Remember the donkey in the last post? Well, here’s the story of the donkey. The farmer bought it, but he doesn’t know very much about donkeys, except “Horses need to be ridden,” he said. About ten thousand times.

The donkey is not trained. And we don’t have any riding gear for the donkey, so I rode her bareback, without reins or anything.

Riding a donkey

At first, she did not cooperate. Maybe she saw me as an intrusion on her relationship with the farmer.

Which at first was funny.

Donkey eating dress

And then dangerous.

Donkey eating dress

And the farmer started getting angry.

Angry at the donkey

So I tried my own, less authoritative way of dealing with her. I’d sneak onto her in the pasture when the farmer was doing farmer things in the crop fields. Once we were alone, I fell in love with her.

She hangs out with the girl cattle.

Cattle and donkey

She is sort of the leader of the girls. They do whatever she tells them and she pushes them around a little if they forget to acknowledge that she is in charge. It’s fun to ride her in the middle of 50 cows. I feel like I’m a cowboy.

I found myself moving her around by strategic pets, and, when desperate, allowing little nips to my rain boots, which she loves to munch.

Then I told the farmer to stop giving me help with her. I told him I am gifted with donkeys and he is not.

Then she got splashed with water and darted and I fell off of her.

I got a sprained neck and a concussion. And I got lots of narcotics to deal with the pain.

When I got home from the hospital, the farmer was trying to stabilize things at home. The farmer always responds to my instability with more stability. He expressed frustration that I still had not dealt with the fact that our windows are painted shut.

I said, “Oh, I’ve just been hitting them on the side a little and they loosen up.” Then I kicked the side of the window where the wood part is. But I missed and put my foot through the window.

We both stood there.

Then I said, “Oh. Drat.” Because the farmer hates when I swear. Then I walked away.

The farmer said, “Hey, wait. Aren’t you going to clean it up?”

I said, “No. It’s okay. I’ll get it later.”

“There’s glass all over the floor.”

“It’s okay.”

“The kids will step on it.”

“They’ll walk around it.”

“No. This is crazy. Clean up the glass.”

“I’m leaving.” I picked up my car key.

He wrestled the car key from me. He said, “You’re on narcotics. You’re crazy. You can’t get in the car.”

So I started walking. I was walking nowhere because, there is nowhere to walk unless you’re doing Ironman distances. Everyone in a car that passed me waved to me. A stray dog followed me for about an hour. Bees followed me for a while, too, in a nice, girl-in-a-Disney-movie kind of way.

When it started to get dark, about four hours later, I was completely lost, but somehow I was in the city of Darlington (which is two blocks long) so I asked someone where the police station is, and I walked there.

I said, “Hi. I have been walking and I’m lost. Do you think you could give me directions home?”

This set off about ten thousand alarms in the police station:

1. No one walks anywhere.

2. No one gets lost in Darlington.

3. The social fabric of a small town is tight—people do not rely on the police for anything. They rely on their families and their gun collection.

“Do you live here? Are you new to town? What’s your name?”

This is the type of harmless questioning I got. But the “what’s your name” one — that was bad. Because the police have a record of me having two, completely different names. This is not normal for Darlington, except if you’re a train robber from the 1880’s.

I said, “I’m not usually like this. I have a company in Madison. I am a commentator on CNN. Google me.”

So the dispatcher called Michael, the deputy sheriff and sole-authorized-Internet-user at the station. He googled me and then sat down next to me to try to work things out.

But before he could really do anything, the dispatcher or whatever she is discovered there was a warrant out for my arrest.

So then they put me in jail. Michael apologized and offered to put me in some separate, carpeted cubicle that locks instead of the regular jail. It was sort of the like the Lafayette County white-collar crime unit.

Things did not go well in my cubicle. After the narcotics started wearing off, I lay down on the floor. The maybe-dispatcher opened the door and said, “What are you doing?”

“Lying down.”

“You can’t do that.”

“I’m on a lot of narcotics and they’re running out. I need more.”

“I’m getting Michael.”

Michael came to my cubicle and started to work things out again. For a second I thought I would marry him if I were not already married to someone who had my kids and my car keys and all the fruits of my interior decorating skills.

I learned from Michael that I forgot to do a bi-monthly financial disclosure to my ex-husband’s divorce lawyer who I have decided not to pay until I have cleaned up all our IRS troubles from when we lived in NYC and cleared out our 401K’s to pay for medical expenses without understanding the (insane) tax ramifications. I have written before that I am very bad with paper work. Sometimes, if there is a legal thing that I can’t figure out, I just don’t. I make mistakes.

I did not explain any of this to the maybe-dispatcher as I filled out more paperwork.

I disclosed a salary of $150,000. She flipped. She said she thinks I’m a liar.

I asked why. She said, “You have two names, you claim you’re a millionaire, and you’re lying on the floor taking drugs.”

Darlington is a touchy place. I am the only blogger here. Of course. And maybe everyone is friends with the maybe-dispatcher and they will say, “She didn’t say that!” So, okay, maybe she didn’t say that, but she said something like that. I’m getting the gist of it. And if you want a complete transcript of daily life in Darlington, Wisconsin, get your own blog.

I told her that $150,000 is nothing in New York City.

She didn’t care. She faxed my forms to some magical central repository of paperwork for people who have warrants out for their arrest. Then Michael drove me home.

He was so nice.

The next day he read my blog and wrote such a nice email about what he got from reading it. I told myself that people in Darlington will love my blog and I will be popular and loved and I will live happily ever after.

The next day he brought the farmer a copy of The Five People You Meet in Heaven and said maybe it will help the farmer deal with me. I told myself the farmer and I will stay married forever because we have such a good, small-town support system.

The next day Michael saw me driving. He came back to the house. He said, “You can’t drive. You don’t have a driver’s license.”

I said, “Yeah. I know. I didn’t need one when I lived in New York City because there are subways. And when I moved to Madison, I couldn’t figure out how to get a driver’s license. I mean, I’ve tried a few times and I couldn’t do it. ”

“Couldn’t do it? What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s very complicated. Did you read my post about the DMV?”

“You have to have a license.”

“Well, it’s not technically illegal to drive without a license in Wisconsin. I’ve been pulled over a lot in Madison and they just give me a $200 ticket and let me go.”

“We’re going to give you a $200 ticket every time you drive your car in Darlington.”

When he said that, my stomach tightened and I felt sick. I started wishing I were still on narcotics because that might make everything better.

So now is coming the advice part of this post. I mean, not that there isn’t a lot of advice here already, like, don’t ride a donkey near spraying water, and if you want a conversation to disappear for a little while, take narcotics.

But really, this story is about damage control. The donkey story happened at the beginning of the summer, when I had just moved to the farm, and the inability to drive put me over the edge. I locked myself in the pantry and called my friend Sharon and cried in the dark, on the floor, next to flour and sugar until my eyes were too puffy to tear anymore.

Then, here’s what I did to start fixing things. And these are actually tactics that have fixed a lot of things in my life:

1. Get help. I asked Michael to help me with the driver’s license stuff. And I asked the farmer to help me with the divorce lawyer stuff, and I hired a driver.

The driver turned out to be more than a driver. She is also a good guide for me for small-town life because she raised two kids here. For example, she can decipher the cryptic insert that appears to be from the school system offering after-school care, but that’s actually from a church.

2. Be honest. The farmer was aghast about the warrant. “This will be in the newspaper on Monday,” he said. My first instinct was that he was joking. But he wasn’t. The contractors mentioned it while they were repainting our windows. I told them the story. They did not laugh, and I thought maybe I should not have told the story.

But you know what? I just read a fun article about the New York Jets, and their owner, Woody Johnson. He used to be really press-shy and then realized that you can’t be press-shy if you own a team in the most vociferous media market in the universe. So now he says anything he wants. (Quote from him: “People say we talk too much. Fine. Whatever. Good.”) And when a reporter asked him about getting into trouble, Johnson said, “New York fans don’t care if you make mistakes, if you’re authentic. Well, they don’t want too many mistakes.”

I think that’s true for everyone, not just New York fans. So in Darlington, I have to just be myself. And not hide stuff, and I think it’s really hard to hate someone who is being their true self and trying, at the same time, to be their best self, authentically.

3. Get back on the horse. Or the donkey. Or anything where you failed. So I got back on, and next time you hear about me riding, I’m going to have my horse.

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  1. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    Pen, this reminds me of something you said a year ago, and it resonated with me so much that I even went back just now and looked it up.
    “So what I'm telling you here is that I'm scared of secrets. I'm more scared of keeping things a secret than I am of letting people know that I'm having trouble. People can't believe how I'm willing to write about my life here. But what I can't believe is how much better my life could have been if it had not been full of secrets…And when you think you cannot tell someone something about yourself, ask yourself, "Really, why not?".
    As someone with lots of secrets (although none like yours) this really resonated with me at the time, and again today. Secrets are fear, and I’m really trying to eliminate them from my life, I’m glad you are too. “Get help” and “Be honest” are really just another way of saying ‘no more secrets’. Great post, thank you.

  2. Izzie
    Izzie says:

    Ha as a donkey owner I can relate…but I always wear protective equipment while mounting up. Our donkey doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do and most of them are that way as well. I loved the pic of her taking a pull on your dress. Our Willie does that with any article of clothing, lead ropes, halters on other horses, etc. He is hilarious. Yours is a very attractive young lady too :-) As for the horse, I agree with Tammy, as I too have a horse. Take riding lessons, get a knowledgable person to help you look for a horse to buy a well-schooled horse and read Pat Parelli or any other natural horsemanship info – all of it you can get your hands on. It makes a world of difference as to how you will handle that horse. Horses are not donkeys, nor cows. All those four-legged animals can be unpredictable, even some of the most well-behaved horses. They see things in many different ways we interpret as they do, except they remember bad experiences/locations and that has helped them exist for the past several hundred thousand years. I love the post…there are some days I just want to lie down too (but under my desk as work, pull up a blanket and turn it all off). YOur life is exciting to say the least! P.S. Donkeys love to have their faces stroked and their heads scratched, esp on their big cheeks :-)

  3. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    Apparently, Penelope doesn’t like my commenting on her blog, so she’s deleted all my comments. I guess that’s one way of dealing with dissent or contrarian opinions. Again, we’ll see how well she does damage control when the judge issues a bench warrant, and then sentences her to 60 days in jail for contempt of court.

    And since I’m not one of those who say “You’re wonderful!” and a member of her adoring public, I don’t get to comment. Sounds Maoesque or Stalinesque to me.

    • TwistedByKnaves
      TwistedByKnaves says:

      jrandom,

      OF COURSE you can comment, any way you want, within the bounds of the libel laws. On your blog.

      I know it’s annoying and frustrating when people choose not to listen to you: I’ve been shunned here myself as well. You can see why it was such an effective punishment in days gone by. We should form a club.

      All the same, you don’t really get to share a sentence with Stalin or Mao until you’ve killed AT LEAST ten million people by mismanagement or worse. Unless there’s something we don’t know (and I really don’t think she’s very good at secrets), I don’t see Penelope as being in that league.

      But what do I know?

      (Or care, now she’s back on song.)

      • jrandom42
        jrandom42 says:

        Stalin and Mao didn’t just kill millions of people, at least they didn’t start out with that. No, they made it possible by stifling and silencing dissent, as well as opinions, ideas and people that displeased them. And at that, Penelope seems to be doing just as well at.

      • TwistedByKnaves
        TwistedByKnaves says:

        jrandom

        By the time the Comrades had been in power as long as Princess Penelope, they were doing Very Bad Things to people they disagreed with. This is more like a mild New England village shunning, in the best American tradition.

        I’ll still talk to you, though. I think I’m a bit of a misfit here anyway.

  4. finance girl
    finance girl says:

    Hi Miss P, time to hire an attorney and accountant to help you with any issues like these that come up. They can be based in Madison, you don’t necessarily need one in Darlington.

    Also to help with the IRS stuff, you want this cleared up and they can help you with it.

  5. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    Time management is so important. Taking care DMV stuff by mail saves a lot of time and frustration. Or you could write a post called, "The Five People You Meet at the DMV."

  6. betty in munich
    betty in munich says:

    I read your blog as well as Pioneer Woman. Isn’t anyone else wondering how you and the Farmer dress on the farm vs. Marlboro Man & PW on their farm? Is it different farm dress codes in Oklahoma vs Wisconsin?

    Penelope & Farmer:
    P: rides donkey/hangs out on farm in sweet flower print dress, straw hat with flowing turquoise scarf, cute button up sweater.
    Farmer: works on farm in bright blue surfer shorts, tennis shoes with white socks pulled up to the ankle. Protects face/head from sun with a trekking hat tied in shoe string.

    I am no farm expert, but I am a pretty good rider and have hung out around horses enough to know that working on a farm is usually dirty sweaty work and one usually wears jeans and work or cowboy boots even in the heat of summer to protect legs from scratches, mud, filth, biting insects, kicking cows/horses/donkeys. Ditto with riding – you always wear sturdy jeans/riding pants and boots (unless posing on a horse for Wwimsuit Illustrated). Cute dresses and shorts, not so good for working in the stables or on the farm. As for the hats, I have only seen baseball caps or cowboy hats on a farm – unless it was an Amish farm. They have cool hats too….trekking hats and straw hats….not so much.

    Are you sure you are really living on a farm? ; )

  7. betty in munich
    betty in munich says:

    I read your blog as well as Pioneer Woman. Isn’t anyone else wondering how you and the Farmer dress on the farm vs. Marlboro Man & PW on their farm? Is it different farm dress codes in Oklahoma vs Wisconsin?

    Penelope & Farmer:
    P: rides donkey/hangs out on farm in sweet flower print dress, straw hat with flowing turquoise scarf, cute button up sweater.
    Farmer: works on farm in bright blue surfer shorts, tennis shoes with white socks pulled up to the ankle. Protects face/head from sun with a trekking hat tied in shoe string.

    I am no farm expert, but I am a pretty good rider and have hung out around horses enough to know that working on a farm is usually dirty sweaty work and one usually wears jeans and work or cowboy boots even in the heat of summer to protect legs from scratches, mud, filth, biting insects, kicking cows/horses/donkeys. Ditto with riding – you always wear sturdy jeans/riding pants and boots (unless posing on a horse for Swimsuit Illustrated). Cute dresses and shorts, not so good for working in the stables or on the farm. As for the hats, I have only seen baseball caps or cowboy hats on a farm – unless it was an Amish farm. They have cool hats too….trekking hats and straw hats….not so much.

    Are you sure you are really living on a farm? ; )

  8. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Can we talk about the donkey? She needs a friend, male or female. They aren’t solitary animals, they need one of their own kind. You don’t ride them. You talk to them, let them talk to you, teach you. They are sweet, often abused darlings.
    Can I suggest you check out a donkey shelter (not to surrender her to, but maybe you could foster one of theirs so she can have a friend). They will also give you advice on how to look after her. I’m not in the States, but google, and you’ll find the donkeys.

    Hope all the other stuff sorts itself out.

  9. Kathleen Kurke
    Kathleen Kurke says:

    Howdy, Penelope. I have a good friend born/raised in Oklahoma who often uses the phrase “bell cow”. After hearing her use it several times, I asked for clarification, having imagined that she was saying “belle cow”. Well, she was. Literally and figuratively. But, literally, the “bell cow” is the lead female on which the farmer bestows the “bell”. Figuratively, it’s the female cow that the others tend to follow. Perhaps your donkey needs a bell. Or, maybe, you? Cheerios, Kathleen

  10. bb
    bb says:

    I want to tell you that I absolutely, positively LOVE your refreshing, bare-bones honesty. THANK GOD for it, actually. You are wonderful, I love the pictures (more, more!) and I love your blogs.
    I’m a fan for as long as you write.

  11. Michael
    Michael says:

    Hello.

    I am Michael-the deputy sheriff. I just returned from training and was told that Penelope wrote about her experience during the summer. Darlington WI like most small towns is a good community. After all it is where Penelope met the “Farmer”. Yes, it is true small ton have quirks, but hen small group of people live out away from the mainstream, social fabric changes. People living together away from the mainstream of society like the security and remoteness. They deal with each other differently. As far as Penelope’s mishap with the law, Well let just say “life is a journey where we have the opportunity to learn”. In the end, maybe it the people we meet and the challenges we face that prepare us for our journey in the afterlife-what ever that maybe. What is really important is people and the experiences we share that make grow as people. The book “The Five people you meet in Heaven” is a brilliant way to illustrate my point. The book becomes it own personally journey for each of us. People in general see the world through their own projection, their own experiences, values, and beliefs. The lesson here was to face the problem, before it became a problem, however if we can’t do that- the get assistance as Penelope stated. Everything we experience or act upon affects another person whether we realize it or not. “Strangers are just family we have not come to know”. Thanks for the kind words Penelope, but I was just doing my job.

  12. Jordy
    Jordy says:

    My daughter has Aspergers and I can tell you it is no laughing matter. She is only 6 and its going to get worse. No sense of danger, no sense of right or wrong. Whatever is going on in the real world is a million miles away as far as she is concerned.

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