Russ Ringsak

From Pennsylvania

April 11, 2012

In 2002 a publishing house asked if I wanted to write the Minnesota version of their series of state curiosities. To an easily flattered person this seemed an opportunity, especially if the person's landlady would volunteer to do the research whilst the writer softly cruised the nation on 18 wheels.

We did that and it was published into its niche and I went on and wrote another, this one called Semi True, a series of stories from the driver but not exactly from the road itself. When it was all said and done I owed the publishing house money; not much, but if I had any delusions of literary fortune they were stomped out right there. A little dose of reality, not always a bad thing.

So in 2006 they asked us to do a second edition of the Curiosities book and we weren't all that excited. We figured we could make more money doing field work or cleaning hotel rooms because the royalties would barely cover expenses. But we did it, I suppose because we didn't want someone else to do it.

So now we just finished the third edition. At the halfway point this time we were about to return the advance and scrap the idea but we hung in there and this last weekend before I left for New York it was done, and I threw a small party that went until the early dawn.

In those last weeks I didn't write anything but for the book and was at the same time was trying assemble a blues band for yet another expedition to Montana; this one would be a four-piece rather than the usual six which meant the singing chores would fall on someone who wasn't all that good at it. Meaning I would need vocal coaching.

All of this is nothing more than another pile of lame reasons why it's taken so long to address this column. I should be grateful to still have it. Now I need a subject.

* * * *

How about doing a favorite piece from the new edition?, asked a friend. I dunno, I said, I think that might be crossing some line. But then, how about the story that's already been on national TV? The La-Z-Boy thing? Okay. It's also mentioned here in the November tale so it has to be fair game.

So much was made of the incident that it led the man to have his phone shut off and he has shunned publicity ever since, no doubt bitter about the way it ended. And I don't want to make it worse by using his real name again so we'll call him Mr. Anderson, which in Minnesota is the same as an alias.

We're fairly sure he didn't build such a cool vehicle with the idea of gaining national fame; rigs like this had been done before. His was special in that he put so much work into it that it became art.

It is handsomely covered in dark leather with red and blue trim and has drink holders and controls built into the wide armrests. Three prominent National Hot Rod Association emblems are sewn onto the leather back and sides. A leather pocket for incidentals graces the solid side of the left armrest and a vertical steering column rises in front of the seat cushion.

Headlights are mounted on the front of the arm rests. It has a built in stereo system and there is a sticker on the back that says: "HELL YEAH IT'S FAST." It's powered by an 8-horse Kohler lawnmower engine concealed beneath the wide leather seat cushion, with an engine cooling screen on the back.

[fig1]
It even looks fast. Especially with the headlights on.
It even looks fast. Especially with the headlights on.

But it didn't become famous on its artistic merit. In late summer of 2008 Mr. Anderson was leaving a lounge in Proctor; he said the trip home started out fine until a lady tried to get on the chair with him, which caused him to turn and bump into the door of a parked 2003 Dodge Intrepid.

A year and a half later he pled guilty to a DUI, his second, and the police put the chair up for auction. He admitted to 8 or 9 beers, a goodly number for a man six-three tall and a lean 170 pounds. Word got out and the jackal pack pounced: New York Daily News, the BBC, the UK Daily Telegraph, LeMonde, NPR, Weird News, Fox, The Oakland Daily Tribune, the Columbus Dispatch, The Smoking Gun, MSNBC, US News and a slew of others.

It was put to auction on eBay as a motorized La-Z-Boy and the bidding quickly launched all the way to $43,700 and then the company jumped in and said it wasn't their chair, killing the deal. It was a La-Z-Boy only because the media had reflexively called it so, but no one had checked.

The police put it back on eBay twice more but the international frenzy was over and the selling price limped only to $3700, a bargain, to a local man.

We don't know what Mr. Anderson thought of it all; his phone is still disconnected. If it had been this driver I would have taken some small satisfaction that it cost the authorities $40,000 to have the La-Z-Boy outfit kill their juicy deal.

And while it seems amusing at first, at the same time it was a monstrous penalty for denting a car door; losing what must have been at least a year of sweat, craftsmanship and obvious pride to the righteousness of authority. I know, I know; it's supposed to be serious bidness and drunkenness isn't funny and just think of what could have happened. But good grief. There was only one victim and he was the perpetrator.

* * * *

Another favorite item from the new edition is a story about hand carved barstools in a bar called Jackson's Hole, which is in the nearly abandoned town of Lawler. One of the few other buildings still surviving is this one; it's mentioned here because I like the photo.

A reminder of President Lincoln, somehow.
A reminder of President Lincoln, somehow.

Lawler never recovered from the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894, which burned over 200,000 acres and killed at least 418 people and perhaps as many as 800. The most famous of these was Thomas P. "Boston" Corbett, the Union soldier who killed John Wilkes Booth because Booth had killed Abraham Lincoln.

* * * *

I said we were again on a Montana track and readers seem to like photos -- possibly more than the text -- I have no problem with that -- and I have this shot I wanted to run last year. This is a closeup portrait of the triceratops that stands in front of the Grand River Museum in Lemmon South Dakota. We will likely be through that way again.

Oh you handsome brute, you.
Oh you handsome brute, you.

* * * *

I'm writing now from Bartonsville, Pennsylvania, holed up in long motel that thankfully has suites and is very reasonable, and within a few miles in either direction of shopping and good dining at fair prices.

It's really big Hank that's here, because the New Jersey parking lot where we did stash him suddenly became the construction site of another large building. We are in Town Hall for only two weekends this time so it made no sense to drive home and then back, which is why I'm sitting here in this lonely two-room hideout from whence we shall launch come Saturday evening and swing yet again into Times Square. And then haul the gear off to Nashville.

It's the beginning of an epic fifteen-week crisscrossing of the nation. There are probably stories out there. But for right now, tonight, I'd like to be back in Minneapolis because a blazing guitarist and singer from Austin, Texas is at the Dakota Jazz Club on Nicollet. Forget American Idol; this is the real deal here. She and her band will rock your socks off. Her name is Carolyn Wonderland. Go, gal.

© R.Ringsak, 2012

(aka: r dot ringsak at gmail dot com)

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