The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : Uncategorized

The Last Gas Station

“Yaknow, for a place where you’re lucky to see more than one car for every 10 miles of road on the surrounding highways this gas station sure got busy all the sudden”.  

I spoke from behind a gas nozzle, seated on my Road King at a pump that had been empty of waiting cars when I had arrive just a few minutes ago.  Now, three cars waited behind me, and two on the other side behind one filling opposite the divider.  He was filling both the tank and the extra in the bed of his pickup – this might take a while. Five pairs of eyes burrowed into the back of my skull.

“It’s the only pump in town”, injected the man with the other nozzle, wide-brimmed straw cowboy hat pushed back on his head while he looked down into his rear tank.

“I think it’s the only one in the county”, chimed the passenger, standing behind him, elbows resting on the pickup bed side-rail.  “Isn’t that right, Bob?!”, he hollered back towards one of the waiting cars.

The door to an aged 60s El Camino opened behind them in their line.  Dust, rust, and a flattened can of Hamm’s announced the debarking of a grizzled, bent codger held together by nothing but boots, hat, and a belt.  Against long odds, it was all bound up in a bundle with a streak of orneriness sticking out like an unkempt shirt tail.

Bob struggled up out of the drivers side.  The thirty seconds it took him to exit, walk around, and hold his peace till he arrived on station felt like a time warp.  My gas meter clicked off, but I was duty-bound to give the man the time he needed for a question I had instigated, but was now inextricably bound to.  

My head had been full of highway-speed just a few minutes ago, and it screamed to be back to it.  I watched those boots slowly shuffle up, drinking in fully the juxtaposition to my road-rushed state of mind.

I took a deep breath, and accepted the moment.  I immersed myself in the slowest shamble I had ever witnessed.  I embraced it.  I vowed to myself to learn the secrets of this wondrous tool, this terrible weapon.

“Isn’t that right, this is the only gas station in the county, isn’t it?  Elbow-resting Passenger repeated himself as he stood up respectfully, giving the Village Elder space to step through.

I surreptitiously slid the expended nozzle back into its holster while the old man got his speaking voice warmed up, and reviewed his memory of 7 decades occupying the region. Briefly he began to speak, but then went back to his sagacious reverie.

I imagined him driving, in his mind’s eye, to different stations that may have been open at one time around the sparse county.  They seemed to briefly flashed, one by one, expressed beneath the deep bushy brows that loomed over his eyes.  His gnarled hands fumbled for his pockets, and he shifted gradually from pedestrian to orator.   

Bob himself had only started using cars when he had bought the El Camino, and couldn’t recollect any stations before that.  But he did remember the birth of one of the future owners of a gas station to his own nephew back in ’57 he could recall,  and then an untimely death and the closing of the station in ’86.  There were two brothers some miles out who thought they’d have a go at running a pump up at the county line, but ranchers couldn’t get up there in winter, and locals never traveled that way normally, so it too had shut down oh, heck, sometime before Bob’s wife had passed 20 years ago.  

All the facts were there, they just needed a little chronological sorting.  And maybe a push start.

I glanced over during the recitation at the lifted pickup behind me carried a strapping young man and his girl, towing a horse trailer and unable to squeeze in on the other side even if they wanted.  Anywhere else that face would be flushed and angry, the girl might have been hurling unladylike expletives at the holdup.  But not here – not now. The stout man behind Them in the big Dodge with an ATV in the back sat patiently while Bob worked it out.  

He made a final conferral with his inner self, agreed, and drew himself up to the task of speaking.

“Yep”, he rasped in the strongest voice his aged body could work up.  He swung his head, neck, and body around towards me for a moment, in a stiff nod of acknowledgement that I was the instigator of this speculation.  

“Yep”, he reaffirmed thoughtfully, “I think that’s right”.  And so it was a consensus.  All agreed that if Bob couldn’t remember any other gas stations in the county, then by golly there were none to be found.

I glanced up the street at the dilapidated tire store across the way, still announcing tire brands from 30 years ago.  What with the line behind me, I changed my mind about leaving the bike clogging the lane to the pump.  A sarcastic statement about the condition of the town urged me to speak it, mirth all around its edges, goading me into a smile.   Almost a smile. 

Instead, I mashed the helmet back on my head as Bob worked his way around to his car door.

“I guess it’s a good thing I stopped, then”.  I filled in the remaining empty sound-space with the machine’s engine.  I nodded to the two men still pumping diesel, smiled and nodded again to Bob, and pulled back onto the highway to lose myself again in the wide landscape of Montana.

To the good people of Jordan, Montana, I apologize for what I almost said, but didn’t.  It would have been rude.  

Funny, but still rude. 

Answering God

We are not Creators.

We have a God for that, something larger, An ubiquitary Force we sometimes like to pretend we understand, and like to misuse like a weapon and claim as our own.

We are Artists.  We are Engineers.  We are Nurturers and Husbands of the land.  We have learned to heal, to build, to breed animals and plants for our use.  

But we are not the Creators.

We can shape stone, and steel.  We have discovered tools, and vessels to carry us and our awareness to the depths, and heights, and the far reaches of the planet.  

But we are not Creators.

We have learned to recombine, to extract, to invent new combinations of things with the raw elements of our planet.

But we are not Creators.

We have been given a Planet to use, and an abundance of life, from which we draw our own life.  We have been given the intelligence to learn how they work, the ability to develop skills to make them work for our benefit.  We have been given strength, and instincts that urge us onward to fit, as we should, into this vibrant planet. We can do things with this planet no other creature can do.

But Creation is not one of those things.  We are not Creators.  We are Creatures.

And so, take what you are given, and hold it close.  

Understand everything that is given.  Resource, Skill, Wisdom, and Compassion.  Understand that the Creator has given these to you.

This is Worship.

Nurture what you are given. Use what you must to thrive.

And when you have grown, and what you are given has flowered, and is ready for harvest, when you have something to give, give it.

This is Love.

This is our place and purpose:  to receive, to nurture, and to give.  We receive from the Creator.  We nurture ourselves, those close to us, and the earth we are given.  And we give of our excess.  We give of our knowledge, of our resource, and of our love.

Tyrants will not give, and slaves cannot.  Only the free can give.

Worship the Creator

Love the Earth, and all in it.

Build with what you are given.

Give back a measure of your work.

And have faith that doing these things as free men and women is how the Creator intended this world to work, that a greater purpose is served.

This is the Equation of Life.  As we address that of God in creation, we answer to the Creator.

Tower of Babel

I just realized what’s going on.

And, being a Saturday morning, I’ve got a little time to reflect on this epiphany.  

I should warn you, this is something of a political post, though I’m not here to hammer on one side or another. Ya’ll a bunch of sinners that need Jesus…

We are all talking about the division in this country, the “them against us” duality that seems to both cripple and confound us.  Why can’t the other side see what we’re talking about?

Turns out it’s pretty simple.  There are more than two principle sides in the matter.  There are four sides to our present politics.

The system we have, the one carved out by revolutionaries nearly 250 years ago, was a system of self-government.  It was brilliant in its day, and still holds the answers to our present problems.  But part of its beauty is dependence on a moral underpinning to the society that uses it.

In 1776, that moral underpinning was fairly ubiquitous, provided through the discipline of a population founded on a combination of Christian principles, and the self-sufficiency required by the New World.

In recent times, however, Christianity, along with most religions in this country, has fallen into popular disgrace through the abuses and misdeeds of its prominent leaders, to the point where people have become confused , skeptical, and mistrustful of not only those leaders, but of the faith itself.

And as our collective sense of morality and self-discipline has waned, we have fragmented into four groups from two:

Left and right, liberal and conservative.  One bills itself as the party of the people, of the common man.  It sees government as a tool to cultural improvement, to social improvement, it is a powerful means of economic improvement.  It sees itself as the party of seeing good to do, and then doing it collectively.

The other party sees government as a necessary evil, a Pandora’s box of temptation to those drawn to power.  It sees good to do as well, but only as individual effort any of us are free to undertake, not a government function.  And sometimes, by not addressing inequalities, it opens the door for private companies to set themselves up as Demi-dictators and economic monarchies.

So, two groups so far, liberal and conservative, both well-meaning and flawed.  Each needs the other for balance.

The other two groups align themselves with one or the other identity, but there is a critical element missing: moral character.  The soft underbelly of American government is that despite its best intent to anticipate depravity and nip it in the political bud, the demise of Christianity and self-sufficiency has affected our government system in surprising ways.

So now, there are four groups, that can be characterized as follows:

  • group 1:  Christian Conservatives.  Oddly enough, I don’t mean the group that calls itself by that name.  What I mean is good people brought up with Christian values, and who see personal investment into society as critical.  Their principles are not set by their own subtly-disguised desires, but by a written standard they’ve come to accept and live by.
  • Group 2.  People who have spied, in a situation of minimal government , opportunity to take advantage of trust, scarce regulation, thinly-spread enforcement, and graft-powered preferential treatment in legislature.  
  • Group 3: liberals who see government as their moral and societal redemption.  These include both certain Christians and atheists, whose drive to do good extends to deeds they themselves don’t do, but rather commission through election.  In this sense, a division appears within the atheist group where some have turned it into a quasi-religion with its own moral code, largely adopted from the core of Christian values, while others revel in the guiltless freedom of hedonism.  
  • Group 4:  those that confuse liberalism with anarchy, and set themselves up as gods, seeking nothing higher than the power to make decisions, without all that awkward “answering for it” thing.

So, we have two groups of patriots, and two groups of pirates.  Each patriot group has, within its ranks, pirates.  If we could only take a few minutes out of our busy schedule to address this confusion, these schemers in our respective midst, we could maybe restore our American system’s function.  But we are caught in a ego trap – we need foot soldiers in our cause, and are willing to take on any mercenary willing to fly our flag.  We need “useful idiots”, because we have come to see “Freedom” as something we can only keep through the use of our side’s particular propaganda, which needs believers to have power.  We have abandoned our faith in the rule of law.  And it is largely because of systemic failure brought about by the sheer weight of unscrupulous groups, because of the demise of moral character.  If you can’t enforce law, then very quickly people lose hope.

We have always had evil.  This is the motivator of the development of our government system.  It had a plan to scuttle power-mongers.  It accounted for greed, graft, manipulation.  It had a plan for all manner of bad behaviour.  But even the framers of our system knew there was a weakness, that there was a way this system could fail.  They knew the system could be subverted with sufficiently applied Apathy and moral decay.

And it seems right now that those who would tear anything down for a buck smell blood in the water.

They say 90% of leadership is knowing what to call things.  This concept is normally applied to deceptive advertising.  But with one small twist we can turn this lie back right side up.  Know what a thing is.  Don’t give it a name, rather discover its name and true nature.  Do it before you align yourself with it.  Purge your belief system of unwanted influence.  Find a moral center that reflects your own values rather than work through a list of compromises you’re willing to make to gain allies.  Understand and be aware of deceptive labels, and call all things by their right name in your mind.

Things are what they are, not what we call them. At the end of the constitutional convention of 1787, a woman asked Ben Franklin as he left the building “Well, what have you given us, a Republic or a monarchy?”

“A Republic”, he answered, “if you can keep it.”

He also did a little writing on the topic.  Bear in mind that Franklin was no regular church-goer.  But he still recognized the positive influence of religion in society:

“We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, or conquest.” (Benjamin Franklin) 

And perhaps prophetically:

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. ” (Benjamin Franklin) 

To which I might add, perhaps the liberals are right.  Perhaps we have become so completely corrupt a society that we once again need a king.

But perhaps we can still save this, by reconsidering our own character, and fixing its weak spots. Strength of society depends wholly on the strength of the individual, and the family.

Perhaps it is better to answer the question with “A family.  If you can keep it.”

Something Revolutionary

The story is told of two signers of the Declaration of Independence – Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  Both were Presidents of the United States, and while they differed politically through much of their lives, they reconciled in later years and became dear friends. They died on the exact same day July 4th, 1826, 5 hours apart. Adams last words were,” Thomas Jefferson still survives”.  He was mistaken- Jefferson had actually died 5 hours earlier.  Nonetheless, their deaths occurred on the 50th anniversary of the signing, which signaled the beginning of the nation.

Something happened on that day in 1776 – something Big. Something revolutionary.  

Something sacred was brought to the human experience.

The birth of this nation was ushered in by a few brave men with a vision of a government founded on freedom.  Their vision was not of a nation that could do great things with the communal efforts of its citizens.  It was of a nation great because of its space and construct – conducive to the greatness its citizens could generate in their own way, answering the need they saw around them.

The ink of the Declaration of Independence drew an inspired boundary around what is right and proper to the human experience.  It illuminated the parchment upon which a structure for human co-existence could thrive – if followed.

To this day, two forces assail those borders: Personal Greed, and “The Public Good”.  Each is a perversion of an ideal; self-sufficiency, and care of our fellow man.  Each is a lie disguised as the regalia of the Powerful, and  the Righteous.

Some say it is our sacred duty to ease the suffering of our fellow humans as we find it.  Others  say  it is our duty to take care of ourselves so that we stand ready when the opportunity to serve others presents itself.  These are right and proper in their proper setting perhaps, but when each is isolated from the other, our ability to choose our purpose is undermined as the balance of power falls under the sway of others.  The purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to claim for its future citizens freedom of the heart to choose what is right as we see it, not chains of control to force us to do what others think is right.

In the swirling, muddy sea of intrigue bestirred by Evil to hide from us this sacred place, our Declaration continues to shine – through both its success, and in the failures when it is bypassed, undermined, and subverted.

On this annual celebration we hold, it would do each of us good to reflect first on this remarkable scripture, and then rejoice, each in his own way, the implemented principles it brought about.  It is only by refreshing our understanding and commitment to Freedom that we can arise the next day with a clear mind for what it is we fight.

Rolling Thunder, 2019

I would have liked to have shared video of the Rolling Thunder ride from yesterday, but phone battery didn’t hold up for it.

But maybe that’s ok, because I now have to tell you what it was like through the filter of my perception, which I don’t have a lens for on my camera yet.

One thing stands out head and shoulders above the rest.  People – real people – are still very excited to be American.  In response to their excitement, I waved.  I high-fived.  I first-bumped.  I saluted.  I even photobombed a group of Asians trying to get a picture, one guy in front of them with taking a picture over his head with all of them facing so the riders would be behind them.  I snuck (I don’t believe I’ve ever snuck on a Harley before, especially with this one, but well… opportunity struck) up behind them and stopped just as he snapped the group photo.  We all laughed, there was hugging, handshaking – you’d have thought I was the returning prodigal son. it was a highlight of the 20-minute ride. 

There were People of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds.  It is peculiar to sit in a parking lot full of bikers, who largely fit a visual stereotype, and then ride through a crowd of people who normally treat that stereotype with a certain protective distance.  Those people and we become, for a few moments, One.

The way I interpret my chosen Canonical spiritual writings, that brings God into our midst.  Our language and cultural differences may use different names for God, but the God I believe in knows all our languages just fine.

The ride’s route takes us through the heart of the DC Monuments, a place from where many of the iconic images can be seen up close and personal.  Of particular interest to me always is the Lincoln and Washington memorials.  And there are large spaces where, in any other city, would be a solid mass of buildings with businesses.  But this space, in the nation’s Capitol, is reserved for The People.  People that are maybe not involved with Politics, but are certainly very, very involved with being American.

I say this because Americans do their political thing every four years.  By design, we decide on someone to represent us in that messy forum.  We do it because we have lives to live.  We have crops to plant, houses to build, children to raise, And once in a while, that living we do must involve standing for a moment, and drinking in the courage it has taken over the history of our country to win and defend the one thing we stand for – Freedom.

It is no perfect Freedom we enjoy.  At every turn there is someone trying to bend us to their will and benefit.  Businesses do it.  Ideological groups do it.  Neighbors do it.  Foreign enemies do it.  From every angle, one man seeks to subjugate others.  

Freedom does not rest in some sacred temple, impervious to the elements in its vault.  It is a small thin egg, filled from within with life, and protected from the outside by the fragile shell of our written Constitution, incubated by nurturers and defended fiercely by the blood, sweat, and tears of its parents.

And who are it’s parents?

It is us.  We have not inherited a relic.  Each generation must give birth to its own  Freedom, must nurture, defend, and teach the next how to live.  Or it dies.

Idols are quickly forgotten as a people assume the idols can take care of themselves.  We pray in vain for idols to protect us, believing them to possess supernatural powers.

Freedom is not – cannot be – an idol.  It is a living, perpetually reborn infant.  And it must be treated that way.

Today we’ll celebrate one of the greatest sacrifices made since the Revolution.  But we don’t do it to worship them.  We call it Memorial Day because remembering is critical to our future.  We will have to defend it again, and that defense is not some fantasy of future glory.  It is today.  Freedom cannot protect itself.  It cannot raise itself.  

And if we cannot love it enough to get excited about it, we do not deserve to be its parents.  So today, in remembrance of those who sacrificed their life for freedom, we celebrate this infant’s life in somber wonderment.  We boggle at the dedication of the men and women who are gone from us, and honor the scarred and broken survivors of that debacle.  And we do it in the one way we can that brings us together.  Those who know and cherish freedom come to be filled with a song. And they take that song home in their hearts, filling this country with the overpowering sound of Rolling Thunder.  

This is who Sean is:

And I’d like you to know
Sean Roesener

Tonight’s Viking Sacrifice: The Kingdom

It’s a fine thing, to dream of being the king. To be able to bring together a powerful house, to command great deeds be done, noble works built at your behest. Naturally, your motives are so pure that people OUGHT to be compelled to your will. Your ideals are so illuminating that only those with Evil in their heart would even question them. Right?

But yet..are YOU ready? Is this all it takes to be a king?

The Ballad of the Kingdom has been sung to exhaustion through history:

The Dawn bursts upon the land brilliant, it’s warming light bestirs life, and pathways emerge from the night’s shadow.

The noonday fire burns hot, as it acquires a taste for its power, and even after the earth is fully warmed, after the crops have received their water, after the forests and meadows have feasted, it continues to gain strength, wilting and burning that which can’t be protected by shade and water. It’s nature is to burn, it can do nothing else. The farmer must tend to his land’s needs, water must be provided, earth plowed and prepared in its season. Without this skill, the kingdom bursts into flames and is consumed.

The evening shadows are fickle, tricking the eye and fostering imagined monsters, and seeing paths that are not there. Evening is a time for gathering, and preparing for the night. If not attended to, the kingdom stumbles into the night without a lamp, and with no memory of the daytime paths that lead past the rocks, and the holes, and the cliffs. It is overtaken by the vandals who seek opportunity in the kingdom’s sloth and ignorance. The evening is a warning of the harsh and dangerous night.

The kingdom built on the backs of its slaves will find itself helpless in the dark against those who were forced to prepare, when they realize they don’t need you.

The kingdom that draws over-much from its stores in revelry meets the darkness drunk and helpless against those who’s senses are sharpened by evil and wicked opportunity.

The kingdom that denies the oncoming darkness will be overtaken and snuffed out before dawn, and its strength will return to the land, awaiting another day, and another husband.

We view our kingdoms – from the tiniest family to the most extravagant empire, as a source into which we dip for our needs, and our wants. But the bucket doesn’t work until the well is dug. So we Sacrifice the kingdom- that is our revelry and leisure at its expense – until we have dug our wells, and sowed good crops, and irrigated and weeded and defended against marauders. Then, and only then we may sip from its well, and gather the strength required to walk boldly in the night, to sleep with confidence, and rise tomorrow ready for the dawn.

If you want a kingdom, then truly be a king. First, you must lead, but how can you lead if you don’t understand following? You must learn to follow. You must learn to BE what you would lead. Follow until you understand “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”.

If you want the kingdom you’ve built to be honored, then BE honorable. A lasting kingdom is not something separate from yourself. You must be a part of it, until it is a part of you.

If you want your kingdom to be able to give you something, then give. It will give back of the fruit it is fed. If you give your kingdom deceit, it will deceive. If you give it anger, and reasonless fear, it will hate. If you give your kingdom violence, it will destroy.

And if you give your kingdom joy, it will sing. If you give your kingdom protection, it will nurture peace.

And if you give your kingdom love, it will multiply, and will find a way to sustain you through the darkest winter nights, while other kingdoms fall, or become monsters.

So tonight, we Sacrifice the kingdom we want, and pray for the kingdom we need.

What did I come here for?

It took 700 miles, and more mountain passes than I could keep track of, but finally, the Wall came down.

I stood, in the middle of an inland sea so old it had run dry, cradled between two vast mountains. And there was not one other person besides myself.

A thin strip of tarmac strung like telegraph wire from one side of this valley to the other. Above, storm clouds played with the mountain peaks, cubs toying with the adults. Their rain squalls fell into the stoic peaks and ridges, and moved on when they could not disturb the stillness.

And so I stood, in the midst of this imperturbable stillness. The petty worries and thoughts of my own invention swirled into its silence, there was no struggle, they were simply absorbed into irrelevance. I watched them go, wondering if my soul would be next, if I would be swallowed into irrelevance too.

With a sudden stirring inside, I hoped I would be.

I wished to be caught up in this Larger Thing, to embrace my own insignificance, to be nothing. And for a moment, staring up at these impossibly enormous peaks, standing in an impossibly enormous valley, I could feel it. I let go of myself.

And then, I wept.

It was an overwhelming relief that came over me. Being swallowed whole into this Stillness And even when once again my head was filled with the rush of wind, and the rumble of machine pushing me along, that Stillness stayed with me.

No, wait. Not a part of me, but rather I a part of it, unable and unwilling to let go. I stayed with the Stillness

This was what I had come for.

to Recieve Your Gift, Choose It


Fathers Day. Day of Choices.

In this western society of ours, it is a strange and perverted phenomenon that seems to give Fatherhood the element of Choice. Many times the exercise of choice to the shame of a man. Dude chooses to head out the back. Dude chooses to treat his children in ways unsuitable for pets. Dude chooses to hide himself in anything and everything he can find besides engaging with his offspring. Dude never understands the shame he’s brought on himself until it’s too late.

My own experience is nothing like any of those. When I found myself as an infant alone at my maternal grandparents’ house, it was my dad who chose to fly at a moments notice, in uniform, across several states to come pick me up, fly me home, dry clean the uniform whose primary battle that day was my penchant for motion sickness – and to establish by whatever means he could a home for me.

As I’m spending this Fathers day with my son in the hospital again, I was speaking with my dad about his condition, which at one point the other day was very grave. Dad wanted to encourage me by pointing out how over the years we have fought for Our son.

My blind response, “What else would we do?”

It took a moment, as it sometimes does when wisdom speaks through me instead of from me, to take in the significance of the mental process that had just transpired. I have done what I’ve done because that is what I’ve known.

And so, by extension, I hope to pass this experience on to others. Does it sound self-congratulatory to speak about my choices this way? I feel differently. Someone has given me a cup of nectar, and not only do I pass it on after I’ve taken my share, but I tell the next person how good it is in hopes they too will taste, and be nourished, and pass it on to the next.

Mothers Day is all about loving what you’ve been given, a God-given instinct that can’t be refused easily.

On the other hand, Fathers Day is a Day of Choosing. It is a day of choosing to love that which you could walk away from, hiding from your gift in the folds of society’s hedonism. Mothers Day is a celebration of our humanity. Fathers Day is observance of “that of God” in us.

If you have a father who has chosen to offer it, take that cup of nectar, drink of it deeply, and with personal humility share it with those who need it most – your children. It will sometimes confuse them. It will baffle them sometimes. If the child you have chosen was not born to you, it may raise in them suspicion sometimes, of ulterior motives, of somehow trying to take from them, instead of giving. It is hard to speak well of something you’re doing without sounding conceited – make sure you remember that the gift you give doesn’t come FROM you, only THROUGH you from another, greater source. Do your best to ensure that from this day of choosing forward, your child only knows this. Smother them in your choice so that when the day their child throws up, or disappears, or tantrums, or falls desperately ill, they don’t have to even think about the choice. Give them cause to boggle, “but what else would we do?”

The thing in fatherhood worth taking from it is, oddly enough, only possible by giving. There is nothing else. There is nothing your child has that you can have by taking. This requires faith. The blessing only exists by giving.

Fatherhood is among the greatest of gifts a man can receive.

Choose it.

Give the gift.

Then, and only then, receive it.


The Irish Whisky Song

I first saw Carl curled up with a guitar on his perch, a duct-taped metal bar stool in the shade of a cafe’s outdoor tables. I was turning in to the only place to stop for a hundred miles, nothing more than a village of stubborn desert-dwellers, and rolled the bike around to a stop just in front of him. he was momentarily perturbed at the acoustic intrusion. But I shut the motor off and the sound of his voice quickly reclaimed its territory.

I couldn’t tell you the name of the song he sang, nor could I have said what it was about. The words were mostly unintelligible. The guitar was wretchedly out of tune, and sounded like a apple crate strung with baling wire. Which is to say it matched perfectly the feeling of the song. The only thing in tune was Carl’s voice. Had he been singing anything else it would have likely invoked images of competing Tomcats with their tails tied together.

But in this place with an afternoon breeze blowing dust and tumble weeds along on their daily migration, with that guitar and this particular mumbly folksong, his voice was the most perfect choice. It was grudgingly beautiful.

He broke stride with his words to bid me a good afternoon, cramming an extra measure into the song with the guitar to catch himself up again. I nodded a hot, dusty, thirsty “afternoon” back. Carl seemed to have the thirst problem under control, with a small flock of empty Budweiser bottles on the table behind him, and one half full one in a place of honor beside his picking hand’s elbow. My response stopped the music, and he reached back to take a draw of the open bottle.

“This here’s a song about whisky”, he began, “it’s an Irish song”, and he set the bottle back down, string-hand already fingering chords, anxious to get on with things. The song he played was indeed about whisky. Or, at least, that’s what I had to surmise as every third or fourth word was, in fact, “whisky”. No idea what else he sang, but I presumed by the litter behind him that asking about the words was a fruitless exercise.

After placing my order inside, I returned with a glass of water to sit at an adjacent table. Inside places don’t agree with me well. Carl looked askance at my water glass, as one eyes a strange dog at the side of its master. Quelling the urge to brandish it at him just to get a rise, instead I asked him to sing the whisky song again. For a brief moment you could’ve knocked Carl over with a feather. I don’t think he was accustomed to having people request that he sing.

He recovered quickly though, and dove into it with performance-grade fervor. When he was finished, however, the Rant began.

I’ve been known to dabble in political ranting myself on occasion, but Carl threw his whole being into what can only be gently characterized as lunacy. he went on for way longer than it should have taken for my burger’s arrival to interrupt him. When finally it came, my head was buzzing and my gratitude to the waitress was effusive. I engaged her in banter for a moment to let the fever of his tirade fade.

As she departed, though, he turned back toward me, and I readied for another assault.

But his tone had changed. He’d noticed my jacket’s Navy patches, and was now keen on discussing our experiences. We fell to telling sea stories. His experience was during Vietnam, but he had some deep sea experiences to tell also. One eye narrowed in a glint that can only be taken seriously from a man who’s been drinking, and he asked me, suddenly serious, “you ever been topside in a storm at sea?”

As he recounted his tale, his eyes changed. A look I have seen before came over him, part-crazed, part-wild, and part baptized by the singular purity of truth known only to those who have been exposed directly to their own imminent mortality. There is no other look like it. It can’t be pretended. Those that understand it look at those who desire it’s knowledge as fools.

And in looking at those eyes, I was transported into a raging sea of foam, snow, swells and waves, standing on what looked like an insignificant speck of submarine. I was reaching for a falling mate who had been picked up by a swell that swept him into the water, and then we were both falling over the suddenly-exposed side of the boat as it heaved upward. I looked above me to see my lanyard being held by another mate, and down at the harness I gripped two-handed with all my strength to hang on to the man below me. Had it not been for the man still in deck, keeping my line as slack as he could to prevent it being snapped, neither of us would have ever been found in this storm.

The boat was thrown upward, and its sides of steel rose up beside me like a monster of The Deep. The waters sucked at us like a banshee stealing souls, and pulled back to form a chasm where the hull met the water. For a brief moment the swirling black maelstrom beneath us dwarfed everything else in my mind. We were dangling over the mouth of death, it seemed. The next wave smashed us both against the hull. But it also pushed us both back on top of the boat, and while we wanted to lay clinging to the life the boat gave us, we all realized we had only a few seconds before it began again, and we raced for the hatch.

Something similar was the tale Carl told, but my own look caught his eye. For a brief moment, our eye contact spoke what no words can pass. For that brief moment, Carl was sane – and sober. For a moment someone understood his pain. For that brief moment I could see the man behind the singing bum.

The locals clearly thought of Carl as a nuisance on a good day. And perhaps he is that. But there is more to be known about Carl than they can seem to fathom. There is a part of Carl that has spent more courage than any of them. There is a moment, now and again, when Carl can no longer forget, even if he wants to.

And in that moment, Carl is as much a man as ever walked this earth. He paid a heavy price. More, really, than he could afford.

I still don’t know the words to the Irish Whisky song he sang. But I know exactly what he was singing about.

Maybe we could all request a song about whisky from someone who knows it, now and again.