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ORLANDO: High Winds, Hail—Where Is He Spending the Night

 

     The night before there’d been tornado and hail warnings as we had sat in our rental car on Central Avenue five car lengths down from the main door to the Rescue Mission watching a homeless man gather up his belongings at the far end of the building. He rolled a shopping cart through the pouring rain towards us, past the main door, to another doorway recessed into the wall. He parked his shopping cart there, out of sight, walked back, away from us, and pulled two office chairs on wheels, one loaded with bags and clothes, to the alcove. Once set up, he stepped out, held his hand up as if gripping a microphone, and sang, the concrete sidewalk his stage, the bleak, empty asphalt street his audience.

     “If he’s not here by now, he’s not coming,” I told Ansley.

     “I’m waiting until 11:00.”

     We’d been lucky that afternoon to meet the helpful director of the Rescue Mission who informed us that they closed and locked the door at 11:00 p.m.; if one of the men missed a night, he could not return for four weeks. Andrew usually arrived at 10:00, which was just after the mandatory church service. I’d laughed when I’d heard this; it was reassuring; he was being his old self—making the best of the situation. “He leaves early every morning, wearing his work clothes,” the director said, “and never returns before 10:00. We think he’s working two jobs, one construction, one painting.”

     We strained our eyes through the water-streaked window. A man holding a newspaper over his head sloshed across the street, up onto the sidewalk. I was ready to jump out. Flicked on the head lights. Shielding his eyes from the beams with the newspaper, he knocked on the door of the Rescue Mission. Not tall enough.

I wanted to leave. No way he was coming this late.

     “I am waiting until 11:00.”

     I closed my eyes, let Ansley be the lookout, the wipers whipping back and forth, the air-conditioner on, the rain battering the car.

     Where was he spending the night? Under a bridge? In the apartment of someone he’d befriended?  We worried and wondered as we drove back to our hotel at 11:30, the rain turning to hail—hailstones bouncing off the windshield.

     We walked into the swank lobby, passed the bar, took the elevator up six flights.

Guilt swarmed over me. Was he sleeping under a bridge as cars and trucks sped by overhead on I-4 and the wind and hail ravaged the area? And did this mean he would be banned from staying at the mission for four weeks? While I lay in a dark, quiet, safe room, on a big, soft bed with a comforter and puffy pillows, my arm around Ansley’s waist, thinking of the files of Andrew’s papers I’d sorted through the day before our flight, including the security guard questionnaire which had the question, “Is there anyone you love who you would give your life for?” And Andrew’s answer: “Yes, my father.”

SEATTLE: Patriotism, Reverence, Remembrance

     I cross the street. There’s a large rock with a plaque on it: “PATRIOTISM REVERENCE REMEMBRANCE” is the title, and below it: “The Battle of Seattle was fought on this ground. January 26—1856.”

     And now it looks and smells like a losing battleground, carcasses strewn, splayed—lying on sides, lying on backs, curled up—across the grass, the sickly-sweet scent of marijuana wafting over the dead-still bodies. Many with army jackets. Military gear—camouflage backpacks. Caps with Veteran written across the front pulled down over their eyes. One thousand, I’m thinking, of the 12,500 homeless living on the streets or in shelters in the Seattle/King’s Country area, approximately 1,000 are veterans.

     I look closely at this one, at that, saving the long, lanky one at the edge of the park for last. I approach, awkwardly walking down the hill towards him. He has pulled his cap over his face. I circle him, from a distance. I am the only erect, upright figure in this one-acre park. I feel the eyes of others on me—watching me curiously.

    “Andrew?”

    There’s no movement.

    “Andrew?” I say, a little louder, leaning down.

    He pulls off his cap. A boy. Years younger than Andrew. He looks at me, face expressionless.

    “I’m sorry. Excuse me. I thought you were my son.”

 

     Back at the hotel, there is a line at the elevator. It’s out of order. No problem, I’ll use the stairs. Eight flights. Good exercise. Can’t find them. Ask a bellhop. They’re locked. To keep out the homeless.           

 

     Sunday, I search all day and night.

     Monday, Memorial Day—up at dawn. Flight in afternoon. Walk the streets for two hours.

On the promenade, nearing The Frankfurter, the homeless vet with the blanket over his lap is wheeling into position. I have a system now. I reach into my hip-pack, pull out four quarters, look up, ready to hand them to him. The blanket slips off. I’m slapped with the reality of it. No legs. He registers my shock. I bend down to pick up the blanket. “I got it. Thank you,” he says, leaning down. I hand him the quarters. “God bless you, God bless you,” he says, grinning, looking me in the eye.

     At the ferry, I jog up the steps to the two homeless men seated at their usual station, leaning up against the building. Give each four quarters. They recognize me, look me in the eye, “Thank you, man. Thank you. Every little bit helps.” This is it. I’m leaving. I make the rounds, engaging in small talk with the most familiar men and women, giving out quarters.

Pack up. On time. By myself. No Andrew. Got to get to the light rail. Westlake Station. No Andrew. Then the airport. All this way, I keep thinking. All this way and no Andrew.
 

     At midnight I walk into our kitchen. Ansley is at the counter. “Andrew just called.” 9:00 in Seattle. Her cell phone rings. It’s Paddy. 10:00 in Denver. He’s set up a conference call with Andrew, Eliza and us. He’s bought Andrew a flight home for Wednesday. He’s being forceful. Andrew is backing off. Eliza tells Paddy to hang up. She and Ansley talk to Andrew.

    “Where is he?” I ask Ansley in a hushed voice. “Where is he calling from?”

    No answer. Eliza, in Denver, hears me. “He’s calling from the soup kitchen, Dad.”

    “What soup kitchen? What’s the address?”

    “What difference does it make?” Ansley says to me.

    “I want to know.”

    She asks Andrew.

    “It’s on Sixth Avenue, near the park,” I hear him say.

    One block up from where I’d been patrolling that morning.

    We’re to pick him up at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshal Airport early Wednesday morning. I’ll have to miss school. That’s all right. I’ll do a thorough review for the exams on Tuesday and be back in the classroom on Thursday to give the exams while Andrew is home relaxing, safe on the farm.

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THE HOMEFRONT: Receiving Body Blows, Punches, Hard, Precise, Fast       

     He’s ten feet ahead of me. We set off down Manor Road. There’s no shoulder; he’s walking too far out in the road. Cars whip up behind us. Some slow, drivers staring. Some fly by, not giving us much room.

    We pass the entrance to the old Ives farm, then start down the hill.

     I’m talking. Trying to convince Andrew to turn back. More aggressive this time. He’s holding his gray, speckled rug mat and his faded blue duffle bag up on his right shoulder. I grab it for a split second, yank it—he whips around, leaps at me, elbows high. I step back. He looks me in the eye, laughs, turns and continues, too far out in the road.

    A siren wails in the distance. I’d heard Ansley tell them not to use a siren! It’s coming closer. It’s headed up Manor Road. Here it is, a house-sized fire engine booming up the hill towards us. Andrew doesn’t even glance at it. He keeps marching. He can’t see me. I pull my shirt off, wave it over my head with my left hand while pointing with my right at Andrew. The siren is silenced. The fire engine passes, stops, turns into the Ives entrance, backs out and then drives past us.

    Walking full speed, I keep waving the shirt. Another siren is coming from behind. I look back; it’s a big red EMS truck. The driver spots me, turns the siren off.

    The fire engine pulls over at the bottom of the hill. Everyone gets out. Six or so. The EMS truck passes us and pulls up behind the fire engine; four hop out. A woman in uniform leads a phalanx towards us. “Which of you needs to be examined? Which of you needs help?”

    I realize I look just as crazy—waving a flannel shirt, white hair flying, frayed and faded-T-shirt, old baggy khakis, red bandana hanging out back pocket—as Andrew.

    “He needs help!” I call out. “He has PTSD. He’s homeless. We have him home and want him to stay. He’s dehydrated, not making sense. He hasn’t eaten or had anything to drink in twenty-four hours.”

    Andrew slows, bends down to their level, says a word or two. They have their hands down, fully extended, by their sides. He laces through them as if this is a perfectly normal occasion while each of them asks, “Can’t we help you?”

     He’s through the phalanx. He’s past the EMS truck and is alongside the cab of the fire engine. He’s headed out. Down Manor Road for three-quarters of a mile, take a right on the Jarrettsville Pike, stay on it for five miles as it turns into Dulaney Valley Road, and in another few miles it crosses over Interstate 695 where he can catch a ride on a truck headed out to anywhere in America.

    “He needs to be examined,” I yell. “He’s hallucinating. He thinks he’s Todd from Wyoming.” He’s through them; he’s in front of the fire engine and has a clear shot to head out to the Baltimore Beltway, where he could take a left, stick out his thumb and catch a ride to Interstate 95 and down the East Coast, or take a right, and head for Interstate 70 and west, leaving us forever.

     I run towards Andrew. He sprints away. I dive, whipping my arms around his chest, trying to take him down. He shoots his arm up around my neck, flips me over his shoulder, throws me down on my side on the asphalt. My head hits. Cracks against the asphalt. Right shoulder and rib cage whack against the asphalt. I’m out.

     I come to. Don’t know where I am, what’s going on. He’s on top of me. We roll into the weeds and ditch, up against the far bank. Can’t believe how helpless I am. I’m a kid. I’ve lost control of my body. A wave has picked up; it’s pummeling me, twirling me around and around, mashing me against the gravelly bottom. I’m receiving body blows, punches, hard, precise, fast, over and over in the same spot, on the right side of my chest. Drowning in the weeds, I wrestle against his fast-pumping arms. This is it. My time is up. Then he’s up and dancing around in the middle of the road waving his hands and I’m up, dizzy, out of it, staggering around, searching for my glasses in the ditch.

     No one is helping. They are all standing back, aghast, watching, as if they’ve been ordered not to step forward, not to become involved. I feel their eyes on me. Andrew yells, “You saw it! He assaulted me!” The EMS crew is keeping away, standing beside their truck. The firemen are standing by the cab of their truck. Lines of cars are forming. I search in the ditch, everything’s blurry—why doesn’t someone help? A police car, a Baltimore County cruiser, lights flashing, siren wailing, winds its way through the lower line of cars and pulls in front of them. My glasses! Grab them out of the weeds. Scene comes into focus. Policeman steps out of cruiser. Andrew and I now in the middle of a circus.

     Where’s Ansley? 

     I talk to the officer. Tell him that Andrew threw me down on the pavement, punched me. Andrew yells, “He assaulted me.” He turns to the EMS crew. “You saw it! He assaulted me!”

     The officer seems to be listening to me. I don’t push the concept of Andrew assaulting me. The EMS crew remains silent. They saw me attempt to tackle him. I tell the officer he can’t let Andrew go. I explain about the homelessness.

     Where’s Ansley?

     Explain about searching for Andrew in Seattle. Inform him of Andrew’s two tours in Iraq, that he has PTSD, that he is a paranoid-schizophrenic. The officer is listening. Tells me he’s a Marine vet; he understands.

     Another squad car arrives, lights blinking, siren wailing.

     Where’s Ansley? 

     This officer is a higher rank. He waves me away. The two interview Andrew.

    Ansley arrives! She rushes straight into their circle. She has the plastic box with the cell phone Andrew has just bought. “You need this. Here, you need this,” she says, handing him the plastic box. “Call us, Andrew,” she says. “Call us.” She explains to the police that we’re trying to help Andrew, we’ve just picked him up at the airport, we want him to stay on the farm and recuperate, we live half a mile up the road. They extend their arms, keeping her away from Andrew. The first officer is pulling on a pair of plastic gloves. What the hell are they for? Then he’s patting Andrew down, gingerly, carefully. Andrew is facing away from me. He is cooperating. He has his hands on the trunk of the car, just like in the movies. Ansley is asking Andrew if he needs any money. She opens her wallet, pulls out all the cash, holds it out, tells him to take it. He stares at it for a second, turns away. “Andrew, don’t you need some money? Take the money!”

     The officer is standing between Ansley and Andrew, not touching either, holding up both hands. Ansley walks directly towards Andrew. “Ma’am,” they’re telling her. “It’s dangerous standing out here in the road.”

     “He’s my son. I want to talk to my son.” She doesn’t back down.

     “We’re sorry ma’am, you’ll have to step over here.”

    They are gently holding her back; they’re saying it’s too dangerous for him to be walking along the road. I step back into the fray. They say he has his rights. Andrew is quiet. I push it. The officer of higher rank reaches into his pocket and now he pulls on a pair of rubber gloves. He’s homeless. He’s dehydrated. He’s hallucinating. He hasn’t eaten in twenty-four hours. I don’t repeat that he is a “danger to society,” I don’t assert that he’d thrown me on the asphalt, punched and battered me. I can’t do it. Have a spinning, whirling sensation. They are going to take Andrew away. They are going to put him in the back of the cruiser and drive off. This is unbelievable. I move towards Andrew. The higher ranked officer steps in front of me.

Ansley is not crying; she is not hysterical. I’ve never seen her look this way. She is stunned; she is staring at the scene; she is in shock. Her face is blank, devoid of expression, without color.

     Now I can’t see Andrew. I don’t know what Andrew’s doing. I don’t know what these policemen are doing or the fire engine crew is doing or the EMS people are doing or what I’m doing. I’m a skinny, white-haired guy standing in the middle of this three-ring circus, people out of their cars gawking at us, and everything is whirling around. They repeat that he has his rights. They load him into the back seat of the squad car. I stand there, in the surreal moment, frozen, wooden—and watch as the car proceeds down the hill, through the bottleneck of vehicles and gaping bystanders, my son in the back, taking him not to the police station, not to a psychiatric ward, not to a VA emergency room, but astonishingly, unbelievably, like an Uber driver, this policeman is taking Andrew wherever he wants to go in the county. Off the cruiser goes, Andrew’s shoulders and head stationary, framed in the back window, Andrew becoming smaller, Andrew disappearing, Andrew compliant, cooperative and under the control of the policeman. Will he turn and look back? Then the car is out of sight.

ANDREW IN HIS YOUTH: Gentle, Kind . . . Inquisitive, Philosophic

     After he’d returned from his second tour in Iraq, he had completely renounced his upbringing. At that time, we’d had no idea that the flight path of his life would go into such a downward spiral. This could not happen to our son—we’d find a solution. This was a stage. Ansley and I had weathered many stages raising our three children. Hang on, and one day, though in a different form, Andrew as he was in his youth, Andrew as he was in my early days of fatherhood—would be back: 

     Gentle, kind—sitting with knees crossed by the woodstove, holding Tidbit, our miniature daschhund, in his lap, sipping hot chocolate, discussing the upcoming afternoon’s farm work with Dee Dee as full, puffy flakes of snow slant down outside.

     Industrious, hard-working—develops a good system and sticks with it. Even as a pre-teen he’s slow-is-smooth, smooth-is-fast, contrasting with his father’s fast-is-faster, faster-is-fastest. On his grandmother’s farm, at a young age, he’s pushing the wheelbarrow to the woodpile, filling it, unloading it onto the back porch and neatly stacking the pieces. He’s proud of his work for Dee Dee. They’re a team. 

     Perseverant, focused—he’s assigned to cover me, “Fancy Feet Can’t Be Beat,” during our evening soccer game in the mud, in the snow, on the ice, with Paddy and the boys. “I’m like glue and will stick to you,” he calls out, and he does.

 

     Exhausted, depleted—he’s given everything he has on the ten-degree snowy evening on our pond; he, Paddy and I have played ice hockey till we can’t make another move, and he skates to the pond’s edge, turns, throws his arms up, and laughingly flops back, body sinking into the snow, arms waving, making a perfect snow angel.

     Nervous about doing anything new, wanting to remain attached to mother or father—he’s tense, hands in a death grip on the handle bars of his new birthday bike, back stiff, bike tilting to the right, tilting to the left, “Dad, Dad, don’t let loose,” picking up speed as I jog alongside on the Gunpowder Trail, my hands lightly over his, the bike hopping and bouncing, the handle bars jiggling, and we’re picking up speed, “Dad, Dad!”—I’m releasing my hands from his, “Dad, Dad!” I can’t keep this up, can’t continue running while holding my arms in this protective circle around him. I drop my hands as he takes off, leaving me.     

     Inquisitive, philosophic—he’s also ready to quick-draw and shoot. (Fast, he has extremely fast hands. Beats me to the draw every time.) Blossom—kind and gentle pony of his youth—tacked up, ready to go, is standing before him. He’s in chaps, cowboy hat—a handsome Stetson given by godfather Rob Deford, cowboy boots, cap gun in holster. Standing behind him, gripping him around his rib cage, counting, one—he flexes his legs, two—he flexes his legs, three—he pushes off, I lift up, and he’s in the tack, ready to ride miles and miles cross-country, shooting his cap-guns at outlaws and bandits, asking: “How big is the universe? What is infinity? Daddy, when you look up into the sky, and you don’t see an end to it, does it really go on forever? And time? How about that? When did time start? When will it end?” We cluck to our mounts, squeeze with our legs—and we are in the present, absolutely, totally, in the bull’s eye of time, thinking of nothing but what we’re doing—galloping down twisty paths in the woods, jumping every log we can find, wading into deep rivers (the current up to his boots: “Dad, this is just like in the movies,”) lengthening our grip on the reins, freeing our horse and pony of all restraint, freeing ourselves, and letting them gallop full tilt, “Dad! Dad!”

     Independent thinker, loves to seize the serendipitous moment—on vacation, at his grandfather Pop Pop’s in Orlando, I’m standing at the bathroom sink, having just lathered up for a relaxed, late-morning shave. In he comes in his pajamas, four feet tall, not saying a word. Picks up the can of shaving cream, gives it a shake, pushes the nozzle and out comes enough cream for three shaves. He applies it to his “beard,” and it is everywhere, up his nose, over his ears, down his neck, gobs of it over his cheekbones right up to the sockets of his eyes. Eyebrows raised ever so slightly, chin up, he reaches over, nonchalantly, as if this is something he does every morning, takes my razor and has a good shave.

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 Pimlico Tack Room          

 

           Five-fifteen a.m.  Into the tack room: instant heat and humidity and the cloying, overpowering, sticky pungency of oiled and saddle-soaped tack combined with the acrid scent of metal polish and the funky locker room odor of drying sweat from the helmets and protective vests. Two floor fans do their best, but there is no window and no fresh air.  This room is locked tight every night.

           Britanny is leaning against the table holding the coffee machine, pulling off her flip-flops, and pulling on socks, boots and half-chaps.  Fair-skinned and blonde with a long torso and short legs, she’s in a pair of black skin-tight spandex riding britches and is giggling as is Justine, who is in her “dressing room”—seated behind a curtain of saddle towels hanging to dry from a clothes line stretched the length of the long, narrow room.  Justine, tall, slim, with long legs and big brown eyes, did some modeling in Florida over the winter and spring—thus her deep tan—but didn’t have the patience for it, and she is bent over, thick auburn hair mane over her head, gathering her hair into a pony tail, laughing and revealing a tattoo of a favorite horse—a filly of Dickie’s that she gallops—racing across the nape of her long, outstretched neck.

            The two girls are joking back and forth and Jose is seated there—his tack ready beside him, his arms crossed, taking it in, and grinning at me.  I pick out a bridle I like, pull my saddle off its rack, pick a medium-length girth and ask Britanny, “What the hell’s going on?” She’s still giggling and I know what it must be.  It has to be the tattoo. I’d been lecturing against tattoos for three weeks now. She had wanted to have a heart, festooned with ribbons, and LOVE KILLS SLOWLY emblazoned across it, and, below that, a skull and cross bones, all this tattooed on her—lower belly.  I’d spent several mornings trying to talk her out of the skull, and offering up edited and revised versions of LOVE KILLS SLOWLY.

             Standing in the tack room, zipping up my protective vest, I ask, “What’s so funny?”  and with that, the eighteen-year-old with short blonde hair, wide shoulders, narrow waist, grabs the belt-area of her spandex britches, pulls them down, revealing a bright red strawberry tattooed on the smoothest skin of the prettiest ass you’ve ever seen displayed in a tack room.

 Navigating the Rapids with Tom        

 

           I turn into a driveway, back out, coast down the hill to the bridge. Begin to cross Deer Creek again. Stop.  Look down at the rapids, and instantly I am in the stern of a canoe with Tom. It is late one afternoon, in the midst of a hurricane, the river three feet higher than usual, and we are sweeping around a turn, the water rough, brown, foamy, branches and trees being swept down with us.  There up above us on the bridge is Tiger’s red army jeep, Tiger waving—not hello, but Stop! Stop! Halt! We give our old go-to-hell hunting call, pass the take-out spot, and dart into the chute, a funnel, the canoe seeming to go out from under us.

           We paddle hard, keeping our speed faster than the river’s, making it around one boulder, then another.  The current takes us straight into the third. The starboard side of the bow smashes against the rock—Boom!  Then, it scrapes along to the left. We try to push away. We whoop and yell. We’re going to make it. But we are leaning in slightly, leaning upstream into the flow of the river, and the power of the current is pushing the hull out from under us, the canoe is filling with water, and over we go.  In the stern, I’m relieved as I see Tom go over into the spray, away from the rocks. Then, I too am overboard.

            I’m struggling under the canoe, thrown against the boulder.  My head whacks against the solidity of it. The water is in my eyes, in my ears, in my mouth, pummeling me.  It’s roaring. I’m dizzy. Weak. The canoe, incredibly, is bending, wrapping around me, trapping me against the rock.  I’m sliding downwards. It looks like this is it. I see Tiger throwing something down to Tom. I hear Tom, “Grab it! Grab the rope!”  He’s on a boulder upstream, throwing a line to me. I miss catching it. Miss again. And then I have it. He pulled me out, many a time.

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Racing with Charley and Speedy Kiniel

           . . . Pulling Charley up, I feel it all come together. All the work and trust and effort and planning and patience has paid off.  I pat Charley on one side of his neck, switch hands, pat him on the other. He had been in control, saving his energy and speed in the early part.  He hadn’t insisted on increasing the length of his stride and surging into every fence. He had jumped every fence well. He had done everything I asked of him.  Yes, I love him.

Speedy is waiting at the winner’s circle.  He is joking and patting Charley and posing for pictures.   After the trophy presentation, choking up a bit, I tell Speedy “I wish Mikey’d been here.”

           “He is, Patrick!”  It has power, and I love it, the way, just once in a blue moon, he says Patrick.  “Mikey is here now, Patrick.  Don’t you know it? Can’t you feel it?  It’s Mikey Power.”

           Then, for a second, my thoughts drift to my father and riding a race much like this thirty-five years ago on a horse called Wild Amber, at Saratoga.  A current of hot-emotion surges through my body. I wish Pop was there with us, and I imagine how he would congratulate me on the training of the horse, on the settling him down, and on the using my hands—wait till I tell Janon—and getting him to relax in the race, riding with a deep seat and a long hold, catching the front-runner and passing him, riding strong and steadily without any wasted energy to the wire.

            “Your daddy’s here too,” Speedy suddenly asserts, looking me in the eye.  “Your daddy’s here too, just as real, just as powerful as the day you was just a kid and won on Wild Amber at Saratoga.”  

             How does he know?  How does he know what I’m thinking?  How the hell does he remember that day?

             “I bet on you that day.  I knew your daddy didn’t come all the way to Saratoga to finish second with that horse.  You caught’em at the last fence and then took off down the stretch!”

At the van, I take the shank.  Speedy has half a dozen groupies around him.  He’s rubbing Charley like he’s trying to peel the skin off him.  The corners of the rub rag snap and pop.

Suddenly my red BMW M-3 owner of three boarders back at the farm is there.  She’s crying. Tears are running down her face. She’s hugging Speedy. She’s hugging me.  She’s hugging Charley. “I’m late. I’m late with this payment,” she says, handing me a clump of cash.  Six one hundred-dollar bills. Then, she’s gone.

               There Speedy and I are, up on the knoll, overlooking the course, with Charley. The sun is setting.  We laugh, look at each other. I peel off three one-hundred dollar bills, hand them to Speedy.

               Speedy folds the bills, sticks them in the chest pocket of his overalls, looks at me.  “Where we going next?”

"There is Nothing But Immortality"

           After the gallop, we hack home the long way, cooling the horses out, Celeste and I getting chilled but the cold doesn’t affect Tom. . . .

           We ride them right into the stalls, slide off stiffly, slowly—trying not to get that painful sting in the feet—onto the straw, pull off the tack.  “I got him, Patrick,” Jack says. “Go get warm,” the sweet smell of bourbon combined with my frozen state bringing me back to galloping at Pimlico in the winters before classes at Gilman and then Hopkins.  I hobble to the dark-stained, pine-panelled tack room, ribbons Tom’s grandmother won in the show ring in the 1930’s and ’40s strung across one wall, old photos of Tom’s earliest horses winning on another wall. . . ; and Tom, smoking, still in his parka and pommel pad for a hat, sitting at his big wooden desk covered with condition books, Racing Forms, envelopes holding horses’ identification papers,  half-smoked packs of Pall Malls, an open check book, ash tray, legal pad with notes, a battered leather brief case, sheets of paper with his signature scrawled over and over across them, and an “itcher”—a dollar bill folded into a small triangle, like a guitar pick, which he uses to scratch himself.

             I sit on the collapsing couch, springs having no spring, my butt almost going to the floor.  Pull off my boots, set them on the crackling iron radiator, wave irritably at Tom’s smoke, rub my feet.  He grins, pulls open the bottom desk drawer, shuffles through papers. “Damn, it’s not in there. I forgot.  Have to hide it from Jack.”

             He stands, walks to a yellow tack trunk with black cross sashes, opens the top, flips through the tack, pulls out a fresh bottle, cracks the seal and takes a pull.  He hands it to me. I take a swig. It goes down beautifully, smoothly, warming my chest, my soul, connecting us, connecting us to the farm, to Wassie, to my father, to our love of horses and racing, sealing off the outside world of modernity and computers and terrorism and cell phones and political correctness so that all that exists is the two of us 8:00 Sunday morning sitting together in a tack room with memorabilia from our youth—before our youth—all around, the radiators clanging, the air thick with tobacco smoke and the scent of saddle soap and Lexol and Neatsfoot Oil, the pungency of horse sweat rising up from the pile of dirty saddle towels and rub rags by the washing machine.

             The door opens.  The frigid air blasts in.  It’s Celeste. She laughs at us sitting there in the warmth, then says, hopefully, “Got three tacked up and ready to go.”

He squints and looks at me.

“Let me get the boots back on.”

Out we go and do it again.

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* All art by Sam Robinson *