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Sometimes Life Is Just a Barn Full of Bull Crap

by Henry Shaw 3 months ago in humor
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And You've Gotta Shovel It

My Dad

The Playstation 2: a shining, monolithic, matt black box of endless possibilities to the twelve year old mind.

The wondrous console symbolized more to me than just Sony’s flagship gaming console during the early to mid 2000s. It was a vehicle to vivid dreamscapes, a one way ticket to countless worlds for exploration, and a stark departure from the red-hatted plumber my brothers and I had grown up placing on the same childhood pedestal of admiration and endearment as Mr. Rogers.

Possibly more meaningful than any of these factors, the Playstation 2 held the prospect of an experience, one which only happens to lower middle class kids in families of 7 on rare solstices when the planets are aligned in such a way that for a short blissful period, you become part of the current technological age.

No longer need you bear the crushing load of FOMO syndrome. No more shouldering the slander and scoffs of kids whose parents bought them every gaming console just to shut them up so they could go for another ride in their tax fraudulent, “I have a house on the lake,” million dollar boat.

This freedom, this deliverance from the buffetings of the Squilium Fancysons of the world, made the opportunity of finally owning a Playstation 2 all the more sweet.

In circumstances such as mine growing up, if something was bought new, it tended to stick around for much longer than its projected lifespan, which is why even as an oft maligned millennial in today’s world, I am well versed in the old magic. The VHS Rewinder, The Cassette Tape, The Cassette player, and even the hand crank car equivalent of televisions that work via a dial.

It was much the same for gaming devices like the Nintendo 64 or the Gameboy, which were purchased new, but inevitably gathered as much mileage from our family of five kids as our 98’ Honda Civic that served as each of our highschool vehicles from the class of 99 to the class of 2013.

Needless to say, during my formative years I gained an appreciation for hand-me-downs, secondhand essentials, and homemade handyware fashioned with caring improvisational skills only a mother could have. Such hardwearing longevity competence was what made it possible for me to play out in the snow during recess in my Sequim, Washington elementary school. When, in a classist move that I can only assume was meant to separate the princes from the common, needful peasants such as myself, the powers that be set forth the decree that no child should play outside unless they had a pair of sturdy boots.

In an ironic twist of fate, boots just so happened to be the one item of clothing I did not have a hand-me-down pair of, and something my family, at the time, did not have the means of purchasing. My mother instead, through country bred ingenuity, and outside the box thinking that both baffles and inspires me to this day, fashioned what I have since lovingly dubbed the Wonder Bread waders. Assembled from two reused bread bags that went up the length of my legs, these redneck galoshes were then held up by a rubber band placed around the open end at about the height of my knees.

Despite the confused looks from friends, and the skeptical leaders of the boot regime, I was allowed to play in the snow that day, and I did so, buttons poppin’ with pride I might add!

But living life in such humble circumstances always made the occasions when we did have enough money to purchase something new, a much more special moment. So when my parents placed the offer on the table that they would purchase an expensive item of my choosing upon the fulfillment of a job they assigned to me like a contractor, I couldn’t refuse. I knew I had to have the Playstation 2. There was just one problem. A real shitty problem.

Our family had just recently relocated to my grandmother’s home she had left behind in the dry, dusty, potato ridden eastern side of Oregon. Please, don’t mistake Eastern Oregon for “the coast,” or naively think to yourself, “Oh, I love Oregon, Oregon is so beautiful!” Perhaps it is beautiful, lush, and green along the coast. Perhaps it is beautiful in places like Portland with more to do than go to a crumbling bowling alley and get drunk. There is a well recognized beauty of Oregon that often gets it mistaken for Washington, but there's a much less recognizable "beauty" on its eastern side that often gets it mistaken for Idaho.

Still, my grandmother's property that our family had semi-reluctantly inherited, did have a secluded, serene, picturesque quality that made it feel like home, despite the “in the middle of nowhere” atmosphere that permeated the arrid, sagebrush scented air.

There was a lovely white house with a blooming, bustling garden and lush, tall hedges. Acres upon acres of land for cattle to roam such as when our uncle would bring down his cows at interim times for us to help care for. And, on each side of the small stream that ran through the property, stood 2 grand barns. One much newer and fashioned out of fine metal, and another that looked to have once been the lodging of the Pontipee brothers and their sobbin’ women years and years ago, but now, with warping wood and barely a window left, looked like it could collapse at any minute.

The only thing holding it together seemed to be the ground floor, a foundation of centuries old, dried up, and encrusted cow manure that had probably been there since cows were invented.

Had the pioneers been so strapped for materials that they used cow shit as a sealant in place of concrete? My preteen mind was convinced this had to be the case, because there was no spot on the ground level where caked, dusty chunks of bovine butt clumps didn’t blanket the flooring.

Certainly it was a technical achievement and architectural marvel rivaling even that of the Roman colosseum or the pyramids of Giza. A foundation of fecal matter. A bedrock of biscuits as we from the country might say. Only by walking on it could one truly get a sense of its sheer magnitude and solidity.

This poop I thought, held the echoes of the very cattlemen who had settled the west. Each layer of feces fettered with rich history. Each clod containing a story, every waft of dried up bum dust providing a memory.

And it was this extraordinary excreta, this stupendous stool, this colossal caca, that I was tasked with upheaving, unearthing, and entirely clearing out of the barn until I reached the concrete beneath by my parents, if I wanted to receive the reward of the Playstation 2.

Didn’t they know? Even if man made tools could pierce such tectonic turd tiling, what good would it do? Surely there was no concrete under this mass of manure, and even if there was, what a misdeed it would be against the spectacle that was the setting of this exquisite excrement exhibit.

But working my way to getting the Playstation 2 and the desire to become a part of the modern gaming era far outweighed my disbelief in finding concrete at the end of this poop colored rainbow. So, with a heavy dose of reluctance and a heavier, wooden handled shovel, I started my journey to uncover the golden city of Eldoradom buried underneath a mountain of shit. And just like most archaeologists, my efforts were nothing short of abysmal as I began.

Each strike of the shovel would yield a small chunk of hardened manure no larger than a silver dollar. The hot, dry, eastern Oregon air only served to make each thrust of my spade more nauseating as puffs of dry manure clouds filled my lungs.

If I was lucky enough to make it one hour, the bottom of my wheelbarrow would maybe be covered with enough scanty manure slivers to make it worth dumping out before I would give up for the day. Although it was my assigned task and my agreement with Mom and Dad that if I finished the job I would obtain my coveted prize, I was still fortunate enough to have the occasional assistance of both my brothers and even my sisters when they could spare the time.

Yet even with all the help in the world, the task of finding concrete beneath the manure still seemed as improbable as finding concrete evidence of sasquatch. Months passed and there seemed to be little hope of ever digging beneath the bum bunker.

Miners often go mad in their feverish search for gold, and this same cycle had beg un to take hold of me. I was searching for my gold, had found none, and my once insatiable desire for video game bliss, just didn’t feel worth the work. I was at my wits end and eventually found myself enraged enough that I decided to leave the task in more capable hands, justifying to myself that no gaming system was worth the price of that much poo.

I would at times still cast in a widow's mite portion of assistance to my siblings who were now performing the lionshare of duties on the doodies, but my journey to the center of that poopsicle was finished for all I cared.

Such conscious incompetence was not about to fly with the foreman of foremans, the overseer of the ordure himself, my Dad.

Dave Shaw was a man who worked until the job was done, and then he’d work some more, and then he’d work through the morning until the rooster’s voice had gone hoarse. Dad’s cue that it was time to stop working was usually when someone had said for the fifth time, “alright, I think it’s good.”. Dad worked on every project like there was a deadline of tomorrow, and that the quality assurance manager expected nothing less than perfection.

He had learned to be this way from a life of earning things the long and arduous way. Hard work was in his blood as the son of a Korean Conflict Navy Veteran, and the grandson of a man who once carried a wood burning stove up a mountain on his back, and that hard working blood, he made darn sure, would be passed on to his children.

In essence, Dad was not going to sit by and let me sit by. No sir, I was going to finish that job whether I wanted to or not, and with that, my foreman Father had sent me back to the jobsite. But I wasn’t going to do so without a fight. As the youngest child, it was clearly my right to sit on my butt and contract others to do the job for me, or at the very least complain if these demands were not met.

After all, delegation is truly a leadership skill, and leadership was what this project needed, leadership from a humble man of the people, the people in this case being my siblings. Strangely enough, my father did not find me to be a suitable foreman’s apprentice, and it was back to the musty manure mine’s for this poo poo prospector.

I quite literally went kicking and screaming, hollering profanities of the worst kind about the job like I had been raised on an oil rig. Any time I was shoveling manure, you could bet I was speaking my mind on the matter, even if my only audience was the owls that had nested in the upper floor of the dusty barn.

And it was on one particular occasion, when the dry heat of the eastern Oregon summer, and the fumes of one too many poop plumes had entered my lungs, I threw a titanic fit that probably made me look like I was a child half my age at the time.

Now, one thing you have to understand about my Dad, and my family: we’re just good, unassuming christian folk. Sure Dad was a gruff and grisled biker from back in the day, and he had a tendency to speak a little louder when he was excited, but he was never one to swear in front of his kids, and I can never recall my Dad and Mom ever yelling at or fighting with each other during my lifetime.

So, while in the midst of my Christian Bale circa 2008 sized tantrum, I noticed my Father make his way down from the house towards me. He seemed to glow with a red, hot aura, pumping his arms in short, sharp motions by his side as he briskly waddled toward me.

He was shuffling on his timeworn, and rickety chicken legs at a speed and rhythm I don’t recall ever having seen him move at before, and to my best recollection, never saw him match at any time afterward. In that moment, a feeling came over me that I think only young, wide eyed gorilla’s must experience in the African jungles, when the leader of the pack beats its chest with a loud howl of dominance.

My Dad, in a fashion not unlike Burgess Meredith’s character in the 1976 classic Rocky, got right up in my steaming, red, and flustered face and taught me an incredibly valuable lesson that I have never forgotten.

I once lived in a city in southern Illinois with a roommate that made me believe there was an alternate dimension where everything is the opposite. A surreal world where up is down, and down is up. In the normal world you may be the most successful billionaire, but in this negative dimension you're a crack addict living in a cardboard box.

Much like the Superman villain Bizarro, my roommate at the time felt like my negative doppelganger from a warped and alternate world that had escaped and come to torture me.

It was a struggle to find work at the time, and an even bigger struggle to make friends with anyone when they had the misfortune of meeting this comic book supervillain size roommate of mine.

Accentuating this struggle, the very air of the town we lived in was permeated by an ever present smell of what I can only describe as burnt dog food lasagna. How I longed to waft the aroma of a manure filled barn just once above that putrid, puppy chow pasta bouquet.

It was moments like these that I remembered Dad’s lesson. With a flame in his eye that seemingly lit his already flaring unibrow ablaze, he looked like a man possessed. Like a football coach rallying his team that’s down by 6 in the fourth quarter, my Dad spoke to me with an earnest fervor and righteous indignation so strong that I was left completely silent.

He talked to me about needing to learn how to love work. He talked about the necessity of hard work in getting what you want and needing to do so throughout your life.

Perhaps it was the poignant, and underlying eternal truth of my Dad’s passionate speech that helps me remember it so vividly to this day, but it may also have something to do with his choice of words that startled me into listening to and remembering all of what he had to say that day.

“Henry, sometimes you’ve got to bite your lip, and say ‘I like shovelin’ shit!”

I recall that despite all of the cussing I had done in the thick of my rant before Dad had come outside, Dad’s use of a well placed “shit” was enough for me to know that my father was serious. Seemingly conscious of how his initial power line had startled his son, my Dad paused, uttering a space filling “well,” before pausing once again, then continuing to deliver his sermon on hard work, diligence, and perseverance, of which I listened and took to heart, despite desperately wanting to get out of the heat and manure-filled air.

I eventually saw the vast landscape of manure disappear and the once fabled floor underneath it become unobscured. I also eventually received that Playstation 2 I had so pined after, but despite still having the system to this day, what has stuck with me most is the lesson my Dad taught me that day in the hot Oregon sun amid the dust clouds of cow pies.

Life is not always going to be easy. In fact sometimes it's rather shitty. There will be moments where your shovel barely seems to make a dent where you strike. Your wheelbarrow may have little more than a few scraps of shit chips that are worth as much as the rear end they came from.

Yes, sometimes life is just a big barn full of bullcrap, and you’ve got to shovel it. And you can sit and complain, you can rant and rave, and cry “oh woe is me,” or “it’s too hard,” or you can grit your teeth, bite your lip, and defiantly affirm “I like shovelin’ shit!”

My Dad has long since passed on, as has the initial excitement of having a Playstation 2, but what I learned from my Dad, all that he gave me of his time, his heart, his hard work, has stuck with me throughout my life.

In one short, yet powerful rant, my Dad bore a part of his soul. He gave me a piece of his heart that had been chiseled from granite and refined in a furnace of challenges and hard work for his entire life. He shared a part of himself and I hope that I have taken what he was trying to teach me and made it a piece of myself.

I miss my Dad, but with all he taught me I will never forget him. I wish all a happy Father’s day. Whether blood relation or through vicarious means of friends, coaches, teachers, or other mentors, I hope that we all can remember the lessons taught by the foreman of foreman’s, those we call Fathers.


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Henry Shaw

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