Nov 02

Overheard on the construction site

The scene: a couple of dude carpenters in their early 30s are shooting nail guns into barn rafters 25 feet up. Distorted Christian rock blares from overdriven radio speakers in nearby Ford F-150.

Texan Carpenter A: Marilyn Manson actually really scares me.

Texan Carpenter B: Whoa, I know! He’s a freak.

A: You know who else? Alice Cooper. He’s out there, too.

B: He’s the one who eats babies, right?

A: Yeah, he’s probly pro-abortion.

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Marilyn Manson photo swiped from here.

Oct 31

Crone is ma’am-o-grammed by hog-trappin’ cowboy

Feral hogs So Crone, you say, what’s doin’ down at the good old manure pile?

Behold a couple of feral hogs, caught in a hog trap. The trap was set, and the photo taken, at the manure pile by my excellent barn contractor and fellow Cottonmouth Countian, Travis.

Travis isn’t his real name, I confess. His real name is the best name I’ve ever heard for a barn contractor, and suits him so exquisitely that I was sorely tempted to use it here, for what would surely be the most savory fillip of delight you would experience all day. I have no plans but to write most glowingly of him on this blog, right? But sadly a crone can’t just go around using barn contractors’ real names on the internet willy-nilly, so Travis it is, alas.

Lard knows I’m no fawning heterosexual looks-ist crone, but nevertheless of young Travis I am compelled to say this: he is breathtakingly handsome. He’s like the underwear model love child of, say, Brad Pitt and a really handsome dude. This caliber of handsome is not often seen outside film studios or red carpet events, and so it is extremely distracting. Sometimes, when he drawls to me in that textured Hill Country patois about cement block or roof framing, I find I’m not really listening so much as marveling at the luminosity of the glow he emits. He looks particularly stunning in a stiff white straw cowboy hat.

I am not proud of myself, by the way, for objectifying this dude. But you should probably know, before this gets much further, that I’m not as perfect as I once (thought I) was.

Other fun Travis facts: his voicemail greeting contains the parting valediction “have a blessed day.” I have no idea how to do that! Also, he wears a Jesus fish on a leather thong around his neck. He ropes steers in rodeos and his pre-school daughter is a mutton-buster. And he addresses me as “ma’am.” All the time. Even in text messages. This means he has to switch keyboard screens to add the apostrophe. That’s dedication!

At first all the ma’amming irritated me. This antiquated, chivalric form of address may be considered to otherize the addressee, connoting pedestal-putting and a distancing insistence (distinstence?) on the bogus construct of Southern feminine frailty. But no amount of “just call me Jilroy” could pry the ma’am from Travis’s lips. He’d been too well steeped in patriarchy at his mother’s knee. So, since I couldn’t stop it, I said what the hell and decided to just go with the flow. Now I actually sort of relish it as the measure of deference I so richly deserve as the ranking crone of the manor. The sheer politeness of Travis’s demeanor — that he can ma’am me without seeming patronizing or condescending — blows my mind. I mean, the “ma’am” is almost universally preceeded by a “yes.”

Yes, ma’am. Absolutely, ma’am. No request is too large, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.

A welcome change, if you’ll excuse a small venting digression, from my infuriating, combative handyman. Now that dude, though his intellect is vastly inferior to mine, argues with me incessantly, and actually expects to win these arguments using the yelling-louder-than-me method. A philistine.

Remind me to fire that dude.

Anyway, when Travis astutely perceived that Dreadful Acres is more or less overrun with feral hogs, he offered to trap some of’em for me. I would just as soon leave them be, but they are aggressive and dangerous and destructive to property, so I was grateful for the offer. Sensing my despair over the potential for animal cruelty suggested by the scheme, Travis assured me that he takes the live pigs down to San Antonio to some hogs-for-the-hungry group that selflessly slaughters them to feed the poor. I had the idea that Travis might have been stretching the truth about this semi-favorable outcome to chill me out, but I didn’t pry too deeply. One way or another those hogs have got to go. I reveal no secrets when I say that I lack the skills to dispatch’em myself. I own a shotgun but am too stupid to handle it without endangering all lives within a 5-mile radius.

Feral hogs. Traps. Shotguns. Dreadful.

Oct 27

Icy fingers of dawn choke Crone

Winter gloomWhat, you ask, could today’s melanbucolica possibly be? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s the depressing morning raincloud sky, coupled with the season’s inexplicably having bloinked from summer straight into winter literally overnight. As I lay in bed curling a wrinkled lip at the grim panorama, the icy purgatorial skidsteer of doom crashed through my window and dumped a ton of bricks on my usual dawnzerly euphoria. Thus I didn’t even notice, as I snapped this photo for blogular posterity, the furry woodland creature frolicking in the foreground. Get out of my gloomy photo, you flippin cute-ass deer!

Next I’m digging around in the back of the closet for the flannel-lined pants. Would there be a scorpion back there, perchance? Why of course.

But wait, you say. Flannel-lined pants? But surely it can’t be lower than 75 degrees there in Cottonmouth County.

I wish! A little-known fact about the Texas Hill Country is that it is second only to, I think, Siberia in terms of winter nippiness. I’ll have you know that the Tractor Supply thermometer I stuck in the kitchen window asserts that it’s a bone-chilling 43ºF at this very minute. That has to be a North American record.

As you are aware, I am a world-renowned expert on evolutionary biology, and I’m here to tell you that Texan crones were never intended to be scumbling around in the dark with hay and foul-smelling cat food at such extreme temperatures. We require flannel-lined pants and hats with ear flaps under these challenging conditions. Not to mention vats of coffee and slices of hot cinnamon raisin toast and people to complain to who nod sympathetically and say things like, “Oh, you poor thing, let me rub your feet.”

Smudge, the feral cat, has successfully transitioned from under-the-horse-trailer to a blanket in the garage, so at least I don’t have to worry about him freezing to death. But at this time of year I always freak out about the horses dying of hypothermia. My vet, and other sensible, science-based horse-sperts, assure me that blankets are absolutely unneccessary in 40º weather. Intellectually I know this to be true, so I strive to stay my hand as it reaches involuntarily for the stack of Rambo Supremes. But damn, it’s a struggle. Last night I was out there in the paddock at 2 in the morning, feeling their ears and chucking them the “extra flake of hay” that (spuriously, in my opinion) is said to “warm them up.”

Naturally this morning none of them were very dead, but if I keep up this obsessive-compulsive midnight snack behavior they’re all going to turn into land whales and founder. Not to mention I’ll croak from sleep deprivation.

Oct 25

Gross horse reality neither jibes nor jives with cronal nostalgia

The young crone and her horse Serenade, ca. 1970. Note no helmet, no sunscreen, no boots. Yikes!

When you’re a kid — and I’m sure nobody will mind if I continue addressing these essays to the International Vagina Community; it is an ingrained habit, and, unlike most habits in which crones indulge, it has, at worst, a neutral impact on the good of humanity — but as I was saying, when you’re a kid, you want one thing.

A pony.

I won’t lie. I had ponies when I was a kid, and it was awesome. When my sister Tidy and I went completely horse-crazy during what might now be called our “tween” years, my parents obligingly moved us to a horse farm and dabbled in breeding Arabians. It was such an idyllic American childhood that I didn’t fully realize it was over until, at the indecently advanced age of 40, a couple of rapid-fire adult-themed tragedies rang me on the old clue phone.

Poor, callow me. I wasn’t a wise old crone yet, or even an aunt. I was just a feckless narcissist in her prime who, when forced at last to go mano a mano with truth, found she was incapable of responding with anything other than chronic melancholy. I was just pathetic enough to imagine that all my past happiness yet survived, preserved in a bubble of conflated space and memory and rural Texas and dappled horses and #3 BBQ Burgers at the Royal Drive-In in Frisco, all completely unmolested by time’s relentless bitch-slaps.

Well, you can guess what happened next. I staggered around for a while, but, convinced of the truth of the bubble, ultimately I determined that I would Go Home.

Galling as it is when celebrated white dudes turn out to be right about these goddam universal truths, I have to grudgingly give that one old dude credit. You really can’t go home. You can’t even say “bite me, Tom Wolfe,” because that would only be shooting the messenger.

My bubble, for example, omitted this useful bit of info: horses, it turns out, are just awful.

Here, by way of illustration, is Stella, my pretty little 15-year-old Arabian mare.

Stella

Stella is one of two Dreadful Acres inhabitants who came from an Arabian horsemill prominent breeder in North Texas. She is a sweet little pet, a classic, old-fashioned Crabbet-looking mare who wouldn’t hurt a fly. She is but 14 hands and some change, but nevertheless was professionally trained for the Western pleasure ring by a 220-lb dude.

I don’t know him personally, but my assumption is that this professional trainer dude is a prick extraordinaire. And not just because he’s too large to ride these tiny pony-size Arabians. I assert the dude’s prickness based on the fact that when Stella arrived she had 2 infected girth sores, a blown hock, evidence of a badly healed broken rib, and wouldn’t let anyone touch her chest or pick up her hind feet. She also frequently did that thing that abused and terrified horses do, where they suddenly grow an extra two feet of neck, and stick their heads straight up in the air, and look down at you with psycho-eyes like you’re a fiend in human shape, all while trotting in place. If it looks like they’re gonna blow at any second, that’s because they are, and the result is a swath of death and destruction as far as the eye can see.

So that was pretty dreadful. Fortunately I cured her of all that crap. My brilliant plan was to not hit her across the chest with a whip all the flippin time. Whadya know. Now she’s footloose and fancy-free.

Yep, everything was comin’ up roses for old Stel, so naturally she developed the famed Austin allergies and started rubbing holes in her eyes

Stella

This, I think I can assert without fear of contradiction, is really dreadful.

Every year, starting in about March, I have to poison her with mega-doses of prednisone to calm the allergic reaction and slather her with silverdine to control the secondary infection, just to keep her eyes moderately unswollen and fairly functional. To get the pred into her, I have to soak a handful of senior pellets in apple juice, pound 20 pills into dust with a hammer, mix it together, and top with agave syrup. The pred makes it hard to keep extra weight off her, so I have to weigh every ounce of hay she eats. To keep the flies out of the raw eye sores she has to wear a fugly fly mask all summer, clear into November. The fly mask doesn’t bother her a bit, but from my perspective, it kind of defeats the purpose of keeping a pretty horse in the front yard. The most excellent-looking part of an Arabian is precisely the part that is covered up by a fly mask.

Stella

One kind of gratifying, un-dreadful thing is that she’ll let me dab the silverdine on her eyes without my even having to put a halter on her. She hasn’t unfurled that extra neck in quite some time, except to mug me for more carrots through the gate.

Oct 24

Spinster aunt morphs into crone

Greetings, patriarchy blamers.* It’s really good to see you all again. Probably you’re wondering what the fuck, so:

MouseI’m just gonna say it: I just don’t feel like writing about prostitution, abortion, pornography, FGM, high heels, or shitbag straight dudes anymore. IBTP has been an enormously gratifying and edumuckational endeavor, but let’s face it. Patriarchy is depressing, and I’ve been stinkeye-deep in blaming it for years. It cannot have escaped your notice that I’d started repeating myself. A lot. Like, verbatim sometimes. I’d exhausted the material. Obviously it was time to move on.

I’ll be leaving IBTP up indefinitely, and may eventually even revive it, who knows. In the meantime, because art is my life, man, I gotta write something to keep my chops up, right? And what do I do all day besides shovel manure? I encounter rural situations for which I am completely unprepared, that’s what. Creepy things, disgusting things, exasperating things, hilarious things. So my comic bucolic (bucomical?) exploits will be the focus. I give you Dreadful Acres Cottonmouth County Confidential, another life-in-the-country blog. Woot.

This one won’t be too heartwarming, though. I’m still the same old cynical spinster aunt after all (although with the fifth anniversary of my residence at Dreadful Acres comes the promotion to “Crone”). It’s just that instead of cracking on Girls Gone Wild and Boobython, now I’ll be writing about the universal unspeakable horrors of nature and the psychopaths who live out here and whatnot. Also horses and dogs. I’m building a new barn, so there will probably be pictures of that. And other casual-essay-type stuff. It sounds really bad, I know, since it is nothing but personal anecdotes about non-controversial shit, but maybe there’s a chance it might not to be too excruciatingly dull.

Of course you never know.

Come what may, there will always be room for a bit of patriarchy blaming, if you wanna hang around.

The photo, by the way, is of an adorable baby mouse I found hiding under my Gator. What’s dreadful about a cute little mouse? Well, it was confused and disoriented enough that it allowed me to pick it up and move it off the driveway into some tall grass, which meant that it was probably sick. If a sick baby mouse weren’t sad enough, a couple of hours later I saw a rat snake patrolling the area, and it appeared to be sporting a baby-mouse-sized lump. And even if that particular snake-lump wasn’t the mouse in question, the feral cat living under the horse trailer is always standing by. Natural selection is a grim business.

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* If you’re not a patriarchy blamer, you really should consider becoming one, because the misogynist world order is jammin you up, guaranteed. Click here for more info than you can ever use.

Oct 23

Disgusting tableau of the day

Gator seatOut here in the fields, I see creepy and disgusting things all day, every day. Today’s first creepy thing was a 2-inch millipede strolling across the bathroom floor at 5:30 AM. Today’s first disgusting thing was a pile of puke on the seat of my Gator.

I attribute the puke to the feral cat that’s been hanging around here for the past couple of weeks. I haven’t had a cat in a while, but emanating from those ancient days is the dim memory of the universal feline willingness to screw me over whenever possible. This yakk situation has “cat” written all over it. Out of pity and gullibility I’ve been feeding it lots of super-premium canned cat food, so why shouldn’t it hop up on my Gator and vomit?

Oct 23

Crone runs out of Benadryl spray

One might imagine that, in an extreme drought such as the one that has plagued the picturesque Texas Hill Country lo these past several years, mosquitoes would be pretty thin on the ground.

Tiger mosquitoWell, that might be true for rural acreages where knuckleheads have not installed miles of gutters and drainpipes that never fully divest themselves of aqueous stagnation, and also cisterns with lids that cannot be made airtight for love or money. However, it is not true of Dreadful Acres. Apparently mistaking me for a crone whose life’s golden dream was to contract West Nile virus, the wacky, mosquito-happy contractors who built this joint spared no effort to ensure that their favorite bugs could breed even when it hasn’t rained for 3 years and there is no standing water for 227 miles. Thus turning the Dreadful Acres bunkhouse into an uninhabitable hellhole of itchy infestation and life-threatening pestilence.

Normally I’m just a lovable old softie when it comes to the various invertebrates that infest the home. I catch-and-release scorpions, for crying out loud. But even crones have their limits. I’m afraid I must draw the line at stinging disease vectors that raise, on average, 23 welts on my person whenever I so much as crack open the door to catch a whiff of this bracing country air I moved all the way the hell out here to breathe.

I smushed this goddam bug with my bare hands and I’d do it again.

Oct 21

Crone hears screams, discovers horrific tableau

Another day, another disturbing new nature fact! Here’s what you learn when you poke around the carport in search of the source of an unfamiliar and alarming squealing sound:

Patch-nose snakes eat leopard frogs alive. It takes a while for the snake to swallow the whole frog. During the process the fully-conscious frog screams in a pretty blood-curdling fashion. If you experience a pang of sentimentality, and you poke the snake with a stick in an effort to get it to release the frog, the snake will not release the frog, but instead will clamp down even harder and retreat with the victim into the nearest drainpipe.* Whereupon you will feel even worse. You will wish — not for the first time since you moved to Dreadful Acres — that you had just left Nature to commit its grisly act of indifference alone.

Heartwarming patchnose snake eats leopard frog

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*At Dreadful Acres, there are always large drainpipes around. Where else would the mosquitoes breed?

Oct 21

Crone flummoxed by feral cat

I always knew this day would come.

A feral cat has slunk its way into the menagerie here at Dreadful Acres.

All manner of varmints — the spiny, the scaly, those with and without canine teeth, or skeletons, or hide, or hair — maintain a disconcertingly constant presence in and around the Cronal Compound. This new feral cat, however, is the first feline to darken the bunkhouse stoop since I moved back out to Cottonmouth County five years ago. In fact, it’s my first feline, period, in quite some time.

Back in the metropolis, when my last house cat Ozone crawled into the fireplace and expired after 19 years of grudging and faithless service, I said, “That’s it. No more cats. They shed, they shred the furniture, they sit on the People magazine you’re reading, they scratch you to ribbons when you try to dye them pink and blow-dry them, they die — who needs that kind of drama?”

Feral cat of unknown origin sticks tongue out at the cronal hand that feeds it.

Thus, having been for no small while out of the cat business, when the feral specimen showed up I played it cool. Gave it the old cold shoulder. Snubbed it extravagantly. This wasn’t difficult, because clearly it considered me more or less beneath contempt. I ascertained the anti-cronal nature of its viewpoint by observing that it scrammed into the nearest culvert whenever I hove into view. Obviously it was just passing through on its way to a more amenable situation, perhaps one of those picturesque dirt farms where rosy-cheeked, cat-crazy Bruegelians traipse around all day in appliqué sweatshirts musing, “wouldn’t it be fucking awesome if a stray cat showed up?”

So heartwarming a scene, however, was not to transpire. In fact, despite my unwavering failure to tempt it with Fancy Feasts and cozy windowsills in the sun, the cat kept hanging around. “Babe, I Gotta Ramble” was not its theme song.

After three days I could stand to look upon its tragic and scrawny countenance no longer. I suffered a psychotic break, hoisted myself into the F-350, and hauled into town for cat food. And liquor.

Fast forward a week. Pathetically, the cat has taken up residence under the horse trailer, a spot I have always imagined to be populated with brown recluse spiders and copperheads. It won’t come near me, but has learned that I am pretty obliging with the Cubed Turkey Morsels in Savory Gravy, so whenever I show up in the yard it makes with the plaintive yowling and extra bedraggledness, shadowing me at a distance precisely calculated to prevent me from determining whether it has any observable injuries, infestations, or pregnancies. The yowling continues until I produce the Turkey Morsels, ceases for 37 seconds while Turkey Morsels are inhaled, then resumes in an effort to pry more Turkey Morsels out of me, until I go back in the house or a dog shows up to chase it into the woods.

Fast forward another week. The cat now permits me — with the unspoken proviso one might translate loosely as “don’t you fucken look at me” — to sit about 4 feet away while it sucks down the Turkey Morsels. Horribly, it has acquired a name. Smudge. I expect that this sentimental detail alone will guarantee the imminence of its demise in the death-jaws of a slavering coyote.

As a crone who hasn’t had a cat in years (and never a wild one), my questions are many. Can a feral cat be tamed? What is the recommended course of action? Is it a realistic expectation that a cat amateur such as myself might somehow apprehend it and get it to the vet without suffering lacerations? Assuming it isn’t rabid or worse, can it live in an unheated barn, or are modern feline requirements such that an old saddle blanket in the tack room — the traditional bedding given the barn cats of my youth — is now considered abusive? Is it even ethical to keep an outside cat in coyote country? Do cats have any other predators I’m forgetting about? And most importantly, how do I quash my irrational fear that this is a gateway kitty, and that I am now headed inexorably on a course that will result in my becoming The Cat-Crone of Cottonmouth County?

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