Down On The Farm
Two years ago, I would have been sitting on the couch in my comfortable Columbia home, suffering through yet another Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, while my parents and their friends ignored us kids and drank champagne and beer and nibbled on crackers and cheese. If we had stayed in Howard County, this year my friends and I might have driven up to Baltimore to check out the fireworks and maybe tried to sneak into Hammerjacks. Instead, I'm sitting in a short, scraggly tree, in the middle of a Deep South cattle farm, shivering from the cold, and being stalked by demonic horses. While I knew moving to Columbus, Miss., thanks to a job transfer for my father, would result in some culture shock, this I could not have expected.
In the summer of 1988, between the ninth and 10th grades, we packed up our stuff and moved to a large, beautiful home just outside downtown Columbus (a dollar goes much further in Mississippi). After a rough sophomore year making ill-fated attempts to fit in with my private school's jocks and future debutantes, I ended up hanging with the Columbus area's few, widely scattered skaters, goths, metalheads, etc. Widely scattered meant that some of my friends lived on farms, and so this thoroughly suburbanized kid from Maryland, instead of getting a fake ID and trying to get into the 9:30 Club on weekends, spent much of the latter half of his high-school years surrounded by acres of land without much to do besides get into trouble.
On New Year's Eve 1989-'90, I spent the night at my friend Marsh's house with several other pals, doing what any other stupid teenage boys would do: We got loaded, drove out into the pasture, and shot bottle rockets and Roman candles at each other. After about an hour of fireworks warfare, besides some singed fingers and minor burns, everything was going fine--until we heard the clippity-clomp of horses galloping.
"Ben left the horses out!" Marsh yelled, referring to his older brother, who took care of the cattle farm's few horses. (Side note: Ben eventually became a blacksmith for New York police horses in Central Park, which has to be the coolest job ever.) "Get up in the trees!"
The rest of us looked at him like he was crazy. As town kids, Bryant, I.V., and I didn't know the danger of horses running wild in the dark, but Marsh knew better than us, so we followed his advice. After climbing into some of the trees that dotted the field--apparently the pickup was too far away to make a run for it--Marsh breathlessly explained how screwed we were.
"The horses--run at--any sound--or movement--they sense," he said, finally catching his breath. "And it completely sucks to get stomped, trust me." He told us about the times he and his brothers had gotten kicked or nearly trampled, and said we had to sit in the trees until either morning or, getting lucky, someone noticed we were missing. As it was past midnight, Marsh's father and Ben, both early-to-bed, early-to-rise men, were not likely to come looking for us.
So we settled in. I.V. and I each had a pretty solid branch to ourselves in one medium-sized tree, while, about 10 feet away, Marsh and Bryant shared a single spindly branch in a smaller, Charlie Brown-style tree. After a while, the four horses, perhaps hearing us, or maybe just finding some grass worth chewing on, closed in on the trees and walked around and between them for what felt, quite inaccurately, like hours. Even though the horses just looked kind of bored, I.V., besides myself the most citified of us, freaked out, tearing up at times. Picking up on his paranoia, Bryant, the most stoned among us, as always, conjured up visions of coal-black fire-breathing equines from hell. It was actually kind of fun.
Eventually, as the clippity-clomps receded far enough away in the opposite direction, Marsh announced, "I'm going for the truck." Due to our freakouts and THC-addled brains, we were convinced that lightning-fast beast-horses would run Marsh down. "Don't do it," at least one of us muttered. But no, he made it to the truck with no problem, came around to pick us up, and we got back to his house and to bed, finally, by 3 a.m.
The young mind is pretty adaptable, and I handled my years in the Magnolia State--besides for some incidents with Neanderthal-minded teachers--rather well. Despite spending three years knee-deep in blatant racism and some other pretty backward behavior, I'm not scarred for life, and had some swell times while there.
Though there was that incident, again on Marsh's farm, this time on Halloween night, that involved drenching rain, rubber gloves, a cow giving birth, and buckets of blood, but I'll save that for another time.
The 2009 City Paper Holiday Guide
The Gifts That Count (11/18/2009)
The presents that have stayed in our writers' thoughts
The Wish List (11/18/2009)
Gifts we wish we could afford
War Profits (9/10/2008)
New Biography Reveals WWII's Toll On Willie & Joe Cartoonist Bill Mauldin
Murder Ink (8/20/2008)
Baltimore Sun Pops Zippy the Pinhead (8/14/2008)
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