363.Love’s Longing Lost

I promised to post about Joel and Sheila the mule, Blogoiters, and I keep my promises when I remember them, if I remember them, by which I mean– if I don’t forget them. Long time followers of the blog already know that Joel is the consigliere of Coffee Nation, a job he reluctantly accepted after much cajoeling. He of the round tortoise shell glasses and the tweed jackets is a bit of a throwback to an earlier age. He still uses a fountain pen, for goodness sakes! Imagine an older, unflappable Gregory Peck outside with an older, flappable Jimmy Stewart inside. Let those two images overflap and gel. There you go. It’s Joel.

Last year or the year before, it does not matter for our purposes here and now, Joel went to a lawyers’ conference in Phoenix, conveniently planned for the dead of winter. It’s all business expensed, so why not go and accessorize? Joel planned a mule pack trip into and out of the Grand Canyon. It was as close to his own City Slickers experience as he could muster. You see, that movie is close to his heart. And let’s face it, most kids of the nineteen forties and fifties did not long to be accountants and attorneys and insurance salesmen. No, they wanted to be the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers or some other cowboy. And Joel being no exception was unexceptional in the Manly Hall of Fame until now.

As you might have already imagined, Joel was very excited to be out in the elements, roughing it, drinking bourbon out of a shared pint around a mesquite fire down, down, down at the Phantom Ranch. Wiping his mouth with the back of a dusty leather glove. Spitting just because he could and no one would report him to the bar. To Hell with the law and all its pretense!  He was breaking bad. Heck, even the mule ride advertising was tough, no nonsense stuff telling people how tall they had to be; how much they could weigh; couldn’t be afraid of heights or large animals; had to be fluent in English; whining or pouting would be met with hot lead. Unapologetic, politically incorrect, man talk. Why just reading it privately on his tablet at the coffee shop made itchy chest hair follicles erupt on his sternum. Testosterone molecules began to bark in packs like coyotes in his bloodstream. The wild called and he, Joel the mild mannered estate attorney, would answer it in a fully outfitted, hormonally charged echo. “Howwuuuulllll”

Off he went on his trek. I urged him to be safe on the mule and not to take any guff from anyone– man, woman, both, neither, undecided, polymorphic or otherwise. “The thing with mules,” I told Joel to reassure him before he left, “is they have to know you mean business, yet that you are compassionate and willing to bond with them. If a mule knows you love her, she will give her sure-footed life for you.” He was impressed with my animal husbandry background, which I had completely fabricated on the spot.


(Asterisks suggest time passing.)

Two weeks later I saw him again, refreshed and enlightened in ways that only a handful of Tibetan monks come to be. He was writing down his observations in his spirit journal with that fountain pen and eyes aglow. He gushed with the wonders of it all and told me that he owed his new ecstatic life to Sheila, his designated mule.  “We grew close. Just as you had suggested, I showed her a firm business hand on the one hand but a compassionate loving hand at the reigns on the other hand, and she responded like a crossbred dream.”

“That’s four hands in the sentence, Joel. You only have two, and Sheila has hooves, right? Count them with me.”

“Eh! You know what I mean! Don’t start playing with words.”

“That’s what I do. Remember?”

“You wouldn’t make it at Phantom Ranch with all your tomfoolery. Only real men go there.”

“I believe you, man. I sense it like steam pouring out of your new found confidence and mulishness. You have a flinty glint about you now, a rough edge. You could start a fire just by blinking fast.”

“Oh, that reminds me. Some colleagues followed my lead into the Grand Canyon.  We actually traded out our mules with them when we came back up to the rim. I introduced them to Sheila and shared with them your instructions on mule handling. They were very appreciative. In fact, later on as I was connecting flights in Charlotte, they sent me this picture of Sheila with the text, ‘I miss you’.” He showed me a sad looking mule on his phone. “Something tells me that I’ll be seeing this again at a bar meeting in the future.”

“Lovely story, Joel. I’m glad you had such a good time.”

*************************** (Not as much time has passed this time.)

Two days later I was waiting in line for my morning coffee when Joel came into the shop. I greeted him as usual, then added, “Hey, I got a call from Sheila yesterday.”

“Oh, did you?” he uttered with false sincerity at the back of his Jimmy Stewart throat.

“Oh yeah. She’s not doing so well.” I shook my head and looked down.

“What are her complaints?”

“Well, she told me that she’d been ridden hard and put away wet. She misses you, man. All that machismo you put down, she picked it all up. She thought you were the one who would both tame her and free her. Gave me an earful, lemme tell you.”

“Oh, REALLY? So what is your treatment plan?”

“It’s a tough case, Joel. It was a phone consult with a sexless pack animal tethered to a monotonous future without any hope.”

“I see. Very tough. So what did you tell her?”

“Well, in short I told her to follow another horse’s ass.”

“I giftwrapped that for you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you baited the hook, teed up the golf ball, and shook up the Dr. Pepper.”

“Whatever.” guffaw, guffaw.

“Are you laughing, Joel?”

“I am not laughing at this because I don’t want to encourage you. (Pause.) You are going to put this in the blog, aren’t you?”

“It’s too late, Buddy. From your spilled mule milk I will make a rare rich cheese for posterity to enjoy at black tie charity fundraisers.”

With hands raised heavenward like a frustrated Atticus Finch, “Oh, Sheila! Forgive me!”





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