The answering machine blinked ominously. "Hey, little feller, we need to chat. Heh. Heh. Heh."
Just my luck. It was my friend Barney and he was clearly well in into cocktail hour. Barney has this screwy notion New Jersey is the world center of intellectual eminence and cultural superiority. He thinks New Mexico is still a stagecoach stop.
You never know what's on Barney's mind. I was quickly going to find out.
"Horse slaughter!" he barked into me ear, with nary a hello, how ya doin'? "Horse slaughter? Not a horse slaughter plant in the country, but we can always count on New Mexico to climb aboard if it involves blood and guts. Wild, wild west and all that stuff."
The best strategy with Barney in his cups is to let him run his string. Ice cubes clinked in his glass and I could tell he was shuffling papers. "Just listen to this!" he commanded. "Eighty per cent of people around the United States overwhelmingly oppose horse slaughter for human consumption, yet you folks want to put a horse slaughter plant in that town where the spacey people hang out."
"Whoa, slow down," I advised when he paused for a breath. "You're talking about Roswell, Barney, and spacey people don't hang out there. Space people visited there," I corrected. "Obviously advanced creatures, they would be buggy-eyed to learn earthlings chose their landing site for a horse slaughter plant."
"And, Barney, it might be helpful for you to check your facts before assuming all New Mexicans are backwards. For your information seven of 10 registered voters in New Mexico disapprove of allowing American horses to be slaughtered for human consumption."
I didn't dare let up for fear he had his second wind. "Before you pour your next refill, Barney, understand most of us believe horse slaughtering for any reason is ugly and unacceptable. Of all the possible answers to the problem of aging and sick horses, slaughter is at the very bottom."
"You talk big," Barney answered, "but the report I saw said the USDA is just days away from giving the plant a go-ahead."
The plant owner and his attorney are claiming that, I explained. The USDA has declined comment. We hope it doesn't happen. "There is a key issue blowing in the wind. Our country is not going to permit contaminated consumer-endangering meat to be shipped anywhere. And it's going to take a lot of our taxpayer dollars to set up proper controls," I said.
The administration budget for 2014 excludes money for horse slaughter plant inspectors and four of five New Mexico delegates are on board to fight such plants. They are Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with Representatives Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan. Rep. Steve Pearce is mum so far.
"You are big on spending cutbacks, Barney. Aren't you outraged the same government putting air traffic control people out of work would turn around and spend boo koo bucks on figuring out how to set standards for horse meat not one person in our country will ever eat?"
I have not known Barney to be a sensitive guy and was therefore surprised to realize my persuasive arguments had moved him to tears. That, or the vodka. "Barney, are you okay?"
"Yes (sniffle). I have been watching a movie."
"A movie? What movie!"
"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
Ned Cantwell is a syndicated New Mexico columnist. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.