By Lee Pitts
Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was a harbinger of things to come that my wife and I started our beef herd in 1974, which was one of the worst years in the modern history of the cow business. Thanks to two seven-year droughts, a year where we had a 74% breed up thanks to a neighbor’s Trichomoniases education program (he taught us all about Trich), and another year in which we decided to feed our calves and sell them to a packer, allowing us to treble our losses, I think all together we’ve had exactly one good year in the cow/calf business. And when I say it was a “good year,” I mean that we maybe had a 5 percent return on our investment and got paid about $1.25 per hour for our hard labor.
Because my wife and I never got trapped into being prosperous, we didn’t know how to act when we were finally able to open a savings account. When we had to pay income tax on our cattle operation for the first time, I explained to the wife, “You do know that we’re going to have to conceal our good fortune? We don’t want our landlord thinking that we’ve become members of the leisure class or he’ll raise our already outrageous rent.”
“Does that mean we have to keep being suboptimal spenders,” asked my wife?
“I’m afraid so. We can’t all of a sudden start going out to expensive dinners and tip 5 percent.”
“Not even Taco Bell once in a while?” she pleaded.
“Only if you’re careful about it. I know how much you like nachos but don’t splurge and buy that huge nacho pack they’re advertising on TV, or friends and neighbors might see you and get the idea you’re acting uppity. You can’t change your spending habits at the grocery store either. You know how checkers talk. If all of a sudden they see you buying lobster and filet mignons and Knotts Berry Farm jellies and jams instead of the no-name brand, they might get the idea this cow business is a great way to get rich. And we don’t need any more competition.”
“You don’t have to tell me how grocery checkers spread rumors. I was one for 30 years, remember? If I hadn’t worked in the grocery store, you couldn’t have played cowboy all this time.”
“I know, all I’m saying is it’s imperative that we not change our standard of living. Of course, we’ll continue to serve hamburgers from cancer-eyed cows and potato chips at our branding, we’ll still grow our own vegetables, and we can’t hire a housekeeper or gardener for the first time in the 47 years we’ve been married. We can’t start to wear fake Rolexes or costume jewelry; we’ll continue to straighten and reuse deformed paper clips, write on both sides of paper and collect our toilet paper hanging from trees the day after Halloween. And you can’t start to be under the care of a beautician or get pedicures all of a sudden.”
“Can we at least get a new roof and have the house painted?”
“Woman, do you want to attract the attention of the IRS?”
“Then I suppose a new truck is out of the question? After all, ours is 25 years old!”
“Especially NOT A NEW TRUCK! That’s the first sign of excessive consumption in cow country. No, we must continue to buy all Christmas gifts at the Dollar Store and buy our clothes at the Nifty Thrifty thrift store. You must not start to send our clothes to be dry cleaned either, and I can’t suddenly be seen wearing pressed Wranglers with creases in them, for gosh sakes!”
“I suppose this means we can’t take our first vacation in 40 years?” my wife wondered aloud.
“I suppose you want to go to Vegas and drink expensive drinks with little umbrellas in them while our suddenly valuable cows are left unattended at home? No, it’s out of the question.”
I thought my wife got the message until she came home from the hardware store wearing a BRAND NEW Carhartt® hoodie. The expensive model with the zipper at the top. I blew up! “Did you not hear a word I said? There will be no extravagances. Period.”
“I think I liked it better when we were broke,” said my forlorn wife.