Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year, Death To My Enemies

“May old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind...” We sang it last night at the local ball, a gala affair. I shouted at the top of my lungs for a "Happy New Year!" to my old community, town, and burg. Even though, let’s be honest, what've they done for me? But it’s the holidays! And if Christmas this year taught me anything, thanks to a rare movie I saw, it's good to live right, God bless us everyone.

That said, I frankly wouldn’t mind if a few of my acquaintances could be forgot, with the extra bonus of being never brought to mind. Yeah, that’s the ticket, I could use that for a New Year's gift! Perfect for the bastards ... and a few beyoches thrown in the mix. That's women’s progress, right? Having them right in there with the bastards, making my life miserable to the best of their ability. They may be ham-handed morons at everything else life throws their way, but they're experts at being bastards, real pros! No one's gotta lend a hand, they got it!

But it’s tough to open the New Year on a down note, although, frankly, this morning I’m high as a kite. I had a few good dances last night. There was this one young chick, wow, young, must have been 19-20 — I didn’t card her, that’s the doorman's job. And here I am, nearly 67 (but I could pass for 64), dancing with this little filly. Ha ha! Like dying and going to a particularly decent section of heaven, where everything’s blue and the Lord hasn’t gotten around to censoring it. Slow Lord there.

Anyway, she’d had a little too much to drink, thankfully, and I was stone sober like always. And I’m not saying she exactly went overboard with the close dancing — I’d never make that complaint — I'm just glad her dad wasn’t there to take her home. Nothing much happened, I hope you understand, I’m just hoping she doesn’t name it after me! No, no, of course I kid, although, you know, as much drinking as everyone else was doing, and me with my ginger ale, I probably could’ve skipped the country and no one would’ve been the wiser. Also, I always show up blurry on video evidence, don’t know why.

Getting back to the old acquaintances, the bastards, my enemies. There were a few bullies bullying me when I came in, “Hey, old man, past your bedtime!” “Does 'The Home' have a bus outside? We’ll have some blue-haired chicks next!” And one guy bumped into me in the hat room and I dropped my keys. But a helpful angel to my right picked them up and gave them to me. I thought, God, the abuse here is atrocious!

Closer to the serving table, it was more of the same. Friendly jostling for the most part, but there’s always a few in the crowd that look at me like I’m dirt. This one drunk bastard singled me out and was calling me Seabiscuit. I guess the same as saying I’m a horse. And if I’m a horse, perhaps a horse’s ass. I’m not completely sure, but it sounded like a slur.” Make way for Seabiscuit!” He bellowed louder than he had to. The chandeliers, which my mother would’ve loved, were shaking. I thought, I’d love to squash you under my hoof, you blankety blank bastard!”

Then the next thing, one of these evil SOBs suddenly had my car keys again! It was a pickpocket job, just to get my goat. As luck would have it — HIS — he was about two foot taller than me. And his equally asinine friends were nearly the same height. And they were throwing my keys back and forth, with me looking like a complete dweeb jumping in the middle. This went on for a couple minutes, very humiliating. Finally, one guy wasn’t expecting the keys to come to him. He raised a glass to sip another alcoholic beverage, when the keys were flung. He missed and they went by his feet. I grabbed them and crawled through the legs of several other people, bit the actual thief hard on the kneecap, then didn’t come up till I'd crawled to the chips and dip table.

I brushed off my knees and had a few chips. The dip was delicious, sort of like the way one of my aunts used to make it, very good. If only she’d been there. Kids used to say she wore army boots. And even though I never saw them, if she’d been there, she could’ve kicked these guys to the next county.

Happy New Year to everyone else who is good. But Death — temporal and eternal — to the various mofos there are in the world that hate me, Exhibit A being those guys and some of the other troublemakers, as well as the usual everyday people who hate my guts.

Monday, December 30, 2019

We Yearned For Mam & Pap

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

It was rumored that the last season was the last season for the Mam & Pap show, but no one knew for sure. Since hope springs eternal, we kept our fingers crossed. It had happened before. We'd think it was all over, then there'd be a last minute miracle and everything was back on. Your blood pressure went up, then back down, it was the unforgiving back and forth of life come to getcha. I remember holding my breath, but finally against my will had to let it out.

Under those circumstances, what can you do, but just step back and quit worrying about it? Because sometime has to be the last time for most things. At least in your own life. I’ve always accepted that. Like when I graduated from school. I wasn’t the least bit hesitant to let it go, but eager. Now of course, all these years later, I think, What was the hurry? I should’ve done my level best. I certainly should’ve done better in my senior level History of Rodeos class. Who knew more? But I was relatively dumb then, still sounding out the questions as well as I could. And I even had the practical experience of traveling a season and a half with Mam and Pap...

It might've been better for me, had it been an option, if I could've dropped out of school all together and traveled with them full-time. That would have been the real-life experience I was craving instead of the more ethereal high-flown stuff of school, the different types of lizards in biology, the beginning and end of wars in history, and who was sleeping with who, the walls in the boys' bathroom. With the rodeo it would’ve been me, a kid, and a bunch of crazy adults. I could’ve crept up to the tents and learned all I needed, biology, multiplication. Or just following Pap to bank after bank begging loans for payroll would’ve taught me many lessons.

Mam certainly taught me the value of a gentle spirit. And remember, she started out as “The Ruler of the Elephant Circuit!” That's some big shoes to fill or scrape off. Mam literally had elephants eating peanuts out of her hand. Which takes nerves of steel as well as trust in your fellow animal to stand there with an elephant munching away. Just look at an elephant sometime! Their eyes are so far from their mouth that with a trunk in the way they’re liable to bite your fingers off! Or worse, take your whole hand!

As it turned out, of course, my parents (killjoys) wanted me to stay in school. Which back then, like it or not, was their decision. Us kids had no rights. They ran their ideas up the flagpole, I had no choice but to salute. So to this day I don’t consider myself that patriotic. I take a knee around all flags. Including foreign flags, rival school pennants, and window decals. I’ve worn out so many pairs of pants I need a cheaper way to protest the many things I hate. By the way, I also hate alarm clocks and any traveling rodeo shows run by snakes. If only they were all as honest as Mam and Pap, that’d be heaven on earth.

Mam and Pap were easily among the dearest to me on this terrestrial sod, and certainly in the history of the traveling rodeo. It would've been a fitting tribute if they'd saved the ashes of their old animal friends as they passed, then had their own mixed with them. I bet they never thought of it. People are so worried about other stuff when they're alive. And it's probably too late to worry about it now.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Pullin' Up Stakes

Part 29 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Saying goodbye's always one of the toughest things when it comes to a traveling rodeo/wild-west show. Some of the cowpokes have found new girlfriends and just got settled in when it's time to leave. But it affects everyone. It’s like saying goodbye to a loved one, like your dad when he goes into the service and has to report at such-and-such hours on a particular day. You’re afraid you might never see him again, which happened just like that in some of our more deadly wars.

Plus, rodeo folk are very emotional, going from place to place like that, never having a permanent spot to call home. They get used to the fans and especially the ones who are real autograph-hounds; they love that kind of devotion, which should probably reach across a lot of different occupations but always seems to center on the personalities performing in a big show, a major production.

But the calendar, while wide open on the days ahead, is very finite when it comes to particular spans. If you’re in a place two weeks, those days are frittered away before long and finally complete. It hardly pays to unpack because as soon as you do you’re packing again. Life calls us, though, everyone of us, to a bumpy ride of today, tomorrows, and the days of the far-flung future. What we’re doing today will soon be over and another span of time will open up, its vistas barely known, at least in their fullness. Getting fairly emotional here.

I remember way back, that’s the way it was with the traveling rodeos and carnivals, what have you, when I was little. And gypsies, which there were plenty of back then. What ever happened to the gypsies? I don’t know. They were very social people, so it could’ve been that one fell in a hole and the others were obliged to follow. I don't want to be spreading rumors, and I hope there’s no truth to that, but my mother really believed it, or maybe she just wanted to discourage me from ever being one. Whatever she thought, though, I kept to the straight and narrow, maintaining the path without fail.

Rodeo folk are folk just like us, though. And it’s easy to imagine that they’d like to have a piece of God’s sod that is theirs alone, a place to bed down at night and a place to wake up and see the same patch of sky everyday. There really is something about seeing the same patch of sky everyday, although I guess it’s not for everyone. Maybe for some of the more sentimental rodeo performers (and management), whereas any who are hardened or just have a tougher, more unsentimental bent it’d be different.

I remember waving goodbye as a kid to the traveling rodeo. We stayed almost till the bitter end, then I'd feel like I was going to cry and embarrass myself if I stayed another minute. So over the hill I went, then crept back a little bit later and they were gone. It was sentimental and they were fine folks, don‘t get me wrong, but they vanished so fast there wasn’t so much as a goodbye.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Rodeos Seeking New Talent

Part 28 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Everyone of us from time to time is faced with what will be our occupation, our work in the world, what we’ll occupy ourselves with, or what work we might be called upon to do. Maybe our first job. Maybe our second, third, and so on. Say we get fired a lot, we need something else. Because work is a task that has to be done. And as a task it’s never good — ideally — to leave it to someone else who’s simply going to screw it up. I still insist it’s true, If you want it done right, do it yourself.

The rodeo’s no different. And I’m trying really hard here not to be vain, apparently self-sufficient, the center of the universe when it comes to doing things in the best, most appropriate way. But if you’re like me, it’s likely that the rodeo could be your ideal path. If so, as we say in the horse line, Giddyup. Climb aboard, mount that thang, there could very well be a horse in your future and it’s not going to break itself. You’ll be with it to nurture it along. It’ll whinny when it sees you, and that's a heartwarming start to a rich, full lifetime together.

You’ve probably already heard counselors telling you to widen your perspective on occupations. ‘Don’t lock yourself into something so narrow that there’s not a steady demand for your skills.’ It’s my opinion that a lot of this nervous-nelly hand-wringing and sobbing is perfectly true. Say you had the option of going into medicine, being a doctor. As long as man gets sick, he’ll always need a doctor to help him get better; that’s the argument. But remember what we said about widening your perspective? Because it really could happen that someone will invent a single pill that immediately cures every ailment, from the common cold all the way up to broken bones, Italian breath, dog breath, and rickets. Then where will you be? On the scrapheap of destiny.

My recommendation — and I say this to everyone whether they have the aptitude for it or not — is rodeo work. The only way rodeo work could dry up and blow away is if mankind in his foolishness blew up the earth and wiped out his existence. In which eventuality doctors would also be completely worthless. But what have doctors ever been able to do to make the rodeo what it is and what it could become? Next to nothing. Setting fractures, checking out the health of animals, resettling the clanging in clowns’ heads when it becomes a distraction, and prescribing pills to help numb the pain of pounding stakes. I suppose a doctor’s value is actually immense, but, c’mon, even the highly rated professions are probably in some sense overrated. Can anyone just agree with me on anything?

And with the rodeo they’re always begging for workers. The various communist “counselors” that schools tend to get are always down on any occupation perceived to be off the beaten path. “The rodeo’s going the way of the dinosaur,” they prattle. Which is pure horseshoot for various reasons. Obviously it would decline if there were no workers to go into it, sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy for the pathetic counselors. We could say the same thing for counseling. It’s going the way of the dinosaurs. Then I get a job as a counselor to tamp down all this dinosaur anxiety; dinosaurs are virtually extinct, so people need to quit worrying so much about them.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Video Killed The Rodeo Star

Part 27 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Mam and Pap’s show went way back to the more-thrilling days of yesteryear when rodeos weren’t on TV day and night. Now, as everyone knows, we can tune in everyday and see professional shows replete with killer bulls, tough, tested riders with their fist double wrapped in rope, and clowns that have been to finishing school and can tell their pinkie finger from their willy. The big difference with today's clowns is they're out there from the pressure of tradition, and because ordinary guys in ordinary clothes wouldn’t do. With modern contracts, they're probably selling 18-inch celebrity shoes.

And right there’s a big change since the days of TV, and especially with the novelty of TV rodeos wearing off after a couple decades. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all jaded stuff, no neighborliness, naturally. Hell, I could go on about my many complaints — I pick them up and amplify what I hear when visiting my fellow codgers at nursing homes. Of whom, just to be accurate, most of them are dead, so to a certain extent the remaining shreds of my life are being lived as a tribute to them, their greatest hits, in the complaints they shared about progress.

It’s the earliest days that are the most interesting, since we thought our complaining might do some good. The TV producers would get the message. We only like rodeos where there’s some chance of the bull actually landing in our lap before it's over. Now we can hit pause and go to the bathroom and come back only to see some guy getting bucked sky high and land in a corporately-sponsored pillow. “Get a Good Night’s Sleep with Zonko Pillows.” In my opinion, the pillow industry shouldn’t have gotten into the rodeo racket. You could write a whole indictment of it: “The Dumbing Down of Rodeo.” But I’m old, I’ll leave that to new blood.

The selling point of TV — there were several — were convincing. You’ll have the rodeo right in your living room. No need to go out to a smelly fairgrounds. No waiting around for anything to start. No crooked rodeo performers stealing from your car. And on and on. The biggest thing of course was the convenience. They also put it forth between the lines as a great equalizer: "Now even a one-horse town can have all the horses it can stand! Where before they couldn’t support a one-horse rodeo!” With TV, the show from Las Vegas is a local event.

We had some meetings and demonstrations, heavily reported in the local paper but ignored by TV, with their bias. At first it was “Down with TV,” but our numbers and enthusiasm shrunk quickly as sets were snapped up like dirty magazines and replaced the real thing with the feel-good experience of instant gratification in your own home. You could even hear it from your own bathroom, which could no longer hold everyone up with an endless line to get in. Back then you might catch a glance of the guy standing next to you, then realize it's a horse!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Beware The Rodeo Zone

Part 26 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

If you like the impossible possibilities of the inscrutable, the mysterious, and the unexplained, you could always be a beautician. Or, avoiding the smelly classes necessary for that, go into rodeo.

There’s a signpost: “Rodeo Next Week.” Strange, isn’t it? There’s evidence all around you; it’s completely mysterious. Worn paths, strewn wood shavings indicating an arena, holes in the ground as though meant for restrooms. The weeds bending in the weird wind that kicks up at random. You think it’s oppressive, stifling, then there's a flier in the dust. The rodeo was last week and they forgot to pack the “Next Week” sign.

Yes, that was a false flag, forcing you back to apparent reality. Or was it? Couldn't that be exactly what The Rodeo Zone wants you to think, so that you will continue apace over the hill and out of sight, at which point the earth’s stranger creatures will reappear with a whole rodeo set up fully functioning, right down to the blue ribbons that competitors “win,” then pack away to “win” again at next week's show, and the week after that, and forever?

It’s a little spooky out here, like a foggy heath in Scotland or somewhere like that I’ve never been. Or one of those strange shamrock places in Ireland where they're always celebrating the earth’s fire, it’s molten core or whatever. I’ve never been to Ireland, and with their fascination with leprechauns and Irish accents I probably never will. It’d make me uncomfortable and I'd be out of place over there going “aye” and “begorrah” and the other lingo they push. Give me a good old-fashioned American rodeo alternately materializing and vanishing, portals to the great beyond and maybe back and I’ll be happy.

I certainly believe it’s possible. If rodeo energy was there once, and if we can agree that existence is more than spiritless matter, then there’s weirder things in this world possible than you can find listed in your Funk & Wagnall's encyclopedia. You occasionally discern these portals — like the Rodeo Zone — and you enter to relive whatever it was, let’s say, along with a warning, an important proviso, that, all things being other than what they seem, what it seems might be benign, but what it is is might be just the thing that consumes you, body and soul.

Say that happens. A clown leads you to the portal, promising you a good time at the rodeo in the great beyond. You foolishly step there and there’s no rodeo, but a traveling carnival. You only have thoughtful recognition of the circumstances for a few seconds, before all consciousness is mercifully removed. In those seconds you consider what you’ve now become, a beautician in an alternate world that has no hair. It's the pointlessness of hell! With another way of looking at it, it's a rodeo, true, but appearing and vanishing in some random and mad way.

I'm glad it hasn't happened to me, lately. And I'd recommend that you run -- run fast and run far -- and don't look back till you feel that you're a safe distance away, if such a thing exists.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Three Wise Horsemen

 Part 25 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Christmas is one of the major holidays in most parts of the known universe. You're always running into someone who celebrates it. I also send out my personal Christmas greetings to one and all. If you are even now receiving my greetings, please receive them as something that it’s my pleasure to send. I hope the joy of the season — in vast quantities — will be yours today. And that if it's somehow able to be sustained that it will continue to be an encouragement to you, extending well into the New Year. My feeling on it is so big that if I could personally land on your roof and shimmy down your chimney and come up through the heating system and personally bring holiday cheer to your breakfast table or bathroom — anywhere! — I'd do it. Well, here I am.

Almost everything I know about Christmas I learned from family and the decorations we had. Among the decorations were the Christmas cards we received throughout the year. And because I was from a family that also went to the rodeo every time it came to town we were even remembered on their card list. How we rejoiced in the goodness of the season, thinking back to the very first Christmas when rodeo cowboys traversed afar following yonder star to where the Holy Family had put down stakes. There on the west side of Bethlehem’s fairground complex, the rodeo faithfully took place year after year, in rain, snow or ice, as long as the temperature was above 40 for the sake of the animals’ health.

The whole idea that the Wise Men were wise is no doubt tied in with the rodeo. Because it’s a hundred percent true that there’s no one as street savvy, mentally tough, and rough-cut good as rodeo folk. You tell them their mission — be it walk a bronc 10 miles across the desert to loosen up its tendons — they won’t utter a peep, except to say, “Which way you want me to go? When shall I be back? What if we get lost or separated?” And a host of other questions to cover the territory. Then once they’re gone and there’s no one to talk to, they’re very quiet, muttering to themselves or complaining to the animals about the difference between a vital task and busywork.

Let’s assume the earliest wise rodeo men, once they learned of the coordinates of the Christ child, went forth on their task with a lot of motivation to get there and behold this glorious site that they themselves had only known from Christmas cards. To have it all “come to pass just as the angel had spoken” would’ve been something to treasure in their hearts indeed and brag about on future nights while other less fortunate rodeo men were gathered about the campfire. There would be very little actual proof that they were the ones, but wouldn’t it stand to reason they were? Why would they say they were if they weren’t? It’s not something the average guy would believe, but maybe they would because who would make such a claim? “You have to know we don’t expect you to believe we were there. But why would we waste your time and ours saying it if it weren’t true?”

They had that argument, yes, and more importantly the power of their changed lives. For indeed, having seen the Christ child on that very first Christmas made them the best rodeo men in every way, including character and temperament! May it be said of each of us today, “I was there too. And if I wasn’t, why would I now be saying I was?”

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Beg For Your Num-Num

Part 24 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

We live in interesting times in terms of our expectations, what we think we deserve and what we can have. I’m thinking in particular about the whole issue of eating, the meals we’ve come to expect, and the meals we often down without so much as a moment’s reflection on it as provision. I crunched myself though a handful of chocolate candy crackers and wish now I could've gone slower.

The rodeo’s close to my heart, thanks to my dealings with many of the team of Mam and Pap’s show. And they dealt with a lot of these issues of daily eating that not only the people on the show were concerned with but also the animals. In fact, the animals are more insistent, have more boldness to say it than some of the people, stamping their feet, blowing steam out of their big meaty nostrils: “I’m here, I’m hungry, feed me!”

Before I go any further, not wanting an uprising among the natives of the internet, always at the ready with a big pot of water boiling and their several spears, alert to any veering from the socially proscribed mores of life and behavior, in this context the provisions of food for all, let me say I do support eating, with full-throated enthusiasm. Like everyone, I could afford to cut back a little; it’d be nice to cinch my belt a little tighter, 10-12 inches. But that’s me, not animals who have little understanding of wise dieting and would gorge themselves to death before the 4:30 show if given a big enough feedbag.

The story I’m telling as part of the celebration of Mam & Pap’s rodeo focuses on some of the characters, the staff of their show. And there was a guy who did it differently from most when it came to feeding his horse, a decent horse named Hoss. Hoss’ human companion was Old Dan’l.

Daniel, to use his fuller name, believed that Hoss needed to beg for every meal. Maybe if Hoss reared back like that several times a day it helped him keep physically fit. And it'd be a reminder if he ever needed to see something afar he could rear back and see it. “Beg for your breakfast, beg for your lunch, beg for your dinner” was all consolidated down into a command a horse could more easily remember, “Beg for your num-num!”

Which of those words would be key? Probably “num-num,” if we’re thinking of how food seems to us, something we chew, something we savor, depend on for nutrition, and enjoy. “Num-num, food good.” Even a caveman would understand it, it’d be a piece of cake for a horse. Whatever Hoss thought, he put 2 and 2 together and associated raising up and letting out a loud whinnying as begging for his food. And was never denied as far as I know. I observed the ritual maybe 10 times and the food was quickly given with the proper stance, response, and of course the actual begging, a series of vocalized noises.

I’ve thought about that many times over my own meals. My family used to say grace over most meals. Not potato chips, but anything more. Keeping in mind old Hoss the begging horse, it simplifies it for me now that I’m on my own. Just lift my hands like Hoss does, and whinny a couple times, I know the Good Lord is satisfied. And I can partake of the meal with a clean conscience, be it meat, potatoes, a salad, etc. One thing I don’t beg for is potato chips, even though I still like them.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Cavemen, Cavewomen, Rodeos

Part 23 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

While we do not possess records of the exact day they invented the rodeo -- for all we know it might've taken a week -- the very existence of the rodeo points to the definite fact that it happened. And like so many things in history, it may even have happened more than once! Because in millions of years many things can happen, the idea fizzles when they put it on hold, then it's taken up by a later generation.

We are not completely in the dark, though, because there are cave etchings from some of the world’s best and oldest caves that reveal all sorts of things. Naturally we know about domesticity from cave etchings. Early man sitting on the couch and the kids underfoot. The division of labor between the sexes, men getting the kids off to school while the women took the more natural path of hunting and gathering and protecting the community.

Then there’s the famed etchings of animals, animals of prey, animals for food, for domestic use, and, more interesting for us today, the first glimpses of pens, bleachers, crowds, in short the whole rodeo in rudimentary display. Archaeologists only wish they could see more, for instance to be able to read the programs they held in hand, apparently telling of the events, the performers, and even the communities involved. The mere etching of a single vertical line has been interpreted as the first claim of a particular rodeo that “We’re Number One;” imagine what we could do with a whole file cabinet.

My own thought on this is that while it is interesting, I wouldn’t pin too much research on etchings. My first thought is always “People are people, whether they lived 10,000 years ago or last week.” Which simplifies things considerably, so we’re not just gazing at scratches but observing living people -- some of the same characters we know today, the good, the bad, the ugly, the really ugly, and the so-ugly we move to different bleachers. My basic overall theory is what we do now, they did then.

This theory's a great time-saver, too, because we can skip caves all together. Examine what we do and there's your answer. The only point of discomfort I’ve seen so far is having to explain it continuously to the various idiots at shows. They demand, “What are you doing under the bleachers?,” thinking we’re trying to look up their wife’s dress. “Nope, nope, just anthropological research, we’re exploring primitive rodeo attendees from 10,000 years ago by observing you in this modern day!”

While the research is extensive, it didn't take long to determine that ancient man at ancient rodeos were very finicky about researchers observing them that closely. Even back then they were anxious about their privacy. They may have worn skins nothing like our clothing today, but they still didn’t want anyone getting peeks, particularly at their women. Then as now, they wanted to enjoy the show without having to worry about researchers crawling the crowds pretending to document their lives while they were busy looking for action of a more carnal sort.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Rodeo Done To Death? No!

Part 22 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

“O the ungrateful merchants of this town, disparaging the great rodeo coming to town, bringing in lots of consumers, shoppers, people who will be dropping quite a bit of money while there to enjoy the show!” Done to death?! That's just one of the righteous slings and arrows that goes with the territory when you’re in the rodeo business, doing your level best to put forth the best talent, the best show, all priced at family-affordable prices, basically a drop in the bucket.

The Mam & Pap Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo never showed up to no acclaim, since the fans were many. That’s why the rodeo carted bleachers everywhere they went, because all those devoted guests needed a place to sit. And when they were away from the grounds, maybe staying with friends in the area, it’s more than likely they would need services in town, a bite of food for the road before they headed back home, and some gas.

I’m probably too quick to jump on this guy for his disparagement of the rodeo, but it was drilled into me from childhood to stick up for the little guy. And I see a traveling rodeo as strong in one sense — a great tradition, talented people, and family values — but I see them at the same time as vulnerable. Because an evil word spoken against them by an unthinking "critic" carries a lot of weight. Just a casual comment like this guy makes, grousing, ungrateful, really works against his own town's interests… You just want to say, “It’s your funeral, pal.” And then watch him in a fit of guilt, grasping at his heart, the veins popping out on his face and neck ... you get the idea. But that's probably not nice to say, forgive me. But what's left? Take the time to reason with him, I guess that's always best. Except I've known plenty of losers that looked and sounded exactly like him, and their whole excuse for living is to bring everyone down.

Anyway, this is years later, let bygones go the way of all flesh. At this point I don’t see many traveling rodeos, not like in the heyday. No sir, they weren’t done to death. If you think of it, those were the liveliest days. It was often losers like this guy, "O! It's been done to death" that did them to death. I take exception to that. There's limited ways the horse can jump and cowboys can fly in the air, so in a surface sense maybe it does seem like it’s “been done to death.” But that’s in the nature of movement. Yes, once you’ve seen it a hundred times you wonder, Are there any more tricks? Well, these aren’t tricks but natural moves. Just like we wave at our friends on the street, we use the basic gesture of waving. We aren’t looking for a new variety on an old custom.

Can I make that any clearer? Animals move in particular ways. Up and down, side to side. Bucking has a particular look and leaping a particular look. These moves have been developed in two stages: 1) The Good Lord created him with legs and certain muscles; 2) Through evolution legs and certain muscles formed in particular ways, in an environment and for purposes useful as determined in the evolutionary scheme of things. At this point that’s how they work. A horse can twist in turn in a variety of ways, but the basic jumps, etc., are going to look similar.

The guy on the street is very shortsighted, and it's no secret I don’t like him. And my other gripe about him is, Don’t discourage that kid. I hate it when anyone discourages a kid like that. Put your best smile on your face, be nice to the kid, affirm his or her love of the rodeo, etc. Always be an affirming person if you have the opportunity. Dude got me riled up something fierce!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Russian Spies At The Rodeo

Part 21 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

One of the darkest episodes of intrigue and international skullduggery took place -- believe it or not -- in Mam and Pap’s rodeo, with closely guarded secrets of the rodeo potentially a target. They were victimized by the Russians more than most. Those were very dark days, with many patriotic Americans memorizing bits of American trivia to keep the feds from accusing everyone. We didn't complain, really, because if the rodeo's not safe, what is? But we were careful, because you couldn't know too much or you were obviously a spy. I remember being very interested in the latest gossip but couldn't ask much or I'd be accused. So you can see, even going to the rodeo a lot carried some risk.

There was this one dude (pictured) who insinuated himself into the rodeo and it all seemed quite innocent. And maybe it was. I’m certainly no one’s judge and jury, although I do make snap judgments with the best of them. You look at him. Take one look at this beady-eyed glasses-wearing, unsmiling, hat-suspiciously-tidy scoundrel and see if your skin doesn't crawl. What secrets was he snapping up and radioing ahead to mother Moscow? Some of course refused to believe it — dumb people who think rascals can’t thrive under their own noses — but as soon as I heard one peep about it I personally judged the whole case an obvious scandal.

If careful skullduggery was the Russians’ modus operandi they must’ve taken us for some real saps to think we couldn’t pick up the clues. Look at the guy! He's obviously taken more by Trotsky than a trot becoming a canter. And look at his wife and kid. If I need to spell it out for you, please check your allegiance to the red, white, and blue. When you have a wife like that shamelessly insinuating herself where the national secrets are kept, think about it. And does the daughter look like the average American kid? What do they even call those Russian hats? Something, like the head-equivalent of a parka. And the gun’s self-explanatory.

They kept a lot of this quiet, but the feds descended on Mam and Pap’s show. And our friend Mr. Romanov tried to cover his tracks by crying like a baby and insisting he was a loyal American having fulfilled the typical American wish-list, a dog, a wife, a daughter, and his own mule. I don’t know if that’s what the Russians really believe, but my Grandpa worked three jobs before he got his own mule, although since then mule ownership has become much more common, thankfully, since we have enough other problems to waste our time on.

It was a sad day — though for a few hours definitely a great clash of two civilizations — when Mam & Pap’s show came that close, just a hair’s breadth, from full nuclear meltdown. As it turned out, not one animal was harmed and not one rodeo secret compromised. Everything was dealt with and the investigations were by the book. Whatever nuclear devices were found later among Romanov’s affects were meticulously buried outside the town. I haven’t heard lately but I believe on a clear night if you’re on a flight over that area you can still see a low-level mysterious orange glow.

Friday, December 20, 2019

A Cob Up Everyone's Bottom

Part 20 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Here’s one that centers on a profession I probably should have followed, the law. I think I would’ve made a good lawyer, since I've always been so worried about doing something wrong and getting in trouble. It would pay — say I memorized everything legal and illegal and searched it for excuses why I didn’t know the difference. People would be coming to me like the legal eagle I’d be. Nobody would get away with anything because I’d be there forever suing for damages and banking the profits.

My dad said he always wanted to be a lawyer but he never got up and did anything about it. Just sat on the chair telling everyone who went by, “I wish I were a lawyer.” Since there’s a law office every other door downtown the places we lived, it was like saying he’d like to breathe. No one else was saying it, so why didn’t he just be a lawyer instead of yammering about it all the time? With the same thing going for me. Now that I’m old and out of live options it’s amazing to look back and see all the options I used to have, which at the time seemed completely impossible and far off. I might look into a lawsuit against those who beclouded my imagination and fogged my sight when everything should’ve been clear.

Here, though, we see our rodeo friend, Omar the Tent-making Clown, standing before a most dour judge -- who obviously had lemonade for breakfast -- and is now either extremely serious about the law and its so-called sanctity or has a cob wedged in a particularly personal body cavity and might actually have lost it sometime in the last day. That’d never happen to me, of course -- body cavities are for natural processes -- but if it did I dare say I wouldn’t have the clarity of mind to render a fair verdict; I would’ve gavelled the proceedings closed at least long enough to extricate it, explaining demurely that World War III was taking place in my pants, and on the off chance I failed, I'd look for a discrete physician to help, someone who thankfully didn’t go into law instead.

Omar’s trouble before the judge — and I’m not judging the judge's choice of personal toys, although something made of plastic or one of the more supple plastic-like materials is a lot better than an actual corn cob, which has a lifespan of what? A minute under ideal conditions? Let alone the heat of a cavity like that, the moisture, peristalsis. The fact that you’re in court is a problem too. You can’t be worrying about something getting lost and working its way upward — I suppose it’s possible, why restrict gravity’s self-defining choices — and making its presence known at an embarrassing point in the proceedings, just as you’ve made up your mind to hang Omar. The gales of laughter would ruin your credibility. And everyone’s appetite!

Well, as it turned out I didn’t save the day legally, but during the three or four recesses I managed to plant enough doubts about the judge’s sexuality — human, animal, or mineral — that Omar's next court date is in 10 years, probably five years past his life expectancy, going by what’s typical for rodeo clowns who've been in legal trouble.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Championship Belt Returned

Part 19 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo 

It was good news to learn that the championship belt, secreted away in a bank vault with the rodeo having financial troubles, was quickly returned. The exact details of its return are still sketchy, but according to the little bit I know, the bank and the rodeo came to a mutually beneficial agreement.

The terms ran something like this: 1) The bank wanted to be paid back. 2) But revenues are always down when there’s something going on with the championship belt. The fans are more interested when there's a championship belt at stake. To them the whole rodeo is basically summed up in the questions, “Who’s in the running for the belt? Will the champ keep it? What is he willing to do to keep it? Isn’t he getting a little flabby? Is he ripe for someone to pick off? I will definitely pay good money to see how he manages it. But if the championship belt somehow slips away it'll be a nightmare situation, the doomsday scenario itself, the end of days. What on earth will we do if it somehow slips away?”

One year they advertised it in similar dire terms, which turned out scarier than expected. Supposed assassins were in the rafters to guard against any chicanery. Any shooting would be at their discretion. The assassins were masked, wearing atypical clothing, dresses from thrift stores, etc., so they couldn't be identified by their usual garb. If I had been consulted on the promotion I would’ve told them, “Please, no live ammo,” but I was away taking my driving test because my driver’s license had expired about a week before then -- damn the luck! -- and the corrupt police were just itching to nail me for driving without a valid license.

Well, that year showed us some of the folly in allowing live ammo in any promotion. It turned out worse than I feared. Three guys were shot, two of them winged and one guy got a hole right straight through his bicep. The doctors had to go in and restitch his muscles into place. Which worked out well for him, because before restitching it his bicep was weak as a kitten, but with the restitching he was strong as a tiger. You might remember him from a health insurance commercial, the testimonial where the rodeo guy praises his great coverage and successful bicep restitching. That was him.

Anyway, everything can have a happy ending if we help it along. Including the centerpiece of this post, the centerpiece of every competition, the championship belt. There's no substitute for it! Either it’s there or it’s not. And if it’s not, very few people want to be there either. Was there gun-play involved in getting it back? I’m not at liberty to say anything about the details. But I can reassure anyone concerned about how the operation went down, there was absolutely no call for any restitching of biceps, midsections, legs, or heads. It was a happy ending all the way.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Complaints Against The Fans

Part 18 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

This is the kind of thing we don’t put out very often as part of the history of the rodeo and more particularly from Mam & Pap’s show. About occasionally complaining about the fans, even though of course they were their bread and butter. Sometimes, though, whatever line of work you’re in, you've just had it up to here and want to get in their face and dress ‘em down good, “You don’t own me, you scrawny necked local-yokel barber, so get out of here with your stupid complaints! And by the way, the guy cutting your hair went about three inches too high in the back and the entire back side’s sun-burnt!”

Really, complaints are never welcome, and for that matter neither are suggestions. My take on suggestions is they’re just complaints with sugar on them. Any idea you have that you can do it better, either do it or shut up. They'd say, "As long as you’re coming to my rodeo and putting down 50 cents to get in, you’re paying me, I’m not paying you. So zip your lip or you’ll get a fat one and the zipper won’t work! See that horse over there kicking the crap out of its stall? Well, a mortal threat is an actionable offense, so I’m not going to tell you what’s about to happen to you!"

And, yes, there’s always been some fans who take it too far, get out of line, cross the line, get bossy, and need to be knocked down a peg or two. Some are so bad they might have an accident; I’m not saying they ever had an accident. But a few got accidentally entangled in the apparatus that ferries the saddles back to the storage wagon — even some visiting cowboys got the crap kicked out of them and their saddles needed cleaned. When someone’s entangled, naturally the apparatus doesn’t know a trapped customer from a saddle. So if you’re hooked to it there’s but the one destination. And it’s all very unceremonious, being dropped from 10 feet into the air on a pile of muck. At its cleanest there’s still enough base residue that you better not land face-down, you’d smother in 20 seconds.

I think there’s a place for suggestions. That sounds reasonable, right? You don’t think the taffy has enough genuine strawberry flavor, certainly Kindly Kate will take your mildly-suggested complaint in her usual kind way. Whereas the rest of us, you want more strawberry flavor, here you go, smart guy, choke on it! He’s so pumped up on strawberry flavor mixed with laxatives, you'll hear him sputter all the way home! Or as far as he gets before he blows up and some of the more discerning ladies even at a distance get into a free-for-all whether the air's flavored with strawberry or one of the horses is dying of encopresis, a stool issue!

And if that doesn’t soil your drawers to your liking, how about this? I don’t know, it's probably mean and childish. Try this little quiz on these Know-It-Alls: Out of A, B, and C, which one is the guy on the bucking horse? Ah, let’s just skip it, that might be getting a little too mean toward the old ignorant paying customers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Championship Belt Mortgaged

Part 17 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Please stay with me on this series. I know it's veering off a little beyond the heroic nature of the rodeo that I’ve sketched so far. Sometimes things got tight and a little shady, and -- I hate to say it -- in this case they had to take drastic measures to keep the rodeo solvent. The rodeo biz has various intricacies like everything — particularly when scandal’s involved — nothing any of us likes. I certainly don’t like it, with Mam & Pap’s embarrassment being my embarrassment. But sometimes you have to face a situation head-on and maybe lose face to struggle back to wholeness, regaining what you lost, then going forth stronger than ever, we hope.

The unfortunate reality of a traveling rodeo is it can hit the skids real fast. Crowds are finicky, with a lot of it being at the weather's mercy. If it’s too cold by a single degree or too hot with the same margin, the crowd will simply stay home (in part) and do … whatever … who knows? If it’s what I’m thinking, showing a Triple X movie on the bedroom wall and gettin’ funky. Just remember, folks, you can go blind doing that. And a quick aside to the ladies, Don’t you have any self-respect, letting your slug husband deny you a rodeo date for the disgusting pleasures of … forget it, it's repulsive!

Enough of that, and, well, what can you say? A rodeo needs money to grease the skids, so to speak, but it has to be hard cash — they accept gold bullion but can't easily liquefy it — and with people staying home making a date out of acts that could just as easily be performed in the morning shower, the rodeo can be running close to the margin.

My advice to Mam and Pap was you have to bank more money. Pap threw up his hands in desperation. (Anyone reading this, consider going to every rodeo more often, like every night a week for a month. It’ll help.) They needed to raise the price of the program from a quarter to 30 cents. Enough copies sold and you’re talking real money. But any solutions are always better for the future, not for the present moment of extremity. They have to make decisions for the current day.

And some of those decisions are extremely dire. As in pawning the coveted championship belt for a quick 100. It’s not much, either, not when you consider how men have worked and trained and slaved away day in and day out to even have a chance to win temporary custody of the championship belt. You see it from afar and you know it’s a beauty. You put it around your waist after a genuine win — not just trying it on surreptitiously and preening — and you’re a new man. A champion not only in name but in regal display. It takes my breath away to hear of it going into hock.

This never happened but it was always a fear that the championship belt could through some underhanded scheming be the target of competing rodeos. Imagine the outcry if they advertised, “We’ve got Mam & Pap’s championship belt in our hot little hands!” It’s too much to even think of, let alone say. Think of that, though, when you’re planning your evening activities. There's entertainers out there that depend on you. And current rodeos are also fun for all, young and old alike.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Greenhorn Cleans Animal Waste

Part 16 of 30
The Mam & Pap
Royal Splendid Traveling Rodeo

Here's one of those stories everyone likes so much, the classic coming of age story, with the guy in transition from naivete to maturity. You see a explosion of experience into wisdom, making one who possibly didn’t know his anal region from a hole in the ground suddenly able to put 2+2 together and make elementary distinctions.

Some might say it’s “Just Another Greenhorn story” — similar to hunting snipe but different in the sense that he’s doing real work, trying to make a difference. The rodeo has some work that take humility to really get in there and do it. You seek encouragement but so often it's a thankless job.

One of those jobs is mucking out stalls, that little sliver of land where an animal stands. Natural processes take over and they need tended to. A greenhorn looking to get his feet wet usually gets tabbed to get in there and be a difference-maker. And he’s encouraged occasionally but often it’s a stage in his tenure more or less transitional — today the stalls, tomorrow the main staging area! Potentially the world. If he hasn’t left the rodeo field and perhaps gone into a less honorable profession, medicine or banking.

It’s being a greenhorn that, even if the rewards aren’t immediate, they eventually come. You could get a good referral: “Jed was an excellent mucker-out of stalls, clean as a whistle.” But along the way, often — and it’s all in good fun — he might get pleasantly razzed. Because as we all know, most guys stumble-bumble in their earliest jobs. Maybe they came from a family where Dad was a banker and that was it. Privilege.

But one day he sees a sign about the rodeo, "Help Wanted," and he's soon up to his boots in it. The other guys look and see he’s got a pile mounded up pretty tall and it’s ripe. He calls to the men asking what he should do with the waste.

“Well,” one chiseled old cowpoke lazily drawls, very lazily, before spitting out the juice of a plug of tobacco the size of Texas, “If’n it ‘twere me, I’d cart it somewheres really good, east of the sun and west of the moon.” He cackles with laughter, then chokes on tobacco juice and hacks till he nearly strokes out. The others have heard the joke before yet still resonate with it, high-fiving each other.

There is then the greenhorn, repeating the east-west coordinates as outlined. He wonders where that could be. “The sun comes up in the east, but west of the moon could be anywhere. And by the time I got it either east OR west, both sun and moon will have moved and it’ll be all wrong."

Not to belabor it forever, the greenhorn carts those piles here and there, bringing in new piles, making the carting-about of it an intricate and ever-changing dance, until — I hate to say it — he was discouraged. The other rodeo helpers came and gave him the full scoop: “Over there’s the muck wagon. Put it there and the foreman will have someone pull it to the edge of town and shovel it in the ditch.

And it worked out exactly like that, a fitting place for it — a place occasionally east of the sun and west of the moon — with the greenhorn maturing and becoming a decent laborer. He earns his keep in a responsible way, like the horses and bulls themselves.

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
The Mam & Pap
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.