When I was in high-school I was a bit on the wild side, and I hung around with like-minded people. It was better for me than studying since I had zero possibility of going on to college. It was fun being a pain in the butt to my father and the other elders of our town.
One day a teacher, who was well aware of my errant ways said to me, “Arian, choose your friends as you would choose your books. Few, but good.” Most of the books I possessed at the time were ratty comic books, so his advice didn’t make much sense.
Fast forward about sixty years and I now have, more education, hundreds of actual books, but still only a few really close friends. One of these friends is a guy named Joe. Joe is on the weird side and is affectionately known as ‘Psycho Joe’ by people who know him.
Joe is a retired college professor whose main source of income is from selling produce he grows in a weed-patch he calls a garden. His garden covers just a bit over five of the forty-acre piece of land he lives on, and it is so remote he has to truck in daylight.
When Joe first moved to the land, it held a barn, a well-house, a tattered garage that was small enough to have been built for a Ford Model T with no room to spare and the last building is, what he considers, a house. It may at one time have been a fine house, but I doubt if it had that status during my time on this planet.
This house, which I’ve actually stepped into on several occasions, is a place that Marlin Perkins, former host of the Wild Kingdom, would refuse to enter without strapping a high caliber firearm on his hip and perhaps even sling a high-powered rifle over his shoulder for good measure. I hope you remember Marlin the mustached wild game guru. The man either had a plethora of daughters or any of his sons-in-law were extremely unlucky and short lived. One week it would be, “This is my son-in law Jim, running from and trying to avoid a charging Wildebeest,” and the next week it would be, “This is my son-in-law, Bob cautiously approaching the sleeping male lion.” This scenario went on from 1963 until sometime in the eighties, and I think Marlin went through the entire alphabet with names of sons-in-law.
Back to Joe. Like I mentioned earlier, the man grows vegetables and cans some for his personal use, shoots, and traps small game, more than likely without a license, and catches fish from the Flambeau River which borders his property. He has disassembled the barn and used the dried-out wood to heat the home for a number of years since his chainsaw died a violent death. He tossed it in the river when, on a cold October morning it refused to start, and he hasn’t bothered to retrieve it.
Joe, being a near hermit, once had a dog named Oscar. The entire forty acres had been fenced off with an eight-foot woven wire fence and Oscar was a guard dog that prowled the homestead. At the front gate there was a sign that stated: WARNING, GUARD DOG! SURVIVORS WILL BE PROSECUTED; ALL OTHERS WILL BE MULCHED. For this reason, I tend to shy away from purchasing any vegetables from Joe.
Last week I was having a discussion with Joe when he said, “A few days ago, since I can’t seem to grow potatoes, I bought three, three-pound bags of red ones at the market. I cooked up one bag and left the other two on the counter. I think somebody who lives with me took them because one of the bags disappeared completely and the other bag, I found open on the living room floor partially eaten.”
“Oscar?” I asked
“No, it wasn’t Oscar since he ran away last year when I left the gate open too long. He ran to my ex-wife’s house and refuses to come back.”
I thought, ‘damn smart dog,’ but was sympathetic to Joe when I asked, “Racoons or rats?”
Shockingly, he said to me, “I didn’t smell any rats and one of the basement windows is busted out so I’m guessing it’s racoons or skunks.”
I hope he never invites me over for a sleep-over.
Arian is a short story contributor to the Sentinel & Rural News. Arian has written two full-length thrillers which have received critical and popular acclaim. Arian lives in Bruce, WI, with his charming wife, Arlene.Profile
The Sentinel & Rural News covers the news and events of Clark County and southern Taylor County, as well as regional news that affects those areas.