Dedicated to the Class of 1972, MIHS

MIHS school

And so it begins.

Me and my high school pals, class of 1972 from Mt. Iron, Minnesota, are hitting that magical stage of sixty-five years old. Some have already started – I start this month. The rest of you are soon to follow.

Kick in those Medicare benefits, gang. (I refuse to use the word “entitlements” – this is NOT a political document….)

That voice we employed to holler at basketball and football games doesn’t quite stand up to that kind of abuse any more. We would come home hoarse and sore from such events. Even hours on the phone were no big deal at all. But now, If anything, we’re practicing our own form of that vocal sport called “Road Rage” – meaning we don’t pull out weapons or do anything lethal, we merely shake our fists or extend a certain digit, or utter some nonsensical phrases (“The gas pedal is the one on the right, you moron!) and eventually find ourselves back home, car cooling in the garage and us taking our blood pressure meds.

Our body isn’t quite up to what we did for our gym teachers back then. No 30-minute swims in the pool without touching the side. No more rope climbing (or rope burns as we slid down those raspy buggers) , track events (where the fastest of us actually did well, and the worst of us never finished). Nowadays, after chores with lawn mowers, shovels, or snowblowers, it’s time to break out the Ben Gay (younger kids have no idea what that is) and do our best to remember where the heating pad is.

Our minds don’t recall all that stuff we learned back then – the proper conjugation of a German verb, the chemical formula for formaldehyde, how to figure out the tax problem we got from the Senior Problems teacher. Right now, we’re stuck with the fate that finds us forgetting our grocery list on the table at home; and as we try to remember the list at the grocery store, we mistakenly think we need to buy kumquats or some other exotic item. Or we forget our neighbor’s dog’s name as we shoo it out of the yard (using that impaired voice from the first paragraph).

Our spirits back then said that we could overcome anything – even being thirty points behind in a basketball game with only fifteen seconds left and thinking we had a chance – or that we really didn’t have to study for that big science quiz because, yes, we knew it ALL anyway. Or we’d bounce back from a tragic date, tragic breakup, or tragic failure of our driving test. We don’t quite have that unbridled spirit, but we do have kids, grandkids, wonderful siblings, getting our taxes filled out correctly, getting our mother’s recipe for homemade stew just right – lots of things that give us pleasure.

But it begins. We are sixty-five. Ain’t nobody gonna take that away from us.

We shall continue enjoying our friendships, new and old. We shall adjust our diet to reduce stomach problems to a minimum. We shall revel in seeing an old favorite movie on TV. We shall get in a round of golf, realizing that the older we get, the better chance we have of ‘shooting our age’. We shall get together at least at reunions, and we are still mentally spry enough to keep up on Facebook.

And rather quite importantly, we shall remember the good times, and see today as just another addition to the good times list, and with any luck at all, we’ll remember all of it when we hit 100.

And that’s only 35 years away.imgmt-iron-buhl-referendum

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BOOK REVIEW: GHOST MARSHAL by John C. Hamilton

ghost Marshal
Ghost Marshal
By John C. Hamilton
Ravenfire Media of Eden Prairie, MN
ISBN 978-0-9828459-5-0
310 Pages

The western genre contains shoot-em-ups, bad guys, good guys, gold mines, saloons, and horses. Here in GHOST MARSHAL, add some spectral features (a la Stephen King) and a good touch of Asian folklore and you get a new, thrilling angle on the western genre. Drop the whole package in the middle of the era of Gold Fever in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and oh, what a tale for the reader!

Storyteller John Hamilton knits a yarn with all these elements to give the reader a fun, innovative story, set in the Old West. Meet Jessie, whose father is murdered over a gold mine. No shy wallflower, this lady! She can handle herself well among the nearly all-male population of Deadwood, as she confronts an unsavory sheriff, a judge of questionable morality, and the usual squad of bad guys. Her confidence is multiplied by a unique friendship with Wild Bill Hickok, who has just found himself in the form of a ghost, thanks to an attack from behind during a poker game. The two of them assist each other in surprising ways as they chase down their foes, bickering with each other all the way.

The bad guys? In addition to those already mentioned, there’s the leader of the Chinese population of the town, who derives certain talents from the dark side. There’s the henchmen who are willing (and very able) to take down whoever they are ordered to take down. All of them are quite nefarious – some downright fully evil. Add in some other characters (a down-on-her-luck lady of the evening and a mostly-blind storekeeper, for example) for some pathos and comedy.

Author John C. Hamilton blends all these characters in a story that keeps the reader active. Don’t expect much down time between episodes of action – confrontations in rainy cemeteries and smoke-filled saloons, ambushes in the dark streets of Deadwood and the deep caves of the gold mines – they’re all there, carefully and cleverly worded to give the reader the sensation that he is right in the middle of the fracas.

Pick up John C. Hamilton’s book GHOST MARSHAL for a creative, scary, funny, creepy gallop through a story in the Old West. It’ll make you wish you were sitting in a saloon, beer at the ready, keeping your eye on the drunk at the end of the bar and wondering about the eerie sounds coming from who knows where.

What are the fruits of those BOOS?

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It saddens my heart to watch us boo our very own neighbors.

As I watched the coverage of President Trump’s appearance at a recent rally in Rochester, Minnesota, that is the thought that struck my mind.

This event just struck me because it was in Minnesota – the place that has gained the image of being “nice”.

I was watching the crowd behind him. That’s what got to me.

There were ordinary Minnesotans there. At least, I assume they were ordinary Minnesotans. Students, farmers, business owners, mechanics, teachers, moms, dads, favorite uncles. No different than the guy next door or the lady who took your money at the grocery store. Ordinary.

There they were, booing those who think other than they do. Booing their fellow Minnesotans. Booing their neighbors.

Booing is what we used to do when we would attend All-Star wrestling matches at the local armory. The bad guys got our venomous shouts and boos. The cheers for the good guys? Oh, it was there, but with nowhere near the energy of booing the bad guy. Somehow booing had more meat behind it – more gusto. It was mindless mob mentality and it was a lot of fun. It was raucous entertainment, and no more than that.

But, is it okay to boo when you learn that there are others who hold different opinions – even if its people who are just as ordinary and plain as you are?

We seem to have descended to booing each other, at least when it comes to political differences. We curse each other in social media. We don’t need much of a motivation to head that way, either. We seem to go out of our way to insult or belittle those who think differently than us … and that goes for both conservatives and liberals who gather here and there for whatever cause, for whichever celebrated figure that appears at such gatherings. Such booing is becoming the accepted standard. It takes little thinking to boo, to follow the crowd.

Go to whatever rallies you wish. Listen to and absorb whatever the speaker is saying. Get caught up in it all. But realize that maybe, just maybe, you’re being played by the hosts of such events.

 

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THE ELEPHANT MAN
At Central Lakes Community College
Directed by Patrick Spradlin

In these days of science vs. faith, in these days of questioning not only our government’s intentions, but each other’s, it is highly relevant to have seen THE ELEPHANT MAN (a play by Bernard Pomerance) in the Chalberg Theatre at Central Lakes College.

The story is about a misshapen man (John Merrick) who benefits from the London medical community after he is rescued from a life of exploitation and disregard. Wrapped around the title character are others: Dr. Treves who directly deals with Merrick, the bureaucratic hospital head Mr. Gomm, the staunchly religious Bishop How, the theatrical Mrs. Kendall and her personal choices she makes regarding Merrick, the carnival boss Mr. Ross who sees nothing but dollar signs, and a cast of others who lend insights to the idea of the ridiculousness of the questions in the first paragraph . . . and all enhanced by a single cellist, who plays appropriate music between scenes.

Nick Kory performs the physically challenged Merrick role with no prosthetics – he consistently conveys the disformed man with posture and disformity that affect his mobility and his speech. We see him grow his character from a scared man to a man of thought and depth. Kevin Yeager as the doctor reveals his acting to show us how the man held an internal battle of science vs. faith. Jenny Kiffmeyer offers a character of refinement as she guides Merrick into an understanding of the life of women of London in the 1880s. The confrontations that the characters Gomm (Bernard), Bishop How (Ford) and Ross (Oliphant) bring to the others deliver the story in detail to the audience. Adding more are the various characters that Merrick meets – the outrageous sideshow pinheads (Wonder and Johnson) are an esoteric pair to watch. Good work, too, to Nichols, to Brutscher and the Bindas for their work.

Through the show, the audience is told that we need to value beauty – even in its uglier stages. We are told to wonder about the logic of science and the mystery of faith. The whole cast, through the eyes of director Spradlin, get this across so very well.

And might I add – the cello performance by Erika Christiansen served well to set the mood and to enhance the emotions. Well done indeed.

The set, perfectly simple for this show, is the credit of technical director George Marsolek, with lighting by Ben Kent (and there were many light changes that mattered.) Stage manager Lori Jaeger led a backstage drill of making sure the show ran perfectly.

Cast: Kevin Yeager as Treves, Nick Kory as Merrick, M.S. Bernard as Gomm, Marc Oliphant as Ross, M. Hollis Ford as Bishop How, Jenny Kiffmeyer as Mrs. Kendal, with multiple roles by Connor Nichols< jesse Brutscher, Gary Binda, Deb Binda, Karla Johnson, Sadie Wonder. Cello music performed by Erika Christiansen

Remaining Performances: Oct. 2-4 at the
Chalberg Theatre. Curtain is at 7:30
Tickets available at the box office at clcperformingarts.com or 218-855-8199

How to Give Up a Salary and Make it Look Magnanimous – But Not Really.

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One specific plus cited about President Trump is that he has donated the salary for the job.
Yes, wonderful. You can do a lot with that much money. Such stuff is indeed noteworthy, but let’s look further.

First, let’s say you get a job that pays quite well — let’s say $400,000.

You return that salary, because, let’s face it, you are independently wealthy, popularly considered to be worth at least a billion dollars. You don’t really need that money, so donating it somewhere is easy.

Next, you are allowed to take trips on your boss’s credit card. Let’s say those trips cost 1.6 million dollars, on average, for each flight. You do this at least once a month. In a year, that’s almost 20 million dollars.

You have just spent five times as much as you have on trips as you have donated in your salary.

Let’s review.

Before you got that job, you were already a billionaire. You didn’t need that 400,000-dollar salary at all. (As a matter of fact, that figure is .04% of what you have.) And in that job, you have taken a good many vacation weekends at the expense of your boss amounting to five times that salary.

Giving up that salary is about as impressive as a retired couple I know (on a fixed income of around $80,000 a year) giving $3.20 a year to charity.

No matter how wonderful that retired couple might be, I can’t say I’m impressed with their charitable giving . . . and no matter how wonderful President Trump may be, I can’t say I’m impressed with his charitable giving, either.

 

Book Review: The I-94 MURDERS

I94 murders

THE I-94 MURDERS
By Frank F. Weber
Northstar Press of St. Cloud, Inc.
307 Pages

Minnesota is flyover land, where life is shallow and beige. But wait, not in Frank Weber’s crime novels.

In I-94 MURDERS, Detective Jon Frederick finds himself in charge of investigating a series of murders committed in towns along the interstate highway that dashes its way through the heart of Minnesota. Driven to find the killer, Detective Frederick must use his wits (part old-school police work, part cutting edge forensics) to identify and catch the criminal. Along the way, he must find time for important loves in his life and maintain contacts with old friends – all of which dovetail into a story line that keep the reader turning pages.

Author Weber gives us characters of a wide range – the unredeeming lifestyles of addicts and junkies – cryptically self-important criminals, and at the forefront, there’s Jon Frederick, balancing career and his love life as all these people cross his path. There’s the news reporter who wishes she could find a better gig. There’s the struggling young lady who has left herself wide open in ways that are dangerous to her. There’s the unreliable good friend that Jon just can’t trust. There are Jon’s work partners, who are overcome with either bureaucracy or wavering loyalty. And then, there’s the killer who has secrets that motivate his (her?) crimes. To add to the writing, author Weber gives us the character of the secret side of the internet that so few admit or even acknowledge – and, reader, you had better believe its there and at work.

And yes, such characters are not limited to the seamy side of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the reader might expect to find such unsavory behaviors. Small towns – and I mean a population in the hundreds – are important sites for the detective as he works with the others. Locations include trashed apartments as crime scenes, seedy bar as interrogation sites, and bedrooms that are filled with comfort in more ways than one.

The world of forensics has a strong presence here – not only the hard science of ballistics and fingerprints, but also the idea that psychological forensics – how people think and act – are just as relevant and accurate as those other traditional ways to capture criminals.

So as in his first novel ‘MURDER BOOK’, Frank Weber delivers a chunkful of detective work, complete with a criminal, victims, and a good twist or two of mistakes, misfortune, and a personal love story – all for the reader to find the comfort of a good chair, light from a good lamp, and a mind ready for the whodunit that defies that flyover land mindset.

ARB TREK #4 – THE RUDY TRAIL

I have been asked to write a few articles for the NORTHLAND ARBORETUM.  The first three have been published in their magazine – this is the next one.

 

ARB TREK #4 – THE RUDY TRAIL

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The Rudy Trail is one of the first I walked in the arboretum, where I first saw deer and felt the hilly nature of the arboretum as the wonderfully connected trails wind their way through the arboretum.

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Leaving the Visitors’ Center, we make our way north along the road.  Just beyond the gazebo in the field, we enter the woods and find the ACORN trail.  100 yards along ACORN, we find the RUDY TRAIL taking a hard right.  Let’s follow that right and see what RUDY has to offer.  There will be plenty – keep your eyes open for birds, deer, and squirrels.  Watch the ground, too, for wildflowers, mushrooms, or tracks of animals that inhabit the area.

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Amid pine trees, we walk along the grassy trail.  To our left, the ground slopes down.  To our right, there is a small ridge that separates us from the LITTLE DAN trail.  Curving through the woods, we come to a good-sized downhill slope, then up again, and around a small curve, where we find the intersection with the ORAN trail off to the right, which will come up again.  For now, we continue on RUDY.

 

You may have noticed there are signs here for the snowshoe trail.  It entered onto RUDY from our right, follows RUDY for 75 yards or so, and peels off to the left.  We’ll continue on RUDY.

 

We pass out of the woods and come to a larger clearing.  Away from the trees, we can see much more, especially to our right.  Ah, there’s another trail – and we will see later that it is RUDY again, as it fish-hooks itself along the center of the clearing.   The trail goes northwest, then curves a hard right as it passes the POTLATCH trail, 25 yards away.  There are a good many dead trees, tall but leafless, where we may see birds perched high as they sing into the daytime sun.  RUDY continues to curve right, and we find ourselves at the portion of the trail we noticed earlier.  Rudy has come back 180 degrees, now 50 yards away from itself to our right.

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A slight uphill, and the trail is sandier.  We’re returning to the tree line.  We reach the peak of that uphill section, and find ourselves at the top of a rather steep slope.  Down we go, now on one of the longer, steeper slopes in the arboretum.  The trees hide the view to the left, where the POTLATCH trail mirrors RUDY, and to our right, where we’ve angled away from the west side of RUDY.

 

At the bottom of the hill, we meet up with the ORAN trail again – we have taken ourselves all around the fishhook section of RUDY.  We take a left where ORAN and RUDY meet, and find ourselves at the FIVE CORNERS intersection, the major crossroads of many of the trails in the arboretum.

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Our tour of RUDY is done, its fishhook shape taking us through a mile of woods and clearing.  We have had the opportunity to see a variety of trees and creatures.  Back to the Visitors’ Center we go, checking off RUDY as a trail we’ve come to know.

 

all photos were taken on the RUDY trail by the author.