Wednesday, February 18, 2004


One of the things I wanted to do during my February 6th visit to West Point, Nebraska was have coffee again with the boys at Bud's. Bud's is a bar and grill on Main Street with a big pot of coffee in the morning and good lunches at noon. I had met all the guys who have coffee at Bud's a couple times before, when I was in West Point this past October. Back then, on a Tuesday, they let me win the money in that game they play; then on Friday I had to give the money back when I ended up losing and was one of the guys who had to pay for coffee.

This time I wanted to talk to them about the nature of their group. I wanted to ask questions like: When and how did the group form? How does the group "accept" or "reject" members? How would you describe the usual topics of conversation? How does the group moderate disagreements or disputes? What would have to happen to make you stop coming to this group permanently?

The guys, however, were more interested in doing what they do than in illuminating me. "Why do you guys meet for coffee?" I asked.

"To get the news," one fellow said - and he meant it. They are talking about the death of an area school administrator who'd been killed in a car accident earlier in the week. "I found out who was driving the other car," someone said.

"To get the news" is one answer. "To hear the latest b.s." was another answer. "We all lie to each other," a fellow admitted.

"Why do they keep meeting?" I wondered.

"Habit," someone said.

"This is not a coffee club," someone else offered from down the table. "This is an information center."

"What if we'd call it an information technology center," another one asked. "With a name like that we could get a federal grant."

"What's your view on the gasoline tax," someone asked the group. The Nebraska legislature may be hiking the state tax on gasoline. One of the fellows whispered to me confidentially: "As long as those guys (he meant the Nebraska legislators) meet down there - you've got to hold your breath the whole time."

Over my shoulder I heard another man report: "They found that Florida girl who was kidnapped on video - she's dead."

That was news; that was enough news. The men ante'd up their quarters for the pot. First they played to see which three had to buy coffee for everyone. My host in West Point, Dick Lindberg, who ran the paper in town until he retired about twelve years ago, was one of the fellows who bought. Then they played to see who got the quarters in the pot. The winner was one of the other fellows who also had to pay for coffee, so most of the money went for a good cause.

No, I didn't get very much information for any essay on middle western coffee klatches. I neither won the pot nor had to buy. I came out even.

I suppose that's about where you want to end up with these guys, the half of them who are jokers, and the other half who set the jokers up.


FEBRUARY 17, 1998

Water seeks its own level. The path leads where it will. If you cannot believe what the morning light reveals, move on.

The world is round, not flat. We know, because the surveyors had to shave thin, sometimes, the western edges of township, the northern ones, to accommodate the shrinking distance as you go north. "To cross the continent more quickly," I tell people, "go to Canada where the world is not so wide." They don't believe me, of course.

Another damp morning. Water standing, water moving. "Unseasonably warm," they would say. "El Nino," again they would say. Moisture is beaded on the windshield of the pick-up. A grey, damp viewpoint of a day. This morning, the wood off the top of the pile would sizzle and sing all its way to flame.

In the country, the wind is bragging. "Huff and puff," I say, "and blow away the greyness. Otherwise, Brother Wind, you are nothing but a lot of air."

Thick and thicker the grey gets, as I head north towards Ripon. Thin and thinner the layer of snow on the fields. Green and greener the promise of spring. Girls should go home with who brung 'em.

On Watson Street in Ripon, I pass the house our friends used to live in. Their young daughter had been naughty. She's in college now - cripes! She had been naughty and was sent to her room. It was summer. The folks next door were having a party in their back yard. The grill was fired up. People were rattling the ice in their drinks, talking, waiting for burgers. The little girl stuck her head out of the window of her room: "Help me, neighbors," she shouted. "Get me out of here!"

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