We have only ourselves to blame. It was our choice to open a horse boarding facility. We moved out to the country to get away from it all, and then we went and invited it all out to our place in the country. We tried posting hours for the barn–everyone was welcome between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., but there were constant exceptions, not to mention a perpetual assortment of special circumstances.
Boarders would come out at midnight because they worried they’d forgotten to take off the horse’s cooler, or because they feared they’d forgotten to put on the horse’s blanket. We’d be awakened by horses whinnying and our dogs barking only to find a boarder in the barn saying, “I would have called, but I didn’t want to bother you.” Better yet were the times the whinnying and barking occurred about 5 a.m. The boarder was inevitably compelled to visit the barn by a bad dream in which their horse was colicking, starving or cold. You name it, we saw it. If we hadn’t loved the horses so much, we’d have stopped putting up with their owners after the first day.
All of this we bargained for, asked for and deserved–every crazy phone call, comment, suggestion, accusation, fear, neurosis or imposed ritual. The one thing we didn’t anticipate was dealing with a person to whom not even the most insane horse owner could consider holding a candle: our landlady, Rachael.
“OKAY, OKAY-WHOOOOOOA! ALRIGHT! OKAY, THOMAS…NEXT! OKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY AAAAAAND WHOA!” screamed a voice from our front yard.
“Unnnh…what-what time is it?” Kimberly mumbled into her pillow.
I looked at the clock. Nothing made sense. Okay, Jeremy, concentrate. What numbers do you see? Um, let’s see… there’s a 6, a 3 and a 4. Man! Isn’t it Saturday? This is definitely the 6 o’clock that I’m not supposed to see. I nearly fell down getting out of the four-foot high queen bed we slept in. The whole house was decorated in what could be accurately described as “Japanese-Victorian-deco-jumble nightmare,” but less attractive. (Granted, I often described it in other terms, but we can’t print those here.)
I pulled down a slat in the blinds and peered out into the sunrise. “Honey,” I said, “I think our farm’s been invaded by space people.”
Rachael was standing on the front of a four-wheeler driven by her husband, Tommy. She was dressed in a silver, full-body biohazard suit complete with hood and tinted visor. Rachael was screaming instructions to Tommy while she frantically waved around four-foot-long spray nozzle connected to a tank on her back. Apparently 6:30 on a Saturday morning was the best time to apply a new coat of creosote to the farm’s fencing.
“OKAAAAAYYYYYY, WHOA!” she shouted. Tommy couldn’t quite find his groove and the four-wheeler lurched along. Rachael never seemed balanced, but that didn’t stop her from thoroughly coating trees, grass and even a few fence boards with thick swatches of black creosote. “THOMAS, STOP, STOP, STOP! THOMAAAAAAAS!” Rachael hollered as she flew through the air.
Thomas had stopped. She hadn’t. Rachael sailed several feet into a gigantic cluster of blueberry bushes. All that was visible were occasional glints of silver and the spray nozzle, which released little clouds of creosote every time Rachael struggled to get up.
I needed to lie back down. I climbed (literally) back into bed, but I wasn’t going to get back to sleep. Considering I was going to have to deal with Rachael, I needed to steel myself against her absurdity. I lay in bed, trying to collect myself and consolidate every ounce of patience I had. When my patience ran out–and I knew it would–I would have to dig deep for that apathy I cultivated during my required, entry-level college core classes.
I should explain: this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill landlady who swung by every four weeks to pick up the rent check. We saw the couple every weekend. She failed to warn us of this when we signed the lease. Naturally, we didn’t think to ask how often we’d see them because they lived in New Jersey. New Jersey, I tell you! That’s almost seven hours away! Every Friday, right after work, they’d hop in their bloated SUV and drive down to a tiny house down the hill from us. They’d arrive just after 1 a.m. and were in our yard making a racket by 7 a.m. at the latest.
Rachael and her husband owned the home, barns and 16 acres we rented. They also owned the surrounding 300 acres and leased some of the cleared land for farming. Despite having all that space, Rachael seemed determined to spend as much time as possible in our yard, our barn and our hair. When Tommy could escape Rachael’s never-ending chores, he disappeared into the wooded acreage with a shotgun. Whether it was deer, wombat or weasel season, Tommy always had something to hunt. During a short period between hedgehog and skunk seasons, when no other hunting of any kind was permitted, Tommy passed his time in the woods shooting mushrooms. Strangely, he never seemed to come back with enough to eat.
So every weekend we were unfortunate enough to have front-row seats for the Rachael and Tommy show. Holy cow! Every weekend! Did I mention that we saw them every single weekend? I’m getting agitated just telling you about this; I need to sit down. Oh… I am sitting down. Please, give me a moment as I lie on the floor with a cool, damp washcloth on my forehead.
Thank you for indulging me. I feel better now.
So, after a small breakfast of bacon, eggs and apprehension, I went out to face the landlady from outer space. Rachael was out of the blueberry bushes, out of her shiny, foil suit and out of her mind. She was working her magic on the grass. Back and forth she whipped the steering wheel of the riding mower, pedal to the bottom, zipping around our yard like a maniac. Her zig-zagging was so violent that with each shift in direction, the mower blades would simply vaporize large chunks of lawn, revealing dirt and the occasional, angry mole. The yard looked like a battlefield. Rachael and I hadn’t even spoken and already I was out of patience.
Because I lived here, I figured I should watch the grass and decide when to mow based on a reasonable assessment of how tall the lawn was. I kept it short, but sometimes I mowed it after 6 days, sometimes 10. But if Rachael showed up and I wasn’t only then climbing off of a hot mower after just finishing cutting the grass, she’d fire up the mower, drop the blades all the way and stomp on the accelerator. All I could do was make sure the dogs and cats were inside and find my earplugs.
I thought I might finish the barn work while she destroyed the yard. I turned the horses out and started mucking stalls. After about 30 minutes Rachael appeared in the barn.
“We gotta bring these beasts back in!” she exclaimed.
“What?” I asked.
“Bring ’em back in–the horses that is,” she gestured to the empty stalls.
“But we turn them out during the day,” I responded, “until it gets really hot, that is.”
“No!” she said adamantly. “I got Thomas bringing up the new color for the barn.”
“What?” I managed with clenched teeth. Dig, dig, dig, Jeremy. Dig for that apathy, that complacence; find your warm, Zen center. What would the Dalai Lama do? You know, I think Rachael is the one person that even the most practiced and passive spiritual leader might actually strangle. “What color is it?” I asked.
“RED!” she shouted.
How bad could it be. The barn was already red, and it did need a fresh coat. I negotiated with Rachael to only bring in the horses turned out on the east side of the barn so they could paint that side first. Then we would turn those horses back out and bring in the horses on the west side. Rachael and Tommy set to work. The barn was huge, and they insisted on using brushes. Rachael dipped her brush and then ran it across the side of the paint bucket several times until the brush was nearly dry. She then rubbed it across a tiny area leaving a barely detectable smudge. Tommy, on the other hand, seemed to prefer a Jackson Pollock-style approach. He would dunk his brush up to his fist, and then throw the paint everywhere. He tried to spread out the drips and globs, but it started drying before he could get to them all.
“THOMAS!” Rachael bellowed. “Can’t you do anything? You have to layer it, like I am. If you keep that mess up, I won’t let you help!” Apparently inspired by her offer, Tommy started slinging paint with a renewed vigor. “THOMAS! You leave me no choice. Just do the windows and then get out of my way.” Tommy started throwing paint on the closed wooden shutters that covered the barred window openings. Within a minute he had finished and disappeared, leaving only a trail of paint drops through the barn aisle and down the hill.
I left Rachael to dry-brush the rest of the east side. I finished the stalls and apologized to the horses for their being entirely dependent on a species that had Rachael as a member. Then I followed the riding mower’s trail of havoc across our yard and into the center of a young corn field where Rachael had left it. I fired it up and returned to the yard to see if I could undo some of her “lawn care.” I certainly couldn’t make it any worse.
I took a few passes with the mower and was able to make the yard look almost normal. I spent a few hours on the far side of the house, where most of her damage was done. In addition to mangling the turf, Rachael had managed to mow about two feet up the side of a large pine tree. I couldn’t fix the tree, and I definitely didn’t want to know how she did it.
I drove the mower around to park it in the shed, and nearly ran into a tree when I saw the barn. Rachael was gone, and what little of the barn she and Tommy actually painted had dried pink. After Tommy slopped up the windows, Rachael had spent hours expertly painting a five-foot square patch. I was sure the boarders would arrive at the barn and after seeing the new paint job, simply load up their horses and never return. What was even better than the color was the fact that Tommy had thrown so much paint on the shutters that they were painted closed.
I knifed and chiseled the windows open, and drove to our neighbor’s house to borrow a paint gun. I had all the paint I needed, it was the color Rachael wanted, and I couldn’t leave the barn looking like it did. So, I did a very professional, very clean, very pink paint job. When Kimberly came out I was just finishing.
“What…happened…to…the…barn?” she asked, exasperated.
“Rachael,” I responded.
Kimberly just nodded, staring at our new, pink barn.
“It’ll be even pinker when it dries,” I said.
“THAT LOOKS FANTASTIC!” shouted Rachael from the back yard. Kimberly was startled and about fainted, which is the effect Rachael has on most people. Rachael was back in her space suit, which now had several, large duct tape patches. She pulled her silver hood over her head and resumed spraying creosote on the stretch of fence along the rear pasture. Tommy was nowhere to be seen, but I could hear shotgun blasts in the distance. Two trucks turned into the gravel drive to the barn. It was Candy and Jack. Hopefully, I could keep Rachael away from the boarders.
“You’d better go inside where it’s safe,” I said to Kimberly. Kimberly said nothing because she was already inside.
I was turning the last couple of horses out when Candy and Jack entered the barn.
“I love the new color!” Candy gushed as she walked into the tack room.
“It matches your underwear,” said Jack. I laughed. He didn’t.
“Be careful,” I said, “it’s still wet. I mean the paint–not the underwear, which, I’ll have you know, wasn’t mine.” Jack just squinted suspiciously at me, and then disappeared into the tack room behind Candy.
I stood at the end of the barn aisle looking out over the property. Our shiny, silver landlady was running along the back fence in a cloud of creosote. The gunshots continued in the distance as a line of vehicles headed up the drive to our new, pink barn.
It wasn’t even lunch time yet, and I could only imagine what the afternoon would bring.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.
Read Jeremy’s other columns in EquiSearch’s Humor section and share your comments in the forum.