Inquiring minds have asked me why I have a thing for ducks and, specifically, duck butts. I think it can best be explained by letting you have a preview of something I've been writing off and on. So this, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story. Sort of.
“It’s still my damned house!” The disembodied words coming from the answering machine hit me right in the middle of my solar plexis and propelled me straight up off the couch. Even in a fever-induced, half-asleep haze, this unprovoked attack from the landlady had the power to get my blood pumping. Normally, I would be able to take a deep breath, consider my options and arrive at a reasonably calm response. Today, however, was not one of those days. Sleep deprivation, a hacking cough, and a 101 fever had lowered my civility bar. Substantially.
It could have been the fever, but there was a strange feeling of euphoria as I gave myself permission to throw off the tenets of my Southern Belle upbringing and let it fly this time. That whole Miss Goody Two-Shoes persona was getting old. Besides, I couldn’t take deep breaths to calm myself without coughing up a lung. To bolster my sense of outrage, I listened to the message one more time, as I stabbed the buttons on the phone and pulled up the weather forecast online.
“Good morning, Miss Willadean. What can I do for you this morning?”
“I’m sending someone over to winterize the cooler. There’s a storm coming in, and I’m not taking a chance on the pipes freezing up! You are always thwarting my workmen, and I’m not standing for it anymore. If you don’t let this one in this morning, I’m giving you notice!” she snapped.
“First of all, Miss Willadean, the predicted overnight low is 48 degrees, according to the weather report I’m looking at online. I hardly think we have to worry about pipes freezing. Second, there is only a plastic water line running to the cooler. No pipes. Third, I have sat here for days waiting for workmen to show up and they never did. Finally, I am running a fever, and I do not want to deal with this today. Besides, I’m pretty sure any workman you send over will not appreciate being exposed to whatever creeping crud I have.”
“Can you at least unlock the gate, so he can get up on the roof?!” she barked.
“Sure, I can drag myself out of my sick bed, get dressed, go out, unlock the gate, and dig the cooler cover out from under 20 boxes in the garage.” I calmly replied, following up with some impressive coughing. I might be willing to cooperate to a certain extent, but I was definitely making the point that I was doing so at great personal inconvenience.
Without giving her the opportunity to respond, I continued “And, next time, I would appreciate reasonable notice and a civilized conversation before you call and leave nasty messages on my answering machine. Thank you.” With that, I hung up.
Almost immediately, my imaginary, pesky, Pez-sized Southern Belle conscience swooped down, landed on my shoulder and started scolding me. In a move guaranteed to get me carted off to a rubber room if anyone else ever witnessed it, I flicked the invisible, tiny tiara-wearer off my shoulder.
“Enough already,” I muttered to myself. “I don’t know who she thinks she is, but you just don’t talk to people like that.” Then, I snarkily added, “I’m not even gonna give her a ‘bless her heart’ this time!”
By now, any prospect of trying to take a healing nap was gone, but I was definitely not going anywhere today. Even if I had felt like going through the exhausting motions of showering, blow-drying, make-upping, and dressing, the rest of the world was not gonna welcome me with open arms. At least not without spraying me down with Lysol first.
“I want my mama.” I whined aloud to the empty house. Empty because my husband, Josh, was out of town attending another seminar of some kind. Seemed like he was always working. Nights, weekends, holidays.
“Oh, wah, pull up your Big Girl Panties and get with the program already.”
I was trying to decide how to get on with the day and do something halfway constructive, between coughs, taking my temperature, and trying not trip over the trailing end of the blanket I was wrapped up in, when the phone rang again. “That had better not be Willadean throwing her weight around again,” I growled to myself as I snatched the phone up.
“Mac’s Mule Barn, head jackass speaking!”
From the other end of the phone, I heard, “What?!” Followed by a snort and the unmistakable belly-laugh of my best friend, Paula.
“Yes, Girlfriend, you heard it here first. According to Miss Willadean, apparently, I am a jackass,” I replied.
“Ooookay, Jackie, what did you do now?” Paula asked, with a note of wariness in her voice.
“Why does it have to be me that did something? I’m a good person. I don’t go around cursing at people’s answering machines,” I snapped. And then I laughed, realizing how bizarre that sounded.
“Okay, okay. Let me get some coffee, and you can fill me in on the latest happenings in Redneckville,” she said.
Paula and I have been friends for more than 20 years, since we both ended up at the same air base in England. We were introduced by a mutual friend, Shelly, whom I had known in Sardinia, Italy, when my husband was stationed there. From the outside, we are an unlikely duo. Paula was a cop in the Air Force for 18 years, she doesn’t do dresses, she’s a champion bowler, and she hates American cheese. On the other hand, all of my jobs have been in offices and required professional dress – heels, hose, make-up – I can’t bowl to save my life, and I put American cheese on everything. I love the outdoors and being in the wilderness. Her idea of the wilderness is an out-of-order ice machine at the hotel. We do, however, both love books, animals, cappuccino, disco music, and road trips. Somehow it works.
I quickly filled her in on the dust-up with the landlady and followed that up with a little self-indulgent whining about how crappy I was feeling, and how I was home alone, again. As usual, Paula had me laughing in no time, and I wished for the gazillioneth time that there weren’t several hundred miles separating us – with her in Alabama and me in New Mexico. But, that’s what happens when you’re in the military. You make friends, you get to spend maybe a couple of years together, and then everyone gets sent somewhere else. But, even 13 years after my husband’s retirement, there are a few people I stay in touch with on a regular basis.
After about an hour, I said, “I guess I’d better get off this phone and do some research for the birdfest at the wildlife refuge next month. I’m supposed to be helping out with the “How to Identify Duck Butts” class, and the instructor still hasn’t called me or shown up. With my great luck, I’ll end up leading the class, and I’m pretty sure this won’t be a “fake it till you make it” kinda thing. I can’t wait to see what pops up when I do a search for ‘duck butts.’”
Paula cried, “Duck butts?!”
“Yes, duck butts. When ducks are in the water, they spend a lot of time with their heads under the water and their butts sticking up in the air. A good duck watcher can tell one duck butt from another one. It’s a whole thing,” I explained.
“The things you get yourself into. And, yeah, you might wanna brace yourself. A search for “duck butts” could bring up some seriously disturbing images that will be stuck in your head. Forever. Some things you can’t unsee,” Paula said. “Good luck, Sweetie! Bye!”
As I put down the phone, I distinctly heard Paula snicker and then snort again. Like I said, Paula is just not that into anything to do with the outdoors, and she is sometimes barely able to hide the fact that she thinks I’m crazy for cavorting about in the woods. I’m not even sure she’s ever been all the way to the back of her own back yard.
The next couple of hours were taken up with the duck butt search and printing out everything I could find. No way was any of this going to stick to my over-heated brain cells today, but at least I now had a file folder full of info and full-color pics of duck butts. Hopefully, at least some of these butts would actually show up at the wildlife refuge. I thought maybe my fever was up again, because suddenly “duck butts” struck me as hilarious. Not necessarily a good thing, because every time I tried to laugh, I ended up coughing and choking.
“That’s enough of that. You need some food,” I said to myself. “Yipes. This whole talking to myself thing could actually be a problem.” Stifling a chuckle, I put the file folder aside for later and went in search of chicken noodle soup.
So, now you know. Since moving here, one of my favorite places is the wildlife refuge, where I was first introduced to the art and science of ID'ing duck butts. Besides, saying "Duck butts!" (especially at weird times and places) never fails to either make someone's eyebrows shoot up on their forehead or make them chuckle. Try it! I Triple-Dog dare ya. Duck butts! Duck butts! Duck butts! ;)