Back at corporate, down the long white corridor, tucked behind the row of senior executive offices, there is a small gym. Five or six machines. Weights. Ten-foot ceilings. Panoramic mountain views. Instructional placards. Across the hall there is a fully-equipped private bathroom done up in porcelain, travertine, birchwood, and enough terrycloth to open a Marriott. The shower floor is lined with stones plucked from a local river. A washer and dryer stand in the corner. The toilet stall is framed in gleaming stainless steel. The whole thing smells perpetually like shampoo and privilege and Downy. It smells like the fast track.
But I was 1,500 miles away, spending my lunch hour gearing up for a poor man’s version of a Pamplona-style encierro.
I worked side by side with Tom, a local farmer with a broad creased face, square jaw, full spark of gray hair, caterpillar eyebrows, and catcher’s mitts hands. Google said he had won ten varsity letters in high school and a spot on the Detroit Tigers farm club before becoming a hall-of-fame horseman. He was eighty years old and as talkative as a Benedictine.
We used whatever stray bits of plywood, cinder blocks, and 5-gallon pails we could find to assemble a barricaded run leading from the long inner corridor of his large horse barn to the open rear bay of my 15-passenger van.
The plan was for Tom to unleash the beast – two-hundred and twenty lbs. worth of fleece, testosterone, and fearsome, curling horns – and get him moving down the corridor. Then I would nab him and together we’d lift him up into the vehicle.
I hadn’t had much urgency about lambing this year until one Saturday Alison made a shoulder roast that was, put bluntly, the best food I have ever tasted. Fresh pastured lamb, mild and tender as a ripe peach, with rosemary, capers, garlic, carrots and red potatoes. I am convinced that there is no tastier, no more satisfying meal, than the one that comes from your own backyard.
No sooner had I wiped the juices from my chops than I put out the call to the Merino community. It was the very tail end of the rut, but breeding would still be possible. We’d have to move fast before the season foreclosed the opportunity.
So that’s how I found myself at Tom’s staring down a row of stables at a ram. At first glance the creature reminded me of an action flick prisoner. Right down to the stilted walk, feigned indifference, and distant, glassy look in his eyes.
But as he closed to within twenty feet, lowered his head, and accelerated to a full-on sprint he reminded me more of a linebacker. He was Lawrence Taylor. More specifically he was Lawrence Taylor bearing down on my nether regions.
If there is one trait that is equally valued in both farming and business it is that of split-second decision-making. It can make all the difference between a pat on the back and a painful faceplant.
So I quickly rolled to the balls of my feet, crouched forward, and leapt to my right just as the ram threw his full weight into crushing me. He had closed the last two feet a good bit faster than I expected – like a sprinter reaching for the tape – and my timing ended up being a fraction of second slow.
As I reached for the nape of his hairy neck the tip of his left horn planted firmly, sharply into the fleshy flanks of my left inner thigh, about ten inches from my knee cap and six inches from you know where. The pain was immediate and acute and a small corner of my world went momentarily dark.
But the glancing collision granted me a degree of leverage, and I quickly established a strong two-handed grip on his fleece. Then I brought every last one of my 300 lbs. down onto the ram’s back, just above the foreflank and shoulder, and pinned him finally to the floor.
That’s precisely when I thought of that faraway corporate gym. It’s when I thought of dear friends and colleagues and classmates. The ones that, at that very moment, were busy picking at $18 salads and plotting the next big hostile takeover. The ones sweating in Lululemon and conceiving the next great tech startup. The ones spending the lunch hour browsing the Porsche dealerships. The ones pumping iron in the corporate gym and keeping a close eye on Bloomberg.
Because there I was in a hundred-year-old barn with a nearly-hundred-year-old farmer. In a makeshift plywood corridor. Next to a makeshift livestock transporter. There I was panting, thigh pulsing with the heat of fresh contusion, lying on top of hairy, surly brute of ram that smelled every bit like a bag of old, sweaty hockey equipment.
Welcome to the small time, Buddy. Welcome to the slow track. Welcome to the Sears-parking-lot-carnival-kiddie-train track.
We eventually got that ram into the rear of my van and when the doors finally rattled shut Tom and I both breathed a sigh of relief.
My iPhone jingled announcing a conference call beginning in 30 minutes. It was time to wrap up this lunch break.
But there was just one last order of business.
“Mind if I use the facilities?” I asked Tom.
“Go ahead,” he gestured down the row of stables, “pick one.”
So after my brief, sweaty workout I limped down the long brown corridor, past pictures of Tom’s equine champions. There was no travertine. No mountain view. No porcelain. No terrycloth. No stainless steel.
Instead, on the slow track, I had to pee like a racehorse.