Tuesday, April 22, 2008

RS: Happy Trails

They say you can't recapture your youth. Perhaps better to say you shouldn't try. Seems the universe felt so too. It was certainly sending messages. I've never had so much trouble getting off the ground. Flight canceled, the next delayed, gate moved to the other end of the terminal, delayed again, customer service counter closed, next counter abandoned. By the time I got to the third counter, I'd dragged my luggage two miles and wanted off United Airlines but now. Finally touched down in my home state and proceeded to the casino—not to join ciggie sucking seniors atrophying in front of the penny slots (hitting Max Bet aggravates my tennis elbow), it was the easiest commute—same priority on the road as at home.

My parents were coincidentally traveling through St. Louis and planned to share my room and then drive me home the next day. I finished my work and met up with them, no problem. A good night's sleep was just what I needed.

4:30 am, my bed shook. Not a thought one relishes when sharing a room with your parents. I bolted upright, annoyed, wondering why someone was kicking the shit out of my mattress. No one was there. I hadn't expected it to happen in my sleep, losing my mind. I had just assumed it would manifest in a naked, dead run through Times Square swatting at non-existant flies and screaming at the voices in my head in a foreign language I'd never studied. Like a thief in the night was better.

Turns out my sanity was in tact, the New Madres fault wasn't faring as well. I lived in San Francisco for 3 years waiting to feel the Earth move under my feet. My good friend, Ric, not the steadiest balance on a good day, was thrown off the toilet one morning in 1992. Across town, I got nary a jiggle. Gotta say, I wasn't that impressed with 5.4 magnitude. Whether it's penises or tectonic plates, size matters. People in Missouri make fun of those fools living out in California, serves 'em right if the whole damn thing just drops into the ocean. Meanwhile, we have the second most active fault line in North America (I think I heard) and we build a nuclear power plant right over the top. No fools we.

Plane delays and earthquakes? The universe seemed to whisper, "Turn back, oh man." Deftly and deafly, we set out for Ava, stopping first for breakfast. We stopped at Cracker Barrel. Now, normally I wouldn't patronize such an establishment—they're racist, homophobic, and the food's not that great—but I generally find it more of a vacation if I check my politics at the state line when I go home to visit my family. It's just easier.

Besides, my righteous indignation toward restaurants gets a little inconsistent. I'd eat my body weight in Domino's Pizza. And I feel guilty when I stand at the counter at Wendy's thinking about those wing nuts marching in front of abortion clinics. I can almost hear their chants when my stomach growls. Then I blurt out, "Number 6 plain with a Coke to go, NOW!" I pick it. They picket. I write a check to Planned Parenthood. I should. I will. I'm hungry. Where was I?

Oh, yes, sitting in the Cracker Barrrel giving my order to a 70 year-old waitress, sweet thing, couldn't remember her own name. She moved like she had a rough night in 1984 and never caught up on her sleep. Her bangs were processed to a color not available in nature (actually not available anywhere outside of Sherwin Williams), she wore more makeup than a Parisian prostitute, had laid too long in the tanning bed, had skin like an apple doll, and had her hair pulled up into two little Pippy Longstocking pig tails jutting out on either side of her neck. She forgot the water, the butter, the jelly, and part of my mother's breakfast. No wonder she was tired. She had to make 14 extra trips for each order.

Facing a four hour drive home, I snuck into the little boys' room before we took off. As I shook out the last three drops, I heard the lyrics to the song that serenaded overhead, "When Jesus comes to meet me, I will certainly be there." Just not right now, Jesus. My Sunday School teacher, Brenda Freeman, used to tell us, "Whenever you are wondering if you should be doing something or not, just ask yourself if you'd want to shake Jesus's hand while you're doing it." There have been times in my life when it would not only have been embarrassing to meet Jesus, it would have been logistically impossible. Well, to give him a proper greeting anyway. And I am not a big bathroom talker. I'm focused. I once had a man walk right up to me as I was standing at the urinal and introduce himself. Turns out I'd actually met him two weeks earlier, he was the President of the company where I worked. He thought I was a client. When he found out I was a mere minion, he stormed out sputtering and shaking his head. My upward mobility thwarted again.

We made two stops on the way home for gas—some we put in, some we let out. The first had a vending machine where one could get authentic Missouri rocks—available in 5 assorted colors. The second had free CDs of sermons from the Brushy Knob Church as you walked in the door. I picked up "Armageddon" and "4 Things Old Time Christians Believe", and a Powerball ticket just to piss them off. Gambling is a sin in the eyes of the Lord, but every one of them would cash in the ticket they keep hidden in their glove box should they hit it big. It isn't the height of hypocrisy, but the air gets a bit thin up there.

That night we had dinner at Rockbridge Trout Farm, down by my parent's ranch. We had to pick up a horse trailer in preparation for the trail ride I had foolishly volunteered to join my mother on the following day. Now, I have about as much interest in riding a horse as I do a prom queen. I've done both, and in each case, all I could think about was getting off—though in very different ways. I was seven when my sister did a cartwheel in front of the horse I had an already trepidatious seat on. It bolted. I screamed like a cheerleader in a slasher film. I hit the ground running and promised to keep my distance. It was a win-win that was working, so what was I thinking? Twenty-four hours prior to our departure, and I was already fighting that pre-diarrhea feeling that makes coughing an artillery sport. I wasn't sure how I would manage to eat dinner at Rockbridge. Apparently my righteous indignation is not the only thing that dissipates in the face of hunger.

The trout farm is right out of the 50's. A beautiful place with crystal streams and a grist mill, now turned into a bar. The restaurant/lodge was a vision to behold. There was a veritable zoo of taxidermied wildlife: a covey of stuffed pheasant, 2 bobcats, one wolf in mid howl, a half dozen deer heads, and enough trout to give the Gorton's Fisherman priapism. There was an entire display dedicated to nothing but Power Bait. Above the sink in the bathroom hung a picture of 7 dogs on their hind legs pissing on a wall. It was class, pure class, and available in the Gift Shop for $19.99. The owner is an incredibly nice woman with 2-toned hair that is a lesson in aerodynamic engineering. It sweeps up on one side like a bald man's comb-over and clings in gravity-defying pose by prayer and Aqua Net.

I went to bed queasy, possibly from dinner, possibly from the thought of climbing back on a horse. I woke up and dressed in my most sensible outfit: Michael Kors shirt, 7 for All Mankind jeans, my sporty and expensive crinkled leather jacket, and running shoes that had spent more time on the elliptical machine at the gym than on actual ground (and they are most assuredly horse shit naïve). I had also tucked in three strategically placed panty liners in case that pre-diarrhea went postal. I was walking bow-legged before I'd put a foot in a stirrup.

My mother took one look and offered a denim Carhaart shirt and Land's End jacket. Not sure if she wanted to protect my clothes from the horses or me from being beaten up by the locals. I had prayed for rain and God laughed. I prayed for a miracle and none came. One of my mother's horses had grass foundered and couldn't be ridden but before I could volunteer to sit this one out, they'd found a replacement horse. I changed my clothes and inspected my panty liners.

I didn't shave in hopes that any association to the Marlboro Man might either trick the pony or my inner voice that kept saying, "You'll break a hip, dumb ass, you'll break a hip." I also didn't shower. Horses are sensitive, they can smell timidity. I was hoping I might be able to mask the scent of fear with funk.

I had been offered two different horses, I could have my pick. Both were promised to be near comatose. One was named Babe (sounds encouraging), one was named Stormy (fuck that). I asked if they had one named Terry Schiavo. No? Babe it was.

I was a bit uneasy for the first few miles but I am happy to report that the journey was uneventful but memorable. The sky was an impossible blue, the fields a green that money would envy, the air—well it depended what horse you were behind. One testicle was slammed between the saddle and my pelvic bone like a pinball caught between two bumpers. Were I racking up points, I'd have free games for life. Instead, the left one looks like a soft grape, my back's tight to spasming, and the area under my sitz bones is throbbing like two stubbed toes stuck up my ass.

Turns out, my worrying was much ado, especially since I did. Eleanor Roosevelt (I think) said, "Face the fear and do it anyway." How ironic that she had teeth like a horse. I've never been one of those climb back on the horse when you fall off kind of people, literally or figuratively. Perhaps, that's because I never technically fell off to begin with. I've pursued a strategy of active avoidance of things that make you fall down. Maybe this symbolic mounting will translate into life. Maybe it was just a trail ride. Lord knows, both old mares, Babe and me, ain't what we used to be. One thing's for sure, if I fall down in the next few days, I'll just lie there and rest—my ass hurts too much to get back on my feet, much less the horse.

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