Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Through prose and image, Myron Kaufman has crafted an uncanny, unhinged romance between man and horse. The story (and its author) are introduced by Myron’s son, filmmaker and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.
When I was a little kid, I would watch my father playing with his toast crumbs on the breakfast table. He’d push the crumbs into interesting designs. My father was always artistic. He painted, he made sculptures from found objects, he fingered toast crumbs. I loved watching him do it: focused, creative, driven, even at breakfast.
A few years ago, I mentioned the toast crumb memory to him. I wanted to tell him how much his daily ritual had meant to me. He was quiet for a moment. It didn’t elicit the, “Oh, yeah! I forgot all about that! I used to love doing that!” I had expected. Instead, he finally said something like, “I was probably feeling trapped and trying to distract myself.” I was floored. I hadn’t gotten that at all from watching him. To me it was just another example of the wonderfulness of my dad, the most eccentric and educated father in our blue collar neighborhood, an example of his boundless creativity: toast crumb art. Suddenly it was something else entirely.
I found myself both flattered by his honesty and taken aback by the abandonment of his fatherly protective relationship. It was similar to that day he started referring to my mother as “Helen” and not “Mom.” We are all adults here, it said. She is Helen now.
“Helen and I went to Vermont this weekend.”
“Helen fell and broke her wrist.”
Of course, had he told me as a child that he felt trapped, I would not have understood.
Of course, as an adult, I do. The nature of my relationship with my father has changed. Now here we are, both older, both parents, both still struggling to understand ourselves at this late date. Helen has died. Myron moved to California to be near Charles. His weekend painting became full-time painting. He doesn’t know what he’d do if he didn’t have it, he says.
In the last few years he has painted hundreds of paintings, written several stories, participated in handful of gallery shows, and had two solo exhibitions.
And I do my own version of toast crumb drawings now. Because I now know the secret of adulthood.
Here’s a story Myron wrote and illustrated.
Part 1: Hyracotherium
“If homosexuals are allowed to marry, the next thing liberals will want is to marry horses.”
“That is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard,” I lied to my Aunt Lotte. She looked at me with a smirk, knowing, as I did, that she had me on the run. Maybe she was right.
But how would I know what “liberals” would want next. I think of myself as a liberal and some think of me as a horse’s ass, but do liberals, in general, have some secret connection to horses? I think, maybe some do. I’m afraid that this liberal may have an “unnatural” feeling towards horses—female horses, thank God.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say so I mumbled “good bye” and shuffled out of her apartment, across from the park.
The conversation bothered me. Was I a secret horse lover? Even worse, was I a liberal horse lover, in that way?
I was attracted to, afraid of, and in awe of horses. Their contradictory nature intrigued me, their size frightened me. They have great strength and yet are timid. They are fantastically fast and tranquil at the same time. I really love their tangy smell. Anyway, why should anyone care if people want to marry horses. Live and let live.
There does seem to be an attraction between the two species. A mounted policeman in Manhattan always attracts a crowd of admirers, for the horse. People and horses have been melded together in mythology and art forever. Leonardo made sketches of creatures that could be the offspring of horses and people. The Greeks had the centaur. If there was ever such a meld where would the genitals be? Would they be between the rear legs or the front? Would they be somewhere else, like the mouth? I walked and talked to myself.
“Well, everyone knows,” I could imagine Lotte saying, “that the only valid reason for marrying is to procreate.” I suppose that is true in a lot of cases but there are no marriage barriers to people who will not or cannot have children. There is no premarital test for physical, psychological, financial, racial or religious barriers to procreation. And anyway babies can be conceived without having sex. Babies can be conceived without getting married. Procreation is not limited to a male and female of the same species. Homosexuals can have babies. Conception is not even dependent on having a male and female. Consider the mule and the clam. Consider Mary.
Who would want to stand in the way of love? Who would stand in the way of an old couple who wants to be together for the pleasure of each others, company and perhaps some tax benefits? What if a horse and a person wanted to marry? Who would stand in their way? Everyone. Why? If they elected to rent an apartment, and I lived below then I would object to the clopping and to sharing an elevator.
Lotte lives near the park. Walking to a subway at Columbus Circle, I was thinking that all this talking to myself helped to pass the time. Was I moving my mouth? Did people passing think I was talking on my cell phone? I hoped so.
On 59th Street I passed a row of parked horses and carriages waiting to be rented by romantic tourists. One horse, a small, black beauty named Bertha, attracted my attention. I like to believe that the attraction was mutual. She had big brown eyes, long eyelashes, and a light brown mane and tail. It may not seem possible but I saw a shy smile on her lips. She tried to make believe that she didn’t notice me.
I was charmed and I think she was too. It was a strange feeling, as if we were kindred spirits. It was weird. It was not logical. I don’t think I ever felt that way before.
I stopped to chat with the owner, Aldo. He was nice and he seemed to like her too. But he obviously thought of his horse as a horse and his business partner, so to speak. He had a wife and four human children. I tentatively rubbed Bertha’s head and scratched her ear as if she were a dog. She accepted my touch but didn’t seem delighted. Her feel was soft and warm and I felt a tingle, between my legs that frightened me so I said goodbye and walked quickly away. I replayed this encounter all the way home to Brooklyn where I had a double martini. This helped put me to sleep by eight thirty but I was up, for good, by four AM. I tossed and turned but I couldn’t get Bertha out of my mind. I couldn’t wait for the day to really begin as I already had decided to take the day off as, logically, a sick day, and go to visit Bertha again.
I arrived at the park by eleven AM with donuts and a geranium. Her spot was vacant. Her neighbors told me she was out on a job. I waited and ate a donut. When she and Aldo finally arrived I passed the donuts around and she liked them a lot. Aldo helped me place the geranium at a jaunty angle on her head. She asked me if I had a mirror so she could see how it looked. I know this sounds bizarre and I know that Aldo didn’t hear her and I didn’t quite hear her either. I kind of just understood that she wanted to see herself. Aldo had a mirror that his lady customers sometimes asked for to straighten their hair after a windy ride. Bertha looked at herself and smiled. I saw the smile!
I rented the carriage for a spin around the park. She kept her head erect and tossed her light brown mane. I was aroused. The sexual tension between us was palpable. I was ashamed. I needed to possess her.
After the ride I got down and put my arms around her neck and kissed her. She smelled like newly mown hay and donuts. I could see that Aldo was getting upset with my behavior so I left for Brooklyn but not before Bertha and I agreed to a midnight meeting at her stable. I had another martini when I got home.
Bertha and I talked for hours, at the stable, about our feelings and fears. She loved me but could it work? She expressed her doubts. She felt that our being together would not satisfy either of us sexually, and would not result in motherhood for her. Having a baby was something she longed for and her clock was ticking. Adoption or artificial insemination was certainly possible, but how would a foal feel towards me as a father? Where would we live and who would we associate with? It didn’t seem natural to her. “Love conquers all,” I said and we would have to overcome some objections, perhaps, but such a love as ours only comes once in a lifetime. I would take care of her and protect her and I would be the father of our children and if necessary, have plastic surgery to make myself a more suitable lover for her. I left shortly before Aldo came to pick her up. She had bags under her eyes. We were exhausted but happy and resolved, that night, to get married, as soon as possible.
The next day my fever had not subsided so I called in sick and went back to see Bertha. I took Aldo out of earshot and offered to buy Bertha. At first Aldo didn’t understand. He thought I was going to go into the horse and carriage business. After all, this was his business. What would he do to make a living? He was very fond of Bertha. He had a wife and four children to feed. “No, no,” I told him, “you don’t understand. Bertha and I are in love and we are going to be married.” He turned the color of the faded carnation still on Bertha’s head. What I had in mind was against God’s way. It was horrible, it was unnatural. He wouldn’t be a party to it.
We argued and bargained and finally, after assuring him that I truly loved her and that she loved me, that I would protect her, cherish her and keep her from harm’s way, we agreed to a price of $12,500 and he could keep the carriage. This was very steep but Aldo sensed my desperation and took advantage of the situation. Bertha and I were very happy.
I didn’t know anything about Bertha’s family, health or age but I knew we were simpatico. I did know that she was a vegetarian and I was Jewish and that we were both born in Brooklyn. That was enough for me.
I had $9,000 in my saving’s and borrowed the rest of the money from my Aunt Lotte. I wouldn’t tell her what the money was for so she made me sign a promissory note and assure her that I wasn’t doing anything stupid, illegal or immoral with the money. I didn’t tell her about Bertha, at that time. I didn’t believe that I was doing anything immoral, nor do I believe that now.
That night, at the stable, I formally proposed to Bertha and she accepted, immediately.
Until we were married she and I agreed she would stay at the stable and I would go in search of a suitable home for both of us. When I visited her, her girl friends giggled and made nasty noises that upset both of us. I assured her that it was jealousy that motivated them. That seemed to help. She agreed to raise our children in the Jewish faith but she was adamant about not having our kids circumcised. I reluctantly agreed.
Some may believe that such discussions could never have taken place but the language of love is venerable, strong and unfathomable to those who have not truly loved.
I found a small house on an acre and a half, forty miles from New York City, in New Jersey. It was a long trip to my job but it was remote enough that Bertha and I would be left alone, we hoped. Fortunately most of my work can be done from home so that I didn’t have to make that long trip to the office, every day.
In three months time we had arranged our future. We had a house and the wedding was all set. We were wed by a reformed rabbi in a small barn on our property. Bertha insisted on breaking the glass just to, I believe, assert her independence of mind.
It was a small wedding and reception. My Aunt Lotte, Aldo and his wife, my brother and his wife, who came in a disguise, the rabbi, his wife and son, and three of Bertha’s ex-stable mates were our guests. Bertha wore a traditional white gown and veil and looked lovely. I wore a dark suit, a white shirt, a blue tie and a pair of black shoes that I borrowed from my brother.
At the reception, dinner started with a carrot salad topped with alfalfa sprouts, followed by bird’s nest soup and an entree of faux-halibut steak made with squash and spinach. A dessert of fresh apple pie was served with a choice of herbal tea or apple juice.
Every time my Aunt Lotte passed me she mouthed the word “schmuck.” I really think she loves me. Traditional music was provided by a Jewish rock group humorously called “Horsin’ Around.” The event was concluded by rousing, sing-a-long rendition of Hatikva and everyone went home.
Bertha and I rushed to our house and had our clothes off before we got to our bedroom. Our bedroom had a conventional double bed, for me, and an orange and brown quilted stall for her. We had a lot of laughs on our marriage ‘bed’ with Bertha asking, wittily but respectfully, “are you in yet.”
Bertha and I decided she would retire and we would focus on becoming pregnant. We started working evenings on getting pregnant and decorating the nursery. We painted the walls and ceilings to give it a feeling of a warm day in the country. It was an exciting and fun time with the, by now, standard joke “are you in yet” being repeated countless times. I never did get plastic surgery.
I worked long hours to bring in more money, now that Bertha was not working. She was exceedingly patient. She cleaned and fussed around the house rearranging things and spent a lot of time looking out the window. Our neighbors were few and what there were of them left us to ourselves. We were grateful. It was ideal.
Once in a while we went to her old stable to visit her chums. They always snickered when I came near. We walked around our property and sometimes I guiltily rode her but she assured me that she enjoyed it.
We lived this idyllic life for four years but Bertha didn’t become pregnant.
Even though Blue Cross refused to cover my wife on my medical insurance, we decided to go, on our own “nickel,” to see my internist, Dr. Groper about how we should proceed with our desire to have children. Not only wouldn’t he see us, he wouldn’t allow Bertha in his waiting room. Bertha was humiliated and I was too. This wasn’t the first time we were insulted. My Aunt Lotte, when she visited, wouldn’t talk to Bertha, and , often, when she passed me, she would mouth that word. I was still convinced that she loved me but after a couple of these visits I had to ask her not to come to our house anymore, for Bertha’s sake. Criticism came from both sides. Bertha’s colleagues at her old stable felt that she could do better and that she was wasting her her life on a loser. Of course this hurt me for I do feel that I got the better deal.
In a giggly girlish moment, Bertha told her friends about our secret lover’s joke, and whenever they got a chance her friends would whisper it to me. We had to reduce the frequency of our visits to the old stable, because this was too painful for me.
Bertha didn’t want to press the issue with Dr. Groper so we arranged to go see a veterinarian at the Agricultural and Animal University and Hospital of New Jersey, the AAUHNJ, Dr. Friendly. He treated us with great courtesy and became, after a while, more than our doctor, more like a friend. After extensive psychological and physical examinations of both of us he recommended artificial insemination. We swallowed my pride and took his expert advice.
It seemed that in no time Bertha was with child and we were both ecstatic.
I worked my tail off, metaphorically speaking, during this period, and we saved every dime. Babies are expensive. Fortunately the AAUHNJ decided to provide prenatal care and the delivery at no cost to us because of the unusual circumstances, but we had to agree that Dr. Friendly could publish a technical paper, describing our case, in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine. We agreed because we had great confidence in him and we saved a lot of money. After Bertha started to feel life Dr. Friendly did an ultrasound examination. It was a single fetus. The sex could not yet be determined but there were four legs and, to everyone’s surprise, the feet had multiple toes.
Our social life was limited to local walks, occasional visits with friends and relatives but mostly we spent quiet evenings watching TV. We sometimes ordered eat-in suppers but this was expensive.
We lived and dreamt of our baby’s arrival.
We talked and worried about how we were going to handle the extraordinary issues that the arrival of the baby would bring. Playmates, the reaction of other young parents, schooling, doctors, family acceptance, money and all of the social mores we would face—more importantly, that our baby would face. I comforted Bertha and assured her that it would all work out fine. How self-indulgent I had been. These thoughts depressed us but, at the same time, they drew us even closer together, in self-defense.
Life would not and could not be denied. Our baby was growing inside Bertha and was going to seek its way out, when the time came, and it would squarely face every challenge and we would help. That was its and our destiny. We were scared but Bertha was brave. I put on a brave front.
Bertha didn’t answer the phone when I wasn’t home. She let the recorder do the work. People pretended not to understand her on the phone. I don’t know why. She had excellent diction and she spoke slowly. I suspect that people who pretended not to understand her were expressing their hostility to our relationship.
Bernie Briscut had been calling on the phone, incessantly, for a week, ‘til he finally got me in. I can’t be sure where he got our number but I suspect it was from someone at AAUHNJ. Bernie is a TV and movie producer and he wanted to make a movie of our recent life and have exclusive rights to the story, pictures and interviews. He already knew quite a bit of our marriage and Bertha’s pregnancy. He made it sound as if denying him would be like denying science and beside that, he was talking about a lot of money. I answered his questions gingerly but didn’t offer any details he didn’t already know. Being polite, by nature, I tried to tell him, in a nice way, to leave us alone. But being Bernie he showed up at out home on Sunday and stood, with his foot on the threshold There was no getting rid of him so I let him in. He started talking before he touched down on the sofa.
He talked of our responsibility to the ASPCA, our need to consider the advancement of science, the “right” of people to know of our novel and courageous way of life and, last but not least, the chance to be celebrities and to make a lot of money. He wanted exclusive rights to our story and thought it would be a good idea if he became the “child’s” guardian, in the unlikely event that something happened to us. He was like an unrelenting stream moving huge amounts of soil and rock that obstructed its path. Bertha and I, exhausted by the torrent, signed up. I signed my name and Bertha, still very much uncertain but finally swayed by my prompting, her hoof dipped in ink, stamped her “X.”
Without warning they arrived at eight AM the next morning. Men and women with tripods, cameras, microphones, valises and trunks filled with all kinds of equipment; lights, wires, lunch boxes and thermos bottles. Their leader was Bernie. They invaded our house and told us to just go about our normal routine as if they weren’t there. They “shot” us in our bedclothes, at breakfast, brushing our teeth and reading the newspapers. They followed Bertha and me taking our walk and napping.
They finally packed up and left at six PM , promising to return the next day to do some interviews. We were exhausted but happy to see them go. They were true to their word and they kept coming back and accompanying us to our doctor visits and talking to our neighbors and anyone that we came in contact with. They were wasting all the time we needed to be together to talk quietly, plan, and enjoy each other.
They accompanied us to AAUHNJ where we were becoming celebrities. We were getting daily calls from newspapers which Bernie insisted on answering. There were articles, mostly conjecture, on the state of Bertha’s progress, items about little Dobbin, as they called our baby, and unflattering pieces about me. There were helicopters overhead and a perpetual din. Bertha was fat and well and at a time when we would normally be in heaven, we were feeling persecuted.
During Bernie’s interviews of Bertha, I interpreted. It was a mystery to me that no one else but me seemed to understand her since she spoke as clearly as Rex Harrison.
Government officials, doctors, pundits, windbags of all sorts, religious leaders and even the Pope was expressing unflattering opinions about our union and our baby’s impending birth. Right-to-life organizations were advocating an abortion for Bertha. It was frightening.
People were slowing down as they passed our house to catch a glimpse of us. Some people stopped and parked in front and picnicked. Some parked overnight. There was a police presence on our property “to protect us,” they said.
The newspapers and talk shows, thanks to Bernie, had stories and photos of us everyday. One might suppose that all these important people and organizations would have something more important to focus on— but that wasn’t the case.
The people outside our house started to express their opinions about us with signs like: ‘ABOMINATION,’ ‘SHAME,’ ‘YOU WILL BURN IN HELL,’ and my personal favorite: ‘A HORSE IS A HORSE, OF COURSE.’
AAUHNJ and specifically, Dr. Friendly, were catching some of this criticism too. We felt bad for them but we were pretty much thinking of ourselves. Bernie walked around humming all day long. Bernie arranged to have an ambulance, right outside our door, twenty-four hours a day.
We expected one more week to pass before our baby’s birth but the tumult and anxiety, I think, advanced the schedule and Bertha’s water burst a week early. With Bernie’s help we got Bertha into the waiting ambulance, and with a police escort, had her at AAUHNJ in forty-five minutes.
The hospital was crowded with news reporters and magazine representatives including one from “Polo Today.” Child advocate groups, representatives from the ASPCA, NJ State social workers, lawyers, genealogists from Rutgers, evolution experts from Ole’ Miss, local police, National Guard Troops, US Marshals, Evangelical end-of-world picketers, organized prayer groups, the Arch Bishop of NJ and the defrocked Rabbi who had married us—to name a few—were in attendance.
The delivery was over within the hour after Bertha’s arrival. The male baby was small, only 8 pounds and the size of a full grown, small chihuahua. His body was similar to a conventional horse except he had four toes on his front feet and three on his rear feet. His body was hairless and pink. His head looked a little like mine but sprouted a sparse chin beard.
I got all this from the news reports, as I never saw him. In person.
He stood up almost immediately and said “AMAM YM TNAW I.” This sounded dyslexic to some and others said it was gibberish. The genealogist thought the baby was a throwback to the hyracotherium, but could not be certain because of the head and the location of the genitals. The evolutionist from Ole’ Miss said the “monster” demonstrated the displeasure of the Intelligent Designer with the tampering by man, in HIS jurisdiction.
Immediately after the delivery and before I could see Bertha or Dobbin (Bertha and I decided we liked the name). The police handcuffed me and led me away. The charge was sodomy and bestiality and I was taken to jail to await trial.
Bertha was placed under police guard and slated to be housed at the ASPCA until a judge could decide what to do with her, and Dobbin was turned over to Bernie, since we had agreed to his guardianship over our son. Dobbin was not circumcised. His genitals, by the way, were between his front legs.
I was found guilty of all charges and given an eight month prison sentence, a two thousand dollar fine, and two hundred hours of community service. I was not to ever see or contact my son or wife and I was required to complete forty hours of psychological counseling.
Aldo, following this international hu-ha in the news, contacted the ASPCA and offered to provide a wholesome environment for Bertha and a one thousand dollar donation to the ASPCA. His offer was accepted and Bertha went back to Manhattan and to work.
I got out of jail in four months for good behavior, and sold our house in New Jersey. It had been somewhat vandalized, but I still made some money and was able to use it to pay off my fine and debt to Aunt Lotte. I visited my Aunt who barely looked at me. She took the money and turned her back. I still think she loves me.
Leaving Lotte, I walked down 59th Street, being careful to stay on the opposite side of the street from where the horse and carriages were parked. I caught a glimpse of Bertha, who looked older. The sheen was gone from her coat and the twinkle was gone from her big brown eyes. I felt very low.
Seeing her this way and from talks with my counselor I realized I had done a terrible thing to a creature who was kind and trusting and whom I love and I did what I did thinking only of the moment and myself.
By word and deed, I had promised Bertha a life that I could not provide. A life of peace and satisfaction. A life we could share with our children, content and blissful. Even as I promised these things to her I knew, in my heart, that I couldn’t deliver them. I fooled her and took away her hope.
Bernie still has Dobbin and I believe he has something in mind for him. I hope that my son can have a satisfying life, but I think he is going to have a hard time.
People say that it’s best to stick to your own kind, but Dobbin, I’m afraid, will have little luck in finding his own kind.
I would also like to restart my own life but regular women don’t seem interested in me and frankly, I don’t like the way they smell.
Part II: E-Male
About one year later.
Klieg lights painted inverted white cones of light on the polluted black night of Los Angeles. A brightly lit red carpet parted a sea of fans, photographers, and the curious. Celebrities were everywhere.
There was Peewee Herman, on the carpet, decked out in his plaid, snug-fitting blue and orange tuxedo. Two inches of white socks showed between the the tops of his shiny black shoes and the bottom of his trousers.
The movie Horse Fever was being premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and a gaggle of entertainment types had shown up to be seen and to show off their finery, jewelry and mammary.
P. Diddy was making the scene in a black cashmere coat with an ermine collar. Rosie O’Donnell, looking pregnant in silk tails and cummerbund, towered over little Danny DeVito, who was dressed in a blue sailor suit. Ben Stiller, his hair carefully disheveled, walked next to a bloated Doctor Phil. Dozens of familiar faces with names that don’t quite come to mind meandered on the carpet.
Horse Fever was a true story of true love. The unusual and controversial film told the story of Sidney Kupitz, a tele-salesman for a window renovation company, who married Bertha, a beautiful carriage horse who worked in Central Park, New York. Sidney was played by Pee Wee and Bertha by Winkie the Wonder horse.
The featured characters include Bernie himself, played by Billy Crystal, the veterinarian and Bertha’s obstetrician, Dr. Friendly, played by Dr. Phil, and Bertha’s owner and carriage driver, Aldo, played by Ben Stiller.
Arriving a little late, but not so late as to miss the paparazzi, was the talented and ubiquitous Meryl Streep. Ms. Streep played the role of Sidney’s Aunt Lotte. She was dressed in a white satin gown with a short train, which was held by either a small adult or a child, in a horse costume.
The star of the movie (and indeed the talk of the town) was a 15 inch high creature, half-human and half-horse, named Dobbin Biscuit. He played himself. Dobbin is the biological son of Bertha and Sidney, and the adopted son of Bernie Biscuit. Standing quietly next to Bernie, his head resembled a whiskered Sidney, and his body a miniature, extinct horse. He wore a gold-embroidered apron, which covered his uncircumcised penis and balls and hung between his front legs. He was shoeless, revealing multiple toes on all four feet.
Bernie looked handsome in a conventional tuxedo with a contrasting yellow T-shirt. He was talking quietly to Dobbin, who seemed excited and frightened, being unaccustomed to all the people and the attention that was being foisted on him. Dobbin moved closer to Bernie, grateful for Bernies’ smell and affection. When confronted by one of the aggressive entertainment reporters who asked, in a load voice, whether Dobbin was having a good time, he replied “AMAM YM TNAW I TUB YPPAH M’I.”
Bernie immediately understood Dobbin’s seemingly cryptic, plaintive, response, having studied Hebrew in preparation for his bar mitzvah. Leaning over he kissed Dobbin lightly on the lips and said, “I understand.”
The preview audience loved the movie, as did the critics, the liberals, and ultimately the paying audiences everywhere, but especially in the coastal U.S. Bernie was suddenly an A-list celebrity, disgustingly rich and eternally grateful to Dobbin.
After the movie, after the parties and interviews with the press, Bernie and Dobbin retired to their hotel suite and, the following day, left for Bernie’s spread in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Dobbin was scared but not completely unhappy to be celebrated and the center of attention. His nagging discontent wasn’t because he was neglected or missing any of life’s necessities or luxuries at Bernie’s palatial estate. On the contrary, he had huge lawns on which to gambol and graze, swimming pools and saunas, gardens, large screen TV’s, tutors, books (especially modified to accommodate his peculiar language), pets (most of which terrorized him), and best of all, Bernie himself, who clearly loved him. Bernie was his dad and Dobbin loved him, but he longed for his biological mama and dada, neither of whom he had ever seen.
Even more important than his idealized, almost mythical parents, more important than all the gardens, foie gras and other luxuries, more important than his will to live was Dobbin’s need to see and be near his own kind. Beings who looked and smelled like him. Beings of his size who could understand him. Beings he could truly love, or hate or fuck; beings like himself. This longing seemed impossible to satisfy.
Bernie, like many good and thoughtful dads, was not completely unaware of Dobbin’s melancholy or his inner needs. But he was busy “making a living,” and his own plans and needs often came first. It may not be possible, even for a caring dad, to satisfy all his child’s desires.
Before Bernie bullied his way into Sidney and Bertha’s life at their New Jersey love-nest, he had made a living producing low budget movies. Of course “making a living” producing movies is not the same as making a living gutting pigs in an Iowa meat-packing plant. By making Horse Fever, Bernie lifted himself to the status of artiste and into the ranks of the five hundred richest men in America. Professionally he was often featured in People Magazine, the LA Times and Variety, to name a few. Bernie was now a “major player,” and he owed it all, he believed, to Dobbin.
Producers are practical, and Bernie hadn’t lost sight of the fact that Dobbin had not outlived his box office attraction. As a dad and as a businessman, he had ample reason to do what he could to make Dobbin happy. Bernie considered bringing Sidney and Bertha to live at his estate, but by order of the court, Sidney was not permitted to have contact with either Dobbin or Bertha. Bertha, on the other hand, was a different case. Bringing Bertha to New Jersey to live with with her famous son seemed like a wonderful way to brighten Dobbin’s life. This could be easily accomplished by buying Bertha from Aldo.
Aldo, as he had already demonstrated, was a shrewd negotiator. He understood the importance of his property, and he got Bernie to raise his original $20,000 offer to $125,000. Aldo got to keep the carriage. Bernie didn’t fight too hard; if pressed, he would have paid a million for Bertha. Maybe more.
Moving to New Jersey suited Bertha. She was tired of getting up early and trotting around Central Park, pulling that heavy carriage. At Bernie’s place, everything was better; the food, the barn and of course, being with her baby, at last.
Dobbin’s mood brightened. He had some one to play with who loved him unconditionally. Just as importantly, he loved her. Her sheen returned and Bernie felt good about things. There was, however, a fly in the alfalfa, as they say. Verbal communications between mother and son were limited to facial expressions and expressive sounds. This didn’t bother Bertha as much as it did Dobbin. Bertha was used to responding to a whip, a scratch on the ear, or a soft whisper, but not Dobbin. He had the brain of a person. A dyslectic person, maybe, but an analytic one. This mother/son barrier was a disappointment to Dobbin who, with the exception of Bernie, had no one to whom he could fully unburden his lonely heart. Bernie was a busy man, and at times an impatient one, but he was usually empathetic. In the fashion of the entrepreneur, he often solved problems by bringing in specialists. In this instance, he brought in Winkie the Wonder Horse to act as a conduit between Bertha and Dobbin. It didn’t go unnoticed that during the shooting of the movie, Winkie and Bertha had gotten along very well, often chatting during the frequent waiting periods common in shooting a movie. Maybe bringing Winkie into the New Jersey stable would help, not only Dobbin but also Bertha. After all, she deserved a little, God willing, romance in her life.
Winkie literally understood Dobbin and Bertha as well. The threesome clicked. They were attracted to each other and it was if a cloud had lifted. Dobbin enjoyed the horse laughs, the horseshoe pitching contests, and the general horse shit. It was fun for him to see his mom and Winkie nuzzling, and he was thrilled to hear that Bertha was with foal. Thrilled but worried. Where would he fit in, in the new family? How would he get on with his sibling who, from birth, would tower over him? Would Bertha have time for him with a new baby to take care of? Dobbin’s fears were well-founded. Things were not quite the same for him after his brother’s birth. Winkie was sympathetic, but not a completely disinterested party. Bernie would listen but was, frankly, getting a little annoyed with Dobbin’s continual dissatisfaction and complaining. Doctor Friendly came to Dobbin’s mind: he was a friend and a professional well-acquainted with all the facts. Doctor Friendly was the kind of consultant that Bernie himself would choose. It was no problem at all to get him to agree to hire Doctor Friendly to help Dobbin and to get Dobbin off his back, so to speak.
Sidney, on parole, was having a difficult time. He didn’t have to register as a sex offender yet, although HAWP (the CIO, Horse And Wagon Pullers union) had recently petitioned the federal courts to place horses under the protection of the child molestation statutes, since most horses had the mental capacity of teenagers. Notwithstanding the disposition of this action, when Sidney ventured from his home he was harassed and sometimes physically attacked by incensed citizens. He was often taunted with the phrase “Are you in yet,” made famous by Horse Fever. He needed some fresh air and some loving contact. Aunt Lotte had a large apartment and he knew she loved him. He pleaded with her to let him stay at her place until his infamy cooled down. Reluctantly she agreed, for a limit of six months. She demanded that he grow a beard and moustache, wear tinted, horn-rimmed glasses, and stay away from the horses. After allowing six weeks for his facial hair to come in, he moved in with his aunt. Just prior to his making the move, she boarded her bitch poodle, Fou-Fou.
Sidney loved living at his aunt’s place. It was roomy and quiet and with his new look, people passed him in the street without recognition. Outside, the horse-and-wagons were lined up, waiting for customers. He loved the sight and smell, and once in awhile he caught a glimpse of Bertha. He stayed across the street and thought of a happier time in his life. Tears welled up in his eyes and a lump formed in his throat, but he was grateful to be where he was. Life with Bertha had had a terrible ending, but their five years together were the happiest he’d known. Would he ever experience such bliss again? He decided he would spend the six months at his aunt’s home trying to come up with a scheme to recapture that bliss. His life literally depended on succeeding.
He worked at his job as a tele-salesman, took walks, and, except for meals with his aunt, spent his days and nights thinking of a future life for himself. He was certain that Aunt Lotte was serious about the six months. She missed Fou-Fou and visited the kennel twice a week. Sidney, meanwhile, loved his aunt but needed the kind of love he had experienced with Bertha and longed for the son he had never seen. He wanted the pleasure of seeing Dobbin grow and the pride of seeing him become a man, surpassing him in every way.
It seemed hopeless. Maybe he would have to find an alternative to the ideal, but he needed companionship and love. Neither men nor women turned him on, sexually. He loved horses, that much was clear, but the notoriety of his life with Bertha seemed to rule out a mare as a mate. It took four months, but he finally came up with an idea that appealed to him. Its success would depend on Aunt Lotte’s participation; he needed money to make it work. He laid it out for her.
Sidney would establish a website, “The Existential Man-Animal Love Enterprise” (E-MALE). He would find a foreign country with no extradition treaty, preferably a country with a good climate, and move there to establish an idyllic resort for people who preferred the company of other species, preferably vegetarian animals. The resort would enable everything from short term relationships to marriage. It would specialize in horses, not only for riding but also for all social and sexual intercourse. Other animals would be available for customers with non-equine appetites, as long as those animals didn’t represent an unusual threat to other guests. The internet would be the means of introducing the resort to potential users.
E-MALE would be Sydney’s business and his home. Grand ideas bubbled in his head. He would have a spa, a casino, and horse-racing. The facility would provide wedding receptions and medical and psychological services for its clientele. It would develop into an international tourist attraction not only for those into bestiality, but also for the voyeurs and the curious. Sydney would publish a periodical called “Horse Scents.” He would take his lemon and turn it into lemonade. No, not lemonade; into champagne. He would become the Hugh Hefner of inter-species sex and love. He would be rich and respected and wear a bathrobe, all the time. He would be a pioneer.
Aunt Lotte sensed the excitement in Sidney, but she couldn’t possibly have imagined the vastness of his dream or the depth of his longing. Lotte seemed somewhat prim and set in her ways, but she was a person who welcomed challenge. Her life story was somewhat surprising. Brought up in a conservative and religious home, she married late in life to a bisexual singer of Spanish folk songs named Randy. They had no children. One year they tried swinging and didn’t like it much. Lotte was really smart. She worked her way up to V.P. of Financeat Global Travel and Adventure Inc.. She got Randy a job in the mailroom, where he chain-smoked Virginia Slim cigarettes, wore a lounging jacket and custom-made wing-tip shoes. But now, retired and widowed, Lotte was bored and lonely. She wanted something new in her life.
She listened intently. Sidney was completely taken off-guard by her immediate grasp of his idea and her wildly enthusiastic attitude. She loved it as a businesswoman. She loved it as a woman. She volunteered the use of her vacation home in Guatemala. The thought of using and living on her estate, named Cantalose, was appealing to her and factored into her ownership percentage. She had not been there since Randy passed away, and the thought of leaving the noise and cold weather of New York and settling in a place she described as heaven was like a Christmas gift. She couldn’t wait to start planning E-MALE. Not only did she want to finance the project, she wanted to take an active role in running the place. Sidney could not have asked for more.
Aunt Lotte’s dream of a final grand adventure was on the verge of coming true. She and Sidney immediately started planning and agreed that they needed an experienced stable-man. Sidney recommended Aldo, who not only knew horses but was an expert negotiator and would be ideal as a hands-on general manager. Lotte saw the wisdom of Sidney’s suggestion, and a mutual confidence and bond started to form between these two very different people. Lotte’s business acumen made her ideal as CEO, and her investments would add an additional prudence to all of her decisions. Sidney, with his celebrity and experience in bestiality, would be ideal as the Head of Sales and Marketing. Doctor Friendly was a candidate for Chief of Medicine and technical adviser to Lotte. And so the planning went on until the sun was coming up.
After a cup of coffee and a cool shower, Sidney started to lay out the front page of the website. It looked like this.
DO YOU LOVE
TROPICAL SEA BREEZES?
HOW ABOUT WARM SANDY BEACHES?
THATCH-COVERED BUNGALOWS AND 24/7 ROOM SERVICE?
HORSEBACK RIDING AND RACING?
FINE WINES AND AWARD-WINNING CUISINE?
CUDDLING UP WITH A WARM AND WILLING MARE?
MAN-ANIMAL LOVE ENTERPRISE will provide all of this and more.
Sidney finally hit the sack.
Lotte contacted Aldo the very next day, and he jumped at the opportunity offered by Cantalose. He ended up with a very generous salary and negotiated a terrific stock option plan. Lotte extended Fou-Fou’s stay at the kennel for an additional three months. Sidney and Lotte made to-do lists.
Doctor Friendly arrived at Bernie’s estate for his meeting with Dobbin et al. It was a beautiful day and they all sat on the grand lawn. Dobbin, with the help of Winkie translating and his computer with a huge custom made keyboard, finally got his point across. He was asking Doctor Friendly to consider him an endangered species and seeking funding from the government to develop more of his kind. He wanted to make a proposal to an agency that would fund the creation of males and females of Dobbin’s kind. This was what Dobbin needed, more of the same. Friendly owed it him.
The idea was intriguing to Dr. Friendly and could be the crowning achievement to a career that, until Dobbin came along, was pedestrian, at best. The meeting left him light-headed, but excited. He left promising to give the request serious consideration and to investigate potential issues, (with the help of other specialists like lawyers, ethicists, project managers etc.), and he would come back with an answer as soon as he could. Doctor Friendly did feel responsible for poor Dobbin’s plight, but he had to consider AAUHNJ’s involvement, as well as his own career and responsibility to his absent wife and two kids. When he got back to his office he had a message that Sidney had called.
He briefly wondered what that was about, but immediately forgot about it and went on to call his wife. He wanted to explain Dobbin’s dilemma and his feelings of sadness. He hadn’t seen or spoken to her since he took on the Sidney/Bertha case. She had moved into her sister’s house, in Scarsdale, N.Y., that very day. Since he had started to treat Bertha, Victoria couldn’t stand the sight or thought of him. It wasn’t that Victoria didn’t like horses. It was that she felt strongly that God didn’t approve of homosexuals, or the mixing of species. She was appalled by the Liger, the mule, tree grafting, mixing of the races or religions and yes, social intercourse of any kind between the working and the professional or leisure classes. Her position was that Dobbin’s situation came about due to man’s meddling in God’s domain. Any further interference in that sphere would lead to further grief.
The kids, who were close to college-age, decided that Victoria’s position was unreasonable, and chose to stay with their dad. Friendly missed her at first, but his work kept him busy and his thoughts of her slowly receded. He missed the company of women in general, and that became stronger with time. Dobbin’s demand for humane justice touched him and he thought it might touch Victoria too. It didn’t. Well, that was that.
He called the provost at AAUHNJ to disclose Dobbin’s idea. Dr. Doolittle thought that the university wouldn’t tolerate any more “Dobbins.” An experiment is an experiment, and Dobbin worked out fine for all concerned: Dr. Friendly made science news, and the university got interest and publicity. But, he said, “We were lucky last time, and no more of that. Back to meat and potatoes for AAUHNJ.”
Dr. Friendly called his attorney and asked him to start divorce proceedings.
He then called Bernie and asked him to pass along his regrets to Dobbin. He was sorry but he could not help, for personal reasons.
He was depressed by his personal issues and felt guilty about Dobbins’ situation. It took a few days before he remembered Lotte’s call. She explained her relationship to Sidney and went on to outline Cantalose. She asked for a meeting and they agreed to meet on Thursday, with Sidney. The E-MALE project had quickened Lotte’s step and she got a new, slightly more frivolous, hair-do.
The Thursday meeting, by Lotte’s design, included both Bernie and Dr. Friendly, as well as Sidney and herself. It turned into a watershed for Dr. Friendly, and a new and exciting opportunity for another award-winning film for Bernie.
The Cantalose project would guarantee sufficient income to provide for Dr. Friendly’s comfort and his kids education. This income would be independent of retirement funds due from AAUHNJ. The adventure of leaving the university to live in Guatemala would have seemed impossible on Wednesday, but now, with the promise of financial security and the possibility of doing research in the area of hybrid sentient beings without having to contend with the boundaries imposed by a conservative overseer, or concern about violating the law, was like opening a window on a spring day. Lotte was willing to provide seed money to get him started, and he would have access to the whole world in seeking funding from private or governmental sources. It didn’t go unnoticed by Dr. Friendly that Lotte was very attractive and not much older than he.
Lotte invited Bernie to sit on the board at Cantalose if he invested enough money in the corporation. There was the prospect of doing a film about the place when it got going.
The board was formed. It consisted of Lotte, Sidney, Friendly, Bernie, Aldo, and Doolittle.
Doolittle was Lotte’s idea. When she heard about him, she proposed his name to the others, explaining that it would be useful to have a naysayer to keep everyone on their toes. It turned out that once he exchanged his starched white shirt for a more casual look, he was good company and good for the company.
Of course there were start-up surprises and growing pains, but Cantalose became an international success. Some of the many wonderful things that happened were:
Myron Kaufman is a painter and writer based in Pasadena, CA. His work appears regularly at the Offramp Gallery.