The Constitutional

Jul 18, 2014
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Welcome back to SNAP JUDGEMENT, the Saved Edition. Today, we're talking to people who find themselves in a whole heap of trouble and they're frantically trying to dig themselves out. Now, coincidentally, SNAP JUDGEMENT's producer Mr. Mark Ristich - he spends the majority of his time in a whole heap of trouble, trying frantically to dig himself out.

MARK RISTICH, BYLINE: It's over. It's officially over. We're given our stuff back and we get to the books. She hands me my book by Henry David Thoreau. It's not "Walden." It's his journal entries. She said it was stupid anyway, but I liked it. I give her back "Econ Stats 452" reluctantly. Not because it's a great read but because I'm still taking Econ Stats 452. But I just figured, fine, you want be that way. Be that way. However, when I go to look around for the book, the library is checked out and the bookstore is sold out. I go to class. I draw some graphs, such as chances of finding book versus demand for book. And then I just stop looking. Instead I start reading the Thoreau diary over again. He talks about building his cabin in the woods - how to use this many nails and how many pennies that cost to the blacksmith and how, when you're feeling ill, the best thing is to throw on all your clothes and go for a constitutional. You go out. You recognize the same animals from yesterday and regard each other. So right when Thoreau is landed at Pinkser's swamp and the azaleas are blooming - that's when I have to take my final in stats, the final final to graduate. But on the way to the exam, faster than you can say Peter pants indentalism, I develop an instantaneous love of nature - fauna flora and other phrases. I turn my car around. I go home and take stock of my means. Two hundred and fifty dollars in cash - that's it - no bank account - no credit card - no daddy's credit card - OK. I do have the family safety net. It's a Christmas tree farm. My grandfather left in his will. No one has ever seen it. We just have a vague idea of where it is. So the plan is to, somehow, find the farm, and once there, I'll just eat, sleep and write - write what? Well here's Thoreau. (Reading) Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal? A good journal - well, how hard is that? So I pack up. I leave Detroit and I head up North. I'm feeling good about myself. And then I hear the sirens. It's the man trying to keep me down. But I don't cry to the trooper. I don't tell him about my F in statistics, about how my future is futile. I just take the speeding ticket - $200. Fine. You want to be that way - you know. Now I'm just going a little bit slower through upper Michigan, and I stumble upon a summer camp. It's not yet open. So I roll away a couple of boulders and I drive around long gate. And there's this small grouping of tiny cabins right by the lake. They're all shuttered up, but I break in. I sleep easy until the morning. Then I hear a knocking. I walk outside. It's a woodpecker. He sees me. He keeps knocking. I come closer. We regard each other, and then he's back to business. So, yeah, I write that down, and as the ink dries, I admit to myself that breaking into a cabin is not the same thing as Thoreau building his own. I still have to find that farm, and so I take off and I traced the route of the river where it's supposed to be. I'm following along, and then I see something interesting. It's an orange arrow pointing down a path. There's this rusty sign that says something about Department of Defense, but, whatever, I go with it. I turned down the path. The sunlight disappears, and I creep along. I don't want to hit a beaver or deer. I'm winding through and I come to this opening with these massive dirt hills and what looks like Hummer tracks. And so then I'm just like gunning it up and down these hills with total impunity. I don't know what it is, but the car is just like floating on magic. And I'm like, yes, this is it. This is nature. This is awesome. I ditch the hills, and I charge onto a two-track grass path. The path turns into sand, but I just plow on. The car slows, but I floor it, and the car wheels are just spinning and spinning until they grind their way into the sand and the car stalls. Tailpipe buried - sand up to the doors. I have to climb out the window to get out of the car. I'm miles from the road, and I'm broke. I know anyone who would save me would probably arrest me. So I empty the car, I set up my tent, and I eat, just staring at my fiesta. OK - first step, get the car up. I did a hole in the sand for the Jack. I put my floor mats under the jack so it won't sink in the sand. One by one, I raise the wheels and place rocks and logs underneath the tires. I forge the forest for good logs and big rocks to build my path back to solid ground. It takes me a day and a half. I go through all my food. I go through all my water. And then, at high noon, I pack my car. I know this is a one-shot road. It's all in reverse. I get in. I start the car and gauge the clutch. The car lurches backwards, it slips, and then it finds its grip. I gun it reversed with rocks and wood shooting up all around me. I finally feel firm ground beneath the tires, and I stop. I leave the car running, and then I get out. And I'm just seeing my car there, idling. I know - I know. I don't need my Christmas tree farm. I can't live in a safety net. I look back down the path at the road that I built. I'm covered in sweat, and I'm like, yeah, yeah. This is what Thoreau meant. This is a constitutional.


THE BREEDERS: (Singing) Chime on a rain wet - an ankle - toes or two, sweetly as it drops upon your head just like it did today - fortunately gone. I wait for you.

WASHINGTON: The nation thanks you Mark Ristich, you uber producer, you. Thank you so much for gifting us with that harrowing tale of overcoming trials and tribulation. In fact, Pat, I think I feel a gospel song coming on.


WASHINGTON: Give thanks for that piece was produced by Mark Ristich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.