A World Less Certain | Apocalypse Now

I love the smell of cow chips in the morning!

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | Fire on the ridge as firefighters from multiple departments battle flames on the San Gabriel Mountains in Monrovia by Sawpit Debris Dam. According to a fire chief on the scene, some of the personnel had been temporarily trapped in between multiple flare-ups

Los Angeles and the valleys are choking in smoke. So thick, the sun is amber, and the view from my loft is sickly yellow. It’s been like this for days. The forests are burning out of control from Washington State to Southern California. Locally, the Bobcat and El Dorado fires consume 100 acres a minute. The ash falls like snow, and the air – if you can call it that – smells like a campfire all day and night.

The world as we know it in Los Angeles is this: we are in the fifth month of a pandemic without a cure, last month’s temperatures reached 112 breaking records for this time of year, and now we are stewing in smoke because the mountains are on fire. It’s only a matter of time before the Zombie Apocalypse finishes us off.

Apocalypse Now

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Francis Ford Coppola’s epic war film Apocalypse Now is best remembered for a scene played by actor Robert Duvall (Lieutenant Colonel William “Bill” Kilgore, 9th Regiment commander and surfing fanatic). The scene follows a devastating airstrike to clear the beachhead from Viet Cong to make it safe for surfing. “If I say it’s safe to surf this beach, Captain, it’s safe to surf this beach!” And then, Duvall’s movie-classic line: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It reminds me of victory.” Right now, our line: “I love the smell of the hills on fire. It reminds me of a summer barbeque.”

During these times of enormous personal stress, we wish to feel normal again. We remind ourselves of who we are and what makes us tick – an acknowledgment of our humanity during our woeful COVID-infested lives.

Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore’s new normal was the insanity of war and making the beach safe to surf. Mine is to recall how I won the Cow Chip Toss Championship. Today, I will share with you my winning secrets. Lucky you.

Cow Chip Throwing Championship

When I raced motocross in my teens and early twenties, I won races but I was never a champion. Not until the day my talent for throwing cow crap for distance was revealed to me thirty-five years after my motocross career was over.

On a whim, I entered Sertoma’s 2005 Cow Chip Championship in Leona Valley, California. I not only won my age division, I was crowned the Cow Chip Grand Champion for having the longest throw of the event. That’s right. I threw poo better than the beef-fed ranchers. My prowess for flinging the brown stuff stunned the local folk: “How come that city boy flung dung better ‘than us?!”

How to throw cow chips for distance

I quietly observed the event before I ever laid hands on the sundried saucer-shaped dung. Then I applied what I know about the power of observation and discreetly used trial and error to perfect my toss mechanics. I selected a variety of cow chips in different sizes, shapes, and weights. We were offered gloves, but I wanted to get a tactile understanding for the brand of crap I was throwing. So, I tossed barehanded. It gave me the best feel for the projectile poo. Gross? Not at all, when you have the eye of the tiger.

Which throw do you think works best for tossing cow chips?

• Frisbee fling
• Discus throw
• Skipping stone chuck
• Fastball pitch (overhand)
• Softball-style fast pitch (underhand)
• Tomahawk throw
• Shot put toss

I tried them all several times.

The worst performing throw was the Frisbee toss. That surprised me. I figured the round disc shape of cow chips would naturally be superior in aerodynamics by offering less air resistance. The only throw worse than the Frisbee toss was the shot put toss. The overhand and underhand pitcher’s toss was like trying to hurl a dead duck, and the tomahawk throw was like tossing a wobbly turd (because it was). The discus – helicopter spin and release – was the second-best toss, but it’s lightweight. A typical discus weighs 2 kilograms (about 4½ pounds). Cow chips weigh only a few ounces.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. It’s hard to throw irregular lightweight objects for distance, especially if they are big, brown, and ugly. The best chip is smaller, dense, and round like a skipping stone. The skipping stone chuck is the distance champ by far.

Putting it all together

My cow chip flew farther than anyone else because I selected the best crap, used a sidearm sling with a flick of my wrist, and had a BS winning attitude. I threw with the confidence of positive self-expectation. I believed my cow chip would soar over the valley, leave the Earth’s atmosphere, and collide with the Star Trek USS Enterprise. Imagine the surprise on Spock’s face – a subtle raise of one eyebrow. Admittedly, my motivational technique was illogical.

Unfortunately, my chip did not leave the planet. My terrestrial winning toss was a mere 176 feet and 4 inches. Maybe, next time.

True BS throwing champions never give up.

Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.