Hey All, I have this friend named Larry. Larry is hilarious and a writer who would like to be a part of the mommy bloggy daddy bloggy community if only it didn’t sound so queer. I feel you Larry. (by the way, those are my words not his but I knew what he meant) (also by the way, I mean queer not as gay but as “slightly ill, queasy” Webster definition so hold your nasty comments or leave them anyway. It’s all fun.)
Do They Make Ten-Gallon Helmets?
by Larry Bleidner
We – the extended family that is – were all meeting for the yearly back slap and hug fest (a complex semaphore that masks festering sibling resentments and ancient ancestral animosities) in Scottsdale. It was just after Christmas.
Various entertainments were scheduled for each day. There was an aborted balloon ride. The balloon had a tear in it big enough to admit an NTSB crew and no thanks, Captain Hotair, we’d prefer not to view the mysteries of the desert floor by night nor wait until the balloon seamstress arrives.
It was about an hour’s drive from the hot air balloon staging area back to our hotel, with plenty of disappointed faces in the car. Tomorrow was horseback riding. Since I was the only experienced rider (but no rodeo star) I’d been assigned the task of coordinating the equine excursion. Wanting to avert any balloon-like snafu at the dude ranch, I called them – again.
“Hello, Painted Desert Dude Ranch?”
“This is Larry Bleidner. I called a couple weeks back to reserve some horses for tomorrow?”
I heard fingers strafe a keyboard. Wow, even cowboys use computers. I wondered if his had little six gun appliqués. Maybe a horseshoe tab closure or a tooled leather mouse.
“Yessir. I’m lookin’ at your res’ right here on my screen. Ten ayem tomorrah. Four ay-dults an’ fahve kids.”
“That’s right. What’s your name again?”
“Eustace, I have a favor to ask. I’ve done a little riding, but the closest the rest of these people have been to a horse is a merry-go-round. So I’d like some really old, tired horses, you know what I mean?”
“You want some half totals.”
“Half totals. They’re half dead an’ totally worn out. You couldn’t make ’em gallop with Rambo knives for spurs. We got a special barn for ’em. Call it the horsey-hospice.”
“Oh yeah. Most days I gotta wake ’em up to feed ’em. You’ll have a nice, easy ride, thas’ fo sure.”
“Well, they do have one imperfection, might bug you a little.”
“They’re so damn close the last round up, they already smell like glue! Heh- heh- heh.”
The next day, we crammed into two Avis cars and drove out to the Painted Desert Dude Ranch. My wife and her sister chose separate cars. A sure sign of friction, but they’d never cop to it. Appearances must be maintained. For the children. And the parents.
We pulled up to a dusty corral and a couple of barns with corrugated steel roofs. The sun bounced off in shimmers of desert heat.
There were nine saddled creatures lined up, waiting for us. Their silhouettes looked like hammocks with legs. Eustace was no bullshitter. One old Palomino was extra peculiar. It appeared his johnson had migrated from the customary location to his rib cage. It was erect and positioned like a foot peg on a Harley. Thinking him a candidate for Ripley’s Odditorium, I grabbed my reading glasses for a closer look.
“That there’s a tumor, ” came Eustace’s diagnosis, from over my shoulder.
“You kin touch it if you want. It don’t hurt him none.”
“Never crossed my mind, Eustace.”
“Well then, let’s git the paperwork started.”
I followed Eustace into an office the size of the booth at Checkpoint Charlie. It was hot as hell. He had two grimy clipboards with Bic pens on strings.
“Helmet rental is three dollars extra.”
“We recommend our riders wear helmets. For their safety.”
I thought he might be kidding but then saw the assortment of headgear on the shelves behind him. If anyone needed protection, it was the half totals outside, about to be ridden to their graves.
I felt a presence behind me. My sister-in-law. A very safety-first type person.
“I want five helmets please, ” she told Eustace.
“No helmets for my crew, Eustace. We’ll take our chances with those wild stallions.” Eustace guffawed. My sister-in-law set her jaw.
I scribbled my signature on the clipboard and handed him a Mastercard. As he swiped it, he said “Don’t forgit the liability waiver.” He riffled the pages on the clipboard. It had more places for initials than a mortgage application. I made a couple of dozen x’s and stepped outside.
My wife and kids wore ball caps, well ventilated with mesh crowns. The big brims stymied the Arizona sun. The cousins’ helmets looked like NHL issue. Their unprotected faces baked.
We rode around a dusty trail in single file for over an hour. There was something surreal about watching two middle-aged parents in hockey helmets creeping along on swayback nags.
We dismounted. The horses groaned with relief. The cousins from the east were sunburned. One of them subsequently learned she had ringworm, courtesy of another safety-conscious, but hygiene ignorant helmet-wearing equestrian.
But at least she was alive. And safe.
Larry is the author of MACK DADDY — (Citadel)… the standard handbook for new(er) dads.