Red Green would be proud

My Sheltie, Trixie, had surgery on Friday to remove a softball-sized tumor from her shoulder. There is a whole lot of stitches and bare skin under all that bandaging. There's also the bare spot on her front leg... I'm not sure what the vet was thinking; maybe he wanted to give her a poodle 'do? The careful observer will also notice Trixie is sticking out her tongue. It's as if she's daring us to mock her goofy looks. After all, it is a far cry more dignified than the previous version:
The duct tape was Dad's idea, after Trixie started chewing on the bandages. Do not try this at home, kids. Duct tape, as it turns out, is merciless when it comes into contact with hair. When we went to the vet's to get Trixie's dressing changed yesterday, he had to cut a good bit more of her hair off. Vets have nightmares about pet owners like us, I'm sure. Pets have nightmares about pet owners like us. But at least Red Green would be proud.


The Case of the Enigmatic Doctor

[Editor's note: Here's a story I wrote for the newspaper. Cheyenne Bottoms is the nearby wildlife refuge and wetlands.]

A few days ago, I didn't know the difference between the calls of a speckle belly goose and the snow goose. I had no idea Barton County is plagued by out-of-state poachers. I never realized one of the downtown pole art features a pair of greyhounds. And I certainly didn't know what went into a Redneck Tour of Cheyenne Bottoms.

Thanks to some great local activities last weekend, I have been enlightened.

This was my first Wetlanders Festival and I was impressed. From the Waterfowl Calling Championship to the demonstration by Game Warden Brian Hanzlick and his dog Alley to the pole art hunt to the Redneck Tours—everything was well done and well-attended.

I appreciated the educational bent of the Festival and I certainly increased my knowledge of Cheyenne Bottoms, hunting, local talent, and all things redneck.

But I'm still in the dark on one thing: who is Doc Payne?

His was the first stop for the Redneck Tour Bus (a pontoon boat on a trailer, towed by a very un-redneckish sleek Chevy truck) I rode, along with five other tourists and our worthy tour guide, Bubba. Doc Payne was manning an antique cannon on the side of the road. There was a sign propped up against it advertising the doctor's medical services—all three of them.

Apparently, Doc Payne specializes in the fine art of pulling teeth. As we watched, he brandished a pair of 14-inch rusty pincers and generously offered to take care of any toothaches. From the looks of Bubba's “redneck teeth” (or lack thereof), Doc Payne had made a profitable career choice.

I think we upset Doc Payne by turning down his tooth-pulling services, because he kept mumbling and waving a cannon ball at us. He seemed to think he would find comfort in the dirty glass bottle he pulled out, however. He pointed to the one lens of his glasses painted red—which, through Bubba's interpretation, we were made to understand was a result of the “red-eye” in his whiskey bottle.

Finally, Doc Payne was left waving and muttering in the road, as the tour bus carried us across the Bottoms to more redneck adventures.

That was Saturday. On Monday I uploaded my photos from the digital camera and began sorting through the pictures I had snapped during the Festival. I came across a good portrait of Doc Payne...and that's when the mystery deepened.

I e-mailed the photo to Rod Harms, who had signed me up for the Redneck Tours, asking him to identify Doc Payne. Shortly after that, I received a call from Gene Manweiler, owner of Hoisington's Manweiler Chevrolet dealership. Rod had forwarded my e-mail to him.

Gene had done much of the work coordinating the Redneck Tours (hence the sleek Chevy truck) and had called to help answer my question. Except he couldn't. Turns out, Gene didn't know who was underneath Doc Payne's wig. The character's appearance alongside the Bottoms backroad had been a surprise to him, too. He had played along with the Doc, though, for the sake of us tourists—but he does admit he couldn't understand half of what the man had mumbled through his fake beard.

When the last tour bus left, the Redneck Tours staff shed their plastic teeth, tore down the misspelled signs along the trail, and met back at Gene's home overlooking Cheyenne Bottoms—all except Doc Payne. No one knew who he was or where he had gone, Gene said.

Later on Monday, another e-mail appeared in my Inbox, indicating Gene had discovered the identity of the mysterious Doc Payne. However, he said the Doc didn't want to reveal who he is—a request Gene was honoring. Those rednecks stick together like honey on a biscuit. The only hint I have is that Doc Payne is “a prominent local citizen.”

The man was so well-disguised—even his voice was altered—that it could have been anyone. I went home and took a hard look at my own dad, scrutinizing his face for the tell-tale marks of a tie-on beard. Not that I'm good at seeing through a disguise... It had taken me a while to realize Bubba was Gene Manweiler himself, underneath an unkempt Willie Nelson-esque hairpiece.

So I'm left with a mystery. And since I've failed at my journalistic duty of uncovering the truth, I turn to my meager skills as a poet:

There once was a man in disguise
With beard on his face and shades on his eyes
He won't tell his name;
He thinks it's a game!
If so, it's the kind I despise.

This doc has me out on a limb.
Is he Bob? Is he John? Is he Jim?
He makes my job hard
(I'm reporter, not bard!)
A Payne in the Bottoms--that's him!


I Can't Believe I Work Here: A Photo Essay

The newspaper office where I work part-time is...um...interesting. Some things about the place crack me up. Other details would horrify me if I stopped to think about them, but I try to do that as little as possible. Anyway, here's a glimpse into the building where I spend about 20 hours each week...

1. This is the office where I work. To avoid looking at the unbearable clutter, I sometimes close my eyes and curl up in a fetal position on the 40-year old vinyl desk chair.
(Yes, the wall is purple. The former owner was a huge K-State fan.)

2. We have this great filing system for our back issues. Patent pending.

3. At some point in the building's long and grim history, an individual (I'm guessing a pre-pubescent girl, from the looks of the exclamation point) cheerfully set out to bring order to the chaos. Just one box into the process, she was apparently overcome by the hopelessness of the situation. I can't blame her. Her efforts are preserved and stand as an enduring monument to the frailty of the human spirit.

4. Something tells me that even if the bathroom sink were to give forth water with any sort of regularity, it would not be the sort of water one would want to wash one's hands in.

5. This is the ceiling directly above the toilet. The ceiling panels are being held up by the light fixture--none too secure itself. It does lend a sense of urgency when doing one's business.

6. I should have laid a coin beside this rat trap to give size perspective. It's massive. For months, I had vaguely wondered the dark reason for its existence. Today, a lady who used to work here told me the story. One day 5 years ago, she heard noises in the bathroom; this led to the capture of what she claims was "a cat-sized rodent." Since no others of this size have shown up, she thinks it probably wasn't a rat; her guess is a renegade prairie dog. At any rate, the trap has stayed since that day.

7. This is a yellowed document nailed to the wall, titled "Safety and Health Protection on the Job." One line reads, "The Williams-Steiger act requires that each employer furnish his employees a place of employment free from recognized hazards that might cause serious injury or death." I can't help but wonder if Mr. Williams and Mr. Steiger didn't mean to imply caving ceilings and gargantuan rat traps as forms of "recognized hazards." Actually, I think the constant, insurmountable clutter is more hazardous to my mental health.

8. Oh the irony of it. The irony! This sign hangs high on a wall--faded, smeared with dirt, splattered with paint--but still boldly proclaiming its long-forgotten message: Neatness Counts!



A suggestion. And a strong one, at that.

Hey you! Yeah, you. The one staring at the monitor.

Mind if I give you some advice?

It is simply this:
Keep a reader's journal.

You thought I was going to advise changing your underwear daily or taking vitamin C supplements, huh? I'll leave the tidbits of common sense living to your mother; I want to address this void in your life that you probably didn't know you have. After all, I myself hadn't even heard of such a thing until March 6, 2004. Oh, I'd been keeping track of books I'd read ever since I was 12 or so...but it wasn't until that blustery day in Virginia Beach that I saw an actual hard-cover book entitled
The Reader's Journal. It had a little nick on the cover and had thus been relegated to the clearance table--which is the only place to shop in bookstores, if you ask me. (Henry Ward Beecher once exclaimed, "Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore!" But I wonder if even Hank himself wouldn't find today's book prices a bit steep.)

I am sure there are many different versions of reader's journals out there and I just didn't know it. I'm glad this area of ignorance didn't last any longer than age 21.

Let me tell you about my reader's journal, which quickly became one of my most beloved books itself. It is divided into 11 sections, each cleverly titled with a famous work of literature which describes the purpose of that section.

One section I use often is
Great Expectations. It is there that I record books I would like to read. I'm always on the lookout for good reads and when I hear of one I add it to my list of great expectations. Then I take my reader's journal with me whenever I visit the library. Gone are the days of aimless wandering amid bookshelves thinking, "I wish I could remember that one author's name who wrote that one book I heard about!"

Another section
(Sense and Sensibility) is for detailed records of the books I have read and my thoughts about them. Thus, with the flip of a page, I can find what I was reading in October, 2006: Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag ("Great character development and interesting storytelling techniques. Reminded me of Willa Cather's work--the land, Dakota territory, was such a big part of the plot. Made me long for the prairies...") My dad, for example, never watches a movie or reads a book twice. But I return to favorite books over and over again and its always like a reunion with an old friend. With my reader's journal, I have a record of my dearest book-friends.

Then there's
Kidnapped, for recording lists of the books I have borrowed or lent. (If you borrow a book from me and don't return it: beware!) And there are other sections for recording addresses of bookstores or libraries, memorable quotations from favorite books, lists of books I have given or received as gifts, and those I have added to my every-growing personal library.

The great Francis Bacon wrote, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some to be chewed and digested." Keeping a reader's journal, I believe, helps one be aware of every bite and savor the best.