Heard around the West

  • John Wasson


"It’s perfect rattlesnake country," exulted Deputy Sheriff Dan Brewer from Sweet Home, Ore., as he walked through sagebrush in eastern Oregon at the start of a vacation. He found what he was looking for underneath a boulder, and as his family videotaped the encounter, Brewer uttered the fateful words: "I say, let’s take a look at it." The rattlesnake he grabbed was a big one, he told the New Era newspaper; still, he clowned around with it, imitating the Australian accent of crocodile hunter Steve Irwin. He even wiped his brow while holding the snake, which might have loosened his grip. The snake struck, sinking a fang into one of Brewer’s fingers. It’s all there in the home movie, including Brewer’s wife yelling, "I told you, you idiot!" and the surprised Brewer flinging the snake aside. Brewer kept joking about the incident on the way to a hospital in Burns, but there was little funny about it: His finger turned black, and it took a total of 34 antivenin shots given at a Boise, Idaho, hospital to fight the snake’s poison. Of his next encounter with rattlers, Brewer said later, "I probably would be more cautious."


Wyoming’s richest resident — and the 340th richest American — is Leandro Rizzuto, who made $900 million or so by selling hair dryers and hair crimpers. These days, Rizzuto, who founded the company Conair with his parents in 1959, isn’t enjoying the outdoors at his Holy Cow Ranch outside of Sheridan, Wyo. In 2002, says the Casper Star-Tribune. Rizzuto pleaded guilty to charges that he hid $3 million in taxable income by stashing it abroad. Sentenced to serve three years in a federal prison, Rizzuto now lives at a halfway house.


So many nasty ads and bumper stickers proliferated during the recent presidential campaign, it’s hard to pick the most offensive. Our nominee for tackiest: The TV spots in Colorado targeting Republican State Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. Jared Polis and several other Democrats bankrolled these mini-dramas featuring an actress in a pink suit impersonating Musgrave. The Musgrave stand-in was not a nice person: She tiptoed to a coffin in order to steal a watch off the wrist of the dead man; in another ad, she dunked a family in a vat of toxic waste. The ads backfired, and Musgrave won the election.


If M. Dennis Moore ever decides to run for office in Oregon, he might do well with voters starved for humor. Moore paid good money to put his hilarious arguments mocking Measure 36, which prohibited same-sex marriage, in the state’s official general election voters’ guide. Calling himself a spokesman for the "Defense of Heterosexual Breeding Coalition," Moore argued that since the Bible says marriage is only for procreation, Oregon should prohibit marriage not only for homosexuals, but also for men with vasectomies, women with hysterectomies, anyone infertile, persons planning to use birth control and non-virgins. "Agree with us or burn in hell!" Moore concluded. He blamed a lot of the outrage about same-sex marriage on God, who never stops "throwing all these radical social changes at us." Measure 36 passed, nonetheless.


An interview with a dining hall cashier at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colo., revealed something about students they might be too embarrassed to admit: They get lonely sometimes, particularly if they’re from out of state. Known as "Mesa Mom" and "Colorado Mom," Connie Martin has worked as a cashier for 12 years, and during that time she’s gotten to know many students by name. Some routinely ask Martin to come to their sports games, she told the Criterion, the college newspaper, though once — embarrassed when the girls’ volleyball team stopped playing to "high-five" her as she walked by — her face turned "five shades of red." Martin has picked up some slang along the way: When an undergraduate tells her, "You’re my dawg," she says, it’s a compliment.


A very smart brown bear in Mammoth Lake, Calif., knows how to open doors without doing much damage. A man on his way to bed discovered this one night when he saw the emergency lights flashing on his SUV. A trapped and antsy bear was moving around inside the vehicle. Figuring a gust of wind had slammed the door on the animal, the man released it. But then the bear crossed the street and broke into a house. Police said the bear "had a habit" of breaking and entering both houses and trucks, reports the Mammoth Times.

Betsy Marston writes Heard around the West and is also editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado.

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