Friday, April 18, 2014

The Perfect Ride

The Perfect Ride
by Rocky Rutherford 

I've just hit town not a penny in my jeans
I been livin' on fig bars, coffee and beans.
I been out on the road the better part of a year
And what I been doin' just ain't no longer clear.

John Travis Lendingseed had never been a top a rodeo hand. He barely made enough to stay alive, living on fig bars, coffee and beans. He went from rodeo to rodeo in an old hanging down, ready to die F100 pickup truck. In good weather he slept in its bed, in bad he slept under it. 

As he rattled into the fair grounds in Central City, he wondered why he did what he did. It sounded alright when he was 19 but here he was between 35 and 40, worn out, busted flatter than a tire. Where did all those years go? Why, just yesterday he left the Army after his tour in the Nam with intentions of going to school on the GI bill. But what did he do? Went straight home, stayed drunk for a month, spent most of his money on whores and the rest on this old truck. Went straight back to one night rodeos. What the hell, he had no idea what to study. Besides he felt out of place with all them college kids. Thought about going back in the Army but that wouldn’t work, he didn’t like being told what to do. Being free is what he liked; rodeoing is being free.

This afternoon he’d make enough to go on to Yakima…if his luck changed. Luck has a lot to do with it. You gotta be lucky in drawing the right bull. Some of the cowboys had all the luck, especially the top hands because they always seemed to draw just the right bull, a rank one that suited their riding style. Well, John Travis Lendingseed, what is your style? He didn’t know and didn’t have the energy to think about it. Thinking made his head hurt.
“Hey, Seed, good to see you back,” said the stoned faced lady in a cockeyed cowboy hat at the entry table in the shade of an old live oak. “Whatcha ridin’ in cowboy?”

“Thank you, Miss Louise, good to see you too. I reckon bull riding is about all I can afford.” He forced a hand inside a front pocket and fingered around until he found the wadded limp bills. He smoothed them and laid them in front of her. She rolled it without counting and put it in her tin box and popped it shut. They always have just the right amount she thought as the cowboy gimped off toward the pens.

“Good luck, cowboy,” she called after him, shaking her head.

“Thankee, Miss Louise,” he mumbled back over his shoulder. 

After dropping off his gear, he sat down on a splintered bench and pulled off his right boot, took out the hidden ten dollar bill then stomped the boot back on, Reckon he’d head on down to the Palace and have a cool one.
Big Sal, the Rodeo Gal, had mounted the bar and was surrounded by cowboys sousing down beer and munching on peanuts, assuaging their empty bellies. The juke box blared out a song about a sad cowboy song. Back in a darker corner the perpetual poker game cranked up. 

Ah, this ain't so bad a life, John Travis Lendingseed reckoned. Everybody's happy, free. Just one big party after another. Just look at all the places he's been. Reckon he's what they call a world traveler. The beer went down cool and smooth, truly a cool one. He figured he'd keep on doing this rodeo. Why not? Nothing else he knew how to do. With four finger flicks of his slender right hand he built himself a smoke. Cheaper than tailormades these rollyaowns. Maybe later on he'd hook on a number he kept stashed in his left boot.

The more beer he drank the better Big Sal looked; the more beer he drank the better he thought he was at bull riding; the more beer he drank the better the world looked. But he also knew he had to get some rest if he was going to show in the afternoon ride. He had just enough sense to force himself back to the truck. 

There, he couldn't sleep, something was wrong in his back and kept him flopping around . So he rolled out, groaning and cussing and hungrier than a preacher at Sunday dinner. He wished he'd eaten more peanuts. He knew Bill's Place was about a mile down the road toward Central City but he'd walk anyway, save his gas. The noon sun was hot so he thought about other things to keep cool while he scuffed along in his rolled over boots. If he won today he was going to buy him a nice pair of Tony Lamas.

Bill's 90 Cent Breakfast Any Time Special, laid heavy on his chest a minute after he ate it. Greasy bacon, greasy eggs, greasy grits, even greasy coffee. He was just starting his second cup when Cleatus Coggins came in. Cleatus, a loser, drifted from rodeo to rodeo making just enough to stay alive and drunk. He stunk bad.
"Jesus," John Travis Lendingseed said, "you smell like a brewery."

"Nuthin new, huh, Seed?" 

"You really don't give a shit do you, Cleatus?"

"Nah, Seed, no use pretending. Want me to move to another table?"

"Hell, look who's talkin'. I damn sure ain't nuthin' to write home about."

They snickered, drank the greasy black mess, smoked Bull Durham, and swapped bull riding lies. A half-drunk cowboy hung over the juke box trying to sing along with a sad cowboy song. 

"Damn," John Travis Lendingseed said, "that's bad."

"That cowboy sings like I ride," said Cleatus. Finally, a big bellied man in baggy ass
levis came from the back somewhere, snatched up the wannabee Hank Williams and threw him out into the parking lot. 

Quietly they drank free coffee until trade picked up and big belly said he was sorry but they needed the table space.

Behind the chutes John Travis Lendingseed hung his gear then perched his skinny ass on a top rail to watch the show. The catch in his back kept aggravating him. Seems like the older he got the more funny aches and pains he got. Man, that Cleatus stunk, he thought, sniffing himself. As soon as he got his ride in he was going to find a creek and take a bath. Right now he needed to relax, get his mind right for a good ride, get his mind in the middle. He wouldn't tell nobody but poetry relaxed him. Well, what he called poetry. Real poets would call it drivel, he was sure, but he just liked the sound of his own words as they chased visions inside his head. Like this one he had been working on:

Cowboys called him the Iron Man back in his day
'Cause he'd rode in 'em all, Calgary to the San Francisco Bay

If he could just finish it maybe he could sell it to a magazine or make a song out of it. How about:

Top notch buckles, bucks and ladies he's had 'em by the score
He's the all around blue bell wrangler cowboy nineteen seventy four.

He shook his head and tried to remember the words but they faded and he was back to the first line. Shit, he wasn't no poet no way. He was a bull rider. Piss on this. He was aware of the sun burning his back.

Out of chute number one ridin' Dyn-o-mite, the Silver Valley Kid is a ridin' hard tonight. The speakers trembled and roared, cacophonous in the dusty hot afternoon. Cowboy after cowboy busted out of the chutes on slobbering, snot slinging, shit splattered bulls, some spinning, some blowing, all straining to get the crazy bastards off their backs..

"Man's got to be an idiot to ride one of them bulls," an old hand behind the chutes said to nobody in particular.
Out of chute number one ridin' Dy-no-mite, the Silver Valley Kid is a ridin' hard tonight.
John Travis Lendingseed, you ready, cowboy?
John Travis Lendingseed busted ass to chute number one, his head plumb cleared of anything but riding Old Lightening Rod. Stay in the middle he kept telling himself as he made his wrap and honkered down for the ride, stay in the middle.
"Bullshit," his daddy said on the other end of the line. "There ain't never been no one hundred point ride. You drunk again, boy?"

"I'm telling you, Pop, I just did it. Not mor'n a hour ago. Right here in Central City.

Two judges, one on each side of the arena. I don't even know who they are. I knowed I had a good ride from the git go. All I was hopin' for was traveling money. Pop, it's a perfect ride."

It got quiet on the other end. "Pop? You there?"

"We'll talk about it when you git home, John Travis" Click.

How do you believe you are the first person in history to do something? Rodeo is two, three hundred years old, and he, John Travis Lendingseed, five foot five, one hundred twenty pounds just rode Old Lightening Rod, World Champion, unrode, two thousand pound rankest bull in the whole world for a perfect 100 score...a perfect ride. But something didn't fit: try and try, he could not remember the ride. A dream, it was over before it started. 

They partied all night until the Sunday morning sun found the Palace littered with drunk, sick, puking cowboys, buckle bunnies, and busted heads. John Travis Lendingseed stepped over and around the mess and tottered into head splitting sun. In his back pocket his just won buckle pressed cool against his skinny butt. In his front pocket he had one hundred and twenty dollars, what was left of last night's purse. But he could not remember the ride. The perfect ride and he couldn't remember it.

And maybe just maybe I can look up Patsy Jean
She said she loved me, she said she'd wait.
But, Lord, my thinkin' sure is gittin' kinda lean
'Cause I ain't seen Patsy Jean since nineteen sixty eight.

 He sand crabbed to his pickup, rolled under the bed, and slept in drunkenness. When he woke he rolled a smoke more to cut the taste than satisfy a nicotine urge. On his back he smoked and listened to the trucks pulling out, cowboys heading to another rodeo. He wondered if they would remember his perfect ride. Now, John Travis Lendingseed would be famous. And if a dude is famous he gets rich. In a few weeks, when the money came rolling in, he would buy the spread his Dad always wanted, a thousand acres, or more, with nothing but cattle and horses. No chickens and goats, none of that weak ass shit. They'd call it the 100 PRR, the 100 Perfect Ride Ranch. No more one night stands, broken down arenas, sleazy rooms, when you could afford them. No more sleeping in the bushes and in and under dying pickups. He would have time to write, to become a big time cowboy poet. After all he was the cowboy who made the perfect ride, he knew all about it.

Now when tomorrow gits the final whistle on me,

Western cut, sanforized, slim-fit and trim is what I'll be. 

Lightening singed his eyes, thunder buffed his eardrums, even more when he tried to remember the ride. He could remember the words to a half ass poem, but he could not remember a perfect ride. How was the world going to remember it if he couldn't? Some of the poem poked through, something about fig bars, coffee and beans. But the perfect ride stayed where it happened.

From perfection everything went to shit city, twenty two straight buck offs, five broken ribs, a broken ankle, broken wrist, and torn ligaments all over. Not a penny made. The applause withered as fast as his money. No sponsors clamoring for his name, no products wanting his signature, no fan club raising money. Folks even began to question the ride, some didn't think it happened. Some cowboys took it personal, said it was a good ride but no way a hundred. No matter that it did happen, the rodeo world would not accept it. It's like saying the Ten Commandants ain't. The perfect ride ground John Travis Lendingseed into the dirt more than any 2000 pound rank bull he had ever ridden, stomped the life right out of him. Finally, he had to give it up, go home. The cowboy who rode the perfect ride, a loser, rode off into the sunset with forty seven dollars and fifty two cents. 

Highway 287 into Dillon is the kind of highway you like to travel when you are in a hurry in the middle of the night. Nothing. Flat, black, desolate. You can open it up, put the pedal to the metal, let it all hang out, even in a pickup that is almost as old as you are. Shoot, if the moon's shinning you can save your battery by running without headlights. You can tank up on beer at Hank's Plank in Alden and drive all the way to Dillon shit faced in the moonlight and never see another car.

There is a picture of John Travis Lendingseed hanging next to the men's room in Hank's Plank. It shows a young cowboy at a junior rodeo holding his first bull riding buckle, A buck toothed smile beams from ear to ear. Just above the picture is tacked an aging newspaper clipping entitled "100 The Perfect Ride."

April that year was cool with some icy patches on 287 just outside Dillon where the road goes through a cut bank. A truck could hit the ice and shoot out the other end like a rank bronc trying to shed a saddle after a buckoff. John Travis Lendingseed hit that ice, some say at over a hundred, at least his F100 was wide open, lost traction and shot through the air upside down like old Dy No Mite coming out of chute number one. After landing on its top and sliding for a thousand yards straight down the yellow stripe it hit the dirt, caught traction and rolled up into a ball of smoking hot scrap.

About daylight a rancher, Flip Woosley, came upon the mess while checking his fences. Smoke still rose from the blackened ball. He drove home and called the cops then went back and sat in his truck and watched over the wreck. Wasn't no use in looking inside it, nothing could live in that, not even a piss ant. A while later they came with a wrecker and hauled the whole thing to Dillon. By this time several cowboys had heard about it and they figured it was John Travis Lendingseed, old Seed.. A couple of them cried as the mess jangled away.

"They'll have to cut ol' Seed,out when they git to Dillon," a cowboy said. 

"I swear," said another, shaking his head.

"The Perfect Ride," said another, wiping his eyes, "What good did it do him?"

Some time later an old cowboy hung a handwritten poem next to John Travis Lendinseed's picture at Hank's Plank. It wasn't much but it was the least he could do:

Now when tomorrow gits the final whistle on him
He'll still be Western cut, sanforized, slim, fit and trim,
He's the blue bell wrangler cowboy in his brass butted jeans,
Blue bell wrangler cowboy livin' on blue bell memories.

The End