Heard around the West


Is there no compassion in Aspen? Maybe not much for Kenneth Lay, former honcho of the bankrupt corporation Enron. The good drinkers at the Woody Creek Tavern recently placed a contribution bowl on the bar to raise money for Lay, a quasi-local and occasional neighbor. Lay owns several properties in Aspen as well as a clutch of homes elsewhere, but his wife says the couple is suffering from a dangerous lack of liquidity. Though the Lays' need might be mighty, big bucks somehow failed to fill the bar's jar for the man President Bush once affectionately called "Kenny Boy." After two and a half weeks, reports Aspen Times columnist Gaylord Guenin, the take was a measly eight cents plus "one french fry, one wrapper off a chocolate bar, one half of a dog-bone treat, a newspaper clipping about the Lays attempting to buy their way out of being forced to rent out a caretaker unit, a few nacho chips (all broken), (and) a pistol shell of undetermined caliber." Last but not least was a curious collection of screws of various lengths, as if "saying it with flowers" just wouldn't say what needed to be said.

Speaking of french fries, potatoes have made tons of news lately. During the Olympics, the Idaho mascot dubbed "Spuddy Buddy" strolled the streets of Salt Lake City, arm in arm with Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. And coming up soon there's a big honor for the "tawny tuber," as the Idaho Statesman put it: official Idaho designation as "State Vegetable." Meanwhile in Olympia, Wash., Gov. Gary Locke declared a "Potato Lover's Day" in February, since, he told Capitol Press, spuds are the state's third-largest crop after apples and wheat. (In Idaho, the spud crop ranks number one.) Marketers are becoming ever more inventive at selling all these taters. Products under way include blue and orange "Funky Fries" for children, and according to Spudman magazine, there's excitement over individual shrink-wrapped "PotatOH!'s" that microwave in less than 10 minutes, but taste like "real" baked potatoes.

A mail carrier in Missoula, Mont., recently lost her sidekick, a cock pheasant who flew behind her U.S. Postal Service truck. When Carolyn Jones walked up to a door to deliver packages, says the Great Falls Tribune, the pheasant she called "Red" would prance alongside her "and occasionally squawk." But the bird crashed into a window and broke his neck. He'll still be around, sort of. The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is having the pheasant stuffed for display in schools.

Twirling a toy pink pig on a tether around his head, New Mexico Republican Gov. Gary Johnson stuck it to the Democratic-controlled state Legislature, reports the Albuquerque Journal. He told 200 members of the Association of Commerce and Industry that he'd sign the Legislature's proposed state budget "when pigs fly." Johnson accused Democrats of refusing to curb state spending, and whirling the porker prop around his head several times during his speech, repeated, "Still not flying." While many in the audience laughed, Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, found the governor's threat to operate without a budget "immature and irresponsible." Johnson said afterward that he meant his talk to be "funny, really funny."

Holy flaming, flying cow pies! Montana writer Ben Long says he heard an amazing but true story on Montana public radio about a dramatic effect of the severe drought affecting the eastern half of the state. After a storm recently brought winds of 100-plus miles per hour along the Rocky Mountain Front near Choteau, power lines toppled and sparks started grass fires. But the Teton County Sheriff said this was just the beginning. The fires ignited dry cow flops, which cartwheeled through the air like frisbees, starting more grass fires where they landed. It was like fireworks thrown by kids, and in case you were wondering, says Long, "Dave Barry is not making this up."

Dave Barry did visit North Dakota this winter and had lots to say about life there at "8,500 degrees below zero." The nationally syndicated columnist has relentlessly mocked the state that boasts it's "where the earth meets the sky," so for North Dakotans this was a friendly payback. In a public ceremony, Grand Forks honored Barry by naming a big new building after him - a sewage treatment facility, called Dave Barry Lift Station No. 16. It's capable of pumping 450,000 gallons of untreated sewage per day. Barry acknowledged the honor but noted that January was perhaps not the best time to visit. Smarter cars, he said, have learned how to "start themselves to keep warm." In columns to come, Barry promised to tell about the dubious sport of ice fishing, which he believes proves that "prolonged exposure to cold causes brain damage."

If you want to know why Wyoming ranks 51st in the nation for what working women are paid compared to men, ask State Sen. Bob Peck, R-Riverton. He told Associated Press that it may be the fault of women themselves. "Maybe women's wages are lower because they're willing to work for less money," he suggested. "Maybe it's the women's fault." The good jobs, he said, are in mining, but women don't tend to seek them. In supporting a study of the wage disparity, State Sen. Jayne Mockler, D-Cheyenne, said if nothing is done, Wyoming might just have to ditch its motto of "Equality State." Despite his doubts, Sen. Peck voted in favor of Mockler's bill.

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia. Quirky and quintessentially Western items - the definition remains loose - can be e-mailed to her at [email protected]

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