I don’t know if he was really hungry. My sister called him a performance artist. The old general store in Madrid, New Mexico was still a general store. It was the 1970s. There, in a corner out of sight of the proprietor, I watched a guy open a can of dog food with a Swiss Army knife. I was shocked that he hadn’t paid for it. I was about eight and don’t think I’d ever seen a person commit a crime. Then, staring at me, he started eating from the can with two fingers, licking them after each mouthful.
The budding equestrians at Cozy Y were routinely disappointed that no one got to actually ride a horse during a riding lesson. The fine print included in the multi-page contract noted that “handling” and “associated activities deemed appropriate by the Manager” were included in the $75 per hour group Riding lesson fee.
The associated activities included an array of back-breaking barn chores distributed to students in a hierarchical system placing the youngest and newest firmly at the bottom. “Manure management” was in the category of associated activities. Students paid to rake, shovel and wheelbarrow horse shit.
Other tasks on these bottom rungs of the barn “intern” ladder, as it was fondly called, included cleaning saddles and bridles, sweeping the aisles, assisting with fence repairs, opening gates - everything except touching a horse. This had the cumulative effect of further fueling desire. New students would furtively caress any horses close enough.
Those advancing to subsequent levels of horsemanship began assisting handlers with grooming. Then they would learn “ground work” - the term encompassing every single thing except riding. Only after about three or four lessons, depending on the judgement of the Manager with an eye to insurance risk, could a student with no previous experience actually ride.
Angel worked On a boat dock in Florida for a decade before moving into the apartment in the barn and becoming manager. Sammy hired him on a whim believing he was a Russian horse trainer because someone said he was from Moscow. It was the Moscow in Idaho but Angel didn’t correct him. He began speaking to Sammy, in their few conversations, with a slight Eastern European accent.
The boat dock gig was after the horse barn job in Idaho. Angel thought them very similar. The only people that made money from horses or boats had money to begin with or attached themselves, parasite-like, to those that did. Everyone else lost money and called it fun.
Both attract hustlers who prey on beginners and romantics. The true horse lovers and avid fishermen are the easiest marks. People will spend stupid amounts of money on things they love.
Mostly, the money in barns and docks is in the real estate, not horses and boats. In fact the owners that make the most money, don’t even seem to like them. They like the land they occupy. They like the monthly checks from the suckers.
Sammy treated the Cozy Y barn like that until Angel took over.
in old ribbons and horse memories
I tacked them to the wall
and tucked them into my heart.
Cried at the blue-green beauty of the weather map and the forecast description:
Tonight will be calm and quiet for much of the state. ...
Wore huge-heel new shiny Doc Marten boots to walk the dog along the ditch road very slowly, like Frankenstein’s monster. The dog and I are both very gray-haired now. Thinking of formal-wear tomorrow.
Watched a video of a guy carefully cleaning groceries he’d brought home, wiping each can and soaking oranges. I didn’t do any of that.
Stared at everything in the pantry and fridge dubiously. Appetite’s gone. Beer cans are easy to clean.
Disputes over land, water and livestock were never resolved in favor of natives. By the end of that first decade of the century the Colonel had managed to gain title to nearly all of the village and most of the grant lands the villagers once held in common. He used it to run cattle until it was overgrazed and in the 1920’s he began selling it off or losing it in poker games. Some suspected he didn’t even own Cozy Y ranch anymore.
By then he had married a daughter of one of the largest and oldest families in the village. Perea, the Colonel’s father in law, ran Perea’s Bar, which the Colonel had lost to him in a game in the bar’s back parlor.
Perea had a parrot that talked. Tied on his high perch in a corner behind the bar, the bird would occasionally squawk something amusing. One night the Colonel heard the parrot repeating a phrase that sounded, from the little Spanish the Colonel knew, like “oro,” Spanish for “gold.” When he asked Perea about it, the old man just laughed and shook his head.
This did nothing but stoke the Colonel’s curiosity and he became fascinated with the bird, encouraging it to repeat the phrase. After some deliberation, he decided the bird was saying, “oro de honra,” or “gold of honor.”
He became obsessed with the meaning and began asking the villagers questions. He tried to be subtle. He didn’t want people to think he had a secret. Or that he knew about one they weren’t telling him. But there are only so many ways to pose questions about “gold” before people start to notice.
One night a man who seemed very drunk sat next to the Colonel in the bar and told him a story an act of heroism during the war. The Colonel got uneasy as the story progressed, wary of questions the man might ask about his own fictitious service. The man seemed to sense this and moved on to how a gift was given to the soldiers for their honorable service. The gift was gold and there was so much of it, the man explained to the Colonel, that it had to be hidden and they died before coming back for it. He leaned in close at this point and whispered, “It’s in an abandoned mine somewhere near here!”
The Colonel’s jaw was slightly ajar when the man stopped and took a sip of his drink. “I’ve said too much.” As if prophetically, the parrot squawked the familiar phrase. The Colonel glanced sharply at the man who seemed not to notice but smiled a little as he nodded goodbye. He left the bar before the Colonel could formulate any questions.
He was obsessed with finding gold treasure after that. The improbability of the story didn’t occur to him. He only saw it as a perfect fit for his puzzle - what was the Gold of Honor. The search ruined him, but the work to reopen the old lead mine in the ranch foothills employed villagers for a few years, at least.
After he died, the newspaper described his search for the Gold Of Honor treasure. Perea read it and shook his head. It would only carry the secret forward. There would be more treasure hunters now.
He positioned the Colonel’s obituary beneath the parrot’s perch. The bird squawked the familiar refrain.
Big ears! Big ears!
Rosa told him before she died that the ruin marked on a 1720 map of the Spanish land grant had been “dislocated.” Chocky just she meant mis-located and they already knew that.
The three-story adobe structures of the ancient pueblo had melted into a low hill and convenient corner landmark for the original claimants. But in 1910 the boundary of the new Cozy Y Ranch and fence line was a half-mile from where the ruin had been. It was a fortunate mistake for the villagers as it significantly reduced the size of the Colonel’s claim, excluding the village of Escadero itself.
The actual site was fenced and forgotten. The gas station next to it was a booming concern until they built the freeway. Then Uncle Johnny turned it into a junk yard and within five years it was covered in dead cars, refrigerators and tires.
Chocky bought the site after Johnny died and couldn’t dig a post hole without hitting artifacts. When he began building his sculpture of wrecked cars and buses he found a kiva, an underground religious chamber. Sadie and Cat were watching him from his porch while he dug for a foundation support when they heard him yell and saw the little backhoe disappear in a puff of dust.
The exposed walls were covered in elaborate paintings. After retrieving the equipment and photographing the walls they backfilled the hole with soft sand.
He didn’t notify anyone. Technically he didn’t have to. He hadn’t found a burial and this was private land. And, given Alva’s treasure hunt hysteria, the place would be crawling with people.
From what Rosa had told him, this was a secret with profound implications. He needed to think things through.
Heat and smoke in varying parts. A choice of cold fresh or heat and smoke. (I cough.) Shoving large logs into the small stove. Dog looks dubious. He’s seen this before - failed attempts and smoldering logs carried, cussing, outside. The cat is amused. She sneezes.
I wonder about this smoke and how I’m compromising my health as a slow steady delicious warmth builds to balmy tropical before mid morning. My goosebumps and bone aches subside. I open the front door to breathe.
Speeding to the Gate Theater in a taxi at dusk on our first night in Dublin. Admittedly I’ve got jet lag. It will hit me later when I nap during the second act and my head shamefully bobs and weaves in full view of the sold out audience behind me. But now as we zoom along dodging buses and bikes I imagine these are my final seconds before a fiery crash and feel very awake.
It’s in one of these moments that I see a tall woman standing beside an old style street lamp. She’s wearing long black Victorian era dress with big hair under an elaborate black hat and she holds a parasol like a cane. Surprised, I turn my head but she’s gone and now all the street lamps look modern.
We’re blocks away weaving through traffic and I feel woozy. My head makes a cartoonish rattle when I shake it free of the vision but it’s just my earrings hitting my glasses. By the time we screech to a stop in front of the theater I’ve forgotten.
What I thought I saw must have been a Bloomsday pageant participant. It was the week of the annual commemoration of Joyce’s Ulysses and people dress up for that.
Not sure how they also disappear and take street lamps with them.
I’ll never eat another shepherd’s pie. Certainly not one as memorably delicious as the one I had at Searsons, a pub in Dublin. My trip is over and so is my meaty vacation. I could have stayed vegan while there but I would have missed some legendary meat and fish dishes, not to mention the cheese, yogurt and butter.
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The bar man said “good choice!” when I ordered the shepherd’s pie. It was. I sat at the bar of the beautiful old pub and enjoyed a half pint of Guinness. It didn’t take long. It was huge. It must have contained the whole little lamb, ground up and cooked in herbs and nested inside mashed potatoes with some peas and carrots and gravy, then topped with potatoes and cheese and baked brown and drizzled with more gravy and served with chips (fries) and more gravy in a little pitcher. And a lettuce leaf.
The waitress wrapped what I couldn’t finish in an elaborate set of inverted bowls and about twenty layers of plastic. She also gave me a container of gravy to go. I ate that shepherd’s pie for another entire day. Generous shepherd, that he was.
Other meaty temptations are the breakfast sausage rolls and other like baked pastry deliciousness - perfect savory bites of meat and minces that smell even better than bacon because they are like the best of bacon together with fresh baked buttery pastry. They are obviously handmade, each a little different. They sit poised in a special heated case, shiny and beckoning, like jewelry only not at all expensive.
The woman at the Dublin hotel coffee shop smiled and said “good choice!” when I ordered the sausage roll. It was. I had been eyeing a cold vegan wrap.
New phone, new clothes, new shoes, new luggage. Over-prepared and under-packed. Studied up on Becket and Beckett, Roman Britain and prehistoric Ireland. But nothing really prepares you for travel and isn’t that sort of the point? By changing your location you expose yourself to happenstance and happy accidents.
I didn’t overpack. But I took too many of the wrong things. I reasoned that I would change into the type of person who likes to shop while traveling. I didn’t. I remember now how a friend had to urge me to purchase every cool thing I ever bought in Italy. Without a push I won’t try anything on. I’ll listlessly flip through hangers sighing and looking out the window at buskers and street food.
Except for shoes. Trying them on doesn’t involve strange dressing rooms and near nakedness. Alas, shoes don’t pack well. Four pairs is too many. You can only wear one pair at a time and invariably it will be the wrong pair.
The wool sweaters and scarves are irresistible in Ireland. They don’t pack into carry on very well either. Four sweaters is too many. You can only wear so many on hot days and may end up tying them around both your neck and waist. Or arranging them artfully on your suitcase. No one does this gracefully. Regardless of the quality of the cashmere, piling on sweaters will transform your silhouette into that of a person who has too many cats at home. Or a wool fetish. Or both.
...Haunting, emotive, multitrack.
My journal observations have returned to mundane entries about how I weeded around the new trees and aired the woolens. A few weeks ago I described a symphony rehearsal I happened upon in Canterbury Cathedral and how I met an archaeologist with a theory about a Saxon king’s burial.
But most of my travel journal is full of petty complaints and observations. Such as:
The plumbing is weird and different everywhere. I had to call a concierge to a room in Port Rush to show me how to open the sink drain. (It had a spring mechanism.) At a aged place in Dublin I tended a temperamental toilet and never did figure out the shower. (After the host’s painstakingly long description of the process I was embarrassed to ask him to repeat it.)
There are too many coins and they’re too hard to see. The prettiest money is Northern Ireland’s ten pound note with hares and horses and flowers.
None of my new credit cards had a tap and pay feature so clerks had to come get my signature every time. Between that and the impossible coinage, I held up every line I was in.
The free television stations are about the same quality except there are no evangelicals, no pharmaceutical advertising, no advertising about lawsuits. Home shopping is ubiquitous.
The smoke alarms are touchy. In a sticky hotel room on the Wexford coast with paper thin walls my alarm went off. I don’t know why. It was exactly midnight. I could hear my fellow guests cursing over the alarm’s screeching. I stood on a chair and pulled it from the ceiling. I was ready to heave it off the room’s balcony but it stopped and I placed it warily on the floor. After a time the concerned mumbling diminished and I fell into a fitful sleep. I dreamed I was hiding a small angry animal in the room.
Back to grocery lists and watering the garden.
Something is wrong with my blog here.
The few who knew about his dark life were not surprised by Ace’s disappearance. She remembered him in junior high, bullying everyone, including the bus driver who kicked him off the bus. The driver got fired and Ace stopped riding the bus after that. She thought he might have gotten in trouble but instead his father bought him a new truck. He drove it to school to screech around the parking lot, and drive over curbs, sidewalks and medians. He totaled it about a week later. No one was surprised but most everyone was disappointed Ace wasn’t hurt at all.
As an adult Ace assumed the character of an assassin after making this his life’s goal. He even wrote it down in a notebook and listed objectives and tasks with timelines as recommended by self-help professionals. The various checkmarks, dates and symbols later helped investigators piece together the gruesome history. He would have been charged on this evidence alone if he hadn’t disappeared.
Ace ran. That’s what everybody thought since he’d done it before. No one hardly missed him at all until about the third week when the guys who did the work he was hired to do showed up to get paid. Chocky had tried to get Ace busted for the work thing but it only got worse. Sammy got involved and the county gave Ace a sweet contract, all official. He pretty much did whatever he wanted after that. They hired a gal, like an intern, to do all the paperwork and make sure he showed up to meetings.
Sadie paid the men from her account - whatever they said Ace owed them. Then she hired them on as barn hands and got them housing and health insurance.
Her brother was livid when he found out.
"That was then. This is now."
She rolled her eyes at Sadie who was repeating the line and pacing. Her heels hit the second floor balcony rhythmically, sending anxiety through the wooden decking straight up Catherine's spine making her head tingle. She urged her to sit in one of the upholstered deck chairs hoping it might take the load off of her friend's heart and soul.
Sadie's role in her family's schemes was hardly central. Her brother didn't feel any guilt and he was directly responsible. She'd been duped into believing the history her mother crafted about the land. But after she "figured things out" she'd done nothing. The series of unfolding treacheries might have been avoided if only she'd acted. This was the emotional weight she carried around. Her therapist and closest friends urged her to let it go.
But as soon as she sat down she began the "if only" litany again.
"If only I hadn't married Ace."
Chocky snorted out a laugh and began pacing where she'd been a moment before.
"If only you'd refused an arranged marriage. If only you hadn't gotten lost in your sadness."
He suddenly stopped and glared at her. Everything seemed very still.
"If only you'd acted differently? You'd be dead! If you were in the way, you wouldn't be here today. Repeat THAT a few times."