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I’ve always had an inner mountain man. I’m one of those guys who feels he was born a hundred years too late. Deep inside me is a grizzled old man yearning to live off the land and fight Indians—although nowadays my inner mountain man would call them indigenous peoples to be politically correct before he shot them. He’s a tough old guy with long gray hair and a full beard who never bathes, which is probably why my inner mountain man lives a solitary existence. The character Gramps in my novel Graves of His Personal Liking was the incarnation of my inner mountain man.
My mountain man taught me a lot when I was younger. I remember once walking across a shallow ice-covered slough in waders. The ice was just thick enough to hold my weight for about five seconds, then I would break through and plunge waist-deep into the water. Ice water would splash on my shoulders and face as I sank to my knees in the soft mud at the bottom. I would struggle to get my feet free, claw at the ice to get a hold and climb back up on the ice, only to break through a few steps farther on—this wasn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds. Once when I broke through, a jagged piece of ice split the crotch of my waders flooding them with ice water. The sissy city guy in me said to work my way the ten yards to shore, take off the waders and walk around the slough to my truck. My mountain man, on the other hand, said it was a mile around the slough to the truck, but only a couple hundred yards across the ice. So taking his advice, I continued to break ice to the truck. By the time I got there, I couldn’t feel anything below my waist. I was shaking, and I was afraid certain body parts had frozen solid and snapped off. It was an hour later before feeling returned to my lower extremities, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
My mountain man taught me a lot that day. I learned he was tough as a badger, determined as a beaver and had the brains of beef jerky. But I knew I could accomplish anything with that stout old buzzard inside me. Something has gone horribly wrong. My mountain man has become wimpified. It became glaringly apparent the other day. We were planning our yearly trip to fish for salmon. My wife told me which motel we would be staying in, and I went on-line to see if they had cable TV with a channel that I could watch a football game I wanted to see. TV? Football? My mountain man doesn’t care about either of those when he’s salmon fishing.
When I first went salmon fishing with my friend Franny, we slept out in a tent without even an air mattress to keep us off the ground. It rained most of the trip and a leak in the tent resulted in a small trickle of water running through the tent. By the end of the trip, it had grown into something maps started marking as a bona fide river. It didn’t bother my mountain man. He considered it a close fresh water source and a sanitary system that washed the dirt, debris and occasionally Franny, out of the tent. If my bedroll got wet it wasn’t a problem. I dried it out or just slept in it. My mountain man had shivered before, and he considered it a built-in alarm clock: if you don’t sleep, you don’t oversleep.
We fished constantly on that trip, from first light until way after dark. We fished out on the piers standing in the cold, wind and rain, because my mountain man laughed at adversity, and because it was warmer and drier standing out there than it was in our tent. When we ate, it was something we had hunted down ourselves, a salmon, a hunk of bear meat or a Big Mac. There was no time for sightseeing or side trips. Nothing existed for my mountain man but the lake to fish in and the tent to not sleep in. I didn’t shave or shower. It was the life my mountain man was born to lead, and he reveled in the hardship.
Now we stay in a motel with a warm, dry bed. The only time water will run is when the toilet is flushed. I’ll shower and shave daily.
My wife came up to me yesterday and said, “Since the fish bite best in the morning and evening, we could use the rest of the day to see some places I found on-line, especially some cute little shops and boutiques.”
I expected my mountain man to rise up and say in his booming voice, “WE ARE GOING FISHING, WOMAN. NOT ON SOME LA-DE-DA SHOPPING TRIP!”
Instead, a meek little voice came out of me that said, “Okay,” and the next thing I know I’m looking up the channels the motel gets so I can watch a football game. What happened to my mountain man? He gave in and agreed to go shopping while on a fishing trip. When I was young my mountain man didn’t know the meaning of the word capitulate. In fact, there were a lot of words he didn’t know the meaning of, because as I said before, he’s as dumb as a turnip. But he was tough, and sometimes tough is enough.
Maybe when I get out there and I’m actually fishing, my mountain man will come back, and we won’t do any of that girlie shopping that doesn’t belong on a fishing trip. If it happens I’ll do a post with pictures. I better check if the motel has free WiFi.
BOOKS BY JOEL JURRENS
THE ALMOND PEOPLE DUE OUT 2017
I still remember the old Timex watch commercials. They would drop a watch into the ocean where it would be eaten by a fish which would be eaten by a bigger fish which would be eaten by an even bigger fish. The next thing you know, John Cameron Swayze would open a can of tuna, and inside would be the watch. “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” John would say holding it up and smiling as the second hand went around the face. (Maybe that’s not exactly how it went. It was a long time ago, and I’m getting old. The point was, it was one tough little watch.) That was over fifty years ago. Where did that technology go? The cell phone I have now has the water resistance of tissue paper. If I have it in my pants’ pocket, I’m afraid to flush the toilet because it might ruin it.
I don’t like technology to begin with, and they keep selling us wimpy, defective equipment. My wife has one of the new Samsung Notebook 7s with the self-destruct app where it occasionally catches fire and blows up—personally I would have went with Candy Crush, but that’s just me. I have to admit a phone that explodes has some advantages over one that doesn’t.
My wife: Could you call my phone? I forgot where I left it.
An explosion comes from the other room followed by a huge hole bursting through the wall with debris, smoke and flames.
My wife: Never mind. I found it.
The sad part is, that is not the worst app she has on her phone. My wife has an app where she can talk into her phone, and it will convert her voice into written words so she can send it as a text. It sounds like a good idea except the phone is made in South Korea and something gets lost in the translation. I will get a text which clearly says: DO WE HAVE ANY CAT SHOES? Since we don’t have a cat, I’m am fairly confident without having to look that we don’t have any shoes for one. So I text back: NO. An hour later she comes in from shopping and starts putting things away. A little bit later she comes stomping into the room, and I know I’m in trouble, but I don’t know why.
My wife angrily: You didn’t even bother to look when I asked you, did you?
Me: What are you talking about?
My wife: We already have two full ones in the pantry, and because of you, I went and bought two more cans of cashews.
I have a smart phone, but I use it mainly as a simple phone. Maybe I’ll check emails if I’m expecting something from a publisher or to see if people commented about my blog. I put an app on it once, but I don’t remember what it was or where it is. Maybe if you don’t use them for so long they get mad and leave? I’m mixed about cell phones. There are times when I’d like to turn it off or leave it at home. But what if some emergency comes up, such as something happens to one of the family, or there really is a Nigerian Lottery, and I just won ten million dollars?
Occasionally I go walleye fishing in waders. I take my phone along, but I keep it in my pants’ pocket buried underneath my chest-high waders, because I’m afraid if I put it in my shirt pocket, it will see the lake water and stop working. I’ll clearly tell my wife before I go not to call me unless it is a dire emergency… or the Nigerian Lottery calls.
A half hour after I get to the lake, I’m standing up to my rippling stomach muscles in the water—hey, this is my story. I’ll tell it any way I want—the ding that signals an incoming text goes off on my phone. Since I clearly told my wife not to call me unless it was a dire emergency, I figure something must have happened. I waddle to shore with visions of car accidents, house fires and Lamborghinis purchased with lottery winnings running through my head. I struggle the waders down to where I can reach the phone, pull it out of the pocket and drop it down one leg of the waders. Now I have to take them all the way off, because the phone saw the lake and now it’s cowering down in the toe of the boot. I dig it out, and I see the text is from my wife. I open it in panic, and it says: ON YOUR WAY HOME, PICK UP CAT SHOES.
Later, when I get home with the cat shoes, she will tell me I said not to call, and she didn’t. She texted.
BOOKS BY JOEL JURRENS
Sometimes people ask me what is the best part about being a writer. Usually I tell them it’s the creativity, but actually it’s not having to wear a suit or a uniform when I write. I spent twenty-six years having to put on a uniform every time I went to work. Writers can wear anything they want. Dickens dressed in an aardvark costume when he wrote A Tale of Two Cities, and JD Salinger wrote in purple tights and a pink tutu—rumor is he sent them to the cleaners and they lost them. That’s why he never wrote another novel. When I write I don’t have to wear formal attire. I’m not going to tell you that I’m sitting here writing this in my underwear, because I’m not. But I was a few minutes ago until I took them off.
When I speak to groups, I often compare writing novels to songwriting. The late Glenn Frey, who co-wrote most of the rock band The Eagles hits, once said he learned to write songs by living in an apartment above Jackson Browne. Jackson Browne was already an established songwriter. Every morning Browne would get up and make coffee then sit at the piano—probably in his underwear—and start playing the song he was working on. Then he’d go back to the beginning and play it again, changing a note or two. Then he’d play it again, maybe adding some words. Then he’d play it again changing the words or adding a bridge and so on and so on … Glenn said he learned that writing songs wasn’t some magical power. It was repetition, going over the song again and again and changing things until you get it the way you want it. I tell my groups that it’s the same way with writing novels. It’s repetition, changing the words and story until you get it right … but I’m lying. Writing really is a magical power, or actually magical elves as in the Brothers Grimm fairytale The Elves and the Shoemaker. Every night I throw some words down on the word processor, and the next morning the story is finished because of the elves.
I’m kidding of course. Writing is hard work that requires deep concentration, blocking out everything around you until you’re in a trance-like state where you are in the story. Stephen King described it as going through a hole in the paper to be part of the story. Sometimes I sit in front of the computer concentrating so hard that my wife thinks I’m dead and is making plans how to spend the life insurance money, until I start snoring.
Anyway, it’s getting late and I’m tired. I think I’ll run up to bed and finish this blog post in the morning.
Okay the moron’s gone. I can hear him upstairs snoring like a hippopotamus with sleep apnea. I’m Fladir his writing elf. Yeah, we do exist. I come from a long line of writing elves. My great uncle Otis worked with Tolstoy, and I have a cousin helping Joyce Carol Oates. I got into this profession hoping I’d be working with the next Faulkner or Hemmingway, but instead I get hooked up with this Bozo who wouldn’t know a predicate from pemmican. (I should have went to culinary school like my mother wanted me to and baked cookies in hollow trees.) The guy’s a pig. He wasn’t lying about how he dresses when he writes. Believe me, I put a towel down before I ever sit on this chair. I never know what’s been dragged across the seat.
You’ve heard of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? There are days when I would kill to at least have a sow’s ear to work with. This guy gives me nothing. His new novel The Almond People started out as a story about alien creatures made of almonds that send out mystical chinchillas to pee magic urine on people and turn them into giant toad stools—It was the most ridiculous story I’d ever read in my whole life, and I turned 203 last July. I threw most of it out, changed things around and got rid of the chinchillas and the almonds. It’s a good story now, not that he’ll ever know. He’s too lazy to even read the stuff when I’m done with it. Now The Almond People is about regular people and how big of a price they are willing to pay for a true miracle. I guess there’s even a moral: Evil needs man to succeed. But just read the book and enjoy the story. I wouldn’t want anyone to think this joker has the brains to even know what a moral is.
Anyway, I have to go and look at the help wanted ads. I hear Patterson’s elf is thinking about retiring; it’d be a good fit for me, or maybe I’ll go back to school, get my engineering degree and design toys for Santa. (By the way, if you read The Almond People and run into this jerk, tell him you thought the Death Farts were a nice touch. He’ll know what you’re talking about even if you don’t.)
My novel The Almond People will be out in early 2017. It’s my fifth novel, and my first horror novel. When my first novel was published, people would sometimes call me a writer, and I’d always say, “Pounding one nail doesn’t make you a carpenter.” Now after five novels, I’m at the point where I sometimes think I could call myself a writer. But I learn something knew from every book I write. I’ll finish a book and think, I finally know what I’m doing, then I’ll finish my next book and think, Boy was I stupid when I wrote that last book. It’s like Bud Grant, the long ago coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He never allowed side line heaters for his team, even playing in Minneapolis in an outside stadium in the winter. Once after they’d made the playoffs, he told the team if they won the Super Bowl he would buy sideline heaters, and if they won it again the following year, he’d turn them on. So maybe after the next book I’ll call myself a writer … or maybe the one after that.
Occasionally different groups will ask me to give a talk about writing. (I call them talks because lectures or even presentations would infer I’m a writer, and I know what I’m talking about.) The most common question I get from these groups is: “How much money do you make?” My answer is always the same: “For me writing isn’t about the money”—which is what people who write say when they’re not making a butt-load of money. I like to compare writing to acting. For every Tom Cruise who makes seventeen gazillion dollars per movie, there are a thousand actors playing waiters in movies who have to work as real waiters to make ends meet while they wait for the break that will put them into the Tom Cruise category. That’s me: the guy waiting for the Tom Cruise break—or in my case the James Patterson or Stephen King break. (By the way, people have said I look like Tom Cruise, just a lot older, lighter-colored hair, much bigger nose and not nearly as good-looking, but I’m four inches taller. Eat your heart out Tommie Boy!) Will The Almond People be my Tom Cruise break where I get to fly jets with Goose and yell at Jack Nicholson? ( “I want the truth!!”) I hope so.
The second most common question I get from the groups is: “Where do you get your ideas?” That one is easy. The ideas are all around if you look between the cushions. It comes down to simply asking what if. For instance, I live in northwest Iowa, and I would guess most people living here don’t know the area is … possessed by an evil, supernatural force! I can see you doubt me. So here we go with the proof and links to prove I’m not just making stuff up:
1. There is a lake twenty miles from where I am sitting right now that the Native Americans would not take fish from or put a canoe in because they believed it was … haunted by an evil spirit! (link)
2. In 1857 a band of Santee Sioux attacked settlers’ cabins in this area killing many men and women. A young girl, Abbie Gardner, was taken captive along with three other women. Abbie said the leader of the band was so cruel and evil it was as if he was … possessed by the Devil himself! (link)
3. In the town where I live, there is a cemetery where you can put your car in neutral and a supernatural force … pushes the car uphill! (link)
4. A few miles north of here, just across the border in Minnesota, there is a cemetery where it is said three witches are buried, and the cemetery is … cursed and haunted by the ghosts of the witches! (link)
What if all these things are connected? What if there is an otherworldly reason for them? The reason is the premise for The Almond People. It is set in 1965—quite frankly, because many of the characters are high school students, and I don’t have a clue how high school students think in today’s world. (What is the deal with hair the color of blue raspberry Kool-Aid? I’m not saying it’s wrong, I just don’t understand the thinking enough to write from inside a head covered with Smurf hair.) As with most of my books, The Almond People is set in fictional Cossack County, Iowa where I am the supreme ruler and things exist at my whim and my subjects do whatever I command. I like this book. I liked writing it. I liked weaving in local lore, and I liked the characters. There’s some humor, some mystery, some scary parts, and my wife said one part brought her to tears. What more could you want from someone who might be a writer after another book or two?
Wings epress is publishing the book. They did my first book and the sequel. At that time they were a fledgling company, and I was a fledgling guy who had written a book. Most of what they published back then was chick-lit. I remember the cover artist was excited because he was finally going to get to do the cover for a murder/mystery. Wings has evolved mightily since those early years. They have updated. They do more marketing, and if you look at their recent releases, they do much more than just chick-lit. (link) They’ve always done a magnificent job of editing. They’re easy to work with and the cover work is outstanding. I’m very much looking forward to working with them again.
I’ll update you more on The Almond People as the release date gets closer.
After careful consideration, weighing the scientific facts and doing the mathematical calculations, I have come to the logical conclusion that my wife is … A SORCERESS!!
I know what you’re going to say. “There are no such things as sorceresses. They are just scary myths like werewolves, vampires and Anthony Weiner.”
But spooky things have been happening with my wife that give me goosebumps. Take the other day. My wife was away from home and lost her car keys. This isn’t the spooky part. She loses her car keys at least once a week and her cellphone three or four times a day (I have her in my speed dial as Honey-could-you-call-my-phone-so–I-can-find-it-please?) She’s even lost our landline phone a couple times, and it’s screwed to the wall. But when she found her car keys, they were twenty miles away from where she’d lost them at a place she’d never been, and that is still not the spooky part. The spooky part is—cue the scary music—she knew exactly where the keys were. SORCERESS!!
Since then I have noticed other things I’d overlooked before. Dogs can sense magical powers, and our dog is attuned to my wife’s power. She is very big—the dog not my wife. She is by far the largest Airedale we’ve ever had. The scale groans near triple digits when I lug her onto it, and I groan just as much as the scale, because let’s face it, a hundred pounds weighs a lot more than it did when I was younger. (I have a strong suspicion my wife had something to do with that, too.) She is also the most timid dog we’ve ever had. When my wife takes the dog and me for a walk, little Munchkin dogs the size of barking rats will come screaming from a house with the intention of tearing our dog a new one. When they’re ten feet away, the little canine rodents will hit the brakes and come to a screeching halt leaving skid marks.
“Holy crap! That thing’s a lot bigger than it looked from up there on the porch.”
They’ll streak back to the safety of their house yapping all the way.
What they don’t know is if they continued toward our dog, she would let them chew her leg off and apologize for not bringing salt and pepper to make it tastier.
Our dog has a deep bark. It sounds as if it’s coming from something with three heads that’s guarding the gates of Hell. But if burglars ever broke into our house, the dog would show them where the money is—if we actually had money—as long as they promised not to hurt her.
So this meek dog will be sleeping on the floor of our bedroom when my wife walks in and startles it. The dog wakes up growling and snarling as if it’s going to rip someone a new one, then it suddenly quiets down with embarrassment and slinks off into the basement with its tail between its legs. My wife says the dog was just dreaming it was a tough Rottweiler and woke up before it realized it was a wimpy weeny, marshmallow, but I think my wife possessed it for those few seconds.
Okay, I see you don’t believe me because you have that skeptical look on your face that brings out your crow’s feet and makes you look ten years older, so stop it. I have irrefutable proof.
The other night I’m watching TV and my wife comes in carrying a plate.
“Here,” she said, handing me the plate.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“This is a piece of the fresh peach pie I just made,” she said. “I knew you’d want a piece.”
She was right. I did want a piece, but how did she know? She’d read my mind! SORCERESS!
So I ate the piece of pie so she wouldn’t know I was onto her, then I ate another piece just to be sure she wouldn’t know. But I don’t think it worked. Last night I was taking a shower and I discovered a wart I never had before. She’s turning me into a toad! SORCERESS!
My wife wants a piano. She doesn’t play the piano and neither do I. There are all kinds of musical chromosomes floating around in my DNA. My mother never had a piano lesson in her life, she couldn’t read music, but she could play the piano by ear (mostly polkas, but it still technically counts as music.) My father’s brother overflowed with musical talent. My grandmother said when he was a baby, if someone played a song on the piano and hit a wrong note, he would start crying. When he grew up he got a doctorate in music and was the head of the music department at a major university. I’m not sure where all those chromosomes went, but I have the musical talent of a deaf badger with brain damage.
When I was young my mother made me take piano lessons. At that period in history it was the patriotic duty of all mothers to torture their sons by sending them to piano lessons (I believe it was a law passed by the Truman Administration. It had to do with toughening young boys up for the military. Having to practice Speed Boat until your fingers stiffened and became bloody stumps prepared you for sitting in a foxhole later in life with mortar rounds detonating around you. Either way you felt as if you were going to die. I’m still a firm believer that the piano lessons had more to do with the repeal of the draft than the Vietnam War.)
My two older sisters also took piano lessons, but they could play songs that you could tell were songs. My songs all sounded the same: very long pauses between the wrong notes.
My piano teacher: Okay, you sit here and try to figure out which note comes next. I’m going to run to the store to pick up some things and come back and make us some cookies. If you haven’t figured out which note it is by then, I’ll give you another hint.
After hearing me practice the piano for a month, my mother decided a better use for the money she was spending for my piano lessons would be to throw it out the window of a moving car and hope some poor person found it. I was given a reprieve from taking lessons, and as far as I know Mom never did any time in federal prison for it.
My oldest daughter took piano lessons and was good at it. My son took piano lessons, too, and after a month his teacher suggested we throw the piano lessons’ money out a car window. He inherited the deaf-brain-damaged-badger gene from me. My son also tried to play the trombone. After a week of lessons he would go down to the river and sit for an hour when he was supposed to be taking his lesson. When my wife found out, she was furious. I pretended to be mad too, but what I thought was: That’s my boy.
My grandson plays the trombone, and he’s good at it. He wants to major in music when he goes to college. My oldest daughter, his mother, wants him to major in making-a-boatload-of-money-so-you-don’t-have-to-live-with-your-parents-until-your-forty, and the trombone is the wrong instrument for that. (Tommy Dorsey was the exception.)
How did this post start again …? Okay, I remember. My wife wants a piano. We had a piano at one time. It was an ancient full size upright that weighed eighteen gazillion tons. The floor in our first house would creak under its weight, pleading with me to get the monster off it. I half expected to come home one day to find a giant hole in the floor and the monster in the basement between the furnace and the shelves of canned sauerkraut, completely unharmed of course. You just couldn’t hurt those old giants. When we moved to our new house, we took the monster with us. You can still see the scar from my hernia surgery. After a few years we gave it away to a clueless family that actually wanted it.
When I was growing up the only pianos you ever saw were the big uprights or the grand pianos the schools had. The little spinet pianos hadn’t become popular yet. When I was little I had a friend, Curtis, who had a baby grand piano in his house. Curtis was a few years older than me and a good musician. He played the guitar, piano and coronet. He and his father were on television once on some amateur show playing You Are My Sunshine on their coronets. (It might have been The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour, but I doubt it.) I was over at his house once when his parents were gone. He was playing the piano while his cocker spaniel lay on the floor nearby. I had on an old pair of Curtis’ hip boots he had left out, and I was attempting to balance a broom on the palm of my hand. Both of us were smoking cigarettes we had borrowed from his father’s pack on top of the fridge. My cigarette was dangling tough guy like from my lips when the broom started to get away from me. When I moved to catch it, I tripped over the dog which made me drop my cigarette which went down Curtis’ back which made him jump up which knocked over the ashtray with his lit cigarette which went into my hip boots. By the time we were done gyrating and wildly pulling off clothes, I was on the floor in my underwear where the dog had been, Curtis was wearing the hip boots backwards with the broom clenched in his teeth while the dog played the piano—and even without fingers the dog still played better than I ever did.
Anyway, my wife wants to get a piano, and the reason she wants it is because someone wants to give it to her for free. This post was supposed to be about how people will take anything if it’s free or they have a coupon, but it’s a little late for any of that now.
I stopped filling my birdfeeder for a few days. There are some younger birds who are at it all the time. It’s the middle of summer and food is easy to find, but they still sit at the feeder slurping up the grub. One bird in particular, a young cardinal, caught my attention. His mother first brought him to the feeder—I never saw a father. He’s been there ever since, hanging out with a few ne’er-do-well blue jays and sparrows. They don’t do anything constructive. They just throw smart aleck comments at the other birds and loiter around annoying the mourning doves and chickadees. One day I’m sure I saw them smoking crack(ed corn).
You don’t expect that kind of behavior from cardinals. They’re some of the good birds … church people. As with all bird parents, the mommy and daddy cardinal expect their little one to grow up to be something… maybe the Pope. (It never happens. No matter how hard they try, they never make it passed cardinal. I think there’s some racism involved.) The other day the mother cardinal stopped by to talk to her offspring.
Mother Cardinal: Reginald, we need to talk.
Sparrow: Reginald? I thought your name was Card Frenzy 5?
Blue Jay: Hey, who’s the sweet little cougar?
Reginald (alias Card Frenzy 5): Whoa. Hey man, that’s my mom you’re talking about.
Blue Jay: Your mom’s a fox, Card.
Reginald: Come on man, give me a break here.
Blue Jay putting a wing around Mother Cardinal: Hey sweet momma, how ‘bout you and me go someplace where we can get better acquainted? You know what they say: “Once you try jay you can’t stay away.”
Mother Cardinal shrugging off his wing: You’re crude and despicable. Didn’t your parents teach you any manners?
Blue Jay smiling: You’re trying to sound mad, but I got you blushing.
Sparrow: She’s a cardinal, Dude. Her face is always red.
Mother Cardinal: Reginald, can I talk to you alone?
Reginald, speaking to the other two birds: Can you guys give us a couple minutes?
Blue Jay smiling: I’m going over to the tree behind you. I’ll be checking out the view from the rear.
The sparrow and blue jay fly off.
Mother Cardinal: How can you hang around with those reprobates?
Reginald: They’re not that bad, and they don’t reprobate that much … well maybe the sparrow does.
Mother Cardinal: Reginald, what are you planning on doing with your life? Your father and I had such high hopes for you.
Reginald: This isn’t about that Pope-thing again is it? Because I don’t ever see it happening.
Mother Cardinal: It’s not that, but you’re wasting your life hanging around this feeder all day. There’s so much more to life than this.
Reginald: You’re the one who showed me the feeder.
Mother Cardinal, suddenly sobbing: I was a young single mother. It was early spring. Food was scarce. That’s what the feeder is for. Emergency situations. You don’t make a living from it!
Reginald: I’m surviving.
Mother Cardinal: But that’s all you’ll ever do is survive. Don’t you want to thrive? There is so much more out there than birdseed. There are bugs, berries, worms, caterpillars and grubs.
Reginald: Other than the berries, that stuff sounds pretty gross.
Mother Cardinal: You can’t depend on man to feed you all your life.
Reginald: Why not? If he’s willing to give me free food, I’m willing to take it.
Mother Cardinal: If you depend on someone, they own you and can control you. What if someday the man says, “No pooping on my car or I won’t fill the feeder.”
Reginald, shrugging: Then I guess I’d stop pooping on his car. I’ve never been into that anyway.”
Mother Cardinal after a gasp: It is the God-given right of every bird to poop on cars, especially freshly-washed ones. And what happens when the man tells you not to do other things if you want fed? Like banging into closed windows or getting into Walmart and flying around in the rafters?
Reginald: He’d never do that. He likes those things as much as we do.
Mother Cardinal gives a frustrated sigh: I’m not going to argue with you. All I ask is you think about your future. Winter is coming.
So I stopped filling the feeder to try and get the young birds out looking for food on their own. Three days later I went out to my pickup and, FILL THE FEEDER, BUTTWIPE, OR ELSE, was written on the hood in bird poop. I filled the feeder. I didn’t want to find out what or else meant.