Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Measure of a Man

Chalk it up to traveling, or living so far from "home", or maybe just New York, but I haven't been one to be nailed down to anything. It could be the fact that public opinion seems to change with the wind, or that I'm surrounded by adolescent males who would rather just break wind. It can't be that, because I could care less for public opinion, and my bacheloric diet allows me to express my "public" opinion with equal if not greater flatulence. It could be the fact that I just made up the word bacheloric. Maybe it's the people who cry out for relative truth and acceptance, but they're usually the same people who get upset with me about leaving my dog in the bed of the truck, in which case it couldn't be that because relative truth is completely illogical and they are the same people who call me to take care of the raccoon that's digging through their trash... which is the beauty of relative truth, it allows you to check your personal beliefs at the door when they are inconvenient for you. It seems more and more that we are crying for a relative God, but that's another story of for another time. I guess the point is, if you couldn't tell from the tirade you just read, it's not that I'm insecure about where I am or what I believe, it's that for the life of me I can never seem to give a concise, accurate overview of why exactly I do what I do. I have not doubt that if you know me well, at some point this has to bother you. I could give you a fifteen minute dissertation as to the reasoning behind my love of Alabama football... and not even get into Bear Bryant (apostasy?). I could give you a compelling argument as to the allegorical nature of golf, and it's ability to teach a young man that golf, like life, isn't as much about where you are, but where you're going--you're next shot. I could rant and rave for hours on end about the things I believe in, both petty and significant, but if you knew me you'd stop me before I started.

Instead of trying to share what I've learned, impart some limited knowledge from narrow experience, I go to a well much deeper than my own; from the pen of Rudyard Kipling, a poem


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

~Rudyard Kipling

I have made it no secret in the last 3 years that my mission is making men, and even less of a secret that I am a long way off myself. I once asked my boys what "character"means, the closest answer I got was "the part you play in a movie." From what I can tell we get it from a Greek word that means "etched in stone." No matter the weather, no matter the circumstance, easy or hard, blue skies or gray, you will always know what to expect from a man of character, because he's unchanging, he's "etched in stone." May the words of Rudyard Kipling offer to you just a small share of the wisdom it's imparted with me... it's accomplished so artistically that which I could not, a concise, well-thought comprehensive Measure of a Man.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Isn't it ironic... don't you think

An incredibly frightening and awkward part of being a minister is that you speak on behalf of God. There are a great deal of people in this world with an incredible amount of responsibility, and I in no way discredit either themselves or their job; however, I would be remiss were I to not say that in my mind there is no more daunting task in all of humanity than giving a tangible representation to an intangible being. Imagine the audacity of imperfection to portray perfection with words, much less a lifestyle. The concept to me is ludicrous – downright absurd. Yet in the ultimate act of irony, which I have come to believe is one of the Lord’s favorite tools, he asks his flawed children to express in word and deed his flawlessness, an impossible task from the beginning. For if we were able to portray perfection we wouldn’t need God in the first place... irony runs rampant through his story, through history – irony is the beauty of the story of God.

Aside from an Alanis Morissette song from high school I’m not sure I ever understood the power of irony until I moved to New York. I was born in Baton Rouge, LA, and within a couple weeks my parents moved to Colorado "for 2 years." They stayed 22. With my degree in hand, weeks from my birth into adulthood I moved from Texas to New York, committing to 2 years of service... it’s been 3 going on 22. An irony that has not failed to escape my mother, whose already impressive prayer life has only increased on my behalf, beseiging the Father to "bring me home". Irony has made it’s bed in my life, and as I sit here washing its silk sheets, I am convinced God will keep it there for the rest of my service to him.

I can spout many stories of irony; besides stress, sleeplessness, fear and male pattern balding, irony is one of the many byproducts of investing in the unknown, in the future, in human lives. It rears its unexpected head time and time again, and upon deeper reflection, it never ceases to bring you back to the One who put it there in the first place. Irony returns my heart to my God, that even when things turn out just the way you didn’t want, somehow there is someone who can make good of all the bad... the irony.

To save you three days of reading and a thousand stories I’ll share with you the most recent irony here. I work with what the world calls "troubled young men"... they’re really just normal teens for the most part, they just got caught... the irony. Is their normality a sad commentary on our culture, definitely, but it’s the truth. On Monday I took these young men to a fancy breakfast commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (It’s a Baptist event, so you have to put Rev. at the front). Dressed in suits these young men the world thinks are nothing but troubled, flawed young men from imperfect backgrounds, behaved as perfect gentlemen.

The keynote speaker was a prominent African American businessman, a graduate of Harvard in both Business and Law, a Public Servant, an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. Not the greatest of public speakers, but one heck of a man. He spoke of the irony of King’s power. He spoke of his accomplishments post mortem, the rewards he received, the steps humanity has made, the influence of a dead man to living men. My wish was that he would have been a little more articulate, but his gist was lucidly powerful. He spoke to a middle class audience comprised of successful business men and women, of bankers and clerks, teachers and lawyers, politicians and pastors, and about 25 "troubled young men" who were incredibly out of place. He spoke to this mob about a man who emerged from the very same crowd, a third generation collegiate graduate, King’s father and grandfather had both graduated from college... he was not without. King was not fighting for a job, if he was only "looking out for me and mine" he would have needed to make no such stand. I had never known that about the man, and it was all the more impressive to me that he would offer his life on the altar of equality as the last man who needed to... the irony.

The speaker went on the to portray the ultimate irony of King’s power, the power of peace. That the very institutions that tried to hold him back, the very universities that would not let him in, the very organizations who refused to acknowledge him, all are closed on this day, they cannot do business, they do not offer classes, they close their doors to the world in honor of the man they once closed their doors and minds to... the irony.

So leaving there, juiced by a powerful message and a very moving Kirk Franklin song, I took the boys home. And when we arrived back at the Ranch I could only imagine the growth and education that came from that morning. I left, excited. Hours later I returned, the very same day, to a group of young men watching Malcolm X on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to hear them threatening to slap all the white people, and desiring the freedom to express their "civil liberties". On the very day where we celebrate one of history’s greatest proponents of peace, the day that commemorates our most memorable pacifist... the birthday of the very man who uttered the words of one of my favorite quotes

"The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows"

on this very day to commemorate the man who fought a fight without violence, and whose death brought about in many ways a new life to this nation, the most my young men can muster is a broken line from a movie by an annoying, short new yorker of a historical figure who stood in direct opposition to the very man for whom we stop this day to remember... the irony.

And what has this day accomplished, the end of the story has yet to be seen, but the irony has the same effect on me as it always has. It brings me back to the only One who can bring the good from the bad. The only One who offered the greatest of gifts to a people who couldn’t have cared any less. The One who sent perfection to walk among an imperfect world, who offered love to the unlovable, grace to the unforgivable, and life to those trapped in death. And what did humanity do with such a gift, we rejected it. The very thing we need the most is the last thing we want... the irony.

Irony is the beauty of the story of God. It exists throughout history as a lighthouse calling all those lost to return home, and it’s the beacon that brings me back every time to the feet of the One who has given me everything when I offer nothing in exchange. And so here I sit again, trying my best to do an impossible task, to speak on behalf of God... the only one who deals in irony, who can take the bad of this world and make it good.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn't say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried,
and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he'd never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn't true.

Still, it's what God had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
so that he'd see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
And God's plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he'll see that it's worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
will make many "righteous ones,"
as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I'll reward him extravagantly—
the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn't flinch,
because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep.
God’s plan, Isaiah 53:7ff... the irony.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Gather 'round kiddos, it's story time...

It was mid 30's and raining consistently with a good, stiff breeze. Needless to say it was not the time to go gallivanting through the city streets with neither purpose nor care. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and the inclement weather was threating to ground the balloons for the Macy's day parade. Celebrities were cancelling their appearances on the floats, wary parade goers changed their plans. Again, it was not the time to go gallivanting through the city streets with neither purpose nor care. So what was I heading off to do you ask... gallivant.

I am convinced that reason and logic have and will continue to take a back seat in my decision making process to a great story for my grandkids. I look forward to the day when they sit around and ask about the time I wrecked my boss's truck, or the time I snuck into Madison Square Garden, maybe even kicking pigeons in central park. At this point in time my own children will roll their eyes every time I start mentioning the time we brought home the wild mustangs, but eventually they'll find themselves sucked in again, sitting beside their children and listening, because there's always something that brings you back to a good story, even if it's for the thousandth time. I figure I have another 40 years at least before I need all my stories, and I think I'm making good time, but will no doubt have many great Ben Foster stories, as well as some fantastic "Uncle Troy" stories that will live in infamy.

My thanksgiving was another small point along the long line of stupid things still to come.

I'd seen it on TV. I never really watched it because there was always something better to do; sneak food from the kitchen, help Lankford stretch for the Turkey Bowl, better yet sleep in. I wouldn't say that it was high on my priority list of goals in life, it was more one of the things to do while you're in New York. Why not? So, at 12:15 am Micah and I boarded a very empty train from Ronkonkoma to Penn Station. It was a long train ride in. We spent some time reading the left-behind gossip columns about Michael Richard's racist ranting. Micah likes to kill the time by trying to create new t-shirts sayings. In light of the week's events I came up with Ku Klux Kramer -- it's trademarked, so don't steal it. There was also talk of the "Screw Chicago, how about Oprahoma", it was late at night and it was funny to us.

We made it into Penn, and the majority of people there were already drunk. I now know that Thanksgiving Eve is apparently a pretty big party night in the city, who knew? It was a good 7 hours until the parade started, and there was little time to complete all the tasks at hand, so we continued on our way.

We were informed by a knowledgable source before we left that the upper west side was the place to be because that's where they'd spend all night blowing up the balloons, so we figured we'd head in that direction. Before long we came across my first goal: Ray's Pizza. There are a lot of Ray's Pizzas, and they all say they're the original, but they're not. I could tell you which one it really is, but then I'd have to kill ya.

We were approached by a homeless man with a really good story about needing money for insulin. Micah opted to give him food, by far the smarter decision, considering that's what you need before insulin. I went with the spare change route. This aggrivated Micah, but my rebuttle was that it wasn't that bad, it was more along the lines of diplomacy, in case he hadn't noticed it was cold, and a good trash can fire is hard to come by, maybe when we run into him later on we can catch up on the diabetes story and a little heat. Regardless, both answers were satisfactory for our new friend. Alas, we went our separate ways.

It was cold enough that a good cigar would definitely be in order later when we settled down for bed, so Micah went to his favorite 24 hour cigar shop. It's around 2:30 am at this point. Long story short, he spent a good thrity minutes trying to haggle the shopkeep out of a mid-90's cigar afficianado magazine with Chuck Norris on the cover "Even good guys smoke cigars" it said. It was in the window display outside. I spent the time inside looking at the novelty lighters and trying to find the perfect mild cigar that would last long enough to keep us warm. Micah kept going in and out, always with a counter offer. The debate quit when I walked outside to hear Micah's new friend, the trash man, set the bar. "I wouldn't pay more than $15." Micah went inside with new zeal, but they wouldn't drop below $25. We all have our pirnciples I guess. We left with two cigars, no magazine, and an undaunted spirit. There was still a lot to do.

We stopped by Rockefeller to see the tree before there was anything on it, that joker's huge. There are two NYPD guarding the thing around the clock, which dispelled any previous illusions of a pre-emptive decoration. Undaunted, we continued on our way. Kicking a pigeon was next on the list. On a side note, if you've never done it, it's quite therapeutic. Don't roll your eyes in disgust, you don't haul off and punt the pigeon to kingdom come, it's simply a previously undesired though quickly comprehended aid in flight. Really, it's good all the way around.

Central Park. We're on the upper west side scouting out the bleachers for the parade tomorrow. It's about 3:15 am, we have less than four hours left. Now, Central park would be the ideal place to aid the pigeon in flight, but unless you forgot, it's the middle of the night, 35 degrees now, and still raining. There were no pigeons to be found. There was nothing to be found. I can honestly tell you the most abundant species, inluding humanity, in all of central park, was raccoons. We saw at least three. They're fat as all get out, and have perfected the New York stare. I was actually ready for one to say, "What the ..... are you looking at?" Intimidated, we continued on our way.

The skating rink, perhaps Micah's second largest goal of the night. It costs $11 during the week, and $14 on the weekend. It's always crowded, never serene. Well kids, at 3:45 am it's quiet, empty and free. Micah met goal number two, ripping his pants and getting a nice raspberry along the way. Every goal that was possible had been met, save the most important one, the culminating event of the evening: a good night's rest.

There are a lot of hotels in the city. We had friends in an apartment not too far away. The options were limitless. On a cold, rainy night, soaking wet standing in the middle of Central Park we could have headed in any direction and found a warm, safe place to stay. But how, 40 years from now, am I going to be able to look my grandchildren in the eye and tell them I slept in an apartment after a night like this. No sir, this is what the story's all about.

Micah had a nice bridge picked out. I honestly forgot where it was, but eventually we found it. It was recessed, under the ground, where the rain and wind wouldn't be a factor. It was the perfect place to finally get some rest, except for one thing, it was already taken. Figures, the first person we see in all 843 acres just happens to be in the only place we don't want anyone to be. Slightly disappointed we moved on. We kept travelling north, that is until the Harlem border, in which case we turned back around. We might be crazy, but we're not stupid. I want a story for the grankids, just not that one.

Evenutally we found another nice bridge, above ground, slightly susceptible to the wind, but still a dry place to lay our heads. Still one problem, occupied. 0 for 2 in the bridge picking. This was a significantly larger bridge, some thirty feet across and 70 feet long. Due to the cold weather, rain, and being incredibly tired, we deemed our new home big enough for three people. Apparently we were wrong.

Being newcomers to tunnel dwelling we were unaware as to the powerful acoustic presence a tunnel has. Huddled up with a good cigar this late at night our conversation had moved into complete delirium, debating the colors the streets lamps are when you turn your head, or how exciting a plate of scrambled eggs will be in the morning. Evidently, the idiosyncrasies of the jumbled morning plans were too much for our new neighbor who let out a hearty groan, threw his covers off, and proceeded to grab his two suit cases and find another place of solace. That was officially one of my most awkward moments... ever. It took the man three trips to get all his stuff. I wanted to help, but that would risk pissing him off even more. So I did what any good New Yorker would do, minded my own business, waited for him to leave, then ran over and grabbed his side of the tunnel, because it was better. Micah fell alseep pretty quick, spread eagle on his back. I spent the rest of the night, cold and wet, huddled in a ball, trying to dream about breakfast instead of praying someone wouldn't pee on me in the middle of the night.

I woke up at 6:15 to two Great Danes standing over me, not the ideal wake-up call in my opinion. Apparently there's a large contingency of city folk who walk their huge dogs early in the morning so they don't have to worry about leash laws. Needless to say, I wasn't going back to sleep. I spent a good 20 minutes watching people watch their dogs and listening to Micah snore, all the while shiverring, wanting breakfast like you wouldn't believe.

I kicked Micah until he woke up, reminding him that he promised me eggs in the morning. He mutterred something in his half asleep voice along the lines of "This must be what it's like to be married." I kicked him again. He said, "my point exactly", then he got up. It was still raining, and even colder than before. We started making our way over to where the parade would be, we barely made it out of the park before we hailed a cab and went back to Penn. Sopping wet, shivering, having met all the possible goals for the evening we got on the LIRR and went home.

I would love to say that we set out that evening for some kind of great moral lesson, a spiritual awakening or pilgrimmage of some kind. Truthfully, it was just to say that we spent the night in Central Park. However, I can honestly tell you that never before, and hopefully never again, have I had a more meaningful insight into the idea of Thanksgiving. I went home, took a hot shower, ate a wonderful Thanksgiving meal that I had no part in preparing, and felt a sense of gratitude and thankfulness unlike any other before. I don't care what your opinion is on homeless people, whether it's a series of unfortunate events, bad decisions, or a money-making scheme -- there's not a soul alive that would want to be sleeping beneath a bridge in Central Park in the nearly freezing rain if they had something better to go home to, not a soul. Be thankful for what you've been given, it's a lot more than what you deserve.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fair warning

It may not be deep, thoughtful, or even theological, but it's the freakin' truth... A man can only sit in a deer stand so long, not seeing a thing, before something has to pay for his frustration...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Augustus Part III (for the three people interested in seeing how the story ends)

The entire time, I'm envisioning my emminent death, seeing as how that was the gelding who just went nuts, and all it needed was a self-shutting gate. I had to go and pick a stud, balls and all, and I couldn't shut the rear gate without 4 hail mary's and a lucky rabbit's foot. But I couldn't turn back now, after this big event, everyone had gathered around to see the next circus. So, armed with my crowbar and newfound peace with my maker, I sat atop the fence, ready to take a hoof in the face, my own proverbial polo ball if you will.They looked at me and asked if I was ready, and with all the confidence of a lamb before the slaughter I forced out a very weak "y..y..yeah." ...

With all the authority of the previous horse they popped open the chute gate, and out came my man. That is where the similarity ended. Slowly, yet deliberately he stuck his head out, looked to the left, then to the right, like a five year old who just learned how to look both ways before crossing the street. Confidently he walked with a slow authority to the trailer, where he casually stepped in, turned sideways, placed his butt against the side wall and assumed the position to ride home. We all just kind of stood there, waiting for something to happen. I was standing with the rear gate, not moving an inch, more hoping not to die than worrying about getting the thing shut. He turned his head and looked at me like "Well partner, were you planning on shutting that thing or do you want me to do it myself." I decided it would probably be best if I did it myself, but I did appreciate the offer. He quietly and patiently waited for me to complete the difficult task, while Will's horse is kicking the trailer, discontent with his current accomidations.

Off we went, down the road, stopping at Cracker Barrell, a precious commodity to poor country boys trapped on Long Island, where we sat down and decided what to name these two gentlemen. Selfishly you would love to name the animals, that's a given, after all we were the one's who picked them up, nearly dying in the process. But, they are for the boys, that's the real reason we're there, maybe we should let the boys name them we thought. It was settled, we'll leave it to the boys. We sat down for a well deserved meal.

After some good conversation, and a long anticipated Chicken Fried Steak, we reflected on the events of the morning. Two horses, two very different personalities, two names. Two characters, one hard nosed, unwilling to take direction or crap from anyone, the other more than willing to calmly, steadily do just what he needs to do and nothing more. Two hearty slices of Americana needed two healthy names to reflect their personalities, and ultimately rationalizing the fact that we couldn't have two horses named Cinnamon or Tupac, we decided then and there to take the matter into our own hands. What names would do these two justice? What names would help paint their picture? What two names would carry the sense of meaning these two drastically different yet similar characters? It was never so clear...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Augustus continued

It wasn't until 1971 that Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act which "prohibits anyone other than an authorized agent of the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from removing wild horses or burros from the public lands." Before that, these beautiful creatures were rounded up and sold to meat markets and glue factories, for no overhead. Contrary to popular belief, there are still, thanks to the Act, free-roaming horses in America, over 30,000 according to their last count. We were hellbent on making it 29,998.

The Bureau of Land Management offers a strict adoption program where they skim off the existing herds through round ups and gather the extraneous animals together and auction them off starting at $150. They were holding an auction in Ithaca, NY -- home of Cornell University. I didn't know that much about Cornell, I did know that it had a good agricultural program, but let's not get crazy and start comparing it to Angelo State or WT A&M, it's an Ivy League School.

So there we were, Nate, Will and I -- two cowboys and a redneck -- driving over bridges, through the city, off the island, and all the way upstate to an Ivy League school insearch of Mustangs. We pull into town that evening, arrive on campus at their polo stadium, yes I said it, stadium. We walked through the doors, and their they were, well over a hundred of them, wild as the day is long. They had them separated according to gender and age, in different pens in the middle of the arena, and you could walk around the outside and see them all. They weren't like normal horses penned, they all stood in the back of the pens, as far away from the humans an possible. They didn't come up to you, begging for attention or food, they just stood there, looking at you, looking at the fence, confused. Some broke down and ate, some walked around the back, none came up to the fence. Still there were some that refused to let it go, they still sat there, confused. It was a different confusion, not of frustration, but of critical thinking, almost staring at the fences like "there has to be a way to get out of this." They had a depth to their eyes that you didn't see in a tame horse.

Each horse had a make-shift collar around their neck with a plate which had a number for each of them. This was for the purpose of auctioning, identification was already taken care of. Branded into the left neck of every mustang is an identification number, arranged in symbols that wouldn't make sense to the average person.
Within those symbols are sets of numbers informing you of the mustangs identification number, which lets you know what herd he/she was in, in what county,

in which state, and so on. You can also tell the year that the horse was foaled, and finally, on the far left, the US gov't brand. Every horse had it, and, obviously, every horse's was different.

We spent the better part of three hours just taking it all in. The horses, the burros, talking with BLM workers, trying to learn everything we could. We each walked around alone with a pad and pen, writing down our recommendations based on demeanor, confirmation, age, and aesthetics. It must have been a sight to the New Yorkers, we were the only three cowboy hats in the place, walking around checking every horse out up and down, like I knew what I was doing. The locals were there to see the wild horses, like it was an exhibit at the zoo. There were the little kids asking if they could take one home, the others wanting to pet them. The local news was their to cover the whole event, the third string rookie field reporter covering the wild horses then moving over to the mall to get the cat fashion show. I guess I have to appreciate that they saw some value in it, but all I could think was about how they were missing the point. Before there very eyes were animals that literally ran free, this was the first time they'd seen a human, the first time they'd seen a fence. They were standing within feet of an American Icon since 1964 and a half, and it wasn't much more than a dirty pony to them.

They shut the joint down for the afternoon, we registered, then did what any good redneck stuck on Long Island would do, went to Tractor Supply Company. After paying homage we noticed a game of polo being played in a field down the way. If you've never watched a polo match in person, it's a pretty impressive thing. The ball is hard, and a lot bigger and heavier than I thought. They knock that joker around like it's nothing, they hit it up in the air, and pretty high too. We watched one polo pony take it straight in the face, and he was out like a light. Straight to the ground like David Spade in the ring with Mike Tyson. Mid run the horse just crumpled up and went down, then laid there for a couple of seconds and tried to get back up. Not happening. Back down again. If you were just arriving, and came upon this scene, you would have bet some pretty good money that he would easily fail the breathalizer. And may I say that a half-conscious, bewildered and confused horse attempting to stand is one of the funnier things you can ever hope to see, it's a long, humorous ordeal, only compunded by the fact that the jockey was on his back the entire time. I wouldn't recommend kncking 'em out on your own, but if you get in a polo match and your horse takes one in the noggin, do him a favor, just get off. That's my lone advice.

The only way to top that experience was with a good steak, so away we went. After polishing that off, we headed back to the polo grounds at Cornell, where in the parking lot outside the arena where hundreds of mustangs attempted to become acclimated with their fences, we parked the stock trailer and spread the bed rolls, attempting to become acclimated with the woodchips on the floorboard. That's right, we spent the night in sleeping bags and bed rolls in a trailer on an Ivy League Campus.

We woke up the next morning unable to contain the excitement or get the wood chips out of our matted hair. We rushed over to the Burger King for breakfast and shower in a sink, then headed back to Cornell to get the 'stangs. The arena was a little more crowded today, finally other people there to actually bid on some horses; still no other cowboy hats. Armed with our pads and pens, and a day's advantage on the competition, we narrowed our selections.

There were two that caught my eye, both blue roans. What can I say, I'm a sucker for good color. One was a very pretty horse, she actually looked good, pretty face, good confirmation, and what not. Nate had one problem with her -- four white feet. It's an old wive's tale that says white feet are weaker, plus it's not good luck. Bla bla bla. But he's the boss, and knows a heck of a lot mroe than I do, so I went to #2. He was the same color, but that's where the similarities end. He wasn't particularly attractive from a horse standpoint, in fact you could say ugly. He had a huge head, almost unproportional to his body, a big muzzle that made him look like a mule, all in all, not that impressive. But he did something that few others did... nothing. While every other horse nervously moved around the pen, he sat there, stoic. There was that depth in his eyes, something about him that was different, unique. I'm not one to claim that all animals have feelings, but he was either dumber than a bag of hammers and couldn't even muster the mental capacity to move, or something else was going on, almost like the wheels were turning -- and you could see it in his eyes.

Sure enough, ugly as he was, he flew beneath the radar, and we got him without any competition, the flat $150. Suckers.

Will picked out the other horse. He has an eye for a quality animal. Hands down Will picked the most magnificent horse there. Huge chest, great face, huge butt, solid legs -- if it were a women we'd all been drooling. Will's horse had everything going for it, sound feet, great confirmation, it was even gelded already, which meant not only did we not have to cut them off, but we didn't have to deal with his attitude or excessive testosterone. I, on the other hand, picked an ugly faced stud. Smooth move.

The sale was over, time to take the projects home and get started.

There are certain things you take for granted until you are without them. Indoor plumbing, sliced bread, good toilet paper. A broke horse definitely falls under that category. I was under no disalusions when we went, I knew we weren't picking up a calm, gentled horse that needs a little instruction on how to let people sit on its back. It just never clicked with me that they've never really seen humans or fences, that they were forced into a trailer against their will and huddled like cattle all the way up here. I didn't think we were going to walk up to them and put the halter on and walk them into the trailer, but I never really stopped to wonder exactly how we were supposed to get the wild horse from the pen to the trailer.

The BLM spent a good 6 minutes attempting to put a halter on Will's horse, who went ape nuts just at the idea. He hadn't even seen the trailer yet. In a chute 8 ft. tall, a horse barely taller than 4 and a half feet at the shoulder was jumping out the top. It was not his idea of fun. We backed the trailer up to the chute and tied panels to the edge, a good 10 feet from the chute gate. Will opened the trailer, which has a gate in the middle to divide the trailer in half, got out of the way, and then they opened the chute... and the adventure began.

First, I have to explain the trailer. Working for a non-profit agency, you're not always apt to have the newest or nicest of equipment, and this poor stock trailer would qualify under that catgory. We had to cover the floor in wood chips to cover all the rust spots and gaps between the floor and wall. The divider in the middle was the only part that was easy to operate, you only had to reach through the slats in the side and push it shut, and it would latch on its own. The back gate was another story, too long to describe, all I will say is that it involved a crowbar, leverage, solid concentration, and about 35 seconds without any mistakes.

Will's crazy horse went first. BAM!!! The second they opened the chute gate his horse took off running full steam ahead, having nowhere to go and only 10 feet til the trailer. He ran right into the trailer and smacked square into the front, pissed as all get out. He kicked twice, then ran straight back out. Will didn't have a shot at shutting the middle gate. Crazy is all over the place, in the trailer, out of the trailer, then back in again, literally kicking and screaming the whole time. He made it in the trailer the fourth time and threw himself to the ground and rolled over, an amazing feat considering the amount of space it took place in. He got up quicker than any horse I've ever seen. For that quick second he stood there in the front of the trailer where he needed to be. Will reached through the slats of the trailer and shoved the middle gate shut as quick as he could. Twice as fast Will sent the gate forward, that horse sent it back at him, nearly breaking Will's arm. This process would repeat itself a lot, until eventually crazy wore himself down, and Will was able to quickly shut the gate before the horse could kick it back.

The entire time, I'm envisioning my emminent death, seeing as how that was the gelding who just went nuts, and all it needed was a self-shutting gate. I had to go and pick a stud, balls and all, and I couldn't shut the rear gate without 4 hail mary's and a lucky rabbit's foot. But I couldn't turn back now, after this big event, everyone had gathered around to see the next circus. So, armed with my crowbar and newfound peace with my maker, I sat atop the fence, ready to take a hoof in the face, my own proverbial polo ball if you will.

They looked at me and asked if I was ready, and with all the confidence of a lamb before the slaughter I forced out a very weak "y..y..yeah." They popped open the chute gate with all the authority as they did the horse before, and out came my man.

Augustus McCrae

In honor of a good friend's engagement, and because it's been a while, I offer you a little insight into what God has laid out for me -- see if you can't untangle the mess...

Before I get crazy, before I start attempting to wield fanciful words in an attempt to inspire the slightest insightfulness, I must first acknowledge the complete lack of knowledge I might have in any and every subject I may be prone to rant and rave about. I have always known that fact, whether I chose to express it or not is a different issue, yet lately, it has never been more poignently expressed than through a quote from Kierkegaard that I have been chewing on for a while now: Speaking to would-be ministers he said: "be on their guard lest by beginning to soon to preach they rather chatter themselves into Christianity than live themselves into it and find themselves at home there." (Journal, July 11, 1838) Before we venture any further, please know that all I have to offer is not a sermon, not advice, neither knowledge or philosophy, rather what little insight I have been afforded by the grace of God through trying my best to do my own little share of what He's asked.

There are 3 things currently on my office wall (excepting the clock and gotesquely placed vent), a corkboard full of quotes, cards and pictures; my ACU diploma; and finally an autographed photo of one Robert Duvall as Augustus McCrae. Before you few fans get too excited, it's really a cheap photocopy blown up, placed on carboard and wrapped in cellophane. I purchased it for $3 in San Antonio last Christmas. Yet, there he stands, with that spry look in his eye, reminding me to enjoy the little things in life. Perched high on my office wall, in it's original, frameless, cellophane wrapped state, his legacy of wit, wisdom, weakness and compassion set a standard for my interaction with the young men I work with here in New York, and it's one I've vowed never to forget.

Truthfully it started a long time ago, but we'll skip those details and move to the summer of 2004. It was around 3:30 am, I'd had just finished arguing with the Intensive Care Nurse about whether or not she could release the status of a patient to me, and having waited through Ryan's 6 hour reconstructive plastic surgery, hyped up on a mix of a little caffeine, some adrenaline and a whole lot of worry, I was not in the mood to argue. Hyped up on the good stuff himself, Ryan permitted the very unprofessional and extremely unkind nurse to release his information to me. Having failed to share the "complete truth" with Nancy and Mary Beth, as well as being the closest thing to a family member within a thousand mile radius, there was a sense of responsibility that had to be satisfied. I don't know why, it just did.

I was instructed that he would regain the complete use of his arm, and feeling an overwhelming sense of relief, sat down on the couch to allow reality to synchronize itself with the present. I felt calm and relaxed finally, but still had this nagging sensation that something was missing. I looked at the clock -- then it hit me, I had to be up in an hour and a half, no, an hour now... arguing with early morning hosptial staff helps you lose track of time. It was the event I was looking forward to from the moment I was invited, and it completely slipped my mind.

It was my first extended period of time on Long Island, I had spent my Spring Break there a couple years earlier, but what can you really find out about a place is a week? I wasn't aware how rural it actually was, especially out on the east end. All along the eastern end of the island there are vineyards and farms, doing their best to capitalize on the rampant tourism during the summer and fall. Along with open space and farms comes a pretty lucrative horse industry; people pay a great deal for horses, and then pay a great deal more for someone to break and train them so they can use the finished project. There are horse sales in Jersey, been there, there's even a really fun one in Lancaster PA, where you can mingle with Mennonites and acquire Amish arts and crafts, not to mention a fantastic (and literal, might I add) Smorgesbord--Miller's Smorgesbord--to wet your whistle and quench that appetite. I ate, in one meal, every barnyard animal available on the mass-produced, common market. And Emu. That, friends was a fantastic trip, but it ranks nothing compared to this one.

This trip revolved around the horse industry, but on the completely opposite spectrum. There was no great deal of money switching hands here... and there certainly weren't any well trained horses. We were after horses, true, but the kind that no one wanted, the kind the government had to protect, the kind that our ancestors used to round up and sell, the kind the spaniards left behind, the kind of outcast, disenfranchised, underdog, discount, no-count horse that has been and will be the symbol of the spirit of America. In the words of Nathan Dahlstrom, we were after a hearty, healthy "slice of Americana" -- we were after the American Mustang.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

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