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Al Batt

Sentinel Tribune of Westbrook, Minnesota

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"Stories from the Batt Cave"

One in 7,373,610,009

There were 7,373,600,467 people in the world at the time.

I was dining with a friend named Jim at a snazzy restaurant in Michigan. My meal involved a number of forks. "You're using the wrong fork," is something I never heard once while growing up. The place was much too good for the likes of me. I knew it was fine dining because there were more men wearing suits than wearing baseball caps. There would be no smiley faces on the checks. The menu prices caused me to ask if they served leftovers.

In the past 12 months I've eaten tongue, tripe, crawdad, and raccoon. This restaurant had none of those on the menu. We'd tried to eat at my kind of place, but it was packed with no seats available and a number of people hovering around waiting to pounce on any seat that became vacant. I like joints where no one is shocked when I blow the paper wrapper off my plastic straw. It's target shooting at its finest. It makes food more pleasing to my palate. It's a way I can let my hick flag fly. We had to eat somewhere no stomach has ever been filled by hearing the word "food." So we ended up at this place.

There was a painting of an airplane on the wall. It was in a prominent place, likely to encourage diners to open wide before shoveling in food. Most of us were conditioned that way while still in highchairs. "Here comes the air-plane," said a parent armed with a spoonful of food.

I begin each meal with the hopes of not spilling anything. My hopes aren't always realized. In my early teens, I grew a great deal one year. Suddenly everything I reached for was closer than my brain told me it was. Longer arms allowed me to spill things at a rate that I'd never achieved before. A meal wasn't truly a meal until I'd tipped over a glass of milk. I didn't whine about it. I was the absorbent and silent type.

I'd had an interesting day the Mitten State. A low tire on my rental car had required me to add $ 1 worth of air. I put four quarters into an air compressor to get the tire back to 33 psi. I could have gotten by on two bits of air, but $1 was the minimum. Two bits is one quarter. Early in the history of the American colonies, bit was used for Spanish coins (reales) that were worth one-eighth of a peso. Each of the famed pieces of eight was valued at around 12 and one-half cents. Two bits equaled about 25 cents. When the Spanish dollar gave way to the U.S. dollar, bit survived in such phrases as two bits and four bits, which means 50 cents.

In a remarkable segue, I told Jim that two bits didn't go far at Minnesota's Great Get Together. Neither did four bits. USA Today named the Minnesota State Fair the best state fair in the land. The record attendance for the 12-day run is the 1.82 million that showed up in 2014.

We talked of Carl Switzer, the actor who played Alfalfa in the Our Gang (Little Rascals) comedy films, who died at age 31 in a fight over money. Alfalfa was the freckle-faced boy with the off-key singing voice and unruly cowlick.

We were interrupted by a woman, who having concluded her dining day, said to me, "I recognize you from the photo on your column."

"Thanks for reading," I replied.

"Oh, I don't read it. I have a caged bird."

That reminded me to give Jim the name of the brand of toilet paper that had changed my life. I'd just started telling him that The Weather Channel controls our weather and that space aliens come here to smoke, when there was a commotion.

A couple of guys at the table next to us were having a heated discussion. One seemed nice The other not so much I don't know what they were arguing about. Maybe if I were a better listener, I'd have known. One of them left in a huff-or it might have been an Audi. He threw some loud and unkind words at his fellow diner before leaving.

By this time, there were 7,373,610,009 people on the earth.

Every one of them knows a bit.

I know that it's easier said than done, but it's unwise to let just one of them ruin your day.

©Al Batt 2015 71622 325 St. 1-1, MN 56042

Copyright 2015 Sentinel Tribune, Westbrook, Minnesota. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: October 21, 2015

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