Some monkey business
When I began my undergraduate studies at Weber State College in the late 1970s, I, like many of my San Juan High School peers, had not carefully considered my future.
Although I thought it might be interesting to be a white-shoe lawyer working in New York City, I had no understanding what it took to become an attorney or what it was like to live and practice in a large metropolitan area.
I really just wanted out of small-town America, and the opposite end of the population spectrum seemed appealing. I had spent enough time in rural Utah, or so I thought.
So far as I knew, nobody in my extended family had ever studied law, and it seemed unlikely anyone ever would, myself included.
There had been a few encounters with the county sheriff, but that was all I could claim as experience with the legal establishment.
As I commenced my freshman year, I still did not know what degree to pursue. When I was applying for housing, however, the property manager asked what I intended to study, and I replied, “Well... ah, I don’t really know. Maybe political science.”
“Naw,” he said, “that would be useless. You should study business management.”
In that moment the light went on, and I finally had the direction my high school counselors failed to provide. I had been involved in family businesses since I was nine years old, and it seemed likely that trend would continue.
Had I known I would be returning to Bluff after completing my education, I might have been better served doing a double major in crisis management and monkey business. Those subjects would have served me well at Twin Rocks Trading Post.
Unexpectedly finding myself back in my community of origin, after a few years in the wilderness Jana and I met and married. In 1996 we had been together about two years, Kira was an infant, and the trading post needed work done in the attic.
Consequently, I contacted a Salt Lake City company, and they promised to send repairmen the following week.
It was late July, when Bluff’s mid-day temperatures soar into the low 100s.
That and a metal roof made working upstairs scorching hot. Any time after 10 a.m. would be unbearable, so the workers were scheduled to arrive before sun-up.
Knowing they were coming to southern Utah, the two young workmen assigned to our project decided to spend the weekend at Lake Powell, boating, water-skiing, and consuming large quantities of Budweiser. Consequently, the two were more than a bit hung-over when they arrived in Bluff around noon.
Off-gassing alcohol and exhausted after an extremely entertaining Saturday and Sunday, they decided to make an assault on the attic.
Surely, they must have concluded, their supervisor would be unhappy if they didn’t complete the project on time, so up they went. If they were successful, their manager would never know they were late to the job, and they might avoid being terminated.
Lugging their tools through the crawl hole, they were immediately struck with the extreme temperatures I had described to their superior. For about 30 minutes they made a valiant effort to conquer the heat.
It was, however, too much, so they decided to return to the truck, crack the cooler, and rehydrate. Nothing a few more beers couldn’t remedy.
During their tenure in the loft, the workers placed a halogen lamp on boxes of business records and failed to turn it off when they left to slake their thirst. Under the intense glare of the light, it wasn’t long before the boxes spontaneously combusted.
When the workmen returned after cooling off, the heat was even more intense, and flames were rapidly spreading.
As we summoned the Bluff Volunteer Fire Department, the workers decided they would quietly exit the premises and were never heard from again.
The firemen arrived and in due course quenched the flames. Not, however, before significant damage was done to the second story.
The apartment where Jana, Kira, and I lived was soggy and smoky. The upstairs warehouse was partially burned, and everything was thoroughly waterlogged.
During the firefight, people from Bluff assembled to assist, carrying computers, baskets, rugs, and various other items out into the parking lot lest the fire consume the entire building.
Afterwards, casserole after casserole arrived as residents tried to ease our stress. It was inspiring how completely the community came together.
All this happened against a backdrop of ongoing political turmoil in our small community. A battle raged over whether a community wastewater facility should or should not be built to treat sewage created by this small town.
To many residents the issue was one of growth; some wanted it, some didn’t. The debate often became heated, and both sides were deeply dug in. Despite the controversy, all pitched in when needed.
It was then I realized Bluff is like a large, dysfunctional family; when we don’t have an external threat to manage or someone in need of help, we argue, fight over political issues, get unnecessarily involved in other people’s business, and generally frustrate one another.
When it is necessary, however, the residents help those in need without regard to prior or ongoing disagreements.
Although I am confident the situation is the same in many, if not all, small towns, the trading post fire taught me a lot. I found I can actually rely on my neighbors during difficult times, and they can rely on me too.
Last Saturday, I was reminded how well we can take care of each other when I attended a breakfast held at the old Bluff Fort.
The prior year missionaries volunteering at the recreated stockade were busy cleaning the Pioneer Cemetery when someone hatched the idea to torch the large accumulation of weeds. Apparently burning seemed easier than hoeing and raking.
Unfortunately, the fire escaped and scorched a much larger patch than expected. Wanting to support the firefighters who helped extinguish that blaze, those responsible for the conflagration scheduled a pancake breakfast to raise funds for the Bluff Volunteer Fire Department.
Every day, Pearl and I walk past the Bluff Fort on our way to work. Over the years, I have gotten to know virtually all the missionaries living and working on that location and can affirm, testify, and bear witness they are a great bunch.
That, however, has not prevented tension between them and some Bluff residents who worry the LDS church may become a little too invested in our community.
I attribute that assumption to Bluff’s highly developed talent for conflict.
The fire department breakfast, however, brought the town together just as the Twin Rocks burn had 25 years earlier.
It was overwhelming to see the entire population of Bluff working together in common cause. Everybody was happy, and the sausage, eggs, and pancakes heartily consumed.
It was then I decided the town needs a new employee: a Crisis Creator, a Captain of Catastrophe, or maybe a Flamethrower.
The job would involve developing and implementing a series of conditions that threaten the town and/or its residents.
The townsfolk can then put aside their differences and collaborate to manage the threat; we won’t have time for arguing and complaining. Once one issue is resolved, another can be quickly ginned up.
Being under constant threat will allow us to put aside our differences and work together on an ongoing basis. We will no longer meddle in each other’s business, being too busy resolving newly minted challenges.
Having lived in Bluff as long as I have, I, of course, am uniquely qualified for the new position and will be the first to apply. My appointment alone should create enough conflict to keep us occupied for months.