copyright © 1987 Todd Ristau


I used to work for the County. It wasnít good work and it wasnít good pay but that job taught me a lesson I never forgot.

Picture it in your mind. Picture spring, and how all the animals are kicking into motion the next stage of life. Horses are foaling, puppies and kittens are blinking up from new litters, there are lambs trying out hooves and eggshells breaking so that blinking eyes can look up at the mother bringing their share of an early morning worm.

These new beings, these freshly formed creatures donít know anything about the world they are learning to live in. The foal and the lamb struggle to stand and to keep their balance. The chirping birds have no idea how far the fall or abrupt the stop if they tumble from the nest. The kittens have no perception of the dangers they face if the wander too far from their mother.

As spring turns to summer, and summer to fall, these animals will gain strength and courage and begin to become adult versions of themselves. They will venture out away from their mothers to begin a new life in the fall.

The teen age girl is beginning a new life too, fresh from her home and ready to test the breasts and the curve of her hip, the crooked smile on her lips and the power of her eyes to bring young men into her arms. She canít wait to enter the world at the end of the road she is racing down. Her back seat is filled with clothes and furniture, her trunk filled with shoes, snapshots and stuffed toys. This Fall she will be a Freshman.

Her mind is filled with imagined adventures and the new friends she will conquer, and the songs on the radio seem to provide a soundtrack for the movie playing out in her mind.

She doesnít see the small golden haired cat running across the blacktop to discover and hunt in its own brand new world on the other side of this line.

She doesnít even notice the thump beneath her tires, intent on her vision of new life she wonít realize she has ended another...left it watching her racing away through eyes no longer inside their sockets, struggling to give voice to its pain through a broken mouth oozing blood.

There are hundreds of these animals along the roadsides, and if the County doesnít find them by winter, they are buried in the snow. Hard, frozen, waiting for spring to come again.

As it always does. The snows melt and the flesh begins once again to rot.

And that is the lesson I learned from the County...that there amid all the scents of green things growing is always the unmistakable stench of decay.

(lights out)


"County Pick Up" is re-created here, as best as I can remember it from when I did it in 1886 or 1987, and very close to how I performed it over a decade later in Charlottesville. I originally did it in Theatre B, an improv growl at a girl who "broke my heart." She laughed at me but Tom Moseman cried. He thought it was beautiful.

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