I SEE BY YOUR OUTFIT...Part One. A short story by jackie johnson Im standing bewildered beneath the bright, florescent supermarket lights like a white tail buck caught in the headlights. Im trying to decide which brand of baloney to buy, but the names on the packages are unfamiliar. I hardly notice when a woman and a young boy come up to stand a few feet to one side. Moments pass before a small voice asks, Are you from Texas? I smile and say, I sure am partner. Wheres your horse? The mother sighs and says, I hope you dont mind, hes never seen a real cowboy before. Her accent is a southern, summer night, heavy with honeysuckle and magnolia. I feel like an extra in Gone With The Wind. Well, bring him on out to the rodeo and hell see plenty of them. Can we Mom? Please... Well see. She looks me in the eye and says, Thank you for your kindness. The forty-piece orchestras rendition of Mommas, Dont Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys, is side-tracked by the ring of Boogers spurs, as he strolls bowlegged down the polished, shiny tiles of the aisle with a loaf of Sunbeam sandwich bread in one hand and a squeeze bottle of Frenchs mustard in the other. Here comes another one! I hear myself say, Naw, thats just Booger, hes a bull rider. Wow! The kid has a look of amazement on his face as his mother smiles goodbye and pulls him off in the opposite direction. Cant leave you alone for a minute. Whatd she want, your autograph? Ever since a girl in Los Cruces, New Mexico said I looked like a movie star; Booger has taken every opportunity to needle me about it. I pick up a pack of all beef baloney. The kid mistook you for a cowboy, but I told him you were a bull rider. Thanks, grab a bag of ice, Ill get the cold drinks. Outside in the oyster shell parking lot, the sun has suddenly become too brilliant to face up to without a pair of polarized Ray Bans. The white Coup De Ville has blended its self into the bed of seashells like a flounder on the bottom of a sandy, shallow bay. Momentarily dazzled, I stumble into the side of the Cadillac and fumble along a fin till I find a chrome door handle. I pull at it and the dark refuge of the interior opens up for me. I duck down and crawl inside the capsule to sink into the soft, leather seat with a sigh. Booger cranks up the sabre-toothed kitten and she purrs to life, her breath an artificial, artic breeze blowing from her louvered vents. Through the tinted glass, I watch the sparkling parking lot slide past till its behind us and we merge onto Business U.S. 90 East. The fairgrounds are almost always out on the edges of the towns, just before the fields and farms begin to line the dirt roads. Its like a buffer between the city and the country. Its as country as cow chips, with the white stalls in the show barns standing full of pampered and pedicured livestock. The crafts barns are lined with rows of tables full of contestants entries in the canning, cooking, quilting, and other rural homemaking contests. Theyre all waiting for the judges with the box of blue ribbons to come around. Early fall is fair time, a celebration of the harvest. The guy at the back gate waves us through with little more than a glace. After dropping off the cooler of cokes and sandwiches at the rodeo office, we cruise over to the corrals to feed the stock. Booger starts breaking open bales of alfalfa and scattering sections of it to the roping calves. I start with the broncs and work my way toward the bulls while Booger feeds the steers. By 10 AM our shirts are wet with sweat and stuck to our backs. We crawl back into the Cadillac and head for the cooler of cokes. By now, cowboys are beginning to show up and crowd around the bulletin board to see what the rodeo secretary drew for them in the first go-around. I got a big red roan called Powder River and Booger ends up with a big, black bull called Tar Baby. Dicks got his list of the stock to be used in tonights performance and we head back to the pens. Booger and me work the gates in the alley while Dick sends the stock to us one at a time. He calls out keeper if its one that will be used tonight. We put them in different pens so they will be easy to run into the chutes come show time. By the time we finish with the sorting, its lunchtime. Dick turns the Cadillac towards town and the Best Western motel with its restaurant. Its crowded with the rodeo cowboy community. Most of them we know. The towns may change, but these faces dont. Its a regular mix of the smaller rough stock riders, with their tall-heeled riding boots and the taller calf ropers and the larger steer wrestlers, with their low-heeled Justin ropers. Theres the usual sprinkling of shapely barrel chasers, with long, silky-haired tresses to match their horses manes. The big dining room is dominated by large cowboy hats and shiny, silver trophy buckles. Waitresses bustle about with trays loaded down with platters of chicken-fried steaks and mashed potatoes covered with cream gravy and tall, sweaty glasses of iced tea with lemon wedges perched on the rims. The murmur of voices blends with the sound of silverware clicking against salad bowls and side dishes and the cooks calling out pick-up orders through the kitchens long, serving window. Marvin and Melvin wave us over to a table in the corner and we thread our way through the dining room tables with the red and white-checkered tablecloths. The twin brothers are the bull riders best friends. They dont much like being called clowns; they prefer to be referred to as bullfighters. Marvin is fleet of foot like the rabbit and Melvin is the barrel man, like the tortoise with his protective shell. Dick says, Just goes to show if you leave the barn door open, theres no telling whats liable to come in. The brothers laugh because Dick is the guy who signs their paychecks. They know enough to stay on the good side of the boss. Everyone orders Todays Lunch Special. The chicken fried steak and a smashed potato with gravy comes with green beans and a dinner roll as big as a large turnip. Desert is a generous portion of peach cobber. After the meal, Dick mentions that Marvin has drawn Speedy Gonzales in the first go around of the bull riding. Dick says, I didnt tell you before, because I didnt want to spoil your appetite. Marvins face turns almost as white as grease paint and he says, Ah, the money bull. Dick says, Yeah, if you can ride him. He hasnt been ridden yet and I dont expect hell let you be the first. Marvin looks at Dick and says, Ill bet you a hundred dollars I can ride him. Dick smiles and says, Eight seconds on the back of Speedy Gonzales is like a lifetime. Marvin grins and says, There never was a horse that couldnt be rode. Dick smiles and says, There never was a cowboy that couldnt be throwed. But this aint no horse were talking about. Marvin says, Bet? Dick says, Alright, and picks up the check. The rest of us contribute to the tip. Dick heads back to the rodeo office in the Cadillac and Booger and me walk over to our motel room. After a shower, we watch reruns of Gunsmoke on TV. Booger says, Theres no way Melvin can stay on Speedy Gonzales. Nope. I say. In the early evening, we don freshly starched cowboy clothes and meet Dick at the restaurant for supper, before heading back out to the arena. The parking lots at the fair grounds are starting to fill up with town cars and SUVs of the generations of families that now live in the city. Its a homecoming; theyre here to explore their country roots. When the sun sinks out of sight below the western skyline, the night is held at bay by the carnivals Christmas colored lights. The Ferris wheel turns slowly in the sky, like a giant pinwheel covered with sparkling jewels. The plastic, palomino ponies on the merry go round, pace in never-ending circles to the piping of the calliope. Quite a few folks are wearing hats, boots and neckerchiefs, clutching smoked turkey legs or colored clouds of cotton candy spun on paper cones. Its a time and place of wonderful sights, smells and sounds. The early September night air is saturated with excitement. Its easy to get hooked on the excitement of the dusty outdoor arenas, lit up with bright, overhead stadium lights in the summer nights. The crowds of spectators have come to see a spectacle seldom seen since the days of the Roman gladiators. It is habit forming to the cowboys that compete against the livestock and each other. Booger and me load the bareback horses in the chutes while the Rodeo Queen leads the Grand Entry into the arena. The horses snort nervously and one or two kick the reinforced sliding gates behind them so hard it sounds like gunshots, while the bareback riders get their riggings set and cinched down. We place our hats over our hearts with a rodeo flourish, when the High School band plays the Star spangled Banner that yet waves over the land of the free and the home of the brave. Then its rodeo time. The smooth voice of the rodeo announcer informs the stands of people munching popcorn of the events that are under way. Walter Campbell, the son of a Tulia, Texas rancher will be coming out of chute number one on a horse fondly known as the Widow Maker. Yeah right, cowboys are about as fond as Widow Maker as a scorpion is of a black widow. Some horses are hard to ride and if you manage to stay on for eight seconds, its still not good enough to put you in the money. The small, black gelding throws every dirty trick in the book at Walt. He takes a run out of the gate before breaking it off in a sideways lunge that turns into a twisting, ducking and dodging dance in a cloud of dust. Walts all over him like a drunken monkey on a football on a Friday night. Not exactly pretty, but he manages to mark a sixty-eight score on a horse everybody hates. Thats more than some could have done. I reckon thats better than getting your head stuck in the dirt like a fence post in a posthole. The rest of the bareback riding goes by smooth as clockwork, no hold-ups, delays or injuries to man or animal or any other thing that upsets crowds or makes them restless. The next event is steer wrestling. The dogger chases a steer around, then tries to jump off their horse and onto the steers head, bringing it to a stop and twisting its neck till it flops over on its side. Then comes the team roping. The header ropes the horns and the heeler ropes the hind legs and they stretch the steer out till it flops on its side. Ho-hum, so much for those two events. Now this is more like it. They call Saddle bronc riding the classic event because thats where it all started. Breaking a wild horse to carry a cowboy on its back through the long day over rough country wasnt something every cowboy looked forward to. Or could even do, for that matter. Them that could were called bronc riders. Traditionally, they draw more pay than the regular cowboys, because the chances they take are a lot more dangerous. Bad horses have busted up many a cowboy, young or old. Trying to stay in the saddle on the hurricane deck of a mustang isnt as easy as it looks, although the better the rider is, the easier he makes it look. Powder River is a big red roan from Montana, he carries a lot of weight and that slows a horse down. Course all those big muscles also makes for a strength you wont find in a smaller animal. The big gelding is gentle as a plow horse and stands still in the chute while I pull the bucking halter over his big, long head and buckle it up. I set my bronc saddle high on his withers and cinch it down tight. Booger holds his head straight while I pull the braided sisal, bucking rein back and get a good grip on it six inches behind the forks. Then I straddle the chute and ease my seat down into the saddle. Powder River has one ear and one eye on me as I ease my feet into the narrow bronc stirrups. The adrenaline is flowing ninety to nothing now and my heartbeat is accelerating like a NASCAR coming off the high wall of a curve. My breathing quickens and I slow it down by breathing deeper. The butterflies are having a field day in my stomach while the muscles in my legs are tingling with a nervous anticipation that makes them quiver. I pull my hat down tight to the top of my ears. I hear Clem, the announcer, say over the loudspeakers, Watch these horses folks, these are the kind of ornery critters that made the west a whole lot wilder than it had to be. Imagine having to top one of these off every morning before breakfast. When I nod my head, the gate swings open and Powder River comes off the ground like a space bound skyrocket. Its a pretty picture of a jump so high, I feel like Im sitting on top of the world. When we come back down to earth, its pitching to and fro and bucking up and down like its out of control. I try to keep my eye on the horses head but at each jump it goes down out of sight and all I can see over the dashboard of the saddle is blue sky. The people in the stands become a kaleidoscope of color and sound as they jump to their feet, cheering. At every jump, Powder River blows my feet back to the cantle of the saddle, raking my spurs down his sides, ringing the dull rowels all the way. It takes all the effort I can muster to force my feet forward to the horses neck before his front hooves jars the ground. Each jump gets harder and harder and with each jump, I have to try harder and harder. Both of us are grunting with the exertion each jump takes. It becomes a war of willing our muscles to go beyond whats normally expected of them. Its man against a larger and stronger beast and everything else becomes as nothing. Its just the horse and me now. Theres no arena, no crowd, no cheers. Theres no today and no tomorrow, there remains only the moment and the struggle. They both seem to go on forever. I know its finally over when Bo Hollis crowds his big pick-up horse against my leg and reaches over to take the rein away from me. He takes a wrap around his saddle horn with it and pulls Powder River to a stop. I grab the cantle behind Bo and slide off across the back of his horse to the other side away from Powder River and drop down to the ground. Bo grins down at me and says, Good ride Hoss! I limp the long way back to the chutes. The judges give me a seventy-five; it might be good enough for some day money. After the calf roping and the barrel racing, ho-hum, its time for the bull riding. Marvin asks me to keep the bull off him in case Speedy Gonzales bucks him off. Then he offers me fifty dollars if I keep Speedy from spinning. Now Speedy is a small bull and that makes him quick. Every trip out of the gate is the same. He always goes right into a flat spin to the left. He whirls around so fast; it reminds me of a propeller. He flings cowboys off, one right after another, like slinging snot off a finger. I know better, but I accept. I stand just in front of the chute as Booger pulls Marvins bull rope tight enough to suit him. Even through his make up, I can see the clown/bullfighters about as nervous as a tom turkey the day before Thanksgiving. Speedy also has a reputation for sticking a horn in a bull riders hip pocket. But it doesnt come to that. As soon as the gates flung open, I jump in Speedys face and instead of spinning, he follows me, trying to horn in on my business. He bucks all the way because of the flank strap, which keeps him from even getting close to my hip pocket. Its just straight away bucking without the spinning and Marvin rides him easily, scoring a seventy. He might get some of the go around money after all. Dick is so mad, he could eat a bowl of horseshoe nails for breakfast and threatens to fire me but he doesnt do it. Not so much because he has to pay Melvin the hundred dollars, but because, as he tells me, You could have ruined that bull from ever spinning again. Boogers too charged up to even smile, his mind is on Tar Baby. I pull his bull rope tighter than Dicks hatband and he takes a bubble around his wrist with it and tucks the tail under his belt. When he nods his head and the gate comes open, Tar Baby lunges through it like a runaway freight, before exploding into two different directions. The bull with the big horns goes one way and Booger with the big hat goes the other. The bull rider does a belly flop that makes me wince and the bull puts the rest of the cowboys on the fence. Later, back behind the chutes, Marvin slips me fifty dollars.