A First Encounter With Surplus

The Indian's first contact with the world of surplus came through the European trappers. The white trappers wanted the Indian's assistance in locating game and also to have the Indians trap for them. But the Indian did not understand why he should want to do any trapping for the white men. Then the white trappers offered him sugar and flour in exchange for his fur. This interested the Indian. The sugar was sweet and addictive and he began to trap a little for it. Then the white trapper introduced the Indian to alcohol and that made willing trappers out of many.

The Indian soon abandoned or altered parts of his yearly hunting movement through the forest so that he could spend more time along his traplines near the white man's store. Gradually the Indian became dependent on the sugar and flour and alcohol and forgot the way to the distant parts of the forest. Still, he enjoyed trapping and he did not feel the white man had asked of him something he did not want to do.

But the white man wanted the Indians to trap more and bring him more fur. The white man raised the price he paid for fur, thinking it would encourage them. But, strangely, the Indian trapped less. It confused the white man of surplus. The Indian was only trapping to secure a particular quantity of sugar, flour and alcohol and higher prices paid for his furs meant less trapping was required of him. The higher prices allowed the Indian to go away from the white man's store and spend more time hunting and with his family.

So the white man dropped the price of fur and raised the price for sugar, flour and alcohol. This resulted in a great flood of fur to the white man. The Indians then became more tied to their traplines near the white man's store and abandoned more of the traditional hunting areas. The white man had the talented Indian trappers in his service.

The white man saw more of these Indians now and he discovered that whatever excess money after the purchase of sugar and flour was spent on alcohol and the Indians conducted wild, drunken parties. The Indians did not want to keep any of the fiat currency the white man offered them. It seemed to the white man stupid and wasteful, but since he had tricked the Indians with absurdly low fur prices and high prices for the sugar, flour and alcohol, this did not surprise him. 

The Indians reveled in their drunkenness, were proud of it even, and the shaman danced and had great visions. Alcohol was a wonder. The sugar was sweet. The flour was useful. The Indians drank and used all the flour and sugar and then they went away to their hunting areas. Though they spent less time hunting now, the hunt was still necessary for their survival.

What the white man had not understood was that all things go bad, but are replaceable if one has the skills. The forests were full of game, the rivers with fish, and the Indian was in communication with the gods that maintained the land and animals. Because all was provided to him, the Indian could consume everything today with little regard for the future.

The white man has begun to learn that even his fiat currency is no permanent store of value and that it slowly (and then quickly) goes bad. Despite the protests of the libertarians for the creation of a sound and stable currency, currencies throughout history have all eroded in value over time. There is no impregnable store of surplus. All currency surpluses degrade just as caribou meat or sod houses or seal skin boots or narwhale tusk spears. 

The care for surplus and its maintenance is, to the Indian, rather a joke as such quantities can be heavy and must be carried around with a man, either on his person or in his anxiety for their deterioration through inflations. Better to consume it today and acquire it again tomorrow, he says. Of course, one must have the skill to do it.


Regarding the story "The Iraqi"

Hi Jesse,

I'm writing to inform you that we will not be publishing your submission The Iraqi. That said, I thought it was well written; however, I wanted to ask you some questions about it.

Why write this story?

My general feeling after reading this story was that there was a confusion of stakes and controversial or edgy subject matter. At first i was intrigued by the Iraqi's violent behavior, but when it turned into what seemed to me as an almost predictably trite reflection of xenophobic stereotypes you lost me. If this had been accomplished by showing his actions as a reaction to the stereotyping of his peers it would have carried a much different and I think weightier meaning. Instead based on the narrators tone and the final resolution of the story (the redemptive line about the Iraqi being a good worker) we are invited to assume that the Iraqi's American coworkers have been accepting of this man despite his eccentricities, and legal and social transgressions.

Did this story come from life? If not why tell it? If so why tell it this way?

You clearly have a firm grasp on structure and your voice is well developed. That said in this story it was my reading that you engaged a somewhat controversial subject matter with out illuminating any new complexity.  Please feel free to submit with us again, and I apologize if this email sounds preachy or like an undergrad writing workshop. Know that the reason I took the time to write it was because I enjoyed reading you work but did not find this piece suitable for our publication.


Ben W****n, Editor


Hi Ben,

Why a man writes a story is often mysterious, and best left that way. This story came from life. I worked alongside the Iraqi for three months at a cannery in the Alaskan north. I tried to write it so that a reader would have this experience. Perhaps it is less a story then, and more an example.

Xenophobia and stereotypes are of no concern to me. Anytime a writer gets caught up in the consideration or application of extra-literary ideas and theorizing, his writing goes to shit and is forever marked by the politics of his time. A writer should write for all-time, not the fashionable -ism of his day. This means that he must constantly bracket his judgments, his political leanings, the cultural cliches that would tempt him. The Greeks had a word for this rigorous examination of life, the "epoche", and for both them and me, it is the only honest way of looking at the world and making art of it.

Perhaps a writer with university training would have "corrected" these failings in the story. But then it would no longer be about the Iraqi I knew. If the Iraqi does embody some stereotype who am I to change him? That is not the writer's duty. Stereotypes are often valid cultural shorthand, containing valuable truths however uncomfortable.

Thank you for the response as well as the compliments regarding voice and style. I have more stories, and will see about submitting a less controversial one in the future.

Best Regards,



New Dungarees

I bought two pairs of dungarees at the Fleet Farm in Oshkosh. Then I went fishing. These two large mouth bass were keepers. The larger now holds third place in the county competition. If it can hold on until the season ends next month I'll win a portable ice shanty. At 19.5 inches its the largest bass taken off our lake this winter. I plan to can catch a couple more tomorrow. I plan to wear my tan colored dungarees. They're new.

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