words by genghis , pictures by rhoda
"boss, do you remember johnny?"
"no. i can't say that i do"
"you know, johnny, that used to hang out with jackie and joey."
"oh yeah, that guy, i remember him, what about him?"
"he came around this morning, looking for a job."
"is he here now?"
"he might have come back, let me take a look."
clade was the boss of the north side. he didn't have much on his desk that morning. there were only seven or eight people waiting outside.
dumus came back into the office with johnny.
johnny stood stiffly in front of clade's desk, holding his hat against his leg. there were a couple of chairs against the wall but dumus didn't make a move towards them.
clade looked johnny in the eye. 'so johnny, where you been? keep in mind, i like a good story. you been in alcatraz, maybe in prison in argentina or someplace like that?"
"no sir, but i have been in captivity. i was kidnapped by a bunch of high school economics teachers and held prisoner in the desert for four years."
clade's eyebrows twitched. "that's the best i've heard all morning. it's not much but it's the best i've heard." he nodded at johnny. "keep going."
"well, " said johnny. 'it all began on a summer may morning - "
"may's not in summer," dumus interrupted.
"it is where i come from," johnny answered.
"where's that? i thought you were from around here."
"no, i originally came from somewhere else."
"and that was?"
johnny thought for a few seconds. "saskatchewan."
"i bet it gets cold in sasketchewan."
"even in may, when it's summer."
"no in may it's really summer. the flowers bloom, the bird's sing - "
clade interrupted. "and you were walking along - and then what?"
"i wasn't walking. i was riding. i was hitchhiking, and i got a ride from a paper cup salesman."
dumus shook his head. "a nice summer day with the flowers blooming and the birds singing, and you didn't want to go for a walk? i would have gone for a walk, got some good fresh air."
"i had a long way to go,"
"and where was that?"
johnny thought again. "chicago"
"it's still pretty cold in chicago in may," said clade.
"how far from sasketchewan to chicago?" asked dumus.
"it depends on what? on whether it's a nice summer day?"
"no, on what part of saskatchewan you're coming from. saskatchewan is big. you could be coming from regina, the capital, or from saskatoon, or from la ronge in the center of the province, or even from fond du lac in the north. it all depends."
"how far from regina?"
"one thousand, one hundred and fifty-four miles."
"well i guess we can let you hitch a ride then. how far from la ronge?"
"one thousand, five hundred and fifty-one miles."
"that's to chicago, right, not to here?"
"what does la ronge mean?" dumus asked.
"it's a french word, it's not english. what does it mean in english?"
"oh. it means food thats been chewed by an animal."
"there's no word in english for food that's been chewed by an animal."
"i don't know what to tell you. maybe people in the english speaking countries aren't as concerned with such matters."
"this is all well and good," said clade. "but can we move on? "
"wait," dumus told him. "i have one more question. how far from fond du lac ?"
"you mean to chicago?"
"two thousand, two hundred and five miles."
"i'm glad we got that settled," said clade.
"but it doesn't compute," dumus insisted. "if regina is one thousand, one hundred and fifty-four miles, and la ronge is in the center of the province is one thousand, five hundred and fifty-one miles, how can fond du lac be two thousand, two hundred and five miles? its only three hundred and ninety-seven miles from la ronge to to regina, but six hundred and fifty four miles from fond du lac to la ronge, how can la ronge be in the center? something is very wrong here."
"actually," johnny said. "it's one thousand and eighty miles from fond du lac to la ronge."
"what! now i'm totally confused."
"it's driving miles."
"you have to drive west to alberta province and get on the trans-canada highway and drive south and east again. otherwise you're driving through ice floes and grizzly bears and stuff."
"of course!" dumus shook his head. "i should have known that."
"they must be some ugly grizzly bears," said clade. "to make you drive so far out of your way."
"they are. we're talking canadian grizzly bears here. these aren't your american grizzly bears, licking the cheese off mcdonalds wrappers in yellowstone park. they crave heartier fare."
"i should have known," dumus repeated. "i really dropped the ball on that one. sorry, boss."
"so, " clade said," you were picked up by the paper cup salesman on the trans-canada highway on a bright summer day - "
'in the morning, right?" put in dumus.
"yes, it was at 9:53 on may 14."
"what kind of paper cups was he selling?" dumus asked. "the old fashioned kind that are just paper or the new laminated kind?"
"i'm not sure that 'lamination' is the correct term for the coating on paper cups," johnny answered.
"you know what i mean. i don't like the new kind, they probably give you cancer."
"are there any studies confirming that?" clade asked.
"no, it's just a gut feeling on my part. did he have the new kind or not?"
"probably. you don't see the old type much any more"
"i thought a place overrun with grizzly bears might have the old kind."
"so you didn't actually see the paper cups?"
"no, i just took his word for it that he was selling paper cups."
"you see why i keep this guy around," clade said to johnny. "he gets to the bottom of things and doesn't let anybody get away with anything."
"can i go on now?" johnny asked.
"actually, no. i got a guy coming in, i've blown him off too many times already. i'm sorry you didn't have time to finish your story."
"maybe i could come back -"
"that won't be necessary."
"i was really cranked up to tell my tale."
"if you have a real need to finish your story," dumus told johnny, "you might try the park. it's probably filled to overflowing with people who would like to hear a good story."
"maybe, but it's a little chilly today."
"give it a try. you might be pleasantly surprised."