It was time join the zeitgeist—the spirit of the times—and become unemployed. I could have kept my lucrative job teaching at Northwestern University’s branch campus in Doha, Qatar. But after four years on a desert island, my patience was gone. The problem, of course, was the recession. Finding a job as a humanities professor in the US had become mostly impossible. “Publish or perish” used to mean writing a book to get tenure. Now, no book means no interview. I had been writing cover letters claiming there were many great books brimming to get out of my busy head. Without the goods, however, it was unconvincing to search committees. The joyful paradox was that I needed to take “time off” to write. So, having saved a sum suitable to the task, I gave notice and merrily planned for my departure from Doha.
The rub, as it happened, was a horse. I had what everyone desperately needs: a purebred Arabian stallion off the racetrack. This wild white wonder had come into my life as he was being rehabilitated from an injury at a local stable in Doha where I rode in my spare time. The task of retraining him had fallen to me really only because the barn manager accidentally discovered I was crazy enough to get on him. It was not because my riding skills were exactly honed. I had been riding in my post-Thacher years, but before Doha it had been in the genre of occasional long walks on my ageing appaloosa. ‘Danny’ had spent a couple years with me at Thacher, and was now retired to my sister’s place in Colorado, nearing an age and pace where I could easily outrun him. (I had run cross-country, too…) This was not the case with the Arabian stallion off the racetrack, however. After I’d attempted a few months of adrenaline-spiked dressage training, I let a friend get on him at the walk while I held onto the bridle. “This one is a Ferrari,” I was told. “Why do the other ones feel so slow?” When he started greeting me by licking me behind the ear like a dog, I had the funds transferred. Jassas (“Jas” for short) had seduced me. I had a Ferrari long before I was due for a mid-life crisis.
We spent our afternoons together for couple of years. But then came the day when we had to get back to America—together, so I could write my book. Friends told me I should really write about the horse, rather than the academic details of philosophy. I promised them a blog instead, which began with an entry about the livestock import-export office in Doha, calls to the USDA, arranging a shipping agent out of Dubai, his pre-departure colon-cleanse routine, sorting out quarantine logistics, and my becoming convinced he was going to die en route. Bureaucratic headache after headache eventually turned into a departure date, a horse plane ticket, and a ticket for me in cargo-class. At a farewell dinner, the Northwestern Dean made a toast commending my dual ability to teach Kant to freshmen and ‘fly away into the sunset with an Arabian stallion.’ He inflected it to sound like ‘Italian stallion,’ bringing a titter to the room. He could have just said ‘horse,’ I thought, as I dove under my napkin.
We departed on a mild May morning, a humid 110-degree Doha day. Jas and two other horses descended from an air-conditioned horsebox at the airport, and after a bit of drama, were coaxed into a specialized equine cargo pallet. Like other cargo, little tractors pulled them around to the side of the plane, where they were pushed onto a conveyer, hoisted high up in the air, and slid into the belly of the plane. I had as my traveling companion a professional flight groom—loud, gregarious and British—responsible for (as he put it) fixing problems crazier than imaginable. When the horses freak out at 30,000 feet, it used to be they would shoot them to avoid harm to the plane and crew. Now, I was relieved to hear, he was equipped with seriously strong sedatives, not a gun. But by the time the horses were on the plane with the air conditioning finally on, the groom was astute enough to notice that I was the one needing sedatives. He sent me to sit in the cockpit during takeoff. I was to flirt with the pilots so they didn’t notice he was back with the horses, rather than in his mandated seatbelt. It seemed like a good division of labor, notwithstanding the fact I reeked of sweat, dust, and manure, come together in that telltale way. After Doha receded into the distance underneath us, the only other thing I remember was falling asleep sprawled out on the floor of the plane, listening to Jas flirt with the mare next him on the pallet—politely nickering, without the need of sedatives. When I woke up, the co-pilot had made us sandwiches.
We flew from Doha to Amsterdam, and after a two-day layover, went on to New York. He spent a week in quarantine while I enjoyed Manhattan, both of us in total culture shock. Once declared disease-free, I put him on a truck to Colorado, and took a flight to Fort Collins. Jas has been there ever since, enjoying life at my sister’s place (Laura Thompson, CdP 94). His days consist of an unending buffet, open pasture, some endurance racing, and this spring, some breeding. We call him ‘The Lucky Bastard.’ I have been going back and forth between Colorado and Washington, D.C. while I write.
In November, I returned to New York to meet with an editor. High on the 18th floor of a fancy Manhattan office building, I nervously twitched as he perused my CV and book proposal. “Where’s Qatar?” he asked. I explained its presence on the front page of the Times for having won the 2022 World Cup bid the day before. “Oh...that. What did you do in your spare time there?” I explained it was a fairly dull place, but that I had bought a horse to entertain me. “What kind of horse? Where is he now?” Enthralled with the story, he then waxed on nostalgically about riding horses in Nebraska as a kid. We discussed the differences between Arabians and Quarter Horses. Then, suddenly glancing at his watch, he shuffled the papers in front of him and asked about my book. He cut me off after two sentences. “That fine,” he said. “Send along the manuscript when you’re done. Sorry I have to rush off. I hope he does alright with the cold winter.” I recently sent him the manuscript, reporting that the horse had adjusted to the snow quite well.
For the full trip details on the blog, see http://aebrinton.typepad.com/doha/
. (Select “horse” chapter for easier reading.) Curious about American universities in Doha? See: http://www.qatar.northwestern.edu/. Does your mare want a cute boyfriend? Jas’s details are here: www.tenthousandmilefarm.com
. Any interesting jobs? Email me, I have a PhD, an Arabian stallion, and I’m unemployed!