It's not often patrons of the Grisly Saloon arrive bearing bouquets of fresh daffodils, so it was no surprise I received some curious glances as I stumped my way into the place, cane in one hand, two dozen bright yellow flowers in the other.
``Mr. MacDougal,'' I proclaimed, ``I bring you greetings and blessings of the spring season.''
Ratface MacDougal did not move from his station behind the bar. If you've been keeping up with events at the Grisly Saloon, housed in a hundred-year-old log building sitting above the banks of a major western river, you know that Ratface claims he was named for an old-time fishing fly favored by his father. It makes a nice story, but I suspect MacDougal's lineage would not lend itself to such a name.
``What kind of drugs do you take for that knee anyway,'' he said finally, moving forward to shake my hand. I had not been in the place all winter.
``We'll need a nice vase for these`` I said, handing him the flowers. A couple of the guys at the bar laughed.
``Yea RF,'' one of them called, ``you must have a pretty cut glass vase of some sort back there. It's probably with the Grisly's tea service.'' There were loud guffaws from the half-dozen or so patrons.
MacDougal disappeared, holding the bouquet tightly in both hands, arms extended straight in front of him, like he was carrying a dead skunk. I helped myself to a cup of coffee and a few minutes later he was back. The daffodils were jammed into an attractive amber colored vase. He carefully sat the vase next to the antique cash register.
``Now which one of you wanted tea?'' he asked.
MacDougal and a couple of the guys at the bar had questions about the knee replacement. They were intrigued at the card I now carry featuring an x-ray of the joint. The card calms airline security people when you trip the alarms.
It was about five o'clock and the day was warm enough that both doors of the Grisly were open. Spring weather can be tricky and no one is surprised when it changes from sunshine and mid-70s to spitting snow and cold. A couple people were shooting .22 rifles at the informal ``shooting range.'' A bunch of us have rediscovered small-bore target shooting. There are high quality rifles by Anschutz, Kimber and Sako available now, and Ruger makes a pretty fancy heavy barrel shooter.
RF had a small dirt banked range built behind the parking area during spring maintenance. The only rule is that shooting comes before serious drinking. MacDougal does not object to someone sipping a beer while they shoot but he is ever watchful. There have been no problems.
Four visiting fly fishermen sat at one table. Their laughter and easy camaraderie indicated they must have enjoyed a good day on the river. In a few days the melt will begin in the high country and the river will rise and become dirty and unfishable.
It appeared the issue under discussion was a recently imposed regulation required fishing and hunting license applicants to provide Social Security numbers applications. There has been strong negative reaction to the requirement in Alaska and other states. In Montana the Legislature has promised to rescind the regulation when it next convenes.
``Okay, Mr. bigshot fish and game guy, just what do those dummies at Fish, Wildlife and Parks (Montana's ADF&G) think they're doing,'' MacDougal demanded, dropping a slice of orange into the pink drink he was fixing for one of the flyfishers.
``Yeah, that's right. You know all the top fish and game guys Wiley. What's the matter with them? There's no way I put my name on it. So I guess I'm now an illegal fisherman,'' said a man I've met a couple of times. It is true, I do know the top managers of the Montana Department.
``Frankly fellas, I believe it can all be traced back to Hillary,'' I began. That drew an immediate response and some laughter. I caught RF's eye and pointed to the Five Star Hennessey bottle.
``I'm really not up to this,'' I continued, ``from what I understand it's an effort to help states track down responsible parents, mainly men of course, who are not paying child support. When the parent doesn't pay, some families end up needing government assistance, and part of that comes from state and local budgets.''
``I don't get it,'' one of the flyfishers asked. I was not aware they were listening.
``Look. Don't take this as gospel,'' I said, ``But here's what I think; the federal government controls substantial money that flows to state fish and game agencies. The Feds simply threatened to shut off that money unless departments add the Social Security number requirement. It's just another tactic in the battle against `deadbeat dads.' They hope quick access to your Social Security number will make it easier to track you down. Hillary and Janet Reno strongly support the effort and they have the means to get the attention of federal agencies.''
``Well, at least our Legislature is going to toss it out,'' one of the men said, ``and I don't see how the Feds get away with all this blackmail - that's what it is - of states.''
``Well, believe it or not, the blackmailing has been going on for years. This situation may cause some very interesting confrontations between states and the federal government. And particularly between state fish and game agencies and their federal counterparts,`` I replied.
``Ya know Wiley,'' MacDougal said, topping off my coffee mug, ``life was a lot simpler this winter, when you weren't here.''
Warren W. Wiley, a former Juneau resident, political observer and radio personality, now lives in Montana. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.