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Steve Lang: More tales of growing older but not growing up

“It’s the second week of deer camp/And all the guys are here/We drink play cards and shoot the bull/But never shoot no deer...”– Da Yoopers

Based on our recent phone conversation, if Gary Perkins and I could hit our respective weights, we would be placed in the heart of the batting order.

Instead, we swatted around old stories, as senior citizens and former amateur baseball players are prone to do.

Gary, like me a media refugee from the 1960s and 1970s, connected via more modern means – the Internet.

Mr. Perkins, no relation to the restaurant chain, now lives a quiet life of retirement in Port Wing, Wisc., a hamlet on the south shore of Lake Superior down the road from Duluth/Superior.

“As I look out the window, I’m watching it snow – on the 29th of April,” he mused. “I guess you can always tell a native Upper Midwesterner, but you probably can’t tell him much.”

Like suggesting that he move south to escape the not-so-far-from-the-truth nine months of winter and three months of tough sledding.

“It’s (Port Wing) my wife’s hometown,” he confessed, “but we have mutually agreed to spend next winter in Arizona.”

But totally abandoning the deer camp on his 200-acre farm would be unthinkable.

“In Wisconsin, deer hunting season is part of the deity,” he said. “Ten days of communing with nature and occasionally behaving badly.”

Conversation touched briefly on baseball, where Gary, once a member of the Forada Flashers, gained Resorters League notoriety by taking a walking lead off first base and strolling all the way to second for a successful steal as the opposing pitcher, ball in hand, gaped in astonishment.

“I did make a slight hand gesture, as if to say, ‘hold it a second,’ but in reality, I suspect it was my TV persona that enabled me to get away with it,” he recalled. “KCMT (the Alexandria, Minn. TV station where Perk was a news reporter) carried a lot of weight in those days.”

Nowadays, Gary said he carries a lot of weight himself, just like me, and I suspect that both of us in our playing days were mere shadows of our present selves.

“But for the record, no one’s ever forced a doughnut down my throat, so it’s my fault, but I’m not complaining,” he said. “I live a 10-minute walk from the beach and I can still lug my butt out to the deer stand.”

During our media careers, we have both conducted interviews with celebrities, noted political figures and covered significant news events, ranging from the lengthy powerline controversy through central Minnesota to a day with Tiny Tim. I even have a necktie covered with signatures, including those of Gore Vidal, Colin Powell, Charles Kuralt, Cokie Roberts, Terry Anderson, a member of Schindler’s List and others.

Yet, some of my best memories revert to surviving the times when assorted bosses were ready to strangle me for juvenile journalistic gaffes. As a young reporter, I sometimes discovered that work and socializing often absorbed all 24 hours. Consequently, borrowed sleep sometimes collided with scheduled assignments, with sleep prevailing.

I am uncertain if my editors were forgiving because they recalled their own youth, willing to cut me some slack because I patronized loyal advertisers, or even saw a glimmer of potential that they hoped I might grow into, but somehow I managed to stay employed until I left for another job and became someone else’s migraine. I suppose I matured somewhere on the journey, but I shall leave the mundane details to others.

Gary recalled his early days at KMRS Radio, prior to his seven years before the TV cameras.

“I told Cliff (Hedberg) I would do anything to get on the radio, and that included mowing his lawn – and once, I also mowed 200 young trees that I did not see in the tall grass,” he said.

Sleep also trumped broadcasting early one Saturday morning.

“I was in charge of signing on at 6 a.m., and that was just two hours after I arrived home,” he said. “The first 27 minutes featured a 15-minute tape of ‘Day-by-Day with Jesus,’ followed by a 12-minute agriculture report. Somewhere in the middle, I decided to close my eyes for a second.”

Promptly at 8:15 a.m., Gary was awakened by a pounding on the sound booth door, which he locked from the inside. Cliff Hedberg, who lived above the studio, had heard nothing but a rhythmic “chh-chh, chh-chh” of dead air for nearly two hours, and frantically tried to get Gary’s attention.

When Gary awakened, he opened the door to Cliff’s bark, “you’re fired!”

“You can’t fire me! I quit!” Gary shot back.

“You’re not fired until noon, when Don gets here!”

According to Gary’s calculations, the fired-quit cycle revolved at least 20 times during their association.

Moving onto TV, Gary could blend hard news with a few lighter moments. Once, while providing the weather forecast, he described heavy rains in the Northeast, sunshine in the West, tornados in the South, then pointed to two black spots on the map.

“You will notice a black spot just east of Boise and another south of Louisville,” he said, gesturing with his pointer-stick.

“These are not centers of growing storm systems; they are two flies that weren’t quick enough to get away.”

And the rest is mystery, along with 32 years of writing auto, home, health and life coverage. Perk noted he did broadcast some sporting events for a fledgling cable system when he moved near Superior, Wisc., but now finds other pursuits.

“The high point of the week in Port Wing is when the Port Bar is open for breakfast on Friday and Saturday,” he said. “On other days, we drive seven miles to Herbster and Pine Cone Ole’s, and since we are now esteemed senior citizens, the daily babble usually evolves to our assorted diseases and the medications that treat them.”

Steve Lang thanks Gary Perkins for more stories behind the news. Lang was editor of the Morris Sun Tribune from 1974 to 1979 and currently lives in Alpine, Texas, where he works as the director of News and Publications of Sul Ross State University. Perkins grew up in the Morris area and worked at KMRS and KCMT-TV in Alexandria.