Observing Sweden – Driving Me Crazy

Took my 2nd driver’s practice today, another $100. I did okay, but forgot to look at the right side mirror a couple times. I was a little stressed. It’s such a pain in the ass with someone telling you, “Go left at the next stop, then right. Follow the sign to Ornsköldsvik.” One usually knows where one is going ahead of time, but then, I’ve only been driving for 60 years. Now I have to take a ‘slippery road’ practice in a town near here. This takes 3 hours and costs $200 U.S. In order to be permitted to take this practice I have to pass a slalom test – between traffic cones, forward and backward, with a stick shift vehicle.

I will need to have a translator with me as instructions are in Swedish. If I don’t pass the slalom test I get to pay another $200 and take the test again. If I manage to pass, I get to take a written test, (another hundred bucks), with thousands of possible relevant questions such as, “What is the maximum speed for a moped Category 1?” If I pass that, I have to pay another fee, to take the actual driving test.

I am so totally pissed!

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Dearie – 16

Dearie Final Cover© Bruce Louis Dodson

“We’ll have another round here.” Ernie called as I sat down. The bartender was leaning forward, hand against an ice chest, talking to some guys across the bar. “Two whiskeys, and two beers for me and David.”

I gulped the shot with what I thought was manly grace and turned to watch a red balloon that floated down and drifted listlessly across the barroom floor.

“What is this stuff?” I asked.

“Old Bushman’s.” Ernie grinned. “Don’t like it?”

“Got a funny taste,” I said. “A bitter taste.”

“Oh yeah? I never noticed. Guess you college boys are used to better booze.”

“No, I’m just curious.” I wondered if the glass was dirty, dust or something. Maybe I’d been spoiled by Dearie’s Scotch. I flushed the evil shot down with a beer, but could still taste it, and began to chain-smoke cigarettes. I checked my watch—ten-thirty. She would stay till one or two . . . most likely two. A night from hell, but maybe we could find a moment. Maybe even celebrate right here, if she said yes . . . part of the party. We could go outside to take a breather. Lightning flashed as I rehearsed my plans and rain drops spattered on the windows.

“What if she refused . . ? A clap of thunder shook the room and it began to pour, a summer storm. I’d put the top up on the Ford. The birthday present, gift wrapped ring was in the glove compartment. Had I thought to lock it? Yes.  My last clear thoughts.

The music seemed to echo. An uneasy, queasy feeling was inflating in my stomach and began to creep up slowly, Damn! My face felt hot . . . then cold.

“I need to take a leak,” I said to no one in particular, then stood. The floor began to slant below me. Jesus! Take it easy. I’d been drunk before, but not like this. It was like walking on a boat’s deck in rough sea. I prayed no one was watching as I focused on a Miller High Life pin-up by the men’s room door, and aimed my body toward it.

Miller 2
Don’t look down, I told myself . . . a tight-rope act. I took a deep breath. Ah . . . thank God. I grasped the door knob, staggered in, and locked the door behind me, then began to heave . . . non-stop convulsions. I made vain attempts to keep my shoes out of the way, and hit the toilet.

“Uhhhh.” I stood up, shivering, unsteady . . . splashed cold water on my face and rinsed my mouth, then gathered up a massive wad of paper towels to wipe my shoes and blobs of vomit from the floor. I washed my hands and lit a cigarette. My stomach still in bad shape. Someone pounding on the door.

“Somebody die in there?” I recognized Al’s voice.

“Give me a minute.” I took several massive puffs in an attempt to fill the room with smoke, then hurried out, avoiding him on my way to the side door entrance and fresh air. I was still dizzy, with a splitting headache.

“David, you’re not leaving, are you?”

Linda. Now she had a moment for me . . . perfect timing.

“No, of course not. I’m just . . .”

Al threw back the men’s room door. “Hey, who threw up, in here?” He yelled across the dance floor, loud enough that everyone could hear. “Somebody puked!”

“It’s you.” She sniffed, then whispered . . . horrified. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “I’ll be right back. I need to go outside.”

“It’s raining,” Linda told me.

“I’m not going far. Just need some air.”

The juke box started playing Mack The Knife as I went out into the cloudburst that had blown in off the lake. Attempting to avoid the torrent, I got underneath a wooden outside stairway that went to a second floor and stood there shivering. I was getting soaked . . . no use. I gave it up and hurried to my car, teeth chattering with cold. I fumbled with my keys to start the engine, set the heater switch to high and leaned the seat back far as it would go as rain beat on the fabric roof. Got to dry out, I told myself. Could I go back inside if I dried off? The MG hummed in idle . . . shift in neutral. Rain almost blocked the bar from view, its beer signs neon glowing blurrily from the round windows. Last thing I remembered.

Fade to black.

Bear Blur Both

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Amber’s Swedish History – Chapter 14

Amber Hist 14(Click on photos to enlarge.)

It’s been a while since my last history post. I’ve taken a lot of time off this summer – a Swedish tradition. So . . . Where was I? Gustav II Adolf 1549 – 1632. Axel Oxenstern was Adolf’s Councillor of the Realm.

AxelAxel Oxenstern

He was very smart and much admired both in and out of Sweden. Gustav was also smart even though he dropped out of school when he was sixteen so he could go fight the Danes. Gustav had a stomach as big as Brazil, but that was a good thing in those days. There were usually thirty dishes at his dinner table, plus barrels of beer from Germany.

Maria ElenoraMaria Elenora

Maria Elenora thought Gustav was cool. She married him in 1620 even though her brother was against it. He didn’t think Gustav was good enough for Maria, but her mom thought he was a good catch. They had a big wedding and over 50,000 liters of wine were consumed. Maria was very open with her romantic feelings for Gustav which was considered un-cool. People said she was too high strung and quite possible hysterical. She got pregnant four times, but her children had the bad habit of dying young. Only one of them, Kristina, managed to survive.

Axel and Gustav wanted to end the war with Denmark which had involved a lot of burning and bloodshed, the same as wars do today. Gustav ravished Danish Skåne, burned all the churches and killed as many peasants as he could find. The women were raped and their children murdered. The Danes retaliated by destroying the castle at Kronoberg, and killing the entire male population of Nya Lödöse. They were also into town burning and sent an army to attack the castles at Gullberg and Ӓlvsborg. Ӓlvsborg fortress fell after a hard fight and was a serious loss for Sweden as it protected Swedish merchant ships. The Danes now controlled Sweden’s coast all the way up to Russia, cutting off Sweden’s access to the rest of the world.

Alvsborg Fortress Ӓlvsborg Fortress

Things were looking bad for Sweden, but then England and the Netherlands got into the act. They were afraid Denmark would screw up trade on the Baltic Sea which would make goods more expensive for Europe. Agreements were made.

Denmark Coat of armsDenmark was allowed to keep Sweden’s three crowns on its coat of arms and kept the island of Ӧsek off the coast if Swedish Estonia. A lot or Norway also stayed in Danish control, but the Swedes had access to the sea again, but at great cost. They agreed to pay Denmark one million silver riksdalers for all the towns they burned – about 25,000 kilos of silver.

Riksdaler 2Riksdaler

They were given six years to pay it and in the mean time the Danes kept control of Nya, Gamla Lödöse, and what was left of Göteborg. It was a hard time for Sweden.

The Rikstag imposed a progressive tax on the people. Gustav kicked in 20% of the money the State paid him. Bishops paid fifty riksdalers, craftsmen four, common labor one and maids one half. But there was a problem collecting these taxes as there were not many silver coins. People were used to paying in chickens, and pigs and such, but Sweden got lucky. The copper mine at Falun started to pay off. Three thousand tons a year were sent to Holland where it was used for rooftops. The copper was paid for with Dutch rijkdaalers and the rijkdaalers were then sent to Denmark. Falun became the second biggest town in Sweden for a while. The copper mine is still there, about twenty miles from where I live.

Copper 1Inside Faluln Copper Mine

It’s cold and damp, but looks like a good place to bury your poop. Nobody works there anymore.

Where was I? Oh yes, Gustav. He was able to rebuild Göteborg, but it was designed and run mostly by Dutch people who built canals all over the place. They were used as sewers and for transportation.

Next Chapter: Working it out with Russia, and the Bible.

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Robert Crumb’s Birthday



Taken from Writer’s Almanac – 30 August 2015

It’s the birthday Robert Dennis Crumb, born 1943. His father was a combat illustrator for 20 years while serving in the Marines. Crumb’s mother was addicted to diet pills. It was an unhappy marriage. The family moved to Milford, Delaware, when Crumb was 12. He was dyslexic and had a hard time reading, so he preferred television and comic books, especially Little Lulu, Donald Duck, and Peanuts. Crumb said: “There were no books in our house. There were trashy magazines: my mother read movie and detective magazines. My father read the paper and that was it.”
His older brother, Charles, taught him to draw, and they spent hours drawing their own comic, called Foo, which they tried to sell to neighbors for 10 cents apiece. Because of his dyslexia, it took Crumb a long time to write the text, which may be why his later work tended to be more “literary” than work by other cartoonists. “I take the time to think out how to articulate things,” he said.
Crumb never went to college, or to art school. He went to Cleveland, instead, and began drawing novelty greeting cards for the American Greetings Company. He met other artists like Harvey Pekar, who would someday create the comic American Splendor, and Buzzy Linhart. His interest in jazz grew; he spent weekends haunting junk shops for old 78s. He became enamored of 19th-century engravings and graphic styles, and changed his drawing technique to one of cross-hatching. He was 19 and he walked the streets in an Abe Lincoln frock coat and stovepipe hat. Crumb said: “I was a teenage social outcast. At the time, it made me feel very depressed. Later, I realized I was actually quite lucky because it freed me. I was free to develop and explore on my own all these byways of the culture that if you’re accepted, you just don’t do.”
He began taking LSD in Cleveland, which profoundly affected his style and life view. One night he met two friends in a bar and, on a whim, with just pocket change, went with them to San Francisco, where he fell in with the artists in Haight-Ashbury. He sold his comics from a baby carriage and caught the eye of Janis Joplin, who asked him to illustrate the cover for her band’s next album. Overnight, it seemed, his characters of Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat were everywhere. His most popular imagery, though, came from a Blind Boy Fuller song: the long, legged, grinning men adorned by the phrase “Keep on Truckin’,” which became the symbol of hippie optimism. Toyota offered him $100,000 to use the imagery in an ad campaign, but Crumb said no. “Keep on Truckin’!” is the curse of my life! I didn’t want to turn into a greeting card artist for the counter-culture! That’s when I started to let out all my perverse sex fantasies. It was the only way out of being America’s Best-Loved Hippie Cartoonist.”
Crumb has lived in the South of France for the past 25 years, still using Strathmore vellum surface paper and Pelikan black drawing ink. He works at an old printer’s light table and uses a magnifying glass for the details. “I work in erratic spurts. Getting started is like getting a rocket off the ground. You need the most energy and the most push to get started; once you’re up there and you’re going, then it’s easier to keep going. Sit down and pick up where you left off, you know. Getting going is always tough.”

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Friday at Last

I sent out invitations
to summon guests.
I collected together
All my friends.
Loud talk
And simple feasting
Discussion of philosophy
Investigation of subtleties.
Tongues lessened
And minds at one.

Cheng-Kung Sui

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Dearie – 15

Dearie Final Cover© Bruce Louis Dodson

Chapter 4
The Birthday Party

That weekend and the days that followed seemed to last forever.  I could think of little else beside birthday party. How to act . . . and dress.


“Don’t wear a coat,” Dearie suggested. “Jeans, and a nice shirt . . . maybe a tie. Gives you an option. You can always take it off. You’ll be just fine.”


I left some twenty minutes early, more than eager to see Linda, at the same time wary. Didn’t want to be the first one to arrive, or worse, to be at Jimmy’s Place alone with the sheet metal guys. I stopped at Pat O’Rourke’s, a cocktail lounge with chandeliers and dark red carpeting. They didn’t ask for my I.D. I drank one beer, taking my time, then left and stopped again to fill my tank with leaded high-test, ethyl, twenty-seven cents a gallon.


It was almost eight when I pulled up across the street from Jimmy’s and a gray sky filtered twilight. A cool breeze came off the lake and promised rain. I put the top up, locked the glove compartment, and the car, then crossed the street. The bar looked like a run-down gin joint I supposed blue collar workers kept in business. Two large, round windows looked out from the front, myopic eyes with beer sign corneas.

Two SignsI stepped through a side door someone had propped open with a chair, into a dismal, Edward Hopper atmosphere, my nose assaulted by the musty smell cigarettes and beer contained by papered walls that had begun to peel in places. Three sheet metal guys surrounded Linda. There were half a dozen men beside myself. Three women sat at one of four Formica tables, perched on mismatched chairs. They watched the scene through cigarette smoke haze illuminated by diffused florescent lighting, wives most likely, who’d been dragged along.


She saw me coming in and broke away from her admirers, came to greet me in a dark blue, low-cut satin sheath dress she had worn to last year’s banquet for homecoming queen. She’d been a runner-up. The fabric fit her top and bottom like a glove I would have loved to put my hand in.


“Dave, you’re late,” she chided.


“Dearie cooked a fancy dinner, so I had to stay and eat.”
“You smell like beer.”


I might have had one . . . over dinner.”


“Umm. Well, I’ve been here since seven, helping Larry do the decorations.” Red and blue crepe-paper streamers had been thumb tacked to the wall in places and balloons hung unenthusiastically beside a string of cut-out letters spelling, Happy Birthday.




Somebody dropped a nickel in a big Rock-Ola juke box—Elvis Presley, “Now and then there’s a fool such as I . . .


“Elvis is about to join the army, or get drafted.” I said as some jerk a few years older than myself came up.


“Hey, Linda! Baby! Dance with me.”
“Oh, Larry,” Linda introduced us, “This is Dave.” He had a solid build and slicked down, black hair combed into a duck-tail.


“Hey! It’s good ta see ya. Put’er there.” He tried to crush my hand, a Hoosier trick that didn’t work. He looked a bit like Marlon Brando, open-collared shirt and hairy chest. Not smart enough to hold her interest, I surmised. I hoped. “Let’s see now, you’re the college boy. That right?”


“For nine more months.” I tried to minimize the less than subtle put-down.
“Right! He patted my left shoulder condescendingly. “That’s great. And now, if you’ll excuse us . . .” He swept Linda out onto the floor. His workmates cheered.


“Hoo, hoo! Hey, look at Larry!”


“He’s a ladies’ man,” someone remarked.


I watched him dip her, an elaborate Fred Astaire attempt that almost spilled her bosom from the dress.


“Whoops!” Linda cried, then started laughing as the others cheered. She pulled her top back up.
I thought about the first time we had sex. I had been lucky, at the right place, at the perfect moment. I had given her dog-like devotion, and she’d loved that, but tonight was different. She had become popular again, sought after. I felt awkward, foolish, out of place, and with a desperate need to somehow join the others. It would not be easy to insert myself into the group of guys that gathered at the far end of the bar. I looked around me trying to figure out what I should do. The walls were decorated with a spew of witty posters.

Beer Posters 2 B & W

I walked over to a massive, antique bar carved out of solid oak, its surface scarred with years of dents and cigarette burns, spills. A tarnished, brass rail footrest was still bolted to the floor. I took a time-worn, vinyl cushioned stool, dead center of the bar. Seemed like a plan. “I’ll have a Bud.” I waved my hand. Bartender had been chatting with the guys down at the end.


“Coming right up,” he said.


A velvet, Dogs-Play-Poker, painting hung above a mirror reflecting liquor bottles lined along it, and the dance floor just behind me.


I tried hard to focus on it, but could not help watching Larry holding Linda. I acted unconcerned, but felt my stomach tighten as I finished off the beer.


“A Hamm’s beer, and a shot.” Someone had left the group of metal workers and now climbed onto the stool beside me. “Same for this guy, too.” He nodded my direction. “My name’s Ernie.”


“Dave.” I shook his calloused hand.
“The drinks are on the house tonight,” he told me, “courtesy of South Side Sheet Metal. You’re Linda’s friend from school, right?”


“Yeah. I’m working at Chicago & Northwestern for the summer.” I felt overdressed and slid my tie off. All the others were in open-collared shirts and slacks, the women too, except for Linda. She looked sexy as a pin-up picture, nylon stockings and a garter belt discernible through the thin fabric of her dress. I ached for her, and guessed the other men had Linda on their minds as well . . . the women too.


“I’m glad to meet you.” Ernie looked to be some ten years older than myself, a foreman maybe—average sort of guy with crew-cut, dark-brown hair. A thin scar ran from his left wrist up to his elbow, a sheet metal cut, I guessed. “I never got past high school. Must be fun at college. Lots of chicks, huh?”


“Sometimes. Mostly it’s just lots of work, a lot of reading, boring lectures. I’ve got nine months left to go.”


“Then make the best of them, my friend. You’ll find out soon enough what real work is.” He downed his shot. I followed suit, not wanting to be seen as less that manly, if not macho with these guys. My time with Dearie gave me lots of practice with the hard stuff. I could handle it.


“Bartender, bring two more,” said Ernie. When they came he held his glass toward me. “Here’s to college girls.”


I downed the second shot of some unknown cheap whiskey with an awful taste I tried to chase away with beer. The record changed and Julie London sang, “Cry Me a River.” Someone else was holding Linda now, an older guy, bald headed, short, and ugly.


“Al’s wife couldn’t make it.” Ernie saw me watching their reflection in the mirror. “Big Al’s our boss.”


“. . . cry me a river . . .”


Linda laughed, pushing herself back from his embrace. “Now, Al!” she warned him cheerfully.


I cleared my throat and did my best to seem sincerely interested in sheet metal. “I heard you guys are getting lots of work.”


“Good money, if you want a real job. All the larger companies have started getting air conditioning.” The record ended.


“Dance with me.” She had come up behind me. Thank you, Jesus!


Juke box changed to, What’d I Say, Ray Charles. Fast dancing was what we did best, or second best, before she was expelled. I felt uneasy as sheet metal eyes were glued to her erotic movements, like a pack of hungry wolves. Bored wives alternated nasty looks across the dance floor. Linda never had a lot of female friends. I felt her body heat as tiny beads of sweat appeared above her lip, and I remembered her sweet, salty kisses. God, I wanted more of those.


The record ended. I found change to play some slow songs on the juke box, but somebody had her on the floor again before I finished punching buttons, dancing on my nickel. Linda’s body pressed against him, laughing, having a great time. Damn her! I punched Rock Around the Clock to get me back into the game. I guessed my competition couldn’t fast dance . . . maybe Larry. I picked out another slow one, hoping I would be her partner when it played, and walked back to the bar determined not to crowd her. The engagement ring I’d bought on credit waited in my car. Somehow I knew that it would be tonight or never. I could feel it in my bones. What would she say?

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New Orleans Birthday


Taken From Writer’s Almanac 25 August.

On this day in 1718, French immigrants founded the city of New Orleans. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville named the new settlement for Philippe II, the Duke of Orléans. The duke was the regent of France, ruling in place of King Louis XV, who was only a boy. The French had claimed the Louisiana Territory in 1682, and the location of New Orleans – at the mouth of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers – meant that it was prime real estate for anyone who wanted to control America’s large interior waterway. Though the city never lost its French character, it was blended with elements of Native American, African, and Spanish cultures.

To get things started, France sent a starter population of prisoners, slaves, and bonded servants. They arrived in New Orleans to find a mosquito-ridden swamp that was surrounded by hostile Native Americans, and prone to hurricanes. The new settlers threatened to revolt, so the French government sent 90 female convicts straight from the Paris jails. These ladies of questionable repute were chaperoned by a group of Ursuline nuns until they could be married off to the men who awaited them.

Two engineers laid out plans for a the original walled village, which later came to be known as the French Quarter or the Vieux Carré – the Old City. Though it’s called the French Quarter, the architecture of the area is mostly Spanish in influence, since fire destroyed most of the original buildings in the 18th century. By that time, the city was under the control of the Spanish, who rebuilt the quarter. New Orleans became an American city in 1803, when Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States government.

Tom Robbins wrote, in Jitterbug Perfume (1984): “Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air – moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh – felt as if it were being exhaled into one’s face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time. In New Orleans, in the French Quarter, miles from the barking lungs of alligators, the air maintained this quality of breath, although here it acquired a tinge of metallic halitosis, due to fumes expelled by tourist buses, trucks delivering Dixie beer, and, on Decatur Street, a mass-transit motor coach named Desire.”

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