by Mark T Wayne
“Whaddaya think is da best Christmas gift o’ dem all?” Loop Lonagan puts this puerile question in a peculiar verbal form he calls the American language just as Donatis Ludditis and I innocently raise a Christmas toast at that notable Chicago landmark, Ludditis Shots & Beer. The place offers several distinct advantages. Our host never presents a bill for our proclivities and the back room houses our magazine offices.
“I got best gift! Is this!” Ludditis states his case in his Lithuanian accent, and passes fancy boxes across the table. “This one for you, Mr. Wayne. Is Christmas!”
Ludditis’ combo glass
I tear off the bow and wrapping paper, and then study the packaging a moment. Pictured on the exterior is a shocking freak of glassware—a combination beer and shot glass.
Ludditis quivers with excitement. “See, you must only wash half so many glasses! You like? Is good?”
“No.” This curt observation issues from the foul Lonagan creature.
I stretch a leg and carefully squash his foot under cover of the round Formica table and he instantly emits a mist of good whiskey from his tightly closed lips. Never permit a boot heel to go idle when the opportunity arises. Meanwhile, I ingratiate myself with our host. “Such a fine gift, sir! I accept it with profound appreciation and gratitude! This most excellent glassware shall fill a special place in my extensive liquor cabinet!”
Ludditis gives a little bow along with a flourish of the hand.
“But,” I continue, “I believe the man that sits betwixt us hints at something on a far grander scale. Perhaps he seeks the ultimate gift that one can receive.”
The table goes silent, so I set about to stir the creative juices. I clear my throat. “Before any serious hypotheses are put forth, may I suggest that we set some rules for the game?”
Ludditis interrupts, spreading his arms wide. “American million-dollar bill! Five feet long! Good gift!”
Lonagan is massaging his injured foot. “I s’pose da greatest gift of all—what ever’body really wants—is da eternal salvation of yer immortal soul.” He looks up from his foot with a curious and piercing gaze. “Just a handful o’ faith unwraps dat package, ‘n’ it’s fulla God’s grace ‘n’ love. Joy on earth ‘n’ heaven in da hereafter.”
“Who amongst us can buy a thing such as that?” I bark the words. And quite privately, I am shocked! Shocked, I say! I never considered the execrable Lonagan capable of formulating such a deep and sensitive notion. Since when did the man get religion? As a confirmed atheist, this sentiment makes me itch like a boy wearing coarse woolen underwear.
Mark T Wayne
“It’s somethin’ you ain’t never gonna unnerstand, ya old crank,” he says with evident conviction. It is Lonagan’s turn to pour shots from our dusty bottle of single malt and he proceeds to do so. “Nobody buys off God. Salvation is free! But ya gotta open da gift t’ own it.”
His words raise the hackles at the back of my neck and interfere with my normally placid demeanor. “What possible value, sir, is a gift that is free for the taking by any derelict off the street?” I honestly have no idea what this lout is driving at. I know of rumors that Lonagan took a first in finance at the University of Chicago’s graduate program, but to hear his vulgar turn of phrase, his vernacular of deeze and doze, one would take the man for a complete idiot. There may be something there that explains his secret to success—maybe. I will study the matter.
“I change,” blurts Ludditis. “I agree with Loop. Forever with Creator is better than million-dollar bill. Is Christmas!”
I quickly gather myself and recognize a need to set reasonable limits if we wish to come to a practical conclusion. “Gentlemen, I will delineate the rules of the game:
- “The gift should serve some specific utility.
- “It must require fervid imagination, and fevered preparation
- “A large monetary outlay must be expended—but something of a size that one of us might actually be inclined to shell out.”
I fill the combo glasses and everybody downs another shot.
Without warning, Lonagan slams a meaty fist to the table. Then he blurts out something totally inappropriate. “We gotta do somethin’ fer Jonelis.”
One never knows what to expect from this fellow. “I fail to follow your train of thought, sir. Perhaps you refer to the gift of which we speak. Certainly I can think of no individual less deserving than Jonelis, unless we care to speculate about you.”
“C’mon, use yer brain. I’m only here ‘cause o’ him. Same with you, Don.” Then he squints at me. “But I dunno where YOU come from, MISTER Mark T Wayne, with yer mass o’ bushy white hair ‘n’ yer musty old white flannel suit dat never gets smudged. Ya crummy hack writer! Whadidya do? Fall outa da 19th Century by accident er somethin’?”
I square my shoulders and look down my nose at the man. “I do not hail from your gutter, sirrah. Through my literary efforts, I enjoy the pleasure of knowing both King Arthur and Tom Sawyer, but never have I come across the likes of you. Should you care to indulge further in personal invective, I may be excused for requesting satisfaction. Pistols at dawn is the usual procedure.”
Ludditis cracks a walnut in his naked hand and then scatters the pieces on the table. “You want fight—go out in street! Not in my place! Is Christmas!”
Ludditis is an amazing fellow. Not only is he a powerful and possibly a dangerous Lugan, but the man is also pushing one hundred years of age. He refills the diminutive end of our glasses with the skill of an accomplished bartender and we all consume our shots of single malt. “I vote Mr. Yonelis.” Ludditis always pronounces it that way. “That make majority. What we give him, huh?”
Lonagan runs a finger around the larger rim of his combo glass until it raises a faint musical pitch. “A monetary gift, eh? Well I ain’t givin’ da guy no Lexus with some sappy red bow on top. That ain’t worth nothin’ t’ him.”
Lexus sales event
Ludditis: “Maybe we get for him hair transplant. That cost lots and lots of money. I think he look good with hair.”
Lonagan: “Naw, he likes his shiny dome. Brags he don’t even comb it. What Jonelis wants is t’ enjoy God’s creation.”
Again Lonagan’s spiritual reference grates at my nerves, but his genius amazes me. I must seize his notion, build upon it, and bring this conversation back to the physical realm. I make another pronouncement: “Gentlemen, I have a satisfactory answer.”
They both turn to me like schoolboys.
“I believe I understand the man’s deepest cravings. He yearns to experience the wilderness, but not its inconvenience. In this age, such a thing can be done!
“I know a place where a man can immerse himself in wild nature—where no roads exist for hundreds of miles—a place dotted with thousands of pristine lakes rimmed with Jack Pine and Aspen forests. Populating the woods are bear, moose, deer, and untold numbers of avian species.
“The waters are teaming with an entirely natural and burgeoning population of gigantic Northern Pike, which by afternoon, lounge so thick in the bays that a man can walk across the water on their backs! Shall I continue?”
They both nod with eager and toothy grins.
“In this place, a man indulges in the savagery of nature. Living off the land. Yes sir! Exercising one’s right as an animal at the top of the food chain—except, of course, for the great bear.
“Such an excursion exerts a powerful pull on one’s primal urges and instincts, which lie hidden beneath that rumpled business suit. A brief experience of such raw pleasure will leave an indelible mark of satisfaction on a man—a feeling akin to bliss, followed by an insatiable longing to return to this wild paradise forthwith and forever. I believe the term ECOTOURISM is currently in vogue.”
Lonagan’s chin is cupped in both hands and he’s grinning. Then he breaks from his dream and inspects me with one eye. “Ecotourism—ain’t dat fer tree huggers?”
Ludditis returns from a quick trip to the bar with a fresh bottle. “Why you think this idea work so good? John no hug tree—what he do?”
“He lives in a log cabin heated by a wood fire! He drinks water straight from a virgin lake! He battles monster fish with hook and line. He wolfs down fresh meat for sustenance. That is what he does, sir!
“I know a place almost inaccessible to most and untouched by human hands—unchanged since the last ice age. The largest unspoiled land mass in the world—almost entirely devoid of human habitation! A trackless wilderness of immense beauty and majesty!
“I speak to you of the Canadian Shield—a landscape of exposed bedrock, created by severe glaciation during the ice age. This is the ancient geological core of the North American continent—a place more than four billion years old!”
Canadian Shield (in red)
The sharp intake of breath, the squeak of a chair, then silence. I continue:
“This planet’s Boreal Forest, rings the Northern Hemisphere, and a good third of it lies on the Canadian Shield! Yes sir! Canada’s Boreal landscape contains more lakes and rivers than any landmass in the world! It is estimated that the region contains over two million watersheds—the largest intact forest on earth, with millions of square miles still undisturbed by roads, cities or industrial development! Picture that, gentlemen!”
From their glazed expressions, I can only assume they picture it in their minds eye.
“In the northern reaches of Manitoba—at the 55th parallel—we find the perfection of conifer and aspen forests and an uncountable quantity of ancient lakes, some over fifty miles long, each with hundreds of rocky islands. That sir, is the northern fringe of the forest. North of that lies tundra!
Boreal forest – Manitoba
“And fish, gentlemen—fish in untold abundance! I know a place where one can set out in a rude boat and catch a hundred fighting Northern Pike in a day by hook and line using spoons and streamers—some fashioned by one’s own hands!
“And this, gentlemen, is Jonelis’ favorite lake in all the world. Given a choice, he would live here.”
Lonagan rouses himself. “Hey, I love dat place too. Ever’body dats been there does.”
“Certainly, certainly. Not even a churlish cad could fail to express such a sentiment.”
“But it’s 50 below up dare now. Farenheit!”
Is the man deliberately obtuse? Any fool knows one must travel those parts during the proper season.
Ludditis appears greatly agitated. “I lose track. You put old man out in cold? Is Christmas!”
“Certainly not at Christmas! No sir! At this time of year, a man makes his plans and rushes to secure a booking, hoping one is still available.
Another trophy pike
“No, I do not intend to be rude, Mr Ludditis. I speak of North Star Outpost on KNEE LAKE, Manitoba. A luxurious wilderness haven, available during THIS lifetime. A place where awe and wonder forever change you. It lies due north of where we now sit—modern transportation whisks you away to this paradise in the space of a few hours. There are no roads. Airplane is the only practical access, and it can be reached, at most, three months of the year.
Accessible only by air
“What do you say, gentlemen? Shall we provide the means for our mentor, our friend, to taste and enjoy the delights of this earthly paradise?”
Lonagan lets out a deep sigh. “I wonder if he’s gonna ask us to go with.”
“Perhaps. Consider that if one wishes to wager at poker, it is necessary to bring companions.
“The same need serves us well if he longs for a competitive round of pool in the evening after a refreshing hot shower.
“Gentlemen, I propose a toast!” Ludditis and I clash our combo glasses in a hearty cheer. “To the greatest Christmas gift!”
And Lonagan joins our toast. “Dat money can buy!”
Go to: HOW TO TREAT THE OLD MAN
North Star Executive Outpost
Knee Lake, Manitoba
Call Hope Levenhagen 1-800-563-7151 firstname.lastname@example.org
General email email@example.com
Address N28W23000 Roundy Drive, Suite 102
Pewaukee, Wisconsin 53072
Charts and Maps—The Manitoba Museum. Wikipedia. MS Office.
Photography by John Jonelis.
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