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Al Batt: Making a to-do list is easy when you’re doing nothing

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


Back in the days when everything was nearly copacetic, we made hay and ground feed. Not all of the hay went into the barn nor did all the feed go into a granary. A lot of it went down my neck, where it became an incessant itch.

I have an itch to travel, to go places and make a triumphant return to fanfare at my humble abode. Yet, I welcome being homebound. I accept the limits of a world out of joint and am happy just to be somewhere.

I did move slightly on the map. I went to St. Olaf Lake just to walk around. I encountered my neighbor Still Bill, he makes more dust than miles, who was fishing. He’d worked up a smile and was sitting on a deluxe camp chair as he believes comfort isn’t worth half-doing. I said, “How are you?” “About 73%,” he answered. “Catching anything?” I asked, which has taken a double meaning during this time of COVID-19.

“If I catch two more, I’ll have two,” replied Still Bill, you need to drive stakes by to see if he’s moving. “This is nice, but it ain’t Mayberry,” he added. Still Bill is a grain farmer. He’s in the doldrums. The crop is in and he’s waiting for harvest to begin. He’s OK waiting as he’s strong on stop and weak on go.

I miss sitting in the Eat Around It Cafe with Still Bill as he orders the entire left side of the menu, minus any salads. When we were in grade school, we had to describe ourselves in a five-letter word. Still Bill wrote, “L-A-Z-Y.” He ran the 100-yard dash in school. His personal best was 50 yards. He’s not likely to swat a fly and his spirit animal is the sloth. He might be allergic to sweat, so he practices active avoidance. He does resistance training by resisting exercising. He’s never had motion sickness, but he remains cautious. When he does exercise, he does diddly-squats. E.B. White wrote, “One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.” Sweat is Still Bill’s enemy. He finds it of little use other than for watering his wild eyebrows.

Each time he drives by a Best Western, Still Bill calls me and says, “True Grit,” as if the hotel sign was a question. A hammock sits between two trees battling for sunshine in his yard. Each tree is about a hug and a half around. Still Bill spends so much time there, I fear he may have imprinted on those trees.

His parents gave him one book from a set of encyclopedias for his first 22 birthdays. His brother Slobert, a nickname given to him because of his lack of attention to his appearance, got the same. When Slobert got the encyclopedia covering the letter O, he hurt his back reading about the Olympics.

Still Bill’s dog watched him fish. It has one up-ear and one down-ear. It’s always half-listening. If Still Bill were a dog, he’d wait for the neighbors’ dogs to bark and then merely nod.

His nickname in school was Footsteps because his feet had outgrown the rest of his body. He could become a one-man band by simply wearing flip-flops. He was part of the school’s precision toenail clipping team.

The handles of responsibility can be slippery, but he gets his work done and then some. Still Bill doesn’t do them all in one swell foop and have to go looking for more work. That’s insanity. He does his chores good enough for government work. He can cook a little and eat a lot. His favorite dish is mashed potatoes a la mode. That’s cold mashed potatoes on top of hot mashed potatoes.

Still Bill will travel. He bases his destinations by how far it would be for him to drive back home. Like the rest of us, the coronavirus has whacked him upside the head. “I used to cross the street to greet a hugger. Now I cross the street to avoid one,” he said. He doesn’t plan on dying for as long as he lives.

I wished him good luck and as I was leaving, he quoted, Sweat & Tears, “Talking ‘bout your troubles it’s a crying sin. Ride a painted pony, let the spinning wheel spin.” I hope those sage words provide as much solace to you as they do to him.

The damndemic has proven Still Bill right. Doing nothing isn’t always a bad idea.

Al Batt’s columns appear
every Wednesday.