Dick Cheney vs. the SpaghettiOs
By Patrick J. Sauer
It was the summer of 1989, and I was biding my time before leaving Billings, MT, to head off to the renowned academic powerhouse Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. I was socking away minimum wages for my collegiate experience ($3.35 an hour, I believe) at Best sporting goods, quietly whiling away my afternoons selling rifles, lawn furniture, fly rods, and Weber grills. At best, I was an average salesman, but it wasn’t a commission gig and I spent half my time on the phone arranging to find a guy of legal age to buy me and my boys cases of Schmidt beer.
Billings isn’t a celebrity hotbed, and whatever sightings there were reached mythic proportions that carried weight for years on end. My buddy Bruno once saw Bill Murray meandering downtown before a minor league ballgame between the Salt Lake Trappers (Murray was part owner) and the Billings Mustangs. Even at Best, salesclerks reminisced fondly about the time Mel Gibson went on a major spending spree to stock his ranch up near Absarokee.
One thing Billings does have to offer, though, is tax-free shopping, and nobody appreciates avoiding sales tax quite like a Wyoming Republican.
The savings were so good that even an old hunter like Dick Cheney, recently installed Secretary of Defense, dropped in to purchase a few items for his daughter’s dorm room. I’m assuming it was Mary because she was born in 1969—to Elizabeth’s 1966—but I can’t say for sure if it was also my first brush with a woman of the lesbian persuasion. Truth be told, it’s probably for the better, because at the age of 18 my only experience with women-who-prefer-women was VHS pornography, and I’m not sure I would’ve been able to keep my composure and complete the transaction in the timely and orderly fashion befitting a former military man…err, a guy who digs the armed forces.
Decked out in a ten-gallon hat and form-fitting Wranglers, Cheney grunted a few questions to me about the best mini-fridge on the market. I, of course, was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and tie combination that would later come to be known as “the Sipowicz.” He decided on a brown one, maybe two-feet tall, perhaps a Kenmore… basically, the same one you kept SpaghettiOs and Diet Coke cold in during the undergraduate years.
Cheney bought a few other items, and then I wheeled out his purchases on a red handcart to his Ford Bronco or Chevy Blazer or whatever it was before S.U.V.’s were invented. He opened the swing door, I bent down, lifted the mini-fridge (with my legs, not my back, which was a hard-learned lesson) and slid it into the area opened by the folded-down seats. I don’t recall Cheney or his daughter saying anything, but he shook my hand, nodded “Thanks,” climbed into his truck and headed off into the sunset. Tipping was never part of the equation, but the patriotic swell I got from assisting the Secretary of Defense far surpassed a few crumpled bills from his oil investments.
And before you ask: Yes, I’ve considered the “What If?” possibilities. Realistically, all I could have accomplished is accidentally “dropping” the mini-fridge and causing a few broken toes.
But broken toes would never keep Dick Cheney down.