Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Memorable Day

We have all had at least one.  A day that is never forgotten and the legend only grows.   I had one such day in the spring of my junior year at Gonzaga University.  

Let me set the stage.  I was 20 years-old.  GU did not have fraternity houses; the Outhouse, were I lived, was close at least for friendship and the party scene.   The Outhouse was just off campus with five permanent residents and many many temporary residents especially on Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights went keg parties were the rule; think Revenge of the Nerds rather than Animal House
 
The scene was nearly always the same.  Nine guys with five dollars each would grab the cheapest most vile beer keg possible—Schmidt (The Brew that grew with great Northwest. aka animal beer), PBR or Black Label all of which guaranteed a unique hangover the subsequent morning.  People would show…sometimes a few other times many for a $2/cup all you can drink beers and loud music. 

A major difference from the Outhouse and a frat house was the Outhouse didn’t have a caste of freshman that clean up.  There were consequences for the lack of cleaning:
  • The kitchen stove caught fire while cooking on it at least once.
  • The carpet had so much beer starch spilled into it that it crunched under foot—shoes where mandatory.
  • General stench of beer from leftover solo cups and other assorted goodies.
The day my tale occurred was during a week of University sponsored celebration quite likely called Spring Fling—a farewell from the six months of snow, hello to sun and shedding overstuffed sweat pants.   There were dances, parties and a student rodeo amongst other activities.  During one of the Outhouse swarays Mark (student body social activities czar) pitched that I participate in the student rodeo.  As I remember the conversation, it went something like this.

Mark:  “Hey!  Why don’t you ride in the rodeo?  We are going to have steer wrestling, bronco and bull riding.  It will be fun.”

Tony:   “I don’t know.  That sounds dangerous.  I’ve seen guys gored by bulls, stepped on by horses and injured various ways by rodeo stock.  I’m not sure a safety conscience guy like me should participate.”

Mark:  “Not to worry.  We have accounted for that.  The rodeo is going to be using junior stock that was brought in just for us.”

Tony:  “Hmm.  That doesn’t sound so bad.  I grew up on a farm, ridden horses and seen a bunch of rodeos.  Let me think about that.”  Time passes as I ponder participation over a couple of sips of beer.  “Mark, I’ll do it.”

As you can imagine, safety was a primary concern.  Safety expressed itself in at least three ways.  First, sign a liability waiver—it’s not GU’s problem if...when you get hurt.  Second, absolutely no drinking before or during the event.  Third, each rider must attend a practice day as none of us knew how to behave around savage rodeo animals even if it was stock intended for little children. 

I entered three chest thumping manly events steer wrestling, saddle bronc, and bull riding—opting out of the greased pig chase, goat tying and other cowboy games.  The practice sessions for steer wrestling and bronc riding were relatively non-memorable.  Not because they were trivial, but more so over shadowed by the dismay of imminent bull riding.  There was some general coaching by stereo-typical cowboys on how to throw a steer by grabbing the horns and chin (do cows have chins?) then twisting the head until it falls over.   Saddle bronc riding instructions boiled down to hold on with one hand till you hear the horn then launch to safety. 

Bull riding…ah the bull riding practice.    

For those that have not seen bull riding.  The rider puts a strap around the bull just behind the front legs and snugs it down as a hand hold.  A second strap is secured in front of the back legs and tightened in a way that only a man that wore shrink-to-fit jeans can understand how uncomfortable it is.  Or just watch Versus almost any night the Tour de France is not playing. 

Each rider is given an inch think felt pad to ‘protect’ our posteriors.  My hind was really the last thing that I thought needed protecting…what about a helmet (we were paying a king’s ransom in tuition), Kevlar vest, and various other body armor.  Nope.  One felt pad to cover your ass thank you very much; unwittingly, an early lesson in corporate survival.

Each participant lined up behind a chute as the bulls were cajoled into place.  The one that stopped in front of me was moderately sized and fairly docile, all things considered.  My bull was pretty much in the middle chute.  It was my turn to live in interesting times as I watched the other riders prep and promptly eject from the bull.  With each succeeding rider, my bull became more anxious, pawing the dirt and jostling in the chute and every bovine twitch jars me like lightening to my core. 
My turn. 
Ass covered. 
On the bull. 
Pull the cinch tight. 
Nod to the gate tender. 
Bull lumbers out of the chute. 
I dive for the gate. 
Practice over!

Fully prepared for the event in the mind of I’m not sure who, there is no sleep to be had that night as the event looms.  Tossing and turning are the rule as visions of mayhem danced in my head. 

Rodeo day.

The first two events went as predicted.  The steer ran away after dragging me most the way across the arena.  The bronc ran for several seconds as I maintained a death grip on the saddle.  After six or seven seconds he decided that the wart on his back was bothering him and shed me effortlessly.  At least no injuries were inflicted for the final event.

With the riders queued up behind assigned bull chutes, the animals rumbled down.  These were not the same bulls from practice.  These bulls were monsters; full sized bulls that were later revealed as the stock for the pro-rodeo for later in the week.  Nice.  I’m in for a beating.

Armed with stylish flannel shirt, cowboy boots, and felt safety pad I’m ready for any bull crazy enough to stop in front of me.  (Machismo at its pinnacle.)   Ready…ready for anything but the King Kong scale monster that acquires the territory formerly known as my chute.  Let’s call him Thor.

Thor packs his chute with his brawny physic of mostly white with brown patches and spots.  Thor was fit—all muscle and bone sans fat.  And he had horns, big horns, not goring horns as they had recently been cropped.  So at least they were not pointy horns.  On the downside each horn end dripped blood around the ring of the hardened exterior and the cauterized interior.  I started to freak out and choose to assume it was his blood not the previous rider’s.


Thor’s chute is a middle one again so he and I have plenty of time to ponder each other.  I used this time to worry, fret, pace, cry, reconsider, and build anxiety.  (My palms still sweat when I think about this.)  Thor used the time to thrash about and generally get angry: pawing, snot tossing, rearing and eye-balling me.

When I gathered my wits it became obvious why Thor was so agitated.  There were a group of real cowboys, our experts, there to assist us and increase the safety factor.  My mentors were doing anything but helping.  They had a hot-shot.  Now imagine the most painful place that a bull could be poked with this medieval device.  Yes, they were prodding him in the privates that would be cinched up later. 
“Why are you doing that?” I ask.

“To make sure he bucks hard”, they reply.

“Quit it!  I’m sure he’ll buck hard enough for me.” 

At this point it was time for me to board this freighter to Valhalla.  Safety check—Yup felt pad in place. 

Bring on Thor!? 

Apprehensively stepping onto the chute platform, Thor thrashed about yet again. My nerves bounce me off the chute.  I mentally race back-and-forth between quitting and riding with the speed of an Olympic ping pong match.  Bringing my nerves back under control, steps are taken to board Thor.
 
With a foot on either side of the chute, the cinch is wrapped around his girth and I’m directed to sit down upon the filthy, stinking, bleeding muscle ship.  I slip one leg down and Thor leans into my leg pinning it against the side, “Ouch!”  Ignoring the pain and using the space created by his shift, I slide the other leg down and my felt safety pad plants on his back.  A few scoots forward to lock my hand next to my body, I forego the suicide pinkie wrap and apprehensively nod at the gate tender to release the beast as the only thought in my mind was “please don’t dive for the gate.”
First hop, phew.  Second hop, uh-oh.  Third hop, I’m gone. 


Many things start happening quickly now.  Immediately, I’m on my back and Thor seeks revenge.  Revenge for all the hot shot prodding, cinching, etc.  Thor seeks to grind me into a grease spot in the middle of the rodeo arena.  I throw up my best MMA defense which was to pull my forearms up to add a fruitless layer of protection, kick my legs and squeal like a grade school punk in a haunted house. 
The forearm defense didn’t do much other than produce bruises and bone lumps where Thor’s horns were attempting to poke my innards out.  I’m not sure if the screaming was a help either or not as it turned out not to matter. 

Either Thor was a clumsy oaf, my thrashing leg defense was effective, or a combination of both.  As Thor plants a front hoof to drive his head farther into my chest, his hoof doesn’t meet solid ground.  The hoof lands on my whipping leg and I luckily pull his foot out from under him.
 
Thor goes DOWN!
 

All at once I win the little known Bull Wresting event as the only contestant and Usain Bolt outta there as the rodeo clown comes to my rescue. I dash toward the six foot fence snag the top rail and hop over without otherwise touching the fence.  A glance back at Thor and quick finger salute to him and my rodeo career is over.  Amazingly I escape major injury.

How does one follow-up such a day?

Living with some masters of celebration, we threw a party.  Not much unique here other than the party started earlier than normal, it was louder than normal and larger than normal.  As is understandable, the neighbors where not really having as much fun as the revelers.  After the party had been progressing for 12 plus hours a herd of 14 police cars and a patty-wagon arrive.
 
Not too surprising that the cops didn’t come to pay two bucks for a cup.  They wanted to take away as many of us as possible. 

So…it’s about 2:00AM, I smell like a sick concoction of bull, beer and BBQ.  Across the way the cops are talking with one of my housemates as the other four of us have scattered.  Either being an idiot or a good friend I approach the cops and confess to living in the house.  My housemate is already in the back of the car, as they bring me, bull smelly dude, up to the car, one cop queries the other, “should we cuff them?” 

A quick review of me and it’s hands behind the back into a hard plastic seat that has a special pocket for your cuffed hands for both of us.  How thoughtful.  With all those cops, cars and the paddywagon, they only took two of us away.  They did make an impression.
The charges were Minor-in-Possession and Noise.  For that they completely processed both of us: finger prints, mug shots and such. 

What a day!!!!

Epilogue
My court date was exactly on my 21st birthday.  On that day my case was continued for dismissal.  This was explained to me as don’t be loud or get another MIP for six months and your record will be clean.  I’ve been a model citizen ever since.

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