Down on the Farm

Weekly column by Eric Bergeson.

Rules update

Every so often, the rules of conversational English need to be updated. When I find out who actually writes the rules, I am going to submit the following suggestions: 

No person over the age of twenty-three shall use the term "dude." 

Twenty years ago, juveniles filled empty space in their conversations with the word "like." 

Today, they say "dude." Over and over. It means nothing, and signifies nothing more than damp air between the ears. 

The use of "dude" is forgivable if you are under 18. You probably don't have anything of greater interest to say, anyway. 

But after age twenty-three, the word "dude" must be give way to actual adult conversation or you probably won't get hired for anything above minimum wage.

No person over the age of thirty shall use the term "awesome" except to describe a huge mountain range, a massive thunderstorm, or a long home run by Jim Thome. 

When I order a hamburger from you, just say "okay," or "would you like fries?" Do not respond with the word "awesome." 

My hamburger order is not awesome. Your hair is not awesome. Your job is not awesome. Your friends aren't awesome, either. 

Mountain ranges are awesome. 

Some baby boomers insist upon extending their use of the word "cool" into their fifties. 

You don't want to mess with the baby boomers. So, let's just say the word "cool" has to go after you get your first social security check. 

Lately, a new annoying phrase has arisen.

After saying something offensive, people cover their tracks by adding the phrase, "I'm just sayin!" 

Apparently, if you add "just sayin!" to your observation that somebody could afford to lose twenty pounds, it insulates you from the charge that you're a jerk for bringing it up. 


Let's just say that the term "just sayin" is inappropriate for people of all ages. 

The word "exactly" is apparently now pronounced "ex-ACT-ly." It becomes more annoying every time it is used as a substitute for "I agree." 

The word "exactly," pronounced, "ex-ACT-ly," is not only grating to the ear, but its use is usually dishonest and cloying. Nobody agrees that closely with what has just been said! 

Unless it is used to describe an actual mathematical measurement, let's just ban the use of the term "exactly" for all ages.

Same goes for the term "absolutely." 

In this case, I am absolutely guilty. 

About twenty-five years ago, I was asked on the spur of the moment to provide color commentary for the broadcast of a local high school wrestling match.

I jumped at the chance and quickly called home to make sure my sportscasting debut was preserved on tape for posterity.

When I rewound the tape and pushed play, the first word out of my mouth was, "absolutely!"

The third word was also, "absolutely!" As was the fifth, the ninth, the sixteenth and the twenty-third. Barely three seconds went by before I said "absolutely!" again. 

I shredded the tape and gave up my sportscasting dream for good. 

Another annoying current conversational habit has more to do with tone than usage. 

About fifteen years ago, it became fashionable, particularly for women, to end every phrase, even a declarative sentence, as a question. 

"I mean, I am, like, really not liking this chicken kiev?" 

"I really wonder if this workshop is worth it?" 

"I not so sure I am going to buy Christmas gifts this year?" 

This awful habit has wormed its way into the conversation of otherwise educated and erudite people, and it must stop. 

If you have a question, end your sentence on the upswing like it is a question. 

But when you make a declarative statement, such as "I like my steaks well done," end the statement with firmness and authority! Stand behind it! 

Don't pull your head into your shoulders like a frightened turtle and mumble, "I like my steaks a little know..(shrug)..well done?" 

It is as if people think an anvil will drop on their head if they actually express what they think!

The source of the "just sayin" scourge, as well as the unfortunate but pervasive habit of ending declarative sentences in a question, is more psychological than linguistic. 

People apparently lack the courage to express their thoughts in unapologetic terms. 

Or, they don't want to take the lumps that might follow the honest expression of a thought. So, they insulate themselves by ending their statement in a question, or by following it with a "just sayin." 

Little do they realize that their fake apologetic tone makes them look as ignoble as a cowering dog.

And I am not "just sayin!" 

Fun Run

The spirit of the Olympics, it is said, is to compete honorably and do the best you can. 

It is too late for me to compete in the current Olympiad, but I did enter a 5K fun run at the Polk County Fair a couple of weeks ago. 

Five kilometers is about three-and-a-quarter miles. It is small peanuts compared to the twenty-six miles of a marathon. 

But for a 48-year-old, it is still a decent challenge. 

I couldn't sleep the night before. Other than darts and shooting pool, I hadn't entered an athletic competition since college. And I hadn't ran a race since I finished last in the 100-yard dash in fifth grade. 

I dreamt of glory. I would run at a measured pace until the finish line was in view far ahead. At that point, I would kick in the afterburners, roar pass shocked runners half my age and vault across the finish line.

I wouldn't be in first place, but I hoped to finish in the top half. 

The morning of the race was steamy and hot. I drank lots of florescent fluids. I took a multi-vitamin. I ingested an energy bar. 

The last thing I wanted was come up lame, so I stretched and stretched. 

After a brief convocation at the starting line, an aerosol horn went off and the one hundred or so runners hit the pavement.

Oh, was it hot. Our town needs more trees! Every pool of shade provided brief but welcome relief. 

Five residents set out sprinklers on the street. I ran through every one. 

The route circled through the east side of town. Eventually, the runners ahead doubled around and came down the opposite side of the street towards me. 

I was then forced to acknowledge that I was not going to finish even close to the front. Far ahead of me were three people over sixty as well as one ten-year-old. 

However, spirit of comity prevailed. People cheered for each other. The front runner encouraged those of us behind him.

Up front fifty yards was an older gentleman man who ran as if he was going to fall forward face-first into the pavement at any moment. I debated whether to stop and help him when he finally had his heart attack. 

I eventually decided that since I didn't know CPR, it would be useless to stop. I would just hurdle his writhing body and plow on.

As if to read my mind, the man put on a burst of speed and left me in the dust. 

Eventually, everybody disappeared. I was running alone. 

With the finish line came into view, there was nobody to pass. I tried to put on a little burst of speed, but didn't have much left in the tank. 

I finished in the middle of the pack with a time of 26:07. I had done the best I could. 

I silently relished finishing ahead of some former high school athletes I used to wash towels for as student manager. 

Take that, jocks!

It took thirty years, but I finally got you back for using four towels each. 

I was elated. It felt good to finish a race, any race, and to finish in the middle of the pack, not at the end, as I had all my childhood. 

It wasn't until I got home that I realized that my time would forever be tainted by a dark fact that I hadn't even admitted to myself up to that point. 

I was on steroids. 

Yes, two days earlier the doctor had put me on a six-day course of steroids to ease swelling caused by allergies.

Did the drugs make a difference? 

Well, the first day I took them. I felt like running for president. The second day, I got more done than I had in a week. 

The third day, I ran the 5K race. After the race, I went home, spiffed up the yard, polished up the house and hosted my 30-year class reunion until late into the evening. 

Even then, I didn't feel like sleeping. 

I am sure I could have hit a baseball 460 feet, too. Just like Barry Bonds. Or Mark McGuire. 

So, although nobody cares in the least, my time of 26 minutes and 7 seconds has an asterisk next to it in my mental record book. 

In a violation of the Olympic spirit, I hadn't competed honorably. 

I now have a reason run the race again next year: Let's see if I can finish without the aid of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). 


Dog days

These are the dog days of summer. 

The term "dog days" dates from ancient times and has to do with the stellar constellations which are prominent in the night sky during July and August. 

In ancient times, the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, also known from ages past as the "Dog Star," rose close to the sun in August. 

Things have changed in the night sky over the past thousand years. Sirius no longer rises close to the sun in the late summer. 

But Sirius rose with the sun long enough to give rise to a phrase which has survived to the present. 

It was thought in the old times that when Sirius combined its bright rays with those of the sun, it created hot, sultry conditions on earth. 

Hot, sultry conditions, before air conditioning, were no laughing matter. Disease thrived. Food rotted. Garbage smelled. People and animals perished. 

Now we have air conditioning. The stakes are substantially lower. 

Whenever I hear the term "dog days," I think of a Basset hound drooped over the edge of a southern porch, tongue hanging out, eyes half shut. 

I think of crickets chirping, cicadas buzzing, and other lazy noises of late summer. 

In baseball, the dog days are when starting pitchers wear out in the heat. For losing teams, it seems like the season will never end. 

All a die-hard fan can do in the dog days is hope for an occasional homer. 

At the sweltering ballpark, the only way to placate fans is to keep the cold beer coming. Cold beer is to the dog days what cider is to Christmas.

The dog days of summer are best spent in the country where breezes blow freely and trees cast generous pools of shade. 

The dog days are when you get reacquainted with the friend who owns a place at the lake. 

On the water, the air cools sooner than out at the farm. 

At the lake, the water creates an hour of bliss as the sun sets. It ends when the mosquitoes come out at ten o'clock. 

But for millions, that single hour of bliss is worth an extra mortgage. Bless those willing to share that hour with their more fiscally austere friends!

It is during the dog days that the southern European tradition of closing stores mid-afternoon and opening them again at six seems to make good sense. 

Why fight the heat? Why not start supper at 10 p.m. as they do in Spain? 

In a normal year in the Upper Midwest, most dog days would bring on a noisy but refreshing night of thunder, wind and rain. 

Almost nightly, thunderstorm and tornado warnings march across the bottom of the local TV station's screen. 

This year, we have drought. The dog days end with eerily silent nights. It isn't good, and it doesn't feel right. 

The only thing to march across the bottom of the screen is news that the Twins lost to the Royals. Again. 

I have a bird's eye view of my swamp, which is drying up to nothing. 

The swan pair, which in a good year raises five cygnets to maturity, started this season with three and is down to one. 

Perhaps the raccoon family is to blame. They thrive on the tender meat of juvenile waterfowl. 

One baby raccoon scratches on my living room window almost nightly. It seems like he wants to come inside for the air conditioning. 

When he scratched the glass the other night long after dark, I opened the window a crack. Instead of fleeing, baby raccoon stuck his nose through the opening and tried to get in. 

I was charmed enough to let him crawl in for the fun of it, but in the three seconds I had the window open, 1,657 insects buzzed through the crack in a race to reach the light in the kitchen.

I shut the window so fast it nearly caught baby raccoon's nose. 

It took two days for last of the marauding insect party to perish on the bathroom counter after burning up on the vanity light. 

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher. All is vanity. 

Fight your way through life, grasp for the glorious kitchen light, and what happens?

You end up dead on the vanity. 

These are the dusty dog days of summer, when critters crawl and sweat runs rivers down one's back. 


The Fair

The tradition of a fair goes back to Roman times, when the authorities would declare an intermission of labor and tradesmen from afar sold their wares.

In the Middle Ages, fairs were tied to religious holidays honoring patron saints. 

Not all of the activity on the fairgrounds was pious, of course. Eventually one of the biggest attractions become a temporary court set up to try, convict and punish those who committed offenses during the celebration. 

Wouldn't that be fun!

The golden age of fairs and exhibitions in the United States came between 1875 and World War I, a robust time when a burgeoning young nation sought to flex its muscle. 

Fair associations built huge exhibition halls and gobbled up acres of prime real estate for their events, held annually for usually no more than a handful of days. 

County fairs originally started to promote better farming and home-making practices. 

Since the beginning, however, those noble agrarian ideals drew fewer people than did the spectacles brought in to accompany the event. 

Rides that throw people around, get people wet, make them fall, bounce, scream and get sick have always been a vital part of any fair. 

With spectacle came the charlatans, the sellers of snake oil, liver pills, gas additives, cheap jewelry, horrific food and tacky entertainment. 

I regret to say I once paid three dollars to see the World's Fattest Woman at the Polk County Fair in Fertile. 

The 4-H clubs first assumed a role in fairs in the 1890s, in part to give the youth something wholesome to do during the event. You can't get in much trouble when you have to watch your cow. 

Vice and virtue collide at the fair. Every summer, a battle between good and evil breaks out and wears down the once-green sod. 

Churches open their food stands. Their clean-cut members hustle to make enough money to pay the pastor another year's salary. 

A few feet away, the oily carnies sneer and growl. Agents of temptation and vice, they separate the innocent locals from their cash through deception and guile. 

My grandfather loved fairs. He decorated local county fairgrounds with the plants he sold. He also supported a booth which sold gospel tracts and trinkets. 

The lady who sold the trinkets, Hannah Chalmers, came up from Minneapolis. As a 10-year-old, I dubbed her Allis, after our tractor. She liked that. We became fast friends. 

One summer, Allis Chalmers discovered I collected rocks. A week after the fair, a box arrived in the mail which had cost $7 to send. It was a box of polished rocks. From Allis. 

My mother figured we had better reimburse poor Allis for the postage since she didn't make much money selling plastic John 3:16 glow-in-the-dark key chains. 

I think Grandpa thrived on the battle between between good and evil at the fairgrounds. 

When the area fair board once considered having a beer garden, Grandpa said you do that  and I'll never bring a flower to decorate the grounds again. 

No beer. 

In the late 1960s, a girlie show of some sort showed up at the fair. Grandpa was appalled. The next winter, he pulled a group of upright men together and started a Christian Gospel Fellowship Tent. 

The reason Grandpa formed a committee was to have able men on tap to put up the tent and haul in the piano. Otherwise, the Tent, as it became called, was a dictatorship. 

Grandpa's mission went beyond gospel matters. He believed, amongst other things, that the grass in front of the big old Industrial Building should be kept green, even during the fair. 

So, he'd set up a sprinkler right there to irrigate. Right during the fair. Exhibitors bringing in their flower arrangements had to duck through the water and wade through the mud to get to the registration desk. 

One year, old fair board member Reynold up and moved the sprinkler off to the side. 

Retaliation was inevitable, and it came swiftly. 

Grandpa was offended by the ugliness of a rope which cordoned off an area for Wally's cop car. He was sure Reynold was behind the atrocity. 

So, Grandpa tore up the rope and stakes and threw entire the mess in under the big shrub on the corner of the Industrial Building. 

Reynold and Grandpa are twenty years gone. Nobody knows who got in the last lick. 

But the county fair rolls on, always bigger and better than ever than the year before, still pitting good against evil for four titillating days each summer. 


H. L. Gaylord

As my hometown of Fertile celebrated its 125th anniversary last weekend, I found myself in a goofy outfit out in the cemetery playing the role of one of the town's old pioneers, H. L. Gaylord. 

To prepare for the job, I read Gaylord's lengthy obituary as well as a brief biography published in the town history book. 

The basic facts of Gaylord's life were fascinating: 

After nearly losing his scalp in the Sioux uprising in Southwest Minnesota as a five-year-old, Gaylord ended up in the local area in 1882. 

Married with a family at age twenty-two, he put up 500 cords of wood which he sold to the railroad for fuel. 

With the money raised from the firewood sale, he homesteaded a quarter of land, cleared it for farming, built a log cabin and started a herd of cattle. 

Although he left school after third grade, he read law books at night, passed the bar examination and began a storied career as a country lawyer. 

On the frontier, lawyers were needed to draw up the land titles. When the town fathers moved Fertile to its present location to be near the new railroad line, Gaylord sold fifty lots in less than a week, taking a commission on each. 

He then built a grocery store, which he quickly sold, built a law office for himself, as well as thirteen other brick buildings in downtown Fertile on speculation. 

Gaylord earned a reputation as a lawyer who could get you off. Just because you did it didn't mean you were guilty. He traveled on the train to Crookston, the county seat, to try cases and came back the next afternoon on the return train. 

Sometimes, he managed to have the cases moved to the hometown of the defendant where friendly juries were more hesitant to convict. 

When Prohibition hit, Gaylord naturally entered the most profitable game in town: Bootlegging. 

He was arrested for "blind pigging," the practice of bribing cops to make them less able to see the illegal sale of booze going on right under their nose. 

The charges were quickly dropped. I am sure there was some misunderstanding, perhaps concerning the amount of bribe due. 

Gaylord sired a massive family. By the time he died, according to the newspaper clipping, he had fathered nineteen children by three wives. 

As was the custom of the time, nothing was mentioned of the deaths of his first two wives at young ages. They just sort of disappeared.

Finally, in 1940, Gaylord fathered a nine-pound boy at age 82 and delivered the baby himself, just as he had delivered 14 of his previous 18 children. 

He now had a child younger than his six great-grandchildren. 

The feat earned him a write-up in the nationally syndicated "Ripley's Believe it or Not" cartoon. Enlisted Fertile boys were shocked to find a cartoon of their fertile old Fertile neighbor in newspapers on the coasts. 

A local found a framed clipping of the actual article, which I showed those who took the cemetery walk last Sunday. 

As I stood out in the cemetery repeating what I had learned from the printed account, old-timers came by and added color to the story. 

Not only did they add color, but they added complexity. Old Jim claimed Gaylord had 22 children. Art said 18. Paul came in at and even twenty. 

As I stood there in my H. L. Gaylord persona visiting with my 90-year-old nephew, a man next to him casually dropped the bomb that well, it was pretty well-known that the last boy, at the very least, was not actually Gaylord's child. 

Sure enough, when I went to the genealogy listing, no boy was listed as Gaylord's son during the year of the alleged birth. 

A third man, visiting from Washington D. C., said he remembered as a 12-year-old having to break the news to Gaylord's third wife that her second husband had died at work. 

That second husband was allegedly the true father of the baby boy that got old H. L. into Ripley's. 

Another mystery: I never did figure out why, for all of the wealth Mr. Gaylord must have accumulated, he died alone at age 87 in a local flop house. 

So, as I stood over the simple stone of H. L. Gaylord, I knew less than when I began. I didn't even know how many kids I had. 

I suspect lot more secrets than that are buried six feet under that stone.

And the real Mr. H. L. Gaylord isn't talking. 


Party anxiety

A recent survey showed people dread hosting a party even more than they dread a job interview.

Not surprising. Just look at the summersaults parents turn to get the basement guest bedroom redone before graduation even though nobody will see the room during the party. 

Last week, I hosted a summer family gathering. There were so many things to do before the guests arrived. 

The yard had to be mowed and trimmed. I had to buy a bigger charcoal broiler to smoke more ribs. I wanted to neaten up the woodpile. 

The dishwasher had to be replaced after the engine ingested shards of broken glass last winter. The new one had to arrive before the party. 

Somebody had to sweep the cobwebs off the side of the house and out of the doorways. 

I needed to take the skid steer and scrape the driveway a bit so it was clean of weeds. I wanted to burn the brush pile and trim the windbreak. 

The slopes on either side of the driveway had to be mowed. I wanted to take the brush mower and push back the encroaching saplings a ways from the yard. 

More than anything, I wanted to wash all the windows. 

To make a long story short, although I got the lawn mowed and trimmed, the big mower broke before the ditch got mowed. 

The new char-broiler was a bust. I did a test run and it never got hot enough to cook the ribs. I had to run them through the little old kettle broiler to get them done. 

This fall, the hunters will find a new char broiler with a sledgehammer dent in the side laying on its side in the woods. 

The new dishwasher will come sometime next month, I don't know when. They didn't have it in stock. The delivery guy only works on Monday. It will be at least three weeks.

I scratched and scraped with the skid steer to make the gravel drive look spiffy, but managed to cut the buried coaxial cable to the satellite dish in the process.

No Twins games until it gets fixed. 

Dad burned the brush pile on his own volition, so that got done without incident. I brushed away some of the cobwebs, although there were many new ones by morning. 

That left the windows. 

To get to the top windows on the front of the house, I put the extension ladder in the box of the old Ford Ranger, extended it to its full height and crawled to the very end. 

Oh my. The ladder wobbled. My knees wobbled. I am scared of heights. I looked down twenty-five feet and froze. 

Fire departments get kittens out of trees, but do they ever rescue amateur window washers from the top of a ladder? 

Eventually, I struggled down, drenched in sweat. 

I couldn't reach the top, so I put the rag on the end of a pancake flipper, crawled back up and tried to reach the highest spot with that. 

Didn't work. 

Enough! I said. I am going to hire this done. Considering my record with the charbroiler and the satellite cable, I was probably due to fall off the ladder anyway. 

That evening, those dirty windows stared down at me and I had to try it again. By sunset, I had all but finished the outside. I would do the inside in the morning. 

I woke up at six a.m. Outside, I could hear the rumble of Dad on the cultivator. 

Dad's goal? To cultivate every square inch of ground on the whole farm before the company showed. 

None of the visitors would see the fields. Not one. But the cultivating had to get done. 

It was then I realized how insane this all was. I had fallen into the trap of irrational over-preparation for a party. My window-washing madness was as stupid as those people who remodel the basement bedroom before graduation. 

I rolled over and slept in. 

I mean, for crying out loud, the people I hoped to impress weren't going to care. 

Most of them have bifocals, trifocals, cataracts, glaucoma or retinal issues. They're just happy to see the windows before they try to walk through them.

The ribs would turn out fine. Nobody would care about the un-mowed grass. 

As it happened, my aunt washed the dishes in the sink without even noticing that the dishwasher was broken. 

Nobody cared that the woodpile was nothing but chaos and quack. 

The party was a success, even with cobwebs on the window of the upstairs bathroom. 


As always, it was a waste of time to worry. 


Who, me?

As a notorious abuser of children is put away in Pennsylvania, many turn their rage towards those who must have known kids were being hurt, but who did little or nothing to help. 

It is at this stage in a horrific scandal where we might become more introspective than judgmental. 

Yes, people in high positions looked the other way. Yes, if they perjured themselves in the process, they should be prosecuted. 

And yes, many people might wonder why they didn't do more. 

It is only natural to lash out at those who might have rescued kids from the horrors of abuse but did not. 

At the same time, each of us should examine why we, if put in the same situation, probably wouldn't have done anything either. 

An example: I think most people today have convinced themselves they would not have gone along with the extermination of millions in Europe under the Nazis. 

We comfort ourselves by thinking we would have known better, we would have spoken out, we would have sheltered our Jewish neighbors, we wouldn't have looked the other way. 


After a visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau in 1990, I was shaken for two weeks. 

Auschwitz was a concentration camp. Today, it looks pastoral: Pretty brick buildings which were, before World War II, barracks for Polish troops. 

Prisoners in Aushwitz were tortured, experimented upon, worked to death, raped, shot and killed––but they at least stood a slim chance. 

But Birkenau, just across the field, was a death camp. 

As the trains unloaded from a dead-end rail which still exists, "doctors" sorted out the healthiest 5% of the prisoners for work duty. 

The remaining 95% of the Jews, Poles, Gypsies, dissidents and other undesirables were dead in the gas chambers roughly twenty minutes after arrival. 

As we stood in the green field next to the rail track near what remained of the crematory ovens, we were told to scratch loose some soil from the sod below. 

Every handful of the rich soil was filled with human bone fragments, the ashes of the millions who died there, spread about like so much fertilizer. 

Disturbing stuff. 

But what was most disturbing was the troubling conviction I developed over the next couple of weeks as I thought about what I saw. 

I kept asking myself, what would I have done? 

What would I have done if had been nearby, suspecting that the trainloads of people going towards the camp weren't long for this world? 

What would I have done if I had been assigned to work in the camp, an assignment so dreaded by Nazi soldiers that most volunteered for certain death on the Eastern Front rather than serve in the camps? 

What would I have done if assigned to round-up the out-of-favor minorities in the cities of Eastern Europe, sort of knowing but not really knowing that their fate would not be kind?

After thinking long and hard, I realized that the only honest answer to those questions was that I likely would have done nothing at all. 

Absolutely nothing. 

I now believe it is utter arrogance to sit in my recliner and luxuriate in outrage at people who are put to moral tests I have yet to endure. 

Winston Churchill was a tough cookie who furiously upheld his moral convictions. 

Yet, when it came time to criticize the leaders of Eastern Europe who, as World War II gathered steam, had to choose: either give in to Stalin, or to give in to Hitler, Churchill got off his high horse. 

In his memoirs, Churchill made it clear that he felt fortunate never to have been put in a situation where the correct moral choice meant instant death, for he wouldn't know how he would have responded. 

As he memorialized the men in power who capitulated, Churchill was careful to say that those hapless leaders were forced by events into an impossible dilemma.

They paid with their lives either way.

We live in a time where a substantial minority of our leaders, from politicians to bankers to coaches to preachers, exhibit craven moral cowardice even when not threatened by death if they do the right thing.  

It is discouraging. 

However, it does no good to sit in one's recliner and condemn those who fail to speak out in situations we've never had to face. 

Instead, we best look in the mirror and ask, what human pain, what evil, what injustice, what corruption have I overlooked today just for the sake of preserving the peace? 

Get a Haircut!

Never thought I'd see the day, but there I was last week yelling at the television, "Good grief man, get a haircut!" 

Never thought I'd sound like Archie Bunker. 

The target of my outburst, who will never care in the least, was Twins pitcher Glen Perkins. 

Maybe I was irked because he had just given up a home run to an aging member of the ever-losing Chicago Cubs. 

Maybe it is the close-ups on HD televison that forces you to see every stray hair glisten under the ballpark's kleig lights. 

But it suddenly became apparent that Mr. Perkins, a 28-year-old native Minnesotan, has chosen to present himself to the nation's millions looking like a grub pile of willow brush. 

In this age of delayed adulthood, age twenty-eight is when many males start to think about emerging from their parents' basement and applying for a job at Taco Bell. 

Mr. Perkins has been lucky. He can throw a baseball. He already has a job.

In a sign of increased devotion to preparation and training, Mr. Perkins mysteriously added five-miles-per hour to his fastball last year, a rare development which has already earned him millions.

Furthermore, after showing enough early-20s attitude to earn him several trips to the minor leagues, he found a niche as the Twins' "eighth-inning relief specialist," a modern description for middle reliever. 

Secretaries have become "administrative assistants," middle relievers have become "eighth-inning relief specialists." 

Whatever the title, it'll get you out of the parents basement a lot faster than being a "grocery bagging customer service associate." 

So there is Mr. Perkins on television, having attained the American dream. 


And yet, when the camera zooms in all I can see are the hair hurricanes swirling on the back of his neck. 

Then, when the camera zooms in on his face as he peers in for the sign, Mr. Perkins displays a chaotic mid-summer weather map full of facial hair. 

With intermittent hairless clear skies, several systems of hair formations spread randomly across Mr. Perkins' face. 

An apparent low-front moves across Mr. Perkins' chin, creating cumulus clouds of fuzz and a 40-50% chance of scattered sour milk just south of the lower lip. 

All of these unstable, tornadic systems could be cleaned up in few minutes with a little good sense and a $22 clipper. 

We know Mr. Perkins has the time, since he only works in the eighth inning. He has the money, since he throws 95-miles-per-hour during the twenty-five minutes he works per week. 

So, what's the hold-up? 

Mr. Perkins' co-worker, Mr. Mauer, works entire games when his myriad ailments allow, and yet he still has time to visit an actual barber in St. Paul every two weeks. 

This could be because, to earn a little extra spending money, the industrious Mr. Mauer also works a second job as a shampoo salesman for Head and Shoulders. 

No neck-hair hurricanes allowed on that job! 

It used to be that baseball bosses required a certain level of pride in one's appearance. 

The New York Yankees, for all their evil ways, once made their players at least trim up a bit.

But after Charley Finley of the Oakland A's paid his players bonuses to grow out their hair and beards back in 1972, the clean-shaven baseball ethic loosened. 

A's pitcher Rollie Fingers used the occasion to grow his trademark handlebar moustache, a feature which, in addition to a few hundred effective relief appearances, earned him a spot in baseball's Hall of Fame. 

So, nothing against a little neatly-trimmed hair. Or, a lot of hair for that matter. If it is shampooed. 

Nothing against a little youthful rebellion, either. We could use more questioning youth with interests beyond video games. 

No, when I see Mr. Perkins brushy appearance, I don't see rebellion. I don't see a member of the counter-culture taking a stand against bourgeoise repression. 

Instead, I see mere neglect. 

Maybe Mr. Perkins and his bullpen buddies have decided not to get a haircut until the Twins break .500. 

If so, they'll be getting brushier and brushier until Mr. Liriano and a few other Twins "starting pitching specialists" are sent to Seattle in exchange for a boat-load of salmon. 

In the meantime Mr. Perkins, for the benefit of those of us subjected to every glistening stray hair blown up on our living room wall, shave your neck, at least!



Summer is for reunions of all sorts. My 30-year high school class reunion is in July. 

Because I am one of the locals planning the event, I will likely show up when the day arrives.

Yet, it is no secret that most people, particularly locals, have mixed feelings about reunions.

"I already see the classmates I care to see," is a common phrase you hear. "Why subject myself to the rest?"

Good question!

I held a reunion practice round last week as I met two college freshman classmates for dinner. One I hadn't seen or talked to for 28 years. 

Veterans of a small, conservative private college with a great choir, we brought each other up to date on the people we had once known in common. 

Several have died. The rest of us seem to have merely survived. A few have thrived, but not at all in the manner we expected to at the time. 

For instance, the concert choir's star tenor, who also was my freshman roommate, had a voice described in swooning tones as "butterscotch" by his voice professor, herself an professional soprano.

When Brian sang in chapel, students showed up because they wanted to hear his golden voice, not because the chapel police took attendance. 

Jealous coeds asked those of us who lived on his wing if we ever heard him sing in the shower. 

Although we expected a professional singing career, now I find out that Brian and his partner went on to develop a popular line of farm-related clothing worn by several famous country singers. 

Who would have thought!

We had a great time at the dinner. Lots of laughs. However, as we got up to leave, we agreed that a few sessions of therapy might be in order to shed the sludge of the freshly-dredged memories. 

I suspect the same thing will happen at the thirty-year high school reunion. Lots of laughs, lots of fun, lots of surprises, lots of memories.  

Then afterwards, a need for therapy––as well as an internal discussion with one's self over whether to ever attend again. 

Why do reunions bring about such an intense mix of anticipation and dread? 

Won't it be satisfying to see that, compared to my classmates, I haven't aged at all?

The truth is I have looked myself in the mirror every morning and have slowly gotten used to the gray hairs in my beard, the fewer hairs on my head (except for inside the ears) and the sixty pounds I have gained since graduation. 

My endless youth is a delusion. And the class reunion might bring that home. 

Then, there is the explaining. How does one explain that we are not yet Chairman of the Board? That the dream relationship didn't work out? That the first two careers didn't pan out and the jury is still out on the third? 

Getting together with people from one's past forces one to sum up your life in a nutshell. 

The problem is, I don't trust people who can sum up their life in a nutshell. When I try to sum up my own life in a nutshell, I feel like I am selling a used car with a bad transmission. 

Most of us instinctively avoid situations where we have to lie just to get through. 

The lies aren't big and are usually lies of omission rather than commission. 

A dominant but small minority of people are expert at lying about their own lives. They practice their lies every year at Christmas when they send out a glowing letter that leaves out the part where son Jeremy is on probation for peddling dope. 

But the rest of us feel stress when telling even the smallest lies, the white lies you tell just to get through a conversation without making other person uncomfortable. 

Honesty at a reunion can be painful. 

Inevitably, you will disappoint the expectations you created for yourself when you were young, dogmatic and confidently ignorant. 

By now, I was supposed to be governor!

Perhaps reunions have gotten tougher over the years because the standards of honesty have actually gone up. 

In today's therapeutic culture, we're expected to air our dirty laundry.

You spent two years in treatment? Why didn't you tell me? I've been through three times!

Honesty may be the best policy, but that doesn't mean it isn't hard work. 

Meanwhile, the art of lying just to get through is in disrepute. 

So, the only thing to do is get together and let it all hang out. 

And call our therapist Monday morning. 


Biking for a cause

Somewhere, somehow, the idea arose that doing something for a long, long time without stopping is a good way to raise money. 

Probably because it works. 

First, there were Labor Day telethons. Then, walk-a-thons. Read-a-thons. Swim-a-thons. Trike-a-thons. Jump-a-thons. Anything done long enough can have a "thon" added to it. 

People long to be heroes! Asking for money for a cause straight up just seems too easy. No heroism in that.

So, the young idealists come with their pledge book and say, "for every lap I run, you can give my cause a dime."

My general response is, here are 100 dimes, now skip the laps and get a good night's sleep. 

But that's no fun. Young people love to get together and do crazy things. Thons of every sort give young people, and some not so young, the chance to stay up all night for reason no kind person would dispute. 

While at an Alzheimer's conference in Washington, D. C. a few weeks ago, I met four college guys from Western Kentucky University who were going to ride across country to raise funds for research to fight the disease. 

Two years ago, they biked from coast-to-coast. This year, they decided to go north to south. I was intrigued that they planned to start in International Falls, MN!

Last week, to show them at least a little Minnesota hospitality, I met them as they passed through Bemidji. 

We took a picture of the bikers with Babe and the Blue Ox and had lunch. 

On the day I met them, the group consisted of nine riders and two drivers with support trailers. 

Young southern gentlemen all, they marveled the strange accents they had encountered in northern Minnesota. 

And they called me "sir."

Some southern accents send a chill up a northerner's spine, but a gentle Kentucky drawl sounds like music, especially when they call you "sir."

Although their trip was impeccably planned, the bikers are flying by the seat of their pants when it comes to places to stay. 

As they approach a town, Will, a little freckled fireplug in charge of finding places to stay, looks up churches on the internet. He calls right down the list of a town's churches until he finds find one willing to let them sleep on the floor. 

Several of the riders are motivated to ride by relatives who have suffered from the disease. Others came along just to help. 

The group visits nursing homes as they can. 

And they raise funds. In Minneapolis, they took pails and stood at intersections in downtown with members of a local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and collected $500.

Their goal is to raise $175,000. They've done it before, so they're confident they can do it again. 

As we visited at lunch, I was struck by the maturity and contentment of the group. 

We discussed Civil War history. A few of the guys were Civil War buffs. 

I suspect I was more pleased with the war's outcome than were most of them. 

We discussed their potential careers. I exercised my prerogative as their elder to interrogate the young about their plans, even though my own future plans remain lost in the fog. 

What struck me in the end was what a perfect activity a cross-country fund-raising bike trip was for these college guys who are still trying to figure life out. 

They have to develop enough confidence to ask people for help. 

They have to deal with rejection. Most churches turn them down. Drivers yell at them on the road. Not everybody is intrigued by their mission. 

The boys had to plan, not only their route, but for food, tires, repairs and weather.

They had to get in shape. Now, they have to deal with injury and exhaustion. 

A cross-country bike trip provides a great combination of education, travel, practical experience, idealism and exercise. 

So many of our young males stuck between voting and drinking age are sort of lost these days. They lack purpose. They don't feel needed. They don't have a driving mission. 

In the old days, we'd say join the Army. Builds character. Turns you into a man. Gives you something to do. 

However, I am not sure tiptoeing around roadside bombs is something I'd wish on any kid no matter how much character it builds. 

Instead, why not take a cross-country bike trip to raise funds for a good cause, any cause? 

Sure beats rotting in a dorm room. 


Follow the bikers on their trip at