During my tenth and eleventh grade, my life started to change. I know some of it was just growing up, getting independent and being rebellious. But by the time I was a senior in high school and in college there was a lot more going on.
Learning about evolution, the Big Bang and an accidental, purposeless formation of life and the universe in high school and college made me doubt the existence of God, or at least any active role of God in my life.
I developed a lifestyle that reflected my newly developed agnosticism. Unlike many people, I made a conscious effort to live my life as if there was nothing more than this life. I needed to make the most of my time for myself because nothing and no one else really mattered. I became a heavy party drinker, a thief (and not just a petty thief), a liar and cheater, a con artist, and financed drug deals. I even contemplated using my intelligence and education to invent ways to covertly sterilize people whom I saw as “undesirables”, those who were a waste of resources in my view.
I didn’t drink at all during the swimming season because I would get up early in the morning, go to swimming practice, go to school, then back to swimming practice, go home, eat supper and go to bed. On the weekends I would go cross country skiing on the river or drive the horses or would be doing something with my family. But when I wasn’t swimming, I got into a lifestyle of partying and drinking with my friends.
Nonetheless, I was a good student, but it was exciting to burglarize the school; to steal tests, and do all things that contravene the rules. And then I decided I did not want to live with my parents, so I stole lumber, tar, and tar paper and built a hill cabin covered in dirt and sod (my Hobbit hole). I never did drugs (I wanted to be the beneficiary of the drug market, not a victim) or sold drugs myself, but I helped finance drug deals; putting up the money to buy the drugs in bulk so that my “friends” could split it up and sell smaller amounts for a large profit, sharing that profit with me. Again, I was careful to not be involved at any level to endanger my health or my life – literally.
I didn’t get caught cheating or stealing all the material to build the Hobbit Hill in the woods. But I did get caught with my girlfriend one night when her parents were out of town. I got sentenced, by my parents, to spend the summer in a Siberian Gulag. Actually, I lived and worked with my brother who was working as a cowboy in North Dakota herding and inseminating cattle. We stayed in a small camper with nobody else in sight for miles around.
The two “Js”…
I was very shy about girls. I liked a girl named Jody. When I finally got up the nerve to ask her out, I set up a double date with a friend of mine and his girlfriend. We didn’t have anything in particular in mind to do. Since I thought drinking was the way to have fun and reduce my inhibition, I had a couple of beers before I picked Jody up. Then continued to drink as we drove around. I was not driving.
It was winter at the time and we ended up going to the private pool. The pool was half drained, frozen and had logs in it to take up the expansion of the ice. I went out on the ice and promptly broke through going up to my waist in water. A good first impression! I had a couple of more similar dates with Jean. I’m a little fuzzy on what happen next. Apparently Jody’s sister Joan liked me. Jody and Joan had a fight over me. Joan apparently won, and I ended up with Joan as my girlfriend. It’s not all that surprising considering my stellar dates with Jody. I was originally attracted to Jody but I got along with Joan very well. She was easy to talk to and be around. We became very good friends. We were boyfriend and girlfriend but we both remained virgins.
Not that I didn’t want to have sex with Joan but I had plans for my future. I was going to become a Veterinarian and I could not risk getting a girl pregnant. I enjoyed being with Joan. We had a lot of fun together but I was not planning on staying with her. I have a saying that I coined. “Girls will marry men that they would not date and boys will date girls they would not marry”. It’s one of those things that make boys and girls different. Girls tend to take relationships more seriously than boys do. At the time I did not understand that since I never had any intention to have a long term relationship. I did not realize that I was being cruel. I have tried to teach my boys not to do what I did.
Joan and I went on a double date with Jody and her new boyfriend to Winnipeg. We left early in the morning and went to the Winnipeg Zoo. I think we did a few other things in Winnipeg also but can’t remember. Joan told me later that Jody was surprised that I seemed like a different person than the boy she went on a few dates with. The reason that I was a different person was that I wasn’t drinking.
At the beginning of the summer of my senior year, Joan‘s parents were out of town. Tom’s girlfriend Candy was staying with Joan. Tom was sleeping out in a camper in his yard. I called Tom and we planned to sneak out and meet at Joan‘s that night. I snuck out of my house and Tom slipped away from his camper. We meet at Joan‘s late that night we talked late into the night and Tom went to bed with Candy and I went to bed with Joan. We didn’t have sex. We made out some and then fell asleep. About four o’clock in the morning we heard a door open and voices. Joan‘s Dad was the manager of a Firestone Tire store, my friend Rob’s dad was one of his employees. The store had been burglarized and robbed. Joan‘s Parents and Judy were visiting relatives in Bismarck, ND. They got the call earlier in the night and headed straight back to Thief River driving through the night. We were caught in a bedroom with small high windows down the end of a hall. I quickly got dressed and we tried to make it down the hall. The first person we ran into was Judy, her eyes were as big as saucers when she saw us. Right behind her was her dad. My knees were shaking so hard that I could hardly stand up, I actually had to kind of brace myself against the wall. After a very intense exchange with Joan‘s father – Joan was doing everything she could to keep him from hurting me – I told him that nothing happened that could not happen in a movie theater. Joan‘s dad told us that his daughter was going to see a doctor first thing in the morning for an exam to find out if we were telling the truth.
She did see a doctor first thing the next day. My parents were called. They didn’t know that I wasn’t home. While Joan was getting her exam and interrogation from an M.D., my parents were arranging for me to go to a gulag in Siberia, actually to my uncle’s ranch in North Dakota to work with my brother.
The alkali flats where I was being sent to, are just as remote as any gulag in Siberia. My brother loved working there and riding his horse, chasing and inseminating cattle all summer. But for me it was a harsh sentence, even though it did turn out to be quite an adventure.
To make things worse my brother usually stayed with our Grandma Thorsgard in Northwood, so he, at least, got to go into town. My dad thought that it would be too much for both of us to stay with our Grandma, so he bought a small camper for us to live in, on the flats, with the cattle, away from town, away from any living people, with nothing to do but ride horses and chase cattle.
At the end of the summer I came back to Thief River Falls. Joan‘s examination and interrogation came out in our favor, attesting to our truthfulness. However, the fact still remained that I had been caught in Joan‘s home in bed with her. I asked Joan‘s dad if I could date Joan again. He agreed to let us date but only with supervision. Then he added, “And no movies.”
If you are wondering what happened to Tom, well, the room he stayed had larger windows and with the distraction of my apprehension, he had the opportunity to slip away. He ran 4 miles barefoot and was in his camper, in his yard when the sun rose. His Letterman jacket and his shoes were on a chair in the living room three feet from where Joan‘s dad was standing when he discovered me in his house. Candy watched that jacket and shoes nervously until everyone left the room. Then she was able to conceal them.
It seemed like Joan’s parents soon forgot the part about us being supervised. We didn’t go to any movies but we did get into mischief. Joan’s parents seemed to be out or traveling often. One Saturday afternoon we tried to set up a small still in Joan’s bathroom. I had a large glass reflux tube.
A reflux tube is a tube used to separate liquids with different boiling points. It is a tube inside a tube. The inside has either spirals or has bulges in and out. The tube’s diameter gets bigger and smaller repetitively. The tube on the outside surrounds the inside tube and has a inlet at the bottom and outlet at the top. Water is run through the outside tube to cool off the inside tube.
The reflux tube is fastened to the top of the container that boils the liquids. The liquids in the boiling container are brought to a temperature just above the boiling point of the lower boiling point liquid. The lower boiling point liquid will vaporize. Some of the higher boiling point liquid will vaporize as well. The objective of the reflux tube allow the lower boiling point liquid to escape through the tube but cooling off the higher boiling point liquid separating it and allowing it to run back down the sides of the tube into the container of boiling liquids.
I understood the concept of using heat and reflux to separate alcohol from water. I was not as knowledgeable about glassware. I had made some moonshine mash in one-gallon glass jugs. I didn’t have any Pyrex containers and I didn’t know that you couldn’t just put a glass jug on a hotplate. So, that is what I did. I put the glass jug of moonshine mash on the hotplate with the reflux tube on top with surgical tubing attached from the water faucet to the bottom of the reflux tube and surgical tubing running from the top of the tube to the sink. As soon as the hotplate heated up the bottom of the jug burst. It wasn’t a BIG explosion, but it was an explosion nevertheless; we ended up with a gallon of hot moonshine mash spread all over the bathroom.
I think it was during the Christmas Holidays that Rob, Dana and I went on an excursion. It was definitely winter and we obviously had a few days off from school. We stayed at Rob’s hunting shack. We were driving my dad’s pick-up. We had disconnected the speedometer, which also disconnected the odometer, because my dad would check the mileage on the pick-up.
The snow was very deep that year and we had to walk a mile along a snowmobile track to get to Rob’s cabin. Three nights in a row we went out partying. We would come back to Rob’s cabin as the sun was coming up. Stumbling along the packed snow of snowmobile track. If we swerved off the snowmobile track we would find ourselves floundering in chest-deep snow. We would get some food and go to bed.
Later that day we got up and ate again, and head out for another night of partying as the sun went down. I remember that at least one of those nights the party was at the Joan’s house, (so much for supervision!). Like I said before it seemed like Joan’s parents were gone a lot.
Back to my exile in North Dakota…
I do have fond memories of playing cowboy the summer I was sentenced to solitary confinement (with my brother) in the vastness of North Dakota.
It was the summer of 1976. 7up had a promotion that if you collected all fifty 7up cans they would make a picture of Uncle Sam. I collected all 50 cans and had them stacked up in our trailer.
My brother’s horse was an amazing cutting horse while my brother was an amazing rider. He could also do a lot of tricks on his horse. The two of them together became a well-oiled cow-corralling machine. My horse, Nellie loved to chase cows but had no idea where they were supposed to end up. I became a better rider and could run up from behind Nellie and vault off her rear into the saddle; I could pick up my cowboy hat off the ground at a full gallop, but Nellie and I could not do a fraction of the things Knute and Ali did together.
Once, though, I did see them have a spectacular crash. Early in the summer, the cow would go running to the corral as we came charging on our horses hooting and hollering. As the summer went on, the cows would get less and less skittish and at the end of the summer we would charge across the tail end of the herd moving them forward but only far enough to get out of our way. We would get to one end of the herd and the other end would have stopped to eat more grass until we came charging back at them to move them forward again.
One cow had stopped to eat, and payed no attention to Knute and Ali barreling down on them. Ali was not to be ignored. He ran full speed into the cow. Knute, cow and horse went tumbling and rolling across the prairie. Luckily all three escaped with only bruises. The next time that cow saw Ali coming at her, believe me, she moved.
We did go into town a few times. Since Knute was inseminating cows he had tanks of liquid nitrogen (-321 F) in which to keep the semen. One time we went to a restaurant in town. But before going in, we put our hats on the ground, poured liquid nitrogen on them. When liquid nitrogen is exposed to warm air it quickly evaporates and freezes any moisture in the air making a dense heavy fog. We put our hats back on and walked into the restaurant enveloped in a thick fog flowing off our hats onto the floor.
While herding cows I saw a young golden eagle try to take a huge Jack rabbit. The young eagle swept down, grabbed the rabbit but the rabbit was too big and turned on the eagle and gave it a rapid machine gun thumping with its back feet. The rabbit ran away, the young eagle stood up, shook itself off, stood for a while and then flew away quite frustrated.
I also got to see a UFO. Knute and I were heat-detecting in the evening during a thunder storm. We saw this bright glowing ball slowly floating in the distance. We rode our horses about a mile until we could see that the mysterious object was a ball of lightning or supercharged air that was floating along a set of huge power lines. Beautiful sight!
NEXT TIME – RUNNING OUT OF GAS THREE TIMES & A CON ARTIST IN ACTION – CH 9