SPIRIT LAKE, IAOn an ordinary day, amiable dim-bulb Jeff Koegle wanders into many places: his den, the bowling alley, maybe the local Spee-D-Kustard, which is only a three-block dawdle from his house. For as long as anyone in Spirit Lake can remember, this burly goof has schlepped along the road of life with neither purpose nor reason.
"I like to whistle sometimes when I'm going along," Koegle said. "Or maybe hum a tune that was on the radio last place I was."
Koegle added: "Once, I heard a meow outside by the dumpster by Hardy's. It was a box of kitties. They let me keep one. I named him Yellow."
In his 34 years, Koegle has plodded his way through high school, two homes, an eight-year marriage, a series of mindless jobs, and the occasional boat show. The easily distracted boob has left no lasting legacy, save for an occasional knocked-over cup or upset magazine rack.
"I accidentally slapped a guy's soda out of his hand in line at the movies once," Koegle said. "Now he's a good friend."
Koegle's aimless blunderings occasionally trigger major developments in his life, which isn't saying much, because if it weren't for sheer happenstance, he would have no experiences at all.
"Once, when I was getting off the bus, I saw some little TVs in the window of a store," said Koegle, his doughy mitts hanging limply at his sides. "I went into the store, and I had a nice chat with a salesgal, and she asked me out on a date. Now that gal's my wife."
Longtime friends and associates say Koegle's oafish good cheer is as constant as his characteristic outfit: a sweatshirt, jeans, and a Salem windbreaker.
"Sometimes Jeff will come by, hang out for a bit," said friend Dan Werner, who graduated from high school with Koegle in 1989. "We'll maybe watch hockey or go get a bite to eat if one of us is hungry. After a while, he'll say, 'Well, guess I ought to get going,' and he'll take off."
Local merchant Evan Rasmussen Jr., proprietor of Rasmussen Dime & Drug, sold Koegle gum throughout the '90s.
"[The lummox] wouldn't come in with any regularity, but once in a while he'd amble through," Rasmussen said. "When he'd grab the gum from the display, he'd muss up all the other packets of gum on the rack. I would always have to straighten them out after he left."
Eventually, Rasmussen asked Koegle to straighten the gum himself. Koegle has been working at Rasmussen Dime & Drug ever since.
Koegle's wife Jeannette, 30, shared a more intimate view of the shambling clod.
"Yesterday during breakfast, I told Jeff to try taking charge of his life more, because I know he has it in him to make it happen," Jeannette said. "I could tell he was considering what I said, but then he seemed to forget all about it when the potato pancakes were served."
At home on his recliner, Koegle said he is "just fine with" his directionless life. He added that he "pretty much fell into it."
"I guess I wouldn't mind working a few more hours at Rasmussen's here and there, but Jeannette and me are doing fine," Koegle said. "My cousin Jerry [Morris] wants us to move out to Wisconsin and work with him at the window-blind factory that's always hiring, and I think that might be nice, but to be honest, I don't give it a lot of serious thought."
Minutes after this confession, Koegle was fast asleep.
At the close of another day, the stumblebum once again failed to conceive of a single quest, great or small. Yellow in his lap, he remained on the recliner through the night, his unconscious mind doubtlessly dancing with images of found sawbucks and crab apples.