The fishermen were ready again at dawn. The sun was coming up over the horizon and creeping into the living room. I could hear Steve and Eric in the kitchen talking to each other as they rattled around in their tackle boxes and worked to rig up their lines.
I wasn’t feeling well at all. I didn’t even remember falling asleep on the couch. My head was pounding, my ears were ringing, and my jaw felt like it had almost come loose during the night from chewing on the sides of my tongue. I buried my head in the blanket to block out the light and drown out the noise, but I could still hear them carrying on in the kitchen.
“What do you like so much about using those hooks?” Steve asked.
“A fine rod and reel are good investments in fishing pleasure,” Eric replied. “But Gamakatsu Hooks are an important investment in fishing success.”
I opened my eyes slowly, one eyelid at a time.
“Can you guys please try to keep it quiet?” I asked. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
“That’s not our fault,” Eric said. “You’re up now. Wanna come fishing with us? I have an extra rod right here all ready for you.”
“Nah,” I said. “I think I’ll take a pass. Just try and keep it down a bit. I have to get some rest if I’m gonna be able to function at all today.”
“You’re such a bore,” Steve said. “Get your lazy drug-addled ass off the couch and come enjoy the great outdoors. Stop being such a pussy.”
“No,” I replied sternly. “I’m tired. Besides, I only fish with live bait. I’ll need to go in into town later today and get some leeches.”
“I heard that you’re scared of leeches,” Eric said.
“I’m not scared of leeches!” I exclaimed. “Why would you say that? Did Duke tell you that? I might put them on the hook a little bit differently than you do, but I sure as hell ain’t scared of ‘em.”
“Jeez man, settle down. I just heard you wouldn’t bait your own hook . . .”
“What?” I shouted. “You heard I don’t bait my own hook? I bait all my hooks!”
“Why are you being so defensive?” Steve asked me.
“Because he’s attacking me!” I yelled.
“No, I’m not attacking you,” Eric said calmly. “No one here is attacking you. Stop being such a crab-ass and go back to sleep.”
Hangovers are bad enough, but hangovers combined with rage are another animal altogether. I stood up and walked to the bathroom to relieve myself. I almost nodded off as I sat on the toilet holding my head in my hands. When I returned to the living room, Steve and Eric had left. I could hear them down at the dock, piling their gear into the boat. I sat back down on the couch and made another attempt to lie my head on the pillow, but, at that moment, Duke stumbled out of hallway, fell in my direction, and grabbed me tightly by the shoulder.
It was obvious to me that he hadn’t slept a wink. His eyes were almost completely bloodshot, and his hands were trembling. “Do you have any more Khat?” he asked me. “I think I’m starting to come down. Where did you put the briefcase?”
“I’m not sure,” I lied. “I just want to go back to sleep.”
“Tell me where it is and I’ll leave you alone,” he demanded, as I reached one more time for my pillow.
“Maybe you should drink another Hamm’s and try to even yourself out,” I suggested.
Duke spied the briefcase I had stashed beneath the couch on the other side of the room. He walked over, knelt down, reached under the couch, and pulled it out. He tried to open it, but it was locked.
“What’s the combination?” he asked me.
“Seriously? Do you really need more Khat right now?” I asked him. “Did you sleep at all?”
“I’m probably just hungry,” he said. “Yeah, what I really want right now is some good grub. Let’s go into town and grab some breakfast.”
“Fine,” I said reluctantly. “What about Pete? Should we wake him up?”
“No,” Duke said. “He’s out cold. Let’s go without him. He can make himself some cereal if he happens to wake up.”
We drove into Remer and parked in front of the bank. Then we walked across the street and into the Woodsman Cafe. We walked straight past the hostess stand and grabbed ourselves a booth at the front of the restaurant. My head was still pounding, my face was starting to pour sweat, and I was beginning to feel sick to my stomach. I tried my best not to make eye contact with anyone.
I grabbed a newspaper off of a nearby table and started reading:
Minnesota Man is Bloodied and Bruised after Deer Attack
By Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
“I was going out to finish spraying the soybeans,” he said. “I stepped out a side door, and we saw each other, and he started coming closer.
“He was pummeling me, standing on his hind legs and hitting me with the front ones. He hammered me good, rapid fire, and I thought, `Well, this isn’t good.’ I wasn’t winning, so I grabbed him and tackled him and we both went down on the ground.”
We don’t have the deer’s account because, after losing the kick-boxing and wrestling portions of this North Woods triathlon, Christianson shot the eight-point whitetail buck, which had brought antlers and attitude and a strong left hoof to the fight but nothing to match Christianson’s 30-06 rifle.
The confrontation, which left Christianson, 66, with black eyes and pink-to-purple bruises over his arms, shoulders and chest, occurred last Thursday as he stepped outside his farm home about 10 miles southeast of Fertile.
Mark and his wife, Judy, 65, had seen the deer days before, brazenly hanging out in their yard, sampling Judy’s potted impatiens and ignoring all attempts to shoo it away.
“We sometimes have 17 or 18 deer in the yard here, but we have a hard time getting a picture,” she said. “You open the door a little and — phfft — they’re gone. They’re usually so sensitive.
“But this one, I would stomp my feet and it wouldn’t go away.”
Two days before the fight, Mark came upon the deer near a shed. “He was 8 feet away, and instead of being scared he came right up to me. I went inside, and he stuck his nose right up against the window. Then he banged his antlers against the wall.”
I looked up from the newspaper and saw Duke toying with his phone. I looked around the restaurant for any sign of a waitress, but the only one I saw looked like she was busy grabbing some hot food from the kitchen. I went back to reading the newspaper . . .
As he left the shed and ran toward the house, the deer followed, and Christianson ducked into the back seat of a 1992 Bonneville that had been retired to a side yard.
Later that day, Judy stepped out to hang clothes on a line and turned around to find the deer facing her. The next day, they watched as the buck feasted on a flaming crabapple tree.
On the third day, last Thursday, Judy had been napping when she was startled to hear her husband hollering.
“He got me!” he cried. “He got me!”
“Mark was dripping blood all over, and his ear looked like it had been torn off,” she said. “He was shaking and trying to load bullets into his gun. I didn’t know what to think.”
The buck was still standing its ground.
“I gut-shot him where he was, then saw he went down at the edge of the hill over there,” he said, gesturing through a thick stand of old oaks. “I got him a couple more times there.”
The deer had sounded “wheezy” and sick, Christianson said, so he had contacted the Norman County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources even before the animal picked a fight.
Blane Klemek, wildlife supervisor for the DNR’s Detroit Lakes area, said the deer carcass was sent to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul. Disease specialists there have ruled out rabies but continue to check for other diseases, such as chronic wasting disease or Lyme disease.
He said the deer had no tags or other indications that it was a domestically raised deer.
“It did have a fair number of liver flukes (parasites) in its liver,” he said, but it’s unclear whether that would explain the animal’s unusual behavior.
“It is an odd one,” Klemek said. “Deer normally are afraid of people. We don’t know why this one would attack this guy. But it’s always a concern when we get calls from the public about an animal acting strangely.”
Friends “have given me some grief about it all,” Christianson said Wednesday. “They said they don’t believe my story. They say that they think it was my wife who roughed me up.”
Christianson said he was too sore to sleep the first two nights after the attack. Blows near his eyes caused blackening about the sockets and bent his glasses, but he said he’s grateful the deer didn’t damage his eyesight.
The sorest bruise was to his right shoulder, probably due to his sudden take-down move, and he couldn’t raise his right arm for days. “Friday morning, he had a bowl of Cheerios in front of him,” Judy said. “He just sat there, holding the spoon. I said, ‘You’d better use your left hand.’”
And how would Mark respond if another bellicose buck showed up and tried to pick a fight?
“I wouldn’t wait three days to get my rifle.”
BANG! Duke slammed his hand down on the table. “Fuck newspapers!” he exclaimed. “What we need right now is coffee. Where’s our waitress? Where’s the service around here?”
The waitress hurried over to our table. I recognized her as the same waitress that had served my family when we had stopped in Remer earlier in the spring. She seemed agitated and overwhelmed by the small crowd of people demanding hash-browns, scrambled eggs, pancakes, and bacon.
“You guys need something to drink?” she asked us.
“A pot of coffee,” Duke said.
“For you?” she asked me.
“I’ll take a tall glass of orange juice, please,” I replied. “Vitamin C. I need all I can get.”
“Do you guys want menus?” she asked us.
“Yes,” I nodded. “Please.”
As she turned to walk away, Duke reached out and grabbed her by the sleeve. “I already know what I want to order,” he said.
“Get yer fuckin’ hands off me!” she screamed. “Don’t ever fuckin’ touch me, ya’ hear?”
“I want the Paul Bunyan,” Duke said, letting go of her sleeve.
She was clearly disturbed by Duke’s inability to keep his hands to himself. “How do you want your eggs cooked?” she grumbled.
“Bacon or sausage?” she asked.
“Pancakes or toast?”
“White or wheat?”
“What about you?” she asked, turning her attention back towards me.
“I’ll just take a menu,” I said.
She looked back at Duke who was now staring out the window. “Paul Bunyan, pot of coffee, orange juice, and a menu,” she said. Then she turned and walked back towards the kitchen. I could barely sit still. My knee was bouncing up and down beneath the table.
“What the fuck is your problem?” I snapped at Duke. “You can’t be putting your hands on the help.” I really wanted to reach across the table and slap him upside the head, but I was somehow able to restrain myself.
“Why the hell not?” he yelled. “I’m hungry and I want food. I knew what I wanted so I ordered it. What’s wrong with that? Don’t you ever criticize me or I’ll put you in the ground.”
“Wipe that dumb look off your face,” I said. “I don’t have any patience for your stupid shit right now.”
In less than a minute, the waitress returned with a pot of coffee and a menu. “I forgot your Orange Juice,” she said to me.
“Can I get a Bloody Mary instead?” I asked.
“We only serve beer,” she said.
“Maybe we should just go somewhere else,” Duke said. “I’m not sure I like her attitude.”
“SHUT UP ALREADY,” I yelled at him. “Drink your coffee and SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Duke looked back at me with his nostrils flared. Everyone in the restaurant was now staring at us.
“Orange juice will be fine,” I said to the waitress.
Duke was silent. For the first time that morning, he seemed to understand my words and the sincerity of my tone, but I still kept a close eye on him as I drank my coffee. I learned a long time ago, from a man much wiser than me, that you can turn your attention away from most things, but never turn your attention away from a man who’s been up all night, especially when he’s sitting across the table from you with a set of silverware within his grasp.
I took another sip from my coffee and then walked outside to have another smoke. I began to contemplate cutting my trip short. Perhaps I could somehow manage to hitch-hike my way back home. Find some free-spirit who would be willing to let me tag along—though the towns of Emily and Outing and then through Garrison and onto Highway 169, back to the safety of suburbia.
I took another drag of my cigarette and looked across the street and spied an younger woman who was looking for coins in her purse to pay the parking meter. She had long black hair and appeared to be of Native American descent. She was wearing purple pants and her right arm was in a sling. When she was done paying the meter, she came across the street—presumably to get a good hardy breakfast at the Woodsman. When she got close enough, I opened the door for her and we exchanged smiles. “Thanks,” she said politely.
I took another quick puff off my cigarette. “You’re welcome,” I replied.
But at that same moment, Duke was walking quickly down the ramp. He was staring down at his Galaxy S3, tapping and swiping and not paying any attention to his surroundings. He made a sharp right turn as he stepped out onto the sidewalk and slammed into the woman, knocking her off-balance. She tried to brace herself with her left-hand as she fell awkwardly to the ground.
“Oh my God!” I yelled. “Are you okay?” I knelt down on the ground next to her. Her eyes were shut tight and she was wincing in pain. “Can you tell me what hurts?”
“Here . . . let me help you up,” Duke said reaching down for the woman’s hand.
“I’m so sorry. He wasn’t watching where he was going,” I explained. “Are you gonna be ok? Do you want us to call someone?”
“Give her some room,” Duke said to me. “She’ll be fine.”
She reached up and grabbed Duke’s hand. “I’ll be ok,” she assured us. Duke helped pull her back up on her feet. I stood behind her in case Duke lost his grip and she was to fall backwards. “I’ll just have one big-ass bruise on my hip. That’s all. I’m ok. Really.”
“I thought you might have broken your other arm,” I said to her.
“No,” she said. “I dislocated my shoulder about a week ago,” she said. “That hurt much worse. I guess some people are just lucky.”
“You’re pretty tough,” I said. “Are you sure you’re gonna be okay?”
“I’m good to go,” she said. Duke opened the door to the Woodsman and I watched as she limped up the ramp towards the hostess stand.
“We’re done in there,” Duke said to me.
“Huh? We didn’t even eat yet. What happened? What did you do now?”
“Never mind,” he said. “I don’t feel comfortable in there.”
“Did you at least pay for our drinks?” I asked him.
“I gave her what she deserved,” Duke grinned.
“What does that even mean?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s been taken care of,” he argued. “Besides we don’t have any time to discuss it right now. We have to get to the golf course by 10:20.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I made us a tee time,” he said showing me his phone.
“For who? Where?”
“You, me, whoever wants to come with us . . . a nice little course not too far from here. Let’s drive back to the cabin and grab our clubs. We can wake up Pete and see if he wants to go. We’ll grab something to eat at McDonald’s on the way. They’re still serving breakfast I think.”
When we got back to the cabin, we found Eric on the back patio reading a copy of Men’s Health. “Where’s Pete?” I asked him.
“Pete and Steve went out fishing,” Eric replied. “They left about five minutes ago.”
“Why didn’t you go with them?” Duke asked him.
“Steve’s boat is too small for three people. I told Steve that I wanted to get some food, so he brought me back in,” Eric explained. “Pete happened to be awake, so I let him go out instead. There’ll be plenty of more opportunities for me to fish later. It’s not a big deal.”
“We’re on our way to go golfing right now,” Duke informed him. “You’re coming with us.”
“I don’t even have clubs,” he protested. “I don’t even golf.”
“That doesn’t matter . . . you can rent clubs . . . you’ll have Fun. In any case, you don’t get to hang around the cabin by yourself and masturbate to Men’s Health,” Duke said pointing down at the scantily clad woman who was staring up at us from page 17.
“I’m reading the articles,” Eric defended himself.
“Sure you are,” Duke smiled. “Let’s go.”
“Alright,” Eric said. “But you’re paying.”