Six o'clock already I was just in the middle of a dream I was kissin' Valentino By a crystal blue Italian stream But I can't be late 'Cause then I guess I just won't get paid These are the days When you wish your bed was already made
It’s just another manic Monday…
Since long before The Bangles, everybody from Garfield the cat to Jimmy Fallon have begrudged the lowly Monday. It is my nature to try and buck such trends. After all, Mondays are both repeatable and required.
On Monday, November 6th, the wheels fell off.
After the untimely demise of Dr. Robert Anderson, the founding German of the Lake Mills Veterinary Clinic, I found myself flying solo. At one point, I was on call 24-7 for five straight years. By the time salvation was delivered in the person of a pinch hitter in Pella green so’s I could sneak off to Colorado for a high-mountain bike excursion with my brother (from-another-mother) John Humphries, I was ready for a break. Disconnection was complete by the end of the driveway. I celebrated every sip of Kafé Karuba from Kwik Trip to the Milwaukee airport.
In addition to fancy coffee, a pleasure I’ll not allow between vacations is reading The Wall Street Journal. When the American Airlines gate agent announced the requisite ninety-minute delay, I just folded the rag flat to the Lifestyles section, and became one with the Naugahyde. Fashion is crucial on the walkways of dairy barns of Southern Wisconsin; I’d see what I could modify from the 5th Avenue Collection.
Business ownership is self-induced manic depression. When the phone is ringing, you feel ten feet tall and bulletproof. One cancellation and ten minutes of telephone silence, you feel lower’n a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.
The party-line bias of AM cable news had once been amusing. For fifteen minutes, the talking heads and blonde du jour on Fox and Friends would convince us that Barack Obama and Democrats were dumb as a box of rocks. Right next door on CNN, you’d be convinced we’re all headed to hell in a handbasket with the Bushes, Lindsey Graham, and Ron Johnson giving directions.
I wanted to know what was really going on in the world, so I subscribed to The Wall Street Journal.
Ten years in, here is what I’ve learned. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, BlackRock, Morgan Stanley, and hedge fund managers all agree the sky is falling… and Warren Buffet makes billions. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the economy is flying high… and Warren Buffet makes billions. So if the news drives the market that thrives on volatility, could the tail possibly be wagging the dog?
Attempting to get back to last Monday.
The layout of the front page of the WSJ is approximately as follows: along the spine will be a synopsis of the twenty-four most relevant stories within. The body of the page will be dominated by a picture and lead-ins to stories of acquisitions, mergers, and who’d pissed in Donald’s Cornflakes the previous day. On November 8th, 2016 the Electoral College elected Donald Trump our 45th president, rendering hard news and satire sadly indistinguishable. Nestled quietly along the bottom tray will be a lighter-news story such as: Try Serving a Neutered Chicken, Make Room for the Olive Garden Diet, or Turkey’s Window Tinting Rules.
On Monday, November 6th, I opened the Wall Street Journal to see the headline:
What Do Fuzzywogs, Toad-Stranglers, and Devilstrips Have in Common? A Dying Dictionary
The Seussical title belied the ominous implications of the news to follow.
The dictionary that has bitten the dust is The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). The project was birthed by an ambitious lexicographer from the University of Wisconsin named Frederic Cassidy.
DARE was launched in 1962, intending to document words, phrases, syntax, and pronunciations that vary across the United States. Cassidy sent teams of researchers in pea-green Ford vans affectionately known as “word wagons” from Hawaii to Maine. Armed with reel-to-reel voice recorders, and a list of 1600 questions, they intended to document and record how people spoke.
The researchers found folks quickly wandering off into left field from the list of questions, but Cassidy instructed his army to not attempt to keep their subjects between the lines. Intent on learning how speech patterns, phrases, and grammar varied across the United States, they quickly found themselves documenting history.
Their plan was to publish by 1976, a goal that seemed reasonable, until the Tennessee team interviewed a precocious little hillbilly girl and her mother in a place thought to exist only in the lyrics of a Loretta Lynn song. Ten years later, the team emerged from Butcher Holler with heads spinning and ears ringing.
Finally, in 1986 they released A through C, and charged on, full of piss-n-vinegar, chanting a nerdly battle cry of “On to Z!”
In 2012, DARE was released in 6 bound volumes, and a digital version.
Funding to complete the original DARE came from individuals, institutions, and businesses. Thanks to the Internet and a population that is both diverse and dynamic, language is evolving more rapidly than ever; yet, somehow, it was more sexy to create DARE than update it. Financial support has dried up like NASCAR sponsorship. The Dictionary of American Regional English will officially go the way of the Walkman, relegated to some dusty table at a county fair flea market between a plastic pair of Air Jordans, and a Zebco rod and reel. A dedicated crew of volunteers will attempt to update the digital version, every now and again.
DARE has been used with clinical purpose by lawyers deciphering cases in Kentucky, publishers, actors attempting to master a dialect, and doctors. A young physician was getting to know a middle-aged patient in rural Missouri. “So, how are you, sir?” asked the doctor. “Not so good, doc, I’ve lost my nature.” Thanks to a quick consult with DARE, the doc was able to scribble a script for dozen little blue pills, and three refills. A follow-up visit found the old guy all shits and giggles.
So, what are you asking us to do, Dr. Bill? Can I get a copy from Walmart or Amazon?
DARE is a beautiful academic documentation, validation, and explanation of as much of the diversity within the beautiful instrument which is the English language, that a team of academics could capture in 50 years of trying.
And they barely scratched the surface.
Lester Holt and Megyn Kelly speak the language according to Merriam-Webster. Call it colloquialism, vernacular, or slang; spoken on job sites, auto shops, churches and brew pubs lies the language of creativity, ethnicity, productivity, and humanity.
Last November, Tom Gallitz and Jon Bound ignored a stout North wind, imagining how our house will be situated so Sheila and I can sit on the porch sipping coffee, holding hands, and watching the sun set. “Well Jon, I’ll poke the drive right up that fence line on the east.”
Turning, he pointed at the pile of fill left over from the machine shed. “I’ll peel the trees off that nob with the hoe and shov’r down in the gully. The water already wants to wander off down the laneway, but we’ll throw a swale in just south of the property line.” He motions his right hand, palm down, “just in case we get a real gullywarsher.”
Couple years back, on a Helly Hansen, chili-eatin’, Scotch drinkin’ day, snowflakes the size of a spoon rests flew horizontal, accelerating under my hood and down my neck. I had five more cow calls on the schedule, when my headlamp panned an oil slick in the farm-drive rivulets under my truck.
“Hey Junior, Bob, Doc’s got a blown fuel line on that Dodge he drives. One of you start at the tank, the other at the motor. I don’t want to see nothin’ but elbows and assholes until that pile of scrap-iron is the hell out of my shop.”
I mentioned I’d heard about a car driving through an old dairy barn off Stony Brook Road. “Oh yeah”, said Junior, “he folded up the corn crib like a shoe box. Musta been snoozin’ and cruisin’, cuz the oh shit marks on the road were only 10 feet long. The driver was missing in action, but he took the seat covers along for a diaper.”
DARE had nothin’.
There are friends to share a pint and those who’ll help you move. Jay Walker, Kishan Khemani and I have been together since 1983.
Jay and his wife Joy Lou slept on the living room floor with their three kids on Friday nights until each had left the nest. Caleb, Micah, and Hannah Walker will bow their heads in thanks for the food on their plates, when no one is looking. Jay’s not one for Bible totin’ and quoting scripture. He has a gentle way, and a soft country diction. I’ll respectfully scrub my language when speaking to, or of, him. Sheila and I hit a rough patch, and I needed an ear. After listening to me whine for a half-hour or more, “Well Bill, we are men of faith. I know it’s tough now, but it’s God’s will.” He told me that he loved me, and I hung up stronger than I’d called.
At the wedding he gave me one-armed hug and an impish smile, “Well, buddy, you’re shittin’ in the high-cotton now.”
Kishan Khemani advises multi-national companies. From his chair of the board of directors he steers The Old Town School of Folk Music toward community service, and coaches his twins in T-Ball. His parents subsidized his college education while working at the post office and Chicago Tribune. When his brother’s first tuition bill arrived from the U of I, he returned the favor. Kish says, “You gotta get up early if you want to have time to take a nap.” I never hit snooze.
September, 19th, 2017, I sat in an office at Fort Atkinson Regional Medical Center faced with gut-wrenching decisions. Stone-faced, but resolute, I had been guided by the man whose life was in my hands, and the advice of an 18 year old Indian who simply said, “Do the right thing.”
My grandma died a week after she’d cooked us Thanksgiving dinner in 1983, only after she’d finished her Christmas shopping and bowled in three leagues. Last week, Rick pinched his finger while releasing a head lock at the Griswold Farm. He threw his clipboard in the laneway, unloaded the thesaurus for “ouch,” and came up with some colorful combinations of his own. Recalling Grandma Bessie, I offered to stomp on his foot; that way he’d forget about his finger.
I can’t eat a ham and cheese samrich, or sit on a Davenport, without recalling the woman whose last diploma was from 5th grade, but who could butcher chickens, cipher any number preceded by a dollar sign faster than Hewlett Packard, and died with three chest-type freezers full of food, and not a nickel’s worth of debt.
I’ve written chapters about my friend Doug Quintenz. In his early days he never turned down a beer or a fight, but he died a father, family man, and a Christian. When a friend asks if I’m still working out, I’ll respond like Doug, “Nah, man, I’m in no shape to start exercising.” I’ll borrow his country wit, recall the sparkle in his eye, and never judge a man who smokes cigarettes or drinks Budweiser.
Keith Urban was born in New Zealand, and raised in Australia. He attended Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in Auckland. In interviews, he sounds like an English professor. Strap a guitar around his neck and put him behind a microphone and he’ll sing:
Gonna kick off my shoes And run in bare feet Where the grass and the dirt and the gravel all meet Goin' back to the well gonna visit old friends And feed my soul where the blacktop ends
I'm lookin' down the barrel of Friday night Ridin' on a river of freeway lights Goodbye city I'm country bound 'Til Monday rolls around
I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 25 years. I’ve been called to the Strasburg, Fedkenheur, and Griswold farms to aid Holstein Dairy cows (emphasis on the nice hard Northern European “C”). Some of the most common maladies took place in fresh cows before the stanchell barn gave way to free stalls. Sometimes they wouldn’t clean, toss their calf beds, or flip their stomachs. Two hundred fifty miles south in Illinois, Angus beef caws on pasture, with a kev nursing once an hour, seldom prolapse their uterus after they’ve calved. Thanks to kevs nursing hourly, most will drop their placenta within hours and we see precious few displaced abomasums.
Just as I don’t think I could find my way to a farrowing barn or tie a knot in a feed bag without a wad of chew between my incisors and my lip, talk to me about hawg farmin’ and fishin’. The syllables get fewer, the vowels get muddy, and the “G”s all get replaced by apostrophes.
Ellen Messmer had a cow that was restless, kicking at her belly. I gave her 15cc of Banamine and asked her resident handyman historian and old-time musician to help me pour a gallon of mineral oil in her. I passed the tube through an old vacuum tube I use as a speculum. The male end of the funnel doesn’t match the tube perfectly, so, as I hoist my right arm, a little oil trickles past my elbow. I cue up The Amazing Dick Bass, and drawl. “You know, Ted, this is just like eatin’ a good Georgia peach. You take a good big bite and hold it up and the juice runs all the way down to your underwear.”
As a tribute to those who have shaped us, we phrase, inflect and drawl. We cling to their faith, aspire to their character, and remember.
P.S. Dedicated followers of DARE lamented the loss. They cited the disappearance of the elusive New England “R”. Traditionally, New England’s Mason-Dixon Line was the Green Mountains of Vermont. Over the last 20 years, those who drive their cahs to the bahs have migrated east, some think as far as the White Mountains of New Hamsha.
Not to worry, the Rs are well-cared for in Central Illinois, every time we warsh our cars before taking the kids to our nation’s capital, Warshington DC.