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Strange Duck #1 - The Badger Lady of Needles
A lonesome desert inspires an odd friendship.
Howdy, dear friends! Outside of my regular weekly comics, I wanted to share with you one of the other projects I’m working on.
This is the first post for a future book project I’m tentatively calling “Strange Ducks.”
It’s a collection of drawings and short stories about the various interesting people I’ve met along the road of life.
These stories will be ranging from the hilarious to the outright demented, thanks to the luck…or kismet…or synchronicity I have with encountering …err….um…what’s the nice way to put this?… let’s say, “Special People.”
This project is also giving me a chance to loosen up my drawing and explore some different techniques.
Hopefully you’ll find these little portraits of people as entertaining as I did when I first met the individuals.
Twenty years ago, my girlfriend (now my wife) Deb, and I visited Moab, Utah. Along with the hiking and mountain biking we did on that trip, we also enjoyed various driving tours to see the grand vistas the area offered.
One day we decided to venture into Canyonlands National Park. As we drove around the Needles district of the park, I noticed that we probably should’ve filled up on gas back at Moab. The tank was getting low, and here we were, dozens of miles from anywhere during a fairly hot June day. Thankfully, at least we had a couple bottles of water.
I desperately looked at the park map to see where there was possibly a gas station. It listed a very remote general store a dozen or so miles away.
We set out to find the store. On the drive we had a panic of thinking how we’d survive if we ran out of gas here in the middle of a desert. Big survivalist questions arose.
We considered things like, “What would we do for water?”
…Or “What about food?”
…Or worse, “How long do you need to cook a lizard until it’s edible?”
Luckily, before we had to actually deal with any of these life or death questions, I spotted the little store down the road.
As we approached, I could see its exterior was somewhat dilapidated. There were two gas pumps outside near the road, one of which had a sign that read “Out of Service.”
With no other options near by, we decided to stop and take our chances. After parking next to the working pump, we exited the car and headed into the store. We figured if we’re going to be stranded due to a lack of functioning gas pumps, at the least we could buy some drinks and whatever food they might have until help arrived.
As we walked into the store it took us a moment for our eyes to adjust to the darker interior of the store. It looked kind of how we expected. Slightly ramshackle but at least had the essentials; water and soda in a cooler, a rack of chips and other snacks, and a rack of basics for a camping like hot dog and hamburger buns. Although there was no guessing as to how old and stale those were.
The store also had one of those greasy hot dog heaters by the counter. I’m sure you seen one before if you’ve even stepped foot into a 7-11. It’s the kind that rolls the hotdogs under a red sun lamp until the thing is cooked to a perfectly inedible toughness.
Standing behind the counter running this little operation was a grey haired woman whose appearance looked as leathery and as tough as those hotdogs. She stood about five and half feet tall. In pants and a shirt that had a fine layer of dust on them.
“Howdy, folks! Heh heh!” She spoke in a crackly voice as if her vocal cords were out of practice. Based on the remoteness of the shop, I’m sure she only used them infrequently, and then probably only for talking to herself.
“Whatchoo folks be needin’?” She smiled and revealed a mouth in dire need of a dentist.
We told her we were driving the Needles tour and looking to get some water and gas.
“Ah. Lucky for you I still got some in the tank. It’s $4.79 a gallon.”
I nearly fainted when she said the price.
You, the reader, have to remember this was 2002 and gas prices nationwide were around $1.40 per gallon. Obviously this lady knew that anyone who stopped here was held hostage to her extortion, so I had no other choice but to accept the deal. I gave her $40 so that I could fill the tank of our little rented sedan.
While I was doing that exchange, Deb was looking at the wall behind the woman. It had various photos tacked up on it.
Deb inquired about one particular photo that had an animal in it.
“Oh that? That’s my little honey bunny!”
“It doesn’t look like a bunny. Do they grow that large here?” Deb asked.
The woman made a crackling laugh. “Oh goodness, no! Honey Bunny is a badger! She’s my PET badger!”
Both Deb and I exclaimed, “PET BADGER?!?”
“Oh yeh, heh heh, old Honey Bunny comes around here in the late afternoon. We play and cuddle. She likes it when I feed her one of them hotdogs while holding it in my teeth!”
That’s when we knew this lady was a bit deranged and badly in need of human company. Nobody in their right mind lets a wild badger munch on hotdogs inches away from their face.
“You want to meet Honey Bunny? I can give her a shout and see if she comes running.”
We toyed briefly with the idea of witnessing this badger act, but before we could give her the chance to introduce us to Honey Bunny, or possibly to any of her other desert pals, such as Ronny the Rattler or Sammy the Scorpion, we grabbed our waters, filled the car, and got the hell out of there.
After all these years though I still wonder now and then how that relationship worked out.