It's sad that the state of American society has descended to a level where no prudent person would consider either hitchhiking or picking up someone who is. The simple human kindness of transporting a stranded soul may be lost forever to the ravages of our mutual fear and mistrust. If my sister told me that she was planning to hitchhike cross-country I would consider her suicidal or worse.

In a simpler time it was a common means of transportation and one would think nothing of crisscrossing the whole of the country with nothing but a thumb. The sleepy truck driver who needed a conversation to stay awake was the most reliable ride but any car with an open seat or pickup truck with an empty bed was fair game.

I'm not old enough to tell you about a time when it was an entirely safe and sane means of locomotion. I routinely thumbed the three hundred miles between college and my hometown more than two decades ago but even then it was getting a little dicey. An ample supply of degenerate weirdness has changed the landscape considerably in twenty years. I wouldn't pick up a hitchhiker now on a dare and I wouldn't hitchhike myself unless my life depended on it.

Most of my trips were between Minneapolis and Grand Forks, North Dakota where the weather is often unkind and the pity ride was my stock in trade. Minnesota Nice is merely a survival technique developed by the natives to cope with the harsh climate. It could be you stuck on the highway the next time so you think twice before leaving someone else stranded. I'd curse the cars that drove by without stopping, "How could those heartless bastards leave me out here to freeze? They've got room for three more people in there."

As often as not I'd make the trip with a buddy and it was much tougher for two to catch a ride than one. What we gained in companionship and security we'd pay for with more time on the pavement and more cautious cars whizzing by. On several occasions we gave up completely for the lack of traffic and spent the night in a culvert or under an overpass.

________________________


Dave and I were heading home for the long Thanksgiving weekend and our last ride dropped us off at the Fergus Falls exit, just about the halfway point to Minneapolis. We wasted a couple of hours in Fargo detouring on foot around a massive construction zone and by the time we made Fergus it was getting cold and dark. The traffic was dwindling to nil and we had to face the reality that we would probably be spending the night outdoors.

Late November is a bad time to sleep in a ditch in Minnesota so we decided to trek into town and try to find a place to crash. We didn't have a dollar between us but my buddy Dave told me that he heard that in small towns the police would let you sleep in a cell before they'd allow you to freeze to death. We waved down the first cop we saw and he made it clear that what we were describing to him sounded a lot like vagrancy and that he could arrange for us to spend the entire holiday weekend in a cell. We thanked him but declined his generous offer of incarceration in the Fergus Falls lockup.

We were able to pass a couple of hours in the lobby of a Motel Six by convincing the desk clerk we were waiting for friends to arrive. At about midnight he noticed we were both fast asleep on the chairs in the lobby and he gave us the bum's rush. We slouched, tired and cold, through the November sleet back to the dubious shelter of the highway overpass. The wet sleet dampened any hope of finding dry wood for a fire so we burned my Psych 101 notes in an empty coffee can we found in the ditch.

Our original plan had us arriving home in time for dinner so we hadn't thought it necessary to bring money for food. Our hunger pangs were fast becoming a more pressing issue than the fight to stay warm. We were haunted by the glow of the massive Perkin's Restaurant sign next to the freeway and the horn of plenty it symbolized. Perkin's was open twenty-four hours a day and it taunted us that night with its warm booths and bottomless cups of coffee. Our cold concrete and steel crevice was close enough that we could see the happy late night diners and the perky waitresses and actually smell the Granny's Country Omelets in the steam that wafted from the building.

The Perkin's restaurant chain has an established custom of flying a massive floodlit American flag over each restaurant. As we shivered over our little coffee can fire with the huge American banner flapping in the background, our patriotic fervor for life in the land of plenty was wafer thin. I noticed that it was after midnight and technically Thanksgiving Day so I pulled the scarf away from my mouth and wished Dave an ironic and inappropriately cheerful "Happy Thanksgiving!"

"Yeah, Happy F**kin' Thanksgiving to you too!"

_________________________


Dave had taken on a distressing thousand yard stare, eyes glazed, in the direction of that huge American flag. By the glow of our pathetic little fire, barely shielded from the cutting sleet, I watched his facial expression change from depressed endurance to righteous indignation. He smothered the coffee can fire with the back of his Elements of Physics textbook and stood hunched under the bridge.

"This is America, dammit, let's go get breakfast!"

We walked back across the bridge and headed into town, me following about five paces behind Dave's inspired gait. He led us straight back toward the Motel Six from which we had been evicted so I questioned him.

"Nah, we're not going back to the motel, that desk clerk was wound pretty tight."

There was a small Greyhound Bus terminal next door to the Motel Six and Dave made a beeline for the ticket counter. The nice lady in the cashier's window was startled by the sudden appearance of two desperate strangers at one in the morning. She tore her crossword puzzle where the pencil point had been, then fumbled the pencil itself until it fell to the floor.

"Cccan I...hhelp you?"

Dave sounded more like an eager salesman than a scoundrel who meant her harm, so she gradually relaxed her guard.

"Hi there, We're college students hitchhiking home for Thanksgiving break and our last ride dropped us at the Fergus Falls exit. We haven't eaten since noon and didn't bring money for food. If you loan us twenty dollars we'll mail it back to you tomorrow when we get home."

The nice lady reached for her purse without hesitation, extracted a twenty-dollar bill and handed it to Dave. She tore the bottom off of a bus schedule and wrote "attn: Betty" above the address printed on the bottom of the brochure.

"If you send it to that address I'll get it. There's only the three of us who work here and I'm the only Betty."

We thanked her thoroughly, a little surprised at the success of Dave's simple ploy and she minimized the gesture.

"When you two came up to the window I was sure you were here to rob me. I'll ask God to forgive me for being quick to judgement and buy you breakfast in the meantime. You boys have a nice Thanksgiving."

Dave and I were both a little misty over the kindness of a stranger as we exited the Greyhound terminal but we were laughing our asses off in a celebratory gallop by the time we made Perkin's.

________________________

We could see our spot under the overpass from the warm booth at Perkin's and life was good. Twenty bucks covered two Granny's Country Omelets, two bottomless cups of coffee and a five-dollar tip for a hottie named Kim. We had enough change left over to buy a copy of the local newspaper and enough time on our hands to scour it from cover to cover.

The Fergus Falls paper had a story on the front page about an animal shelter run by a local resident. When the cages at the Humane Society were full, the recently widowed woman devoted her husband's humble estate to an overflow facility to forestall euthanasia. The heartwarming article compared her to Mother Theresa and intimated that she was not a wealthy woman and that she might be missing meals herself to feed the strays.

She was, after all, still working the graveyard shift at the Greyhound depot.


Humane Society

Stories about tragedy and golf
by Jonathan Shute

One of my favorite authors just wrote a book that almost pulses with energy.  Jonathan Shute's characters are vividly drawn and his perceptions resonate in your mind.  His stories are koans, snapshots of a life unfolding over many years.  And considered as a whole, they illuminate the larger story of a young boy, maturing into a man.  

In some senses the coming of age story is the only story.  The essential tale of our very existence.  Every writer grapples with this theme sooner or later.  The quality and talent an author displays in telling it, is often a watershed event in their artistic life.  Mr. Shute has gotten this book out the door, a major accomplishment in and of itself, and in the process, he's presented us with a world view that is finely honed, and somehow, ironic without being cynical.

The world often seems inexplicable, just doesn't make sense.  This struggle to make sense of a chaotic world is a constant theme in Humane Society.  The inadequacies that we all feel when we are confronted with life's twists and turns, bumps and knocks, is brought into sharp relief as we experience the world through Jon's eyes.  Each of Shutes' 61 koans encapsulate an event that was formative or iconic to him.  Some of them feel  so familiar, as if you were remembering them yourself.  Other stories are just so damned weird and cool, that you'll find yourself laughing out loud and squirming in your seat.

I'm not going to provide any spoilers here, because I'd rather that you go buy a copy of the book2, but here are some teasers for your consideration:

  • Billy, is a nth degree black belt who, inexplicably, lets some moron beat the living shit out of him in a bloody Fandango.  
  • The Bunny Man gets burned, badly.
  • The Lord's Barn is violated by hoodlums.
  • There's Casual Cruelty, Dangerous Ideas, a Melancholy monkey and a demonic poodle who has a bad Christmas.
  • And, last but not least, The Willow does actually weep. This tale is iconic in its intensity, and perhaps, represents the culmination of Jonathan's journey as a writer thus far.  It seems wonderful to see these words in hardcopy on the printed page of a nice thick book.

Humane Society is a beautifully made book with excellent bindery and large readable print.  As a physical object, Humane Society has heft and substance. The cover is navy blue with gold letters, and there's no silly dust jacket to get ratty and tattered.  My copy smells a little like stale smoke,  adrenaline and crumpled bar napkins. There's a proper table of contents, a foreword by Dr. Ben L. Collins, and an Introduction by Ryan Postma. Humane Society is dedicated to Mary, the author's wife, who we hereby nominate for sainthood & den mother for presiding over much of the mayhem described therein. 

In the final analysis, Humane Society represents a very talented and promising writer getting the first one off his chest.  This is Shute's first book, but he's promised that it won't be his last.  He's got lots of interesting stories left to tell us, and I for one am looking forward to reading them.

To quote Ryan Postma1, who provides the insightful Introduction to the book, "What you've got here is a book."  Nuff said.

 

===================&===================

Humane Society

Stories about tragedy and golf

Enhanced non-fiction by

Jonathan Shute

Copyright 2002 by Jonathan Shute. 
Published by Magnas Press2 
www.magnas.com
ISBN 0-9726345-0-9

 

1 Postma and Shute go way back.  Rumor has it that Jonathan and halspal are also very close. Coincidence?  You decide.
2  I ordered my copy online via www.magnas.com for $25.00 U.S.  The website was easy to use and secure. The book arrived quickly and in good shape. 

A package was left on my doorstep yesterday. I'm usually expecting a few things, and I usually have a good inventory in mind of what they are; this one was from Magnas Press, and it didn't ring a bell. I had ordered some books from not-Amazon recently, but I thought I'd received them all already.

The manila envelope gave way to a dark blue hardback with gold lettering:

Humane Society
Stories about
tragedy and golf

Oh well, I thought, somebody just sent me the wrong title. But on the title page was a handwritten note that jogged my memory. This was the book that our very own Halspal had asked to send me a few weeks ago.

The note was appreciated, though I'm not sure I'm deserving of the details. I'm sorry to say that I don't remember any particular interaction with him when I was an editor and he was a god, and only one of his writeups has stuck with me, though I well remember reading it, C!ing it, and sharing a short discussion with him about it.

In dem bones's introduction to the book (in which he lavishes praise on the writings therein, and unknowingly almost makes me ashamed to post my own efforts on E2), he includes a large excerpt from Why the willow weeps. I remembered reading it, and immediately turned The Truth Book to the page containing it, and was a bit confused because the name at the top of the node was not "Halspal". Turns out it was written by him under another nodernym, and the only two writups by barefoot are the first and last chapters in the book before me. Yes, the entire book comprises Jonathan's writeups, virtually all of which are no longer on E2 for reasons best known to Jonathan, I suppose.

Apart from the occasional node audit, one doesn't generally read a noder's entire nodeshare at one sitting. I don't know if Jon would prefer that his book be read that way or not, or even sequentially, but I took a stroll to the park and began to do that very thing. I am usually in the middle of seven or eight books at any one time; the last week has found me reading only one, America's Great Depression by Murray Rothbard, and I had intended to read it through. About three quarters of the way, though, it has been supplanted by Humane Society. I have about ninety more pages to go of the 290 total, and am thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

The cover describes it as "enhanced non-fiction"; it is slices of life from one man and those close to him, possibly tinged with the slight inaccuracies of old memories, with a bit of what the foreword calls "hyperbole and poetic license". It is split into three parts, the first of which is stories from childhood; while I haven't gotten to Part III yet, I will assume that the each part tends to come from later in life than the preceding ones. The stories are not dated, and unless they're about grade school or college or marriage, not particularly attributable to specific periods in the life of this man that I don't know. Nonetheless, the parts are clearly ordered, and it may be that the stories within them are also, to the extent that ordering would be significant.

Some of the mostly two-to-four page snippets are quite humorous; some of them are touching; many of them make one reflect on how he's living his own life. Every single one is a good read. Having listed the extant writeups of Halspal and seeing that the ones in the book are no longer there, and so far having come across none that I'd read before, I'm very glad that this book found its way to me, and I thank Jonathan for sending it to me. It is certain that I never would have read these stories had he not, and I am richer for having done so.

"For the majority of them it is a literary outlet that constitutes a part-time diversion for their amateur interest in communicating and explaining their experiences and most of the time that perspective takes the form either of factual descriptions of people, places, and things or of poetic abstracts. It’s harder to capture the middle ground. To find the Truth in a cup of coffee or while standing in line at the bank. It's hard to be literary about experience. It's even harder to make it something that someone wants to read." 1

Like C-Dawg I was surprised to see this package arrive on my doorstep. I didn't order any books, my wife didn't order any packages, we were totally surprised about it.

Upon opening it the book is beautiful, the simple gold lettering stands out. Two questions raced through my mind "Who in the Hell is Jonathan Shute?" and "What is "enhanced non-fiction?"

The book is worth it. The note from Jonathan, surprised me, shocked me and made me feel a little guilty. The introduction by Dem Bones is what this site is about.

I cannot tell you the last time I became so sucked into such a work. I wanted to sit and read it right there cover to cover. Of course that would have made us late for our dinner reservation, but maybe it would be worth it. I was re-introduced to old friends, nodes I have read and longed to read again, stories I connected with and understood exactly where the author was coming from. And I thought the entire time "Man if only I could write like this..."

Everyone should buy this book and read it. It now sits on my coffee table for all who come into our apartment to read and enjoy.

1. From the introduction by Ryan Postma. The true definition of why I hang out here, node here and spend so much time on this site.

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