Tales From Normal, Mn.--FICTION

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Tales from Normal, Mn. Headline News---FICTION

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dateline Normal: "The Magic of Running the Uncontested Race-------FICTION

Recently, to get away from the stress of the holiday shopping, I headed up that long and winding road to my favorite getaway town, up just south of Garrison, Mn., just east of Lake Woebegone, yes, you guessed it----- Normal, Mn..

I had been reading about all the national news and debate in Iowa and New Hampshire and have noticed that as the voting time comes near, the debates have become very heated. Lots of candidates sure have created a lot of controversy---every WRINKLE has been examined---especially on the candidates faces. Even some of the news pundits have feared that some of the candidates might AGE during the campaign, or even during their term of office. Such heartfelt concern. Such compassion.

I had left a little early on Friday and hence arrived in Normal a little ahead of schedule, and picked up a copy of the Garrison weekly paper, The Garrison Fish Tales. I noticed in the paper that all of the office races for towns were just listed and noticed that every candidate was running "uncontested". Every single one.

After I had met Herman at the Hideaway Lounge, in our usual spot, right under the 30 point buck on the south end of the spacious lounge, I just blurted it out:

"Herman, how come all the political races up here are "uncontested." How could that be? Is not there ANY open debate about crucial issues up here? Talk to me."

Herman let out a huge bellylaugh:

"Shucks, Wolfman (that's what he always called me), up here we are in God's Country. All the races are "uncontested." It's just the natural way. After all. The guys and gals seem pretty rough and tough------ but deep down, they are real sensitive types. An open and direct discussion might hurt their feelings. We just vote quietly and ....we vote from our pocketbooks...."

"What?", I exclaimed. I have never heard of such a thing. And furthermore, "What does "vote from your pockebooks" mean?"

Herman went on. "That is the simplest of all." Then he picked up one of the many blank yellow legal pads that he had stuffed in his law satchel, and put it on the bar.

"Ya just draw a line right down the middle here," he said. "On one side its marked "IN" and the other "OUT". If the candidate would result in money in, the answer is YES, and if the result would be out, the answer is NO. It is called "self interest." Up here in God's country, it ain't no fancy debate. It's just real down home logic. Money logic. It's just the natural law. "

"And further more," Herman went on---"this ain't no OHIO. We don't have no new fangled electronic voting booths that take four years and extensive legal action to get things even more confused. We just vote on little slips of paper---in ball point pen of course, and then count em up. Real simple."

WOW. I sure am glad to be back in good old Wisconsin. Where we have contested elections. Where we have open debate. Where we have more than little yellow legal pads for analysis. Where we do not have electronic voting, even if we do have PAC telephone robots.

It sure is good to be back home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"The Normal Mutual Bank"---Fiction

Ed. note. This is one of a long series of fictional tales of a land up in northern Minnesota near the Land of Lake Woebegon. These tales are available on cd and are shipped in a brown paper cover, clearly marked, FICTION. They are also available by Podcast RSS feed. Any resemblance to reality is purely accidental.)

Usually I never enter the state of Minnesota after Thanksgiving, due to the frigid weather. However, with the wonderful weather warm up, on Monday, I headed up that long and winding road, Hwy 10, up to my favorite town just this side of Garrison, Mn.---- Normal, Minnesota.

Over the long drive I had a chance to review in my mind the many meetings recently....and.... I called ahead on my cellphone and told Herman, my old country boy lawyer friend to meet me at the coffee shop---right across from the bait shop---for a cup of coffee. I needed his counsel.

After settling into the comfy booth, I just got right to the point---"Herman, back in Wisconsin, banking seems like it is so complicated. There are Redevelopment Authorities, Economic Development committees, Banks, financial advisors, and more. This reminds me of the time that I went on a long bus trip with the school kids to New York. Afterwards, I told my youngest that it was good we could share some of the experience of high school. She looked at me and smiled. "Well, just because you were there does not mean you are well informed." Yes. It dawned on me that I did not really understand a lot of what happened. But then, all the guys were wearing those cool shades like the blues brothers==== that made it pretty mysterious to an old guy like me. Herman interrupted-----

"Get to the point, Wolfman....you digress.."I went on, "Anyway.....in the recent banking meetings here in Evansville...I have felt likewise. That there were a few things I did not understand. Yes I had the audio. Yes, I had the video. Beautiful color. But still....there was just a little something that I was missing in the "understanding" area."What is it like up here in God's country Herman. How do you do banking in Normal?"

Herman smiled. "Up here we keep it real simple. We have "Mutual" Banking." Then he let out one of those chortling laughs.

" 'I still do not understand, Herman. I know that there used to be "mutual" insurance companies back in the 60's and 70's in Wisconsin, but most of them were converted into "stock" companies. "Mutual" companies are a real dinasour." There is no such thing as mutual banking anymore."

Herman just laughed. "Wolfman,(that's what he always called me)----- you are dead wrong. Up here in God's country we take our "Mutual" companies REAL seriously. It's all about committment. "Mutual" ranks right up there with fishing and whiskey.

In a mutual company, the "customer" is the owner. Up here----- we take our religion and our "mutual" banking real literal like."

" I still do not understand, I wondered aloud. How does this make a difference?"

Herman grew impatient, "It makes ALL the difference in the world, Wolfman. Up here we just walk in and TELL the banker what the terms are. We are the boss. It is just real natural. Real simple. It's really the natural law up here in God's country.

Thank goodness I'm back in good old Wisconsin. Where we don't have any "mutual" banking. Where customers are customers, and bankers are bankers. Alleluia.

Dateline Normal School District: GTT Program in Normal Gets Award---FICTION

Well it has been a real hectic Christmas season this year. Folks have been gathering their cash up and waiting, and waiting, and waiting to shop after Christmas. Sales have been good for books, and bath salts and lotion. And yes, sales of 'The Tales From Normal" have exceeded expectations.

After pondering all the minutes of our local school district, and watching the budget stress in our fair state----and seeing the cuts being made---yes there have been BOLD cuts to eliminate MATH competitions in Janesville, BOLD cuts in Edgerton to AP programs in Chemistry and Physics---cut to one semester---just cut enough to ensure enrollment but not success in passing the AP exam. And first on the BOLD cuts list has been the GT programs for the brightest of our students. Yes. It is kind of like cutting the tallest basketball players from the basketball team----after all. Gotta make things fair for everybody.

As I wondered about these matters, as I often do, I just picked up the phone and called my old friend Herman, the countryboy lawyer from Normal, Mn.. Herman is a distinguished member of the Normal School Board, and yes a practicing lawyer, specializing in real estate. Well. Mostly recreational real estate. Fishing shacks mostly. I knew that Minnesota was real high on identification of talented students, so I just plain out asked him:

"Herman----what do you folks have in the way of GT education up there in Normal, Mn.?

Herman let out a huge bellylaugh.

"Shucks Wolfman, we are way beyond the GT programs. We have GTT programs. The problem with the GT programs up here in Normal---well there were several problems. First, all the kids up here in Normal, Mn.are gifted. Everyone is on the National Honor Society. It's just the natural way up here in God's country. Secondly, we got to the point that all we had was GT staff and no money left to administer any programs. It was a real fiscal problem."

"What ever did you do, Herman?" I asked.

"It was real simple, Wolfman (that's what he always called me.) We changed it to the GTT Program----The Grand Travel Tour Program. Each year we take as many kids as possible on a tour of countries abroad, with their teachers of course. We simply do not believe that any "virtual" tour is comparable to the "enriched" hands on real life experience of world travel. "

I was totally shocked. "You mean every child is enriched by world travel?"

"YUP" Herman chortled. "If they wern't Gifted before the world trip.....they sure was gifted AFTER they got back."

"How could you call it "classroom instruction" I asked?"

"That is the breakthrough," Herman explained. In reviewing the "virtual school" concept we discovered that by a slight modification of the definition of "classroom" we could make any flightplan comply---and presto the Travel Tour program was born."

"WOW" I gasped. That is stunning. " "And what about the frequent flier miles, I asked?"

"Those extra frequent flier miles are simply given to the teachers. Our accounting system just did not have a category for em. It works out real handy."

Thank goodness I am back in good old Wisconsin. Where our schools still have GT programs and not GTT programs, even if the GT programs have only the staff and no money to dispense.. ...... And where we do NOT confuse the junket expenses with enriched educational programs.

What a relief.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dateline Normal, MN.: "Book of Minutes" wins Best Fiction Award

Well, it has been a long week....with the weather and all...the slick roads...the heavy lifting of snow shoveling....and I thought it would be good to get out on the road, the freeways should be better I thought....and head up to the good old frozen tundra for some old time ice fishing. This weekend was the annual fishing contest in Normal,Mn, that famous fishing town just south of Garrison, and just west of the land of Lake Woebegone.

After I checked into the Spruce Goose Motel, the only motel with stuffed animals on every wall, and the pull down king size beds in the wall, and of course with the mini-dove bars in the ash trays for a touch of upscale cache---I decided to take a short nap--too many hours of following snow plows and stopping in gas stations with sub par coffee had left me weary.

As I reached over to the nightstand, I noticed a book there with the usual sacred red cover, and the faint picture of a sundial on the cover..... I wondered..... I usually just dismiss the usual Gideon Bible thing, but wondered about the cover. The sundial just got my interest. Then I noticed the title: "The Book of Minutes".

I was familiar with the Book of Virtues, the Book of Psalms, the Book of Noah, etc, etc, but never...."The Book of Minutes." As I browsed through the nicely arranged book, I saw the art of Herman at work. All the minutes of the meetings of Normal, Mn. were in perfect order. And, there was even blank pages....I assumed that this was for folks to make notes in the margin for questions to ask. After reflection on the deeper meaning of the minutes.

After a brief nap, I headed over to meet Herman at the Hideaway Lounge. After slipping into the empty spot at the bar, i just asked him directly, before I could forget:

"Herman, "What is with the Book of Minutes, anyway?"

"Shucks Wolfman,(that's what he always called me)the book of minutes is what we call "The Good Book" up here in God's Country. It has all the doins of City Hall and such. And folks read it before going to bed at night---it is guaranteed to make them real sleepy...and fast."

"I understand the minutes thing, Herman. It's just the blank pages that I do not get. What is up?"

Herman let out a huge bellylaugh:

"Shucks. Those are the minutes that they forget to write. But the way it is written, it looks like it is spots for folks to write their own minutes. It could be that too. We leave it kinda vague on it. Still. Half of the book is blank. We intended it that way. It lets the folks use their imagination about what actually happened."

"What ever happened to the Gideon Bibles?" I asked.

"Shucks, Wolfman---we don't need them anymore. And besides. Ya can't write in them. " And the best part is that we have won a National Fiction award for the Book of Minutes. The Critics just loved it."

Well after a great weekend, I headed back to good old Wisconsin. Where we don't have any fiction in our Book of Minutes. Where even if we could have the Book of Minutes in the nightstand of each room in our brand new hotel....we would still have the Gideon Bible right beside it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dateline Normal: "Big D"---"The Pearl Harbor Strategy_---FICTION

Dateline Normal: Big "D"; or "The Pearl Harbor Strategy"--FICTION

(Ed.note. This is one of a long series of fictional sketches from a land in Northern Minnesota, just south of Garrison, called Normal, Mn. These sketches are available on Cd and are shipped in a brown paper wrapper clearly marked, FICTION. Any resemblence between this land of make believe and reality is purely accidental.)

This weekend, anticipating the big Packers-Vikings football game, all the relatives headed up to the cabin for the last time to savor a moment in Normal, Mn.. Mark, Chris and Patrick all gathered with me at the little diner across from the bait shop for a little pre-function prior to the game. I introduced them to my old friend Herman, the countryboy lawyer, and a member of the Normal School Board. Both Mark and Chris, being business owners, hit it off instantly with Herman, cause of his crazy legal theories and wild sense of humor.

Mark began his analysis of the upcoming Packer game with a long discussion on "Big D" and that it was very unclear who had the best defense, the Packers or the Vikings. The anlaysis was very detailed. Mark had the theory that defense was what won football games. Yes, even with explosive passing teams like the Vikings and Packers.

Herman listened for a long while. I could tell he was pondering something deep.

"What are your thoughts on this, Herman?" I asked.

"Up here in God's Country, "Big D" has a deeper meaning. It stands for DEBT. "

I just then felt a little remiss, because I had not explained to the guys that Herman had been in a long battle as a member of the Normal School board that had added lots of debt to their balance sheet, and in fact had vaporized their fund balance---an act that had caused an uproar of community anger. I took a moment to give the boys a little background.

"Man, up here we are called to lead. It's called the big D----DOMINATION. I know the folks do not want to follow, but ....well....that's just their role. I am going to dominate. It's just my natural way. I just use the Pearl Harbor Strategy. We load em up with debt, take all the cash and then tell them that we need them to bust the levy limit. It's just a wonderful strategy. It's sheer moxie."

"You mean that you deliberatley create disaster in order to lead your community?" Mark asked.

"YES. YES. That IS the plan exactly," Herman said with wild enthusiasm. "It is the ultimate management tool. It is asymetrical warfare.

Mark was just stunned. He was a master of leverage. Just the thought of disaster as a management tool was a shock to his senses---- still, I could tell the "Domination" part was pretty attractive.

I had thought that Big D was about football. I had not thought of the deeper meaning. Like big DEBT, big DOMINATION, or big DISASTER.

At half time, after Favre has thrown a couple of wonderful passes, I had the feeling that the Packers would have their way. I knew how ugly Herman could get when the Vikings could not dominate, so I headed down Hwy 10 for the long drive home.

Thank goodness I am back in good old Wisconsin. Where big "D" is about DEFENSE. Where DEBT, DOMINATION and DISASTER are NOT the strategy of our school boards. And where our favorite colors are the green and gold---not purple.

Dateline Normal: "Administrator Estates"---a Thanksgiving Day Tale

Dateline Normal: "Administrator Estates"------a Thanksgiving Tale

(Ed. note. The following is one a long series of sketches that are also available on Cd and mailed out in a brown paper wrapper, clearly maked FICTION. Any resemblence between these tales and reality is purely accidental.)

Some years back we made a firm and fast rule that we would make our last trip to Minnesota on Thanksgiving. Too many ice and snow problems. So----yesterday--on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I joined the millions and headed up HWY 94 and then at the Twin Cities it was bumper to bumper as I headed north to that famous land near the land of Lake Woebegone---the land of Normal, Mn.

This morning, Thanksgiving, I headed over to the local diner to get a bit of Thanksgiving turkey and chat with all the locals. There I met with Herman, my countryboy lawyer friend, who in additon to being on the Normal School Board, was a celebrated lawyer in the northern parts.

I mentioned to him that we in Evansville were hiring a new administrator. We had two excellent administrators but both had only served two or three years and then taken other jobs but remained in the town to raise their families. I just wondered how things were done in Normal.

"Shucks Wolfman, (that's what he always called me) we have plenty of administrative talent up here in Normal."

"How could that be?" I asked. It is so isolated up here and there is so little to do. How could you attract fine talent?"

"It's real simple," Herman replied. It's called "Chains of Love." We lure them with the benefits. "

"I still do not understand," I said.

"We do the real natural thing up here in God's country. Once they have served three years, we give them a paid for home, tax free in a special subsection called "Administrator Estates." Shucks, it's got a club house, a beautiful park---even a golf course is within walking distance."

"That must be very costly," I wondered.

"Not really." Herman quipped. "Ya gotta think strategically, Wolfman. Once they have served and have the wonderful home, they continue to live here and serve on committees, budget and such. Shucks, we have some of the finest talent in Minnesota right here in this little northern burg. So------it is very cost effective."

Then Herman pointed to the wall where there was a large picture of the main lodge of Administrator Estates. It had that A-frame look but was in very upscale style---almost like Grandview Lodge of Minnesota.

"It looks wonderful," I said. "But does it have a Starbucks?"

"Shucks no, Wolfman. Up here they are so excited by the wonderful homes, the career and the family life that they don't need any fancy coffee. Just simple Maxwell House, lots of sugar and whipped cream."----in the dark blue Viking mug of course.

All the "Normal" benefits of service are just our way of saying Thank You for all their fine work. It's kinda like Thanksgiving."

Tomorrow I have to head back to good old Wisconisn. Where we have some Starbucks and fancy coffee and such. Still. I had to admit that the concept of Thanksgiving as Herman and the folks in Normal did it was pretty nice. I just wondered what the locals would think of "The Administrator Estates" concept. There was 8 1/2 years to think about it till a new subsection could be platted. That seemed plenty of time to plan properly.

(Happy Thanksgiving to all those who have served or are serving our community.)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dateline Normal: Earplugs out of stock in Normal; "To Hear....but not to Listen"----FICTION

After a hectic weekend near Chicago midst the snow and sleet, I thought a little break was in order. I headed on up that long and winding road up Hwy 10 north of the Twin Cities to my favorite getaway town, Normal, Mn. The regular tourists have long gone as the conditions are not passable for anyone but the regular hardy boys---the regulars that ice fish right through the winter.

After checking in to the Spruce Goose Motel, the one with the pull down king size beds, with the stuffed animals on every wall, and yes, with the small mini-dove bars in the ash tray to give it a touch of upscale class.....I headed on over to the law office of my countryboy lawyer friend, Herman.

Before I got to the office, though, I headed into the local five and dime store to pick up some earplugs---something that I have become accustomed to needing for stays in small town motels. Now that I was ageing slightly, I needed a full nights sleep uninteruppted by neighbors.

"We are all out of earplugs!" the petite sales girl said. 'All the local politicos have cornered the market. We will not have any more till the first of the year."

Just a little bewildered, I headed over to Herman's office.

"Herman," I said, what the heck is going on with the earplugs. There has been a run on them. Next to big screen tv, it is number two in sales in Christmas retail trade up here. "

Herman let out a large bellylaugh.

"It's real simple, Wolfman (that's what he always called me.) The local politicans have promised the voters that they will listen. However, there are some real fine political plums that they know the citizens do not want. They want to be honest. To keep their word. The only way they can honestly say they have NOT heard the voters protest, is to put earplugs in their ears. It is a real tough minded thing."

WOW. I was totally stunned. Voluntary Deafness is a rare political strategy.

I had a rough weekend with very little sleep. Noisy neighbors. I sure was glad to get back in our fair city. Where we still have earplugs on sale at our stores. Where politicians do not wear ear plugs so they do not hear the voters opinions. and where due to the toughness of character, voluntary deafness is a trained skill and does not require earplugs.