April Tools

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“Okay, wait, are you actually crying, or is this an elaborate April Fool’s joke?”

I didn’t blame my mom for having her suspicions. She can usually count on a call from me on April 1 telling her some story about how I had just been fired or how my car had been stolen. I could keep the joke going for a few minutes before the obligatory “April Fools!”, and she would roll her eyes and we would go on with our conversation. I would usually call up a sister or two as well, placing weird orders at the deli counter where one worked (“Are you sure you want one hundred chicken wings?” she would say to my bad Southern accent) or pretending to be another’s favorite radio station offering a terrible prize (“Neil Diamond and Britney Spears in concert? Well, wow…”). But this time my call was real.

I had had the kind of morning that could have been an elaborate April Fool’s prank by someone, but it was all too terribly real.

“Okay, slow down, tell me what happened.”

I turned my car around a bend in the Wyoming highway, finally out of the thick fog, and looked at my dashboard. 10 am, 40 degrees outside, and going an even 65 miles per hour. I sighed and told her the story.

“Okay, I got a call last night late that I was needed in a small Wyoming town this morning for a crisis call after an employee suicide. They wanted me here at 6 am, which meant I had to get up at 3 this morning and leave by 3:30. It’s a 2 hour drive, but it’s a company I haven’t been to before, so I wanted the cushion of time to get my bearings.

“The paperwork they sent me had the company name, but not an address. It said the company is several miles out of town, and that I would need directions to get there. I was told to arrive in town then call a man named Daniel on the phone and he would meet me and escort me out to the site. Sounds weird, but I’ve done it before. Lots of industries have work sites like this, like power plants and mining industries.

“The drive out there was uneventful. I ran the heater and listened to a biography on Nixon. I get to the town about 5:30. The whole town is blanketed by this thick winter fog, visibility is poor. It’s a tiny place, just a few stores and diners and a motel, but everything is closed except for this tiny gas station, which conveniently has a drive-thru liquor window on the side of it. No, I’m not kidding.

“So I pull over, call Daniel, and his number is disconnected. Okay, here’s where it gets a tiny bit complicated. Daniel works for a company who has an insurance company. The insurance company hired me, but through a third-party handler. So I don’t have any other contact information. I call the handler and the insurance company, but they are still closed. I use Google and find the company phone number, but the machine says they are still closed, and there is no address. I wait, then call, wait, then call. Pretty soon, an hour has passed and I’m still at the gas station.

“The insurance company calls me back and says they can’t get a hold of anyone. They give me an alternate number for Daniel. It’s disconnected. They encourage me to find a local police officer and ask for directions to the site. I find the police station, it is dark and closed, no phone number, and I’m not calling 911. Another hour passes.

“Finally I get a working number for Daniel. He answers but says ‘hey, Chad, we’ve been waiting to hear from you, but I can’t talk right now. I’m on the toilet.’ Yes! Yes, he actually said that to me! So I wait 15 more minutes to finish my business and Daniel calls me back and says something like ‘Well, we sure did need you this morning, but since you weren’t here, we made do without you.’ He talks about how the company is on some switchback road outside of town and up a mountain, and they have no cell service, but he wonders why I couldn’t find it.

“So it’s now 9 am and I’ve been up for hours, and I’m super frustrated, and I’m driving back down this dumb road out of town. The sun is up now and the fog is worse somehow. And out of nowhere this cop pulls behind me and flashes his lights. I’m driving in a fog, behind a semi, with a cop behind me, and I’m exhausted. We are on a busy road and there is no safe place to pull over, so I drive for a ways looking for a side road. The cop gets impatient and blares his siren, loud, right behind me. I look in the rearview and he is indicating angrily with a finger for me to pull over en-oh-double-you NOW.

“So I pull over, right there in the fog. The cop comes up to my window. ‘Why didn’t you pull over right away!’ I said I was waiting for somewhere safe. ‘I’m the officer and I decide when it’s safe and when it isn’t. You pull over when I say!’ He says I was speeding, takes my information, asks me a dozen questions about why I’m in Wyoming, then makes me wait ten minutes while he writes me a ticket. For speeding. At what he says was 92 miles per hour in a 65. And I tell him there is no way, and he says I can see him next month in court then in Evanston.

“And then I was driving away and I started crying because I’m a big baby and it has been a terrible day, even though I’ll still get paid for sitting in a stupid gas station parking lot for hours, and driving for more.”

“Oh, son, that’s a terrible morning,” my 72 year old mother says. “What a terrible April Fool’s Day. Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant.”

 

the Shiny Show Pig

With 30 minutes to kill before my movie started, I looked around outside. It was biting cold, so I headed into the nearest store, right next door to the movie theater and in the same parking lot of the city mall in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Some sort of wholesale ranch and rodeo supply store. This place was huge! Being in Wyoming felt like being in a foreign land. I started making my way through the store with curiosity and fascination.

Rows and rows of cowboy boots. Aisles and aisles of ropes and lassos. Shelves and shelves of belts and buckles. It felt like a Wal-Mart, full of rodeo stuff.

In the book section, my eyes widened at the array.

Goats: Small-Scale Herding Book

Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chicken

Homegrown Honey Bees: Beekeeping: Your First Year, from Hiving to Honey Harvest

I moved over to the Dog Food section and started looking at the various pricing, arrangements, and labels. So many flavors! It was someone’s job to come up with and market all of these!

Salmon and Chicken Grill. Red Meat Dinner. Hearty Beef Stew. Lamb Dinner. 

And as the prices went up, the flavors got weirder.

Mom’s Chicken Pie. Backyard BBQ. Turkey Day Feast. Savory Stew with Chicken and Vegetables. 

I thought of every dog I have ever known. They rush to their food, particularly the wet clumpy stuff, and inhale it. In three slurps. What did they care how fancy it was?

Fish and Sweet Potato. Beef, Bacon, and Cheese. Chicken and Rice. Turducken. 

Turducken! Turducken! For dogs!

And for cats, it was somehow worse.

Chicken and Egg. Chicken, Pasta, and Spinach. Hairball Remedy with Real Salmon.

Okay, I gagged a bit at that one. And, as I have a natural revulsion to fish, the next flavors kept the ill look on my face.

Salmon, Tuna, and Rice. Sole and Spinach. Trout and Pasta. Beef and Cheese. Chicken and Liver: Long Coat Formula. Salmon and Ocean Fish Medley for Sensitive Skin. Sensitive Stomach Lamb. 

And then it got fancy, like reading a menu at a fancy restaurant.

Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Feline Formula with Roasted Venison and Smoked Salmon. Feline Greenies Dental Treats: Oven-Roasted Chicken. 

It only got more baffling in the food for various farm animals.

Rooster Booster Multi-Wormer Triple Action Type B Medicated Feed Concentrate. Happy Hen Treats: Meal Worm Frenzy. Premium Wild Energy Wild Bird Suet. Lamb Milk Replacer. 

I moved through the rest of the store with wonder, a delighted smile on my face. These products were sheer entertainment. With glee, I got out a pen and paper and began jotting down product names at random. Following are several of my favorites:

The Cowboy Living Western Buckle Slotted Spatula. 

The Original Mane n’ Tail Detangler: Spray-on with Friction Free Slip. 

The Equestrian Hoof Pick. 

Bovine Rhinotracheitis-Virus Diarrhea Parainfluenza 3 Respiratory Syncytial Virus Vaccine: Modified Live Virus Version. 

Leather Now Easy-Polishing Glycerine Saddle Soap. 

Excalibur Sheath and Udder Cleaner for Horses. 

Pink Lady Wound Dressing.

War Paint Insecticidal Paste.

Apple-Flavored Equistrength Paste. (Also came in Triple-Berry, and Oats and Honey).

Purina Premium Poultry Supplement Flock Block for Free-Ranging Poultry and Game Birds.

Y-Tex All-America 2-Pierce Ear-Tag System for Livestock Identification. 

Molemax Mole and Vole Repellant (which also works on gophers, armadillos, skunks, rabbits, ground squirrels, and other burrowing mammals).

Goat and Sheep Nutri-Drench. 

Liquid SpectoGard Scour-Chek Oral Solution for Pig Scours. 

Python Dust Livestock Insecticide. 

Purina Berry Good Artificial Raspberry Flavor Senior Horse Treats. 

Nature Wise Feather Fixer. 

Bird-B-Gone Plastic Bird Spikes.

And then I came across perhaps the most fantastic product label of all time. A giant-white bucket with a purple label and white lettering read Sunglo Bling Show Pig Supplement next to a drawing of a pig made out of shiny sequins. That was one fabulous pig.

I glanced at my watch, realizing the movie was starting, and took off with a rush. As the movie began, I was left with three thoughts.

  • I love how much wonder I have at the world around me, even in a rodeo store. It made those products downright entertaining.
  • Thank heavens I don’t live in Wyoming.
  • Someone get me some bacon.

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Why-oh-Wyoming

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“Now remember, just because he has a mustache, it doesn’t mean he’s 21. Make sure to card before selling alcohol. The risks are just too big.”

As the public service announcement ended and more country music came back on the radio, I looked across the vast stretching snow-swept plains that extended in every direction, rolling black and brown peaks in the distance, a few rocky outcroppings stretching into the sky. The sun was just coming up over the peaks and I could finally see the terrain, after a few hours of driving in the early morning darkness. Gusts of wind blew light drifts of snow across the road.

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I pulled into Rock Springs, Wyoming a brief time later, here for a work shift for a few days. As I stepped out of the car, the wind cascaded across me, biting and much colder than I had anticipated. January in Wyoming was a bitch, clearly.

I shivered and pulled my scarf tighter around my neck, nestling into my coat, and stepped into the nearby gas station, a local place with the god-awful name of the Loaf ‘n Jug, it’s sister station the Cum n’ Go right across the road. Yes, spelled just like that.

Half of the gas station/convenience store was devoted to the sale of liquor. I looked around, hearing more country twang from the loudspeakers, and saw several shelves full of booze. Hey, the locals needed something to keep them warm. Several dead animal heads hung on the walls over the shelves, deer and elk and a mountain goat or two. My eyes fell on one of the bottles of liquor, a cinnamon red of Fireball Whiskey, with a handwritten sign over it that said “Buy two bottles of Fireball, get a free fishing lure! Inquire at the desk!”

As I munched on my trail mix and sipped on my hot, and terrible, gas station coffee in the car, I realized I had thirty minutes before my shift began. I grabbed my phone and Googled Rock Springs, Wyoming, figuring I may as well learn about the city I was in.

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I read about how, in 1885, the Union Pacific Coal Department was able to hire Chinese workers at a lower wage than White workers, so they, of course, hired more Chinese. The White workers rioted in an explosion of racial tension, burned down 75 homes, and killed dozens of Chinese. I didn’t see a single report of a White person killed. I read how the local newspapers at the time had sympathized with the White man’s plight, and how 16 men had been arrested for the murders, but all were acquitted one month later, met by the cheers of their loved ones for their heroic actions. It was with a pit in my stomach that I thought of recent anti-Muslim, anti-Jew, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic content in the media, in the current presidential campaign, and I wonder, for the one millionth time in my life, if we have evolved as a species at all.

I read about local industries and businesses and politics, about forms of entertainment (shooting ranges and the rodeo), about the long history of the state. And before long, it’s time to step outside the car, back into the biting wind, and to prepare for another day of work, this time in a strange and faraway place.

Later, I check into my hotel, and the kindly front desk attendant informs me that I’m just in time for happy hour. I shrug. It’s a week night, and only 5 pm, “But the drinks are free!” she exclaims. “One hour only!”

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And so 30 minutes later, a grandmotherly bartender mixes me a rather strong Rum and Coke. I take a few sips and make eye contact with the severed moose head hanging on the wall in front of me.

“He’s a beauty, ain’t he?”

I look over and see a woman behind me that I hadn’t noticed before. She looks as though she just woke up, her hair disheveled and in her nightgown, a large pink muumuu that drowns her. She takes a large handful of Lays potato chips from a bag she is holding and somehow fits the entire handful of chips in her mouth, cramming them in and not missing a crumb. She has no teeth, so she makes large gumming noises as she munches down on them loudly.

“Um, the moose?” I look back at his marble eyes. “Yup, a real beauty.”

The woman finishes gumming her bite and takes a swallow of the pink alcoholic mixture from the cup in front of her. “I bet he’s been dead fifty years.”

I look at her as she takes another handful, and realize I have nothing to say except, “Yup.”

And this is my life right now, I think. Me and this woman and a moose head at 5 on a week night, drinking free alcohol in a hotel bar in frozen Wyoming.

I give myself a little mental toast and take another sip.