Cody Hancock at the National Finals Rodeo was hit in the head and knocked out by the bull he was riding. He suffered a concussion and was not wearing a helmet. Nobody is forced to wear a helmet but in bull riding it is pretty foolish not to.
I was sitting in the comfort of the big screen room at the Orleans Hotel in La Vegas watching the Rodeo. It is not the same as being there, you don’t have the smell of the cows and horses but you get much better visuals than sitting in the grand stands.
I spent most of the day listening to stories told about old time cowboys and famous bucking horses and bulls. I was given tips about how to anticipate a bulls moves when it does a reverse spin to get a rider off its back and heard tales of sexual adventures in between complaints about illnesses and talk of who is dead and who is still alive.
Being around these old cowboys I was given a taste of the cultural interests with recitations of Robert Service poems and the poem by Clarence Leonard Hay “Down and Out” commonly known as The Lure of the Tropics.
“You don’t go down with a hard, short fall; you just sort of shuffle along,
And lighten your load of the moral code, till you can’t tell the right from the wrong.” was the verse they would repeat like it was their epitaphs, these old rodeo cowboys sitting around in a trailer home on the eastern outskirts of Las Vegas. The guy we were visiting, Jimi was something of a cowboy scholar. He had written songs and stories, even a book but none of them sold. The room we were in was full of mementos, photos of rides on bulls and broncs, a painting of Remington’s on the wall and a sculpture or two and an old upright piano against one wall. He worked as a tile man up until recently and now at age 69 had recently retired. \
Jimi spoke about his dad and my grandad and their days in Cuba working on a cattle ranch and we heard the story about why my grandfather left Cuba. He was chasing some woman and a jealous local pulled his gun. My grandfather pulled his six shooter and they both shot, the other man fell down dead and my grand dad left for the states. Back in those days life was rough in Cuba and men carried guns strapped to their belts like something out of the old west. That was the first time that story was confirmed. I remember my granddad as an old man with a ten gallon hat. When I was a boy aged 5 or 6 he worked as a rodeo clown and did an act with a donkey and a trick bucket in between the main performances at the rodeo in this cowboy town in upstate New York.
Jimi told me he remembers how he would grab me and carry me out of the bank he was robbing then drop me as he was getting shot by the sheriff as part of the routine they did to entertain the tourists. I didn’t remember that but I did remember helping him rob the train and drive the stage coach, for a 6 year old that was about as good as it gets.
“DOWN AND OUT
a.k.a Lure of the Tropics
by Clarence Leonard Hay
Published August 3, 1912, Collier’s Weekly
(Formatting and punctuation are as originally published)
So, son, you’ve come to the tropics, heard all you had to do
Was sit in the shade of a coconut glade while the dollars roll into you?
They gave you that at the bureau? Did you get the statistics straight?
Well, hear what it did to another kid, before you decide your fate.
You don’t go down with a hard, short fall; you just sort of shuffle along,
And lighten your load of the moral code, till you can’t tell the right from the wrong.
I started off to be honest, with everything on the square,
But a man can’t fool with the Golden Rule in a crowd that won’t play fair.
It’s a choice of riding a dirty race, or of being an also ran,
My only hope was to steal and dope the horse of the other man.
I pulled a deal in Guayaquil, in an Inca silver mine,
But before they found ’twas salted ground I was safe in Argentine;
I made short weight on the River Plate, when running a freighter there,
And I cracked a crib on a rich estate without even turning a hair;
But the thing that’ll double-bar my soul when it flaps at heaven’s doors
Was peddling booze to the Santa Cruz, and Winchester forty-fours.
Made unafraid by my kindly aid, the drunk-crazed brutes came down
And left in a quivering, blazing mass a flourishing border town.
I was then in charge of a smugglers barge on the coast of Yucatan,
But she sank to hell off Cozumel one night in a hurricán.
I got to shore on a broken oar, in the filthy, shrieking dark,
With the other two of the good ship’s crew converted into shark.
From a limestone cliff I flagged a skiff with a salt-soaked pair of jeans,
And I worked my way (for I couldn’t pay) on a fruiter to New Orleans.
It’s kind of a habit, the tropics, it gets you worse than rum;
You’ll get away and you swear you’ll stay, but it calls, and back you come.
Six shot months went by before I was back there on the job,
Running a war in Salvador, with a black-faced, barefoot mob.
I was General Santiago Hicks at the head of a grand revolt,
And my only friend from start to end was a punishing army Colt.
I might have been a President now, a prosperous man of means,
But a gunboat came and blocked my game with a hundred and ten marines.
So I awoke from my dream, dead broke, then drifted from from bad to worse,
And sank as low as a man can go who walks with an empty purse.
But stars, they say, appear by day, when you’re down in a deep, black pit.
My Lucky Star found me that way when I was about to quit.
In a fiery hot, flea-ridden cot, I was down with the Yellow Jack,
Alone in the Bush and all but dead; She found me and nursed me back.
She came like the miracle man of old and opened my bad, blind eyes,
And upon me shone a bright new dawn as I turned my face to the skies.
There was pride and grace in her brown young face, for hers was the blood of kings;
In her eyes there shone the glory of empires gone, and the secret of world-old things.
We were spliced in a Yankee meeting house on the land of your Uncle Sam,
And I drew my pay from the U. S. A., for I worked at the Gatun Dam.
Mind you, I take no credit for coming back to my own,
Though I walked again with honest men, I couldn’t have done it alone.
Then the Devil sent his right-hand man–I might have expected he would–
And he took her life with a long thin knife, because she was straight and good.
Within me died hope, honor, pride, and all but a primitive will
To hound him down on his blood-red trail, and find–and kill– and kill!
Through logwood swamps and chicle camps I hunted him many a moon,
And I found my man in a long pit pan, at the edge of a blue lagoon.
The chase was o’er at the farther shore; it ended a two years quest,
And I left him there with a vacant stare and a “John Crow” on his chest.
You see these punctures on my arm; you’d like to know what they mean?
Those marks were left by fingers deft of my trained nurse, “Miss Morphine.”
Perhaps you think that’s worse than drink–it’s possible, too, you’re right;
At least it drives away the Things that come and stare in the night.
There is a homestead down in an old Maine town, with lilacs round the gate,
And the Northerners whisper: “It might have been,” but the truth has come too late.
They say they give me a month to live–a month or a year’s the same;
I haven’t the heart to play my part to the end of a losing game.
For whenever you play, whatever the way, for stakes that are large or small,
The claws of the tropics will gather your pile, and the dealer gets it all!”
The reference to “John Crow” refers to a Jamaican buzzard which was considered an evil omen.”
Then we went out to dinner and the conversation turned to religion. Jimi told us he had been baptised at age 41. He talked about being immersed in a pool of water with nothing on but a sheet and his underwear. He said just after he got out of the pool a beautiful 18 year old girl went in the pool and she came out with every feature outlined. He said he got a hard on he couldn’t hide right there in front of god and the entire church.
The old saw about Roswell aliens and the Philadelphia experiment came up. We argued about if it was true or not. I told my tale about the deities moving when I was in the temple in India and how that represented another level of reality. Jimi asked me if I was on drugs at the time I had to admit I was not. John, a farmer from Missouri and another former cowboy said he didn’t believe in aliens, global warming or reincarnation. He talked with that same Midwestern drawl that Bill Burroughs had and spoke of his trips to Africa seeing zebras bred with horses and how much he liked Paris, France.
We ate cheap american fare at a casino restaurant with the smell of cigarettes permeating the place and making it hard for us non smokers to breathe. But five of us ate for less than $30, something you couldn’t do in Los Angeles.
Global warming came up again at another old cowboys townhouse in southeastern Vegas earlier in the day. We talked about if it was real or simply a result of normal climatic change. There was no consensus on that. John the farmer talked about the money he lost in bio fuel and how many people lost money betting on that in the Bush years. I told about how coal was the investment popular under Bush with trains full of coal being taken every day down the front range from Wyoming to Los Angeles. Wyoming is Cheney’s home turf and he was the go to guy for Bush’s energy policy.
Nobody had much to say about Obama one way or the other. We only spoke about the health care politics as being confused and mostly we agreed that a medicare type system would be best but most of them were all on medicare and I wasn’t going to get an argument against it from any of them.
I voiced my opposition to Afghanistan, and someone else mentioned Vietnam as a mess that the French under De Gaulle had told the Americans to stay out of, but we didn’t pay attention to their lesson and we paid for it and it seems we are doing it again in Afghanistan. It was a bit odd. These were all guys who had mostly seen the law as something to be avoided most of their working lives as cowboys. So there was no right wing reactionary sort of talk about America first. Most of these guys were more like anarchists in their views of the state mixed with an admiration for the Communists in China feeding their people, at least as far a farmer John was concerned. I voiced my argument that in China they were using capitalism to attempt to develop enough to get to communism, nobody disagreed.
The conversation was a mixture of myths like when John tried to say the Muslims killed Christians if they didn’t convert, which I had to vehemently correct by stating that Christians and Jews were forced to pay a tax if they did not convert and that they were not killed. They all were pretty much Christian, but not particularly devout. Mixed in were beliefs in aliens, reincarnation and other bits and pieces of pop culture that passes for serious thought among the semi-literate cowboy culture. Most of us had at least attended college, none of us had graduated. Some of us had money, like farmer John, others like Jimi had hardly anything. But all were treated with respect and dignity and no idea was too outlandish although I didn’t even try to find vegetarian food, and ate like a cowboy. My bowls are suffering now I am constipated from eating meat. I won’t make it to Krishna Loca at this rate. Nobody was too surprised when I spoke about wanting to be cremated on the Ganges in India. Death is something that for these elder cowboys is a serious matter, something that hovers over them all with friends dieing off, death is a constant companion.
“Heart is what it takes to be a champion.” That is what my dad is saying to his buddy John while they are packing up to take John to the airport. Telling tales about one of their old time buddies. He said even though he was a champ he would wait for you if you needed a ride. That was a good guy according to my dad.
Tags: Rodeo Tales