The Mad Scientist, Part IV
What about the bathtub?” Giant asked, pointing at the rusting claw-foot overturned in a corner of the dooryard. “Where do you want that?”
“Leave it,” the Mad Scientist said. It was a Sunday in early spring. He was nervously chain-smoking. The alpacas and llamas were due in an hour and we still weren’t ready. “That’s for their water.”
The Mad Scientist had spent a month getting the “pasture” ready for Wilbur’s alpacas. Most of that time, however, was spent constructing an Incan monument in the middle of the dooryard — in honor of the camelids’ Peruvian heritage — using rocks, debris, and extra-large cinder blocks.
“They like to climb,” he’d said while building it. He used Wilbur’s tractor and backhoe to maneuver and stack the rocks higher and higher, then filled in the cracks with smaller rocks and dirt. “Wanna keep those animals busy.”
The Mad Scientist also built a fence around the south side of his compound. He used the backhoe to excavate gargantuan post holes, then strategically placed broken-down vehicles to hold up the fence where he couldn’t dig. He refused to use livestock fencing. Too expensive, he’d said, even though Wilbur, a multimillionaire, was footing the bill. The Mad Scientist insisted that the type of wire panels used in concrete construction would be better. And cheaper. He was wrong on both counts. The wire was poorly welded and wasn’t intended to be spiked to cedar posts. The “fence” sagged and buckled. Odd pieces jutted and bent outward, creating holes big enough for coyote. But he didn’t seem to notice. Or care.
“Okay, this is what we’re gonna do,” the Mad Scientist told the half-dozen Eastporters he’d recruited to help with the arrival of the camelids. “Walk around and pick up anything they can eat.”
The crew fanned out, bent and stooped. There was no food on the ground, but plenty of stuff that could hurt an animal. We filled two five-gallon buckets with cigarette butts, scraps of wire, crushed beer cans, broken kids toys, odd chunks of melted plastic, bent nails, and shards of smashed coffee brandy bottles.
“That’s good,” said the Mad Scientist, happy to have his yard cleaned. “Don’t want these beasts hurtin’ themselves. Friggin’ things cost Wilbur 10 to 15 grand each…”
“What?” Giant interrupted. “Ten grand for an animal?”
“Yeah,” the Mad Scientist said. “He said it’s a good tax write-off.”
“Ten grand for an animal.” Giant shook his head. “Wish I had ten grand.”
“The alpaca’s fur is hypo-allergenic,” the Mad Scientist said. “Worth nine bucks a pound.”
“Fur?” Giant scratched his bald head. “How much fur do they have?”
“Wool,” the Mad Scientist answered. “They produce nine pounds of wool.”
Wilbur showed up just minutes before the husband-wife alpaca consultants from southern Maine arrived with their truck and livestock trailer. The husband opened the truck’s back door and the cutest little cria (a baby alpaca) leaped out. Three full-sized alpacas emerged from the trailer and tentatively, almost suspiciously, followed. Multi-colored, beautiful and funny (almost alien looking), they strolled together, timidly checking out their new home.
Then the llamas were released from a separate trailer compartment. Two brown and one black, they towered over the alpacas. Their job was to guard their more precious cousins. After a couple minutes, though, spooked by an incessantly barking neighborhood dog, they scampered to the Incan monument, finding refuge among the rocks and blocks.
The consultants thought it would be a good idea to let the animals acclimate before giving them their shots, so we lugged feed, hay, mineral blocks, feeders and a watering trough into the “barn.”
“Is it OK to leave them here?” the consultant asked her husband, pointing to the “barn,” which was actually the partially demolished south end of the Mad Scientist’s hundred-room house. We had taken precautions to prevent
the collapse of the second floor (the roof of the “barn”) by installing eight-foot spruce columns to hold up the floating joists where the exterior wall was missing.
The woman wasn’t impressed by our handiwork. She didn’t like the boards we’d nailed to a series of studs in an effort to prevent the animals from nibbling on exposed fiberglass insulation and electrical wire. She also worried about the dangling light fixtures, assorted cables, and the circuit-breaker box hanging from a rotten post. She shook her head at the internally illuminated Schlitz sign we’d rigged over the feeding station.
“Yes,” her husband answered, eager to return to his own farm, a four-hour drive away. “They’ll be fine.”
“Have you ever given a shot before?” the wife asked the Mad Scientist as she prepared a syringe of Ivomec. Camelids can easily be killed by intestinal worms and by a parasite spread by deer, of which Eastport had hundreds. “To livestock, I mean.”
“Sure have,” the Mad Scientist answered with a snort. “At least a quarter-million times.”
We all stared at him, incredulous.
“Once, back when I was a salmon farmer, we inoculated every fish in the cage site,” he said. “Gave shots to a quarter million salmon. Gotta handle them gently, ’cuz if you damage the scales, the fish dies.”
“Well,” she said. “This is a little different. The Ivomec is subcutaneous, but you give the de-wormer orally.”
For the next couple hours we chased the animals around the Incan ruins, muckling and wrestling with creatures who didn’t want the Mad Scientist to inject them. When all the animals were finally shot and de-wormed, we were exhausted. The consultant told the Mad Scientist to administer the medicine for the next three days and to keep the meds in the refrigerator.
“Ahhh,” he said. His fridge had died the month before and he hadn’t replaced it because the weather was still cold enough to keep dairy products outside. Plus, he was broke. “I don’t have a fridge.”
“We’ll get him one.” Wilbur laughed. “I think I might have an extra up at the house.”
“OK, then,” she said, looking at the Mad Scientist. “You’ll call me with any questions or problems?”
“Yeah,” he said, though he wouldn’t. The week before, he’d stumbled across a documentary about camelids on public TV. He knew all he needed to know. “Sure.”
The next morning, I arrived around eight to help with the de-worming. The Mad Scientist was groggy and hung-over. He’d been up late, drinking coffee brandy and half-and-half, blasting Rammstein over his stereo while watching the animals.
Giant showed up soon after and we smoked a joint while making a plan to corral the camelids. They thwarted us by using the Incan monument as a hideout again. We eventually created a chute using makeshift fences, gates and trucks, then started a stampede to corner them in the “barn.” Once they were all trapped, Giant and I captured and held the black llama while the Mad Scientist filled a syringe with the de-wormer.
“Open your mouth,” he ordered the beast, who ignored him. “OPEN UP!” he said, getting pissed. “OPEN UP!” He tried to shove the syringe between the llama’s lips. More failure. The Mad Scientist wanted coffee and something to eat. And we still had six more critters to shoot up. “C’mon, you fucking son-of-a-bitch.” He tried again and again, to no avail. “OPEN YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!” he screamed, grabbing and trying to pull the animal’s jaw open. “NOW, MOTHERFUCKER!”
The llama didn’t like the hollering and started to buck and fight. Giant and I lost our grip and the animal bolted, crashing through the temporary pen’s gate, which spooked the rest of the gang.
“SON-OF-A-BITCH!” the Mad Scientist exploded. Giant and I exchanged looks. This fella could barely feed and clothe himself. How was he gonna tend seven expensive animals, not to mention the nine more alpacas that were supposed to show up in June when the big barn on Wilbur’s saltwater farm would be finished?