>Strange Days in Jesusland with the IRS

by jvaragona

>I spent three long days in Poplar Bluff, Missouri starting on Monday and going through Thursday. I had no choice in the matter. They wanted the best and the brightest of the local IRS (Italian Retail Service) chapter to head down there to clean up one of those big box home improvement warehouses. The Don couldn’t make the journey though, due to another Don coming into town to look into the local boys’ retail servicing skills.

The drive there was long; a third of it spent on a single lane highway. We even passed through Zion, Missouri. Zion is the New Jerusalem according to the Church of Latter Day Saints. I saw no such thing. We must still be years away. Someone should tell all of the flea market owners there to clear out if that’s the case.

It does make sense that Zion was along the way though. Poplar Bluff itself seemed to be the capital of Jesusland. After work, we drove the streets of this odd town, because there was nothing else to do, except admire the new coat of paint on the Kmart or the recent expansion of the KFC. During our drives, I spotted a church on about every 3 blocks. There were quite a few Baptist, but also Protestant and Jehovah’s Witness places of worship to boot. I really wonder what the ratio of people to each church is.

He certainly does. That’s how we ended up in this mess.

There weren’t any Catholic churches in sight, not to say that there aren’t any at all, but it is still worth noting. At least I didn’t have to fear an abundance of nuns and priests to go along with the abundance of churches.

I can’t say the townsfolk necessarily seemed religious. The few I encountered weren’t the kindest though. They were a bit more relaxed. As we worked at the retail establishment, workers would take turns napping on their breaks on the patio furniture we assembled not too long ago.

At the store, my brethren of the Filipino Mafia and I encountered oodles of colonies of mice, which seems to be a theme in my life. They were attracted to the mounds of grass and bird seed we were re-arranging. As we moved each pallet of seed, we would reveal a layer of seed, which was sprinkled with mouse excrement and the smell of their urine.

Grass seed nest of mice

One by one, live adult mice and their babies, even the pinkies, would crawl out. It startled our Gonzo foreman so much that he stomped a few.

An artist’s rendition of our foreman

(actually a swell painting of Hunter S. Thompson by Prince of Space)

“My god, there gonna eat us alive”, he told us.

They did outnumber us, but as friend to the mice from my escapades, I tried to take the friendlier route. When Gonzo looked away, I nudged dozens of fetal mice to safety, where most likely they would die without the assistance of the adults, but I felt better at least. I felt like anOscar Schindler to my rodent friends. That isn’t to say we were out to kill them, but we had to disrupt their nests for our job, and as they scurried about, there were unwanted casualties.

Fetal mice fleeing the nest.

The stench was horrible. The ammonia in their urine was unavoidable. One of the Pinoys fell over wretching from the scents entering the feelers in his nose. He became angry and began kicking in the air, such as he does when he has a nightmare (I was his roommate). We all became angry…you can’t help it once you’ve seen a mad Filipino. There was grass and bird seed scattered everywhere and it was littered with the waste of what seemed to be at least 100 mice. Witnessing this made me feel better about my apartment, which has only seen 11 die in about two months.

It took us an entire day to clean the area of the mess, which boiled down to 13 plus hours of work. The mice helped the store lose more money by destroying its seed than the stores in the city here lose to theft. The four of us needed more than showers. We needed someone to hose us down–prison style.

Since there were no prisons in sight, we simply showered and looked for a nightcap. Just on the outskirts of town was a new joint called Shenanigans. A cowboy, with that generic Jeff Foxworthy look, carded us after we entered. We sat down to a table and a waitress carded us. I had a feeling this place must’ve been caught serving to 12 year olds before. That’s forgiveable when you’re that close to Arkansas though.

There was an odd mood to the place. It looked normal enough, with the dark lighting and neon signs. The music seemed to be coming from a nice-sized boombox though and they only played cover songs. I had no idea there was a punk version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, but I guess you can make anything into a punk song. My favorite is a take on John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”.

The menu we received reminded me of a high school test. It was simply printouts of black type on white paper, which were stapled together. The appetizers were all $4.95, and were the usual bar fare, except for the bowl of barbequed smokies, which Big Boy Pinoy ordered. There was also Cap’N Crunch coated chicken strips for $6.95, which were tempting, but you can’t pay that much for something that you don’t know much about in a place smack dab in the middle of Jesusland.

Since the day was so crappy, you can’t really expect the night to be much better. Big Boy felt ripped off by the Deppression era portion of smokies. Baby Face Pinoy got potato skins, with cheese that wasn’t even melted. Only my meal, which consisted of mighty fine spicy hot wings, was satisfying.

The entertainment consisted on vintage athletic competitions on TV, such as the baton throwing and weightlifting championships, which were interesting, but not enough to lift our mood. We considered dining and dashing, but I reminded the boys of the fate of the men in Deliverance, so we paid, but snubbed on the tip.

Wednesday went a lot smoother, but still almost as long. The mice frolicked around us, almost taunting us, but we didn’t uncover any nests. We just wanted to leave that place. We finished what we could, which didn’t fit our required amount, but what can you do when you’re fending off rodents left and right. It was by far our worst experience in our field, and we are the best in our field. We won the goddamned Retail Servicing Cup.

As we left Poplar Bluff, I got a stomach ache. It was from a nasty Chinese buffet we had earlier, but I think it was also from everything else we endured. I looked around at my co-workers as my belly churned. I knew we would never be the same after our experiences in this odd place. What we shared couldn’t possibly be conveyed to others, but hopefully you can understand a bit.

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