Before I lay me down to sleep



I have never been under the scalpel or anesthetized by someone else. This Friday I surrender myself to the care of Dr. John Armstrong, a sincere and friendly young man of steady hand, to correct something in the vicinity of sensitive matters which is not that big a deal to a practiced physician or anyone else but me.

Anxiety heightens when you are told you must first go through a complete physical with blood tests and x-rays and sticky probes that hurt when you pull them off. The sum of it is that I am not near death — although you really never know — but that my bad habits have caught up to me. Quit smoking and exercise something other than your thumbs and jaw.

Meantime, two maniacs are meeting in Singapore who could blow up the world over a bad cup of tea.

It’s hard to tell which anxiety is more gripping: that of mortality or awaiting publication of a book that could flop and forever leave you a pariah, not a prophet, in your hometown.

I was discussing this over the phone with anxious fellow traveler Marty Case, a classmate of mine at St. Mary’s, and I could hear a noise in the background. It sounded like his carotid artery gushing. He calmed me by saying he was walking near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. Marty, too, has written a book that was just published by the Minnesota Historical Society: The Relentless Business of Treaties explains concisely how the United States, in particular a handful of fur traders, politicians and soldiers, used trade and treaties to steal most of North America from indigenous nations. Julien Dubuque and Zebulon Pike and Henry Sibley were not nice men. More about that in another column. Suffice to say that it ended up bad, and that people are not getting that much better.

We continue to herd and chain indigenous people, in Mount Pleasant and New Mexico and in a former big box store in San Antonio, Texas, were more than 1,000 children of undocumented immigrants are locked up at a shopping mall now operated by the Department of Health and Human Services. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., called HHS to set up an appointment for an inspection. He arrived at the site and buzzed at the front door, and identified himself a couple weeks ago. The people inside called the cops.

“What’s your name, sir?”

“Senator Jeff Merkley. I’m here to …”

“Could you spell your name, please?”

“M-E-R-K-L-E-Y. I am a senator from …”

“Date of birth, please, sir.”

“I take it they want me to leave.”

“Uh, yeah, that would be the program, man.”

I could be 12-years-old and stuck in there with no hope that a senator would ever save me. It brings my anxieties into some perspective.

I was 12-years-old once, 49 years ago. That’s when Guy Colvin and I started into our bad habits, and we have been at it ever since. He can barely see except to shoot a deer with an arrow. For now, that will have to do because a welder isn’t made of gold but of burns on his forearms and belly. He tried to quit smoking by rolling his own but it worsened the addiction because it is a lot cheaper.

Marty and I became friends in high school. We drank an entire quart of Scotch by a lake near St. Cloud one night waxing on about writing. Neither of us thought anyone would ever want to publish one of our books, even though we were brilliant that night. Here was Marty last week as he had to confront the public for his first book event. Terrifying stuff. Not quite like living in El Salvador. But reality is frightening, even for a white man in Storm Lake or at Minnehaha Falls with a book deal.

Neither of us is an heir to the fur traders. Our ancestors worked in the lead mines the traders took from the natives by immersing them in debt and receiving land as payoff. The mob still does business that way, and some of them still practice politics through what amounts to ethnic cleansing.

We have a lot of work to do building that shining city on a hill, or whatever it is that we were put here for. You think about these things when the test results come back, kids. According to the maniacs in Singapore, the world is what they make of it. The lesson is that your own reality is the only one, displayed in black and white in the x-ray room, and that just won’t do. I have a 13% greater chance of keeling over in the next 10 years because of lipids, I think I heard her say. I should think about medications. Or maybe just get off my bony butt, play the odds as always and be amazed that Guy Colvin can still find a catfish, and that Marty Case has a cellphone, not to mention a darn good book that shows where our insane system is rooted. Put me under with that thought in mind.