Archive | February, 2008

Stellar service

February 29, 2008

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On Wednesday, I went to St. Cloud to pick up the used boat that I bought from Miller Marine. The excitement was building as I cruised up Interstate 94. But, I had car trouble on the way. The heater was working intermittently and the temperature gauge was spiking upward toward the red zone.

I got to St. Cloud and immediately told Eric Graham, the sales rep who sold me the boat. Fortunately, the place is also a car sales and service center and he quickly took me back to talk with the mechanics. One of them heard me describe the symptoms, then said I was low on antifreeze. He promptly filled up the reservoir so I would have enough for the trip home. They didn’t charge me a dime, even though the stuff costs nearly $20 a bottle.

The great service continued at the maintenance shop down the road where my boat was. They had installed a bow-mount trolling motor and new batteries, complete with wiring. They also recommended an on-board battery charger, which I bought and the mechanic installed on the spot.

They didn’t charge me for any of this work, which came as a very pleasant surprise. Not only that, but when I first talked to Eric about the boat, he dropped the price $1,500 right off the bat. I didn’t even have to haggle with him. Based on my research, the original price was fair, the reduced price was great. The boat is in excellent shape — a 1997 Crestliner. I can’t wait to use it this spring!

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Thanks for the “Pope” pulp, but you shouldn’t have

February 29, 2008

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“High Hat,”
by Greg Mandel

I hadn’t read four complete paragraphs of “High Hat” when I began asking myself if I’d had enough and it was okay to stop.

The same question came to mind many times, but I kept forcing myself on, just to see if Greg Mandel could pull off this wacky idea of a Mickey Spillane-type pulp fiction novel in which the private detective has a day job — as the pope, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

After plodding through all the obtuse private-eye vernacular for 130 pages, the answer was, “No.”

Sorry, Greg. All the kitsch in the world can’t save a hokey plot. And how many 130-page paperbacks can you describe as having to plod through?

It’s like the author put all the energy into trying to come up with cute similes and metaphors ala Mike Hammer and forgot that realistic drama was an essential element to hold readers’ attention.

The storyline has someone trying to get possession of the bones of St. Peter because they allegedly have mysterious powers. The pope, as alter ego A. Pope — get it? — Vatican City’s only private detective, stumbles on the bad guys and goes through the usual ups and downs the pulp fiction genre requires, getting into as much hot water as, well, as Mandel might have put it, enough hot water to bathe the whole College of Cardinals.

And the creative P-I lingo? Papal garments are call “the holy muumuu;” lips are “ruby smoochers;” the pope never walks anywhere, he “ankles” over; the Mennonite splinter group bad guys are “pretzel benders.” All that’s campy for a while, and silly almost to the point of funny, but not quite.

Save yourself the two hours. If you need a fix of stuff like this, find a “Batman” rerun on cable TV. That’s about the quality of the story and the action — and you’ll only be wasting 30 minutes of your life. — bz

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Bagging integrity

February 27, 2008

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A first-time youth deer hunter passed on a trophy buck in November and is now receiving an award for his act.

The Star Tribune reported that 12-year-old Blake Holbrook saw an eight-point buck from his deer stand just five minutes before the start of legal shooting time. It was only about 15 yards away and he had a clear shot. But, he passed. The result was a missed opportunity in the field, but a Deer Hunter Ethics Award from the Minnesota DNR. He was named as one of two winners.

Hunt long enough for deer and most hunters will be faced with this dilemma at least once. I have faced it several times, including this year. I ended up shooting a small buck right at the start of shooting hours, but I saw two deer before that.

It’s a tough call. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have a problem with Blake shooting this deer, provided he could see it clearly and it was a safe shot. As a firearms safety instructor, I am charged by the state to teach three rules of firearms safety:

1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded
2. Always keep the muzzle of the firearm pointed in a safe direction
3. Be sure of your target and what lies beyond

As long as these rules are followed, I don’t think it’s wrong to shoot a deer five minutes before shooting hours. The whole idea is to keep the hunt safe and make sure there’s enough light to properly identify your target. It’s clear to me that Blake clearly identified the creature in front of him as a deer.

On the other hand, I applaud him for not taking the shot. In doing so, he has a chance to experience all of the other aspects of hunting that motivate so many to spend time in the field. Whether or not he took the shot, he still got the reward of seeing a majestic animal up close. And, he also got to spend quality time with his father, who was in another stand nearby. These two things are more than worth it.

On top of that, he has the satisfaction of knowing he made a sacrifice for the sake of his ethical values. In other words, he bagged something more valuable than a deer. He bagged integrity.

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From Shakespeare’s quill to our lips

February 25, 2008

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“Shakespeare: The World as Stage,”
by Bill Bryson

William Shakespeare’s birth was recorded in Latin, but he dies in English.

It’s a factoid that summarizes well the impact that playwright and poet Will Shakespeare had on his native tongue — and it’s been a lasting impact. More than 400 years later; English speakers around the globe use — without knowing their source — words and phrases created by the Bard of Avon.

If you’ve ever said, one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, be in a pickle, cold comfort, foul play, tower of strength, you’ve been quoting Shakespeare.

Bill Bryson points to a dozen or so words first found in Shakespeare, too, but he digs up little known facts about Shakespeare the man, not just the literary figure, to keep the interest of any reader, not just wordsmiths.

Bryson posits, for example, that Shakespeare exploited the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1586), leveraging renewed British patriotism to stage his history plays to the audiences of the day.

Those audiences were working people primarily, evidence that Will knew how to write for the masses. Although late 16th century laborers were poor, they found Shakespeare’s plays worth spending a pence or two to get into the Globe Theater for a “groundling” spot.

A couple times throughout the book there references to Shakespeare’s religion. Was he Catholic? Not enough evidence to say one way or the other, Bryson concludes, but what his research offers is insight into the anti-Catholic prejudice of the day.

Catholics were seen as such a threat to the government after the failed “Powder Treason” of 1604, where 36 barrels of gunpowder were found in a cellar beneath Westminster Palace and one Guy Fawkes waiting for the signeal to light the fuse. Bryson reports, “The reaction against Catholics was swift and decisive. They were barred from key professions and, for a time, not permitted to travel more than five miles from home. A law was even proposed to make them wear striking and preposterous hats, for ease of identification, but it was never enacted.”

There’s much, much more about who Shakespeare knew, who influenced his work, the royalty who supported him and his players, and plenty of investigation into the literary question that continues through the centuries: Did Shakespeare really write everything attributed to Shakespeare?

You aren’t likely to be interested in the details that Bryson goes into, but he’s such a good writer even those parts go quickly in this brief, 199-page book. Bryson makes even Will’s will interesting reading. — bz

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Justice is landed

February 22, 2008

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I read with delight the story in today’s Pioneer Press that angler Tom James of Mound got his lunker muskie back. The story made headlines a few weeks ago when James was paid a visit by DNR enforcement officials after they saw his picture on the internet with a 52-inch muskie he had caught in Lake Minnetonka Jan. 13. Due to a rule change that was made after the regulation booklet came out, the season actually was closed on Dec. 15.

Applying the new regulation, the DNR confiscated his fish, though he was not penalized. I followed this case and felt all along he should have been allowed to keep his fish. Looking at it from a faith perspective, we should distinguish between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

After catching the fish, James looked in the rule book to see if the season was still open and it was. How could he have known that the rule had changed after the book was printed? Frankly, it wouldn’t occur to most anglers, including me, that such a change could ever happen. We are led to believe that the regulation booklet is the bible of fishing regs, so we don’t doubt or question what it says.

I’m glad agency officials came to their senses and returned the fish to him on Monday. It restores my faith in the way they manage the state’s resources. After all, they are ultimately working for us, the anglers who buy fishing licenses. In this case, I would say justice has been served — or, rather, landed.

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Knock and the door shall be opened

February 19, 2008

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Here’s another application of Jesus’ encouragement in the Gospel to ask, seek and knock. On Saturday, my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, and I went down to the Red Wing area to talk to landowners about spring turkey hunting. We were headed to the farm of someone I had talked to on the phone, but never visited in person.

With help from a good map, we almost made it there, but couldn’t find the exact house. So, I knocked on the door of one of his neighbors and explained my situation. He not only pointed the way to the right house, but invited the boys and I to hunt on his farm, too. I’m continually amazed at how nice many of the rural landowners are. They seem very willing to grant permission to hunt turkeys on their land.

I wrote a follow-up letter thanking him for his generosity and letting him know how much it means to me to be able to have this kind of father/son experience with my boys. People out in the country seem to understand that very well and I think this helps explain their willingness to let a father and his boys hunt on their land.

Sadly, a lot of boys in our culture miss out on this wonderful opportunity. In fact, studies are showing that the number of kids who enjoy the outdoors is dropping nationwide. Fortunately, the numbers appear to be holding steady in Minnesota.

On the same trip down to Red Wing, we were able to drop off some venison to one landowner who had expressed an interest in it last fall. I had shot a deer on his land and so did my friend’s son, Dan. In fact, it was Dan’s first deer ever. So, it was nice to give back to the landowner venison from deer we had shot on his land. We had a great visit with him and it was a good lesson for my boys on the importance of gratitude. I hope they always remember it.

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The Don Rickles you never knew

February 17, 2008

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“Rickles’ Book,”
by Don Rickles with David Ritz

Okay, I admit it. I never respected Don Rickles or his brand of humor. Insulting people so that other people laugh at them seems a cheap way to make a living, so I put Don Rickles — the king of insults — a cut or more below comics I admired.

His memoir, however, sheds light on a different Don Rickles.

His struggle to survive as an entertainer, his willingness to accept any kind of work on stage and work long hours, his gratitude to the people who gave him opportunities, his humility, his faith life (as a Jew) and his faithfulness in marriage are all cause for admiration.

Don Rickles, who belittles celebrities and non-celebrities alike, turns out to be a loving son — one who adored his father and who lived with his widowed mother for many years; their family stories betray a mutual caring for one another, and the comedian shows a soft side in recalling how his mom stood behind him — and even gave his career a push.

Living in Miami at one point, Etta Rickles makes it her business to make friends with Dolly Sinatra, mother of you-know-who, who also happens to be in Miami. “It would be great if you could get Frank to go see Don,” Etta Rickles tells Dolly. Franks shows up where Don is performing, Don insults him, Frank loves it and the two become friends. Friendship with Frank Sinatra opens doors for Rickles.

Short chapters — Rickles’ many stops on the way up the ladder in the entertainment field and anecdotes about the stars whose lives touch his — make this an easy and interesting read.

Sprinkled throughout the book are examples of cutting remarks that are the lifeblood of Rickles’ routine. I still don’t appreciate the shots Rickles takes at overweight people in the crowd or people with odd clothing. But there a couple of good lines he gets off at the expense of some Hollywood stars. “You’d be great,” he tells Clint Eastwood, “if you’d ever learned to talk normal and stop whispering.”

And he zings Bob Hope and his USO Tours. At one of the Dean Martin Roasts, Hope walks in while Rickles is doing his routine. Thinking-on-his-feet, Rickles says, “Bob Hope is here. I guess the war is over.”

Rickles, who on stage seems to have no respect for anyone, shows an enormous respect for the talent of others in the entertainment field, and his ability to win their respect — people like Jackie Gleason, George Burns and closest friend Bob Newhart — is evidence that the Rickles in this book deserves respect himself. — bz

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Ask and you shall receive

February 14, 2008

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A boat shopping experience earlier this week ties in with today’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus says, “Ask, and you shall receive.”

For the last few weeks, I have been asking the Lord for a new fishing boat. I wanted several key features: A casting platform, capacity to seat up to six people, a live well and a decent motor. And, I wanted to stay within a price range of $5,000 to $6,000.

I thought I was close at the boat show last weekend, with a boat that seats up to five, with a casting platform and live well. The price was $4,600, but did not include a motor. A 15-horsepower outboard would push the price to $6,900.

I have a 15-horse Johnson, but the shaft wasn’t long enough. So, I would have to figure something else out. At least it was in my price range, I thought. So, I was leaning toward making the deal. On Tuesday morning, I told the Lord in my personal prayer time that I was thinking about getting this boat. But, if He had a better deal, please let me know within 24 hours or I would get this boat.

A colleague here at The Catholic Spirit has a nephew who works for Miller Marine in St. Cloud. As a last step, I decided to call him up and see if the marina had something. That was on Monday. On Tuesday, the day of my prayer, he called back and said they had a 16-foot Crestliner with a casting platform, live well, a capacity for six people and a 50-horse Evinrude. The marina’s asking price was $6,900, but he, without my asking, dropped the price to $5,400.

Sold! I was stunned to get such a deal. It was as though God knew exactly what I wanted and gave it to me. It was a wonderful answer to prayer and it will help me take today’s Scripture verse much more seriously. In fact, I’ll try applying it again right now:

Oh Lord, how about a moose hunt in Alaska?

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Characters to warm up to in a cold, cold climate

February 13, 2008

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“Light on Snow,”
by Anita Shreve

When as a reader you are drawn into a story, when you rush home from work to pick up reading where you left off, when you get out of bed and start reading while you are pouring your morning coffee half into the cup and half onto the kitchen counter, and when, in the end, you wish there were a few more chapters, that’s a good book.

“Light on Snow” is that kind of read.

Anita Shreve pulls us into the lives of Nicky and Robert Dillon, a daughter and father who find a baby in the snowy woods near their New Hampshire home. How they react — and how their reactions impact their lives — reveals not just a life-saving response for the infant but a chance to reclaim the lives they have run to the northern forest to escape.

Part crime story, part family-relationship story, part mystery, “Light on Snow” is so much more than any literary genre can describe, and it’s because Shreve makes us care about the characters. The Dillons are people we want to know – people we want to reach out to – people we want to do the right thing – for their own sake, for their own sanity, for their own saintliness. – bz

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If you like ‘Cold Case,’ you’ll like ‘Shadows’

February 12, 2008

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Shadows,
By Edna Buchanan

“Shadows” is a good, “Cold Case”-type detective story with interesting twists that go back to the Cilvil Rights Movement days of the 1960s.

Author Edna Buchanan has at least a half-dozen good novels to her name, and you’ve gotta love her writing.

When you get a chance, pick up a her non-fiction work, “The Corpse Had a Familiar Face.” It’s filled with stories Buchanan picked up as a crime reporter for The Miami Herald. At a journalism workshop I went to not long ago, one of the presenters said he makes it must reading for all new hires and interns, because it models the colorful, interesting writing he wants in his newspaper.

“Shadows” offers much the same as a work of fiction, and its plot is complicated enough to keep you turning the pages. – bz

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