I’m green enough to grow compost

| Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Spectator
Jeremiah M. Murphy

Another St. Patrick’s Day has passed with me wearing colors not green. I’m a “wearin’ o’ the green” grinch.

I can’t say why exactly. I guess I’m so Irish, I figure the actual green attire might be too much.

That’s a rare case of restraint - usually for me, more is better.

Take compost for example: I’ve had a compost pile since the spring of 1994. Every spring I’ve been sober I’ve composted.

If you look up compost in the dictionary you’ll see the noun defined as a mixture of decaying organic matter. The verb is defined as putting materials together to make that mixture.

To me, composting goes much further than that – I compost to an end result that is not a mere mixture of decaying organic matter. It’s fully decayed organic matter. It’s dirt.

I compost used things – leaves, grass clippings, fruit rinds, and vegetable rinds into a useful thing.

Typically, I’m not much more “green” in life than I am on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t spend any time worrying about the size of my carbon footprint. I burn fossil fuels at a high rate (see previous column re: traffic stops). But, I do like to compost. I like making dirt. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it produces a valuable product in which I can grow tomatoes.

Tomatoes are important because, if there were no tomatoes there would be no salsa and, if there was no salsa, we’d have corn chips backing up on us.

A week ago yesterday was Holy Saturday (Sabbatum Sanctum). Holy Saturday is the Lord's Day of rest, for on that day Christ's body lay in His tomb. So, of course, I was outside working.

We were preparing the house for Easter and that seemed like a good excuse to clean up my compost pile and vegetable garden.

I tore out last year’s growth from the garden and worked it into the compost pile as visions of heirloom tomatoes danced in my head.

I favor heirloom tomatoes. These are old, old varieties of tomatoes that have not been cross-bred. They are not hybrids.

Most hybrid tomatoes have been designed to be uniform in color, skin thickness, disease resistance, and growing time – traits that serve commercial tomato producers.

Conversely, the key trait in heirloom tomatoes is flavor. Flavor at the expense of uniformity.

I’m stepping into Cathie Draine’s territory a bit here. But, I think Cathie would agree – No tomatoes are tastier than heirloom tomatoes.

Of all the heirloom tomatoes, I really like the Brandywine variety. Brandywines are great, lumpy, purplish brutes that are the tastiest (and, arguably, the ugliest) of the heirloom tomato lot.

Extreme tomatoes, but wonderfully so.

My affinity for certain vegetables doesn’t come at the expense of meat. I love red meat. To paraphrase the comedian Jim Gaffigan, I don’t know what they do to that stuff when they process it. But, it is DELICIOUS!

One of our number here at Murphyland doesn’t eat meat.

Well, she eats meat if it’s from a creature that swims. But, she won’t eat meat from creatures that walk or fly.

Chicken of the Sea – yes. Chicken of the barnyard – no.

Except . . . except in certain conditions.

She will eat pheasant if it came from the wild.

That is, she will not eat meat that was processed or inspected by professionals at a licensed processing facility. But, she will eat pheasant that was shot and fell to earth in a dung-covered pasture before it was processed by her husband and his buddy with a kitchen knife and a pair of tin snips out in the alley.

Because that’s natural.

Maybe. Unless you’re the pheasant. Not so natural to him.

I didn’t partake in the wearin’ o’ the green this spring. But, this summer I will be doing the mowin’ o’ the green to provide grass clippings for the turnin’ o’ the compost pile to nurture the tomato garden to supply the salsa for the dippin’ o’ the chips while we do the grillin’ o’ the steaks (and fish).

Jeremiah M. Murphy lives in Rapid City. Contact him at murphy@rushmore.com

(Edited version of a column originally published in the March 30th, 2008 Rapid City Journal)

‘Why’ questions offer opportunity for verbal judo

| Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Spectator
Jeremiah M. Murphy




“Because why?”

“Because I said so.”

“Why do you get to say so?”

“Because I’m your father.”


“Because, long ago, before you were born, I fell in love with your mother.”


“Ha! Gotcha!”

I don’t answer “why” questions from my kids anymore.

I’ll answer “who” questions, “what” questions, “where” questions, “when” questions, and “how” questions (I love “how” questions!). But I will not answer “why” questions.

“Why?” you ask.

I shouldn’t answer that. But, okay, just this once.

I don’t answer “why” questions because, unlike Snickers, no answer to a “why” question satisfies.

I cannot remember a time (when I would answer a Murphy kid’s “why” question) when my answer to a “why” question would result in said kid replying “Oh! Okay!”

Rather, “why” questions only beget more “why” questions (see above).

It’s fruitless. If you’re a kid, it’s great entertainment. If you’re a parent, not so much.

The police are big on “why” questions. I try not to answer those either.

Police ask questions like: “Do you know why I stopped you?”

Now, that’s a loaded “why” question.

If I answer “Because I was speeding,” or “Because I rolled through the stop sign back there like it was a yield sign,” I’m done. Case closed. It’s off to the hoosegow with me.

But, if I answer “I don’t know.” I’m just lying - and that’s no good.

I don’t want to give the impression I spend a lot of time producing my license, registration, and proof of insurance for police. But, I’ve been stopped a few times. And believe me; I pretty much always know why I’m being stopped.

Once I tried not answering a policeman’s question.

Several years ago I was driving through construction on 5th Street. I wanted to make a left turn at St. Joe. But, a sign said “No Left Turn”. No one was coming from either direction. So, I turned left.

Moments later I was serenaded by a motorcycle patrolman’s siren.

“Did you see the ‘No Left Turn’ sign?” he asked.

I had two choices – tell the truth and effectively write myself a ticket, or lie and have that nagging at me.

But, instead, I went with door number “C”. I said nothing. I just looked at him.

He repeated his question. I repeated my dumb look.

“Did you hear me?” he asked. “Yes.” I answered.

“So, why don’t you answer my question?”

“I’m just not going to answer that question. Ticket me if you have to, but I’m not going to answer that question.

He was not pleased. He was really not pleased. He really let me know he was really not pleased. But, for whatever reason, he didn’t give me a ticket. He gave me a warning instead.

Weird, but effective.

Now, more and more police are using a technique called “verbal judo” to better communicate with miscreants like me. An element of verbal judo is to avoid questions like “Do you know why I stopped you?” or “Didn’t you see that sign?” - Questions that hinder rather than enhance communication during traffic stops.

I received a verbal judo chop one recent evening while driving down West Boulevard. For some reason stop signs are popping up on the boulevard like tulips in spring. On the evening in question, I may have rolled past one of those new stop signs without stopping.

My alleged error was pointed out to me by a Rapid City police officer. He didn’t ask me to guess why he had stopped me. No, he told me his name and he told me that he stopped me because I didn’t stop at the stop sign.


I was tempted to ask him why the city has erected a picket fence of stop signs up and down the boulevard. Why do cross streets that produce about 1/500th of the traffic that travels West Boulevard now have four way stops?

But, the kids were with me and it would have set a bad example.

Happily, Chloe and Dylan weren’t asking me “why” questions just then.

Unhappily, they were giving me advice. “You should have stopped back there.” Dylan told me.

Why would he say something like that?

Jeremiah M. Murphy lives in Rapid City. Contact him at murphy@rushmore.com

(Originally published in the March 9th, 2008 Rapid City Journal)

Building A Religion

| Friday, March 7, 2008

Scenes From The Hard Bench Caucus

| Tuesday, March 4, 2008