Maria Stein and Redhead Lust

A journey through rural western Ohio, en route to the epochal trailer rally, Alumapalooza III, loses traction when my Lynn, the navigator misses the turn.  Ford may make the ‘Lincoln Navigator’, but we’re driving a ‘Silverado Who Don’t Know’, the pre-GPS version.

The detour in Mercer County leads us to Maria Stein, OH, which every inquisitive traveler might ask, ‘who was she?’  Who gets a town named after them ?  I imagine her to be an attractive redheaded Jewish girl, virtuous to a fault, the incarnate likeness of Iris Ephron, the cute, raven-haired beauty that I lusted over in high school, 1957, petite, sassy, and sexy.  Ok, ok, maybe a redheaded Jew was a genetic anomaly, but she had the “is” and the “it” factor.  Leave it to Bill Clinton to define ‘it’ and ‘is’; my lips are sealed.

Prepare for deflation as there is no Maria Stein, the person, but a town named after a community in Switzerland; Mariastein.  In Ohio, it is home to the shrine of the holy relics (they store desiccated body parts of deceased saints) and the St. John’s Catholic Church in this land of cross-tipped cathedrals.


The church felt odd.  I cannot explain why I walked in, but the doors were big, and open, and the day, a day celebrating memorials.  No one else was there….not even a woman in black on her knees.  Columns with fading paint stood alongside like old comrades.  Most of the place was plain, and worn, and well scrubbed.  The gilt carvings on the walls kept a safe distance.  The smell was not melting wax, not incense, not dust, not humid afternoon sunshine, not anything else I could recognize, but it recognized me.  Call it the odor of a hundred years of prayer.  The aroma of leatherette binding from weathered hymnals, the DNA of a thousand sinners.


A gusty wind from the south stirs the hair on the nape of your neck.  What passes are only what the wind blown clouds have chosen to reveal.  Shafts of sun spotlight tumble-down farms, pastures of livestock, and a lonely farmer tending to endless acres of newly planted grain.


We reach Jackson Center, Ohio, where for decades, no obtrusive progress has been made except for satellite dish installations.  The town has been preserved by middle class poverty, aluminum siding, a few tourist dollars, and an uncommon trailer manufacturer.  The main street is wide enough for a motorcycle to pass a model 9300 John Deere tractor pulling a 15 row nutrient applicator, if you enjoy becoming up close and personal with anhydrous ammonia.


Our destination, a small community of trailers filled with volunteers wearing ghastly orange tie-dyed tees, is gearing up for a week of frolic.  The temporary village flickered silver, the residents in folding chairs, and a nightingale practices her chords under a shimmering canopy of cottonwoods.  The rugs of grass so velvety that one’s mind could roll on them, and beyond them, the sun set and vanished with the warm steady breeze.

(Alert: the following material may be deemed offensive.  If your computer has a parental control option, now is the appropriate time to activate)


The morning erupted in thunderstorms, much needed rain, and the emergence of two very attractive, damp redheads piloting a 4X4 Gator in search of a lost hydraulic winch.  This, as you probably concur, would make a good plot line for a grade-B movie.  Upon confronting the two unnamed individuals, I approached them, camera in hand, and asked if they would like to appear on my internet pornsite. 

After the coy amusement

Then, an unrehearsed audition

Life provides few (tweet translation delete) OMG moments; this required an investigation. Informed, unnamed, anonymous sources of questionable repute IDed the pair as one Eleanor O. and one Lisa F. Although probably an error, those names matched both their passport photos and actor’s guild union cards.

This is going to be a very good week, so help me Iris.








Calmalooza before the storm

As interpreted by a dog who ate a frog, last night.  Welcome to Facebark, and the fine print, by Jack.

Jack Disclaimer:
Any resemblance to persons living or dead should be plainly apparent  and those who know them, especially if  I have been kind enough to provide their real names, dates of birth, two photo ID’s, credit card data, and, in some cases, cell phone numbers.  All events described herein actually happened, or may have happened, though on occasion certain, very small, liberties with chronology have been exercised, because that is my right as a dog.

The countdown to the most significant Airstream rally, Alumapalooza III, is underway, and the highly anticipated Yappy Hour on Tues., 29May2012.  As co-host to the Man-In-The-Maze entourage, for three years running, I have provided courtesy parking adjacent to my dog run in the quiet days prior to the main event.

No purchase required

After the ‘frog’ incident, frothing at the mouth from the distasteful critter, multiple bouts of hurling, and eating copious amounts of grass, I awoke refreshed this morning.  This was my highest stress level since I met a skunk head-on at the cabin.

L-R, Man-in-the-Maze (aka Rich), me, Daughter-in-the-Maze (aka Emma)

This morning attention is turned to the corn crib, where a stupid raccoon (IQ test score~ 27 or less) once again fell for the peanut butter in a dish trick.  They are not only dumb, they have the personal hygiene quotient of an interstate toilet sewage back-up.  Sooooo, Emma and I head for the Izaak Walton league  to ‘relocate’ the stinky varmint.


The soon to be released defendant, and parole officer, Emma

The morning concludes.  I gaze outward and contemplate the day ahead and the years that surround me.


  • Silver Maple  c. 1855
  • The barn….1881
  • Neal……1919
  • Amish porch furniture..1995
  • Safari bunkhouse….2005
  • MB GLK Van….2008

That’s it for today, tempus fugit, and my final thought before embarking on an exciting week.

Ribbit, ribbit.




The Bridge to Rochester

In brief, my wife, Lynn, terminally ill with a rare, incurable pulmonary disorder, rose to the top of the recipient list for a double lung transplant in June 2011.  In anticipation of her rapidly declining health, we moved to Rochester, MN, in our vintage travel trailer, to await the call..

The scope of her illness, surgeries, prolonged hospitalization, and modest but slow recovery is very personal and not the subject matter.

In a hospital corridor, I had a brief conversation with a chaplain, who described a blog program called Caring Bridge, a personalized patient website to elaborate on your health journey ( imagine facebook ® for the faltering).  This did not interest me at all.  But the tangential reference to bridge, a game I had nearly forgotten and abandoned decades earlier, created a spark.  First, imagine you are living in an aluminum womb, in an unfamiliar city, transients in an RV park. Waiting. Waiting.  Excitement was defined by the weekly visit from the oxygen provider, a new neighbor moving in perhaps with a pet dog to fraternize with my Jack, or a long walk on one of the 85 miles of trails.

On a lark, a search revealed, and, hence, an attempt to find a game and partnership.  What followed was extraordinary.  In lieu of the 24/7 attention necessary for Lynn’s care, bridge became a brief, welcome escape for two to three sessions each week.  No other activity, no sanity safety net, could have cured the loneliness and detachment from friends and family.


My approach to the game, while not flippant, was clearly irreverent.  Urged to join the national club, I soon adapted to the innovative bidding box, and began to explore the game’s progress since Charles Goren, the guru of the 60’s (he died in 1991).  Able to secure games, often at the very last minute due to the vagaries of hospital activity, clinic appts., and the volatility of Lynn’s condition, nearly 40 different partners plunged into the darkness and together we gained an equal number of coveted “points” in the nine months.


The purpose of writing is to quietly honor all my partners and opponents for their kindness.  Every gesture, consolation, pat on the shoulder, no matter how seemingly insignificant, provided grateful relief for a damp hankie in the medical Maytag® rinse cycle.

Joyce W. and Sue G.

As a group, do not be deceived, these people are clever, skilled in skullduggery, and neither generous nor sympathetic while holding 13 cards.  Bridge is war; firearms, knives, and nuclear devices are disallowed and must be left at the door, but who knows, the ACBL rules may one day be revised. At times I felt like the third string place kicker on the HS football team, facing the Minnesota Vikings linebacker defense.

‘Did you hear who has to play with Charlie today ?’ 


However, behind the tableside veneer, I found the players to be fascinating, intelligent, suitable characters in an Agatha Christie mystery, a joy to discover.

Dave H., Arne F., and Nate P., preparing for battle


The polite façade provided cover for hidden modesty:

  • A principal in the largest U.S.A. sweater manufacturer
  • A deposed seed company executive
  • A non-practicing obstetrician
  • A child survivor of parent Holocaust victims
  • A crowned Miss Agriculture, mid 1960s, Iowa State Fair
  • A foreign service officer, post 1983 invasion, island of Grenada
  • A rural, dirt-poor, S. Dakota prairie child, one of seven, in a one bedroom house, one cold water tap, and an outdoor latrine
  • A classmate of Hillary (nee Rodham) Clinton at Maine East High, 1963-4, Park Ridge, IL
  • A PhD, UCLA, molecular biology
  • A retired Manitoban, expert in wildlife photography


Not one, in this educated, learned society of crafty players, admitted to working for the CIA, spending time in the witness protection program, incarceration, or being the subject of outstanding felony warrants.  This does not preclude any absence of guilt.  My secret desire was to become the Pope, but the stodgy church hierarchy insisted that (a) you had to be Catholic, (b) study Latin, (c) unmarried.   Prerequisites designed to eliminate the worthy, sooo…..instead of a filling a vacancy in the Vatican, I’m in a room in Rochester.  And every room has a purple elephant; the RAC meeting room, a haze of magenta, and I’m dreaming of driving, yes, the popemobile;


Profound gratitude to Rich and Sue Greenberg for welcoming us, to Minnesota, their home, and the bridge table.  Words are inadequate for Sue, the officers, game directors, and volunteers who make the game so pleasant….not to be taken for granted, find a moment to thank them, for the least expensive $4 entertainment bargain in Olmsted County.  Better than cheap gin.

The time in Rochester was special; a confluence of memorable events never to be duplicated.  Your time and my space won’t allow the mention of all your names, but you know who you are.  The likelihood that I will continue bridge is less than zero.  I’m told you can play “online”, a few clicks here and there, but  my self-imposed computer time is limited to less than an hour each day.  I’ve confirmed that time and interactions are better spent in the tangible world.  Time, especially in our golden age, is the only thing you own for certain, and the computer is an un-indicted burglar of time.


A personal trifecta ; Lynn’s ongoing care, maintenance of an 1855 farmhouse, and a fleet of old cars in the barn, are schedule enough.  I do read the newspaper bridge column to Jack, but he insists on being south (always the declarer) and seeing all four hands at once, so I have to partner with a stuffed bear.

you reneged again, you’re the jack of spades, this is the jack of hearts”

Since too few fellow players had actually seen my wife, there was speculation that no such person existed, that she was a fictitious character in a contrived sympathy scam.  Below, photographic evidence, untouched, after a Sunday afternoon ride and an hour under the hood sniffing motor ether.


When we return to Rochester for brief follow-up visits to the clinic, I’ll make an attempt to find a partner for a session or two.  When I pull the red ‘alert’ card, it won’t be to describe an obscure convention signal, but to warn the table,  “I’m packing heat in the form of a .357 magnum”.


I’m Fr. Charles and I approve this message.