Thursday, December 8, 2011

On A Mission

As I wandered through this town, a town I had been to hundreds of times before, I really had no idea what I was doing. But I did know why I was doing it.
This day was about fixing regrets. I almost never had any regrets in life. I really only had one and I aimed to fix it this day.
It was only 45 minutes to drive to her town. It seemed like it had been an eternity since I had seen her last. Actually, it had been 20 years.
I had no idea what I was doing, or how I was going to do it. But I knew exactly what I was doing. I was going to go back in time while in the future and restore a life mistake.
Got to her town and drove around. I hadn't really thought this through. She probably lived somewhere else by now. Had a husband, a family, kids, a dog. She could be anywhere.  She could be dead. I had no idea. Any previous lame attempts to find her had come up completely dry.
If I was kidding myself, I was okay with that. I wanted to kid myself. It made it better to just be ignorant of reality this one time. I am one that is never okay with that, This time,  for whatever reason,  I was.
Just to drive around, to make any real effort to find her and right the wrong that had occurred some 20 years ago,  I had to do it.
Of course, the thought of finding her parents, who had lived their whole adult lives in that town was another thought. Reality again didn't matter. I hadn't really thought about how they were probably in their eighties and had died or moved away. Nope, none of that reality thinking this time. I was on a mission. Not a well planned mission, but a mission nonetheless.
I continued to drive around. Where to go? I had no clue. I just had to be in the city where she once was. Where I had seen her last. A chance meeting on the street because I was there and she was there. Fate had attempted to bring us together one last time. But it didn't work that time. I got distracted and she didn't see me. Before I knew it, she had vanished. Opportunity lost.
You don't many second chances like that in life. And I had blown it. If I had it to do over again, I would have stopped what I was doing and made sure I got to her. To make contact, to say Hi, to put my friendship foot back in the door. But I didn't. And now, it is twenty years later. And there is no door. I have no door to walk through to start up the conversation again. I am wandering around her town, what was once her town, and I have no idea what door she is behind. Or if she is even behind any door in this town. She probably isn't.
I tempted fate, and fate smacked me. Now all I can do is try to get another chance. Part of this mission is just hoping that I get a chance run in with her again. If she is around, in this town, that by being here, in this short amount of random time,  with no real purpose or plan, I will encounter her and we can start over.
Yes, start over. When I say start over, I mean go back to that instant in time, that moment I want back, and change what I did. What I said. That is the regret. That I put my selfish want above the friendship and destroyed what we had. In that instant. I don't even know if that is possible, but I am giving it a chance. What I said cannot be forgotten, but it can be discussed, dealt with and hopefully settled. Time sometimes can help with that. Emotions of the moment fade and the old good will and feelings return.
That is my hope as I wander aimlessly on this futile mission. 

I drive around some more, for another hour and a bit. Still no chance meeting. Of course, I was kidding myself to think it could work like this. That just doesn't happen. I missed my chance 20 years ago.
If there is to be another chance, then it will happen by chance, as it did then. Only this time, I have to see that chance, and take that chance.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The good times of the dark night

It was a dark night. I loved a dark night. You never knew what was out there. It was so peaceful, yet so dangerous. Rarely did you come across anyone, and you could really collect your thoughts. It was always my preferred time to go for a walk. It still is to this day.
I walked Minnie almost every night. Late. During the daytime, she was so friendly and had to stop to greet every person and dog she saw. The night walks were the only way to get her to walk continuously. Late at night, you could just walk and walk and hardly come across anybody. We used to go for an hour at least. By the time we got home, she was content and just hopped on the bed and slept.
She loved to be off the leash in the park. Late at night that was never an issue. During the day it always seemed to be.
She loved me so much, and was attached to me so much, that even though she wandered off to do her own thing, if she got too far away, she would come tearing full speed in the middle of the dark night to come find me. If she didn't, all I would have to do is call out her name and she would come running.  We had done this hundreds of times and it never failed.
Until this night, when it did.
I guess I was too overconfident.  You can get like that when you are younger. I had seen a lot of bad things in my day, but I still thought that no matter what I did, things would always work out for me. Because they always had. We made our way to the park,  which took about 20 minutes. As soon as we approached the opening to the park, she started to pull and swell up. She knew I was going to turn her loose. I barely had the leash off of her neck when she tore away and began to explore. I walked my usual circle around park, and she knew where I was at all times. Dogs have a very good sense of sight in the dark.
Of course, I had no clue where she was. She was a pitch black dark Labrador Retriever and could not be seen in the the park with no lights of any kind.
At the time, I was heavy into the writing of songs, and I had one in my head. As she was now a dog that was getting older, I wondered what I would think of when she was no longer there. It would only be 6 or 7 years at the most until that would happen. We had her since she was an 8 week old puppy,  so basically her whole life,  and most of my adult life. It was hard to think of my life without her. I had made several moves since I moved out of my mothers house, and she was always the constant. She slept on the side of my bed and pretty much made every move I made. She even came to work with me in most of the jobs I did. We were attached at the hip. Girlfriends came and went, but Minnie was always there.
How would I respond to her not being there? I thought that, as with most things I had lost over the years,  I would remember the good times. We had so many good times, that would be easy. There were also some very interesting stories that were attached to her, and some with not so happy endings, but even still, mostly everything about her was a good time. I told myself that when the time came,  I would remember the good times.
I even wrote and finished that song and have it in a drawer somewhere. But that was a song.  This was real life and she was still here,  live in the flesh with many good years ahead of her.
I continued my walk around the circle of the park.  I was more than 3/4 of the way around,  and as of yet she hadn't come tearing towards me. That was okay. I knew she would at some point. Anyway, how much trouble could she get into in a dark park at 1am in a nice secluded neighborhood? Not much, I told myself.
I reached the end of the park and still no adoring dog by my side. I called out her name. Still nothing. I did that 3 or 4 times and then I began to get concerned. So I began to walk the park, but much more briskly, and with a sense of purpose. But, if she was out there, she wasn't coming. This had never happened before, so I really had no clue what to do. I continued to walk and call for her, but there was no response. This went on for about 20 minutes. I started to think she got distracted somehow and maybe headed towards home.
Heading towards home meant going down the street.  Going down the street meant the possibility of cars. Even though it was late and there would not be many cars, it would only take one. She was used to walking down the middle of the street, and she was black as the night, so getting hit by a car was a real possibility.
I decided I would head home. She didn't seem to be in the park,  so there was no point staying there. When motivated, it was only a 10 minute walk for me to get home.  I took the route we always took, in the hope I would come across her. I didn't.
I knew one thing: She had not been hit by a car. At least there was that. I got home and got in my car and started to drive the neighborhood. Still no sight of her... either way. Of course by now my mind was racing. That song I had written was now starting to come true. She could be gone forever. For a brief instant at home before I got in the car I had thought to myself that I was fortunate to have had the 8 years I had with her and I would hold on to that if she was truly gone forever.
But that faded fast and I headed out to find her. I had driven the neighborhood 5 or 6 times and nothing. I was now back home, but she had not made her way there either.
Now what?
I thought maybe I would go out on foot again. It was now 2:30am and I wasn't giving up until I found her, one way or the other.
Minnie was always a happy go lucky dog and nothing really fazed her. I kept walking and then I heard a rustling. I moved towards it. And it was her. She was digging into a garbage can scrounging for food. She always did that.  No matter how old she got, or how much I fed her fat self,  she always had to dig up garbage. She was a sweet lovable dog,  but her manners were always very suspect.
I called to her, but she paid me no mind. Except to wag her tail. She was forever wagging her tail. That was her. That is one of the good times I always remember, her wagging her tail.
As I approached her, she turned towards me and gave me that look "Oh, Hi, look what I found in the garbage can". She stood still while I put the leash on her and we were on our way home. No big deal to her. She didn't seem to know or care how much danger she was actually in.
After that night, I kept her closer to me, but even still, I still let her off the leash to run free. She was a dog, and she needed to do that. We never had a close call after that night, and she was never lost again right up to the day she died, 7 years later.
I will always remember that night,  and all the good times with her. Even the bad times were happy memories with her.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

In my head

We went way back.  She knew me. She knew me very well.

At this point,  I think she knew me too well. Maybe even better than I knew myself.
Was she in my head? Yes I think so. She was in my head. Definitely.
I was thinking about posting a status, but before I finished it, she was already responding to it. How could that be?
I was totally lost at this point. Lost in her. I had drowned in the infatuation and had no air left. Whatever air I managed to breathe, came from her. Whatever air she let me have. She was my lifeline at this point.  She was also becoming the death of me.
She was the devil,  and she sucked me in with her charm. She knew my weakness,  and she exploited it.
Now she had me.  She had consumed me. My every fiber. There was no longer any me. Me was now her. I had lost her.
Ok, the truth was, she was never in my head. She didn't actually exist. Well she did exist, just not as I saw her. My fantasy,  as I had created her in my mind, had taken over. She was just a woman, an ordinary woman. But I never saw her that way. She became the superwoman who could do no wrong. I had put her on a pedestal.
She had told me that she liked me. In those words, I took it to mean she was madly in love with me.
l started to believe my own delusions. Fantasy had become reality for me, and I had driven myself insane. Who could blame her really? I had done this to myself.
Anyway,  it was past the point of blame. I was too far gone and it made no difference at this point to assign blame. Could I save myself? Was there any self left to save? How would I do it if I had the will and the power to pull it off?
No, I could not. I was too far gone. The devil  was now inside me. A self made devil I created to destroy myself.
It owned me by now, and every fiber of me. Every pulse of blood inside me coursed with the power of the devil within. The longer it went, the more it took over.
How could I turn the tables and stop crying and submitting to it? I had to stop lying to myself. To stop believing my own delusional fantasies. Writing about them was one thing,  but believing them was quite another. I could not separate fantasy and reality, and I had to if I wanted to gain my true self back.
I had played with fantasy and got burned by it. Now the burns were deep..and scarring. Even if I made it back over to the other side, the scars would remain. I was changed, either way, no matter what,  I was changed.
But there was still her to deal with. Could I even exist anymore with her in my life? Could I exist with her out of my life? Was there some happy medium? I had no answer to any of that. But I had to gain that answer. It meant life or death to me.
  As I tried to sleep, all I could hear was that Alan Parsons song, and her saying hauntingly,
"I can read your mind, I can read your mind, I can read your mind".
Try to leave your false illusions behind. I was trying,  but not succeeding.  I had been consumed by her. By the Eye In The Sky, that I had created within myself.
My own creation had latched on to me and was not going to let me go. I fed the bad side of me and now it had grown bigger than me. I couldn't reverse the trend. I could not starve it to death.
I really had cheated myself blind. Blind to the power that I created within to destroy myself. I had become strong enough to make myself feebly weak.
I am the Eye In The Sky and I can read your mind. The devil now had the eyes and the vision, while I was now the blind helpless one.  I had to submit and give in to it. It was too powerful and had too much control  over my insanity.
I was now lost. Lost in a song. Lost in a fantasy. Lost in a story I created. Lost in the eye.  In the eye of the storm within me.
Nothing else mattered. No one ..or thing, could get through this wall I had created, that was more powerful than me or anyone else that would try to break it back down.
I posted a status about it, and the devil didn't bother to respond this time.  It knew it had me and didn't need to make an effort to break me anymore. In fact,  the devil within actually posted the status. I never really got to do anything anymore.
There simply was no me anymore.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Life Of An Oven Mitt

 Edited by Demetra Fisher
So it has come to this. This smelly garbage dump. Where did it all go wrong for me? I had so much hope and promise. Now, I am just yesterday's garbage. 

I remember when I was just cotton and thread, not really anything. I had no form, no purpose, no direction as I moved along the conveyor belt of life. It wasn't long though, before I became something - an oven mitt. And a very pretty oven mitt. I was sure to be liked and cherished.

Life started out with such promise. I was fresh. I was fluffy. Every stitch was exactly right. I had my place, with all the other oven mitts on display in the store, neatly stacked on the shelf, ready to be bought and put into action. I had high hopes at that point. I knew I was wanted, in demand. I was not going to be marked down. No, I was definitely all that.

I never realized what it meant to be an oven mitt, but I knew that I was going to be the best oven mitt I could be. I was sure of that.

One day, a nice young couple looked me over and they ended up choosing me. They put me in a nice colorful bag and I was on my way to my new home. When we arrived, they played with me, tried me on and then showed me to my room - my new living quarters. Life seemed to be falling into place for me. 

Sure, it was a small dark drawer. I was used to the bright open spaces of the store, but I had some experience with dark closed-off  spaces. I remember being in that horrid cardboard box, tightly pressed against all the other oven mitts during distribution. That oven mitt Harry... he never shut up for the whole trip. I was so happy when he got sold at the store. Hated that guy. 

As I lay in the drawer life was good.  I was content.

As the days went by, I got to come out at the odd time. Sometimes, there was a warm handle that a hand needed protecting from. I was glad to help. That was my purpose in life. And I was loved. Still young, fresh, and in all my glory.

Then, about two weeks after they took me home, came that day I will never forget. My whole world, my illusions, were shattered. Oh... the pain. That first time, when the hand slides inside you and you grab onto that hot sheet of fries just coming out of the oven.

"Oh, that fucking hurts!"

You never forget that, no matter how many times you go into battle.
I grew to know when it was coming. I had developed a sense of smell. Yes, oven mitts can smell.  And feel. We hurt just like the rest of you. The aroma of fries, or of just baked bread or cookies - I came to associate that with the pain. I crouched in fear every time I took in that air heavy with the scent. 

I have lived with that fear. Everyday, every minute,  I feel it. Whenever, I overhear that the owner of the house is going to make fries. Or a stir fry. Those are the worst times - the worry and the waiting. The knowing that at any second I could be called to duty to face that intense heat. The pan is always sizzling hot.

I longed for the times when they would go out to eat or when they were at work. I knew I was safe until that front door opened again. As soon as they arrived, until the time they left, my fear continued.
The times when they went out, or would o on vacation, those were the best times.  Then, I knew I was truly safe. Safe and sound in my little drawer -  my home. The third drawer from the top, where it is quiet and peaceful.
I always wished I could do something about it.  But what could I have done?  After all, a plain old oven mitt is helpless to fight against fate. My fate... my destiny.  But, freedom is what I longed for.

Freedom, ahhh... Yes, freedom - like being left out on the counter for a few days.  It was as if I were on vacation and lying on the beach. Daylight, but yet no work.

But, now I am older. I have been burned many times. My young fresh stitching is all gone. I have been through the washing machine a few times. My once fluffy exterior is now matted down and I am no longer appreciated as I once was. Often times they would just toss me in the drawer. They used to place me nicely. 

I have even developed a burn hole at the end near where their fingers go. Deep down, I knew that it wouldn't be long before I was on my way out. I can't do the job I was born to do anymore. And I don't really want to do it either. I have had enough. I knew they were going to put me out of my misery and I was kind of hoping for it.
At the end of the day, they never really loved me. That hurts.

Yes, I burn. I feel. 

I feel the pain. 

So, finally, it has come to this. This smelly garbage dump. Where did it all go wrong for me? I had so much hope and promise. Now, I am just yesterday's garbage.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Taken For Granted

The time changed the day before. I was aware of that. Still, knowing that I would be walking through the park, with its low lying trees, posed a problem.
As I walked, I was mindful of the sharp branches hanging below. You could poke an eye out with one of those things. Wow, I can't see anything really. I take for granted that I can just avoid those trees and branches in the light of day.
Having sight is something we all take for granted. That is, until it is gone. Can you imagine not having sight...or smell...or taste..or hearing...or touch?
These are things we always take for granted. I always have. I have always had great health, and keen senses. I have never had a problem with any of them. But as I approach my 50th birthday in a few years, I take note of my sight which is weakening and possibly other senses that will fade as time marches on.
I always thought I saw everything well. But I did not. I never saw a time coming when my mother would not be a living being on this earth. I took that for granted.
I arrived at 11pm, just after my hockey game. I knew almost instantly that this would be the last night my mother would spend on this earth. I had taken for granted that she would always be part of my world, but that fantasy was now shattered with the reality that she was on her last set of breaths.
I was greeted by a somber Harvey. He knew, and I knew.  We all knew. The time had come. It was what my mother had wanted. Harvey was in tears, holding back tears that he couldn't hold back. He was taking this harder than anyone. I loved my mother, but he has spent the last 20 years with her, day in,  day out,  while I only saw her a few times a year at gatherings.
Harvey handed me the pamphlet. 'How to recognize the signs of imminent death'....or something like that. As it turns out, it went almost exactly like the pamphlet said it would.
We had gathered just a week before to meet with the doctors. Myself,  my sister, Harvey, my mothers brother Stanley and the doctor. We let my mother speak her piece. She said she had given up. Could not take it anymore. She wanted it over. She wanted to die. We all agreed if that was what she wanted, we would not stand in her way. The decision was made to stop all her prolonging medications.
Later, in the hallway, the doctor told us it would be about 2 weeks before the cancer overcomes her. At first, there was very little difference. She got slightly worse, gradually, but really she was already pretty bad, so it was not a large difference. The doctor assured us that my mother would get whatever she needed and would not suffer.
The weekend before she died, I was the one to stay with her most of the time. It was clear she was suffering badly. She was not allowed to eat or drink, as they felt she would choke. Even a bit of water or melted ice cream did make her gargle and cough a lot. However,  she was thirsty and hungry. She begged me for some water and some food. I was not allowed to give her any. That was heartbreaking. You always take it for granted that you wont have to see the person who brought you into this world, who protected and nurtured you in your time of need, suffer the way I saw her suffer.
Watching her die was tolerable, watching her suffer badly was not. Rest in peace was truly a phrase that meant something to me now. Until she died,  there was to be no peace. In many ways she did not really feel anything as they had her doped up on so much morphine that she was basically asleep and pain free most of the time. But she did suffer, that was clear.
In many ways, she had lost those senses we take for granted.  She could barely see or hear anything. Her sense  of smell was weak. But she never lost her sense  of touch. I think we were always glad for that. At least she could still feel our presence, our hands touching her hands to reassure her that we were there for her if she needed anything. Mostly what she needed was care and company. That was something we could provide.
Harvey left to go home,  but wanted to be there when she passed away. I assured him that I would call him if I saw the time coming. He was only fifteen minutes away.
As the sun began to rise, I saw her time had come.  I called Harvey and told him it was just about time. He rushed back and made it about 15 minutes before she drifted away, slowly and peacefully.
Of course at that point I had mixed emotions. I was happy it was over. More than a year of intense pain, for both her and us was now over. But of course,  that person who was always a part of my world was now gone.
A year later, there are times when it doesn't seem real.
Last night I had a dream that I was stranded at an airport. I could not find my way to the plane. This lady was charged with leading me to the plane. But she got so far away that I could not keep up and got lost again. I saw the plane fly away and I had missed it. I was stranded again. It was almost like the lady did this on purpose. All hope was lost.
Within seconds, my mother appeared. The young healthy mother I always remembered and took for granted. She fixed it, like she always could. She led me to a new, better plane. We sat together and everything was alright.
Those days are gone now. My mother doesn't exist in the real world. I am a passenger stranded without a savior. I have to fend for myself now.  I took for granted that she would always be there to help.
I always took for granted that I would be able to see.  But when the darkness came,  I could not see that I took that for granted.
Life...and death, poked me in the eye and knocked me down.  My mother was not..and could not pick me up this time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fifteen Seconds

I tossed and turned all night. She noticed that I was not comfortable. Felt like something I ate didn't go down right. I chalked it up to indigestion. Not the first time that had happened. Would probably be gone by morning.
Just had to ride it out.
I knew just what not to say. I was good at that.

"Are you okay, honey"

"I'm fine, just something I ate I think"

As I awoke the next morning,  I was right. It was gone. I still didn't feel right, but the uncomfortable feeling was gone. I decided I should stop in for a doctors visit.

Sitting on the table,with that paper on top of the soft cushioned elevated examination table, I felt like I was wasting my time. I was fine. Just some indigestion. But she wanted me to have it checked out, and rather than argue about it, I appeased her and went. Better to just agree than tell her what was really going on, for years.

After the customary stethoscope and prodding and testing, the doctor concurred. Just a case of indigestion. Run along now and try not to eat so close to bed time.

Got ya doc. No more late night sandwiches with heavy carbs. No more plates of fries right before bed. Lucky for me I didn't have to tell him that these episodes were frequent and the chest pains were a lot more severe than I let on. I kept that to myself. I had made it this far, why speak up now?

The band played as we ate our food. It was a very nice,  calm late November Saturday night. Crisp cool air as we approached the bistro. The place was already buzzing. Gloria Peterson was about to play her acoustic set. Those that new good live folk music knew to come see her play.  It was a treat.
My wife ordered the Greek salad and then pan pizza.  I ordered the burger and fries. I had already downed two cokes by the time my dinner came.
The food was great.  So was the music. The night was going super. After the first set I received my third glass of coke. Kind of felt uncomfortable again. I guess the fries, plus the bread from the bun of the burger was getting to me again. I said nothing about that. Just excused myself.
Decided I needed to go to the bathroom. On my way back, just as I was about to re enter the bar area I felt a tinge in my chest. Had to gather myself for a second. About a minute went by and then I felt a bit better. Washed my face and hands at the sink and then made my way back to our table. I felt better and there was no need to mention it to her. Would only rile her up and make her worry. I never told her things like that. Never really told her anything. I kept it all to myself. The truth was these episodes had occurred for years, and just sort of went away. I got used to them and never bothered to mention  it. This last episode, the night before in bed, was one I couldn't hide from her.
The band was about to get up and do their second set, and I set out to eat the last little bit of fries left on my plate.
Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my arm. Then in my chest.  I grabbed for my chest and my breathing got short. I felt like someone had a bag over my head.
She noticed and cried out for help.
I leaned back and began to sink in my seat. I knew. I always knew this day would come. I ignored it because I wanted to avoid it. But now it was here. I kept it to myself and now I would die with the knowledge that I never spoke up, about so many things.
I knew. In my soul I knew. I only had a minute or so left. My time had come.
Now what? What should I do.
Only about 45 seconds left. The pain got deeper, I was focused on the pain. There was now hysteria around me. I heard others calling 911 for help. But it wouldn't matter. I would be long gone by the time the paramedics rushed here to pronounce me.
My eyes were open. I could see that they were trying to help me. About 30 seconds left now.  I am about to die. I know that. I have 30 seconds left, after a lifetime of chances to say what I should have said, I now had only 30 seconds to say what I wanted to say.
Some woman was on top of me,  pumping my chest, trying to help me. It wasn't going to work. About 20 seconds left now. She got off, it was futile.  I was fading away. My last breaths coming slower and slower now. I was still conscious and looking at my wife, who was holding my hand and crying hysterically. She now knew as well. It was over for me. Over for us. Just like that.
I've got fifteen seconds left now,  to say whatever I need and want to say. After a lifetime of chances, it boiled down to these fifteen seconds. To say all the things I've never said. Fifteen seconds.  That's it.
Trying to get the words out.  I have ten seconds left now. To tell her how I really felt. How sorry I was for all the hurt.  How it all came out of love. Ten seconds to undue all the damage I never thought I had done.
Five seconds left now. Starting to lose consciousness now. Trying to speak those words, but I can't speak. No oxygen and no breath. My time has come. I try to motion with my hands, but it's too late. My chest feels tight and I have one second left.
Then the stillness comes. She says "I love you". I hear that. That is the last thing I will ever hear. I can't say it back. It's too late. I had a lifetime of chances to say that. Now I have one second and no breath to say it. I never get that chance to say it.
It's too late for me. I am gone. I never got another chance to say what I always wanted to say. What I should have said a long time ago.

But didn't.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Afraid To Sleep

Life is very fragile. You can be taken away at any time. We all go to bed seemingly healthy and happy. It is always possible that we won't wake up. Die in our sleep.
I had a crazy dream last night. I was taken hostage by a former friend from high school.  When I say former, I mean not in touch with anymore. There was no bad blood. We just faded off, like so many high school friendships end up doing.
But I always had a feeling that he would be the type who could go off and be crazy. The kind that everyone would say after the fact was the normal one that they never saw it coming from. He just seemed too prim and proper and nice. Being his friend, I saw the other side of him sometimes. The angst. The frustration. It always stuck in the back of my mind.
In the dream, he had taken a few of us from our high school "circle of friends' hostage and forced us to play golf on holes that were out of sequence (I have the golf holes out of sequence dream a lot) at gun point. He was mad about something.  Not really sure what.  Maybe because we all remained friends to this day and he was not part of that. I don't know for sure what he was mad about.  I didn't dream that part. I just know he was mad, at least my projection of him in my dream was mad. Of course that means a part of me is actually mad, but that is too Freudian to get in to here.
As the dream progressed we all managed to escape.  I now had my dog, who was old and not that mobile, with me. She couldn't walk. But she was so sweet and loving that I carried her everywhere. I had actually done this in real life when she got very old.  It is a very vivid memory and a dream I have often. Not really sure why it was part of this dream.  Again, much too Freudian for me. She just was. That is all I need to know at this point. All I get to know at this point.
I hushed her quiet as we hid in a room. There were others there and they were attempting to hide me, so he couldn't find me. It was apparent that he had. I managed to get away.  I seemed to be able to go through the wall to get out. You have strange powers in a dream. You are able to go through walls but not able to get away from mere mortals. Such is the reality of dreams.
We were now on the street. Every direction we headed ended up at a fence that restricted further movement. Funny, I could go through the wall of the room, but not the fence. Again, not going there in this story.
Because the dog needed to be carried we were moving slow and he would always catch up. After about 4 dead ends he was now on top of us. He still had the gun and was about to shoot. He wasn't trying to kill me, but wanted to kill my dog. Just as he pointed the gun at me, he was actually about to kill  my dog. My precious dog. As the bullet left the chamber and headed towards us, in that instant, I woke up.
I couldn't run in the dream, and now as I awoke I had a horrible cramp in my calf. I tried to ride it out, but it was intense and wouldn't go away. Finally I rose to my feet, very abruptly and managed to move my leg in a position to release the cramp.
I had gotten up very suddenly. My wife, normally a very poor sleeper, did not move or react at all. That was highly unusual for her. She could hear a pin drop in the basement at 3am after she had been in deep sleep for hours.
I got back in bed and looked at her. She was out cold. Not moving either. Again, highly unusual for her. I touched her and no response. I touched her again. No response again. I didn't see her breathing either. I thought she might have died in her sleep. I touched her harder one last time and she awoke.
Falling asleep comes with risks. It might be the last thing you do and you have no idea that it will be.
It's like a friend with a gun chasing you on a golf course with holes out of order.  You never see that coming.
You can't protect your dog from death, even though it is inevitable and you try anyway.  You can't protect your wife or yourself from death when you go to sleep. If the crazy guy with the gun wants to take you, he will. If you wake up alive, he didn't want you bad enough yet.

Friday, November 4, 2011


The Days Of The Week

Friday- All hope is lost, another week has gone by, just like all the rest. I am resigned to the fact I have blown it again. It is now 2pm and I have not achieved what I wanted to. Just about ready to totally give up on this week. Did a few good things but hardly anywhere near what I wanted to. Almost 5pm. All hope is now lost. What to do?

Saturday- So many ideas in my head. Have to organize them. The faster I write them down, the faster the new ones come. It's going to be a good week. So much to do. So much hope to achieve some great things. I have a plan. I am going to write down my plan....tomorrow. Today I will just bask in the glow of my possible conquest of my lazy demon. I am the eternal optimist on Saturday. Saturday inspires confidence that Friday squishes like a bug.

Sunday- Feel great today. Sunday is all about euphoria and anticipation. Sunday is like 10 minutes before you take off your clothes to have great sex. Monday is just a short time away and I know I will do great things. I always do great things on Mondays. If everyday was Monday I would be Hemmingway..or Shakespeare. Got to find a way to make everyday my Monday. Sunday is now almost over. Have my plan and my schedule ready. I am going to stick to it. I am getting this done. No letting up this week. More is better. I am doing more. I really mean it this time.

Monday- Up early. No lazy sleeping in this time. Not playing my games today. Have a schedule and I'm sticking to it. Getting right to it. Nose to the grindstone today. Two blogs done by 11am. So far so good. Fifteen minutes to do the dishes and I am right back at it. Call up my story I want finished today. No stopping and starting. I am banging this baby out. Written and edited by 1pm. So far so good. Have not strayed off the path today. Monday is always a good day for me. Now back to my passion. My main script. So much work to be done on that,  but so much hope for it. One day, when it is all done, it will be a masterpiece. They will be talking about it for years to come. Like Psycho, or The Birds or any of the truly great movies of our generation. It is taking me forever to put it all together, but the pundits will spend days and years breaking it down. I know that. But first, need a break. Shouldn't take one because I know where it leads.  But,  I have been good all day,  so I deserve it.  Back at it by 2pm,  that is my criteria. Keeping myself in line. No chatting. No gaming. No watching videos. Just a quick 30 minute break for lunch and some yard work.
It's 2:15. Took a bit more time.  Who cares? Been at it all day.I deserve it. Ready to start writing again. Got to get to work on the script. But I have emails and private messages to respond to. Got to do that. Can't stop myself from doing that. It's 3:30 now. Monday the great is starting to slip away.  I smack myself back into gear. Internet off. Phone is off. Tv is off. Just me and the blank screen. Back at it. Only have 4 hours then I have to get ready for hockey tonight. Four hours is plenty. I should do more, but a solid 4 hours is a major breakthrough at this point.
6:30 now. Did some great things. Didn't make it to 7:30 like I had hoped, but Rome wasn't built in a day. Oh Tuesday, will you be my friend or continue to be my foe?

Tuesday- Woke up feeling tired. Hockey was hard on me last night. Can't really write much this morning. Need  to get some things done first. Okay, need is the wrong word. Don't feel like working. Avoidance is really the better word. I can just get started later. No worries. Monday was good. Monday is always good, so I can slack off a bit on Tuesday. I deserve it, right? I worked hard. Can't always work so hard. Anyway, who cares? I can do whatever I want when I want. So why be so hard on myself?
Wrote a blog, and banged out a cute short story. Yay me! Did about 20% of what I needed to get done. win again. But Wednesday will be mine. I own Wednesday. Tuesday's guilt usually carries me on Wednesday.

Wednesday- Feeling it this morning. Two more blogs done. Dishes done. Lunch prepared. All emails, messages and games caught up by 11am. I am back in the groove. Lunch time. Rut Roh! A break for lunch. That has always been my doom on Wednesday's before. Have hockey tonight too, so can't waste my time.  Won't be able to make up for it later. Ok, so it's 1:30. Said I would be back at it by 1pm. Writers lament. Surfed for a bit and got distracted. It happens. It happens a lot to me. Anyway, 1:30, back at it. It is what it is.
 Just get writing dammit!
 Enough lame excuses. Forced myself to write for a couple of hours. Needed a break again.
Man o man, I am pathetic and weak. If I were my own life coach I would kick my own butt until I made myself cry. But I am a softie when it comes to disciplining myself.
6pm.  Failed again. Wednesday, you beat me. Two bad days in a row. The exuberance of Saturday is a distant memory fading fast in the rear view mirror of the week. Still two days left to turn this ship around and get it done.

Thursday- Gotta chat with my friends. Have to, right? They are my friends, have to make time for your friends.
A bit tired from hockey. Two games in three nights is tough on this old body. And got another game tonight. Didn't even get up until noon. I am screwed and I know it. Have a blog and a story almost done from two weeks ago.  Going to just mooch off those two and make like I was productive today. Fooling myself is something I just love to do. I will watch some videos to do some research. That will be easy enough. Research is necessary, but also easy.  Writing is hard. This week has sucked. Another week has beat me. But hey, Saturday is within sight and I can convince myself that I will do better next week.

Friday- It's here. Failed again and life beat me this week. Hell, life beat me last week,  and the week before that, and the week before that. And for years. Still haven't achieved my potential. When does this foolishness end?
Anyway playing games, have to play my games. Can't be in the groove all  the time. Need a break. And anyway, it helps with my writing.That's what I tell  myself. I'm a smart guy,  so it must be true. And anyway, I wouldn't lie to myself, right?

Friday- at least I wrote this story. That's something, right? And Saturday is just hours away. Like the sun rising, Saturday always shows up and gives me hope for a better week ahead. One of these weeks I am going to conquer Tuesday.  Watch out Tuesday! The law of averages is on my side. I am bound to win one eventually.

Monday, October 31, 2011

What you don't see on the program.

When I was 18 years old in 1983 I went to the races for the first time. I was in Grade 12 at that point. I graduated high school the next year and I decided I would like to train horses. I just never got around to that and it seemed that I never would. That dream got put on the back burner for about 15 years, but opportunity and fate knocked on my door again in 1998. This is the story of probably my greatest training feat.
Almahurst Loraine is a horse I have mentioned before briefly in a few other stories. Of all the horses I trained and owned, she taught me the most. But lets go back a bit first.
I have always liked gray horses. They strike you when you see them. Roans are nice too, but a true out and out gray gets your attention. Laag was one of those horses. He was striking. But he was not just striking. He was also huge and built like a truck. He was also fast and very talented. I went to my first horse race in August of 1983 and I knew nothing about horse racing. By 1987 Laag was one of the better horses around. By then I knew the difference.
Laag in his paddock as a Stallion

Laag was also a loon and everyone knew it. He wasn't above rearing up and standing on his hind legs on the track, or just flat out jumping sideways over the rail. In fact in a big race at Blue Bonnets in Montreal, he did just that, refusing to be rated and stay under control, driving right into another driver and causing a huge nasty accident in The Prix D'ete, the biggest race of the year in Montreal. (See video I have posted titled "Harness Racing Accident. 1987). After his 3 year old year, he went to stud and was very much in demand.

Laag warming up before a race.

I met Vince Li in 1988 at Greenwood Racetrack. He had money. Lots of money. As it turned out, he only lived 5 minutes from my house and we started going regularly to the track together. By 1990 I had graduated University and had a good job, and some money to spend. We decided we would buy a yearling together.

Vince had some pretty good success with owning horses and I decided I wanted to have one myself. We went to the yearling sale at Mohawk Raceway and we were intent on buying a yearling by Laag.
I saw a few of his yearlings from the first crop, but the good ones were well out of my price range. Vince and I did not want to pay what they were going for even though we looked at several. They were all good looking horses, but most were gray like him and brought a higher price than their pedigree and probable ability suggested they would. They were a bad investment. Pretty is one thing, but performance is what pays the bills in the business of horse racing. We weren't in the show horse business. We didn't race for ribbons, we raced for purse money. As it turns out, the three Laag's we looked at in that sale barely raced and never earned back anywhere near what they cost that day. I learned something that day that I have never forgotten. Grays always sell for more than any other horse, and then don't race any better because of it.

(above is the Sale page for the gray Laag yearling we didn't buy. He went for $38000 and I had him marked at $10000 tops. I think he made $20000 lifetime, before expenses. On the right is the front page of the sale book. You could see it was a nice day and I smudged ketchup from my hot dog on the front of the book)

As Laag's first crop raced there were some very very good ones. One was named Ghostly, and she caught my eye. A pure gray, and a super nice horse to watch race. As a two year old she was ready very early (Mid May) and could not be beat most of that year. She came back okay at 3, but was not the same as at 2. Her owner/trainer was a guy named Gino Toscani. He was a real estate developer who decided he would train horses with no background in it. He seemed to do very well, and Ghostly was his best horse.

Ghostly's father was Laag, and her mother was by another great horse named Niatross. To that point, it appeared Niatross was arguably the greatest Standardbred ever. Certainly if not the greatest, one of them. There was no dispute on that. He was virtually unbeatable and was the first harness horse ever to break the 1:50 barrier. (See video I posted entitled 
(1980 Niatross Time Trial - camcorder).
He was also noted to be a bit stubborn and he himself had gone over the hub rail once all by himself in a very famous race that shocked the harness racing world. (See video posted entitled "Niatross Loss At Saratoga")

Since we did not buy a Laag yearling, or any other yearling that year, we bought a racehorse later that winter named Come By Chance, and she did very well for us. Times were good for me.  I was just out of University, had a good job I liked and had just gone out on my own to live for the first time.
Come By Chance did well for us right away and I got my first win as an owner with her. I have posted that win picture below. I have a great story about her second win as well, but that is a story for another day.

(Above is the win picture Of Come By Chance at Greenwood, my first ever win as an owner)

(Above is the Winners Circle picture of Come By Chance. Vince Li is in the black suit, I am in the Green shirt, The blond lady in the green outfit was named Patti, she was the trainer Rick Fifes girlfriend. Rick is in the red and white silks. The guy holding the horses head is Nat Varty, who went on to be a very successful trainer of his own, and someone I owned a few with later)

Later that year that all ended when I lost my job and ran out of money.
To pass the time, I started to go to a lot of live music.
 I was heavily into the blues music scene and had stumbled onto a great duet blues singing team called Blue Willow. I didn't know them personally at the time, but I was captivated by one of the group members, named Loraine Ingle.
Every time I saw her at the Monday night jam I was at I couldn't take my eyes off of her. I have a story about her later, but safe to say she had my interest and I was enthralled with her for a year or so.

(Above is a picture of Loraine Ingle from back in the early days of Blue Willow)

One Friday night a few months later I was at the track and hadn't seen the program before hand. I usually did look at the program, but not this time. I now had no race horses and a crappy job which barely paid enough to let me eat, never mind own any racehorses. I worked long hard hours and had little time for anything else.

 I came to the track blind. The first race was a maiden race.Those were always fun because most of the horses were young and you didn't know them. I got to the track late and the horses were already on the track and parading and warming up. I opened the program..and there she was...Almahurst Loraine..the 8 horse. Big, strong and fast, just like her father, Laag and her grandfather, Niatross. In essence she was bred exactly like Ghostly.  She was also trained by Gino Toscani, and she was eager, like most of his. But, she was not Ghostly, and was never going to be Ghostly. She was not that type of classy horse. She looked the part, but she did not have the pedigree to justify that type of performance. She did have one striking feature though...she had a big huge gray patch on her rear..just above her hip. Otherwise she was completely bay,and a very beautiful horse to look at. She had that big roman nose and jug head that most Niatross foals did, just like Niatross himself. Being that both Laag and Niatross were noted to produce stubborn hard to handle horses, it was no surprise she was an insistent frontrunner. Add in that Gino Toscani was noted for goosing horses to make them go fast as they can as far as they could, and she was doomed to be that way from day one.

(Above is a picture of Niatross (his breeder/trainer/driver Clint Galbraith in the purple and white silks) with his big jug head and roman nose, Almahurst Loraine looked exactly like him, she even had the big ears and the exact same star on the center of her forehead)

Being that I was enamored with Loraine Ingle at that time and all the other factors I mentioned, I took notice of her right away. I was not going to bet a front runner with an 0 for 10 record from the 8 hole, but I did watch her race. As expected she went right to the lead and maintained that until mid stretch, where she promptly packed it in and finished second to last. That was the last time I saw that horse until the following fall, one year later.
By the next time I had seen Almahurst Loraine she was now in the care of Gerald Sloan. Gino Toscani liked young horses with the ability to make good money and win stake races. Loraine was never going to be that horse. Even if she was, she was ruined by being pushed too early. That strategy worked with Ghostly, but while they were identically bred, Ghostly was a champion. Loraine was not.

Gerald Sloan was an okay guy, and a competent trainer, but he was nothing special. I remembered him mostly for a horse named Viewstar. He had bought her for $5000 and she turned out to be a great horse and made him half a million dollars. But other than that he rarely got any decent results. He was just another trainer just eeking by trying to scratch out a living. It was now 1995 and by then I was doing better financially and  I had a few horses with my friend Terry Wood. Terry was from the same town as Gerry Sloan. We were racing a young horse named Winwood Dancer and she was winning money and stakes races. Times were good. Almahurst Loraine was doing okay, but not winning and not making money. She was now almost a 4 year old and had been a failure as a young horse.

(above is the first lifetime win for Winwood Dancer in her first lifetime start.)

I came to own half of Winwood Dancer because Terry had bred her.  He, like I, had started out as a fan, then became an owner of Winwood Dancer's mother, Fortunes Alibi, then kept her and bred her and had gotten Winwood Dancer. He tried to sell Dancer at the sale, but didn't get a high enough bid. I said if he didn't get the bid he wanted I would buy half of her for $6000, and when he did not, I kept my word.

(above on the left is the sale page for Winwood Dancer as a yearling and on the right a win by a nose at Sarnia for Winwood Dancer)

As the next spring came Winwood Dancer did okay but was not the horse we thought she would be. She won a few minor races at Sarnia, but she did not turn out to be the stakes horse we thought she would be.

(above is a win at Sarnia for Winwood Dancer, she just held on that night and we did not expect her to win)

While I was at Sarnia I noticed a nice little horse named Edward Seelster. He was nothing special but he looked steady and I was looking for a nice little cheap stable horse for me and my friends to own. After the next time I saw him, we claimed him. Terry was to train him and we did pretty well for him for about two months.

(above is the second start and first win for us by Edward Seelster. The pic on the right is the winners circle pic, My high school friend Ron Anisman, his cousin Marty and his kids, on the far right me and Terry. Note that Marty dedicated this win to his father, who had just passed away a couple of weeks before.)

Almahurst Loraine got passed around a bit and ended up in Ottawa with Phil Doyle, where she continued to flounder. Both Almahurst Loraine and Winwood Dancer had poor years and I was so busy with work, and life and hobbies that I sort of lost interest in all of it. I still owned Winwood Dancer and I had two others with Terry Wood, Edward Seelster and Eddie Lebec. I had gotten married in the summer of 1997 and had a very busy job, so I had limited time to pay attention to the horses.
I had bought Eddie Lebec as a project and Terry and I went in as equal partners on him. He was unraced and looked to be a very iffy proposition. I always liked those types.

But I had never forgotten about Almahurst Loraine. One late winter day, around March, I was at the track and there was a Mixed Sale happening the next week. I flipped through the Sale Book and I noticed Almahurst Loraine was in that sale. She was also racing that day so I watched her race and she got 4th at the big track. I decided that if the price was right at the sale, I was going to buy her.

I went to the sale and she went for well within my price range, and she was mine. Terry was there and she shipped back to his barn. A week later he told me that she was one hell of a fast strong horse, but that she was sore and would be better served with a month off to get back in good shape. I agreed that was the best thing to do. He also said she had a mean streak and all the other horses were scared of her. I would come to see that mean streak in later years.

After a couple of months she was back in training and looking good. She was fit to race and began racing. She did okay, but still was not producing results within her level of ability. It was basically the same as with Gerry Sloan, Gino Toscani and Phil Doyle. Terry was a good trainer but he was no superstar either and he got similar results to them. After a very disappointing effort I told him to drop her into a very cheap claiming race. That race was at Flamboro Downs.
I arrived at Flamboro and didn't have time to see Terry before the race. I watched Loraine warm up and she looked fine.
As the race went off she went for the lead, but didn't get there. She was then forced to stay on the outside the whole race, which is a very tough trip to have at Flamboro Downs, which favors horses on the inside. In spite of that she went all the way on the outside and got fourth, only beaten two lengths by the winner. It was actually a good effort. I went back to the race paddock after the race and then Terry told me that there was a problem. Loraine had the starting of a bowed tendon and there would be trouble. As it turns out, Laag's became known for bowed tendons. She wasn't lame yet, that is why he raced her anyway but she would be very lame at some point.

Her next race was at Sarnia and it was a miserable snowy and winter night in November. I told him to put her in the cheapest race he could find and if she got claimed I would take my loss on her. She did not get claimed and raced well and got 2nd. That was the end of the season for her. As well all of my horses stopped racing at that point.
Around February of the next year Terry phoned me to tell me he could not train horses for me anymore. He was too busy with his own and I would have to find someone else. I had a full time job and all of these horses had been in the field for about 4 months, so they were not race ready. It would cost a lot of money to get them back racing, if they could race at all.
By then I was working very long hours and had limited time to deal with this. I was however making very good money and had made some interesting contacts.

  Terry had 4 horses with him that I owned all or part of. Edward Seelster, Winwood Dancer, Eddie Lebec and Almahurst Loraine.
I wanted Edward Seelster and Almahurst Loraine, for which Terry did not own any part of. He did not want Eddie Lebec and said he could not get him to the races. Winwood Dancer was floundering but he wanted to keep trying with her. I took the other three and let him keep Winwood Dancer.
I was head of the dispatch department and one of the drivers was an older guy named Don Altman. He was also a partner on Edward Seelster, as were a few of my friends. I had picked out Edward Seelster for the group and we had done well with him when Terry first got him to train. He tailed off badly and we gave him the winter off.

  Don knew an older guy, Joe Gasparro, who owned a barn about 30 minutes from where I lived. The barn was basically empty and no one had any horses in training there. I went out to look at the place. It was in bad shape, but it was good enough. I decided that I would begin to train the horses myself.
One Sunday, Terry shipped Edward Seelster and Almahurst Loraine to me. Eddie Lebec was to come a month later. So there it was. 15 years later, I was in the horse training business.
My intention was to just train Edward Seelster to start with. Almahurst Loraine had by now that one bad leg due to the bowed tendon, and it was the opinion of most that she would not race again. It had always been my intention to make a broodmare out of her and breed her, so I had thought that would happen that summer. It never did. I turned her out and basically left her there for two months while I worked on Edward Seelster..and then Eddie Lebec.
Edward Seelster was easy. He was a nice little racehorse. I basically knew very little about training, but I didn't need to know much to make him go. I jogged him daily to get him in shape and then I gradually went faster with him until he was ready to race. I could not screw him up..and I didn't.

Eddie Lebec was a much different chore. He was a poor gaited horse and according to Terry and many others, he would not make a racehorse. He had speed enough to race, but had not made it and didn't appear that he would. But, I tried anyway. He had a good pedigree and was willing enough. If anything, at least I would learn a few things trying to make him a racehorse.
Remember,  I still had my full time day job. I would go very early in the morning, and then at night and train these two horses. Then on the weekends I would go and take all day and do more. I was basically alone at the barn, so I did everything.
At mid summer, I had Edward Seelster racing and he was steady and doing well. He never won a race for me, but he steadily made the top 3 and made money.

I had my trials and tribulations with Eddie Lebec, and I will tell those stories another time,  but it was clear to me that he was going to make a racehorse. I got him to the point where he could race and in his first race he won. In fact he won 3 of his first 6 and I was way ahead on him. Terry was amazed that he was the same horse he had trained. Others were surprised that a novice like me could take a horse like that and make him that good that fast. But I had done it.

One of his wins was at Woodstock with Ray Maclean Jr. . Ray was a small guy, young guy, but he was a very good driver and at that time was the top driver on the B circuit which I raced. I did well with Ray that year,  and when it came time to race Loraine, he picked her over many others, just because I told him it was a good idea. But more about that later.
Everyone told me Almahurst Loraine was a waste of time. But I had succeeded with Edward Seelster, then  Eddie Lebec, so I decided to give Loraine a try.
Of course, I had no idea what I was in for.
While Edward Seelster and  Eddie Lebec were smart and easy to handle geldings, Loraine was a hot tempered big strong mare who had to have her own way all the time. The first time I took her out to the track I knew I was a bit over my head. But I trudged on. On that first time, it was all I could do to restrain her. I went one lap and had to take her back to the barn. She was just too strong and would not rate. Just as her father, Laag, had not in that race in Montreal. She was dangerous to drive, even by herself with no other horses around.

  I waited for the weekend to take her out next. I thought that maybe putting her out for a few hours to blow some steam off was a good idea. That worked with most. Not with her. I got her to the track okay but as soon as she stepped on the track she was pulling hard against me.  I held her for one lap, but my hands were killing me. I had to let off a bit, and as soon as I did she decided she was going to go full speed. She had been off 6 months now, had no training at all, had a borderline front leg, but none of that mattered to her. She went full speed,  for what seemed a good 45 minutes. Most horses, when they did that, would either hurt themselves or be so tired that they would be ruined. Not her.
It had dawned on me at that moment. I could not treat her as other horses. She wanted to go all she could go and she could do it.  So I let her. I knew it would not be long for her to be ready to race. I also knew managing her leg was going to be a chore. I developed a strategy to help her along.

  I really did not like driving her. She was scary. It was not fun and I never looked forward to it. I decided to only train her once a week, on Saturday,  when I had the time to do it. The rest of the week I would just let her run around the paddock all day. She was the type that would move so much and so fast in the paddock that that was better than trying to hold her day after day on the track. Most horses would take about 3 months to return off of such a long layoff. She was ready in 3 weeks.
One Saturday, I decided to see just how fit she was. I let her run for about an hour in the paddock, got all of my other work done, then hitched her up and took her to the track. We went one lap slow, then  I let her go all she wanted  to. To this day, I have never trained a horse on a farm track as fast as she went that day. Most horses would have trouble breaking 2:10 on the farm track  I trained her in 2:01, which was astounding. To win her first race all she would have to do was go 2:05 at the racetrack, which was at least 5 seconds faster than the farm track. At this point, she had 50 lengths on the field.

  Because I didn't train her except for once a week, my whole strategy was to just look after her legs and keep her from being sore. Every night after I was done with the other two horses I would make her stand in a bucket of ice for two hours. After about a month, her leg was as good as new. The vet once told me she had never seen anyone manage a bad bowed tendon like that.
It came time to prep her for the race,  and I took her for a practice race to prove she was fit. I put her in with far superior horses, so it would appear that she was not really doing much. She proved worthy to race, but did not stand out. She was the type who was a strong frontrunner..and a terrible horse to drive if you put her directly in behind a slower horse but if you put her in with faster horses and left her in the pack she would behave and just float along out there. She would not stand out in the practice race. I did this on purpose so that when she went to race it would not look like she was fit to win right away.
She came back home and her legs were perfect. All systems were go.

I had to race that night,  and I saw Ray McLean Jr. at the track. Loraine was entered to race that coming Friday and Ray had 6 choices in that race. Loraine had the 7 post position,  which was the worst one, and normally he would never pick a horse with a bad post position who hardly had ever won a race and had been  off 8 months. But I told him flat out. Pick her. She will win. He did pick her.
That first year that I went to the races back in 1983 I went mostly with my friend Ian from high school. Even over the years I had gone with him many times. We even owned a horse together with Vince Li that did not work out well. By this time Ian was a successful businessman and had many very good horses of his own. We talked on a daily basis.
I told Ian that Loraine was a sure winner. That I had trained her 10 seconds faster than the race was going to go and there was no way she could lose

We decided that we would both bet heavy, but make different bets so as to not kill the odds. He would bet the triactor and I would bet Win, Place, Show. In the end, I won more than a thousand dollars betting on her that night. Ian won more than $8000. He called me the next day to thank me.
It came time  for the race on the Friday. Ray was a small guy and Loraine was a big strong horse. I told him one thing. "Just leave her out wide and sit on the outside the whole way. Do not get in behind horses. She is too strong and you won't be able to hold her." The field was very weak on top of everything else and there was no way I could see her losing if she had a clear path, in spite of the long journey she would have. It was like that day at Flamboro, but this time she was fit, sound and in very easy.

We brought her out to the track and it was clear he could not control her. He went one lap of warmup and then brought her off. Two of us then held her head and just made her stand until it was time to race. The horn blew and off they went..straight to the gate. As they were off it was clear she was not going to make the lead and she would just sit outside the leader the whole way. I was happy about that, because I knew she could win that way.
She did just that for 3 quarters of the race, then as they approached the last turn he let her loose and she opened up a 10 length lead on the field and coasted home a very easy winner.

(above is various win pics for Almahurst Loraine,  although none of them are of the win mentioned in this story.)

To this day, it was my greatest training achievement. She went on to win two more races that fall and then come back and be horse of the year the next year.
I learned with her it doesn't matter what others tell you and you have to just let the horse tell you what works best for them. I was the only one that ever got any performance out of her, and that is because I let her be herself.
Oh, and Loraine Ingle, she became a friend  and sang at my wedding. I still to this day know her and her singing partner Dawn Duvall is going to record one of the songs I wrote back when I first met them.

What you don't see on the program.

When you train racehorses you are taught to always do a quick check of your equipment before you head out to the track. Most of us never do. You train so many in a day, and day after day, that you get lazy and complacent. I was one who usually did check my equipment anyway. However, not every time. Of course there would come a time when this would backfire. This is the story of just such a time.
I trained a nice little horse named Emersons Paradise, for who I also owned, as I did with all the ones I trained. I had trained and owned him several years before and made a lot of money on him, then sold him. When he was down on his luck I bought him back and fixed him up. Within a few weeks with me was back to his old self.
He was one of those horses that was meant for me. I could make him go because I knew things about him and knew how to make him go. He was also a very sensible horse.
This particular day it was late evening and he was the last one to go out onto the track. I usually left the best behaved ones for last, because you were tired by then and wanted the easiest ones to train and drive. Being late evening there was no one left at the barn. I slapped the equipment on him and off we went to the track. We went along jogging for about 20 minutes, just as we always had. He was automatic pilot when I drove him. I could zone out and not even take much hold of the driving lines. He drove himself. He knew the game and did what was needed on his own, most of the time.
He did have one quirk, which a lot of them had. Whenever you passed by the opening to go off the track, he would veer slightly to test you to see if he could finish his work and go back to the barn. Some were bad about that and you would have to yank them back towards the track. Some would insist on going off and you would have to fight with them. Most, like him, just needed a tug on the right line and they would just keep going until the time you didn't tug on the right line and let them off.
As we approached the opening to the gate, he pulled slightly as he always had. I tugged on the right line and pulled him back towards the track. No big deal. I had done that a hundred times before. As we ambled along down the straightaway I noticed a rabbit ahead. As with any loose animal on the track you had to be careful because a racehorse will shy and veer suddenly when they see that. If you are not careful and prepared when that happens you can get dumped from the cart in a split second. So I took hold of him. It was at this point that I got that sick feeling in my stomach that all trainers get at one time or another in their training career. As I pulled back, the right line was now broken and all I had was the left line. I had dropped the lines many times before, so I knew how that felt. But in those times, other than a few seconds of panic, I always got them back and the horse under control. This was not going be one of those times.
I now had one line of control, a dangling line on the other side that would make its way between the horses legs at some point, a fast approaching rabbit on the track, and a usually calm horse who would be grabbing on and wanting to go because of said rabbit and the fact that I had tensed the driving lines. life and the horses life was now in danger. Being that I was just jogging the horse and it was a hot summer night, I also only had on a t-shirt, shorts, and NO HELMET.  The horse had no leg protection. Anything could happen. I had never had to actually deal with this and I had two choices to make.
First, I could bail when we slowed down and then take my chances with the fall and hope for the best for the horse and cart. That was tempting but I decided, based on this particular horse, to stay on and do my best. He was sensible and on some level I trusted him to look after himself..and me.
Now, what to do? Being somewhat level headed and calm, I decided to just keep driving him with the left line and getting his attention that way. I couldn't slow him down, nor could I completely steer him but I did have some control. He was a very sensible horse so I hoped for the best. But, he was a race horse and his natural instinct was to go as fast as he could when riled up.
We passed the rabbit and now he was at full speed. My biggest immediate concern was the turns. If he kept at full speed in the turns and did not stay straight I was likely to fall over and off the cart. I had to shift my weight to compensate for that. I had learned to do that with another horse I had trained many years ago.
Back when I first started training horses I had two of my own to work with. One was the very sensible and easy to train and drive Edward Seelster. He did just about everything right and I could not do anything with him that would get me in trouble. He was steady, yet unspectacular. The other was Almahurst Loraine. She was probably the most dangerous horse I ever drove. I take that back. Not probably, for sure she was the most dangerous. She was very very big and strong. She was also bred to be a bit headstrong and strong willed. On top of that she was broken and trained as a baby horse by a guy who is known to push them for all they have got long before they are ready to handle that. I bought her as a 4 year old as a prospect who had never achieved her full potential but had showed that potential many times. At the time I had a trainer and he said she was the fastest horse he had ever driven. He also said she was the strongest and hardest puller he had ever driven. All of those things were true. I have trained many fast and headstrong horses in my time, and none have ever approached her on either level.
When he came to me one winter and told me he could not train for me anymore due to his life circumstances I decided to train these two and one other of mine myself.
He shipped them to me and I began with Edward Seelster who was very easy to train as I mentioned before. Figuring how hard could it be, I decided to give Almahurst Loraine (Loraine) a shot. It became apparent as soon as we headed out of the barn and down the pathway to the track that she was going to be a whole lot of trouble.
She pulled hard, and no matter how hard you pulled back it did not matter. If you let her get one step of any momentum, she was gone and you were just a passenger until she was completely out of energy, which was almost never. Then she would rest a bit and then decide to go full speed again. There were times when she would go for a full hour full speed, while most horses could only go for about 3 minutes. Most horses look to go off the track when they see the opening back towards the barn, as I mentioned before. She was not one of those. She looked to stay on the track and keep going until you made her stop. Even when you did get her off, she would go full speed all the way back to the barn then make a super fast stop right before the door. One time I drove her in a practice race and she didn't even stop for the starting gate, like every other horse does. She just banged her head right into it. Even that didn't deter her. As soon as the starting gate drove away she flew out of there and was on the lead in two steps.

 That first time I realized how much trouble I was in and I pulled as hard as I could and got her off the track after just one lap, safe and sound.
I decided to take another shot at training her a week later. This time I was ready for her. Or so I thought. I got her out of the barn nice and slow and down the pathway. I could feel her start to swell up but I had control of her. She walked on to the track and went the first lap nice and easy. I thought I had her calmed down so I let up a bit on my hold of her.
Big mistake.
 Within two strides she hit full speed and we were off. I have never traveled that fast in any vehicle. To sit behind a race horse of her caliber and go full speed on a farm track in a jogging cart is a very scary thing to have happen. No matter how hard I pulled on her, it had no effect. The only thing that could slow her down was to throw her off stride. Even that was only temporary as she could regain  her stride and start again. At some point I just learned to let her go as far and as fast as she could and just stay on. Staying on however, was a major chore. She had no intention of slowing down in the turns, and many times I was inches from falling off the jog cart because I could not balance myself from the speed she took the turns. I did always stay on, and I learned to shift my weight just enough to last through the turns. At times I learned to take her very wide going into the turn then angle her back to the center so it would slow her just a shade and I could stay on.
This early lesson proved very valuable on this day some 8 years later with Emersons Paradise. He was nowhere near as fast or as crazy as Loraine, but he was still going fast and the turns were going to be an issue. I had my left line to keep him on track, and I knew with him he did not have that crazy stamina that Loraine had. We went around about 6 or 7 times and he was getting tired, but still he was confused. Horses are taught to respect the drivers touch and control, so being out there in total control was confusing for him. As he began to settle down, I started to speak to him. He was one of those horses that responded better to sound than to touch. That was one of the things that I knew about him that other trainers didn't.  I always told the drivers in races "Don't hit him with the whip, he won't respond to it". Some horses are like that. He was one of them. At best you could just gently tap him with it and he got the message. Mostly, if you hit the whip against the shaft of the race bike or jogger, the sound of the crack of the whip was what motivated him and instructed him it was time to step it up. I always raced him with ear plugs so that he didn't hear other horses getting slashed by the whip, then told the driver to pull out the earplugs and let him know it was time to get going.
He also responded to commands in this way.  Knowing all of this, I sensed he was tired and I bellowed out "Whoa". He responded by slowing down to a very light jog, then a walk. We were only about 50 feet from the opening to the pathway back to the barn. He was now walking calmly and if I wanted to I could have gotten off the jogger. But I trusted him, so I just stayed on. As he approached the opening, he calmly walked off and made a light jog back to the barn and towards the barn door. He stopped at the they are all taught to do. I got off and he stood there as I led him in and tied his head into the cross ties.
All's well that ends well.
He got quite a workout that day, and when he raced a few days later he went the best race he had ever gone for me. Little did the crowd at the track that day know, but we were just an unlucky break away from not making it to the track at all. That was not on the program.

Where were you moments....9/11

September 11, 2001 started like every other day that year for me. Got up early, drove my wife to the subway so she could head downtown to her job at Bank Of America. Yes, we live in Canada, but Toronto is a big international city and all of the big international companies have headquarters here. That would become important later. Then I headed out to Mississauga to the barn so I could go train my stable of racehorses. As always, I listened to the Fan590 on the radio. I loved sports talk radio and had it on all day as I traveled back and forth and while I brushed the horses and cleaned the stalls. I had gotten used to listening to the Fan while doing my previous day job of traveling to customers to settle foreign exchange deals. It was what carried my day in the endless chores of training, feeding, cleaning, rubbing and brushing racehorses.
As I approached Hurontario Street on the 401, it was exactly 8:48am. I saw that on the dashboard of the car radio clock. I remember that as clear as day. The brief news update was being delivered and then the traffic was updated as was common in the mornings. Toronto has major traffic issues, as do most big cities, so if you listened to any station you always heard those.
Just as the traffic report was being presented, the morning talk host, Mike Hogan, cut in to say he had CNN on the tv there and that he could see images of a plane crashing into one of the towers of The World Trade Center. It was now 8:50. I thought to myself "What kind of crap pilot crashes a plane into The World Trade Center"? I was now less than 5 minutes from the barn, but I didn't think much about it. As I pulled onto Winston Churchill Blvd. and headed for the barn it was now getting close to 9am. I pulled into the barn and went inside. First chore was always to check on the horses and see if they were ok and give them breakfast. I did that. As they began to chomp down on their breakfast I went into the feed room and turned on the radio. It was now 9:05. Reality was starting to set in. This was not a random plane that hit the tower and something was amiss. Nevertheless, I was busy and had things to do.
Went out to check on the track, see if everything was ok before I harnessed up the horses for the days work. That took about 5 minutes. Everything looked fine. I remember that it was a clear sunny day, as bright blue and as shiny as could be. At that time good hay was hard to come by, but the owner of the barn's son, Lenio,  had cut a whole field of wild grass and exotic plants, so I went out to gather some and pick them so the horses would have a good meal for dinner later after I went home. It was now about 9:20. I came back in and took two horses who were not going to train and led them into the paddock so they could run. Back into the barn and back to the crosstie area. I got the first horse out who would be jogged.
The radio was loud enough so I could hear it while I brushed the first horse. A second plane had crashed into the second tower at 9:15. Oh boy. You knew this was going to be a day for the history books. Being at the barn I had no way to see this visual. It was all on the radio for me until I got home later just after lunchtime. But I could picture it and it seemed very real.
It was now approaching 9:30. It was clear that this day was going to be different than any other day. I decided that there would be no jogging of the horses today. It just didn't make sense. I turned them all out and began to make some phone calls. It was now 9:55. I went over to the grocery store down the street and got some potato wedges that I loved but usually waited until lunchtime to get. Got back to the barn around 10:10. On the way I was listening to the Fan590 in the car. I pulled into the driveway of the barn and it was 10:15. The announcer, Mike Hogan, sounded grim and somber as he reported that the first tower had just fallen.
Within a few minutes he reported that The Pentagon had been hit by a third plane and there was significant damage and casualties. In the meantime, within minutes, the second tower fell. In the matter of two hours the World Trade Center, the poster child symbol for American dominance on the horizon of the most famous city in the world, was no longer there. Just a vast expanse of horizon filled with smoke on top of a heap of steel, concrete, ashes...and dead bodies. The reality of what was happening was now upon us.
It was now almost 11am. I got my cell phone out and called my wife. Of course, there was panic and shock everywhere. I was at the barn, in the country, so I was completely isolated and alone. She was not. Thousands upon thousands of office workers glued to the tv and riveted by the unimaginable. There was mild panic. I asked what she knew. She knew about the two towers, but she and most didn't know about The Pentagon. They also didn't know about the missing plane about to crash in the back woods of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, where her sister was living. I did.
I told her, as I lay on grass on my cell phone, gathering up more grass and flowers and plants for the horses to munch on later, that this was much bigger than we could all conceive of.
Being that she worked for The Bank of America, in the heart of downtown Toronto, where a big sign hung to show all the world, just steps from another icon, the CN Tower, there was significant risk that they would be a target as well. I advised her to leave work, get on the subway and I would pick her up ASAP. I had no idea how long that would be. I imagined a panic on the scale of The War Of The Worlds and possibly horrible traffic jams on the highway as I headed back to get her and head home. I really had no idea what to expect.
I gathered up the horses and put them back inside, prepared all that needed to be done and was on my way to pick her up. On a normal day it would be a 20 minute drive.  But this was midday and also no ordinary day. I headed for the highway and what could be a long journey back to the subway and then home.
It was now around 11:30. As I got on the highway one thing was very obvious.  The whole city had vacated long before I got there. It was barren and empty, like a bomb scare had happened hours earlier. It was like driving home at 3am. Hardly a car to pass. I got to the subway in 10 minutes, probably the fastest I ever have.
Because I got there so fast I had to wait about half an hour for my wife to make her way up to the station I pick her up at. I waited in the car and continued to listen to the radio. I had my potato wedges so I chomped on those while I passed the time.  It was now noon.
As I waited, I noticed many other cars waiting in that roundabout. It was always a busy pickup circle,  but nothing like this. Many drivers would get out of their cars which was another very odd thing to see. They never did that. As their pickup and passenger would arrive one or other would be crying. Balling. It was obvious that this was affecting them in a way it wasn't me. This happened many times over while I waited.
One in particular sticks in my mind. There was a woman waiting in the car beside me.  She seemed sullen, but still, for about 10 minutes. Then a man, dressed clearly as a Bay Street type of banker got out of the enclosure to the pickup area and met her halfway from their car and the enclosure. They embraced and were crying uncontrollably. It is likely they had a loved one who perished in one of the towers. I will never forget those few seconds I witnessed that. That is my strongest memory of that day,  to this day.
At about 12:20 my wife arrived, safe and sound. She was calm, but a bit shaken. We made our way home,  which was about 10 minutes.
By the time we got home, it was clear who had done this and how large this story and event had become.
We sat on the couch, for hours, probably until midnight, just watching the event. It was our generations JFK moment.
My strongest memory of all the images was watching a stream of people, probably hundreds of thousands walking over a bridge meant for cars from the city to some other destination. Won't ever forget that either.
That is how I remember that whole day.