Then It Happened (Mea Culpa)

Monday was a long day. The previous Saturday brought heavy snowfall and blowing winds. The wind created massive drifts covering many of our area’s roads and messy driving conditions. Snow continued throughout the day Sunday, and by the time I headed out to do barn chores Monday morning, there was over a foot of snow on the ground. My work commute was double my usual travel time so I was not the happiest of campers when I finally reached my office.

I couldn’t get out of the office at my normal time – there was a project that needed completion and I had to get it done before heading home. I headed out to my truck about 20 minutes later than usual, and needed to brush more snow off my truck. As I started to pull out of the parking lot, I discovered the worst possible malfunction to happen during a snowstorm: my windshield wipers weren’t wiping. Additionally, my blinkers didn’t work either and my seatbelt was stuck in the retracted position. It would not be safe for me to drive home. Luckily, my truck is like a computer, all I needed to do was turn it off and back on. After restarting (rebooting?) the engine, everything was fine.

By then, I was tired, frustrated, hungry, and facing a long slow drive back to the farm. All I wanted was to be home with the woman I love where all the stresses of the day were irrelevant. Then I found one more obstacle in my way.

After driving through the parking lot, as I approached Ironwood, there was a red SUV stuck in the snow between me and the main road. The driver had it turned sideways blocking the parking lot exit. He was spinning his tires so I assumed it was some Californian transplant who didn’t know how to drive in the snow so they bought a vehicle with four wheel drive to overcompensate. Everyone knows – or at least should know – spinning your tires on snow and ice is a bad idea. It packs down whatever has you stuck into smoother and slicker ice. In turn, it becomes more difficult to get un-stuck. On top of violating commonsense rules of winter driving, this guy popped the hood for his engine compartment and started poking around in there. His actions left me aggravated and confused. I can be a judgmental jerk sometimes.

In order to cement my moment of jerkiness, I did what any perfectly self-righteous pompous ass would do. I ranted about it on facebook for anyone to see.

After clicking the share button in facebook, a more civilized version of myself resumed control. I couldn’t safely navigate around him and wasn’t going to be able to leave until he was out of the way. I shut off my engine, turned on my hazard lights, and got out to see if he needed any help. Perhaps, I thought to myself, all he really needs is someone who knows how to drive in snow to get him out of his jam. Even in my generosity I was selfish with an added bonus of superiority.

“Are you having some problems?” I asked the world’s dumbest question with the most obvious answer.
He chuckled, “Yeah, you could say that. My front axle is locked up.”
“Do you have it in four wheel drive?”
“Did you try taking it out of four-wheel and putting it back in?”

This is the moment when I finally felt like an asshole. First, because I’m not a mechanic. In fact, I am embarrassingly lacking in mechanical skills. This stranger stuck in the parking lot presented me with a problem I didn’t know how to fix. Second, and perhaps more urgently, I heard the rest of his story.

His girlfriend was running late for work that morning so he let her drive the Xterra. It was safer for her to take it than their other car. She dropped their kids off at the daycare next door to her office then went to work. With the day over he dropped their junker car off for her to drive when her shift ended, then he picked up the kids to head home. I looked in the back window of his rig and noticed three young children sitting shoulder to shoulder in the back seat. He was on his way out from the day care parking lot when his vehicle shuddered and everything when haywire.

“My girlfriend must have done something to it to mess it up. The back wheels are turning but not the front. I can still steer but those wheels won’t rotate no matter what I do.” He closed the hood and jumped back into the driver’s seat. Then to demonstrate as if he had to prove it to me, he attempted acceleration in both forward and reverse. The back tires spun in both attempts, but the front tires remained motionless.

Mea culpa.

With my ego completely deflated, I only had one more question to ask. “Do you need me to call someone for you?” At last, I was trying to be helpful.

“Naw.” He declined. “If I can’t get it to go, I’m gonna have to call a tow truck.”

In reverse, he could get enough traction to drag the Xterra backwards – even with the front tires locked in place. He managed to move far enough out of the way for other drivers to pass through. There was nothing I could do to remedy his situation so I returned to my truck and drove away.

I’m sure he called a tow truck. He and the kids eventually made their way home. He and his girlfriend are now reduced to one car between them, one vehicle to transport them both to two different jobs with no clear answer to when their Xterra would be fixed. I know how hard that is because I’ve been there before. Even though I’ll probably never see this man again, I felt a little bit of a kindred spirit in him. He’s a dad trying to take care of his kids just like me. And we live in a world where things tend to go awry. The struggle is real. He’s there, and I’ve been there.

Consider this a long winded explanation of a lesson we all should have learned as children: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Despite my best efforts to not be a judgmental jerk, my inner asshole rears his ugly head every now and then. Perhaps I feed him a bit too much.

ps: if you happen to be the driver of that red Xterra, I apologize for my arrogance and impatience. I hope things worked out for your good. And I owe you a drink.


A Halftime Show that Won’t Disappoint

It seems some people were not impressed with Maroon 5’s performance last Sunday. Buzzfeed compared Adam Levine’s shirt to household upholstery, and several ladies swooned when he took off the same shirt. The majority of songs they played were from their 17 year old debut album, Travis Scott’s guest appearance was heavily censored, and Big Boi represented his home town with a fur coat and a Cadillac. Annie thought Levine looked like Ernie from the trailer park. I thought he looked like the bastard offspring of Eminem and Justin Bieber.

Regardless of whether you were bored or entertained, one thing is clear: the NFL doesn’t know what they’re doing. Year after year, they recruit big name artists to play the Halftime Show and more often than not, those acts end up lackluster. Social media annually floods with complaints over the suckage Super Bowl viewers just endured for 15 minutes. Other than the exception of Bruno Mars, there hasn’t been a universally praised halftime concert since Prince in 2007.

The wonderful citizens of the internet have a solution to this problem. They have a superstar in mind who could satisfy audiences of any age and fans of any genre. Someone who has been performing with the same band for over 30 years, a four time Grammy winning performer, and a very weird man. So weird it’s even in his name: Weird Al Yankovic.

It’s not just a couple a of randos on Reddit who want this to happen. There are some big names championing this cause including Patton Oswalt.

I can get behind this idea. Imagine the possibilities. While Patton suggested a guest appearance from Madonna, I have some other ideas. If it was up to me, here’s what you would see at the 2020 Pepsi Halftime Show.

The performance starts with only the band on stage. They play the opening riff of their Queen Parody. Yankovic’s voice sings from off stage: “Another one rides the bus. Another one the bus.” The lights go out and a lone spotlight shines down to the entrance where Al rolls in on a Segway for a rap medley. White & Nerdy is up first followed by All About the Pentiums. The first guest star jumps on stage during this second song: Dave Grohl playing the guitar. Grohl was the guitarist on All About the Benjamins - the Diddy song Pentiums parodies. The medley ends with Coolio and LV joining Al for Amish Paradise.

Next, the band plays their spoof of a song from a previous Halftime performer: Perform This Way – a parody of Lady Gaga’s Born this Way. Even better, Weird Al wears sparkly shoulder pads as a tribute to Gaga’s Super Bowl fashion. Perform this Way leads into a second song from the same album, Party in the CIA which parodies Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus. Naturally, Miley would Join Al for the spoof of her song.

As Miley exits the stage, another famous face enters: Steven Tyler. The two guys sing Livin’ in the Fridge, a parody of a song originally written by Tyler – Aerosmith’s Livin’ on the Edge. As Tyler sings the final chorus, Al disappears for a costume change. Crowds cheer as the Aerosmith front man bows.

Lights dim again and Al emerges carrying a light saber and wearing a brown robe. The next song is a sing-along for the whole stadium – The Saga Begins. “A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away …” Joined by fans dressed in Star Wars cosplay, they lead the crowd singing “My my, this here Anakin guy. May be Vader someday later - now he's just a small fry. And he left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye. Sayin' "Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi.” Episode 9 should still be in theaters so this would be a great cross promotional opportunity for Disney.

Finally, or Al’s last few minutes on the stage in Miami, he strips off the Jedi robe to reveal his signature Hawaiian shirt, a stagehand delivers his accordion. Al is known for his polka collections which mash up bits of popular songs into one track - all accompanied by accordion riffs and polka beats. For the NFL, Al unleashes a new collection unheard before: The Super Bowl Polka – polka renditions of tunes performed in previous Halftime Shows: hits from Coldplay, Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, and Beyoncé. As the song ends, surprise – he’s not done yet and neither is the polka. Lin-Manuel Miranda arrives for the grand finale: The Hamilton Polka. Fireworks. Lights out. Commercial break.

It’ll never happen but a boy can dream. Right?


A Fowl Tale of Horror and Survival

The attack happened in darkness. The morning sun revealed carnage none of us were expecting.

Nemo and Dory were the original residents of our barn – a pair of Chinese geese who first lived in the yard behind Annie’s old house. We stuffed them into a carrier and they rode in my car for a noisy transport to the new property. At first, they didn’t care much for the farm life; they made frequent attempts to run away. Within weeks at our new residence, Annie had lost them only to find them at the neighbor’s neighbor’s neighbor. The poor lady was scared to go out her back door because our geese camped out there, honking at her and refusing to vacate the premises. Last spring, they hatched a few eggs; we sold two of their chicks with the intention of doing the same for the third. Instead, it lingered with us where she became fond of our kids. All of our water fowl are named after Disney characters, but we never picked one for the little goose – our friend Pam lovingly called her Peepers.

We also had a collection of ducks. Rouens, pekins, khaki campbells. They were a mixed bunch – two drakes and four hens who stuck close to each other. If you ever saw one, the others were close behind, all squawking and quacking and waddling between the house and barn like the happiest flock you’d ever meet.

Between the geese and ducks, our farm was constantly noisy. The geese would honk anytime another creature approached. The ducks quacked as they walked; the only time they ever shut up is when they were sitting still. Our environment was exuberant and dominated by our birds.

It was over in one night. When the boys and I headed out to the barn for morning chores the air was silent – an unnatural absence of sound. JJ noticed something out of the ordinary before any of the rest of us, pointing toward the fence and asking what was over there. I dismissed it at first, but then I looked closer: two motionless white lumps in the grass didn’t belong there. On closer inspection, it was Nemo and Dory, slain and left side by side. Closer to the barn we discovered Peepers. The ducks were also quiet. I opened the barn door, fearing the worst. Inside, two ducks started quacking at the site of us humans and they scurried into a side room. But there were only two, the other six were gone.

We suspect the predator was a cougar. It killed indiscriminately, stole away what it could carry, and left behind the extras as if it planned to return to collect the rest at a later time.

Heartsong Meadow has been a great learning experience for the kids. They’ve learned how to care for animals and manage the land, how to be good stewards, how to enjoy and appreciate the natural world. Along with the good, there is tragedy. We live in bear country. And cougar territory. And near coyote habitats. Possibly in the midst of wolves. Falcons, hawks, and owls patrol our air space. Raising farm animals in lands inhabited by nature’s savage killers, it’s only a matter of time before one of our beloved creatures fall victim to a predator. Our time ran out. The ducks were gone and the geese remained to be buried. Christian and I dug their graves and laid them to rest. Our plans for the day were sidelined as the kids figured out how to grieve.

However, the final count of the deceased was not as bad as we originally thought. Later the same morning, I found Tadashi in front of the house. He was disoriented and having trouble walking; he found his way into the garage where I caught him and held him for a while. There were no signs of injury but he demonstrated the effects of trauma.

As evening approached, we found another reprieve from our loss. It started with a light quacking in the distance, coming from the far side of the horse pasture. It came closer and closer, the squawk of distress growing louder until we could determine its identity. The larger of our two pekins: Merida. The cougar must have carried her to the gully at the back of our farm. Attempted murder yet Merida survived. When she reached the barn, we picked her up for inspection. She had puncture wounds in her neck, blood streaked through her white feathers, dirty and disheveled but otherwise unharmed. We brought her to the house where we had a makeshift hutch built in the garage. Merida and Tadashi stayed there for a few days while we nursed them back to health.

Unfortunately for Merida, the battle with a cougar had lasting consequences. The bite in her neck damaged a nerve. Within weeks, it was apparent she had lost most of her vision. Before long, she was completely blind.

Merida is still with us. We added new ducks to our flock and she enjoys the extra company. She waddles around the farm sightless; she listens for the quacks of her duck pack and follows where ever their sounds lead. She finds food and water by smell. Sometimes, she walks into solid objects, bumps into other birds, or trips over obstacles. Other times, the main flock walks out of the barn and turns right but Merida will turn right before leaving the barn – ending up lonely in the corner unsure of how to join her companions.

There she is, the one in white, walking into Mulan.

She’s alive and she’s the sweetest thing. Christian has adopted her has his own – his duck. Any time he picks her up, she snuggles into him in a way she doesn’t do with any other person.

She’s also my favorite duck. Then again, I have always had a thing for the broken ones, the odd ducks, the weirdoes, the outcasts, the ones who aren’t normal. I root for the underdog. Always. Merida is all of that. She’s also a fighter and a survivor. There’s no reason she should still be living, but there she is, every morning when I throw out seed. Every time I go into the barn to check on our pregnant goat. In the evening when I feed hay to the horses. She follows the other ducks’ quacks in a search for food, often stumbling over my feet while impatiently waiting for grain. Merida is determined to thrive against all odds. Or, Jeff Goldblum as Dr Ian Malcolm said: “Life, uh, finds a way.”