Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to run cattle in the United States and not talk like that. There shouldn’t be a difference between running cattle and being a cowboy, but there is. “Fuck, I’m wiped out because I had to get up at four this morning to pull titty” is true cowboy language, because it refers to an eternal and thankless duty that, among cattle, can be done only with cows. “Yeah buddy” has nothing to do with cattle, meaning that when it is presented as part of a pastoral folkway it’s probably a catfishing setup. By the way, dairymen are surely the real cowboys, since it’s mostly boy cattle that are raised for beef in this country, and if it has/was violently relieved of balls, it can’t be a cow. (Yes, Mr. B. J. Kardashian, that includes you, too.)
Cowgirl, don’t be ashamed to cry. My middle school band director cried on the PA system in the cafeteria because we’d clapped when some butterfingers broke a plate and our mothers would cry if that happened at home. Surely it makes more sense to cry about a broken nation and culture. Just you try to glue that shit back together and see if it holds. Or maybe try gluing Mr. Rhine’s baton back together, since he snapped it in front of the entire band in a fit of anger because we’d, I dunno, played a score wrong or something. We’re actually a rather emotionally unhinged culture. If we loved the virtue of stoicism, we wouldn’t bray about it so ceaselessly and demand it of people who weren’t interested in discussing their inner emotional state with us. Mr. Rhine retired, but the band played on, unfortunately. As a people, we’re at once in-your-face about emotions that probably ought to be kept closer to the vest around those not close to us, and at the same time severely emotionally repressed, to the point that we’re scared shitless at the thought of being emotionally vulnerable or honest when we genuinely need help. That is, we’re super-duper fucked up and won’t admit it. We’re expected to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back up into the saddle, because John Wayne don’t like quitters, son. (It’s fitting that the airport named for him is surrounded by some of the worst bourgeois whiners on earth. Bitching about aircraft noise for thirty years straight: Pass It On (TM).) We’d be better off taking that ride with Blood, Sweat, and Tears, because those guys did some serious drugs, and we might be able to get David Clayton-Thomas to hook us up with Canadian residency permits.
But uh, yeah, buddy. The bizarre sequence in the title was something that I overheard verbatim from the Redding Rodeo last night while I was on a walk on the other side of the river. In two sentences, the MC managed to jumble up a pile of git-er-done whip-wielding, public religiosity, and daft effusiveness about Wow Much weathers Very rainbows. As a moderately churchgoing American who has done hundreds of hours of commercial farm work, some of it in the rain, how can I complain about any of this? To complain about it would be un-American. No, to complain at all about anything would be un-American. Wow Many huac Such have you no decency sir Omg joe mccarthy Very alarm.
Rodeos are pretty wacko in the best of circumstances: instead of learning how to work cattle that aren’t violently ornery (like, maybe because they’ve been bred to be more tractable, i.e., safe, in the interest of civilization and stuff), reckless kids who probably have not much less reckless parents try not to get maimed, paralyzed, or killed by exceptionally violent show cattle that have been bred and baited for–well, let’s pretend that it isn’t exactly violence, even thought the whole idea is that they get locked up in a pen with no room to turn around and amped up with assholes sitting on their backs, and then released into a sort of field, completely unrestrained, for the purpose of bucking their asshole riders into the air at speeds likely to cause orthopedic trauma at best.I’m not really interested in the animal welfare angle of this nihilistic spectacle, since I often take one look at a rodeo bull and determine that public safety dictates his immediate dismemberment into beef. My objection is to the notion that risking life and limb working these animals, which were bred for the most masturbatory traits possible, is what it takes for some hardscrabble, underserved kid from some hardscrabble, underserved corner of my country to get ahead in life. Simply put, a decent society provides safer, more productive ways for young people to better themselves. We shouldn’t be a country of Manny Pacquiao wannabes trying to fight their way out of the slums, but using vicious animals that should have been put down months ago. We can and should do better than that. Kids shouldn’t be counting on rodeo prize money in the hope of being able to afford A&M tuition.
Of course, we glorify all sorts of ugly violence. This glorification goes beyond what is natural and inevitable on account of the human condition or some shit. One of the Civil War generals (my boy Sherman, maybe?) recounted an incident from his antebellum career of peacetime obscurity in which a street urchin mockingly pointed at him and called him “soldier,” as a slur worse than motherfucker. We’ve lost something as a society since then. Well, the less bellicose parts of the North have, in any event, and maybe the less cracker-ass parts of the Southern interior. Large parts of this country used to cherish values other than butchering all members of all outgroups. These societies cherished peace, prosperity, stability, craftsmanship, and community, and sometimes actually lived by these values and made them work. We repay their remnants by making snotty comments about how the Amish dress all funny and drive around in those stupid horse carts. I’m not saying the Amish aren’t a strange bunch; some of them are well weird by English standards. I am saying that they don’t usually get all up in everyone else’s face, because they have more important things to do, mostly a shitload of farm work. Likewise a variety of old-school New English Yankees and their descendants in the Midwest and the Northwest. We have these models in our own country, available for us to copy or adapt. Some of us would rather get thrown off a violent bull whose balls should have been chopped off at weaning and call that sport.
Don’t hand me a knife. Hand me a gun. Beef: if it isn’t what’s for dinner, we are.
“Yeah buddy” sounded like a social control to psych up impressionable dipshits who should know better than to recreationally handle uncontrollable large animals, except that we’re doing it for the Good Lord, you see, because he gave us a few more minutes of sunshine. Yeah, Jesus was down as shit with the gladiatorial sports, being a loyal Roman and all. Again, the problem isn’t with running cattle; it’s with dicking around with some of the most vicious, most deliberately provoked cattle on earth. That’s just stupid. But we need our boys to grow up to be bruisers, because reasons. Maybe our girls, too. We can’t let them grow soft and take up actual trades instead of high-risk martial arts using animals five or ten times their size. We need to toughen them up so they’re ready the next time they have to massacre the redskins/damn Yankees/fucking rebels/krauts/Japs/gooks/sand niggers.
Willie Nelson has such prosaic reasons for pleading with mammas not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys. Again, though, if these kids were doing legitimate, productive work with cattle, they wouldn’t be getting thrown off the meanest damn bull in the yard every night. They’d be too busy bucking hay, watering their stock, or calling the veterinarian for the second time in a week. Non-cattlemen, though, are too filled up with cowboy shtick to realize that so much of the real cowboy life is just exhausting or shitty, not romantically dangerous.
That’s the other thing about the Redding Rodeo: it had been years since I’d seen such a mob of drugstore cowboy-looking wankers, if I’d ever seen one. Not having paid attention to the radio announcements, I accidentally drove into the Sundial Bridge parking lot, assuming that I’d be able to park there and walk over the bridge to the arboretum. Instead, I wasted five minutes in a zoo scene that was even worse by the time I got back to 44 than it was when I entered it. The Sundial Bridge lot, which is often less than half full, was completely full. I have no idea where the latecomers parked. The place was mobbed. Consistent with my worst expectations, it was full of big trucks too clean (and, realistically, too new) to have been used recently on any farm and ostentatiously country tailgaters whose denim and flannel were equally immaculate. I was wearing a bright blue aloha shirt, Dockers, and brown dress-casual shoes, and for all I know, I may have been the only one in the lot who had done any farm work.
The tells are subtle. I’m afraid they’re too subtle for the average American, including the average rural or exurban American who doesn’t work the land or socialize with those who do. These fuckers at the rodeo just looked too cleaned up, and so did their vehicles. Maybe I misread them. I’ve seen legit farmers at the Pennsylvania Farm Show who dressed similarly to present their animals, but even there I never saw so many fine-ass, spic-and-span, late-model trucks through the bay doors in the back of the house. The Redding crowd just looked like it was trying too hard. The problem is that mainstream Americans today are brainwashed to believe over-the-top LARPs and disbelieve genuine practitioners of genuine throwback folkways for not being “authentic” enough. We end up with a bunch of useless drugstore cowboys who expect the government to subsidize their roads and school bus services on the basis that fucking around with non-working horses on a hobby ranch is economically equivalent to running a hundred head of cattle because both are country as shit.
Bitch I can dress up like Mr. Rogers and still know more about farming than you do. It depends on whether you, too, have done any damn farm work. Followup point: dressing like Toby Keith is not farm work, sweetheart. Those are leather boots, and nice ones, but leather dress boots are not pruning shears. Hell, they aren’t even work boots. Country line dancing is every bit as agricultural as the disturbed homeless guy I saw in Pasadena dry-humping the air through his sweatpants on the light rail. With all too few exceptions, we’re too disembrained to tell the difference between any of these things these days. I have friends who are amazed that I know anything at all about blueberry acreage and yield statistics. Uh, like, it’s because I work with blueberries sometimes. It’s scary if you give it any thought.
We fall for some real whoppers about Canada, too. There was another MC at the Redding Rodeo who said that he was from Northern Saskatchewan (a geographically sloppy term, because there’s nothing but a few scattered settlements of suicidal Indians in truly Northern Saskatchewan) and told an embarrassing whopper about how “we don’t have technology up there,” so he didn’t know how to use credit cards or some shit. Bitch I’ve watched CN grain trains roll through Grass Lake on their way south. Trains are an intricate combination of mechanical, combustion, electrical, and electronic technologies, and Saskatchewan has hella railroads. I’m the one explaining this shit because everyone else is too fucking stupefied.
All I can do now is hold out hope for a joint Scott Lemieux-Kevin Vickers south-of-the-border realtalk tour on subjects including how to milk dairy cattle instead of getting thrown into the dirt by show cattle and the fact that Saskatchewan has grocery stores. Some of these people truly are ignorant enough to think that Canadian Tire is the junkyard on the Red Green Show. Just imagine what shit they believe about medical care in Canada, or the day-to-day involvement of the RCMP in mounted policing.
No, we’re the ones who’ve been royally mounted. Don’tcha know, the RCMP had already entered the electric age by the time Kwesi Millington and Gerry Rundel shipped off to Depot.
Don’t quit your job at the fish farm, kid.