by Art on June 14th, 2014
Since I don’t play polo anymore, I crave adventure and take it whenever it comes.
This morning, instead of letting my best polo horse– April, my beloved 14 year-old, 16-2 hand Thoroughbred– be ridden by another player, I rode her in an obstacle-course “poker ride.” At each obstacle the rider draws a playing card for what becomes his “hand” at the end. At the sign-in grounds April got so agitated, tacked up in polo gear but not playing polo, that she pranced and snorted and spun and bothered some of the cool-as-rocks Western horses. Out of 30 or so horses she was the only T-bred and I was the only one with an English saddle and helmet. (My excuse? “I’ve had six concussions; one more, they’ll make me a judge.”)
When the ride began I asked other riders we came upon, as they plodded along on ribbon-marked trails, if we could go ahead of them “so I could take a little zip out of her.” Soon we found ourselves in front of everyone, and I let April have her head. She leapt to a gallop and sustained the pace for the whole poker ride, only slowing to trot at blind corners around Tamarisk trees. We added at least an extra mile to the course by taking wrong trails b/c I couldn’t spot the erratically placed ribbons. I finally figured out “pink” ones were for outbound and “orange” were for inbound.
So we arrived at the end of the ride, meaning back at the initial staging area, between 20 and 30 minutes before anyone else. (There were no points for speed but– what-the-hell– we loved it.) Despite April’s agitation, we conquered four of the five obstacles: (1) Opening and closing a “gate” made by a rope— at which April first backed up, preparing to jump it; (2) Taking a stranger’s jacket out of a mailbox, slinging it on my shoulder, then replacing it; (3) Walking across a 12’X12’ tarp placed over uneven ground and (4) Mounting from the horse’s right-side. (As April nervously danced around the mounting block, I flung myself on her neck and slid down to her back to cheers of “Ride-um cowboy!”) The one we flunked was the easiest: backing up for twelve feet between poles placed four feet apart. (Before leaving the ranch we’d practiced backing up in a straight line for 20 feet, no problema.) Still, like a Thoroughbred, after galloping in 90-degree heat for five miles, April remained keyed-up. Since we were way too early for the planned barbecue, we headed the half-mile back home.
When we returned to the ranch (now mouthfully called “The River Valley Equestrian Center”), four of the folks with whom I’d ridden over to the start of the ride were already back; they’d quit. What went wrong? Two had been thrown and two loyal friends quit to come back with them. Why, I asked? “Because of YOUR damned horse!” shouted one. Rather than talk about “proximate cause” (I was at least twenty minutes and a mile ahead of them when their horses freaked out), I simply accepted their blame and apologized. (Scared and shaken, the riders needed a cause for their terror and disappointment besides their own spooky mounts and poor horsemanship.) To try healing any bad vibes we’d created with other riders, I rode back to the staging area on Zarahas, my relatively placid Arabian. I ate lunch and chatted with other riders, Zarahas calmly standing behind me, hanging his head over my shoulder to inspect my victuals. Except for “Wow, he’s sure more mellow than that polo pony you rode at first!” the tale of my calamity-causing T-bred had apparently not spread to other riders. It will.
So, good-sporting aside, methinks being the only rider on a T-bred (“and on a $%&*! polo pony too!”) will make me persona-non-grata at next year’s poker ride. But perhaps I’ll try riding Zarahas instead. When I shared these thoughts with April, she just snorted, “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke!”
by Art on May 20th, 2014
NOSTALGIA & REALITY
(20 May 2014)
It’s been seven months since I hung up my polo mallets. Yesterday I took my longest one off its now rusted hook and climbed on too-tall April, my best polo pony.
My withdrawal from polo, one-day-at-a-time, has wobbled down an irregular path. For the first few weeks I exercised my three horses on non-polo days at Hering Ranch. That way I avoided the sight of horses tacked up in double reins and bright bandages and the whipsaw of emotions that would trigger. On polo days Susan Harris, my teammate for over a decade, tacked up and played April in club matches. Afterward she kindly texted me how Mare Mountain performed.
After a month of complete polo abstinence I ventured out to the ranch on a polo morning. I was surprised I could watch six chukkers— including April’s joyful and vigorous play under Susan— without getting overly emotional. Later, I drank beer and swapped stories on Kip Hering’s porch with old colleagues as if nothing had changed.
The last few weeks I’ve driven to Hering Ranch each Saturday, saddled my other Thoroughbred and my Arabian, and watched polo matches from their backs at various places along the sidelines. I’ve responded with smiling but firm “No thanks” to offers that I umpire or “just try a chukker or two.” I continue enjoying the camaraderie of post-polo beers.
Occasionally I track down out-of-bounds balls, dismounting to toss them back on the field. Between chukkers, while players change horses and tack, I ride my two geldings for exercise laps on the ranch’s half-mile track.
Last month after a game I overheard one player say to Susan, “You should put April in ride-offs more often. When she’s fired up, nobody rides off that big mare.” My mind flashed back to numerous times April and I shoved opponents off the ball while charging full-speed down the field. After that vivid reverie, walking along by myself, I was suddenly swamped in tears.
Last week threw another twist in my recovery road. Finding myself nearly alone on the 80-horse ranch, I first exercised my three horses on the track. I let 37-year-old Khourney quit early when he felt reluctant to go a second lap. Zarahas and April each put in a spirited mile. But, before untacking April, I grabbed that long polo mallet and remounted her.
Instantly she perked up her head and pranced to the polo field. Snagging a ball from the umpire’s net, I tossed it onto the just-mowed turf. April trotted patiently while I took a couple calibrating swings, then she leapt to gallop after the ball. It was old times again as we charged up the field, April deftly maneuvering to keep the ball in play. Thirty yards from the goal, I blanked my mind from everything except the sweet spot under the ball’s equator. As I swung my arm through the clockface of twelve to six, the ball sailed straight through the posts. Oh…my…god! Nostalgia surged through me like a whoosh of cocaine.
“Let’s do this again!” my addict-voice yelled. So we retrieved the same ball and flew down the field toward the other goal. Then reality struck. As I hit my woulda-coulda-shoulda goal shot at the large space between the posts, the ball flew wildly off to the right.
Now sobriety-voice took charge. “Your shoulder blade’s not a whit better, still floats whenever you raise your arm— no nerves have grown back. Your shots remain unreliable, erratic, the same frustration that led you to quit. This is what happens to heroin chippers. Time to return to the wagon, Art.”
“You’re right,” I sighed and soberly walked April back to our tack shed. More thoughts flooded my mind. I was no longer a contributor to or eager opener of the U.S. Polo Association’s monthly magazine. And even if I could recapture my past, the polo world has moved on. After owning and tending Hering Ranch more than a half-century, Kip has sold it. He’s stepped down as decades-long president of the Lakeside Polo Club; the new president is the real-estate agent who brokered the sale. Susan was badly injured and may never play polo again.
That’s it, my latest and smallest up-and-down tussles with my still favorite sport. I got a blast of nostalgia charging up the field, and a jolt of reality running back down. So I’ll return to just watching the game. But addictions never completely die. Though old addicts watch without touching their volatile drug, their minds— like the rhythm of hoof beats— remember, remember, remember, remember.
by Art on February 1st, 2014
MY BEST POLO-PONY, CHLOE
Give a horse what she needs
and she will give you her heart in return.
Before I bought her we played stick-and-ball.
Just as I smacked a shot beneath her neck,
she planted her right foot, pivoted toward
the airborne ball, left me laughing on the ground.
First owned by a pro who couldn’t find her whoa,
his bit-yanking loosened four back teeth and packed
her shoulders with arthritic throbbing sand.
Teeth extracted, joints urged to spawn synovia,
her heart continued to push adrenalin through pain;
upped her speed and passion as each game progressed.
Once we got bumped hard in a tournament:
“Looks like Campbell’s coming off!”
said the announcer as I launched into space.
But she swerved to stay beneath me,
held her head up as I landed on her neck,
maintained course until I slid back to the saddle.
“I’m your polo pony— don’t do cross-country,”
she would whisper when we hit the trail, treating
turn-arounds like home-sweet races, do-or-die.
When I walked to her corral with her,
she’d bring her cheek to mine, listening
to my recaps of our workout or a chukker.
In one of our last polo games the ball sailed past
her nose; she planted her left foot and pivoted
to chase the ball, dumped me on the ground.
“But don’t you want to win?” she asked,
looking down as I lay paralyzed
for the longest thirty seconds in my life.
She grew gradually more breathless her last year
but gave me everything she had for one big tournament;
two weeks later she refused to eat, panting as she stood.
On her final day she touched noses with her pals,
walked beside me to the west end of the polo field,
tugged weakly at some withered blades of grass.
My wife and I hugged farewells to her shriven frame,
then stepped back as she took the doctor’s needle.
Chloe crashed unconscious to her side, her spirit
spurring her to gallop gamely as she died.
by Art on September 21st, 2013
HOW TO LEAVE A MISTRESS
(21 Sep 2013)
“It’s so hard… to say goodbye… to yesterday.”
– R&B song by G. C. Cameron
I confess. Fortune’s let me live with three bewitching mistresses all at once. The first, that famously jealous one, is law— with whom I’ve toiled most of my life in courtrooms, boardrooms, classrooms, etc. The second and the sexiest is my wife Drusilla— with whom I’ve shared 44 volatile years. Third is polo— full-bodied passion of my later life. I’ve romped with this mistress nearly every weekend for the last fourteen years. Indeed her manifold enticements have captured me like an addictive drug.
No other sport— not five years of boxing, 10 years of rugby, or 40 years of running— has pulsed so much adrenalin and ecstasy through my veins. When my ego brags that polo is the planet’s fastest (and 2nd-most lethal) contact sport, Dru downsizes me with truth: “Art, compared to chasing women at your age, polo is much safer, cheaper— and you have a better chance to score.”
Aye, scoring: there’s the rub. When I first swung a polo mallet my learning curve shot up so fast I snagged three MVP awards in low-goal tournaments riding on three different mounts. Now my learning curve has not just flattened out; it’s been stomped into the ground.
The turning point occurred two years ago in a tournament on my best polo pony (Chloe, R.I.P.), who once had played professionally. Chloe dumped me when she turned sharply towards the ball while I turned my body sharply the other way to play defense. I lay paralyzed for half a minute and wondered, “Have I crushed one broken collar-bone that healed with an overlap? Have I mashed the other, held together by a steel plate and screws? Have I’d ripped my sawed patella, or concussed my noggin for the final, seventh time?” Suddenly I regained feeling in my spine and jumped up feeling fine.
Only later did I learn the fall had severed nerves that stabilized the muscles in my shoulder blade so it could anchor all the dozen muscles used to swing a polo mallet.
Since then I’ve not been able to fine-tune my stroke with even moderate consistency. Sometimes I hit straight shots but usually smack the ball too far left or right or miss the bloody thing entirely! I’ve been x-rayed and examined by a top-flight sports doctor; prodded, bent, and yelled at by physical therapists, and modified my half-century regimen of pumping iron. All the while I’ve been waiting, hoping that the severed nerves would (against the doctor’s odds) somehow regenerate. After two years it’s fairly clear they won’t.
The upshot? Words I never thought I’d hear myself say: “Polo is no longer fun.” Those miss-hits are sooo frustrating! I’m no longer helping teammates drive the ball to goals; instead I’m dragging down the team. Lately at game’s end I’ve been riding off the field, feeling frustrated and miserable. Although I’d hoped to play the game a few more years, I now know it’s time for me to hang my mallets up.
But how to leave? Perhaps, like parting with a human mistress, I should just say sweet goodbyes and walk away. But I won’t abandon my three loyal steeds. Moreover every time I visit Hering ranch to ride them I’ll also see the polo field and pass my teammates’ nodding horses, each with its own personality. I’ll flashback to some of my most thrilling times in life and ponder comrades from the field of combat— and, of course, our post-game, beer-laced camaraderies.
Bottom line? Since I can’t avoid seductive memories and fierce cravings for my mistress, I’ll have to treat withdrawal from my lifetime’s favorite sport like recovery from addiction. I’ll simply face it one day at a time.
by Art on September 8th, 2012
This morning I drove all the way to Lakeside to play polo, got there, turned around, drove to the YMCA, and went swimming instead. Driving past my horses, as they merrily chomped breakfast in their corrals, I was seized by the large claw of lacka-wanna. It stemmed from my now officially diagnosed “floating shoulder-blade,” the erratic way it affects every polo swing I make (especially depressing yesterday during practice), and the virtually nil chance the severed nerves will regenerate.
This was my dearly-loved and super-competitive Chloe’s parting gift to me weeks ago. In one of our final games before she died, she unwittingly dumped me by suddenly turning for the ball when I was turning my weight the opposite way so we could head off an opponent. That embarassing face-plant on the field left me paralyzed for half a minute.
So I must deal with this turn of events. Off the polo field I’ll continue re-habbing the muscles around my shoulder blade but (following my orthopedic surgeon’s advice) pressing it back hard against the chair or bench, trying to keep it from turning at an angle (“floating”) when I raise my right arm. On the polo field I’ll continue trying to re-teach my bundle of shoulder muscles, hoping they’ll finally acquire new muscle-memories for mallet strokes.
For non-polo friends who’ve seen my fanatic love for the game make me dismiss the notion of quitting it, you’ve now got my attention. For polo-playing friends on whose team I’m assigned, please continue to be patient with my inconsistent performance– at least for a while.
I’ve been told there’s life after polo, and today I gave it some thought.
by Art on July 5th, 2012
Here’s what I hope was a helpful “confession” I made today to a freedom-lawyer friend with self-doubts about her ability to defend against complex felony accusations. It seemed too private to post on Facebook but, if you’re one of the few who’ve wandered here, you might relate to some of these thoughts. Please excuse me for sounding like a preacher— I come from a long line of them!
Despite my half-century practicing Zen, I’ll admit I’ve often BELIEVED more about self-worth and cosmic confidence than I PRACTICED. For instance, every time I walked into a courtroom (or now a classroom) I said (or catch myself saying now), “What the hell is ART CAMPBELL doing here!? What can HE do or say of any significance!?” In response, I now wrap those threshold-thoughts in a little bundle (sometimes I visualize an actual bundle), shove them into an imaginary attic of “old tapes,” and march on. Bottom line? I’m personally resigned to the probability my Posi (Parasite of Self-Importance) may never let me FEEL worthy every minute of the day, but I won’t let it stop me from DOING worthy things. What’s that mean? “Doing worthy” means actualizing the totality of me, i.e., actually using whatever awareness and skills the cosmos bestowed on this critter. That’s because I, you, and every creature that ever lived, are the only one the universe ever created with our unique set of abilities. Our sin is NOT using them. And if it takes some of us a little more umph to overcome our fears in finding and being our true selves, that simply adds more courage to the cosmos. I’m keen to hear your response, but show me you’ve actually read this by responding only to my e-mail address: email@example.com. Cheers!
by Art on March 16th, 2012
As if being T-boned two weeks ago wasn’t enough, once again I got dumped playing polo. This time the ball had just been whacked out of my team’s possession and I was glancing around to see whether I should switch to defense or make a play for the ball. But good ol’ Chloe— ex-professional-polo-mare that she is— instantly decided we’d go for the ball. So as we were running in one direction, without a clue from her or cue from me, she slammed her left forefoot into the ground and jerked a 90-degree turn to the right. Instinctively I bent low in the saddle to stay on, but inertia propelled me off her back and head-first into the ground. I hadn’t a chance to tuck-and-roll (an old rugby maneuver that’s left me unscathed through a dozen polo falls in as many years.) What was scary was having to lie paralyzed for 30 seconds, unable to move anything but my right foot. “Well, if that’s working, your spinal cord must be intact,” I reassured myself, “but why can’t you move your torso?” Finally whatever had gripped me released, and I got to my knees, then my feet. My skull seemed fine inside its new safety helmet but the skid lid had apparently transferred the trauma onto my neck. Now pinched nerves there have kept my right arm tingling ever since the incident four hours ago. The good news? The old bodd still responds positively to beer and vicodin! So I’m now sitting at home in a recliner with an ice pack on my neck, feeling no pain and admiring what’s left of a spring-like San Diego day. My mind floats between two thoughts: (1) “How many more falls has your old bodd got left?” and (2) “What’ll you do with this first afternoon in the rest of your life?” Cheers! Art
by Art on January 16th, 2012
Since these garnered a response of overwhelming indifference on Facebook, I thought I’d post them here. If by chance you DO want to respond, please e-mail me. Don’t respond here, as 99% of all responses on this BLAWG have been spam and thus trashed in bulk each time I police the site. Cheers! Art
■ Re social classes, have you ever noticed (1) how aristocrats seem to live in the past because that’s where their ancestors established the family? (2) how the middle-class live in the future because that’s where they’ve placed all their hopes? And (3) how the poor live in the present because that’s all they’ve got? (Posted on Facebook’s Notes ca 30 Aug 2011)
■ Re insanity, have you ever noticed how rare it is to encounter an insane individual but how common it is to encounter the insanity of an entire culture? (Posted on Facebook’s Notes on 3 Sept 2011)
■ Re having to run in the “rat race,” in the end doesn’t that just produce more rats? (Posted 8 Oct 2011)
■ Re two ends of the political spectrum, I see two ends of the political spectrum. Do you arrange them this way? (1) At one end reside fanatics in general and fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Muslims in particular, i.e., people who need social organizations to be run by father-figures, believe single causes control all complex events, are afraid of change and differences, and transform their fears into hate? (2) At the other end assemble liberals in general and academics, pacifists, and socialists in particular, those who need social organizations to run their lives, believe events are so complex that individual action is futile, are afraid of conspiracies from the opposite end of the spectrum, and transform those conspirators into “them”? So where are we– the political independents– whose vote has elected the last half-dozen presidents of the USA? I say it’s time WE stand up and shout, not wait for our fellow Americans to see how stupid and dangerous both extremes are, how they’re only seeking POWER, not SOLUTIONS to increasingly crucial problems like jobs, pollution, wars. Join me in deciding not to smugly grouse our observations over martinis and beers but SPEAK UP for what now could be called the “Militant Middle” of the world. (Posted on Facebook, 4 Sept 2011)
● Re mass media’s curious omission: Have you noticed how the mass (news)media focus obsessively on good and evil (moreso on the latter b/c blood and havoc video so well), but seldom even acknowledge the existence of what lies beyond good and evil? Is that b/c what lies beyond doesn’t seem plentiful (it is) or visible (it is) or isn’t powerful (it surely is)? Are the media and other folks insane for pretending this huge mass of reality doesn’t exist? Or are we insane for believing it exists? An Old Curmudgeon wants to know. (Posted on Facebook, 14 Oct 2011)
■ Re mental “framing” (as per recent neuro-science studies), have you observed how we don’t simply pour a particular bucket of facts into our minds, sort through them, and come out with a viewpoint or solution? Instead, have you experienced how our conditioning has created “frames” by which we select which facts we’ll consider? What’s most surprising to me is how studies show we won’t even “see” certain facts that don’t fall inside our frames. If you have any doubt about the way our minds operate, try persuading someone with strong political or religious convictions to change her viewpoint by simply “giving her some new facts.” Unless she’s already been taught a conditioned response to your viewpoint, it’s not that she’ll rearrange, reprioritize, or account for the new facts. Her mind honestly will not even “see” them. Can this observation switch the calloused buttocks of belly-button fingerers who otherwise spend life’s precious moments clinging to Facebook’s digital onanism?! (Posted on Facebook, 12 Nov 2011)
■ Re constructive dialogue across the political spectrum. Given the conditioned brain’s inability to “see” facts that don’t fit inside one’s mental “frame” (please see prior post), how do we (or our elected representatives) engage in any meaningful dialogue and solve the pressing problems of our country and planet? (Posted on Facebook on 16 Nov 2011)
■ Re the middle of the political spectrum (mentioned in a prior post), isn’t 99% of earth’s population somewhere between the two extremes of Right and Left? Why do news media and political blogs focus on that narrow 1% and tell us it’s “world news”? Why do so many of us believe it? (Posted on Facebook, 26 Nov 2011.)
■ OK, how about THIS way to frame extremists the political spectrum? Can’t you liken them all—both left and right— to children? I mean, doesn’t the extreme right fear change and differences? Doesn’t the extreme left fear power and alienation from the herd? And doesn’t the extreme middle (of which I’m a member) seem to have a hypnotic fixation on their own powerlessness? (Posted 26 Dec 2011)
● Is one test for concrete, practical, down-to-earth intelligence the ability to understand that reality can be DESCRIBED differently at different LEVELS? That is, can two arguably opposite views be seen as equally valid depictions of life from points of view? To take two current hot-button issues: (1) Can’t abortion be “bad” at the level of the unborn fetus but “good” at the level of the woman who doesn’t want to be saddled with raising an unwanted child? (2) Can’t capital punishment be “bad” at the level of the death-sentenced person (especially an innocent one) but “good” at the level of those who believe retribution and vengeance strengthen social bonds? Doesn’t this ability mean many apparently “unsolvable” problems are really just failures to realize the problems themselves are being described from different levels? Bottom Line: Once each level is given legitimacy, can’t their proponents strive to find ANOTHER LEVEL at which they share the SAME VALUES— and then craft solutions based on these? (Posted 5 Jan 2012)
■ Re being a “radical moderate,” is that a contradiction in terms? I call myself one― among many still in the closet and others who refuse to soil themselves in political discourse– and I see no inconsistency. Moderates are those who don’t cling to either end of the political spectrum and don’t believe either end has a monopoly on truth. So moderates blend or borrow ideas from the left and the right. Seen from the standpoint of mental “frames,” moderates try to look at the world’s problems as they really exist, that is, outside frames shaped by ideology. Ironically in a country that was born and formed in pragmatism, currently being a moderate triggers two consequences: We’re assailed by both political extremes and we’re ignored by the press. “Radical moderates” add another feature to the non-frame game: we try digging to the root (Latin “radix” from which “radical” derives) of problems. “Radical moderates” trigger an additional consequence: Not only are we dumped on by both ends of the political spectrum and ignored by the press, our solutions seem too innovative (read “scary”) to garner conventional support. But can you guess who came up with the 40-hour work week, television, and the internet? (Posted 16 January 2012)
by Art on January 15th, 2012
Yesterday Zarahas and I survived the most dangerous collision in polo: a T-bone, where one horse at full gallop hits another one turned broadside. I was umpiring on Zarahas when I saw the ball get whacked in our direction and the hitter (my trainer, Rik Crane) looking only at the ball. I turned Raa and squeezed him hard to leap out of the way. But Mr. Casual didn’t leap. The next sensation was like being tumbled by an ocean wave you’d just been were riding— all I could do was relax and wait for things to come to a halt. Dru was watching and said it looked horrible. When the rolling explosion stopped, I clambered to my feet to check Raa, who had already gotten to his. Only after standing did I realize, miraculously, I hadn’t broken anything. Apparently Raa hadn’t either as he walked off the field with me and didn’t wheeze or limp. The guy who hit us split his lip deeply inside his mouth, but otherwise it seems he and his horse weren’t injured either. I’m not sure I’ll ever get Zarahas on the field to umpire again, but if I do I’ll damn-sure carry a do-it-now persuader, a.k.a. whip. Now, of course, soreness has set in for both of us but, at least for me, it’s nothing a Jacuzzi and drugs can’t handle. Chalk it up to another near-death experience for that charmed Arab Zarahas.
by Art on October 8th, 2011
Only in the last year have I learned my favorite horse, Zarahas, my former polo-playing stallion– with his split-and-bowed tendon– wasn’t just facing a career-ending injury. It was life-threatening. (Viz, Barbaro, that fantastic race horse of a few years ago who had million-dollar surgery on his broken leg, only to break down the good one by standing too long on it. Result? Euthanasia.) So about a year ago I trailered Zarahas up north for stem-cell surgery. One surgeon sliced a chunk from his butt, the cells were processed to materialize the stem-cells, and then my ace-veterinarian inserted them in Raa’s injured leg. So he’s had 6 months of non-riding rest (except when Raa would rear and jump around in his corral, waiting for his twice-daily hay.) This was followed by 6 months of (verrry borrrrrring) riding at only a walk (despite his wanting to gallop.) The last 6 months he’s been cleared for trotting; so we’ve been doing that routinely– last month taking a moonlight ride cross-country for five miles (Just him, me, rattlesnakes, and coyotes). He still does his tricks for treats (bows, counts to three, kisses, etc) and whinnies when he sees me exercise or play polo on the other three horses, but I’ve got to hold down his activity til he’s cleared to gallop. I’ll let you know when that happens. Cheers!