Philip Weiss,

       I got into a fight at the Loon River-Loon Lake portage. In the Boundary Waters wilderness in northern Minnesota, most portages are the sort romanticized by Winslow Homer: canopied openings at the ends of lakes with half-mile trails through to the next lake. But the federal government permits motor boats in Loon Lake and Loon River, so there is a mechanized portage between them, a railroad track and straight six auto engine to pull the cable. The proprietor is an entrepreneur. POP–CHEW–T-SHIRTS–SMOKES–BUG DOPE, says a sign nailed to a tree. Nearby the straight six is chugging boats at $10 a pop.
       “Some operation,” I said to a fat, smoking fisherman on the Loon Lake side after I dropped our canoe.
       “Yeah, but I don’t know why the guy has to be such a jackass,” he said.
       “He’s a jackass?”
       “Oh yeah.”
       “He probably spends the evening hammering down copious quantities of alcohol,” said my friend Mike.
       I didn’t want to talk about him in the abstract, so I walked up to the cabin to see what kind of a jackass he was. The straight six was lugging another bass boat. A big, white, bearded head suddenly poked out of a window over a bumper sticker that read “Hug a Logger, You’ll Never Go Back to Trees” and offered a blistering opinion of where I’d left my canoe. Dandy that I am, I asked whether he owned this land, and he said belligerently that he owned the rails and was just interested in safety. I said I bet you are, and with that attitude I had changed my mind about buying chew. He pulled his head back in the cabin.
       My friend Tony says I should apply to the Forest Service for the Loon River-Loon Lake concession, displace my enemy, and make the house a writer’s retreat. I said I didn’t want the psychic responsibility of polluting the Boundary Waters with bass boats. People are accountable.
       Mel Gibson should be pilloried for making Lethal Weapon IV, a ghastly movie. If Gibson weren’t making Lethal Weapon IV, someone else would be, my friend Tony said. Same as the jackass at the portage. This is Tony’s view of employment. Most people are cogs. If you want to do something truly meaningful, you have to strike out on your own. (Tony started and runs an inner-city newspaper.)
       But Paramount lets Gibson make Braveheart because he makes Lethal Weapon IV, I said. Somehow I’d got on the other side of the argument. I guess I identify with Gibson–and hope/pray that something meaningful can be brought to a mean job. But then how does the jackass at the portage rationalize his miserable existence?