AN EVENING IN KINGFISHER
"ENTERING KINGFISHER, OKLAHOMA"
the road sign reads
"THE BUCKLE ON THE GRAIN BELT."
We drive to the Elks Club
where we join three hundred men
with big buckles on their belts
to boost the Sooners & our university
in what is traditionally OSU Aggie territory
drinking and mixing with them, eating "fries"
also known as prairie or mountain oysters
scooped up barehanded
as you hold your beer or bourbon in the other
followed by steaks, ranch style baked beans
homemade cracked wheat bread & more beer
salad fixings with no dressing whatever
strong coffee & no fooling around with dessert.
After the obligatory welcome speeches
the winningest active coach in college football
runs the play he will call this spring
a hundred times throughout the state
and then fields questions:
—"Barry (pronounced Berra), how's the Texas
game gone turn out this year?"
—"One thing I kin tell you 'bout the Texas
game fer sure—it's gone be one tough sumabitch!"
—"Barry, could yuh use a sixty-six year old guard?"
—"Give that man another drink."
Somebody does as coach Switzer
closes this appearance with a herpes joke
and a hopeful, if not overconfident
prediction about the coming season.
The macho party & male ritual complete
(except for those with expectations
based on their consumption of fries)
we move for the doors or bartenders
and I am almost out into the night air
when the sixty-six year old guard pulls
out of the line at the bar & squints
at my crimson-bordered OU name tag
offering his hand to mine which he begins to squeeze
and asks me where I'm from.
—"Well, I kin see that. I mean with a name
like that where are yuh from?
Looking back at his tag
which reads "'Huck' Rice"
and understanding what he's getting at,
—"Just moved here from New York,
but I was bom in Montana."
He squeezes harder,
—"But that's not an American name."
—"Sure it is, from Greece. (And making a good guess)
When did your people come over here from Germany, Huck?"
Easing up on the squeeze,
—"Oh hell, we bin here forever."
—"You mean you're native American?"
—"No, no Indian. What d'yuh do at OU?"
—"I teach English."
—"With a name like that, yuh teach English?"
—"I run the whole show in English, Huck.
"I'm chairman of the department, brought in
from New York."
The handshake ends in a tie
and I'm grateful for the summers
spent opening oysters in Wellfleet.
—"Well, George, how d'yuh like workin'
here among all these Americans?"
—"I told you, Huck, I was born here."
—"I like yuh, George, I'd like to talk
to yuh 'bout your beliefs."
Remembering Roy Rogers' characterization
of Reagan when he was nominated in 1980,
—"Why, Im'a fine Christian gentleman,'
just like you. Only my kind is the oldest,
Huck. Greek, you know, right back to the
language of the New Testament (making another
good guess) while you Lutherans are pretty recent."
Shaking his head,
—"Greek, and yuh teach English
and don't even have an accent."
—"No, no accent, Huck, perfect English.
You've got the accent. But give me a
chance and I'll be back here next year
sounding just like you.
—"I'd like that. I like yuh, George."
—"So long, Huck, see you next year".
Leaving Kingfisher, I try not to hear
the obvious literary echoes
and focus rather on the odd sincerity
of my dialogue with Huck,
and definitely name him
to my first team offensive line.