Providence

June 23, 2011, Jones Auction House - Jones, OK

    Providence: (noun)
    
    1. (often initial capital letter) the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth.
    
    2. ( initial capital letter ) God, especially when conceived as omnisciently directing the universe and the affairs of humankind with wise benevolence.
    
    3. a manifestation of divine care or direction.

    It shouldn't come easy.

I struggled.  I struggled against my broken self, Missi's dissolving happiness, and a new home seemingly hell-bent on ensuring Missi hated her new location. Her job(s) paid substantially less, the hours were ruinous, and her conflicted fiancé exacerbated an already tenuous relationship. Meanwhile, her only respite was a half-crazed paint-mustangy-mutt of a pony that when on the lunge line, sprinted in ten-foot circles like an inspired lunatic on a leash. Adding to the already combustible equation, I had been the last person to ride her fourth-level eventing champion mare in Florida before she turned up permanently lame with back issues. [Eventers reading this, rest assured, I know. I keenly understand the ire currently turning your face a pretty rose color. Focus your thoughts on puppies and mini pigs to recollect yourself. It does get better, I promise... just not yet.] It was a self-propagating demise that reeked of the inevitable, and it seemed like critical mass was always just a day away. A crushing anxiety bore down on both our shoulders as we forcefully willed ourselves forward to an abyssal precipice.  Nothing, and I mean nothing was going her, my, or our way. These were some of the most hopeless days of my entire life. Missi, I felt, was all I had, and thus all and everything to lose. I may have been steeped by a relational learning curve, but I was not without ideas or boldness.

I felt I needed something of a statement. Something that showed in a big way I was sympathetic to Missi's dilemma, and what extent I was willing to sacrifice to make her happiness a priority.  I steeled myself to finding that one thing... to quest relentlessly until I found that shining statement.  I valiantly swore to rectify our plummet into failure as I puffed my chest and my internal voice deepened to a booming British accent.  ... The reality? I didn't have a fucking clue what to do.

mav
    World's Fastest 10-Foot Circle Sprinter

It was a Thursday.  I had just returned home from the gym to an empty, silent home (aside from Willoway snoring as if he were bragging about how easy his life was). I sat in my office chair in front of my computer, staring aimlessly at the icons on my desktop.  Ten out of ten times, I would vanquish my anxious thoughts with video games until Missi returned home from work whereupon we would resume whatever precursor to holocaust was scheduled for that night. Those hours were the worst, the ones I was home, and she wasn't.  That time festered with nauseating anticipation, and not the giddy, can't-wait-until-you-get-home type.

Light bulb.

It was a Thursday and just shy of 7:30.  The Jones Auction was going on.  Missi was still downtown waitressing, accumulating the smell of fried food on her clothes all while lamenting her return home tonight.  It seemed a win-win. I alleviated my anxiety by deliberately doing something aside from waiting for the next fight as well as spend that time actively pursuing what made her happy.  I thought, if I just go for a few minutes, endure the stench of livestock urine and human sweat, take some photos, send them to her at work, this might possibly be that catalyst I've been pining for.

It felt entirely irrational, but I stowed the thought and acted before logic could set in.  Abruptly, and without reason, I sprang to my feet and briskly marched out the front door and went through the muscle memory of "phone here, wallet here, keys, insert key." I briefly sat in pregnant silence before turning the key.  I didn't park in the garage that night when I got home.  I don't know why I remember that. I also remember the radio when I turned the key half way. Music played. I always listen to talk radio.  The air conditioner fans spun to life, blowing warm air on my bare shins in eager anticipation of ignition.  I hesitated.

What in the hell am I doing? I'm going to the Jones Auction House by my own volition. I winced to myself in disappointment. Yet then a compulsion came over me that insisted. I wish I could tell you there was some sort of re-consideration on the 15 minute drive there, but there wasn't.  The second guess, the this-is-stupid feeling never came back. I just drove... and listened to the radio. I felt free from burden. It should be noted that I had only been there once before to pick up Missi, and after this night, I never went back. One night... the only night.

I was appropriately decked for the affair, brandishing my farmer-tanned arms for all the Jones Auction patrons to behold.  In fact, I felt ridiculous.  Not only was my presence ridiculous, but with my blue Hurley shorts and my red cut-off baseball t-shirt, I might as well have worn a road cone hat and stripper heels. While shielding my face (and my pride) I hid myself in the hard shadow of a top-corner bleacher seat precisely as far from the auction floor and the sweaty meat mass of what would otherwise be called people as possible. By the way, smell rises with hot air. From my most physically distanced view, I had a perfect vantage to see not only the auction floor for pictures, but to assess the entire ethos of the venue as a whole. I resented the venue before, and drew an emotional distaste for the people who came here.  I thought they were disgusting, not simply because of grooming habits, but their tolerance for the manner in which they treated their animals.  I thought less of them. I judged them.  But this was different now.

I began to feel remorse for many.  These were not stodgy, pretentious race-horse owners.  These were earthy people whose faces were carved by the wind and sun no different from the red hills I passed on the way here.  I began to realize that many there brought animals to sell because it was their only option.  They weren't ignorant, they weren't abusive or neglectful.  They were selling because they must.  The buyers... I don't want to talk about the buyers, aside from this: money does not buy someone immunity from moral decency.  The story I thought I knew changed colors before my eyes as the dingy, nameless faces took on noticeable purpose and meaning. A grimy dust thickened the auction house air with an unsettling haze of filth that was illuminated by cheap, buzzing fluorescent lights. Flies and June bugs danced about freely in lavish pestilence.

First the goats.  Missi. Fucking. Loves. Goats. I snapped several pictures, paying particular attention to smaller, younger goats to score valuable up-sell points with her.  Click, click, send.  Smiley face comes back.

$5 for four goats. This is how these auctions go, and the reality is sobering.

Cattle came stammering/stampeding through the narrow metal doorway.  The scene was nearly unpalatable.  What farmer had it so bad that he was relegated to selling his cattle for such a devastating loss in such a decrepit venue?

The ponies and donkeys followed.  I knew these pictures would be worth their pixels in gold with Missi. I stealthily slid down several rows momentarily to take photos. One of the minis was a gorgeous all-black pony with her forelock dyed punk-purple, and purple bows playfully adorned her mane and tail.  The presumed owner attempted to show how docile the mini was with kids by placing her rambunctious four year old son on her back.  The pony dutifully stood patiently still as if in cognizant support of the woman's claim.  Snap, snap, snap. Click click. Send.  Big points on this one.

IMG_0936
    $110 purple-clad pony

The boy, after being removed from the now $110 pony's back, rebelled and sobbed with shameless vigor as they took the pony away.  The mother placed her hand over her mouth, visually battling back tears as she attempted to coerce her son off the auction floor. I stopped taking pictures, and I stopped messaging sweet things to my fiance.

The horses now. I knew this was my paramount duty tonight.  Inevitably there would be a mare and her foal. The baby would be, without question, endearingly and undeniably adorable, and any photos thereof would be the maxim of scorable points on this mission. But I was sick by this point.

And it only got worse.

Good horses from broken homes went for $300. Pasture-bred mares and their foals went for $200 as a pair.  Once-great horses, now broken and without homes went for less.  The lame went for lesser.  The old, the broken, the lame, the sick, the less than desirable, the equine Dalit, the wretched refuse of the horse world were all on parade, and I could take no more. The beautiful dignity my wife admires in the spirit of a horse was nothing but a shattered, shame-wilted memory for these forgotten creatures. No great day would ever come for them again. Never. Before I had arrived at the auction house that night, I wrestled with personal hopelessness. I was sorrowfully wrong. This was hopelessness.  I was watching the death march of angels.  ...and it hurt.

The only thing more disgusting than their condition, however, was the snide, repulsive sneering of those buying. These horses weren't going home, and these buyers weren't owners. My stomach twisted with guilt, remorse, and a quantifiable rage. I clinched my jaw and rather than leave, forced myself to stay.

I do not know why. Again, I do not know why I stayed.

A flash of brown and black jarred my mind from my anger and yanked my focus back to the floor as a strikingly lanky colt charged through the haze and onto the dirt stage. Though clearly unsettled, there was something brilliant about him, something out-of-place, something unidentifiable, but undeniable.

It was new car smell, an emotional trickery of the subconscious brain that tells the pre-cortex that it should like something. I hold the undefeated title of World's Worst Mathematician, but I could see that something wasn't adding up. This colt was a Lamborghini in a used car lot.  I was tearing the back off some shitty painting I bought at a yard sale for the mere sake of the frame, only to find an original printing of the Declaration of Independence. What the hell was he doing here?

At just shy of 16hh, he was gargantuan.  He clumsily pranced around the tiny stage like a 6'5" eighth grader.  For every leg, he had five knees, and they all recklessly collided with each other in whimsical indifference.  To quote the band, 311, he was a "beautiful disaster." His coat was a filthy bay with matted black trimmings. He had what I only assumed was one white sock on his right rear because it was a lighter shade of reddish-brown dirt. His mane was not merely careless, but schizophrenic. It lay across his neck in almost deliberate anarchy. His head was too big, his body too small, his legs too long, his hips too high, his withers too low, his butt too narrow, his belly too round, his ribs too prominent, and his feet too... unpredictable. He was that human 5 year-old boy that doesn't know he's filthy, and frankly doesn't care. I adored him.

I was enamored with this dingy diamond not because he looked like a conformation photo of Secretariat; instead, I respected what he wasn't. Despite the hectic atmosphere and someone chasing him around the stage to get him to move about, the colt didn't necessarily seem scared. He resisted the urging of the arena worker not out of laziness, but curiosity. He kept trying to peer through the fence at any one of the many people in attendance.  He was making eye contact with people in the audience. He was the only living thing in the arena that night to do so, human or otherwise. He wasn't intimidated, panicky, or flighty in any way.  He was certainly spirited, though, rigorously seeking out a better vantage from which to view everyone.  He stood motionless and snorted through the fence inquisitively as a little girl walked by his face, then was struck by the arena worker with the crop.

The snap of the crop wrenched me from my new-found bromance and back to the reality of what was to come.  Before the bidding began, the nearly inaudible auctioneer offered what little back story was available.  I winced tightly through the din of the auction house in hopes to glean at least key words or phrases from the sixty year old PA system that even without the competition of noise was worthless. All I heard were Charlie Brown's parents: "wahwahwah, wah wah, wahwah wah." I tabled the desire to stand and make some boisterous, snarky comment to get people to shut up so I could hear.

"Wahwah wah wahwah wahwah..."

I felt urgency.  I do not know why I felt it.

"Wahwah Thoroughbred wah wah..."

Crystal effing clear. In the military we call it five-by-five, meaning, maximum loudness, maximum clarity. What the hell was this horse doing here?

"Wah wah wahwah wah... Jockey Club Registered wah..."

What?

"Wahwahwah yearling wah wah"

I was speechless. Man, if I had the land and facilities, and knew anything about horses, I'd take this horse home in an instant, I thought (the irony, of course, was that I did have the facilities and Missi is an equine genius). Bear with me, this was all a very confusing event.

The bidding started at $300.  I was certain this horse would go the highest of any of the sullen equines demoed that night.  The auctioneer rattled into his rhythm. He tripped and blabbered the number down to $200 with intermittent regular-speed car-salesman statements like, "Own your own racehorse folks!" I chuckled at this statement based upon my previous observation about the people in attendance. He continued, as did the bidding silence.  I wondered where the bottom started.

The colt continued his curiosity game through the fence with all the patrons as the arena handler was becoming visually frustrated with the colt's Ferdinand-the-Bull attitude.

The auctioneer lamented as the price dipped below $100. He emphasized that there was no reserve on the auction and the highest bid wins. I knew what that meant: he was left behind. Similar stories permeated the local headlines every night. As a result of the recession, feed price increases, and drought -- abandoned, neglected, and abused horses were a plague in Oklahoma.  This one, this interesting spark of uniqueness, was simply carted to the auction - and left, with the owner presumably in another zip code by now. What's more, he wasn't the typical pasture-bred Quarterhorse mutt at this auction. He was a Jockey Club Thoroughbred yearling. It wasn't that his owner couldn't afford him; his owner just didn't want him.

My mind and heart shattered into uncountable shards. - I was not a horse person.

A "buyer" sat four rows below me with what I assumed were his kids.  I won't detail why he stood out, and it would be entirely hypocritical coming from the guy fresh from the gym. I will say only this: I listened to him all night long. I knew enough to know he wasn't an owner, and none of the three previous horses he had purchased would be enjoying expanses of Bermuda grass fields.

"Fifty dollars, folks, c'mon now, let's send this horse to a good home," the auctioneer pleaded.

The buyer leaned to his left and softly giggled in his teenage son's ear: "He's worth four times that in weight."

Oh fuck no.

"HERE!"

I had no auction number. I didn't even stop by the desk on the way in.  I was in gym clothes, taking pictures of goats for my fiancé to make her happy.  I knew as much about horses as I knew about what women talk about in the restroom. I had never purchased anything at any auction ever in my entire life. In one sense, I had no idea what I was doing, in another, I had never known such clarity.

This horse never had a chance. This little-bit-of-something in the middle of worst-of-nowhere would never get a chance at life. He had existed, though not yet lived. To make matters worse, he had existed long enough to discover a world around him and engage his curiosity for it. He was eager, and intrinsically happy, seemingly unaffected by the awfulness to which he had been subject. He was just showing up to the party, and would never enjoy the dance.

Chance is the postage on a parcel of greatness.

He never had a chance.

"Yup," the buyer quickly stepped on top of my embarrassingly low starting bid of $50. I returned fire with vengeance, without restraint, or any second guess. By now I was so virulently committed, I was into the realm of irrationality. The buyer slyly leered over his shoulder to see whom he was dueling.

$70, $80, $90... I don't care how much you brought, you didn't bring as much as I'm willing to spend, I thought. He considered every bid as if he were lucidly calculating some complex equation, rubbing his chin in deep, speculative analysis.

BID, YOU PIECE OF SHIT! I screamed in my mind. I was a volley of un-aimed howitzer fire shelling in every emotional direction. I trembled with rage towards the buyer and all I had seen that night.  I wrestled with fear and uncertainty as I questioned what would happen not only to the horse, but what would come of my commitment to him. Would I be any better than the buyer? What if I wasn't?

"Sure," says the buyer, so willy-nilly after his lengthy critical decision of a $10 difference on a sub-$100 colt. I abhorred this man.

He hadn't finished the r in"sure" before I pounced. I steeled my glare with clenched teeth. I mumbled out loud, though I didn't realize until after I said it: "You are not walking out with this horse." My thoughts were apparently now falling out of my mouth.

The auctioneer pointed an aged, arthritic finger at the buyer and petitioned for a $130 bid. The buyer obnoxiously and loudly asked, "Is he broke?"

Professionally, the auctioneer responded, "Sir, as far as I know, this horse has never had a saddle on his back."

Louder than my last mumble, I snapped, "What do you care?" My boldness was a supernova now.

The buyer cynically raised his right hand over his head with a smirk. He slouched to his left as part of his theatrics.  He waved his hand forward in a "forget it" motion. "He ain't worth it."

My jaw dropped. I bought a horse.image3

[I bought Honor for $120.]

My hands quivered unabated. I lurched down the bleachers to the front desk. Nearly breathless, I proclaimed, "I bought a horse."

My rookie season was in full swing, as all three ladies looked at me as if I were indeed wearing a road cone hat and stripper heels. "What's your number?" The attractive middle-aged blonde inquired.

"Huh? My phone?"

"No Honey, your auction number?"

Shit, what have I done? I'm going to get nailed for fraud or some obscure horse sale law in Oklahoma where they hang you from your thumbs.

"What's an auction number?"

"You didn't get an auction number?

"Guess not. Am I in trouble? I wasn't anticipating buying anything tonight, but I sorta fell onto a horse."

"Better than falling off, I suppose."

"Already fell off the rocker, what more is a horse?"

The back and forth continued as she completed all my paperwork and organized everything for me in a clear plastic paper cover.  There was a yellow sheet with a bunch of horse hieroglyphs and a crudely depicted generic horse both head-on and from the side.  It was loosely penciled in with his markings. Then I noticed what looked like some official piece of documentation. It read "Jockey Club" across the top in Old English font and a stamped seal emblazoned the bottom right. In bold black letters towards the top it read:

"Latin Honor"

Honor? Are you kidding me?

"How will you be transporting your horse?", the same smiling blonde asked.

I stumbled, "Uh..."

With grace and savvy only a married woman can muster she said, "There's a young man out by the loading chute with a white baseball cap, he can take your horse home for a fee if you don't have a trailer."

image1"Ya, that'll work, thanks."

I meandered back behind the auction house, behind the wall with the narrow metal doorway through which all livestock had passed.  Walking behind the wall was to peel back the curtain, and Oz was uglier than anticipated. What was offensive on the auction floor was pronounced louder in the back. I was reminded of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Animals were cramped without food, water, or freedom of movement. All were noticeably miserable and I was sinking with them. Quickly, I located the kid with the white baseball cap and passed him my information. I thanked him for his help. He reciprocated and said he would have the horse to the house by 11:00. I had to leave this place. I began repressing what was around me by caging my vision to the dirt floor.

    Latin Honor - Jones Auction House June 23, 2011

As I made my way back to the front of the complex, I spotted him, alone and in the dark with little more than moonlight on his stall. His silhouette is what caught my attention, much as it had earlier. The off-to-the-side area was remarkably quiet, at least distanced from the collective din of the auction house floor and the loading chutes. He was isolated in a larger stall along with one or two other "bought" animals. He stood motionless, petrified in either shock or resignation. He was exhausted - defeated... spiritless, as if what had been clutching to life in defiance of the handler earlier had actually died on the auction house floor. He crammed himself into the far back corner of the fifteen by fifteen stall. I climbed up on the fence and sat as motionless as he. The optics of the scene tormented my conscience. I had no answers for him, no idea how to rectify anything in his mind, no means to ease his suffering.

I apologized for not being better.

You can't lie to a horse. - This was the first lesson Honor ever taught me.

I introduced myself. He made no response or acknowledgement of my existence whatsoever. My heart broke again. I took a picture. Selfishly, I wanted to reach out and pet this living breathing novelty of mine. But the childish thought subsided when I considered the lesson Honor had just taught me. I promised him a chance, meant it, choked on my words, and walked away.

I was a broken man with a broken compass before the auction. Then I went somewhere I didn't want to go. I was challenged outside of my comfort zone. I was forced into a moral decision requiring courage in the face of uncertainty. I found the scarce good in a wretched place. I felt mercy for it. I fought for it.

And I left with Honor.

My statement had been made, but it wasn't as I had envisioned. It was better. I drove home a slightly better version than when I left... but the fun was just starting.

Providence - the beginning.