Hardway Hardesty was removing sleeping cats from his kitchen sink when he noticed his neighbor Leroy walking down the road from Way Up the Crik, kicking rocks. From Hardway’s angle, it looked like Leroy had a cloud over his head. But it could have just been flies, the Crik’s premier scientist figured, because Leroy didn’t wash much and worked with stinky camels.
Leroy knocked on the door.
“Leroy,” Hardway said, “you look like a man of a thousand sorrows this morning. Can I offer you a brownie and a beer?”
“Don’t want none of your damn psychotic pastries, Hardway,” Leroy said. “I got problems and I need some counsel.”
“What’s up,” Hardesty asked, placing a cold one in the hands of his neighbor.
“I am under attack!”
“The organic growers want to tax you?”
“Hell, that’s nothing. I raise my organic camels for transport, not for food. They can’t touch me. Los Angeles just bought up Up the Crik, for starters.”
Hardesty, whose recent windfalls had provided funds for well drilling, no longer cared what happened to Up the Crik, but expressed his sympathies anyway.
“Yep, Up the Crik’s going south next summer,” Leroy said.
“Well, camels don’t drink much, do they?”
“They drink something, though, don’t they?” Leroy snarled. “But that ain’t the worst of it.”
“What could be worse than an organic camel farm with no water?” Hardesty asked.
“Lookee yonder, down to the valley. What do you see?” Leroy wailed.
“Row crops. Cotton, probably.”
“Wrong! What you see down there is next year’s ethanol crop, the natural economic enemy of a camel-transport based economy! I am ruined.”
“Jeez, Leroy, sure you don’t want a brownie?” Hardesty asked, who had already invested a little in the grain futures market.
“Ha ha,” Leroy said, sarcastically. “You said the future was in camels and I believed you. You said I couldn’t go wrong with camels. You said the world would beat a path to my door if I had camels for sale. What with all the camels getting blown up in the Arab countries, you said, I couldn’t lose. You said about the time I got my herd built up the automobile would disappear. But what I got is $50 oil and all that damn corn all over America.”
“Leroy, a visionary investor must have guts of steel,” Hardesty. “Yours are turning to mush.”
“Hell, I could have bought real estate,” Leroy replied. “Instead I bought camels. And now I don’t even know where I’m going to find water for them.”
“And where would you be right now with a bunch of houses?” Hardway asked.
“Up the Crik without a bunch of damn camels,” Leroy said.
“Lemme ask you: how much diesel do you use in a year to feed your herd?”
“Well, not as much as it would cost me to grow 20 acres of corn, not to mention the water savings.”
“That’s my point. When the ethanol speculators figure that one out, they will be beating your door down. Houses last year, ethanol this year, camels next year. You’ll be making a fortune. Be positive. Yesterday’s real estate speculator will be arbitraging tomorrow’s camel-sperm futures market.”
“You think so?” Leroy asked, wide-eyed with amazement and hope.
“I know so, my friend. Trust me on this,” Hardesty assured his neighbor. “An entrepreneur has got to believe in his product!”
“That just leaves the water,” Leroy said.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Hardesty said.
“That’s what them guys from LA said when they was damming up the crik. I said I got me riparian rights to the Crik. They said they’d make me a deal: one standpipe for my personal use but no water for the camels.
“It’s prejudice, Hardway, that’s what it is,” Leroy said. “You take your ordinary American who works for a corporate water thief, he’s a nice enough fellow. Probably has a nice wife, some babies, goes to church. But, he looks at the camel and he can’t see the future in the camel. He can’t accept reality and begin to adjust. He don’t want to. He’s still making payments on his latest pickup and then there’s the speedboat he’d got in his driveway. Now, the camel doesn’t fit into his picture of life.
“It’s nothing but prejudice.”
“It’s true, Leroy,” Hardesty said, “you are a man ahead of your time. You are a man of surpassing sanity with a gift to the world, if the world would only see it. It’s also true that your camels suggest a future without pickups, petroleum products, speedboats and such. An old, slower, quieter, gentler world, one of long caravans crossing vast wastes, bearing water jugs for trade with whoever remains here after the floods.
“No, Leroy, you are the future. You’re a dozen steps ahead. You’re a prophet dishonored up his own crik, except here in my house, of course.
“You can water them here for the dry season,” Hardway said, “I have a stake in your vision. I hope to live to see the day when no American family is without its camel. But you must understand the politics.”
“Politics? Leroy asked. “What politics?”
“First, you should write your congressman, who is said to be interested in specialty crops and organic agriculture. What could be more special than your growing herd of organic camels?”
“I wrote my congressman about the theft of Up the Crik,” Leroy replied. “Someone wrote me back – here, I have the letter –“ Leroy said, rummaging around in his homespun camel-hair cowboy vest – “It says right here, ‘the congressman does not get involved in local issues.’
“Water? A local issue?”
“Oh well, he’s young and, being a Democrat, terribly timid.”
“That’s one word for it.”
Hardesty continued, saying that there were other political aspects to Leroy’s product, although he corrected himself once, to say they might be “more cultural than strictly speaking political.” He said he felt that Americans in fact did have certain prejudices against camels, not so much because of a dislike about the beast itself, which had had a career in parts of the Western US in earlier days, but of the future that the beast implied. Hardesty felt that this was a future it would be hard for the average American to square with the commonly accepted notion of eternal Progress through the American Way of Life.
“I don’t know about no American Way of Life,” Leroy said. “I come from Up the Crik, America. We’ll take any way of life we can git. Now, your camel is drought resistant, eats grass, carries a load and is a genuine thrifty form of transportation. That’s what I call American.”
“As I recall, Leroy, you don’t have a TV up there, do you?”
“You find me one that runs on wood smoke, you let me know and I’ll swap you a camel for it.”
“You telling me I can’t be an American if I don’t have TV?”
“Now that’s a very interesting question. I might have to take a rain check on it, though,” Hardesty said. “Meanwhile, Leroy, you stick with your vision and your camels. The way this economy is going, you may have off-shore banking types knocking at your door in a few years, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t have a clue what you mean and I never did, Hardway,” Leroy said. “No offense. I enjoy your company and all. Best man in the world for drinking a morning beer with.”
With that, the neighbors parted, good friends just chewing the fat on a cold morning Up the Crik.