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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Purple People Eater

Delayed greetings to all y'all,

I am back from a visit to my local VA clinic in Fallon and following instructions to soak my foot and taking antibiotics to ward off any infection. Being a diabetic I must take extra good care of my feet or risk losing them. A simple ingrown toenail can start an infection that has dire consequences. Here we go with ten days of antibiotics and their side effects.

The other problem that took me to the doctor is my increasingly problematic right shoulder. The same shoulder that took me to the VA Hospital originally in "It took me twenty years to return" (3/08 blog entry) and has never been fully examined. The level of pain has increased and mobility decreased. The doctor uttered the words that you never want to hear "rotator cuff" and submitted a request for an MRI. Therein lies another problem. I am severely claustrophobic and have to be sedated to go into the machine. We shall see what happens.

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon already is overcast and 63F with WSW winds gusting to 20mph. A ten percent chance of rain continues overnight and into tomorrow. Thursday we will be warmer and windier. Storms are coming.

Anna just completed tutoring her adult student and is off to visit Mr. S. She has a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle for him of different chocolate candies. The picture on the box has "flung a cravin' on me" as they say down south. My sugar level has probably gone up just from looking at the photo!

Thinking back to what may have begun the problem with my shoulder, I have to consider activities before the military. I did play many sports in school; football, baseball, basketball (yes, really), track, and wrestling. Outside of school I did climbing, scuba and rodeo. All had an impact on my right arm and shoulder, but rodeo probably had the most violent repetitive yanking action on it. Let's go there.

Purple People Eater

In my rodeo days I was the little guy with a lot to prove, so naturally I went for bull riding. It was actually a good choice from someone with better than average strength, agility and great balance. My small size and weight was an advantage as it gave the bull less mass to throw off. We could go all "physics" here, but just trust me on this, smaller was better for once.

I belonged to a rodeo club that was very fortunate to have a continuous supply of local bulls, and access to a rodeo stock promoter who liked to "try out" his bucking stock on young crazy cowboys who would ride anything.

This promoter was a business man who had a lot of questionable practices, and ethics that would make a terrorist wince. He was all about the bottom line and "the show". Giving the audience whatever it took to get their ticket money was his guiding principle. If cowboys or livestock suffered for it, too bad, you signed up for it when you strapped on your spurs. Whatever else, we did get top picked bulls to ride, that was for sure.

Being a small group and dealing with this a cheapskate promoter, we "clowned" for each other. By that I mean that we dressed up in various silly costumes, painted our faces and positioned ourselves in the rodeo arena to distract the bull once the rider was bucked off, or having reached the buzzer, got off voluntarily. This was to protect the rider who was often disabled, disoriented, (or plain old knocked witless) and unable to run or fend off the unhappy bull.

Clowning was more fun than riding the bulls to me, and being fast and agile I was good at it. It helped that I had grown up messing with livestock and had no fear of slapping a bull on the nose. The fans, and at times the other cowboys, thought that I was crazy because of the way that I would play slap & tickle with a thousand pounds of angry snot-slinging crazy in a cow suit. I would run around them in a circle, keeping very close to the animal because I could turn faster and in a smaller space than they could. Where you got in trouble was trying to outrun them in a straight line, or competing with them in the muscle department. You can't do either successfully.

If a cowboy was down I would smack the bull on the nose, or even in the eye if he was intent upon hurting the thrown rider and I had to break his focus. Then I would race around and grab his tail, yanking as hard as I could and continuing around staying behind him as he turned. The fallen cowboy would thus have a chance to get up and moving, or someone else would have gotten to him to help. Once the cowboy was safe I had to find an exit to preserve my own hide; sometimes going up a gate, or over the fence, or diving into the "bull barrel", whichever was closer.

The bull barrel was popular with the crowd because the angry bovine would often focus his rage on it and smash into it, knocking the barrel and its contents flying. Before the purchase of a professionally made bull fighter barrel, we had our own modified barrel, which was a 55 gallon drum with the top and bottom removed and tires (with inner tubes inflated inside) secured around it. Over that we had a canvas covering with a bullseye painted on one side and a big  "lipstick kiss" on the other. Inside we had cut "H's" and bent them out ward and over in both directions (away from the center cut) making hand and foot holds at both ends and in the middle. These were extremely necessary when getting "launched" by a bull. After several split lips and scraped chins we added a padded covering around the rims of the metal barrel too. Needless to say that barrel was heavy and awkward. The commercial barrels were much lighter and shock absorbent, but you must use what you have.

One of the nasty (and illegal) practices of our professional rodeo promoter was an activity known as "hot-shotting" a bull out of the chute. In order to get that "Wide World of Sports" photo moment where the bull leapt out of the chute going airborne on the initial jump, our unscrupulous showman would hit a slow or reluctant bull with the business end of a charged up cattle prod. It doesn't always work out the way it was intended, as proved by yours truly.

I was settled in on my ride, tucked up tight to my grip on the bull rope, and hat jammed down on my head. I asked for the gate, and as it opened my bull hesitated for just a moment, they aren't the brightest creatures in the world, (right behind the cowboys who get on them). The next thing that I knew I felt a searing pain in my left thigh as the cattle prod missed the bull and hit me.

I don't know how exactly, some kind of involuntary muscle reaction or something I guess, but the next thing that I knew I was flying through the air providing my own "kodak moment" for the audience and the bull was still in the chute. My landing was face first and completely inglorious, as I ploughed dirt with my nose and open mouth and spluttered cuss words into the ground. My wits were not totally gone though, as I quickly bounced up and into a run, knowing full well that I was exposed to harm from the bull.

As I passed my clown guardian (who was standing still looking towards the gate in rapt amazement), I slowed and turned until I too was stopped with muddy mouth agape. My bull was still in the chute and not moving. Upon inspection by the chute boss it was found that in wrapping the flank rope around the bull, my chute assistant had caught a board in the loop and had secured the animal to the chute. They swore that this was an accident, but to this day I am convinced that it was all a prank on me. And a good one.

The title names a bull, "Purple People Eater", a creature that lives on in the hearts of all who ever faced him, as the meanest, nastiest, best ride in all brahma bull bucking history.

He had one horn up and one horn down in the beginning, (later knocking off one of his horns hitting the barrel) and his hide was as dark as his heart. He was well over one thousand pounds, (with two thousand pounds of mean stuffed inside), and had a massive hump on his back. His proclivity for going after cowboys was very well known and clowns were terrified of facing him in the arena as he had hurt a lot of them. He didn't just dislike the rider on his back, he hated humans in general and would go after anyone within reach.

I was thrilled when I drew him because he represented a winning ride if you could stay on his back, and I was dumb enough to not even consider any other possibility. Visiting the massive beast behind the chutes where the bucking stock was corralled, I was surprised to find him calm and chewing on hay like he didn't have a care in the world. I guess I expected to see a berserk monster thrashing about in anticipation and he just wasn't doing that. He looked like a dairy bull chilling out between cows. An older veteran cowboy walked up to me and I recognized him as a professional bull rider with many championships under his belt.

"The quiet ones are the ones to worry about," he said, "they save it all up for the arena where they can get to you and stomp a mudhole in your chest." As he walked away, leaving me staring at the bull, he tossed me a bit of friendly advice. "He hooks to the right by the way" and walked off to his trailer.  A bull is said to "hook" when he swings his head trying to hit the rider with his horns. They frequently do this to the same direction much as we are right-handed or left-handed.  This is a valuable insider safety tip for a bull rider.

What a good sport he is I thought! I had a plan for after I made the buzzer (8 seconds of staying on the bull's back), I would bail out off the left side of the bull, and hit the ground running to the left. Victory was mine!

When it was my turn to ride the monster I was pumped full of adrenalin and psyched up like a prize fighter going into the ring. I wish that I could say that I was eloquent and poetic like Muhammed Ali, but truth be told I could barely put two words together and nodded a lot as I got my rigging in place and checked the flank strap, and set and reset my hand. I had worked my bull rope with rosin and it was as good as I had ever gotten it. My glove was tight and my wrap was right, without making it a suicide wrap (tying your hand in where you could not pull lose) so it was now time to party. I asked for the gate and yelled something, (I'm not sure what) to let the energy loose and out we went!

If you can imagine being inside a spinning washing machine, tumbling down a hill, with flashbulbs going off inside your head, you might be close to the explosion that I was wrapped up in. I could hear my wind alternately being knocked out of me, and being sucked back in, as I was being physically pounded. My mind was focused on the brute's head as he "telegraphed" which way he was going next with his skull. I was barely aware of what my body was doing, other than the burning in my right arm from the force being exerted. I recall hearing the buzzer (a klaxon horn) but it wasn't as loud as I expected, the pounding in my ears nearly preventing me from recognizing finish line.

Getting my hand loose broke my concentration enough that I was being bounced around more, and had to fight to get my body moving to the left. I thought that I was moving away from danger and was about to land on my feet when the thud of horn against body sent me flying. He had hooked to the left!

Two clowns appeared out of the dust and one whacked the bull in the face with a rubber chicken and ran for his life. The other grabbed his tail and hung on for a few seconds before diving into the barrel. They both had good reason to be scared, this bull was bellowing his rage!

(We are talking about actions that took seconds to transpire, it takes me longer to write it, than it took to happen in real life.)

I hit the ground and rolled, not even feeling the damage that had been done to me by the impact of the horn, which had hit me bluntly instead of puncturing my side. Up and running again, I had been given enough time by my clown brothers to reach the fence of our rodeo arena, right in front of the crowd.

(Our arena was lined by a chain link fence with a thick steel cable in the center of it and a 2" x 6" top board nailed to the telephone pole posts. It was strong and secure to keep the livestock in and the audience safe.)

Running at full speed I jumped up grabbing the top rail with the Purple People Eater snorting at my heels in pursuit.

I am not sure which of us was more surprised when that board came loose in my hands and I landed on my back in a "dying cockroach" position. I was in full blown survival mode by that point though and jumped up with the board in my hands and swung it with all of my might, hitting the beast across the nose. He was "screaming" in rage (and I would imagine pain) as I went up and over the chain link and hit the ground on the other side and his slobber hit my face through the fence on the other side.

Laughing at him as I finally felt the pain from my cracked ribs I said, "Ha Ha Mr Purple People Eater I beat you!"

He was just a dumb beast and couldn't have known, but in truth he had won. I had made the buzzer and had a great ride, but was disqualified for my free hand touching the bull before the buzzer. Rules are rules.

I do not regret the cracked ribs, or having my greatest ride taken away from me by the rules which gave a lesser performance the victory. I am disappointed in the old cowboy who lied to me for whatever reason.

In the end all that matters is: I rode the great Purple People Eater and lived to tell about it!

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