Bulimia. The guy who called, I thought he said: “Fayetteville’s got bulimia.”
“Your whole town?” I replied. How odd: an entire city with an eating disorder. One would have imagined a case or two of obesity would present.
“No, no. Bielema’s coming. Bielema — from Madison.”
“Oh. Well, I used to know some Biltons, I think their name was, around Huntsville. No Bielemas, though.”
“Not Madison County. Madison — Madison, Wisconsin. The badgers.”
So. Bielema is bringing badgers to Fayetteville. That’s all it needs, what with the lottery scholarships threatened.
“You know,” I said, “beavers used to be a real nuisance up there. There were so many I suppose that’s why they named the water supply Beaver Lake.”
“Let’s start over,” my exasperated pal said. “Hogs. Think hogs.”
“We are starting over,” I replied. “I thought everyone knew that.”
“Yes, we’re — listen: Bielema. Bret Bielema. Madison. University of Wisconsin.”
My other line began flashing. “I’ll buzz you back,” I promised.
“Auburn,” the first word from my other caller.
“Auburn,” I repeated, rolling it over.
“Auburn — Malzahn,” he said.
“We’ve never met but from his picture I would have guessed brown, maybe a little gray around the temples.”
“No, no — Malzahn’s going with Auburn.”
“His personal life is his business so that’s between him and his wife,” I cautioned. “At least it’s not a blonde — they get enough grief as it is. But I hope it’s not on a motorcycle.”
“Let’s start over,” my buddy sighed.
“Funny — that’s what another guy and I were saying when you called. But we were talking about football.”
“So am I. And we’re starting over. We’re…”
“Say,” I interrupted, “you don’t have an outbreak of anorexia over there, do you?”
“Or beavers? Maybe badgers?”
“I’m talking about the Red Wolves,” he howled. “What the hell’s with you?”
“No, what the hell’s with you]? They lost their habitat a century ago — the hardwoods; the plantation guys cleared ‘em, cut ‘em all down, so they could plant cotton and soybeans. There’s only a pine or two left.” I added: “I thought everyone knew that.”
I heard a long sigh of frustration.
“Auburn’s in Alabama.”
“Is he with her?”
“Not her — it,” he answered, acid creeping into his voice.
“Oh, come on,” I chided, “we may not approve but she’s still a human being, she deserves at least a little respect. Unless you’re trying to be gender-neutral, in which case that’s carrying it a bit too far.” I had never known my friend to bother with political correctness.
Before he could say anything a shiver ran up my spine. “She wasn’t on his staff, was she? Academic counselor, some such?”
“What are you drinking?” he wanted to know.
My first line was blinking now. “Call you back.”
It was the other guy, still breathless.
“I’m hearing he may not get Petrino’s base — I’m not sure of that — but there’s plenty of incentives. And the usual — the car, the TV show, the club membership, the rest of it.”
The rest of it? “Are you talking about the auburn?” I wondered.
“The jerseys? Auburn? Nooo, we tinkered with it a little, but not that far — auburn. Cardinal, they call it. And something they say is anthracite, but it’s gray to me.”
“At the temples?”
“Never mind. I must be confused.”
Yeah,” he agreed. “Anyway, with a little luck we can feast on tiger next Thanksgiving.”
“I’ll stick with turkey,” I replied. “If it was good enough for the Pilgrims and the Indians it’s good enough for me. But, weird, I was just talking to a guy in Jonesboro who said he liked red wolf.”
“You’re confused again. I’m sure he said Red Wolves.”
“As in, plural? I’d think one would feed a family. Probably tough to chew even if you slow-cooked it. They don’t even serve it at the Gillett coon supper. Nor beaver nor badger.”
“The Red Wolves — they used to be the Indians,” he said gently.
“Ah, shape-shifting,” I agreed. “A key component of some Native American cultures.”
“What are you drinking?”
“You’re the second guy to ask me that in five minutes,” I told him.
The first guy to ask was back on the other line. I hit the “conference” button.
“What’s he drinking?” the first guy asked the second.
Since it was mid-afternoon I was offended. “Look,” I told the two of them, “I was sitting here minding my own business and now I’m auditing a zoology course: beavers and badgers, and wolves. Cardinals. Hogs. And tigers.”
“Which Tigers?” asked Caller No. 2.
“Baton Rouge,” responded Caller No. 1.
“Are you sure he didn’t mean Auburn?” replied No. 2.
“Her again?” I moaned.
“Aren’t you at all concerned about higher education?” the two guys roared in unison.
I started to hang up. They beat me to it.
• • •
Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.