What better time to begin writing an entry into my now completely defunct (if not totally unobserved) blog than while sitting on hold with our good friends at the IRS? Ah, yes, how I love Uncle Sam, especially these days. He sure has done quite a lot to help me out lately, so why not shell out a few hundred more bucks that I apparently owe from the year 2004 to fund wars with which I don’t agree, give a little for subsidies to huge agribusinesses, and chuck a few more pennies into the pockets of greedy, evil, corrupt corporations? Anyway, that’s a rant into which I can’t fall just yet. There’s too much other fun stuff to discuss.
I’d like to take you on a little journey here, what I like to call, “A typical day’s commute for Isaac Chellman, bicyclist, laborer, observer of the obvious.” This particular story involves a trip from where I work, a mid-scale retail plant nursery, to my home, about 5 miles away in Corvallis, OR. Let me first tell you a little about the nursery, a really nice place called Garland’s. This is a fully family owned business and has been for several generations. A look at some of the posted photographic family trees (capped by ancient daguerreotypes of some starched and now foreign ancestors) makes immediately apparent this fact. Yup, ol’ great grandpa started it way back in the 30’s, naming it after grandma Garland. It then passed down from grandma to Don and Sandra Powell, the current patriarch and matriarch of the business. It has been a long descent through the stout branches of the well-fertilized family tree, but the business is now firmly in the grasp of the youngest generation, the kids, Erica, Lee, and Brenda. They run the nursery with a green thumb and an iron fist, making sure everything runs tip top, with a positive attitude, and the absence of clutter.
So there I am, doing what it is I do best, that being carrying large objects around. Just this past week, as a pertinent example, I unloaded 10 pallets (one more of which was emptied out by a friendly temporary employee by the name of Vince, who has been essential in helping cinch down new industrial strength, UV-resistant, wind-catching plastic over greenhouses) of concrete fountains, rodents, statues, frogs, stepping stones, and pots. This amounted to a mountain of additional pallets scattered with garden bric-a-brac on steroids, totaling nearly 40 tons. Knowing that I handled nearly every individual piece fills me with pride and a deep sense of impending spinal collapse. Other mechanisms in perpetual threat of collapse are the clutch and transmission of the truck into which I had to place all of the packing material from these concrete pallets, a material known as “Excelsior!!!” (a word I always picture bellowed from the mountaintops by some medieval warrior) that looks like long, squiggly strips of wood, but whatever it may be, it’s an incredible waste. There were around 7 football fields buried 30 feet deep of this crap in those pallets. Anyway, the truck is fairly old and when attempting to shift, I sound like a frustrated 16 year old Andre the Giant attempting to force the gearshift into submission. In actuality, despite numerous attempts at gentle guidance, you just have to slam the shifter into place and hope the transmission doesn’t drop to the ground like a discarded chunk of the international space station.
Of course, not all of my lifting is centered on concrete. It is also deeply entrenched within the unrelenting gravitational pull of trees, pumpkins, and bags of oft waterlogged soil. Being one of the primary “carry out” guys, I am under constant bombardment from sweet old ladies who desire the strength of youth to fill their sparkling clean sedans to the breaking point with hermetically sealed, tightly compressed trees and dirt. I often wonder in astonishment how they will possibly pry these materials from their now sodden vehicles once home. Perhaps a youthful boy scout or two will come to their rescue, but more likely they’ll send me along, wedged neatly in the trunk between a 3 cubic foot block of densely packed compost and the spare tire, to rapidly unload and then, please, dear boy, hitch a ride back to the nursery in haste. This, of course, would occur during my unpaid half hour lunch. We can’t have you wasting time with commutes!
Speaking of loading cars, there was one particularly memorable example from a few weeks ago. A family, which included two sons and their mother, came to the nursery to pick up some plants for their yard. After much deliberation, painstaking care in selection, and additional questions, they decided to purchase 3 maple trees, three smaller, topiary style shrubs, a block of soil, and, I believe, a perennial. Picturing the obviously massive SUV they must be driving in order to transfer such a load, I began traveling towards the barn to grab one of our many dilapidated ladders. Before doing so, however, I decided, merely as a formality, to ask which vehicle in the lot was theirs. One of the sons, around his early 20’s, wearing an awesome shark T-shirt tucked into jean shorts, replied, “We have the beige 1980 Plymouth van.”
“Well,” I thought, “that’s specific enough.”
Now, by “van,” again, given the sizable load, I was picturing something of a large, V10, cargo-carrying beast. Once again, I decided the ladder may be in order. Still, I had some inkling of doubt that prevented me from considering the necessity of loading a brick of soil into the back of some towering monstrosity of a vehicle a la the World’s Strongest Man keg toss. So, I went into the parking lot to check. There, in one of the first spots, was a tiny, beige, completely normal Plymouth minivan. Oh. What the hell? I was dumbstruck. Thoughts of doubt, confusion, and fear immediately ran through me. But, indeed, it was the vehicle into which I had to jam far too much plant material, let alone three people. Thus began my second experience filling a vehicle to Barnum and Bailey proportions (the first being during high school when we had to cram as many students as possible into a small car: our class won).
During this whole fiasco, the most amusing part by far was the commentary from the two brothers (names being changed here for privacy), who I swear were characters straight out of Napoleon Dynamite. The other brother, a little older, with an interesting Amish-style chin strap not unlike one I have been known to don, wearing a strange T-shirt that had an enlarged, stylized, nineteenth century-era map of Oregon screen printing on it, began by saying, “Well, it looks like Harpo will have to ride on the roof.”
“Oh, that’s fine!” replied Harpo.
“Ah, geez, I guess we’ll have to defy the laws of physics,” quipped Groucho.
“It won’t be the first time!” came Harpo’s retort.
Then, certainly the best, “Well,” burst Groucho, “it looks like we’ll have to eliminate Harpo!”
Following which, Harpo, striking an overdramatic, stiff stance and breaking into a series of movements reminiscent of the popular dance move “The Robot,” repeated in an alarmed, mechanical voice, “Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!”
It was, truly, amazing.
Customers aren’t the only people who come through to me in somewhat mechanical voices. Actually, most of the times I hear my fellow Garlanders speak to me, or each other, it comes via an electronically distorted speaker inside my omnipresent radio, which MUST be strapped somewhere to my body at all times while on the premises. In all likelihood it will become permanently fused with my hip by the year’s end. I have previously seen businesses where the employees are required to have radios or headsets of some kind, but this is the first place I’ve worked in which it has been required of me. The radios, I’ll admit, are convenient, but more often kind of ridiculous, especially when they’re utilized unnecessarily, such as when you’re standing within easy earshot of the person talking to you. There’s also the constant fear that something you didn’t want being said over the radio will be broadcast due to accidental depression of the speak button. Such an incident happened to me the other day, although fortunately I didn’t say anything too detrimental. Two of my coworkers, Brad and Jeff, were working with me on placing new plastic on a greenhouse. I was up on a ladder, calling down to Brad in a poor impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger, to pass me a piece of plastic. I did this by yelling, “Give it to me NOW!” followed by, “I can’t believe that guy is the governor now.”
Brad quickly realized what I didn’t, that, while precariously high on the ladder, the position in which I found myself was such that my radio was pressing precisely on the button for broadcasting everything I was saying to the entire staff. He quickly shot back, “Isaac, get your damn radio off the ladder!”
Lee, one of my bosses, came through the radio seconds later, sounding a little nervous. “Uh, guys, someone has their radio on and your conversation is being broadcast over the loudspeaker.”
“Oh, that was me, Lee. I just wanted everyone to hear our discussion. Sorry!”
Feeling like a total jackass, but relieved I hadn’t said anything damaging, I watched my radio like a hawk for the remainder of the day, praying I didn’t bump into anything and reopen the channels.
About this time is when I need to head home from work. It was a long day, so I remove my filthy Garland clothes, now covered with stray pieces of “Excelsior!!!,” soil debris, pumpkin seeds, concrete dust, and carpet soap from luxury automobile trunks, replacing them with my sleek, previously sweat drenched biking clothes. Packing up my bag, I look forward to getting home for a warm shower and some much needed dinner. Biking through the perennial area, now completely devoid of customers, I look to my right to find the store doors closed and interior unlit. I’m pleased that the end of the day has finally come. Just as I’m about to enter the parking lot, a mere 150 feet from the road, I hear the distant bellow of a locomotive horn, closing fast. Before I can make a break across the tracks, the gigantic mass of rolling cars comes ripping across my field of view, completely blocking access to the highway and my only way home.
Damnit! Such is my experience, and that of many customers, on a typical day trying to leave the nursery. The frequently traveled railroad tracks run just inside, and parallel to, the road. Making matters more convenient (he said with no lack of sarcasm), the train is often 300 cars long and houses its transfer station right next to the property. This means that often the train comes to a dead stop in front of the nursery, blocking all access. Often, too, the train will move back and forth several times while they change cars or do whatever it is they deem necessary. Occasionally the presence of the train is advantageous, such as during lunch, when it can block out customers that may otherwise have us called to their aid, disturbing our precious caloric intake, but more often then not it’s a major pain in the ass.
When I finally do get on the road, there’s the usual barrage of vehicles whizzing by at excessive speeds, but fortunately here in the Corvallis area, as opposed to Guam, people are far more accepting (and aware) of bicyclists. There are also whole bike lanes, which make that form of travel remarkably safe and easy. Sharp debris on the roadsides is also a constant threat to the well being of my tires, but that goes with anywhere. A new series of obstacles I find myself encountering, which are actually fun to negotiate, are the large scale sprinkler systems in the farm fields I’ll pass. They are often running in the evenings when I bike home and there are always one or two whose spray path shoots well into the right lane of traffic. If I don’t time my pass just right, I get a direct hit of water from the fire hose a la Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse (Please, if you haven’t, see the movie UHF starring none other than “Weird” Al Yankovic. By far Michael Richards’ best performance.)
At the edge of this particular farm field is a sign that amuses me because of its placement. A man named Randy Hiner, who is running for Benton County sheriff, owns this sign. Now, I don’t know Randy and I’m sure he’s a nice guy. I honestly wish his campaign the best and I’ll bet you, despite being a write in, the people will vote for him. Much of that has to do with his obvious dedication to widespread campaign advertising. Still, I have to ask, Randy… why is it that you placed the one huge billboard with your name AND face directly behind a giant, putrid, festering compost heap? Yes, right before you get a good look at Randy’s face, the stench of rotting, anoxic, vile organic matter burrows its way into the deepest recesses of your sinuses, producing a rather unpleasant reaction (e.g., throwing up). I seriously fear for the candidate whose noble face is directly associated with the scent of death. Each passing car, or biker for that matter, is subjected to this same phenomenon. It’s entirely possible that passers by will develop some kind of Pavlovian response to Randy’s picture, whereby they feel nauseous at the sight of his face. That would be terrible. Location, location, location, Randy. I move we begin a new campaign! I call it the “Move Randy Hiner’s billboard in front of the Taylor Street Ovens cookie factory!” campaign. We cannot fail.
To expedite this entry a bit, I’m going to conclude, now that I have made it home, on a particular environmental condition of the living situation in which Anna and I find ourselves. Directly next door to our modest love nest there live, quite possibly, the two most repugnant people I’ve ever had the complete displeasure of barely tolerating. These two degenerates are exclusively responsible for those nagging thoughts in the back of our minds that quietly, albeit desperately, beg us, for the love of god, “Move!” Now, you may ask, how can two neighbors with whom we have never had direct physical contact (thankfully- lest we have to be treated for several different kind of rapidly mutating, flesh eating skin parasites) elicit such a reaction? Well, it all begins on our very first night in the apartment.
Now, I’m going to keep this relatively clean, for the sake of basic human decency, even knowing that the subjects of whom I speak lack this trait entirely. Suffice to say that, around 9:30pm, Anna calls me over to our window, and whispers excitedly, “Isaac, come here! Listen!”
I come over to the window and what I hear sends an electric shock of nausea through my digestive tract. Coming, quite loudly (Beethoven in his prime could have heard this cacophony), through the window were forced, wretched, entirely unattractive moans interspersed with the occasional coughing fit possessed only by a true chain smoker. Before much time had passed, the howls were interjected with copulatory expletives fitting only the raunchiest of pornography. It was enough to make Jenna Jameson blush.
In the risk of sounding too judgmental, I have to add that what makes this behavior worse is the fact that both of these individuals are completely unattractive. It’s one thing to glance casually out your window to see Scarlett Johansson making passionate love to Tay Diggs, but quite another entirely when the woman looks like Charlize Theron’s character in Monster and the man like a Bronx trucker, with the attitude and volume to match. That being said, physical attractiveness, in many cases, would account for almost none of the problem if the people were considerate, good natured, pleasant folks. If that were the case, any superficial shortcomings would be completely overshadowed by great personalities, and thus we wouldn’t have a problem. Unfortunately, these abhorrent bits of humanity have the consideration of ravenous swine at the trough. Not only do they keep their windows open through disgusting sexual encounters, but they also find it necessary to broadcast their arguments, “conversations” (which more frequently sound much like arguments with slightly less screaming), and right out fights into the unprepared spaces of the surrounding neighborhood. On several occasions, I have heard this couple screaming at one another, the woman crying, followed by explosive sessions of obnoxious laughter, and topped off, more often than not, with the inevitable make up sex.
My greatest fear is that the result of these encounters, somehow, in direct violation of all basic laws of natural selection, will produce viable offspring. For some reason, I picture it as the birth of Orks or perhaps that nasty, two-headed troll beast from Willow. One would certainly hope the progeny would be sterile, for they would undoubtedly grow to be some kind of superbeing whose very existence could lead to the destruction of all life on earth.
Our limits were reached one fateful night when yet another session of aggressive passions were taking place. This time we had a friend visiting, which made the noise all the more intolerable. We decided it was due time to throw a least a small wrench into their night, a la Patches O’Hoolahan. Taking ready advantage of my nearby cell phone, I called up the ever locked and loaded Corvallis 5-0 to register a complaint. Not wanting to send out the SWAT teams (merely for the future safety of Anna and myself following any impending investigations into the miscreants who called in, what appeared to sound like, people engaged in several illegal activities involving livestock), I called the non-emergency number to discuss the problem. The kind officer on the other end informed me that there wasn’t much he could do since, immediately after I had dialed the numbers, the hyenas next door became silent. However, he did inform me that, short of being able to issue an official citation or make any embarrassing arrests, he would send someone down forthwith. Within two minutes, a young patrolman was on the scene, having stealthily parked his unlit cruiser down the street. I’m not sure what exactly resulted from his encounter with our wonderful neighbors, but I’ll tell you this: nothing. Don’t be surprised, dear friends, if when next you read this blog (say in a year or two), I’ve moved far from this area, in search of peace, quiet, and a fire hose to wash away the horrors to which I’ve been subjected.