For those of you out of the loop, Phillip and Ryan of 11visions.com are heading down the Mississippi River via kayak and filming it for your entertainment. Check back regularly for blog updates, pictures and web videos. The feature length documentary The River is Life, made from the exploits of this epic journey, will be available on this website February 2010. Need some adventure right now??? Check out The Hitchhiking Movie.
Paddle and Prayer
My Location: Little Falls, MN
Miles Traveled on the Great River: Approx. 380
Fun Had and and Friends Made: Too Much and Too Many to Count
Not all moments are dangerous. Lake Winnibigoshish was dangerous, nighttime at Cass Lake was dangerous. (Guys, when all this cool stuff stops happening to me, I swear I’ll write about these ordeals; but, believe it or not, they happened almost 2 weeks ago now! I’m severely backlogged! I promise I’ll do my best to have nothing happen to me for the next few days so that I can write about the two times Phillip and I almost died. I swear. I’ll like camp in a black hole and write a post like, Uhhhh so like today it’s like really dark and stuff. OOOP, I think I see some movement… no, that was that little speck on my eye. Cool, when I wiggle my eye it just follows me. Rad, so like… it’s still dark and stuff.
The truth is that neat things keep happening, and this post is the most current of it; but, believe you me, we’ll get to that scary shit – I really want to tell you about it! For now…
Sometimes the moments in a trip such as this are loving, sometimes they are bittersweet, like when we had to say goodbye to the Mobergs. Sometimes they are aggressive like my “have-out” with Phil amid the 3-foot white-cappers in the middle of Cass Lake at 11 at night (coming, coming, coming!). Sometimes the moments are pure joy or pure beauty or pure awe, like watching a Bemidji sunset (best sunset EVER! hands down; though the one last night in Little Falls rivaled it) or watching a flock of swans, or seeing 3 bald eagles perch not 10 feet in front of you on the same day. All the moments have all been… what they were – incredible. There has been no adding. This is real reality TV: there is no heightening of drama, no planning, no scripting. When I end up in someone’s house to stay the night, I did not, nor could I have, planned it.
I am in Little Falls, Minnesota, home of Charles Lindbergh. The family I am staying with (Yes, another one. I dunno how. It just keeps happening!) tells me of their son as a young lad. He wasn’t obsessed with Charles Lindbergh but he was obsessed with Lindbergh’s cars. Apparently Lindy had tons of ‘em. The boy sneaked in to the aviator’s back yard and curled back around to the garage. He peeked in a Volkswagen: “Oooooo, that’s nice.” He peeked into a Packard: “Hooooly crap, awesome.” He peeked into a… “WTF! That’s Charles Lindbergh sleeping in a Chevy!” Lindbergh, according to my hosts, did some pretty eccentric things like sleeping in his own cars; but, for the most part, he tried his best to quietly keep to himself in this small Minnesota town. Old Lindbergh stopped the boy before he could run and talked to him a bit about sneaking around other people’s houses, while simultaneously being the most cordial of cordial. I imagine he gave the boy a soda pop and said, “Run along now. If you ever want to drive one of them, just bring your dad and we’ll go together.” I imagine he had a soft tear in his eye as the boy ran back home; I imagine the boy reminded him of what his kidnapped and murdered son could have been. The Lindbergh baby kidnapping has always touched me deeply; so sad. Even as I write a pit grows in my solar plexus. Perhaps being closer to Lindbergh’s hometown has made that pain grow stronger; perhaps it’s easier to identify with it, to feel the poor child’s pain, or the father’s. This man, Chas Lindbergh, accomplished something that no one had, that no one had even thought possible – a solo airplane crossing of the Atlantic. Earl Fuechtmann, the man in whose house I am staying and on whose computer I am typing (Actually I think I’m on Mary’s, his wife’s, computer.), waxes philosophic about Lindbergh: “It was amazing, you know. He had no instruments, no GPS. I don’t even know how he did it.” He leans back and pours me a little more of his homemade wine. Mary notices I’m enjoying it. “We grow our own grapes, you know,” she says. They are wine connoisseurs and amateur wine makers. It is delicious. “Well,” I respond to Mary, “You grew some really good grapes this time; this is excellent.” She laughs. “Actually, that was from a kit!” She folds her hands and starts laughing harder. It was a good joke, but I still love the wine. I’ll say again: anything from strangers, now new friends, is good. Once again, this morning, I have drunk coffee (though I don’t drink it). Last night I have eaten homemade pumpkin pie (yes, with pumpkins grown in their garden!). I have eaten left-over turkey that made my mouth sing. I have listened to Earl’s stories of being a Vietnam vet, his positions on Iraq and Afghanistan, his more important views on his own kids, his views on happiness and on how having a new truck is nice but will not bring the feeling to you. “Though the truck is nice,” he quickly adds. I am here, I am alive, I am in a home still in rural Minnesota… alive, living with strangers (strangely alive!); and, it is all very, very good. What a time to be living, rolling slowly toward the Twin Cities.
Phillip would always criticize me when I used the word amazing or incredible or unbelievable when describing a physical phenomenon or feat. “It’s not incredible; it’s just physics,” he would say. “I know,” I respond, “but it’s incredible to me.”
“It’s not incredible though. It’s just the natural order of things. If you see water coming out a hose, it’s just the law of gravity and pressure at work. There’s nothing incredible about it.”
“Yeeeeessss. But the very fact that that law exists or that we are even here to utilize it or create something wonderful such as a hose with it IS incredible, my friend!”
Phillip would just shake his head. He’s so finely tuned to the physical world. “It all just makes sense; there’s nothing incredible or unbelievable or amazing about it. The world works; what’s so amazing?” Benjamin Franklin and his Rationalist cousins would have made Phillip their poster boy. They would have had him tour around giving talks on how not to be amazed by the world. No matter. I have told him firmly that I’m not giving up my amazement. And I will continue to use the word and its cognate companions to describe things like red-winged blackbirds, bald eagles (“Dude, there are so many of those in Arkansas; what’s the big deal?”), barges, the fact that I’m alive, everything under the sun and on this Mississippi adventure.
Right now Earl is using that word. He reminds me a lot of Peter Moberg: instantly practical, hands-on, good family, smart man with a blue collar background (dirty grime on the back of his neck, grows up on a farm, leaves for the war 2 days before his draft notice, “volunteer before they getcha, that’s what I say”). “Amazing,” he says punctuating his story of Lindbergh’s crossing. And it was, and it is. Earl is a practical man with a touch of romanticism. I seem to have brought it out in him. He asks me what I do. “I paddle down the Mississippi River,” I laugh. They laugh too. “Noooo nooo nooo. Well…” he pauses, “I guess what I do is pick up random river people.” Mary laughs and pours more wine. It is good, so good. “No,” Earl corrects, “I have my own business as a general contractor and I have been blessed.” I look around. Catholic paraphernalia everywhere. I feel strangely at home. “We’re Catholics,” they say. My first experience with the Catholic religion was as a young lad in Memphis, TN. I went to a Catholic school called Chistian Brothers Academy. My Catholic friends never took their religion seriously, and the teachers took it very seriously; subsequently… I didn’t take it seriously. I then moved to Mexico City and lived there for a good 3 years. My girlfriend was Catholic and so were her parents though they never went to mass: CINAs – Catholic in Name Only. They really didn’t take it seriously; and, at a time when a respected adult’s opinion might have persuaded me, this all but drove the no-possibility-of-Ryan-becoming-Catholic nail into the coffin. Then the kicker: the lady who blew my chances of ever becoming a servant of the Pope forever:
When I first moved to Mexico, I was living at my girlfriend’s parents’ house and, to say the least, was not comfortable. It was time to get out. I wanted a place where I could live alone, have my own privacy, and still live in Satélite (a suburb of Mexico city that had an American feel). I had the perfect solution. Though Satélite was all houses, one woman had a little apartment at the bottom of her house she was renting at a reasonable price. Separate entrance, pretty secluded from the rest of the house. Bingo, I thought. While there were several rooms available at other houses, the owners would say things to me on the phone like, “Ningunas visitas femeninas! (No female visitors.)” Screw you. This woman was different: no weird rules, seemed pretty legit, and though I did have a weird-ass vibe from her, I decided to give it a shot. I moved in no problem and then the prying came in: “When will you be home?”
“Uhhhh, excuse me?”
“I’d like to know when you’ll be home.”
I’d like to know the winners of the next five World Series, but that’s not gonna happen; what the hell? “I don’t know when I’ll be home; I’m going out tonight and it might be 12; it might be 3; why?”
“Oh, I don’t know if I can accept that.”
“No it’s just that…”
I was getting angry and her off. “Uhhh, I gotta go.” Dropped her flat right there. Maybe not the best move; but, as my mom will tell you, the quickest way to get me ultra Ultra ULTRA pissed off is to start telling me what I can and can’t do. Hell, that’s what got me motivated to do The Hitchhiking Movie. Everyone told me it was impossible.
I came back to the apartment that night. Lucky, the bitch is asleep, I thought. Okaaayyy, okayyyy, I’m sorry; she wasn’t a bitch; she was just, ummmmmm, confused, or… o c’mon! she was a bitch! So the bi… er, nice little old lady who had nothing better to do than to pry into her inquilino’s personal affairs wakes up as I open my door. I hear some rumbling and see a light come on on the upper floor before I slip in. I get into bed as quickly as possible and turn my light off. I’m not talkin’ to her now! Jesus Christ! This is why I moved here – to NOT have to deal with this shit. Long story short, the next day I’m cleaning my new place up and there are Catholic crosses everywhere. There’s a pure iron one. There’s a wooden one with a plastic Jesus; there’s a plastic one with a wooden Jesus, a wooden one with a wooden J.C. who is experiencing a most gruesome death. There’s one with a more tasteful death. There’s a cross made of doughnuts. There’s… Okay, no doughnuts, but that’d be hella cool if there was. I’d consume the body then!!!
So, I do what any heathen would do – I take the crosses down. It’s my room, dammit. My mom raised me on Unity. We believe in a happy Jesus and focus on the positive stuff. This doom and gloom is making me sad. Yeah, that’s great: Stick a few dying people in a room with a manic depressive (yes, diagnosed, scared of me yet?). So the crosses come down. Little bit dusty in here; I vacuum it out and rearrange some plants. No Jesuses hiding under the bed? Christ, no pentagrams, I hope! What if this beeyotch is a witch or something and all this is a put-on! Nope, no pentagrams. We’re good to go. I retreat into my nice Protestant-ized hole, and on the 7th hour, I rest.
An hour later, I got to get going. Girlfriend, who will be known as M.E., wants to meet me. Sweet action! She meets me outside the door and we take a walk together. I didn’t see it exactly, but I swear to God someone is eyeing me from the witch’s window. I turn around. Did I see that curtain move? Ah hell, c’mon, M.E., let’s walk.
M.E. walks me back home. Kiss, love, etc. Nice. I walk in my room. BEEEEYOTCH is there!!! “Uhhhh what are you doing here?”
“Where are the crosses?” she demands.
“I set them outside the door.”
“You what?” She holds her heart.
WTF is going on with this lady?
“I can’t… oh, dear me!” She crosses herself. It is not genuine. It is all a show. She takes a deep breath and heaves her chest like a sick Michael Flatly. She turns her head, bad-soap-opera style, and leaves. The back of her wrist was pressed to her forehead as she trudged dramatically up the stairs. FFFFFFF-iiiinnnggggg bbbbbbb… rrrrrrrrrr… Aaarrrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhggggrraaahhhhhfffmmmmmmnnnnnaaaaaa! I swear – Death, get ready – I’m sendin’ you one early.
I can’t stand it. I hoof it on over to my girlfriend’s house. It’s about a mile away, and I walk through the door. M. E.’s mother is on the phone. But with whom? She’s looking at me. “Yes, yes,” I hear her say. “Yes, ok, señora, I will tell him.” M.E.’s mom rolls her eyes at me. They say: “WTF is up with her! (lol)” She hangs up. “Well,” she huffs, “I just got off the phone with the señora. She is…
A. very angry you didn’t come home at a decent hour (I make the wrist-slitting sign while trying unsuccessfully to barf.)
B. very angry you took her crosses down (Herrrrrrrrrrr crosses??? Herrrrrrrrrr? It’s my… aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!)
C. and is very angry that your not a nice little Catholic boy who is not interested in sex, only comes home and stares at a cross praying, only says nice things, does not want a social life, did not hold hands (oh dear me, no!) with my daughter outside her house (I knew she was spying!), and is, in general, a heathen who is going straight to the fiery pits of hell. Other than that she thinks you’re top-notch!”
I barfed right on my girlfriend’s mom’s rug. Then I took a flying leap off the balcony to my death and am writing this posthumously. Hell isn’t as bad as they say it is. If only I had known that the Catholics were right I wouldn’t have joined that damned Scientology sect. Fuck!
Long story short (Second time I used that phrase in a post; I must be a fledgling writer.), I returned to my recently acquired, over-protective-psycho-mom-who’s-not-my-mom-demon-witch-from-hell’s apartment to have it out. It’s time to rumble, baby. You and me, mano y mano. Fight to the death. I’m going to sucker punch her and throw salt in her eyes. I might even grab a chair from the audience or try a flying elbow or leg drop. Uhhhhh, that is I’m going to…ahem… get very angry and assertively tell this fu… darned old lady that she needs to stay out of my room, and if I want to have a girlfriend over, it’s my business, and don’t be calling her mom. We’re both 21 for crying out loud! If I want to hang posters of Ozzy Osbourne sucking down bat heads all over my room, it’s, yup, you guessed it, my ffffffffffreaking business! And if I want to come home at 4 in the morning, as long as I’m not making any noise, bbbbbbbbbbuuuuutttt the flying Fig Newton out! Got me, psycho whore!!!!! (C’mon, mom, psycho whore isn’t that bad.)
The Having of It Out
So we had it out. I told her to butt out. She told me I was a heathen. “I went into your room,” she said. “I felt this cold chill up my spine. I felt like…” (She grabs her heart and crosses herself; I consider punching her in the boob.) “…Like the diablo was in the room.”
For the love of Christ and all that is holy, this woman is Beelzebub. If I behead her, I get all her powers, right?
“And so,” she goes on, “I just… I just don’t know if this’ll work.”
“Babe, I’m gonna tell you, this ain’t gonna work. You were on the phone with my girlfriend’s mom (I had put her down as a reference.) and are going on and on about my whereabouts. I rented this room to get away from this kind of stuff. Who are you? The goddamn devil???”
“Devil? You’re the devil! Get out of my house!”
“Get out of my room! Ever hear the song Devil with a Blue Dress? You’re the devil with a telephone and no time on her hands! You want to know what sends a cold chill up my spine? YOU!”
Long story short (third’s a charm!), I left. I found a place that was more expensive, but the first thing I said to the landlord was, “I got a girlfriend and what I do with her is my business.” “No shit,” she replied. “Pay your damn rent on time and keep the music reasonable.” Holy crap; finally someone sane.
Back to the Feuchtmanns
Now I am surrounded with it, Catholic crosses, dying Jesuses, and I feel very, very good. I feel very comforted. The love of these two people are apparent. We sit down to eat. It is salad with raspberries. I’m in heaven again. I know instinctively that we are going to pray. I sit with my arms folded. I know it; I just know it. And they begin. Earl clasps his hands; Mary leans back and closes her eyes. “Benedic, Domine, nos et haec tua dona quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi.” Just kidding; they’re not Opus Dei! No Latin. I had you going there, didn’t I? No, it starts, “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord…” My stepfather would always offer this prayer half-heartedly when it was his turn to pray at our table; but, here it is very, very sincere. They go into verses of this prayer that I hadn’t even heard before, and I can’t keep up after the first couple of lines. I feel very at home. How strange: the same crosses, the same religion, but different people… make all the difference. They cross themselves same as psycho lady, but you can sense the difference. These people are sincere. Devotion is why they are Catholic. They don’t really care if you like their cross or not. To them, it’s not about you; it’s about a connection, and it is real, and I can feel it. Did I mention I feel good here?
I wake up in the morning. Earl and Mary are not there. They soon drive in. “How was mass?” I ask. “Great!” they say, and they mean it. Same crosses, same symbols, actual love.
Last night I went to sleep at new friends’ home. They had only met me 3 or 4 hours before kayaking down the river. A snap judgement they had to make: Do we trust this guy? A snap judgement I had to make: Do I trust them? We go by feel, and the feeling is a resounding yes. I am so glad I spent this time here. But the moment changes. I will, momentarily, be on my way to St. Cloud. I hope the rest of the river feeds me to people as good as the Fuechtmanns, as good as the Mobergs, as good as who’s to come. I walk out the door and recall my going to sleep the night before: They had given me a shower, they had given me food, and now they were going to give me a bed. “Which room do you want?” Mary asks. Ooooooh, I have a choice! “Well Mary,” I respond, “Last night I was sleeping on top of a log in a mosquito den, soooooo I am kinda hard to please.” Laughs, more laughs, good feelings all around. I look into both rooms. One has a large wooden cross over the headboard. I walk in and put my stuff down. “I would say, Mary, this’ll do just fine.” I feel comforted now dozing off, and have no desire to take the cross down.
On to St. Cloud. Twin Cities, we’re getting closer! Check back for more!
Ryan, July 12