Editor’s note: “Home Country” is a column that follows the inhabitants of an unnamed, fictional Western town. Tales about Doc, Steve, Marvin and the others of the World Dilemma Think Tank (at the Mule Barn truck stop’s coffee and philosophy counter) print twice a month.
This week is a three-fer, combined below for your reading pleasure. Sponsor messages follow each segment of the story.
Emily led the group of five into the Mule Barn, through the coffee shop itself, and into what is known locally as “the banquet room” when it isn’t being used for storage. Fraternal groups representing several animals used it monthly, and the Rotarians and Kiwanians weren’t unknown there, either.
But this was different. As Emily led them into the room and told them to please sit together at the one long table, they could see that Dewey was already here, standing at the head of the table and greeting each with a handshake and a grin.
The favored few included Doc, Mrs. Doc, Anita Campbell, Steve the cowboy, and our Chamber of Commerce Delbert McLain.
Loretta came in with menus. Her mouth dropped open when she saw Dewey was wearing a necktie.
“I’m so glad you could make it... today,” Dewey said. “You order whatever you like for lunch while we talk about manure and worms.”
His girlfriend, Emily Stickles, stood up quickly from her seat at the other end of the table.
“Thank you, Dewey, hon. Maybe I should explain.” She motioned for him to sit down. He did.
“This...” she said, brightly, spreading her arms out to encompass all five of their friends at once, “is a focus group. You were hand-picked by me and Dewey to help us with the spring campaign.”
“You’re running for office?” asked Steve.
“Of course not,” she laughed. “The spring advertising campaign. For Dewey’s business. The soil amendment division...” she looked down at the puzzled look on Delbert’s face, “...that’s the fertilizer, Delbert.
“Anyway, the soil amendment division is always good. It seems plants just need it in order to do their best.
“But one of our new divisions needs some help. Some advice. That would be the vermiculture division—worms, Delbert. Red wigglers. Fishing worms.
“And we’ve asked you to share your lunch hour with us to get your ideas on how we can sell more worms.
“So just enjoy your lunch and then we’ll talk worms afterward, okay?”
Dewey looked through his friends, over his necktie, down the table, all the way to the woman of his dreams, the one with the unbelievable cheekbones. Emily, he thought, I couldn’t raise a worm without you.
[Brought to you by the new CD “Having Fun in New Mexico,” fifteen stories by Slim Randles. www.slimrandles.com]
Dewey and Emily were the first to finish their lunches, and the two sweethearts whispered together at the nearby coffee machine while the rest of the valley’s first focus group finished up.
“Honey,” said Emily, “maybe you should let me lead the discussion? What do you think?”
“You bet. I’ll take notes.”
When the dishes were cleared away, they got right to it. Dewey loosened his necktie and got ready to take notes.
“All right now,” said Emily, brightly, “let’s think vermiculture! Here are our facts. Dewey grows the best red wiggler worms in the valley. We know they’re great fishing worms, and if you have a compost pile, they can turn ordinary garbage into castings that make great fertilizer. So how do we tell the people … I mean everyone … that they need worms in their lives?”
“Need a catchy phrase, maybe,” said Steve, our tall cowboy.
“Good. Good. I like that. Any ideas?”
Mrs. Doc said, hesitantly, “How about ‘Worms taste good. Ask any trout?”
Dewey wrote it down.
“A fish with every wiggle,” said Delbert.
“I like what I’m hearing here,” Emily said. “Who’s next?”
“Turn your garbage into plant food. Use a worm,” Anita said.
“Very good,” Emily said. “I like where we’re going.”
“Emily,” said Delbert, “do they do anything besides eat manure and feed fish?”
“I’m not sure. Dewey?”
The chairman of the board shrugged. “Robins like ‘em.”
“That’s it!” Steve said, “Worms are for the birds!”
“Might need to work on that one a bit.”
There was a collective sigh as they all began to think vermiculture. Loretta brought them all coffee. She wondered why no one had ordered the spaghetti. It was the blue plate special today.
[Brought to you by Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing. Have a look. http://nmsantos.com/Books/Saddle/Saddle.html]
“What do I care if they didn’t choose me,” Herb said. “Bunch of nonsense anyway. Whoever heard of a focus group anyway?”
“I did,” Bert said. “It’s an amalgamation of common, run-of-the-mill consumers who are bribed to think for an hour. Wish they’d have asked me.”
“Free lunch in the back room.”
“They didn’t pick me, either, fellas,” Dud said, “but they picked my wife. Anita was really looking forward to it. I don’t even know what it’s about.”
“Worms,” said Bert.
“May my pants fall down in church if I’m lyin’. It’s worms. They’re talking about worms.”
Herb got up and picked up his check. “I’m leaving. Can’t stay in here a minute longer, knowing they’re in that room having lunch.”
Dud and Bert got up, too. The three paid and went out the front door into the spring sunshine.
“Reminds me,” said Bert, “of the time the preacher went into the bar and ordered a glass of whiskey and a glass of water…”
“Hush … so everybody in this bar was watching, see, ‘cuz the preacher was known to hate booze. He looked at the patrons and said, ‘I want to show you guys what happens with alcohol!’ And he pulls an earthworm out of his pocket.
“’Look what happens when I immerse this little fella in God’s pure water,’ said the preacher. And he dips him in the water and the worm comes out all wiggly and clean. ‘And now,’ said the preacher, ‘see what happens to him when I put him in the Devil’s brew!’
“And he stuck that worm in the whisky and he stiffened and died instantly. ‘I hope you fellas learned a lesson from this!’ the preacher said, waving the worm about. And in the back, this old drunk yelled, ‘You bet, Reverend. Man drinks enough whiskey, he’ll never get worms!’”
[Brought to you by the new CD “Having Fun in New Mexico,” Fifteen stories by Slim Randles. www.slimrandles.com]