Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Today's Poetry Corner....






From, "The Journal of Albion Moonlight"

1940

From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye,
All the spirits that stand
By the naked man
In the book of moons. defend ye,

That of your five sound senses
You never be forsaken,
Nor wander from
Yourselves with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon.

With a thought I took from Maudlin,
And a cruse of cockle pottage,
With a thing thus tall,
Sky bless you all,
I befell into this dotage.

I slept not since the Conquest,
Till then I never waked,
Till the roguish boy
Of love where I lay
Me found and stript me naked.

The moon’s my constant mistress,
And the lonely owl my marrow;
The flaming drake
And the night-crow make
Me music to my sorrow.

I know more than Apollo,
For oft, when he lies sleeping,
I see the stars
At mortal wars
In the wounded welkin weeping,

The moon embrace her shepherd,
And the queen of love her warrior,
While the first doth horn
The star of morn,
And the next the heavenly farrier.

With an host of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear
And a horse of air 
To the wilderness I wander;  

By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond
The wide world's end --
Methinks it is no journey.






Today's Poetry Corner....






From, "The Journal of Albion Moonlight"

1940

From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye,
All the spirits that stand
By the naked man
In the book of moons. defend ye,

That of your five sound senses
You never be forsaken,
Nor wander from
Yourselves with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon.

With a thought I took from Maudlin,
And a cruse of cockle pottage,
With a thing thus tall,
Sky bless you all,
I befell into this dotage.

I slept not since the Conquest,
Till then I never waked,
Till the roguish boy
Of love where I lay
Me found and stript me naked.

The moon’s my constant mistress,
And the lonely owl my marrow;
The flaming drake
And the night-crow make
Me music to my sorrow.

I know more than Apollo,
For oft, when he lies sleeping,
I see the stars
At mortal wars
In the wounded welkin weeping,

The moon embrace her shepherd,
And the queen of love her warrior,
While the first doth horn
The star of morn,
And the next the heavenly farrier.

With an host of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear
And a horse of air 
To the wilderness I wander;  

By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond
The wide world's end --
Methinks it is no journey.






Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Little Summer Primer...Just to Set the Proper Tone...


Exert From that Infamous and Rowdy Tome


Mares, Foals & Ferraris


     On Doc’s farm, the abuse generally centered on the fences.  In fact, that old song, “Don’t Fence Me In” was probably put to music by one of our horses, its melodic ideologue handed down from one generation to the next so that fence-wrecking was easier to determine genetically than racing ability.  And when it came to demolishing fences, the same theories launched in the breeding shed, speed versus stamina, found new credence in their destructive, moronic behavior: some of them did it fast, while the rest could do it all day.  Doc’s emergency response team, which consisted of him and whatever was in the trunk of the Cadillac, preferred baling twine or wire whenever an escape was in progress.  Some of the fences had highly technical repairs which I was to learn were mattress sutures.  One section had an uncanny resemblance to a hernia patch.  Seems veterinary medicine and home repairs had a lot in common.  Good thing he wasn’t a dentist, otherwise the whole place would have been wrapped in dental floss.

     I discovered, at least in the beginning, that a great deal of energy has been exhausted over the years to support the various fencing lobbies – loose confederations of grizzly looking wire peddlers who have researched the pros and cons of all kinds of exotic and organic materials, from old-growth cedar, to recycled Michelin radials and weird plastic posts made from melted- down dashboards, some with the speedometers still working.  Each professed to know my true needs, the opening salvo of their sales pitch, playing on either my naiveté or my ego.  “Well, see here, you got some mighty expensive animals here, and well, I don’t profess to tell ya yer business, being a manager and all, but I wouldn’t consider anything but the best.  Now look here at this Bolivian teak...”  Little did he know that what I really wanted to do was dig a mote and hope that two out of three drowned trying to escape.

     We also covered electric fencing, something called, “The Bull Tamer,” that plugged into your dryer outlet.  It didn’t shock you, it blew off a limb.

     “Don’t you think that’s a little severe,” I asked.

     “Why, hell no.  Them horses of yours will only touch it once.  Once they get a handle on 240 volts, they’ll develop a whole new attitude.  Now, about that Bolivian teak?”

     “What about the rain forest?”

     “The what?  Ah hell, you mean down there in South America?  Did I say Bolivia?  I meant Alabama.  I keep gettin’ those places confused.  Damn, I never was any good at geography.”



     A field trip to some neighboring farms revealed a number of options, from four-board plank to an assortment of woven wires – some square, others claiming to be especially designed for Thoroughbreds:  triangular.  I didn’t think most horses did geometry.  I figured it was a fashion thing.  I stopped by to ask Earl, but he only shouted, “She ain’t workin’ today!”  One neighbor was sold on electric fencing, but when I inspected his system, the sight of a half-dozen squirrels, frozen like rigored trapeze artists suspended from the wires, made me a little uncomfortable.  Smelled pretty bad too.  I did get a vote for this system – from the cat.  I never knew cats could drool.  I locked him in the truck.

     I even considered barbed-wire, that nasty stuff that turned the Great Plains into a giant bovine parking lot.  Granted, revenge did enter my mind in considering such an option, but I figured the cheap horses would con an expensive one into putting its leg through it, sort of like an initiation ceremony into a motorcycle gang.  I finally decided on woven wire – non-climb – not the pricey triangular stuff designed for Thoroughbreds, but a cheap brand guaranteed not to rust, splinter, break, attract lightning or kill squirrels.  At least until you got it home.  I bought ten rolls, each weighing about two hundred pounds.  I never did understand the ‘non-climb’ thing.  Our horses were too lazy to climb anything.  If they wanted out, they just put the transmission in reverse and rammed the fence with their butts.  Their excuse was an unreachable itch.  I should have bought them all back-scratchers instead.

     I had planned on being environmentally sensitive by using the old fence posts, split-cedar relics from another age (when wood was wood and men were...), but the termites had eaten the bottoms and the horses the tops.  (No, I don’t know why horses eat wood, other than to irritate the hell out of me.)  A guy down the road had a semi-load of old railroad ties, soaked in creosote and made from ‘Erk’ trees and was willing to part with them for three bucks apiece, a bargain by local standards.  I asked him what kind of wood ‘Erk’ was, but he just snarled and counted the money.  Why does a guy with a fourth-grade education who uses diesel fuel for cologne always feel inclined to insult a guy who is trying to give him money?  He probably stole them from Burlington-Northern and the Chicago-bound West Coast Limited was going to end up in a ditch outside Missoula, Montana.

     Now I had the wire and the posts.  The only thing missing were the holes, which deductive reasoning told me might involve a little digging.  A search of the farm failed to produce anything suitable for the task.  I did find two boxes of duck decoys, the motor for the barn boat and somebody’s clam sucker, a long tubular device designed for catching Pacific razor clams.  It showed a lot of promise until it hit a rock.  I headed for the feed store.

     “Hey, how ya doin?  How’s that Moomud mare you guys bought doin?”  This was Maynard speaking, the owner of the feed store.  Actually, the mare was a distant relative of Mahmoud.  Something got lost in the translation.

     “She’s fine, but I gotta dig some post holes.  You got somethin’ for that?”

     “Sure, try this.”  He handed me a two-handled shovel that looked more suitable for pulling an infected molar on a gray whale.

     “Say, you guys ever heard of a wood called ‘Erk?’  I got these railroad ties, the guy said they were...”

     “That pile on Novelty Hill?  Geez, those things weigh about 400lbs a piece.  That’s Bobby Williams that has them.  He’s from Georgia.  They’re oak, not ‘Erk.’  He just kinda talks funny.”



     “Well, I actually didn’t buy them, I was just thinkin...”

     “That’s good, it’d take a stick of dynamite to get a nail in one of ‘em.”

     Great.  I just paid a fortune for petrified wood.  And just think, there are only 300 of the damn things.

     Back at the farm, the cause and effect of stabbing the earth with a weird shovel and the need for good mental health were at odds.  I had figured that good, honest labor would negate my need to curl up on a psychiatrist’s couch and discuss my infatuation with Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Madonna, Cindy Crawford and Lyle Lovett.  Okay, so I hum along with Lyle and have sexual fantasies about the others.  Really, it’s inexpensive entertainment when you’re faced with punching holes in an unforgiving planet.

     The first two holes went rather well, but by the seventh or eighth, the notion of an hour on the couch confessing old insecurities began to develop a certain appeal.  My shoulders felt like Joe Namath’s knees and I was even developing blisters on my forehead.  Considering I had 292 earth penetrations to go, it was time to go high-tech.

     Another trip to town produced a true wonder of modern, technocratic farming:  the auger, which is little more than a truck rear-end with a milkshake mixer attached.  The thing fastens on the back of a tractor, gets hooked to the power take-off and while I sit and drink frozen daiquiris, it burrows its way to Shanghai.  Perfect, except for one minor problem:  it could dig the hole, but it couldn’t decide where the hole should be, a conclusion clouded by tall grass and natural indecision.  A male thing.  Men are not natural planners, we’re executors.  Ever watched a B western real close?  Women load the guns, men pull the trigger.

     There are certain exceptions though, most involving stuff like betrayal, toilet lids, bedding other women – that sort of thing.  Since the man was kind enough to teach the woman how to load the gun, the next step goes pretty quickly.  The big difference is that women keep shooting until the gun is empty.  Oh, and they try to shoot the man on the porch, not inside the house.  Less mess that way.  That’s the planning part.

     After an hour of circling the field, I took the coward’s way out – I asked Jesse.  Women always know where fences belong and they always show up on cue when something needs clarification.  You turn around and there they are!  Women love to confuse men with clarification.

     She took to the task right away, explaining the importance of strict boundaries, honest lines of communication and something about parallel thinking.  I tried to explain that parallel thinking was on a collision course with a forty-five foot alder tree.  She dismissed my argument abruptly.  “I think you need to re-evaluate your priorities.  Maybe I should re-evaluate a few for…”

     “Hmmm.”  I killed the engine on the tractor and swung around to face her.  “We are talking about a large tree?”

     “Really,” she plowed forward.  “You haven’t considered what it means to set distinct boundaries.  If you did, you would know exactly where this fence belongs.”  By now, she was waving her hand in the general direction of one of the outer planets in the solar system.

     I kept looking at her, then outer space, then back to her.  “Oh bloody hell,” I mumbled.

     “What?”

     “Nothing.  The bloody well.  You can’t put a fence there.  The well is in the way!”

     “Then put it over there!” she yelled, gesturing toward the neighbor’s driveway.  “In fact, why don’t you stuff it in...never mind, I’m leaving.”

     Suddenly the clouds split and God’s long right arm slapped me alongside the head.  “I completely forgot about last night...I’m really sorry.”

     “You only remember what you want to remember.  You’d forget Mother’s Day, the phone bill; you’d forget Christmas if it weren’t for all the decorations!  It was my birthday!”

     Mother’s Day I could understand.  The last thing I wanted to do was encourage my mother.  I’d already tried twice to get the local paper to print my obituary.  “Wait a minute,” I interrupted.  “I haven’t known you that long.  How am I supposed to remember everything in your life?  I have enough trouble with my life!”  Bad choice of words.

     “Every?  I sat in that restaurant for two hours – in a dress!  The waiter started buying me drinks because he felt sorry for me!  Like I said, put the stupid fence wherever you want.  You’ll forget where it is in ten-minutes anyway!  I knew I shouldn’t have…whatever!”

     A dress?  I missed that!  I figured she’d only wear a dress for the Queen or something.  “But, but…”  Never could finish a sentence in these circumstances.  However, I did have clarification.

     With that she was gone, leaving me to my own devices, parallel thinking and all.  Actually it was an historic moment:  our first confrontation, man and woman sorting out the intricacies of our lives in front of God and a few of the neighbors.  Somehow, it felt a little premature.  According to my count, we had gone out approximately five times, not including one romantic rendezvous having the oil changed in her truck.  I had gone from being invisible to patently irresponsible without ever having left any shaving stubble in her sink.  “It’s not fair!” I yelled.  From a distant porch, a neighbor yelled back, “I agree with you!”

     After an hour of finger-drumming on the hood of the tractor, I made a bold decision.  In reality, drumming your fingers is what professionals refer to as ‘anger management.’  Kind of like counting to ten, but spread out over sixty-minutes or so.  That way you can assertively answer all those angry statements in the privacy of your own brain.  As far as fences went, I would simply follow the creek on one side and the old fence line on the other.  Plus, I’d whack down that damned alder tree.  Somebody or something needed to pay a price.  In this case it was a tree, which on further examination, turned out to be dead anyway.  Probably a suicide.  A much better way out than watching me try to start a chainsaw.

     I ran a string between the two distant points, insuring a straight line.  At eight-foot intervals, I stuck a stake in the ground to pinpoint ground zero.  That’s where the auger would quickly chew up grass, loam, rocks and probably a few unlucky worms, producing a perfectly engineered project.  Right?  Wrong.  Somehow, every hole ended up at least six inches off where it was supposed to be, reinforcing my long held belief that you can’t draw a straight line on a round planet.

     A hole is a hard thing to move.  A 747?  At least it has wheels.  Holes just lay there sucking the life out of you.  My choices were limited:  either buy a two-foot wide auger or digress to a little corrective work with the manual model.  But then, I figured that by the time the horses got done doing the ‘big three,’ the fence would probably be a little crooked anyway.  So why bother?  Besides, Jesse was going to take one look at it and wrinkle up her nose anyway.  I had gone out with her just long enough to recognize when I had been dismissed by a facial twitch.

     Now that I had all the crooked posts in the ground, it was time to string the wire.  Contrary to what they told me at the feed store, there is nothing simple about a two-hundred pound roll of woven wire.  The first step is to unroll the wire.  The second step goes a lot quicker, as the wire decides to re-roll itself with me inside.  Step three, which was probably step one in reality, is to anchor one end, then unroll it.  Once I had it unrolled again, I discovered it was three-feet short of the end post, which might as well have been a mile, since all I had was a two-inch staple.

     I tried hooking it to the tractor and stretching it the extra three feet, but that pulled it off its anchor, causing it to re-roll itself quite smugly underneath the tractor.  A good jack and an hour of cursing finally brought the wire to its senses.  It was now time to stretch it tight, giving it that professional look.  Oh, I decided to ignore the problem about the missing three feet.  It was a lot easier to shrink the farm than risk another session with the jack and a bunch of obscenities.  Any more noise and the guys with the red suspenders would show up to sell me a brain.

     The guys at the feed store told me that the best way to stretch wire was with a tool known as a come-along, a device that makes a wimpy farm manager into the Charles Atlas of fence stretchers.  His instructions seemed simple:  attach one end to a stout tree or the tractor and the other end to the wire.  Vigorous cranking should make the fence as taught as piano wire.  Evidently in the farming bizz you couldn’t have a fence that looked like fifteen mesh bras on a clothesline.  Not really acceptable.

     There is a problem with the cranking though.   A come-along is really a power trip – singing wire and all that – so guys want to do just one more crank.  It’s irresistible.  Do it, surrender to your ego and boom, either the posts all pop out of the ground, the tractor tips over, or, in my case, the wire breaks, once again re-rolling the whole mess under the tractor, causing the neighbor to throw up his hands and disappear into his house.  I wish the guy would get into down-loading pornography or something.

     About nine o’ clock that evening, I scraped up the courage to knock on Jesse’s door.  Mostly the dog barked, but after about ten minutes, two or three towels and a body showed up at the door.  She had been in the shower.

     “I’m sorry about this afternoon,” I offered.  Actually I was.

     “No, I’m sorry,” she returned.



     “I’m sorrier,” I shot back.  I was still thinking about the dress.

     “Dammit!”

     “I brought you a present.”  I stuck out a bouquet of flowers and a can of corn.  The kind that has little bits of red pepper tossed in.

     “Corn?  You brought me a can of corn?”

     “Yeah, Mexicorn.  And flowers!  Focus on the flowers.”



So, get the hell to work!  You're wastin' daylight.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Why Am I Still Here? Oh...damn Begonia needs watering.



Working Out New Year's Resolu...No, Delusions!*


*According to this rather obscure author:




1)      I am not going to let Doc breed a mare that is worth less than his lawnmower.  She is going to have to find her own date.

2)      The next time a horse knocks down a fence, I’m going to declare it ‘environmental revisionist thinking ’ and leave it that way.  I have no idea what that means and nobody else will either.

3)      I am never going to lose my temper with a yearling again.  (Well, maybe.)

4)      The stallion will learn some manners.  I’m sure I can hire somebody mean (or terminally ill) to deal with that one.

5)      Maybe consider moving my bed a little further from the window.  Just a foot or so.

6)      I will live to see a vet bill under $500.

7)      I’m going to find a cat with some degree of loyalty and table manners.

8)      I will deal with the manure pile before it decides to deal with me.

9)      All halter breaking will take place in-utero.

10)   I’ll hear a trainer say, “You know, you could be right.”

11)   I am going to check my rubber boots for slugs before I put them on.

12)   I am not going to get my thumb caught in the manure spreader¼again.

13)   I will confess the whole sordid story of farm finances to Elaine.  Actually, I’ll send her an anonymous telegram from Mexico.

14)   I’m never going to try to look smart in front of a woman again.  Boy, that’s an easy one.  Wonder why it’s so far down the list?

15)   And, if it happens to work and she’s willing, I am going to ask that woman to marry me.  Or go steady, or¼still, I’ll have to quit smoking.  And maybe reconsider the advantages of a college education.  Who knows?  Might write a book or something.




Well, that about covers it...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Oxy-Cotone Chronicles: "The Heartolope."









First, it was a 10-foot tall Ed Begley Jr., terrorizing me in a shopping mall. I wanted to get new underwear -- I got Ed instead.  These things seem to happen to me whenever a doctor says:  "Take two of these and call me in the morning." I know it is only a coincidence, but the guys's name is Dr. Charles Sheen. Hmm.

Last night I met the Heartolope while walking past a Manhattan Poodle Parlor. One of those places where people have their uptown pets bathed, perfumed and made to look and smell like a furry hooker.  I only caught a glimpse of this strange animal as a very large woman led it by the window and into another room.  Curious, I went in.  She was busy muscling this thing into a large tub. Over the noise of the cascading water, I inquired as to what this odd-looking animal might be.

"Hell if I know.  Smells like a goat, but it ain't got no horns. Doesn't seem to have any other parts either. Fellow says it's a Heartolope, so I Googled that and it came back, 'page unavailable.'  Freaky. Guy that owns it says it's extinct. Ought to be the way it smells."

"Where do they come from?"

"Guy said somewhere in southeast Africa.  They lived in a crater there. Sort of, I guess. Guy drinks like a fish. You know, perfect pet for a rich guy. You don't even have to feed it."

"Why's that?"

"Doesn't have a mouth...here look for yourself.  Doesn't have an asshole either."

So I decided to go to southeast Africa and find out about this animal. Seemed like the thing to do since I had no idea why I was in a Manhattan Poodle parlor anyway.  But seeing how this was a dream, it wasn't long before I was standing in a crater in southeastern Africa chatting with a grizzled old buzzard of a man holding a spear. He had all kinds of tattoos, scars and sharp things shoved through his lips and eyelids.  Really wondered if he had a belly-button piercing, but that seemed a little personal for a first encounter.  Fortunately, he spoke English or otherwise the dream would have ended right there.   

"He was called the Heartolope by the early Masi.  He was known as the Szxxcohtzx to us, but we were never good with words, so we adopted the other name.  We were great hunters until they opened the Wal-Mart."

"Are there any left?"

"No. The last two were eaten by Christian missionaries. The said we needed to be saved from our Pagan habits. You see, we thought that maybe the Heartolope might be a god, since it needed nothing in this world."

"The name?  Heartolope. Why was it called that?"

"The old man scratched his head and spat on the ground.  "Bad teeth.  The story is told that the animal is born with all heart and no organs. His life is sustained by slowly giving his heart to all around him.  A scientist came by once and said that the story is a metaphor for something else. Lions got him though, so we never found out what the 'something else' was. Happens a lot around here...I mean with the lions."

"Well, how did they...uh, reproduce?  I mean, make more Heartolopes."

"I don't think they knew about sex.  They seemed to have just come out of the ground in the crater. And then, in my grandfather's time, less and less of them were seen.  And they began to smell bad.  There were many stories passed down about these strange creatures who saw with no eyes, spoke with no tongue and left the land as it always had been."

"Like what?"

"It is said they leave no tracks on the ground.  And according to the Masi, other animals would bring their young to see them.  It is said that Wildebeest mothers brought their calf's to the crater to teach them to have self-esteem.  If I looked like a Wildebeest, I think I would have such issues myself."  He spat again. "They say I need a root canal."

"What will happen now...I mean, now that they are all gone."

"Probably nothing.  Nothing much happened when they were here really.  We lived, they lived, the lions ate stupid scientists.  But you know, nothing grows in that crater anymore..."

"It is a sad story."

"I am not sure about that.  You know, I miss them at times, but I never know why.  Then I kind of miss my 6th wife too, but I am not too sure about that either.  I am old.  Maybe soon I will go where all things go and find out."      


Then I woke up...and it seemed like the bed was full of sand...and my belly-button was pierced.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why in the hell would...



...somebody start shoeing horses in:

1972?





Oh yeah...that guy.  Seems he was overly interested in my active participation in a little get-together in southeast Asia.  Something about 'winning the hearts and minds' with 500lb. bombs.  At various times, I tried to tell the Selective Service that I was a little busy...what with overthrowing the existing government and doing a few random drug tests on myself.  Besides, I'd already filled out the form stating that I was a homosexual, cross-dressing communist with anarchic tendencies.  I mean, seriously, did they honestly believe I was one of those "few good men" that was going to achieve 'peace with honor' using the business-end of a loaded gun?  
Our team conducting field research. 

Then, there was the other problem: my associates and I were actively engaged in research to determine the connection between ingesting certain substances and the prospects of getting laid. But midway through our hypothesis, we all got a bad case of the crabs; a variable we hadn't built into the model.  

However, the government still remained extremely interested in what conclusions we were able to draw. But their zealousness was beginning to make us a little suspicious about their real motives.  I decided it was time to buy a horse and ride to Mexico. Not sure how I came to that conclusion, but it might have had something to do with either chronic, drug-induced paranoia or from eating too many Hostess products.  How did that work out?  You'll have to buy the book...I'll only give up so much personal dirt for free.        
"No, Mr. Juell...we'd rather talk to the horse."
Now you have to remember that the horse didn't become a wide-spread recreational item until the 1960's. Meaning that the animal was finally going mainstream once again -- kind of like when Henry Ford invented the Model A so poor people could learn to drive.  A beast for the masses.  Sure, we had jumpers in the east, racing all over the country, pockets of activity in Virginia, Kentucky...a budding professional circuit in California, but not (God forbid), the backyard equine.      
And then came the next question.  Who is going to shoe these ill-mannered, crooked-legged hair bags? Ah, well it seemed that there was a distinct shortage of trained 'shoers' (the common term in the wild west), and the tenets of capitalism dictate that one "should find a niche and fill it."  And this concept wasn't lost on a few budding entrepreneurs that either wanted a way out of the trenches, or more commonly at the time;  a surge in vocational-occupation schools that figured that producing a shoer wasn't much different than making up a new batch of Ford mechanics.  8-week wonders at a profit.

But where did the existing shoers come from?  Well, many were ex-Army taught;  Fort Riley, Kansas, the Army's remount camp still operating into the late 1940's or so. Others were refugees from the racetracks, ranch hand types and in the east, many were imported from Europe where the guild system produced highly-trained farriers, but not necessarily the income-level one could achieve in the US.  And demand was outstripping supply here.

Course, one rather foreboding conflict existed: administration sought to fill chairs with bodies; instructors needed students that had actually seen a horse or two in their young lives.  From "Mares, Foals and Ferraris:"



     "Wednesday morning we started the class.  There were about seventeen of us altogether. Three were on parole, two were sent down from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, two appeared to be cowboys of some sort and three guys seemed to be in the pharmaceutical business.  The rest of us just lied about why we wanted to shoe horses, all except this one curious soul who appeared to be a woman, although at about 240lbs or so, it seemed difficult to prove conclusively.  She did seem a little enamored with the anvils, spending a good portion of the afternoon stroking the horn on the biggest one.  Most of us shied away from her.  The police stopped by later that day and arrested one guy, so we were down to sixteen.

     There were two other fellows who stood outside the building for most of the day drinking something out of a paper bag and chain smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.  They had long hair and wore green army fatigues, with eyes that darted wildly at small noises and rapid movements.  I was thinking militant hippies, but one of the guys said they were sent down by the VA – coined locally as the Vietnam Administration, an organization known to operate like the Post Office on a Friday afternoon.  We nicknamed them the Siamese Twins since they seemed to be bound together at the brain.  Whenever they spoke it was in unison and they answered every question with another question.  They’d only discuss the war in the third-person, as if it were a movie they starred in, but never watched.  Mostly they answered everything with an all-inclusive, “Man, that’s just puppy shit.” ----

So, most instructors went out on mental leave shortly before their contract was to be renewed. It also meant that most shoeing schools in those days had an 80% attrition rate -- about the same recidivism percentage as alcoholics. But that didn't seem to diminish the number of hopelessly optimistic applicants showing up at the door.  Yeah, I graduated...the last positive on my horizon for quite a spell.  Which translates to: Farriers today are a bit spoiled... 

Welcome to the Dark Ages!

    

The basics:  Let's see...first off, all new farriers (we did get a name upgrade), were forced to inherit all the bad habits of the previous generation -- including all those 'catch-phrases' of the era; terminology like 'hot, cold and corrective.' We also got the antiquated price structure, the flaming animosity and a level of horsemanship just slightly more advanced than Genghis Khan's first cavalry school. And of course, the latest in technology.  Which meant:

We had 3 brands of shoes...two were awful and the third was mediocre. One brand of nails, two kinds of pads, one brand of rasp or knife, and the most remedial sort of hand tools. And no, gas forges hadn't been invented yet. Mine was a portable coal number made out of a swimming pool tank filter. Pritchels and punches were made out of coil springs from a '58 Buick. Spring vices, specialty tongs, creasers...you made yourself. Sure, we were taught to make our own shoes during the '8-week rags to riches' class, but it seemed we were a little too busy making tools to worry about making shoes.  And with shoeing starting at $14.00 a head...well, you get it.

Agree to disagree...

Course, we didn't have homeopathic tree-hugging barefooters to contend with (Whoops! -- did have the Nature Plate!) -- just other farriers and veterinarians who assumed that farrier translated roughly to fairly stupid.  But then, considering our business model, they probably weren't far off the mark. However, we did have attitude...boy, we had a ton of that.

So after my initial 5-year sentence at hard labor was up...some questions were still festering in my thoroughly damaged psyche. So I and a few others turned to politics. This led to the rather tumultuous formation of both the AFA and various state 'professional' associations. The assumption was that we could take a collection of the world's most notorious outliers and agree on an agenda to make our profession more respectable -- thereby more mainstream and perhaps more profitable.  So that maybe we could afford things like health and disability insurance and maybe a Visa card that wasn't issued dependent on that night job at McDonalds.  Ha, ha...what was I thinking?  


See, we had elephants in the room.  Very large elephants. And while they were busy tipping over the furniture and pooping all over the carpet, nobody wanted to discuss the smell or seriously consider evicting them. To discuss prices, business practices, real credibility in a world that demands it -- relations with allied trades, insurance matters, a fair apprenticeship system, regulations...etc -- all taboo. The very things that encompass and define 'professionalism.' Instead, the focus was on self-certification, contests, clinics -- things that may (and did) bring social gains and a greater sense of community, but did little to address the overriding credibility gap in a highly litigious world -- one that doesn't seem to think that toys can break for no reason. And 30-odd years later...the status quo is alive and...well, alive.  



So I took my football and went home and started writing a whole series of articles on "Elephant Maintenance," with the help and support of Rob Edwards at the Anvil Magazine.  Course, that was an experiment that defined how many times you can fart in church before the parishioners have had enough. Yeah, the natives got a little restless with me, but that's old news anyway. However, one article I wrote at that time was on this kind of proto-Renaissance in the manufacturing and marketing of materials TO farriers. For it seemed that we had finally advanced to the point that others were willing to seek profits through our perceived needs.  Meaning we were gaining recognition...but only as a source of profit by others.  Which I guess is a good thing, though the US Department of Labor still classifies us as, "casual farm labor."  No worries though.  Few lawyers are going to seek damages from a grape picker. 

"Then came the 80's. Now anvils are slotted and cammed, elongated and bent until some resemble a cross between an aircraft carrier and a 1950's bra."  


So I wrote in 1989...lamenting that I'd need a 40' Kenworth to pull all this shit around.  Actually, I did surrender to inventory in some ways -- my last shoeing rig was a 16' step-van.


Circa 1989
But the point really was, 'how much technology is enough?'  The question really had to do  more with the equation that greater stock-on-hand, meant the more we could offer in services -- subsequently, the more options we made available, the more junk we would need to pack around. Which is probably okay to a certain point, except that in farriery, the business is always about labor, not materials. Which translates roughly into the idea that stock (inventory) is a liability until it finds its way on to a horse's foot. We don't sell shoes...we sell a service. So in effect, that inventory then becomes a detriment to our cash flow.  

But why sweat the small stuff when as the ad below the article is going to sell you a "No-Blow Hardie."  Sounds like a silly addition to your tool box? Then you don't remember the thrill of working with Japanese horseshoes. Yeah, the nostalgia is making my arm hurt all over again.


So here we are today...almost 25-years after the first revolution and the marketplace is more crowded than ever, while many of those old 'elephants' are still having their way with the furniture. Two questions arise.  The first is whether farriers are better off?  Personally, I was probably more progressive than most. In my area, I was the first to accept credit cards, the first to install a cell-phone in my truck.  And maybe the first to question where all this 'technology' was headed.  See, I was far more interested in raising the level of professionalism in my business AND the industry at large.  I saw the latter (and the politics) as a dire necessity in the real world; knowing full well that an improvement in economics should follow suit. Instead, I felt the resistance of those who appreciated the new 'toys,' but not always the accountability that business legitimacy demanded.  Now, if I fast-forward all this to the present...a different beast emerges: life in our corporate plutocracy, where money is seen as value, not the honest efforts of men or women.  That causes me to pause...as close to the toilet as possible.

Then the second question, that being is the horse better off?  Yes, and perhaps no. Some of the greatest advances have come in the area of adhesives and repair materials; a vast variety of shoes and pads.  Veterinary diagnostics and research have also advanced, as too, the nature of vet/farrier relations in general, mostly brought about by the advent of the internet and social media, combined with open educational forums that allow all opinions a place at the table.  Yet farriery still remains a largely unregulated, unrecognized endeavour and a continuing haven for charlatans and snake-oil peddlers, where facts are easily replaced by seemingly relentless dogma. And too, the horse industry itself is undergoing change, in some ways mirroring the overall economic disparity in the wider economy.  Yeah, the 99-1% split. Farriers today have a much better chance for advancing their skill level and by default, their economic prosperity, but far more dependent on geography today than ever before.  The overall horse industry is contracting; i.e., withdrawing geographically to areas of affluence, while the middle is losing ground as expendable income evaporates from the coffers of the middle class.  

Where is all this heading?  Hard to say.  But if one follows the lead of those most cynical about America's future, it would seem that a viable skill is quite likely to outweigh the value found in that 401k.  I'll check back in ten years and let you know on that one.  Wonder if you can still find those fine Japanese shoes?  Hmm.  

              

          

       
    

         

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Angst = Show Season....



You're Kidding....Right?

Had an Internet conversation the other day with a friend/farrier back east...you know, one of those mid-show-season diagnostic brain-storming sessions that you hope to hell your own doctor doesn't resort to for your impending surgery.

Seemed there was a lot at stake for this particular rider (is it ever less than the end of the known world?), so we tossed a few ideas around and decided that if they didn't pan out, we'd meet up in The Bahamas and work out a Plan B.  But it reminded me of those angst-filled days on the show circuit where life and death showed up at your tent before the coffee did.

So if you have ever sweated blood...try this out:

Nero:


No, not that one...one that looks kind of like this:


Now this isn't Nero, but the job is quite similar.  This is actually Robert Ridland's late/great jumper Benoit -- a story for another day.  Nero was a jumper, a grand prix horse under the tutelage of Steve and Jennifer Newell in California.  I had seen the horse on the road, but had never worked on him until the Seattle Grand Prix...circa 1987 or so.  And in some ways, I wish that trend had continued.  But the problem with shows is that "no" is not an option and courage has its limits...especially when it is a big dollar class and a very talented horse.  

Nero's regular shoer was friend Butch Coggins, from Woodside, California.  A damned good shoer in his own right, but not in the neighborhood this particular week.  The first indication of trouble showed up on schooling day...when Steve (the trainer) -- not a groom or a mucker...the trainer -- shows up at my tent with Nero.  Not a good sign, but Steve and Jennifer are great folks and handle things like they are, not by wishful thinking or unrealistic ambition.  Steve simply said, "We need a plan."

It seemed Nero had a club foot...a bad one.  One that would have looked better on a burro, than 16.2 hand jumper.

Yeah, one of those...only as it turned out, a little worse than the one pictured.  Butch had reverted to a glue-on approach, but do remember that this was late-1980's and few options existed, other than an early Redden-cuff, which he had used here.  But since this show was on the lawn, screw-caulks were needed and the torque on this thing would be severe.  

So I took some measurements (the blind kind, since we couldn't see the actual foot) and built a spare shoe.  I used aluminum, since I could draw extremely tall clips and keep the weight down. We also put together a band system for the shoe using the tapped screw-caulk holes.  The real issue was the grand prix...in that if Murphy was in town, there would no time to glue.  This would be a nail job...or really, kind of religious experience.  Well, you know where this is going.  Murphy was not only in town, but somewhere very close at hand.

Sunday:  The big day.  We'd moved my menagerie nearer the GP ring -- common practice because the barns were some distance away. The GP had about 28 entries or so. Nero went fourth...clean, but at the second to last fence I noticed a UFO trailing him.  Yeah, you can fill in the rest.  About five-minutes later, trainer, groom, horse and a curious veterinarian were all looking at me.  It was definitely a Rodney Dangerfield moment.

Should have taken the easy out, called 911 and simply claimed suicidal tendencies.  The chewed-up mess was not even close to the size of our back-up plan and the wall was about bovine thickness...as in, thinner than my skin at that particular moment.  Butch had also added a thick pad to increase the base support on that foot, so Plan B was now Plan C.

The only saving grace was that the horse had jumped fourth in the field.  So we had a little time before the second round.  I sent my assistant over to tell the announcer (a good friend) to stall as much as possible.  Maybe recite The Wasteland or something while I built a new shoe.  We'd have to skip the pad and taper the aluminum for width. (These club-feet are very unstable, particularly on a horse doing the big fences.)  Mark, my trusty co-conspirator, got the band made up, we said a few non-denominational prayers -- a bad time to find out who the real God might be -- and it was time to nail this Rube Goldberg contraption on what was left of this foot.  And it should be noted here that Steve and Jennie were great.  They just sat on my cooler and discussed their last vacation...which WAS appreciated.  The nosey vet was mostly scratching his head.

Nails?  I dug around in the van and found some #6 race nails.  Except that they weren't going to seat.  So we took some washers that come with copper rivets and shanked the nails with them to fill the void.  We managed six nails in the shoe (the fourth and fifth were finished in full cardiac arrest) and called it good. Mark clinched and finished and we attached and tightened the band. We used a set-screw through the band and into the dorsal wall.  Then we added a half-roll of electrical tape and the bell-boot.  About then, we both remembered that breathing is necessary to life.

Nero was saddled and off they went to gold, glory or...the barn for the duration.  I watched him jog off -- being somewhat masochistic about these doomed experiments, but he appeared sound.  He was third going into the jump-off (no schooling fences) and...and...and...jumped clean.  The shoe held, he was second overall in the grand prix and only got beaten by the clock.  Mark and I celebrated later that night:



Addendum:  After this show, Nero and his entourage returned to California -- to my relief, but probably not Butch's.  The horse continued to show, did well and I can only imagine how many farriers he destroyed along the way.  But then again, what would life be without these challenges?  On second thought.....



Butch Coggins (L) and the author in later, quieter times.