Friday, January 27, 2017

My old jacket

This is my barn jacket. Yes, it really is a German Police coat. It’s gore-tex with a zip out liner and about 10 pockets.  How did I get this? Well, it was quite some time ago and it is almost an interesting story.

I was between jobs back in the early 80’s, living with some guys that were college friends and having monthly parties with old friends. Such was single life back then. At one of these parties one of our old classmates showed up and we were catching up on the last few years of our lives when, after a few beers, he mentioned that the work he was doing for the State Department had an opening for a temporary job.  By the way, when we went to our 35th reunion years later he had just retired after his 30 years of service. Some guys have all the luck. Anyway, he said it involved travel and was only a two month position, but had something to do with an assist to Interpol and the pay was much better than I was used to. 

I had a few irons in the fire, but really nothing solid and my savings were dwindling quickly, so he gave me his card to call and find out more. When the weekend was over I thought I should call and find out more. He set up an appointment with the German Consulate in downtown Minneapolis. I was having all kinds of James Bond thoughts going through my head what with Germany still being divided, Reagan having been inaugurated, the uprising in Gdansk, Poland, the year before, and the U.S. having boycotted the Moscow Olympics( Brezhnev was still in charge)  also in the previous year. I was nervous, but dressed up in a coat and tie as I had no idea what all this was really about.

It was unlike any “interview” I had ever had as the three people in the office asked me all kinds of questions about my life in general. Not much about any of my work experience. There was pastry and coffee and it was just like getting to meet some new friends. After about fifteen or twenty minutes I asked them about the job itself. It turns out that there was a money laundering scheme going on with a Twin Cities connection that they had infiltrated, but still needed time to properly set up the sting operation in Germany. The only reason they needed me was to accompany one of their infiltrators on a couple of quick trips to Berlin. Apparently, this infiltrator was at a lower level of the operation, but they said it was still important for appearances to be nondescript. Well, that was me, Mr. Average, nondescript, nobody knows who the hell he is and he looks harmless. They wanted me to accompany their man a few times so that I would relax and they could keep up appearances.

So it was all not really a big deal. No exploding pens, fast cars, or Playboy models, just a few trips to Germany and that was it. They said they would call me in a few days and I thanked them for their interest and got the nerve to ask them who they were. They had been introduced as Herr so-and-so and I had already forgotten their names (I’m bad that way), but they informed me that they were a diplomat, a German cop, and an Interpol cop. I thanked them and said I was still interested, had the time, and was excited to go to Germany as I had never been there. I had only recently gotten a private pilot license at Wings, Inc. at the St. Paul Downtown Airport (Holmen Field) and loved flying whether or not it was me at the controls.

A few days passed and I got a phone call that offered me the position. I asked if anyone else was doing this and they said I didn’t need to know that. Okay, then. So there was still an element of secrecy, but when I asked them what to tell my friends if they asked they said just to tell them I was a short –time contractor for the State Department and that it required some travel. It was true, but they said keep any details, of which I hardly knew anyway, to myself. For my own safety, they added. That made me a little nervous, but apparently this was not really a big deal and they said that was just standard operating procedure. So when do I start?

A couple of days later I had a knock on the door and had to sign for an envelope that looked fairly plain other than the “signature required” part. Inside it were my airline tickets and hotel information. I checked to see that the plane tickets were for a round trip, they were, and there were what appeared to be some Deutschmarks in denominations from 5 to 1000, but only two of them were 1000 bills. I think the value was around fifty cents U.S. for a Mark, but I don’t remember exactly what it was back then. They had also put a note in there that told me to keep my receipts and to try and keep my purchases to “necessities.” Of course my mind was all over the place as to what constitutes a necessity.  I “need” a new guitar and I “need” some new stereo equipment. I also “need” some new lenses for my camera.  Somehow I figured their idea of need and mine were somewhat different.  
It occurred to me that I had never asked, nor did they offer, to tell me exactly how much the job paid. I took a look at what was in my hands and thought for a moment about cashing in the tickets and converting the cash. It was about the equivalent of two months’ salary from my previous job, but this job was only going to be a couple of months. I decided to call the number they had given me for questions and contacts and ask. They wouldn’t be specific, but they said “adequate” since there were three agencies involved. At least that I knew of.  Two days later a money order for a thousand dollars came in the mail with a note to say this would help cover my day to day living expenses until my actual paycheck was written. Since my share of the rent and utilities was about $250 a month back then I figured that I was going to be okay even if the pay itself wasn’t much. The fact that I would get a few quick trips to Germany in the meantime was really what I was looking forward to.

Three days later I was at the Minneapolis Airport (MSP) finding my way to the right concourse and to meet “my man” as he was referred to and begin. My passport was in hand and I found my way to the Lufthansa counter to check in my suitcase. It was a smaller one since the trip was only for a few days and my carry on was just a soft-sided briefcase. I was dressed casually as I waited in the short line to check in. When my turn came and I put my bag on the scale the uniformed woman at the counter informed me that my travel companion was waiting for me over there, pointing to an empty row of seats with a woman sitting at the end. She was an attractive, casually dressed woman with a large purse. As I approached her and began to extend my hand she got out of her seat and gave me a big hug which pleasantly surprised me. “I am Heidi,” she whispered in my ear. “Of course you are,” I thought, “I'm J...”, “Ssshhh, I know all about you," she whispered. I decided right then that this might be the best job I ever had.

To be continued...

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Just another day

There has been enough coverage of the tragedy in America, but the reaction from good people has given me a reason to hope that this can be squelched and we can still move forward in due time.

So purely for entertainment purposes I intend to tell you about my trip into work this morning.

First, some background. I have a two mile trip down our rural gravel road to the U.S. Highway 61 where my elevation changes from 1200 feet above sea level down to 600 feet above sea level right next to Lake Superior.
Our place is toward the left side of this picture and just about at the top of the hillside. What happens on the trip down are changes in atmospheric conditions caused by elevation and the proximity to the lake. The worst that can happen in summer is that your vehicle windows will fog up suddenly.

Winter is another matter altogether. We can have snow at the farm and rain at the lake. Or rain and freezing rain. Or just rain on a frozen road. We had the latter in the past 24 hours. We never used to have rain in the winter, but that was thirty years ago. Things are very different now (but that isn't true according to the idiocracy in charge) and we get rain in the winter along with the usual snow and sub zero temperatures.The road is plowed by the county as the school bus needs to take kids to school and needs to get through so that the kids don't turn out as stupid as the previous generation. We can only hope.

Usually the road is covered in hard-packed snow and he plows usually put down a little sand in the slippery spots. Today, however, is Saturday and the school kids and plow drivers sleep in. I was expected to be at work at eight this morning after a night of temperatures hovering around freezing and an occasional light drizzle.

I pull out onto the road in four wheel drive expecting it to be slippery. It was, but by the farm it wasn't so bad. There were even a few parts of road bed exposed giving me some traction. As I descended the hill I could tell by the glare on the road that conditions were deteriorating rapidly. Gravity was doing its part to speed me up from the 40 or 45 mph speed I had reached. I saw some gravelly spots in the road and carefully applied my brakes to slow down the 6500 pounds of steel and plastic surrounding me. Gravity kept wanting me to go faster. I slowed down enough to get it back into second gear and the transmission and gravity fought like demons to gain control of the situation. 

Now comes the fun part where my monologue kicks in. "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!" I exclaimed while pinching my cheeks and increasing my death grip on the steering wheel. I am about to enter the ess curves where the road is protected from sun and wind by trees and therefore has the smoothness of glass with a fresh coat of polish.

I touched my brakes and immediately started sliding and just as immediately let off the brakes. I was close to the edge of the road which is good and bad. The edge has a little traction as it is not quite as smooth, but there is a ditch hidden under the snow. I am trying to remember at the speed of a Hal 2000 what it looks like in summer at that piece of road. Will I end up in the ditch or stay almost in control? I manage to get the speed under 10 mph and jamb it down into first gear. The wheels are still turning, but not as fast as I am actually going. The truck shimmies a little left and a little right. I have minimal steering control and don't dare touch the brakes or I will be in the ditch or the trees. At least at this speed I won't die. I slide a little sideways and try to straighten out again using the edge of the road. It catches traction at the last second and my heart is in my throat along with a taste of breakfast. At this point I am barely moving forward, but with only 50 yards to go until clear road I am pretty sure I will make it.

I take the truck out of four wheel drive and am on a wet, paved highway increasing my speed. After a mile or two I remember to start breathing again and check to see if my pants are still dry. All is well.

I call the sheriff's office when I get to work and talk to the dispatcher, who used to keep a horse here, and tell her that our road is impassable. The county boys are already hard at it and the road is well sanded by the time I come home. Nothing like a little adrenaline to get your day started.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017


It means "friend" or "comrade" in Russian. I first remember hearing the term on an old TV show called "Hogan's Heroes" when the prisoners were trying to convince the Germans that the Russians were advancing quickly from the Eastern Front. Probably something we should learn as "Fearless Leader" moves into the White House. Hey, the Russians are his friends, especially the guy with the Napoleon complex, Vladimir Putin. They are both "very smart" according to themselves. These men are faced with the task of leading about 460 million people to a better life. Yes, they are, but that is not what seems to hold their attention. Here are a few bits of entertainment.
These men (I use the term loosely) are more impressed by themselves and think more of themselves than anyone else.

No matter how often Trump denies his relationship with Russia it still doesn't change anything.

I realize there is nothing new here and all we can do is wait for all the impeachable offenses to occur. The man's lack of class and junior high maturity level will not cease to be an embarrassment for the rest of us. Let's just hope he doesn't do too much damage before he is gone or gotten rid of.

The good news is that the Women's March on Washington needs three times the number of buses than the inauguration itself. There are dozens of groups locally and nationally that are organizing to remind the President elect that he did not win the majority of votes and that a lot of his ideas and attitudes are not okay and will be fought as long as he is in a position of power. We will also stand against his political allies in the house and senate as long as necessary.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ihop and the gang

Our "new" cat is called Patch by some members of the household, but Ihop by others of us. Some might want to call him Tripod. When we first spotted him in the yard he seemed to favor his front right leg. After feeding him for a few weeks and getting closer to him he finally gave in to curiosity and came over for a touch. Once the feral cat has come into physical contact it is yours. That is rule number four in the Feral Cat Rule Book by which they all adhere. It has happened with Callie and Mommalaid who were also feral. Those two, however, neglected to let us know that they were pregnant until after the "Touch" moment which leads me to think along the lines of cat conspiracy. There is a subheading in the rule book about that.

We applied dewormer and flea-go-away within a few days of the touch" moment before we were willing to bring him indoors to let him socialize with the rest of the family. He got reasonably comfortable in a cat carrier before we hauled him off to the vet to get him examined and neutered. The vet believed that he had likely been run over as his elbow was shattered and had embedded gravel as did one of his back legs. The front right leg had to come off, but it didn't seem to bother him too much. It's just that he moves with a hopping motion and hence his name.
He moves fast and is the youngest of the herd. He is also the most gregarious of the group wanting to be everyone's friend and playmate. He is also underfoot and suspects any sound of cans or jars being opened as a sign of food for him. In the above photo you might notice that the tip of his right ear is shorter than the other. Life in the wild is tough. But he's happy now And warm.

The rest of the gang:
 Orange Mammalaid

 Callie and Blue Kitty
 Orange Ruffie
 Beevis (the butthead)

Here they are all doing what they do best. Taking up space and sleeping 20 hours a day.

Monday, January 2, 2017


In the autumn of 2016 I decided to take a course in pottery at the Art Colony.I had spent quite a lot of time at the wheel waaay back in college to the point where I was reaching competency. After 40+ years away from it, however I needed a refresher in order to be able to do anything at all. I went in with a little confidence, but quickly realized that there was a lot I didn't remember at all. At least clay still felt like clay, the wheel still went around, and the kiln is still as hot as lava.

The class was being taught by Joan, who is quite accomplished and a very good teacher and my classmates for our class titled "Pots for Presents" were all enthusiastic.
The idea of the class was to make gifts for the upcoming holiday season and see just what we might be capable of. It was scheduled for a couple of hours on Tuesday evenings for about 6 or 8 weeks and if you could come in any other time you were welcome to do so. In fact we were given 24 hour access to the studio. Unfortunately, most of our lives are too busy to be that dedicated which was also a bit frustrating. It was a process starting with remembering or relearning how to center the lump of clay. This progressed through the class from being a fifteen minute thing to less than two minutes enabling more throwing time.

We tried making simple pots to mugs to "square" casserole type dishes to jars with lids. We could go in slightly different directions while still learning and relearning some basics. It is amazing how much I had forgotten in four decades. Not unlike how much I can forget in four days or four hours.

The results were amazing. Not necessarily great, but pretty good considering. Here are some of the results.
Ellen with one of her favorites.
Priscilla with one of hers.
Joyce looking at Priscilla's work.
Joyce's black pots and my stuff, mostly.
Some of mine.
Me with a blue plate and my other stuff. Hey, it's my blog!
The class with Joan taking the photo. Standing next to me is Suzy who took all the other pictures because someone didn't remember to bring his camera. That was one of those remembering things I referred to earlier. Sometimes my thinking thingy doesn't do me any favors.
Suzy's very cool casserole dish.

Just after we took this it was potluck time and we enjoyed a repast using our own dishes. Joyce outdid herself with the food she brought, but in typical North Shore potluck tradition we ate very well.