COLUMN: Borrowed mules and bare backsides

  • Posted: Sunday, November 4, 2012 6:53 p.m.

Equines of the long-eared variety often come to mind when I correspond with the Jamestown Jackass.

James Lutzweiler, my friend from Jamestown, N.C., often calls me from his cell phone or emails me from whatever device he carries in his vintage Lincoln to suggest topics for this column.

In this way, he serves sort of the same function as a mouse named Amos, who made his home in Ben Franklin’s fur hat.

Amos, in Robert Lawson’s charming little book, “Ben and Me,” claimed credit for some of the revolutionary statesman’s most brilliant ideas and accomplishments.

Similarly, Lutzweiler provides me with some of my more cockamamie column subjects. He does not, however, dwell in my fur cap or any other kind of headgear, because he’s a bit larger than a mouse. In fact, I have dubbed him “the Jamestown Jackass,” and the nickname seems all the more appropriate in view of some recent correspondence.

Lutz emailed me from Seattle, Wash., or some other left-coast locale, to ask whether I had ever encountered the term “beaten like a borrowed mule.”

I hadn’t, but I immediately understood what it meant. William Faulkner had the animal pegged: “A mule will labor 10 years willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once.”

So many a mule owner, knowing that the kick was coming eventually, took revenge in advance by beating the mule as often as he pleased with whatever came to hand – a plow line, a chinaberry limb, or possibly a two-by-four.

If you owned the mule, you observed limits. You didn’t want to wear out the beast’s patience and hasten the day when it would deliver its kick. If it was a borrowed mule, you didn’t care, since it was highly likely that the owner would be the target of the kick.

I explained this elementary piece of farm lore to the Minnesota-born Jackass and figured he would leave me in peace and go about tracking down the papers of Jimmy Carter’s former pastor. As archivist and rare book collector for the Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, Lutz often goes off on such flights of trivia and will travel across the continent to lay his hands on such obscure books and documents.

I soon realized, with a shock, that the Jamestown Jackass was not going to leave me at peace. Back came an email addressed to me as if I were the late Ann Landers – a circumstance that would require that I undergo a trans-gender resurrection.

He described a chess match “with a high-powered attorney/friend/host who had just finished suing Boeing and was seeking for a sequel to add some flaming feathers to the molten tar already on my hot heels. Instead, I beat that sucker harder than a borrowed mule.

“My question is this: While it is true that I did so beat him, as I no doubt would a borrowed mule, is it politic for a pawn such as I to verbalize audibly this blistering bon mot from burrodom on not only a dear friend but a man who had just lavishly entertained me in his 7,000-square-foot castle for three days? Are these fair words from a bishop such as I, or have I rooked him?”

I should add that Lutzweiler likes to freeload on friends when traveling across the country, thus saving his employer the cost of food and lodging and saving his Baptist accountant the embarrassment of signing off on reimbursement for un-Baptist-like drinks.

My advice to him was to lay off the purple prose and asinine puns and give it to us straight: He not only rooked his host out of meals, libation and lodging; he also took him on at chess and beat him like a borrowed mule. I venture no opinion as to whether the Jackass cheated.

Lutz was so grateful for this advice that he mailed me a photograph of himself. Prominently displayed was a sign reading “Lutz Lake,” with a warning that swimming was prohibited but skinny dipping was OK. Equally prominent was a rear-view photograph of Lutz, fully dressed for skinny dipping. If you swap the word “bare” for the first syllable of his nickname, you will see what I saw. Let me assert categorically that I didn’t recognize him from the neck down, but the back of his head did look familiar.

The Jackass explained that one of his favorite hosts owns an idyllic spot in British Columbia with a centerpiece consisting of a lake 50 feet in diameter. The lake had no name, so Lutz decided to present him the “Lutz Lake” sign with its skinny-dipping invitation in repayment for his hospitality and to avoid the image of free-loader.

The host suggested that Lutz disrobe and pose for the picture – back to camera of course, and with no ladies present. There being few Southern Baptists in British Columbia, the Jackass obliged.

Not only were there no ladies or Southern Baptists present; there was no mule either, which is probably fortunate for the Jamestown Jackass.

Had there been a mule present – especially if it were a Baptist mule – I have a feeling the sensitive animal would have calculated that the 10 years were up and Lutz was in need of baptizing.

Which means that by now Lutzweiler would have hoofprints on each of his buns and cool memories of an autumn dip in a Canadian lake.

Having written another cockamamie column at Lutz’s suggestion, let me take a bow toward the wisdom of Ben Franklin and Amos: If you’re looking for a muse, a mouse is better than a mule.

Readers may reach Gene Owens through e-mail at WadesDixieco@AOL.com.

Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.

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