17 Cents Per Gallon

Shared events are recorded differently in individual memories. No one in my family recalls my mother sending her two sons, ages 7 and 6, solo on a train from Portland, Maine to Boston. Collective amnesia has erased the recollection of our family watching brown bears dine on garbage at the town dump. I am our final retainer of lost episodes in time and the rest of the clan shake their head disapproving of my version of history. They may be right, but I can clearly recall the Biddeford, Maine gas war of 1958.

Two gas stations were located at the foot of the Biddeford-Saco bridge on Route 1.

During the summer months the road was heavily trafficked by vacationers to the Pine Tree State and the two station owners offered prices below the cost of the gas, hoping to bankrupt his rival. My father and many other drivers were aware of this competition and no one leaving Portland bought gas until crossing the Saco River.

Both stations were manned by slick hot-rodders. Window were wiped by cheerleaders. A free glass accompanied each fill-up.

The price dropped from 25 cents per gallon to 21 to 18 and finally 17 cents per gallon. My father detoured south from a day at Old Orchard Beach to top off the tank. The greasy-haired attendants were haggard from the onslaught of ‘fill it up’. The cheerleaders’ outfits were torn to rags by the sharp edges of cars. Once the tank was filled, our Ford station wagon left the pump headed north to Falmouth Foresides.

The two stations’ gas war of annihilation threatened the entire gasoline structure of New England. Their respective suppliers ordered the rival station owners to agree to a truce. A price was agreed upon by all concerned parties and I’ve never seen 17 per gallon again in my life.

I’ve told this story several times at BBQs on Watchic Pond. My brother-in-law wanted to believe me, but 17 cents was beyond his comprehension. My uncle, a long-time Maine native, guffawed at the idea of 17 cents gas in 1958, but retracted his comment, saying, “When I was issued my license in 1939, gas was 10 cents a gallon.”

“I was only $1.11 in 1994.” My brother-in-law had a good head for numbers. He had been an accountant for the manufacturers of Topsiders before becoming a corporate head-hunter.

“And it’s only 6 cents in Venezuela.” The leader of that country was keeping it low for the people.

“6 cents a gallon.” My brother-in-law shook his head. “Now that’s cheap.”

And all thanks to the triumph of socialism over capitalism.

The the victors go the spoils.

ps Gas under Trump has dropped to $2.33 on the national average, but I’ve seen it $2.79 on the highway to Greenwich and $2.79 isn’t $2.33 or 17 cents.

Not by a long shot..

Bear Tracks


1988 was a dry year in the West. Fires broke out on both sides of the Rockies. None was more dramatic than those in Yellowstone. The National Park was torched by the union of small conflagrations that merged into a ravaging fireball. Management took a course of inaction under the direction of President George Bush.

his thought.

“Let nature take its course.”

A third of the park was cinderized before the Bush administration understood the seriousness of the infernos. Wikpedia reported that the fires ended up as beneficial, however when Ms Carolina and I drove through the park in the Spring of 1994, huge swathes of the volcanic plateau were charred from horizon to horizon. Ashes clogged the streams. Burnt bones laid as humps on the river banks. The fire had been a disaster.

Simple and pure.

Not matter how the GOP played it against the wall.

Ms Carolina and I were happy either way. The torched trees allowed motorists unrestricted vistas. Bison cruised the road. Elk patrolled the meadows. Some sections of the park were untouched by flames. We hiked along a river. I was following tracks.

Ms. Carolina asked what I was doing.

I told her.

“You idiot.” She rarely had a bad word for me. “Those are bear tracks.”

“Yeah.” I knew that.

“It’s spring. Bears are hungry. How fast can you run?”

“A little fast.” My best time at the 440 had been 55 seconds. A little better than 15 MPH.

“A little fast ain’t good enough.” Ms Carolina had been reared in New Jersey. Her accent was 100% southern. She scanned the riverbanks. “They run 30 MPH.”

“So what are you telling me?” I needed help.

“That we return as quietly as possible to the car.”

She had a good heart and a smart mind.

It was too bad that she was married, but we can’t have everything. Only what we have for the moment and I thank the stars for the time.

BEAR MEAT by Peter Nolan Smith

In August of 1987 Pullie Fallen, Grieg Packer, and I left New York City for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The art professor, literary agent, and I took turns driving Pullie’s F-150 pickup truck through the sweltering heat of the Midwest. None of us broke the speed limit, since Pullie had two unlicensed guns under his seat. He used the .45 and .38 to blast his steel sculptures. The bullet-holed pieces sold well in the South.

We stopped at the Great Bear Dunes to visit mutual friends from Florida. Vonelli’s sister had a beach shack overlooking Lake Michigan. The art dealer took us out on a ChrisCraft. The vast expanse of water rivaled Conan the Barbarian’s Vilayet Sea. Three days passed riding dirt bikes off the dunes and drinking beer. Vonelli was heading back to Paris. The auctions at the Hotel Drouot opened in less than two weeks.

We said our goodbyes at noon. The Vonelli clan was heading south to Florida. Pullie pointed the pick-up north. I sat in the back of the truck. The midday heat zapped my strength and I passed out in the back of the truck short of Petrowsky.

The Ford’s humming over the Straits of Mackinac Bridge disrupted my sleep. It was a little after sunset and the temperature had dropped into the 70s. The sky was filling with the cosmos illuminating the black waters on the two joining lakes. This was Hiawatha’s shores of Gitche Gumee by the shining Big-Sea-Water and I sat up in the back to breathe in the boreal night air.

Pullie drove for another 15 minutes and pulled off Route 2 somewhere north of St. Ignace. We slept in the back of the truck and rose with the misty dawn. Breakfast was a bag of warm pasties from a Epoulette diner. The delicious meat pies were a hang-over from the Welsh miners working mineral deposits in the mid-1800s.

The bearded sculptured had summered on the UP in the 50s. His deceased father had designed cars for Chrysler. His son had a photo of an black Imperial sedan parked on thick ice next to a fishing shack. His family wintered on the UP too.

“The UP was a paradise back then. Jobs, nature, and good people. Most of them gone since the mines closed. Now all you got are old Finns to stubborn to quit the land. “

The Upper Peninsula had a population density of 10 people per square mile in the late-80s. We hadn’t count heads passing through dismal towns overlooking the Great Lake, but I hadn’t seen more than 3 people in a clump the entire morning. The stocky men and woman looked the same in their jeans and flannel shirts topped by a baseball cap.

Three men, three women, or a menage a trois.

I couldn’t tell the difference.

We pulled into Fire Lake around 3.

Pullie beeped the horn before an old farm house. The walls had been weathered by many winters and the two-story structure leaned away from the prevailing wind. A herd of cows grazed in a fenced field. One cow stood by itself. It was not the bull.

Our host limped into the afternoon sunlight. Uvo was in his 50s. He greeted us with a firm handshake and a yellow smile. He lit an unfiltered Camel.

“Where’s everyone?” Pullie’s scratched at his beard. It was more salt than pepper.

“Down at the lake fishing, but Jim left for Ann Arbor two days ago, eh.”

“Sorry, I missed him.” Pullie had attended U Michigan with Uvo’s second son. Both were artists.

He tugged on the cigarette and exhaled a flume of smoke. “You boys fish?”

“Not much fishing in New York.” Grieg regarded Uvo, as if he were a Norman Rockwell painting.

“No, guess they don’t like to swim in concrete.

The afternoon sky that filled with high clouds from the north. The summer was almost gone. Uvo held a pair of axes in this hands.

“Going to get cold tonight, eh. Call me old fashioned, but I believe in the work ethic. You work. You eat. No work. No eat.”

Grieg and I looked at each other.

The Londoner was no farmer.

I had picked crops as a teenager at my local farm.

Neither of us was a farmer boy. We had blisters on our hands within minutes, but as an Englishman Grieg believed in doing a host’s bidding and the both of us hacked logs into firewood, while Pullie and Uvo drank Schlitz beer. They were examining Pullie’s 45 and the shotgun. Beer cans floated in a metal tub.

Hard work.

We finished our task in a sweat and joined the other two. Grieg slung the ax over his shoulder, as if he graduated from Paul Bunyan School. Uvo surveyed the woodpile.

“Not bad for trolls, eh.”

“Trolls?” I had been called many things in my life, but never a troll.

“Trolls is the Yopper euphemism for people coming from unda the bridge,” Pullie explained, as he handed us two cans of Schlitz. The beer that made Milwaukee famous was unavailable in New York. The gusto of the crisp cold beer brought back memories of my youth on the South Shore of Boston.

“Good beer.”

“Better than Bud.” Grieg refrained from his usual assault on American beer. They tasted like water to the Brits.

A breeze whiffled through the trees bordering the pasture

Uvo sported a serious bruise on his forearm.

“Cow butted me, eh.” The farmer glanced over to the single cow in the pasture. “You boys feel like a sauna.”

Many of the inhabitants of the UP were descendants of Finnish immigrants. Uvo had build a traditional Scandinavian steam room next to the barn. He stripped off his clothing and waved for us to join him inside the sauna.

The gnarled farmer threw water on the hot stones. Steam furled from the rocks. Te temperature was close to the surface of Venus.

“Good to see new faces up here, eh. Fire Lake is a long way from anywhere. Most of the people in town are tired of seeing each other. Crabby as a bear coming out of hibernation and the winters are long up here. People just don’t like getting together too often. Too busy working, but nothing gets them together faster than talk of a barbecue, so if you want to see people, we’ll have a barbecue.”

“Fresh meat too.” Pullie’s was a total carnivore. His blood pressure was that of a 300-pound man. The art professor weighed under 160. He ate steak four times a week. The Homestead Steak House on 9th Avenue knew him by name.

“Y-up.” Uvo spoke with tinges of Finnish clinging to his accent. He scratched his buzzcut then rubbed his unshaven face. “Go shot a cow after we’re done.”

“Shoot a cow?” I was a meat-eater, but my steaks came from a supermarket. I wiped the sweat from my face with an old towel.

“Would rather he kill it with an ax?” Grieg joked from under his wrap of towels. The English literary agent looked like a soggy mummy.

“I kill one cow every fall.” Uvo stated matter-of-fact. “Keeps me in meat until the spring. The way snow falls up here you never know when you might get supplies.”

Winters were hard this far north. 200 inches of snow were the norm. A few communities had recorded annual snowfalls nearing 13 feet.

“Killing a cow ain’t sport, eh. I known this cow all its life. Fed it as a calf.” Uvo seemed sad about the upcoming culling of his herd. “Strange but the other cows sense what’s going to happen.”

“You think they tell each other?” Grieg came from London. The only cows in that city arrived dead at the Smithfield Market for slicing into steaks and grinding into hamburger.

“Dunno. Cows are funny, eh.” Uvo stripped the edge of an old straight-razor to the sharpness of an assassin’s blade. He stroked the grizzle from his face with an economy of motion. After finishing Uvo stropped the edge. My beard was scrapped from my face without a nick. Paul had a beard, but Greg wasn’t so lucky. His skill with the blade suffered from his heroin intake. He exited the sauna patting his cuts with a towel.

“You boys religious?” Uvo didn’t wait for an answer and said, “Because up here on the Upper Peninsula we take the Word of God for truth.”

“Okay.” I was a confirmed atheist, but kept my devout non-belief to myself.

“In da beginning dere was nuttin.” Uvo’s accent thickened to a nearly indecipherable patois, “Den on the first day God created da Upper Peninsula. On the second day He created da partridge, da deer, da bear, da fish, and the ducks. On da third day He said “Let dere be Yoopers to roam da Upper Peninsula”. On the forth day He created da udder world down below. On the fifth day He said “Let there be trolls to live in the world down below”. On the sixth day He created da bridge so da trolls would have a way to get to heaven. God saw it was good and on da seventh day, He went Huntin and that works as the Word of God on the UP.”

“Good for me.” I toasted his version of Genesis with a cold Schlitz.

We raised our cans to the sky. The sunlight dried our naked flesh. The winwu lipped up the silver bottom of the leaves. Uvo looked over his shoulder to the large pasture. The herd of cows were standing against the fence. The one cow was in the distance.

“That’s the one.” Grieg lifted his head from a nod. He was handsome in a desperate way.

“Weird, eh?” Uvo reached into the bucket and pulled out four more beers. They were going fast. “They shun that one like killing might be contagious.”

Death awaited all creatures. We drank our beer. Uvo saved the empties for target shooting. The cows stared at us like we were holding a vote to change the sacrifice.

“Funny how they’ll protect themselves from other animals but not man.” Grieg aimed a finger at the distant cow. It moped in protest. “That’s because they trust us.”

“Trust?” Uvo laughed with a farmer’s certitude. “Cows ain’t no one’s friend and nuttins as dumb as a cow tied to a post, eh. How you think I got this black and blue on my arm.”

“The lone cow.” Pullie was sitting on a log. His legs were thin. The sculptor needed more exercise.

“Yup that’s the one.” Uvo walked over to the gate. He lifted his fingers to his mouth. A long whistle got the attention of the solitary cow. The others huddled closer to the fence. The cow shook his head.

Uvo whistled again and then banged the grain bin. Corn husk dust misted a halo around the farmer’s head. The cow meandered to the gate. Uvo slipped a noose over its head. Long scars crisscrossed the haunches. Something wild had had at it. Uvo led the beast to a trellis constructed of thick logs. A pulley hung from the beam. The naked farmer fed the lead line through the pulley and hauled the cow’s head upward.

Uvo returned to us. The other cows scattered over the pasture to munch the long summer grass. Grieg was sprawled against the sauna wall. The heat and the beer had taken its toll on the Englishman. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

“Something wrong with that troll. I don’t want no one dying on my farm, eh.”

“I’ll take care of him.”

“You a doctor?”

“No,but I know what to do, but my grandfather was a doctor in the First World War.” I went into the sauna and came out with a bucket of icy water. I emptied the contents over Grieg. The Englishman sputtered to life. Uvo and Pullie laughed as only naked men can laugh.

Hands over their genitals.

Grieg wasn’t too happy with the sudden reveille but understood that he had violated his guest privileges.

“Thanks for the wake-up call.”

“No problem.”

“I have some calls to make and that cow has a date with a Winchester.” Uvo walked over to his house. He entered by the front door. The cow in the rear mooed our surrender. We followed Uvo’s path across the lawn. I went to my room. It was on the second-floor. the windows overlooked the cow. I stuck wet tissue in my ears waiting for the killing shot.

Uvo and Paul exited from the house. They were still naked. Uvo held a Winchester rifle. Paul had his 45. The cow mooed once and Uvo stuck the rifle muzzle in its ear. One bullet buckled its legs. Paul gave the coup de grace.

The killing took less than 10 seconds.

Uvo and Paul tugged on the rope around the dead cow’s neck. The creature was ready for slaughter. I lay on the bed. The mattress was old. The sheets smelled of the seasons. I fell asleep in a minute.

I woke to the sound of people talking and the smell of sizzling steak. I got out of bed and went to the window. Meat was burning on the grill. Ten people were drinking beer. Pullie, Uvo, Grieg, three women and four men. Everyone was wearing the UP uniforms. The only way I could identify Uvo was by his red cap.

I dressed in the uniform and joined the party.

Pullie’s truck was parked next to the house. The tape deck was playing a tape of garage music. ? and the Mysterians. Grieg was entertaining the congregation with tales of Oxford. I had heard them before, but he was a good storyteller and I laughed along with the other guests. We drank beer and ate steak. Medium raw. Blood dripped from our lips. The meat went well with the potato sausage and cudighi, a spicy Italian meat.

One of the women had brought a nisu, a cardamom-flavored sweet bread. Another juustoa or spueaky cheese and sauna makkara, a Finnish bologna. It was good eating. The sun was going down.

Uvo gathered the empties and placed them on a shot-up fence post 50 feet from the grill. Pullie placed his 45 on the table. A box of ammo.

We shot the entire box in ten minutes. Only two of the beer cans survived the onslaught. Pullie put his pistol under the seat of his pick-up and I sat on the porch.

“Good steak, eh?” Uvo was aglow with beer. His smile was shared by his friends. They smiled broader when the stereo played DIRTY WATER.

“Delicious.” Better than anything from the Homestead. “But I meant to ask you. What were those scars on that cow.”

“Bear, eh.” The nisu woman answered my question. Pullie was flirting with the scrawny 40ish brunette. She was in her 40s. She wanted to dance to LOUIE LOUIE playing on the pick-up’s stereo. They did the two-step.

“Yup, a bear attack that cow last spring. I shot it dead.”

“Don’t say that too loud, eh.” The woman glanced around the guests. “Game warden hear that and Uvo has a big fine.”

“Maybe $2000 for out of season.” Uvo popped open another beer.

“But it was attacking your cow.”

Bears in Maine roamed the blueberry patches for a sweet treat. The police warned hikers to stay away from the patches. Last summer spotted two black bears. Smaller than a Grizzly, but big. They were scavenging a moose carcass across a river. Both studied me as if I were food.

“Bears won’t attack something big unless they’re hungry. Guess that bear was hungry. I shot him with that Winchester, eh.”

The same one with which he had killed the cow. It was almost like the scene in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA where Lawrence has to shot the man that he saved from the desert in order to seal the alliance of another tribe of Arabs.

“Uvo called me up and I came over with my backhoe.” A longhaired farmer nodded his head in remembrance of that day. “Big hole, eh.”

“Yup.” A chorus joined by the other locals.

“That cow was a little crazy after that. Always running around the pasture. Scaring the other cows. Sorry it had to go, but crazy cows are bad for milk.”

“Yup.” Another round of ‘yups’.

“Bear meat tastes like pork. Best are the legs and loin.”

“bears too strong for me. Too much grease.”

“Plus they get trichinosis.” Paul’s date made a face. “Bears are no good eating. Not like steak.

“Yup.”

Grieg and I joined in the chant of yups, for after the fifth beer we all spoke the same language.

The land of beer.

And no bears.

At least not at a barbecue on the UP.

A Walk In The Douglas Forest

Douglas, Alaska lies across the Gastineau Channel from Juneau underneath Mt. Douglas.

Originally a staging ground of the Auke and Taru people for battles against rival tribes, the Treadwell and Douglas townships served the miners of the Juneau gold fields. The population grew to 1722 at the turn of the 20th Century.

An explosion ripped through the mines in 1910. The Serbians and Greeks left Douglas to serve in WWI.

A fire destroyed the town in 1937.

The population dropped to 522.

Bears ruled the trails.

They ruled them now, but I wanted to hike the Treadwell Trail.

On my day off I walked to Douglas on a drizzly day.

Hippies had repopulated the town in the 1970s.

One man pointed out the trailhead.

I thanked him and entered the forest.

Ranger Nomi had warned that hiking solo was dangerous.

“There are bears everywhere. Make noise. They are shy. Never run. They are fast as hell.”

Ranger Nomi knew his business.

As well as bears know theirs.

This was their land.

The trail followed the old Treadwell Trench.

Between 1881 and 1922, over 3 million troy ounces of gold were extracted from the glory hole.

$3 billion in today’s dollars.

The trench had been cut with crude shovels, picks, and and hard labor.

In its heyday hundreds of men tramped up and down the slope.
Today I was alone.

Human population – 1

I had no idea how many bears.

A small stream ran next to the trail.

Like a bear I shat in the trees.

When in the woods, do as the bear do.

I washed my hands in the clear cold water.

And continued up the mountain.

Once out of the forest I tramped along a path constructed of long planks.

The trail crossed a sunken forest.

I still had cell service.

I called no one.

I was thousands of miles away from New England.

Only a mile away from the nearest road.

The wilderness.

The rain fell from low clouds.

I had a raincoat.

I was almost dry.

Not every creature needed such protection.

Bears.

Big feet.

Dance party bears.

I surveyed the surroundings.

I sang a song.

GLORIA.

Bears don’t like The Them.

I remained alone.

As a chronically suicidal person I have occasionally planned to end it all by shooting heroin in the forest, ODing, and leaving my body to the elements.

But not today.

The trail was steep.

The ground was wet.

My feet slipped every few steps.

Bears woke in the spring to claw dead trees.

A long glade huddled in silence.

Bears liked the thick undergrowth.

I heard a noise.

Something bigger than me.

This was as far as I was going.

Bears also shit in the woods.

I hurried through the wilderness.

I sang LOUIE LOUIE.

I followed the trench.

One human

Nature.

I had joked with Ranger Nomi about starting a bear-mauling tour for fans of Leonardo DeCapria’s REVENANT movie.

I had no interest in getting mauled myself.

Bears were fast.

Not that you have to outrun them.All you have to do is coinvince them that you’re friend tastes better.

Back at the falls I felt safe, but kept on walking.

Ten minutes later I was safe in Douglas.

Population – 1345.

And I was one of them.

Not in a graveyard.

I ordered an Olympia Beer at the Douglas Inn.

The clientele was grumpy, but who wouldn’t be with bears in the woods.

BEAR SEASON by Peter Nolan Smith

Hunting season along the Hudson River opened in mid-October.

Bow and arrows only.

Guns weren’t allowed until November, so I felt relatively safe walking in the woods wearing a neon-orange hooded sweatshirt. No animal in that color existed north or south of Troy, New York and during the shooting season non-hunters drape their bodies in brilliant orange to prevent any hunter from mistaking them for a deer.

“No one has ever been refused a hunting license because they’re color blind,” Floyd told me at the Green Acres Tavern. The drinking establishment on Rte. 29 was brightly lit all hours of the day, since the owner thought people looked more honest under 100-watt light.

“So someone might shoot me even if I’m wearing this.” The orange was hurtful to the eye.

“If drink was involved, everyone is fair game.” Belvin shrugged his shoulders.

The fifty-six year-old farmer was a crack marksman. The previous weekend he had scored 99 out of 100 with a bolt-action .308 Winchester. “People shoot at whatever they see come hunting season. One time I’m sitting here and this down-stater enters the tavern, telling everyone about the spike-horn deer he killed. None of us had ever heard about this species of deer and asked to see his kill. It was a billy goat.”

“That’s nothing. Them folks will shoot anything that moves.” A scrawny UPS driver diverted his attention from the NFL replays. People up here like talking about hunting season. “My uncle’s game warden down in Duchess County. One time he stops a truck on Route 44 and asks the driver what he has on the roof. The driver tells him a spotted deer. It was a St. Bernhard.”

“I lost a cow to a hunter three years ago.” A lady mournfully remembered with a Bud in her hand. “She was a good milker.”

“I’ve never hunted in my life.” My father was vehemently anti-gun, so the majority of my experience with weapons came from shooting with my Dutch uncle Howie Hermann at the 20th Street Shooting Range in Manhattan. Every Monday night we would meet at the 2nd Avenue Deli and then drive over to shoot pistols; Lugers, Colts, S&W ad infinitum. Howie was sweet as pie, but he liked his guns.

“Nothing wrong with not hunting,” another drinker commented from the end of the bar. His voice betrayed his real feeling on the subject. Guns were sacred this far north of New York City.

“I know that.” My youth had been spent in Maine. Deer and bear had been strapped to cars during hunting season. Blood dripping over the windows was a badge of manhood in the North. “I never really wanted to kill anything, but I’m not saying it’s not a good thing as long as it’s for eating.”

“Deer meat’s good.” Belvin had a side of deer in his freezer. “Bear not so good.”

“If you get them in the fall, you can grill them up as steaks.” A bearded beer-drinker added from his stool. Everyone here knew everyone. “But they cook up dry real quick.”

“But if you undercook it, you get trichinellosis.” I was the outsider, but was familiar with this problem thanks to reading about the disastrous Franklin polar expedition. The crew ate bear and died of trichinellosis.

“That’s deadly, ain’t it?” The beer-drinker was scratching his head, as if his fingers might jog lose the brain cells holding that information.

“Same as if you ate uncooked pig.” Belvin was a subsistence farmer. He could eat everything on his land, excepting the tree bark and his wife knew how to make teas from them. “You get nausea, heartburn, dyspepsia, and diarrhea. That’s why the Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork.”

“I’m not so sure that’s the reason. I have a lot of Jewish friends who are bacon Jews. They love pork. I think the real reason that their religions prohibit pork is that it tastes so good.” At least to my palate. “I was in Sumatra once. A big island in Indonesia. Full of Muslims. Anyway I go up to the highlands and the people are Christians. Everyone of them. They even sing Christian prayer songs like BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON. We were out in the forests and I asked them as we were cooking wild pig, why they didn’t become Muslims like everyone else. The elder explained that they loved the taste of pork too much to give it up for any god.”

“Not much tastes better than bacon.” The UPS driver smacked his lips.

“What about apple pie?” The woman eyed the dessert tray by the kitchen window. The food at the tavern was home-made.

“Apple pie is pretty damn good, but it ain’t meat.” The bearded farmer’s statement was rewarded with nodding heads.

“The pig that night on Sumatra was good. The hill people ate everything, but the oink. Afterwards the headman asked, “You know why we like pig so much?” I shook my head and he answered by saying, “Because it tastes like man.”

“Cannibals.” Belvin’s hand reached for a gun at his waist, but te .357 was in the truck.

“Supposedly not anymore, but I didn’t like the way they were looking at me. Sort of like a fat person after eating a salad.”

“What you do?” The UPS driver was on the edge of his seat.

“I thanked them for the dinner and headed home. I thought they were going to bushwhack me on the trail. I locked the door of the hotel and left the next day. Believe I was happy to be back with the Muslims, although they were a little grim about my beer-drinking, but I’ve never heard of any Muslim cannibals.”

“Me neither.” The bartender put a shot of whiskey in front of me.

“What’s that for?”

“You won the biggest bullshit story of the night award.” Belvin scanned the rest of the clientele. They were locals. “No one here can come up with better.”

“But it wasn’t bullshit.” My bone marrow trembled with the remembrance of the ex-cannibals’ faces.

“You should make it a double.” The UPS driver had returned his gaze to the Jets’ highlights. “He even believes his own bullshit.”

“Here’s to bullshit.” I drained the shot and ordered a round for the bar. It wasn’t painful. Buds in the Green Acres are only $2.50 and that’s everyone’s favorite beer. Mine was Labatt’s Blue. It cost $3. Belvin drove me home before midnight. We had long tomorrows ahead of us. He left me off at the end of my friend’s drive.

“That was sure some good story.” Belvin was smiling with the belief that I was the best bullshitter he had heard in some time.

“Thanks.” Sometimes it’s best not to disappoint the masses. I waved goodnight and Belvin disappeared over the crest of the hill. In the light of the moon my sweatshirt glowed orange. I made it home without a single shot coming in my direction.

Next month would be another story.