June 22, 2017

The Right Stuff Hunt and Peck Style

The woman with a slight hint of amusement in her eye was making her theatrical pitch about the life of James Curwood when I came in late and sat in the back of the room. It was a small room, meaning I was sitting dead center and second row from the front. She couldn’t ignore the increase in attendance. My presence added another two bucks to the funds for keeping the Curwoood memory alive. Five people, two bucks apiece, ten bucks total. Who the hell needs New York, or a calculator, when you have Owosso next exit on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Thomas Mallon climbed the same stairs and spotted the Curwood typewriter in June of 1992 for his American Spectator essay Why, O Why, O Why O, Do They Ever Leave Owosso? I’m guessing the same woman greeting tourists back then was in front of me now, explaining James Curwood’s lucky escape from a grizzly bear that led to his novel The Grizzly King and movie The Bear, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Time movie critic Richard Schickel says it right there on the first page that The Bear was a wondrous movie. Annaud says in the intro that The Grizzly King is a wonderful book. Overcome with loyalty for the local tribe, I gave the woman ten bucks as donation for the Great Cause and left armed with The Grizzly King for tougher streets than Owosso.

Thirty miles east of the Curwood Castle reminds me of a passage from Jack London’s Call of the Wild. The stolen sign championing the home of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram has been recovered and placed near the door of the Berston gym where Flint’s newest Olympian, female boxer Claressa Shields, trains for the gold.

From Call of the Wild:

“He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once and for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of the primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect, and while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused.”

They watch me here without a glint of humor in the eye. Driving past all the dreary liquor stores, I can see the heads turn, profiling me as a stranger in the neighborhood. There are a few churches that look related to the liquor stores, called party stores around here. No one seems to be in a partying mood. Life does take on that fiercer aspect, as Jack London wrote in Call of the Wild. Another one of my favorites, Graham Greene, must have his whiskey priest hiding out in one of these churches. It’s a lot easier going in and taking pictures of the Curwood Castle than the Berston gym. I had my car stolen one time around here and like Buck in Call of the Wild, the pain from the club tends to get a rise out of your own cunning nature. A friend had his car stolen and chased the guys through the streets in his wife’s company vehicle. He got his car before wrecking the company vehicle. It also helped that he was good at karate and benched pressed 400 pounds.

Even the priests here are tough survivors. Hank Crumpton, the CIA guy with the new book out about life in the Clandestine Service, marveled that the religious groups working in Afghanistan seemed to show more balls than the CIA at times. I can believe it. I know a few myself that go into the most dangerous places in the world, and do it with a glint of humor in their eyes. They learned it here, on the hard streets. There are some others running like the whiskey priest.

Somewhere between here and the Curwood Castle, or maybe Afghanistan, is the sweet spot between man and nature. The hunt and peck method for it can make you feel a little  like the whiskey priest. My mapping skills barely get me into my driveway, never mind the CIA, along with a million other reasons. I’ve always felt confession was extremely overrated, both for whiskey priests and the CIA.

Hunt and peck has its merits. The effort can be good for you. There are some important observations that can be learned off the beaten path. One time two of us were sitting across from an applicant. She had some defeats on her record. The other guy was thinking why she got knocked down. I was thinking why she got up. She was hired.

“The greatest thrill of the hunt is not in killing,” Curwood wrote, “but in letting one live.”

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