Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Horse & chariot

Years ago, in a small town outside Kenmare in Country Kerry, Ireland, I met a man of about 60 with some kind of an English accent. He was extraordinarily tanned and well-built, and though he was affable, his manner communicated menace and volatility. He smelled sharply of week-old sweat. He talked my ear off as we drank.

He was living "off the grid and on the dole." After one too many DUIs in his hometown in the north of England, he had abandoned his family with neither warning nor possessions save the contents of a small rucksack. He ended up in County Kerry and camped for a while in the mountains, coming down to perform handyman work now and again. Now he was living in a local hostel, and promised that he would die here. "I ain't leavin'," he warned me, eyeing me suspiciously, as if I were thinking of removing him forcibly.

Recently, he'd seen a hippie girl riding to market in a horse & cart. This sight resuscitated something dead within him, and allowed him to gather the loose change of his ambition into a larger bill. "I know it sounds silly," he said, "but all I want..." Here he paused for effect. "...is a horse..." Another pause. "...and a chariot."

He was telling the truth. He really did want a horse and a chariot. The rest of the evening was taken up with rambling rationalizations of his goal: dignity, right-of-way, economic efficiency (grazing grass is plentiful), etc. I had the sense that these reasons simply seasoned the main dish: he wanted his external presentation to mirror how he felt about himself; this self-image had eroded and had taken severe beatings, but a horse and chariot would save it.