THREE STORIES ABOUT COWBOYS
Samuel J Adams
THE COWBOY AND THE TUMBLEWEED
Late one night, a cowboy compelled by visions pulled over on the highway, picked up a tumbleweed, and sat it in the front seat. When he got home, he put it in the living room on the Laze-E-Boy opposite the couch and turned on a movie. It was a Technicolor cowboy movie from the 1950s, no particular favorite, just what came on the Cowboy channel. The cowboy thought the tumbleweed might enjoy it.
Midway through the movie and halfway through a pint of whisky, the cowboy put a Stetson hat on the tumbleweed. The weight of the hat made the fragile top of the tumbleweed crumple down some. The tumbleweed looked companionable and appealing with a hat on it.
Inside his home, the tumbleweed felt differently from how springy and dense it felt picking it off the road, when it had the texture of something handled in a dream. Now it felt brittle and messy.
He poured a beer for himself. He poured another for the tumbleweed. He put the beers on matching coasters with lassos on them. His wife had bought them. She was sleeping down the hall.
The movie finished. The cowboy had drunk himself into a warmly abstract peacefulness with the mystifying nature of the universe. He fell instantly asleep, woke immediately up, in the presence of the tumbleweed.
The cowboy had been a girl at the stockyard with whom he was considering an affair. He knew he would feel weird about it doing it, that he would have to hide and to lie about it. The tumbleweed helped him see this. Hosting the tumbleweed felt like a rehearsal towards future concealments. He hated the feeling.
His desire for the stockyard girl was like his desire for stealing a car and driving south with it, a mirage that disappeared the instant he was called to name a color, spell out a license plate, name a model, trace an escape route.
Dumb, dumb, dumb, he thought.
Dumb, dumb, dumb, the tumbleweed agreed.
He finished his beer and then he drank the tumbleweed’s beer. His enthusiasms for the stockyard girl faded right out of him.
He picked up the tumbleweed and carried out to his porch and bowled it down the street. It paused in the gutter, lingering like a street cat not quite finished getting scratched by a stranger. It bounced and drifted down the dark road, wending onto the berm and rolling back across the blacktop, looking smaller and more brittle than it had looked before until it he could see it no longer.
Back inside, he wiped down the Laze-E-Boy, then collected the itchy pieces his guest had deposited and put them in the trash. His wife never used the chair herself. He would Shop-Vac it in the morning.
Then he soaped his hands in the bathroom sink, tweezed out a few stickers, and called it a night.
THE CONDITION OF THE COWBOY
Once there was a cowboy who climbed a mesa near his home every day, rain or shine. Sun or snowfall, by scalding heat or blasting storm, he scrambled up the sheer cliffs, revealed by light, concealed by fog, until he was up on the flat part, and the world beneath him. He rose early to do it. He put off trips and weddings to hold the commitment. The vista from the cliffsides dazzled him, but more than them he was stirred by the conviction that his two eyes were recording it with more frequency than any other human set: his character and his fate were bound up in this manic obligation.
Early on in his sessions, his therapist if she thought this was a condition. Was there a name for what he had? Had she encountered something of its kind before meeting him? She was discreet about her other patients, but everyone else he saw in that waiting room looked very much like a cowboy, so maybe she had heard or seen something. “You know I ain’t asking you to get specific,” he clarified.
She said that it wasn’t about names and labels. It was about identifying negative behaviors and working on ways to correct them and take away their power. She asked if he understood that. He said did. Agreed with her every week. One agreement per every seven Mesa trips.
“I feel like we’re making progress here,” he said, for the hundredth time.
And for the hundredth time, she reminded him to watch his spurs on the rug.
MICHAEL THE COWBOY, THE PAPERBOY
Folks who rose before the dawn could see old cowboy Michael on his horseless ride. His aquamarine El Dorado kept a covered wagon clip through the neighborhoods. He drove it against traffic, so the mailboxes were accessible through the driver’s side window. Backwards and in the dark—this was how he shared the news.
Edged against the road, the El Camino moved with the sleepy revanchism of one remembering lost and glorious past, its window down and the ten-gallon hat of the cowboy leaning out of it, and the face beneath the hat attentively pursed and the eyes red and raw but missing nothing, serving every driveway.
In the passenger seat beside him were the newspapers stacked up to nearly child’s height and atop the stack a pile of rolled and bagged newspapers clambered nearly to the base of the neck rest and sat. The man shrank the newspaper pile by dexterously rolling one tube of newspaper at a time, until the child’s weight of newspapers lightened itself into a vanishing, his copy and three to six leftovers given him in anticipation of botched copies.
Fifty-six years on earth, twenty-eight a cowboy, now once more a paperboy. There was no shame in this. But there was less money.
Some said that this long-ago cowboy and once again paperboy had had a boy himself, with a wife no longer living, a boy born with conditions that kept him from even reaching the modest height of the pile. This was in another state, under wider skies.
A cop new to his beat once pulled him over from driving so slowly on the wrong side of the road in the predawn blue. He saw the stack of papers and felt ready to let him drive on with his day. But because he was encountering this man so early in the morning, so far from where any buffalo roamed and at a mystifying remove from regular, he asked about the cowboy getup, and why he’d taken a job with such early hours.
“I could say all kinds of reasons,” Michael the cowboy said. “Because I like the hat. Because I don’t hardly sleep. And brother, you wouldn’t neither.” And in that moment, for that cop, the novel pleasures of talking to a cowboy transformed into the social challenge of watching a cowboy blubber and cry, cry and blubber, trundle down the road yodeling his pains and expertly throwing newspapers onto the driveways.