Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Training Ground for Cursing

Back before I lost my faith in humanity; before I gave up searching for a Biblical reality in the Christian Church in America; back before I morphed into a warped, frustrated old man; I was a fairly peaceful, well spoken, polite, man, completely in control of my thoughts, emotions, and the words that proceeded out of my mouth.

Towards the end of my six year enlistment in the military I experienced a slow grinding conversion, or perhaps an enlightenment, centered on the Christian Faith. I quit smoking, quit cursing, and unbelievably, became quite the zealot.

The turning point came, the turning away from the plow point, ironically enough, when we moved to the ultimate training ground for all things cursing. The farm.

The following is an example of how I went from the reasonably sanguine, never even cursing under my breath, steady, peaceful person I became during my conversion to Christianity, to the masterful parlayer of creatively blue, vituperative idiom...

We bought the farm in June of 2001. The garden, such as it was, planted and producing sweet corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers. But by this time, the winter and summer squash were overrun by those little armored tanks that release a foul odor upon squeezing them between one's fingers, the squash bug. The soil was compacted clay and had been supported by regular doses of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. We were new to the small scale farming scene but somehow figured this wasn't right.

Along with the farm came two BeefMaster cows, one an experienced mother, the other a small and slightly, retarded looking heifer pregnant with her first calf. Oh what a blessing we thought that would be.

Within a month the first calf was born. The experienced mother did it on her own as we watched and worried. It was birthed in the southeast corner of our pasture and was a large healthy bull calf. In another month or so, the heifer gave birth to her calf. Well, we actually had to yank and pull the calf out of her, with assistance from the old farmer we bought the place from. Something didn't look right with it. The farmer congratulated us on a heifer calf. We were to find out that this little one - we named Dot - was mentally retarded and was actually a bull. It never got over 3 ft tall and was only about 4 feet long and 350 pounds by the time he was put in the freezer.

His half brother, Spot, was a much larger calf and grew to a reasonable size, not huge, around 500 pounds by the time he made the trip to the processor in Pottsville. Spot, the first animal I actually took a great deal of satisfaction in putting the freezer, turned out to be the slippery slope that turned me to the dark side - he made me lose my religion, taught me how to curse, and determined my children not to stay anywhere near a farm for the rest of their natural born lives, if ever they live that long...

It was a summer day, a weekend, and the fence that ran along our nothern boundary was in poor shape after at least 30 years of neglect. Three measly strands of sagging barbed wire strung along rebar posts and overgrown with honeysuckle, blackberry, and shrubs. The bordering property was a rental house, small, yellow, and noisy. No less than 38 young people stayed in the house at any given time and as a result, the dogs, cows, and cats all became intently interested in the strange noises emanating from the home late nights and weekends.

Cows get a bum rap. Sure they sometimes are beautiful creatures and even in their beauty they have an air of stupidity. I mean, honestly, they look stupid. But I assure you, cows are intelligent, and sinister. A Scottish Highland ranch owner in Birdtown clued us in on this little known fact about the bovine species when she said, "A horse can do tricks, but you have to keep training them for the rest of their lives. Cow, however, never forget. That's why that cow is going in the freezer..."she pointed to a huge, hairy, white Highland, "she figured out how to tip-toe across the cattle guard, now I can't keep her in the fence." To illustrate, Spot's mother, I have expunged her name from my memory banks due to the trauma I experienced, loved corn. Sweet corn, field corn, any corn. I am sure she would be an alcoholic cow if she had acces to corn liquor. She knew that the gate to the garden, which sits in the middle of the farm and is accessible from the main pasture area, was tied closed at two locations with baling twine. The knots were tied with double bow knots because surely cows can't untie baling twine. Oh, the naivety of the young farmer! Spot's mother, I forget her name now, but for the purposes of this story, I will call her Satan, stood at the gate for hours and days on end, ostensibly staring at a mother lode of corn on the other side. One day, by vigorously licking the twine in both locations over and again with her thick raspy tongue she, indeed, succeeded in untying the knots. The corn was decimated by the time we realized it and got her back out of the garden. Of course, not being the sharpest bowling ball in the shed, I retied the gate closed in the same manner. It was a mere few days before she had, once again, untied the twine and finished off the rest of the garden. This was a behavior, learned, and remembered that eventually led us to selling her off. Once she learned how to untie the knot, she did it over and over again.

The apple didn't fall far from the tree. Spot was in the side pasture, not really our property but the owner allowed us to run our cows on the little 2 acre plot to keep the grass down. He munched away for most of the day, nonchalantly easing his way across the patch of weeds and tall fescue and black berry vines, until he reached the northern fence row which ran about 20 feet from the yellow house full of degenerate youth. Apparently without knowing it, Spot managed to eat his way through the 3 strands of sagging barbed wire. For those of you with cows, or experience with this devilish species of meat, a cow can stick their head through barbed wire and eat, then serendipitously stretch one leg, through whilst eating, stretching out its neck as far as possible, the barbs digging into the thick leathery hide. Eventually they will stretch the other leg through while maintaining their current rate of munch, until the fence row is perpindicular to and pressed snugly up under its now bloated belly. Before you know it, even if you are keeping an eye out for this covert, "innocently" performed suspension of physics, the cow will have its rear legs, one at a time, drawn across the fence while it is continuing its feast. Now on the other side of where you want them to be, they will continue their slow munching trek right on down the road if you are not careful.Spot had learned to do this from his mother, Satan, and we were forever trying to keep him in what we like to call the "right pasture".

This was one of those days, a weekend, a nice relaxing weekend on the farm. I remember it being a seasonably cool day. The kids and I were outside. Patt noticed Spot was not in our pasture but had, once again, walked through the fence and was in the back yard of the yellow house.

                                                                                                                                                                                              (Satan walking down the road-2002)

*** The content of the remainder of this story has been edited to insure a pleasurable reading experience for people of all ages. As a result some epithets have been replaced with descriptive words or phrases that may imply much stronger language***

"The cows out!" she yelled. I can't remember what else she included in the shout but it went something like this I am sure. "That kneecap walked through the fruiting fence again. Gol Blammit!" The stream of profanity that issued forth from my wife did not embarrass me as much as it probably should. In retrospect, it actually seemed to make her feel better.

"Mason, Aaron, Ronny, Get the bell out here! The fruitin' cow got out. Split!", she continued. Now, I must explain. When Patt gets mad, something palpable happens to the universe. The warp and woof of the space-time continuum gets stretched as if some mysterious power grabs opposite corners of our existence and yanks! The resulting waves of dischord ripple through the physical environment causing all men within a twenty mile radius to wake up and realize that something, they do not yet know what, has gone bad wrong. As a result of this particular shaking of the universe the Hutchins men sprung into action. We had enough experience with "Save the Farm" emergencies to have laid out a plan for us all to man our posts. Within minutes we were all in place:

Aaron arose from the arm chair in the living room and slowly changed out of his pajamas into his work close so as to give the illusion he was on his way.

Mason slipped on his work boots and in a full bore linear panic (FBLP)* sprung through the screen door, slamming back against the house and its 30 year old hinges and ran down the hill to the center of the main pasture.

Ronny immediately took his post guarding his bedroom, specifically, the bed area of his bedroom, just in case Satan or any of her offspring should attack his collection of Biomicle action figures.

I grabbed a bucket of sweet feed from the shed, which 10 years later would become our home (a story for another day and the beginning of the S&T Blog). For some reason I had a big smile on my face - still impressed with the stream of profanity being bantered about the farm at the top of our voices.

Patt was already at the GPOC - global position of the cow - waiting, holding the situation status quo until her troops arrived.

I instructed Mason, on my way down the hill, to standby at the little brown trailer that had been left there by the former owner, and in which we stored our bales of hay just in case the feed did not coax Spot back into the "right pasture".

I arrived on the scene and Patt and I crossed the fence into the neighbor's back yard where Spot was busily mowing the lawn.

Spot was a feed hound. Especially sweet feed. He was addicted to it. But in spite of this addiction he refused to come to the outstretched bucket I held in my hands. Apparently he realized that he had stumbled across something better than sweet feed, based, probably solely on our reactions thus far. He had found the sweet tasting forbidden pasture, which, incidentally is the basis of the old saying..."The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side of The Fence". The only thing worse than someone actually using trite phrases such as this, is when they are actually proven to be true.

No matter what we did, no matter how sweetly we talked to him, nor how rancid our cursing became, Spot continued to eat the lawn, inching ever so slightly away from us as we approached. It became clear that Spot knew exactly what he was doing, who was in control, and that he had the power.

Seeing our efforts failing I turned to mobilize the troops. Aaron was still on the back porch "trying" to slide his work boots on. Ronny had his plastic toys safely guarded and Mason stood at-the-ready to assist by the brown trailer about football field away.

I yelled over to Mason. "Mason, gets some gol danged hay!" Mason sprung into action from his Modified Stationary Panic (MSP)* he was performing. He swung open the back of the trailer grabbed a hand full of hay - a small handful - and converted his energy back into the FBLP he had experienced just moments before as he sprinted towards our location. It was really a thing of beauty, really. Except, a small handful of hay carried in the hands of a 12 year old, running full steam towards us and the cow, with a look on his face like his hair had been set on fire would do little to calm the situation or entice the cow back into the pasture.

I yelled again. "Mason, Mason, No! No! Get a Ship Load of Futher Muckin Hay!" I do not think Mason could hear me as he kept running towards us. I repeated my delicate plea for the whole neighborhood, just in case they did not catch it the first time. "Mason - A Ship Load of Hay! Stop!"

The degenerate neighbors in the yellow house heard me though Mason did not. My third entreaty did the trick as Mason stopped dead in his tracks leaving a skid mark in the soil and perhaps one or two in some other places. He turned around and in a dead sprint headed back the 150 yards or so to the hay trailer.

I can only imagine what was going in inside the house. I have reconstructed what could have possibly happened using the facts as I remember them, the benefit of retrospect, and my imagination. The 37 or so inhabitants of the home, all young kids, a mix of 20 year old boys and girls were, I am sure, sitting or lying in various odd positions in the living room, smoking something or other, listening to grunge rock, dressed in the flannel and combat boots, and otherwise in a daze. There were at least two inhabitants coherent as I am sure the conversation went something like this, for clarity I will call these two Dennis Hopper (From Apocolypse Now) and Sean Penn (From Fast Times at Ridgemont High)

Sean: Dude.
Dennis: Wah?
Sean: Dude. Didjew hear dat?
Dennis: Dude.
Sean: Dude, Go chekit out man.
Dennis: Dude. No way man. U checkit out.
Sean: Dude.
Dennis: Dude.

There is something about the word 'dude' when spoken with emphasis and a compatible facial expression. Dennis got the message, picked up his cell phone, after locating it under the pyramid of PBC on the coffee table, and exited the Hive of Dude for the back yard. There is also something about this generation that causes them, in times of emergency, to forsake personal safety and heroicly take action by calling their friends on their cell phones to describe, the building on fire, the river cresting its bank, the bank robbery, or the escaped cow in the back yard.

Dennis, now really picture Dennis Hopper at the end of Apocolypse Now, began his play by play of the situation.

"Dude, there's a cow in my backyard. No, really, dude. I'm tellin ya - there's an FN cow in my back yard. It's lookin right at me. No I ain't shippin you. There's a MFN cow in my FN back yard man. No. Don't come out - it looks dangerous, dude. I told you there's a FN cow in the yard man." This continued as Patt and I  tried to get Spot on the right side of the fence.

Somehow, amid all of our screaming curses in which bad words were strung together in the most creative of ways, Dennis' ramblings about the elusive Back Yard Cow and the dangers one faces when coming across one, we were able to get Spot back onto our property. This was not the first time he escaped, nor would it be the last. Eventually we sold his mother and ate him. But I will always remember what he taught us.

There is no more effective training ground should one desire to learn to curse a blue streak than your local family farm.

* FBLP - Full Bore Linear Panic is a term coined by one of my favorite authors, Pat McManus in one of his hilarious short stories "Modified Stationary Panic" included in his collection "A Fine And Pleasant Misery".

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