Respect Deserved For Those Who Have Lived Through An Actual Sh*tstorm.

I’m fairly certain this bit of humorous writing will never make it into the Press & Dakotan in its intended form, so I present it unedited here for my blog readers. Yes, it’s based on actual events. Parental discretion is advised as (necessary) explicit language follows …

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“It’s been a crappy week.”
“Today was a total shitstorm.”
I hear these expressions all the time.
As someone who is a survivor of an actual shitstorm, you have no idea how insensitive and offensive these statements are to me.
Until you’ve had manure raining down upon you, cached in your hair and clouding your vision, you don’t have the right to use those words.
Until you’ve had the bitter taste of manure in your mouth, you are not allowed to say, “I just ate a shit sandwich.”
Let me tell you about the day shit happened to me.
It was approximately six years ago. The sun was shining. Life was good.
I was on the family farm west of Crofton, Neb., doing something I had done many times before — hauling slurry produced by our dairy cow herd out to the field.
This involves a pipe stemming from the Slurrystore (a huge round, open-air structure that holds countless tons of manure) that fills a wagon pulled around by a tractor. Another tractor attached to a PTO shaft helps pump the slurry into the wagon. It can also push the manure straight up through a separate pipe that shoots it over the side of the Slurrystore. This assists with the process of mixing the manure inside and breaks up the solids.
The wagon was full, so I shut off the loading pipe and maneuvered the levers so the slurry would shoot over the side of the Slurrystore. To help with this process, I revved up the engine of the tractor attached to the PTO shaft — just as I had done on countless occasions.
But this time was different.
As I leapt down the steps of the tractor and began to walk away, I saw a shadow. It was a shadow of doom, I soon learned.
Turning around, I saw a fountain of manure shooting out of the pipe and raining down on the tractor and surrounding area. A weak spot in the pipe had burst. It looked a lot like the shit had just hit the fan.
At that moment, I knew I was being tested. Was I a man or a boy?
A boy would run away and insist someone else do something about this crappy situation. A man would have to run into the shitstorm and shut off the tractor to put an end to it.
The odor of fear was strong, but I wanted to be a man.
Putting aside my vanity, I sprinted into the manure and shut off the tractor. The shitstorm ended, and I was covered in cow feces.
But I felt reassured.
Yes, I would not be able to shake the smell of shit for a week. Yes, my brothers, cousins and uncles would think the whole thing was hilarious.
However, I knew that I was the man my father and mother had hoped I would become. I may not have run into a burning building to save a child, but I had entered a shitstorm to save a tractor. That’s pretty darn close to the same thing.
So don’t tell me that shit happens. I know it happens, and I was there when it happened.
And, please, every time you think you’ve had a shitty day, take a moment. Think of me being suffocated by the wet, brown tentacles of manure that streamed across my entire body before they slowly dried to a crust in the midday sun.
In that moment, be thankful that you haven’t survived an actual shitstorm and have some respect for those of us who have managed such an extraordinary feat.

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OK, you’ve made it through all that sh*t.

Now, let me reward you. I might as well post this, since my brothers and close friends won’t let it slide.

You see, rather than getting mad at my luck the day I was covered in manure, I decided to look at the humorous side of it all. Before the afternoon was out, I rounded up my brother, Chris, and said, “I’ve got an idea for a film.”

I had a character and story formed in my mind, and I bet we shot this (totally professional) piece within 15 minutes. Chris then took the footage and formed it into what you see here. We’ve gotten a lot of laughs out of it. Maybe you will, too.

My mom took the photo at the end upon my request. I knew it was a day I wouldn’t want to forget. It was probably the shittiest day of my life — at least I hope it was!

‘Being Elmo’ And ‘Beautiful Boy’

I don’t remember being in love with Elmo.

It seems to me that the “Sesame Street” character’s popularity really exploded after I had stopped watching the show three times on some days. My two brothers and I were VERY dedicated to the show.

I still have a soft spot for “Sesame Street.” Sometimes, when taken by liquid spirits, I start naming the people around me based upon which “Sesame” character they conjure up in my mind.

Me? I’m “Super Grover.”

I had the distinct pleasure of revisiting my love of all things “Sesame Street” and Jim Henson last night while watching “Being Elmo: A Pupeteer’s Journey.” The documentary, which is streaming on Netflix, tells the story of Kevin Clash, the man who brings Elmo to life.

It’s an amazing story. Clash came from very humble beginnings but fell in love with the puppetry on “Captain Kangaroo” and Jim Henson productions. He began assembling his own puppets as a kid, eventually working with a local Baltimore affiliate and finally getting jobs on “Captain Kangaroo,” Jim Henson films and “Sesame Street.”

Watching the effect his puppetry has on kids, I can’t help but reminisce about the endless hours my brothers and I would spend with our beloved, multi-colored television friends.

The second film I finished up was “Beautiful Boy,” starring two really great actors — Maria Bello and Michael Sheen.

They are a married couple on the verge of a break-up when their son goes on a shooting spree at his college before killing himself.

That may sound the the premise of a bloody, exploitative movie.

However, the film wisely stays away from the crime and focuses instead on the parents — their disbelief, shame, grief and guilt. It’s intense, and I found it quite believable.

I found myself wondering how I would react under such circumstances. A boy who you raised and loved unexpectedly decides to end his life in a murderous bloodbath. There is no way to prepare for that.

Bello and Sheen give us a powerful example of how one might respond to such an excruciating event.

I have to thank Roger Ebert for bringing the film, which is streaming on Netflix, to my attention.

More For You And More For Me: An Appeal For The Future

Yes, Charles Eisenstein’s ideas speak to me. (The above video is a preview to a short film that will become March 1.) I believe there has to be a better way to live than our current economic system.

It’s just a matter of people reaching a turning point in their thinking, which will lead to a turning point in behavior.

Will that happen in my lifetime? I’m not making any bets.

But I’m optimistic.

An excerpt from Charles Eisenstein in the video above:

And that for a long time our minds have told us that maybe we’re crazy, that maybe we’re imagining things, that’s its crazy to live according to what you want to give. But I think now, as more and more people wake up to the truth, that we’re here to give, and wake up to that desire, and wake up to the fact that other way isn’t working anyway – the more reinforcement we have from people around us that this isn’t crazy. This is makes sense. This is how to live.

And as we get that reinforcement, then our minds and our logic no longer have to fight against the logic of the heart which wants us to be of service. This shift of consciousness that inspires such things is universal, 99% and the 1% and it’s awakening in different people in different ways.

I think love is the felt experience of connection to another being. An economist says ‘more for you is less for me.’ But the lover knows that more of you is more for me too. If you love somebody their happiness is your happiness. Their pain is your pain. Your sense of self expands to include other beings.

That’s love, love is the expansion of the self to include the other. And that’s a different kind of revolution. There’s no one to fight. There’s no evil to fight. There’s no other in this revolution.

Everybody has a unique calling and it’s really time to listen to that. That’s what the future is going to be. It’s time to get ready for it, and contribute to it, and help make it happen.

I have not yet read Eisenstein’s book, “Sacred Economics,” but it is on my must-read list. Find out more about his book and thoughts here.

City Manager Doug Russell A Finalist For Montana Position

*** UPDATE *** Here is the story that ran in the Press & Dakotan today. This is the story in the Flathead Beacon.

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It was announced today that Yankton City Manager Doug Russell is a finalist for a position in Kalispell, Montana.

The profession of city managers typically doesn’t allow them to let their roots grow too deep in a community. Russell began his position in Yankton during 2008, and it’s not uncommon for city managers to move on after four or five years in one place.

In speaking with Russell, he has family ties in the Kalispell area that make it particularly attractive. However, he stressed the job search in no way reflects badly upon Yankton. He is happy in the community and is excited about the economic progress being made.

Interviews with the three Kalispell candidates are scheduled for the end of March.

Check the Press & Dakotan tomorrow for a more complete report.

In the meantime, KPAX.com has the story:

KALISPELL- Then there were three. Kalispell city officials say that they’ve narrowed their search for a new city manager down to a trio of applicants.

The City Manager Selection Committee, which was appointed by Mayor Tammi Fisher, narrowed the field of applicants from 44 down to four, but the fourth finalist had to withdraw their name from consideration due to a family emergency.

The finalists are Doug Russell, the current city manager of Yankton, South Dakota; Tom Steele of Pleasant Grove Utah, who served as West Jordan, Utah City Manager from 2009 until 20112; and John Sutherland Jr. of Santa Fé New Mexico was most recently the County Manager of Luna County New Mexico from 2009 to 2011.

Read the rest here.

Oscar Thoughts And ‘The Interrupters’

Did you make it through the 3-hour (plus) Oscar ceremony last night?

I managed it with the help of some tasty apple crisp cooked up by The Girlfriend for nourishment.

Surprises? I didn’t expect Meryl Streep to win for Best Actress. Like many others, I thought that honor would go to Viola Davis, who was good in the satisfying but manipulative “The Help.”

I was a bit upset  to see Streep win for “The Iron Lady.” No, I haven’t had the fortitude to actually watch the movie. The reviews were pretty tepid outside of the praise for Streep’s performance. Anyway, it was still cool to see Streep win an Oscar. She kept it classy.

I thought George Clooney would win for Best Actor. He was absolutely incredible in “The Descendants.” Jean Dujardin was indeed good in “The Artist,” but it was nowhere near what Clooney accomplished. Or Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” for that matter.

Best speech of the night? I rather enjoyed Christopher Plummer’s eloquent acceptance.

I also took advantage of the day off to watch “The Interrupters.” A lot of people who care about the Oscars were up in arms that this documentary didn’t  make the nomination list. Now I know why.

“The Interrupters” is an in-depth look at inner-city violence in Chicago and the attempts by violence interrupters with Ceasefire to defuse situations before they ignite. Many of the interrupters themselves have criminal pasts and use that to understand what is happening.

If you watch the film, get ready for your heart to break on multiple occasions. These Ceasefire members are incredibly brave people who do work that I doubt many of us would have the cajones to do. They don’t carry guns to these situations, after all. During the filming, one of them even got shot multiple times. They know the risk, but they still go at it with a passion.

The Disillusionist Is Back Again

I’m going to see an illusionist tonight.

It should be a lot of fun, as I haven’t seen an illusionist in a long, long time. As a bonus, it is a fundraiser for the Yankton County Contact Center and the Yankton Homeless Shelter, an organization for which I have been a board member for the better part of a decade.

It’s a sold out show, which was more than we ever hoped to accomplish. Thanks to Reza (the illusionist) and his support staff, as well as the hundreds of people who bought tickets.

The point of this blog, however, was the fact that the prospect of seeing the illusionist today got me thinking about “The Disillusionist.”

It’s a song by one of the most criminally overlooked bands in the last 30 years. The Church. You are probably aware of them. They sing “Under the Milky Way,” a song that is still heard on many radio stations.

It’s a great song, and it deserves to be a hit.

But there are so many other great songs in The Church catalog.

One of my favorites is the mysterious and brooding “The Disillusionist.” The swirling guitars and breathless vocals all go together so well that I become totally captivated every time I listen to it.

The song appeared on what many fans (including myself) consider to be The Church’s best album, “Priest=Aura.”

I’m sure Reza the Illusionist has nothing in common with “The Disillusionist.” However, this is the association that is made in my mind.

Enjoy.

But don’t get too close to “The Disillusionist” …

Ghosts At The Argo Hotel: NET Digs Into The Past

The Argo Hotel in Crofton, Neb., is a little gem that offers a fine dining experience in the rural community.

But the attraction isn’t just the history of the grand hotel or the food served there. People also visit because of the stories about it being haunted.

Thanks to my friend David Leonard at KYNT Radio, I came across this Nebraska Public Television piece on the hotel and the ghost stories that surround it.

I ate at the Argo on occasion while growing up in Crofton, but I never stayed the night there until December 2010. I was keen on having a ghostly experience, but I came away disappointed in that respect.

Still, it was a great time. I wrote about the experience on this blog last year, but now may be a good time to re-post a portion of that entry.

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What a party. What a party.
When we all assembled at the Argo Hotel in Crofton, Neb., that Friday night to celebrate the 40th birthday of our friend, Eric, there were murmurs of what the morning could bring.
However, the prevailing wisdom was of an optimistic nature — the kind of delusional hope necessary to survive the winters of the northern Great Plains. We were all in agreement that there would be an inch of snow at most and some high winds. After last winter, it hardly sounded like a threat, and the majority of us weren’t going to let it interfere with our plans to spend the night in the historic hotel.
With the specter of the weather tucked away in the backs of our minds, we proceeded to celebrate in earnest.
We ate our choice of steak, shrimp or chicken. We beat back promises to ourselves to watch what we eat this holiday season as we poured generous helpings of homemade ranch dressing on our salads.
Just out of our eye sight, former Crofton band teacher Kim Sawatzke banged out renditions of popular tunes like Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
An assortment of jovial spirits made their way into our hands and then into our mouths as we sought to infuse the evening with a bit of levity.
Midnight came to pass and excursions outside of the hotel proved to be pleasant and mild journeys for this time of year.
However, when the speakeasy in the basement of the hotel closed at 1:30 a.m., a new reality greeted us as we peered out the upstairs windows.
That quiet black lamb had become a roaring white lion.
Rather than being discouraged by the threatening developments, some of us took it as an invitation to carry on with the festivities.
It wasn’t until the morning hours that the magnitude of our situation became clear. Our self-assurances that we would be able to navigate the drifts and low visibility were trampled by the piling snow. Yankton — so close on any normal day — was now a world away. We were trapped in a sea of snow, and the Argo Hotel would have to serve as our vessel to ride out the storm.
Fortunately, our ark was rich with supplies.
French toast, chili and chicken Kiev were among the culinary delights we were treated to by hotel owner Sandra (Bogner) McDonald as she guided the ship through the rough waters.
The howl of the wind became a constant companion, whether we sat in the dining area or retreated to our rooms. But this was our home now, and we felt safe knowing the hundreds of storms it had endured in the past.
The grand staircase. The bevy of decorative lights welcoming the holiday season. The fully-stocked bar. Home sweet home.
Unused to residing in such historic grandeur, some of us resorted to referencing the only other such hotel with which we were familiar: The Overlook Hotel of “The Shining.” By this time, we were all familiar with the ghost lore of the Argo. In fact, we had our own stories of moving curtains and chairs. However, there were no cries reported from children or women who had died long ago — a popular story that haunts the hotel. In our experience, this was no Overlook. There were no blood-filled elevators, ghostly twin girls — or Jacks, for that matter.
And things were certainly never dull.
We passed the time with conversation, with games, with occasional notions of venturing home through the storm.
By Sunday morning, the sun had emerged. We were relieved to no longer hear the cruel wind’s screams outside the hotel. As fast as we could, we dug our vehicles from the storm’s rubble and bid the Argo and its owner farewell. It had served as our home away from home, but in the end, there is no place like your real home.
What a party it was — one we’ll never forget, as Eric wisely predicted.
And whenever I think back to it in the days that have followed, I think Tara’s words as we sat down for dinner that Saturday night summarize it best: “This whole thing feels like a dream …”