Archive for September, 2018

  • Blog
  • September 27th, 2018

THE SHUFFLE OF TIME

By Joel M. Vance

In 1956 my favorite aunt gave me a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch as a college graduation present. Armed with a diploma and a Rolex I was prepared to ascend into social circles where surnames were followed by academic designations and wrists were circled by Rolex watchbands.

My eyes, a charming bright blue, have been likened to the late Paul Newman’s famous orbs (although the rest of me is closer to Alfred E. Neuman). That’s one link between me and Mr. Newman; the other is that he was a fan of Rolex watches and wore one when he drove his race car in competition. I wore mine when I drove my Hillman Minx to work. James Bond also wore a Rolex in Ian Fleming’s spy novels, as did Sean Connery when he played the famous 007 in the movies. We both have thinning hair and a Rolex and that ends the similarities between me and Sean Connery.

My Rolex was a status symbol far advanced from a bachelor’s in journalism and was the only status symbol I owned. I did not have a Cadillac or a membership in the country club. I owned no stocks or bonds. My starting newspaper salary was $65 a week, nothing extra for overtime. My savings account consisted of a slowly-maturing $50 War Bond, bought by my parents when I was a toddler.

The Hillman Minx was a British import, cheap and with an engine which quite possibly consisted of a pair of geriatric gerbils running around in a cage which somehow propelled the car at a blistering 25 mph. Maybe I didn’t have a Paul Newman racecar, but I did have a Rolex Oyster Perpetual and I could hang my arm outside the window of the Minx (which I had to do to signal turns since there was no turn indicator among the car’s accessory items) and let people see my glittering status symbol.

I had a Rolex Oyster Perpetual and it guaranteed I would know what time to show up for work and what time to quit. It functioned as an elegant starting block in the race of life, a sprint to where I would activate its self-winding mechanism through vigorous clipping of bond coupons.

And then it died. It just quit running.

My Webster Collegiate dictionary, the one I got with my degree and my Oyster Perpetual, defines “perpetual” as “Lasting or enduring forever.” Apparently Rolex’s definition varies from Webster’s because, about 30 years into the life of the Perpetual it died in the words of T.S. Eliot: “not with a bang, but a whimper.”

I quoted this to a watch repair man, showing him the stilled second hand. “It whimpered when it quit?” he asked in astonishment.

“No…that’s a literary allusion…nevermind,” I said. “Can you fix it?”

He kept it quarantined for several days and then told me that he couldn’t get parts for it anymore, that Rolex did not make them for a watch not even 50 years old. “You mean that a perpetual watch is dead in less than half a century?” I said. “That’s not my idea of perpetual.” He shrugged and said, “I’ve got some really good watches for $100. Run on batteries.”

The watch he suggested was made by the Mallard watch company. This seemed a good omen because I am a great fan of duck hunting, especially for mallards, among the best of ducks on the dinner table. A mallard drake is almost a trophy bird when it comes to duck hunting. According to their promotional material the Mallard watch is “built for action, and for life!” Sounded like a good fit for me because at the time (when I was less than decrepit) if not exactly built for action, at least I was ready for it.

The Mallard also touted that “you won’t find these fine watches in big-box or discount stores”. If there is anything that I avoid like the black plague or underarm odor it is big-box and discount stores. A day when I am not in Walmart is a day in the sunshine.

Mallard watches are the brainchildren of a fellow named Jules Borel, a Swiss watchmaker, who immigrated to the United States in 1920 and opened a watch repair shop. The business grew as a supplier of parts and tools for the watch industry and eventually Borel came out with his own line of watches which for whatever reason he named the Mallard. Mr. Borel did not choose the glitzy confines of Manhattan as his home base; instead he chose Kansas City as his watchmaking home, in my home state, Missouri, proving that you don’t have to be uptown to be a down-home feller.

So I plopped down my $100 and went home with my Mallard. At this moment I can look at my wrist and tell within a few seconds exactly what time it is in my universe because after more than 30 years the Mallard keeps the kind of time that Mr. Rolex and his fellow horological legends can only aspire to.

The Mallard has been sweated on, been through the hell of 1000 grueling hunts in inhospitable hells, traveled thousands of miles on the road– and it keeps time the way time should be kept, accurately and without failure. Without a whimper and a lost moment never to be regained.

On the other hand, the Rolex went back into its original case and got stuck in a drawer with old pocketknives, my expired passport with the photograph that makes me look like Osama bin Joel, decorative belt buckles and lint-covered breath mints. There it has languished for a couple of decades while my Mallard continues to be a highflying exemplar of a watch which marks time with nary a missing second.

I sneered at the audacity of Rolex to call any watch “perpetual.” It’s arrogant to label any watch “perpetual” unless it has been around since the time of the Pharaohs. And I haven’t seen any hieroglyphs of Tutankhamen sporting a wristwatch. Rolex is more than 113 years old, founded in 1905.

It’s actually English, not Swiss, in origin. One story about the origin of the name is that founder Hans Wilsdorf thought that “rolex” is the sound a watch makes when it’s being wound. Mine, of course, made a tiny whmper (actually, I would’ve settled for a whimper rather than dead silence).

A Rolex watch has been to the bottom of the Mariana Trench and to the top of Mt. Everest. Mine never went higher than the highest spot in Missouri, Taum Sauk Mountain (1,772 Feet), or deeper than six inches in a trout stream when I stepped on a condemned slippery rock, did an acrobatic pratfall that would have gained the envy of Buster Keaton, and the watch flew off my wrist and plopped into the water.

In 1927 Mercedes Gleitze was the first English woman to swim the English channel and she did it with a Rolex Oyster watch tied around her neck. Although she nearly died of exposure, the watch was in perfect shape after 10 hours submerged. Chances are then my watch’s short dip in Roaring River creek was not what caused its fatal illness.

One watchmaker took it apart and said the self-winding mechanism was worn out. Self-winding is an invention of 1923 (1931 on a Rolex). A tiny balance wheel swings back and forth with the motion of the wearer’s arm and powers gears and other mysterious stuff that winds the mainspring.

I can see that if I were operating a jackhammer 15 hours a day it might stress the self-winder into exhaustion, but I’m just your average couch potato, occasionally raising my arm to grab a Bud or another nachos. My winder should last a thousand years (actually, being “perpetual,” it should last forever—just ask Mr. Webster).

Years passed and my Rolex moldered among the detritus of my life, a pearl among swine, albeit a pearl that told the right time only twice each 24 hours. I ran across it while searching out my fifth grade report card which had a breath mint glued to it and decided to beard the horological lion in its den. I called the New York Rolex headquarters and spoke with a gentleman whose accent reflected advanced educational institutions where the annual tuition equaled what I spent in four years at the University of Missouri and who doubtless spent more on one sneaker than the cost of everything in my closet.

He told me that Rolex did not make parts for that watch anymore but I was too intimidated by his smarmy accent to ask why in the hell a watch with “perpetual” in its name would be outdated in half a century. He gave me instructions on mailing the watch to them in a tone that resembled the way one speaks to children who can’t quite grasp long division, a mixture of pity and resignation. He seemed to imply that if it came from Missouri it probably was dysfunctional because it had become clogged with horse manure.

The ensuing estimate allowed that Rolex possibly could make my watch functional again though it never would keep Rolex Time and who knows how long the duct tape and Elmer’s glue would hold? Cost? About $1,000.

That would have bought 10 of the Mallards I could have bought to replace the defunct Rolex, but I didn’t bring that up—had he known I’d defaced my wrist with a $100 watch he probably would have hung up on me.

The Rolex went back among the rusty pocketknives for several more years and then I read an article about a rural watchmaker who specializes in Rolex repair. He was in the tradition of shade tree mechanics who are open a couple of days a week if they feel like it, but who can turn a 1923 John Deere tractor into a competitive NASCAR vehicle.

I explained my plight and said Rolex wanted $1,000 to maybe fix my watch. “They want you to buy a new watch,” said the little watchmaker, who I think was named Geppetto, although I may be confusing him with another craftsman. As it turned out, I needed Geppetto, the woodworker who turned Pinocchio into a real boy, more than I needed a watch repair man. I never met the guy but if you remember the Pinocchio story, every time the wood kid told a lie his nose grew longer. I couldn’t see the watch guy over the phone but I suspect maybe his nose lengthened as we spoke.

Commenting on the $1000 Rolex estimate I said, “Yeah, I’ll send it off to them right after I buy the surplus aircraft carrier and renovate it as a luxury liner.” The heavy sarcasm flew past him like a Nolan Ryan hummer.

But I was paying him to fix watches, not to appreciate subtle humor and after I sent him the watch and $200 he returned it running with James Bondian éclat. I practiced my Paul Newman chuckle as I slipped the Rolex back on my wrist. The second hand lurched around the dial and the watch gave every appearance of actually telling time for the first time in decades.

The refurbished Rolex ticked on, …picking up about 10 minutes a day, apparently what the Rolex folks consider Rolex Time. Perhaps it was trying to make up the lost years. The repair job lasted, as best I remember, for about a month and then the Rolex returned to its natural state—inert. Back in the drawer with the breath mints. The passport still is expired and so apparently is the Rolex.

The Mallard, meanwhile, is back on my wrist where it belongs and back in a duck blind where a Rolex wouldn’t be caught dead (well, if it was my Rolex, it would be).
-30-

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  • Blog
  • September 21st, 2018

DROP THE HAMMER ON BRETT

By Joel. M. Vance

I had sworn off of writing about Donald J Trump in this blog because it was too much like the old joke about the reason for hitting yourself on the head with a hammer is that it feels so good when you quit.

And it seemed like such an exercise in futility because today’s outrage is superseded by another one even before the electronic ink has time to dry. It is as if Steph Curry, launches one of his patented 35 foot three point bombs right on target only to see the entire backboard rim move 2 feet one direction or the other just as the ball gets there.

What more can you say about this sociopathic nut job that isn’t said nearly every day by anyone with enough perspicacity to see through the deluge of obfuscating garbage dumped by him and his supporters. The man is truly evil, the absolute personification of the anti-Christ. One (this one anyway) wonders how the guy can walk around a golf course and not worry about a sudden heavenly lightning strike taking him out. Of course, fatso doesn’t walk around the golf course anyway—he rides in a golf cart, his preferred mode of transportation since he spends more time in one that he does in the oval office pretending to be the leader of the free world. His main worry in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence was whether or not his golf course in North Carolina had been harmed.

So, setting aside my disinclination to pick on the easiest target on the political landscape and feeling particularly dyspeptic today, and despite the wonderful news that Mary Poppins is returning to the silver screen at Christmas time (and where the hell were you Ms. Poppins when we needed you to fix all that was wrong with the 2016 presidential election) I’m going to write once again about the blathering blimp.

Trump and his sycophantic coterie of supporters are trying to ram through the elevation of Brett Cavanaugh to the Supreme Court which would further tilt the ultimate check on congressional and presidential misdeeds toward acceptance of their incompetence and toward a government that would bear no relationship to what was created 250 years ago and which has somehow managed to endure periodic assaults on its integrity ever since.

Not only would the Supreme Court be seriously capsized toward the extreme right wing of the political landscape, it would feature not one but two sexual predators (if you have forgotten, we already had one in Clarence Thomas). So how would a court with a couple of good old male supremacists as the swing voters rule on issues such as gender equality, a woman’s right to choose, and other hot button women’s issues?

I signed and reposted a petition on Facebook which said “we already have an accused sexual predator in the White House. We don’t need another one on the Supreme Court.” The reaction was immediate and virulent with nearly 60 comments almost none of which was suitable for family consumption— I had prodded the extreme right and the reaction was extreme. But, hey, these are the folks who hear black helicopters anytime someone in the neighborhood starts a riding lawnmower.

I thought about and discarded many really nasty replies but settled for saying simply, “I’m glad to see that the First Amendment is alive and well”.

That there will be extreme and no doubt ugly pushback from the Cavanaugh and Trump supporters against Cavanaugh’s accuser goes without saying (they already said it to me). One unnamed defender says that nearly any guy could be accused of something. Nevada Sen. Dean Heller describes the situation as “a hiccup”.

Unfortunately, there is an element of truth in those statements but the difference is that most guys who have made a pass at a girl sometime in their past (and most have) have backed off when the girl said no and it is no defense to excuse what amounts to an attempted rape by saying, “hey, it’s just a guy thing”.

The woman in question, Christine Blasey Ford, now is an adult—but at the time the alleged incident occurred she was 15 years old and she was at a party where beer was available and consumed and where there was no adult supervision. In that situation it would be highly unusual for a frightened teenager to report the incident either to the authorities or to her parents. But it left a mark on her that has persisted into adulthood and resulted in her seeking counseling— from which she has notes that provide a written record of what happened, how it happened, and how it affected her entire life.

There is absolutely no benefit to her now at the age of 51 to come forward with the story unless it is true. To risk going public with a shameful incident from the past makes no sense unless it is true and she knows full well that she is setting herself up for ridicule , not to mention physical threat, from the right. It has already started. Proving that the rotten apple does not fall far from the tree. Trump’s kid, Don Junior, mocks the allegation by posting a photo of a crumpled up piece of notebook paper with a scribble message which says “Cindy will you be my girlfriend, love Brett.”

This is a classic Trump response to an accusation. Discredit the accuser, throw dirt on the evidence and try to ride it out—he already has told his dear friend Sean Hannity that he feels he has survived the damning effect of the Bob Woodward book, and the uncomfortable fact is that he probably has.

Donnie Junior’s clumsy attempt at sarcasm exposes Junior for the chip off the old blockhead that he is. Talk about a dysfunctional family! I wonder what the legitimate women in Trump’s life think about the old sexual predator’s excesses—Melania, Ivanka, and Tiffany? Perhaps the goldplated lifestyles they lead is enough excuse for them to ignore their patron’s sleaziness. At least one source has said that Ivanka has told her father to drop Cavanaugh—arguably she is the smartest one in the family and, considering she is listed as a trusted advisor, Trump would be smart to take her advice.

The right-wingers will try to excuse Cavanaugh by saying that it happened a long time ago and will imply that he should be forgiven for youthful indiscretion if indeed it did happen. But we’re not talking about a DWI like that that George W. Bush incurred or someone smoking a joint in college (like Bill Clinton—but he didn’t inhale—yeah, right) or some other socially unapproved behavior of long ago. We’re talking about a physical assault on a 15-year-old girl. And there should be no statute of limitation on anything like that, especially when it concerns an appointment to a position with the potential of affecting the entire course of the country possibly for decades to come.

Presumably most of the senators who would vote on the suitability of Brett Cavanaugh to be a Supreme Court justice have families and at least some of them will have had girl children. How would they feel if it had been their 15-year-old daughter who was assaulted? The all-male Republican half of the committee is running scared and reportedly would not question Ms. Ford directly, but would find women among their aides compliant enough to do the dirty job with the old white guys feeding them the inappropriate questions.

It’s not exactly a secret that society is male-dominated and has been since biblical times. I once went to a wedding where part of the vows demanded that the bride pledge to be subservient to her husband in all things— and this was demanded in the name of God and in a holy place. I’m still steamed about this blatant nod to male domination done under the guise of religious dogma. According to the religious right a woman is no more than a spare rib, ripped from a snakebit Adam in the Garden of Eden.

Not that Donald J Trump, the Groper in Chief, has any devotion to religious belief, having lived his entire life in opposition to most of the precepts of recognized religion. Makes you wonder why a lightning bolt hasn’t turned his golf cart into a Viking funeral pyre.

Elizabeth Warren, I think the most respected woman in politics today (sorry, Hillary, I never did have that much respect for you) , had this to say about the Cavanaugh nomination, “There is already a long list of reasons why Brett Cavanaugh should not be allowed anywhere near the highest court in the land (and I’ll bet that list would be even longer if Republicans weren’t still hiding over 100,000 pages of Cavanaugh’s work in the George W. Bush administration).”

The far right, especially the religious right, is fond of maintaining that the founding fathers intended a Christian government, ignoring the fact that the founding fathers set up a three-part government whereby the president would be prevented by Congress from becoming a leader with kingly powers, and the Supreme Court would oversee the other two branches of government to prevent them from accumulating excessive power.

And the same founding fathers adopted an amendment to the Constitution that guarantees religious freedom and said nothing about Christianity being a dominant religion—in fact a number of the founding fathers specifically warned against adopting any single religion as an official one.

Predictably, Orrin Hatch, the Neanderthal senator from Utah has pooh-pooed the accusation, sneered at Ms. Ford as a ‘mixed up person” and said that he implicitly believes Cavanaugh’s version of what—he thinks— didn’t happen. Hatch was prominent 27 years ago when an all-male Senate hearing committee humiliated Anita Hill, the accuser against Clarence Thomas.

Hatch said the same things then that he is saying now. He was wrong then and he is wrong now— an out of date, over the hill, misogynistic cretin who never should have been elected to any office, much less the high office of the Senate. His doddering colleague Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, has done his best to push the vote for Cavanaugh through, scheduling a hearing for the two combatants, offering a single date and saying that if Ford doesn’t show up the vote should happen quickly. I hope it works out and that the world sees incredible woman tell an all too familiar story of sexual misconduct, rubbing the face of those who belittle her in their own mess.

Considering that the Republicans wouldn’t even consider a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, the unseemly haste with which the Repubs are trying to shoehorn Cavanaugh onto the court is beyond suspicious—it’s just flat out political and everybody with a brain should know it and be disgusted.

I’m posting this two days before accuser Christine Ford and Cavanaugh were scheduled to testify before the committee to tell their diametrically opposed stories. It’s worth noting that Ms. Ford has passed a lie detector test administered by a former FBI agent, and that she has notes from a psychologist who treated her for trauma associated with what Cavanaugh’s defenders deny happened. She also has witnesses whom she told about the incident contemporaneously.

Ms. Ford rightfully has claimed that the FBI should conduct an investigation before any testimony by her and Cavanaugh. But the big fat fly in the ointment is Donald Trump who apparently is the only one who can involve the FBI. Chances of him risking an investigation which would implicate Cavanaugh are about as remote as him admitting to any of his own sexual predations.

And Trump’s Senate lapdog, chairman Grassley is trying to mousetrap Ms. Ford by saying that if the doesn’t testify on Monday with only two witnesses—her and Cavanaugh— and without an FBI investigation, the committee vote will go on.

. He’s betting that his political game of chicken will work. In other words there will be no witnesses called, no chance for Ms. Ford to offer any evidence other than her own word—and you can guess how that would play with a bunch of doddering old man Republicans. I wonder how the two woman Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both of whom try to maintain a reputation as champions of women’s rights, will vote when push comes to shove.

The Republican old white guy half of the judiciary committee has two members who also were associated with the humiliation of Anita Hill during the hearing for Clarence Thomas. And both of those guys, Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, have said there was no reason to hold a hearing on Ms. Ford’s allegation and that maybe a simple phone call would settle the matter.

It’s too bad Ms. Ford won’t be able to call possibly the most expert witness to testify— Donald J Trump the Groper in Chief who has bragged about his ability to assault women without subsequent consequences and who has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 14 women and who paid off a porn star and a Playboy model so they wouldn’t tell stories about their misadventures with the King groper.

Cavanaugh would bring to the table a defense which largely consists of echoing Donald Trump’s own advice on how to deal with accusations of sexual misbehavior : “you’ve got to deny, deny and push back on the women,” Trump is quoted as saying “If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.”

That’s a quote from Bob Woodward’s best-selling book, titled Fear, a chronicle of the twisted world of Donald J Trump. Woodward a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and half of the team that exposed Richard Nixon’s crimes and led to his resignation from the presidency is the most respected reporter of his time and if he says it you can take it to the bank.

Let’s hope that in this case “deny” means what happens to Brett Cavanaugh’s nomination to become a Supreme Court justice.

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  • Blog
  • September 14th, 2018

MY POETIC PAPER DOLL

By Joel M. Vance

Before Barbie came along in three dimensions to capture the imagination of the nation’s pre-teenage girls, there were paper dolls in two dimensions— Brenda Starr and the like could be dressed with designer clothes cut out from paper along dotted lines and presto! The little girl would have her favorite cartoon character dressed in the latest fashions. So popular and widespread was this preadolescent activity that the Mills Brothers sang “I’m gonna to buy a paper doll to call my own/a doll that other fellas cannot steal”.

Margaret Menamin (Eshbaugh, her married name) carried this childhood activity into adulthood and became— among aficionados of paper dolls— the acknowledged leader of dedicated collectors of such esoteric material. Few outdoor writers in the Outdoor Writers Association of America know that the author of the prayer that opens and closes the organization’s annual conference was written by Margaret Menamin.

Although she never was a member of OWAA, she had deep roots in the organization and strong ties to a number of the pioneers within the group. She was an honored and award-winning poet—published and cherished by those who love poetry— in addition to her odd hobby of collecting paper dolls. But Margaret was a long way from a little girl who never grew up. She possessed a bawdy sense of humor and, belying her moving beautiful OWAA prayer, she also wrote some verse that might shock the socks off of some of OWAA’s more uptight members.

The secret song of caves, the throbbing lust
Of roused volcanoes rising underground,
The laughing rain, the ardent pulse and pound,
Of savage rivers soaking thirsty dust.
Then came hot hailstones on me like a flood
And I could read the poems of your blood.

Only a sample and one of the more innocuous sonnets from Margaret’s series of passionate and erotic tributes to remembered love.

I have a copy of the published but extremely rare–there were only 50 copies by a now defunct publisher in the original edition–manuscript of a long series of sonnets titled Sonnets for a Second Summer which celebrate in eloquent Shakespeare-worthy verse the joy of physical love.

The verses are impossible to read without falling in love with the woman who so eloquently captured the spirit and feeling that is in that poem/prayer which opens and closes every OWWA conference. I never met her in person, But I heard stories about her from Jim Keefe and others and it is one of my great regrets that I never got to hang around with her and swap outrageous stories.”

Menamin delighted in telling a story related to her by a mutual dear friend, Mitch Jayne, who was the bass player for the Dillards bluegrass band, also known as the Darling family on the old Andy Griffith show. Mitch, an accomplished writer and novelist (his book Old Fish Hawk was made into a fine but forgotten movie) once had a Weimaraner to which someone wanted to breed. Let Margaret take up the tale from there: “Apparently this was one dumb dog. And Dutch, the Weimaraner, didn’t understand. Mitch was down on the floor, on all fours, showing Dutch the motions, hoping Dutch would catch on, which eventually Dutch did, after Mitch had developed sacroiliac trouble and possibly a strange propensity for “doing it dog style.” (Forgive me, I couldn’t resist that.)”

In 2009, Menamin began feeling poorly and went to the doctor. She emailed me, “I have been dealt a terrible blow.” She had been diagnosed with leukemia, and within a month she died. She was survived by her husband Robert Eshbaugh, a daughter and a son and four grandchildren. And, although most wouldn’t know her name, she is survived by at least two generations of OWAA members who either are inspired by her eloquent poem—or should be.

When OWAA created a writing workshop, OWAA member Pat Stockdill was inspired to name it Goldenrod, a tribute both to the OWAA prayer, and to its author Margaret Menamin.
Menamin was mourned on several websites by those who knew her and by those who wished they had. No one summed it up better than a fellow who said, “I loved her. We all did. She was one of the supreme unsung poets, the epitome of generosity and class, a great mind and, a great heart. Her passing has left an immeasurable void.” By then her OWAA mentors, Werner Nagel and Jim Keefe were gone and I felt, though I never met her in person, as if I had lost a lifelong and dear friend. I once wrote a profile of Menamin for the OWAA newsletter and it is reproduced here—with the understanding that all the present tense mentions now are past tense.

“In autumn when the leaves are brown/
they fall all around the town.”

As poetry it falls somewhat short of a Shakespeare sonnet, but it’s pretty good for a second grader. Now that the second-grader has grown up she has written a poem that is far more familiar to any OWAAer who ever has attended an annual conference.

The poem contains this phrase, “I am the goldenrod, the grain, the granite …” The OWAA prayer opens and closes every conference; it is prominent in the directory. It was written nearly 40 years ago by Margaret Menamin, then a Missourian, now a Pennsylvanian. Menamin has had several careers, mostly as an old-school newspaper writer, but her love of and writing of poetry has been a constant.

About that first poem she says, “I was so delighted with the idea that I could make a poem that for a long time it didn’t occur to me that I could make more than one poem. I just kept adding to that one, and it got longer and longer. Fortunately it no longer remains anywhere, even in my memory.”

Menamin was born in a rural area of Missouri’s Washington County, which still is as rural as it gets in the Show-Me State. Her family moved to Steelville, on the banks of the Meramec River and she graduated high school there and entered the University of Missouri at 16, the youngest freshman on campus. “I certainly didn’t look like a college girl,” she says. “I was still buying my clothes out of the ‘little girls’ pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog.”

She felt out of it among the older students and dropped out after a year and began working as a printer’s devil – a print-shop apprentice – at the Crawford Mirror in her hometown (this still was the days of hot type set on the incredibly complex Linotype machines).
Next she became clerk of the Crawford County probate and magistrate courts for a decade. She married and had a daughter and a son, and began selling poems to Seventeen Magazine and saw her first poems published in The Missouri Conservationist, the magazine of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

That was her entrée to OWAA – Dan Saults, Werner Nagel and Jim Keefe, stalwarts of OWAA, all worked for the magazine and all became friends. She also knew Don Cullimore, OWAA’s longtime executive director. (The OWAA headquarters then was in Columbia, in a building owned by the late Buck Rogers, OWAA’s 1972-73 president.)

“How I miss Jim Keefe,” she writes. “So many times during the day I encounter an odd news item, a funny typographical error, a beautiful poem or just something I want to run by him and think, ‘I must show that to Jim.’ One never gets used to such a presence being absent.”
Nagel, who also was the founder of OWAA’s Circle of Chiefs, urged her to write a poem that could be used as an opening prayer for the OWAA conference. “I think he did it specifically with the idea of obtaining some recognition for my poetry by OWAA. Who knows?”

Uncle Homer Circle, who was president of OWAA at the time, also urged her to write a poem of invocation. “I felt we needed one to replace those which tended to be biased toward one religion or another,” he said in a letter to Jack Kerins. Circle had been charmed by an “Outdoor Prayer” that Menamin wrote which says in part: “… allot me some small earthly spot/Where I may feel the rain and wind and sun./ If Heaven be lovelier than the soil I stroll/I could not hold it in my shallow soul.”

OWAA adopted its prayer/poem on June 22, 1967, Margaret Menamin’s birthday.
“OWAA’s acceptance and use of the poem has been an ongoing honor to me,” she says.
Today she lives in Pittsburgh and wild turkeys come to her driveway to be fed. “They watch for me and as soon as I open my side door they come running.”

She never has been a member of OWAA, though she belonged to two regional outdoor communicator groups, Missouri Outdoor Writers Association and Great Rivers Outdoor Writers.
After her court clerkship she and her family moved to Rolla, Mo., site of OWAA’s 1954 conference, the hottest on record. There she did just about everything for the Rolla Daily News, including writing all the paper’s editorials for several months. The editorials and her personal column both took first place in the Missouri newspaper competition.

Today she works from home, transcribing medical reports, a job she did full time for 14 years. She has won several awards with her poems. OWAA freelancers can identify with one facet of her career: She was established with a magazine which had published a number of her poems – but it went out of business.In addition to her husband, there are two children and four grandchildren.

Although it wasn’t written for OWAA, the last two lines of a poem titled “Death Watch” could be a caution not just for her family, but also for everyone:

“The earth has grown too fragile./
Must it break along with all things loved for beauty’s sake?”

Goodbye Margaret and rest in peace.

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  • Blog
  • September 8th, 2018

STUPID EGG TRICKS

By Joel M. Vance

A few years ago I wrote most of a book about eggs. I’m fascinated by eggs. They are the beginning of all animal life and they permeate our lives like few other food items. But the egg book idea was greeted with what I can only call massive indifference and it rests in my computer today like a tired old dog in the sunlight.

So, in the interest of educating you about all the intricacies of the egg, here is one chapter of a book that very likely never will see the light of day—at least in the form of royalty checks made out to me.

Stupid egg tricks

Check any fourth grade classroom in America and chances are you’ll find something going on with eggs, from the kids watching a chick hatch to doing science experiments like changing the air pressure in a bottle to suck a hard-boiled, shelled egg into the bottle.

Actually, the egg is pushed from the outside when you burn a piece of paper inside the bottle and that causes the air pressure inside to lessen, the outside air pushes the egg inside and everyone goes, “Ooooaaahhhh!” and the science teacher preens.

The bottle neck has to be just slightly smaller than the egg. Larger and the egg merely falls in and no one is impressed; too small and no matter how much the eggs huffs and puffs it won’t go in. Anyway, that’s just one of a host of tricks more interesting that seeing how fast you can make two over easy disappear at the Dine In Diner.

You can do Stupid Egg Tricks at parties, too, especially if you don’t care whether you’re ever invited to one again. While most egg tricks reveal a scientific principle, they rank with putting a lampshade on your head and reviving the Dr. Pepper jingle (“I’m a pepper; you’re a pepper; etc.”) while everyone at the party desperately grabs for another stiff drink.

Of course there are commercial egg tricks—make eggs supposedly come out of your mouth or your ear, or disappear. But either you have to buy the paraphernalia or learn prestidigitation. Both involve more work and expense than the average half-drunk party clown wants to invest.

It’s always fun to try to balance a hard-boiled egg on its end. Supposedly eggs balance better on the equinox, so you might want to wait for a Spring Fling party to try this. Do it before everyone sheds clothing and cavorts around the May pole because it’ll be easier to get people’s attention. Some claim that it doesn’t matter when you balance the egg as long as it was laid on the equinox. There are many, many other partygoers who don’t give a shit either way.

Here’s another one to send your friends into terminal apathy: boil an egg for five minutes and let cool. Dissolve alum in a tablespoon of vinegar and write a message on the egg (“Yes, I know this is stupid” might be appropriate). When you peel the egg later the message should be on the white of the egg. But it doesn’t always work and if it doesn’t the failure might discourage you from trying future egg tricks.

That would be good.

But aficionados of egg tricks are not easily discouraged. You’ll find a life-of-the-party who insists on demonstrating the incredible strength of the egg by squeezing a raw egg with all his strength. The egg will not break. This works because of the egg’s resistance to equally-applied force (we’re getting into physics here and I barely scraped by high school physics, so just trust me, okay?). But if you are wearing a ring or if the egg has a crack, your hostess is going to be hysterical when she sees a raw egg splattered over the carpeting she just had cleaned for $1,000.

Cry, “Never fear!” before she goes for the .38 used to terminate burglars and idiot party clowns. “I’ll just scrape up the excess and wash the carpet.” Scrub with dishwashing liquid, a teaspoon to a half-pint of warm water, followed by a solution of a tablespoon of ammonia to a cup of water.

“See! All gone!” Then get the hell out of there.

If the burly husband of your hysterical hostess grabs you by the scruff of the neck and hauls you to the middle of a large body of water, then pushes you overboard, better hope it’s the ocean because you’ll float more buoyantly in salt water than fresh.

So will an egg. There are several tricks involving eggs in salt water and eggs in fresh. Tell a friend you have magic powers (make sure the friend is either young, dumb or incredibly gullible). Slip an egg into a glass of water and watch it sink. Then tell your dumb friend to close his eyes (“his” because girls are far too intelligent to fall for something like this).

Substitute a glass of salt water, fish the egg out of the plain water and hide that glass, then slip the egg into the salted water. Depending on the amount of salt the egg will float partly or all the way to the top of the glass. Mutter “Abracadabra” or some such nonsense, then tell the friend to open his eyes.

“Sumbitch!” he exclaims. “I need a drink of water after that.” And he goes to where you’ve hidden the fresh water glass, smirks at you, and drinks it. If you can think to say, “I hope you didn’t taste the arsenic in there,” you have a future as a class clown.

Of course egg throwing is a time-honored way to express yourself—possibly more demonstrative than writing inflammatory rhetoric that no one reads; certainly better than fulminating in the woods where only the rabbits cower in fright.

The Chinese consider egg throwing a time-honored method of expressing displeasure at official activity, although engaging in it in Tiananmen Square under the Chinese Communist regime is not a wise idea.

Works fine in Poland, though. Former President Bill Clinton once was hit by an egg and it wasn’t even thrown by a Republican Congressman. It was a Polish teenager who apparently disagreed with the idea of economic globalization. The cops arrested the kid, but didn’t simply shoot him.

The United States is not exempt. In late January of 2004 a disgruntled citizen lobbed an egg at the mayor pro tem of Houston. Robert Horton, who apparently is a frequent visitor to City Council meetings, said, “I’m the one who pays the cops. But, hey, they can’t seem to recognize the boss.”

Another familiar at council meetings is a man who claims he is going to record an album with Michael Jackson and yet a third who claims to be the president, only prevented from taking office by the Mafia. Clearly Houston is the seat of alternative government. Humpty Dumpty would have been completely at home among all the other crackpots.

But Houston isn’t the only city with egg on its governmental face. Three juveniles and an older man egged the homes of four Oxford, Ohio, city council members back in 1998. The council was involved in the demolition of a 76-year-old water tower that, apparently, the quartet of egg lobbers did not want to see demolished. “Democracy has failed,” read notes left on the doorsteps of the egged politicos. “Save the water tower or die.”

Egging is somewhat less ominous than a death threat and the four were arrested for (and I love this legalese) “aggravated menacing and criminal mischief.” Mischief always is such a rollicking word, carrying the implication of good fun. “Aggravated menacing” sounds like in-your-face carried to the point where your face has cleat marks on it.

That’s just one example of egg throwing to make a point. It’s possible Proto Man threw eggs at the cave of his rivals, but more likely he bonked his drooling enemy with a sizeable rock. Carries more authority than a fragile egg.

Bath, England, had a rash of egg throwers some time back. One target, not fully explained or at least not to my satisfaction, was “a group of tap dancers.” I don’t know if they were targeted as they danced or not, but it would have made a great show. “Some one is getting hold of copious amounts of eggs and throwing them around,” said a policeman. “I’m fed up with this.” He asked shopkeepers to keep an eye out for anyone buying eggs in bulk, though he didn’t specify when egg buying became copious.

In yet another English to-do involving eggs, the police stopped a bunch of youngsters trying to egg participants in a parade at Tranent. An American cop would have commented stiffly, using cop jargon: “The juvenile perpetrators were observed in the act of throwing eggs and were apprehended.” But PC Pamela Black summed it up this way, “There was a bit of a carry-on but we spotted the culprits, gave them a flea in their ear and confiscated the eggs.”

Less amusing was a confrontation in North Hollywood when some young males in a Suburban began throwing eggs at a documentary producer named Michael Craven. He blocked their vehicle, got out…and they ran over him. Egg throwers can be guilty of more than aggravated menacing.

Egg throwing even has changed the course of government. In 1917, the prime minister of Australia, on tour in Queensland, was egged by demonstrators at Warwick, possibly Irish nationalists or members of the International Workers of the World, the IWW or Wobblies. Queensland at the time was a rebellious province and the police refused to arrest the egg throwers.

The PM, William Morris Hughes, formed a commonwealth police force to protect him and future PMs—an agency similar to the American Secret Service. That force evolved into today’s Australian Federal Police who helped Warwick celebrate its splattery past in 2001 with a reenactment of the egg throwing.

Earlier I spoke of eggs squeezing without breaking it as a cute parlor trick. As a matter of fact, YouTube features a video of a burly guy cradling an egg between his hands and squeezing as hard as he can—without breaking the egg. Apparently it depends on how the egg is placed with the ends in the hollow of the palms.

And there is a video of some guy showing various egg tricks including the sucking-into-a-bottle showstopper and trying to pile weights on an upended egg to see how much it takes before the egg shatters. He also mixes some sort of substances in a bottle, places an egg end on atop the bottle and waits for a chemical reaction to shatter the egg like a hand grenade. But there is an on-screen caution. “Don’t try this at home”. Not recommended for viewing by elementary school kids who are notoriously curious.

Given a kid’s insatiable curiosity about forbidden pleasures (Swiping a sip of Mommy’s martini when she is so blasted she doesn’t see you do it, sneaking a peek at Daddy’s Hustler magazine), it’s wise to shield them from instructions on how to make an egg bomb. We should also probably deny the fourth-grader in the White House from access to YouTube lest he point an exploding egg in the direction of North Korea and inadvertently start World War III.

If you’re into egg throwing as a sport, see how far you can toss one without breaking it. The Guinness record is 317 feet 10 inches. That’s a throw from right field to home plate, but it had better be into a barrel of goose down, not a catcher’s mitt. If your arm is shot, try for the record of standing eggs on end. Taiwanese elementary and junior high students stood 602 eggs on end in 10 minutes in 2001 to make the Guinness book.

This proves the often-quoted belief that Asian students are far advanced over American youngsters because the Taiwanese little kids beat the previous record of only 467 set by a bunch of Colorado elementary school kids.

Asian teams usually win the Little League World Series also. What this proves I don’t know and, like most stupid egg tricks, almost no one cares. Especially publishers of books about eggs.

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  • Blog
  • September 1st, 2018

MUNCHING ON GRASS SEED

By Joel M. Vance

Maybe the analogy is flawed but those of us who have an addiction to wild rice cherish our connections to that delectable dish as avidly as does a crackhead cherish his back alley connection.

My guy quite likely has gone to the great rice beds in the sky by now— last time I saw him he looked as if they were a day or two away from paddling his canoe into eternity. But he was our connection to top-quality wild rice. And that is a connection to be as cherished as a map to the exact location of the Lost Dutchman gold mine. You would not have recognized his place as a retirement home for a Fortune 500 entrepreneur. The front yard was decorated with a collection of rusted out pickup trucks defunct refrigerators and other obsolete appliances that, we found out, served as repositories for his annual harvest of wild rice.

The house and yard basically defy description. If you have seen the movie Deliverance, you’ll get some idea of what the place looked like. Every time we stopped to buy rice, I expected to hear the sound of a banjo and see a genetically impaired kid sitting on the porch. I had my guitar in our truck, but I wasn’t about to get it out— I was there to buy wild rice, not to buy trouble with people who looked as if trouble was a major hobby.

God knows what was inside the house— when we knocked at the door, more than a little apprehensively, he would appear behind the screen which had holes in it big enough to admit small birds, looking as if he were in the throes of a massive hangover, but when we asked if he had any wild rice to sell, he would totter over to one of the decrepit pickups pry open a rusty door and retrieve bags of rice in whatever amount we wanted.

It was the prime stuff—wild rice varies in quality from almost black colored farm raised rice, to almost white prime rice from remote lake beds where Native Americans still thrash it into canoes. His was a pale tan color, obviously the best of the best and the taste was incomparable. My son-in-law, Ron DeValk, tried for years to inveigle his way into the house to see what was there, but the guy guarded his entryway like the gatekeeper at the castle of the Great Oz. We’ll never know what other treasures might have been inside because the last time we stopped to buy wild rice, there was no one home and the house and yard seemed abandoned. It was as if we had finally stumbled into the Lost Dutchman mind to find that, instead of gold, it was filled with rusty tin cans and empty beer bottles.

Rice beds also serve as hotspots for duck hunting. One avid rice bed hunter says,
“You have to enjoy paddling. From the beginning of the day until the end (minus a few snack breaks) we paddle. It’s not hard work and the thrill of going around the next turn and anticipating a flock of woodies or teal jumping keeps the adrenaline going.

“Since you paddle through the wild rice camouflage isn’t nearly as important as it is to the duck blind guys. The ducks we hunt aren’t looking down on us. You have to be quiet and keep below the top of the rice stalks. I prefer plastic boats because they’re quieter than aluminum, fiberglass, or Kevlar. The gunner has to be ready at all times and listen for ducks jumping because most of the time ducks see you before you see them.

“Rice seems to grow in cycles: some years a pothole can be so full of rice that it looks like a wheat field and other years it is too thin for ducks. Scouting is part of the fun of hunting–drive around the weekend before opener and find your spot. We’ve set up decoys maybe five times. Jump shooting requires the guy in the front to be ready. Ducks are flying away from you so they don’t need much lead and the breast meat never gets shot up.”

You also can park your boat in a rice bed, concealed by the towering rice stalks, throw out a few decoys and hunt as if from a traditional blind. Three of us were hunting in a rice bed in a northern Minnesota lake, our boat tucked into the thick golden grass with a few decoys in open water. It was a sharply cold morning with a good breeze to tickle the decoys, but the ducks were scarce. My half-asleep buddy reacted instinctively when a ducklike bird flashed in front of the decoys, made a beautiful right-to-left crossing shot….and picked up a defunct coot to the derision of the rest of us.

We, of course, insisted he cook and eat it and I suggested the traditional coot recipe: Place coot on a plank and roast for several hours, then throw away the coot and eat the plank. A gourmet cook, he instead marinated the coot breast along with woodcock breasts in olive oil spiced with Cavender’s Greek seasoning, then lovingly wrapped each chunk of dark meat in bacon, roasted the result and served it on a bed of wild rice.

We loved it, not knowing coot from ‘cock. When he sneered that after all our insults we had relished his cooked coot, I suggested it wasn’t the coot but the wild rice that we were cheering. Maybe it was—we’ve had wild rice at every wild game dinner since but no more coots.

Actually wild rice is not a rice and much of it these days isn’t all that wild, but wild rice is a boon both to man and duck. It is an aquatic grass unrelated to rice. Today much wild rice on the market actually is grown in carefully established beds and harvested by machinery.

But traditionally, as done by Native Americans and old time ricers, wild rice was a two-person operation in a canoe. One poled the canoe and the “knocker” used two sticks, one to bend the rice stalks into the canoe, the other to knock the seeds off. That method takes only a fifth of the available seed and the rest falls to the bottom to generate the next year’s crop.

Some wild rice grows in nearly every state east of the Rocky Mountains, but northern North America is the heart of the seed and Minnesota among the Lower 48 states is the heart of the heart. No state produces as much wild rice as Minnesota and the preservation of rice beds and traditional ricing is a cooperative venture between the Department of Natural Resources and Native American tribes. Various conservation groups also chip in money and time.

Worldwide there are four species of wild rice—one in Asia; the other three in North America and of them all the one that grows in the temperate and boreal regions of the United States—think Minnesota—is the most cherished. It has been a staple in Native American diet for centuries–archeologists find traces as far back as 12,000 years. Many varieties of Zizania aquatica, the most-cherished species, exist, depending on water depth and other conditions. Most flourish in from three to eight feet of water, with a mud bottom.

The traditional method of harvesting wild rice now totals about a half-million pounds annually nationwide, far less than the estimated 18 million pounds raised commercially. Traditional ricing has declined steeply in the past 30 years, but Minnesota protects its historic methods by law. Even so, ricing permits have declined from a peak of about 12,000 annually to 2,000 today (an estimated 3,000 Native Americans who don’t need permits, swell the ricer total to about 5,000). Blame it largely on commercial competition, but also on competition from television, MP3s, cell phones and the other electronic addictions that seduce today’s youngsters away from the outdoors.

Today real wild rice (and by Minnesota law the label has to state it was collected by traditional methods) sells for as much as $10/pound. Of that the ricer gets between three and four dollars, the processor another dollar. Add in transportation and other pre-market costs and the profit margin is not great. Ducks are but one wildlife family that homes in on wild rice at dinnertime—an estimated 17 species that the DNR considers “species of greatest conservation need” eat or procreate in rice beds.

Given the state’s many wild rice lakes, it’s no wonder Minnesota is a duck magnet. So it makes sense to manage the rice beds both for human and avian food. The most cherished duck species—mallards and wood ducks, as well as ring-necked ducks—thrive on wild rice, but it also is food for black ducks, pintails, teal, widgeon, redheads and lesser scaup. One study indicated that wild rice is the most important food for mallards in the fall.

Sixty percent of the natural rice lakes in Minnesota are in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Itaska and St. Louis counties and they produce 70 percent of the traditionally-harvested seeds, but there are wild rice lakes in 55 Minnesota counties, some 1,300 of them totaling more than 64,000 acres. Before 1970 Minnesota accounted for half the global production of wild rice; now, thanks to commercial beds in other states—notably California—the Minnesota contribution is 10 percent.

The relatively few dollars dedicated to wild rice management have two intertwined aims—managing water levels to promote rice health and control of the beavers that raise water levels. It wasn’t so long ago that beavers, the furbearer that sucked the pioneer trappers westward, were almost extirpated from much of their range. Now they are a scourge on wild rice, damming small streams and flooding wetlands so deep that the rice can’t germinate. Coupled with wet years that raised lake water levels, the beaver invasion aided a precipitous drop in wild rice production in the 1990s.

Consequently rice and waterfowl managers have declared war on the flat-tailed busybodies. Ducks Unlimited and the DNR have cost-shared on beaver control. The object is to keep water levels low enough to germinate the rice and keep beavers few enough to stop them from plugging wetland outlets. A return to more normal rainfall years has helped lower lake levels to the depths rice needs to germinate and thrive. DU in 2008 spent more than $61,000, mostly to pay trappers to terminate beavers on 123 Minnesota wild rice lakes totaling nearly 39,000 acres. The DNR chipped in $6,500 in 2007 for rice seeding.

But compare the money for traditional wild rice bed management with what the federal government authorized for the commercial rice farmers: nearly $323,000 for research on shattering resistance, disease prevention and seed storage. Funds for rice lake management depend on sales of ricing permits and matching funds from conservation groups. Wild rice is to Minnesota is as corn is to Iowa. It is a symbol of the state and a cash crop as well. A DNR report says that unprocessed rice has ranged from a dime a pound in 1940 to $2.17 in 1966 and that 1966 figure in today’s dollar is a $12 million crop.

To a duck wild rice is as good as it gets and a rice-fed duck on the table is second to none. Historically, canvasbacks from Chesapeake Bay fed on wild celery and were a staple in the finest New York restaurants, the best of the best eating duck. But the celery declined as did canvasbacks (and the ducks abandoned their vegetarian ways for an animal diet and became less tasty).

In traditional ricing the team member in the stern poles the canoe through the rice, picking the route to maximize seed collection and minimize running aground or getting tangled in the thick vegetation. The raw seeds are a long way from the dinner table. They go to a processor who tumbles them to remove the outer husk. Depending on how much of the outer coating is removed in the processing, the seed can be black or nearly white. The blacker the seed the longer it should cook.

Cooked wild rice should retain a bit of crunch. Cook it too long and it turns to mush. “There’s no set time to cook it–it’s a matter of experience. Always use chicken broth instead of water—makes a much richer dish. And if you make your own stock all the better. Like regular rice it puffs up when cooked at a ratio of four or five to one. So a cup of wild rice will make at least four cups of cooked.

There’s no shortage of recipes for wild rice—Google “wild rice recipe books” and you’ll find a library’s-worth. Leftover rice, assuming there is any, can be turned into soup to die for.

Wild rice has filled some of the void left by wild celery. As good as wild rice is inside a duck, it’s equally as good outside, as a side dish to a duck dinner. So, any waterfowl hunter owes it to himself to try sneak shooting through a wild rice bed….and to serve the day’s bag on a bed of wild rice.
It goes great with coot.
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