Thursday, April 13, 2006

Flashback: The Knights of Columbus Takes on a New Role

[More in the saga of my life in the `50s for my kids and grandchildren].

No sooner had I recovered from the Knights of Columbus initiation which was conducted on a Sunday, when it came right over the phone to me on the next working day, Monday. In some ways, it was a good news Monday. First to call was the Swift County Monitor-News one of the biggest weeklies in the state, published twice weekly which invited me to be its editor with a small piece of the business action if I do well.

Advantages: much better salary than I was making; somewhat of a climb up with civic role (Chamber, Rotary Kiwanis memberships) that goes with being editor; learning the business side of the newspaper business including the job shop preparatory to becoming (ahem) businessman; possibility of one-day being the owner since he had no kids interested in the business; greatly improved working conditions with no curmudgeonly business manager looking over your shoulder. Once-a-day gig five days a week on local radio station giving local, state news which would add some bucks (but radio scared me somewhat: could I do it?). No longer having to get hair cut by incarcerated Indians. No more mandatory eating of free lutfisk and lefsa at Norwegian Sunday church dinners.

Negatives: moving to a more rural part of the state; probably giving up maybe for some years chance to go to a big city daily; editorial views of the owner not conservative but not liberal either: but possibly could handle it. That’s it. Still I couldn’t get excited about it. Why? Intangibles: I was beginning to love St. Cloud [made memo to myself: should get head examined]. Still, this was starting to worry me: if I liked it so much, I was doomed to earn $67.50 a week for the rest of my life. I was now 26.

Still, with no zing to take the job, I turned it down.

The second call was from the Winona prosecuting attorney and State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus, Jim Dailey.

He: Say, you were a star yesterday.

Me: Star? I made a fool out of myself.

He: That’s what we like.

Me: I bet you do.

He: I want to make a proposition to you.

Me: What? Be a fool again at the next initiation?

He: Sort of. No, just kidding. I’m setting up a new team to put on initiations out of St. Cloud headed by Marty Nilan: you know him? Me: Yeah, he’s the county probation officer. He: Right. He’s organizing a team and we want you on it. You’ll go across the state on Sundays with Marty. We’ll pay you $10 a performance.

Me: What role do I play? The priest I hope.

He: Nope. I’ve created a new role just for you.

Me: New role?

He: New role. Let me tell you what it is.

Me: Not the Captain of the Guard, the guy who hits the priest!

He: Nope. This is something new. You know after the guy hits the priest and everybody goes over the wall to chase the Adjutant down the corridor into the main chamber trying to kill him?

Me: Yeah, I was one of them.

He: I know. What you didn’t know is that four or five initiates, chickens, were scared and huddled together in the room, too scared to go out. They missed the denouement altogether. The job is to get them out of the room and that’s where you would come in. As I say it pays $10 a Sunday.

Me: That’s my job? What do I do?

He: First you show up as a decoy the way everybody else does except you’ll have your left hand bandaged.

Me: Why?

He: You’ll be asked that question by one of the plants. He’ll say in a prominent voice: “Hey, what happened to your hand?”

Me: What do I say?

He: You say, “Funny you should ask. The other day when I was taking out the garbage and papers to the alley near my house, a strange dog came up and bit me on the fleshy part of my hand and then ran away.”

Me: That’s all?

He: No, then some people will say: “Did they catch the dog?” You’ll say, “No.” They’ll say, “Did you go to the doctor to have him look at the bite?” You’ll say no, never got around to it. My wife bandaged it. They’ll say: “Gee, do you think that was smart? Strange dog bites you and all.” You say with some misgiving: “No, I guess it wasn’t. As a matter of fact I don’t feel very well. I hope this initiation doesn’t take long.” Then you sort of float around the group bearing the same general tale—not overdoing it, you understand, but spreading it.”

Me: Then what?

He: When the confrontation with the priest starts, you ease to the back of the room. When the Adjutant hits the priest and he slumps and the gang goes over the backs of those in front to get the Captain of the Guard, a few chickens will hang back, saying to themselves: “eeh, maybe we shouldn’t go out there! Maybe it’s wrong.” That’s when you, unseen, pop two Alka Seltzer tablets in your mouth. It foams up immediately and you go…eeeeayayayayayauhhhhh!... and run at the chickens. They’ll get out of the room fast. We tried it in Winona. It really works. Are you still there?

Me: Yeah.

He: You foam and spit that Alka Seltzer at `em, try to get some on their suit to scare `em. It’s a great role and after a few times we’ll put you in the priest role.

Me: Promise?

He: Yeah, what do you say?

Me: $10 a Sunday? What about my suit?

He: $10 a Sunday and we’ll take the cleaning bill on the suit. Alka Seltzer cleans right off.

Me: When do I start?

He: Next Sunday. Go see Marty Nilan. You guys are going to Duluth. Ever been there?

Me: Yeah, at the CIO convention.

He: Right, I think I saw you there. Keep yourself objective now because I’m going to run for AG in two years. For now, go see Marty Nilan at the Courthouse. He’s expecting you.

At the Courthouse, I met Nilan and signed up to go to Duluth with the same guys who fooled me the last Sunday—the pseudo priest, Darryl Hurd, the real sheriff’s deputy, Al Coulson the sick man, a new Captain of the Guard, George Stotko, a St. Cloud detective, Gerald Olson the convert, and four ringers who were to spread stories to the fresh group of initiates. Duluth would have heavy, hefty, hard-working physical men who worked in the iron ore mines, immigrants from eastern Europe who didn’t speak English all that well , fire-breathing and passionate, having come from behind the Iron Curtain who took their religion seriously.

“They’ll love it when you spray the Alka Seltzer at them!” Nilan enthused.

[Next: We go to Duluth and find out how passionately working men feel about a priest being slugged and somebody with rabies running up behind them.]

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