The Lawn Mower salesman had just passed through the front gate of the Laboratory. He looked up and saw something in the distance. He drove slowly toward the obstacle and stared hard at the thing in the road.
“What the devil is that?” he mumbled to himself.
He slowed down further. “Maybe if I drive slow, it will get out of the road.” he said to no one in particular.
The car slowed to a crawl, until he was almost upon the mysterious object. Then, he slammed on the brakes and whispered in a panic, “What is it?”
He quickly put the car in reverse and drove back to the gate. At the gate, he rolled down the window and picked up the handset of the conveniently located phone.
The Whistler set down his shovel, looked at his watch and sighed. The Lawn Mower representative was late to their meeting. The Whistler had been waiting, rather enthusiastically, to hear about all the latest, wondrous technologies in lawn mowing, such as; robotic GPS controlled mowers, biodiesel mowers, solar powered mowers, and the advancement of hydrogen fuel cell technologies.
The phone rang. The Whistler picked up the handset and said, “Hello, This is Super Fun Adventure Quest Time Laboratories, how may I direct your call?”. He paused and said, “I see. You are running late for our meeting because the road is full of … what?”
A look of disbelief crossed his face as he said, “Excuse me. Will you repeat that? Did you say that you are trapped on the road because of donkeys… A donkey blockade, you say?”
With a quizzical look, he asked, “How many donkeys are involved?… Two?… and you say that they’re tiny but quite threatening? And that they have surrounded the car and are hitting it with their little noses… Oh! And loudly braying while shaking their heads in a menacing manner? One moment, please.”
He put the phone to his chest and hollered “Einida, you have a donkey emergency to attend to…”
He lifted the handset and said, “Sir, I’ve alerted the appropriate authorities and someone should be there shortly to escort you safely to the Laboratory’s garden house. Good-bye.”
Enida slid through the doorway, as she failed to stop her momentous sprint. “Emergency? What’s happened? Are Subject 001 and Subject 002 ok?” She panted.
The Whistler, was not only a holistic landscaper, but was also well versed in the arts of animal husbandry. His donkey handling advice had been ignored and he was looking forward to this “I told you so” moment.
He smiled mischieviously and said, “I’m sure you remember when I mentioned to you and Dr. Phil that one should never, ever, ever feed any sort of animal from the window of a car?”
She nodded cautiously, “Um, I seem to remember something about that. But I only do it when it’s raining and my umbrella is in the trunk. Or when it’s really hot. Or sometimes, I might feed them from the van, if I’m in a hurry… but I hardly do it at all. Why? What does this have to do with the donkey emergency?”
The Whistler shook his head and said, “Well, apparently Dr. Phil has been feeding them on a regular basis from the window of his truck. And do you know what happens to animals that are given food with a stimulus event? Like, perhaps, giving a donkey an apple during which time a very specific sound is made?”
She gasped and clasped her hand over her mouth, “Classical conditioning? For the love of Pavlov, Oh no!”
“Instead of making dogs hungry at the sound of bells, as in Pavlov’s respondent stimulus experiments…” he began his lecture.
Einida’s eyes widened as she realized the magnitude of his words. She whispered in dismay, “I’ve created donkeys that are conditioned to respond to the sights and sound of automobiles… Oh my! This can’t end well for anyone.”
Einida grabbed some tools and left the building. She was on a mission to break the donkey blockade.
When the donkeys saw Einida, they brayed loudly and shook their heads.
Einida stood in front of the donkeys, who were blocking the vehicle, and said with a stern tone, “Move. Get going. You will get no apples today.” She waved her arms in the air menacingly.
The Lawn Mower Salesman, quickly put his car in reverse.
“No. Sir, not you… you stay here… donkeys leave. “ Einida sait to the surprised man. She then turned and yelled, “ Get a move on, donkeys!”
The donkeys gazed at her calmly.
“Heeyaw!! Gitty up.. Hoowah… ” Einda was hopping about while making noises.
She then leaned over and pushed Subject 001 on his flank. “Move it or lose it.” She said hopefully.
The donkey leaned back, determined not to be pushed around.
Dr. Phil walked up and snickered. Einida was hot, surly and still trying to move the donkeys by physically pushing them off the road.
Einida rubbed her brow in frustration and said “These donkeys are impossible. I can’t believe how stubborn they are! I always thought that the phrase ‘Being stubborn as an ass…”
“Asset!” shouted Dr. Phil triumphantly. “I’ve always said that people need to be more stubborn, if they want to be successful. Do not let other people tell you what to do. Seek your destiny and sally forth! Let it never be said that I didn’t do things my way.”
As if on cue, Viktor walked up to the group and said, “Oh, yes. We have a saying about Dr. Phil’s way. That there’s the right way, the wrong way and Philips’s way… which is the wrong way, but twice as fast.”
Dr. Phil said, “And then there’s The Whistler’s way, which is the right way done twice as slow and with a painstakingly comprehensive level of detail.”
“Does anyone have an apple? I don’t think I can get this blockade removed without one.” Einda said while searching her pockets.
Viktor studied the donkey blockade and said, “When thinking of famous blockades, I would consider the Ottomans blockade in 1394 at Constantinople, the great WWI British blockade of X, and of course, the blockade of Marc Antony’s fleet in Actium to be the greatest blockades. We shall not allow this blockade to escalate to those levels.”
Viktor stroked his goatee and said, “There’s got to be a scientific solution to this conundrum. We’ve got to be smarter than the donkeys…”
“Hey, where are you going? Aren’t you going to break the blockade? I’ve been here for quite awhile.” said the Lawn Mower Salesman uncertainly.
“Be patient. It is only a matter of time before the solution presents itself.” said Viktor calmly.
Viktor, Einida and The Whistler were at the stables, trying to find inspiration for the problem at hand.
“I have a brilliant idea! What if I start feeding the donkeys food from the vehicle that they DON’T like? Then, they’ll associate cars with unpleasant tastes. Hee-hee.” said Einda gleefully.
“What could possibly go wrong?” asked The Whistler innocently.
“I wonder what donkeys don’t like eating?” said Einida, while thinking about animal inappropriate foods such as caviar and sardines.
Viktor said, “That sounds like a metric that needs to be plotted through careful trial and error.”
“And be sure to stick to unappetizing vegetables, as equines are vegetarian.” continued Viktor.
Enida, no longer deep in thought, said, “Ooh! I know that broccoli and cabbage are generally hated by human standards. I should try one of those.”
“Whoa! Don’t do that. Broccoli and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables and are known to cause flatulence in horses. And I believe that experiencing an episode of donkey flatulence is probably, actually, literally the last thing we need around here.” said Viktor with a stern look.
Everyone paused for a moment to consider that scenario. And then they started snickering. “Donkey poots…poot poot… tee-hee.”
The Whistler began to verbally demonstrate what he thought the flatulence from a miniature donkey would sound like. He waved his arms to indicate billowing clouds of gas, while making enthusiastically obscene, high pitched noises. He then pantomimed donkeys being made airborne by their high pressured flatulence.
He finally stopped when he noticed that Einida was rolling on the ground in a gale of laughter. Viktor, slightly more composed, was chortling with glee while holding on to his shaking ribs.
“So, no kale, brussel sprouts, rhubarb or Bok Choy, either?” said Einida with a stray giggle as she stood up and began to shake the dust off her lab coat.
The Whistler said, “Those vegetables are bad for horses as well. And they can’t tolerate avocados, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and persimmons Start thinking about fruits. Horses love fruits…”
Viktor put his finger and the air and said, “Fruit! All this talk of food has left me feeling peckish. it’s time for a snack-ra-fice.”
And so, the trio walked off toward the Laboratory, anxious for snacks.
They were surprised by the honk of a car. The Lawn Mower Salesman was yelling something through his window.
He rolled down the window, waved a bag of apples around and said, “It took me hours to drive all the way back into to town to get apples. The donkeys loved them. They let me pass, once I paid the toll.”
Viktor furrowed his brow and sighed, “Ah, yes. The donkey’s Pavolvian response was strongly reinforced. We’re going to have to work extra hard to break them of this pattern.”
“Are you ready to talk about lawn mowers? What can I do to get you into a …” the Lawn Mower Salesman stopped his manic sales pitch when he saw the faraway look in Viktor’s eyes.
“Don’t mind him… “ said The Whistler as he pushed passed Viktor, “I am more than ready to discuss the merits and demerits of reel mowers, rotary mowers, robot mowers, solar mowers, push mowers, lawn tractors and my favorite… mulching modes!” He clapped his hands in delight.
Einida turned to Viktor and said, “Let’s go eat. We’ll never solve this dilemma on an empty stomach.”
“Indeed.” he replied while still deep in thought.
“Would you like a watermelon? I bought one when I got apples…” offered the Lawn Mower salesman.
Einida grabbed the watermelon and they walked toward the Laboratory.
Einida shrieked, dropped the watermelon she was holding, and ran towards the utility vehicle. The donkeys were braying loudly and shaking their heads vigorously. Normally, she was pleased by the donkeys, when they exhibited this behavior, as it meant that they were glad to see her.
Today, however, it occurred after she fed them some watermelon. The donkeys became ecstatic and began drooling half-chewed bits of watermelon. Then, when they vigorously shook their tiny heads, that same stream of drool and watermelon spewed everywhere.
“I’ve got to have an umbrella!” Einida shouted at The Whistler, who was laughing uproariously from the front seat of the van. His meeting with The Lawn Mower Salesman had ended abruptly when Einida recruited him for this latest mission. He correctly anticipated the mission would be highly amusing to watch.
The Whistler handed her an umbrella through the window and said with a smirk, “So, they like watermelon, do they?”
Einida put the umbrella under her arm. Then, with the sleeve of her red splashed lab coat, she wiped off her clipboard. She made a note that watermelon would not be an effective donkey deterrent.
“Look out! Here they come.” The Whistler warned as he quickly rolled up the window.
Einida heard the stampede of tiny hooves and felt the warm drops of donkey drool hit her legs. The donkeys were frolicking with the piece of watermelon she dropped and wanted to show their appreciation by getting as close to Einida as possible. Subject 001 licked the clipboard. Einida quickly put up her umbrella, jumped on the running board of the van, pounded the roof and yelled, “Drive! Drive!”
Einida was in the break room listlessly stirring her soup. Her earlier lunch break had been interrupted by the idea that donkeys wouldn’t like watermelon.
“It seems hopeless. These darned donkeys seem to like everything. They are so… adamantly agreeable!” said Einida through gritted teeth.
Dr. Phil scratched his head and said, “Horse feathers! Never give up… never surrender… horseradish! Try feeding them horseradish.” His stream of consciousness solution surprised him. Nonetheless, he waved his spoon in triumph.
“Why would you suggest a food that shares a name with the genus of the animal you’re trying to manipulate?” asked Viktor dryly.
“Obviously, it was named as such because horses love it!” declared Dr. Phil.
Viktor said, “But we’re not trying to find things that horses love to eat. We’re looking for the exact opposite of…” Viktor’s indignant rant was interrupted.
Einida said, “Actually, no one quite knows the etymology of the name horseradish. It has been highly valued as a spice throughout history. The Oracle at Delphi once thought that it was worth it’s weight in gold. In the Middle Ages, it was actually used medicinally for…”
Viktor interrupted with a cough and said, “Poison! It’s poisonous to horses…”
Einidia interrupted his interruption and said loudly, “Medicine! It’s used to treat dandruff and sinusitis. Speaking of medicine, this celery soup doesn’t taste nearly as good as I had hoped. It tastes like warm celery water.”
Viktor folded his arms and said peevishly, “Have you not read my treatise on the souponification of soup? Making soup is an art form, much like the saponification process when making soap. One must gradually heat vegetables, patiently wait…” He paused and looked at her soup.
Then, he sighed and shook his head. “Am I looking at a bowl of warm water that is full of celery sticks? That’s not soup! That’s a culinary outrage! That is to soup, what American cheese is to…” he stopped ranting and and gazed thoughtfully at the refrigerator.
“Celery!” he suddenly shouted enthusiastically, “Celery! Have you tried feeding them celery?”
Einida dropped her spoon and looked at her clipboard. She quickly searched the list of fruits and vegetables that were donkey approved.
“No! They have not been exposed to celery. Celery might actually work. It’s one of those nutritionally mysterious vegetables that change how medicine gets processed in the human body. I bet the donkeys will hate it! I must get a test started right away.” said Einida jumping up from her celery water.
Einida gently held out her hand. A stalk of celery lay across her palm. The donkey, Subject 001, softly grabbed the celery with his mouth and began nibbling.
If a donkey could grimace, then Subject 001 would have. The celery fell to the ground with a light thud. Subject 001 looked at Einida with a baleful glare. It was the first time the donkey’s tastebuds had ever tasted something so woefully unpleasant. Subject 001’s ears turned backward to communicate his substantial anger.
The Whistler, whose hobby was horse whispering, said, “Ooh wee! That is one angry equine. You’d better give him a palate cleanser.”
“That would defeat the purpose of this experiment. I don’t want them to associate blockades with celery followed by apples. They must learn that they shall only get celery when they blockade.” She then circled the word “celery” on her clipboard.
Einida was ecstatic. She leaned over and cooed to the tiny donkey “Little buddy , you’re going to learn that cars mean celery, which means the opposite of apples.” She straightened up and with dramatic flourish said, “I declare that’ The Great Donkey Blockade disaster’ has finally been defeated.”
The Whistler, who was sitting in the van, smiled, nodded slowly and said, “I’m sure it has.”
The donkeys began to stalk towards Einida. Their ears were flattened and they marched forward menacingly with their tiny mouths chomping at the air. They looked like an equine version of Pac-Man, eating invisible dots. [can you think of a better metaphor?]
Einida backed up and said, “Um… they look angry…”
They began to trot terrifyingly towards her.
“Run, Einida, run! You don’t want those donkeys to acquire a taste for human flesh…” yelled the Whistler.
But it was a needless warning, for Einida was already fleeing the rampaging donkeys.
Once again, Einida was trying to escape the equines. She stuffed her clipboard under her arm, jumped on the running board of the van, and yelled, “Drive! Drive!”
Weeks passed without a single blockade.
The donkeys quickly learned that the Laboratory vehicles only carried abhorrent celery. They quickly lost interest in blockades and went back to doing whatever it is they do.
Then, one day the radio crackled.
“Einida, there’s a coil winding vendor stuck at the gate. Those min-donks are up to their old tricks again. They’ve got a blockade in place and are terrorizing that poor lady salesperson. ”
Einida grabbed the keys to the van and grumbled, “Why? Why? Why? Why now? This is impossible.”
Viktor stroked his goatee thoughtfully and said, “I believe that when the Lawn Mower salesman fed the donkeys apples, he taught them a new trick. The donkeys have learned to differentiate between the staff vehicles and vehicles that they’ve never seen. What a sophisticated level of mental processing that this turn of events indicates. It shows a level of…”
“Bah! Sophisticated… How am I going to solve this behavioural wrinkle?” Einida said gloomily, while stomping out the door with a bag of celery.
Shouting after her, Viktor said, “So, then you won’t mind if I update your job description to permanently include the escorting of newcomers through donkey blockades? Oh, and I’ll need your report on ‘Donkey Blockades and Roadpower Strategies and Counter-Strategies’ on my desk by tomorrow. ”
The Whistler shouted, “If you feel like feeding the min-donks, be sure to get out of the car and walk to them…even if its raining!
The Whistler smiled and said to Viktor, “Well, at least the donkeys taught Einida and Dr. Phil to not take weather-related shortcuts in experimental protocol during active trials.”
“Indeed.” replied Viktor.