Alice's Restaurant

Alice’s Restaurant

By Bill Stork, DVM

The day-to-day of a country vet consists in no small part of driving in circles. There will be flash frustration and teeth gnashing, but it is for the better. Delivering mail it is not; some things you just can’t schedule.

The day started at 6:00AM, writing health papers for county fair pigs in ‘Crick. This was followed by treating an “under the weather” cow and a sore foot near Deerfield by 8:00. En route to herd check at Haack’s by 9:00, and the phone vibrates to indicate a message has been left sometime during the last 30 minutes. Were it not 75 degrees and sunny, and my window not been rolled down as I headed west on Dane County BB; if Dallas Wayne had not played Steve Earl’s Copperhead Road, I may have heard it ring.

I listen to the message. Gentleman Glenn has a heifer calving, and she’s having trouble.

Mr. Rummler has 18 Angus pets with names they respond to, and come for grain in the same wooden stanchions where he milked cows as a boy. In 75 years he has had one address, minus a tour of duty in Korea. There he served as an optics specialist in the Army. Glenn is as much a philosopher as farmer, and I get a subtle electric tingle under my collar at the notion the man should raise a glove off the wheel of his David Brown tractor when he sees me drive past to another farm.

This day I was feeling no less honored, yet not quite so charmed. From the roof of a 60-foot silo, I could have seen Glenn’s farm, from where I had been just 90 minutes ago.

Backtracking to the Rummler Farm was a trip down memory lane.

I pass the first farm house I rented when I moved from the flatlands to America’s Dairyland. Turn left and you will cross the bridge over I-94 where Steve’s Car and Truck Service extracted a Kenworth sleeper cab wedged like a splittin’ maul in burr oak.

To the west will be a field where Jim Erb was fall-plowing 20 years ago. By the time I waved, drove the mile home and was through the first shower, there would be a message on the clinic phone. He couldn't wait to hear why I was driving around Jefferson County in my underwear.

Another quarter mile will bring you to Ranch Road. Turn right, and you are at the Rummler farm. Turn left and the road quickly dead-ends into the Johnson Creek Landfill.

Like Tonka toys, Caterpillar D12 bulldozers unroll black tarps the size of football fields. Fleets of green Waste Management trucks have collected, compacted and delivered hundreds of tons of refuse per day for over two decades.

Life is built around occasions that mark the passage of time. Births, baptisms, graduations and marriages all beg for us to pause and reflect.

To some of us, the capping of a landfill is no less momentous. Arlo Guthrie and I have that in common.

Woody Guthrie wrote the back-handed anthem to America, “This Land is Your Land”. His son, Arlo, wrote "Alice’s Restaurant." At an average of 18 minutes long, he is famous for musing, “If you are ever to write a song, make sure you are willing to perform it, every day, for the rest of your life.”

For those not familiar, on a fateful Thanksgiving Day he visits his friend Alice. Alice lives in the bell tower of a church. Since they have removed the pews, there is plenty of room for garbage where they used to be. Thinking it the neighborly thing to do, they load a half a ton of garbage in a red VW Microbus, and head for the city dump. There they encounter a sign that states “dump closed on Thanksgiving.” Having never heard of a dump closed on Thanksgiving, they strike out in search of somewhere else to put the garbage. So, off the side of a side road, at the bottom of a 15-foot cliff, they find another pile of garbage. Rather than bring that pile up, they throw theirs down, and return to the church for a Thanksgiving dinner that could not be beat.

All was right with the world until the next morning, when officer Obey called. There had been an envelope at the bottom of the pile of garbage with his name on it. Well, Arlo, I know exactly how you must have felt.

You see, somewhere near the bottom of 25 years of garbage at the Johnson Creek landfill is a sale flyer from Bart’s Water Ski Supply. Post-marked late 1992, addressed to “William Stork, N5594 Switzke Rd, Johnson Creek, WI, 53038, or Resident.”

In Alice’s Restaurant, which is not the name of the restaurant, but the name of the song, Arlo was arrested, interrogated and accused of dodging the draft. My crime was far less heinous. It did however, in the face of my best effort and intentions set me back 80 blue-collar dollars, and thirty minutes of sanity. 

In the fall of 1992 there was no single-stream recycling, curbside pickup or robotic garbage trucks in Farmington Township. The public landfill was open 8-noon, on even-numbered Saturdays. There was also far less cyber-commuting and flex-time at work for our clients. Thus, Saturdays were often the only time they could bring their pets in. At the Lake Mills Veterinary Clinic, it was all hands on deck from the time you walked through the door. My garbage was of little concern to the Cocker Spaniel shaking her head and scooting on her back side.

The situation was critical. I had missed the last two dump days and was nearing Arlo’s proportions, loaded with a month and a half of our garbage, and the neighbor’s as well. A retired painter and polka dancer, not in the least bit opposed to a midday Old-Fashioned, six weeks of Jack’s recycling amounted to a bag or two of empty brandy bottles alone.

Critical Saturday arrived. We stacked the deck as best we could. Technician Sheila and I had provided the best service possible, and stayed light on our feet. Still, it would be close. I swerved out of the parking lot at 11:48AM, knowing the drive well and seldom having made it in less than 15 minutes. With the urgency of a ruptured milk vein, I slid into the landfill at 12:04PM.

Not a soul in sight. There were 4 divots in the dust where, 240 seconds previous, there had been a camp chair, umbrella and thermos. Where the dumpster had sat, was an empty slot between two berms: the west for garbage, the east for recycling. New to the area, looking to do the right thing and not in the least looking forward to returning with all that rubbish, I contemplated. The fence was not too tall to heave the bags over and risk them bursting, and I could slip through the chained gate.

Taking into account contents and balance of the bags, and using meteorology to calculate the expected prevailing winds, I positioned them so as to require the least possible effort to nudge them in, when the dumpster returned. I made sure to take minimal risk they would fall in and cause more work. 

Unilateral as it may have been, pleased with my solution, I returned home for a Cheese Toasty that couldn’t be beat, and a seven-minute nap.

Six weeks later, the incident all but forgotten, I received a letter. A certified letter. Not from Officer Obey, but Farmington Town Clerk Bernice Sukow. An envelope with my name on it had been found in a bag, illegally dumped at the landfill. I contemplated telling her the truth: that I had been missing such an envelope, and thanking her for locating it.

I just could not bring myself.



*For those who haven't heard the song, here it is on YouTube.

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