Excerpts & Highlights
Tex took a deep breath, looked Ace straight in the eyes, shook his head, leaned in close to the tipsy used car salesman and softly spoke. What I heard him say to my new owner caused me a combination of surprise and dismay: “Both Molly who played Francis the talking mule and Bamboo Harvester who played Mr. Ed were really and truly able to talk.”
— from Horseplay
Introductions - Albert, Gulliver, and Me
As I hadn’t heard from Albert Walker since graduating from high school over a half a century ago, I was surprised to receive an email from him in which, as if we had ever been close friends, he informed me that he was, after forty years as a university professor of Comparative Literature, recently retired and, after twenty years of marriage, recently divorced. His wife had left him with practically all of their possessions including a horse named Gulliver.
. . .
“I suppose,” Albert wrote, “that you might imagine that I am joking or drunk or lying or deranged when I candidly and truthfully inform you that, unbelievable as it may seem, Gulliver can talk. Yes, it’s true. And if that is not remarkable enough, the horse can wax quite eloquently on myriad subjects in various languages. And if even that is not astounding enough, Gulliver has dictated a series of twelve stories to me, each about one of his male progenitors and passed down to him by those ancestral stallions from generation to generation to constitute a kind of literary stud book or breeding registry.
The Ancestral Chronicles of a Horse Named Gulliver
Meet the Horses of Horseplay
Sire — Dam
Lingaraja — Bhagarani
1 Vafla — Pizda
2 Eugene — Heloise
3 Fantôme — Desiree
4,5 P’tit Peg — Scheherazade
6 Arion — Gaspara
7 Cookie — Cream Pie
8 Strider — Milly
9 Mr. Ed — Maya
10 Bamboo Harvester — Fitta
11 Wilbur — Carol
. . .
In India Vafla had been called Kanthaka. But Catherine rechristened him with the name of a white pony that as a child princess in her native Pomerania she had ridden daily and wholeheartedly loved. She elevated Vafla’s status from horse to Count and addressed him as kochanie Count Vafla, my “darling” Count Vafla in Polish, her native language.
. . .
“Hhuun hlunnh houy ayh” he nickered in Sulamite’s ear (“I love you” in Proto-Equerrean). She nickered back “hhuflahu hhuflahu hhuflahu houy.” The intensity of the stallion’s love increased with each moment of exquisite pleasure until the end when, depleted and exhausted, he dismounted his beloved and the handler took her away to Eugene knew not where.
. . .
The moment Fantôme was brought to the auction block, Madame Delapine, utterly captivated by the creature’s statuesque masculine comportment, insisted that Monsieur Delapine bid on him and continue bidding until the handsome white stallion belonged to the Cirque Napoléon.
. . .
Well, dear reader, what do you think? It’s not looking very good for P’tit Peg, is it? And this story would certainly have had a miserable ending if the colt hadn’t been so adept at talking. It was only in attempting to save himself from being corporally disciplined by what he assumed to be a ruthless trainer, that a frightened P’tit Peg resorted to breaking the hallowed Edict of Aisha: “Good morning, Shree Laghulingam, welcome to my stall.”
. . .
Swami, as P’tit Peg was known for the remainder of his life, played Chaupar, an ancient Indian royal game, with the Crown Prince Shree Laghulingam Singh on the steamer from Bombay to Istanbul and then on the train from Istanbul to Vienna. After renting a temporary stall for Swami in the Lustmolchstabil, a carriage terminal for municipal trap, buggy, coach, and wagon horses, at Berggasse 13, Laghulingam walked a few doors up the street to the home, office, and consultation room of none other than the illustrious Herr Doktor Sigmund Freud.
. . .
But on the opening night in the magnificent Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, the spirit of opera took possession of him and, in an effort to add something exhilarating and original to the production, as he came on stage with the naked Principessa Godivani on his bare back, Arion sang an aria of his own composition:
La Principessa mi cavalca senza velo,
Nuda mia bella, sessuale e immacolata
Chiusa in un manto tra sol e cielo
Angelica spogliata sembianza
In voi, donna nuda, riposa, nudissima!
The astonishing voice was so moving, so riveting, so powerfully beautiful that it caused many members of the cast, crew, orchestra, and audience to weep tears of joy, shiver with awe, stand, exuberantly clap their hands, and cry out, “Bravo, bravo, bravissimo!”
. . .
Even though Harry had no clue that Cookie could understand human speech, let alone speak a human language, he would often talk to the horse when they were alone together. He was actually just talking to himself and pretending that the animal might be listening to him. Better a horse than no one at all. Harry usually spoke to Cookie in English but it was often laced with Yiddish, spiked with a splash of Russian, and garnished with an occasional morsel of Hebrew. This made it difficult for the young stallion to understand him at first, but, being as adept at languages and as polyglottic as his foresires, the horse was able to make sense of practically everything his owner told him.
. . .
Strider missed the coca leaves in his feed bag, his dam, and a few of his siblings but, because he had been dreading his soon to begin rigorous and dangerous training under Leroy Laughing Loon as a stunt horse, he was pleased to have been redeemed from El Rancho San Rabo even though it meant living in the small yard adjacent to Lucky Lance Larue’s dilapidated shack of a house in Hollywood.
. . .
“I’m a writer. Or at least that’s what I am trying to be. Yes, I want to write stories to amuse, entertain, educate, enlighten, engage, move, and inspire people.”
A few days later after Mr. Ed had settled into the barn that was his new home, Mr. Brooks showed him the advertisement for Schlitz that he had written. It made Mr. Ed eager to try a bottle of it. The horse liked Schlitz a lot and he learned to enjoy vodka martinis as well, so much so that alcoholic beverages became the platform upon which the friendship of Mr. Ed and Mr. Brooks was built.
. . .
Mister Ed had been dubbed into dozens of languages and broadcast in more than fifty countries. In 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Comrade Ed was, despite the Cold War, the most popular show on Soviet Central Television. In the same year Shree Ed was the only television broadcast in India other than the government produced Doordarshan propagandist news. Well aware that Monsieur Ed was Charles de Gaulle’s favorite television show, Maurice Chevalier sang “Un cheval est un cheval bien sûr bien sûr” at a birthday party for the French President. During the same period Bwana Ed, providing an amusing distraction from famine and political unrest, delighted audiences all across East Africa, no less than Herr Ed, Signore Ed, Señor Ed, and Sayyid Ed were transporting television viewers in all the countries where German, Italian, Spanish, and Arabic were spoken.
. . .
Wilbur did in fact do what his sire had done. Yes, he too was unable to resist Molly’s seductive ways, the sidelong glances of her big dark eyes, the naughty entreaties nickered to him either in English or in her mother tongue, Asinusian, a vulgar dialect of Proto-Equerrean: “Heee-hooona wanaa hyuaa huhy haaaa,” which means, if you’ll excuse my French, something like, “Fuck me as hard, fast, and long as you can.” But in Asinusian it’s much more obscene than that.
Each time he, unable to restrain himself, heeehooonaed Molly, Wilbur would swear to himself that he’d never do it again. He desired not to desire her and passionately hated yearning for her so intractably.
. . .
Although I never spoke another word to Ace, I did recite the “Come on down” line in every one of his commercials. And although he couldn’t figure out how it was possible, he was so happy with it that he didn’t try. And I must confess that I was flattered that Ace Cooley had called his company the Bronco Buckie’s Used Truck and Car Dealership. Yes, pleased enough with that to make reciting the line a courtesy and a pleasure.
In each of those television commercials Ace Cooley was dressed up in cowboy duds, wearing a white bib shirt embroidered with silver A’s for Ace, white pants with matching silver A’s on the pockets, a big red-white-and-blue cotton neckerchief, a classic beige Stetson with a silver band, and flashy snip toed rattlesnake skin Western boots.
Professor Walker either telephoned or emailed me almost every day to ask if I had finished reading Gulliver’s text and, when I was finally able to truthfully answer that I had, he, still refusing to believe that I do not have the power or influence to get a manuscript accepted for publication, demanded to know where, to what agents, editors, or publishers, I was sending the chronicle.
I believed that my cover letter had made it very clear to Ethan Nosowsky, the editorial director at Graywolf Press, that I am not the author of Horseplay, but that I was merely passing on to him a manuscript sent to me by a retired professor who persisted in adamantly insisting that he was also not the author of the book but only an assistant to that author who happened to be an equine raconteur named Gulliver.
Nosowsky’s emailed rejection makes it obvious that he supposed, despite my claim otherwise, that I am the author of this book: “Dear Lee, I jumped into your novella this evening and...I’m afraid I found myself unable to fully enter the fictional world you’ve built here” [italics mine].
“If you had made it clear to Nosowsky that the author of this book is truly a horse,” Walker responded, “an erudite and witty one at that, he would have understood how fortunate Graywolf would have been to acquire the rights to it.”
Charlotte Gusay of the Charlotte Gusay Literary Agency, expressing her disgust and disdain over the manuscript, included an evaluation by one of her readers:
The piece was uniquely disturbing for me to read. In fact, I was unable to continue reading past page 25. The novel has a strange fixation with genitals and sexual intercourse, and the stories (that I was able to read) were punctuated by or completely centered around bestiality or horse sex. The extreme detail with which the novel explores these topics was graphic and uncomfortable to read. While I understand that the piece was meant to be told from a horse’s perspective, and that horses do not adhere to the same ‘moral constructs’ that humans do, horses will not be reading this novel, and I think that the majority of human individuals would find this story disturbing and unpalatable. I found the piece distasteful and disturbing, and would not recommend it for publication. I believe it will be difficult to find audiences who are able to stomach the majority of the content within Gulliver’s tales.
After forwarding that evaluation to Walker, I didn’t hear back from him for a few days. He finally telephoned to inform me that Gulliver was dismayed by that reader’s sententious comments. “He’s confused,” Walker elucidated, “as to why anyone, whether human or animal, would find genitals, consensual equine copulation, and bestiality disturbing or unpalatable. And he’s discouraged. Here, Lee, I’m putting us on speaker phone so that Gulliver can talk to you about it himself.”
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