So I met Kurt Vonnegut once years and years ago while a freshman at a small college in the ruralest of rural Kentucky, and I had no idea who he was. At the time, if it was not about a horse, I didn’t care. But there he was in the campus cafeteria either before or after some benefit that he was attending for the school, and he was as charming as you might imagine. Meanwhile, there I was, standing in a circle with him, a professor, another student. I just laughed and chatted along like he was anyone else. I had turned 18 only weeks before and knew absolutely nothing about the world at all. Then I went on, and it was years before I learned who he really was or understood what I’d had the serendipitous, momentary fortune to experience.
A couple of years later I had the similar idiot’s fortune to meet Octavia Butler at a lunch in that same cafeteria organized by my English teacher. I knew who she was. Sort of. I knew who she was insofar as I’d seen her name on the covers of science fiction books at Waldenbooks that I hadn’t read yet. When I saw the regal black woman in her prim blue dress, I assumed she was just a nontraditional student until the conversation began. I think I was probably wearing a manure-stained t-shirt and flip-flops at the time. I do not think she cared for me much. She cannot be blamed.
It was a strange little all-women’s college in the central Kentucky bluegrass, and I was so angry at the time over the frustrations of chasing an impossible dream that I know there was much more like this that I must have missed. Never doubt the power and mystery of the unranked liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere. I do wonder what it might have been like to go there as a normal college student without an all-consuming ambition. I would have undoubtedly gotten more out of it. Success is overrated.
The more I learn about Kurt Vonnegut, the more I love him, and I already love him a lot. Somehow, though, I had never actually heard this story before:
“In the mid 1950s, Vonnegut worked very briefly for Sports Illustrated magazine, where he was assigned to write a piece on a racehorse that had jumped a fence and attempted to run away. After staring at the blank piece of paper on his typewriter all morning, he typed, ‘The horse jumped over the fucking fence,’ and left.”
– from Wikipedia’s entry on Kurt Vonnegut.
To be fair and balanced, he really should have gotten a pull quote from the horse.
And lo I tweeteth:
Steinbrenner is gone. Once upon a time I brushed his horses. He did not care. *raises glass in toast*
The year was 1995. I was grooming horses 48 hours a week, paying $150 a month for a roach-infested hovel, and living on Taco Bell and Save-A-Lot brand soda for every meal (because I could not afford much more). I suppose it was an internship, but people in the horse biz don’t call it an internship unless they want an excuse not to pay you. I wasn’t in the fields when he came to see the horses. That came weeks later, but nobody had any truly heinous stories about him. In and of itself, that was a compliment. People with that much money are generally crazy, and they like to let the crazy fly when it comes to their “pastimes” (aka race horses). The worst thing I heard was that he was overly concerned with nicks and scuffs on some of his foals. But to people who’ve never seen so much as a chicken in the wild, there is no explaining that horses are big smelly animals with sharp hooves and that sometimes they like to use them on each other. At least, from what I hear, he didn’t throw a fit. Sometimes owners did.
My encounter with him was brief. It was when I was still answering phones in the office part-time before I moved out to the barns. He was in a track suit when he opened the door to the office, said, “I’ll be in the car,” and then went back there. I walked to the general manager’s office, said, “I’m not entirely sure, but I think that was George Steinbrenner, and he wants you to go out to his car.” Without a word, the manager got up and ran. Awk-warrrrrd, haha. I don’t remember seeing him ever move that fast in any other circumstance.
I don’t think any of Steinbrenner’s horses won a Derby. I could be wrong. Haven’t paid much attention to it for quite a few years now. Any individual who blows that much money on good horses deserves to, though.