Thursday, November 27, 2008

loose ends; 11-25-08

OK, time to take care of some old business.

First off, Brazil Lives! If you were wondering about the end of the "dog tale" (who spends time thinking about dog tails?), I apologize for leaving you out there in the cold, dark land of uncertainty (is that a word?). I suppose my utter embarrasment at having failed to draw any useable conclusions, combined with the shame of my...uh...what's the word? Hmmm, it was right there on the tip of my...well, not really on my tongue, 'cause I'm writing, but anyway....uh...what was I saying again? Oh yeah! my forgetfulness. See, there is hope for me!

So I forgot the whole point of the post, which is why I've been hiding in shame. But now I will face the music. Brazil eventually swallowed the meat, after a few token gestures that faintly resembled chewing, and he only did that because he HAD to, but he swallowed and survived. Thanks to you who made comments. I probably should thank those of you who didn't; comments like "Good one!", or "Way to waste my time with a meaningless story" are better left unsaid.

OK, so #1 is done, Brazil lives!

#2. The Caveman has NOT returned. Well, like his brother said...he's a caveman! He's been out there for what, a couple of months now? And he's lovin' it. Rumor is he's been enjoying some good marten trapping, probably spending a lot of time training his dog team (yea! another team in our village) and whatever else he's doing. A couple of months without real laundry facilities or a shower???? Hmmm, maybe he's been rolling in the snow like a husky. Good thing he's camping solo.

Alright, #3...coming up as soon as I remember what it was going to be. Hold on while I check some older posts for clues...

Ahhh yes; I got it. The Postmaster.

Keep our setting in mind; isolated, no roads, only one so-called "store", about the same size as a very small house or a large living room, so everything depends heavily on the U.S. mail...got it?

Thanksgiving week arrives. It's Monday morning. There's a lot going on in Fairbanks (basketball tournaments, etc) so local people are wanting to cash checks (or get their checks in the mail) so they can travel. Others are expecting groceries to arrive so they can cook their holiday meal, etc., etc. The Postmaster is a thousand miles away visiting her sister, but, not to worry, she has an alternate who will be here to keep the village ball rolling smoothly.

At least that was the plan. "Alternate" has a baby, who gets sick, so she hops the first plane out of town. Not Good! We are now faced with an entire week of NO MAIL!!!

If you want to get only a partial idea of the magnitude of the problem, imagine you woke up on Monday, walked out your front door and saw a fifty foot high wall down the street, confining you to your neighborhood; nothing comes in, nothing goes out. If you hadn't got your turkey, or your sweet potatoes (who cares?), or those french fried onion rings to put on that dumb green bean casserole (so what?) or the ice cream to go with the Tollhouse chocolate chip pie (Ouch!, that one hurts), well now it's too late; the wall is up and commerce has screeched to an abrupt halt! That's kinda what NO MAIL feels like. Except NO MAIL is worse.

Village solution? Have some one else open the post office. And that is what happens. You can't pick up COD's but you can get letters and some parcels. You can't cash your check, but you can take it to Fairbanks. Woo hoo! Where else can a federal building be opened for business by a totally unauthorized person? Gotta love village life.

OK, that's it. Hope you enjoyed your turkey, and that dumb green bean thing, and some delicious pie. If you can learn to be thankful in all things, in every circumstance, you'll be way ahead in this life!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

All quiet on the northern front

This morning (well, it's 10:15, still twilight; sun won't be up for about an hour, but it's "morning")...where was I?...This morning all is quiet, peaceful, even "tranquil", you might say. Outside is a brisk minus 28, but inside there's a nice cup of coffee (Cafe Del Mundo / Papua New Guinea), a fire crackling in the woodstove, and a tired wife still snoozing (shhh, don't wake her. She works hard and can use this rest)

Last night was similar. After the Teen Rec Center shut down and the kids made their way home (or wherever else they went) the town got quiet. No snowmachines racing around; just quiet. Unusual for a Saturday night. We went to bed around 1am.

Right about the time I was entering "the zone"; you know, when you're just drifting off into a perfectly relaxed sleep...BOOM!

Uh-oh!

"What was that?" (I think I was a bit further into the zone, since I wasn't sure what the noise was)

"That was a gunshot!" (never a good thing late at night; during the day it could be some one shooting a stray dog, or perhaps even a grouse, but not now. I'm reminded of a time when a guy across the road was under his house [houses here are elevated, so being "under" one isn't an activity exclusive to small rodents and feral cats] late one night and attempted to shoot himself. Thankfully he was not successful. I'm also reminded of the time the guy next door attempted to shoot his brother, late one night. Unfortunately he was successful; he's now doing time for murder)

A little detective work (i.e. open a window and listen) revealed more clues; a couple of male voices in the area shouting/argueing, but it's unclear what is happening. No screaming; so that's a good sign.

"What should we do?"

"We'll go back to bed. If they need us, they'll call."

I don't want to seem too callous (cold hearted, unfeeling, etc.) but that's really how it is...trust me, I know. If I got out of bed and ran outside every time I thought something serious might have happened, I'd get even less sleep than I do now.


And, like I said, it's now morning and all is quiet. Probably nothing more serious than an alcohol induced argument spiced up with a gunshot to emphasize some point or other (think western movie, a couple of drunk cowboys hollering at each other with an occasional "BANG!" here and there; you'd probably be pretty close.

Friday, November 21, 2008

11-21-08; the end of the tale

OK, time for me to 'fess up. Well, first of all, this blog is legit. If I cut off a post before I get to an acceptable conclusion (like the previous one), I'm not making it up. I really did have to stop. As I said, I needed to go feed the dogs (I often cook their food, as mentioned, and if left too long it will freeze; last night was around minus twenty). So, when I say I've got to go, I gotta go!

Now for the true confession...(gulp!) The reason I left this "dog tale" post hanging without finishing it up right away...is...because...you're not going to believe this...Well, I totally lost my train of thought. I honestly can't remember where I was going with that one (how lame is that?)

I mean I could come up with some lessons we can learn from Brazil / "Knucklehead", and hopefully it would be something a little more helpful than "Chew your food" or "Mind your manners", but I lost the whole idea. I'm sure it's rattling around back there in my 50 year old cranium, but I can't seem to shake it out.

How about we make a deal? If YOU can think of something appropriate, post it in the comments (please remember to keep it anonymous, well...how about "semi-anonymous".). If it works I'll post it. And if I can remember the point to the whole Brazil-eating-like-a-crocodile story, rest assured; I'll post that one too. Deal?

(Hmmm, I wonder if Thanksgiving had any relevance?)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Dog Tales" 11-18-08


I am of the opinion the we humans have much to learn. My father once said, "The more we know, the more we realize how much we don't know." He was speaking in terms of scientific knowledge, but I think the maxim applies universally.

Potential instructors are everywhere...if (and that is a big "IF"), we are willing to humble ourselves and take on the attitude of a learner; not an easy thing for Americans, we usually think we already know everything and are "on a mission" to enlighten every one in our path. If you feel I'm being unjustly harsh, I encourage you to seek out the opinion of the first non-American you meet; see what they say.

Regardless, I propose we apply ourselves to learning. If you are with me, humbly bow down and acknowledge today's instructor. (you're going to have to bow down because the teacher is a lot closer to the ground than you are). "Ladies and Gentlemen, It's my pleasure to introduce to you...Professor Pooch!".

OK, now, don't freak-out. If King Solomon, in all his God-given wisdom can suggest bugs as our teachers (Pr.6:6), I should be able to recommend "Man's Best Friend". And that is my intent with "Dog Tales". If you think it's too corny, be glad I didn't go with "Lassie's Lessons", "Canine Conundrums", or "Piddles Riddles", or how about "Sessions with the Salivating Sage" (Ooooo, I kinda like that one).

Consider if you will, Brazil; the largest country in South America, home to the vast Amazon River basin, tropical jungles abounding with wildlife....Whoa! Wrong Brazil.

"Brazil" is a dog. He was born during the last World Cup (as in football, well...soccer; you know, "the beautiful game"...??? Never mind.). That makes him...a few years old. His littermates have similar names like "Argentina", "Mexico", "Ukraine" and "Sam" (go figure). Now, I must say, Brazil is a complete knucklehead. Definitely not my favorite dog, which is why he is today's teacher.

Among his many annoying traits; even heading the list, are his "table manners". If you happen to be around him at supper time, you'll be hard pressed to find them. That's because he has none...even for a dog.

Brazil is a complete and utterly disgusting PIG! I have been around a lot of dogs in my time, and I have never been so appalled. He's totally gross. When I feed him I serve it up and clear out, because he will dive into his food with such reckless abandon it will fly. I'm not overly squeamish around dogs, but he is gross. One example was the time I fed him a large chunk of moose meat.

"Moosehunting" basically requires that the hunter shoot the moose. This in turn often produces what hunters refer to as "blood-shot" meat; meat that contains excess blood, resulting from the wound(s). Blood-shot meat is not edible for humans, but dogs have no complaints, so I save this meat and cook it for my dogs.

One time when I cooked up a pot for my dogteam, some of the meat was in large chunks. Brazil just happened to get the largest. I spooned it into his dish and watched, already aware of his "eating habits". Brazil basically doesn't like to chew his food, or maybe it's more accurrate to say "he doesn't like to take the time to chew it". He just wolfs it down, literally (actually I don't know if that's literal; I suspect even wolves chew their food to some degree. Brazil is in his own category here).

So anyway, he gets a big hunk of meat in his dish and he's on it, instantly. Like an African crocodile with a small antelope, he throws his head back and attempts to swallow it...whole. Now, this hunk of meat is so big he can barely get it in his mouth, let alone down his throat, but that doesn't stop this dainty little prince.

The meat lodges about half way down. Brazil starts stretching out his neck, rhythmically, like a snake trying to swallow a rodent. So there he is, head back, neck outstretched, throat obstructed, unable to breathe but unwilling to give up. A "Mexican Stand-off", Brazilian style. His eyes are starting to look a little bulgey and I'm starting to worry. If he were a human in a restaurant, some one would be doing the Heimlich on him by now. At last, his pea-sized intellect overcomes his pumpkin-sized greed and he relents, coughing it up and spitting out his treasure.

For about three seconds.

Replay the tape 'cause here we go again. Saaaaame thing. Snap it up, head back, start the neck/snake thing, and...nothing. Plugged up again. Only this time he takes a few steps while he's working his neck, as if he's trying to walk it off or something. Same result; bulgey eyes, an over-all look of distress, wait about twenty seconds, then...PLOP! Back out on the ground.

Another three seconds, another go-round. Add in a few more steps but the rest is identical...

It's kind of ironic, but I have to stop right now to go feed "Mr. Manners" and the rest of the dogs. I'll finish this in a while...

Monday, November 10, 2008

11-10-08; the Postmaster

I've been scolded for not updating northerneye more often, and I've been admonished to update my profile to reflect the current number of grandchildren. Any guesses on who may have given me this recent "encouragement"? If you guessed the mother of the new addition, you'd be right.

Time is like...Nutella; you can only spread it around so far before you run out. And my jar of time has been scraped pretty clean of late (my jar of Nutella is non-existent; such a pity). But right now it's time to check the post office.

The Post Office in a northern village is the equivalent of the country store in old movies. You know, the place where people meet and share news and gossip. You won't find a couple of ol' boys playing checkers on a cracker barrel, but you will find them chatting with the postmaster (the Hollywood storekeeper's counterpart; think Mr.Olson...Little House) discussing current events; such as the weather, the latest hunting/fishing/trapping reports, who got med-evacced, who got a new snow machine, who has been hauling wood, from where, whether it's drywood or birch, etc. It goes on and on.

The postmaster is usually the authority on most subjects. She (or he) is "in the know", keeping current on the local happenings and usually dispensing the news faster than the mail. Letters must be sorted and placed in the appropriate box (we don't have home delivery, in case you were wondering; pardon me for laughing at the thought), whereas "news" can be passed freely over the counter to anyone. Well, almost anyone.

If you are not on friendly terms with this local gossip guru, you may find yourself out of the loop. And this could have ramifications far beyond the scope of information. The local postmaster is a very...how should I put it?...a very "influential" person. She not only knows all, but she touches all as well.

In a remote community where nearly everything of importance comes via the U.S. mail, the postmaster is in a very strategic position. The adage about the two people you don't want mad at you applies; the "two" being the person who delivers your mail and the person who prepares your food. An angry postmaster probably won't spit in your soup, but your mail could be mysteriously misplaced.

Postmaster "knowledge" is pervasive; not limited to local gossip. By handling virtually every piece of mail and reading the addresses, she knows everything about everybody, and what she doesn't know she can deduce. Think of her as a human hybrid; part Wizard of Oz and part Sherlock Holmes.

The postmaster knows your finances. She knows who gets checks in the mail (social security, unemployment, retirement, AFDC, payroll, Alaska PFD and public assistance, to name only a few) and when these checks come. She knows how many different checks you get, and the amount, because you probably cash them at the post office. (The only "bank" around here is the river bank, and "Teller" is the name of a village off to the northwest.)

Since many people use postal money orders to pay their bills, she knows what you spend your money on. If you buy a lot from Cabela's, Amazon, Eastbay, or whatever, she'll know. If you love to buy stuff from all those dumb home shopping channels, she'll know. And if you purchase "male enhancement" or "adult entertainment" products, she'll know that too. No secret is safe from her. If something crosses her threshold which her scanners don't recognize, she'll casually ask you what it is; this information is then filed in her mental database.

She'll know if your car, boat, four-wheeler or snow machine breaks down, because you'll be waiting for the parts to arrive at the post office. She'll probably know how extensive the repairs are, since most people have things shipped C.O.D. and the amount is right there on the box; plus, you have to pay her the C.O.D. amount. It's probable that she already knows if those vehicles are financed or paid for too.

She knows if you are in debt (she sorts the credit card bills), she knows if you have been turned over to a collection company (certified mail), she knows if you have investments (statements), who your investments are with, and how many. I suppose if she were interested, she could even check the financial pages to see how your investments were doing, but right now everyone knows that.

She knows who must appear in court, how often, and with the local gossip she already knows why. She knows if attorneys are involved. She probably knows if you will be going to jail and for how long, since you will have to tell her what to do with your mail while you're away. She knows!

And she's not ONLY a postmaster. She's a counselor, a social worker, a financial advisor, a surrogate parent, and would probably make a pretty good poker player. Let me explain.

Let say "Wife" is away while "Husband" remains here in the village. Wife knows "the check" (could be any check) is due to come in the mail any day now. Wife calls the postmaster to tell her NOT to put the check in the box, because Husband will cash it and spend it at the liquor store. (The postmaster already knows all this anyway, but you can't be too careful) So the postmaster "holds" the check until Wife returns, ensuring the money will be spent in a more sensible manner (like gambling, perhaps, or maybe for food or fuel). When Husband asks if the check has come, the postmaster must answer accordingly, which is why I think she'd be good at bluffing in a card game).

She helps people pay their bills. She discourages unwise purchases by those who can't afford them. And she won't cash your check if you are intoxicated; especially when you are accompanied by a group of unsavory characters who are known to separate the vulnerable from their pocketful of cash. She knows!

This encyclopedic database possessed by the postmaster obviously benefits the entire community. Naturally it follows that her replacement can't measure up when she is away. The sub postal worker is truly "sub-postal", lacking the village omniscience of the real deal.

My wife spent several years working as our postmaster's replacement. On numerous occasions she was bawled out by customers. The reason? Simply sorting the mail. Who knew you could get in so much trouble for reading an address and putting an envelope in the appropriate box?

To keep things running smoothly, every community needs a postmaster who has this "higher knowledge"; one who knows all and, quite often, tells all. It's a lot of service for the price of a stamp.