High on the Plains: I once slept with Judy Garland


Chad Christensen, Columnist

Water is a funny thing. And so are moons. I’m staring at the moon right now. It’s all half-cocked and orange and it’s lingering over my barn like some kind of Cheshire cat. In my living room, the children are screaming and for the first time in a long time, I feel just delusional enough to try to think. And with a little more ice in my drink, I might just be capable of more.

Several weeks ago, there was an unusual odor coming from my office and I did what most people would have done. I questioned whether it was me or if maybe I had lost a sandwich somewhere. I searched behind the desk and in the couch cushions. I couldn’t find anything. My country-like gumshoe skills were lacking and so I gave up. After a while, I didn’t notice it anymore.

The next day, I came in and it seemed even worse. I started accusing my graduate assistant that somehow she was behind all this, which she wholly denied. After a bit of mumbling, I could tell she was speaking the truth… and then I realized she was probably thinking it was me. That I was the one with the ungodly odor and she was now regretting her decision to work with me. Her desk was near the door, and if my memory is to be trusted, I believe it had been closer to the center of the room before all this treachery started. There was an uneasiness in the room.

Later that afternoon, as I was hard at work doing all those work-like things I started to notice my shoes were slippery. My feet felt like they were on ice. My first thought was how did I lose so much tread on these shoes? They were practically brand new. I was afraid to mention this to my graduate assistant, since I knew it would only frighten her further and add to her suspicion that I was losing it. So, for about an hour, I hovered around my desk, sliding back and forth, clinging to my chair, saying nothing. Then everything went black.

When I started to come to, I was in the hallway and people were gathered all around me. I felt like a drunk Judy Garland during the end scene of “The Wizard of Oz.” Apparently, my faithful graduate assistant had pulled me out of the office. A boiler pipe had burst open and water was flooding everywhere. It was horrendous. And I was soaked completely. It’s a miracle you’re alive, they told me. I shook my fist in defiance.

When I was in my coma-like state I had this strange dream about my father and a story I’ve heard many times. Him and an older friend Kenny were fishing on the Missouri river drinking black berry brandy. Apparently, junior (that’s what Kenny called my father) drank too much and got to the point of no return.

Kenny was drunk too, and not familiar with the river and couldn’t remember where they had put the boat in. He drove up and down along the river bank several times before he found the boat ramp. He then dragged my father out of the boat, through the mud, up the bank, and into the truck. Or maybe he fell out of the boat. I can’t remember.

When they finally made it home, they threw him on the lawn and my mother hosed him down, cursing him the entire time. He still didn’t get up. They dragged him to the deck and threw a blanket on him and called it a night. The next morning ‘round 6 a.m. my mother could hear him singing John Prine’s “Paradise” in the kitchen and he was cooking breakfast. The man was reborn like some kind of bizarre hungover phoenix rising from the ashes. It was around then that I woke up.

So now as I stare at the moon, its drunk glow dripping on my shirt, it feels natural to be slightly confused and in wonder. To be unable to find the boat ramp seems reasonable. As long as you keep the motor well maintained and full of oil, anything is possible.