Thursday, February 26, 2009

When Research Crosses the Ick Factor

I have to do some research for a chapter I need to write in the manuscript I am currently working on. Now, when I say "research" I often mean "experience." Much of what I research cannot be done online or from books. I do not write historical stories. I do not write paranormal or science fiction, I write about carriage drivers set in a real city working for a company based loosely on the one I work for. My main character is a widow with brain damage who is missing her left foot. I am not any of these things (okay, people who know me will argue about the "brain damage" trait…) But, be that as it may, I can pull many of the events that occur from real life.

One example of my research:

I got a tattoo because I needed to experience what it was like. Ended up I did not use the "experience" in a scene but it made me more appreciative of the process. And what I discovered was this: The "pain" was not that big of a deal (although my Tat was placed in a meaty part of my body, so it did not entail much nerve/bone contact, which I understand amps up the "owie" factor exponentially) What I did learned was this: The itching while your tattoo heals surpasses the boredom, pain, and other mildly annoying things one puts up with during and after the process. No one told me this. In fact, the itching was never even mentioned by anyone. So, that’s was what I learned from that specific endeavor. And you cannot scratch it— it scuffs the ink.

Another example of my research was unintentional, but informative. I try to visit former carriage driver Wease twice a year. She lives in the beautiful Cache Valley 90 minutes north of me. On my last visit I was accompanied by The Fabulous Todd. Now, several of my minor characters are gay. So is TFT. During our weekend visit I learned more about the life of a homosexual man than, as a middle aged heterosexual woman, I ever needed to know. I will not elaborate, but I will never be able to watch baseball the same way again. Anyway, the one thing I took away from our weekend is the phrase "Strictly Dickly," which it turns out applied not only to TFT (never had sex with a woman, only men) also applies to me. It will be used in dialog in the current WIP.

Now I need to research a funeral. Not your everyday, "Great Aunt Mildred died, we're going to her wake, we're bringing a casserole" kind of a thing, but specifically utilizing a horse drawn hearse during a quasi-military funeral. For this I need to have three things aligned:

1) Someone has to die
2) They had to have been a member of the military
3) The family wants to incorporate a horse drawn hearse in the ceremony.

Not as easy as it sounds.

So I have asked Ro, barn manager extraordinaire, to include me, if at all possible, the next time these three pre-requisites are met. She advised me to pick the brain of the carriage company owner because he is an encyclopedia of knowledge concerning these tributes, as he should be. Knowing proper procedure and protocol is essential when bestowing honor.

We do "regular" funerals;

Uncle Bob was a horse lover; his family knows he would have appreciated the gesture, so they hire us to carry the casket to Bob's final resting place. This type of thing I can get first hand from Ro. She is a widow, and the carriage company performed this service for her at her husband's funeral. So she has described the event for me. But that, to me, is not the same as riding up top with the driver, viewing the cemetery from that vantage point. Watching the mourners walking behind the hearse. The smell of the flowers, the feel of the wind, the sound of the wheels on the asphalt/gravel/dirt as we slowly roll down the road/path/pasture we are driving on.

Because considerable time has passed and her emotional wounds have healed, I can talk to Ro about aspects of her husband's passing; the anger she felt about the way the Utah Highway Patrol informed her. The shock, the disbelief, the panic at realizing that she was a widow and their six-month old son was now fatherless. The relief she felt because her friend was there with her the day she received the autopsy report in the mail. The utter lost and fragile feeling she experienced while waiting in the social security office, papers in hand, baby on her hip, to file a claim. The overwhelming reality of it all.

So my question is this: When does research take a dive and end up as morbid curiosity?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Rex, the Dumpster Diving Crack Horse.

Rex came from a competing company, and that's what the drivers called him.

You've seen a picture of Rex, but I don't talk much about him. There is a simple explanation for that;

We don't like each other.

Mind you, not liking Rex the Dumpster Diving Crack Horse has nothing to do with respect, because I have a lot of that for him.

Rex and I worked a wedding one Christmas season (we don't typically do weddings during Christmas; too PITA) where we had to take the bride and groom from JSB to, are you sitting? Their reception at The Sizzler. No, no, it's not some tres chic five star French Restaurant with a similar sounding name as the cheap steak/baked potato/all you can eat shrimp and Malibu chicken place. It is the same place. You know, lots of hunter green, mauve and fern décor. The bride and groom, dead ringers for the models from Grant Woods "American Gothic" (although younger and wearing wedding attire not depression era farm clothing)

were as peppy and enthusiastic as dry, white toast.
Rex and I took them first to their reception, then we wandered around that end of town for a while. Rex was not too happy being away from his herd for so long, so we paced around the parking lot of Firestone so he could see his reflection and faked him into thinking there was a surly looking red horse walking around in circles next to him. Eventually we returned Chez Sizzler and pick them up, taking them back to JSB.

I asked for Rex when I knew that we would be filmed in a promotional spot for our local ABC affiliate. Having already been in a UTA (Utah Transit Authority) commercial, and numerous wedding videos, I knew there was some equipment that the horses are not too crazy about, like big floppy reflectors. So I took Rex, and he was great, although he got much more screen time than I did, but I'm okay with that.

Another time I was the recipient of a reservation which involved me and a horse to stand around Memory Grove for anywhere from .30 to .60 minutes, have photos taken, then drive the Bride less than 500 yards down the lane to where the vows were to be taken, drop her and leave. I specifically asked for Rex.

Now, if I don't like him so much why, you ask, do I keep requesting him as my co worker?

Because Rex doesn't give a shit. About anything. Fireworks, balloons, big round shiny things, dogs, kids, nothing. He doesn't care if you like him, you hate him, you give him treats or you don't. He even tolerates Marky-Marks hat fetish.

And he is especially good at standing around doing nothing for hours, which is actually a lot harder for a horse than it sounds. When they get bored they tend to get a little edgy after a while and want to get back to their buddies. It's really annoying when you've got a photo shoot and your horse has antsy pants.

There are two really great features about Rex. Now, have you ever heard people refer to a horse as having a "Kind Eye"? Yeah… Rex doesn't have that; he has a shifty, squinty, "I wish I had a thumb so I could knife you" eye. But he does have a naturally curly tail, which is very pretty, and his coat stays sleek all year so even in the worst conditions he's easy to clean up.

So, to sum up:

Cons: Nasty disposition, lazy, surly shifty eyes.
Pros: Curly tail, coat that cleans easily, able to stand around loafing for hours on end.

Come to think of it, we don't get along because we're a lot alike.
Except my tail's not curly.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

All in a Nights Work

Sorry, constant readers, not much to blog about this week. I've been busy with the usual crap, writing, sleeping, doing the things one has to do to maintain their day to day stuff. On the upside, I am working tonight. It was supposed to be me and The Fabulous Todd, but he has a standing appointment with his personal trainer, so he bagged last week. I do however get to work with Marky-Mark.

You remember Marky-Mark, right? If not here is a visual.

I imagine that neither Marky-Mark or Rex will be wearing the Santa hats. However, Marky-Mark does require his equine co-worker to wear some kind of chapeau. The choice waffles between a Cowboy hat that looks like he stole it from a drunk chick at a Kenny Chesney concert, or a black faux-leather number that would have made Freddy Mercury weep with envy. One day Marky-Mark will amass a collection rivaled only by The Village People. I imagine that a warrior feather bonnet will be his next acquisition in his collection of prêt-a-porter. But that’s okay with me, because we all have an angle, and Marky-Mark snags all the customers with young children. I appreciate that, because hauling around a carriage with screaming, sticky children whipped into a Mountain-Dew sugar and caffeine induced frenzy is not my idea of a pleasant evening. I'll take a carriage full of drunks any day. They're less annoying and tip so much better.

And besides I haven't seen Marky-Mark since Christmas.

There is also a newbie working with us tonight, which is always fun. Last time I worked with him I was at the top of the "Most Hated Carriage Driver" list because I kept snagging rides and, well, he didn't.

Oh well. If this job was easy, everybody would be doing it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Barn Trek: The Wrath of Stan

I had another rendezvous with Buzz today, and in honor of President's Day, I brought my Vet-wanna-be. She got to hold Dreamer, and I got to take pictures. I used her camera, which is why the photos are a higher quality than you have been used to.
We arrived and to our delight we were greeted by this cutie pie;

My Kid and Mrs. Mare's kid had a conversation (probably about lousy mothers)

Sorry, but the adorable factor is out of the park here and I'm not usually an "adorable" addict so bare with me for one last saccharine photo op…

Okay, I think I'm done. So we pulled Dreamer out of his paddock and of course he had his usual fit, being denied the comfort and companionship of his girlfriend, Missy. So he did a lot of whining. But he'll get over it.
You can see from this photo the scope of Stan's occupation:

Then Buzz, our Vet, got busy filling the small spritzer from the Jug-O-Nitrogen. We like the festive crackling sound it makes when he splashes it on the ground and it freezes the mud to the point where you can crack it with a hammer.

Then Dreamer got his fix. He's not the most co-operative of patients, and can be a real pain in the ass. So Buzz slips him a Rufie, and in no time at you have this:

So Buzz started to work on Stan, and I got what I consider to be a beautiful shot; I don't know if the resolution will transfer over to the net, but I love the mist left hanging in the air from the liquid nitrogen, and the frosty look of Stan.

And here is a close up of a Stan-cicle… Buzz peeled a chunk off of him and we took it home and froze it so next month The Kid can take it into Biology and look at it under a microscope just for funzies.

Yeah, I know we're weird people but it works for us, Okay?

And finally here is another photo of Dreamer, looking very brave, considering he didn't get a Lolly-Pop when it was over.

But he did get an apple.
And The Kid and I? We got pedicures.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cletus, Master of the Urineverse

Content Advisory Warning:

If you are eating while reading this or have issues with bodily functions, you might want to skip this particular blog.

However, if you have ever been a parent, janitor, pet owner, or worked for Dy-Dee Wash, jump right in, the, um, waters warm…

Cletus is my favorite co-worker. He has a work ethic that surpasses even the most dedicated human I've ever been employed with. He has his quirks, like most of us do, but once you understand him, it's okay.

Cletus is leery of box trucks (Fed-Ex, UPS, moving vans, etc.) but only if they are parked and the back door is open. When they are in traffic they just blend in with the rest of the vehicles flying by the carriage. And when you examine a parked truck, from a horse's perspective, I can understand where he's coming from. The monster lies motionless for its prey, huge mouth agape, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to saunter by. Cletus has witnessed the Truckasaurous eat people! Stupid people who have actually walked into its jaws to certain death!

Apparently he's blocked out the part where the people escape, usually carrying a package or piece of furniture.

So when we pass these predators he's always a little suspicious, eyeballing them the entire time until the danger has passed, convinced that they hunger for a tasty snack of non-vigilant draft horse.

He also has a thing about urination. The horses are discouraged from urinating while staging at South Gate. Why? Have you ever smelled horse urine? Besides the vast quantity of fluid that their bladders can hold, it's very pungent. And once one horse "goes" it sets off a chain reaction, and the next thing you know we have our own little river of toxic waste cascading down the gutter. Not exactly an appealing atmosphere to sell rides in. Or, you know, breathe.

So the horses urinate while stopped in traffic. This, I tell my trainees, is why we never stop in the crosswalk, always behind it. And, on a sunny cloudless summer day, if you do step in a big foamy puddle in the middle of an otherwise dry street, that's your punishment for jaywalking. See? You shoulda crossed at the light. No one but yourself to blame.

Anyway, two stories about Cletus and his urine.

The first happened several summers ago. It was a Saturday, warm and beautiful. Cletus and I were very busy, and I knew he had to pee because there are signs:
When we stop for a red light he lifts his tail and "drops." For you non-horsey types, that means his penis descends from its warm little home and hangs down to do the deed. Most of the time from our vantage point this goes unnoticed because the tail is blocking the drivers view. But Cletus has a tail that is crooked. It looks like at some point in his life it was broken, so when he lifts his tail it actually moves several inches to the left, thus allowing an unencumbered view.

Remember, I drive around town staring at a big hairy ass all night. So, you know, you have to find entertainment where you can.

So we had been very busy and every time we stopped for a red light he would begin his pre-peeing preparations and the light would turn green. I tried several times to make his wait and pee but as I have previously said, he's got a great work ethic and apparently to him that means if the light is green we go.

Oh, yeah, the horses know when the light changes. I don't know how; we have our theories, but no one has handed us a muli-million dollar Pell grant to investigate it further, so…

We made it up to Memory Grove, our destination, and back again. My passengers, a young couple, were enjoying the ride, and as we came around a curve I noticed that Cletus had his tail up and had "dropped".

Now, I have never seen a horse urinate while walking. Ours all stop to pee. Most of them can poop while walking (except for Charlie who comes to a full and complete stop to unload, apparently unable to multitask) but peeing on the fly? Not so much.

So Cletus dropped and began to let loose a stream of urine. Oh, and did I tell you that when they "go" they tend to get a little, um, stiff? So Cletus is walking, sporting his stiffie, and urinating. Now, this is where physics comes into play. Because while he's walking, his ding-a-ling is swaying gently to and fro, spraying both of his back hooves and legs with a warm stream of liquid, which really never happens while we're working. Splashing, yes, there is after all a certain amount of PSI unleashed when they piss. But actually hitting them full force on the legs, not really.

I, sitting up top, find this whole scenario fascinating because I have never witnessed a horse walk and pee.

Cletus, apparently not a student of "cause and effect", begins to do a little dance with his back end because he is thinking: "Something's spraying me!!!" This, due to the laws of physics, sends his penis on an even larger arc of sway (the pendulum effect) and it begins to whack him on the inside of his back legs, catapulting him into an even more frenzied bunny hop because now his thought is: "Something's touching me!!!"

I, up top, am doubled over with laughter, at which point my passengers ask, "What's so funny?"

This makes me convulse even more because, let's face it, shall we? It's taken me more than 800 words to bring you to this point, so a one sentence explanation is not going to cut it, and to tell the truth not everyone would find this amusing. There is, after all, a certain "Ick" factor at work here. That would be why I started this story with the Content Advisory Warning. A urine induced River Dance is just not that funny to the average Joe.

So, I stop, Cletus finishes, and we all live happily ever after in a Urine-Event-Free society. Until last Tuesday night.

This one is a little shorter. I had an appointment, with the pickup at The Melting Pot. You might have one in your town. It's a chain of Fondu restaurants. Kind of pricy, and dinner takes about two hours to eat. So I got there about eight minutes early, and pulled Cletus up just past the space for the Valet Parking guys. We usually get along with them all right. I parked Cletus next to a grey sedan. I looked at the trunk of the car, and it has a weird looking "B" on it, which reminded me of the "B" that the Boston Red Sox have on their hats, but a different color. I took a look at the car and thought "Buick?" Naaa, and the "B" was bookended by what looked like wings, so I thought maybe some kid had stuck a sticker on Dad's trunk. Mind you, I've never said I was into cars. Could I pick the Lamborghini from the Ferrari? Probably not, but I'm pretty sure I could pick the Porsche from the Ford.

Anyway, I noticed that Cletus, once he had established that we were stopped, had chosen this opportunity to pee. I looked over at the restaurant windows and was a little relieved to see that the patron's sight-line was blocked by the grey car, so their dining enjoyment would not be ruined by my horses bladder Olympics. Of course there is a bit of splash factor to take into account when he goes potty but the streets were wet from the recent snowfall, so it wouldn't be too obvious. Checking the time I turned to the Valet and said, "I have a pickup at seven, so I'll be out of your way in a couple of minutes."

The valet responded, "You're okay. Just going to hang out by the Bentley, huh?"

Me: (Gulp) looking at the grey car, "Is that what that is?" I might not know what they look like but I recognize that "Cha-ching" sound.

The nice valet said, "Yes." And like most of them, who are in contact with famous people all the time (because famous people don't park their own cars at nice restaurants) he likes to kiss and tell. "Are you a Jazz fan?" he asks. (Utah Jazz, NBA team. Not, you know, a Jazz fan like Kenny G jazz)

"No, not really, but if you say a name…"

"It belongs to Andre Kirilenko."

Good job, Cletus, splashing piss all over the door of Andre Kirilenko's Bentley. Not to mention the puddle…

I thought about it for a minute and decided to come clean.

"You might want to tell him to wipe his feet before he gets in."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stan, the Short Timer

I went out to see Stan today. Of course in order to see Stan I also get to see my horseman, Dreamer.

He was in the pen with his Lady Friends, and we have a cold front moving in so I didn’t stay very long. I have to take The Kid to an open house at the local community college so we can learn about the classes she needs to take to get a license as a Veterinary Technician. Ultimately she wants to be a Veterinarian, but getting certified as a Vet Tech will be the litmus test to see if she really wants to go through all the years of school to accomplish it. Plus then she can “earn while she learns” which is good for us, because I think the tuition costs will, in the end, be far greater than any residual “Free Vet Services” we’ll receive in return for the college fund. Of course, having access to a syringe full of the “Pink Stuff” will be her leverage for keeping us in line in our old age. Not commenting on piercings, tattoos and choice of boyfriends lest we awaken one night to find her putting us to sleep.

Anyway, back to Stan. I arrived armed with my trusty Handycam and a pocket full of carrots. This was both a good and bad idea. The carrots make it so I don’t have to slog through the muck. However, it also made it almost impossible to get a good shot of Stan. Why? Because I got to see a lot of this:

He really likes his carrots.

So in between trying to hold carrots above my head to get a photo and avoiding losing fingers mistaken as treats, I did manage to get this:

Stan is looking a little dark these days, which Ro, who was at one time a Vet Tech, tells me is good. It means that Stan is slowly dying. He sure looks ugly doing it.

I finished Stan’s photo shoot at the same time I ran out of treats. Actually I had to, because every time I tried to take another shot of Stan there was a huge nostril in my way.

And of course, when Dreamer and his GF’s realized that the well had run dry, I got “The Pout.”

So I left, feeling like a heel, because I had not brought a wheelbarrow full of carrots. But before I got off of the property I took a few more shots.

This is the view from the barn.

It is a fourteen million-dollar facility built by the department of parks and recreation.

When we first moved here I drove a Le Baron convertible, which I loved. But after my first spring in Utah, I bought a Jeep wrangler. Why? Because I wanted a convertible, but to see my horse I had to slog through this:

Which makes the Jeep look like this:

But it’s all good. Because of the Jeep, whenever I want to I get to see him.