Sunday, May 31, 2009

country courtship

In the city, teenage males drove souped up Escorts and Oldsmobiles through malls, movie theaters and Taco Bell parking lots in a mating ritual designed to meet girls and start fights. 

The alpha males typically did the driving while the beta boys rode shotgun. After a few weeks, the cops showed up. The Dodge Street cruise then became the 144th Street cruise which underwent surgery and face-lifted itself into the Albertson's parking lot hangout. 

Surely, the location has changed a dozen times since my tenure there. But I wouldn't know. After one graduates high school, hopefully he or she also graduates to new forms of dating. 

And, may the ones who don't be cursed to drive cars with broken headlights forever. For then we will know them by the sight of their padiddle. 

Since country boys lack both the parking lots and the people, they find other ways to impress the ladies. Instead, country cruises provide evidence of a boonie boy's manhood. 

On such a cruise, the country male drives motorcycles, pick ups and even tractors (I can provide for my family... just check out my extended cab) to fields he helped plant, houses he helped build and traffic signs he helped deface. 

But marring public property isn't the only use country boys have for artillery.

Unlike city boys, country boys carry weapons of the unconcealed kind. 

Suddenly, the front seat of Cowboy's pick up was a Holy Trinity of him, me and a .22 caliber rifle.  

See, in the country, boys show off their hunting skills whereas in the city, boys just show off their money. And they say rural people are simple...

So, a mile into my first country cruise, Cowboy pulls the pick up over TO SHOOT A LIVE BIRD. 

The bird wasn't eating our faces or plucking eyeballs with his claws. And I wasn't going to cook, it, feather it or even build an addition to my house so I could mount it on a wall. He just SHOT at it.

Target practice, he said, slumping his shoulders. Coots, they're a trash bird.

Coot: gray-ish, blue-ish waterfowl, larger than that of a robin but smaller than that of a duck. Typically referred to as "trash bird," meaning, one unworthy of dinner. Oh, and coots NEVER HURT ANYONE.

Target practice? I asked. You want to shoot stuff... just to... shoot stuff? Isn't that what tin cans, clay frisbees and crying babies in church are for? How 'bout I pirate an old copy of Duck Hunt instead?

I don't know, you wannna shoot it? he asked, handing me the AK-47 as casually as someone would offer a taste of spaghetti sauce or cookie dough batter.

Sure, but only if I can shoot you.

No thanks, I said. 

So back to the cruise we went, touring the James River Valley and watching the sunset melt like sorbet. For a while there, I caught myself thinking how pretty the area was, the greens crescendoing against rust windmills and into the blue sky. 

The aesthetics of the area were more unbelievable than the sight of my dad in a USC jersey. 

How could a valley that was so water-covered, iced-over and gray with mud two months ago, be so vibrant and Terry-Redlin-painting-like now?

COYOTE! Cowboy cried,  (two syllables, not three) slamming the breaks, downing the window and stretching his shotgun over me like a mother's arm at a red traffic light. And just like my mom's, this arm could MESS my face UP.

You're NOT shooting that over me, I said in an octave so high the windshield cracked. 

Oh YES I am, he said, his heart beating to the tune of "Mama said knock you out," by L.L. Cool J
I think, however, my squealing got his attention. Or maybe it was my attempt to cover my eyes, ears and vital organs with two hands and a patent-leather purse. 

Seriously, please don't shoot.

He stopped. 

Not the coyote. Cowboy.

It's not going to hurt you, he said, dropping the gun and hiding the defeated look on his face. You don't much like this killing stuff do you?

Listen, I don't care if that coyote is COUSINS with OSAMA BIN LADEN. Get that gun off me! And while you're at it, could you please pass me my SOY MILK and SAVE THE WHALES t-shirt.

Not really, I said.

It's not just the thrill of killing, he said to me later. I'm just trying to help the ranchers out. Those cattle, each head is worth like $600-$700 a piece. And that's a lot of money. This is how they earn their living, put food on the table, buy medicine, etc. These ranchers out here, they have enough trouble keeping calves alive with disease, natural causes and now this flood on top of it. And that rancher where that coyote was, he's having the worst problems of all. I was just trying to help him out, I guess. It's what my neighbors would do for me, Cowboy said.

Sure, sure, I said. Protecting a families' livelihood. Like that's important while MY LIFE is on the line. 

You wouldn't have DIED, he said. You wouldn't have even gotten hurt. Maybe a casing would have hit you. But I doubt it. And even if it did, it might of stung a little, but not hurt. Just a welt on your face, probably. 

A welt? A welt... 




Like I said, MY LIFE, MY LIIIIIIFE was on the line. 

We didn't shoot anything the rest of the trip. Except heroin. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up and date cowboys

Before I astound you with my expertise in all things ground and water, I have to introduce you to a new character. A new character I like to call, “Man Toy” “Cowboy.”

Cowboy said I could use his real name. He said he has nothing to fear, nothing to hide and either way his skin is thick. 

He’s wrong. 

He has no idea who reads this and how scary you people are.

And before the North Dakota Game and Fish Department recruits me to fill its open Wildlife Biologist Extraordinaire Executive position (that story comes next), I should first tell you who Cowboy is and how we met... at choir practice. 

Like most of the boys I meet at choir practice, I initially assumed creeper. I’d have given him a fake phone number too, had it not been for his FLOODED APARTMENT. Lucky duck.

But as such, I sipped my lemon water, passed him a business card and scribbled my authentic 10-digit code. A source like this would land me a big story and I didn’t want to insult him with a phony (402).

See, I’d sojourned to Cowboy’s township a few days prior for an article on the high waters there (remember the sandbags?). 

During my tour, I explored the six-home metropolis spanning four traffic-light-less streets in about 10 minutes.

The true clock consumers were the ice/water/mud-covered streets, mailboxes and doorways. No matter how many I saw, I couldn’t stop staring. 

So, while I'd heard stories of this "now-homeless ranch hand," I didn't have a chance to meet him. The daylight was gone and a deadline beckoned. 

So, when I met Cowboy at choir later that week, I knew who he was. He even knew who I was. I told him how sorry I was for all he’d been through, and that I’d be honored to tell his story if he’d be willing to let me. 

It was just a matter of setting up the interview, which I would have done, had he not ASKED ME TO DINNER first. 

This complicates things, I said.

So he took me to the nicest restaurant in town where we ate buffalo and talked of wine, seafood, literature and deer sausage. 

Me, dressed in a sophisticated scarf and pointy-toed shoes. He, dressed in Wrangler jeans and a 10-gallon hat. 

In all things country, Cowboy is exactly who I’m not. While I could write encyclopedias on city wardrobe, lifestyle and etiquette, I can only write a blog on all things rural and ridiculous. 

And whilst Cowboy could challenge Annie Oakley to games of shoot-the-hairy-woodchuck and build-a-fire-out-of-Coke-cans-and-cotton-balls, he knows nothing of style and design. Suffice it to say his attire appreciation is limited to A). shirts go on the top half and B). camo is NEVER APPROPRIATE on a lady.

He can’t help it. 

The man hails from the land of cow pastures and gravel roads. He grew up on a sheep farm and in a high school with fewer students than the honor roll of my graduating class. 

When he told me he’d cook me dinner sometime, I told myself I’d never see him again. 

Sure, he'd opened doors, paid for dinner and even offered me his jacket. But I was so not having it. Not only was I not interested in a man with woodland print in his wardrobe, but to date a source is two words: lame.

Six weeks later, the Cowboy’s taken me gardening, fishing and country cruising. With him, I've even chased cows, walked dogs and bottle-fed calves. 

I have yet to formally interview the GREATEST SOURCE EVER but I do water board ask him a few questions every now and then. 

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Oh, Katie found a country boy. Before you know it, she'll start eating roadkill and blowing her nose without Kleenex." But stop it.

These country boys carry guns, ammo and pocket knives with 13 different multi-tools. Although I have no idea how to use ANY OF THEM, you'd be best not to mess with me. That's all I'm sayin. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

regional diction

A waitress here told me she liked my accent. The way you talk reminds me of my friend, she said, FROM SOUTH DAKOTA.

Seriously, the only difference between North and South Dakota is where you buy your booze. In South Dakota, gas stations sell it by the keg.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

in the know

I returned to North Dakota Monday with a commencement program in my trunk and Runza french fries in my belly.

I road-tripped south (is there any other direction?) for the graduation of my brother and also, to see the life I'd left behind. In two years, I've ventured to the land of Cornhusker dozens of times but with each return, I feel less and less a part of the city and more and more like I need a passport for entry.

This town is turning me into all sorts of crazy.

For example, as my brother and I (Mike) packed the Volvo to skedaddle northward, he noticed the North Dakota license plate in front of us and said he thought the driver was from Yap-sa-hoo? Yippa-yappa? or some small town south of Jimville with a "Y" in its name.

YPSILANTI!!! I cried. A tear nearing my cheek with the realization that this 18-year-old grew up 10 miles south of my Upper Plains abode. Maybe I KNOW him.

No, Katie. No, you don't know him. Jamestown and its surrounding communities may have fewer people than Michael's graduating class, but under no circumstances does that mean you know everyone's name, age and social security number.

But that didn't stop me from trying.

Hi, who are you? I asked, I'm from Jamestown.

I said this thinking he'd immediately smile, shake my hand and befriend me on Facebook. We were two people, from North Dakota, but not IN North Dakota. How could this not mean something???

Uh, I'm Shane. What's up?

Oh, neat. I'm Katie. (insert giggle) I'm just here for my brother's graduation... He lives here, I live up there... I've lived there two years. (and toss the hair) I write for the paper... blah, blah, blah, I said like a pimple-faced prom date, eager to please and blushing with every word.

So, What's your last name? Who are you related to?

The young man with blonde hair extending from mahogany roots looked at me like I'd put ketchup on my London Broil.

"Hendrickson" and "Williams," he said.

Hmm, I don't know them, I said, ignoring eyes from my brother that said, "I will never come visit you and TAKE BACK that time I helped you move."

What? My eyes pleaded back. I might KNOW him.

See, where I come from, (OK, maybe not Yipsi-doodle) people KNOW eve.ry. one.

When Jamestownians meet you, they aren't so much meeting you as they're trying to figure out where you fit. Instead of asking, what do you do or where did you go to school, Jamestownians ask things like Where does your mother work and What's your maiden name?

Somehow, Shane from Ybidie-gibide missed the memo.

But I wasn't faltered.

Did you graduate from Jamestown High School? What do your parents do? How much water is in your basement?

Uhh no. He answered to the first question, avoiding the second and cocking his eyebrow at the third.

Well, I should get going, he said. I'm headed back today.

ME TOO, I said. Need a ride? I said it jokingly, but the secret was I REALLY MEANT IT.

Nope, I got a car all packed, he said.

Ok, I'll race ya, I said. Again, ignoring a look from my brother that said, I'm SO making dad write you out of the will.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

black gawk down

The day I taught the National Guardsmen how to sandbag, the lesson was interrupted several times because of the sounds of low-flying aircraft. 

Some of the apparatuses were crop dusters and carrier planes, but the loudest of them all was the Black Hawk Helicopter. 

The Black Hawk, used for troop transport, medical evacuations, C2 missions and other military procedures I'll NEVER understand, was the envy of every man in uniform. Take us with you, they’d cry to the craft as they pumped their arms up in down in a motion not unlike the gesture a small child to a semi-truck from the backseat of a minivan.

Man, I wish I had that job, one said to me, heaving what was likely his 67 millionth sandbag that week. And that week was Week No. 5.

But nope, normal Guard personnel didn’t get those perks. Those helicopter rides were limited to dignitaries, emergency and government officials and soldiers with metal broaches on their ACUPAT.

So many of them ached for an air lift, but few if any got the chance. In fact, several civilians would likely pay for such a privilege. 

I, however, am not one of them. 

In fact, if anyone is unworthy of flying in military aircraft, that person would be me. I don’t do so well with orders and I don’t coordinate my outfit with nature.Yet somehow, I managed to creep onto one of the coolest and most sought-after rides in town. 

The military invited members of the media as well as other important people (although few are AS important) for a tour of the flood from the air. 

Despite my lack of skill in all things video, editing and otherwise photographic, I accepted.

Soon some lady in a one-piece jumper-suit and ear muffs the size of cereal bowls straight-jacketed seat-belted me into the aircraft, three feet from the window and facing backwards. 

If the motion sickness doesn’t kill me first, my editor will, I thought, uncapping the smallest camera on the plane and wondering how I was going to shoot through a window I could barely see out of.

If only I can get a few steady, in-focus shots with at least A LITTLE water in them, I promise to stop flirting with the solija-boys while they rescue the universe or whatever, I prayed. 

Soon, me and seven other journalists, officials and people with initials after their names lifted off the ground, just high enough off our feet no longer touched the pavement. No air-sickness at this altitude, I thought. Or so I thought. 

Normally, I can take a little up and down, over-, under-type action... a childhood spent on balance beams and uneven bars will do that to you. But there, when I flipped my legs over my head, my whole body followed. 

In the Black Hawk, when my appendages flew both left and right at the same time, my core remained stapled to the seat. So with each new direction, my arms stretched longer and my stomach got queazier. So much so, my face matched the color of my kelly green jacket. 

Plus, my video got shakier. 

It didn’t help that I was both in the back of the craft AND riding backwards. As if my liver hadn’t jostled enough. I could stuff my liver, pancreas and kidneys into a smoothie maker, and I’d end up with the same result. Minus the delicious strawberry taste and brain freeze hangover.

So I did my best to hold a camera with one hand, not knowing where we even were, let alone where we were going. If that didn’t make my recording awful enough, the lady across from me kept sticking her mobile phone in my view finder. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it she’d say, Look at that. 

My eyes flashed her like a pedophile on a playground. 

I’d love to, I said, and so would my readers. Too bad they can’t with your giant BLACKBERRY in the way.

Since I don’t believe in details and because I always used Brian Norton to edit my video anyway, I figured this exploration was no different. Here you go, I said to a co-worker, handing him my tape and wishing him luck. Minute 19, 27 and 31 have the best footage, I think.

My co-worker edited the video and didn’t say much. He didn’t want to take the Black Hawk ride for fear of heights, motion sickness, etc. But after editing my video, the real deal was likely less offensive. 

One view of my footage was enough to drain the color from his face. By the 10th take, I think he revisited his supper.

Some other organizations have offered flights and other overland footage opportunities. I wouldn’t mind going as I seek opportunities to hone my skills.... and shake hands with the in-crowd. I, however, am no longer invited. 

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