An Interview With My Husband

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By Elizabeth Speth

It was a risky proposition, corralling Neil with a series of probing and provocative questions.  I knew it could skid sideways at any point.  There was the possibility of profanity, of inappropriate and suggestive responses.  Political rants were likely.  If his critics are to be believed, Neil can be counted upon to gauge what is expected of him, only to execute an immediate and opposing course of action.  He might have clammed up completely.

We have all heard the stories — the mismatched shoes at work, the crumpled hat, the sleeping at the desk.  The inappropriate texts accidentally sent to his children.  Who is the man behind the mess?  Was finding out worth the almost inevitable fiasco?

After a long negotiation process, several cancellations and no-shows, he arrived late on a cloudy morning for our interview at the dining room table.  He declined to remove his sunglasses.  He was restless, edgy.  Periodically, he stared into space, and several times he rested his forehead in his hands, closed his eyes, and appeared to sleep briefly.  I had hoped a glass of wine would help.  Or whiskey.  Neil is famously fond of a good bourbon.  He declined those offers, and requested espresso.  I knew we were in for a challenging discourse.

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Elizabeth:  Thanks for sitting down with me, Neil.  First let me just say that there are no right or wrong answers.  However, I do expect  you to give me the answer I want.  If you don’t get the answer on the first try, I’ll ask you again, and eventually I’ll just change the answer to my preferred response.  So there’s no pressure on you.  My first questions is:  Can you give me a three-sentence biography? Only the high points, please.

Neil:  Born in New York.  Happy Childhood.  Married well.

Elizabeth:  Describe your life in one sentence?

Neil:  All itches scratched — no holes.

Elizabeth:  Uh.  Ok.  What is your philosophy as a father?

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Neil:  As a father?  Lead by example.  Of course I’ve fallen woefully short.  My intent is to provide a secure foundation, support their decisions.  I’m a kind of loosely authoritative figure.  Just this side of arbitrary.  Maybe the other side of completely arbitrary.  It doesn’t matter, because they never pay attention to my parenting.  So don’t expect me to tell you if it works.  I guess my parenting style is ‘be ignored’.  

Elizabeth:  Perhaps it’s still being formulated….

Neil:  The truth is, I spent too much of my parenting time thinking about the wrong things.  Stressing about work.  I should have spent more time developing my parenting style. Don’t write that down — that’s off the record.

Elizabeth:  Of course. Next questionYou are not a vain man, not overly-encumbered by ego.  Yet you do allow yourself a couple of small vanities.  You are meticulous about your weight,  and you never leave the house without cologne. Discuss.

Neil:  I don’t think I take myself too seriously.  We all have ego.  Mine was spent in achieving my professional goals.  That was enough impetus to get me where I needed to go.  Ego should be used to motivate you to achieve goals.  It should be harnessed, like a work horse, but then you should be done with it.

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Elizabeth:  What defines ‘manhood’ for you?  You have sons.  What would you like them to know about being men?

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Neil:  I don’t put much stock in manhood.  I believe in being a good person.  Politically, I’m a conservative, and sometimes people like me are accused of waging war on women.  But I don’t think in those terms.  I believe in good human values, man or woman.

Elizabeth:  Name a time you were horribly, woefully wrong about something, and I was right, but you never admitted it.

Neil:  Can’t think of anything.

Elizabeth:  Take as much time as you need.

Neil: Well, I can tell you one time you were very, very right.  You signed me up to coach youth basketball without asking me first.  If you’d asked, I’d have said no.  It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.  A great experience.

Elizabeth:  I feel that you dodged the question, but we can come back to it.  What is your favorite thing?

Neil:  Weekend horseback rides.  The American River Canyon.  My childhood.  Good health.

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Elizabeth:  What is your least favorite thing?  

Neil:  Waking up at five a.m. to go to work.  Feeling rushed.  Feeling hustled.  Feeling rushed and hustled by my wife.

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Elizabeth:  What is a thing it has taken you a long time to learn?

Neil:  Two things.  One, how to get rid of the slice in my golf swing.  That took thirty years.  The other thing you taught me.  You told me that we are never, ever going to change anyone’s mind about religion or politics when we argue with them.  Can I apply that to the horribly, woefully wrong question?

Elizabeth:  I guess.  What is the one, only, teeny-tiny only complaint you have about me?  

Neil:  You are headstrong.  You also —

Elizabeth:  That’s one.  Next question:  Do you have a system in place so you will not go to work anymore with mis-matched shoes?  

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Neil: As long as they match closely enough, does it really matter?  I have eight pairs of shoes I wear to work.  It’s really hard to get that many shoes matched up.  I look at my shoes like my children.  As long as they are being cared for and given equal amounts of attention, it doesn’t matter if they are mismatched.

Elizabeth:  Your shoes are like your children.  Got it. Goals?  Other than to raise good shoes?

Neil:  I‘d like to sleep more.  I’m looking forward to growing a garden this year.  I want to retire so life can really begin.

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Elizabeth:  Speaking of retirement, what age do you feel you are?

Neil:  Depends on the time of day.  I used to feel perpetually 35.  How old are you?  You are old.  You’ve got a birthday coming up, haven’t you?

Elizabeth:  I’ll ask the questions, Neil.  What do you feel was the greatest accomplishment of your parents’ generation, and your generation, and what would you like to see your children’s generation accomplish?  .

Neil:  My parents’ generation…  Putting a man on the moon.  It was a feat of discovery beyond all knowable borders.   A dream fulfilled.  My generation?  The internet.  That changed everything.  Suddenly all knowledge is possible.  

Elizabeth:  And your children’s generation?  What would you like to see them do?

Neil:  I’d like to see them focus more on self-reliance, on family and community.  (Note:  Neil said some things here that were very politically oriented, which I have edited out.  I will save those for when I start a blog titled:  Mostly Strident and Argumentative Things.)

Elizabeth:  What is your favorite one-liner?  

Neil:  That’s easy.  It’s:  ‘Orally.  How do you take yours?’

Elizabeth:  (…is speechless…)

Neil:  That’s in response to the question:  ‘How do you take your coffee?’  I have another one.  ‘Lying down.’  Which is what you say when someone asks you how you slept.  

Elizabeth:  That’s really all the time we have now, Neil.  Thank you very much.  

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Neil:  I have a lot of jokes like that.

Elizabeth:  We’re good.  Thank you.

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Neil posing with the author, post-interview, to show there are no hard feelings.

Interview With The Equine — What Really Goes On Behind Those Eyes

By Elizabeth Speth

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A toast to my interview subject, Rushcreek Newly.

Well, I’m sitting here today at a popular watering hole in the South Pasture with my Arabian friend Rushcreek Newly, who has been kind enough to grant me an interview on the condition that we avoid a few sensitive topics.

Off-limit subjects include but are not limited to the whole gelding thing, sheath cleaning (look that up if you don’t know what it is), thrush, looking a gift horse in the mouth, and changing horses mid-stream.

Otherwise, it’s all on the table.

Me:  Newly, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today.

Newly:  (Blink.  Blink.)

Me:  (Uncomfortable pause).  Ok.  Well.  I have often said that you are an honest horse.  What do you think I mean by that?

Newly:  (Blink.  Blink.)

Me:  Newly, you have to say something.  This is an interview.  Give and take.

Newly:  I’ll answer the questions I find interesting.

Me:  Sheesh.  Ok.  Fine.  I’ll explain an ‘honest’ horse.  You have no vices.  You don’t pull back on a rope, or chew up a barn, or kick or bite.  You don’t pretend to spook at things out on the trail because you don’t want to move forward.  When I get off-center in the saddle, you usually get me back where I belong instead of trying to dump me.  You’ll trot forever.  You’re an honest fellow.

Newly:  Thank you.

Me:  Do you…uh…have anything you’d like to say about me?

Newly:  You could stand to lose a few pounds.  You are sometimes late with breakfast.  You make a good bran mash.

Me:  What do you think about the fact that, most of the time, you stand around and watch me work?  You chew hay while I pick up your poop, you look amused and rested while I haul sacks of feed. That’s some role reversal.  A mere century ago my species worked your species nearly to death on a fairly regular basis.

Newly:  Well, we have a saying in the pasture.  Karma is a mare.

Me: Speaking of ‘in the pasture’, there is no doubt that you are the alpha horse out there.

Newly:  The what now?

Me:  The alpha horse.  The one in charge.  You’re not mean about it or anything.  But you get to the hay first, you get the good spots in the shade.  When you move up, the others move off.  I’ve never seen you do anything aggressive.  It just happens.  How do you do that?

Newly:  I am a natural leader.  My mother says I was like that from the moment I plopped out of her onto a pile of clean straw.  I stood up, and I was in charge.  It helps that I am very, very tall.  I’m also calm, which inspires confidence.  And I have the You Are In My Space Look pretty much nailed.  I invented that look.

Me:  The You Are In My Space Look, eh? Can you demonstrate it?

Newly:  (Blink.  Blink.)

Me (stepping back a bit):  You were born in Nebraska, on a very large ranch, where you ran with a big band of horses, and generally had a wide open childhood.  It must have been wonderful. Do you miss it?

Newly:  Nah.  I infinitely prefer this tiny one-acre pasture that turns into a fly-ridden dust bowl in summer, and includes a view of your neighbors’ recreational vehicles and barking dogs.

Me:  That is very snarky, Newly.

Newly:  I miss eating the snow, and those Rushcreek cowboys.  They were very sensible.  I miss dominating the cows, and walking down the trail.  I will never understand your constant need to trot everywhere.  I’m not going to lie about that, being such an honest horse and all.

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Newly, showing his enthusiasm for trotting.

Me:  We have to trot.  Our sport is endurance.

Newly:  My sport is endurance.  Yours seems to be long-distance sitting and flask-swigging.

Me:  That is a water bottle.

Newly:  Sure it is.

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Newly, shaking off the vestiges of his work day. Post-ride roll in the pasture.

Me:  Change of subject.  A lot of different people are credited with saying that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.  Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, even Benjamin Franklin.  Do you know who actually said it?

Newly:  I think the more important question is:  Why did no one asked the horse if he wanted to be doing the man any good in the first place?

Me:  Man and horse have a history of deep connection, a strong partnership.

Newly:  It would have been a different history entirely without the ropes and the fences.  It’s not really a partnership,  is it, if only one of us knows how to tie a knot and open a gate?

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The outside of Newly trotting through endless fields of lupine. On the shores of Folsom Lake this spring.

Me:  I’ll show you how to open the gate later.

Newly: Will I be using my opposable hooves?  Oh, wait.  I don’t have opposable hooves.

Me:  You can thread a needle with that upper lip of yours.  You’ll figure it out.  I wanted to ask you about the proverb:  ‘Show me your horse, and I will tell you who you are’.  Can you tell anything about people by their horses?

Newly:  That’s an interesting way to look at it.  I can tell a lot about horses by their people.  If I see someone running a thin, wheezing horse nearly to death on the trail, with equipment that leaves sores, with heavy hands, flopping body weight and big spurs, I know that I’m in the presence of a very sad horse.  When I see someone who is being steered under low-hanging branches, stepped on, bitten, kicked at, I know I’m looking at a spoiled horse.  If  I see a person riding a horse with all kinds of silver trim on its tack, clean as a whistle from its blanket and stall, pooping out really expensive hay and vitamin supplements, I know I’m looking at a very wealthy horse.

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More Newly and lupine.

Me:  Why DO you let us do things like, say, coaxing you into a little box on wheels for transport, or climbing on you to ride after having strapped the hides of other dead animals on your back?  And dressage?  I mean, I can’t believe that some horses consent to essentially dance ballet.  You horses are bigger than we are, faster than we are, and stronger than we are.  Why do you do it?

Newly:  Well, I think most horses are basically agreeable creatures.  We start out giving the benefit of the doubt.  We are gentle plant-eaters, with big, silly teeth and no claws.  I think horses are a very strange combination of terrified and trusting.  It doesn’t take much leverage to bring us to our knees, mentally or physically.  There will always be people who will figure out how to take advantage of that.  I don’t know why, but that’s the way we were made.

Me:  Lucky for us.  You gave us a tremendous leg-up, so to speak, as a hunting and war-fighting species.  Not so lucky for you horses sometimes.

Newly:  Yes.  I think humans are lucky that we are not carnivores.  We would rule the world.  Speaking of which, is that a new mare in the neighbor’s pasture?  I’ve never seen herbivore.

Me:  When I first met you, you had just stepped off a transport truck and were being walked up my driveway for the first time.   I’d bought you sight unseen, based on a lot of nice people who knew you, and the fact that you are a Rushcreek Arab, which is something pretty special.


Newly’s Ruschcreek brand. This mark says a lot about who he is and what all went into making him the horse he became. It tells a story of a wonderful chapter in the history of American horse breeding.

I’d been waiting for you all day, and I thought you were the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen, walking up that driveway.  What did you think when you first saw this place?

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Newly, all his belongings in a cardboard box…

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…arriving via transport service to start his new life.

Newly:  I thought:  ‘I wonder what time they serve dinner here.’

Me:  Seriously?  That’s all you were thinking?

Newly:  Well, look at it from my point of view.  When you are a horse, and you are bought and sold, suddenly your whole life changes.  You don’t have a say in anything.  It’s completely the luck of the draw.  Will I ever see my family, my old pasture mates again? Will I be beaten?  Will I be neglected?  Will I be forced to run until some part of me breaks, and then left to die a languishing death, covered with flies, malnourished and suffering in some pasture somewhere?  Animals don’t have control over any of it.  So I just concentrate on dinner.

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Newly, eating dinner in his new home immediately upon arrival. Carrots, soaked beet pulp, grass hay. Equine comfort food.

Me:  I see your point.  If it’s any consolation, you can stay here forever.

Newly:   Well, if they ever need me back on the ranch, I would like to go there.  That’s a nice place.  I’m supposed to be wandering and eating all day.  Anything else isn’t very natural for me.  You can do that at the ranch.  Look, you can come with me, if you don’t talk too much.

Me:  That’s nice.  I have really appreciated the opportunity to ask you some questions.

Newly:  I answered a lot of the uninteresting ones after all.

Me:  Well, I have just one more.

Newly:  Okay.

Me:  Newly, why the long face?  Ha ha ha ha!  Get it?  ‘Cause horses have — Newly, come back.  Get back here.  Whoa, boy.  Come on.  I’m sorry!  Newly!  Neeewwwllly!