IF I COULD
READ, I'D READ THE SAN JUAN HORSESHOE
(From an article written in 1992)
Some say it's an institution. Some say its
publisher should be institutionalized
General Kashmir Horseshoe, also known as Kevin J. Haley, is
the publisher of a unique newspaper called the San Juan Horseshoe, the
most sought-after paper in the western hemisphere.
"I use it to line the
hamster's cage," says New England subscriber Edward Millette. "But if I could
read, it would be the only paper I'd use to line the hamster's cage."
"Hamsters like to read, too," says Haley. "And horses. My copy editor is a
Haley and the San Juan Horseshoe seem
normal enough on the surface, yet listening to Haley for thirty-five seconds or
perusing the Horseshoe for a few minutes makes one realize the world
never does make sense.
Unlike supermarket tabloids, the
Horseshoe has the grace and air of a legitimate newspaper; there are no
stories of two-headed grandmothers giving birth to presidential candidates, nor
do the advertisements grope toward the baser side of humanity. The cover often
features artwork by well-known or dead artists and illustrators. The news
stories are current, presented in Wall Street Journal fashion, with one
small difference: there's a clown in the business suit.
Horseshoe is news parody, political satire, whimsy, badinage; everything
from goofball slapstick to twisted black humor with the appearance of real
news. It's the stuff reporters dream about committing; the stuff editors fear
may slip past them on a bad day and turn up on the front page. When taken in by
the Mark Twainian news in the Horseshoe, one can only laugh at
"The Horseshoe is one big long joke," says Terry Starr
of Starr Real Estate, Ltd. in the ski resort of Telluride, Colorado. "A joke
that's been running forever. I find that phenomenal. A lot of real newspapers
don't last this long and, here, Kevin makes up all the news and people keep
reading this thing. To me, that's incredible."
Haley began inventing the
news in June 1977 at Ridgway, Colorado. Having worked for major newspapers
across the country, he was tired of the rat-eat-dog scene. With Mark Twain and
Oscar Wilde as his heroes, a parody newspaper was only natural.
first issue was a terrible job," Haley admits. "The perfect example of somebody
who went to four years of journalism school. I didn't even know how to lay it
From a larval single sheet to a full-blown monthly tabloid, the
San Juan Horseshoe's circulation went beyond 9,000 before Haley figured
out what he was doing. The paper now has subscribers across the US and Canada.
Although Haley claims producing the Horseshoe is "more play than
work," he is "dead serious about writing humor. It's a trade. You aren't born
with it. You have to learn it like any other trade. And if you do it long
enough, you might get it right."
In Haley's case, writing humor seems
more genetic than learned. Born in 1949 in Dayton, Ohio to parents who were
professional writers, he is the product of an Irish-American culture where
humor is more necessary for redemption than faith. "The town produced Erma
Bombeck, Phil Donahue and me," he says, as if they belonged to the same family,
and quickly points out that his grandmother babysat Donahue. Donahue's face
grins from Haley's photo album.
"In the Irish Catholic culture I grew
up in, being a professional writer was a high level to ascend to. So I
graduated from sixth grade, joined the merchant marine and learned how to write
Actually he graduated from college at Bowling Green, Ohio
and never really learned how to write at all, he says. The success of the
Horseshoe is due to his devilishly cunning art of selling advertising
space. Well, perhaps his twisted wit and delightful storytelling have some
"I find the supermarket tabloids incredibly creative," Haley
says. "They're absurd! But they use the same basic formula every time around:
it's diet, somebody's breasts, somebody's affairs, UFO's, Elvis's ghost. What's
sad is people believe that stuff. People don't believe what's in the
Horseshoe one or two do maybe, but they're already so far lost it
Who could believe headlines
such as, "Division of Wildlife Operative Loses 18 Elk in Poker Game," or "Dog
Hair Prevents Publication," or "Vatican Launches Nuclear Warhead"?
a lot of fun picking on politicians," says Haley. "So many of them have no more
business running this country than my dog has. And she's really pretty
Although Haley solicits articles from a few known and
"semi-known" authors, most of the Horseshoe is written by Haley under
assumed names, such as Suzie Compost, Mel Tool, and Fred Zeppelin. He has
created a separate and distinct character for each name, complete with odd
mannerisms and accents when they sneak into an interview.
"I like having
alternate personalities," he says. "They allow me to write in different styles
you can get away with a lot more that way."
Regular columns in
the Horseshoe include "Rock Soup," an outrageous satire of want ad
pages, "Ann Slanders," a spoof on advice columnists, "The Pea Green Answer
Man," which occasionally makes good sense, and "Letters to the
Inspiration for this poppycock seeps out of
the pores of every day living... and creeps out of the pockets of the
advertisers who merrily pay Haley month after month for space in a newspaper
that makes as much sense as putting Pampers on a parakeet.
is the key thing, of course," Haley grins, "when you want to feed kids and
animals and live in a house."
Haley personally solicits advertisers
because selling is "like a hobby" to him. Put simply, he loves it.
fortunate in that I don't really have to work at it," he says. "Most of my
advertisers are a slam. They're really funny. I like playing around with ad
ideas for them."
Unlike the advertisers in those supermarket tabloids,
promising lush heads of hair or instant virility, the Horseshoe's
advertisers are legitimate businesses, from glitzy ski resorts to hardware
stores. Many give Haley free rein. Some, like Pat Williams, owner of the
Norwood Market, have been surprised by their own ads.
Terry Starr of
Telluride says he looks "forward to Kevin coming up here to talk about the ads.
Sometimes there's a pack of serious clients in the office and Kevin comes in
and changes the atmosphere. I've been advertising with him for
"A humorous ad is remembered long after the ordinary or mundane
ads are forgotten," says Starr. "I've had response from the East and West
coasts on these ads and East and West coast realtors have told me they've
imitated them in their area newspapers. Advertising in the Horseshoe is
simply sound business."
Jack Scoggin, 66, owner of the Ridgway, Colorado
True Value Hardware agrees. Yet he confesses to a different reason for
advertising in the Horseshoe. "I advertize in it 'cause I like only
crazy people," says the wiry old cowboy. "I've been advertising in it since
The Horseshoe began in 1977, he is reminded.
paid extra till '77," he replies.
"You couldn't do a paper like this
just anywhere," Haley says. "A place like New York is too serious and Nebraska
is too generic. People in western Colorado don't mind if you laugh at them.
They laugh at themselves."
Apparently people are laughing at themselves
across the country since out of state fan mail and subscriptions keep pouring
into the Horseshoe. One man wrote, "You give me hope for the
Horseshoe readers crawl in from every crevice of life.
The young, the old, the professional, the homeless aren't embarrassed to be
seen beneath a copy. Although Haley admits there are a few closet
"Journalism majors at Western State College (Gunnison,
Colorado) are afraid to tell their professors that they read it," he
These are the young women who hide behind haystacks at the
Gunnison airport, chortling over Haley's copyright warning: "No reproduction
without written approval of publisher or his children. If you're desperate
enough to steal from us, maybe you should give up trying to be a writer and get
These are the young men who crouch in dim corners,
snickering at the paper that slips small print phrases in its masthead, such
as, "We are no longer in the religious persecution business," "All the news
what's Pit to Frint," "Now with 20% more vowels," and "Refried News" from
The Refried News from Mañana has some
sort of Irish magic in it, some sort of solace, some sort of redemption, some
sort of laxative for a world that doesn't eat enough fiber. Fans sport
Horseshoe bumper stickers, T-shirts and Kevin Haley's face (slightly
used for $1.73) as testimony to the joy the paper brings
Reading Hour at the True Grit in
Yet the greatest testimony is the
monthly "Reading Hour" at the True Grit Cafe in Ridgway, where the
Horseshoe began. Everyone in Ridgway from old timers to misplaced
Hollywood actors gathers at the cafe in anticipation of the
The quaint cafe, famous for its giant
burritos and named for the John Wayne movie filmed here, is standing-room only
at Reading Hour. Everyone snatches up a fresh issue of the Horseshoe,
attempting to decide which end is up.
"It's a bright light when it comes
in," says Milt Jones, an impish rustic who gazes with great admiration at
With his battered cowboy hat pushed back on his head, Jack
Scoggin echoes the sentiment, adding, "Kevin is a pretty good fella for a damn
Others unabashedly leap a step further than Scoggin, claiming
Kevin Haley has saved their lives when the world seemed doomed. Believing humor
is the salvation of the human race, some readers, like Terry Starr in
Telluride, are ready to canonize the publisher-journalist-environmental
Haley seems embarrassed. He slips into the
shadows while papers rustle and Tern Felde, owner of the True Grit
[Editor's note 2005: the True Grit is now
under different ownership], reads the Horseshoe aloud to her
customers. Roars of laughter shake the walls. Snorts and guffaws bound to the
ceiling and rattle the windows of actor Dennis Weaver's "recycled" house a few
miles away. For a moment there are no wars or fears or tears in the world and
the earth is green.
When Reading Hour is over and Ridgway is quieter but
happier, patrons leave the True Grit one by one, smiling to themselves. Many
appear to have in common a bumper sticker on their cars and pick-ups, but the
stickers are difficult to decipher at first they are all upside
"If I could read," they proclaim, "I'd read the San Juan