I’m running through a high pasture north of Nederland and east of the Indian Peaks. There are thirty or forty brown cows up here for the summer. If I were of an agricultural bent, I could name this type of cow, but to be truthful, one cow is pretty much the same as another; they are simply ambulatory meat delivery systems to me. These aren’t exactly “show-quality” cows or even “companion-quality” cows. You know what I mean, like those insufferable light brown bovines in Switzerland with absolutely clean coats and brass bells hanging from their necks. These are just a bunch of scruffy, raggedy-looking cows.
This brute with a line of drool hanging out of his mouth is standing next to the trail. He stares directly at me and asks: “What you looking at?”
“Who’s asking?” I counter.
“That’s your name?”
“Yeah, what of it?” asked the cow.
“That can’t be your name. Fred Praeger was a self-proclaimed genius book publisher. Besides that, how did you learn to talk?”
“It is possible that you are simply imagining that I am talking,” suggested the cow.
It is at moments like this when I carefully review my mental and chemical state. There are a good number of benefits to trail running. In my case, sanity is one of those benefits. Should I not run for a week, I tend to get grouchy. A clear indication that I need to go for a trail run is when Blue Eyes moves my moccasins up close to the front door so that she doesn’t have to look around when she wants to toss them out into the front yard.
I’ve been running for an hour or so. I had a full charge of oatmeal with maple syrup and fruit for breakfast. I’m well-hydrated and most of my parts are painless. So I pass the mental checklist.
The chemical checklist is a tad bit more vague. Endorphins from running can do some fairly strange things to my chemical makeup. They tend to make me smile and act unreasonably cheerful. However, they don’t usually tend to allow me to hear a cow talking.
Full disclosure requires an admission of youthful experimentation with known controlled substances. There is the possibility that this talking cow is due to some level of flashback. And then again, this is a mountain cow, he could actually be talking to me. Stranger things have happened up here.
Not one to ignore the possibility of a new experience, I stop running and talk to the brute,
“I can’t believe you are the same Fred Praeger. He would have at least come back as a bull.”
“How about Ambrose Bierce?”
“No way, he had to come back as an eagle. You are just a steer.”
“Great, you don’t even know me and you’re making fun of my sexual orientation,” he says and starts to walk away.
“Wait, wait, wait,” I say, “So who are you really? And how did you end up as a steer?”
“Okay, so my real name is unimportant. I’m here because I invented the Master of Business Administration degree.”
“Wow, tell me more.”
“It’s not a pretty story.”
“So how did you come up with the idea?”
“There were these moderately smart kids at the university, not smart enough to be engineers or dentists, even though they thought they knew everything. We needed to do something with them to increase our enrollments in the business school.”
“Yeah, that sort of makes sense.”
“We knew that we had to put their arrogance to work, so we started telling them that they could become masters of the universe if they would apply a few simple principles to their work.”
“Yeah, let me guess what the principles were?”
“OK, give it a try.”
“You taught them that optimizing profit at any cost was their sole reason for existence.”
“Right, you are almost smart enough to have an MBA,” said the steer.
“You taught them that that lowering the quality of a product, demanding greater productivity from the workers and thinking only of short-term gain were all roads to success.”
“You got it,” said the steer.
“And you taught them to treat all their colleagues with sarcastic contempt, as if their ideas were useless.”
“You could have been a dentist.”
“Wow, that’s amazing. And for developing the MBA, God turned you into steer?
“Yup, she did.”
“What about all these other cows? They are just cows, aren’t they?”
“Nope,” he said looking around. “They were all professionals at one time or another.”
“Nope. See the cow over there with the really short legs?”
“Yeah, he’s a weird-looking cow.”
“That’s Steven Nordski from Seattle. He was the engineer for Boeing who invented the middle seat.”
“Wow, and who was that cow over there who looks like he has lost most of his hair?”
“Oh that’s Sam. God gave him a permanent lice infection.”
“What did he do?”
“I think he was the insurance executive who came up with preexisting conditions, but he might have been in charge of policy cancellations,” said the steer.
“What about the cow with particularly big ears and eyes?”
“That’s Darryl, who came up with playing three-minute ads in movie theaters. I could go on and on.”
“Okay, the cow over there with the really big tongue, he got here for his work on industrial tomatoes. The cow who looks like a pig and has really ratty looking ears used to be a Senator.”
“You’d better explain,” I say.
“Earmarks,” said the cow.
“And the cow who is sitting down and doing nothing?” I asked, “Let me guess.”
“Go for it.”
“Okay, I’d bet he had something to do with starting public employee unions.”
“Good” said the cow. “Take another guess. How about the cow who is moving his hooves all over his own body?”
“Easy,” I said, “he obviously invented TSA screeners.”
“And the cow who is on fire? What did he do?” the steer asked.
“Piece of cake, he invented suicide bombers.”
“More?” asked the steer.
“Yeah, who is cow up to his neck in a huge puddle of his own shit?”
“He was a partner at Goldman Sachs,” said the steer. “Any other questions?”
“No, I get the picture. What profession is most represented in this herd?”
“I was mistaken,” said the steer, “You’re not smart enough to be a dentist. Any fool would know that most of these cows were lawyers.”
“Oh, yeah, right. How could I forget that? What about women? This herd is all steers from what I can see.”
“God doesn’t turn professional women into cows,” said the steer.
“But there are a good number of professional women doing dumb stuff.”
“Professional courtesy,” said the steer, who then ambled off.
Senior correspondent Alan Stark is a principal of Boulder Bookworks. His blog, “Mountain Passages,” can be viewed on mountaingazette.com.