Monday, September 8, 2014

WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT HORSEBACK RIDING...PLENTY!

There’s an old joke set in 1910 Brooklyn. A police sergeant walks from his Bedford-Stuyvesant precinct, to check on a first-day, rookie beat-cop. To his utter shock, he sees the fledgling patrolman dragging a huge, dead horse. The sergeant confronts the rookie, “What are you doing?” The beginner says, “This nag died on Kościuszko Street…but I can’t spell Kościuszko for my report…so I’m taking it to Gates Avenue.”
TADEUSZ KOSCIUSZKO (1746-1817) WAS A POLISH MILITARY ENGINEER. AFTER HE BECAME A NATIONAL HERO, IN HIS HOMELAND, HE IMMIGRATED TO AMERICA AND BECAME A KEY MAN IN OUR REVOLUTIONARY WAR AGAINST THE ENGLISH. TODAY IN NEW YORK, HIS NAME APPEARS ON STREETS, BRIDGES, HIGHWAYS, SCHOOLS AND MUCH MORE.

This joke was killer material at the turn of the century. Now, it’s badly dated and unfunny mainly because three generations later, horses are so removed from our culture that they have become irrelevant.

My grandparents might have thought the humor was mirthful but by the 1950’s, their kids, (my parents) were fixated on the budding space age. So when grandma and grandpa bought me a horsey rocking toy, my mom and dad saw it as a less than cute vestige from the ice age.
I HAD AN APPRECIATION FOR HORSES AT AN EARLY AGE.

It’s not funny but by the time I was four, the baby-boomer mentality used the television as a robotic babysitter. In my case it really worked for my folks because I’d idly stare quietly at the screen forever. The one show that I clearly remember getting fired up for and interacting with was, “THE LONE RANGER."
THE LONE RANGER STARTED AS A RADIO PROGRAM IN 1933. IT WAS ON TV FROM 1949-1957, (221 EPISODES). BUOYED BY IT'S "WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE," THEME MUSIC, I WORE MY COWBOY HAT AND SHOT MY CAP GUNS FROM THE HORSE-LIKE ARM OF OUR SOFA. THUS CONTRIBUTING TO A SHORT ATTENTION SPAN THAT WOULD LAST A LIFE TIME.

In 1959, it wasn’t funny to me when…for their amusement and posterity, mom and dad set me on a live horse. If they were internally cringing waiting for me to scream bloody murder, they were pleasantly mistaken. Because I was seriously fulfilling my childish, outlaw fighting fantasy…and loved horses.
THE BRONX ZOO 1959. I LOOK PRETTY CONFIDENT. TOO BAD DAD WAS SO MINDFUL OF KEEPING THE HELPER'S FACE OUT OF THE SHOT THAT HE CUT THE PONY'S HEAD OFF.

My paternal grandmother furthered my unfunny experiences with horses while nurturing frustration. On many occasions, she took my sister and me on outings. If these daytrips included either Brooklyn’s Prospect Park or Manhattan’s Central Park, sis and I were treated to a merry-go-round ride. But I guess granny thought I was too young or wild or stupid to ride the bobbing horse statues. As far as she was concerned, Little Stevie wasn’t splitting his head open on her watch so she forced me to sit on the carousel’s bench…next to her. Trust me it wasn’t funny, a seven year-old shouldn’t be subjected to such an immediate and comprehensive understanding of humiliation. I always refused future invitations to ride.

In 1967, this unfunny horse theme continued in the Cherokee Indian Reservation outside Smoky National Park, (near Gatlinburg Tennessee). I thought I’d prove my mettle to the world by posing in the heroic photo below.
FOR A QUARTER, A NATIVE AMERICAN GUY AT A CONCESSION STAND BRINGS OVER A LADDER AND YOU GET TO TAKE YOUR OWN PICTURES.

Unfortunately for me, everyone who I was trying to impress (assuming they had half a brain), could see that buckin’ bronco was friggin’ plastic.

I only have a handful of experiences on a full-sized horse. On March 1, 2010, I wrote a blog called, “THE LAW FIRM OF IMPERIALE, IANUCCI AND IZZO.” In it, three friends and I (1980) rented horses in the Las Vegas desert. It was not at all funny when a snake spooked my friend’s horse. The beast lit out. It galloped with my poor buddy slipping off the saddle and clinging sideways, hanging on for dear life…for about a half mile, (okay, it WAS funny when he was safe. Too bad back then, we didn’t get a video…it would have been priceless).

Also in Las Vegas, (April 1982), I took my wife and her mother to Bonney Springs Ranch. My mother-in-law swore how good she was at horseback riding. So I wasn’t smiling when we got out to the middle of nowhere and she chickened-out.
DESPITE MY BEST SALESMANSHIP, MY MOTHER-IN-LAW WOULDN'T GET ON THE HORSE.  SUE SAID, "YOU GOT TO SHAKE OUT THE NEGATIVITY."  SHE SHOOK HER HEAD, TORSO, ARMS AND LEGS THEN SAID, "NOW, LAUGH."  IT WASN'T FUNNY WATCHING THIS PLAY OUT AND I WAS EMBARRASSED.  HER MOM DID TRY AND NOTHING HAPPENED.  SUE SAID, "TRY AGAIN BUT REALLY LAUGH."  WHILE HER MOM DID SO SUE SAID, "REMEMBER WHEN BILLY (SUE'S BROTHER) SPLIT HIS PANTS IN VAN CORTLANDT PARK."  HER MOM LAUGHED AND MAGICALLY, SECONDS LATER SHE MOUNTED UP.  AS YOU CAN SEE, SHE (WE) HAD THE BEST TIME.
My wife and I were near Cape Hatteras (June 1991). We saw a sign for horseback riding in the town of Buxton. How cool it would have been to ride along the beach. We were thirsting for madcap excitement as we entered the office. But NOOOOOOOOOO! Those lazy bastards thought it was too hot to take the horses out, (take themselves out). That wasn’t funny to us…they were full of horse shit. Our memories of riding horses in the over 100° Nevada desert were still fresh in our minds, (of course out west, it’s a dry heat).
WHERE'S JOHNNY FONTAINE WHEN YOU NEED HIM? SECONDS AFTER THIS PHOTO WAS SHOT, OUR FUNNY MOOD CHANGED BECAUSE THE TAXIDERMY HORSE HEAD MOUNTED ON THE PADDOCK WALL (above) WAS THE ACTUAL HORSE WHO PLAYED "KHARTOUM" IN THE 1972 MOVIE, "THE GODFATHER."
The last time I was on a horse wasn’t funny either. It was strictly business…but fun.
               OCTOBER 1991, MOUNT POCONO PENNSYLVANIA.

Since the birth of my son Andrew, (1994), I have not been on a horse and neither has he.

Sue and I discovered in my boy’s infancy that he had difficulty with motion. Even his baby swing in the living room caused him to scream and cry. So when Andrew was four-months old, I showed a complete lack of intelligence by putting him on a pony ride, at the Absecon (NJ) downtown fair.

To paraphrase Einstein, a definite sign of insanity is, constantly failing and trying the same thing while expecting different results. So it wasn’t funny a year later at the Smithville NJ May Fest, when I tortured my kid again.
MAY-1995. YES, ANDREW LOOKS STUNNED BUT I MADE SURE THE PONY NEVER MOVED...AT LEAST I GOT THE PICTURE.

Sue and I finally realized our folly outside a supermarket. That’s when we set baby Andrew in the mechanical horsey ride. Oh how happy our little bugger was…until I put in a quarter. Over the next few years it was no joke, we saved a fortune by sitting him in the rides and NOT putting money in the machine.

Andrew was one and a half when we went on the carousel in Wildwood, (NJ). Einstein must have looked down from heaven and shook his head in disbelief. At that moment, I should have remembered a quote from another wise man once said; we mock what we are to be. That prophecy came true when, to save the day, I went into grandma-mode and switched to a bench seat...but it still didn’t help.

I really must be insane because when Andrew was two, I bought him a standard rocking horse. Sue did a great job hiding it. Then as I distracted him in the family room, she took it from the garage and set in the dining room. She put a giant sheet of wrapping paper over it and called him in. I remember his exact words as he yelled in happiness, “The greatest!” Again, I wish I had taped this cherished event because he hugged that horse’s neck as if his most fantastic dream had been realized.
DON'T LET HIM FOOL YOU, ANDREW IS JUST SITTING ON, "THE GREATEST."  IF WE HAD AN ODOMETER ON IT, I'M CERTAIN MY BOY LOGGED LESS THAN A SIXTEENTH OF A MILE ON THAT HORSE, (OR SHOULD I SAY, CLOTHES HANGER).
It should be noted here that kids are inconsistent. On Father’s Day 1998, I took Andrew one-on-one to the Philadelphia Zoo. I knew of his motion problem and sarcastically said, “You wanna go on that camel ride with me?” He enthusiastically DID. I even drafted the help of a kindly old-timer to shoot some video with my palm-corder, (someone I could out-run if he decided to steal it). The five-minute film of this accomplishment is one of my prized possessions, (of course it’s on VHS, so it’s not funny because until we transfer it to DVD, it’s like we don’t have it).

In 2002, we went on an extended family getaway weekend to the Massanutten Resort, (near Harrisonburg Virginia). They had hundreds of activities but the one thing I really wanted to do was get Andrew on a horse. Set beautifully against the woods, across several streams and against the majestic mountainside, we made it all the way to stable. My boy looked around. He gave it some serious thought and in a mature way, sincerely expressed no desire to mount-up.

In a last ditch attempt to get him to reconsider, I told him about the one time in my life that riding a horse was indeed funny, (sorry I have no video evidence).

In August 1966, my parents took my sister and I to a dude ranch in Peekskill New York. The highlight of the trip was horseback riding. I looked forward to that day from the second I heard about it.

I guess back then insurance rules were lax by today’s standards because a wrangler (from fifty feet away) gave us, (about thirty men, women and children), a tuturial. I was thrilled to be atop my horse. So with my imagination running wild, I learned next to nothing from the demonstration.

I was so into being on that horse.  My eleven year-old intellect never considered that I could fall off and be trampled by a thousand hooves.  So my cluelessness never stopped me from fantasizing about being the Lone Ranger as the guides led us out, single file onto the trail.

In my excitement, I didn’t notice that I was separated from my family. Even when I did understand that I was alone in the crowd, it didn’t matter because I asserting my independence and out to prove my budding puberty was coming to the right place...plus, I was so wrapped up in the adventure that I didn’t care.

The hour-long ride was a combination of walking the horses through the forest and stopping, (the drill fortified the false image that we were controlling our animals.) The truth was the horses were so well trained that they just followed each other. Of course if you showed weakness, your horse did whatever it wanted.

The lady in front of me was a big mouth craving attention. She couldn’t steer her horse and had less control than me. So when her renegade strayed to sniff a flower, mine followed. I tugged on the reins but my maverick wouldn’t budge. When our horses were ready to get back in line…they got back in line.

The lady was entertaining because she started talking to her horse like it was a puppy. Still, it went off the trail a second time and my genius followed. This time they were both so stubborn that a wrangler had to stop the proceedings to come back and rescue us.

This walk-and-stop formula took up 90% of our tour. Then we were instructed that we will be trotting. The trotting turned out to be under a minute. It killed my back because there’s a way to ride a horse and I didn’t learn it in the coral. Before I could complain, we were walking again. The lady in front of me was jabbering a mile-a-minute. Everyone including me was laughing because she purposely exaggerated the trot and called it a near-death experience. The bigger bonus was she was using terrible language to curse her husband who was ten horses ahead of her, (I loved to hear adults use profanity).

It was even funnier when nobody came to console her. Then holy shit, we broke out into another trot. This time I knew my pain wouldn’t last long so I gutted-it-out as if I were a full-blooded teenager. My plan worked because in no time, we were back to walking. At that point, off in the distance, through the trees, I got my first glimpse of the safe haven, the dude ranch!

Suddenly, the woman in front of me started laughing. It was crazy because soon she started crying. To this day, I’ve never seen anything like because she was sincerely laughing and crying at the same time. She screamed out for everyone to stop and demanded her husband. This time he came and for everyone in earshot to hear, she announced that she had peed in her pants.

It’s almost fifty years later and I still get a chuckle whenever I think of that lady. So I shared it with Andrew at Massanutten…but it didn't get him on a horse. Instead, I should have told him about Kosciuszko Street or told him to gyrate his whole body and laugh? He’ll be twenty-one in a few months and he’s never had the joy of horseback riding.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You write very well and made horseback riding funny :) What a memory! You have a lovely family. --- CUZ LLD Vero Beach FLA