Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Old Country Waltz

The Old Country Waltz
(a true story!)

When I tell people that I had an after school job taking care of horses, they mostly ask if I rode the horses or groomed them or did whatever the hell else you’re supposed to do with them, like, I don’t know, go for buggy rides or something. I didn’t do any of that. I shoveled up their crap.

I actually don’t like horses much. I don’t bear them ill will, I just don’t trust them. They are smart creatures and can be quite graceful and beautiful, but they only do one thing well and that’s move forward. Any other kind of movement, like backing up or moving sideways, turns them into flailing beasts that can easily turn a stable boy’s head into mush.

And they also have a condition known as ‘crazy eye’. Crazy eye is mostly found in humans and most people don’t think to look for it in animals, but it’s there. They get this crazy eye because they are just smart enough to know that if a predator happens by and they can’t move forward to get away from it, they’re fucked. So they’re hyper-vigilant and ready at any moment to unleash their only defense, which is to flail around spastically and kick the shit out of anything that’s nearby.

This also could be me projecting my own fears onto the animal. I have a healthy respect for horses because they are mostly giant, tense balls of muscle, teeth, and hoof, and I knew that if I spooked them or did anything foolish, they would quickly turn me into a bleeding pile of rags. I tend to have respect and awe for animals that are capable of mangling me without having to put any effort into it.

So, in other words, this after school job taught me that maybe I shouldn’t look for a career working with animals.

During the summer, there were some opportunities to work more hours and put some folding money into my pocket. This mostly took the form of a job simply called “hayin’”. Hayin’ is the act of cutting, bundling, stacking, unstacking, and restacking hay. Essentially, a tractor would go out into a field of long grass and cut it, kind of like a lawnmower only a much larger scale, and then a fabulously complex machine called a hay baler would be hauled along the field and it would suck up the cut grass, bundle it, snap baling wire around it, and then shit it out the back end.

Much like with the horses, I had a healthy respect for the hay baler. I was always a little afraid to go near it because I knew that one wrong move and it would suck me in, slice me to ribbons, and the tie my parts together with a nice, neat bow. So again this job taught me that I probably shouldn’t explore a career involving any kind of machine with more than three moving parts.

Anyway, after the tractor and the hay baler did their job, a truck hauling a flatbed trailer filled with teenagers, myself included, would be driven out into the field. We would then walk slowly behind the truck, pick up the bales of hay (which weighed around fifty pounds each, give or take) and pile them onto the flatbed. This was a chore that got steadily harder the longer you did it. As the trailer filled up, you had to toss the bale of hay higher and higher, usually until we had it about fifteen feet high or so. Then the truck would be carefully driven back to the barn and unloaded. We repeated this all day, every day, for about a week or so.

Another thing that I should mention is the weather. We did this job in the late summer, because that was when the grass was nice and long and still dry. You want the hay to be dry because (fun fact) a wet bale of hay will burst into flame under the right conditions. That always blew my mind. There is a scientific reason for it, but I’m not going to go into it here. Just know that you live in a world where wet grass can spontaneously catch on fire and burn a large swath of land.

If you weren’t aware, summers in Maine are a soothing experience. The sun is just warm enough on your skin, like a cozy cardigan, and a periodic relaxing wind caresses you with an almost silken touch. This lasts for about fifteen minutes just after sunrise, then the rest of the day becomes a muggy hellscape filled with black flies, mosquitos, and rage with the mortality rate of assholes saying “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity” spiking dramatically.

Needless to say, this job also taught me that I shouldn’t work outside.

And so it came to be that, on the third or fourth day of doing this job, I woke up with a horrible feeling around my crotch. My entire upper thigh area, including my naughty bits, were an alarming red color and itched like hell. I had gotten heat rash. On my balls. And I had to go to work.

I don’t know what kind of people you would work with that would be okay with a man scratching his nuts all day in front of them, but the guys I was working with were not it. Just the day before one of my coworkers had worn these billowy plaid pants, and we spent the day calling him McHammer and reciting lyrics to “U Can’t Touch This” at him with a thick Irish brogue. And by “we” I mean mostly “me” because I’m kind of an asshole.

So I knew I just had to suffer through it. The day grew horribly hot and the air didn’t move at all. Besides being just all-around itchy, because hay is not exactly the smoothest of substances, my crotch was on fire. The worst was just after our lunch break. I had hours to go before I could get to a store and get some kind of powder or something, and the sun just sat like a fat devil right over our heads. That’s when WBLM decided that I wasn’t quite suffering enough.

WBLM, the Blimp, was the only station we could tune in on our shitty little portable radio. It was, and still is, a classic rock station that simply belches forth a steady stream of Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. All goddamn day. It may have been a contributing factor to my lifelong indifference to music. This particular weekend, WBLM decided to put on what they called a “Roll The Dice Weekend.” What this consisted of was a lazy dee jay would “roll” two six-sided dice (complete with roll-the-dice sound effect) and whatever number came up would be the number of songs played by a particular artist.

Now this lazy bastard decides that the next musician to get the roll the dice treatment would be Neil Young. Of course, because I imagine the dee jay wanted some time to update his resumé or smoke a joint, he rolls boxcars. Twelve songs in a row with no commercial interruption by Neil Young. Yay!

So there I am, sweating my inflamed, hay covered ass off in the middle of a black fly infested field, trying not to fall into a medieval torture tube that could reduce me to a neatly bundled square of pulped meat, while a damned Canadian whines at me. Of course, I realize it could have been any musician and I would have suffered. I have nothing against Neil Young personally and from all accounts that I’ve read, he seems like a good musician, caring father, and unique whateverthefuck, but there is a special level of Hell where, right now, sinners are getting sunburned while their crotch is swollen and inflamed and their whole body is covered in dry grass while some demon plays Southern Man on a fucking loop.

And though they look all placid and gentle grazing in the next field over, I know that those damned horses are just thinking of new ways to freak out and cave my head in. And to top it all off, I’m surrounded by teenaged hicks (a group I certainly belonged to at the time) who were all trying to come up with new ways to insult or punch each other and I was too distracted to take part, because I was desperately resisting the urge not to go nuts scratching my crotch like a madman.

Which is why, to this day, the sound of Neil Young’s voice makes my balls itch.

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