For a week I have endured close association with that foul animal, Loop Lonagan. The more I learn about the man, the more I like my dog. Now, Old Man Ludditis wants a rundown on our trip to Chicago’s hottest startup, so we’re both here at his bar, drinking his liquor.
The Lonagan creature slobbers with enthusiasm to tell the story. “Dis place’s way up dare,” he says in his ungrammatical vernacular as he slides across the first photograph from the trip. Yes, this place is way up there—that much is true. It’s northern Manitoba, the 55th parallel, where we enjoy cool weather in the summer, and it never gets entirely dark.
But the creature’s mouth is running on. “No roads! Just trees ‘n’ lakes fer hunerds o’ miles.”
I agree with that statement.
“It’s the only lodge on a huge lake.”
“And you can dip a cup over the side o’ the boat ‘n’ drink da water!”
Right again. Strange. Lonagan may break a record for being upright tonight. Maybe.
“Pike ‘n’ walleye so thick you can walk on their backs. Six of ‘em jumped right in the boat and almost sunk it. Anudder one took a flying leaped and bit my rod in half on da way by.
Fer bait we use baseball bats with huge treble hooks and throw ‘em all day. I’m still sore.” He rubs his shoulder, rather dramatically to my way of thinking. “We caught more’n a thousand fish apiece!”
That string of whoppers snaps his winning streak. Normally I would not presume to steal a man’s thunder, but a half-truth is the most cowardly of lies and I feel duty-bound to correct errant reporting that may appear in our journal. Yes sir. This low-brow has sunk to self-aggrandizement and for no good reason; the fishing up there is so astounding that exaggeration is not required.
Here are the facts: The lake is stocked by God and God alone, and the waters team with life. Northern Pike in the 42-49 inch range are not uncommon, and they dutifully log such trophies in the Master Angler records, available to all.
Giant baits are not required. One-ounce spoons are what the pike crave, for reasons that escape me. They are eager to bite and do so with savage alacrity.
The foul Lonagan’s count is somewhat inflated as well. I believe 520 was the number of fish between the three of us. Four days is around 28 hours in the boat and that works out to a fish about every three minutes on average. I think.
But the man runs on with his drivel. “Flies and mosquitos crawl all over yer face, crawl across yer eyeballs, ‘n’ you can’t eat nothin’ without dem things gettin’ in yer mouth.”
Another outright lie. We experience few flies and mosquitoes. Perhaps fishermen foolish enough to walk directly into the dense woods suffer such iniquities, but personally, I do not understand that kind of behavior. No sir! There are plenty of trees to target on the fringe. I never reached for the bug spray the entire trip and I can only assume that Lonagan wants to scare other sportsmen away from what he regards as his private fishing hole.
All this begs the question, What does fishing have to do with Chicago startups?’ My response is the same as in the past. The lodge opened its doors in recent years using private equity, so it is a startup. All who come here either hale from Chicago, once did so, or must pass through our fair city, so it qualifies as a Chicago startup.
Let me also point out that every budding Chicago entrepreneur requires vigorous alternate activity to effectively rest and return to battle. A fishing trip such as this stimulates innovation and is therefore vital to a company’s bottom line. Excellent fishing provides an elixir to top management—an essential part of doing business, and it is an admirable location for a board meeting. Therefore I can state unequivocally that we were at this location performing important research—not goofing off.
Now, as we huddle around the Formica table, I raise my expertly crafted mint julep in a toast. “Gentlemen. We met at this very place, not two years past, to choose a gift for Jonelis, our fearless leader. And I wish to point out that without the mentorship of today’s host, we may have invested in some foolish gewgaw. But we did not. Instead, we wisely selected an outing at this magnificent wilderness locale. Let us raise a cheer to a man whose wisdom and kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. I toast Donatas Ludditis!”
We all raise our glasses. Our host smiles sweetly while Lonagan chugs single malt from his tumbler, then belches. I clearly hear him remark under his breath: “Windbag.”
Passing over this crass interjection, I address my comments to our host. “The irresistible draw of the wild stands as the only sufficient excuse for having traveled with a lowlife like Lonagan. Now behold how the man does sneer, and swell, and soar, and blaspheme the sacred name of Truth. I should choose my companions more wisely.”
Lonagan’s face turns purple with rage. “You miserable old fossil…ya leftover from da musty past…I dunno how I survived four days in a boat with a useless crank like you. Shoulda left you at da bottom o’ the lake!”
I ignore him and turn back to our host in a confidential manner. “Never argue with an idiot. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
“Shuttup ya—ya hack writer!” Lonagan swings his meaty fist in a long reaching punch.
He crashes forward, belly first, splitting the table in twain and, in a more serious loss, he sweeps our drinks to the floor.
The force of his dive tips my chair back and as I fall, I see Old Man Ludditis swinging the whiskey bottle. It connects across the lout’s shoulder. Glass shards fly and whiskey floods the area worse than during business hours. “I no want fight in my bar,” He shouts. “You fight, you go outside. This is place of peace.”
As I pick myself up, I reflect on Lonagan’s huge fists. They can do damage and have done so to many who are sorry to learn of it. But I have avoided any repercussions because he missed the mark.
Our host dusts himself off, then produces a walnut out of nowhere and calmly cracks it using the crook of his left arm. The pieces fall to the floor and he then cracks another. Then another.
Those walnuts are a helpful reminder and I imagine a skull might make such a sound—my skull. But this kind of rich old-world charm always soothes my ire, and it seems to do the same for the creature Lonagan, who appears unharmed. Yes sir! We are in Ludditis’ establishment, drinking his liquor, and cannot justifiably argue with such a sweet old gentleman who once boasted the title of chief enforcer for the Lithuanian mob (retired). After all, what are a few hot words among friends?
We repair to another table and I for one, resolve to comply with the old man’s wishes—for now. I sip my drink, and bide my time. “Go ahead Lonagan,” I say, “tell him all about it.”
The man sneers at me, then goes to work. “We had lotsa heavy weather—kinda rough fer that tiny little pontoon plane. Pilot passed out from fright ‘n’ I hadda take over the controls. First time I ever landed on water so it wasn’t real pretty.”
We never saw any thunderclappers. The man spouts these lies without so much as a grin. With mild and mannerly aplomb, I say, “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”
“You callin’ me a liar?”
“Well, perhaps it’s the best you can do. A casual read of Scripture will show that man was made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired.”
Lonagan’s eyes bulge and he stands for a repeat performance.
“I say no fight here! You boys shake hands. Mr. Wayne, please let Loop tell it his own way.”
Our host is right. Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it. But for the record, we traveled by luxurious turboprop, tricked out with air conditioning, reclining leather seats, and a pretty stewardess who earnestly plied us with food and drink. In an hour and a half, it whisked us away from Winnipeg, 500 miles north to a private gravel strip carved out of the forest. But Lonagan has been babbling all this time.
Now he brandishes a photograph. “…and dis huge bear chased us back to our boat. We barely escaped alive.” More nonsense. I’m shocked that the man didn’t claim to have fought it with his bare hands. Perhaps that didn’t occur to him. We saw the bear from the boat and went elsewhere for shore lunch.
“…beans fer breakfast. Beans fer supper.” I believe this is about as barbarous an exhibition as I have witnessed yet. He exaggerates the fishing and then disparages the food. He bolsters his ego on the backs of invented clap-trap deprivations. It may be thought that I am prejudiced against the man. Perhaps I am. I would be ashamed of myself if it were not so.
Permit me to straighten out the matter. The guests congregate for breakfast and dinner in a large and beautifully crafted log lodge, and start the day with eggs, bacon, Red River Cereal, juice and hot coffee, and for dinner, steak, pork chops, barbeque ribs—all you can eat and all the trimmings, served graciously with table cloths and silverware—tools that Lonagan does not know how to use properly.
But shore lunch is the grandest treat of all. Our guide chops wood, builds a fire, then cleans and cooks the walleye we just caught. Ah shore lunch! Beer batter walleye, honey garlic walleye, sweet and sour walleye.
And yes, I long to return, even if doing so means that I must put up with Lonagan. Because this ain’t Chicago. No sir! This is North Star Executive Outpost on Knee Lake, Manitoba.
I make no apology for detailing the above information. It will be news to some of my readers, at any rate.
Photos by John Jonelis
Some juicy quotes from Mark Twain.
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