The Apprentice - Again

By Matt Taimuty CJF

Published in the Aug - Sept 2002 Issue of Anvil Magazine

By all accounts I am a fair and just man. I am willing to give anybody a second chance if they deserve one. Not too long ago, I lost a small fortune in the stock market. Like most of us who know lots about some things and nothing about others, I got my portfolio resized rather badly when the Dot Coms went bust. But that is another story. Shortly after I decided suicide was a poor treatment for poverty, I got a phone call.

"Hello." I said like I usually do.

"Hello, Sir. I don't know if you remember me, my name is Fred. I apprenticed with you several years ago..." His voice trailed off. I felt a shiver run up my spine.

"Yes, Fred I remember you. How could I forget?" I probably shouldn't have said that, but I did.

"Well, uhmm, do you remember that Business Week cover I showed you with my picture on it? The one with the Ferrari?"

"Yes." I was also remembering the paint burned off the side of his old Pinto when he tossed a hot shoe into a pile of leaves.

"And I am sure you know what happened to the Dot Com world a while back..."

"Yes" I winced.

"Well...uh...I know...the thing of it is, is that..."


"Yes, Sir?"

"Do you have a point to make?"

He was silent for quite a while. I could hear him breathing and things were not going well. I surmised he was gathering his courage for something big.

"I lost my fortune I'm broke I hate computers and I want to get back to doing something with meaning that is real like working with my hands and I was wondering if you would maybe consider taking me back as an apprentice I know I was a screw up before but I am a good bit older now and have learned a lot about life and I think I can do the work now without so many troubles can I come work with you again please?...Sir?"

He said all with one breath.

I though he was going to pass out before he finished. It was my turn for a long silence. I pondered his request and remembered his foibles. His many foibles. Could that snot nosed kid be mature enough to actually be a farrier? Had his experience with the computer world taught him enough about life?

I think it was curiosity more than common sense that brought about my answer.

"I guess so. Why not? Sure, come on over tomorrow at eight and we will get started." He remembered directions. We said our good byes, hung up, and I went to bed. I didn't sleep a wink.

At 7:45 A.M. a small late model no frills pickup pulled into the drive. Out stepped Fred. I was flabbergasted. He had on old dungarees, work boots that had seen some serious miles, a worn but still presentable flannel shirt that looked like it belonged on him, and a pony tail. His mustache was impressive. A small handlebar with waxed tips. He sported wire rim glasses and a small silver belt buckle with an anvil on it. Definitely NOT the Fred who left here in disgrace several years ago after singeing off his mustache and eyebrows.

This was no longer a wet behind the ears kid, but a man who looked like he'd been around the block a time or two. A man I could respect. Though I got a funny feeling when I noticed a small piece of electrical tape holding his glasses together, and the outline of a now missing pocket protector.

"Hello Fred. Good to see you again." I smiled.

He couldn't meet my gaze,

"Hello, Sir." He said quietly, with embarrassment. I learned later, he was so ashamed of his dot com downfall he could hardly face me.

With widening awkward silence, we got in my rig and headed off to the first stop of the day. He got out and opened up my rig. He remembered where everything was and in a flash I was set up and ready to work. Amazing.

Out of the tack room stepped my client. Betsy was her name. She was a new client. I informed Fred on the way over that new clients were always an unknown. I told him to be on guard for anything. Betsy was followed closely by a young and rather large black lab named Bingo. He was all smiles, wagging tail and drool when he jumped up on Fred, knocked him down, pinned him by the shoulders and licked his glasses until the tape gave way. Bingo then pounced on the remains of the spectacles, tossed them in the air, caught them and lumbered off to play with them.

Fred scrambled to his feet and stood stock still looking around with panic in his eyes. It was instantly obvious that he was blind as a newborn kitten without his eyewear.

Betsy went after Bingo and managed to retrieve the now mangled glasses, wiping them off on her barn sweatshirt as she returned. She handed them to Fred with copious amounts of apology.

I picked up the earpiece that came loose when the tape let go and took the rest of Fred's glasses to see what I could do to repair them. A few select unkinking bends, a fresh piece of Duct Tape and they were functional again, but looked rather strange. One lens was about a quarter of an inch below the other and twisted off at a weird angle. Fred thanked me and retreated to clean my truck.

Meanwhile, Betsy fetched her horse, Banjo and placed him in crossties. Banjo was a small, wiry sort with a thick neck, beady eyes and a head like a suitcase. He gave me the evil eye as I appraised him and his feet.

I pulled his front shoes, the only ones he wore, and tossed them to Fred. I trimmed his feet and called back to Fred for a new pair of shoes for Banjo.

"Fred, bring me a pair of three fronts!" Oh yeah, Banjo had rather large feet.

Darned if those shoes didn't fit right out of the box. `This is gonna be a piece of cake.' I thought as I started to drive the first nail.

The next thing I remember is waking up in the tack room with Betsy, Fred and Bingo all hovering over me. Bingo's slobber woke me.


"I'm so sorry Sir, I tried to light the forge for you so you could shape the shoes." Fred lamented. "It sort of exploded...and...well...uhmm...ya thing of it is, is that..."



"Have you got a point to make here?" I said through the haze and pain.

Betsy broke in,

"Banjo hates forges. He always throws himself over backwards when they go BOOM like that." She said matter of factly, as if this were perfectly normal equine behavior.

I was beginning to wonder about both Betsy and Fred. I rolled slowly off the tack trunk that had been my gurney. I managed to gain my feet with only a few purple stars dancing around my head. Banjo was calmly sleeping in the cross ties as if nothing had happened. The only clues to the melee, aside from my throbbing head, were an upturned muck tub and my tool box, which looked suspiciously like it had been flattened by a Sherman Tank.

While I was out, Fred had gathered all my tools and nails in the barn isle. All the nails were sized properly in little piles, and my tools were laid out neatly. I was impressed.

Banjo allowed me to finish my work without a care. Fred sat on the bumper of my truck and said nothing.

On the way to the next appointment, after I stopped and got a bottle of aspirin, I had a little talk with Fred.

"Fred, I think you are trying too hard."

"I...I'm sorry Sir, its just that I am a little nervous."

"I can tell."

"I really want to do this right. I've failed at everything I ever tried, Sir. Five years ago I was worth 25 million dollars on paper. We had investors that believed in us and when the IPO was announced, everyone got on the band wagon. Our stock shot up 300 percent in the first two weeks and continued like that for three years. I bought a big house and that Ferrari you saw and all the trimmings. Maybe you heard of our stock. DotComGamesForALL?"

I nearly drove off the road. That was the stock that made me a wealthy man at the end of the last century. I rode the wave just like Fred did. I was amazed.

Here I was, ready to pull the plug on this guy, when he pulls the sympathy ploy. On top of that I feel indebted to him for the stock profits.

I hate it when that happens.

The rest of that week Fred redeemed himself rather well. No accidents, fires, or other calamities, and he was actually helpful for a change.

As time passed, Fred showed some real aptitude for farriery. He got pretty good at pulling shoes and finish feet, he kept my truck spotless, and kept out of my way...for the most part.

One day, after I developed some confidence in him, we went to trim a nice old fellow, whom I'd trimmed for years, named Sparky. He had one small problem though. He was severely stringhalt. When ever I tried to pick up a hind foot, that leg would go haywire and start flinging itself all over the place, much to Sparky's dismay. He never wanted to hurt anyone, and he knew his haywire hind legs were dangerous. As a result, Sparky and I worked out a system. I would carefully tip his foot forward onto the toe, keeping it on the ground, so I could get at the bottom. This kept his legs under control and allowed me to trim his hind feet. I wanted to show this trick to Fred, in case he ever encountered a similar horse later on.

The only caveat to this solution was that Sparky had to remain totally quiet. If he got startled, that leg went off like a cluster bomb and it was every man for himself.

I told Fred to be on his toes, keep his distance, but be ready to hand me tools as I needed them. After trimming Sparky's front feet, I got down on my knees and carefully asked Sparky to tip his right hind forward onto the toe. He did so with great care. I commenced to trim the foot.

Unbeknownst to me, since I was concentrating rather intensely, Fred crept closer and closer to my shoulder in order to get a look at what I was doing. He was a good study. He was inches from my left shoulder when it happened.

He sneezed.

It startled Sparky and scared the stuffing out of me. Sparky's leg kicked wildly in all directions. I dove to my left to avoid the fireworks and body slammed Fred as we both tumbled out of the way, rolled over an embankment and wound up in the manure pile.

Sparky jumped forward and got his leg back on the ground. He looked back at the pile of farriers, aprons, tools and manure. He rolled his eyes. Fred and I managed to untangle ourselves and recover the tools. No harm no foul, other than the smell.

Fred dusted himself off and went to clean my truck.

It was early March. We drove around with the windows open for the rest of the day. At lunch time, they threw us out of McDonald's.

Fred's foibles became few and far between as he learned and grew in the trade. I even let him shoe a few on his own after a year or so. We almost became a team.

Some time later, Fred was telling me about his dot com experience, when he mentioned an offshoot of DotComGamesForALL. It was a specialty business that catered to a particular sect of the population. He invested his entire fortune in it. Then the big bust came and his fortune evaporated overnight.

`What a sad story' I thought.

"Maybe you heard of the stock, Sir, DotComGamesforAdults?"

I nearly drove off the road. That was the stock that miniaturized my portfolio!! I too invested everything in it.

"How in the world could a porn site go belly up?!?!" I asked incredulously.

"It wasn't a porn site!" Fred spat back indignantly, "It was perfectly legal. We had games like Bridge, Peanuckle, and Hearts. Good clean fun for parents!" Then he got real quiet and distant.

"We got millions of hits but nobody signed up...His voice trailed off.

I guess I'm not the only one who knows lots about some things and nothing about others.

One day a few months later I got a call to trim a couple of cute little miniature mules. Pony, donkey crosses...Need I say more? This particular pair was testament to the evil in both species, with a dash of hybrid vigor thrown in for sport.

They lived in a five acre paddock on the side of a hill with a run in shed at the top and a stream at the bottom. I got the call to trim these two rapscallions about once a year whether they needed it or not.

It was high summer and hot as the inside of a pizza oven. We decided to work in the shed to avoid the sun. I told Fred to wait while I went to catch one of the four legged terrorists. They ran around like a pair of zebras at a lion convention. After half an hour, I managed to corner Pesto, the "nicer" of the pair.

I told Fred to hold Pesto by pressing his head and neck against the wall with his shoulder. No good. Pesto just reared up and lifted Fred off the ground, dumping me on my keester in the process.

"Grab and ear Fred!" I cursed as I got up. Pesto was in a bad mood. I could tell. Fred grabbed an ear and twisted hard. He also grabbed Pesto's upper lip like a twitch. "Good move Fred. Hang on tight. I'll work fast." I started to trim and Pesto started to fight. I felt him lunge forward, so I put my arm over his back to help hold him down. The little bugger bolted out of the shed on three legs and dragged us both across the top of the paddock. Me bouncing along backwards holding a front foot, Fred hanging on to an ear and a lip.

Fred managed to steer Pesto into the opposite corner of the paddock. Pesto stopped, surveyed the situation, and altered tactics. He lay down. A pall of dust followed and enveloped us. Pesto saw his chance, got up, dislodged me, gently placed a hind foot in the middle of my back and pushed me through a four board fence, (I told you he was nice) and bolted again. Fred didn't let go.

When I untangled myself from apron and fence boards to survey the situation, Fred had a death grip on Pesto and Pesto had a death wish for Fred. Pesto galloped through the afternoon dust as Fred made a gallant attempt at bulldogging. I could hear him cussing as if he were standing next to me. Pesto bounced him off fences, trees and boulders, and dragged him through the stream a couple of times.

After two laps around the paddock, Pesto finally dispossessed himself of Fred by depositing him on a low slung tree limb up by the run in shed.

When I reached Fred he was drenched in sweat, covered in mud, and still cussing. We gathered up the remains of our tools and called it a day. Mules one, farriers zip.

"Fred," I said.

"Yes Sir?" he said through a mouth full of mud, blood and loose teeth.

"I think you're trying to hard."

"The thing of it is, is that...well...I didn't want to let you down Sir." He said as we slowly limped back to the truck.

`Dang!' I thought. `This guy IS gonna make a good farrier!'

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