Thursday Schooling

 

I arrive at the horse show in Vermont just before the horses do. It is raining vigorously. There are just two client horses coming with the commercial shipper, and I watch from inside the barn as they are unloaded. I lend a hand stretching a tarp over our hay. I step in to help carry a big box of tack.  I unwrap my horse’s legs.  The show groom tells me where I can find scissors to cut the twine that holds a bale of hay and asks me to give a couple of horses a flake each. She also confides that this is her last show with our barn because she is giving notice on Monday and moving to a new job. I don’t want it to be true, so I quickly decide I must have misunderstood her. I want to wait for my trainer to show up with his horses before I get on, but I can lunge. Gidget stands quietly for a quick grooming and I walk her to the lungeing ring.  

She reacts to the new place, giving the rain-gorged creek her most crooked parrot-eye, answering the whinny of another horse, letting a passing tractor blow the wind up her skirt. The show facility has a new lungeing area, shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. I’m clumsy with the gate latch. I walk Gidget into the center of the lungeing ring, into the bend in the bean, and stop her to adjust the side reins, which are new, so I’m guessing at what hole they should be on. I remember to walk with her in a large circle, showing her the situation counterclockwise and then clockwise. Gidget settles into working on a circle, trotting and then cantering, with me in the center. A big truck blasts by on Route 106, and my mare celebrates with a buck and a fart and a surge of galloping with her tail straight up. I hold on. I get her back to trotting, and then ask her to walk. I stop her and adjust the side reins again and take Gidget over to the other side of the ring shaped like a rectangle on three sides and a bean on the fourth,  making room for our trainer who has arrived with his horse.

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Didn’t it rain?

A friendly staff member of the facility comes and asks how the new footing is. We tell him it’s good. He explains how the lungeing area ended up shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. We both finish and go back to our barn to take off the side reins. 

We get on and ride into one of the show rings, because this is what everyone does on arrival day at a show. The same friendly staff member comes, shouting and shaking his fist at us, saying that the ring isn’t open, and we’re gonna ruin the footing, what with the rain. I go tour the property instead, letting my horse see everything I can. She snorts like a crocodile at the dairy cows at the farm across the street. When it’s time to put the horses away, I think about when the friendly staff member had almost finished the new lungeing ring and had three straight sides of fencing up and someone came along and told him that people want a curved shape for lungeing. I wish I could picture him farting and running or snorting like a crocodile, but I can only see him raising his eyebrows or shaking his fist.

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I think Vermont is still one of those places that we’re supposed to write poems about. You’ve got time to, if you live there, because mobile phone coverage is spotty at best, and high speed internet is a rare and prized luxury.  I lived there in the eighties, before I cared about the internet and I still wrote poems regularly. My poems were about the biting black flies in the mountains and the crabby yankees who were my neighbors in the city and no one ever read them. Then I got a paying job, and threw myself at adulthood, and (mostly) stopped writing (but especially poems).

Gidget marched around the show ring six times over the next few days, and by the last trip had mostly gotten over the creek, and the tractors, and the too-fast trucks. The cows will still be there next year. I did not misunderstand the show groom, and I will miss her.

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Wednesday on the Road

I can’t find a to-go cup for my coffee. I’m juggling my car keys and my phone, and I say goodbye to the dogs. “Be good,” I say. They look at me like they won’t.

It’s 75F at 7 am and raining in bursts like a car wash. I keep trying to turn the wipers up, and they don’t go any faster. I spill a couple of spoonfuls of coffee out of my cup  and three long trails traverse the dashboard. I plug in my phone and it plays that one Clem Snide song (1989) instead of the book I’m trying to read. A Toyota pulls up to the red light ahead of me, pauses to look without stopping completely and runs the red. 

I fight with the phone-car interface and get another song, Billie Holiday singing “You Go to my Head.” On the way to the barn it plays five, six times. I sing along for parts of it. It is my car’s second favorite song.

At the barn my arm gets soaked punching the buttons at the locked gate. I am there to put sport tape on my horse for her trip up to Vermont. Staff ask me what it is and why I’m doing it and what it’s supposed to do.  I run out of explanations and say simply that it can’t hurt and might help.

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Equi-Tape

I stop for breakfast at a diner where a handwritten sign on the door says they don’t take credit cards. I order eggs. The waitress calls me hon when I ask for the restroom. There is no mobile coverage here. The music asks do you like piña coladas and says she’s a rich girl but it’s gone too far. Sweet home Alabama and my coffee cup is refilled three times.

Enter a caption

She brings the check during desperado and it’s for $10.31.

Gimme the beat boys that frees my soul I wanna get lost in your rock and roll when I put my raincoat back on.

I have cash and I’m out of here, but I do buy the five flavors roll of Lifesavers at the register, and this is the ticket to 1972, when the rainbow roll of Lifesavers was my favorite.

Despite the three cups of diner coffee, I’m feeling a little sleepy when I get in the car.

The navigation software has failed to hold onto the route I picked and tries to send me to the big boring interstate, back down the Taconic the way I came. I pull a U-ey and head north without anything but a vague sense that it’s the right way to go. 

Some Time Travel

 

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This was one of the first pieces of furniture we owned, and our TV, with antenna, showing a broadcast re-run of the Addams Family. Note no cable, no VCR, and no CD-player, just an amp and a turntable. The Sony Walkman Pro is on the bottom shelf.

In the mid-1980s I was a broke, over-worked graduate student at the University of Utah and it was here that I discovered Dr. Who. The local PBS station played two of the old, serialized episodes at 10 pm, and it was the one hour a day I allowed myself as a break in my studies. My first Doctors Who were Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. I’ve enjoyed all the doctors, though.

When I saw the recent news that the next regeneration of the doctor is to be played by a woman, it was on Twitter, from the BBC. I cried. We’re not talking misty-eyed, either—I had tears rolling down both cheeks. Until I saw the announcement I didn’t realize it meant anything to me.

And then I saw a re-post of the news that the creator of Dr Who wanted a female doctor back in 1986.

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1987, University of Utah

In the parallel timeline where the new doctor in 1986 is a woman, I decide to stick it out at the University of Utah, despite the lack of any female professors or half-way decent mentorship. In that world, dammit, I bust my ass, got my PhD, and finish by 1992.

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After that, my first teaching position is at a small liberal arts college in New England, and we move there with our two cats. My husband starts his own software company.

We don’t have our first kid until a couple of years after that, and my husband never joins Microsoft. He works for himself. In this timeline, the Xbox is never invented.

By the early 2000s, I’m teaching someplace else. I’ve dutifully been publishing articles in algebraic topology, but I take a year off to have a second kid and write a middle-grades science fiction novel. My husband takes his enthusiasm for the potential of new, more powerful mobile devices and changes the focus of his business. By the time Apple introduces the iPad, his company is on its third generation of tablets.

When Twitter launches in 2009, my publisher suggests I establish a presence there. I’ve written two picture books and four YA novels by then. I’m very busy with teaching, advising, and book tours. I tweet about my black cat Hilbert, and my two vizslas Rágógumi and Káposzta, but not every day. Only careful readers of my books know about my love/hate relationship with cooking, because the characters in them fumble the eggs, burn the toast, and serve creamed chipped beef on toast which no one eats. I do not invent the hashtag ragecook. And while Káposzta, called Kápi for short, is photogenic, I’m still packing lunch and driving to piano lessons, so I don’t have time for a daily photo of him.

 

I held the elevator door

What I saw: two guys, Broseph and Chad. Broseph filled the opening of the elevator door like a tank-top-wearing storm cloud, blocking the light from the sun. Chad blew in behind him, dressed in an American flag-striped polo, almost as big but pinker, because of the acne he was too old for.

What I did beforehand: flew to Florida, had dinner alone, wandered the forlorn aisles of the next-door liquor store, ducked a clerk watching a telenovela set in ancient plastic Egypt who called out to me repeatedly asking if I needed help finding anything. It wasn’t until I was driving home that it occurred to me I might have asked her about finding an amateur-friendly horse, under ten years old, nice enough to show in the dressage ring. Or better, why are we here, any of us? I should have asked her that.

IMG_2162What I wore: black suede Pumas, capri-length jeans, black tee shirt, scowl

Where I sat: the exit row

Who went with me: pocket friends

How I got tickets: a couple of weeks ago I saw an ad for a horse and contacted the sales agent about it. Within hours of my booking a trip to try it, I got two messages from friends saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” and suggesting I go try it. It seemed fortuitous.

What it is: dressage horse shopping these days has become like an obscure subculture of internet dating, and is facilitated by an open Facebook group. You read ads, look at videos, show them to your trainer and friends, saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” You talk to people on the phone, and sometimes even fly to other cities on the chance that they’ve got the horse you’re looking for. You wonder if you’re crazy. You hope you’re going to be safe. I tried horses on one previous trip that I couldn’t really steer and on another trip, a horse that wouldn’t stop. The people I’ve met doing this have been extremely pleasant and nice and as open to the weirdness of some random, unknown person showing up to ride their horse as I have had to be to the weirdness of riding some random, unknown horse.

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Things that were not funny: a group of construction workers crossed my path as they passed from the pool deck to the interior of the hotel. I was dressed in riding clothes, and more than one of them felt it would be ok to make “appreciative” hissing noises about me.

Things that were sad: dinner alone next to the mating turtle salt-and-pepper shakers at a strip mall Thai restaurant.

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Things that were funny: trying to convince the owner of the Thai restaurant to make my food spicy enough.

Something I ate: massaman curry that was actually spicy enough

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What about the horse: that story is to come.

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What happened on the elevator: when Broseph and Chad stepped onto the elevator with me, they thought I was holding the door open for them. Really I was pressing the button for my floor. So they thanked me, and I said, “Sure.”

Then the door closed, revealing a big ad for the hotel chain we were in, with the word “selfie” and a dog wearing sunglasses. I said, “You know, a dog can’t really take a selfie. No thumbs.”

Chad agreed. “I know, right?” said he, adding, “It’s like anything can be anything these days.”

As I stepped off the elevator, I threw in, “I mean….Look who’s president.”

I left the cat in charge

What I did: like you know, last year, a barn friend, S., invited me to join her on this trip to Florida to watch the winter circuit horse show, shop, and do sunshine; I was like, “Pick me,” but then couldn’t get shit organized at home. I have pets and sourdough to feed, don’t you know. This year, I said yes, and left the cat in charge.


What I did beforehand: you don’t have to leave written instructions for the cat. I figured the dogs would  let him know when they were hungry or needed to crap someplace other than the kitchen floor.

What I packed: sunscreen, gray jeans, white J. Crew linen swimsuit coverup, bathing suit, yoga clothes, three polo shirts, underwear and socks.

Something I packed and didn’t wear: a sun hat.

Something I ran out of: shirts.


Who went with me: S. and K. from the barn. S.’s friend D. joined us from Germany. 

How I got tickets: online, from JetBlue, at the end of November.

Why I saw this show: I think S. wanted us to be able to see the FEI  Grand Prix CDI 5* at the 2017 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, FL, which we saw, in addition to the Grand Prix freestyle competition. 

Where I sat: in the bleachers and in the VIP tent, because S. is well-connected through volunteer leadership work she does for the Jewish World Games. 

Where I stayed: at the Casa Passivo-Aggressivo, a bed and breakfast  in West Palm Beach which you should not confuse with the nearby Passivo-Aggressivo Bed and Breakfast, just a couple of blocks away. And don’t mention the confusion to your hosts, because the rivalry is old and bitter.

We were told we couldn’t have breakfast, 
which was included with our rooms, 
because we didn’t tell them the night 
before what time we wanted it. 

Things that were not funny: hearing S. explain that the Jewish World Games have been around since the 1930s and how Jews might want their own international sports competition, and, of course, why. She’s quite upbeat and polite. Then there was like this famous trainer who I met at a barn visit on S.’s World Jewish Games business, who was sure we’d met.

Things that were interesting: S.’s friend D. whispered to me all about what to look for in a correctly ridden and trained Grand Prix horse and told me that she thinks this one famous U.S. Olympic Dressage rider SP is an artist; he took third in both classes we saw him compete in.

Things that were sort of funny: K.’s connections got us seats at a super cool fundraiser where we were assigned to sit at SP’s table. I could only imagine myself saying something I would regret, so I didn’t have the courage to talk to him, but S. did. He was very nice, and so was his staff who also sat at our table.

Things that were not actually funny: a second snowstorm rolled into New York while we were all in Florida and our flight back on Sunday was cancelled. JetBlue sent us emails saying they’d re-book us, but we didn’t trust them to get us home in time for our obligations so we all scrambled to get back on the same flight only on Monday. By the time we heard from JetBlue, they’d booked us to leave several days later.

That thing where you go for a goofy selfie
and your friend doesn’t 
Things that were cool:  S. wanted a ride to the show grounds on a golf cart because she wanted to experience everything, and we got it on the bonus day. The benefit show featured a group that works horses at liberty, up to eight at a time. It was beautiful and exciting and I could hear horse people at other tables comparing the performer’s control over her herd to their own horses. 

Something I ate: there were these short-rib empanadas being passed by a woman carrying a tray that we had to chase around the room.

Something I didn’t eat: breakfast at our B&B.

Casa Passivo-Aggressivo hospitality 
included notes that appeared on the doors. 


Who should see it: fans of dressage. 

What I saw on the way home: the Atlantic Ocean, which is acidifying as a result of global warming. The last half hour of the flight was super bumpy because of a windstorm, but the flight attendant said they knew what they were doing so I just tried to close my eyes and deal with it. A woman in the row ahead of me whooped and commented about the bigger bumps. I wanted her to shut up. At least the kitchen floor was clean when I got home.


I stayed at the Waldorf Astoria

Elevator Selfie Ceiling 
Where I stayed: the venerated art-deco icon Waldorf Astoria. On Park Avenue at 48th Street in Manhattan. 

What I did beforehand: baked and didn’t burn the bread, riding lesson,  shower, dog walk, drove to town, dragged a wheelie bag along the freshly salted sidewalks, made the train with seconds to spare. 


What I wore: James jeans, black shirt, gray cardigan, Danner hiking boots, big parka, antique earrings that I broke when I took them off.



Who went with me: the Bacon Provider (see photo, top)

How I got there: walked up the Northwest Passage from Grand Central, taking two elevators up, one down, and a huge flight of stairs.



Why I stayed here: the Bacon Provider had an action-packed schedule in the city this week, with meetings starting at 7:45 a.m. and lasting until after dinner. 

Where I slept: here.



Things that were sad: the carpets are tired and stained. The lobby is poorly lit. Once, this was my father’s favorite high-end hotel in New York. I stayed here with him on the college visiting trip he took me on in 1980. We ate dinner in the hotel and there was a woman in a gown playing the harp. It had never occurred to me that anyone other than cartoon angels and Harpo Marx actually played the instrument before. Also, people looked at my dad and I kind of funny, not like we were a dad and his college-bound kid, but like he was a creepy 40 year old, and I his jail-bait girlfriend. 



Things that were funny: paying $25 for a champagne cocktail, and even ordering a second one. 


Things that were not funny: the serious guy carrying his fancy poodle to breakfast in a suitcase; the lack of outlets; finding a charge for a $36 shoe-shine on our bill at checkout. The Bacon Provider is extraordinarily particular about caring for his shoes, takes great pride in doing it himself, had no such shoe shine (which I knew without asking him), and when I disputed the charge the receptionist did not believe me, said that a charge like that could only appear on the bill with a manager’s approval, and did not remove it, despite telling me that she would.


Something I ate: continental breakfast



What it is: a fine, old, fancy hotel that will close in a few weeks for remodeling; most rooms are expected to become condos. The hotel was purchased for almost $2B by a Chinese insurance company

Who should see it: anyone who wants to reminisce about what seemed like classy, old-money luxury in the 1980s. Hurry.

The painting has a hole in it

What I saw on the way home: the bright winter sunlight made me carsick on the train. Or maybe I was just hungover. When’s the next election?


I stayed at the NU Hotel in Brooklyn

Where I stayed: the NU Hotel, in Downtown Brooklyn at 85 Smith Street, amidst the bail bonds places serving the nearby Brooklyn House of Detention. 


What I did beforehand: tried and failed to sleep in, had bad feelings about things, put pajamas and a toothbrush in a bag, did some driving, arrived and shit.



What I wore: a feeling of dread.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider. 

How I got reservations: online, a few days in advance. 



Why I stayed here: we had tickets to “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” at BAM.

Where I lounged: the room had a hammock. 



Things that were sad: I have had to learn to drink scotch.

Things that were funny: sleeping in a leather upholstered compartment.



Things that were not funny: how happy I was that there were two sinks.



Something I ate: brunch including Eggs Louie and duck fat potatoes at French Louie, around the corner.


What it is: a more stylish hotel than the nearby Hilton, at a deep discount compared to a similar place in Manhattan.


Who should see it: folks in need of a downtown Brooklyn hotel, easily accessible to many subway lines into Manhattan.


What I saw when I got home: my job as toilet paper replenisher is secure.