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I admit I woke up grousing; a lick from my Airedale pup Hud, named Hud to offend all people of good taste, did little to improve my mood. I reached up to the radio from the floor where I must sleep forever, since a thousand-yard tumble while bird hunting savaged my spine. A newsman was reporting the accidental death of Herb Shriner, my favorite boyhood comedian. A girl in New York City once told me I talked like Herb Shriner. It takes many generations of rural indigence to make a Herb Shriner voice, long evenings of pinochle around a kerosene stove trying to pick up Chicago on a $10 radio. There was a light rain against the windows, and I thought of a statement once made by a statistics nut to the effect that Michigan receives less sunlight than any other state.
I walked out to the barn and tried to look at Lake Michigan—on a clear day, few though there may be, you can see over 30 miles, way out beyond the Manitou Islands. And the hills are conceivably full of the sound of music. Because of the obtuse presence of the media, I often think of myself as living within a giant, beautiful, scale-model cigarette commercial. I sang a few bars of It's Great to Lire in the Great Lakes Country. The landlord looked at me quizzically from a tool shed. I waved. No time for embarrassment. I was going to a festival.
There appear to be a lot of small hat sizes around here, I say to myself, perhaps unfairly, entering the hotel bar in Kalkaska (pop. 1,475). One learns to mistrust locations where even a good hamburger is not available. But the drinks are extremely large and cost only 50�. Getting drunk here would be punching inflation right in the nose. The man sitting on the stool next to me in the crowded room announces himself as a former marine.
"Once a marine, always a marine!" I reply, attempting to placate his obvious hostility. The same may be said of Harvard graduates. They simply never let you forget.
Then the marine says, "If you don't love it, leave it," quoting the great Merle Haggard tune and eyeing my rather trim Pancho Villa mustache. His lips are flecked and stained with one of those nostrums used to combat stomach acid.
"The U.S. of A."
"I looovve it," I say rolling my blind eye counterclockwise, one of the few skills I picked up in college.
"Damn ajax," he replies, drinking deeply. Beer drizzles down onto his faded fatigue shirt.
"Do you favor the cattle prod as a fishing weapon?" I say, taking out my little steno pad and turning to him on the bar stool. He shrugs and leaves.