Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Load of Bull

My cousin Fess was a cowboy in every sense of the word, and even Conway Twitty -- may he rest in peace -- who lamented, "don't call him a cowboy until you've seen him ride," would have agreed. His bull riding buddies were a breed apart, sculpted from the rock of our eastern Washington canyons, living their lives from one rodeo to the next.

One of his friends, Crazy Joe, I met at an overnight campout before the Winthrop Rodeo, where, to quote David Allan Coe, "the bikers stare at cowboys, who are laughing at the hippies, who are praying they get out of here alive." The town was a juxtaposition of Harleys and pickup trucks, "Mom" tattoos and oversized belt buckles. Crazy Joe was the quintessential bull rider, full of bravado and afraid of no man. Around the camp fire, he told the story of how he managed to evade the long arm of the law.

"The cop tells me to put my hands on the hood of the car and starts pattin' me down, so I bashed my fuckin' face like three times until I'm black and blue and blood is gushing from mouth and nose."

"Holy shit," I was stunned.

"Yeah, and the cop is yellin' at me to stop, and I'm yellin' stop hurtin' me, and people was drivin' by starin' and all."

"So he let you go?"

"Had no fuckin' choice."

Fess, sitting with me, laughed, "That's why they call him Crazy Joe."

Another of his friends, John, was a short and squat bulldog of a man, whose anger spit fumes like sauna rocks. Nobody ever said an unkind word to his face and walked away with theirs as originally arranged. He was a zen buddhist of attitude adjustment, and I've seen him back off men twice his size.

I saw a drunk once in the stands of another rodeo, popping off at everyone that walked by, spoiling for a fight. After a half hour of not finding any takers, he wandered back to where the bull riders were preparing, and started his flap with John. He stumbled back out of the chutes holding onto his nose like that little boy with his thumb in the dike.

All of Fess' friends had similar stories. But for all their grit and steel, they were the best people to be around, full of fun and good times, and as welcoming and considerate as you would please.

At this particular rodeo, Fess had finally convinced me to give it a crack. He was pleased with the bull that I had drawn. When my turn came to ride, the bull was fairly sedate in the chute. Fess coached me on what to do. I put a glove on my left hand, which had some kind of resin on it for grip. The bull had a loop at the base of it's neck through which I could barely slip my hand, and I feared that it would never come back out. The bull was furious but still, it's heaving breath sounded like a steam engine. Fess raised his right arm and slugged the bull in the nose, and the bull roared and tried to crawl out of the chute and nearly smashed me flat into the ceiling.

"What the fuck are you doing Fess?!"

"Getting him angry! He's too calm, you'll never score any points if he doesn't try to throw you."

Several cowboys jumped up and ushered him back down into the chute, but I was nearly spent. What courage I had mustered was quickly failing me, but I got back on.

What happened next might as well have been a dream. I nodded my head, which was the ready signal, but from behind myself, like I was a spectator at my own execution. The bull shot out and I fell off, simple as that. Fess took a picture and my long lanky body was already half way to the ground. The bull kicked up his back legs and landed in front of my chest by a few inches, then was ran off by rodeo clowns. Aside from the dirt sandwhich, I was fine, and feeling quite satisfied that I had tried.

But in neglect of conventional wisdom, I did not try try again.


jenbeauty said...

Holy crap that takes guts! You have lots of stories Scott, you are such an interesting man.

Thanks for sharing.

Beth said...

Oh my gosh, bull riding! I think you HAVE done it all. Jen's so right. You are extremely interesting.

Scott said...

I'll try anything once, or at least I would have when I didn't have kids. My motorcycle has been parked for five years, and my brother-in-law starts it up for me to keep it alive. Sniffing death is fun when nobody is at home waiting.

Mrs.T said...

OMG, I would never have done it. I've been to rodeo's, I wanted to throw up afterwards it made me so anxious.

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

WOW! What a great story! The characters you wrote about really came alive for me. Very nice.

Scott said...

Mrs T - Truth be told, my dad shamed me into it. I told him I would without thinking, then he got all prickly when I changed my mind, so I finally did it. But I didn't really want to...

Ms Joely - I try! Thanks for the critical praise. The people were just so colorful to begin with...

Diana said...

That was a great story, Scott! Loved all the details too and the characters were wonderful.

Scott said...

Thanks Diane, er, Edna. One of these days I'll have to hire you to make me a super suit,with no cape!

Dixie Belle said...

I just came across your blog via Diane's. You're a terrific writer. Love the little slices of life!