Monday, January 2, 2012

Zuke: The Price of Admission

Anvil Magazine Archives [Rob Edwards, Publisher]
The Price of Admission
Part I

Sometime around 1971, I got this wild hair to shoe horses.  Personally, I think it was because I fell out of my crib at some point and damaged my brain.  Actually I didn't have a real crib.  My mother just kept me in the sock drawer till I was ready for kindergarten.  Now don't me wrong though.  Horseshoeing and brain damage are not mutually inclusive...well, maybe, but let's not get bogged down over the details.  Nailing shoes on a large, disinterested and angry herbivore is really not too different from working on the bomb squad.  Unless the guy with the wire-cutters just found his wife's underwear in your car.  Always a bad idea to keep souvenirs.

Okay, so it's a really odd way to make a living, especially the first year or so when you suddenly realize that everything the horseshoeing instructor told you about the business was based on depositions from three divorce cases, random observations on back-to-back tours in Vietnam, and a severe addiction to watching re-runs of Gilligan's Island, admonishing the class daily on the notion that the damn boat will get fixed! 

So while he lectures away on balance, conformation and elementary ship construction, he fails to inform our anxious and empty brains about:  dumbbloods, psychotic clients, obtuse theories -- welding doorknobs on shoes, curing white-line disease through prayer -- horse psychologists who find your problems more interesting than the horse's, what Izumi really means in Japanese and why most veterinarians assume the word farrier is derived from 'fairly stupid.'  And of course, how to ask for directions to the nearest dialysis center.  Why?  Leading cause of death among novice horseshoers: urine retention.  Every time I tried to pee in a stall, some 13-year old girl would wander in looking for a bridle, a pony or some other stupid thing.  Finally made a catheter out of a Bic pen, an old stomach douche tube and some duct tape.  Yeah, patent pending.  $14.95 at Wal-Mart.

Even so, the 70's were a great time to take up horseshoeing.  The money was astronomical:  $14.00 a head.  We all got to wear ripped jeans with a bunch of fringy stuff on the bottom and we weren't slaves to the hairstyling industry -- that only came later when disco was invented.  We also took more drugs than the horses for a change, and most of our marketing strategy was based on rumor-mongering over the moral shortcomings inherent in most other shoers.  See, we had cold shoers and hot shoers -- or both.  Nobody knew what in the hell it meant anyway.  The idea was that it probably took more brains to start a fire, though that was merely an assumption of the times.  The real skill was in putting out the fire before in consumed the truck.  Coal was like that. 

Aside from the chronic bladder problems, the slow deterioration of a body that used to look good in jeans and the complete loss of body hair (gas-forges were invented), the real point of this monologue was a horse named Zuke.  I say was because I'm assuming the miserable hair bag is long dead and fertilizing some slob's rose bush.  Now, before I present the more intimate details of Zuke's behavioral profile, as prejudicial as it is going to sound, I'd like to cast a little personal and historical perspective on this sordid little affair.  That means I'm probably going to throw in a misdirection or two.  Like change my name to Bob for starters.

I will stick with my earlier confession though -- that I actually did graduate from horseshoeing school in 1971.  I was proud, bruised and according to popular opinion, more than likely incompetent.  But I was a survivor.  The eight-week course started with 21 aspirants and graduated six, though graduation might be a slight exaggeration.  They left the certificates blank until the last moment.  Something about a subpoena and some medical records.  Tetanus was assumed to be fatal sometimes and the school didn't want to waste a diploma on a dead guy.  And yeah, horseshoeing school was pretty sexist in 1971.  The only girls we ever saw were emergency room nurses and they wore masks.  Not sure why, but it was either to protect their identity or something to do with those long hours experimenting with hot-fitting.  Something about barbecuing chickens without the feathers.  Even the instructor finally turned up missing after an exciting demo he gave on side-lining a horse that likes to kick people.  At first glance it seemed like a remedial IQ test, but after a few minutes it was mostly first-aid & CPR.  The doctors were able to wire his sternum back together, though they strongly suggested that he not sneeze for at least a month. 

   The first horse I shod -- I mean, for real money somehow developed a bleeding problem so severe that I had use a mop and bucket to clean up the mess.  I tried to explain  how some horses have extra arteries in their feet, but the owner was more inclined to simply chase me around the parking lot with .357 magnum.  Fortunately, she was a bad shot -- missing me, but making one hell of a mess out of a couple Harley-Davidson's parked near by.  I thought that might be the end of it until she gave them $50 to finish the job.  No, not the shoeing part. 

Once I got out of town, I decided to take my instructor's closing bit of wisdom to heart.  He had said to me:  "You know, Andy Bob I mean. You really ought to start your business somewhere that you don't like, live.  Kind of get rid of your mistakes on strangers.  Might be safer."

I took his advice and moved to a small, economically depressed farming community where I had been assured by a local real-estate agent that 82% of the population couldn't possibly afford a lawyer.  Of course, given the social depravity of the inhabitants, I was also required to lower my prices to $12.50.  And here it began.  The slow, tortuous trek to professionalism -- or really, the grand initiation rites into the world of real shoers.  You all know the speech:  "Why don't you get somebody else to shoe that rotten son of a bitch!  I know a guy.  Give Andy...I mean call Bob.  He's lookin' for work, I here."

to be my leisure

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