The scene: Karl Gregson’s gas station and grocery in the small Minnesota town of Little Oslo. Several locals are sitting in lawn chairs outside of the store, in the shade of a large overhang. Eyes are raised in friendly recognition as a bus pulls up beside the gas pumps. The bus is a cool, soothing green color, with cheerful pink lettering spelling out the words, “Little Oslo Psychiatric Center”. Besides the colors, the only thing to distinguish the vehicle from the garden variety school bus is the metal grating in the windows and behind the driver’s seat. A tall, powerfully-built man of middle age climbs down from behind the wheel; his attire is vaguely suggestive of the uniform of a cricket player, but he is, in fact, Gunnar Larsen, a male nurse at the local funny farm.
“Hello, boyss! Whew, vhat a day I had today!”
Dag Christensen, a large man of some antiquity, filling out the full dress uniform of a farmer come to town – brand new overalls, freshly-polished brogues and a straw hat – asked in a booming baritone, “Vhat happened, Gunnar?”
“Vell, I drove a load of lewnies tew de state park, and vun a’ dem took all his clothes off and climbed a tree, like a monkey. Damn fule near broke his neck tryin’ tew hang from a high branch by de tail dat he hadn’t got.”
The boys guffawed. Gunnar was a highly popular citizen by virtue of the interesting character sketches he was able to draw from the long practice of a profession that brought him into daily contact with the mentally liberated.
Suddenly, Ole Johansen, who had his nose buried in the newspaper, encountered a bit of intelligence that gave his mind such a jolt that his thinly insulated skull couldn’t contain it, so that the charge ran down his arms causing him to rattle the paper violently.
“Yumpin’ Yimminy! Did yew fellers hear about dis?”
Karl Gregson, who had been whittling on a piece of wood – by all appearances, the same piece he had been whittling on for 30 years – looked up in indignation, sucking the brand new cut on his thumb. “Confound yew, Ole! Vhat’s so important dat yew got tew rattle dem papers like a kid tearin’ de wrappin’ off a Christmas present?”
Ole ignored the jibe and cut to the chase. “It says here dat dis group a’ protesters – de Shtoodents fer a Democratic Society – are plannin’ on disruptin’ de Republican National Convention in Minneapolis! Gonna shut it down, dey say!”
Rough murmurs of Norwegian-American disapproval greeted this announcement; this lot believed fervently in fair play.
“Ja, it says dat de executive committee of de SDS is flyin’ intew Minneapolis late next veek from Vashington, and dere gonna start makin’ plans tew sabotage de convention. By golly, ve ought tew dew sumptin’ about it!
Dag stuck his thumbs in the straps of his overalls, and commenced reminiscing. “Vell, vhen I vas back in de auld country – durin’ de var, vit de partisans fightin’ against de Nazis - ve yewsed tew lay trip vires across de street tied tew bumbs. Den – kablooie! – sauerkraut, by golly!”
Pastor Grieg – a tall, elderly, angular man whose one vice was the meerschaum pipe he was now smoking – spoke up. “Now, Dag. Ve can’t be blowin’ up protesters. Dere bits might hit some innocent bystanders.”
Karl suggested that they contact the state Republican Party; Ole scowled. “Bah! Dem fellers are goin’ tew be tew busy vit de speeches an’ de nominatin’ tew pay attention tew de SDS. Besides, de officials at de state level ain’t got de bawls…” – Pastor Grieg removed the pipe stem from his mouth and gently reproved his friend: “Yew mean de intestinal fertitewd, don’t yew, Ole?” – Ole, fired up over the imminent threat, nonetheless consented to a slight compromise – “…dey ain’t got de gumption tew tackle dese reds. Look, boyss; ve got de mayority of de board of de Little Oslo Norwegian-American Republican Association right here. I say ve take de bull by de horns and solve dis here problem ourselves!”
This appeal roused the dormant Viking blood of the small group, and they cheered wildly; if a member of the SDS had stumbled on them now, it was a cinch that they’d have played “catch” with him, tossing him about on the tips of their spears (if they’d had any spears).
Ole, having established that they had a quorum, called the emergency meeting of the Board of the Norwegian-American Republican Association of Little Oslo to order. “Ok, men! Ve are resolved tew fix de little red vagons – so to speak – of dese here radical bastards! Pardon, Pastor Grieg. Of dese here radical scalawags! How do ve do it? Dag, yew got any more tauts on de matter – yew know, from yur experience in Vorld Var Tew?”
Dag tugged on the lobe of a saucer-sized ear. “Vell, now, let me see. Ve yewsed tew change de street signs aroun’, tew send dem Germans off on vild goose chases. An’ sometimes, ve’d send vun of our men in a taxi tew pick up dere officers outside dere club, den ve’d carry dem intew de country vhere ve’d…yew know (Dag made a cutting motion across his throat with a finger the size of a bratwurst).
Ole, who had been staring at Gunnar’s bus while pensively chewing on his soup-strainer mustache, smiled. “Dag, yew yust gave me a gewd idear.”
* * *
In the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, near the arrival gate for the American Airlines flight from Washington, D.C., little four-year-old Johnny, standing at his mother’s knee, asked in a subdued voice, “Mommy, who are those funny-looking people?” Little Johnny’s mother nearly wrenched her neck doing a double take. “Good lord! I think those are ‘hippies’, dear.”
Two rather rotund, florid-faced men with long black hair had materialized at the arrival gate, one of whom bore a large, hand-lettered sign: “Welcome SDS!” They were dressed in tied-dyed denim shirts and bell-bottom jeans, and they wore glass beads around their necks. Karl, overly-sensitive to the snickers that their passage had created among the less colorfully attired crowd, whispered a hurried question to Ole.
“Are yew sure dese here get-ups iss right, Ole? Ever’body’s been lookin’ at us like ve yust popped out of a space ship!”
Ole, keeping a sharp eye peeled for the arrival of their targets, spoke to Karl out of the side of his mouth. “Sure I’m sure, Karl. I saw a documentary about de 1960’s vun time, about de protesters and all, and dis is de kinda shtuff dey vore.” A few minutes later the airplane from Washington landed, and it wasn’t long, as the arriving passengers made their way from the plane to the gate, before Ole and Karl spotted their quarry.
They were a gaggle of young people, perhaps twenty or so, most of whom were sporting t-shirts bearing the printed visages of various Communist theoreticians, gunmen and dictators. The men appeared, on the whole, to be indifferent in the matter of haircuts and shaving, and the few women in the group not only went without makeup, but, with respect to their legs (and to the upper lip of one rough-looking specimen), were similarly allergic to razors. At the head of the mob was a slightly older fellow, decked out in what might be called “revolutionary executive wear”: corduroy slacks, a black blazer and an open-collared white shirt. Although his hair was neatly trimmed and he was clean-shaven, he nonetheless exuded a sort of spiritual scruffiness. Ole, dragging Karl with him, walked up to the man who was obviously the leader and stopped in front of him.
“Velcome tew Minnesota! Ve’re vit de local chapter of de Shtoodents fer a Democratic Society!” Ole glanced meaningfully at Karl, who shouted out his lines.
“Power tew de pipple! Down vit de hawgs! Ooof!”
Ole had sharply dug his elbow into Karl’s ribs. “’Pigs’, yew dumb head, not hawgs!”, he muttered savagely under his breath. Smiling brightly at the SDS leader, Ole commenced his pitch.
“Yessir, by cracky, ve’re here tew help yew in any vay ve can. Ve got a courtesy bus outside, all ready tew take yew an’ yer comrades down tew de Republican convention center.”
The SDS leader eyed the two “mature” hippies with skepticism. “Er, hello. I’m Ed Nutzel, Chairman of the Executive Committee. Ummm…you guys are a little old to be part of a student movement, aren’t you?”
Ole laughed. “Ja, ve’re gettin’ up dere, no doubt about dat. But ve’re vhat yew call ‘shtoodents emeritus’. Ain’t dat right, Moonbeam?... I said, ‘AIN’T DAT RIGHT MOONBEAM?”
“Ooof! Vhat? Oh, ja, ja! Dat’s right…er…Aquarius! Time tew take it tew de streets!”
Nutzel remained dubious about the whole prospect. “Listen, guys, I appreciate it, but ….”
Karl hurriedly piped up, “And ve even got tew guides fer yew! Dey can show yew de layout. Come here, girls!” He signaled to two young ladies who had been hidden from view behind a pillar (they were his twin 19-year-old granddaughters, both of whom had cheerfully joined in with the scheme; they stepped forward with a beguiling sashay).
Suddenly, Nutzel’s doubts melted away like a scoop of ice cream on an overheated radiator. Ilse and Katherine wore their long golden tresses in single plaits, and were dressed in matching denim miniskirts, white plastic knee-high boots, and red tank tops (strategically purchased one size too small) bearing the Chihuahua-like mug of Che Guevara, but more importantly, revealing the well-tanned, pulchritudinous charms of these two healthy, corn-fed country girls. Topped off with sparkling blue eyes and merry smiles, they could have been decked out in Ronald Reagan t-shirts and wearing the Castro brothers’ scalps from their belts, for all Nutzel cared.
“Well, I…yes, yes, I think we’d be glad to take you up on your offer! Very kind of you. Please lead the way!”
Ole and Karl (and the two revolutionary valkyries) helped the SDS gang collect their luggage and escorted them to the “courtesy bus” – in reality, the bus from the Little Oslo Psychiatric Center, with the name carefully covered up with a banner reading: “Smith’s Private Limo Service”. The large, black-bearded driver stood by the door – smart in his white pants and Leon Trotsky sweatshirt – and helped the SDS people on board.
After the last one was loaded, Ole shouted, “Ve’ll follow yew in our car!” He and Karl raised their clinched fists, in a friendly show of solidarity as the bus pulled out.
Ten minutes later, one of the members of the SDS executive committee – a native of Minneapolis – said to Nutzel in a somewhat perplexed tone of voice, “Say, this isn’t the downtown exit…”
* * *
In an upstairs room at the Little Oslo Psychiatric Center that doubled as a library and a lounge for the professional staff, doctors Ellis and Greene were sitting at a table beneath a plate glass window, enjoying a cup of coffee at the end of a long day, as they had done most days over the last ten years of their association. Dr. Greene was browsing through one of his favorite books – Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds - and Dr. Ellis was staring out of the window at an imposing brick building nestled in a stand of birch trees on a low ridge, about five hundred yards due west – in actuality, the predecessor of the current establishment. The Little Oslo Rest Home had been built in 1905, but the structure was abandoned and boarded up fifty years ago. This evening, however, it held a strange fascination for Dr. Ellis.
In the background, a radio news broadcast indicated that John McCain, who had received the Republican nomination for president, had completed his acceptance speech. The newscaster went on to mention that protests and demonstrations had been surprisingly feeble, and that the convention had been a resounding success. The doctors were rather esoteric men of science who had little interest in politics, so the broadcast went largely ignored. Dr. Ellis cast a couple of anxious glances at his colleague before finally summoning the courage to speak.
“George, I think I need a vacation.”
Dr. Greene looked up from his book and smiled at his friend. “Why not, Tom? You haven’t taken one for over a year.”
“No, this is different. I’m thinking more along the lines of a genuine sabbatical. I think I’m losing my grip.”
Dr. Greene quietly closed his book. “What do you mean, ‘losing your grip’?”
“I’ll come straight to the point. I think I’ve been working here too long. I’ve been hearing voices.”
His colleague laughed, not unkindly. “Tom, you know as well as I do that mental illness isn’t catching. You’re probably just tired.”
“No, George, I’m afraid this isn’t simple fatigue. Several times this week, when I’ve walked along the footpath on this side of the building – particularly when the wind was blowing down off the ridge where the old asylum stands – I distinctly heard voices. Not clearly articulated sentences, mind you, just a few words here and there. Things like, “Help!” and “Let us out!” and – strangely enough – something that sounded like ‘pigs’. Yes, I’m certain of it. Pigs. And there was a curious, almost subterranean quality to the sound – as if they were the voices of the damned.”
Dr. Greene looked at Dr. Ellis gravely. “Tom, maybe you’d better take that vacation without delay. I’ll call Dr. Hegelmeyer at the University; he should be able to fill in for a few weeks.”
“Thanks, George.” The room was warm and the coffee hot, but Dr. Ellis shivered as he cast one last, lingering glance at the old asylum on the distant hill, now ominously silhouetted against the setting sun.
* * *
Later that same evening, Gunnar Larsen made his way down an overgrown path to the north end of the old asylum. He was pulling a hand cart filled with buckets of KFC chicken and bottles of water and soda pop. As usual, he wore his fake black beard during feeding time, in order to confound any future attempts by his “guests” to identify him. Gunnar stooped by one of the small basement windows, opened it and hollered, “Come and get it, comrades!”
There was a shuffling of many feet as the executive committee of the SDS drew around the window. Nutzel, who had shrieked himself hoarse over the first couple of days of his captivity, had resigned himself to his fate, and spoke in measured tones. “Listen”, he croaked. “You can’t keep us here forever. When are you going to turn us loose?”
Gunnar smiled as he passed the food through the aperture (which was just large enough to facilitate the passing through of food parcels, but too small to permit escape by even the slimmest of his prisoners). “Vell, I tink tomorrow ve can let yew out. But vhy are yew complaining? I connected de vater, so yew got a vorking shower and turlets, and dere’s flashlights an’ newspapers and yur own tings from yur luggage.”
“Except for our cell phones!”, Nutzel pointed out.
“Ja, dat’s trew. But de reception down dere ain’t tew gewd anyvay, I betcha! At least yew young pipple have had a chance to tink about de really important tings in life fer a change.”
“Hey, you forgot the honey mustard!” squawked a disembodied voice from somewhere down below.
“See vhat I mean?” Gunnar closed the window and made his way back down the path.