A few years ago I was asked how I chose radio as a career?
I replied that part of finding what you want to do…
is discovering what you don’t want to do.
After some creative insomnia, I wrote the following.
Hope you enjoy it.
© By Jack Bogut
The taste of old beer was bitter in his mouth. His tongue felt as if someone had slipped a sweat sock over it. He rubbed his eyes with both fists until flashes of red replaced the darkness in his head. Slowly, his eyelids rolled open like heavy garage doors and the stabbing light from the lamp on the dresser illuminated the dull ache in his temples.
“Holy Mary…,” he mumbled.
“Pray for us now...” came the muffled response from the other side of the bed.
“Not bad for a couple of Protestants, huh?” He said with an implied chuckle.
“Lord, it’s early. What time is it?”
It didn’t make any difference. It was time to get up and feed the cattle and they both knew it. They were high school buddies, friends to the end. And this was close to it. Party half the night; drive home to the ranch; abandon the car somewhere near the bunkhouse; stumble inside; fall into bed and giggle themselves to sleep. Everything was hilarious when they went to bed. Nothing was funny now.
This routine was great in the summer. The sun came up early; mornings were warm. You could wander outside in your underwear, stretch and yawn, smack your lips, clear your throat and at least move your legs before you put your brain in gear, not so in the winter. That’s why serious misery set in as their gray matter started to function.
Nobody knows exactly why, but the wind usually hesitates at dawn, like night holding its breath in deference to the birth of another day. But this was well before first light. This was the middle of the night, four O’clock in the morning, and the low moan of the wind around the corner of the log cabin told the story — winter was calling. Along with two hundred head of cattle waiting for breakfast.
They both got up at the same time and stood on opposite sides of the bed in their long-johns, trying to visually locate and identify each article of clothing strewn about the room. Life would have been simpler if they’d both been the same size, but Murphy’s Law says the larger guy always tries to put on the smaller guy’s pants.
“Here. I believe these are yours.” WHAAP!
“Yeah, and these are yours.” WHAAP!
“Thank God. I thought I’d shrunk when I got sick!”
And then one of them reached for something on the dresser.
Al, whose dad owned the ranch, had heard from some dried-out wino who had worked for them, that if you uncorked a bottle of beer and left it open when you went to bed, it would lose all of its harmful qualities overnight and become “medicinal” in the morning. A good swig upon arising would clear the head and cure the hangover. Winos never lie. Any worldly high school student knows that, so they both took a big, glugging pull from the dark brown, quart bottle. There was no foam left in the liquid, just the cold, flat taste of stale, pale, swamp water that hit the bottom of their stomachs and bounced right back, straight up, through the throat, the mouth, the sinuses, filling their eye sockets and poking real hard at the tops of their heads. They both headed outside at the same time, grabbing their coats as they ripped the door open and sprang into the darkness. Ten below zero removes all traces of sleep in a hurry. They looked at each other and said in unison,
They had to go back inside to breathe.
They found gloves, stocking caps, wool scarves and overshoes, and dressed like they were preparing for death by meat locker. Any thoughts of breakfast were the furthest thing from their minds as they opened the door and reluctantly leaned into the world outside. The tractor hooked to a wagon stacked high with bales of hay sat in the glare of the big mercury-vapor yard light like cold sculptures, waiting for a human hand with the right combination, the magic touch to bring them to life, give them motion. Then they drew straws; one of them would drive and the other would pitch and kick the hay off the wagon with fork and foot. The Cattle would come boiling out of the trees along the river, snorting and bellowing in the cold for their breakfast; it was absolute madness.
But it could get worse; if the tractor wouldn't start, they would have no choice but to saddle up a couple of horses and ride out into the darkness to round up the herd and bring them to the feed. And that’s exactly what happened that morning.
There is no cold in the world like winter on horseback; after about fifteen minutes, it feels like you don't have a stitch of clothing on your body. There is also no glamour in sitting in a fetal position on top of a saddle so stiff from the cold it feels like frigid Formica.
Half way through the feeding process, hunger started to knaw at their bones as well.
“Man, my backbone’s rubbing my navel!”
“The light’s on in the kitchen.”
“What’s she makin’?”
“Well, she knows you’re here...and she likes you better’n she does ME!”
“Yeah, and for good reason....”
They threw hay at each other until the wagon was clean and the cattle had the last of it. Then they jumped down and sprinted for the house and breakfast.
Al's mom fried fresh side pork in a skillet and put it aside on paper towels to drain. Then she dropped eggs into the renderings and spooned the hot drippings over the top until the eggs billowed up like balloons, snow white and lacy around the edges.
Then came the main course: sourdough pancakes, light brown, crisp around the edges and so light they almost floated off the griddle. Al’s Mom played a game with them: she’d swirl a pancake off the spatula toward the table and they’d hold their plates up and try to catch them. If either of them dropped a pancake onto the floor, they had to do the dishes. It was not pretty and got fairly noisy, but once in a great while, she got out of doing the dishes. And the pancakes were more than worth the risk.
They would weigh 'em down with butter and homemade cherry jam or Vermont Maple Syrup poured out of a tin, and wash the whole meal down with blond colored coffee served in big, thick, ceramic mugs that kept it hot almost forever. It was the best breakfast in life, their reward for having survived the morning chores, for paying their dues.
It was also some subtle incentive to go to school and learn to do something else for a living—which both of us did.