guns and roses

I try to do my job and not think too much about all of the material it generates, but there are points during the day when I want to just ask if its okay if I take some notes, or use a tape recorder so I get it right.  Because the truth is stranger, and sometimes a little bit sadder than fiction.

I visited side-arm man the other day, the guy whose parcel has a pop-up attached to it, “Do not visit without police escort!” because he’s threatened to shoot County staff who come onto his property.  We didn’t bring the police, but there were three of us, a goofy engineer, an oddball grading reviewer, and me. 

The man seemed like one of the sadder, lonelier examples of the species.  Maybe a hard-living 65, or a more typical 75, hard to tell for sure.  His problem, well, one of his problems, is that he brought many truckloads of fill and several shipping containers onto his property; it’s all in the floodplain and the stream buffer. Floodplain stuff is always the hardest, because people often have a legitimate fear/need, and dealing with it the way they want to usually isn’t allowed.  But there’s certain flexibility for farmers, since valleys are the best place to farm.

“So, what kind of farming are you doing here?”

“We run a five day thing here.  It used to be that when I’d get home from work at the shipyard, my wife would be out on the tractor, cutting the lawn, and she’d give me a big smile and wave, and keep at it.  I’d know what she’d been doing all day.  She died, though.”

“So, would you describe your farming as cutting hay?”  I was hoping there was something we could say yes to, because it always goes better that way.

“Yeah, this place looks just like a golf course the way we keep it up.  Friends come by and say, ‘Wow, this place looks like a golf course.’"

I looked around and thought, yes, it looks exactly like a golf course, if someone had stopped mowing it about three years ago, and mountain beavers had moved in and created hummocks everywhere, and rather than Kentucky bluegrass, it was quack grass and orchard grass, and blackberries had started to sprout, and a flood came through delivering out all kinds of garbage, random pieces of metal, stray boards, and semi-useful items like a mildewed dog kennel.  That’s the kind of golf course it looked like. 

“So, do you do any farming?”

“I’ve got this waffle table for welding.  Can I show that to you?  I really like it when women come out here.  It’s good to have a woman around.  My wife died three years ago, and I don’t see many women since then.”

We walk over to a pile of what I might have called junk, and he rummaged through it for a minute, kicked some dirt away with his redwing boot, and exposed a section of a steel board that was stamped out like a large waffle iron.

“Yup, I’m gonna’ get this set up for welding pretty soon.  I just need to see if my engines still work since the flood, and I haven’t had a chance yet.”

I think back to the flood that was almost a year and a half ago, and realize he’s not in a big hurry to check on those engines.  I start spacing out for a minute, and think back to the conversation I had with my boss before I left when he called me into his office. 

“Are you okay, Betsy?”

“Sure, I’m solid.”

“Okay, I’m just checking, because you’ve gotten more than your share of angry people lately.  And now with B. talking about the tea party all day, and leaving tea bags on your desk and everything.  Are you good to go see that guy today?”

This is why we like our boss so much.  He’s decent to the core.  I started to wonder if I told him about my little melt down at the DMV, (which isn’t the kind you’d think).  I had to go back about six times to get R’s car title transferred, because I didn’t have the proper signatures from the seller, who I had to hunt down through his suspicious sister, and I didn’t have the right amount of cash, and I didn’t have the odometer reading, and so on.  So I spent a bunch of time there, and kept getting the same employee, who was totally professional and kind to everyone all day. 

When I finally completed my transaction, I told her I thought she was really good at her job, but for some reason, I sort of started crying just a tiny, tiny bit when I said it, causing her to look at me with a mix of concern, fear, and gratefulness.  I think she was happy to be appreciated, but a bit freaked out at the same time, like, nice, but where are we going with this, which seems like a normal response, don’t you think? Which is exactly my point about her.

It was just that she was just really courteous and trying her best to be a kind human interface between the frustrated people and the giant bureaucracy, and I could relate to that, so for a second I felt a little kindredness, and was touched by it all.  

"Yeah, totally good.  Thanks for asking.”

“You know, don’t let B. get you down.  He’s just messing with you.  You’re right to remain hopeful.”

At this point, B. walks in.  “What’s going on?”

“B, sit down for a minute.  I was just telling Betsy that there is hope, and it’s worthwhile to behave as if things can get better, and to work toward that.”

“Um, right.  I don’t really see that, but whatever.  We’re all just out for ourselves, when it comes down to it.  We’re a greedy, self-serving species.”

B. and I replay a tired old argument about altruism that we’ve had over and over for years, and the boss interjects. “I have great hope for the green revolution, and we can place a lot of hope in technology.”

B. comments, “Yeah, it does make porn easier to access, I’ll give you that.”

The boss looks super uncomfortable, and B. elaborates.  “Betsy, remember about my uncle?"

And I do remember, his uncle died alone in a mobile home in Roswell, NM, one of  those people who probably thought way too much about alien corpses, and then was dead for days before anyone noticed.  When B. went down to take care of stuff, he found the mobile home littered with porn, and made the comment, “Dialup was really his only problem.  If he had a high-speed connection, his life would have been golden.  Not to mention that cleanup woulda’ been easier.”

I return to the present, and notice that the men are all talking about the winch that is laying amidst all of the other stuff on the pile of unconsolidated fill.  The engineer is in the middle of a long story about winches, how he bought three and gave one to his nephew, blah di blah blah, and I think again how really, I don’t know what people are talking about half the time, and that seems a little sad.  They’re talking about a winch, and I know what that is, but I don’t see anything in the debris that looks like a winch, and the way they’re talking, it seems like there’s more to it than I understand.  I’m picturing sort of a thing with a crank on it that you’d attach to a truck, but it seems different than that.

“Betsy, we think you need a MacDonald 225.  You could crank that thing all the way up and it would take you four days to go a mile, but you could be dragging a 747 behind you.”

I’m really not sure what’s going on, or what a MacDonald 225 is, so I do that, “let’s summarize” thing that government people get good at.

“It sounds like what you’re interested in is putting a large berm around your property to protect it from flood waters, and fill some other areas to store some of this….” I pause, looking for the right word.

The grading guy pipes in, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

And sidearm guy is quick to say, “Hey, nothing here is junk.  Let’s get that straight.  You know, I’m a Harley guy, and maybe it’s because I ride a Harley, or maybe it’s how I look, but I have a cylindar that I attached to my bike that I carry one rose in, for my wife.  She died, you know, and it’s a bear.  But people see me and assume that it’s a holster for a gun.  I could use it for that.  Did you know I pack my own lead shot?  It’s really nice to have a woman come out here.  That doesn’t happen very often.  I need a place to park my wife's car during a flood.  I don't know what else to do with it.  Will you be coming back?”

“Could we go back to your farming plans?  Do you do anything here that could be considered farming?”

“You know, my wife and I found this place, we both grew up in abuse and ugliness, me in the projects in Oakland, and her in Denver.  And we found this place, and we love it here.  We’ve had dogs, and one time we had a pig….”

He goes on for a while, talking about animals he’s had and known, and heartbreakingly, talking about his wife in the present tense.  We finally wrap it up, and start to get in our three separate vehicles (I know!), when he notices that the enginer has a fancy jeep with a flood light. 

“Oh, how do you turn that on?”

“It’s got a remote.”

“Hey, I’m a taxpayer.  So that’s my jeep!  Can I turn on the light?”

The engineer hands him a remote, and the boys play with it for a while, making it shine in different directions, and being super thrilled about it, which I have trouble understanding, but find kind of sweet just the same. 

And on it goes.  Thanks for reading.


  1. This reminds me of Lonesome Dove, only it's in Washington. And in the present. I want Harly guy to have a happy ending and then the three county workers drive off to other adventures. What could you call it? Lonesome County?


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