Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
It was a summer of violence, if you look at things that way, and there’s nothing I can do about it except change the names to protect the innocent, as if anyone actually was. Maybe the moon was off-kilter, the snipes weren’t flying their usual patterns, or a coven of witches had moved into the empty barn down below. Whatever, it seemed to mostly happen in the yard of our Owl Creek cabin.
Maybe it all started when my cousin, Clyde Vagneur (who had been contracted to put up the hay surrounding our place), pulled into the driveway chauffeuring a couple of characters we almost immediately identified as troublemakers. First out of the truck was Blue, a solidly-built, bluetick Aussie heeler who had a reputation for toughness, especially toward cows and cats. Charlie, a 26-pound fighting-fit Siamese, who belonged to my roommate Don, had been sunning himself in the kitchen window, but with the extra-sensory perception that animals possess, began his low, guttural cat growl the moment the truck turned into our drive.
Blue, spotting what he must have thought to be an easy mark, catapulted out of the truck at a high rate of speed, about four feet off the ground. Coming the other direction, pedal to the metal, was Charlie, who had launched himself into the air as he emerged from our covered porch, leading off the kitchen.
If you’d blinked, you’d have missed it. The cat roared, the dog howled and in an instant, they crashed together in mid-flight, each getting a serious swipe in on the other. They hit the ground running, neither of them wishing to stick around and continue the fight, and as they went in opposite directions, we watched handfuls of dog and cat hair waft down from the sky.
It wasn’t so easy on the human front, as it never seems to be, and the other half of the two characters I mentioned earlier ambled toward us from the passenger side of the vehicle, with a limping list to one side. The right side of his face looked rather reasonable, in total contrast to the other side, which was black and blue and swollen to almost twice its normal size.
This was Clyde’s hay cutting helper, a man we came to affectionately know as Lennard. As he put it, he’d been one of my maternal grandmother’s students at the Emma schoolhouse and from that very seed of history, we had a bond as strong as though we had grown up together. He was older and liked to party about as much as we did but, as a drawback, he loved to fight.
Which is why that day, half his face didn’t match the other. He’d been drinking in the infamous town of Glenwood Springs when three ranch hands from down that way took exception to Lennard’s presence and beat him up pretty good in the alley behind the Eagles Club.
Realizing he was whipped, Lennard did the smart thing and headed for home, but as he stopped along 82 to drain his bladder, he noticed a short piece of 2X4 lying in the barrow pit. He figured that would even the score and went back to Glenwood to wreak his revenge.
Needless to say, those downvalley boys took the 2X4 away and overhauled Lennard’s head with it. Broke a couple of his ribs, too.
We got to know Lennard fairly well that summer, mostly through drinking late-afternoon beers in the yard, and we were kept abreast of his pugilistic encounters, always fomented in a bar somewhere.
The last time I saw him, in Basalt’s Fryingpan Inn, he’d decided that being my grandmother’s student no longer counted and he was gonna clean my clock. “Undoubtedly, you’re a crazy bastard,” I said, just before we crashed out the door.
With eyes narrowed, the physical confrontation was fierce, but once we rolled onto the lawn, just like the dog and the cat, we decided we didn’t want any more. I count that as a good day.