This time I'm sure you've lost your mind."

The voice on the phone was familiar, but I just couldn't put a face to it.

"Pardon me?"

"It's one thing for you to support the checkoff, but to be against the Johnson Amendment-that's really a bonehead move on your part."

Ah yes, the familiar voice belonged to the none-to-pretty face of Mr. Cow Buyer, an old friend who calls every year or so to remind me: 1. I'm not very bright; 2. he's very intelligent, and; 3. when in doubt, see reminder No. 1.

"Hello, C.B. You're right, of course," I agreed. "But you're a little slow, as usual. I've already heard from several readers about my position on the proposed ban on packer ownership of cattle. Several think I'm wrong, and some think I'm right."

"I'm a busy man," C.B offered in defense of his tardiness. "I make five sales a week and wear out a new pickup every two years in the process. Besides, if I called you every time you screwed up I wouldn't git anything done."

The noise in the background was obviously that of an auction market, and the clanging gates mixed in with the auctioneer's cry made it difficult for me to hear.

"Why don't you just send me an e-mail when you've got a point to make?" I asked.

"Hell, I don't have e-mail. Besides, technology's half what's wrong with your type these days. You need to git a little manure on yer boots."

"It's true, technology is a curse on the planet," I agreed. "I don't suppose I could get you to hang up that cell phone and call me back from the phone booth in the café so I can hear your wisdom?"

"Sorry. I'm busy trying to fill my orders. I've got two trucks due in here this afternoon and I need to fill 'em. In fact, some of the calves running through here today might fit into one of them alliances you're always promoting."

Then I heard a definite "sploosh" mixed in with the bawling calves and clanging gates. C.B. had just unleashed a generous portion of tobacco juice into the Styrofoam coffee cup he keeps on the bleachers next to him.

"You wouldn't be bidding on those calves with a little packer money, would you C.B.?"

He ignored my attempt at humor, and let me know straight out he thought last month's editorial was one-sided and not very intelligent.

"The average rancher doesn't have a chance in the open market when the big four packers have the leverage and control they have today," C.B. said. "We need to rein those boys in some so we can get 'em to bid fairly on our cattle."

"I understand your points, but I'm afraid there are several reasons the proposal could backfire. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one, C.B."

"Some of the guys down in the café think that town dog in the picture with you must've written that opinion," he said.

"He doesn't write them, but he is my spell checker," I admitted.

"In fact, some of the boys suggested it might be a good thing if that dog disappeared, if you know what I mean."

"C.B., if any harm comes to Hank I'm going to hold you personally responsible," I exclaimed with mock indignation. "And if anything does happen to him, I've got a seven-year-old boy that I'll send down to spend the summer with you. Within two weeks your cows won't eat, your horses will all buck, and your tractor won't start."

At that, C.B. began to laugh until he swallowed a little too much Copenhagen. "Gotta...go," he choked. "Just remember who you're writtin' for. I know you're heart's in the right place, it's you're mind I'm worried about."

"Thanks for the encouragement, C.B. Call anytime."