“What’s the Hopalicious,” I ask the bartender. “Is that local?”
“That’s what you want,” the man down the bar says. “I just had two of them.”
He had many more than two, if you count what he had before I got there and the five while I sat with him, switching between Hopalicious and Spotted Cow German style pilsner. “Whenever I come to Wisconsin I look forward to a good Spotted Cow,” he says.
We talk about beer. I move closer. We talk about his work, he sells interlock devices to DUI offenders. There’s a prosecuting attorney’s convention at the hotel where I’m staying and he’s peddling his wares to these folks. Interlocks are the ignition connected breathalyzer devices that don’t allow you to even start the car if you’re over the set limit.
“It’s not really my passion,” he says. “It’s my dad’s company.”
I tell him I’d seen a group of men at the restaurant, wondered what sort of business group was in town.
“Yeah, those would be the prosecuting attorneys,” he tells me. “They’re all a bunch of cocksuckers.”
He tells me about the interlock business. “It’s a growth industry, both because drinking and driving ain’t going away,” he says tipping his cow, “and because standards are getting stricter.”
“A friend of mine who had one of these a couple years back,” I tell him, “said that if we really wanted to stop drunk driving we’d install these into cars on the factory floor. The fact that you have to get a DUI first proves that we were soft on enforcement.”
“Yeah, especially in Wisconsin,” he says. “I’ve talked to customers here who are on their sixth DUI. Back home we have a three strikes policy and then you hand over your keys.”
I’m in a dive bar in rural Wisconsin, a few short blocks walk from the luxury hotel where I spent the day researching spa treatments. I’m on an all-expense paid trip to eat, drink and get massaged, and write about it for a magazine. I’m living the dream. But I’m concerned, too.
“This is my passion,” I tell Frank. “Not spa’s per se, but traveling and writing about it. But,” I add, “all of the gourmet dinners and free spa treatments in the world won’t pay my rent.”
I tell him my story, that I quit a good job to go to India and now I like to write and I’m even getting paid a little bit for it. But also that I’m soon to re-enter the day-job world–I’ve got to!–and I wonder what I’ve I gained in the way of aligning passion and work.
“You need to take a series of mini-retirements,” Frank says to me, quoting the book The Four Hour Work Week. “That’s what you’re doing. It’s revitalizing, then you go back to work. We’ve been wrong all this time saving our retirement until the end.”
Then we talk about the wars. At 34 he’s been to Iraq twice as an emergency trauma medic. The first time there he was in great danger every day and night, as mortars came flying into his camp, and he moved from camp to camp. “That tour fucked me up pretty good. That’s when I came home and met my wife. I didn’t know what would come next.”
Four years later he was deployed again and was worried he’d become more traumatized.
“Had you gotten un-fucked-up in between?”
“No. But that second trip… I was safe. I was there for 10 months and not in danger… but I was saving peoples lives: American’s, Iraqi’s… anyone. That’s what unfucked me up. I came back and got married on October 15th,” he says. “She kinda let me know–after six years–that it was time.” She’s Greek and they had “one of them big-ass Greek weddings.”
He talks about saving lives. About the debate between saving limbs (don’t tourniquet) and saving lives (tourniquet–no one should die from bleeding out!) and how the protocol changed from the former to the latter between his two tours. “I don’t know how we made it through Nam without learning that, but we learned it between 2003 and 2008!” He says how much he loves it.
I suggest, “why not get work in an ER? I understand those people save lives, too.”
But he doesn’t want to do it. Not interested. No passion for working in a broad medical field.
“I don’t know, man, I’ve known you like a whole hour and I think you’re more passionate about that than Spotted Cow and cocksucker attorney’s put together,” I argue. But he won’t have it. Not interested. He’ll go back to the wars, though, if he gets to. Not Iraq–”that was Bush’s war, a ten year mess”–but to Afghanistan, “that’s a real war against a real threat.”
He tries to get me to have another. I recommend–with all due respect–that he settle up and have a couple of waters. “Yeah,” he says, “you know what I think I’m gonna do is have another beer.” I wait with him. He pays for my beer. We walk back to the hotel together.
What’s the point? I have no idea. What do we love to do? How do we find it on our own soil? How do we discern the difference between settling in and simply settling?
[And why am I up so late writing when I should be resting for day two in the spa?]
I worry about Frank as we walk back to the hotel. He’s had one too many, got an edge on his voice, started flirting with the bartender, started asking me to justify “my boy in the white house.” I stand outside the hotel with him while he finishes his cigarette. “It’s really fucking cold out here,” he says.
I say, “thanks for the beer.”