Friday, July 07, 2006


When something doesn't happen to you but you wish it did, you remember it, years later, like it "almost" happened to you. I've mentioned my friend G before. Riding dead Marlins and skipping Volkswagens across tidal creeks and all that. A few months after that, from Sydney, we went our separate ways. G went out to a 2,000sq. mile cattle ranch in the middle of Australia, and I went north and bought a boat and filled it with topless girls, (but that's for another day.)

These are photos of G "living his dream". G loved the idea of being a cowboy, ever since he was a little suburban kid growing up in the mildest of suburbs in California and some relative gave him a small cowboy hat to wear on his small head. I think he liked the way it balanced out his ears, but that's just me poking fun at my oldest friend, and not (possibly) the case.

(But maybe...)

Here is how I remember his story, and the stuff that's made up, just skip over, if it bothers you...

G's family had connections with a family who had a connection with the "King" family, and apparently, this family owned one of the largest cattle ranches in Australia. So, with G still in California, and at Junior College, and a budding young man who had never "left the neighborhood", calls were made, letters were written, promises to meet were agreed upon, and if G got himself to a man I'll call G-string in Sydney, who was the accountant and representative of the King family, then G would be appraised; and if he seemed suitably configured to go live in the middle of nowhere--where dust and flies coated you like nuts in the chocolate of an ice cream drumstick, and temperatures were hotter than your hot tub at home, and eating meant shooting a cow and slicing off your portion--then G would get to play cowboy.

(I remember when G returned home. I met him at his house and he was gaunt, and skinny, and his face had converted from a child's face to the one he would carry to this day. Gristly and "experienced", is how it looked to me. G went on to become a site manager for a construction company that built things large. The "edge" in his transfigured face-- I am convinced-- is what makes him good at his job and makes the rough and tumble crowd of builders respect and follow him, even though he is as kind and soft as a third grade tuba teacher, and as tall as my sister. Five minutes after we said our "hey there's" G had a bullwhip out in the yard and was snapping individual leaves off of a walnut tree with it. "Hey there", I said.)

G was approved of. He was given directions. He got on a bus in Sydney, and was dumped off in the middle of nowhere, just north of Alice Springs, I believe, a couple of days later. From there he walked. And walked. And ran out of water. And got blisters on both feet. Chafing rashes between his thighs. He ate his last remaining snacks.

And made it up the driveway.

I'm not real clear how G got introduced to the boys he would be working with for the next four months, but I know two facts. The first "job" they gave him was cleaning the sheep dip. The second thing they did was give him the most obnoxiously buck-prone horse on the ranch, and gathered to watch him learn to ride.

G scrubbed the sheep dip like it was his pride Mustang at prom time. He held in the vomit, smiled, and scrubbed. A sheep dip is a cement channel full of chemicals and water that sheep are made to swim through. Lice, ticks, whatever are then killed by the swimming, and the sheep poop themselves and run like crazy out the other side. At least that's how I imagine one from G's descriptions. And G got it clean.

Now the horse... this is a different sort of test altogether. These boys weren't testing G's ability to ride a horse, they were testing his ability to get up after being tossed from one. I guess the thinking was that if G didn't have what it took to get up from a fall-- the grit, the tenacity, the thick hide-- he was never going to make it where they were going. Crews left the main house for weeks, out 'mustering', on horses and with helicopters, gathering cattle that roamed free until corralled, branding them, denutting them, medicating them and so on and so forth. You know, COWBOY stuff. And if G wasn't going to be able to rise from a fall, pick himself up when down, they didn't want him with them. These were tough boys, all of them. And no wussy from California was gonna candy ass their next outing and shorten their work schedule and make them all stop what they set out to do to bring in a broken spirited boy who wanted to play "cowboy" with the real men out in the real bush. And that was that.

G never fell off that horse.

He rode it alright. And it bucked, alright. G just never fell off. Now, I know G had been on a horse a few times. His sister belonged to a club that shared the use of a few horses and he went with her to play cowboy on a pasteurized trail on a glue pot with its eyes set on its food bin and the barn. But G was a weeble. Remember those? "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down." Little toys that had lead in their behinds, no legs and a light upper body. That was how G was built. Oh, and he was BOWLEGGED, like he had been born on a horse. G's center of gravity was eight inches below his navel-- down where the male mind is often focused-- and situated in such a way, that in combination with legs that wrapped with full contact around the barrel chest of a horse, you weren't going to get him to fall off even if you shot him dead and beat him with a roll of carpet.

The horse went off two seconds after G got on it, and bucked like it meant every kick and dip in its vernacular. G just hung on with his legs and with one hand on the horses mane, and after about two minutes, G was still sitting, the horse was tired but still standing, and the Aussi Jackaroos had a new worker they could trust or so it looked to them.

G told me about the helicopters that found the cattle. The long rides across open bush to get to where the cattle were. The corrals set up in open territory, looking like long lost ranches swept away by nuclear holocaust. They had a cook I'll call Chuck, who had a wagon. They had a young foreman by the name of Deep (started out as D.P. and went from there.) They had a med-school drop-out by the name of Doc, who could do a backflip from standing on the ground drunk or sober, and a slew of others with nicknames as colorful as party hats, and lives as tough as nails. There was Filthy. There was No Look. There was Robinhood. Raccoon. Stomper. Reginald. Alabammy Popper.

Yes. Alabammy Popper. That was G.

Deep loved things from the south, and so he called G "Rebel" for a time, and this evolved into a conversation about Alabama and Lynard Skynard, and then that stuck until one day Alabama was pining for a soda "pop", and since a pop is not an Australian term it raised a few dirty eyebrows, and Alabama Pop was lengthened to Alabammy Popper because it rolled off the tongue so nice. Alabammy Popper. From a suburban neighborhood in California to an eight second bull ride that lasted over a minute and garnered a standing ovation in an outback rodeo held once a year near Alice Springs, I believe. The dreams of a boy in a small cowboy hat fitted to his small head coming true in dusty and relevant ways.

But let me tell you about the backflip, first. Alabammy Popper and his crew came in after three weeks straight of mustering cattle. They headed into the only drinking hole out there, and got drunk. Drunkest of all, was Doc, who could do a backflip drunk or sober from the ground. He was passed out in a chair with a beer held in his lap sideways, its contents in his lap. He was snoring.

Now Deep had seen this kind of thing before. He started to brag to people about how Doc could do a backflip anytime, day or night. Just wake him up and ask him. He got other drunk jackaroos from other stations intrigued by the thought of this. They could see no hope for Doc. In fact, they were prepared to vote heavily in two to one odds that Doc couldn't do a backflip if they woke him. Deep had them, and he had their money. G said that it took about two minutes to wake Doc and get him standing. It took them less time to explain the bet to Doc. Doc had done this many times before, it seems. Doc leapt, upwards and backwards. His feet rose above his head and continued in a continuous arc until planted back where they started. Doc did a "ta daaa" to show his status and then reeled sideways and fell, dizzy, to the ground. His cut, according to G, was half, as always. G said he had lost a hundred bucks in the betting, and that he had learned to trust the saddle tales these guys told all the more.

G was signed up for the yearly Jackaroo rodeo that was held for the cattle workers in the middle of Australia once a year without being asked. They just assumed he would be all for planting his butt on an angry bull and kicking it in the ribs to make it madder. Who wouldn't want to do that? G said he went to watch, and was lamenting the fact that he hadn't signed up, then was glad to hear that the boys had signed him up, and then was not so glad to hear he was entered in the bull riding competition and had drawn "the bull with a reputation", and then found himself midday dropping off a fence and onto the bull's back, voices he could no longer tell where they came from giving him instructions as his tunnel vision grew acute--it was a bull he was sitting on, was it not?-- and then taking a few deep breaths as he heard the announcer make the announcement. "And now, all the way from 'merica, we have Aaaaa Laaaa Baaaaa Meeeee Paaaaaa Purrrrrrrrr. "

The gate opened. G said the way they said his name had made him laugh, and when you laugh, its hard to maintain your coordination. It didn't matter. G was a weeble on a bull. He was a rag tied to a car antenna. He was a pompom on a beanie on a man on a bicycle. He was "Elaine" dancing on an episode of Seinfeld.

Alabammy Popper rode that bull for the full eight seconds, then he rode it another eight seconds, and another. The bull bucked and snorted and did what bulls do and Alabammy did what weebles do. He didn't fall down. Alabammy dismounted a dejected and exhausted bull to a standing ovation, the crowd, all Jackaroos and other rough and tumbles not too hell bent on getting up even for a lady in those parts, all standing and whistling and hooting and hollering and G, the little suburban California boy with the small cowboy hat for his small head, took his hat off and took a well deserved bow.

At least, that's what he told me....


Dogbait said...

A very entertaining post!

Cav said...

Sounds pretty legit, and very well written prose. We don't call 'em cowboys or ranches though, stockman and station are the words down here :)