Tuesday Morning, Leaving Durango in a Hurry:

A series of events at the Durango fairgrounds 1 this afternoon reminded me of a guy I knew in elementary school. His name was Johnny Popcorn (actually a nickname, his real name was the more pedestrian Jonathan Philatle Popcorn.) A few years older than me, he was likewise a few years stronger and faster. He was born in Reeves, La, and spent most of his evenings in the cedar dark of the school’s bus shed. Strictly speaking, it was the bus shed for the elementary, middle and high schools, since the town was tiny, and the school correspondingly small. His primary accomplishment was getting arrested for a “crime against nature.” The actual details of the infraction are relatively tame, when considered in the context of his impossibly deviant home life and violent treatment at the hands of his parents and sisters. His father found out when Johnny was 4 that the scent of his son’s blood made him forget his own unrealized potential and wasted youth. (This was according to psychologists after the fact. His father said it helped him sleep—that it reminded him that he had children.) Johnny’s mother literally set fire to anything combustible that happened to fall within her arm’s reach. If she found herself alone with a copy of the TV guide, it got sizzled. How she was able to ignite the items remains a curious topic of debate, since no one gave her matches, she was confined to her recliner, except for brief trips to the restroom and a sitting on the porch on Saturdays, and she was searched when bathed by the officers of the court for the expert witness testimony she performed via satellite for supplemental income.

Two sheriff’s deputies, following up on the rarest of small town alarms, a domestic violence call, happened upon young Goodman popcorn and the object of his affection, a bay mare who, to her credit, kept her dignity despite the sudden appearance of a sweaty young man dangling from her hindquarters. Except for an occasional whinny and the perfunctory headtoss (for Johnny’s benefit, one might guess), she seemed unwilling to admit the existence of the writhing creature behind her. Given the nature of her usual suitors, the tiny fellow slapping her haunches and yelling, according to the deputies, the lyrics to George Jones’ perennial CW favorite “The Race is On,” can hardly be expected to evoke more than simple pity. In fact, the mare pretended to be completely unaware of the intrusion.

The officers approached and inquired as to the exact nature of this coupling.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Asked officer I, genuinely hoping for a miraculous explanation—a response whose impact was sufficient to explain away this terrible scene, and stave off the vaguely erotic stirrings from beneath the oiled and overtight gunbelt of Officer II. Perhaps

“Old gal’s got the colic, just trying to loosen her up. I read about this technique in the US Journal of Veterinary Medicine.” or,

“&^%*#$%@” A string of bloody expletives followed by either

a) cataleptic fit or,
b) paroxysms of laughter,

both of which would lead to the conclusion that poor, poor Johnny popcorn was touched and therefore in need of help, rather than punishment.

Sadly, the response, now legendary in the town of his humble birth, was much simpler. Both officers stood and wiped sweat from their respective brows, one with an embroidered handkerchief (the gift of a long since married high school sweetheart who left him when he entered the military) and the other with his sleeve. The weight of their earlier question hung in the pasture between them, interfering with the progress of mosquitoes pausing to decide upon which of the duly appointed officers to land. Johnny slowed his manic thrusting long enough to offer:

“Fucking this horse.”

After a brief jail term and some probation, which required that he have no contact, social or otherwise, with any horse, male or female, Johnny returned to his parents’ home and continued basically where he left off. He filled his days hanging out in the bus shed and drinking cokes at Dupuis’ Quik Stop when his odd jobs allowed it. But the spent the rest of his life half obscured in the shadows of his equine love affair, although ‘affair’ seems a bit of an overstatement. According to Popcorn, the congress occurred

“just once, and that the mare didn’t seem to mind. Not that she was asking for it, but she was a bit friendly. Maybe too friendly, if you know what I mean.”

In exactly the manner one expects in a tightly knit community, people responded oddly. The vast majority of people were horrified to distraction, spending years attempting to understand the event, and offering explanations over coffee and cards that inevitably concluded,

 “God Damn.  

           A horse. 

               God Damn.”  

The other, quieter parts were inspired by the antiheroic charm of his response to the officers. Regardless of his status as a dangling, shoeless equiphiliac, he became, at least privately, a sort of cult hero-- The archetypal sad man overcoming and attempting to get on with his life, without the interruptions and hassles caused by mounting a horse.

1While waiting to judge a hangar full of preserves and 4-H macramé disasters, I watched one of the fairground’s auxiliary police officers sprint past me into the Gallery of Hays. It’s an exhibit designed to cultivate corporate interest in the “development of sturdier grasses for consumption by livestock and, eventually, man.” An eighth grader at Graham Gardner Middle had postulated that if humans would simply practice eating hay, alfalfa, rye, etc. that we could evolve into creatures capable of digesting it effectively. This would not only solve hunger problems but would help us, as a race, to appreciate the dilemma facing livestock, namely “Why should I eat only to be eaten.” The town council thought this idea wonderful and began immediately raising funds to develop grasses which were flavored, textured, and I hope, composed molecularly in fashions more suitable for human tastes. A terribly misinformed gentleman from GreenPeace apparently meant to stop this Anthrocentric abuse of local plant life and the horrifying anti-cow legislation to which it would inevitably lead (according to his attorney). He stormed the Gallery about an hour before it opened, in as much as one man can effectively storm any surplus airforce hangar which is only locked in the dead of winter to protect the hays from freezing (which won’t be necessary if the research is sufficiently funded and the hardier strains take hold).

His method of protest was to induce in himself a crippling case of bloat. He ate every sort of hay available and within about 40 minutes was beginning to cramp as well as experience vivid auditory and visual hallucinations. The pain in his stomach and the horrors in his ears (choir boys telling him to graze less fitfully) and eyes (those same choirboys directing him to the podium, so he could deliver his grand elocution) continued until the authority rendered him cooperative. Senor greenpeace staggered into the ceremonial Hog Trough of World Alliance with grasses of every description extending from nooks and crannies of every description. The sight of this man, regally bloated, a purple mountain majesty in Birkenstocks, every portal of his body filled with the eager faces of tommorrow’s hay, the end of world hunger and the evolution of milk cows into productive members of our no longer agrarian society, nearly overtook me. With the last of my resolve overcoming my concern for this man’s safety or dignity, I asked him about the emerald city, Dorothy, and offered my support in the form of a shouted epiphany and whistle stop rendition of “If I only had a brain.”

The blue ribbon went, incidentally, to a young Karen Morphus, for her macaroni recreation of Mad Mable’s, a brothel in Durango during the mid 19th century, complete with rotini staircases and prairie doves of ricotta and vermicelli.