Lin Ottinger and friend


article by Dink Bridgers
copyright 1996
published in the Canyonlands Zephyr 1997

     It's 32 degrees, midnight in the desert just outside of Price, Utah. I'm pushing Lin Ottinger's beat up GMC diesel pickup three miles on a lonely highway to a mythical all night garage. Lin is in the front seat eeking out the engine's last gasps. It's burning just enough fuel to fill my bursting lungs and freezing sinuses with smelly, intoxicating fumes.
     Lin had nursed the sputtering monster across a hundred miles of desert, temporarily mending symptoms of a dying fuel pump with spit, air, tape, and hillbilly ingenuity. The truck's top speed, however, slowly decreased to zero.
     He stopped at a filling station to Mickey Mouse the problem.
     I stood by and watched as he cussed and tinkered. You don't tell Lin Ottinger how to do anything. I tried not to get too close.
     He blew into the line.
     "Listen to the tank," he bluntly ordered.
     I bent over and cocked an ear toward the filler.
     "What are you doing? Did you here what I said? ARE YOU STUPID?!"
      He ran over, yanked off the filler cap, and pointed. "Right, here!"
     I'm in this predicament for geodes, Dugway geodes. You know, hollow rocks, volcanic bombs found a stone's throw from the Air Force chemical weapons facilities at Dugway Proving Grounds.
     The Air Force was bulldozing a road into the Dugway test area exposing thousands of geodes for the taking. When I passed the rumor and a map to Lin, he simply couldn't resist.
     They were waiting for us, the midnight mechanic and his two Mexican assistants; a fat, oily man with pants slung way low, and shy brothers who could not speak a word of English.
     Mr. Pants Slung Low opened the hood of the truck and took a long look.
     "Not getting enough fuel, huh?"
     Lin pointed to the fuel pump. "Something is rattling around in there like a preacher's dick in a calve's ass."
     As I practically fell to my knees in a fit of laughter at Lin's unholy wit, the fat mechanic put gut to grill, bent into the engine compartment, legs in the air, and called for a tool in Spanish. One of the brothers ran to retrieve and deliver the tool, then scooted back to a huge bulbous kerosene heater roaring and fuming away like a jet engine on the greasy concrete floor. The fat mechanic's butt glistened fully exposed under the hood, oily, hairy and steaming.
     I must have been grinning ear to ear when Lin walked by, screwed up his face, and said out of the corner of his mouth, "I don't think these guys know what they are doing."
     I replied, "I'm amazed we found anyone. It's midnight, for pete's sake. Check out that moon. It's worth pushing the truck three miles in the cold and dark for that butt shot."
     Lin cocked his head and walked away. Lin can spot a desert bighorn sheep at a thousand yards, but he didn't see that big flabby, shiny, butt. I began to worry about his eyesite, his sense of humor. I figured this was normal to him, he must deal with a lot of low pants people.
     I felt like running out into the road and flagging down a car just to share the moment.
     The butt-mechanic revved the engine in roaring spasms, blasting thick blue smoke into the shop for ten minutes. I'm having a hard time containing my laughter. Intoxicating diesel vapors rose from the floor like dry ice at a Doobie Brothers concert. The fat man's pale ass shown through the fog like tropical fruit.
     Lightheaded, I walked up to Lin and said, "I don't think these guys know what they are doing."
     "The idiots are going to blow my engine," he snarled.
     I worried about his temper. I didn't want to witness a legendary Lin Ottinger explosion, nine point five on the Richter scale.
     Lin walked to the front of the truck, and finally he saw the fat mechanic's butt. He winced comically, looked at me, looked at the butt, looked back at me, looked back at the butt. He paused for a moment, then screamed above the whine of the engine, "The comet! HAVE YOU GUYS SEEN THE COMET?! HEY, I SAID, HAVE YOU GUYS SEEN THE COMET?!"
     The brothers stood warming themselves next to the thundering heater, eyes glazed.
     Under the hood of the sputtering diesel truck, the mechanic peeked around his huge glowing ass.
     Lin pointed up, "The comet."
     "Ahhh, la Commetta?"
     Lin pointed skyward. "Si. La Commetta. In the sky. Right now. Come outside and see it."
     Lin beckoned and roused the oily, nocturnal mechanics into the cold night, under the stars.
     I followed.
     Standing in freezing mud, among the junked cars, Lin pointed a crooked finger at an apparition above. "See it?"
     As my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, the gargantuan comet revealed itself through the bare limbs of a cottonwood tree, the milky tongue of Aphrodite, covering a third of the night sky like a veil of delicate lace across a sparkling bed of lights.
     "Ahhhh, La Cometta est grande."
     "Si. Si."
     "Gracias. Gracias."
     Lin smiled, "Beautiful, si? It's made of ice."
     I had to push the truck three miles back into Price with my tongue hanging out like that great big comet. I swear it was up hill both ways. I gave up on the geodes. I got what I came for.
     Lin, however will do anything to get his rocks. After driving me back to Moab he turned around and headed for Dugway. Three days later he came back to Moab with a few tons of the nerve gas geodes in the back of his smelly GMC.

     "Whoa! STOP! STOP!! Goddammit! You stupid idiot! Don't go through that salt so fast! You're going to have to wash the underside of this truck when we get back, and if you take the bumper off on a rock, your gonna have to pay for it."     
     Elsa and Jean, two very together little old ladies with serious, hand-carved walking sticks engraved with their names, sat patiently in the back of the Suburban, listening as Lin scolded me, his driver of the day, between tall tales spoken in mock Tonto-the-Indian "Indian no see-um white man" dialect, macho John Wayne anecdotes, lessons on handmade, homespun geology, and pointing out sandstone formations along Postash Road, "Can you see Brigham Young over there?"
     In the rear view mirror I could see Elsa and Jean, gritting their teeth, knuckles white on their walking sticks, eyes rolling.
     "Pull up right there. WHOA! DID I TELL YOU TO PARK HERE? Don't park it on a slant! Now, look which way you pointed those wheels! YOU STUPID IDIOT!"
     We disembarked to photograph Lin with a trembling tourist on a tiny, slippery, rock ledge seven hundred feet above the Colorado River, a spot from which one of his own guides fell to his death only a few years ago.
     He doesn't tell them that.
      Elsa, the toughest looking 83 year old hiker I've ever seen, walked up behind me and said very softly into my right ear, "If he were my husband I'd walk out there and push him off."
     Like that old Juniper tree under Pritchett Arch, Lin is eccentric and twisted, a rigid repository of bullshit and sacred desert knowledge designed for trusting tourists. He's an unappreciated national treasure that might fall on you if you stand under it.
     Barren, last of his tribe, he bitterly sifts the last precious grit from the played-out ore of a by-gone era, when anyone was free to ride out into the vast desert, without a map, across slickrock and virgin cryptobiotic soil crusts in a beat-up Volkswagen bus, gathering arrowheads and pots, searching for minerals, fossils, and places to play with a jack and pick.
     Lin Ottinger is justly, or unjustly, seen by new order land management as a rogue plunderer of nature and antiquity, pillaging the public trust. "We'd take Lin's permits away right now if he were not Lin Ottinger. He was here before we were. Frankly, we know he's been consistently dishonest with us."
     Lin says, "When the park service came here they put in their declaration--read it for yourself if you don't believe me--that park lands are for the 'inspiration, benefit and use of the public'. They promised that they would not close existing roads into the park then proceeded to seal off almost every one. They closed the most beautiful road out there, too, the one that went to the Bolts from the base of the Shafer Trail. It was AWESOME."
     In 1979 Lin was so infuriated by this betrayal that he traveled to Washington, staked out the Department of Interior, stalked Interior Secretary William Wayland, bribed clerks with turquoise jewelry, and ranted at secretaries on every floor. One by one, the roads were closed anyway.
     Lin's legendary night time Moab Rock Shop slide shows, now sadly a thing of the past, would often dramatize and satirize run-ins with the Park Service, turning nature photography and geology workshops into moments of high stand-up comedy and performance art that brightened many a tourist's overheated Moab vacation.
     Lin's bad blood with big government still flows freely, but sadly it has gotten more and more difficult for him to balance his bitterness with his humor of old. He will not allow old wounds to heal. A dinosaur of a man, he picks at the scabs of grudgery.
     "I was picking up chert to put in my driveway. I've been doing this for forty years. One day I was picking up chert on a piece of land north of Klondike Bluffs, outside of Arches National Park. I didn't know it at the time, but rangers were tailing me, taking photographs, tracking me with walkie-talkie's, spying on me like secret agents with guns and radios, behind rocks and on top of cliffs.
     "They arrested me for stealing government property and I had to hire a lawyer to prove in court that I was not taking chert from National Park land. I won in court, but it cost me TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!
     "I'll never forgive them and I'll never talk to those stupid assholes until they pay me back my ten thousand dollars. Stupid rangers. They go to college and get taught by someone who read a couple of geology books. They memorize all the terms and think they know it all. They get hired by the Park Service to tell the tourists that the slickrock is petrified sand dunes and that we have to worry about erosion. How do they think this place got to look like this? The rangers stay here for three years and, just as they are about to learn something, their contract is up and they leave, then some other asshole replaces them. It's a stupid system.
     "They hate me and they are going to hate me a lot more."
     Lin is an equal opportunity grudge hound. He attacks anyone who crosses him at the wrong time, unless they are pretty, then he kisses up like any pure blooded male dinosaur. The older he gets the more people annoy him. The longer he lives the more people he meets and the more people he meets, the more people annoy him. I expect him to go nuclear any time now.
     Warning (and this is no joke): If you have small children that cry loudly, are a bit demanding, or could possibly break anything, never bring them into the Moab Rock Shop. There is a stockpile of ancient, fossilized verbal assaults stacked high behind the shop, quaranteed to traumatize any naughty child.

     "You just ain't tough enough." Lin said with a snarl. "If you were there, you wouldn't stand in front of the woman. She'd be laying on the bottom. You just ain't tough enough. You ain't tough at all."
     Lin was talking about the partially fossilized human femur in a glass case in his shop, all that remains of two green human skeletons he found in a deposit of azurite in a copper mine just south of Moab.
     "The bones are a million years old and they are white people. These skeletons prove that white people originated on this continent.
     "This woman anthropologist that works for the BLM asked me, 'If they were white people, where'd they go?'
     "I told her they got on their horses and rode to Europe across the land bridge.
     "She said, 'I certainly hope you are wrong.'
     "I asked her why she hoped I was wrong and she said, 'Because my career depends on it.'
     "I said, 'YOUR CAREER?! WHY, YOUR CAREER AIN'T WORTH NOTHING! I'll tell you about your stupid career. Your career is . . ,'" Lin squats and squints as if to defecate, and makes a loud farting noise, "'PBBBBBBUGHT! It's the truth that's important, not your goddamn career. You career is,'" he squats and farts again, "'PBBBBBBBBBUGHT!!'"
     "I had her crying," he says with a proud gaptoothed grin.
     Lin gave the bones to a university. The university gave them to students, who began to destroy them while practicing dating procedures.
     "They were carbon dating bones found next to a uranium deposit. There is no way you can date something that's been absorbing that kind of radioactivity for a million years."
     Lin stormed the university, took what was left of the bones back to his rock shop, and recently gave them to creationists who are using them to prove . . . God knows whatever.
     I asked him, "Why did you give them to the creationists, of all people?"
     "Because they wanted them."

     "Don't touch that. You don't know where it has been."
     I don't think Lin's mother ever said that to him. As a result, he never lost his self confidence and trust in insects, snakes, lizards, or any other living thing, except maybe US HUMANS.
     "My grandmother had a house with a porch and a swing. Hornets built a very large nest on one side of the porch. Grandma just let them be. We got used to the hornets and they got used to us. We'd play on the porch and swing in the swing and the hornets never bothered us.
     "One day Grandma came home from a trip and found all her furniture in the yard. It turned out two men had been robbing her house when the hornets attacked them. They almost died from the stings.
     "One day a big bumble bee flew into my shop. It flew around and around, and I caught it in my hand, right here next to the cash register. I carried it outside let it go.
     "The next day the same bee came in, at the same time of day. I stood in the same spot, held my hand out, and it flew onto my hand.
     "For weeks that same bee would come in and buzz my tourists, who would go crazy and scream. I'd say, 'Look at that poor bee. It must be lost. I'll bet it will land on my hand. I'll bet you twenty dollars that it will land on my hand.'"
     A couple of months ago someone gave Lin a large scorpion.
     He paraded the scorpion around on his hand and clothing for the tourists, talking to it like a dog, letting children handle it as their parents' cringed, cowered, and turned away. He put it in a small fish tank on his desk and spent half a day looking around the shop for spiders and crickets to feed it.
     The next morning Lin left the shop to guide a tour. The scorpion looked dead. It lay loose and crumpled in the corner of the tank with a spider standing on its head.
     I shook the tank.
     Every now and then I looked in on the scorpion. It hadn't moved.
     At 5:30 Lin returned from his tour. Before I could break the news to him that the scorpion was dead, he walked in the door and said, "Daddy's home."
     The scorpion hopped up on all eights and ran around the tank in circles.
     Lin walked up to the tank and stood over it.
     The scorpion tried to crawl up the side.
     Lin put his hand into the tank.
     The scorpion crawled up his arm onto his shoulder.

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Photography and graphics by Lee Bridgers of Dreamride.
copyright 1996,97
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