It’s one o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, and I am in my office, three towns from home. I am paged – it is Rippergurl in a high state. She says, “Rodeo, whose cows are these?”
Since I can’t see through the phone, I have no idea. I say, “I have no idea.” She says, “There are cows all over the road!” (Again, I can not see through the phone.) I say, “Where ARE you? And how many?” I don’t know why it’s important to know how many, but it is. I mean, how do I gauge the urgency I will bring to this conversation if I don’t know if there are dozens, hundreds or several cows on the road in front of her? The “where” is very important – is she downtown? In which case – the officials will be doing something about it. Or is she in front of my house? Which means that it is somehow my fault that there are a hundred cows loose in West Cornmeal township?
The worst is confirmed. She is only 1/4 mile from my house. She can’t count the number of cows. They are “all over.” They are “all sizes, shapes and colors.” They are “milling around.”
I say, “I bet they belong to that guy – the one who bought Mr. Esh’s farm – I think he’s a heart surgeon from Philly? The one who will not let my boarders ride through his place?” (I am in danger of going off on a tangent and she knows it) Reacting to the unspoken warning in the long, deep sigh she has just let out, I say, “Just drive up there, tell his farm manager there are cows. It will be okay.” Apparently, she is out of gas and in a hurry. So I say, “Okay, look. I will call the police. They will know what to do, help us find the owners. You go do what you have to do, and I will take care of it.”
Having said this, I hang up the phone from my new vantage point on the office floor where I now am sporting hemp woven textured letters that say WELCOME – because I have completed a Kafka-esque transformation into a doormat.
Since I am three towns away from the milling horde of cows, I call the state police. Now, since we are so rural, our town is served by state police who are housed in a barracks twenty miles distant. This barracks is NOT surrounded by a high fence made of lodge pole pines, but it might as well be. I am all business.
“Hello, my name is Shirley. I live in West Cornmeal Township off of Rt. 82. Apparently there are loose cows on the road.”
Voice of Young Trooper: “Are these cows on the road, Ma’am?”
Voice of Rodeo: “Um, yes. I am calling to report loose cows on the road – on Route 82.”
Voice Of Young Trooper: “We responded to a call earlier today and the cows were not on the road.”
Voice of Rodeo: “Well, they are on the road. And if they are not on the road right now, they will be. I actually need your help to find out who they belong to.”
Voice of Young Trooper: “So you are saying these cows are not on the road now.”
Heavy sighs and resignation in the Voice of Rodeo: “Can you help me find out who owns these cows?”
Voice of Young Trooper: “We will not assist you unless the cows are on the road. I can not help you.”
Voice of Rodeo: “Can you tell me who to call?”
Voice of Young Trooper: “No. Now is there another matter I can assist you with?”
The phone line goes dead – I think I hung up.
(I am typing this from an air mattress on the floor of my living room, in front of the 42-inch TV, watching Tommy Lee goes to College with Rippergurl while we eat Chunky Monkee Ice cream, washed down with Mike’s Hard Lemonade.)
I call Rippergurl back and tell her to call My Dear Son, whose business is right where the hundreds of cows are milling around. We decide the best thing is to have him go out and look at the cows (he might be able to count them) and report back to me – because he is not a hysteric like Rippergurl – and busy like her too, because she is at her sisters, out of gas and a bunch of other hooey reasons why she can’t deal with this situation. (Turns out she was just tired.) The plan is that she will call her husband my son (when it’s convenient and she’s caught her breath from the hideously stressful two mile country drive over to her sister’s house in her freaking Mercedes), and I will make some calls to neighbors to figure out whose cows they were.
First up, I call My Hay Guy – you know, brawny good looking Mennonite Hay Guy of Previous Domestic Episodes – and ask him – he will probably know who has cows. Mrs. Hay Guy answers and says that Hay Guy is out in the field, cutting hay. Figures. She says she doesn’t know who might have them, but the strangest thing just happened, the power just went out.
My son is now chasing cows all over the road, and the power is out. I call Rippergurl and ask if she has talked to her husband My Son. She says he’s out on the road on his four wheeler with his Part-Time Guy chasing the cows. I ask did she actually SEE him doing this? She says no. I say the power is out. She doesn’t quite see why I am shouting this. I say, “Ripper, you don’t get it. The power is out! They probably just chased the cows on to the road and a truck swerved and ran over them and hit a pole and the power is out!”
(This is just the first unrestrained panic-stricken conclusion I will jump to for the next week.)
Rippergurl says, “Um. I don’t think that happened, but I will leave my sister’s now and drive up and down all the back roads in this township, looking for his body.”
I feel I was being patronized. Just a little.
So, now in addition to the unrestrained panic-stricken conclusion jumping, I feel patronized, and I still don’t know how many cows are wandering at will through my neighborhood. And how it will eventually be shown to be my fault. An official cow count could make a huge difference to the amount of pre-emptive guilt I am feeling. No one seems to answer the compelling questions I have. What breeds of cows are these? Do any of them have horns? Are they milkers for God’s sake?
(We are now watching Clean Sweep on the TLC channel and judging a complete stranger on her clutter.)
Now, I was at my office because I was working before Ripper called. See, if Ripper had any actual friends that she hadn’t run off with her unfettered opinionated ranting instead of just cyberfriends, she might have called one of them and told me this sad story when it was all over. I have encouraged her to find playmates her own age, but she makes disparaging and judging comments about the clothing (Liz Claiborne Grranimal Separates – Healthtex for Adults), parenting styles and morals of women her own age and drives them right off again. So, whenever she has something to share, I am it. I transfer the conversations to my cell phone in my car on my evening appointment. Yes. I drive and talk. Yes. Judge me if you must, but I get a hell of a lot done.
Ripper tells me my son is alive, his Part-Time Guy is alive, and the cows are alive. They used golf carts to chase them into my neighbor’s small pasture. Ripper says that her husband, my son, told her he took a steak knife out of the camper to protect himself in case “it became a bad situation.” What, he was going cut them and Part-Time Guy was going to squeeze A1 Sauce into their eyes?
I said, “Do you know who they might belong to? And how many are there?”
There are dozens, Rippergurl says. Dozens. Some have horns, some are babies, some are bulls. Part-Time Guy’s father is a local large animal vet. I say, Maybe he’ll know whose cows these are? Ripper says maybe. Which means she is still thinking about how tired she is and has lost interest in the cows. I say again, loudly, to catch her fading concern for the cows, “Do you think they belong to the Cardiac Surgeon Guy who bought the farm from Mr. Esh who won’t let my boarders ride through his property?”
I’ve lost her. I think she hung up.
I go off to my listing appointment (I actually do work as a realtor when I am not chasing wildlife or throwing my glasses out the car window or running over lettuce in the Wegman’s parking lot) feeling as though the cows are tucked in, the owner will be found – I have the idea that the police are really working behind the scenes to find the owner – and when I get home there will be a bouquet of flowers on the porch as appreciation for my good work and I will have shaken some of the taint that my reputation has accumulated because of the unpopular stands I take at Township Meetings.
I successfully close my listing appointment, but it is quite late when I am on my way home. I don’t want to go into the house and then back out to check on the cows, so I call ahead to My Husband to ask him the status. He’s already in bed. He will later claim he was groggy.
I said, “C, are the cows still there?”
He says “No. Someone picked them up.” This completely takes me by surprise.
I say “Really? Who?”
He says, “The Owner who else?”
I say, “Who was it?”
He says “THE COWS’ OWNER. I talked to the Township Guy who lives across the field, and by the way he’s holding a grudge against you for calling him a pinhead at the last township meeting, and he told me that they might belong to his neighbor.”
I said “Really? Was it the Cardiac Surgeon Guy who bought Mr. Esh’s farm who won’t let the boarders ride through his property?”
He says “I don’t know.” I am losing confidence in the veracity of this conversation.
I say, “Are the cows really gone?”
He says, “Why?”
I say “Because if they aren’t gone, I need to get them some water.”
He says, “I do not know why you are worried about this.”
I say something I will repeat many times over the days to come, “Because I don’t want those cows on the road, and our horses, and mostly I don’t want this to be my fault!”
I lost him. I think he hung up.
When I pull in the drive I make a wide circle so that my headlights shine down into my neighbor’s barnyard to see if I can see cow eyes. Nothing. Maybe they really are gone. C said they were gone. So they must be gone. Crisis averted. Whew.
The next morning, I get a call from Rippergurl’s Husband My Son.
He says “Mom!”
I say, “Hey, Sweetie.” (He has remarked that I talk to him like he is a cocker spaniel, but I am still in the trauma recovery mode from the stupid young man’s disease years when a simple phone call could mean months of court appearances and a grandchild.)
He says, “Did you give those cows some water?”
I said, “Oh, no, Honey Pot, they are gone gone gone. Dad said the guy came and picked them up last night.”
He says, “No.”
I say, “What do you mean , No?”
He says, “I just drove past your house and they are in your yard.”
(We are now watching While You Were Out and they are stapling sod to a coffee table.)
When I get this phone call, I am dressed for work in a nice pair of black pique Talbot’s slacks, black boho sandals and an aqua knit top with rhinestone accent. Yeah. I look cute. But I am not really dressed to water cows. And you know what, I am not sure, as I have never watered cows before. But, I’m running late, and it won’t take long, so I head out to the pasture to look at the herd of dozens of bulls, milkers, horned bovines and heifers and calves in my yard.
There are four.
Four cows. One baby blonde, one mommy blonde – she’s got tatas, a big black one that looks bull like and a little horned guy who – while I am watching – puts his head between the railings of the fence and pops it open like a tuna can. Now, this is actually handy because it gives me a hole to crawl through into my neighbor’s pasture.
A word about this neighbor. She runs an Animal Rescue. There are suspicions and rumors in the neighborhood fueled by our large contingent of animal loving neighbors, and Rippergurl and My Husband C who went over there to adopt a Chichuahua (apparently there is a need for a Chihuahua rescue now that they are last season’s fashion – having been worn like brochures by Paris Hilton and her ilk). I came home to find the Neighbors, Rippergurl and My Husband C planning a recon mission into her yard complete with night vision goggles and Global Positioning Devices, to determine what was behind the slatted blinds hung on the OUTSIDE of the windows. And more importantly, to determine the contents of the over fifty foul-smelling trashbags piled up in the driveway and by the curb. They deferred at the last minute and decided to anonymously rat the Rescue Woman out to the local chapter of Animal Welfare Nazis.
Anywho, I realize at this moment, no one has mentioned to Animal Rescue Woman that there are cows in her yard. I’m not going up to the house. I am not walking past those bags. I do have her cell phone number so I opt to call her.
She answers on the first ring. It’s loud whereever she is. I say, “Phyllis, I am in your yard.”
She says, “Cool. I’m in Vegas.”
(I decide I will not share this bit of info with the the ladies next door, C and Ripper because nothing then would be keeping them from knifing open those bags.)
I say, “Phyllis, you won’t believe this.”
(We are still watching While You Were Out and Ripper is eating zesty bean and cheese dip – which will make this a very fragrant air mattress in half an hour.)
I say, “Phyllis. I just need to tell you that there are four stray cows in your barnyard.”
I say, “Phyllis, Can you hear me now?”
Phyllis says, “Cows.”
I say, “Yes.”
She says, “What kind of cows? How many?”
See, now this is where I get the disturbing notion that Phyllis and I may be more alike than I am comfortable with. I say, “Well, this is the thing. These four cows have been loose and stray since yesterday afternoon. No one is sure who they belong to, but I suspect they may belong to the Cardiac Surgeon Guy who bought Mr. Esh’s farm and won’t let the boarders ride through his property. My daughter-in-law is supposed to be checking in to this, but she’s been tired lately. But not from grocery shopping, most of which she does at my house, in my pantry. Oh ... Sorry ... the cows. My son and his Part-Time Guy the large animal vet’s son chased them into your barnyard yesterday. I was wondering if they can stay here til we find out who owns them?
She says, “Well, sure. Sure. I’m in Vegas.”
Now I am wondering what Phyllis has been doing in Vegas that she is taking this news so calmly. I continue as though she is paying attention to what I am saying. “Now I have to give them some water. There is plenty of grass here. Hey, that’s your bonus, your gift. These cows are going to take this long grass in your pasture and turn it into Pasture Pudding.
She says, “Well, yes, sure. Give them some water. Whatever they want. And tell the guy who owns them that he can donate to my Chihuahua rescue.”
I say, “Sure sure. Well, I have to go now and drag a trough over here.”
Phyllis sort of chuckles and says, “I am in Vegas.”
And I lose her. She must have hung up.
I walk up to the house and get the big golf cart that’s “lifted.” I realize as I write this that normal families do not usually have a choice between lifted and unlifted golf carts when they set about a chore but it’s just one of the many special things My Son and My Husband bring to life here on the farm.
*There is a Talking Head song that goes
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself – Well ... How did I get here?
Well, that song often runs through my head. But back to the story*
So, I get the “lifted” cart which also has a diamond plate cargo bed on it, and I heft the huge 55 gallon rubbermaid black rubber trough onto the back, and, because I believe in eliminating extra trips whenever I can, I get a length of hose with only a few dog bite leaks in it and drive that all over to the barnyard. I climb through the fence, getting only a couple of splinters in the knee of my Talbot’s black pique slacks. Well, no tragedy, they are last year’s anyway, and it didn’t quite draw blood when they hit the soft tissue of my knee.
I hook the hose up to the pump, put the trough in a fairly flat place, and get the water running. It’s running mostly rust, but it’s water. This gets the attention of the huge Blonde Mom cow. Too late, I think, hmm ... I wonder if they are friendly. Because she weighs about 4000 pounds, and she’s heading straight toward me, with the others following. I have had animals all my life, but not cows. And hey, in person, they are a lot bigger than their photographs.
(We are still on the air mattress and watching Town Haul. Sure, they pick an easy town – just try Honey Brook.)
Actually, watering the cows is very uneventful. But they drink gallons at a clip and I have to stand there for about an hour, filling it up as they drain it. They take turns and are better behaved than your average third grader. Blonde Mom with Tatas seems to be the alpha cow. Little Guy with Horns seems to be the token comedian. He just has the air of the ugly red-headed cousin about him. The horns must be new because he can not stop playing with them, opens the fence up again and climbs INTO the golf cart.
I scurry back through the new improved hole in the fence and sort of flap at him until he steps down from the cart. Again, just one more thing that if I told someone, “Hey, today I chased a longhorn steer out of a lifted golf cart,” they wouldn’t believe.
I am staring at them drinking, grazing, it looks pretty peaceful, and they are chewing their cuds under the tree. The amazing thing about cows is that they seem to have a really interesting relationship with flies. No matter how many flies there are hanging on their eyelashes, crawling up their nose or riding on their tongue into their nostrils, it doesn’t bother them. But all this reverie is still not finding out who owns them. I have my cell phone. The reception is pretty good out here in the pasture. I call Ripper.
“Ripper, did you find out if these cows belong to that Cardiac Surgeon Guy who bought Mr. Esh’s farm and won’t let my boarders ride through his property?”
She says, “I am soooo tired.”
I said, “Isn’t this guy your client? Do you have a phone number for him?”
Ripper says, “I have been talking to these damn customers all day. They just want and want and want.”
I said, “Well that is very sad. Now, what is the freaking phone numver for the Cardiac Surgeon Guy who bought Mr. Esh’s farm and won’t let my boarders ride through his property?”
Ripper says, “Well I talked to Mike about that.”
I say, “WHAT?”
Ripper says, “He spends a lot of money here. I don’t want him to think we think he is a bad cow-keeper guy.”
I say, “Ripper. Everyone’s animals get out. (This is not true – there are annoying people whose animals never get out and I hate them a lot.) We don’t think he’s a bad cow-keeper guy. (I actually am forming that opinion.) But I would think if he is a good cow-keeper guy, he would like to know if his cows are out.”
She sighs and says, “I am so tired.”
I lose her. I think she hung up.
My next call is to the police, down in their barracks, twenty miles away. We do the same dance as before, about whether the cows are on the road or not. Whether they can help me with anything else. Then the trooper (this time it is a woman) says, “Hold on. I will try and get someone to help you with this.”
Ten minutes go by.
I lose her. I think she hung up.
Okay. Who do you call when an animal is in trouble? All the ladies next door are at work, and I can no longer phone the gay guys down the street because they have me blocked since we had a shouting match about being invited to Pampered Chef party, so I call the SPCA next. I wade through the “choose ONE if you have been bitten by a stray animal, choose TWO if you have a confined stray,” well that choice sounded pretty accurate if you had sum up this situation in just a phrase….
I hit TWO on my phone to connect me with the confined stray animal option. When a guy answers the phone, I think I am finally going to get someplace. I start out with my most professional voice, because I know if I have to give details the conversation is going to degenerate really fast.
“My name is Shirley and I live in West Cornmeal Township...”
SPCA guy interrupts me. “I am sorry, I can not help you. Your township does not see the need to support the SPCA.”
I am dumfounded. Am I really going to be put in a position of appearing to agree with anything that goes on up here? I say, “No, look, I really need your help.”
SPCA guy says, “I don’t care. Your township does not support the SPCA, so I am not going to help you, no matter what your problem is.”
Later, C will say that I should have told them I was beating the cows.
I say, “Listen, I have 8000 pounds of stray cow careening around my yard. They have been lost for 36 hours. If you are not going to help me, can you at least tell me who to call?”
SPCA guy says, “I don’t have to help you.”
I am thinking isn’t this the HUMANE Society? However, I try the tried and true “more flies (an homage to the colony now living on all this cow flesh in my pasture) with honey than vinegar” approach. “I am sorry, I have had bad experiences with my township too. But I really need your assistance. I need to know if you can help me with these cows.”
SPCA guy says, “We don’t do large animals.”
I say, “Okay, who does?”
He sighs – I guess talking to a distraught woman with four loose cows in her yard is vexing to him – “I guess you could call the Large Animal Control Officer.”
Now, we are getting somewhere. I ask, “Do you have that number?”
He says, “I have a number but I don’t know whether they will answer. You should write this down.”
I don’t want to tell him I don’t have a pencil and paper because I a standing in a pasture. I pretend to memorize it as he repeats five or six times.
He also suggests that I call the township.
I call information and get the number for Large Animal Control and speed dial it right from 411. Rings twice. Voice Answers. “I am sorry, but the number you have dialed is not in service.”
That call cost me one dollar.
I call information again, and get the number for the township. I get the answering machine and leave a detailed message as requested.
That phone call cost me a dollar, too.
So, it’s just me and the cows in the pasture, and no cavalry is coming to the rescue. Not the police, not the SPCA, not the Township. My husband is in DEEP denial about their mere presence. Ripper is tired. I have to go to work. I have to find out who owns these cows. They must be worried sick. They world seems very large, able to swallow up cows and owners and turn purported caring organizations into feeble nasty backbiting ineffectual wastes of time.
Who can help? Who can help? A light bulb appears in a bubble over my head. The Daily Local News.
Now, this is a newspaper that has given me endless fits for years. Until lately, when in some kind of perverted joke of God’s I ended up being interviewed by them two weeks in a row for real estate related articles. Then, of course, they became important. I happened to have the number of the reporter who interviewed me in my speed dial.
A voice says, “Newsroom”
I say, “Is Bob there?”
Bob is not. I ask for another reporter I have met. She’s not there either. The guy on the phone says, “Can I help you?”
God bless him.
(Now we are watching Teen Nick – and I have no idea why except Ripper just royally screwed up the remote and spent a frantic fifteen minutes with me screaming DON’T TOUCH THE TV trying to get cable back.)
I say, “Newsguy, My name is Shirley and I live in West Cornmeal Township. I was hoping you could help me find the owner to some stray cows that I have been keeping for thirty-six hours.”
Newsguy is so happy. It must be a terribly slow news day. He says, “SO, You have stray cows? Right in your yard?”
I say, “Well no, they are actually in my neighbor’s yard. I am hoping that you will help me find...”
NewsGuy says, “I will have a reporter call you and get the details and when can a photographer come up and take some pictures of you and the cows?”
We get our arrangements made – and I head off to do a little actual work. As I drive back up the hill in the lifted golf cart, I look back over my shoulder at the cows and just pray they stay in the barnyard until the photographer can get here. I am pleased with myself. I am getting somewhere. I will find out who the owner is, even though I feel it probably is Cardiac Surgeon Guy who bought Mr. Esh’s farm and won’t let my boarders ride through his property.
I meet a client for lunch, and I am dazzling them with my realtor professionalism. I am hoping they haven’t noticed the cow custard on my shoes or the fence splinters in my nice Talbot’s black pique slacks. During lunch, my phone rings. The client says, “Why don’t you take that?” And I do.
It’s the reporter.
The client listens intently and with amusement to one side of a conversation which sounds like this:
Me: A Black Angus, A Brahman, Her Baby and a Texas Longhorn.
Me: Since Thursday
Me: I think it might be the Cardiac Surgeon Guy who bought Mr. Esh’s farm and won’t let my boarders ride through his property.
Me: I could tell they were steers or male because they seemed to be used to having things done for them.
Me: I am just hoping to find the owner.
Me: Golf carts. My son and his Part-Time Guy chased them in with golf carts.
Me: Me, too. I can meet the photographer in about two hours.
I hang up and notice that my client’s fork is poised halfway to his mouth, which is open.
I finished up our interview less than confident that I am going to get the business and head home to meet the photographer.
(I am now watching Fresh Prince of Bell-Air, one of my guilty pleasures.)
Rippergurl calls me on my cell. She has finally located Cardiac Surgeon Guy who bought Mr. Esh’s farm and won’t let my boarders ride through his property. He is on vacation about three hundred miles from here. He is not going to be able to get home til Saturday. That is tomorrow. Til then, he is hoping that we will watch them, and he assured her if they have food and water they pretty much stay put.
I tell her the newspaper is going to do a story on them because I hoped they would be able to help me find the owner. She flips on me.
“Rodeo, this man is our client! I do not want him portrayed as a bad cow-keeper guy! Mike is going to be furious!”
I say, “Ripper, I could not get anyone including you to help me find the owners to these cows. I called the police, I called the SPCA, I called Large Animal Protection, I called the Township, I called the Hay Guy! The story is cute – I will make sure the paper knows that we have found the owner and he is coming to pick them up. Why don’t you come and see for yourself?”
Ripper says, “I am so tired. But maybe I can come. Do you have any extra toliet paper? We need some rolls for the shop.”
The photographer arrives, Ripper and the grandsons arrive and we all pile into the golf cart fleet and head down to the barnyard. Thank goodness the cows are still there. The little longhorn is outside the fence again, tearing up small trees and banging his new horns into rocks. I am starting to really like him. He’s cute, too. Maybe they will let me keep him. I must have been suffering some kind of dehydration-induced emotional hallucination.
The photographer comments on the flies and the cow flops. She looks familiar. I say, “Didn’t you take pictures of me for those newspaper articles?” She says yes. I ask her if she still is dating the guy who works in the coroner’s office. She says yes and tells me that she has been doing some crime scene photography. I confide to her that I watch quite a lot of Court TV and would she like to step up on the porch for some lemonade? This gives me a chance to pump her for details on matters of local forensics. She tells me the article should be in the next day. I tell her that I only called the paper to see if they could help me find the owners. She says, “It’s a slow news day,” and packs up her equipment and waves good bye.
The sun is now setting, and I am glowing with the self satisfaction of a job well done. Soon the cows will go home, life will return to normal and I will have a funny story to tell.
But the end was at least five days away.....
(It is now 9:10 am Eastern Standard Time and I have had my half a Cinnabon and a cup of earl grey tea. I turned on the TV and crawled on to my air mattress. I am glad we got this 42-inch High Definition TV because I can almost smell how bad this Kung Fu movie starring Patrick Swayze is.)
But back to my story:
Friday night, I am ensconced in my leopard upholstered retreat and surfing the internet on my laptop. I idly type in LONGHORN STEER…. Did you know you could ride them? That people teach them tricks? I can see myself doing this, so I send off a couple of notes to steer owners who have websites and ask them if you can keep these steers with horses, if they eat a lot. I tell them I am babysitting a really cute baby steer, and I am falling in love with it. I tell them I want to do research on the subject before I make a decision because I tend to make mistakes of judgment regarding good looking dogs, horses and men. It’s going to be different THIS time. I drift off to sleep in a very happy state, far from the unrestrained panic stricken doormat of a woman I was two days ago. I have grown.
Saturday dawns and I brush the sleep dust from my face, dress appropriately for cow watering in a nice pair of Talbot’s summer slacks, pink top and LL Bean Muck boots. I decide to get some exercise and eschew the lifted and unlifted golf carts and walk down to Phyllis’ pasture. The cows are gone.
Hm... I guess he came and got them. Early! It’s only 9:15! He is a Good Cow-Keeping Guy! I didn’t even have to go out there – chase them, help him, get My Husband to help. Huh. Not a noise, no clanging gates, and I can’t even see where he might have backed up a truck. Maybe he is beyond a Good Cow-Keeping Guy and is more of a Cow Whisperer! Even so, I would have liked to meet him, giving him the opportunity to thank me for all my hard work on his behalf. Hit him up for permission for the boarders to ride through his property. I am instantly ashamed of these thoughts.
I set about my house chores – setting aside various sundry overstocks for Ripper because she never has time to shop and she’s always tired – glance out the window and see that one of the boarders (who is not allowed to ride through the Cardiac Guy’s property) has arrived. She had been away all summer educating the children of sex workers in Brazil. I watch her as she gets out of the car – looks around, but does not go to the barn. She is coming up the steps. I am glad I got dressed this morning. She comes in, looks at me and says, “When did we get cows?”
Traveling Boarder and I confer. I give her the panic stricken, unrestrained version with bulleted highlights: Cows On Road, Horses On Road, Steak Knives, Death And Destruction On An Apocalyptic Scale.
She says, “They seem to be getting along all right.”
I say, “For NOW…”
She says, “I think it will be okay.”
I hold my arms out to the side at shoulder height. I point my index fingers. I draw them inward toward my nose, grabbing her attention.
I say, “PAY ATTENTION TO ME FOR ONE SECOND.” (Amazingly, she doesn’t just slap my face.) “We have to get these cows into a more secure enclosure – like our small pasture. They have been ripping down fences for three days. Our fence right now has a hole in it big enough for a steer to fit through. Horses could fit through it. I do not want OUR HORSES, YOUR HORSE, these COWS or anyone to get hurt on the road. We must secure these cows if there is even the slimmest chance that something could happen.”
I see that either she is afraid of me because I appear deranged OR my argument has finally made sense to her. She says, “What shall I do?”
I say, “Let’s roll the round bale feeder into the space between the fence and the barn, put that old trough there, buttress the whole mess with rocks, and that should keep them from going in THERE.” (I point.) “Then, let’s either catch the horses or chase the cows into this small enclosure and turn on the electric fence. Wait, we can put the horses in the stalls first, and deal with the cows later.”
Somewhere, very faintly, I hear the theme song to Mission Impossible.
We go into the barn to get leads and Starlight Mints and cellophane – all the essentials for horse catching – and go out toward the peacefully grazing horses. They hear the clanking of the hardware on the leads, remember vaguely that this might mean some sort of work like being ridden and decide to run in circles. The cows continue to graze. I hold starlight mints out for Buckskin Mare. Traveling Boarder tries to sneak up on her horse who is not happy to see her, no matter how long she has been away. Buckskin Mare and I are playing a game over the starlight mints on a par with World Chess Competitions. I hold one out. She stretches her neck out just far enough. I step back, just a hair. She extends her lips, then her teeth and then her tongue. I let her taste it. She moves a hoof three inches. Traveling Boarder is now running and swearing after Thoroughbred Horse.
Suddenly, I hear a gate open and a golf cart clanks into view. My husband is wearing a cowboy hat and chasing the cows. You would think this momentary diversion would distract Buckskin Mare and I would be able to slip the lead around her neck. Well, no. Actually, I was distracted long enough for Buckskin Mare to steal the starlight mints, cellophane and all, and run to the farthest corner of the pasture. Probably right next to the steer-sized hole.
Cowboy-Hatted Husband is getting no where with the cows. Not surprising, really because according to him they left the area two days ago. He claims he has no memory of that conversation. Traveling Boarder and I try to form a phalanx to divert the now galloping cows into the small, secure pasture but they don’t go together. They are the most disorganized herd animal outside a middle school I have ever seen.
On the second try, My Husband has a melt down. He starts screaming that he doesn’t know why HE has to deal with these cows, Why I am OBsessed with these cows, he doesn’t care if they die on the road, it’s not HIS fault, and He didn’t shrink my sweaters in the wash (?), and I should just try DELIVERING MAIL like HE DOES, every freaking day and NO ONE appreciates the stress that a Union Mangled, Management Victimized JOB can have on a person and HE IS JUST GOING INSIDE. There follows a lot of swearing, the cowboy hat gets thrown and the golf cart turfs the pasture.
Traveling Boarder says, “What’s up HIS rear?”
And of course, it starts to rain.
Traveling Boarder says that when the horses calm down she will put them in the small pasture. I say I have to get changed, and I have to go do an open house. Traveling Boarder says, “I wish I could ride over THERE,” (pointing at the old Esh farm) and shuffles off to clean some tack.
My Husband is prone on the sofa, in front of the TV, asleep. How do men do this? I go up, chose a nice black crepe de chine straight skirt with boxed kick pleats, and acid green twin set and some nice professional flats. Showered, dressed, hair pushed into shape, I start out the door toward the car, so I can leave for my other life.
Traveling Boarder is waving at me frantically from the pasture. Buckskin Mare is in a headlong mad dash for the barn but the door closest to her is shut. I GET IT. I rush toward the back of the barn, slide the door open and she slips and slides right into her stall. Thoroughbred Horse clambers into his stall behind her, kicking up oyster shaped manure balls and blowing horse boogies.
I am soaking wet, which improves my hair but leaves spots on the twin set, but I head off to make the world safe for real estate.
I go to my open house and manage to put all thoughts of cows aside. Well, except for the inevitable comparisons one makes when alone with strangers. Reaching home hours later, I find a strange car parked in the driveway, its doors wide open just like the WIDE OPEN GATE to the upper pasture. I skid to a halt, race over to shut the gate just as Thoroughbred Horse was taking an active interest, and then back track to the strange car, where a blonde woman is sitting listening to the radio.
I say, “HI.”
She says, “Hi.”
I say, “I live here.” (Although she doesn’t seem very interested.)
She says, “Oh.”
I’m not shy. I say, “Who are you?” and I extend my hand.
She says, “I am just waiting for them – and motions toward the field.”
Into view at just that moment comes four galloping cows, three teenage boys on foot , and my husband and a strange man on golf carts. The boys on foot have cattle tazers which sound crueler than they really are. I mean, a smart cow knows what happens when they get touched with one, so they move away, hopefully toward something safer. These people are equipped and experienced and everything seems to be going well – and my husband is not wearing the cow boy hat.
Lickety split those cows are inside the small enclosure – a secure place. The strange man introduces himself and assures me that he is not a bad cow keeper. He says he grew up on a farm. That he appreciates everything my husband has done for his cows. My husband and he high five and down town each other, the teenage boys smack each other with the tazers and then they all hop in our farm truck and drive off.
I feel like I am in an episode of Star Trek where the crew from the Enterprise has violated the Prime Directive, i.e., as the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Starfleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral.
About an hour later they are all back, laughing and joking and throwing some seedy looking hay into my bay. I count five bales. C tells me that they will be back on Tuesday to pick up the cows, and we will just be taking care of them until then. More waving, more high fiving, and the bad cow-keeper who is a cardiac surgeon who bought the old Esh place and will not let my boarders ride on it is off with his minions. My husband is grinning, ear to ear. Whew, he says, I could use a beer! And he goes in the house, lies down on the sofa and is asleep within minutes.
(Ripper is ‘tired’ not tired. She thinks that I will buy that as an excuse to not do something or pay attention. She has learned that people turn their heads and say Is Ripper Anemic? if she keeps saying that. She learned how to do this from my mother, only my mother says I am so “busy.”)
(We are on the home stretch now.)
Saturday night I spend some time looking up Longhorn Cattle on the internet – and reading the replies to my inquiries on Jeffrey’s behalf. That is what I am calling him – he just looks like a Jeffrey. Longhorns don’t eat much, you can keep them with horses, although they like cows better, he could grow to be a couple thousand pounds and his horns could be six to seven feet in width. I wonder whether he would be able to get into the barn when he is full grown. I email my two good Glamazon friends – Anita and Carol. Anita thinks it’s a cool idea for me to adopt a longhorn steer. Carol says, in measured tones, “Is there no one else better equipped to take care of this steer than you?” I drift off to sleep wondering whether Talbot’s has any cowhide print slacks or jackets in the fall line up. Maybe a little clutch purse.
Sunday morning I water the cows – much easier now that I know where they will be. Mama Cow with Tatas and the Black Angus bull like one are eating the poison ivy off the barn wall. I take this as an indication that they are hungry. Remembering that The Cardiac Surgeon who bought Esh’s Place now labeled as Bad Cow-Keeper Guy who still has not mentioned letting my boarders ride through his property said that as long as they have water and food they will pretty much stay put. (This seems ironic in the extreme at the retelling of it – how the hell would he know?) I go and get some of the hay he brought and throw it over the fence. Silently the cows drift across to the hay, sniff and it must smell like home because they dig right in. I don’t know how many people ever get a chance to spend some time watching animals graze, but I recommend it for hypertension and general pissantism. It calms you right down. For a similar effect, close your eyes and listen to “Where Sheep May Safely Graze” by Bach. I like to think of my farm this way. Except for when we are in high Domestic Episode Alert.
Yup. I could get used to being a Good Cow Keeper. I know I would spend endless hours with Jeffrey, bonding with him, getting him to trust me. The thrill of letting him eat out of my hand! Just then he lifts his little head skyward and drives four flies into his left nostril. I read last night on the internet, that instead of branding cattle, you can nose print them, because like snowflakes and finger prints, no two cow noses are alike. The Resident Scoffer of the Itty Bitty Committee In My Head snorts and says, “Have they checked every nose?” My Good Cow Keeper Buzz is instantly killed when internal Itty Bitty Committee bickering breaks out and the Resident Scoffer and the Ebullient Pollyana wearing the I believe in Angels T-shirt start to arm wrestle. (I just asked Ripper if this is too much truth about what goes on in my head – she took a sip of coffee and sort of shook her head no.)
(Rippergurl is pounding the wicker table on my deck demanding that I post a retraction of my explanation of her TIREDNESS. She says I am not supposed to say SHE SAYS because you all will think she is lying. HOWEVER, she has chronic lyme disease and a resulting heart condition. And she says she did not want to get involved in a five day plus cow herding situation and she knew somehow the whole thing would end up with me pointing at her on the lawn screaming this is all your fault since she started it with her phone call.)
I have til Tuesday to make up my mind about the steer. Sunday morning passes into Sunday afternoon, Sunday afternoon blends into Sunday evening and more internet cruising for appropriate Good Cow Keeper Outfits and Boutique Steer Accessories. Glamour Shots. Real, authentic Rodeo Princess Rhinestone and Plaid Shirts. A lot of it has a tacky Southwestern sort of feel – I may have to start my own signature line of items. A website. A Café Press store and a Paypal account. Appearances on local cable talk shows.
I can’t stand myself.
Anyhoo, Monday morning I have to go to my office. As I mentioned before, I have been featured in two real estate related articles in the local newspaper in the last two weeks. One was about getting your home ready to list and included such sage advice as “If You can smell the dog but not see it, shampoo your carpets before listing your house” and “Put your underwear IN the washer.” The other one was about First Time Home Buyers and highlighted the experiences of a Talbot’s Sales Associate I turned into a client. Realtors pay THOUSANDS of dollars for this kind of recognition. But did anyone at my office actually read those articles? No. But when I get to work on Monday morning the front page of the same newspaper, with a picture of me and two cows, is taped to the front door.
Headline: COWS ON LAM IN COUNTY (Cows on lamb: like a gyro, I guess.)
All day, moo-ing follows me around as I check my mail, use the fax, conduct business worth millions of dollars. When I am paged for a phone call, more moo-ing.
There is an all call for a lunch order – cheese-steaks. Some dimwit thinks it’s funny to apologize to me for this.
I am called Cowgirl, Farmer (they want to see my Farmer Tan) – office personnel ask me for cow patties for their garden. I feel like I am back in the second grade.
And see, by the nature of a real estate office, people come in and out all day. So every jackass with a comment thinks they are the first one to think of moo-ing.
Numerous copies of the article are slid into my mailbox. One with a mustache drawn on the cows.
Several professionally jealous people sneer (realtors are good at sneering) about my shameless self promotion. I’ll do anything, they say, in addition to exploiting innocent livestock in my manic drive for attention.
Monday evening I return and the cows are there. Jeffrey is sharpening his horns on the stone wall of the barn – snick snick snick in the dark. I am a little disturbed at a not so innocent gleam in his eye. Maybe I am being conned again by good looks and need.
I throw more hay – that Bad Cow Keeper so generously gave me – over the fence. There are now only two bales left. Good thing they are going home tomorrow. Well, Maybe not Jeffrey.
I fill up the trough, my horses eye me over the fence. It’s been a vacation for them since the cows showed up. They can just be horses, left to their own devices, which they enjoy. Petey the Jack Russell is prone to staring at the steers, I think he thinks he could take one down.
Well, one more night and this whole episode will be over.
Tuesday morning I am up bright and early. I have cleared my schedule so I can be home when the truck gets here for the cows, and I have decided to ask about keeping Jeffrey. I had promised myself no more baby substitutes after my two dogs died last summer, but I think I am a different person now. I will not go over board with this cow. It doesn’t occur to me until now that just making a mental note to “not go overboard about a cow” is sort of an overboard statement.
After watering and feeding the cows (the generous donation of hay being used all up now) I go inside to take a shower. I am not going to be caught unprepared when the cowtaker comes. I lay out my outfit – another pair of nice Talbot’s slacks in a summery print and garden clogs and a matching pima cotton T-shirt in aqua.
Stepping out of the shower I hear gate clanging and horn honking. I grab my robe – and only my robe – and go to the window. A truck is in the pasture, at totally the wrong place to be loading these cows. And my horses are grazing in a field across the street.
I tear from the house, violating the Prime Directive of Farm Living = DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE IN JUST YOUR ROBE TO CHASE ANIMALS – because you will not be back in the house for at least an hour and someone will see you and you will get nasty farmyard mud up your whatsis when you slip and fall. Which you will.
Next to the door I have my LL Bean muck boots, and I slip these on as I rush past. Yes. I am now chasing horses in only a short bathrobe, sash flying in the wind, and muck boots. Fortunately this is an outfit that gets attention which makes it easy to get the cars on the road to stop when I attempt to get my horses under control.
Buckskin Mare is interested in getting back to her pasture. This whole cow thing is starting to violate her sense of normalcy. She trots, like a circus pony, back across the road in front of a brake screeching semi and right into the open gate. Thoroughbred Horse is not so easy. He wants to be with her, but he also is having trouble thinking how that might happen. He is quite overwhelmed. Road, cars, wrong side of fence, all these thoughts careening around his gelding brain. He is having a horse meltdown right in front of me. I stand next to him, not moving, in the middle of the road, while some people in their cars wait patiently, and some don’t, for this little drama to end.
An impatient driver decides to just drive through our little to-do. Just to make a point, he barely misses the horse and me and the draft off his vehicle blows my robe open. Nice.
I am out there, without a lead, and I am about to remove the sash from my robe to loop around Thoroughbred Horse’s neck (I would be doing this one handed and that scares me) when the Mennonite Guy With The Cattle Truck sends his four-year-old helper out in the middle of the road with a piece of baling twine. I put this around his neck and Thoroughbred Horse is actually happy to be relieved of making a decision about what to do and lets me lead him into the pasture where Buckskin Mare is suffering from an extreme case of Separation Anxiety which she manifests by running in circles and blowing.
Mennonite Guy with the Cattle Truck and his four-year-old helper are finished. Jeffrey is loaded, and I have a change of heart about keeping him, fueled by the fight or flight panic adrenals coursing through my blood stream after almost getting hit by a truck, killed by a panic stricken horse and having my privates displayed to innocent people who just woke up and got in their cars and are on their way to work. It’s just as well that he is going home. Anyway, I can visit him any time I want. Right?
I express this sentiment to the Mennonite Guy with the Cattle Truck. He says, no Ma’am. I am taking these cows right to the processing plant. The owner says he is tired of them breaking down the fences. Just as well, once they start doing that you can never keep them in.
He loads up his four-year-old helper into a car seat and clatters out of the field and on to the highway. I stand in the driveway and watch as the truck drives away. I collapse on the gravel drive way.
My heart twists in my chest with anguish, bitterness and grief.
(I have had a two leftover bbq chicken thighs and a Yoo-hoo, and am ready to go on.)
I sit there for a while and the whole wide world seems to have gone quiet, waiting for me.
I dig my hand into the gravel, picking up handfuls and throwing them. Disconsolate, keening sobs wrack me. All the sorrows, all the disappointments, all the sad textures a woman’s life can have settled on me like a cloak.
I get back up and take another shower. Endless commentary from the Itty Bitty Committee. It’s about three days before I find my peace with it. Three days of people moo-ing at work, copies of the newspaper article being mailed to me, Farmer jokes. Three days of everyone’s life getting back to normal. Three days of asking what the higher purpose of these cows was. Why didn’t I chase the truck and get those cows back? Because they didn’t belong to me. They were sent to earth to be someone else’s chattle. That was their purpose, and since I believe that your role in life is never a punishment, but a chance to learn, I had to accept what happened to them as part of a larger plan. I do not believe that God has time for random acts – only humans do. I am still straightening it out but I think for me the point was acceptance of the idea that you can do the right thing – get involved, care deeply, work hard and the result can be sadness and grief and loss, and it was still the right thing. God’s gift for paying attention is that sooner or later, you get to laugh.
PS: Okay. I just got a phone call from Ripper who has suggested that I get REAL about the other issue with the whole Cow thing. Which won’t die.
A full two weeks after they are all gone from my life and I think I have gotten the lesson and am moving to the place where I actually apply it, I am on my way to the scratch and dent store with my husband to buy a new washer and dryer. (And I will get the one I want because I have told him that they last about fifteen years, and if I don’t get the fancy schmancy set I want this time, I will be building up buttloads of seething resentment toward him every time I open the lid and shove in his dirty underwear.) Anyway, we are on our way to the store, which is about an hour and half drive from our place, on Labor Day. We are chatting about this and that and I say, “You know, I really thought that Bad Cow Keeper Guy would have said thank you. He was raised on a farm and you would think he would have an appreciation for all the work I did, and the care I put in to that whole episode. I mean, five bales of hay! His cows ate that while they were here!”
C says, “Well, He did give me $50.00.”
I am dumbstruck.
I say, “You didn’t tell me.”
He says, “I forgot.”
I said, “What did you do with the money?”
He says, “I gave it to Dawn (lawnmower neighbor) for mowing the field. Well, I haven’t yet. But I will.”
No big deal.
I would like to say I smashed him on the head, made him pull over and ragged him, had a shouting match and made him see what a sniveling glory grabbing ingrate he just has exposed himself to be. But I didn’t.
I was seeing those cows, those wild, willful docile animals. Powerful, huge animals who could break through any fence except the ones they perceived as indestructible. I was seeing myself as a wild, willful docile woman, whose man wouldn’t think twice about doing this.
[Image: iStockPhoto.com/Bob Ainsworth]
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