June 21, 2012
Whoopee! I have completed the first draft of a new novel named For the Cause. Microsoft Word software statistics tells me I spent 47,498 minutes in writing For the Cause, or approximately twenty workweeks. This is not completely accurate because I initiated a name change during the process so it is actually longer than that. All of that to write 60,090 words, the shortest novel I have written. It Seems like I could use some productivity enhancement.
Anyway, I now need to find someone to read the draft and tear it apart. The story is about two South Dakota farm boys who join the marines and finish basic training just as the Korean War breaks out. One of the marines goes to Korea and the other to the Philippines to do guard duty at the Sangley Point Naval Air Station. The story follows the lives of these two marines during the first six months of the Korean War to a surprising conclusion.
May 14, 2012
The America Not So Beautiful
I believe must citizens of the United States consider this country to be the best there is and maybe it is but the following qqduckus blog identifies some unflattering comparisons with other countries.
March 25, 2012
Chapter Two draft of the novel For the Cause. I had previously posted a draft copy (Feb. 16, 2012) of the first chapter of the novel For the Cause with the intention of posting more chapters.
It’s about two South Dakota young men who grew up farms and who faced the need to become independent and decided to join the marines. This happens just prior to the Korean war and one of the men goes to Korea and becomes involved in the early months of fighting while the other is assigned to a marine contingent doing guard duty at a navy base in the Philippines. The story follows the two men on different paths to a surprising conclusion.
Up to this point:
The Story up to this point:
Chapter 1 The Breaking Point
The story begins in February of 1950. Peter Houser, a young man eighteen years old, had grown up on a northeastern South Dakota farm near the town of Milbank. He had been helping his family on the family farm since completing the eighth grade in a rural one room school. Pete had always assumed he would someday become a farmer, although he had begun to wonder how and when this would ever occur.
Pete and two friends made a habit of spending some time together on Saturday night and took turns driving. It is Pete’s turn to drive and he would be driving the families nearly new Studebaker. He picked up one of the friends, a neighbor by the name of Chris Engelson first. While driving to pick up the second friend who lived in Milbank, a cousin named Lyle Houser, Pete learns that Chris had signed up to join the marines. The three friends decide they need to do something special to mark Chris’s upcoming departure to become a marine.
They drove to a small town that has a dance hall with a questionable reputation where Chris, overindulges on 3.2 beer and they leave early to return to Milbank. While returning there is an accident and while the nearly new Studebaker is totaled, none of the friends are injured. Pete knows he is in big trouble with his father who considered the Studebaker, the only new car he could ever afford, as his most treasured asset.
2. A New Direction
Copyright ©, 2012 Alfred Wellnitz -
It had been almost 3:00 AM when Pete crept up the stairs to his bedroom as quietly as possible. He got up at six AM as usual to feed and milk the cows. Pete had just about finished milking when Emil came in the side door of the barn.
“Where’s the car?” He asked.
The moment had arrived. The world as Pete knew it would end. Actually it had been ending for a while and what had happened the previous night had jarred him into accepting that reality that he would not someday be farming the home place.. That wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t any closer to being a farmer than he had been five years ago when he finished the eighth grade, and wouldn’t be any closer five years from now. “The car is at the Van Dorn Standard station. I wrecked the car last night,” Pete said, “Totaled it.
Emil, whose face had turned red and looked like it could explode, said, “Shit.” He repeated himself, “Shit, “You’re a big help. Try and get ahead and you bust something. Always busting things.”
Pete listened. There was some truth in what his dad had said. Things seemed to break down around where he would be working. Last summer he had been pulling a load of grain with the tractor, somehow it came unhitched, went in the ditch and tipped over. A big mess. A week later he backed the pickup into the granary door. Took two days to fix the granary door and the pickup bumper is still hanging.
Pete took a deep breath. “You won’t have to worry about that any more, Chris and I are joining the Marines. Be leaving soon.” Pete watched as the redness and angry look leaked from his dad’s face.
When Pete had finally gotten to bed earlier that morning, he lay awake worrying about what had happened and what would happen. He couldn’t imagine any good scenarios that would get him out of the mess he found himself. Then a solution suddenly occurred to him. He would join the Marines, like Chris had done. It would diminish the current car wreck crises by merging it with another attention getting situation and at the same time get him out of the going nowhere rut he was in. After resolving the matter in his mind he fell into a deep sleep until the alarm went off a short time later.
Finally Emil responded to Pete’s revelations. “How are you going to pay for it? He asked.
Pete had not thought about that part of the problem. His mind had focused on the punishment part. He really didn’t really have an income. He got spending money when he needed it. He got a litter of pigs to call his own and got the money for the sale of the pigs when they went to market. As a result he had a little more than about two hundred dollars in a savings account.
“What’s it going to cost?” Pete asked in turn.
“There’s the two hundred dollar deductible and then the new license, probably some things I don’t know about.”
‘There’s about that much in my savings account,” Pete replied, “You can have whatever’s in there.”
Then Emil asked, “When are you leaving?”
Pete really didn’t know how soon it would be, or if he would even get in the marines, but answered: “Couple of weeks.”
Emil turned on his heal and walked out of the barn. After finishing the cow chores, Pete went back to the farm house for the breakfast his mother would be preparing. Emil came into the house soon after. They both sat down at the breakfast table and poured themselves a cup of coffee from the steaming pot sitting in the middle of the table. Neither one said anything to the other. Florence, Pete’s mom sat a large plate with two eggs over easy, three strips of bacon and a helping of refried potatoes in front of both Emil and Pete and put a large plate of toast in the middle of the table.
Pete’s mom, despite eating like a man, was skinny as a rail, probably because she was an intense perpetual motion machine. She cleaned incessantly, cooked big meals as a matter of course, taught Sunday school, was a 4H club leader and volunteered for every opportunity that came along.
Armed came to the table dressed for church. Although Armed did field work during the summer, he had been exempted from normal chores. He kept busy with school activities, played basketball. Florence put a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and a picture of milk on the table for Armed.
Florence brought a plate with two eggs and bacon for herself and sat down. All the family members automatically bowed their heads and as Florence said an extemporaneous breakfast prayer.
Silence prevailed as all the family members worked on their breakfasts.
Emil finally broke the silence, “Pete has some news for us this morning.”
Florence and Armed looked up expectantly.
“He wrecked the car last night.”
“What!” Florence exclaimed, “How will we get to church?” Florence never missed church. If they gave out gold stars for church attendance she would have a chest full.
“Never thought about that.” Emil replied.
Pete volunteered a solution; “I’ll stay home; the rest of you can fit into the pickup
Emil gave a grunt, “You’re the one that really needs to go to church.”
Florence, apparently having given the wrecked car information more thought, asked, “Was anyone hurt? How did it happen?
Pete had been hoping that the how it happened question wouldn’t come up. “Nobody was hurt,” he said. “We were driving back from Big Stone.”
“What were you doing in Big Stone?” Emil wanted to know.
“We spent a little time at Chautauqua.”
Florence sniffed, “That den of iniquity.”
Pete ignored his mother’s comment. “We were all riding in the front seat and Chris was in the middle. I guess he fell asleep. Suddenly he wakes up and crawls on top of me, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t get my foot on the brake. We went into the ditch, rolled over on a rock pile.”
“Omph.” Emil said, then added, “Pete has more news; he’s joining the marines.”
“Joining the marines!” Florence exclaimed, “You don’t have to do that. I’m sure whatever happened wasn’t your fault.”
One thing that Florence knew for sure, despite evidence to the contrary—her boys could do no wrong.
“I want to join the marines,” Pete replied. He could have added, for a lot of reasons, but didn’t. No need to make things complicated for his mother.
Armed supported Pete’s decision, “I wish I could join the Marines,” he said.
Florence agreed reluctantly that the pickup would be used to get to the St. Johns Lutheran church in Wilmot and that Pete would have to miss church in order to eliminate the need for anyone to sit in someone’s lap. It would be one of the few times Pete had not attended church since he could remember. If you were a Houser, going to church on Sunday is something you did. You didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it or deciding if you would or wouldn’t go to church. He also hadn’t spent time wondering if he liked or enjoyed going to church, it is something one did, like breathing. However, now that he didn’t have to go to church, he felt a kind of a relief, and a chance to do something he had to do soon if he wanted to go into the marines with Chris. He had to talk to Chris.
If he cut across the fields it would only be three-quarters of a mile to the Engelson farm. The Engelsons’ weren’t church people so they would be home on Sunday morning. It would be cold, the thermometer still showed five below zero so Pete pulled on an extra pair of pants, put a sheepskin over his denim jacket, a heavy stocking cap on his head and pigskin mittens with liners on his hands. He had double socks on his feet and pulled four buckle overshoes on. Then he took the 22 rifle off its rack in the cellar stairs. He didn’t go many places around the farm without his 22; just in case there would be something to shoot.
Chris’s mother, Carol Engelson, a typical farm housewife, overweight from testing too much of her own cooking, met Pete at the door, said Chris was still in his bedroom. “Must have caught the flue or something.” she said. “Go on up, you know where he sleeps. I’m sure he’s awake.”
It was a typical farm house where all the kids slept upstairs in two bedrooms. If there had been girls, they would sleep in one room and the boys in another room. As it was Chris had one room to himself and his two younger brothers slept in the other room. Pete went up the steep stairs and knocked on Chris’s bedroom door.
“Ya,” a voice said.
“I’m sure I will live, the voice replied.”
Pete opened the door and went in. Chris was still in bed holding his head.
Chris groaned, “You can’t get drunk on 3.2, but you sure can get one hell-of-a-hangover. What happened last night?”
“We wrecked dad’s new Studebaker among other things.”
“I remember something about that. Does he know?”
“Well when the he couldn’t find the car, he got curious. Yup he has the whole story. Well maybe not all of it but the important stuff.”
“So, I bet your dad blew a gasket.”
“He did, but when I told him I was joining the marines, it sort of took the wind out of his sails.”
What to hell are you saying!? Chris blurted. “I’m the one joining the marines, remember, I think that is what we were celebrating last night; that’s why I have this big head.”
Pete answered, “Last night after I got home and to bed I thought about all the trouble I was going to be in and some other things too. Suddenly it occurred to me I can solve all my problems by joining the marines. Think I can get in with you, be together?
“Well, that would be pretty damn neat.” Chris replied. “I have to be back in Minneapolis March 13, when they say a group of us will be going to San Diego for boot camp. I bet you could get into the same bunch if you hustle down to Minneapolis. You’ll have to pass a physical; be sure to take a certified birth certificate. I didn’t have one so had to mail it to them. That’s all you’ll need.
Pass a physical. The words made Pete aware that joining the marines involved more than signing some papers. What if he didn’t pass the physical? He didn’t want to even think about the possibility. He wasn’t aware of anything being wrong with his health. He had all the young kid stuff that everyone has; the chicken pox, measles, and whopping cough. Someone came around and vaccinated everybody in the school for small pox. He had never seen a doctor as far as he knew. He figured he was healthy, but the uncertainty bothered him.
“What’s this physical, what do they do?
“They have you strip down naked, weigh, measure you, look in your mouth. They have this thing doctors always have hanging around the neck, they put it in their ears and probe around your back and front and have you cough. Then they push a finger up by your balls and have you cough some more. They check your eyes to see how small a number or letter you can read. That’s about it.”
Pete walked a couple of sloughs to see if he could scare up a jack rabbit or two on his way home after visiting with Chris. Pete had gotten pretty good at picking off rabbits on the run with his 22, but he could only get a dollar for a rabbit carcass from a fur dealer in Ortinville, so he hunted rabbits more for sport than money.
The family had returned from church by the time Pete got home and his father and mother were seated at the kitchen table drinking coffee. His mom looked a little agitated. Nothing too unusual; she tended to be high strung. His dad on the other hand looked sterner than usual and asked where Pete had been.
“Visiting Chris,” Pete answered. “Talked about the marines, other things.”
Pete’s mom and dad looked at each other, his dad cleared his throat. “Mom and I have been talking,” he said. “We been talking about this marine idea you have. I’ve been thinking to, thinking for a while about buying some more land. The Johnson farm has been for sale since last fall. I’m thinking about making an offer. It bounds the east pasture. The buildings are falling down but buildings can be fixed up.”
Pete was taken aback by what his dad had revealed. He had no clue that his dad had had any such thoughts. However, it didn’t surprise him; the family had never communicated much beyond what is needed to get a day’s work done. Thoughts were not often revealed.
Pete’s father continued, “It would be a way for you to get started on your own. Use my machinery until you could afford your own. You could work the Johnson land on shares and help out here for use of the machinery.”
The words solved one of the problems that had been bothering Pete for much of the past year; a way to get unstuck from his current situation and to get started towards becoming a real farmer.
Pete’s dad finished what he had to say and then asked what Pete thought of the idea.
A year ago, Pete would have jumped at the chance his dad had offered but the past day had opened up new boundaries in his mind and he felt a freedom he had never felt before. He found the prospect of seeing and experiencing the world beyond Wilmot and Milbank exciting and the dream of becoming a farmer faded as these new thoughts took shape.
Pete had the answer to his dad’s question but didn’t know how to say it. He had reached the fork in the road and his young mind knew which way it wanted to go. One fork led down a path which Pete knew well and a path he had hoped to follow. The other fork, only recently revealed to Pete, veered into unknown but tempting territory. Pete wanted to do what any young man would do under the same circumstances, go the illogical route, down the path of the unknown and to see what he would find. His dad had made a magnanimous offer and Pete had to turn it down.
The kitchen had become quiet while Pete tried to conjure up the answer to his dad’s offer. How could he tell them that he had suddenly become hell bent to explore the world and it had become more important than pursuing his goal to become a farmer? The only thing that bothered Pete was how to reply to his dad’s question.
Finally Pete began mouthing words that mixed his thoughts with what he his mom and dad would expect him to say.
“I think it would be good for everyone if I got away for a while. Chris wants me to go into the marines with him and I’ve decided to do that. Chris has signed up for three years and I’m going to do the same.”
Florence’s face had sagged after Pete spoke. A look of disbelief showed on Emil’s face.
After the impromptu kitchen meeting, there could be no turning back for Pete. Florence drove him to the Milwaukee train depot in Milbank to catch the train to Minneapolis on Sunday evening the 26th of February. He told his mom he would be back on Tuesday, on the noon train from Minneapolis. He didn’t know exactly how long he would need to be in Minneapolis, but according to Chris one day would be enough time to enlist and get his physical.
Pete had no trouble finding the Marine recruiting office and the people there seemed genuinely happy to see him and got him signed up in no time. The physical went fine and he was given instructions to be back in Minneapolis on March 13 and would be with the same contingent as Chris going to the San Diego Marine Training Center.
March 23, 2012
I’ve been tardy posting these last few weeks, my excuse is that I am in the process of writing a novel and it is taking most of the oxygen out of my time. Originally I had intended the story to be novella length, maybe fifty thousand words and would consist of a forty thousand word introduction to a short story I had previously written. As usual things happen when a novel is being written. It tends of takes over and goes its own way.
The name of the novel started out to be and still is For the Cause, and is an exploration of why men and women voluntarily become involved in organizations that are designed to fight other organizations and as a result they may end up killing or maiming other people, or themselves being killed or maimed.
The original idea had been to tell the story from the view point of a young marine stationed in the Philippines and a Filipino fisherman at the time of the Korean War. After doing some research of the U.S. Marine’s roll in the Korean War I began to appreciate what an epic period the first six months of that war had been for the marines. After WWII and up until the Korean War, the roll of U.S. Marines in the United States armed services had been debated. Would there be a need for what seemed to be a duplication of the U.S Army infantry? After the first six months of the Korean War, that question had been answered and has not been raised again.
After becoming familiar with the role of the U.S. Marines in the Korean War I decided to include the view point of that war through the eyes of a young private first class rifleman in the For the Cause story. This has resulted in For the Cause growing into a full size novel and of course lengthening the time it will take to finish. So I am taking a breather, getting chores done I have been putting off, like posting in my blog, and preceding at a more moderate pace with the novel.
February 16, 2012
I have been tardy in posting recently in part because I have been writing the draft of another book to be titled For the Cause.
It’s about two South Dakota young men who grew up farms and who faced the need to become independent and decided to join the marines. This happens just prior to the Korean war and one of the men goes to Korea and becomes involved in the early months of fighting while the other is assigned to a marine contingent doing guard duty at a navy base in the Philippines. The story follows the two men on different paths to a surprising conclusion.
A first draft of the story is complete and am doing some self editing before having it edited by a real editor.
I am posting the first chapter and plan to post more in the future.
Chapter 1 of For the Cause
Copyright ©, 2012 Alfred Wellnitz -
Peter Houser used a scoop shovel to finish cleaning the barn gutter. Peter, better known as Pete by people who knew him, had been doing most of the cow chores on the Houser farm since finishing the eighth grade in the one room school half a mile down the road in 1944. Now nineteen, he had become a well-muscled strapping six-foot tall young man. He pushed the wheelbarrow with the sloppy mess out the barn door into the cold South Dakota February air and dumped the load on the winter’s accumulation of frozen manure. He idly observed the thirty Holstein cows out for their daily outing, lining up to drink water from the insulated tank kept from freezing by an electric heater. He then went back into the barn and spread fresh straw on the concrete pad where the cows spent most of their day while kept in place by steel stanchens’. When he finished he observed the cleaned barn with satisfaction. He liked the looks and smell of a clean barn.
Pete’s dad, Emil came into the barn through a side door. Emil had a short sturdy build, a square German face perpetually tanned from spending long day’s out-of-doors. He wore a flannel lined denim jacket and ear lapper cap, his winter uniform for doing chores. That and long johns under the overhauls and blue denim shirt, the same kind of overhauls and shirt that he wore every day of the year except when going to church.
I’m going to take a pickup load of them sows into the sale today,” he said.
From late fall to early spring the Milbank sales barn had a sale every Saturday afternoon. Farmers from around the area would go there to buy or sell livestock.
“You can help me load the pickup, and then maybe open up one of those alfalfa stacks. The mow is getting pretty empty.”
Pete had just had his work plan laid out for the day. Since finishing the eighth grade, Pete had been what amounted to a full time hired man, except that he didn’t think of himself as a hired man. For one thing, he didn’t get paid regularly and for the other thing; he felt he had a vested interest in the farm. It had always been his expectation that someday he would be running the Houser farm located half way between Milbank and Wilmot. Armed, his sixteen year brother might be assuming the same thing, but he was going to high school, so would have more possibilities.
During the past year or so Pete had been questioning his future expectations. His dad had just turned fifty and would be running the show for a long time, maybe longer than Pete would want to be an unpaid hired man.
His dad had lived through some pretty hard times. Pete didn’t know all the details but knew that the farm they lived on had been homesteaded by his grandfather in the late eighteen hundreds and that his dad had taken over the farm in the 1920’s. Late in the 1920’s his dad had mortgaged the homestead in order to add another 160 acres to the farm. Shortly after he got the loan to buy the extra land, the economy went south and the original homestead and the additional 160 acres were all lost. The local bank that foreclosed on the farm went bankrupt soon after that and the title ended up being held by a Connecticut insurance company.
Things started getting better around by the time WWII came along and kept going good after the war. His dad had bought the farm back from the insurance company that never wanted to own it in the first place, the horses had been replaced by tractors and a silo added to the barn. A machine shed had been built for all the new machinery. The house had been remodeled and wired for electricity and plumbed for running water. Things had gotten better for the Houser family, but his dad still guarded every penny and every possession rigorously.
Knowing all this didn’t make Pete’s need to ask for use of the Studebaker, the first new car the Houser family had ever owned, any easier. He and two friends, a neighbor, Chris Engelson and a cousin, Lyle Houser, who lived in Milbank, took turns driving for their weekly Saturday night outing. Since his dad bought the new Studebaker last fall, Pete dreaded going through the asking permission ritual. His dad treated the Studebaker like a crown jewel ever since he brought it home last fall.
My turn to drive again.” Pete said hesitantly.
“Seems like you just drove,” Emil answered, “Be sure you bring it back as clean as you found it.”
That afternoon Pete took the John Deere and a hay rack out to the north eighty where he opened up one of three stakes of hay and wrestled a full rack of hay out of it. He took the load back to the barn and used the haymow fork and pulley system to lift the hay into the hayloft. It took four fork loads to get all the hay into the barn. Unloading into the loft was really a two person job. One person could do it but it took a lot of running back and forth so he hurried to get done and get the cows milked the second time that day. He is supposed to pick up Chris Engelson at eight. Chris and Pete had been in the same grades in the one room school house for eight years so knew each other really well.
A few minutes before eight Pete could hear a squeaking sound from the car’s tires as he backed the Studebaker out of the garage through a light covering of snow. Must be below zero he thought. The car, kept immaculately clean by Emil, still had a faint new car smell.
The yard light came on when Pete pulled into the Engelson driveway and Chris came out of the door when the Studebaker stopped in front of the white two story frame house. Chris was tall, a couple of inches taller than Pete and ambled in a way that everything didn’t seem fully connected. Chris, at nineteen had never had a girlfriend as far as Pete knew and he wasn’t surprised. Besides being seemingly awkward he had unruly red hair on top of a long face with big ears. Course Pete had never had a girl friend either, but he didn’t blame it on his looks. Looking in a mirror, he thought he looked at least average, maybe a little better than average. His face wasn’t as square as his dad’s or as round as his mom’s and was topped off with thick dark blond hair cut in a Henie and normal sized ears. It wasn’t that Pete didn’t like girls. He spent a large part of his time thinking about them, but not knowing how to act around girls was a problem for him and for Chris too. Neither of them had gone to high school and neither of them had any sisters. Girls were exotic creatures he didn’t know much about.
Chris got into the car and they headed for Milbank to pick up Lyle. What’s the plan for tonight?” Chris asked.
“Probably shoot some pool at Volk’s” Pete answered, and then he asked, “What you been doing this week?”
Chris replied, “I joined the marines.”
You what!” Pete exclaimed.
“I joined the marines.”
“You’re shitting me. How come?”
“You want to know the real answer?”
“I got kicked out.”
“Maybe not kicked out. They let me know in a round-about way that I should be looking for a way to make my own way. Guess I couldn’t figure it out for myself. I got two younger brothers. All of us boys aren’t going to be farmers. I guess I sorta knew that but didn’t know what to do about it. I haven’t been doing a lot of work around the farm. Especially this winter. They don’t need me, they don’t need me around.”
“Why the marines?”
“It sort of happened. Monday I took the Milwaukee to Minneapolis. I heard factories are hiring. I wasn’t too excited about a factory job but hafta do something.”
Pete interrupted, “You took off, didn’t say anything to anyone?”
“My folks knew.”
“My might not have been there when I went to pick you up?”
“I’ve been kind of screwed up.”
“You didn’t finish telling me how come the marines.”
“Well I was walking down Washington Avenue, near the train depot. Not a good street, night or day. There was a sign in a bar window; Be a Man, Join the Army. That sign got me to thinking.”
They were coming into Milbank. A bright moon made Lake Farley visible on the right side of the road as they entered the town. Lyle lived on lake side of the tracks in an old two story that backed up to the Whetstone creek. They could see Lyle looking out the window when they pulled up.
Of the threesome, Lyle filled the odd one out role. He had lived in town all his life, was on a different wave length than Pete and Chris. He claimed to know all about women but Pete hadn’t seen much evidence for that claim. Compared to Pete and Chris he was short, less than six feet by quite a bit. He had brown mouse colored hair, a round face with freckles over the bridge of his nose. Like a lot of short people he compensated by being boisterous to the point of being obnoxious; kind of a counterbalance to the sober and steady Pete and Chris.
Lyle came trotting out of the house. “Hey what’s the plan?” He said loudly as he got into the back seat.
“Maybe some pool at Vok’s” Chris replied.
“That sounds exciting.” Lyle replied sarcastically.
“Drink a couple of beers,” Chris added.
The Studebaker idled while the evening’s plans were being discussed.
“Maybe we should do something special,” Pete said, “With Chris going into the Marines in a couple of weeks…..”
“What to hell are you saying Pete? Chris is going where?
“Why don’t I know what’s going on?” Lyle asked.
Chris explained, “I didn’t know I was going into the Marines last week.”
“That don’t make a lot of sense,” Lyle replied.
Pete prodded Chris, “You still haven’t told why you ended up in the Marines.”
“Like I was telling you, I saw this join the army sign in the window and started thinking; maybe that would be a better deal than working in a factory. I asked a couple of bums sitting on the curb where the army recruiting office was. They were sharing a paper sack with something in it and asked if I could spare a dollar. I gave them a quarter. They didn’t have any idea where the recruiting office was but said try Hennepin Avenue. “You could find most anything there.”
Lyle faked a yawn. “I got a feeling this is going to be a real long story.”
Chris went on, “Well, I’m walking down Hennepin, and those bums were right, you could find just about anything there. Then there was this sign on the sidewalk, showed a marine in dress uniform, holding up a sward up in front of him, and I could see myself walking down the main street of Milbank in one of those uniforms and the girls twisting their necks off looking. So I joined the Marines.”
“I’ll be damned,” Lyle said, “I guess we will have to do something special. There’s a dance at Chautauqua, maybe we can get you screwed. Don’t want to go into the Marines a virgin.”
Pete guessed that not much would happen at Chautauqua until ten at least and suggested playing a couple games of rotation.”
Lyle seconded the idea.
After a couple of beers and two games of rotation they drove the ten miles on HW12 to the town of Big Stone and the mile up the Lake Road where Chautauqua Park sat right on the shore of Big Stone Lake. Things were jumping when they arrived at Chautauqua and they had to park a block from the dance hall along the Lake Road.
“Damn, it’s colder than a witches’ tit,” Lyle exclaimed as they walked from the Studebaker to where the dance hall was. As they approached the dance they could hear an old time German band pounding away. They bought their tickets and somebody stamped the back of their hands with an ink marker.
The dance hall was a long rectangular space with a serving bar along the west side and long tables with benches that could seat eight-ten people filling three quarters of the space in the building. The band played on a raised platform at the far end of the hall in front of a polished wood dance floor. Only three-two beer and mixes for byob people were served.
Lyle spotted space at a table near the dance floor and quickly claimed and held it while Pete and Chris made their way to the table. Already seated at the table were three young women and two young men. Lyle signaled a waitress to bring them a pitcher of beer.
Lyle filled their classes and proposed a toast. “To Chris, the only and best damn marine from Wilmot. After they had emptied their glasses Lyle started refilling them. “No more for me,” Pete said, “I’m driving.”
“Hell,” Chris said, “You can’t get drunk on three-two; you piss it away faster than you can drink it.
Pete wasn’t sure Chris’s theory held water. None of the three were seasoned beer drinkers.
Chris, as though to prove his point chug-a-lugged his beer and poured another one, then held up the pitcher for a refill.
They began noting their surroundings. The three women scrunched between them and two young men at the other end of the table didn’t seem to be attached to anyone in particular. The band returned from taking a break and started playing a contemporary slow piece to get people on the floor. One of the women was asked to dance and left the table.
Then the two men who had been sitting at the other end of the table got up and started dancing with the other two women.
“What’re waiting for?” Pete asked Lyle.
“I wouldn’t call them the pick of the crop; what are you two waiting for?”
“Hell, I can’t dance,” Pete replied. “And if I could I don’t know if I would. I’m not sure I’d want arm wrestle any of them.
Chris had just poured himself another beer. He agreed with Pete, “They’re built like work horses.
“Nothing wrong with that,” Lyle argued, “They can pitch hay all day and dance all night without working up a sweat.”
They continued drinking beer and observing the dancing and for a while. Chris spoke up, “Hell, I could do that,” referring to people dancing. His voice had a slight slur to it.
The band were playing a shottische and most of the amateurs had left the dance floor, except for Chris who persuaded one of the husky women at their table to dance.
Pete and Lyle knew this would be bad. Besides being awkward and uncoordinated and having never danced before, Chris was three sheets to the wind. Besides all that, the schottische dance had a set pattern prompted by the music which would have taxed Chris’s abilities if he had been sober. The woman walked away and left Chris standing in the middle of the dance floor flat footed.
“Did I do good?“ Chris asked when he got back to the table.
“You asshole, that pretty much messed up our chances with those women,” Lyle replied.
“I did that good?” Chris replied, then hiccupped. He hiccupped again. “I know how to cure that,” he said. He filled his glass and drank it down without taking a breath
Pete suggested that Chris take it easy.
Chris looked puzzled “Hell, I thought we were goin to celebrate somethin tanight.”
“We’re celebrating Chris going into the marines.” Pete replied.
Chris looked surprised, “Chris going to the marines? Da poor bastard.”
For Pete, who remained stone sober, things were visibly deteriorating at Chautauqua. A couple of fights had broken out at the back of the room. A couple at a table across from them were looking like they were about to make out. Then he noticed that Chris had disappeared. “Where’s Chris?” Pete asked Lyle.
Lyle looked around, “Hell, his slide under the table.”
“We have to get him out of here.” Pete said, “I’ll get the car and park it by the door.”
After Pete got the car, he and Lyle half dragged and half carried Chris out to the car and dumped him in the back seat.”
As they drove away from Chautauqua Pete wondered out loud. “Now what? We can’t take him home looking like this.”
“We could sit him in a snow bank,” Lyle Suggested, “That would sober him up pretty fast. What time is it?”
“Little past midnight.”
“The Bright Spot is the only place open in Milbank this time of the night. We can get some coffee into him.”
They headed for Milbank. About half way there, Pete heard some coughing, then retching sounds coming from the back seat. Oh shit no! Pete thought. “Lyle, what to hell is going on back there?”
“Chris just heaved all over the back seat.“
“Jesus Christ!” Pete said, my dad will kill me, really kill me.” He stopped the car and they dragged Chris out of the back seat, but Chris had finished doing whatever he was going to do.
Pete removed the floor coverings, wiped them clean with snow but the worst of the mess was stuck in the fake mohair seat fabric.
They crammed Chris between them in the front seat and continued towards Milbank. They were approaching Milbank when Chris suddenly wrapped himself around Pete, pinning his arms and completely blocking his view. Peter couldn’t move his right leg to step on the brake. Pete tried to push Chris off,
“Get off me you big oph! He shouted.
Pete felt the car going off the road, then slowly tipping,finally turning over completely. The sound of grinding metal preceded a complete stop. They were sitting on the roof of the car. Pete couldn’t open his door, Lyle managed to get his open and crawled out. Pete crawled over Chris and then the two of them drug Chris out. Pete could see that the beautiful Studebaker had rolled over on top of a rock pile. The front and back windows were broken out. Pete didn’t investigate further, he knew it was the end, as bad as it could get.
Pete asked Chris, “Can you walk?”
“Why are we walking?” Chris answered, “Damn cold out here.”
That’s a good sign,” Lyle said. “He knows it’s cold.”
“Common, lets walk,” Pete said, “Its less than half a mile.
“Can somebody tell me why we are walking?” Chris asked.
Lyle answered, “Cause you barfed all over Pete’s new car and then wrecked it.”
“Oh,” Chris answered.
When the nearly frozen young men arrived at the Bright Spot, a friend of Lyles hanging out there greeted them. “You guys look half frozen, your car heater out?” He asked.
“Worse,” Lyle replied, “Wrecked the car a ways out of town.”
“Jeez, anybody hurt, Sheriff know about this?”
As far as Pete was concerned he would prefer nobody would ever know about it. It was a bad dream that he would wake up from any minute. Unfortunately he knew he was wide awake and still shaking from the below zero temperature that had been walking through. He borrowed the Bright Spots phone and dialed the county sheriff’s number. A sleepy deputy David Larson answered Pete’s call.
Where did it happen? Deputy Larson asked. “OK, I’ll drive by, take a look at it. I’ll meet you at the Bright Spot, write up the report.”
The young men took over a booth and had gone through a pot of coffee by the time Deputy Larson had shown up. Chris had fallen asleep sitting in a corner of the booth.
“Looks like you did a pretty good job on the Studebaker,” Deputy Larson said when he arrived. “Good for scrape and parts.” He looked at Pete. “Want to have it towed in?”
The question surprised Pete. He didn’t own the car. Maybe it didn’t matter at this point. It had become a piece of junk littering a HW12 ditch. Pete reasoned that it would be easier tell his dad that the car was at the Standard Station than lying on its roof in a rock pile. “Sure, tow it in,” Pete answered.
“I’ll have the Standard station bring it in if that’s ok?
“Pete gave an affirmative nod with his head. Like there was a choice. All the wrecks were towed into the Standard Station.
Deputy Larson filled out the accident report. Much of Larson’s imposing muscular body had converted to fat since leaving a farm to become a deputy sheriff five years previously, and as a result he had bulked up into an even larger presence. The forms he filled out with a stubby pencil held in his large fat hand seemed miniaturized by the comparison. Pete guessed that filling out accident reports wasn’t one of Larson’s favorite chores and the results showed. There were cross outs, and inserted words and the final results were a general mess. Larson pointed to where Pete was to sign the report.
Pete felt strange signing the form. He had never signed anything important in his life and signing an accident report that described totaling his dad’s car didn’t seem like a good way to start. Deputy Larson dropped the three young men off at their homes after finishing filling out the accident report and leaving a message for the Standard Station to tow the wreck in.
Copyright 2012 Alfred Wellnitz – All rights reserved
January 16, 2012
In the fall of 2002 my wife and I spent many hours on the Minneapolis Lake Street bridge with signs protesting the buildup to invade Iraq. We joined hundreds of other people on the bridge over a period of several months in this effort. We were a varied group, college students, senior citizens and everything in between. The Lake Street bridge crosses the Mississippi River and is approximately a quarter of a mile long and with walkways on both sides. Those walkways would be filled with people demonstrating their opposition to the idea of invading a sovereign nation for specious reasons. Unfortunately, the protests on the Lake Street Bridge and many other protests around the country were ignored by those with the power to involve the United States in a war that resulted in a terrible loss in human lives, resources and the image of our nation around the globe. I am including the content of a letter sent to First Lady Laura Bush by Sharon Olds in 2005 that encapsulates the tragedy of the decision to invade Iraq.
Sharon Olds writes to First Lady Laura Bush
From the October 10, 2005 issue of The Nation: The poet Sharon Olds has declined to attend the National Book Festival in Washington. Olds and some other writers were invited by First Lady Laura Bush to read from their works.
Dear Mrs. Bush,
I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House.
In one way, it’s a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents–all of us who need the pleasure, and the inner and outer news, it delivers. And the concept of a community of readers and writers has long been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative writing in the graduate school of a major university, I have had the chance to be a part of some magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our students have become teachers. Over the years, they have taught in a variety of settings: a women’s prison, several New York City public high schools, an oncology ward for children. Our initial program, at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely physically challenged, has been running now for twenty years, creating along the way lasting friendships between young MFA candidates and their students–long- term residents at the hospital who, in their humor, courage and wisdom, become our teachers. When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty and wit–and the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person’s unique story and song.
So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country–with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain–did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made “at the top” and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism–the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.
I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness–as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing–against this undeclared and devastating war. But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration. What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting “extraordinary rendition”: flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.
So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.
December 25, 2011
As I looked through old files for a short story I had written a number of years ago I came upon a letter-to-the-editor I had submitted to the Minneapolis Tribune in April of 2002. The letter hadn’t been accepted for publication and I forgot about it until I came upon it today. When I read the letter I thought, how preconceptive was that?
A short review of the Iraq situation in April of 2002 will be helpful. The United States had established and maintained a no fly zone in southern Iraq for an extended period and had more recently established a no fly zone and in the north Kurd areas. The UN had inspection teams in Iraq searching for weapons of mass destruction.
The letter read as follows:
Justifying War with Iraq
There are powerful people in the Bush administration that make no secret of the desire to make war on Iraq, more specifically on Saddam Hussein. The justification for such action would be that Saddam is producing, or wants to produce weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States. It would be more convenient to have proof that Iraq had been a major player in the 9/11 terrorism, but apparently, that is not the case.
A problem with the weapons of mass destruction scenario is that there probably is not a worse place on earth at this time to attempt to covertly produce weapons of mass destruction than Iraq. Our spy satellites and planes have the country under a microscope, and the United States has or should have if they don’t, an army of agents in the country. It is likely that a vehicle can’t move, a building constructed, a message sent, without our knowledge. Our warplanes control and patrol the airspace over the country, and can, as they have in the past, with the help of cruise missiles, destroy anything deemed suspicious going on in the country.
There would be little doubt about the outcome of any war that the United States super power would conduct against Iraq, a crippled third world country. A lot of Iraq’s people would be killed, much of what remains of the Iraq infrastructure would be destroyed, and Saddam would be deposed. Then what?
We would be in control of a country that has three strong factions, the Kurds, the Shi’is, the Sunnis, vying for power. We would be morally obligated to repair the infrastructure, feed the hungry, house the homeless, get the country running, maintain order for an unpredictable period of time, set up a government. What government? Remember, Saddam was one of our boys in the 80′s.
What would be a better solution? How about maintaining our current tight control over what happens in Iraq, and let time help us solve the problem? Saddam is mortal, he will eventually become history, either due to natures inexorable toll, the actions of his own people, some other incipient incident, none of which would require any overt action on our part.
In the mean time, the Mideast and its seemingly intractable problems will continue on into the foreseeable future. War sometimes may be necessary, but it cannot solve all of the problems in that region, and excessive use of military power could make more enemies than friends, generate more terrorists than it eliminates. If we have a choice, wouldn’t it be preferable for us to use our super power in constructive, not destructive ways, mediate when needed, assist when necessary, and strive to provide a positive influence in the world and in the Mideast?
One error I did make in my assumptions had been to give our intelligence community more capability than they later demonstrated. I hope that is the case and the data had not been intentionally skewed.
In any case the letter demonstrates that I have clairvoyant powers and therefore attention should be given to my vision of the state of the union in 2033 as described in the PushBack book! Actually, it didn’t take much vision to see what would be the result of our country taking military action in Iraq in 2002.
December 2, 2011
Another succinct commentary on the qqduck blog concerning defense spending.
November 5, 2011
More PushBack Awards:
In addition to being selected a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards, The PushBack book also received a second place in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards and a honorable mention in the Readers Favorite Book Reviews and Award Contest.
These awards and three dollars will get you a cup of coffee at a Starbucks coffee shop and a good feeling that some reviewers must have liked the book.
November 4, 2011
Wealthy individuals and businesses have been given a new title. They’re now “Job Creators.”
Businesses do create jobs; however they do not create jobs because it is good for the economy or for the country. They create jobs if it will add to the profitability of the business. Businesses employ people to produce products or services they market. Companies will invest money for facilities, to do research, and to obtain services needed to conduct the business which will create jobs. However, businesses will only make investments and hire people needed to maximize profits. Businesses invest where it will give the company the best return, the most profit. During the past decade many US manufacturing and financial businesses have invested large amounts of capital in China and India, and in the process have created many job opportunities for many citizens of those countries. Companies are doing what they are supposed to do, investing where there is the best opportunity to make a profit.
Wealthy individuals invest in US companies through stock or bond purchases which can cause jobs to be created in the US or in other countries. Investing in municipal bonds or other government bonds can help create jobs by providing money to improve infrastructure, hire public employees, etc. Wealthy individuals invest in real estate where development, maintaining, improving and exchanging real property creates jobs. However the wealthy do not invest in order to create jobs in the US, they invest in order to create more wealth.
It may take a long time for money invested by businesses and wealthy individuals to have an effect on the job market, and worse, the money may be kept safe and taken out of circulation when it is most needed. In stressful economic times, businesses and investors might be identified as “Job Terminators,” rather than “Job Creators.” In addition there is a strong possibility that businesses and wealthy individuals will use their money to create jobs outside of the United States where the investment possibilities and profits are greater.
Not included in the new “Job Creator” category are the ordinary people; the working poor and middle class class citizens. These people create jobs when they buy things that are necessary or that make life more enjoyable? This includes clothes, food, cars, houses, health services, maintenance services, child care, entertainment and tuition. All of these goods or services are provided by working people who in turn will quickly spend the money they received in creating and providing the goods and services for others. These ordinary people will put their money back into the economy before the next paycheck or payment for services, sometimes even before they have the money. Much of this money flows back into their communities that directly support local jobs. It shouldn’t take a lot of study to determine that the fastest and most dependable way to create jobs is to put money in the pockets of people who will immediately use it to buy necessities or to use it to make their lives more enjoyable. These are the real “Job Creators.”