The Old Pocket Knife

Ah, the old pocket knife–the Sodbuster, the Peanut, the Buck, the Trapper, the Swiss Army. It used to be a comfort to carry a small blade. Now it’s a burden. I had to trek all the way back to my truck to deposit my pocket knife. Moments earlier, with a little Case Peanut in my possession, I had been denied entry into my local county agricultural fair. Imagine that: agriculture without pocket knives. Alas, we live in such a time.

I’m not sure how much damage someone could do with a Case Peanut. As its name implies, it’s a small implement with two tiny blades. I wouldn’t call it a weapon of mass destruction per se unless it’s the hands of a very well-trained criminal. Most well-trained criminals usually overlook it for weapons that pack more punch. Still, the security guard wanding people was just doing his job and banning entry to all weapons, tiny pocketknives included. 

The Case Peanut

I could be wrong, but I believe it was once possible to win pocket knives at the fair. Cheap flashy folding blades were prizes used to lure boys into spending all their money. In hindsight, a knife as a prize may seem like a bad idea, but the games were rigged. No one ever won one, so the knives posed little safety hazard. 

The main reason I carry a knife is because I never know when a woman will ask, “Does anybody have a pocket knife on them?” I’m a happily married man, but thought of being caught empty-pocketed when a distressed lady needs a blade is too much to bear. Since my wife carries her own pocket knife in her purse, I rarely get to indulge that little pleasure of rescuing a damsel from an unraveling thread or over-taped box. The only time my wife has requested my pocketknife lately was when she ordered me to slash tires on a gas-powered moped with no muffler that rides by our old farmhouse at 3 AM every night. 

I got my first pocketknife when I was eight, and it was promptly taken away. As I remember it, the knife was a little red beauty, and so was the wound. As my mom prepped for a trip to the emergency room on a Christmas morning, I could barely hold in my tears of pain I was so elated. The thought of a legitimate scar was exciting enough. Showing off stitches would have made me the most popular boy in second grade. “What did you get for Christmas?” I imagined my friends asking. I would hold out my hand stoically, three stitches in my forefinger. My friends would clamor in envy. Unfortunately, my dad was able to stop the bleeding with old fishing rags and super-glue, so I couldn’t brag about a trip to the ER.

But, like I said, little pocket knives are only dangerous in the hands of well-trained criminals and eight-year-old boys.

The Biggest Problem with Agriculture

Some people finish what they’ve started. Others forget. Mind you, it isn’t always easy to forget; in fact, despite my best efforts, a few unfinished projects still rattle around in my brain, causing intense feelings of guilt and overwhelm. Mostly, these are the unfinished projects I see every day, like the new hardie board siding near the back porch door that I’ve been meaning to paint for six months. If I keep my head down and avert my gaze, I can sometimes successfully enter my abode without the unpainted hardie board penetrating my consciousness. 

That said, it isn’t easy to live in forgetful bliss. When we bought the farm, I knew it had a pigweed problem, but little did I know it was fertile ground for unfinished projects. Everywhere I walk and look, an unfinished project is sprouting up and spreading insidious spores. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t rid the place of them. There is the half-built fence I’ve been meaning to complete, right beside the pasture I’ve been meaning to finish bush hogging, right beside a barn I need to finish cleaning out, in which is a tractor I repainted, save for one fender that is still splotched with rust, and speaking of paint, I’ve got about fifty honey supers that have one coat and need another. 

Most other farms I visit are also overrun by unfinished projects, and nobody seems to know how to control them. It’s probably the biggest problem facing agriculture today–well, that and English majors. Poor souls read Thoreau, then try to live off the land; then at the brink of starvation, the smart ones write something with an irresistible title like “Pasture Poultry Profit$: Net $25,000 in Six Months on 20 Acres” and then become millionaires. The dumb ones dabble in agricultural humor and die. Which is just as well. Death may be the only solution I know of to unfinished projects.

Beware of the Butter Bean

Well, in other news, my throat is still trying to kill me. It came close a few years ago when the Grim Reaper apparently tired of his boring ole scythe and got creative in his methods. Had my wife not been there to administer the Heimlich, my death certificate would read, “Death by butter bean.”  All my life I’ve struggled to eat healthy, thinking that Bojangles would probably do me in. Then I nearly die from a vegetable—talk about irony. 

So three endoscopies and many thousands of dollars later, my esophagus was sufficiently expanded to once again allow safe passage of food—this was two years ago. The problem is white blood cells still like to hang out in my esophagus and practice strangulation in their free time. The doctors tell me that this is not normal, that only 1 in 1000 people have the condition, that there’s no good way to treat it other than to restretch my throat every few years, ideally before my white blood cells commit murder. 

I’m hoping I can make it three years between endoscopies because I don’t relish the idea of having my throat roto-rootered again. Done in an outpatient facility, it’s a routine procedure, except when it isn’t. Before my third endoscopy, while I was waiting in the prep room with an IV in my arm, I got to hear one of those “when it isn’t” cases. The prep room is right beside the operating room. Normally, you can’t hear the doctors and nurses talking as they work on whoever is scheduled before you, unless something bad is happening, in which case everyone is shouting and running and alarms are blaring. I just remember one nurse shouting “heart rate 180” and the doctor using the expression “stat” as in “get an ambulance here stat.” The nice old lady having the procedure done before me, who smiled at me while we were both in the waiting room, was having a heart attack on the table. 

I often wonder what happened to that lady, a complete stranger, after she was transported to the hospital. As they wheeled me into the operating room, because, well, the show must go one, I’m not sure who was more shell-shocked, the doctor, nurses, or me. Sensing I was perhaps disconcerted by the preceding event, one nurse tried to calm my trembling skeletal structure with some reassuring words, which, to be honest, paled in reassurance to the valium she shot in my IV.

The next thing I know, I’m waking up at home with a sore throat and a bad case of hiccups. But that beats waking up in a hospital or not waking up at all. So, all in all, I have a lot to be thankful for, even if my throat is still trying to kill me.

How to Bid on Livestock like a Pro

The sale barn, where livestock is bought, sold, and sometimes bartered in the parking lot,  is your local hub for agricultural activity. It’s a good place to connect with other farmers—just  don’t yawn or scratch your head because you might accidentally buy a cow. Such faux pas are  common among newcomers to a stockyard. 

As a child, perhaps you longed to be a professional sale-barn bidder. Or perhaps not. But  in rural culture, it’s nearly as common a dream job as a cowboy, county agent, or veterinarian.  Even full-grown adults, while listening to an auctioneer jabber endlessly, have been known to  daydream about life as a high-profile livestock trader. Unfortunately, daydreaming is a sure sign  you’re an amateur buyer. Professional buyers sit stoic in the crowd, impervious to the hypnotizing  effect of an auctioneer’s voice, bidding with nearly imperceptible winks, head nods, and twitches.  Rumor has it, the best sale-barn buyers can blink Morse code with their eyes. 

Professional buyers are rock stars of rurality. After thundering into the parking lot with a  livestock trailer capable of hauling a small herd of elephants, a professional moseys over to inspect  the bovines while awestruck onlookers ask for autographs on bidding cards and advice on buying.  The professional obliges, scribbling a pithy line like, “Buy low. Sell high—High Bid Hal.” Hal  then enters the arena fashionably late and sits proudly in his reserved seat in direct line of sight of  the auctioneer. Moments later, a murmur ripples through the crowd when Hal buys his first of  many cows. 

Of course, we all can’t be as suave as High Bid Hal, but I’ve studied his behavior and  gleaned some helpful tips on how to resemble a professional sale-barn bidder and strike fear in  your bovine buying competition. Follow these tips, and you’ll resemble a competent procurer of  livestock in no time. 

Do your homework

Don’t arrive at the sale barn and start buying willy-nilly. Although  professionals do this, buying willy-nilly is considered an advanced technique that takes many years  to master. Instead, spend time at your stockyard studying the process. Also, learn the markings.  Often cows will be marked with spray paint or a sticker. Different colors represent different things.  For instance, a red dot might mean “steer” or a yellow dot might mean “confirmed pregnant.”  Thus, a red and yellow dot together would mean a confirmed pregnant steer, in which case you  should buy that miraculous animal. 

Show No Emotion

Don’t smile at the sale barn. Don’t make eye contact with humans.  Such behavior is considered a sign of weakness. It’s best not to attempt jokes either, unless you’re  the auctioneer who will likely impersonate a stand-up comic before the sale starts. Whatever you  do, don’t laugh at the auctioneer’s jokes. The auctioneer is merely trying to loosen up the crowd  to encourage bidding. But if you’ve done your homework, you’ve heard these jokes before.  Auctioneers rarely come up with new material. 

Walk the Catwalk

Strolling the catwalk is an essential job function for supermodels and sale-barn bidders alike. At a stockyard, the catwalk is  the elevated walkway that allows you to view animals in the pens below. If you’re a sale-barn  novice, practice your walk at home, especially if you’re afraid of heights. Many professional sale barn bidders prefer a mosey, though you can try a saunter or amble. Advanced sale-barn stars will  often have a trademark “hitch in their gitty-up” that sets their walk apart from amateurs (If you’re  a British farmer, please visit the Ministry of Silly Walks to search for trademarked hitches. America has no such regulatory body, so trademarked walks here mean nothing. If you don’t like  Monty Python, please disregard the previous joke). 

Don’t fall

Have your bidding card ready:

Nothing says amateur like fumbling to find your bidding  card, which contains your all-important bidder identification number. Livestock sales are fast  paced. For instance, a typical cattle sale might go as follows: 

“A good steer, who’ll give me a dollar fifty—fifty cents, fifty cents, fifty cents? Alright,  dollar forty, looking for forty, looking for forty, looking for forty to start. That’s a good  steer now. Someone start it. thirty-five cents, thirty-five, thirty-five, thirty-five, looking for  thirty-five cents. THIRTY-FIVE—top right corner! Now forty, looking for forty, huhmana  huhmana forty, huhmana huhmana forty. FORTY over here! Now forty-five, forty-five,  forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, looking for forty-five, looking for forty-five,  looking for forty-five. Now looking for forty-two. Down low, FORTY-TWO! Now forty three, a dollar forty-three, dollar forty-three, dollar forty-three. That’s a good steer, good  steer, good steer. Forty-three, looking for forty-three, huhmana huhmana huhmana forty three. FORTY-THREE—top right! Now forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, forty-four,  forty-four, forty-four, huhmana huhmana forty-four looking for forty-four. Going once,  going twice, sold FORTY-THREE! Top right corner!” 

Though seemingly impossible, all this verbiage is uttered and the steer is sold in five seconds total.  And the process is repeated instantaneously with another cow—if, that is, the previous buyer had  his or her bidding card ready. If not, the whole auction comes to a jarring halt and people glare.  Whatever you do, don’t get flustered and flash your card upside down—you’ll be laughed out of  the arena. Though speed is important, it’s better to draw slow and shoot for accuracy than fall  victim to vicious sale barn humor. 

Having read these tips, you’ll soon achieve stockyard stardom. If in doubt, just remember:  buy low, sell high. It’s that simple.

How To Get Out of Weddings

Weddings, ugh. For some reason, uncomfortable dress clothes, sappy songs, and awkward small talk appeal to otherwise rational women, my wife included. She actually smiles when an envelope brings tidings of forthcoming nuptials. Of course, the invitation inside also requests the honor of our presence, by which it really means her presence. I know the  bride-to-be just put my name on the invitation to be polite. And sometimes they don’t even waste the gold-foil ink printing my name–they just put Mr. and Mrs. Natalie Bishop. 

So forget feeding the world: the best reason to own cows is to get out of weddings. I hate to  spill the beans, but cattle prices have been in the dumpster for years now. Economically speaking,  we’d all be better off donating our cows to PETA and letting them foot the bill for hay. Currently,  the only advantage to keeping cows is a man (or woman if so inclined) can accidentally leave a  gate open. Thus, an hour before the union of two dear friends, really slight acquaintances if we’re  being honest, a prized heifer can get loose and need wrangling. And a loose cow emergency trumps attendance at weddings. Just don’t overplay the loose cow card, or else your significant other will suspect something’s up and ask you to repair the pasture fence, and repairing fences is tedious work best procrastinated. 

Unfortunately, many bridal magazines have caught on to the fact that men hate weddings and are now advising readers to get hitched in barns to re-attract the missing male demographic. Recently, I attended one of these barn weddings. Here’s my firsthand report: Still, ugh. 

First, it was definitely not a working barn. I never caught the slightest waft of manure or  saw the first mouse. Second, there were no wasp nests anywhere or yellow jackets hiding in old  hay bales. Third, the barn was absent dust-filled cobwebs and, in fact, dust. The barn was spotless.  It had fluorescent lights and stainless-steel fixtures. It was the first barn I’ve seen that could double  as an operating room. Sadly, that bride probably spent a fortune hoping for a true-to-life barn  experience and left with a white dress unsoiled. In a real barn, nothing attracts grease, oil, or grime faster than white clothes. 

So, brides, if you’re seeking an authentic barn wedding, please feel free to contact me to tour our venue featuring a barn built in 1940 and many dilapidated out-buildings. For a meager  upcharge, you can meet the raccoon living in the hayloft. For a small intimate wedding, the old  smokehouse accommodates eight people and a hundred mice. 

Right now, I have widespread availability, though this is liable to change once word gets out about the affordability of my authentic venue. In fact, you could probably rent our whole  facility for a fraction of those fancy barn venues, so long as you remember to feed the cows and  empty the mouse traps.

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