I dreamed I had a horse. I was a ranch hand, just some turd with a pair of expensive Tony Lomas on, throwing hay until quitting time, letting the days loose on my mama’s graves, trampling the hopes my daddy had for me under the muck of a Friday night drunk, lost and looking for it. Just getting old in the sun. I didn’t care too much for horses or riding because all the bouncing around hurt my head, full of the dry that booze will leave you with. Dry wind in an empty head, a leathery knot on a short rope. That’s all I seemed to have.
I have grown up in suburban and urban settings. I never lived a day on a farm. I preferred to pass my time reading, playing video games and dreaming about adventure. I maybe rode a horse twice in my life, and was bit once trying to feed my uncle’s horse Dirt Dauber because I was feeding it oats with the thumb up, and it nearly crushed it. Hurt worse than getting it shut in a car door. I was never a bright kid, and I eventually grew up into a foolish man, in every sense of the world. I was naive and cavalier, and brought risk and misfortune on my quixotic sojourn for life’s truth like a buzzard brings its mites. It was accidental if I appeared to know what I was doing. I say this with humility, not bitterness, because most people go through something similar, and pride sort of dresses the wreckage of our trials up in some sort of Bullshit Bondo that hold it together. Life is sour. That’s why old people get puckered. But there’s sweetness. There’s dreams. I drifted with them and ended up outside of Cheyenne in 1994, and sort of settled.
I was a cowboy, in town. I wore a nice hat and boots. I mentioned the boots already, but boots without a cowboy hat is sort of like a gown without a cap. Context is everything. Out on the ranch, i was a guy who didn’t call out much, could do his job and be left alone. In some parts of America, there’s a close relationship between a love of sad country music and suicide. I lived there, and sometimes had to go down to Serenity Gardens to talk to papa about it, though there was never anything to say. Mostly, I did it to remember what he looked like, to imagine what he’d look like if he’d grown old. I wondered if he looked like me.
I had women who tried to care for me occasionally, but I was about as loveable as a toilet snake. And used about as frequently. The only difference between me and a plumber is I paid to clean out someone’s pipes.
The ranch owners, Caleb Wilson and his school teacher wife Tracy, he had a shit ton of horses, maybe thirty, counting the one in hospital. We had a goodly number of workers, and some we sold as pets, docile, lazy specimens, sometimes cross-eyed or gut-worn from the bad feed we had to use. Some went to neighboring ranches. If we got lucky we’d sell one to a collector. There was a weird one, though. A hat stealer, a spitter, a pranking horse that liked to nuzzle and slobber on the back of your neck. There was one we were calling Steve Martin because it was going white up around the head whereas the rest of it was pale, and it had the habit of acting like a horse, but would, if you could catch it unawares, be acting human. It was strange. It talked. It liked to look at itself in the trough and work its lips and gurgle sounds. It bowed when other horses approached it. It liked wearing a blanket, and wouldn’t go to sleep at night without a blanket thrown over it. It would run, all day, and come back and tear the shit out of its stall until someone had the bright idea to get it a television. It was one of those with a 5 DVD tray that cycled between discs. You could put it on a loop. So, we got it some DVDs, The Jerk, Three Amigos, Grand Canyon, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We were as much looking for an excuse to drink in the barn after work on Fridays, and put the TV in there. We couldn’t pick up any stations because it was an older model. So, Caleb said he had some unopened DVDs his son was supposed to get. No sense in wasting them. A bunch of Steve Martin flicks that his son, Cory, was crazy about. Caleb had them in his house. They were his son’s, but his son Cory was dead somewhere in Iraq, been dead twenty years when his family cleaned out his room finally to move his sister, Carlene, in with her baby. So, there were missing men everywhere on the ranch. I had a missing daddy, Caleb had his son gone to glory, and his daughter had a blackout to remind her to beware of gentlemen in Cheyenne buying drinks. So much for her independence. But, like her mom and dad, she was okay. There were worse off people, surely. We named the horse Steve Martin to sort of hold onto each other. It seemed reasonable enough to share our grief by pinning the name of Cory’s favorite actor on a horse that we all in equal parts both loved and didn’t really understand. Didn’t make any sense. Like a lot of things, it just didn’t make sense, and there it was, a bunch of people giving a horse a TV. But, that’s sort of like Steve Martin, a guy who pretended to be a comedian. Maybe we named him after we gave him the TV and movies. I can’t recall. Days just sort of drifted into each other.
When we set up the TV for the horse one particuluar morning, it got real quiet and attentive. I’d nailed a piece of tin up over a hole in it’s stall it’d made with some absolutely horrible kicks that bloodied its legs up. The TV came on, loaded with the DVDs. We queued up the first feature and started The Jerk. It seemed entirely appropriate, I thought, grabbing my hat out of the horse’s mouth again. Ears started dancing like you’d plugged them in. It watched those movies all day. When he was calm, the other horse behaved more than not, and stopped fighting each other so much. He watched TV every night just like a person. it wasn’t long before we started calling him Steve Martin. It was the kind of funny we all needed.
Mucking out stalls, I got to like that horse. It would always gather my hand up in its lips and give it a wag. He liked to shake my hand. A couple of years later it was still there. We couldn’t sell it on account of other people not willing to play Steve Martin movies for Steve Martin. One guy was going to send him to be butchered. I couldn’t bear it. I bought the horse and Caleb let me keep him on the farm and, and that was good for everyone. Weird horse, and I started to get to where I wanted to ride with him. We’d go down to the Side-Saddle Drive-In and set up on a hill just beyond the fence. People thought it was curious, and sooner than not an intern at the local paper ran an article with pictures of Steve in his blanket, watching a TV in his stall.
Caleb got a letter from Animal Planet. They wanted to run a story on him. That’s another story, but needless to say, Steve Martin was the funniest person I ever met once they said, “Action.” The segment was so popular that the royalties took Caleb and daughter back from the brink of money troubles they’d had as of late. Caleb even let Tracy bring her classes on the farm to meet the Movie Star. I’d let it steal my hat and it would make me count how much I owed it. I’d feed it wads of hay like dollars and count them out, and I’d short him, but he’d give an extra stomp as I walked away and I’d have to give him one more mouthful. Then it’d steal my hat again. We did this for buyers.
“But I’m a tapas chef. How would I know anything about movie production? That’s why I didn’t go into that part of the story. Listen, my wrists are hurting really, really bad.” In truth, it was agony. “Couldn’t you just tie me to the bed? You are making a lot of strange demands. Just take my bling and car keys and cut me down. Please don’t hurt me.”
[the whole time I’m looking at a pistol pointed at my face] He says it aint funny.
“Well, I thought it was funny. That’s why I was laughing. I wasn’t laughing at you. I swear on my mother. [the gun is moving closer so I had to do something, so I had to holler i was so scared] Well, that’s not fair. I actually was born in Mississippi. I was born a poor black child in Mississippi!”
Something like a tornado with hooves blasted in through the front door, which crashes down atop the burglar sitting in my wicker Adams Family throne, pinned down underneath it. He lay there bleeding from the ears. Steve Martin starts nibbling at the chair.
It takes me a minute to register what I’d just seen. My wrists were killing me, hanging from the sprinkler pipe in the kitchen. If I could get up on the horse, I could shimmy down to the elbow and maybe get free. I called him over,
“St. Louis, How Far are You Going?”
It wagged its lips at me and spit, ambled off the door, dropping the chunk of chair from its mouth. I swung my legs up onto his back and got them underneath me enough to take the weight off the ropes binding my hands together, groaning. We walked back a couple of feet to where I could work the ropes against the sprinkler.
Then I woke up.