There are perks to the job, however, and as long as I still occasionally have those "I can't believe I'm getting paid for this!" kind of days, I'm happy to deal with the rest. Most people comment about how great it must be to get up-close-and-personal access (it is), free entry to the fair (getting cooler) or a front-row view of Fever football (ha!), but for me, the real perk of this job is the wide range of people I get to meet.
Especially great is the chance to meet people from wildly different backgrounds than mine in a setting where nosy questions aren't only tolerated, but expected. Last Tuesday was a prime example, when reporter Drew Foster and I went out to chat with amateur tobacco farmer J.D. Stanfield of West Richland.
When we turned down the road, we saw a strange assortment of outdoor decor:
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As we pulled into the driveway, Drew and I exchanged nervous glances and quiet expletives.
"If we don’t make it out of here alive, it's been a pleasure working with you," he said.
We following him in through a door bearing an ominous warning:
He showed us his homemade kiln:
Before taking us out to his "little plantation" for a portrait session:
Throughout our visit, J.D. happily showed us around his home, which provided evidence of his seemingly endless number of projects and interesting stories.
The decorations ranged from strange:
(Yes, that's an 8-track player.)
To borderline racist:
To finely crafted:
And all of these things, except the light switch plate and wife-stealer sign, were created by J.D., who also surrounded himself with animals, either dead:
Or as a work in progress, like these feral kittens he was trying to tame:
On most assignments, it's our job to get the subject to loosen up, but it was the opposite with Mr. Stanfield.
When he said, "I didn't s*** until I was five," while talking about his poor upbringing in Kansas during the Great Depression, I hesitated on laughing until he pulled on his pipe and led the way.
It wasn't as if Drew and I were legitimately scared for our safety, but the odd ambiance, abundance of knives and dismembered animals had a way of planting crazy thoughts in my head. Those early twinges of fear were, of course, unfounded. J.D. was a funny, charming and spry old chap who clearly makes his own rules and seems to accomplish more at 81 than I do at 26. If it weren't for this job, I would have never met him, and if I had somehow found myself at his home without my nosy journalistic sensibilities, it would have been easy to write him off as a kook.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this whole visit was the hope it gave me for my own potential golden years. A crippling fear of incontinence and sound investments has reduced my retirement plan to either marrying rich, dying young or saving up just enough to go out in a blaze of hard drugs, fast cars and cheap women.
But if I can get myself set up like J.D., well, that'd be all right.