Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Beloved Rodeo Clown

Part 15 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

All hail the rodeo clown! Who doesn’t love the rodeo clown? Everyone goes to the rodeo for the excitement of the animals, the buckin’ broncos, the bulls humping their way around the ring, a cowboy astride his steed leaping through a ring akin to a fiery inferno, and the little dogies, on the run, going astray in the ring and needing the secure discipline of their ropes lashed together as quickly as possible.

Then there’s the possibility you might get lucky with one of the darling rodeo queens. I've always been pretty realistic, but once in a while one messes with you like she might mean business. When generally she doesn't, or it might even have been a guy behind you she was winking at. Then, continuing our survey, naturally there’s the delicious food, a little dogie patty fried to perfection on a bun. There’s your closeness to the earth when a stomping bull stirs up the dirt and you get a full snoot of it in your lungs, one of the rodeos’ biggest health-hazards but still kind of fun. And somewhere down the list of our favorite things, rounding out the list, are the clowns.

I personally do like the clowns more than dirt in my lungs, because I think I really might choke to death. And I know in my heart that there’s someone redeemable under that patchwork of makeup that never quite makes full sense. Why do they do it? It'd be interesting to try it myself, drinking all day and then being expected to do the delicate work of assuming an entire second face. You’ve already got multiple gut-wrenching complexes, it'd be very tough to fulfill too many other expectations. But you’ve already been suspended for “the last time” for fraternizing with the audience, even cozying up to them in line to the point of satisfaction with your eyes rolled back in your head. Of course you have challenges, who doesn’t? I’ve heard of priests who’ve strayed over the line, priests! And if they can be forgiven and get a hundred chances to make restitution -- sometimes so expensive it's an international incident -- who says rodeo clowns shouldn’t get 500!

Everyone — I know it’s arguable — goes into their field of work, their vineyard of endeavor, with the best intentions. Some of these string-pullers behind the scenes were calculating how many of such and such — let’s say cooks — will we need? After a while they get all the cooks they need, who periodically die of food poisoning and need to be replaced. So even though the number needed was temporarily attained, others need to aspire to cooking to replace the fallen. It’s similar with rodeo clowning. There may be plenty today, but if a few of them go totally loco and there’s a massacre, where are you going to find a thousand new rodeo clowns in a second? You can’t just snap your fingers, it doesn’t work that way. The pipeline always has to have applicants, those ready to step in on a moment’s notice to climb in a barrel and be bruited about the ring by a completely mad bull.

It’s grunt work to that point. But once the bull has been safely dispatched back to his pen, it becomes a moment of recognition, appreciation and love for the clown. He or she pulls a flower out, leans into it and smiles, as if to say, “I saved the day, ahhhh!” Another sees him extending the curtain call a little beyond its due and blasts a big gun, a bang and confetti is spewed everywhere, the clown’s way of saying — and this is their own particular language — “Let’s get back to work, you’re hogging the stage when there’s other worthwhile acts to come!” The audience roars with laughter.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Pleasant Romp With Killer Bull

Part 14 of 30
Mam & Pap's
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Picture yourself in those taut moments — filled with agony, ecstasy, and expectation, “I might die in the next minute. Forgive me for the sins of my youth, which everyone does." Get securely prone and a’straddle as best you can a bull whose back is six times your senior.

The seconds tick down before the gate springs and your thoughts are a mile a minute. “I had genuine sweaty-armpits fear of this animal when I first saw him, and it’s not much better now.” You mentally juggle fear and resolve, counting the seconds till you either get up alive or they whisk your lifeless body out of the area so as to not bring everyone down.

There’s an uneasy truce, at least in your mind, because it’s tough to negotiate with a proud bull from your somewhat-dominant edge of sitting on its back. If you could sum it up, it’d be, “I’ll go easy on you, Old Bull, because each one of us is the other’s bread and butter, so to speak.” Then you try the commiseration approach: “Someday we’ll be retired together, me in a room, you in a stall, each of our quarters adjacent and opening up to a playground for us to mosey lazily around, remembering the ‘Shows of ‘98’ and all the good old days. Remember our first time together, your loco wildness and my abject terror barely concealed?”

That thought is barely filed away before the door springs open and the bull bucks and kicks like he means business, dirty business. Which he has to because no one bucks like his life depends on it just for the hell of it. Then there’s the eyes, that intent glare of death. If it weren’t for the snarl of rope around his muzzle, he’d take a bite outta everything in sight. Firearms might make an unwelcome appearance, it being always necessary to maintain life and limb of the human performers and their watchers. Especially the crowd, because they can sue.

Right now, though, the crowd is into it, their thirst for blood barely concealed. They’re so into it that they loosen the purse strings of their collective humanity and are just hoping to see some action, riproaring stuff maybe involving the bull goring the man, taking out the clowns, who knows what all is possible? Destroying the county? “Just so these bleachers are able to protect me till I’m able to escape the grounds!”

Eight seconds of glory have passed and the rider waves his arm, “I’m OK, thank you for your thoughts and prayers...” The clowns roll a few bald tires around the lot, lulling the bull back to docility, which is how bulls naturally behave with mixed signals and scattered focus. Like la la land.

Friday, December 13, 2019

So We're All Wimps, Huh?

Part 13 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

When you’re in the rodeo you know you’re bad to the bone. Because taking to the back of any animal the size of a horse or bull — which goes double for any that are plain loco — you’re either corrupt where the rest of us are sensitive or brave where the rest of us are sensible. I don’t know how these guys get life insurance. If I sold life insurance for a livelihood I’d avoid rodeo folk!

But selling life insurance was never the path I took. And for sure it wasn’t the rodeo, although a little of both would’ve been profitable. If I sold myself a big policy, then went into the rodeo, my relatives would’ve cashed in big-time by now and they’d be especially thankful that I died so young. A big deal for me, just another statistic for the people that follow these things.

When it came to danger I was always a guy you could count out. Then as now I’d much rather sit on the sidelines and watch someone else risk his life than do it myself. Basically any “sport” I even thought of was too dangerous to try. The scrum of basketball in that tight little nucleus of guys battling for the ball, elbows flying, giving you another black-eye or being pounded from above on jumping for the ball. The deadliness of boxing, taking another walloping blow in the eye from a guy’s fist pummeling me and going down for the count. Or probably the worst sport, being high in the air strangling a guy or, worse, being strangled. Frightening graphic!

But when the professional rodeo performer surveys all that danger and violence, and then pronounces them losers or worse — shrinking violets, wilting daisies, or chicken livers — that takes a chunk out of your ego, I don’t care who you are or how used you are to a constant barrage of insults, put-downs, or smacks. For you’re in the presence of greatness, a macho man who sees no problem kicking you when you’re down. The kind of guy we all aspire to be without actually doing what it takes.

Still, and this is just my opinion, divinely inspired, I don’t care how tough you are, there’s something wrong about calling a gym full of kids a bunch of names, slurring them. Because, frankly, it’s beyond reason that everyone should aspire to the rodeo and thereby be left to a life of insults and taunts. Look at these kids. Does it look like they'd even have the basic competence to be in the rodeo? The kid strangling the other kid, maybe. He's got tenacity, with a bent toward doing anything to win.

Most of us actually are quite content to sit out rodeo-performing. But if you feel so invulnerable and have the sort of foolish daring-do that makes you crave danger, go for it. Put yourself in a position to be kicked to death! The rest of us, thank you very much, are comfortable with our decision to live a good long life, starting out as kids in normal sports, then dropping off when we’re in our late teens and living our lives in complete safety, with good enough memories of “safe” danger from when we were young.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Lincoln Declares Rodeos Good

Part 12 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

All roads, when you’ve taken one, finally, inevitably converge at Abraham Lincoln. That's the magic by which he became president. He'd had his hand in the game for 4 million years, when inevitability finally won out and bore fruit sometime between 1732 and 1865. Which went double for the rodeo, because if they had anything up the yin-yang in the old days it was magical happenstance, plus, different from us, a clamoring for horses and rodeos. Horses jockeying for position, jostling one another at the starting gate or just breathing freely on the avenue.

Look more closely and what do you see? A farmer brings cattle to town. The wife’s low on pin money. But with cattle you have confusion, always grubbing somewhere for something to chew and finally needing to be content with their cud. So cattle and horses were together on the street, with a cop trotting by. From his patrol horse he surveyed his domain, the great center of democracy, the poop-strewn streets of Washington, D.C.

The Great Emancipator himself held forth in the Oval Office, “Close the window, the wind is from the streets. And you,” turning to one of his most trusted grunts, “Smegma, get me the latest data from the patent office, is there any word on key patents toward the mass-manufacture of automobiles? The day we drive horses into extinction will be a proud day in the history of breathing.”

Of course I have only limited notes on what everyone said. And though I’m one of the country’s foremost historians, even I have never been interested enough to get down in the weeds of history and grovel for everything that’s ever happened or been said. If you ever try it you’ll find you’ve given up your own life — and to me the best invention aside the fully-tilted-back saddle has to be the easy chair.

But all was not rosy that day in Washington. I hate to throw in a sad note, but it was a truth the world had to face sooner or later. Lincoln’s own assassin — and I won’t dignify his name by looking it up and reciting it here — rode a horse. Which tells me something I never thought I’d share with any living thing, that in the ambiguous weeds of existence (horse or no horse) there’s a lot of evil mixed in with the supposed good. Yes, philosophers have always been familiar with the weird juxtaposition/play of good and evil — you can’t have one without the other — but it took by surprise even them, exactly what depths could be plumbed and how long someone was willing to do it to discover the whole hideous truth: If you think horses have ideals, it’s time to look for new opinions.

Yet, even against those odds, once rodeos got going it was mixed with anguish — weepers beating their breasts, crying out, “Why! Why!” Until finally they saw the light of day breaking through, which changed their tone: “An ambiguous evil can lead to an unambiguous good.” And on that principle — tangentially related by hook or crook to Abraham Lincoln — the modern rodeo was born and pronounced good.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Babyface, Rookie Greenhorn

Part 11 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

There was a guy who was a real greenhorn, if that word means what I think it means. A guy green around the gills, looking forever innocent, perpetually driven but more or less incompetent, perhaps also lacking aptitude, even basic sense, taken in with the rodeo and joining it, yet still doing some good along the way.

Like I say, this guy wasn't a quality star, or even one of the lesser lights in the universe, and you might say he was even less than a fizzling firecracker — not at all like the brightest star in Earth’s darkest night — but he still had a purpose. His purpose was to inspire others to be yearn to be rodeo stars, holding on to the very good chance that they would exceed him in ability. I still call him the Rookie Cowboy, never maturing to be any good, just forever maintaining his place, his purpose, and his surprisingly good looks.

“Hey, Babyface!” they’d call out to him after a painful spill. He’d grimace, get a snarl on his face, and seem to be cussing under his breath, hoping the pain would go away, and that they'd see only the smile on his face. Someone might say, “Oh, nursing some wounds, huh? Got bucked off again? Landed on your head? Be careful, you don’t want to lose your looks!” After a bit he’d brush it off and climb back on the animal again, so he had optimism.

Mam and Pap’s rodeo got a lot of good talent over the years inspired by the Rookie Cowboy's troubles, those who’d just turned 18 (let’s say for the sake of argument) and others who might’ve actually been 18 or over. With a hunger for the life of travel, the smell of animals digesting in the morning, afternoon, and evening, and heart-stopping competition, the kind of romantic daydreaming you read about in the cheaper rodeo magazines.

Pap told him, “Babyface, everyone starts out somewhere and everyone ends up the same place, on their ass. See those impressionable young guys in the stands? Most of them have just one purpose in life. Their path has led them to the rodeo, a life they’ll love like you.” And indeed it was so, the life of the rodeo, one of life’s choices that once you’re on the road you come to tolerate more or less as an OK thing. You get to see a lot of one-horse towns, and tent living’s not bad if it’s not raining and there’s not the slightest breeze. And as long as someone pays you, you tolerate it like any other job.

So Babyface was in the rodeo! Good for him. Even though he never made the record books, and we’re even considering the fact that rodeo record books are easily forged. But he did set a record of sorts for enticing a generation of young cowpokes to excel at clowning, ride the bucking broncs, bulls and other animals, and of course maintenance. If you run into him, ask him for a bubblegum cigar. He once did a lot of good with that friendly gesture, impressing younger fans everywhere he went.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Giddyup, The Night Off

Part 10 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

This was the night of nights — Oh yeah, one year like Valentine's Day on steroids— when the oom-pa-pa of the rodeo’s orchestra gave way to the sultry, sexy sounds of Jerry Vale, Matt Monro, and the sexy, sultry sounds of Sarah Vaughan, who taught us in her inimitable sultry, sexy way to love again. That night no crowd’s were poking around, the smell of popcorn was down to a leftover hint, and the ever-present grating cadence of the “Getyer program!” guy was mercifully stilled. How would we know the players without a program? We’d simply have to feeeeeel our way.

Was there a rose at your door or some other personal sign that you had reason to hope, to break into a smile? And on such a beautiful, perfect night, the kind of night the gods only rarely bestow, so out of character for them — February’s usually a bastard — and the gods are normally uncaring and unwilling to give us even the slightest thing. People say we have life and breath, shouldn’t that be enough? No, life and breath's an everyday occurrence and even cockroaches get the same benefit.

Really, what we should do is pull the curtain on the whole thing and never open it to prying eyes. I am so ready to pull the curtain down, don’t think I’m not, because the things that lovers share should be private. I was there that night and there's things about it I'll never confess, even if you tried to force it out of me. "O yeah, baby, that's it, the small of the back's my biggest erogenous zone." And there with the rodeo folk, I could hear a lot of the language of love: “Oh, you can be soooo mean to little ole me. You don’t like me very much, do you? Do you even like me a little bit? Oh yeah, a lot bit?, you dirty boy!”

You know what would be fun? I probably shouldn’t say. But wouldn't it be great if I would've posted on the bulletin board all the expressions of devotion I heard and promises of love eternal? And this would've been a crazier prank, holding some of those Romeos and Juliets responsible for their words and actions with a whole non-romantic blackmail scheme. I could use some extra coin.

Believe me, I knew the ones who were guilty as sin. But, no, anyone who’d do that would be drawn and quartered and fed to a bull. The rodeo always has a way of exacting justice. One obnoxious newbie a different year got an idea like that. And it didn't work out very well. He got a semi-proper burial but that was it. Then Pap suddenly declared “Rodeo holiday,” they pulled up stakes and pressed on.

Not very sexy. And crap, now I lost my buzz, shouldn’t have sabotaged the sexy, sultry mood of that night with my scheming. But, ooooo, what a night. Probably shouldn’t even say her name. Just a hint, she sells popcorn. And like popcorn, when heated up she can realllllly jump. As in "Yowsa, giddyup! This rodeo’s goin’ places!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Volcano The Bull

No. 9 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Somewhere I’ve heard it said, “What’s in a name? Rosy red lips would taste as sweet.” I think it was maybe something I said myself. It's certainly a truth that nails it, that battens down the hatches, with anything that hatches from here on out having to learn to fly on its own or it’ll sink like a stone, which in the long run we know it must.

Certainly a massive bull by any other name could be just as dangerous, but it took a particularly lethal name, Volcano, to start this bad bull out with a serious reputation, along with him having actually once destroyed a town. It sounds worse than it was because there are some very tiny towns, no joke. The town was incorporated by a family with a house and a bull. The bull became injured in a tender spot in its male anatomy. Then kicked the living daylights out of that house, hence, the town. And “lava-ed” all over the remains, making him … Volcano!

O boy, some of the stories from the Wild West are traumatic, but the family quickly rebuilt, then printed a line of postcards about Volcano that made the place extremely popular. It grew and grew until … Well, it’s still there. I believe you’ve heard of Wichita, Kansas? Who hasn’t heard of Wichita, Kansas? Even Glen Campbell went through there when he was stringing telephone lines. But back then it was just a one-bull town until Volcano destroyed it, then it was rebuilt by the love of a people with bitter memories who moved to the area much later than the original incident, adopting it as their own, forging their own way through the destruction and grief still felt to the core, finally creating a heritage that some believe still endures to this day.

Our bull in recent years, the one in Mam and Pap’s rodeo, was named after the original Volcano, although a lot of folks in Wichita -- still rattled from the destruction they never witnessed -- get the two mixed up. The reason is easy to understand, at least to those of us on the outside without a vested interest in conflating them: Bulls have a relatively short lifespan. And Wichita hasn’t been destroyed any other times than that once. And never by a different Volcano under different circumstances.

Anyway, Mam and Pap’s Volcano recalled those days and built on the legend, giving their Volcano a reputation that even in the years since his death he hasn’t been able to live down.  Towns on the circuit — as long as old men mutter legends and old witches nurse a grudge — say such things as “Volcano shall return!” It started as a kind of legendary longing for the old days when destruction was complete — a whole town destroyed — to become proverbial about the rodeo bull of the same name, that he would live up to his name, come what may, if people on the circuit didn’t come out to pay him tribute.

If I were living in that time, with superstitions up the yin-yang, I suppose I’d go out and pay money to see the rodeo, hopefully buying for myself insurance against my own cabin (or town) being destroyed. So far so good, knock on wood, praise the bull, I’m personally still living. Now I’m in a house that hasn’t yet been destroyed, and I’m in a town that will likely still be here tomorrow. But, praise Volcano, I'll never take anything for granted.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Rodeo Tail-Flip Beats Dinosaurs

Part 8 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

World records are a lot of fun. Of course they take various forms, the big huge official stuff, like when the first guy ran the 4-minute mile. Which is what a good laxative can do for you. Then the unofficial stuff no one thinks of, and maybe it never happens, like, say, the guy who wore his dentures the longest without taking them out. Someone had to! Just glad it wasn't my dad.

And that record could be beaten by now if we knew all the details. My dad had false teeth and put them in a container at night. So obviously he had no discipline when it came to world records, unless it would be the longest unbroken streak of putting them in a container every night. If he would’ve striven to keep them in his mouth the longest, that might've been something. But he didn't care. If you want the glory you gotta have the guts to put up with a little discomfort. In dad’s case, he was too crabby to try.

I’m probably the world-record holder in something without even knowing it. You can do dubious things and honorable things. For example, I keep my lawnmower in the dining room. I needed a place to keep it so it wouldn't be stolen and my dining room's pretty safe. But how would I find the current world's record? I could even actually push it room to room everyday, with lots of world records attainable. But it's not a great distinction. A bigger distinction would be “The longest a guy’s kept a lawn mower in the Big City without someone stealing it.” And I can’t brag about that because the thieves would show up.

Mam & Pap were always looking for unique aspects of the show to advertise to bring out sightseers to share the glory, but whenever it seemed they had something it turned out to be average. Finally, the perfect rarity jumped its way to immortality, a horse whose tail cleared an extraordinary 9+ feet, the highest such clearance reported since the time of the dinosaurs, which was the distant past. Way back before the Pilgrims, before the Model T, and predating Abraham Lincoln, incidentally my spirit animal, totally ancient compared to me.   

The tale of the tail is a great record, having been scrupulously documented, the documentation now lost. I heard some yammering naysayers were disputing Mam & Pap's claim. To which I say, Give me a break! Mam & Pap lived a good moral life. If they said something about their horse's tail, their word's good enough for me! These people were good as gold, and their word better. But because dinosaurs are no more, obviously there's no way we can show a dinosaur's pathetic vertical leap again. Think about it, though, a dinosaur tale weighed around a ton and a horse's tail is about 12 ounces. Which would be more likely to flip higher with a vertical jump?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Trouble With Swag

Part 7 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Forgive me if I’m a little clinical on this post. I’ve done some work over the years in the field of challenges and accomplishments, not so much with setting goals and fulfilling them but the personal ramifications of having accomplished the task. Primarily what it means in terms of pride, self-image, comparing yourself to others, and boasting.

So when I find evidence of Mam and Pap, and especially their underlings, puffed up with pride not only for what they’ve done in terms of the rodeo but the social markers of recognition for their several accomplishments — in this case, blue ribbons — I’m interested. I suppose most people who are recognized for an accomplishment can barely forego a moment of pride. What is more interesting are the ones who accumulate those tokens of recognition and see that as a greater accomplishment than the actual accomplishments themselves.

It’s one of those unconscious, subversive traps — depending on your psychology, no doubt, with parenting issues, whether you still peed your pants in your 40s, etc. — that so many of us, well-balanced and happy but not necessarily insightful as to what drives us individually, fall into. Of course it’s part of the Human Comedy, and I can be as ridiculous as the next guy, and for that reason alone it’s part of the fun. You go to someone’s house and they have bowling trophies over the course of a successful pursuit of the hobby over the decades. It’s hard not to think, “You poor deluded fool,” even while smiling two-faced, praising him for such a great game in 1965 with the evidence of the memorable victory still front row center.

Traveling rodeos of course are not a competitive thing in tournaments and contests that pass out trophies or ribbons. They’re a capitalistic enterprise that, beyond the normal interpersonal fun they have, are in it for the money. They get their money, and if they’re in management, they reinvest in the rodeo. If they’re employees they save a little, send a little to parents and kids. If they’ve crossed the line somewhere they pay off whomever’s on their case. And life goes on. But getting to the rodeo in a permanent capacity, most of the talent has gotten blue ribbons and other recognition. And to a lot of people that swag means something.

The fact that it has this whole fictitious side is what interests me. Because it’s hard to go back and contextualize the scene when you won the swag. Were you up against real talent or was it you and four halfwits? The records aren’t great on these things. You performed feats of strength. Was one of your competitors Superman? Or just a couple of PE dropout squirrels? You won honors in a cake-baking contest. How do we know you didn’t pay of the judges? So many questions, potentially meaningless.

In conclusion, your swag — be it blue ribbon, red ribbon, trophies, or a Billy Bass fish flopping back and forth on wooden plaque — ain’t worth squat. Like they say in the old religious classic, The Old Rugged Cross, “Till my trophies at last I lay down.” Or equally profound, Billy Bass himself, don’t hang him on the wall when he’s clearing saying, “Take me to the river, put me in the water.”

I’m submitting this post to an academic/humor blog site to see how it fares in the competition. (The biggest competition I get are guys still stuck on Polish jokes.) I promise that any swag I get I'll put on a fence post and let a friend with a high-powered rifle blow it to bits.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Lion Goes Berserk At Rodeo

Part 6 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

This one was supposed to be just something fun Mam and Pap put in the show once. Thinking they'd have a real distinction to be the only rodeo with a lion riding horseback. But instead for a while they were known for a tragedy. Unfortunately, the whole thing was a great disaster, and there may still be a few victims somewhere still waiting for settlements. The rudimentary sketch just before the mayhem show a lot of potential for a decent show, but lion/horse acts now seem doomed from the get-go.

In my opinion, and I see some of the trouble in the sketch, the horse was fairly afraid. And the way it is with animals — it’s the same with us — fear is contagious. The horse was afraid, the lion picked up the vibes, the horse became more afraid, the lion took on a bad vibe overload, and next thing you knew the lion leapt to the rafters of the rodeo tent. Swinging back and forth on the horizontal beam, he slipped into the stands. The panic of the crowd, while they should have remained calm, good advice always, was out of control. It’s a terrible thing to spook a lion. He went ballistic, his natural instincts being a predatory outlook when provoked, he took this very convenient opportunity to act out, and — please bow your head for a moment’s silence — several spectators were … unfortunately … lost… And a couple others got refunds.

Naturally, the horse was somewhat to blame for the mayhem, since when the lion leapt for the rafters he went straight up the horse’s neck, digging in for traction. Without featuring violence for violence’s sake — something I hate seeing in anything I read — a lion’s claws can do some serious damage and cause substantial grief in anyone or anything unfortunate enough to bear the brunt of one's earnest takeoff. Remember, a lion’s nothing but an overgrown cat, and like cats at home, they can rip your couch to shreds without even trying. The house cat, though, is quiet, unlike this roaring lion and the cry of dereliction from the horse in its terrible agony. I wouldn’t have wished that on my worst enemy, if there was ever a horse I considered an enemy.

Once in the rafters — again, the lion being an overgrown cat, really good for nothing but living in the forest — he was at a dead end and leapt for the side of the tent, completely out of desperation. His claws hooked in the cloth firmly, but with his weight he went right down the side, ending up with a rift in the tent from top to bottom. Screaming people fled through the hole. The lion, having freed itself from the cloth entanglement, fell the last 20 feet and crushed a young family who’d unfortunately faced some bad times just recently — little Ted’s pet mouse, a school project, had died, earning Ted a trip to the rodeo as payback.

Those with any sense — most lacked the sense not to scream during the onslaught of an injured lion — dove into the animals’ water tank. One guy — damn the luck — allergic to water immediately perished. Which you’d think he would’ve thought of before diving in. They later found a tag around his neck telling of his allergy, and advising, “If it’s raining, get me inside.”

Our hearts go out to him. Because when it rains, it pours. In a very real sense Tragedy and Violence mated that night and bore Death. Pap put it in his journal, underlining a rule that they adhered to for years after: “Do not allow lions within a country mile. They’re nothin’ but god-derned trouble.”

NOTE: No animals were injured or killed in the retelling of this fictional event.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Rodeo Adopts Wild Horses

Part 5 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Those who know me well know I’m something of a “whisperer.” Not that I’m really well-known for being quiet, but my normal way isn’t to bang a lot of pans and shoot guns in any unwelcome sense. No, when I’m on my way somewhere, I mind my business and get there in a subtle way, nothing announced. They look up, there I am, and it's a total surprise. “What the—? Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

Most of my “whispering” has been directed at my various dogs over the years. Telling them by pats and strokes and affectionate words and actions that they’re great and they and I are simpatico. I have, though, been afraid of animals like wild bulls, and so have taken precautions to avoid them. My dear old dad, often gored by bulls as a kid, told me if you ever walked in a field with a wild bull and showed even the smallest piece of red cloth, you’d be a goner. So being a person naturally inclined to a cautious demeanor, not only did I leave all red cloth at home, I avoided fields with bulls.

It's an interesting sacrifice, too, because I'm fairly drawn to red cloth. But you never know when a bull might show up.

Wild horses of course are not bulls, but six-of-one, who knows, maybe they don’t know what they are. They’re wild for a reason, and wildness carries consequences, and consequences can’t always be expected to be positive. In short, I’ve also kept a healthy distance from wild horses. And everything, really, I'm insulated. One of my biggest fears is that freaking out wild animals and finding myself dead or badly mauled enough to wish I were. That’s a low point in anyone’s life, prefering death to being badly mauled.

But anyway, I’ve sought out the experiences of those brave enough (foolhardy souls) to be animal whisperers. The rodeo gets some of these sensitive souls, and it helps them fill in the slate of performers on the cheap. For every wild horse you take in and no one’s mauled, it’s a boon to the show. Enough procurements like that and Christmas bonuses can go to every employee, so it’s win-win.

I’ve talked about this subject over the years with friends, and it seems like people are increasingly of the idea that wild horses prefer being wild. Which isn’t indisputable, naturally, since it’s tough to know 100% what horses think. But to me it looks like a horse is a horse and if it gets an occasional sugarcube it’s pretty well content no matter what the other circumstances are. My cousin had a horse that was hard to catch, but once you caught it it was content to be with you. Just don’t let it work up a gallop downhill and buck you off; that was it’s breaking point. Probably should've tried sugar.

Long live the rodeo horse, wherever they come from. May they give joy to cattle, clowns, and crowds. And as well receive whatever joy they would seem adequate for their psychological needs.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

What Is A Horse?

Part 4 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

What is a horse? Sounds like a silly question. Since we know it's a big-nosed creature, simple to summarize. But it's like when we ask, What is a girl? And the answer is, unpredictably, sugar and spice and everything nice. Or a boy? Snakes and snails and puppy-dog tails. I heard that all my life as a kid and didn’t get it at all. It still doesn’t make much sense, like a secret code grandmas use with aunts and sisters to size us up. They’d be laughing and nodding, everything short of a high five. As if to say "This one's definitely a snail." Now I’m an adult myself and, like horses, deathly afraid of snakes.

An answer about what a horse is, like the boy and girl, could be something about the horse’s demeanor or interests. So a horse could be saddles and reins and equestrian brains. Or paths and trails and giddy-up wails. They are mostly known for being ridden hard in cowboy movies, or more leisurely down pleasant trails at a ranch, and of course rodeos. I used to go to trail ranches and the horses were so used to running back to the barn for a treat that they were sluggish going out and frisky going in. I nearly lost my life to a couple treat-happy horses taking the quick shortcut under low branches. And me, a paying guest sitting on their back...

For the western movie or rodeo the horse is the mode of transportation for going everywhere. You see some of those westerns and you have to think that we never would've made it trying to get across country on horseback or pulled. When I used to see movies of people in the stagecoach it never once looked like a good thing. But movies were plot-driven, so someone was always getting robbed, killed, or captured. And I wouldn’t want to be at the mercy of a horse walking a mountain path, although they at least have an interest in preserving their own lives while a car will purposely wreck if you don’t steer them right.

But what is the horse? Here I put my hand on my heart and look longingly into the paradise of the sky with profound thought. "A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and that’s all it ever shall be, of course.You can steer one east or west, or veer it back with force. When it completes its run it’ll be the same old horse. Or go to the north where live the brave Norse, they’ll stand and hold forth on the glory of their horse. Sometimes named Hrimfaxi."

In summation, horses that are lucky take the fast track to the rodeo, stay there performing, and enjoy the happiness of pleasing crowds the rest of their extremely-fulfilled lives.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Rodeos Still Rank #1

Part 3 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

All the worry we have with “Who’s Number 1?” and “Our team’s better than others!” is the Number 1 thing I hate. But you hear it everyday, so obviously people are totally into it. It’s really a case where one of two things has to be true: 1) Their pride’s run amok and needs to be channeled into an actual personal accomplishment, maybe basket weaving; 2) They don’t have any pride worthy of the name, making them cast about for something, anything to give themselves worth. The fact that they we tend to settle on teams geographically close to us shows that most of it's arbitrary.

I’ll just say that and move on. I dished the sociology on a roomful of guys once during the big game and they also arbitrarily grabbed me out of an entire crowd of people and had me dangling from a hook in the coat closet well past halftime. I don’t think it was compassion that got me rescued either but the nuisance I made due to my predicament. For even a wounded animal will loudly sound the alarm as long as it’s physically able, animals having the instinct to live. Once that instinct gives way they're prepared to die. Then there’s us with caffeine pills.

So when it comes to basketball (ball through hoop, ho-hum) or tennis (back and forth ad nauseam) or baseball (endless standing around) or football (a series of penalties with scant seconds of game play), these aren’t sports, they’re steps toward sports but can’t get out of their own way. The only true sport — also setting aside bowling for argument's sake — is the rodeo. I say that with gladness, because it indeed is great. And with sadness, because by now you’d think we'd come up with something else, anything, approaching it.

Naturally, I like to keep my posts positive, no knocking of others for mere knocking’s sake, and drive home the whole point in its full truthfulness, that everything else sucks bags compared to the only sport worthy of the name — any name! — and that’s rodeo.

Along with the greatness of the sport, there’s a whole culture as well, also worthy of the name. They carve out a place for everyone. You can show up at the rodeo and sit there with the cowboys, but try to stay out of their way so as not to interfere with the enjoyment of others. If Tex Smith over here has given you his autograph, please don’t be badgering him and the others for autographs for your dad, your Cousin Lou, or in memory of your deceased grandma as a thing to donate to the Salvation Army for auctioning off in the Christmas raffle. You might mean well but you’re completely in the way.

So stand back, smothering fan, and let the sport of rodeo breeeeeathe. If you’re so close and obsessive like that, can you not see that you’re killing the very thing you’re so excited about? If you’re that far-gone — over the moon in la la land or kookyville — we’d much rather you found a home in one of the inferior sports. Be a nuisance for football. The clock’s usually stopped so they have plenty of time to waste.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Mam & Pap Get Together

Part 2 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

I made the point yesterday that the famous Mam & Pap of the rodeo passed on a number of years ago. Mostly because they were born quite a while ago and it’s just in the nature of rodeos that if they’ve still got their actual founders in charge they’re relatively young as an outfit. I’ve had many foolish wishes that life could go on forever — I wish, I wish, I wish — but realistically there’s a terminal point for everyone.

Of course the heroes we have growing up, it's easy to picture them still out there somewhere. Even if they're not over the next hill, they're in our hearts. And we have some comfort in the idea that life goes on, tempered only by the realization that if it does it’s in some dimension that's not exactly what we'd want, but still better than nothing. The giants pass and we deal with it the best we can.

But death doesn’t stand in the way of the greatness of their lives. We have our memories, and if they’re supplemented by some fantasy and complementing embellishment as to their qualities, their stature, and their accomplishments, that’s also a good side of eternal life. I want to touch on these two heroic lives and I’ll try to keep it “down to earth.”

What can you say about Pap without losing your breath? They always said he was a worthless piss-ant that’d never amount to squat. I say that through tears of love. I myself have been called a worthless piss-ant and that’s my cross to bear. But Pap did something about it. His own Pap was a worthless piss-ant who never did one good thing but plant the seed for his son Pap. The son Pap then picked up the opportunities that came his way. He dropped out of school on the first day and set about making his way in the world at the age of 5. He picked up what he needed to know. And sneaked into movies to learn the rest, including the influential film, “Rodeo Roy, The Five-Year Old Piss-Ant That Made Good.”

But it wasn’t immediate for Pap and the rodeo. He also saw the film “Hucklebuck The Farmer.” With Pap’s natural talent to get an idea and accomplish it in the next five minutes, he started with a single row of radishes next to the house and advanced swiftly to become a titan of farming. He once owned the entire state of Kansas, then later parceled it out to homesteaders down on their luck. Mam also came up the hard way, like Moses. But instead of ruling Egypt she became involved with elephants, having removed a painful splinter from an elephant’s trunk. Because elephants never forget … to make a long story short, she was recognized as the ruler of the entire elephant circuit. And anyone that lucky was bound to find Pap. They made their home together.

At that point it wasn’t a hop, skip, or jump for them to say, “Hey, let’s do something! Let's trade it all in on our own rodeo!” And so it was, followed by people coming by train, plane, automobile, or rickshaw, and even sometimes horseback, making their way en masse to Mam & Pap’s rodeo, like refugees seeking their own homeland in a strange world suddenly compassionate toward immigrants. Mam and Pap gave succor to all, and that’s a standard they personally guaranteed in their great run with the rodeo!

(Without getting into the thicket of issues, we do not endorse the corporate version of the show today.)