Monday, December 30, 2002


To rant about a current controversy in the news, one with its origins in Saratoga but one which, surprise, surprise, has yet to appear on the pages of Saratoga’s newspaper for reasons somewhat unfathomable but nontheless prevailing.

I’m talking about our second-most senior officer on Saratoga’s police department, a woman my own age whom I myself persuaded to join the force because she had (and still has) so many of the qualities that make for a good cop: bravery, common sense, equanimity, a respect for procedure, people skills and vision, whose profile suddenly got much higher when she had to use force to subdue a suspect in several car thefts a few weeks ago.

The particulars of the case don’t particularly matter; a young man, against whom there appears to be quite a lot of damning evidence, got caught, and laboring under the laughably mistaken delusion that he had a right to pick which officer arrested him, he fought off the one who nabbed him. It being her job to bring in bad guys even if they’d rather not come along, she fought back somewhat.

The rest is all under investigation, a matter of hearsay and speculation for the time being. The only reason it is even in the papers is because the suspect’s mother decided to raise a fuss and alerted the press. This sort of thing happens often in other places; it’s unusual here only because of its rarity in tiny little towns like ours.

Whatever the outcome, names are being dragged through the mud, reputations damaged irreparably; even if every single person, suspect, co-defendants and cop, is eventually found blameless, not everyone will receive that information. It’s a known fact that readership of a story and its follow-ups declines over time and not everyone who read the initial splash will bother to pay attention to the ripples.

Labels have been bestowed, and there’s little to be done about that.

What’s interesting about all of this is, of course, the dialogue it has inspired, some of it amusing in its predictability and complete lack of consequence, some of it disrespectful, some of it respectful, some of it very, very pointed in the wake of my colleagues’ and my recent decision to give raises to the five patrol officers on the street in an attempt to keep them from leaving for higher paying jobs elsewhere, as one of our officers so recently did.

The usual questions of why we need five officers (which I discussed in some detail in my July 25 entry, A LITTLE MATH PROBLEM), how we justify a police chief who never patrols and who acts solely as an administrator (much more difficult, but I will say this for him: he managed to tighten and tinker and switch amongst line items within his own departmental budget to fund the salary increases his officers recently received), and, of course, my personal favorite, why do we need police officers at all.

That last question always gives me a chuckle, betraying as it does a level of sloppy thinking and self-centeredness that one only can chuckle at, lest it drag one down to truly terrifying depths of despair at the utter hopelessness of the human race.

See, at bottom, everyone believes that laws and rules only apply to other people. My speeding 95 miles down the highway through a construction zone isn’t dangerous, but by all means, bust that other guy. I can handle a pickup truck after downing a fifth of Jack Daniels, but that gal down the bar from me sure as hell can’t. It’s okay for me to put an outbuilding on my residential property without a house, but that guy’s is so ugly you’d better fine his ass, etc.

Of course, the same people who insist we don’t need cops, or need fewer cops, or need purely ceremonial cops, are the very ones who howl for municipal blood if the knuckleheads next door burglarize the house over the holidays or if the neighbor’s dog poops once too often on a prized and cared-for lawn or some drunken maniac whips around the corner in the night and trashes a parked car.

You can’t have it both ways, folks.

And being a cop is a nasty, nasty job, right up there with lawyering in terms of the built-in hostility from others that comes with the role, and as my father and so many others have observed, the extremes of mind-numbing tedium and heart-pounding excitement, with nothing in between... “90% boredom, 10% sheer terror,” my father said of his years on the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

For the Saratoga Police Department, I’d adjust those figures to 99% and 1%, respectively.

And since any kind of action at all is unusual, such action immediately becomes a public obsession, even if someone’s mommy isn’t whining to the press.

But I digress.

The important thing here is to bear in mind that we do not, yet, have all the facts (and that includes Your Humble Blogger; council member though I am, I am not privy to all that much more than you are, and have authority only as one of four persons who make up a governing body. I exercise little power as an individual; I am not the mayor).

Rushing to judgment is exactly the wrong thing to do here, as is hastening to tinker with the entire structure of the police force.

Wait and see.

Thursday, December 26, 2002


Caveat lector: This is probably going to be my


Blog entry.


Because I’m still recovering from the hilarity that was Christ-X at Fort Sherrod.

The day started off as most modern Sherrod family Christ-Xs might; my cell phone ringing and rattling and vibrating itself right off the table as the Collie of Follie (actually, now, more appropriately designated the Corrie of Forry after we watched “A Christmas Story” one too many times on Christ-X Eve. Those of you who know this brilliant film, really the only proper Christ-X film ever made, unless you count “Blazing Saddles” and “The Frisco Kid”, know why her designation has been changed. The rest of you... oh, there’s no hope for you unless you get a copy and watch it. Go. Now. You are forbidden to gaze at any more of my pixels until you do. Quit cheating. Go watch the movie, you fools!) barked at it.

I stumbled from my relatively newly-established bedroom (the Big Room at the Unabomber Cabin having finally gotten too cold even for Your Humble Polar Bear Blogger to sleep in) to retrieve the phone before the Corrie of Forry carried it off and dropped it into the toilet or something, and answered it.

Of course it was My Own Dear Personal Mom. Of course.

And of course I was late for Santy Claus. The family was gathered merrily under the tree, merrily hungry, and merrily waiting for me, tapping their merry feet, checking their merry watches, merrily asking MODPM where the hell was I, already.

Morry the Corrie of Forry, too, was anxious to head Over the River and Up the Hill, having fallen completely in love with my Own Dear Personal Sister, a dog junkie of rare quality, here in town for a holiday visit.

Were Morry and MODPS Pyramus and Thisby, the wall would not have survived ten minutes. The person whose hand represented the wall would have had it licked away like a salt block on one side, and clawed to ribbons on the other. Or something.

And so began a typical Christ-X, much, I am sure, like all of yours: opening presents, gasps of thank yous, 20-minute pauses while the new gadgets MODPD bought for MODPM had to be assembled and explained by the family techno-geek (that would be Your Humble Blogger, surely getting some payback for childhood toys that came with “some assembly required”)... then a big, carbohydrate-laden breakfast and then, what else but...

Many, many hours of Trading Spaces, of course. Perfect, non-ideological holiday fun; running a 24-hour marathon of this show is a stroke of genius on the part of Discovery Networks as diverse families large and small can gather in front of the small screen and bury past resentments, future anxieties, lingering commercial-generated distress (MODPM still has a twitch from overexposure to that STAPLES commerical in which a demented older lady apologizes for all the year’s she’s inflicted hand-knit gifts that she’s worked all year to make on her loved ones. Far better to give stupid gadgets that will be technologically obsolete before they’re completely unpacked from the styrofoam) and food comas, united in their hatred and derision for the choice to put moss on a bedroom wall or paint absolutely everything in a living room either silver or hot pink.

At least that tides folks over until the football starts. But, as I’ve already shared with LIANT readers, I’ve suffered enough pigskin-generated emotional damage for one season. Thank god the skiing is still good. I think.

Things took a turn for the bizarre after supper, as MODPD settled into the recliner to watch yet more football. Even MODPS, who is possessed of greater fortitude, resilience and other laudable qualities vis a vis football than I, thought maybe she’d had enough, and so she, MODPM, and YHB sat around the kitchen table and stared at each other for a bit, our supply of small talk mostly exhausted, until MODPM made the fatal suggestion...

“Well, what kind of three-hand card game could we maybe play?”

Immediately these words had flown out of her mouth than YHB flew into a moderate tizzy.

You see, back in March I took some time off after the Great Corn Pop-Off and headed to more civilized climes for a marathon D&D session with old friends, a big-screen viewing of the first Lord of the Rings film with Buzzmo (the man whose wedding I almost missed in July), and a pilgrimage with Buzzmo to Games Plus, where, knowing my Saratoga friends are way too cool to actually play anything more complicated than poker, I managed to refrain from buying any D&D, Call of Cthulu, Car Wars, or other games (though of course I had to get some spiffy new dice).

But then I came across the Cheapass Games section, where I found both “Kill Doctor Lucky” (almost a prequel to CLUE, players are trying, desperately, to kill a man named Doctor Lucky, who is, as one might suspect, rather hard to off) and “Captain Park’s Imaginary Polar Expedition” (in which players race around “London” trying to gather up various props and forgeries to use to prove they had made an expedition to the North Pole without ever actually having left home) too ludicrous to exist.

And then...

I saw it.

An innocent looking little card game called FLUXX.

What the hell, it’s just a few bucks, and it looks amusing, I thought.

And there it sat, upon my return home, sitting pristine, wrapped in cellophane in its little box, on the edge of one of the many bookcases that grace the Big Room at Kate’s Landing, until MODPM made her fatal Christ-X utterance.

I raced home and grabbed the game, vaguely remembering that it’s supposed to be a bit challenging – it was given a special award by MENSA in 1999 – but figuring if it sucked we could always just play Spades or Cribbage.

I had no idea those MENSA people had such fabulous senses of humor!

Though I gotta wonder if they realized how much fun that damned game is when the players thereof have all been sampling heavily from the Booze that Santa Brought.

But really, some of you are no doubt asking, what game isn’t extra fun with BTSB?

Or, in other words, what’s so great about FLUXX?

It starts off with deceptive simplicity, the game does. Draw one card, play one card, each turn. You could say it’s like UNO, but you wouldn’t be able to say it for long.

UNO has but one goal, you see: get rid of all of your cards.

FLUXX has about 40 goals, judging from the number of GOAL cards in the deck. At any given point in the game, the aim of the game may be to get ten cards in your hand, to have “death and taxes” showing in your meld, or to have “love” and ONLY “love.”

Plus the rules are always changing; there are in the deck about 40 RULE cards that, when played, supersede the original “draw one, play one” rule. Suddenly the rule may be “draw five, play one” or there may be a sudden hand limit of 0 cards in hand.

You can maybe get a sense of the silliness that may ensue already. What happens if the GOAL of the particular game being played is to get and keep ten cards in your hand, but the hand limit is zero?

Drink and giggle, giggle and drink and wait until someone plays another GOAL card.

There can be a lot of silly, split-second strategy involved; I won one game by playing, first, a card changing the rules so that each person’s turn now required her to play four cards (thus extending my turn quite a bit), then, a card called “steal a keeper” (KEEPERS being the “death,” “taxes,” “love” cards, etc.), which allowed me to steal the “death” card from MODPM, then a new GOAL card that said the aim of the game was now “death and taxes”, and then laid down the KEEPER I had drawn at the start of my turn, which was, of course, “taxes”.

You probably had to be there, to watch the puzzled, shocked, annoyed, wounded and eventually apoplectic looks that crossed and recrossed the faces of my near and dear (including the Corry of Forry, who frequently nosed her way in to investigate despite her obvious humor impairment, and my wary father, who had to endure all of the women in his life nearly spitting with laughter every time he came into the kitchen to freshen his drink. We couldn’t get him to play for some reason).

Anyway, my family and I are now hooked, and I plan to spread this game like a new gospel. So, dear readers, brace yourselves, if you are personal friends of mine, and if you’re not, well, go read about the game on the wunderland website and think about giving it a try.

Monday, December 23, 2002


Such was our only comfort, our only joy yesterday afternoon as we watched a certain football game between a team that will remain nameless because this is my website and I’ll not profane it and our own ill-starred regional favorite, whom I can now simply name “The Donks.”

Before settling in to witness the horror, my ski buddy and I had had a magnificent morning on the trails outside Encampment. Long my favorite place to ski anyway, yesterday the Bottle Creek trails were, and I do not exaggerate, perfect. Good, cold weather (though not so cold as today, when the air itself froze and crystallized and made downtown Saratoga look like the interior of a snow globe with extra glitter), a bright, clear, achingly blue sky, and immaculate, untouched, light and powdery snow, snow made for cross country skiing, snow that couldn’t stick if it tried, snow that could be compared to that sand on particularly desirable beaches that is “like flour.”

Snow it’s a pleasure to slice through on skis, even if one is slogging uphill most of the way (ever the contrarians, my buddy and I had to take our favorite trail backwards).

Snow into which those skis completely disappear as they sink down, but snow that never weighs down the feet or packs on to the skis or boots.

Snow that clings only to the wool of one’s sweater when she loses her balance and falls (only the second foray this year, and I missed the season entirely last year), not at the gnarly turn where the trees are, not at the bottom of a downward slope, but just at a careless moment when she was busier gawking at the view of the North Fork of the Encampment River than in paying attention to her still-precarious balance.

And because my ski buddy and I were recently also choir buddies, the least Christmas-y of our recent songs ran pleasantly through our minds… Snow had fallen/Snow on snow/Snow… on snow.

It was an easy thing to cling to, this memory of snow, and cling to it we did as we watched one of the most horrible football games since, well… since the last time these two teams met. On Monday night. In front of millions of people. And the Donks stank up their home field.

And so it was, again at coffee this morning, when an impertinent staffer at our coffee hole periodically emerged from the kitchen to which she had been banished (a disloyal Benedict Arnold of a fan of that other team, she is) to ask, again, “What was that score last night again? Oh yeah.”

“At least the skiing was good,” we chanted under our breaths and tried not to pout.

But then the dam burst as I sat, vulnerable and a little careworn, in the living room of my Own Dear Personal Parents and found Frank Gambino, of K2 television infamy, enumerating, in grotesque detail, every single possible scenario under which the Donks could still make the playoffs. As he chanted them out, two Pittsburgh losses, one NY Jets win, one Tampa loss or tie, blah blah blah I felt I was being subjected to the worst performance of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” since I found myself trapped, many years ago, in Newark International Airport on an evening much like this one while a buzzard-like flock of evil mutant carolers circled round and round, drenching us all in vomitous holiday cheer while the airline lied to us about when we’d be released from our torment.

Never again. Never again.

And it is still possible that the Donks could continue onward, it is. Some of the scenarios Gambino listed off for us are almost plausible. But, and I imagine I am not alone in saying this, I’m to the point where I’d really rather not see them in the playoffs. I’m to the point where, yes, maybe I’ve had enough football for one season and it’s time to, yes, maybe think about something else for a while.

Because, though yea and verily we took comfort in the quality of the snow and the skiing we had just experienced as the game unfolded in its bumptious idiocy, it was, truth be told, small comfort.

We could have stayed on the trails instead of rushing home to watch that $%&@#ing game.

Friday, December 20, 2002


It’s not every day I find myself quoting Hoppusai, the underwear stealing pervert/martial arts master of Ranma 1/2 fame (if you don’t know who Ranma 1/2 is, you probably don’t want to), but I know of nothing else more appropriate to say about the fruit of this morning’s labors besides:

What a haul! WHAT A HAUL!

I’m so happy that I don’t mind the dust in my bra, the lingering smell of natural gas, age, and god-knows-what-else that clings to my clothing, the time I spent freezing on the top floor of Saratoga’s weird little airport terminal or squeezing my way up and down the tight, narrow little spiral staircase that takes one there.

What was I doing sneezing and wheezing in the accumulated junk of the ages crammed into said airport terminal, one might ask?

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy, eccentric, rather anal man who, in his day, had his fingers in even more pies than Your Humble Blogger, if you can believe that. He has been mayor of Saratoga several times, he’s run the airport board, the planning commission, oh goodness, I don’t even know what all.

And now he’s down for the count, essentially, no longer residing in Saratoga, ailing in some warmer clime (Arizona, I suspect) and not involved really at all in our affairs, except in that, well, he left a lot of stuff behind in the airport terminal.

A lot of stuff.

It’s kind of like dunging out the chamber office all over again, really. Except the equipment is even more archaic – one could found a small but devastatingly complete museum of 1960s communication and security technology with what we found in just one corner of the upper storey, for instance.

There were boxes and boxes of outdated office supplies, rolls of adding machine tape, address labels imprinted with his name and address, sheets and sheets of ledger paper. There were huge metal desks largely useless in the age of computers because, of course, they’re ergonomic nightmares even if one is simply going to sit at them to write, let alone if a computer terminal and keyboard were placed on one.

An ancient photocopier that still uses thermal paper... well, I can’t mock that overly, as my office still uses a thermal fax machine... which, incidentally, is why one always hears me sigh heavily whenever he says he’ll fax me something...

But none of this is part of the haul that has me so excited, so delighted, so benighted with joy.

Good lord, the old man was a HORIZON collector!

And what is HORIZON, most of you are now asking?

Long before there was a Smithsonian magazine, or Civilization or American Heritage, hell, probably before there was an Art News, there was HORIZON, a monthly publication that combined all of these interests and more, an omnivorous masterpiece of a periodical that rightly assumed its readership wanted to know about more than one thing. My favorite issue of same, for example, has a detailed look at “Saint Paul and His Opponents” in the same slim volume as a look at “Land: An American Dream in Crisis” and at the paintings of Rousseau and an essay by Anthony Burgess, of all people, about the Brothers Grimm.

Oh, it’s one of the wonders of the 20th century, this magazine which had its heyday about three years before I was born (though it did keep publishing until 1977). It was the secret ingredient in many a dazzling term paper I wrote in junior high and high school; it awakened in my 12-year-old brain even greater curiosity than said brain was born with, about subjects that I otherwise would not have encountered, even growing up amongst Saratoga’s High Elves, until college or later, things like Qabballa, the Wellesleys, Chinese calligraphy, the bizarre world views of Noam Chomsky, Hieronymus Bosch and Alvin Toffler.

But these magazines were dear to me long before I discovered their contents.

Before they were obscure references in my book reports, before I quoted them amongst the Beach Boys lyrics in my economics papers for poor, dear Mr. Nerland, they were among my first toys!

HORIZON, you see, published in hardcover.

The resulting volumes were a little larger than ordinary magazines in width and height, and were maybe a quarter-inch thick.

Combined with the astonishing variety of Legos, building blocks, toy animals and other crap at the disposal of My Own Dear Personal Sister and I, HORIZON magazine was tailor-made to bring out the architect in both of us.

Oh, the elaborate, multi-level dollhouses she and I made for her Tonka people and my Playschool animals! It would take us the better part of the afternoon to agree on a floor plan, construct and furnish the house, and play in it for... oh, about ten minutes or so before the fading twilight announced the coming of Our Own Dear Personal Dad, who strongly disliked hearing my mother’s histrionics when he tripped over or trampled her beloved magazines. Far better to clean everything up before he got home.

(Here, by the way, is one of the chief measures by which I say with such conviction that my mother was meant to be a mother, while I was not: I could never, ever bring myself to allow any children, mine or no, to build little houses out of my HORIZON collection!)

It should suprise no one to learn that my mother’s collection of these precious magazines was among the first things I “liberated” from her home when I set up housekeeping for myself in Saratoga.

And now, today, this morning, I acquired more of them!

And so, the only cloud over my near-incoherent joy is the knowledge that I still, as I type this, have several hours yet to go before I’m free to bring the box into the Unabomber Cabin at Kate’s Landing, open it, and compare that dear old man (really; I always rather liked him, but now I find I like him so much more for learning this about him!)’s collection with my own.

I’m pretty sure that he had a lot of the volumes I’ve been missing.


Thursday, December 19, 2002


It wasn't the long lines...

It wasn't the bad roads...

It wasn't the highway patrol...

I can't even blame it on the boogie...

No! I was betrayed by one of my own in my quest to go see The Two Towers last night in Rollicking Rawlins, Wyo.

The ink was barely dry, I mean the pixels barely burned, on yesterday's blog entry when I strode confidently across the street, Molly the Collie of Folly confidently in tow, to pile into Good Old Klexton (aka my 1989 "rose quartz" colored Ford Taurus) and get ready to head out... only to find that Klexton had other plans.

Like not starting.

Even though all things electrical were working just fine.


So, undaunted, I plodded back over to my office and my phone line here (because, of course, my cell phone battery was dead. Of course), only to find that I couldn't get through to my traditional automotive aide, that being My Own Dear Personal Dad, because My Own Dear Personal Mom was online!.

So, I tried a few other people.

The Minister of Fun... didn't have his car with him. "Sit tight, sis, and maybe I'll be able to help you in a little bit. But first I have to call Skank, because there's no way we're going to Rawlins tonight."

(The line was a factor, as were the roads. Sigh. There was already a line forming at 4:30, fully three hours before the start of the movie. Did I invoke it by typing about its theoretical existence on this very blog? Who knows?)


Then I called another bloke who owes me a favor, a guy whose computer I fix way more often than he fixes my car (OTOH, it takes usually ten minutes to fix his computer in the warmth of his office, while my car only wreaks havoc outdoors in blizzard conditions)... only to find he was already in Rawlins!. Batting .1000!

Then I called the Empire of Hardware to see if the Sewer King or one of his many, many lackeys could help. The answer was maybe... the vehicle that had the much-needed jumper cables was out in the field somewhere. I was again told to sit tight.

So not seeing the movie tonight, I realized. Sigh.

I did finally wind up getting in touch with my Own Dear Personal Parents, through the somewhat extraordinary step of sending MODPM an e-mail saying, in essence "get the hell off the phone line, please."

So... by the time I got through by phone, MODPD was already on his way down the hill.

Klexton started up like nothing was wrong, but by this time, my spirits like my person were wet, miserable and cold.

"Why not come up to the house and have some stew," My Own Dear Personal Sensible father offered.

So I did.

And I got to watch this odd little TV show with them, called "Ed," which is about a hotshot lawyer who returns to his nauseatingly quirky and charming home town to run a bowling alley (already kind of close to home, as it were) and practice law, and whose primary concern in the episode I saw was sets of neighbors suing each other over stupid things like the shade cast by a gazebo and fences that strayed past property lines.

Shades of our own recent planning commission hearings? Yes, some. I watched most of the episode between slaps to the forhead and peering between barely parted fingers with which I had covered my eyes. Yikes!

Then, to top things off, when I finally made it home (Klexton again perversely starting up without a hitch!), one, two, three, lightbulbs went explosively kaput!

It went sort of like this:

Kitchen/foyer - flick the switch, loud popping sound, phhht!, darkness

Living room - flick the switch, loud popping sound, phhht!, semi-darkness (still one working bulb in that room's fixture)

Bathroom - flick the switch, soft popping sound, flicker, darkness

Oh! That reminds me - I need to stop over at Empire of Hardware and get more lightbulbs. Reading by candlelight sounds romantic and old-timey, but it's really quite annoying.

Especially when the candle burns out.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002


When I might actually be brought to the point of envying my friends in post-urban pods near Chicago, Denver, etc.

As anyone who has been paying attention to even a little bit of the popular culture these last few months knows, there’s a movie coming out today that I’ve been anticipating rather a lot.

And it’s opening, in Rawlins (40 miles away) at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

Out there in the real world, people have been lined up outside movie theaters Star Wars-style for quite some time to get tickets to the premiere of The Two Towers, the second installment of the film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings (for my rather extensive take on the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, click HERE. Tickets have been bought in advance, plans are being made for pre-and post-viewing rendezvous, life is relatively normal even for the most ardent Tolkein freak.

Not so for us in Saratoga.

See, the nearest movie theater to us is an 80-mile round-trip from here (hence the local locution “an 80-mile movie,” denoting that very rare and important film that is actually worth making the 80 mile round trip to see).

And said theater refuses to sell tickets in advance, as I discovered last year when, anticipating some weird Rawlins, Wyo. version of the Star Wars line-around-the-block phenemenon, I forced my date-cum-ice fishing buddy to haul his sorry ass out of work an hour early so we could be on the road by 5 p.m. to make it to Rawlins by 6 p.m. to get a ticket for a 7:30 p.m. showing.

Well, at least the bar nearest the theater (that being the otherwise terrifying Peppermill) serves Newcastle, though not, alas, Guiness.

Further complicating matters this year is, well, the weather. Currently, at 15:53, it is snowing gently, a breeze is blowing, there are rumors of hideous traffic conditions on Interstate 80, and people in the know have been casting sympathetic looks in my direction all day long as they observe how it’s just possible that tonight will be said Interstate’s first weather-related closure of the season.

Ahh, but they’re not reckoning with the devotion, the sheer psychotic obsessiveness, that characterizes me and mine, we who will shortly form a Road-Warrior-esque Caravan of Freaks heading north and west to take in this premiere.

I pity the highway patrolman who encounters us at any blockade that is thrown up, our bloodshot, beady eyes staring fixedly westward, tattered paperback copies of The Two Towers in our hands, glowing Burger King LOTR goblets from the marketing blitz that accompanied the first movie on our dashboards, emergency schnapps bottles in our glove compartments. He will not know what to make of us, especially, well, if he recognizes me.

And yes, I know the flick is going to be there for a while. I already have plans to take my mother and sister to it on Sunday afternoon. But catching the first screening of this is something special in a completely geeky way that either you will get, dear reader, or you will not.

I will try to make an analogy: how many of you out there have ever waited, trembling, for opening day of hunting season? You know you have a whole month or so to hunt your deer, antelope, elk, lion, whatever, but it’s really, really important to get out there on the very first day, isn’t it?

I think in particular of my good friend, the Oracle, who last year downed his elk right as the sun came up on opening day, then had to sit there, freezing in his truck for a few hours before there was really sufficient light for him to walk out there on his bum leg to retrieve the beast.

His brother the Sewer King, of course, likes to wait until much later in the season and just goes out on one day and shoots a cow elk with little fanfare or ceremony (though he always manages to somehow damage his iron, doesn’t he?) and is probably rolling his eyes at this whole column, but hey, he’s a weirdo anyway.

The rest of you have some idea of what I’m talking about here, though, don’t you?

Don’t you?

Monday, December 16, 2002


I've been remiss. I have wantonly ignored your needs to gallavant off and fulfill my own petty desires. On Tuesday last, for example, I chose to prepare for a big fat public hearing on the one-mile buffer zone instead of blogging.

On Wednesday, I spent my time reading the exciting, the page-turning, the impossible-to-put-down (very early) draft of the Level 1 study of Saratoga's water treatment and supply options that is being done for and funded by the Wyoming Water Development Commission, instead of blogging, and then, instead of blogging, went to a meeting of our water and sewer joint powers board there to discuss the contents of said study (and the lacunae therein; there's a lot of stuff supposed to be in there that ain't, as yet) and to watch the Sewer King be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the fulfillment of his titular role (he loves that word, "titular" for reasons I decline to contemplate in this particular venue).

Then the aforementioned member of the local nobility and I raced over to the church for our very last choir rehearsal before our two concerts (two! two concerts in one day! aiieeeee, aiieeee, shub niggarath!). Instead of blogging.

On Thursday, instead of blogging, I went home on time like a good girl and chilled out for the evening to watch the enormous backlog of that silly Sci-Fi channel miniseries, "Taken." I won't even try to convince you that this is an adequate excuse for depriving my dear readers of my deathless prose. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, I repent in dust and ashes.

Instead of blogging on Friday, I spent most of the day patting my Enabling Assistant reassuringly on the back as she sweated the small stuff for her latest catering gig, that being Tad the Grocer's Christ-X party, to which I myself later repaired as a guest instead of blogging. The sights, sounds and smells I encountered there are none of them fit for blogging anyway. Suffice it to say I'll never look at my optometrist the same way again.

Or my dear friend Sketch...

Or Tad, for that matter...

Then on Saturday, instead of blogging, I chose 100 more losers in the Chamber's Reverse Drawing (by some miracle, among the 50 survivors left on the board are myself, the Sewer King, Jet Fuel, Tad the Grocer's wife - though neither of his dogs nor himself made the last cut - Mrs. Sketch, and both of my walking buddies! Of course, all of my other friends went down in flames). And later on, instead of blogging, I got slightly dolled up (actually very dolled up for Your Humble Blogger) and went to the graduation party of the Mad Snowplower's Girlfriend, only to discover that some cowardly employee or other of the MS's establishment had discovered my vengeful prank against him and restored the bathroom language lesson system to its original Spanish. Boo!

At least we got to watch the Cowboys beat Texas Tech on the Lazy River Cantina's famous yellow widescreen while we downed our crawfish and Guiness...

Then instead of blogging on Sunday morning, I went cross country skiing. With someone who is a) A much better skier and b) In much better shape than I am. Oh, and don't forget factor c) the Collie of Folly, along for the ride and much amused at the idea of trying to herd me while I was skiing, with predictably disastrous results.

Also I completely neglected to stretch out before hitting the trail. With predictably disastrous results.

Instead of blogging.

So rest assured, dear readers, I am paying for my neglect of you. I wouldn't trade a second of how I spent this week away from you for anything in the world (except maybe a time machine I could use to go back to about 10:30 a.m. yesterday morning to scream at myself to stretch out, you fool! Stretch! You're not 25 anymore! You're not even 30 anymore! If the pro-lifers had their way in reckoning age, you'd already be 33! STRETCH, damn you! aiieeee!), but payback is most certainly a bitch.

But nothing's going to keep me off the ski trails this coming weekend, even if the snow still sucks.

Except, oh wait, I get to go watch the Cowboys suck in person. With my sister.

Well, let's hope they don't suck.

Monday, December 09, 2002


Why yes, yes she does.

The titular she being Your Humble Blogger, of course.

I have, since my recent entry in which I observed that as far as my solipsistic little world-view goes, Christmas was months ago and it is now early February, received many imaginative and amusing reminders of just how wrong I am!

Many thanks to the alert readers who notified me of my error, especially Cap’n Betty Bligh of the Saratoga Float ‘N’ Bloat Boat Babes, who wrote all the way from Maryland to inform me that it is, in fact, still 2002! But one can’t blame me for wanting this stinking, low-water, high-anxiety year to come to an end, can one?

And there have been other reminders, o yes, right within my own dear personal family unit.

First, my own dear personal dad took to the Christmas tree he personally acquired on an actual by god trip into the actual by god woods (during which trip he managed to immerse himself thigh deep in what had to have been the deepest spot in the entire creek up there. It was covered with a thin layer of ice and snow and totally invisible, he says. And he’s my dad and would never lie to me, so I believe him, though I still say it’s a right flimsy excuse for missing Tad the Grocer’s “wino party”) and sculpted it into a proper tree shape, fashioning festive holiday wreaths (oh, so many wreaths!) out of the amputated boughs...

Fast forward a week or two later, and said tree is standing naked in my parents’ living room until it could assume a state of semi-habile... and there the merriment begins.

My father and I knew with the certainty that can only come with years and years of close proximity to my own dear personal mom that, once the strings of lights had been untangled from the box into which they were impatiently shoved in January and retangled around the boughs of the Christ-X* tree, the countdown would be on... how many hours could she endure the sight before she would point out that there was (GASP!) (SOB!) (CHOKE!) (GUFFAW!) a "hole" (meaning a large section of tree with no lights, rather than an actual physical puncture or other lacuna in the substance of the tree. I think) mid-tree.

It went something like this:

MODPM: Honey, there’s a hole in the tree about halfway down. Can you see it?

MODPD (already starting to laugh): Why, so there is.

Silence reigns for a few minutes, until YHB can no longer stifle the giggle (and regrets that she didn’t arrange a more formal wager with her own dear personal dad). All three actors in the scene contemplate the tree for a moment until at last...

MODPM: So you see it, do you?

At this point two things are obvious. No, make that three: 1. MODPM is hoping that MODPD will get up and fix the hole, 2. MODPD will, eventually, fix the hole, but, 3. It is not yet obvious, though portents are distressingly favorable, that the Broncos are going to lose again.


YHB: (snorts in a most unladylike fashion)

MODPM: OK, just so you know.

MODPD: I’ll take care of it soon.

MODPM (lying through her own dear personal teeth): Well, it doesn’t have to happen right this minute, of course.

MODPD and YHB break out into peals and howls of laughter, despite the fact that poor Brian Griese just threw another interception.

MODPM: What’s so funny?

MODPD/YHB continue to laugh for upwards of two minutes. Tears stream down their own dear personal faces, which begin to turn red from the exertion of laughing so hard. It is clearly genuine and not rhetorical laughter, because MODPD’s laugh is in the falsetto range rather than the deep and rumbling belly laugh he affects at, say, morning coffee, most likely for the purposes of echolocation.

MODPM: Oh, you two.

The game ends. The Broncos lose. We all sigh, MODPD and YHB still faintly giggling.

MODPD (arising from the easy chair to look out the window): Look, Mom** we’ve got some competition in the neighborhood.

He is pointing at a trailer house catty-corner from Fort Sherrod, newly festooned with icicle lights and other finery. Now it is MODPM’s turn to giggle along with me, because we, too, know what’s coming next.

MODPD: You know, I have some of those icicle lights stashed somewhere, I know I do! (begins digging through the boxes and boxes of ornaments and other goodies strewn about the living room floor. There are enough ornaments to decorate the tree at Rockefeller Center. There are packages and packages of icicles. There are containers of Christ-X cards and gift tags. But no icicle lights)

The unspoken message here being that our front fence suddenly looks shamefully naked to a man who, let’s not forget, was best friends with the late lamented King of Christmas himself, who paid village small fry ridiculous sums of money every year to drape every stationary thing, and several ambulatory ones, in his yard and on his house with at least seven strings of Christmas lights each...

MODPM: Well, let’s fix the hole in the Christmas tree, first.

MODPD proceeds to re-drape one of the strings of lights on the tree, thus, of course, creating a new hole someplace else, and also making things worse in that:

MODPM: Now there’s three red lights right in a row. It looks like Orion’s belt.

MODPD and YHB, predictably, go into another fit of laughter which it is a Christmas miracle with which to regale friends and family for untold generations that it did not end in vomiting.

MODPM: What? You see it, don’t you Kate?

YHB: Yes...

Exeunt MODPD, who has gone outside to sneak a cigarette and contemplate the outside fence. He stands there, meditatively, for quite some time. Meanwhile, MODPM, exasperated but temporarily distracted, puts the finishing touches on Sunday dinner and assembles the scrap plate with which we distract the Collie of Folly so she doesn’t try to steal food from the dinner table. YHB takes said plate and escorts the C of F outdoors, to find her own dear personal dad strolling up and down along the fence and muttering to himself, casting the occasional fell look in the direction of the new competition across the street. YHB giggles a bit, then returns to the house after informing said dad that dinner is ready.

MODPM: Where’s your dad?

YHB: Outside smoking and trying to remember where the icicle lights are.

MODPM begins to howl with her own laughter.


Oh, and this just in. A little leonine birdie has informed me that Tad the Grocer and other parties recently offended by the actions of a certain mad snowplower have arranged a most suitable revenge, even though it’s going to cost a fifth of Jack Daniels. Satisfying, satisfying.

Oh, and stay tuned: tomorrow is the Oracle’s birthday. Surely the Chicken Lady has something special in store for him. Surely!

Oh, and there’s our Christ-X* concert Sunday. As usual, two performances: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., to make sure the Sewer King and I miss the Bronco game completely. But don’t worry; we have ways of making up for that, too.

*The immortal phrase “Christ-X” is derived from a practice initiated by several young acquaintances of mine from my Boston days, who all went to Catholic school together. One year they were severely reprimanded for spelling out “Merry Xmas” in lights because Xmas seemed sacreligious to the powers that were at the school. So they fixed it to read “Merry Christ-X” and a legend was born.

**My own dear personal dad having several years ago completed his first hurdle towards true codgerhood when he began calling his wife “mother.”

Saturday, December 07, 2002


OK, I’m back to believing that it is indeed, Christmas time and not February as I have been suspecting lo these several days.

How do I know?

It isn’t the holly and mistletoe…

It isn’t the Christmas carols filling the air (since that’s been happening since September, when the Four Tenors came together in joyous reunion to torment my poor former band teacher for another season)…

It isn’t even the Christmas parade my volunteers and I put together last night (that featured nearly half as many floats as the City of Denver had in its parade)…

It’s because of the pranks, of course. This is, after all, Saratoga.

As long-time LIANT readers know, we in Saratoga don’t confine ourselves to the traditional prank-intensive holidays of Halloween and April Fool’s Day to show our neighbors how much we care. Two days out of 365? In a town where winter lasts six months and there’s not a cinema, bowling alley or repertory theater to be had at all (unless one counts my coffee group, better than TV and [moderately] cheaper) (though that does get tested a bit when my own dear personal dad goes on a child abuse crusade and manages to stick me for coffee two days in a row) (that’s OK, I get the last word because I’m a starving writer and he’s not. Bring it on, Pa!)? Ho, ho, no!

My first hint came about a week ago, when out on my lawn there arose such a clatter, I knew it was more than just deer getting fatter. I knew it could only be some reprobate friend of mine showing his love in a way that only he could.

With his snowplow.

Now, Kate’s landing has a long, long driveway leading up to the tiny little Unabomber cabin that is my dwelling, and I’d long been wondering how bad it was going to get this winter if we got the kind of snow that we all want so we can get in some whitewater action before the tourists come back this spring. Not worrying, just wondering.

So… waking up to find my driveway neatly plowed the next morning was momentarily gratifying, almost, I’d even say, as gratifying as finding that at some point before the snow flew a magical plumbing elf had put a stop to the leak in my kitchen faucet (just in time for the water department to issue its warning to leave a faucet running in our houses to prevent our pipes from freezing!). I didn’t know there were snowplow elves, too!

Then… as I scraped the night’s accumulation of frost from the windows of Klexton (my “rose quartz” colored 1989 Taurus) and watched the Collie of Folly frisk trying to chase the scraper from within the warmth and safety thereof, I noticed that the snow and topsoil that the snowplow elf had scraped up when thoughtfully clearing my driveway was unmistakably piled up right behind Klexton’s rear tires.

It was only later in the day when the Minister of Fun and I compared notes did I realize this was not the work of my darling streets department crew, and that my driveway was not the elves’ only handiwork; the elves (I use the plural with hesitation; there was a driver and at least one passenger, but the only passenger who has owned up to being in any way involved insists she was “in an alcoholic blackout” and I’m inclined to believe her) had also thoughtfully moved and re-sculpted the Minister of Fun’s big metal trash can.

Furthermore, the elves were directly observed by my amazingly cool next door neighbors, or, more accurately, by their brand new basset hound/rottweiler cross, Lester, who helpfully notified them in the night that a big Suburban painted in a strange camouflage pattern was amuck in the neighborhood.

The elf who was behind the wheel will shortly find out what it’s like to tangle with me. My revenge will be sweet but probably too obscure for him even to notice as revenge, but I will find it satisfying and his patrons at the Lazy River Cantina will find it edifying, I assure you.

Because it wasn’t just the MOF and I who got visits by the Cantina Elf. Oh no. Tad the Grocer was relieved of a big wooden reindeer/moose thing from his yard, to find it the next day deposited in the pickup truck of the Artist Formerly Known as Obie (not his real name) But Now and Henceforth to be Known to All Friends and Fans of LIANT and Saratoga Life in General as Sketch (not his real name) (Sketch, for short).

I shall, therefore, have at least two accomplices… or would, were I perhaps a bit less faint of heart than I am. I confess it, I am a bit of a coward when it comes to Prank Wars, but… but… but…

I don’t want to wind up with livestock in my yard, guys!!!!

See, Sketch and Tad and Jet Fuel and my own dear personal Chamber Prez (who did not, I think, really know what he was getting himself into) (or so he claims, but I saw him giggling along with the rest of them as the fellas launched themselves into the night) just had to go earlier this week and T.P. the Chicken Lady’s House.

(Those of you who are relatively new to LIANT are encouraged to hit the archives and check out my very first post of 2002 on THE PASSING OF THE POULTRY; the Chicken Lady, and her husband, are not to be messed with in this capacity, possessed as they are of considerable financial resources, tenacity, imagination, and access to various foul fowl including turkeys, roosters, Muscovy Ducks and blow-up dolls… and know how to use them).

Allying myself with Tad and Sketch at this point, in other words, would be folly of a caliber of which not even my dog is capable.

I’m not even sure I should go to Tad’s Christmas party next week, except my Enabling Assistant is catering the thing and her feelings are easily hurt when I don’t eat her food.

So just let me say publicly here, in this, my forum, my soapbox, my pulpit, that I am a victim here, too, O Mr. And Mrs. Chicken Lady. I’m on your side! And I’m allergic to ducks!

And no, this is not a propeller beanie on my head.

Ahh, Christmas…

Tuesday, December 03, 2002


After spending an entire month "writing crap fast" in fellow novelist Jason Erickson's immortal words, I am still, on December 3, punch drunk as hell. Every 20 minutes or so I feel the sudden urge to jump up and look behind all the furniture to try to find where David Lynch is hiding, directing my life in secret. My coffee buddies are starting to talk like characters in my novel. Or was it my characters who started to talk like my coffee buddies? Wait, I based my characters on my coffee buddies (sort of) and (sort of) on some jerks I used to hang out with in my Boston days and (sort of) on the voices in my head.

I'm a month ahead of myself, already writing "2003" on my checks and blinking hard when people wish me a Merry Christmas. Christmas? Wasn't that months ago? I'm thinking about the ice fishing derby in January, except it, too, is starting to feel really over, like the dates have come and gone and I'm just tying up the last details, which means I'm really thinking about the chariot races. Every day I have to fight down the impulse to start calling people and asking them to volunteer some time in the beer tent, but oh wait, if I'm going to call them shouldn't I be getting Fishing Derby judges? No, wait, what I'm looking for is entries for the Christmas parade this coming Friday. Christmas? Wasn't that months ago?


So, um, anyway, blogging is too surreal an activity for me right now. Maybe I'll write something tomorrow. I dunno. I'm still faintly nauseated by the sight of my words on a computer screen. I'm told it will pass.

The important thing is that, for the first time possibly since high school, I finished something that I started that has nothing to do with my jobs, my volunteer responsibilities, or personal promises to anyone else.

I am, in fact, a novelist.


Merry... Happy... um... whatever, everyone!

Tuesday, November 26, 2002


24,539 words as of 9 a.m. today. Only five days and 25,461 words to go. Oy.

Monday, November 25, 2002


At what point, exactly, did it stop being okay to point out a flaw or a problem even if one doesn’t necessarily know the solution?

As I make my monthly rounds of the many, many meetings I attend as chamber chick, town council member, economic development corporation board member and general nosy parker, I’m seeing more and more that the rules of discourse seem to have changed for the worse around here: anyone with a question or a comment or an objection to a plan or an element of a plan is immediately asked “Well, what do you think we should do?” or “Well, what do you think we should put there?” or “I don’t see you coming up with anything better.”

Then, of course, the complaints begin when no one steps forward with any comments, which is patently ridiculous, since the very way these responses, these demands, come out, usually from behind an official-looking table or from a dais on high, effectively squelches commentary, evades the responsibility to actually answer the question posed or address the concern expressed.

It’s a very fascist response, at bottom, to what is supposed to be an open process. I’ve seen it happen, a big ol’ jackboot coming down on my own citizens, at planning commission hearings, at meetings of my own community center board, and most recently in discussions with my chamber board members over whether or not to bring in Sam Western, author of the hottest book to hit Wyoming in decades, Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming’s Search for Its Soul as a speaker for our organization’s annual dinner.

I still say that Western has done the best job I have ever seen of pinpointing why we are no nearer now than we were at the time of our statehood to having the kind of independent, self-reliant way of life that we have imagined for ourselves, and he has done so eloquently and vividly and even if all he were to do as a speaker was reiterate what he’s said in his book that would be worth listening to, especially since his book is so scarce.

I am disagreed with, however, because “he doesn’t offer solutions” (Actually, I think he does, but they are subtle and difficult; they involve a statewide re-imagining of ourselves that will not be easily quantifiable in terms of its obvious impact or benefits, but why do you think he invoked the notion of “soul searching” in the books very title, hmm? Soul searching is never a tangible process and rarely yields tangible results, but can you really argue that it is not a process worth engaging in for those reasons?) and so for this reason, along with the fact that he has marked a few sacred cows for the slaughter and is thus likely to piss off a dinner-goer or two, he is apparently dismissible.

If I am walking down the street and have noticed that one of the streetlamps has gone out, is it wrong for me to notify the power company because I don’t know how to fix it? Or is it my responsibility as a citizen and a customer to inform the people who do know how?

Do I only have the right to report the problem if I am also ready to climb the pole myself and do whatever else needs doing to fix it?

As a valley and a society and a state we are diverse enough to allow each of us to fill different niches based on what we do well, what we understand, where we have expertise. And we count on the fact that others do other things well, might know more about a subject than we do, or might have the power to do something that we do not. That’s the way a free society works.

But it works much less well if we are not allowed any capacity to audit one another, or to share our differing points of view, or to call attention to a problem or potential problem that we don’t, ourselves, know how to fix.

Sometimes, we just know that something stinks. Sometimes, we just feel in our guts that we must vote no. Sometimes, we join the Hindu and Buddhist yogis when they say “neti, neti, neti” which translates roughly to “not this, not this, not this.” Sometimes we only know what we cannot abide and there is too much left from which to choose. Sometimes, our mission is only to rule out the intolerable or to point out the flaws. Destruction is part of creation; sloughing off the dead or useless is part of growth; sculpture involves knocking away everything that does not look like a horse or a person or whatever one’s subject may be.

James Hillman, as you might expect, has quite a lot to say on this subject, and I’ll let him have the last word as he supports the notion of kenosis, originally a theological term used to describe Christ’s shedding of his divine power in order to enter the world as a man, now used more generally to denote being “emptied of certainty,” without guarantees.

“Don’t try to replace the helpless frustration you feel, the powerless victimization, by working otu a rational answer. The answers will come, if they come, when they come, to you, to others, but don’t fill in the emptiness of the protest with positive suggestions before their time.”

The answers will come, but they will come in their own time, and demanding that the person who poses the question must also answer it does not hasten that process; it kills it outright by negating the right to question. I believe this still, and I hope enough of you out there do to keep having the bravery to ask why, to say no, to accept uncertainty until certainty again can come.

I promise you all, my constituents, my friends, my readers, that I will accept your “neti, neti, neti” even if you don’t have a corresponding checklist of things to do about it. That is probably mine to find, or if not mind to find, mine to find someone else to find.

I think that’s what leadership really is, isn’t it?

Wednesday, November 20, 2002


An old high school buddy of mine who was on the speech team with me used to get on the bus every weekend this time of year chanting the following like a mantra “Law of averages... Law of averages... Law of averages.”

It was his committed belief that the law of averages dictated that he would, at some point, hook up with a girl at a speech meet and finally have a girlfriend. Sooner or later it would be his turn, just like sooner or later it was everybody’s turn, right?

Well, it seems to have taken a bit longer than the four years we were in high school and going to meets, but, as his mother, my walking partner, has observed, he is now “cooking for a girl” and he has referred to said girl in email to me as his girlfriend, so I think I can say with confidence that he was right.

Sooner or later, the law of averages gets its way. Sooner or later, everybody wins.

I don’t think this is really an astonishing revelation, is it?

But why, then, does every single person to whom I offer to sell a “reverse drawing” ticket ($10 for a one in 300 chance to win $1000) insist that he or she “never wins anything” or “has the worst luck in the world,” etc? Do they believe that there are some kind of magical luck-sucking elves roaming the planet, that the Sewer King really does, in fact, win everything (a proposition to which I have been tempted to subscribe myself, as I’ve seen him win, what, two football pools so far this season?), that no one ever actually wins any of these things, what?

But... but... but... there’s a winner every year, dammit! Last year the guy who owns the Wolf won it... and he, also, "never wins anything." But he did win – ask him! He’s got the stuff he bought with it and everything! Granted, he spent most of his “Shop at Home Spree” at the Sewer King’s store, which might lend credence to the notion that SK really does win everything, but... I’m digressing again! The point is that there is an actual physical person working just across the street from me who won last year! Really!

And more of you would know and believe if you would come to the chamber office for the drawings, set for Dec. 6 (after Saratoga’s world famous lighted Christmas Parade downtown), when we’ll yank off the first 150 tickets from the “big board”, Dec. 14, when the next 100 will go, and Dec. 21, when we’ll pull the last 50.

We want you there so bad, my Enabling Assistant and I, that we’re adding an extra dimension of hilarity to the proceedings. You know those rubber ducks we raced on the ditch in July? We’ve labeled them with numbers, One to 300, and we’ll draw THOSE to determine which tickets get yanked. Won’t that be fun? Isn’t that worth showing up for?

How about if we pull out the chamber’s famous Duck Costume and put someone in it with a Santa Claus hat to do the drawings? Would you come then, huh, huh, would you?

Anyway, just wanted to let you all know... I’ve got tickets to hawk, and I’m going to be Janey-One-Note until all 300 are sold and on the board.

The law of averages is on your side, kids.

Monday, November 18, 2002


So, having apparently angered some kind of funky household gods or other this year, I have to date found myself intimately involved in two major moves in 2002, not counting casual help rendered to others in moving house, or our effort in midsummer to re-arrange the chamber office to make it somewhat more aesthetically pleasing, if not more ventilated.

Moving myself from the dungeon apartment I occupied for close to three years to the chilly paradise of Kate’s Landing did not even begin to prepare me for the then-unimagined move of the chamber of commerce to its (mostly) present location.

No one even knows for sure how long the chamber has been in the space next to the Donut Ranch, and while many have asked me that very question over the last few weeks, finding that answer is, well, not a priority. Too much to do.

Too much stuff to move.

Too much stuff to throw away.

Too much stuff existing in some kind of weird state between the two, the kind where its only by an effort of will to avoid channeling the Depression era-thinking of one’s forbears that can keep one from simply hauling everything over to the new place and trying to cram it all in.

Well, that and one’s ability to laugh one’s way through such perplexing questions as “What use will we ever have for a full box of brochures promoting the services of an outfitter whose business closed down back in the days when just one real estate office was considered sufficient for the needs of our entire town” (i.e., my toddler years) dovetailed with “Is this particular conglomeration of properties detailed in the Fall 2001 Real Estate Guide ever going to be for sale at the same time again, or can we maybe just throw these out and stock the rack with the Winter 2002 version?”

And I’m not even getting into the real absurdities. There is a whole box full of little toy boats. I don’t know why, I don’t want to know why, I’m giving them to the pre-school, I’m pretty sure I’m never, ever in my personal or professional life going to need a box of little toy boats, and if I do, I’m sure I shall be in a position to acquire a new box of little toy boats (if I’m not in such a position, then however could my need for same really be an issue?).

Also prominently featured in the cave-like back room I’m trying, in all my spare time, to dung out, are:

- Random computer parts that are not compatible with any computer I have ever seen functioning in the chamber office (and remember, once upon a time my own dear personal mom held my job, so I have a great deal more experience in dealing with the chamber and its eccentric equipment than my year and change of being the executive director might otherwise indicate).

- A box of artificially colored feathers. Your guess is as good as mine.

- Two extra Christmas tree stands. We need one, for our office tree. The other two are mysterious. Do Christmas tree stands breed in captivity? If so, what are their mating rituals like?

- Defunct telephone parts, including enough phone cord to double the (considerable!) length of same we presented to Sen. Mike Enzi as a gag gift at the 2000 chamber banquet to help him make the claim that his laptop computer was actually a desktop model and thus OK by Senate rules. Guess you had to be there.

- Crappy used toys people keep bringing in for the Giving Tree, despite our operatic pleas to give these poor kids NEW toys, that’s what the Giving Tree is all about. Since when did Santa Claus start delivering broken Etch-A-Sketches to even poorly behaved children, hmm?

- God, I just don’t even want to write this anymore. Especially since I should be over there clearing more of that crap out of the old office. But I’m too tired and I still have bronchitis. No, this is not a plea for sympathy, just a statement of cold, hard, snotty fact.

So now I have in my immediate future two plans: 1) Soak deeply in the hot pool for a while, and then 2) crack open a bottle of wine and watch really stupid movies with the Minister of Fun (like a housemate, only with a whole street between our bedrooms!).

Of course, all the while I’m enjoying these, I’ll still be wondering what the hell kind of mental disease it is strikes chamber people that makes them completely unable to throw anything away, and, probably, worrying when it will strike me. And if I’ll notice.

Or if I’ll be too busy watching Christmas tree stands breeding.

(P.S.: Word count, 18400, Body count: 1 over at

Friday, November 15, 2002


...Well, maybe.

I have just now made a decision, after reading my daily pep talks from NaNoWriMo pals and whatnot and listening to a fun interview with founder Chris Baty on NPR (a Real Audio version of which is at that site).

This month is about what my dear friend Buzzmo calls "stunt writing," and so I shall do what literally thousands of other NaNoWriMo-rons are doing tonight: writing in public.

Yup, as soon as I get this here blog addendum posted, I'm grabbing my laptop, crossing the street (my new office is right on the main drag. Oh, is it lovely!), and claiming the big table in the Hotel Wolf bar to see what I can do about catching up on my word count.

The Minister of Fun and other friends ought to be joining me shortly, which will surely add to the hilarity.

Any of you out there with nothing to do tonight ought to come on down and watch. Or contribute. The novel is about coffee, but the fuel is pure foolishness. And Jimmy's magical hot toddies (cheaper than a visit to the doctor and you feel better twice as fast!).

Bring your Carbon Bucks.

Well, last night was a two-bottle night, but those two bottles of (insert singing choir of heavenly angels here) Black Opal Shiraz, my first alcohol since falling sick with bronchitis after Halloween and my stint of "palm reading" that brought me into intimate contact with every grubby child in the valley, loosened my brain and my fingers and resulted in something like 6000 more words on that goddamn novel of mine (click on the highlighted text to go read the latest).

The Coffee Hour in Saratoga is taking on a life of its own in kind of a spooky way. I feel I have lost control of it. I originally intended it as the first ever small town political thriller, and it still could be, it still could, but it has, entirely of its own accord, veered into the realm of stupid murder mysteries. I may yet be able to steer it back into the plot originally mapped out with the help of that funkiest of all muse-type persons, the Sewer King, but at this point, I don't know.

So my word count as I write this (actually about 9 p.m. Thursday night, though I shan't be able to publish this to LIANT until Friday morning, hence my sporadic use of the past tense) is in the 14,000 range, putting me way behind where I probably "should" be were I following the curve of mathematical perfection suggested by the equations generated by taking 30 days and dividing the targeted 50,000 words by 30 days, which yields the magic number of 1667 words per day, which would dictate that I, like my smart-ass gloating walking partner, should have some 23,300 words down. But yea, my faith faltereth not; verily, I yet believe that I am enough of a hack to crank out the missing 9,000 and change to bring me up to speed and maybe even shoot me ahead of the pack this weekend.

This weekend, you see, I have but two, maybe three things to do: finish recovering from bronchitis, finish moving the chamber office (a paltry task that any dozen Greek Gods could accomplish in a mere month, surely!), and yeah, probably do some housework, since I've gotten way too paranoid about my journals and other revealing personal stuff to let a cleaning lady anywhere near Kate's Landing, leaving me but two choices: live like a pig, or pick up a sponge and push an occasional vacuum cleaner meself.

So cranking out an extra 10,000 plus my expected daily 1667 words should be no huhu at all, right?


No plot, no problem, the sages at National Novel Writing Month keep reminding me.

Well, at least I finally have a plot. Or maybe, more accurately, a plot has me.


Monday, November 11, 2002


...That one gets to witness the birth of a whole new currency, shake hands with the artist whose work adorns the bills, trumpet news of same to the world, drink a toast to its health in blue soda pop...

Such was my funky fortune Friday, as I attended the “Bucks are Out” party in Rawlins, where we celebrated, in a somewhat subdued fashion, the initiation of our own local currency, the “Carbon Buck.”

From a consumer’s point of view, Carbon Bucks spend just like “real” money (which is basically just as much a consensual fiction as what we’ve started circulating; U.S. banknotes say “In God We Trust” but what it really means is “In Greenspan We Trust.” Hey, we don’t even have to change the acronym. IGWT!). I just used a Carbon Bucks note (they come in denominations of $5 and $20) to tip my waitress at coffee, for example. As far as she’s concerned, I gave her $5 that she can spend anywhere in Carbon County; she can use it to tip someone else, to pay off a bet (but I’d bet she’s wisely betting on the Broncos over the Raiders tonight, so she’ll be collecting rather than paying), to chip in for gas money, or to buy something at any Carbon County business, whether it’s our local grocery store, the spa at the Saratoga Inn, our local Pizza Hut, Huckleberry’s (the Hep Coffee Joint in Rawlins), or the Drifter’s Inn in Baggs.

Once a business has accepted her $5 in Carbon Bucks as payment, that business can choose to keep the note in circulation by giving it out to someone else as change on a purchase or it can deposit the note in any of the three banks doing business in Carbon County: the Bank of Commerce, Rawlins National Bank, or Community First National Bank. All three banks are fully on board for this program, having participated seriously in the development of the program and the design of the bill (which, as far as the banks are concerned, is actually a check, with all appropriate magnetically printed routing numbers).

Anyone who wants to start using Carbon Bucks, can. The community-minded citizen or business who wants to do this simply has to go to one of the three participating banks and buy some Bucks, which have the same value, dollar for dollar, as U.S. currency: $100 in Carbon Bucks costs $100 U.S. bucks, in other words.

The user then shoots the Carbon Bucks into the local economy, bearing with them a message of support for said economy and for the businesses who make it go. Meanwhile, the U.S. currency with which those Carbon Bucks were bought is invested in a fund to be loaned for business growth and expansion, and promotion of Carbon County as a place to do business.

In other words, Carbon Bucks actually double the value of U.S. currency within Carbon County’s economy; for every Carbon Buck in circulation there is also a U.S. buck on deposit for use as seed money to further develop the business climate here where we all live.

And it’s all voluntary. Nobody has to use Carbon Bucks. Nobody has to accept them. Nobody has to even acknowledge they exist.

But those who do are, as they say, putting their money where their mouths are, investing directly in our economy and propagating a very public message of support for that economy with every trip to the grocery store, the gas pump, the clothing boutique, or the local bar.

As for me, I made a very public declaration a long time ago about Carbon Bucks, back during the development stages, when I issued a challenge to the director of the Rawlins/Carbon County Chamber of Commerce to take our entire salaries in Carbon Bucks (I certainly had nothing to lose by this proposition; my money and I never leave Carbon County anyway! Neither of us has time!). Said director was not present at the board meeting of the Carbon County Economic Development Corporation where I made this declaration, but I’m still prepared to back this up whenever the Rawlins chamber finds a director again.

In the meantime, I’m circulating them like mad anyway, and I hope that a few of you will, too. Even if you’re just rolling your eyes at another “feel good” program as I know a few of my dear readers are, well, isn’t it time we did something that feels good in the face of all the bad news that’s been coming our way these last few months? C’mon, give it a shot.

Humor me.

Thursday, November 07, 2002


Like the TV pundits were saying over and over and over again Tuesday night, Election Night 2002 was historic.

Certainly it was a night of firsts for me, I who did a number of things I’ve never before associated with Election Day before AND will never again be able to avoid thinking about these things on so special an occasion.

I mean, among other things, I sat in the back row for choir practice, in my imaginary propeller beanie, singing my heart out with a King (of Sewers) and an Annointed One (even then breathing his last free air; as the last notes left his throat, election judges just blocks away were certifiying him my future colleague on the Saratoga Town Council)... and we were singing...

We were singing...

We were singing the “Hallelujah Chorus!”

Of course, the delightful appropriateness of what we were singing did not dawn on me until about seven hours later, when I sat up bolt upright in bed and had to laugh aloud because we really, truly, had reason to be singing Hallelu, Hallelujah!

This is the first time in my entire life that I’ve ever backed a winner, you see. More than one, actually!

I still have to pinch myself. I can’t bring myself to take down my Dave Freudenthal OR my Kurt Bucholz yard signs (this even though Bucholz had it in the bag when he secured the nomination for House District 47 on Primary Election Day in August!) just yet. I keep thinking that if I do, someone will immediately come up to me with incontrovertible proof that, in fact, Eli Bebout will be our next governor.

But he won’t, he won’t...

Now, of course, is where it gets really interesting, watching an administration gel and watching how those around me react to it, feeling my way as an elected official, a chamber chick and, oh yeah, a taxpayer around this new Wyoming that is just now being born.

I think it’s the Indonesians who have a concept they call djam karet, the hour that stretches, a time that comes now and then to everyone in which one feels that all opposition has been temporarily thwarted or at least held at bay and one has the opportunity while the forces of evil are in stasis to make huge leaps of progress or simply to take quiet, peaceful breaths and regroup.

Me and mine are in such a time now, but already I can feel the subtle tug that will bring this hour snapping backward.

Perhaps the first tug back came when my Mountain Mentor, he who drags me up hill and down dale while imparting priceless pearls of intelligence, business sense and oracular observation, called me up early Wednesday morning and began the conversation with “Well hello, Dr. Sherrod,” and a subtly ominous yet cheerful laugh, followed by “Now we’ll get to see whether you’re an internist or a neurosurgeon.”

I was as bewildered as you are, at first. When this guy starts talking, I sort of have to fling my arms around one of his legs and hold on for dear life as he strides along tirelessly. Conversation with him is as close to true vertigo as I’ve ever felt, I sometimes think. So it took me a few beats to figure out what he meant.

It scared me to death when I did. As he wound up explaining, with this change of administration, he believes a lot of what has thwarted our efforts is going to evaporate and we’ll finally be able to operate, to save the lives of the patients in our care. It’s all going to be different now.

Heavy stuff. Kind of made me scream.

So I wonder now how Dave Freudenthal feels. I got a pantload of hope and expectation dropped into my lap Wednesday morning, but how many freaking railroad cars full has he gotten since Bebout made his concession speech?

I have always admired people who have cultivated within themselves the ability to deal with such a pressure of good will, hope, belief – much harder to bear, I think, than cynicism, ill wishes or suspicion. I am only just beginning, myself, to see glimmers of how this is done – I’ve spent a lot of time staggering on my way – and so my admiration for Freudenthal and his ilk has only grown.

I got almost everything I wanted out of Election Day, and so face the next two years of my public life with relative equanimity, now. I’m doing all I can to make the most out of djam karet while it lasts.

I hope Dave is, too.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002


A friend who occasionally shares his brain with me when he isn't using it finished reading my copy of Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming's Search for its Soul, complete with Kate annotations scribbled in the margin, and made some of his own with little yellow post-it notes which I am going to leave in for subsequent loanings of the book. I think he and I have accidentally stumbled on a process by which the editing of this tract should have been done in the first place, and have also started a conversation which could well continue throughout my little town as this pamphlet gets handed from person to person, which I'm sure Mr. Western would find delightful.

Most provocative among the little yellow post-it notes is one fixed to the cover which asks "Can we get where we need to go without hating the cowboy image?"

See why I borrow his brain from time to time?

I suppose we'll all have different answers to the question, depending on our own prejudices and the degree to which we have been persuaded by reviewers' and letter writers' preliminary takes on Mr. Western's book.

I should perhaps not even try to posit Mr. Western's own answer, but I do feel the need to clarify my own take on Western regarding this question, which is: he's not necessarily calling for an end to the cowboy myth, he just thinks we need to pay equal attention to other possibilities, other myths that we have long suppressed.

Now, I'm an enthusiastic student of mythology and archetypal psychology, as everyone knows, and what I think Western is concerned about is that Wyoming has committed that most Jungian of sins, identification with the archetype, that inflation of just one minor part of the ego that matches an externally generated image (like a god, in the Greek canon, or a Cowboy, in Wyoming's) to the detriment of the rest of the ego (or the other gods, to the Greeks, or the entrepreneurs, inventors, female governors, etc. of Wyoming's). The damage done to the rest of the personality is obvious, as are the consequences.

BUT... It is just as great a misdeed to the self to eliminate that archetype that has blotted out the others. It was there in the psyche for a reason, and the psyche's need for it never ends.

So with our Cowboy. Like him, hate him, be indifferent entirely to him, we need him. Whether or not he is a worthy Person upon which to have projected so much of Wyoming's soul, he has been there with us from the beginning, has pulled his weight (even economically; the cattle industry has saved Wyoming from ruin more than once), and his romance is still ours, to a degree.

We will especially need him through our transition to Western's vision for us, too. While we restructure our economy and begin to look to new dreams, we will need tourism more than ever, and our attraction for tourists lies in two things: our open spaces (a legacy of ranching and federal government ownership) and our Cowboy mythos.

For the nation as a whole, maybe even the world (when I think of all of the Germans flocking to rodeos and dude ranches the region over, I say definitely the world), needs this myth, too. It's not just ours to preserve or destroy, just as the national forests that surround my town are not just the property of those of us who live near them; they belong to Wall Street brokers and Maine potato farmers and San Francisco bit miners and Wal Mart serfs in all 50 states, who exercise a collective will that desires more and more for their preservation at all costs that it is pure foolishness for a handful of us living on the mountain to oppose.

Rather, if we want to stay on the mountain, it is time to take the good qualities we've admired in the Cowboy – stewardship, hard work, self-reliance, etc. – and employ them in the service of safeguarding our society's cherished myth of a free and open life under a big, clear, blue sky, drinking clean water, watching actual living wildlife in its real habitat, and yes, eating beef raised the old fashioned way by our neighbors. Agriculture may be a ceremonial occupation in Wyoming, but what are we as a species without our ceremonies, our rituals, our myths?

So yeah, though the Cowboy and all that has gone with him in Wyoming still makes me roll my eyes as my first reaction, I still defend our need for him, and hope that, when asked, Mr. Western will do the same. The important thing is not to get rid of the Cowboy; the important thing is never again to identify so monolithically with him.

Monday, November 04, 2002


Two years ago, I was a pathetic, jittery mess as I realized that within 24 hours I would either be an elected official or an off-the-hook, also-ran, dud. I clung to the latter possibility up to the last possible moment, still burned by stupid memories of, e.g., high school student council elections in which I always lost out to the airhead, but then as more and more people approached me, telling me they planned to vote for me and believed in me, the truth began to sink in.

The truth wasn’t the only thing that sank, two years ago, of course. My stomach did, too, as I realized that part of me actually did want this. And then the jitters set in.

Those jitters were nothing compared to those besetting me now, though. It’s funny – I still have two years in office no matter what, but the anxiety I feel on Election Eve ‘02 dwarfs that of 2000, even though 2000 was a presidential election (I still remember sitting in the Hotel Wolf on election night, giggling with the Hotel Wolf family over the way each network had a different opinion of who had won in Florida... until I stopped giggling when one of my lackeys brought over the returns fresh off the newspaper’s fax machine declaring that my ass was headed for the hot seat).

The governor’s race, as I’ve already established, is giving me fits. The county commissioners’ race is a crushing disappointment, being a mess of mediocre choices at a time when we can ill afford them, coupled with a minor sense of guilt over my own unpreparedness to step forward and say “Hey, I can do better” and my own inability to persuade anyone else to do likewise. Fighting off the guilt of relative powerlessness is a tough chore, made all the worse by seeing a nearly identical situation right here in my own hometown. Folks keep asking me who to vote for for mayor (my pat answer: if you can’t make up your own mind about this, don’t vote, you knuckleheads!) and I really don’t see much difference at all and only, ultimately, plump for the guy who seems least likely to give me a headache (though I know that either one will).

The two taxes that are on the ballot in Carbon County will directly affect my ability to do my jobs, and I’ve put forth much energy in campaigning to support them, and now it’s out of my hands. Come tomorrow, I’m only one vote in favor of each, and the rest of Carbon County can all stand up as a body against me, for all I can do now.

I have expended zero energy fighting the constitutional amendments on tomorrow’s ballot, letting myself be persuaded by my own lassitude, naivete, faith, and belief in my more politically experienced companions’ certainty that our voters in Wyoming are inherently loath to mess with our state constitution in general, and in particular don’t really trust the legislature as a body enough to vote it the ability to call itself into special session without the governor’s assent. I cling even more tightly to this hope now as I look back on my season of inaction vis a vis these amendments.

So much of the color and character of the next two years of my life will be more or less decided in one day, and that day is tomorrow. Will I have money to spend on infrastructure and essential services as a town councilmember (and just possibly the senior town councilmember, though I don’t really think my council colleague who is running for county office has much of a chance against the Rawlins machine)? With whom will I have to wrangle as to how that money will be used if we do indeed have it? Will I have lodging tax grant money to spend to promote my valley as your chamber director, or will I have to resort to our organization’s own coffers and fundraising capacity (defined basically as my capacity to come up with dumb new ways to raise money... but how many popcorn pop-offs can this town stand, really?) to do the job I’ve been doing in that capacity? What larger changes do or do not loom on the state horizon?

Its all in the hands of the unknown number of my fellow registered yahoos who will actually turn out at the polls tomorrow.

Damn, I hate not being in control.

And I have another 2000 words to write on the novel tonight, too!

Sunday, November 03, 2002


...Until it's time for us to head for the polls to make one of the most important decisions we as Wyoming voters have made in quite a while. It's a little bit nerve-wracking, as the times, already scary, just got scarier here in Saratoga on Friday morning, when the news that our lumber mill is closing down for at least six months came splashed across the front page of the Rawlins Daily Times.

We have several big decisions to make on Tuesday: the gubernatorial election, two seats on the Carbon County Commission, the fates of the fifth penny sales tax and the 2% lodging tax. I worry that fear, especially fear of change, is going to be the dominating factor in the voting booth. Don't let it, people.

Now, I'm not going to waste pixels on trying to encourage people to get out and vote. It is a hoary piece of received wisdom that high voter turnouts are ipso facto desirable, but I don't buy it, never have. I prefer a small number of highly motivated and informed voters making decisions that affect me, not a large number of numbskulls voting on the basis of someone having the same name as their city (a Massachusetts Secretary of State candidate whose campaign I ran when I was in Boston actually won in the city of Everett, Mass. His last name? Yup. Everett) or marking a straight ticket or just randomly blackening ovals as though this were just a grown-up version of the Iowa tests.

Besides, the fewer people vote, the more likely I am to get my way!

An interesting wrinkle has developed in the Freudenthal campaign in the form of a website dedicated to collecting the endorsements of private individuals in the closing days of the campaign. I've just finished adding my own name to the list of people from all over Wyoming who are making their support of Freudenthal as public as can be, and I'm very pleased overall to see the names of a lot of people I personally know and respect on there, but I know there are a lot more of you out there (currently there are only two Saratoga people on there, myself and Jim States. Come on, kids!) so I urge you to head over to and add yourself to the growing list. If nothing else, we'll have this to point to if the other guy wins and the shit hits the fan. Sort of a cyber version of those 1980s era t-shirts that said "Don't blame me, I voted for Bill and Opus."

I would also urge those of you out there who are still wavering to take a good look at Freudenthal's website, especially at THIS SECTION whereat Freudenthal addresses the whirling allegations made by his opponents regarding an economic development loan made to Energy Brothers in 1987. The documents there pretty much speak for themselves, but I would like to call particular attention to the fact that the loan made to Energy Brothers was the only loan in the entire Clean Coal program that has been repaid. While it is true that the company took a while to repay the loan and the state did haul its principal, Ted Venners, to court over repayments, the loan was paid off to State Treasurer Cyntha Lummis' satisfaction in 1997, and the $11.7 million loan did bring the state a plant in Gillette that has generated something in the neighborhood of $1.5 million to date in sales and use taxes alone.

Also, Freudenthal disclosed his connections to Energy Brothers, starting as legal counsel to them in the early 1980s and ending with minority ownership interests in two companies affiliated with Energy Brothers, up front, and he and his brother relinquished their minority ownership interests in 1987 prior to the vote on the company's loan application.

All in all, it seems like a funny way of trying to bring up the character issue in this election. I never would have looked so closely into the work Freudenthal did as part of the EDSB had this not come up, and what I've learned from examining this issue has cemented, rather than weakened, my resolve to do all I can to see that he's our next governor. Nice job, Constantino!

As for the fifth penny sales tax, I just want to point out one more thing: We're paying it everywhere we go, and so is everyone else. Sometimes more. Every time you leave the county to go visit that giant money-vacuum from Arkansas (I'm talking about Wally World) you're paying for Albany County's roads and bridges and ambulances and fire trucks, and when they come through here to have a beer after sitting in the hot springs or cross country skiing or whatever they return the favor. If we vote it out, that reciprocity, along with the funding itself for all of these services, is gone.

The lodging tax? Well, every time you see an ad in the newspaper with that Justin Carbon logo, whether it's generally promoting the attractions Carbon County has to offer or specifically plugging one of the many events put on by yours truly as your chamber chick (including the Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby, Encampment's Sierra Madre Winter Carnival, the Donald E. Erickson Memorial Chariot Races, the Platte Valley Festival of Birds, the Platte Valley Festival of the Arts, the Steinley Cup/Bullfest/Chili Cook-Off, and at least one street dance per year), it's been paid for out of funds collected by motels, hotels, campgrounds and lodges in Carbon County from people who don't live here, which is why the Carbon County Visitors Council proudly calls it "the tax you don't pay."

Of course, you pay it whenever you visit someplace else, whether it's Laramie or Denver or Chicago or Portland. Seems only fair to have folks from those places return the favor, no?

So, if you agree with me on any of this stuff, be sure and go vote on Tuesday. If you don't, or you don't really care, then I strongly urge you to stay away from the polls. Stay home and watch bowling on TV, or go out and get drunk at noon, or make a few extra 911 calls about your neighbor's barking dogs.

Anything but voting is fine with me.

Saturday, November 02, 2002


Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming’s Search for Its Soul
by Samuel Western
(Moose,Wyo.: Homestead Publishing, 2002)

”The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression, including, if one chooses, the freedom to be scurrilous, abusive, and seditious; or, on the other hand, to be more detailed, serious and ‘highbrow’ than is ever possible in a newspaper or in most kinds of periodicals... It can be in prose or in verse, it can consist largely of maps or statistics or quotations, it can take the form of a story, a fable, a letter, an essay, a dialogue, or a piece of “reportage.” All that is required of it is that it shall be topical, polemical, and short.”

– George Orwell

2002 seems like an unusual year to see the resurgence of the old eighteenth century age of pamphleteering described so well in texts like Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, but that is precisely where Wyoming author, Wyoming Future’s Project member, and former correspondent for The Economist magazine has taken us in his first solo publication, Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming’s Search for Its Soul.

But we always were behind the times here in Wyoming. Or were we?

That’s one of the many questions Western poses and makes a good attempt at answering, in his weird fashion, here.

Pushed Off the Mountain is no less than a call for revolution in the way we live in, and think about, Wyoming. It’s a fine piece of rabble rousing that, to judge from the letters columns in this last week’s worth of the Casper Star Tribune is having a rousing effect on those of the ordinary citizenry of Wyoming who have been crafty enough or fortunate enough to get a copy of the thing. Indeed; Western has found an audience so uncritically ready for what he has to say that CST letter writers in particular have taken to just barely skirting plagiarism in their desire to spread his word; wholesale rip-offs of entire paragraphs from Pushed Off the Mountain pepper letters printed in support of everything from candidates for mayor of Evansville to Dave Freudenthal’s campaign for governor.

Actually, this uncritical audience – the review page on for this book, too, is a study in “attaboys” – is something new in a way this particular broadside is not. If Josiah Quincy or Samuel Adams or Ebenezer Chaplin had enjoyed such acclaim in pre-Revolutionary America, there would not have been any Empire Loyalists at all and Canada would probably all be French-speaking. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but hey, it wouldn’t be LIANT without a bit of that, would it?

And how is this pamphlet – for that is certainly what it is: meeting all of George Orwell’s criteria for same, being polemical, topical and short (though occasionally it does stray from topicality like a C-X debater who did too much research and can’t fight the compulsion to show it off) – so revolutionary?

My dear friend Martini the Photog summed up a lot of Western’s message very well indeed, without even reading the book (he’d been hearing me rattling on with fragments I’ve been intending to toss into this essay for a few days before we dined at the Hotel Wolf). I shall paraphrase him here, but I have his permission to do so:

To accurately reflect the realities of Wyoming, past and present and, if we’re not careful, future, the famous bucking horse adorning our state’s license plates should be replaced by the image of a Wal-Mart greeter in a walker.

(Early on in Pushed Off the Mountain, Western reveals a fact that has made many of my fellows blink hard: the largest private employer in the state of Wyoming is, in fact, Wal-Mart. As for the walker, well, what’s the average age in Wyoming again? Uh huh)

Pretty revolutionary, huh? And, as I said, a pretty accurate summing up of what Western has to say, so very accurate that I could stop right there and almost feel I’d done an okay job of examining this book, but I won’t; this isn’t the only somewhat shocking notion Western has to share, and alas, this book has some funky and troubling flaws at its heart that worry me as one of the few young people in this state who has taken up the reins and is going to have to deal with the consequences of this revolution, if it happens.

Confession time: As I grew up from drooling, fishing lure gawking toddlerhood up through snotty adolescence and into a full-fledged dribble from Wyoming’s much-vaunted brain drain (uh oh, I’ve been reading too much Edmund Morris, haven’t I?), I have always wanted to puke at how deeply and gratuitously my home state reveres The Cowboy. To grow up in Wyoming is to be confronted with His image and accoutrements everywhere: our university’s mascot is a cowboy. When I first saw the scene in the original “Blues Brothers” movie, in which Jake and Elwood stumble into a roadhouse that features “Both kinds of music, country AND western,” I rolled my eyes and groaned with recognition. Politicians who have never even ridden a horse don cowboy hats when they hit the campaign trail (Michael Dukakis looking like an ass in that tank in 1988 didn’t even cause me to blink after a lifetime of this spectacle!). The only clothing style available for kids of all ages in small towns (well, at least pre-Wal-Mart era small towns) is available at the local feed store and is, therefore, cowboy style. Cowboy, cowboy, cowboy. And what wasn’t an avatar of things cowboy must be “frontier” or “old west” or “pioneer.” It was this, more than any “lack of economic opportunity” that drove me, your humble blogger, out of the state when I was 18, and I doubt I’m the only one who would say this if asked.

One would think that a state so hung up on its supposed independent, agricultural past would know a thing or two about the dangers of monoculture, wouldn’t one? But no. Wyoming history classes in the schools learn about the Johnson County range wars and about the ride of “Portuguee” Phillips and about John Colter and Jim Bridger, but never a word is breathed about James Cash Penney,who founded JC Penney as a dry goods store in Kemmerer, a town about Saratoga’s size, or W. Edwards Denning, a Powell area native who was one of the architects of Japan’s economic recovery after World War II.

And, as Western demonstrates with some compelling-looking evidence, anecdotes and interviews with historians, former governors, and fellow members of the Wyoming Future’s Project on which Western once served, that version of history is somewhat bunk.

Take the oft-quoted observation, pounded into the minds of voters and visitors alike, propagated by the state Department of Agriculture, by the University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture, by every office seeker in the land except for your humble blogger (who, let’s be honest, was never an office seeker anyway), namely that “Agriculture has always been a major industry in Wyoming and its importance to the state’s economic stability will continue.”

As Vladmir Ilych Lenin once observed, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” We in Wyoming have heard this pronouncement on high about the importance of agriculture to our state’s economy and “way of life” so often that most of us have never thought to question it.

But along came Western, who put his years of coaxing stories and surprises out of raw numbers to good use in showing that Wyoming has never been a great agricultural producer in the grand scheme of things, producing, for example, just two percent of the total value of America’s cattle and calves. And while Wyoming schoolchildren like I once was grow up learning all about romantic, free and independent figures like trappers, homesteaders, bronco riders, wildcatters, prospectors and cattle barons, Wyoming has always been home to a far greater number of coal miners, railroad workers, laundresses, government surveyors, tie hacks, school teachers and yes, cowboys – the real kind, who worked long hours for something like maybe 50 cents a day if Western’s data is accurate.

Nor has Wyoming been particularly behind the times. Once upon a time, we were somewhat ahead of them. For example, as I personally learned for the first time in Pushed Off the Mountain, Cheyenne was one of the first cities in the United States to have electric lighting, and was also home to the first Carnegie Library built west of the Mississippi! We can’t go visit that library building now, though, of course – in a fit of revisionism in the 1950s and 60s, the city of Cheyenne underwent a thorough and ruthless program of demolishing buildings that didn’t promote the cowboy image.

Kind of creepy, even Orwellian (in the 1984 and Animal Farm sense, not the British Pamphleteers sense), isn’t it?

Western’s pamphlet is full of stuff like this, and offers the worried reader many opportunities for operatic wailing and gnashing of teeth over where we have gone wrong and how obvious it is that we have been lobotomizing ourselves from the beginning, great fun, for certain kinds of readers. But there are problems in how he went about presenting his data that, I fear, may come back to haunt him and undermine the authority of the hard numbers and candid quotations he shares in Pushed Off the Mountain. I’m talking specifically about most of Chapter IV, “Mission Improbable” in which he attempts to give a history of Roy W. Schenck’s tenure as Wyoming's Commissioner of Immigration from 1911 to 1913.

Reading and re-reading, I think I can see what Western was trying to do with this chapter; it’s a great example of our somewhat frightening history of obliterating inconvenient history, but when he starts off his remarks by declaring, for example, that “His office received and wrote tens of thousands of letters; all but a few have vanished” and nowhere, not even in the brief notes section at the end attributes or does anything at all to prove this statement. He then spends several pages relating a tale he appears to have deduced entirely from these few surviving letters and an unspecified volume of annual reports. The account of how Wyoming once was sold as a “Land of Great Reward” in total avoidance of its high, arid terrain and short growing season is maybe amusing reading, but its pertinence to the overall argument of Pushed Off the Mountain is as suspect as its sourcing; were I Western’s editor I would have told him to condense it or throw it out as irrelevant.

Ditto many absurd paragraphs about former governors’ tastes for blood sports (Moonlight) or dahlias (Miller); fine for an overall book-length history of Wyoming, perhaps, but not at all pertinent to a pamphlet looking at Wyoming’s search for its soul.

These perhaps trivial complaints aside; there are still portions of Pushed Off the Mountain that I wish everyone who lives here now or who has ever lived here or worried about here would take the time to read. Western’s account of the Fox family’s homesteading disaster during the Great Depression, for example, (an era Western is right in being very concerned about the refusal of Wyoming’s government and citizenry to even acknowledge except to castigate or praise FDR and the New Deal) is moving, illustrative and haunting.

But for the reader who is really impatient or pressed for time or just can’t digest anything but the good stuff, turn straight to Chapter X, “A Fine Map Filled With Detours” in which Western, in true Economist style, methodically and succinctly dismembers six harmful ideologies Wyoming’s people have clung to to their detriment, and then proposes eight steps we could take to make our future less pathetic than our past.

I’ll summarize these for people who don’t have the time to track down this increasingly hard-to-find book, but I would still urge all of you to take that time if you possibly can. Flaws and all, it’s one of the most important tracts published this year.

First, the ideologies:

1. We could prosper if the federal government only let us - while it’s true that the federal government owns nearly half the land in Wyoming, it owns a similar percentage of land in most of the western states, and they’re all doing a damned sight better than we are, mostly because they haven’t focused so autistically on natural resources development (an economic sector unusually vulnerable to outside forces and national policy over which a tiny population of less than 500,000 can exercise little influence).

2. We cannot live peaceably with the federal government and keep our sense of honor - We won’t be nearly so beholden to Congress, the Forest Service, et al if we start paying our own way instead of letting the rest of the country and the federal government pay for services we use. Federal money and federal protection (again, largely requested on behalf of agriculture and minerals development) come with strings attached. We’ll keep being puppets until we start doing for ourselves.

3. Agriculture remains a cornerstone in the state’s economy - On a per proprietor basis, Wyoming ranchers’ and farmers’ incomes are well below the federal poverty level. There are about 300 ranchers in the state who raise more than 1000 head of cattle a year, and they do okay, but the rest are either barely getting by if they’re really trying to live off agriculture, or they engage in ranching as a “ceremonial” occupation, raising what my dad always calls “pet cows” while running, say, an auto parts store or a law firm to make the real money.
Western also blows some nice, big holes in some of the statistics Gov. Geringer and others throw around when they claim ag to be one of the top three industries in Wyoming.
Agriculture’s true value is the legacy of open spaces it has left us, which puts Wyoming in a truly wonderful position to capitalize on the markets for things like non-consumptive use of wildlife (like birdwatching), as well as hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation.

4. A commodity-based export economy is good for Wyoming - In fact, it creates a population of transient workers and retirees who come here to protect their wealth in a state who relies on mineral taxes to provide services to its residents instead of having things like state income taxes. And Wyoming doesn’t really get much in return for what it does export: Wyoming is dead last in the nation in its export income.

5. We can rent-seek our way to prosperity - Structuring an entire economy around corporations paying the bills isn’t as smart as it sounds. It makes for excessive dependence on outside forces, and gives no one living here any stake in freeing us from that dependence. Our apparent free ride on the backs of mineral companies is actually paid by end consumers all over the country; we are creating our own giant sucking sound on the nation that is more real than anything Ross Perot ever babbled about.

6. Free and independent societies neither need nor pay taxes. They don’t need much in the way of services - Actually, this is pretty good, but isn’t too helpful on its own without any effort to persuade the actual citizenry of Wyoming (not just the ranchers who dominate the legislature) to ask less of their state government.

Now to the suggestions:

1. Move away from a fear-based economy - We whine and worry an awful lot about what we don’t have, what imaginary forces are holding us back, and what if companies X and Y suddenly decided they’d get a better deal from a bigger sucker than we are. So we never do anything about it; we never let ourselves look at whether or not the tax breaks we give to mineral companies are doing us any good, whether all of the money we’re using to subsidize agriculture might be better spent on something that actually could make a difference to our future like expanding what the University of Wyoming has to offer us or working with native companies like In-Situ (extensively profiled in Pushed Off the Mountain along with UniLink in another good chapter entitled “Thriving in Hard Times”) to develop what Wyoming already has.

2. Take active steps to reinvigorate our mythology of freedom - Encourage the people who are here to have the bravery to try something new. While I have come to agree with friends of mine who actually are entrepreneurs that entrepreneurship is not something that can really be taught, I still say it is a quality that can be recognized and fostered. When a kid shows promise flinging a baseball he gets cheered on from an early age, but if a kid starts a lemonade stand he’s just cute and nerdy. As I’ve said before, what kind of people would I be living around now if Wyoming’s schools paid as much attention to people like Penney and Deming (and their modern counterparts at In-Situ and UniLink) as they do to Liver Eatin’ Johnson?

3. Stop promoting Hollywood history - We live in a state, not a theme park, don’t we? And let’s stop lying to ourselves about how independent we have always been, and stop editing out everything that isn’t “cowboy”.

4. Inward, ho - Quit blaming the outside for our problems and start looking within for solutions to problems like, oh, how about education funding, a problem our legislature appears to believe is insoluble by anyone in Wyoming and so repeatedly hires the same bungling California consulting firm to “fix” for us, despite the fact that each “fix” seems to require that we hire the firm back to “adjust” a few years later (I’m editorializing myself, here).
Also - building a grass roots economy is worth the effort.

5. Accept competition as a way of life - Western is mainly concerned with what he sees as anticompetitive grazing lease policy, but also observes that our fear of poverty leads us into protectionism of old industries at the expense of fostering future possibilities.

6. Invest in infrastructures that foster free expression and ideas. Wealth will follow. - Wyoming is in a unique position in that our state coffers are relatively full, our landscape is still largely unspoiled, and we are still “a small town with long streets.” All this gives us an amazing chance to shape our own destiny NOW, when we have the advantage of the bad examples of other states who grew before things like clean technology and conservation ethics took hold to warn us away from stupid and costly mistakes. Time to start taking advantage of all of this.

7. Take the cure for Wyoming Alzheimers (we forget everything but grudges) - Self explanatory.

8. See Wyoming as included in the center of the nation, not a century-old throwback priding itself on “Wyoming, the way the West was”

In conclusion, folks, I’m thinking pretty seriously about trying to see if I can get Samuel Western to come and speak at our Chamber of Commerce banquet in January. More people need to start thinking about the questions he’s raised, the suggestions he’s posed, and the illnesses he’s diagnosed.