Sunday, December 6, 2009

Odd Ducks

Sometimes towns do just the right thing at the right time! And, sometimes, so do people!
by Charlie Leck

It restores my faith and actually uplifts me when a town looks at itself – deeply and truly – and then sits down and discusses what it saw and makes the right (correct) decisions as a result! I am even more profoundly lifted up when I discover a person who does this.

What? What’s this all about?

A friend of mine is on a strange and extraordinary journey. It’s fitting for him because he is not your run-of-the-mill kind of guy. He has no desire to be ordinary and he is doing what he wants to in life and tasting a better wine than most of us and enjoying it more. His choices wouldn’t likely be your choices, but they are his and he commits to them. He is one of the most delightful guys with whom I have ever spent time. His humor is often subtle and extremely dry. Sometimes he’ll say something humorous to me and it passes right over my noggin and he looks at me and cocks his head and, without a word, forces me to go back over what he just said until I recognize the zinger. He’s as comfortable talking about Proust as he is chatting about the license plate game he and one of his granddaughters are playing.

What’s this all about?

Geez! It’s difficult to explain. This guy absolutely lives outside the box. Or, what is it they say? He marches to the beat of a different drummer than the one you and I hear; and I just think you deserve to learn a little more about him.

His name is Bill. We went to a University of Minnesota (Golden Gophers) basketball game last night. He enjoys such an evening more than the average guy. He takes it all in the way most of us can’t. He enjoyed as much the people sitting around him as he did the game. By the time we’d gotten through the first half of the game he was acquainted with the guy sitting on the other side of him and had learned immense amounts about Gopher basketball from the guy. His attention never wavers. A girls’ dance team from Duluth performed at half-time. He noticed and pointed out some of the most mundane and generally unnoticeable things about their performance – for instance, how exactly the same color and shade were each one of the one-hundred or so legs of the performers.

“Who cares?” That’s precisely what you want to ask. Bill does – and he does such caring with spirit and vitality that can’t help but capture you. You become quickly convinced that this guy is one really odd duck. As you get to know him, you're so thankful that he is.

Bill’s life seems to be about collecting – postcards (by the thousands) for instance – but he revels mostly in collecting friends and drawing people around him.

He’s been doing some extensive traveling in Texas. His goal is to visit every single one of the 200+ counties in the state of Texas and to make it to the county-seat to visit the county courthouse or seat of government in each one of those counties. He’s gotten to more than 80 of them now. Beyond that, he wants to visit county seats all over America. He tries to find postcards of the original county government buildings and he takes photographs of the current ones.

In Marshall, Texas, bill discovered a nearly completed refurbishing of the old county courthouse that had been sitting abandoned for years and years. Someone was bright enough to see that it was so much more beautiful and “meaningful” than the current county offices that resides in an ordinary 4 story rectangular and totally common building. In a matter of weeks, many of the county offices will be reestablished in the new building. Thank goodness the spectacular building wasn’t razed.

Bill is fascinated with county governments and the seats of such. It isn't only Texas where he’s doing this. He’s visited hundreds and hundreds of county seats. Minnesota has 87 counties. Bill has visited all but a few of them

This is the kind of “stuff” Bill finds in his travels – the kinds of mementos of the mind that make him a peculiarly interesting fellow. He doesn’t bottle up all of these experiences. He loves sharing it all with grandchildren and friends. One day, I suspect, there may be a book about his odd travels and quirky life; and about all the remarkable discoveries he’s made about the world and the odd people who inhabit it.

I should add, that Bill loves to read – that he nearly cannot not read. If he’s alone somewhere, waiting, he’s got to have something readable in his hand. Once he was caught in a rental car, at an unavoidable stop, sitting with nothing to read. He pulled out the owner's manual from the glove compartment and read it nearly through before he got going again. I tried him out on a couple of unusual books last night – The Worst of Hard Times, for instance – and, of course, he’d read each of them and began an analysis of them and told me about others that the same author had written. He also likes to listen. When I chatted with him about my family, his level of concentration was startling. Hours later he returned to things I said in that conversation and asked me questions that were both very relevant and insightful.

Unusual, idiosyncratic people really interest me – probably because I’m so terribly dull and usual myself. I like free spirits who want to taste the good things about life and who drive themselves happily toward the “things” that interest them the most.

This new friendship I treasure and I will take good care of it.

Blake Hoffbarger took this 3-point shot from the corner last night. Bill, with his camera as a constant companion, took this shot that I have slightly altered. In the original you could see that the ball was completely off line right out of the player's hand. I tweaked the shot a bit and put the ball on a line that gave it possibilities at least. What great seats we had, right behind press row. The Gophers manhandled Brown University.


  1. are you the same charles leck whose been sending me sexually repugnant emails?

  2. Repugnant is the operational word, I take it! One old man's repugnant is another man's delight. But, no!