where that was, since I don't know what a single street in town is named after thirty years of driving there nearly daily. Turns out it is the house next to Ken's.

When I informed Ken of that possibility at work the next morning, he went into sort of a panic and came up with the idea of me renting a farmhouse only two miles from the nursery which is going to be empty soon. It looks like that will turn out.

I HAVE NO emotions selling my house. Perhaps I will when I move out, but I doubt it. I like to move on. I am done with the place. The new owner is going to make much-needed repairs and re-sell it.

PROFOUND PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT WHILE CHAINSAWING OAK TO DEATH: So much of our effort in life is wasted due to lack of focus. I know that if I spent 15 minutes per day concentrating upon practicing piano, another 30 minutes writing on one book project, and another 30 minutes writing on another--I would have many new pieces learned and probably two books finished in the space of a year. However, the concentration is not there.

Today, I used about 1 gallon of fuel to saw down and saw up 20 oak trees. Very little energy for a big task. The chainsaw went through the oak like a hot knife through butter. The process works because the relatively small amount of energy is focused in one place--right where the sharp blade of the saw hits the wood. The same amount of energy applied with a hammer would do no good. Not focused enough.

Yet, at the end of the day, an enormous amount of work was accomplished. Twenty oak were reduced to a pile of firewood. A couple of gallons of fuel were used, and Ken and I weren't any worse for wear.

Pardon my attempting to turn this into a lesson, but again--if I could just concentrate thoroughly on one task completely for 15 minutes per day,like a little chainsaw going through a mighty oak, after a year--I would have a book.

Lileks on Fargo

One of the best writers on the web, James Lileks, has a good article today on growing up in Fargo.

June 15, 2004

The national scene

The Reagan funeral overwhelmed all other news for a while. Now, I suppose we'll return to more Iraq news and more election coverage. Kind of a relief to have that stuff pushed off the national stage for a time.

I have been curious for years how the eventual Reagan funeral would play out. I was especially curious how he would be remembered at the time of his death. I was pretty surprised at the positive outpouring, the reassessments of his terms in office, and the reassessments of the man himself.

What becomes obvious, whether or not you agreed with Reagan then or agree with what he did today, is that the man had a talent, not just for communication, but for leadership. Great leaders are usually reviled by many when in office, and Reagan certainly was that. But great leaders are usually vindicated by history (otherwise nobody would call them great), and it seems that Reagan's own vindication has taken many steps forward with the attention focused on him since his death.

The picture of Reagan now (we'll see whether it lasts) is of a humble man with a formidable sense of how to use the office of the presidency to advance his agenda--an agenda which never really was fully articulated before or during his terms. Reagan was too smart to attempt to lay out his entire strategy. "My vision of the Cold War is that we win and they lose," he once said privately before his election. You didn't hear that snappy phrase in his campaign speeches.

Yes, Reagan was a conservative. But conservatives would never have understood his willingness--even early on--to get rid of all nuclear weapons. And conservatives would never have approved of Reagan's spending habits if they had known that Reagan didn't merely want a strong defense, but was more interested in spending whatever it took to send the USSR into oblivion.

Well, keyboards are rattling everywhere as writers attempt to understand and explain Reagan's legacy. I look forward to watching the opinions bounce back and forth.

THIS TORTURE THING continues to be abhorrent as more leaks out about how high up in the administration the decisions to use torture went.

We should not do that stuff. The appearance of American soldiers on the scene has always been a relief to a liberated people--and that's the way it should be. No matter how criminal people are, they should be treated humanely by American soldiers. That is what made us different in the past.

June 14, 2004

Possible Stalker

On the way home from town last night, I was followed by an old pickup. He got closer and closer until he was right behind me. I turned my right turn signals before I turned into my place, expecting him to pass, but he didn't--he just got closer and closer, and finally stopped at the top of my driveway and just sat as I went up to my garage.

I wanted to drive out and see what he wanted, but I thought--what if he had a gun? Eventually, he took off down the road, but I was a little disconcerted for the rest of the night and locked my doors.

The vain thought was that I actually had a stalker of my own. Wow! Now I have arrived--I have my own stalker. However, I suspected that it was just some goofball of some sort--perhaps I had pulled in front of him without knowing it and he wanted to let me know that he was angry.

Well, the small town comes through. Five minutes after getting to work this morning, I knew they guy's name and had heard that he has a history of doing this sort of thing to people. He has some problems, and if he isn't taking his medication, he gets angry at people at random.

Wow, mental illness is scary. Can you imagine being convinced that the world is out to get you--convinced enough to follow people around and yell at them? I feel sorry for the man, now that I know that he had no ill intentions--at least no ill intentions that had anything to do with reality.