Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Of Cows and Coffee Places

Brainerd, MN--Sitting in a coffeeshop (well actually a “coffee bar”, to refer to its name, and actually this is a pretty literal description because it serves coffee for when you just need caffeine as well as coffee for when you've had kind of a rough day but still need caffeine and not only that but it's an actual bar so when you walk in you experience a kind of momentary dislocation) (Ed.: you can't make it five words without a parenthetical? You really do hate me, don't you?) in Brainerd, a town for which Eve professes to have a certain distaste, a distaste I hesitantly shared until coming in here, and the bar and the coffee and the gift shop (that's right, it's a gift shop too--“Coco Moon Coffee Bar and Gift Shop”, I shit you not, and every single one of the last five words are literally true and most have more than one meaning) made such a weird and unique combination, not to mention the strange demographic assortment of clientele that all these northern MN coffee places seem to attract (Jonathan Raban, on his trip down the Mississippi, frequented waterfront bars, which as a Mainer I could have told him meant that he would only experience a certain kind of weirdness and hostility because booze seems to bring out the (at the very least) xenophobia that remains bubbling just under the surface the rest of the time, but we, not being raging alcoholics, seem to have chosen coffeeshops--until two hours ago I had never had booze and the Internet available to me at the same time), that it appeals to my possibly-but-probably-not erroneous assumption that even sleepy little towns have a little caffeine in them, if you know what I mean (Ed.: do you know what a little dot means? It means we have these things called sentences into which our thoughts can be organized, so that we don't confuse or annoy our readers with endless tangents. Not that you're not already confusing or annoying your readers, but it's nice to spare them from a little extra exasperation now and then.). And Brainerd isn't little, at least not for up here; it's about the same size as Bemidji, population in the 13,000s, although it's a little more spread out and a little less tourist-oriented (Bemidji had a lake; Brainerd has but a river, albeit an impressive one).

Yesterday I finally saw cows along the river, and in two different locations at that; Eve and Richard had both seen cows in the river already, and both had begun to talk about the experience as though it was something that one took for granted, and consequently (well really this was the consequence of my by-now-too-well-documented insecurities) I had begun to suspect that there were, in fact, thousands of cows lining the banks of the Upper Mississippi and through some fault of my own--stubbornness, lack of open-mindedness, lack of understanding of what cows actually looked like (along the lines of Descartes's and numerous others' quandary about how do we know we aren't simply being bedeviled when we see or describe &c.)--I had been unable to see them and was by this time feeling woefully inadequate in the being-able-to-spot-cows department, and thankfully I was vindicated not once but twice, as if I were the beneficiary of some cosmic apology (“Sorry to have taken so long; here's a little extra for the trouble”; and speaking of vindication). The first time I spotted them, I took some video, ostensibly for posterity (? or something) but really for my own peace of mind; after I had returned the camera to its deck compartment, I began to paddle, which all of a sudden frightened them and they ran away. I had never before seen a cow run--for those of you who still haven't, if they're running away from you, you suddenly understand why you don't see cows run very often: they're very slow and clumsy and almost comical (OK, comical). The next herd, just a few hundred yards down the river (but on the opposite bank; I know some of you probably have a low opinion of my intelligence and I want that group to understand that this second group was most definitely not the same as the first), was also subjected to the gaze of the bright yellow camera, but when I had finished and gone back to paddling, they did not run away. In the interest of scientific research I began to paddle very loudly and violently, and got much closer to the bank than I had with the first group, but these cows stayed put, and their stares seemed to me to reveal either a complete idiocy or a wizened, kindly pity for this poor stupid human, who so clearly did not know how to paddle a kayak in the most efficient manner possible. I'm not sure why one group of cows was so impervious to the sound and image of my paddling a bright red kayak while the other group was so sensitive--according to my (very limited) knowledge of bovine breeds, the two groups looked pretty similar--but I like to imagine that a farmer, wearying of his cows stampeding away from the river every time a boat passed (because if I scared them in a kayak, imagine what a powerboat would do), painstakingly trained his herd to merely gaze, dumbly, at whatever appeared on the river, and that after a number of failed methods (most of them comical, in my mind) he finally hired a local “cow-whisperer” or something to teach them, successfully and through a secret and possibly Montessori-influenced method passed down from generation to generation, that a boat was not a natural predator of the cow (Ed.: I don't say this enough: you're an idiot.).

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