Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Popsicle Toes

A song Knotty recorded reminded me of a particularly disgusting memory. Because I  have no access to study materials, I am bored. I have no alternative other than to share my boredom and, hence, my disgusting memory with you,  my readers. (The word hence isn't commonly used, but you may remember that it appeared several times in Jonbenet Ramsey's bogus ransom note, as well as in numerous communications written by the late Jonbenet's [may the poor little soul rest in peace]  late mother. So it appears that, until Mrs. Ramsey's death due to ovarian cancer, only Patsy Ramsey and I commonly used the word. Still, I think it's a good word and will continue to use it.

I attended high school on the edge of the northern Central Valley of California. In many high schools in central  and north-central California, agriculture is a major area of curricular study and extra-curricular activity. When we were freshmen, my close friend Megan decided for god only knows what reason that she wanted to become an aggie. She enrolled in Animal Science 1 and joined the Future Farmers of America. Megan tried so very hard to persuade me to join her in becoming an aggie, but it was something I had even less than absolutely no desire to do.

I participated in academic decathlon. As humiliating as it is for me to acknowledge this, as I've taken so many shots at cheerleaders and their stereotypically deficient intellects, I will for the first time in this blog admit that I even did a brief stint as the flyer for the cheer squad when my parents were out of the country for six weeks one autumn. (They never would have agreed to it for safety reasons.) My cousin Kevin, who was my temporary legal guardian during that interval, probably would have signed papers allowing me to quit school and join up with the U.S. Marines if I had asked him to do so. Being the flyer was fun while it lasted, though I'm really not cheerleader material.

If I'm not the cheerleader type, though my cheerleading service was short-lived, I supported my school in many other ways. Everyone should do his or her part, and I did. The Academic Decathlon was a breeze for me, as it was a perfect fit for my interests, so my participation in it could hardly even have been considered a sacrifice. I played my violin, sousaphone, and piano in the name of school spirit. Though I'm the ultimate morning slug, I dragged myself out of bed for 5:00 a.m.  diving practices. Our school had a heated pool, but it was  heated only to 80 degrees, and eventually we had to get out of it to dive again. Pre-dawn in February in northern California is freaking cold. We were within bike-riding distance [for really serious bike riders, anyway; I'm not claiming to have riden the distance myself] of the place where many members of the Donner Party perished many years ago due to cold and starvation. Many people think of California as balmy and almost tropical, and in some places it is. In other parts of California, there are two seasons: hotter than hell, and colder than whatever is the opposite of hell.

I played the piano and violin. At the time I played tennis, dove, and hurdled. I accompanied the school choir on the piano (there was financial compensation for this, though I charged less than I would have charged had I been accompanying any choir other than my own school's choir), and occasionally helped the marching band by playing ther sousaphone. I now have a slight case of scoliosis, which is very likely due to trekking up and  down streets with a sousaphone [which weighed almost as much as I weighed] resting on my left shoulder during my formative years. 

I hurdled for the school track team,  once suffering a serious injury in the process, literally leaving tissue from my body on the track of a competing school after the ambulance had carted me away. I was true to my school -- just not to the school's ag department.

So when Megan called me one fall night to beg me to go with her her to the school's animal quarters for her once-every-six-weeks turn at feeding the animals in the wee hours of the morning, I could have come up with at least a quadrillion reasons not to accompany her. I had a cold. My mom was sick, and turning the alarm off at 4:45 would have awakened her, which I didn't want to do when that time of the morning was probably the only decent sleep she was likely to get all night. Megan's dad's car was needed a new muffler, and he'd probably wake up the whole neighborhood with his noisy car. The bottom line was that A) I didn't partcularly want to get my lazy butt out of bed at that hour; and B) even if I wanted to get up before the sun did, I didn't wish to spend the time with farm animals. 

Megan, however, was one of my very best friends. Her dad would drive her there, but he had no intention of getting out of the car and traipsing into the animal enclosures with her. She was scared to go there all by herself, particularly in the dark. In the end, friendship trumped laziness and my concern for the proper sleep of my mom and the rest of the neighborhood. At 4:45 sharp that morning, I heard the distinct rumble of megan's dad's noisy muffler as his car approached my cul de sac. I disarmed the alarm, grabbed my backpack with books,  exited the house through the front door, and got into the back seat of Megan's dad's 1990-something Chevy Impala.

The school farm was located on the extreme west side of campus, only partially within the city limits. The entire facility was darker than dark, as even the moon chose not to cooperate with the illumination situation on that early morning. 

Megan had been given the key to the circuit breaker box in which the light switch was located. She unlocked the box, flipped the light switch, and instantly the place became lighter but not a whole lot less creepy. 

I first stood and watched as she took a bucket and filled it with whatever it was she was supposed to feed the sheep. She refilled the bucket and emptied the contents into different bins. It soon occurred to me that, as little as I desired to get my hands and shoes dirty with the filth of both agriculture's products and its by-products, we'd get out of there a whole lot sooner if I helped her. We went next to the poultry area, which was easily the most foul-smelling place in the entire animal care facility. I distinctly remember vowing to toss the shoes I was wearing, which had been a favorite pair, into the rubbish before I entered my house again.

We went next to the cow enclosure. A paid staff milked the cows in the off-hours, but that had happened hours earlier, and the paid workers were long gone. We gave the cows their hay and whatever else (silage, I think) that they were supposed to be given. One cow licked my hand, which grossed me out, but at the same time I thought it was kind of sweet.

Last we made it to the pig pen. We began filling pails with corn and silage. (There's a difference. I'll explain it someday if anyone really cares.) Megan dropped some of each mixture into one bin, as I did the same into another. She moved to a third feeding station when something startled her to the extent that she screamed. A smarter person than I would have run as fast as I could have run in the opposite direction, but on that particular morning I was more curious than prudent. I tiptoed over to see what had caused Megan to scream. 

In the enclosure of a Hampshire pig (black on both ends with a large white stripe around the midsection) and her four piglets were two reclining human bodies. We soon recognized them as April Underhart and Danny Binger, two senior Aggies.  One or the other of them(I can't for the life of me remember which one, nor can I remember whether or not the award was actually received)  had just been nominated for the American FFA Degree, which was apparently a huge deal in FFA circles. (The name always sounded redundant to me: American Future Farmer of America Degree; What other nation's degree would the Future Farmers of America confer? The Canadian Future Farmers of America Degree? The Belgian Future Farmers of American Degree? Or perhaps, for the sake of variety, the American Future Farmers of Kuwait Degree; I just always thought that for such a supposedly prestigious award, a few aggies could have put their heads together and could have come up with a better name for it. ) 

Both Danny and April were partially clothed.  Danny's toes were in April's  mouth. The two of them had apparently fallen asleep that way. They had slept through the turning on of the lights and the noises we made as we went about giving the animals their breakfasts. It was only when Megan screamed that they were awakened. It took longer than one might have thought necessary for April to disengage Danny's toes from her mouth.

Megan's dad had heard the scream and had gotten out of the car to see what the problem was, but stood back when he saw that it was only a couple who couldn't find a more comfortable spot than a pig pen for their coupling activity. 

April and Danny were apparently worried that if this incident were reported to authorities, all sorts of bad things might happen to them. I'm not sure if Megan had any intention of reporting it anyway (I personally didn't consider it any of my business, as I was merely along for the ride), but when Danny and April offered to cover Megan's early-morning feeding duties for the remainder of the year in exchanged for her silence, she didn't hesitate in the least in taking them up on their offer. She handed the keys to the light and circuit breaker box off to April, and we headed back to Megan's house to eat breakfast in leisure in the roughly two hours before school was to start.

Is it any wonder, then, that anytime I hear the song "Popsicle Toes,"  my mind instantly travels back to that chilly October morning when Megan and I came across April and Danny in a moment of rather crass intimacy. Incidentally, a month or so later, April developed a rather serious case of E. coli, from which, fortunately, she made a complete recovery. Her doctors assumed she picked it up from something at the school farm. Megan and I could have clued them in on a likely more specific cause, but we didn't because a deal is a deal.


  1. I'm pleased that my musical stylings could inspire such an entertaining blog post. I grew up with horses, so I'm familiar with the chores involved with taking care of livestock. How odd that those two would want to mess around in a pig sty, though... They must have been aggies to the core.

  2. P.S. You are a good friend to help your friend at that hour. I doubt I would have done it and I love taking care of animals.