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Know the West

Heard Around the West



How many ways can a neighbor's house drive you crazy? The Seattle Weekly counts 10, with each one dreadful in its own distinctive way. Among them is the "Pig Face" dwelling that thrusts its two-car garage toward the street "like a greedy sow rooting for rotten vegetables." This house clusters in herds, and its residents never enter or exit on foot. Writer Brian Miller calls the local trophy home an "Angelina Jolie" after the actress, resenting what he describes as "unnatural collagen-lipped, silicone-breasted architecture." The "Appalachian" house features "secretiveness ... and crystal meth" while the "Bauhaus Bunker" radiates aggressive tidiness and "proud, unadorned concrete." A "Green Zone Special" defends itself with motion-sensor lights and windows that never open; and then there's the unfinished house next door, whose owners have embarked on a "Never-Ending Remodel," which keeps them firing off nail guns and falling off ladders at all hours of the night. But the most alarming neighbor has to be "The Encroacher," the owner who bulks up his house right up to your shared lot line. At that point, his windows peer into your bedroom and bathroom, and your Wi-Fi gets mixed up with his. As The Encroacher menaces your home, becoming ever "loomier," you actually wonder, "Their house sure looks different. But could it have actually moved on its foundations?"


The Aspen Daily News had a field day with April Fool's stories and even got Mayor Mick Ireland to do a handstand on a beer keg for a front-page picture. The point of that stunt remains murky, but a few of the headlines probably need no explanation: "Aspen police solve crime," "Aussie tips 14 percent, sets record," and, one that's easy to visualize given this year's huge snowfall: "Snow finally melts, revealing 10 dead Aspen Realtors." Apparently, nobody noticed the Realtors were missing because the town boasts 600 of the breed: "How are we supposed to know if 10 don't show up at work?" One supposedly died while talking on a cell phone in her car as an "epic storm" moved in, and soon, her snow-covered car became a handy jump for extreme skiers on Red Mountain. "The line was just sick, brah," said one skier, "adding that if he'd known there was a dead Realtor inside, he would not have done it. 'My condolences.'"


There's something endearing about turkey vultures, those hooked-beak birds with the scrawny necks and ruffled feather collars. Somebody apparently tamed one near Portland, reports the Oregonian, but then left it to fend for itself. Since the scavenger had bonded with people, it would not have survived long in the wild. So now the big brown bird dubbed Ruby lives in a cage at the Northwest Portland Wildlife Care Center, where she serves as an "awe-inspiring presence" for flocks of grade-school children. They want to know all about her, and in particular, what this intelligent and gentle bird eats. The answer is appropriately gory - Ruby is fed dead rats, mice and quail. Out in the wild, turkey vultures serve as the ultimate recyclers as they forage for even poisoned dead animals. Thanks to their powerful stomach acid, the birds can safely digest carcasses contaminated with deadly botulism, cholera and anthrax. We bet kids also like learning exactly why no animal wants to mess with a turkey vulture. Its major defense is vomiting, and the upchuck not only smells putrid but stings on contact, too.


In a letter to the Colorado Statesman, a Denver-area man proposed a novel way to curb immigration. It's simple, said Steve Schweitzberger: Just make citizenship dependent on where a child is conceived, not where it happens to be born. This "time-of-conception" approach also recognizes "life" as starting at conception, he said, and once this tiny adjustment is made, couples will only have to prove they were in this country nine months before their babies are born for the children to gain American citizenship. As for Americans who get pregnant during a Mexican honeymoon - sorry! - babies born nine months later in America are out-of-luck illegal aliens. But who knows, the kids might be "willing to do the work Americans won't, at politically-correct slave wages, with no benefits ..."


What a scary prospect, says the Arizona Republic: You walk into your neighborhood government office, library or grocery, and a quarter of the workforce is missing. And this could happen before you know it; by 2020, one in four Arizonans will be over 60, and either retired or ready to retire. Arizona isn't the only state with an aging population, but it's already feeling the effects. In Yavapai County, for example, more than 35 percent of residents are 60 or older. The paper has a suggestion for the disappearing workforce: "Boomers, don't all retire at once!"

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.