August 1, 2008
When I shook his hand I knew right away that something was missing. The reason I didn’t have a good grasp on the situation was that what was missing was the rancher’s thumb and opposing appendage. Ah, ha, I thought, a team roper! If you think it’s easy just try shaking hands with one some day. There’s nothing to grab on to.
After we said our howdy-dos with One-Thumb Frank the five us settled into a leisurely night in a hotel lounge. We were all in town for a big cow sale the next day, the order buyer, ring man, auctioneer, the rancher and me. I was traveling buddies with the rest of the crew but it was the first time I’d ever met One-Thumb. He turned out to be a wonderful man, tough as a boot and colorful as a Navajo blanket.
One-Thumb’s missing digits reminded me of something I’d torn out of that morning’s newspaper. I’m always ripping stuff out of the paper that I think might provide inspiration or fodder for a column and it drives my wife crazy. Often she’ll turn to the crossword puzzle only to find a gaping hole ACROSS and DOWN the paper.
“Look at this article,” I said to One-Thumb Frank. “It’s a chart that says how much an insurance company will pay if you lose a body part. You should have collected 36 weeks of pay for your missing finger and 63 weeks worth of pay for your thumb.”
One-Thumb replied, “I suppose I could have got disability but I didn’t exactly lose them while working on the ranch. On two separate occasions I left them in a jackpot arena. Not only did I not collect disability, I didn’t even win back my entry fees.”
This set off a big debate about which one us had the most dangerous job. “People think that working ring at auctions is easy but it’s not,” said the ring man. “One time I was working a sale and a bull hit the side of the sale ring, one of the pipes popped a weld and it hit me right in the mouth. Broke a couple of my teeth too. According to this chart I could have collected a month’s worth of wages. And over the years I’ve completely thrown my arm out of joint turning in bids. This says I should have collected four years disability for my bad arm.”
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“Oh, quit your complaining. You could be in a lot worse shape. Just look at our order buyer friend here,” I said, pointing to our mutual friend who was older than a Betsy Wetsy doll only without the personality. “It says here that a heart is worth 520 weeks worth of work! That’s almost ten years if my math is right. Everybody knows that men lose their hearts when they become order buyers. Just think, as an order buyer you could have retired ten years ago for just being your cold, heartless self.”
“Very funny Pitts. As a writer what’s the worst thing that ever happened to you? A paper cut? Did you throw out you back lifting a ream of paper?”
“I’ll have you know that my pancreas is shot and this chart says that I should have collected 416 weeks worth of disability.”
“Only one problem, Lee,” said the order buyer. “You have to actually have a job to be disabled from one.”
I had to admit, it was a good point.
After further study One-Thumb said, “I don’t think this chart is applicable to us. “It says it’s from Connecticut and I don’t even know if they have any cows in Connecticut. Besides, it raises a lot of questions in my mind. Says here that the loss of one’s reproductive organ is worth between 35 and 104 weeks worth of work. Why the variability? And there seems to be quite a few organs missing from the list.”
“That’s right,” chimed in the auctioneer as he sipped his frosty libation. “I’ve given my liver to this industry and am I not entitled to compensation?”
“Yeah, it doesn’t say how much the loss of a brain is worth either,” I said, realizing the minute I said it that I had made a stupid mistake. Everybody knows you can’t have a brain to be in our business.
Email Lee Pitts at email@example.com