Steve, the tall cowboy of us philosophy types, was riding a young horse through town the other day to get him used to “boogers.”
To gentle a horse, he explained, you give them something to booger at, and then talk them out of it. You keep coming up with new boogers and calming the horse until screaming fire engines and jet exhaust are no problem at all.
He rode up to the Campbell house and saw Anita, Dud’s wife, shaking out a throw rug. The young horse began blowing nuclear snot all over the front yard and his eyes bugged out.
“Anita,” Steve said, “would you mind coming over here with that rug for a minute?”
She walked slowly up to the young horse, who was crouched in the starting blocks preparing for an elliptical orbit around the sun.
“I don’t want to frighten him,” Anita said.
“That’s why I’m here, actually,” Steve said. “Would you let him smell the rug?”
She carefully and slowly held the rug up to where the colt could sniff it. He sniffed and snorted, sniffed and snorted … then sniffed, and sniffed. Then he eyed it carefully and touched it with his nose.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” Steve said, running his hand along the horse’s neck, “could you back up about three steps and then start wiggling it?”
She backed up and gently wiggled the rug. Snort, snort, legs in starting blocks. Ready to booger.
“That’s it,” Steve said, calmly, rubbing the horse’s neck. “Now shake it a little harder.”
More snorts. More rubbing.
“Now shake it really hard.”
It took the best part of a minute before the horse calmed down and just watched Anita with curiosity instead of fear.
“Thanks, Anita,” Steve said. “You’ve helped a lot.”
She looked up at him. “But why did you want me to shake a rug at him, Steve?”
“I’m thinking about getting him a job in a carpet cleaning business and wanted him to learn the ropes.”
Brought to you by the Home Country podcast at http://www.doublewidenetwork.com/index.php/MusicStarWorldwide/detail/home_country
Editor’s note: Home Country is a weekly syndicated newspaper column written by outdoors journalist and humorist Slim Randles of Albuquerque.
The evolution of Home Country…
I’ve been a newspaperman since 1964, when, at the tender age of 21, I was given the difficult mission of interviewing showgirls at Lake Tahoe for the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Strangely enough, after that baptism of fire, I stuck with newspapers for the next 150 years or so, attempting to commit journalism on several occasions. And for all that time, I thought a column celebrating American life would be a fun thing to have in the local paper.
I was telling my dad one day what a nice thing it would be for small papers to have a column that was fun, non-controversial, and free. At this point, you might as well know that he and I shared genes and chromosomes, but not political beliefs. One of us was slightly to the left of Chairman Mao and the other slightly to the right of Genghis Khan. Pop said a column such as I described was impossible for the simple fact that no one … no one … could write a non-controversial column. Well, that did it. There were flags all over the field, campers.
The gauntlet had been slapped across my journalistic face and I decided to prove him wrong. The column would have to be short. I decided 350 words, give or take, would allow me to spell most of the words right and still express a thought. Home Country, also, is fiction. But it is fiction based on people we both know. Making it fiction gives a guy a lot more room to have fun. The biggest problem came when I tried to figure out how to get paid for it.
Throughout journalistic history, syndicated columnists have been paid so much a month by each paper for the right to print the column. So if you get three bucks apiece each week from a thousand papers, hey, the beer’s on you, Jack. But that’s not what I wanted to do because 1. that’s how everyone else has always done it, and I’m just a little bit stubborn, and 2. I have yet to meet a small-town newspaper editor who wanted to pay three bucks for anything.
So I came up with the idea of having a sponsored column. Provide it free to the paper, with the stipulation that they print a little bold-faced tag line at the end, saying something like Brought to you by Joe’s Hardware. Get paid by Joe, see? The problem was finding Joe. Some editors weren’t happy with this plan at first. It was the old question of “We’ve never done it that way before.” I reminded the editors how we used to use prepared fillers back when I was on the desk.
These were really fun, and were especially needed back in the days of hot lead. We had more holes to fill in those days. (It was very difficult to estimate exactly how long a story would be when set in type, you see. Today the tiny electronic geniuses who lurk in our “hum boxes” do this for us.) Some outfits sent out free sheets of fillers to papers everywhere. One of the biggest filler producers was the American Pie Filling Institute. Ask any editor with gray hair.
When a story came up short by an inch or so, and we needed something to fill that hole so the ads wouldn’t slam into each other, we’d look through the filler pages and pick one out that fit and plug it in. That’s why you’d sometimes see, right after the story about the Anderson kid getting a mumbledy-peg scholarship, something like this: “George Washington was the first President of the United States, according to the American Pie Filling Institute.”
I figured if editors didn’t mind plugging pie filling, they probably wouldn’t complain about Joe’s Hardware, either. And they didn’t. It is more than seven years now since I set out to prove Pop wrong, and it has been fun. Even Pop was amazed that I could write a non-controversial column. The readers enjoy the characters in the column and have come to know and laugh at Doc and Steve and Marvin and Annette and all the others. So have I.
At this writing (January, 2012), Home Country is printed weekly in 235 papers nationwide with a readership of just under two million. And it grows a bit each month. Are the columns more along the lines of “our lives the way they ought to be”? Sure. Most of the time. Why? Because I like it that way. So, will I be able to write Home Country more gooder in the future? Of course. I’m only 70 years old, so give me some time to practice, okay?