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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
For those of you who don’t track sasquatch sightings in your spare time, my county is home to a bigfoot named Knobby. His last sighting was about ten years ago when he was caught snooping through a cabin window. The owner of the cabin called 911 to ask if he could shoot “the beast,” but decided against it on advice from the dispatcher. Instead, he resorted to telling the sasquatch to “Git! Git away from here!” The sasquatch turned and fled, but the man noticed the beast had a “beautiful head of hair.” (This really happened: youtube the video, “CNN: See Bigfoot? Call 911”).
A local gas station used to sell Knobby T-shirts at the local gas and grocery, but the shirts have been discontinued. These days, bigfoot hunters are few and far between. Instead, they’re all out searching the heavens for UAPs–if you didn’t know, Unidentified Flying Objects are now called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena by the government. (Apparently, the Navy released a video of some flying triangles, a.k.a. UAPs, that has the paranormal community salivating and really polishing up their tinfoil hats.)
But the transformation of UFOs to UAPs is what I’m really concerned about in this post. The transformation is a classic case of the deterioration of the English language by jargon, and I know all too well about the harmful effects of jargon. I work at a government agriculture office.
Sound and Agribusiness Lingo
Agriculture is ground zero for jargon and its fallout on sentences. In fact, the other day I was talking to a young farmer when I realized I couldn’t understand him at all. It wasn’t that he was mumbling. It wasn’t that he spoke a dialect different from my own. It was just his words–words full of sound and agribusiness lingo, signifying nothing. The young man was fond of utterances like the following:
“What the public doesn’t understand is that modern agricultural producers are utilizing the latest technologies and materials–we’re deploying the safest chemistries and best genetics to maximize revenue and increase productivity, just to feed the world.”
Admittedly, I didn’t have the heart to tell the young farmer that what the public doesn’t understand are his verbs and nouns. And it’s only a matter of time before the last bastion of his understandable lingo, “to feed the world,” is transformed into some monstrosity like, “to replenish the planet’s gastric capacity.” The oddity is that when the young farmer talks of other topics, not related to agriculture, his sentences are both clear and intelligible, but the moment agriculture is broached in conversation, a switch flips and he speaks in riddles.
Of course, the government is partly to blame for this. For decades, the USDA has referred to farmers as “producers” or “operators.” I think the intention is to make farming seem more modern and business-like, to leave behind the pitchfork and overalls stereotype. So highfalutin farm words are, in a sense, an innocent way to puff out one’s chest, to say “I’m important.”
But concocted words like producer and operator do more harm than good. They only exacerbate the separation and increase the distance between non-farmers and farmers. A child will never comprehend an “animal unit” if it can’t comprehend a heifer or steer.
And not all separation is so innocent. Words are purposefully manipulated to soften and hide meaning. Thus, killing becomes depopulate; slaughterhouse becomes processing plant; pesticides become chemistries. My favorite metamorphosis is the transformation of the word lagoon from a waterbody in a tropical paradise to a manure pond at the end of a loafing shed.
To be fair, alternative agriculture is not without offenses. Words and phrases like biodynamic, regenerative, and beyondsustainable are now bandied about with such frequency and carelessness that one never knows exactly what they mean. I am often left wondering if these words are merely hip, feel-good marketing terms. Often they’re used vaguely and all-inclusively, for anything from moon crystals to cover crops–just more words meaning everything and thus meaning nothing.
Farm talk didn’t used to be this way. Listen to any old-timer talk about farming and you’ll immediately notice a difference. You’ll notice farmers are farmers, not producers. You’ll hear nothing of “animal units” but plenty about cows, or more specifically the twenty brood cows grazing the back pasture. You’ll hear idioms that are both illustrative and clear, like “meaner than a Jersey bull” or “madder than a wet hen.” And forget feeding the world—you’ll hear about the struggle to feed the family when the boll weevil came through in 1949. And you’ll not only hear the words, but you’ll see images and know meaning. That is how to talk farming.
But back to the point of this post: if you’re talking about flying triangles (that look remarkably similar to Imperial Star Destroyers), you should call them UFOs, not UAPs.