bears cards Kurt Mr. Muscle


 In an age when Kevin Federline sets the standard as a guy to admire, I’m feelin’ the need to go all revolutionary like Mr. Muscle Oven Cleaner did back in the ’70s and take a moment to set the bar just a tidge higher.

I can up your K-Fed, culturepeople, and his name is My Cousin Kurt.

The adventures of my road-kill-hound cousin have hit this space before, but, with his latest, I’m afraid he may have garnered Reccuring Supporting Character status on this blog.

Sure, he scrapes moose off the highway; he’s a dragonfly expert (yea, he’s written a book proving his odonatic knowledge); he builds rustic furniture; he has his teen-aged daughter amusing herself with throwing an atlatl out back of the log house he built…

( This is not My Cousin Kurt, nor is it his teen-aged daughter. But it is an atlatl. If you needed this explanation, is it possible you’re kind of dim?)

…but that stuff is so My Cousin Kurt that it hardly bears mentioning in a tribute about why I rank him above Britney’s ex.

Here’s the source of my abiding admiration:

Last year, one of his daughters was given an audio card–you know, one of those really annoying cards that blares a song every time you open it.

First opening of the card, and the song blares out? How cute! Ain’t that just.

Second opening of the card, same song? A little drumbeat on the table.

Third opening–what, again? A sense that it’s time to move on and open the next present.

Fourth opening, fer chrissakes? An actual request to stop. opening. the. card.

Fifth freaking opening in two minutes? An exasperated exhale and mounting blood pressure.

Sixth #$%^&&(* opening? A sense of slipping sanity and dialing up one’s inner sociopath.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the song being played with every opening of the card, in the case of My Cousin Kurt’s kid, was “The Chickendance”?

To give him credit, he made it longer than Dick Cheney would have.

But then, My Cousin, my pal, my boy

finally took “The Chickendance” card out front of the house

and shot it.

My hero.

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alcholism bears insomnia students

I Need Fifty-Nine Drinks



When I was 18 months old and napping one day, my aunt felt compelled to hold a mirror to my mouth to check my breathing and find out if I was still alive. I slept that deeply.

When I was an adolescent, my sister once poured a glass of water on my face while I was asleep. I didn’t wake up. This proved her hypothesis.

When I was in my thirties, two squalling babies kept me from REM sleep for a total of six years. I did not hurt them. They will make it up to me in my dotage by bringing me hazelnut lattes at The Home and helping me to change the channel when “The Price Is Right” is over.

As it turns out, too many people messed with a good thing.

Crushingly, this week, I can’t sleep.

Insomnia is largely unknown to me; ever since I first pledged to life and passed the initial hazing of swallowing multiple bowls of gummy rice cereal while strapped to a chair, sleep has been one of my favorite sorority sisters in the Delta Delta Gamma house.

But this week, sleep is a mo-fo, and it is my foe.

I know the cause of my open eyes. I know why my brain races. I know from whence my anxiety stems.

It’s a student, of course. I’d love to disclose all sorts of juicy details, but I daresay that’s unethical, even for someone of loose ethics like me. An abbreviated, anonymity-preserving profile of him might read: “batshit, narcissistic, delusional, illogical, excuse-making, sweet, sad, and, oh, yes, most likely alcoholic.”

All of you who have met this person in his many forms on the planet are nodding knowingly right about now, ja? This person, when you met an incarnation of him, caused you lost sleep, too, didn’t he?

But his presence in my life this academic year is teaching me all sorts of things I wasn’t aching to discover: he’s showing me how ill-equipped I am to deal with his pathologies—how easily the teacher role casts me as an enabler. He’s good, too. When I try to reset the boundaries a bit, drawing a pre-1989 line to send him back into East Berlin while I keep partying and buying truckloads of consumer goods over in West Berlin, he gets defensive and broken and lobs a few little rocks over at my wall. They take chinks out of me, too.

So all these hours when I’m not sleeping? I’m trying to figure out how to help both Gorbachev and me keep that all-important wall intact. I need the protection.

Dropping the labored metaphor, I can just say that he’s got me obsessing and has inspired an exhausting mania in my darker hours. I completely want him to miss the bus (see, he has a car or two, but can’t drive them, um, because doing that is expensive, so he has to take the bus. It’s not at all related to DUI issues.). I want him to miss the bus and miss class. Forever.

What’s getting me through this very minute of internal fretting and typing, this trying minute of 2:41 a.m., is the bear-hunting program I’m watching on Channel 10. All these guys in camouflage are kind of sad in their own way (and trust me, I can see the case for hunting…but baited bears?). They’re assuring themselves of their own worth with all their guns and gadgets, the same way poor Batshit and his delusions and drinking give him a skewed sense of validity. It’s all about wanting to feel that you’re powerful, that what you’re doing has a purpose, that you’ve got control over something, inn’t it?

Ooh, now that they’ve dropped the mighty beast, the shooters on the screen are urging me to buy an ATV trailer called the “Tail-gator.” Apparently, it can also help me drag carcasses out of the woods.

What I really need is an “Alkie-gator” to help me drag a student out of the classroom.

And fifty-nine gin and tonics to help me sleep.

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bears booties locally grown road kill

Bear Feet


In my last post, I jested, in closing, that I was going to go out and take down any bears that might be rummaging through our compost bin. I also reported that I wouldn’t be able to eat any non-locally-grown bears, if it were to turn out that they had actually been transported, under the auspices of a wildlife witness protection program, into Minnesota from a different state.

As that post indicated, I have quite a repertoire of Dead Animal Humor, especially because one of my cousins waaaayyy up North here actually keeps his family’s bellies full of meat throughout the year thanks to hunting and, more importantly, road kill.

Oh, yes, he does.

To aid him in his road-kill quest, he’s got some contacts with state troopers; also, he lives in a remote part of the state where all 87 residents know each other’s bank balances and underwear rotations, not to mention how they stock their freezers. With such connections, my cousin’s meat needs are easily fulfilled. If a moose gets hit on Highway 1, the solution to such a public, bloody mess is, “Call Kurt.” Or if a deer gets bonked, someone will inevitably stop by his family’s cabin, knock, and holler out, “Deer kill down by Misty’s place!”

After the call or the knock, Kurt collects his tools and any unsuspecting greenhorns he can wrassle into a crew, and he heads out, day or night, to begin the slaughter. And slaughtering a moose? A little bit bigger project than scrapbooking Junior’s trip to the State Wrestling Championships. Indeed, butchering a moose is intense, heavy labor.

But, holy buckets of Bullwinkle, you can eat the thing for ten months, so it’s worth the effort.

Right? Right? Right?

At any rate, you can see why road kill and compost bin humor trip so lightly out of my brain. Thanks to My People, I make up little vignettes like in my last post.

However. The day after I posted about out-of-state bears getting transported, a different cousin of mine (her eccentricity, by the way, differs from Road Kill Cousin’s; her thing is that she’s given all of her passle of kids “D” names. I’m glad she stopped spawning just after the birth of Baby Darby and before she had to resort to the moniker Baby Damnation) emailed these photos of a bear that was struck by a truck near Lincoln, Montana.

Dead bear. Funny, right?

Not so much.

In truth, it makes me sad. Look at that photo of the four paws at rest, in particular. There’s something strangely human there. If, you know, that human weighed 800 pounds and was horrifyingly hirsute.

Certainly, being a good Montanan myself, I know James Gandolfini here is pretty much just stew meat topped off by some fly-fishing resort’s new bearskin rug; despite that, I find myself wanting to knit the poor bugger some booties.

Note to self: learn to knit.

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bears bicycles daunted fear Marilyn Manson Terry Gross

Jocelyn Buttstrong


By mistake, I went on a 14-mile bike ride the other day.

It’s not like I was transferring the sheets from washer to dryer, only to suddenly look down and note with a surprised “How the hell did this happen?” that I’d been spinning along on a bike for more than an hour.

That’s improbable on several fronts, the least of which is that I suddenly found myself aboard a two-wheeler. In truth, the greater improbability is that I’d actually be washing sheets. That would imply I’d stripped a bed. And if it ain’t March, and the buds aren’t burgeoning on the trees, and the children haven’t just been cut out of the long underwear I sewed them into last November, then the beds ain’t been stripped.

However, I did, knowingly and willingly, lead my unsuspecting bicycle out of the garage last week, set it on an uphill course, and throw my leg over the seat. Yes, I was in complete possession of my faculties.

Or so it seemed for the first 45 minutes. My route took me along the outer edge of town, up a road named Unrelentingly Upwards Avenue. As I churned along, I played around with the gears, cursed my jumping derailleur every now and then, coughed loudly and frequently to let the black bears know I was around (the next day was garbage pick-up day in the ruralish neighborhood, which meant it was Bear Buffet Night at the trash cans), made up NPR stories that I might have heard, had I worn my headphones (for awhile, I pretended Terry Gross was interviewing Marilyn Manson, but then he shifted from seeming surprisingly informed and intelligent and just got creepy and annoying when he started to make the case for his 38-year-old married self having an affair with a 19-year-old). As the wheels spun ’round and ’round, I was definitely getting a healthy dose of Fresh Air.

But then darkness fell with a heavy thud. Out there, feeling quite alone–except for the ginormous 4 x 4 trucks that would speed by every few minutes, blasting me to the shoulder–I started to feel a little quivery. In addition to pedaling and coughing, I burst out occasionally with quick, audible pep talks: “Just 4 million more cranks of the legs, girl, and you’ll be at the stop sign, turn left, pedal another mile, hit the next stop sign, turn downhill, and head towards the park. You can do it! And then you’ll be home for eggs and bread and chocolate and a lovely White Russian.”

It was really dark, though. All efforts at pep talks fell flat. I almost stopped caring about Russians of any color. Except the Red ones. Them, I still felt for.

Then not only my hands fell asleep, as is their wont when I bike, but my vajayjay got that bad tingle. And yes, there are bad vajajay tingles. The journey to crotch numbness begins with a single spoke, turning endlessly in the night.

Now I know people who are real bike riders find 14 miles to be nothing. Doing a hundred miles in a day is realistically very doable for even a slightly-above average Joe.

However, I’m not gifted, physically, and I grew up in a family where we didn’t leave the house much. Sure, there was the mail checking and all, but because retrieving OPERA MONTHLY from the mailbox is the closest I ever got to summer camp, I still have a pretty steep learning curve with this outdoorsy physical stuff.

Let’s put it this way: I went kayaking this summer (for the 5th time in my life), and I had to cry a little bit. The paddle just didn’t do what it was supposed to. And the kayak didn’t move right. So I got frustrated and boo-hooey.

The good news about me and out-of-doors tears is that I pretty much just need to let them blow through, and after the catharsis, I can gird my loins, or spray skirt, and get back down to business. Then, when it’s all over, I want to go again. And, yea, when I go again, I’ll most likely cry some more. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.

So there I was, in the pitch black, pedaling and pedaling, getting really tired and realizing I still had a long ways to go. Or at least I thought I did; I hadn’t ever actually biked this route before and was working from some half-digested directions given to me by my Groomeo back at the house as I snapped on my helmet and double-knotted my shoes. A little uncertain of where I was, and craving a large order of French fries, I started to feel like it might be time for a few tears, simply as a kind of on-the-road therapy. Interestingly, though, I couldn’t tap into any tears. How strange. It was almost as if nothing felt quite right, and I really wanted it to be over, but, hell, what could I do about all that? Just keep pedaling, really.

Even when I came to a junction and, in the inky blackness, felt my way off the paved road, onto the gravel road that was supposed to signify the downhill turn towards home…and I realized I couldn’t see the trees around me on the even-more-remote unpaved road and that I was constantly weebling into the ditch without knowing it until I would experience a thump and the ground falling away, again and again…and that I would have to turn around and retrace my route, back on the paved roads, thus lengthening my “fun exercise time” by an extra 40 minutes–even after all that, I still didn’t cry.

It was starting to look like I might just knuckle down and do this thing, sans the requisite two-minutes of weeping. How odd, indeed. As a gal who’s generally well in touch with her own drama, I’m not at all accustomed to pragmatic matter-of-factness.

So there were no tears, even though I was a reewy, reewy wong way fwom home, aww awone, twying not to hit the hungry bearsies.

Instead, I sang. Much like Avril Lavigne, though lacking a pair of Converse high-tops and heavy eye liner, I used singing to vent my angst. As long as I was belting out the tunes, I didn’t have to wipe my eyes with my sleeve.

So I sang. What surprised me was my source material. Certainly, I didn’t sing any Avril Lavigne. In case you didn’t know, she’s a talentless idiot who sucks. Nor was it the work of Beverly Sills that gave me heart that night, despite my upbringing; rather, it was the work of Alison Moyet during her Yaz (Yazoo to you in the UK) years.

Indeed, ’80s pop saved the night. As an ode to the darkness, I sang “Midnight.” As a tribute to my beloved Groom, whom I might never, ever see again–what with it being 8 p.m. on a Sunday and me 4 miles from home on a fully-functioning bicycle–I sang “Only You.” Goodness, but I wasn’t out in the country, all alone, cold, tired, bonky and a little sore. Nae! I was transported back to my dorm room in college, watching the old LP spin around the turntable, having just cooked up 9 cents’ worth of Ramen noodles in the illegal hot pot on my desk. It was just me, my back-combed bangs, my shoulder pads, and my Yaz.

Sadly, due to all the diet pop I drink, my brain is riddled with Nutrasweet holes, so pretty quickly I ran out of lyrics.

Thus, by the time I reached the homestretch back in town–the last two miles home–I was a little hoarse, repeating the same eight lines over and over, alternating huffed croaking with wild hand shaking, as I tried to restore blood flow to my paws. Over the sound of my stomach growling and my crotch protesting (she’s a screamer, that one!), I realized that my attempts at fitness had rendered me just the teensiest bit pathetic.

Not even Marilyn Manson would have dated me at that moment.

But I like to think Terry Gross, admiring my fortitude, empathizing with my crotchiness, might have.

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