Talking Turkey

In many ways, the Thanksgiving turkey has become a metaphor for the downfall of our bloated and broken American civilization. Once the sacrificial bird that united the Pilgrims and Indians (that’s the version that is completely devoid of revisionist history), it’s now a word used to describe idiots, has become a common incendiary device with the advent of deep-fat turkey fryers, and helps make Thanksgiving the leading day in the U.S. for house fires. If you have any doubt: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=3vZnuYK2Wfg

1) Hunting for advice?

Turkey hunting is the second-leading cause of hunting accidents, yet it remains a relatively safe sport, with 100 out of 3 million turkey hunters in the U.S. getting hurt in the pursuit of the almighty bird. To add to your own safety, here’s a bit of advice from the Colorado Division of Wildlife: “Don’t wear turkey colors. Red, white and blue are colors found on a turkey’s head.” Anyway.

2) Turkeys talking

Dan Maes, Republican candidate for Colorado governor, said that, although he had initially supported environmentally friendly programs such as Denver’s bike-sharing project, he had to reconsider his position. He said such programs are in fact a veil for much more complex schemes. “If you do your homework and research,” he said, “you realize that (encouraging people to park their cars and ride bikes in the city) is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty.” At press time, Maes was trailing Big Time in the polls.

3) The lure of tryptophan

The Golden State has the glory of producing the most turkeys in the American West, growing roughly 15 million each year. (Minnesota leads the nation at a rather gross 48 million.) It’s no surprise that Butterball produces the most turkey meat — 1,330 million pounds a year. Americans devour 17 pounds of turkey apiece annually, while folks over in Israel set the world record at a stout 22 pounds. The largest dressed turkey on record was recorded in 1989 in London. The bird came in at a respectable 86 pounds. Animal rights groups are quick to point out that such weight gain isn’t healthy; if human babies gained at the same rate as farmed turkeys, they’d weigh 1,500 pounds at 18 weeks.

4) Turkeys join Nixon on pardon list

Last Thanksgiving, President Obama issued an official pardon to a 45-pound tom named Courage, meaning that, instead of gracing the table at the White House, the bird would instead travel — live! — to Disneyland to serve as grand marshal at the theme park’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The President described the bird as being saved from a “terrible and delicious fate” by “the interventions of Malia and Sasha — because I was planning to eat this sucker.” A second bird named Carolina also received a pardon and was sent along as a stand-in if Courage couldn’t stand up to the job. The birds were set to retire at a ranch after fulfilling their duties.

5) Turkey spending

If you’re still pissed at Arizona because of its tough stance on illegal immigration, know that someone there has a heart. Consider the case of the Mount Graham red squirrel, which recently won a $1.25 million federal grant. The money is going toward tracking collars, radio transmitters, cameras and canopy bridges for the endangered rodents, to be erected on State Route 366 near Pima as well as Forest Service Road 803. The idea is to keep the 250 existing squirrels (down 15 from last year) from becoming roadkill, and officials believe they will be able to save the lives of at least five squirrels this way. That’s $250,000 per squirrel and suggestive of the work of turkeys at the financial helm. Note, though, that the webbing used in the bridges is military-grade nylon with a minimum vertical clearance of 20 feet.

6) The burp of relief

If salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter or any other pathogens become your dinner guests this Thanksgiving (speaking from personal experience in which I and 16 others suffered Thanksgiving food poisoning at work, I implore you to follow the stuffing guidelines as if your last gasp depended on them, and indeed it does), rest assured you’ve got the legal guns on your side (assuming you didn’t poison yourself). The Seattle-based Marler Clark law firm specializes in big-time food poisoning and has represented clients in almost every big food-borne illness outbreak in recent U.S. history. The firm won $15.6 million for the most seriously injured survivor of the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli debacle, was recently on the front lines of the Iowa egg recall and nationwide salmonella outbreak, and has been involved in most of the big cases in between. Known for a way with words, Bill Marler has issued such tomes as “Who Needs Al-Qaeda when you have got E. Coli?”

7) Turkeys take flight — sort of

According to FAA accident reports from a few years back, a pair of coyote hunters from Ft. Peck, MT, were chasing their prey from the air when the passenger accidentally shot the fuel tank and right wing of the aircraft, causing it to crash. The hunters survived, as did the coyote, and somewhere in all this is a karmic hint about fair chase.

8) Dead Turkey

A 20-year-old man was stopped near Lakeview, OR, for speeding and cops determined that he was driving a stolen car out of Idaho. With that, he was handcuffed and placed in the back of the cruiser, where, ostensibly, he would ride in safety to the nearest jail. However, while the officers were out of the car, he brought his hands to the front of his body, squirmed through the hole between the front and back seats, and set off driving the squad car. He hit speeds of 90 mph before hitting some tack mats. He then drove on flat tires awhile longer before a cop was able to ram him with his cruiser and send the stolen cop car into a spin. Unfortunately, the car rolled and the driver, whose hands were compromised by handcuffs, had been unable to fasten his seat belt.

Too-Close Encounters

The bottom line is that everyone needs something to believe in. Me? I believe in truth and fairness and what goes round, comes round.

I also believe in UFOs. I will state here for all to read that I think UFOs and their occupants make their way here on a fairly regular basis. For what reasons I cannot say, but I’m guessing that we entertain/sadden the piss out of them. God knows we’ve really fucked things up.

I believe in UFOs largely because I believe it’s ludicrous to think Earth is the only planet that hosts life forms, including the bipedal developments that more or less resemble the human being. With this rather thin philosophy, I drove to Hooper, Colorado, where Judy Messoline hosted a Labor Day Weekend conference at her UFO Watchtower. The attendees were people who have thought a whole lot more about the UFO thing than had I or Greg Younger, a provider of good tequila and spit-take campfire stories, who agreed to photograph the experience. These are people, many of whom live and breathe UFOs and paranormal events, who have covered all their informational bases. Ain’t nothing they haven’t talked out, believe me.

We closed in on Hooper after a wrong turn, and had driven in silence for a few minutes when Younger brought up The Critical Thing That Nobody Wants to Talk About.

“Think we’ll get anally probed?” he asked.

“Um, I dunno,” I replied. Fact was, I’d thought about it mightily, and chances are Younger had devoted at least three days to weighing the odds. “Are you getting nervous?”

“No,” he said, staring across the San Luis Valley. More silence.

Our mood lightened when we stopped at the gas station and eatery in Hooper, which sports an inordinately large metal chicken in the parking lot. Younger went nuts taking pictures of the chicken while I went in to get directions. “Three or four miles that way,” the woman at the counter said, probably for the 18

billionth time in her life. The chicken seems to get a lot of competition from Judy’s UFO Watchtower, and if that ain’t enough, there’s an alligator farm down the road and more cattle mutilations in the valley than you want to know about. As someone who’s done therapy, I’ve been told I don’t have a good hold on what normal is. But you’d need to be legally dead to not notice that the San Luis Valley has a lot of Katie-bar-the-door circumstances.

We came across signs with aliens painted on them, and from there you’d need to be — that’s right — legally dead not to find the Watchtower. Set in a field that doubles as a campground, the concrete dome has an expansive viewing platform that faces out to the Great Sand Dunes and Crestone — hot spots in UFO parlance and again, things that everyone at the conference — except for Younger and me — seemed to know about. People hereabouts talk about UFO sightings and subterranean bases the same way the rest of us talk about grocery coupons. Disbelief isn’t even on the radar. These people got over that a long time ago, the same way folks eventually got over the flat-world theory.

Judy drove a golf cart over to the Watchtower and showed us inside the concrete bubble that serves as a gift shop and info center. There’s a rock garden just outside with a couple cairns at its entrance. The garden is loaded with things that people leave behind as remnants of themselves: Mardi Gras beads, plastic aliens, a Wonder Woman Pez dispenser, Polaroid photos, baseball cards, bits of clothing, a wig and skateboard, rocks from all over the place and a half ton of pens stuck into the ground. Judy explained that numerous psychics have been to the garden and have drawn the same conclusion: There are two distinct vortices here, each marked by one of the cairns and each offering a portal to another, um, dimension. At the time, I was

too busy eyeing a plastic Elvis that someone left behind to pay much attention to the dimension theory and overall vibes of the place. Vibes that might contribute to lights sometimes being on inside the gift shop at night, according to a campfire story I would later hear. Thing is, there’s no electricity in the shop.

Judy also mentioned that folks see UFOs from the tower on a fairly regular basis and that she has witnessed dozens of sightings herself. She said this while fielding questions about T-shirts, campsites and the history of the Watchtower and the San Luis Valley, all while reciting the lineup for Saturday’s speakers. My take: This wasn’t someone who had the time or inclination to sit around and make up stuff. Her honesty scored a point for the existence of ETs.

Younger and I headed back to our campsite and met a sweet lady named Lulu from El Jebel. She was offering up a jug of margaritas and we zeroed in on some folks from Texas who had ice. We pulled up chairs near their Winnebago to pass the ceremonial vessel, and it struck me how oddly normal, Middle American these people were. Somehow I had expected a bunch of self-appointed intergalactic maharishis shuffling about, slackjawed, with their hands pushed toward the sky and annoying me to no end. But, no. Instead, we talked about American muscle cars, where everyone was originally from, the UFOs people saw from the Watchtower the night before and people’s kids. Someone mentioned that there’s a lot more alien activity in these uncertain times; Lulu discussed plans for her upcoming 80th birthday bash and I talked about the casserole I’d brought. The UFO stuff was couched in so much American normalcy that I was expecting the shoe to come down good and hard when it finally dropped. If the mothership was coming, I wanted it over and done — probes and all.

We spent the rest of the evening around a campfire with people who stopped by to watch shooting stars and the Milky Way against an unadulterated black sky, all the while hoping we might see a spaceship. It occurred to me that this was the most seductive sky I’d ever seen, and that it probably gets stared at more than, say, Christine O’Donnell at a MENSA meet-up. So, in theory, by virtue of this sky’s sheer beauty, people are going to notice things here that they may not see elsewhere. Another point for the ETs.

The only real abnormality that night was the car that pulled in next to us around midnight, spilling out several brotastics whose collective IQ hovered around 90. Gauging by the smells, I’m fairly certain they built their campfire with a loaded Diaper Genie and kerosene. I’m also betting the evening was dedicated to swearing in the standards bearer for the American Douchebag Association.

Overheard by Younger at 4 a.m., at roughly 300 decibels: “Dude, I juss wanna say that I have integggridy when I’m drunk. I’m juss sayin’.”

“Fuck you, man,” his friend said.

“Well, I’m juss sayin’.”

As a result, Younger was a bit crabby early Saturday morning. In retaliation, breakfast pots were rattled, our voices were decidedly raised and directed toward the brotastics’ tent, and we used the word “integrity” ad nauseam before heading over to the lecture building. We didn’t want to miss the opening talk about sasquatches and phantom panthers, the latter being mountain lions that look and act weird, often in weird places. They can be in the same meadow with

a bunch of deer, for example, and not pay any attention to the prey. Or they might be wandering around a Midwestern office park. And their footprints don’t match up with those of regular panthers. The theory, according to paranormal investigator and conference emcee Joe Fex, is they may not be of this dimension. Same goes for Bigfoot.

Fex was launching into the meat of the presentation when someone shouted, “Call 911!” An SUV had rolled from the highway onto the Watchtower grounds, and the room emptied amid a chorus of “oh, shit!” A bunch of us ran to the road as the travelers squeezed out of their flattened vehicle, scratched up but otherwise okay. That was a good thing; we could have summoned 911 response from Tierra del Fuego and they would have showed up faster than the nearest cops and paramedics. The Baca Grande Volunteer Fire Department limped in several minutes after the State Patrol in a truck that was smoking wildly from under the hood, and from all appearances was on fire itself. Note to self: Donate heavily at the next firefighters’ picnic.

The day had begun strangely enough, and Younger and I got back to the lecture barn to find the hung-over brotastics lurking in the far corner and looking at us like we were the Next Dead People on Earth. We thought for a moment that they were going to come over and beat the shit out of us, but the room was packed with about 60 people and there was no way those douchebags could get to us without us first jumping over the back row of the conference attendees and running out the back door.

Next on the lecture docket was Gloria Hawker, an Albuquerque hypnotherapist who works with people who claim to have been abducted by ETs. I’d like to say something punchy here, but there was nothing remotely funny about the stories that unfolded — creepy stories about people getting snatched repeatedly and, at the very least, being severely inconvenienced and freaked out. At worst, these are stories of people getting raped and tortured, sometimes with the compliance of U.S. government officials. Everything has an eerie overlap here, where time and space and multiple dimensions and a zillion things that may or may not be conspiracy theories come together and get your neck hairs up. Apparently there are many, many strains of ETs and just as many reasons for bringing us into their fold: educating us on their technologies and warning us of our predisposition to destroy ourselves, harvesting tissue and the breeding of alien-humans. Between the accident, the Bullshit Brothers planning to kill us and the general ickiness of alien abductions, I lobbied for a trip into town to buy ice.

But the lady behind us said we didn’t want to miss Paola Harris, who was speaking next. And leaving the lecture barn would have been problematic at that point, requiring us to walk down the aisle and precariously close to the Not-So-Happy Campers.

Harris is a former high school teacher who lives in Boulder and Rome and who doesn’t bother to rehash arguments about the reality of ETs. “It’s real,” she said. And by the tone of her voice, we’d best get over it if we still think we’re the only intelligent life out there. Author of several books concerning exopolitics, or the study of the social ramifications of ET-human contact, she can easily convince a person that the topic is the single-biggest issue facing us as a planet. Harris spends a lot of time interviewing officials who have climbed big political and military ladders across the globe, many of them in their later years and feeling like it’s time to spill the beans. This comes at a time when governments such as France, Canada and Russia are liberating their UFO files and letting people decide for themselves what the hell is going on.

Harris told us that people can handle it. And maybe the government isn’t necessarily our biggest obstacle to getting the information into our hands. She said we’re our own worst enemies by keeping ET-related events in the bad-joke department. I looked over at Younger and felt kind of bad about the anal probes.

Feeling like I’d gotten what I’d come for after hearing Harris, and with Younger and I agreeing that we might not live to tell the story if we spent another night next to the newly installed standards bearers for the American Douchebag Association, we went back to the rock garden to leave some things behind.

Younger donated a little stone he’d been carrying around, while I stuck my pen in the ground with the others. And then, just for the hell of it, I put my hand on the top of one of the cairns, which allegedly marked a portal to another, um, dimension. As you might guess, the damned rock was buzzing. I took my hand off, shook it vigorously, and tried it again. Same thing.

Like I said, everyone’s got to believe in something.

Tara Flanagan is the Gazette’s Cartographic Editor. She splits her time between Breckenridge and Boulder, and she’s not bullshitting when she says she believes in stuff like UFOs and alien abductions.

Cheapskates Rejoice

Champions emerge from every crappy situation, and our long, lousy economic condition is no exception. Sometimes in the name of environmental sustainability, sometimes as a matter of one-upmanship, extreme thriftiness and downsizing have usurped ramen noodles and Geo Metros to become an art form.

1) Big on Small

Dee Williams of Olympia has become a poster child for the Small House Movement — a phenomenon that’s getting a lot of ink and bandwidth as more Americans are shedding their belongings and asking themselves just how far they can scale back before they’re running around in loin cloths. Dwelling in a $10,000, 84-square-foot home on wheels that’s parked in a friend’s back yard, Williams pays $8 a month in utilities. She has a sleeping loft, one-burner stove and a composting toilet to call her own, space for a couple changes of clothes and a little porch for hanging out with friends, who are best to be small. Curious? The Small House Society has a big list of resources that’ll help cut you down to size.

2) Freeganism

Bolstered by an awful economy, the freegan movement, which comprises a lot of people who hate the word “freegan,” is all about extreme sustainability and living off the wastes of capitalism. If you’re really good at it, you can avoid the ravages of employment and find abandoned digs in which to squat (i.e. Las Vegas). The urban-foraging lifestyle requires bountiful dumpsters for food and other cast-offs, with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s dumpsters getting good reviews. The downside to getting all your goods on the take: Bedbugs (which have made a bigger comeback than the ’04 Red Sox) and getting busted. Cities that are cracking down: Salt Lake and Sacramento. As far as bed-bugs go, Cincinnati leads the national pack, with the rest of Ohio close behind. Denver is the only Western city to make the top 10, ranking a hearty, scratchy fourth place.

3) Cheapest place in the West

In most of the western U.S., you’re statistically screwed if you want to live cheaply. Tennessee comes in as the cost-of-living champion at an overall index of 89.05, with Hawaii at the high end at 163. In the West, Idaho is the cheapest in 10th place, with an overall score of 92.07. Colorado comes in 31st with a 100.83; Arizona 37th at 104.27; and California in 48th place with 131.46. In housing, Idaho comes in at a reasonable 78.9, while California tops the Western charts at 185.74. FYI — the median 2020 home price in Oahu is estimated at over $1 million. Best to stay in Idaho.

4) DIY disasters

Do-it-yourselfers have taken on a certain swagger these days, accounting for a $160 billion business in the U.S. But before you attempt to join the ranks of Bob Vila, remember that complete failure is a strong possibility. For example, it’s common for DIYers to install bathtubs without hooking them up to drainpipes. And sure, that wax ring under your toilet looks easy to replace, but this widespread blunder has an ugly outcome that requires no elaboration. In Las Vegas, where the housing industry has driven homeowners to despair, home inspectors see Darwinian slip-ups such as ceiling fans installed so low that they hit people’s heads and outlets installed right next to tubs so bathers don’t have to get out to plug in their whirlpool spas. If you need more encouragement to call a handyman: http://blog. servicelive.com/blog/diydisasters/0/0/homeowner-tips-how-not-to-repair-your-washing-machine

5) Hot rocks and yard sales

Last year, a Milwaukee man shelled out $10 for a strange chunk of metal he found at a rummage sale, figuring he’d be able to salvage it as copper or bronze and make a few dollars in these hard times. Too bad he watched a TV show that indicated he probably had a rare meteorite on his hands. A collector then offered $10,000, while posts on the all-reliable Internet said he might make $100,000. The bad news: The chunk turned out to be part of the big Canyon Diablo meteor, which strayed from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and landed in the Arizona desert in 1942. Some jerk stole it from the Meteor Crater Visitor Center in 1962. The Milwaukee man returned the find, which rewarded him $1,000. He says he doesn’t remember where the rummage sale was.

Got Stuff?

Technically speaking, gear is gear as long as it is actively useful. After that, it becomes stuff. At a certain point, it becomes certifiable crap, such as the 25-year-old randonee boards taking up space in a certain writer’s garage. Or that single climbing skin. Or the abandoned blades used in a cross-country ice-skating experiment. With the exception
of other primates using crude tools, humans are the only species that utilizes gear, which gets put to use every time we step outside.

1) This may shock you

If you like really big gear, you’d best settle down in Wyoming or Montana, which rank first and second in U.S. truck ownership. In Wyoming, you’ll find .55 pick-em-up trucks per capita, with Montana coming in at .51. The District of Columbia, comparatively speaking, lags at .0734, despite the vast amount of bullshit that someone needs to haul away.

2) Gear for swingin’ free

Guys: How many times have you been out on the trail, on your bike or hitting the links, when you’ve said to yourself, “WTF, I wish I’d had the foresight to wear a kilt!” Sport Kilt, which manufactures all manner of models to suit the manly modes, has what you need in the form of the Boulder Kilt, Commando Kilt, Hiking Kilt and even the Comfy Kilt, which is an oh-so-soft flannel model designed for the privacy of your own home. (“This is the kilt in which you can completely unwind.”) It doesn’t hold a pleat real well, so the makers recommend you upgrade to a Sport Kilt if you plan to go outside.

3) At altitude, holding your drink isn’t easy

If you’re like me, many a backpacking trip has been scuttled because of the lack of classy, packable martini glass. GSI Outdoors has taken care of that with the Glacier, a 215-gram stainless vessel that has been likened to the ware that James Bond drinks from. The company also makes a nesting, two-speed hand-crank blender (the ice supply remains problematic, though), as well as the most stylish cathole trowel you’ll ever see.

4) A scrotal sanctuary

According to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, there is a search-and-rescue mission underway every 36 hours. This includes overdue aircraft, hikers, hunters and you-name-it who are using the outdoors and don’t know where the hell they are, or do know where they are and really wish they could get somewhere else. Wouldn’t it be good if each of them were carrying a Cocoon, a lightweight shelter that slings over a tree branch and resembles an inordinately large bull scrotum when occupied? It keeps a person warm and sheltered from wind and wild animals, and inside “The user is comforted by warming colors and materials.”

5) Poor delivery of gear

Daredevil George Hopkins had it all planned out when he stepped from a small plane over Devil’s Tower on a $50 bet (this was in 1941) and parachuted safely to the top of the formation. The next and critical part of the experiment didn’t go so well, though, when the plane made its second pass to drop off the gear he needed to descend the tower. When his buddies tossed out a rope, pulley, sledgehammer and axe, the stuff fell to a ledge beyond anyone’s reach. A second attempt to drop another rope worked, but it tangled the rope beyond use. The nation’s best climbers assembled to try to find a way to get Hopkins down, and the Goodyear Blimp was dispatched from Ohio with the idea that it could help pluck Hopkins from his perch in three days (it made it as far as Fort Wayne before crapping out). The good thing: A follow-up drop soon after the failed rope delivery provided a tent and bottle of booze to Hopkins. Subsequent drops yielded huge amounts of food and luxuries like a fur-lined flying suit, all of which got heaved over the edge when a team of climbers got to him six days and five nights after his landing. He reported feeling fine after rappelling down.

6) Failed retrieval of gear

What happens when idiots try to load a jet ski into a van: http://www.streetfire.net/video/jet-ski-loading-fail_2022987.htm