by Arian Knops
I do not remember the first genuine screwball/oddball person I have ever met by name because I more than likely met them at a very early age. However, I do, with some clarity, remember the first of those wretched creatures I met in my working career. His name was Max. Max is now long dead and gone, but not forgotten. To compare him to a good dose of hemorrhoids is being kind to him and unkind to hemorrhoids.
Max was the leader of a gang of older fellows I worked with who liked to disappear into the wilderness on most weekends. They accomplished this with hunting and fishing trips to the lakes and woods of Minnesota. No wives allowed. It was the guys’ time to carouse and drink without a woman present to impede their festivities.
Only one or two were the real carousers. Most of the men were wary of the bimbos that slinked around the bars of the great Northwoods. None of them wanted to bring something back to their wives that neither penicillin nor a small nuclear blast couldn’t cure. But all liked to bury their sorrows with that gentleman’s gentleman Mr. Jim Beam or that heartwarming friend Old Grandad. For the poorest of that group any rot gut, bottom shelf beer was a stomach bloating gateway to a good time. The food nutrition during these escapades to the Northwoods consisted of whatever the bars had in stock. I can’t imagine surviving on Snickers bars, pre-made burgers made with some unidentifiable kind of meat and frozen pizzas for a full weekend.
Albert Schweitzer, among others, said, “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” Max thought an accordion was a musical instrument and he hated, with a deep passion, cats. This is told only to give you the mindset of one man, it is not meant to be a negative indictment of anyone else who likes accordion music or is an ailurophobe: the fancy name for a cat hater.
For those of you who do remember the 1960s through something other than a pall of marijuana smoke will recall that four-lane highways weren’t the norm, and many state highways were simple two-lane affairs. Highway 47 was such a road leading from the Twin Cities to the grand village if Isle, Minnesota and thus the lake known as the ‘Dead Sea’, but officially known as Mille Lacs Lake. The group’s destination was Max’s cabin on the shores of that lake.
On a late spring Friday afternoon, just after the ice had left the surface of the lake, Max and his cohorts were traveling north out of the civilization of the Twin Cities on Highway 47 when a cat ran across the highway. Max was in immediate pursuit. Without warning Max drove off the highway in his nearly new 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix. As it was related to me on the following Monday, the bodies of the other three passengers were, since this was the time before seat belt use was common, bouncing all over the interior. Max had the steering wheel to hang on to. His pals weren’t so lucky. Max had his land-barge tailing the fleeing cat. I guess it wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been going parallel to the ruts in the freshly plowed field, but the cat was hightailing it perpendicular to the furrows. By the time the cat had disappeared into some trees bordering the field and Max had made it back to the highway, confusion reigned amongst his passengers. Max’s only comment was “Damn cat, I’ll get it next time.” That he had beat the daylights out of both his automobile and his passengers was of no concern to him.
On the return trip, taken late Sunday evening well after the sun had set the gang stumbled upon the annual salamander migration somewhere near Dalbo. Three miles of running over salamanders packed salamander parts into the wheel wells of the Pontiac. It was like wet snow but smelled much worse.
Max waited until Monday to take the car to a self-service car wash. Two hours of washing under the wheel wells did nothing but push the smell to a place water could not reach. The smell persisted. For years that beautiful car smelled like a can of tuna flavored cat food. Mercifully, Max’s son had an argument with a Red Oak and the tuna mobile was no more.
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