Aug 25, 2010

Root Hog or Die

Most of us, even my fellow raving libertarians, are somewhat more compassionate than that toward  unfortunate people -- at least the poor who give productive living a diligent shot.

The Unwanted Blog offers a suggestion. We end the food stamp program on grounds that it is routinely abused. (I venture to add that it is also part of the federal and state Full  and Lucrative Employment  Program for  otherwise unemployable bureaucrats.)

He suggests we offer actual food instead, namely the "meal loaf" made famous by Lockup for bad guys who won't behave even in prison. It is a complete meal all done up in a blender. Think of ham hocks, peas,  bread, a spud, and your dessert brownie  all happily homogenized and served at  armpit temperatures. Your coffee is poured over the whole shebang.  Why not? The Hope is to Change hunger to good nutrition, and the meal loaf will do it.

Which provides the peg for a story.


Marv M.and I were undergraduates at a northeast Iowa university*  where we pursued BAs while always working at at least two jobs.  I tended bar, worked in the college electrical shop and made a pittance teaching scuba. Still, tuition, books, rent, interminable fees, and the cost of keeping my '56 Ford on the road kept me broke. OK, so the occasional coed played her pocket-emptying part, but, hey, a man must be part of the passions and actions of his times, right?

So I can't imagine that one spring day I trotted on down to Olson's Sporting Goods on the bank of the Cedar River and bought a WW2 Polish Radom for about $30  (sigh). **  I suppose I was motivated by being, for one of the few times in my life,  a walking gun-free zone.

Mr. Olson was a kindly soul who made a fair living  is his sprawling river bank shop selling hunting, fishing, and camping gear. He also rented boats and had a scuba compressor.  The benches along his sea wall were routinely occupied by bank fishermen, trying out his bait, drinking his beer and pop and tossing the empties into the black water. All this began to coalesce to our benefit  when he grumped that one of his rental customers, trying to replace a shear pin, dropped a ten-dollar prop into the Cedar. (Why didn't the a**hole row back and let me fix it here?" )

He wondered if  I'd be willing to dive for it for half the value, my 15 minutes as Travis McGee. Sure.

I didn't find it, but mucking around in the silt revealed the most amazing trove of pop  and beer bottles, worth a solid  five cents each anywhere fine beverages are sold.  Air was a dollar tank,  and at depths involved -- around ten feet -- a tank lasted well over an hour. So the the profit margin was good. We mined that lode four or five times, Marv tending a line for me and hauling up booty, me working the rocks and mud by feel.

A typical dip yielded 100 bottles and  more, call it five bucks after air expense. Five dollars would swap for a couple pounds of fat  hamburger, a can of tomatoes, a big onion,  and two boxes of Creamettes, with a little beer change left over.***  That was the year I learned to cook Hungarian. That was another year  in which we didn't often go hungry.


If this sounds like a BS pitch for retroactive nobility, so be it. It happened, and I have taken the lesson seriously to heart. In fact, it colors  my views on social justice to this day, even to modifying my opinion about  meal loaves for the poor.

Anyone who goes diving for deposit  bottles in order to make  goulash can still get food stamps.


* -- Actually, it was a pretty good college with pretensions and eventually  became a half-assed university.

** -- Buying a 9mm in those days carried the perceived risk that you might have trouble finding ammunition for that oddball Eurocaliber.

*** --  For those who find this unbelievable, remember that it was in the days before Lyndon Johnson read John Maynard Keynes and learned he could hide the cost of the Vietnam War and his Great Society by installing a Borg-Warner overdrive unit in the presses. Later presidents have, of course, giggled with delight at their inprovisations on the theme.

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