Bon Appetit, Your Pipe Repair is Served

I know most people are tired of masks, but they do come in handy in times of crisis, like when you smell like a sewer and need to purchase miscellaneous items for an emergency pipe repair. Under normal circumstances, after digging up the oozing drain pipe, I would have at least taken a few seconds to spritz myself in Febreze before departing for Lowes. In Covid times, when people’s nostrils are covered, I figure I can save a few seconds and go straight to Lowes smelling like a swamp rat and not bring shame and disgrace on my household. 

My wife is not a big fan of malodorousness. In fact, one of her major weaknesses is sensitivity to smells, mainly those that adhere to and emanate from my person. Sometimes she says I smell like the barn, calves, pigs, or moldy hay. The fact that she can distinguish each of the aromas is proof that her petite nose is fertile ground for olfactory receptors. Meanwhile, the large acreage inside my nostrils is mostly barren wasteland, incapable of growing much but mucus. Of course, if an overactive nose was her worst feature, then I’d be just fine. Wearing deodorant mostly everyday is a small sacrifice to make, and everybody has flaws. But the fact that she also has a weak stomach compounds the problem.

“That smell makes me feel queasy,” she says one day.

“That stench is nauseating,” she claims, as I walk through the door.

“You smell like a trash can. I’m going to throw up,” she warns.

“What smell?” I  ask.

To help me understand the subtleties of my aromas, she often resorts to food analogies. Stale means I’m past my expiration date for a shower. Sour means the sweat on my body is fermenting and rising. Burnt means I smell like the charred inside of my bee smoker and need to be hosed down before the fire spreads. Fishy means I protrude the smell of freshly-caught bass, hopefully of the wall-hanging variety. 

Anyway, I made it in and out of Lowes without leaving a trail of dry-heaving and gagging people in my wake, successfully completed the repair, and then (after all that work, in the misting rain no less) was barred from entering my house by my very own wife. She stood guard at the back door and made me strip off my clothes and put them in a trash bag. I was only allowed entry on the condition that I would go straight to the shower and scrub real good. 

“You smell like rotten eggs,” she said. 

an oozing burst drain pipe

The Grapes of Wrath Is Mostly Farming Gripes–Hardly Any Grapes

The Grapes of Wrath is not the viticulture guide you’d expect. It certainly has nothing to do with grape culture in Cape Wrath, Scotland. Furthermore, the few mentions of grapes leave the reader wondering whether Mr. Steinbeck means bunch grapes, wine grapes, muscadines, scuppernongs, or some other minor Vitis species. This is a somewhat baffling oversight considering that, in all other respects, the author describes scenes and dialog in marvelous detail, producing a tome of over 550 pages. 

Though the title is a misnomer, the book itself isn’t without agricultural merit and  provides a practical method to make farmland profitable. The steps are as follow: 1) work as a higher-up in a big bank 2) provide loans to farmers for basic farming supplies and equipment, with farms put up as collateral 3) wait for a farm crisis, like the Dust Bowl, to cause farmers to default on loans 4) foreclose on farms, forcing small farmers off the land 5) sell bank-owned farmland to bigger farmers 6) reap the profit and wait for the next farm crisis to repeat. 

Succeed at separating enough families from the land, and you can cause a mass migration of desperate, displaced people who can be further exploited for cheap labor in other locales (at least if they don’t starve to death first). Though this book was first published in 1939, the scheme is pretty much still doable, hence the large population of migrant workers used to harvest fruit crops today, most of whom are exempt from minimum wage laws because they’re paid piecewise for the backbreaking opportunity to pick America’s fruit.

Admittedly, to get to the juicy parts about farming philosophy, you’ll have to wade through a lot of fluff about the Joad family, many of whom–spoiler alert!– die pitiful deaths. In fact, the book paints a pretty dismal picture for your average displaced farm laborer and small family farmer. Thus, for a more upbeat and optimistic farming read, I suggest Snail Farming for Profit by Anton Smithers. 

Through the Eyes of a Three-Month-Old

Long-hair won’t leave well enough alone–always pestering me with goofy faces. Do I look amused? Then she hands me off to Bristle-face, who, let’s be honest, doesn’t have a clue how to change my loincloth. How do you put my loincloth on inside-out and backwards? Serves Bristle-face right, that Long-Hair got real mad and shook that irritating rattle at him right after that loincloth incident. Speaking of clothes, why do I have to wear these ridiculous onesies. Do they think I’m a professional wrestler? Well, I’ll show them–just wait, I’ll spit up on Long-hair’s shoulder. 

Ugh, Bristle-face is confusing my yawn with a look of surprise again. If Bristle-face covers up my eyes one more time and says “Peek-a-boo,” I’m going to set my internal alarm clock to 3 AM and wake up and say “Peek-a-boo” to him. I always find it kind of funny to hear Bristle-face muttering in the middle of the night, like a lunatic, while waiting for the portable milk dispenser to warm. Sometimes he falls asleep while holding the milk dispenser to my mouth, and I like to give him a little fright by a sudden scream, at which point he jolts a little and tilts the milk dispenser upright again.

Bristle-face, Long-hair, and Thomas

I’m not sure why Long-hair and Bristle-face are always patting me on the back. It’s not like I’ve done anything to deserve that much praise. The only way to get them to stop is to belch, which shows you what kind of crude creatures I’m dealing with. Sometimes Long-hair even gets happy when I pass gas. I mean, I hate to clear the room, but if that’s the only way to get them to quit beating my back, then so be it. Check that, sometimes leaving a surprise in my loincloth is also effective. 

But enough bathroom talk. Sometimes I wonder if Bristle-face and Long-hair are capable of any sophisticated thoughts. They are so focused on my gastrointestinal functions that they miss the giant bright yellow ball above them. Who put that there? Everybody acts as if it doesn’t exist. They just go right on toting me around, with nary a look upward. Then they’re always shading my eyes from the brightness of the yellow ball, so I can’t get a good look at it. Sometimes they don’t even notice that the bright yellow ball is replaced with lots of bright little dots and another smaller less-bright white ball. Who put those there and why? 

These are the things I think about when drifting off to sleep at night, after Long-hair pours warm water all over me. I’ve tried and tried to voice my displeasure about this–what do I look like, a fish?–but she insists on the warm water and scrubbing routine. Though Long-hair and Bristle-face don’t seem to be the smartest creatures around, I’m starting to grow fond of them. They may not provide much stimulating conversation (usually, they look like they’re in a stupor and need some sleep), but they’re good for holding the milk dispenser and changing my loincloth. That counts for something. 

What Could Have Been

This morning I saw something that thrilled my heart. It thrilled me in that special way that only a fond remembrance of days gone by, of days once filled with possibility and potential, can elicit happiness from a career government employee. It was a little Ford Ranger with five, yes five, CB antennas. The cab window was stickered with reflective letters (like the ones you normally see on a mailbox) that said, “CB BOLLY-FOR-BARREL.”

While observing that mobile masterpiece of radio telemetry, a rush of nostalgia came over me and soon words of poetry surfaced from the nether regions of my mind (this is an annoying habit and why I don’t recommend memorizing poetry–there’s a lot better stuff you can store in your mind’s nether regions). 

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” I thought, and obviously BOLLY-FOR-BARREL took the road less traveled. In fact, I bet that little Ford Ranger has been down backroads no normal, self-respecting truck would dare travel, just to test the range of the radio. And I bet that little Ford Ranger is all the happier for it. 

There was a time in my life when I could have taken the less-traveled path of BOLLY-FOR-BARREL. It was third grade and my best friend, Garrett, and I were walkie-talkie enthusiasts. My walkie handle was TOP-TREE-CLIMBER, and he was RAILROAD-RED-ROOSTER.  Back then, the most expensive walkie-talkies weren’t nearly as powerful as the cheap ones today, so mostly I just pretended to talk to Garrett who lived out of short-range distance. He did the same, and at school we’d discuss our imaginary conversations at lunch. It was a great way to communicate. 

Eventually, however, both Garrett and I decided we wanted to upgrade from imaginary conversations to actual conversations, so we asked our parents for CB radios for Christmas. You would have thought we just asked our parents if we could run with scissors or stick a fork in an electrical socket. For some strange reason, our parents thought third-graders being able to communicate with long-haul truckers was a terribly dangerous idea. 

So for Christmas, our parents bought us scanners instead–a total waste of a major Christmas gift. The intrinsic problem with a scanner is you can hear others talking but can’t talk to them. So Garrett and I couldn’t communicate with the policemen or firemen to ask what all their different codes meant. And guess what: most truckers were rather taciturn; certainly, they weren’t nearly as talkative and entertaining as those in Smokey and the Bandit. In short, listening to scanner chatter wasn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds. Garrett and I soon took up other pursuits, like launching bottle rockets, fishing with crank baits with five treble hooks, and catching black widows in a jar–or, stuff a lot safer than CB radios. 

So, this morning, when I saw that little Ford Ranger with five CB antennas, I couldn’t help but imagine what my life would have been like had my parents had the good sense to buy me a CB. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for what I do have–a nice little farm, a stable government job, a beautiful wife and a son (whose sleep pattern is improving)–but is it too much to ask for one, just one, CB antenna wagging from the back bumper of our Camry?

Good Fences Make Poor Farmers

My neighbor Nell is a real agricultural ignoramus, pardon my French. A thousand times, I’ve told her cows are herbivores, and as such, my cows eat her herbs, particularly her basil and oregano. It’s just simple biology. Hence, there was no need for Nell to buy a shotgun and take shooting lessons, all just to pepper my cows with bird shot. Really, all she had to do was stop planting culinary herbs and start planting inedible weeds. A garden of pigweed, curly doc, and buttercups would suffice. Cows hate those pasture weeds; in fact, mine walk right past them on the way to Nell’s garden. 

Unfortunately, Nell always finds the hardest way possible to solve a simple problem. Concerning my cows crossing her property line, she now believes a good fence is the solution, which is exactly what someone who hasn’t studied agriculture would think. A good fence has never solved anything. For instance, the Chinese built an impediment fifty-foot high and 13,000 miles long, made of stone no less and with archers atop, and cows still got out. Cows will find a way.

The problem is Nell has no mind for agriculture, no mind for anything but sappy poems and iambic pentameter. A former English teacher, she is particularly fond of the Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall”—you know the one where the old farmer says, “good fences make good neighbors.” Like most English teachers, she ignores facts–and the fact is Frost was a pitiful farmer whose agricultural advice should be altogether disregarded. He was such a bad farmer he quit and made more money writing poetry—rhyming poetry!

Thus, I had to set Nell straight, lest she make a big mistake. I told her listening to Frost for farming advice was like listening to Emily Dickinson for travel recommendations. I told her a good fence is a lot of work, even for a small garden like hers, but she could borrow my post hole diggers if she’d like.

“My garden, lordy no,” she replied. “I meant your pasture. Your fence is falling to pieces. Isn’t it the farmer’s responsibility to maintain fences to keep good neighborly relations?”

She delivered this with a straight face, an attempt at deadpan humor, which she really sold by pointing the shotgun at me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for second-amendment rights, but I believe there should be restrictions on gun ownership for people who like poetry. You never know when they may have a “spontaneous overflow of emotion,” as Wordsworth put it, and blast somebody. 

“Now, Nell,” I said. “That’s funny—though you really shouldn’t have taken the safety off. In fact, for a split second, I thought you were serious. But then I remembered everybody knows good fences make poor farmers.”

“How so?” she asked. 

“First, if farmers had good fences, they wouldn’t gain experience chasing livestock, which is an essential animal husbandry skill. Second, if farmers spent money building good fences, they’d be so poor they couldn’t buy livestock to go in the fence. Third, farmers have a lot more important stuff to do than mending fences, like chasing livestock.” 

“Powww!”  

Had I not ducked, I likely would have been sprayed by bird shot—but I noticed Nell starting to froth at the mouth as I talked and figured she was about ready to burst with one of those spontaneous overflows. To miss the second barrel, I timed my leap perfectly, springing upward right after she said, “Die, cow farmer!”