Both of these tales belong, by rights, to my father, the party animal. They took place in the 1970s, somewhere in the wilds of Oregon. My father has been telling them for years, and I decided that I should write them out from memory, both to avoid losing them and because I suspect that some of you may find them entertaining.
I. Dante’s Inferno
It came about one day that my father’s friend Dante acquired an old school bus, and decided to convert it into a woodshop. He filled it with an assortment of power tools, ran a power line, put the school bus up on blocks, and proceeded to do various projects in the shop, gradually covering the floor of the bus in layers of sawdust and specklings of varnish.
One afternoon, Dante’s girlfriend brought home a group of chickens, and put Dante to work building a chicken house. Dante and my father laboured over the chicken house for several days, ultimately ending up with an approximate replica of the seraglio, complete with arched doorways and miniature towers and complex latticework, and Dante even devoted several hours to creating lush murals of life in the Ottoman empire on the inside of the nesting boxes, because he believed that it would encourage the chickens to lay.
Once introduced to the chicken house, however, the birds would have nothing to do with it. They persisted in flocking to the school bus, and as the flock grew, they effectively took over, coating the inside of the bus with feathers and poop. Dante worked in the shop less and less, instead putting about in the small garden they started just outside the bus and occasionally trying to coax the chickens into vacating.
This went on for some time, and eventually the flock grew quite large. But tragedy was about to strike, because although Dante had surrendered the bus to the chickens and removed most of the power tools, he hadn’t remembered to take out the power line. And years of chickens passing back and forth eventually wore through the insulation, and an inopportune poop was placed in the wrong location, and the bus blew sky high, poop, chickens, and all.
Pieces of the bus rained all over the property, and the air was thick with the smell of seared chicken poop and a faint hint of barbecue. Everyone tried to clean up as best they could, and the girlfriend eventually acquired a new flock of chickens who did enjoy the delights of the chicken house, but people also noticed something: the garden grew especially thick and lush for several years running, and this was attributed to the rich coating of fertilizer it received.
Cabbages grew to the size of Volkswagon Beetles, according to legend, while lettuces towered over toddlers. Corn shot up until it almost reached the sky, and beans grew so dense and so thick that they created an impenetrable wall. Dante’s grossly oversized produce became the stuff of legends, and members of the community would vie for the opportunity to eat his vegetables. All sorts of tall tales surrounded the produce: it wasn’t just sizeable, it was mythological. Eventually, of course, the nutrition provided by the bus explosion petered out, but not before Dante enjoyed a legendary status among local hippies and gardeners alike.
This story has a coda: several years after the chicken incident, Dante was going on an extended trip with his girlfriend. Concerned about how his famous garden would fare during his absence, Dante decided to establish a watering system. Not being able to afford an irrigation system, Dante settled for turning a tap on to a thin trickle, plugging the sink, and running a hose from the sink into the garden. He theorized that the sink would fill slowly, and then deliver a slow trickle of water to the garden through the hose. However, Dante’s carefully placed hose fell out of the sink, and he arrived home instead to a kitchen awash, with water oozing out of every available crack in the house. The garden, of course, was dry as a bone.