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Thursday, 12 October

I have, I must confess, unpleasant memories of horses. For a few years, encompassing the fourth grade through the seventh, I think, we lived on a horse ranch where part of the rental deal was taking care of some beautiful Arabians and a few other farm animals, including one memorably crabby bull that we dutifully fed until he got turned into steaks. The horses, perhaps picking up on this treachery, spent most of their time trying to murder me. Me--not their jailer--just the littlest, dumbest, and most vulnerable little schmoe who was stuck feeding them.

An early unfortunate memory doesn't even have to do with the gorgeous Arabians. It was, instead, an older Quarter horse, a proud American breed, strong and hellishly fast; think of them like Ford V-8s. My father was riding a really gentle old guy, a big roan that was no stranger to riders, and was largely regarded as unperturbable. He was riding around in a nearby field while me, my mother and my grandmother looked on; and after a bit, he swung over to me to give me a ride. He reached down a hand and swung me up behind him.

What I didn't realize at the time was, as my leg arced over the beast's back, my right leg managed to catch his tail, and I sat on it.

Horses, uh, hate this. The Quarter horse sure did, and he commenced to buck like, twice. My father and I, neither of us being rodeo riders in any way, immediately were thrown into the troposphere and then fell onto the welcoming ground. I still remember my grandmother screaming, just before we began our unfortunate parabolas to the ground, "Scotty! No!" Good advice, grandma!

My father sprung a rib, and I got a mild wrist sprain. Grandma was force-fed some brandy.

The other two episodes I recall of felonious horseplay (Ha! See what I did there? Oh, fuck you, me.) involved a particularly unbalanced Arabian stallion, a horse so flighty and weird that he had to be confined to his own meadow, lest he be found eating ducks or setting up craps games in some blighted pasture corner with the other impressionable horses. This guy--a real piece of work--really lived up to the Arabian horse stereotype in that he was hot-blooded and excitable and faster than hell; Arabs are slighter in build than many other breeds, and known for their unpredictability. This fucker was like an airfoil with a hard-on.

Once I was crossing his (large) pasture towards a placid pond that adjoined the property; to be perfectly honest, if I remember correctly, my intent was to go to the pond to go throw rocks and crush a few of the native frogs. (Little boys are, frankly, tiny terrorists and utterly without conscience.) I was halfway across, and keeping an eye on the skittish horse, when, unfortunately, a car drove by the nearby dirt road.

The Arab fucking flipped out, because, well, he was a real asshole. He took about two seconds to hit a full gallop--and these beasts can get up to 40 mph and more if they feel like it--and he was heading straight for me, whether or not by luck or design . . . I don't know. I was caught out in the open field, and no cover was in sight. He was on me before I could even think what to do. So I just dropped and covered up, going fetal.

Human memory is notoriously unreliable. We routinely fill in gaps and then convince ourselves that that was "what happened." It's been proven that we invent things all the time in the name of irreducible memory. All I can tell you is this: He ran right the fuck over me. Make of this what you will.

I dropped to the ground, covering my head and drawing my legs up. This was instinctual. I remember the rich smell of the heavily horse-fertilized soil. I remember hearing an incredible thundering tattoo of hoofbeats all around my body, one near my head, one near my stomach, others . . . I don't know. I remember the light darkening as his body passed over mine. I remember his awful, freaked-out whinny, but maybe that was later. Moments later, the car was gone, and he was back to calmly grazing. I opened my eyes and saw the hoof marks around me.

There's no reason he didn't smash me into field chum that day except, I guess, dumb luck. I had been run over . . . and totally missed.

You should watch this guy, I thought. Kids, after all, think nothing of brushes with death, because as far as they are concerned, they're immortal.


I still had to feed the fucking bastard horse. I would do this as part of my morning chores, along with feeding the fucking idiot chickens, and so forth. (This was a real drag when I started taking Driver's Ed, so I had to get up an extra hour early to get all that shit done.) They were of course fed in grain troughs in their stalls in the barn; generally no biggie. The horses all knew when the food was supposed to arrive, and they'd wait in their stalls, hanging their heads over the doors for me to come for their chow. Even this guy! Usually he'd be there with the other Arabs, adorably hanging their giant heads over, waiting for breakfast.

One day I showed up, and the horse was in his stall. Backwards. His ass was pointed towards me as I came to the door. He was my last feed. There wasn't any way in hell I was going into this guy's stall with his ass to me, three feet away. I kicked the door. He just stood there.

"HEY!" I yelled. I kicked the door and yelled a few more times. Nothing. He just stood there, in the stall, twitching his tail.

I looked at my watch. If I took too long, I'd miss my bus, and then I'd have to wake my parents, and they'd be pissed off about having to run me the seven miles into town, and Jesus Christ, fuck this fucking horse, man. You'd think I'd have learned.

I slipped the drop-lock on the stall door and eased myself in, hugging the wall, cooing meaningless bullshit to the horse. "Breakfast, breakfast, I'll be out in a minute." His tail twitched lazily. I upended my steel bucket of grain into his trough: it was going to be okay. He was just being an asshole, as usual. I edged back to the stable door, cracked open so he couldn't get out, but so I could still whisk it open and escape quickly.

If you've only seen horses on television, it's like, well, anything else you've seen on television. Television is deceptive. It's one thing to say, "Boy, that horse (or sprinter, or Alpine skiier, or race car, or whatever) is really fast." No. Horses are fast. He kicked at me with his right left foot, right at my head. If his tail hadn't begun twitching more erratically, I might not have noticed, but then, I was watching him every second. Or maybe I just probably got really lucky again. He kicked.

I had only the steel bucket in my right hand, and as soon as I saw the flash of movement, I brought the bucket up in defense. His hoof smashed into the bucket, which promptly smashed into my face, which also promptly smashed my terrible, cheap glasses. I staggered back against the stall door, and the fucking horse gave a nervous whinny and ran out into his lonely field, his food momentarily forgotten. I scrambled out of the stall, latched the lock, and nervelessly took a personal inventory.

I had: one (1) relatively undestroyed (albeit startled and unhappy) face; one (1) completely demolished steel bucket, complete with a rough cast of my profile; and also one (1) pair of wrecked glasses, which I actually had to fish out of the fucking horse stall, which wasn't that worrisome since the homicidal horse had abandoned the stall.

I panted for a while, trying to gather my wits. I thought: Jesus Christ, that fucking horse almost kicked my brains in. I thought: What time is it? I looked at my watch. I thought: Aw, fuck, I'm going to miss my bus. I thought: I hate that fucking horse. I thought: Seriously, I'm going to miss my bus. I thought: I don't need this shit.

I got rid of the bucket.

I only told my parents about it years later.

I didn't miss my bus.

Friday, 09 April
Flying Birds (Excellent Birds)

I have mentioned before that we have a pair of ducks who have adopted our patio pool as their hangout. They are, of course, unbelievably cute; granted, they have shat in the pool and all over the concrete, which is probably a drag for the cleaners, but come on. Humans regularly have cats as pets, and they shit right there in your own house, and nobody seems to mind. What's a little duckshit in the pool by comparison?

But no, the condozombies, who are mostly, I must stress again, almost all comically decrepit, continue to creepily bitch about the "duck problem." (I should take a moment here to assure those who might accuse me of making fun of old people just because they're old: I am.) It makes me sad. The wife and I really enjoy the ducks, particularly waddling up to them and croaking "Wak! Wak! Wak!" It seems to confuse them, and they tilt their heads at us. Then they take a crap, which we also find delightful. Or at least I do, partially because the animals lord it over us in the sense that we don't get to just take a dump wherever and whenever the mood strikes us. I have big dreams about sitting in one of my interminable meetings at work and letting loose. "So it turns out that this drug is most efficient when . . . ah . . . say, Skot . . . are you taking a shit?" "Boy, am I ever. It feels really great!" Then I'd tilt my head at people cutely, provoking chuckles of approval and a hearty comment from the bosslady. "I must say, that shows initiative! You get a raise." And I'd beam happily, sitting contentedly in a pile of shit, while my co-workers applauded.

Anyway. The ducks came by again the other day, and I was happily watching them splash around in the pool, doing that "I dunk my head for some reason!" thing that they do. Then all of a sudden: CRACK! CRACK! SPLOOSH! What the fuck? The ducks became agitated; invisible things were impacting around them. I craned my head to see what the hell was going on.

One of my neighbors, a hatchet-faced crone, had come out onto her balcony and was THROWING ICE CUBES AT THE DUCKS. Not like lobbing them just to sort of discomfit the poor birds, but hurling them with alarming strength and accuracy at the suddenly quacky little beasts. They flapped piteously while the harridan continued her merciless assault. I stared numbly at this horrible scene, unable to react, until the ducks finally had enough and flew away. The awful hag turned and lurched back into her apartment wordlessly.

Hey, you know what? DON'T HURT MY FUCKING DUCKS, YOU MUMMY! Ice cubes? That's mean. You can't just put out a nice big shiny pool of water out there on the patio and expect innocent waterfowl to ignore it, can you? The whole episode made my gut hurt, and I have ever since been entertaining fantasies about tormenting the elderly, because, you know, who else could I torment without fear of reprisal? Children, I guess.

The real bummer is, since the ice cube incident (Note: terrible name for a rock album), the ducks have not returned, for which I blame the crone. I will have my revenge. Someday soon, I will creep up to her apartment, and stealthily pick the lock, using thiefly skills I assume I have absorbed merely by watching bad cop shows on TV. Then, when I am inside--STALKING HER--I will strike. I will--I hate to be this graphic, but I'm mad--I will withhold her Lorna Doones. Yes. I will snatch them off the counter and hold them above my head. I will be a fucking horrible, cookie-clutching bastard.

"How does it feel now, you wizened husk? J'accuse, duck-pelter! I withhold your cookies!" I will cackle malevolently.

"I'm an old woman! Give me my Lorna Doooooooones!" She will tremulously wail while adjusting her oxygen feed.

But I will not give her the Lorna Doones. I know. It's rough justice.

Don't fuck with my ducks, dammit.

Friday, 16 January

The wife and I are getting serious about finding a new place. And I'm starting to get a little serious about getting a dog. As I've written before, I love dogs. And I'm starting to miss having one around.

Because, just like many of you, I once had the best dog on earth. For a lot of people, they all had the best dog on earth. Dogs are just that way: they're the best.

Mine was named Andy.

I think I was in second grade when we got him; we were in Idaho, and we went to some redneck domicile where the guy had like fifteen damn pups all running around madly in a pen, and I peered excitedly through the chainlink: We were getting a dog! It was impossible for me to choose; the mutts (and they were total mutts) were all so very adorable, these unremarkable greyish muttpups all lunging around theatrically, screaming with every cell, "Curse this metal barrier! I want to play with the tiny pink person!"

My parents, as parents should be, were much more clear-eyed. They spotted the weirdo of the group, who occasionally peered out worriedly from the much-chewed doghouse in the pen. That was Andy (though he had yet to be named): forever cautious, forever peering. I barely registered him. Fuck the weenie dog! I've got capering masses of gray doglets who are killing themselves to lick my beknighted fingers! I'm surprised I didn't lose a digit.

My good folks bought (and named, despite my urgent requests that he be named "Jet") Andy. And, as a single child, Andy was my fairly constant companion for years and years. Not that there weren't growing pains.

When he was a mere pup--with ominously gigantic feet--he started snuffling around a jigsaw puzzle I was failing to work on. I whacked him on the nose. "What the hell was that for?" my dad demanded. "He was sniffing my stuff!" I explained. He stared at me like I was a foreign microbe invading the family body. "Jesus, don't be an asshole. He's just a puppy."

Andy grew. Christ, did he grow. It turned out that he was an ubermutt: he had elements of collie (coloring), German shepherd (muzzle), St. Bernard (unbelievable size; I think he weighed in at one point around 140), and malamute (upcurved tail). In fact, I used to ride on his back. Despite his immense size, Andy remained, for lack of a better comparison, a total pussycat. He feared the vacuum unreasonably, as if it were a motorized dog guillotine, and would hide from it under your legs. This was pretty cute when he was a puppy, but when he was full-grown, it got kind of disconcerting to suddenly have an enormous mammal trying to seek refuge under your straining knees, which, whoops, were now three feet in the air.

Andy was energetic as hell for years. At one weird, unexplainable point in my family's history, my mom got on a jogging kick. My mom, you should understand, is 5'5", and weighs perhaps 118 pounds if she's got full pockets. But for a time, she wanted to jog. Andy would "helpfully" go with her on the trips, and would habitually race ahead of her for around a hundred yards. Then he'd stop and look back at my mother, gamely trotting along, with a look on his face that basically said, "Jesus, what's your problem?" Then, perplexed, he'd race back to her at around the speed of light, and greet her with a look that said, "Uh, say, why not run faster, like I do?" Then he'd blast off for another hundred yards to repeat the process. I'm sure this was really heartening for Mom.

Not quite as heartening: during this time of eerie jogging-love, my father enjoyed furthuring his Eternal Bastard reputation, and would occasionally shadow my mom with the car. There would be Mom, jogging with gritted teeth, while my father drove alongside her in the car, doing a breezy five miles an hour while calling out fake encouragement: "You're doing great, Sue! Oh, no! Looks like a big hill coming up!" Then he'd ostentatiously take a drink of beer, and speed up the hill, and then back down to my mother, still running. "I checked out the top of the hill for you," he'd say, my mother still panting away gamely on the road, "there's still nothing there."

Andy could confirm this. He'd already run the route up and down six time before my mom had gone fifty feet. He was crazy fast, and seemingly tireless. When dogs are young and healthy, it doesn't seem like there's anything they can't do.

We all got older, of course. I remember once, going out late at night to put the chickens to bed (we lived on a ranch, and the chickens were my responsibility), Andy stopped at the barn door that led to the chicken path down to the coop. He just stood there, growling and not moving. "What's up, buddy?" I said. Andy growled some more and looked spooked. I was too stupid to figure anything out, and remarked, "You're a weird old dog." I was tired. I went down to the coop, and everything seemed cool; I swung the coop door shut and latched it, my nightly duty. I turned away to go back home.

There was then a fantastic CRUNCH! and I spun around. The half-inch plywood door had been rent from its hinges, and there was a tremendous hole in the half-assed door. Running from the scene was this awful hairy shambling thing, fast as hell for its size: my dad identified it for me the next day. I had inadvertantly locked a fucking badger inside the coop, and he made a jailbreak. The goddamn fucking thing had gone nuts and busted out the door--badgers are just bad news.

When I wobbled around to go back to the house, there was Andy standing there, looking pretty queasy, but also pretty fearsome, the big fucker. But badgers aren't anything you diddle around with. He knew what was around--Andy was no dummy--but Andy also looked after my ass.

Some years later--many years--I was doing my morning routine. I always took care of myself in the AM, and took a shower, dressed, got ready for school, and left the house to go catch the bus. Andy was on the lawn, lying down.

He didn't get up. And there was some terrible green slime coming out of his muzzle. He whined, a little. He was having trouble breathing.

I stopped cold. This was my damned dog: he grew up with me! He watched me be Spider-Man and the Hulk. I used to ride this dog! He warned me of badgers. This dog--this protector, this fearful creature who ran from vacuum cleaners--oh hell.

I stopped to pet him, and he made snuffling noises. He wasn't well at all; he was terribly sick, I knew. I was a teenager, and I knew. I don't know why I did what I did, then. I scratched his wonderful ears, that I used to sometimes turn inside-out, because it made me laugh, even when I knew that it embarrassed him, because I could see the reproach on his long-muzzled face. I said goodbye, without a damned word to anyone.

I went to school. And then I went home. And my parents were there, looking very stricken. "We have some bad news," they said. "Andy died, " I said back. They exchanged glances. "How did you know that?" they said. "I knew this morning, when I left." My mom looked a little sick. "Why didn't you wake us up?" she asked. I didn't have an answer, and to their credit, they didn't press me. I still don't have an answer. Maybe it was just because he was my fucking dog. I was the kid; the dog got to die on my say so.

It seems pretty stupid right now, but it's still pretty sad. I miss my good dog. There's a picture of me above the stove with him.

I really miss my good dog.

But they're all good dogs. What we need are good owners. Maybe it's time I tried that again.

Wednesday, 22 January
I Make Sweeping Generalizations About Many Things, But Today, Dogs

The fiancee and I, as yet, are dogless. We hate that we are dogless and wish to rectify the situation, but it's not likely to happen until we move to a bigger place next year. I also have some daily-abandonment issues to work through, but that's for later; I already have coping strategies that I can employ. For example, I have been ignoring my dry cleaning for five weeks now, and it isn't complaining. It's just sitting there placidly in a wrinkly, expensive pile. My dry cleaning is, if I may, doglike in its silent devotion. I'd pet my dry cleaning right now, but it's developing a nice crust, and I don't want to disturb it.

I have no interest in the whole cat vs. dog debate, except to just note that a lifelong allergy to the former totally precludes cat-ownership, and also to note that I hate the prissy little beastlets. Anyway, dogs! It will remain to be seen what kind of dog we want. It will certainly be a mutt, probably from the pound or a friend somewhere, as I am incapable of going into pet stores without thinking that I should have brought a cake with a file in the middle of it. "Here! You know what to do!" I'd hoarsely whisper to a languid iguana. Then I'd realize that iguanas generally really don't know what to do. What the hell is the shelf life of a lizard anyway? "The iguana isn't selling. That's stale merchandise. Throw it in the dumpster."

For space reasons, it will probably be a small dog. For example, pugs. Pugs make me laugh extremely hard, mainly by just sitting there existing. They all look like tiny, furry Martha Rayes. The main objection to a pug would be my ongoing feeling of dread that at any moment, his eyes could pop out of their sockets, causing me to run around madly, screaming like my asshole was on fire.

Of course, there is such a thing as too small. Chihuahuas, poodles: these are dogs for unserious people. People who own these dogs also do crafts like latch-hook or enter ping-pong tournaments. They own Hummel figurines or listen to Pizzicato Five. Unnatural things. People who own these dogs are, technically, psychotic. That's all I'm saying. (If you are one of these people, I don't mean you, of course; just people exactly like you. You, I like.)

If I could get me a bulldog, that would be outstanding, but I think you hit the fucking breeding problem. A bulldog's main attraction is the fact that every living moment in his presence feels like an old Warner Brothers cartoon. I would spend hours and hours capering around him, twittering "Hey Spike! Whatcha doin' Spike? You wanna get something to eat, Spike?" until the poor tortured bastard would bite my face off. So that's probably out. I need my face.

There's breeds like Terriers and Corgis and crap like that, but then you're getting into the whole pedigree thing again, and I won't have any of that. I'm insecure enough; I don't need to get into a pissing match with someone over their pets' credentials. "A fine animal you've got there! What's his breeding?" "Jesus, mister, I don't know. He drinks out of the toilet and sniffs his friends' asses. So, Dartmouth?"

I'm sure we'll end up with some anonymous little mutt, and that's cool. I can teach him tricks, like rolling over or nipping at the testicles of hippies. I can take him for long walks, during which I suppose I will be required to collect his dogshit. But not for long. We're going to go throw it at pet stores.

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