Friday, May 4, 2012

Off on a quest....

Smiles cross all languages!
Culture Shock with a Smile:

As a friend heads off on a very American sort of adventure, I find myself recalling certain conversations we had on the 'culture' of horseshoeing in this, 'the land of opportunity.'  And aside from the occasional recession, the constant political infighting and our failure to agree on much of  anything, opportunity here does continue to flourish.  Just not quite in the same celebratory fashion, or with the boundless enthusiasm as we once coveted this American prize.  Why?  As my chief protagonist in the new book, The Littlest RaceHorse likes to say, "My dear, it's complicated." 

In this country, we have both ignored and prized the educated mind.  I say ignored, because we chronically fail to prioritize the educational process, or for that matter, willingly accept the responsibility for its cost.  Instead, we play the blame game -- pointing our bony little finger at Congress, the President, maybe the local school board or even the teachers, many of whom have lost what little enthusiasm they had to spare. Begging for pencils and paper does that to a person.  Politicians, these bastards of our own creation, born of our chosen system of government, who we willingly and concurrently cast shame upon -- our many little Frankensteins -- remain the chief targets for our self-righteous wrath.  But who are these villains other than the brigands of our own making -- our choice, our agenda, our priorities.  They do our bidding while we claim no ownership of the crop we have sown.  Dust Bowl farming at its ludicrous best.
Making something from nothing...a rare thing today!
And now, in this 21st century, it appears that we have also exceeded the need for the many $150k baccalaureates we still manage to produce each year, and whose expectations this country can apparently no longer accommodate.  We have become, perhaps, like the present Egyptian dichotomy, a country in need of a Spring, or maybe just a serious look at where the train seems to be headed.  Or do we simply offer the business as usual shrug, and toss around the same old  tired recriminations while piously praying for our ultimate salvation from...well, ourselves.  Remember the cherished credo of our founders: "In God we trust.  All others, please submit cash."  Well, the bill has come due on our slovenly, complacent -- even arrogant mindset -- the bare-ass ostrich with his head in a hole.  Proud and blind?  That third-world duality where we covet, even celebrate the papered tiger, yet quietly admire the tradesman, because his skills, as remedial as they might appear to the collegian, guarantees that  his children are not in rags and their stomachs are rarely empty. This, while we in our popular enlightenment, have exported the technology, the jobs and the economy they mutually generate and like Egypt, sadly watch as our middle class children service the needs of others -- a new round of feudalism, the creation of young serfs for the emerging class of mere profiteers, those that casually broker the wealth and effort of others. Urban strip-miners who are just now beginning to feel the hard edge of the anarchy and the social madness they have unleashed.  For this society, like many others in this new age, is rapidly tumbling out of balance, spinning perhaps inevitably toward a point of being unsustainable as a coherent and stable democracy.  For as the middle class falls from view, the very fiber of a compassionate society is stripped away along with it, and the naked beast, the cunning animal in all of us, takes to the street.  He is out there now, watching, waiting -- growing in both strength and determination.         

The middle class has always thrived on the notion found in bettering the lives of the next generation; the children.  It is the foundation of a class that always sought the open road, rarely asked for the easy path and took its minor achievements with both humility and grace.  A success deemed worthy of the effort by standards that only the participants can honestly judge.  And as the middle class continues its downward spiral, what dreams that do remain are rapidly eroded, eaten away by world realities that no longer find it necessary to embrace personal ambition, or the ideals so richly coveted by the individual.  Both represent a kind of sustenance for the human spirit, a purpose for the struggle of existence, and perhaps most importantly, the tangible evidence of your passing this way. 

A little corny?  Sure.  More than a little bleak?  Yes.  But like the shark, it is the subtleties that will kill you.  He bumps you, maybe rubs against you, then bang!  Your leg is missing and he consumes you at his leisure.  But the macro examination is always very relevant in assessing the personal picture.  In these many conversations with the aspiring student, I tried to stare down the clock and re-examine my own motivation for going into a line of work that was physically demanding, complex in the number of skill-sets necessary to succeed, not particularly appealing financially and by some accounts, frickin' dangerous -- especially in 1972, where every other horse you ran into behaved like a dysfunctional Pit Bull...or worse.  But that retrospective task was hampered by a shifting paradigm and one of those anomalies of life that roughly follows the winding path of that old cliche:  "If I knew what I know now...then!"  Well, who says maturity always leads to clarity.  Gray hair, prostate problems, but not always clarity.  The truth was probably that I didn't play well with others...or the myriad of examples found in the first three chapters of Mares, Foals & Ferraris.  You can just pick one and run with it if you like.  Certainly okay by me. 

And the other problem?  Different era with different strokes. Oh, the parameters were certainly similar, but we also had a career breaker, especially if college or inherent wealth wasn't on the plate:  the draft -- and a full-fledged shooting war to go along with it.  Not some video store punk-reality distortion.  Real bullets, real death, real funeral.  Kind of took the fun out of long-term planning.  Honest answer:  rather spend my time with horses than humans.  Still do.

That's my Excuse...What's Yours?

So fast-forward to the present day.  First off, most jobs for marginally educated individuals are now running about par with those for well-educated people and like the draft, you have a job/life expectancy of probably 8-months or less, working for a boss with fewer brains than a hubcap.  So, why not a career instead?  Get a little training, hang out a shingle and find out that 'hubcap and boss' are sometimes mutually inclusive and amazingly, now share the same mirror every morning.  No, psychiatric therapy isn't always tax-deductible.  And the light at the end of the tunnel is a long way off since they never finished it anyway.  Gotta be something else going on.

Be an independent man!  Nope. Instead of working for one hubcap, you've got 300 of them and the same problem with taking a tax deduction on your mental health costs, which seem to be escalating.  And your wife knows how to use a calculator.  And she has been checking the want ads for you.  Thinks a 'real' job might make more sense.  So does your bank manager, your barber, the guy you picked up hitchhiking...most of your clients?  Hmm.

The job?  A hoof full of well-aged horse shit and maggots, a mare that pees on your head if you rub up against her at the wrong time of the month; burned, mashed and rasp-slashed fingers, mud, far too many homicidal horses named, "Princess," checks that are always in the mail (somebody else's mail), people who say, "shoed" once too often on a bad day; rain, snow, sleet, hail...and no, you're not with the Post Office and finally, being fired by a 10-year girl on Ritalin who thinks it is cool to ride the short bus.  Nah, not here.

Ah!  Enlightenment.  OWNERSHIP!  The product is completely yours.  Well, almost.  The truck is made in Japan, the rasp comes from Spain, the nails from Sweden, the shoes from Holland or Germany, the propane from Saudi Arabia, the tires are Chinese knock-offs.  Oh, the anvil?  Canadian.  Close.  But the resultant job is yours and the only thing you exported was your taxes.  Yeah, the IRS has now opened an office in Beijing.  Next year your refund (you don't get one because you're self-employed), will be in yuans.  They look just like dollars, only instead of George Washington, they have a picture of a smiling guy named Mao something.  And now we truly know what the grin was all about. much as you tried to escape from the nuance and uncertainty of global economic raping and pillaging, the pirates still got everything except the sweat.  That you get to keep...for now.

Oh. The other OWNERSHIP!  The intrinsic, esoteric, metaphysical one!  What was I thinking?  Yes, a rare thing today.  A job where you make something pretty out of nothing of value, to place on an animal who will ultimately shit on it, piss on it and finally destroy it in a fit of remorseless sociopathic disinterest.  Only God could come up with such a ridiculous way for humility to flourish on such a selfish little planet.  And yet, it is the only explanation that makes even marginal sense.  You see, Zuckerberg can't do it, Gates can't and Jobs...well, he's dead anyway.  Tangibles.  Nostradamus meets up with da Vinci to forge the earth's iron for the hooves of Don Quixote's great warhorse, Rocinante.  That rare combination of the mind dictating a creation through the inherent dexterity of the hands.  Builders of rare art in the palaces of the modern-day skeptics, those who radically assume that all self-worth is a niggardly ration handed out reluctantly by the paper-hangers who ply the decrepit corridors and uninspiring offices at Visa or American Express.  Bean counters who actually believe that the road to heaven crosses a toll bridge.

Hmm.  The aspiring student?  Not sure she knows the answer just yet, but she did seem pretty thrilled about seeing both da Vinci and Rocinante on the same afternoon.  That's enough for her.  For now, anyway.           
[images: Sandra Mesrine]


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