Chad M. Christensen

Boy With Shovel: Money for Dope, Money for Rope

Chad M. Christensen’s next Boy With Shovel column,  “Money for Dope, Money for Rope,” about life during COVID with kids, and daydreaming.


Bill Hicks, be happy you’re fucking dead. It’s only gotten worst here.

If I were an extraterrestrial being floating above this blue sphere, I’d think twice before stopping at this little rest stop of horrors. Oops, my inner misanthrope just slipped through. Guess we’ll just have to bury it in the backyard with the rest of life’s tiny truths.

Alien #1: “Hmmm … what do we have down here? Bunch of greedy, flag-sucking racist cocksuckers? We came too early, honey. They’re not quite there yet.”

Alien #2: “What ya wanna do? The kids are tired and hungry. And I gotta pee.”

Alien #1: “We’d better keep moving. Kepler-442b looks pretty good. Says they got a hot tub, pool, and plenty of empathy.”

Alien #2: “I can hold it.”

Jesus, it’s hot in my kitchen. And John Prine’s dead. So, yeah, there’s your state of the union. But I’m also a gardener by trade, so—let’s plant some seeds of optimism, shall we? Maybe conjure up a little Voltaire. Oops, the seeds just fell all over the ground, and well—it’s a struggle to find them, but let’s try.

There was a baby barn swallow on my deck railing this morning. Apparently, it wasn’t ready for the world today. It made it this far and was like, Yeah, that’s enough. I watched as its mother swooped in to console the poor thing and show it how to use its wings, but the baby bird just tweeted hysterically. I was worried my killer cat would tear the bird apart and leave its tiny head at my front door, but maybe that’s what it needed—a gentle push.

I lost track of the bird but saw it later in the day on the roof overhang, so it got enough sense to get higher. Good, I thought. On ya go, bird.

This is the way of the COVID. Weeks of isolation and suddenly you become a bird watcher, partly out of boredom and partly out of searching for something other than news of pain and suffering. The news radio starts playing and immediately I’m like, Shit, I better look at some birds.

Some might see this as a kind of pacification or an inability to cope with reality. Or maybe the birds know something. Maybe. Maybe not. But I hope so. Look, the seeds are growing already.

Right now, my children are over my stagnation, and so am I. They demand ACTION. Walk the dog. Get out the Slip ’N Slide. No philosophical thought. Shut up and run. So, we run. I spray them with the water hose and it’s satisfying. I do it again. And then I do it some more.


This is the way of the COVID. Weeks of isolation and suddenly you become a bird watcher, partly out of boredom and partly out of searching for something other than news of pain and suffering.


We have a giant hill in our backyard and, as I’m spraying the children, I start to daydream about turning the hill into a new Golgotha. It’s bright out, but for a moment I can almost see two pieces of wood put together in a T or cross-like formation. And although there’s sweat dripping down into my eyes, I’m pretty sure I can see someone up there dangling. He looks vaguely like our commander-in-chief or maybe even Pat Sajak. I hope the former, because I like Pat. He’s a nice person, from what I understand, and he’s just recovered from a terrible hospital stay. Everyone on his show seems to like him. I can’t say that about the other guy. It’s probably the former. He seems to be mumbling and whimpering.

Just below him is another man, bald and heavy, and he looks nervous as he types frantically on his phone. It seems like he’s trying to transcribe the dying man’s words, but his thumbs are tired. He tries to speak, to explain to him that he can’t do this anymore. The entrails of the crucified man begin to slip down from his open body cavity and quickly forms a noose around the other man’s head. It yanks feverishly for several seconds and then pulls the man straight up and into the crucified man’s exposed body cavity. Blood gushes everywhere and, eventually, the man can no longer be seen. The sky begins to darken like the end of days, making it hard to see, and all I can smell are lilacs.

I ponder this little scene of death for a moment as I take a drink of my apricot-flavored La Croix—and then, eventually, I redirect my focus to the hose. The children are screaming and smiling with utter joy. In the tree next to me, I see and hear the fluttering of wings.

“Look,” I tell the children, “it’s a yellow-billed cuckoo.”


Chad M. Christensen

Chad M. Christensen lives in the Ponca Hills north of Omaha, Nebraska, and is the managing editor of the WSC Press and the co-director of the Plains Writers Series. He stole his MFA from the University of Nebraska and teaches writing and publishing at Wayne State College. Find him stumbling on Facebook & Twitter.

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