A smile south of Washburn, WI; just call me ‘Bill’

It happens infrequently while you travel slowly, the intersection between luck and serendipity, that yields the endearing moment you least expect.  On remote highway WI-13,


meet Bill

Once a gravedigger, he stopped shaving and began woodcarving when Nixon waved goodbye from that stairway on the helicopter.   Not content to dance to our drummer, his path of least resistance leads to a modest workshop/studio/shed and bed, breathing sawdust and sculpting life.


Path to the inner sanctum

No stranger to camping, he fashioned his own classB motorhome on the rusted chassis of a Chevy truck.  “Don’t use it much once I passed 75…I’m too old and that’s too fast”


Where’s the circus ?

We tried to buy a beautiful fish, shaped and polished from burled walnut, but it was NFS, one of his favorites he could not part with.  “Most of what I have in the studio (it was crammed with wooden art, every piece he had done himself) is only for display.

“However, if we express interest in a raven topped totem pole seen below in its infancy, he might be able to talk.


A stranger to personal hygiene, he is in remarkably good health and spirit, and recommended we stop down the road to look at his favorite truck, a 1927 Ford.


We don’t want your arms, we don’t want your legs, just give us your tows

Bill doesn’t have a cell phone, a TV, or a computer, only a Motorola portable radio that ‘needs new batteries’ and he’s never heard of a social networking site.  I asked him if he remembered Elian Gonzalez and Janet Reno and the tug-o-war with Cuba in 2000.


How about the oil spill ?

“Oh, yes, but I didn’t know where it was in Mexico or when it started.  Is it fixed?”

There aren’t enough Bills in the world.

Word Chemistry fails to graduate

Again.  Forget the oil spill, the nation is drowning in word spill.

This weekend, in South Bend, IN, I attended a graduation, and offer excerpts from the commencement address.

From the SB Tribune:

NBC anchor Brian Williams on Sunday urged 2010 University of Notre Dame graduates to help find ways to contain and correct the massive oil spill that is polluting the Gulf of Mexico.

As we speak, there are 4 million gallons of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil is pouring, billowing into the Gulf of Mexico.”

As I stand here, there is nothing to stop it,” he said. 

“We are staring, make no mistake, at a slow-motion environmental disaster,” Williams said.

The anchor said he is certain this graduating class has the brain power to help fix it.

Please note that the highlighted phrases are meaningless, word compost at best, that when removed do not alter the message.

    As we speak ?

Note, he’s the only one speaking while thousands are compelled to listen.

    As I stand here.

Hmmm, 15,000 attendees noticed, as we were seated.

    Make no mistake.

Is he emphasizing the ignorance of the audience that clearly must know nothing of the BP disaster ?

Williams is probably an o.k. guy, but he and his ilk have inundated us with worthless drivel.  

The more vacuous Matt Lauer incessantly resorts to the following:

  • Be that as it may
  • Truth be told
  • By and large
  • If, in fact
  • That being said

Harry Smith, suffering from terminal sappiness, makes me beg for the return of Howard K. Smith and Walter Cronkite.  George Stephanopoulus, among the best, is being held hostage by the toys and bubbles network, ABC, and the certified dingleberry, Charlie Gibson.

Why can’t Andy Rooney and Charles Osgood buy these guys a copy of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style”, if only to reference in the bathroom during moments of meditation ?  

First published in 1918, “forty-three-page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English” 

Williams, conferred the traditional honorary academic credentials, never graduated from college (he left early for an internship with the Jimmy Carter campaign).  

But Brian will always have a terrific punchline,” No, I never graduated from college, but I do have a degree from Notre Dame”.

“Beer Can” Bob

Travel is not about different places, it is who you meet and embrace in those places. A cheery welcome then to the world of rural legend, Beer Can Bob of Patagonia, Arizona, an eighty + year old, the illiterate husband of a mentally retarded and severely diabetic wife.

Engaging smile 

The Engaging Smile

To avoid welfare and buy needed medicines, Bob rises each day to scour the alleys, trash barrels, and highway for aluminum cans. Once he accumulates a measurable quantity, a nephew, owner of a pick-up truck, transports them to a Nogales, Az. recycle buyer. Bob’s car, a beat up, aging 4 cylinder Subaru, running on only three, is endangered in normal traffic. His vision only marginal, Bob is no match for Mexican truck drivers.

Too, he often cannot afford to buy gas, so he does his collecting with a small, pull-behind grocery cart.To complete the picture, imagine an elderly man, clad in filthy Liberty bib overalls, shuffling past your house. Because he has ankylosing spondylitis, he appears to be a slow moving comma, his greying beard exhibiting an unusual yellowing around his mouth.dscn0459.JPG

 The SooBarOo

At first glance you might assume him to be another of the burgeoning population of the homeless, our disgraceful national epidemic, but two years ago Bob made the news. You see, Bob would often pillage the recycling bins behind our Post Office. Never mind that the trash was being transported to a Tucson recycler for governmental profit, his presence made several local residents uneasy.

‘It doesn’t look good for the town to have an elderly man dumpster diving’, they railed in anonimity.

So the sheriff was dispatched and sent into action.  Then the Marshal (this was the Wild West) issued him a warning ticket and Bob deferred for several days.  However, the lure of the aluminum was overwhelming ( some A/S owners relate to this impulse ), he returned, caught red-handed, and issued a second warning. Finally, after the third episode, he was arrested, ticketed, and ordered to appear in court.

Word spread like a Brittney rumor. By the day Beer Can Bob was to appear in the magistrates’ court for his hearing, the town hall filled with more than a hundred remonstrators. A prominent criminal attorney arrived to defend Bob, pro bono. Without a plea agreement, all the charges were dropped, and it was ordered that trash barrels be placed around town dedicated for Bob’s aluminum can collection.

Lynn and Jack at the barrels

Lynn and Jack at the barrels

The courtroom burst into applause. Bob shuffled to the front and signed the document as asked. It was a large X. I stop and visit with him often. My dog, Jack, and I have become disciples and most days we retrieve several pounds of cans on our walks. It is very humbling to be in the delicate presence of someone who asks for nothing, who is driven to support his ailing wife; unconditional love.