Derision In The Stockyards
Walk In My Shoes


April 4, 2001 

Could you imagine being a poor bovine?  Never mind a cow, even “Mary’s little lamb” is not safe.  It’s a real game of “Who Done It?” and you only have three choices: (1) you have “Hoof and Mouth Disease”, (2) you have “Mad Cow Disease” or (3) you are perfectly healthy but you MIGHT have one or both diseases.  In any case, you are destroyed. 

If the geniuses of the “Not OK Corral” were tasked with managing the world’s HIV crisis they just might push all the buttons and find their solution in a fission/fusion enriched glow of the great megaton barbeque. 

Concerned and confused by the pending doom of sick husbandry, I decided to take the bull by the horns and study this problem (panic?) myself.  I naturally assumed a good starting point might be a visit to Plum Island.  For those of you who are not familiar with Plum Island or think it is really Hannibal Lecter’s vacation retreat, here is the official travelogue intro to the island from the cud chewing lips of the U.S. Department of Agriculture: 

Plum Island Animal Disease Center is a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) facility devoted to diagnosing and researching foreign diseases of animals. Named for the beach plums that grow along its shores, Plum Island's ownership was transferred to the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in 1954 to establish a laboratory to study foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and other exotic animal diseases. The diagnostic activities at Plum Island were transferred from ARS to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in 1983. Since then, under the administration of ARS, APHIS has maintained a foreign animal disease diagnostic laboratory (FADDL) on the island. Plum Island is the only location in the United States where infectious foreign animal disease agents can be studied. It is located 1 1/2 miles off the northeastern end of Long Island, NY.

Not much luck with this approach.  Even if my sailboat was in the water (which it isn’t), the instant I came within visual distance of Plum Island the only thing I would see through my binoculars is armed “men in black” looking back at me through their binoculars.  Trust me, the only fruit a Normandy landing on the beaches of Plum will bear is a ride to a detention center in a smoked window black Suburban.  And I bet, in detention, they wouldn’t feed me a petite fillet with fava beans and a fine Chianti. 

It’s time to cash-in a few “Frequent Flyer” miles and hop a flight to anyplace with a stockyard.  Let’s see…download a few articles about “hoof and mouth” and “mad cow” disease from the Internet, grab my toothbrush and Gameboy (showing my age) and bolt to the airport.  This is about to be a hoot.  Me, Mr. New England, is about to go in search of the great stockyard.  Ciao (no, not chow), I’m off to find shish kebab on the hoof. 

The girl (sorry, I mean “person”) at the airline ticket counter almost called security when I asked her for a flight to any destination with a stockyard.  I decided to hop on the first flight to anywhere. The logical routing engineered by the operations gurus of the airline industry placed me on a flight to Omaha by way of Washington, D.C and St. Paul.  Nothing to do except lie back, read my disease research and enjoy some airline Chicken Parmesan (a Salmonella extravaganza at 40,000 feet…I think not…just give me the honey roasted nuts). 

I should mention that I’m afraid to fly.  Either the plane crashes or I catch some non-fictional version of the Motaba virus (from a well-heeled world traveler with his underwear and chickens packed in a cardboard box reinforced with Gucci tape) or my heart just suddenly explodes from the panic of claustrophobia.  At least I’m seated in row number two (not so many people to walk over in case of an emergency exit). 

Never letting a few neurosis get between my mission and me, it’s time to swallow 1…make that 2…oh, what the heck…6 milligrams of Ativan with a Heineken chaser (less than a dollar for the drugs and $6.00 for the beer…no wonder the DEA has so many problems). 

Geez…this “Mad Cow” disease is bad stuff.  One article sums it up the best, “Confusion, feelings of disorientation, loss of muscle control, twitches, spasms, inability to walk, coma and death within 12 months.”  In technical jargon, “The official name of mad cow disease is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), so named because the brains of the affected animals actually develop holes, like sponges.”  Except for the coma and death, this describes a lot of people I can think of (I didn’t say in politics and the media). 

“Hoof and Mouth” is a bit less severe (and supposedly not harmful to humans…yeah, right…that’s why the Dr. Strangeloves on Plum Island are so interested in it).  Does this sound like fun? 

 A highly contagious disease almost exclusive to cattle, sheep, swine, goats, and other cloven-hoofed animals. It is caused by a virus that was identified in 1897. Among its symptoms are fever, loss of appetite and weight, and blisters on the mucous membranes, especially those of the mouth, feet, and udder. Discharge from the blisters is heavily infected with the virus, as are saliva, milk, urine, and other secretions. Thus the disease is readily spread by contact; by contaminated food, water, soil, or other materials; or through the air. Humans, who seldom contract the disease, may be carriers, as may rats, dogs, birds, wild animals, and frozen meats. 

Oh no…a couple of my state’s Congressional delegation are aboard the plane…first row of course (directly in front of me…boy do they use tons of hair gel).  One Democrat and one Republican…what a P.C. balance.  I know one of the CongressPeople well, but in my traveling outfit replete with a “Remember Ruby Ridge” sweatshirt and Doc Martin clogs I remain anonymous.  Should I have approached them with my checkbook and asked, “Would you like it hard or soft?” (donation dollars you dirty minds). 

This is all so overwhelming that I need to take a nap.  Of course the Ativan and Heineken(s) might be the overwhelming reason for the nap.  Next stop is the stockyards and I need a rest.  Maybe I’ll try to read a little more of my research before I doze. 

“This is Captain ___ and the crew and I would like to welcome you aboard flight (you can pick the number).  We are now at cruising altitude and the seat belt light is off (you’ve got to be a fool to ever remove your seat belt for any reason except the imminence of a bursting bladder).  There is no smoking allowed on this flight (but there is an abundance of second hand body odor and cheap cologne to breathe). We thank you for flying (is there still more than one) Airlines and hope you enjoy your trip (especially all of the viruses in the recirculated cabin air).” 

Wow…this is funny…the Republican and Democrat in front of me are talking.  If I lean forward maybe I can eavesdrop on some inside poop.  I’ll become the quintessential “fly on the wall” (in this case “fly on the fold-down tray”).  We are about to become privy to the inside workings of two “professionals” conferring over the body.  My thoughts are in red. 

“I understand that you are looking for a place in Georgetown.” 

“I was until the market crashed…I mean corrected.  I really wanted to get out of DC.  I mean I love DC but I wanted to get a place that would be better for my family to visit.  Not that DC isn’t a great place for families but, well, you know…I mean…how it is with the wife.” 

“Take it from me, I’m paying more to heat my DC condo than a mortgage in Georgetown costs.  (a little sensitive laughter)” 

“Hmmm…this energy situation is really stirring things up.  It’s creating such a hardship.”  (What a bright bulb…it’s only been here since October of 1973.) 

“We really need to consider some legislation to promote conservation.  I’ve been looking at a proposal to increase the gas tax to curb SUV excesses and use the proceeds to further subsidize the energy fund for the less advantaged.”  (Now there’s a great idea.  Let’s suck more growth out of the economy and fuel some inflation as well.  But, some of this CongressPerson’s biggest supporters run the energy assistance program and receive six figure salaries funded by tax dollars.) 

“That would be an affront to the taxpayer.  I think a more productive approach would be increasing tax incentives for domestic energy exploration.”  (Well, at least this proposal gives the taxpayer some choice…either pay more to subsidize the poor or subsidize oil and gas producers.  I’m overjoyed that in both proposals the status quo is maintained and the tax burden on the working class…taxpayers…increases.) 

“Wouldn’t that be pandering to Big Oil?  It might not be prudent with our ongoing campaign finance reform efforts.”  (Who’s kidding whom?  With energy assistance dollars this CongressPerson gets hard and soft money from the local suppliers who are “channeled” the contracts for supplying the fuel at rates often above the average of the market.  Either way, both political parties increase the capacity of their pipelines for both hard and soft “contributions”.) 

“I wouldn’t do anything that would hamper our progress on campaign finance reform.  The results of our bipartisan efforts to reform the system will be of lasting pride.”  (Finally the truth.  Both sides will be proud of their efforts in the campaign finance reform debate.  After decades of bluffing the American people by finger pointing blame “across the aisle” for a system increasingly fueled by the gaseous smell of influence peddling, both Republicans and Democrats are now backed against the wall.  The way both parties are manipulating and bedeviling any honest attempt at campaign finance reform may be the politicians proudest moment and the citizen’s saddest.   The illusion of a sincere attempt at reform is the greatest pile of horse dung ever sold to the American people.) 

Rats…the seat belt lights are on and the landing gears are lowered.  Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is just a vertical 1000 feet away.  My CongressPeople have stopped chatting and are now primping for their public.  I, on the other hand, am quite happy because I now realize where the stockyard is located…Washington D.C. is the national stockyard and the two CongressPeople on my flight are infected strays who had temporarily wandered away to spread their infections nationwide. 

Think back to the earlier definitions of our two bovine diseases; brains developing holes, confusion, disorientation and spewing contagious infection from every orifice of their being.  Aren’t these the symptoms we have just witnessed from our two CongressPeople?  

As the airplane’s tires touch the runway I can smell the fused stenches of a stockyard and mass infection.  I must be at ground zero of the epidemics. 

I’m not going to disembark the plane.  I don’t want to chance being infected.  What if they force me off the plane?  What if I have to breathe the cherry blossom scented air of D.C. infection.  What if they think I might suggest a cure for the disease and they destroy me….

“Sir…sir…wake up…are you alright?  We have landed in St. Paul and you have to disembark. 

The gig is up.  The men in black have caught me.  St. Paul?  Hold on…it’s not a MIB…it’s a flight attendant that’s shaking me.  I slept through the D.C. layover?  Was this all a dream?  Or a nightmare?  St. Paul…as in Minnesota?  

As I look down into my sweaty hands, I realize that I am clutching WWF literature.  What happened to my bovine disease research?  Whoa…you’ve got to be careful with that Ativan and Heineken.  Oh well, I’m in Minnesota with some time to kill.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll go in search of Jesse Ventura and wrestle my way out of this confusion.


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