Monday, January 23, 2006

How I Spent My Sunday Night

It's not the most amazing thing in the world to be from this part of the country and make a simple declarative statement indicating you spent a day at the Southwestern Exposition, Livestock Show & Rodeo. Announce it in a crowded room and no one will even pause long enough to give you a funny look. This is, after all, Fort Worth, Texas. "Cowtown"...for those of you who promise to say it with affection. We are a large metropolitan city with a university, a few smaller colleges and some peerless/ world class art museums , but many folks in these parts still wear cowboys hats and boots as part of their daily dress. Here, it's not a Halloween costume...it's just tradition. But for me...not so much. I mean...I have been to the rodeo before...many times over the course of my life. But see, I'm a bit of a genetic mix. My mother's family members are pretty much all from here. All of my male cousins wear cowboy hats and boots because, with the exception of one, they really are cowboys. They raise horses, mostly. You see these guys at a wedding or a funeral, the footwear and headgear don't change a speck.

My father's side of the family, however, isn't from around here. My dad was born in Vermont , and--until I was well into junior high--he used to say "worsh" the clothes. His father, my grandfather, was born in Germany and came here as a teenager. My grandmother was born a year after her parents, brothers and sister came here from Russia...speaking Polish which they dropped as soon as they got here.

We, meaning me and my sisters, are a mixed bag. None of us really ride horses as a rule, though we have done it once or twice. We feel kinda silly in cowboy hats and we don't know squat about livestock. Hell, we never even owned an animal while growing up. ( I don't count my brief and tragic ownership of Fred Mertz, the gerbil I rescued from 7th grade science lab nor our cranky parakeet, Aggie, whose capacity for unconditional love was extended ONLY to our father.) All three of us graduated from our father's university, that oft-ridiculed Texas school of engineers and farmers. And though we each came to own a pair of boots, learn to kicker dance and think of beer as a food group, we emerged with our respective graduating classes as fully-formed city slickers.


Slicker or not, when it's time to hit the rodeo, you'd best look the part. "When in Rome..." and all that. So that was the conundrum I found myself in early Sunday afternoon as I went tearing through one of the closest area stores that offered Western clothing in order to find something that trod the delicate line between tourist/poseur and a 4H-Club graduate. The line between what looks natural and what looks like you are trying too hard. The shirt was an easy pick and I already had the boots, but (ladies, this is for you) shopping for a pair of roper jeans is a special kind of hell that should be avoided at all costs.

Roper jeans, even when they fit right, seem to have a "lift and separate" feature that makes you feel as though you're wearing a thong two sizes too small. If you normally speak in an alto range, you will be a soprano for the duration of the evening in pants like these. The customary relaxed fit that I favor in a pant is simply not possible unless you get something far larger than you usually wear, the swollen result of which is your uncanny resemblance to the bovine critters you'll be gawking at later on.

And then there is the "rise". Dear God in Heaven...spare me from the rise. (For the guys...rise is where and how low the waistband of your pants rests) At least the categorization methods make some sense, once you've got your geography down and you can calculate just exactly how much of your pregnancy-traumatized abdomen you'd like to have hanging out above the zipper. Calgary, being the regular rise, was my pick. Tulsa, was low rise, Jackson was lower, and Houston was so low that it required a bikini wax before wearing was even advisable. I tip my hat to the wisdom of the Canadian fashionistas whose insight provided me with a way to dress the part of a cowgirl without inadvertently mooning everyone when I bend over to flick some dirt off of my boots. I found my pants...eventually...but not before breaking a sweat while doing it. How those girls, many of whom are big enough in the "saddle region" to merit my cousins' favorite insult--"heifer"--, are able ride horses in these pants all day, I will never know.

The evening turned out great. Will Rogers Coliseum holds a lot of childhood memories for me and it always smells of corn dogs, Belgian waffles, popcorn, arena dirt and...most importantly...of horses. It's a smell that is comforting--which is odd given that I'm allergic to horses. However, dope me up with enough Claritin to keep a buffalo awake for 72 hours and I'm good to go. We ate dinner in little corner of the coliseum that was frequented by its legendary namesake. I had calf fries for the first time and we drank beer and bet quarters on the cowboys and cowgirls that performed in their featured events. (My barrel-racer won!)

The most surprising part, though, came near the beginning of the show. I'm bugged about how big I think my ass must look in these jeans and I'm suddenly remembering how the rodeo announcer, who's been here forever, has a bad political spin to his spiel that leans just a little too far to the right for my taste. The riders come out with the flags of the U. S. and Texas and the lights go out so I'm fumbling for a place to set my beer so I can sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" without looking like a total hick, which I am not--despite my dreadful accent that I denied until I heard my voice on a tape recorder. But before we start singing, the aforementioned announcer says in a sincere and booming voice , "It's a beautiful day in Texas and we give thanks for the rain"....and I remember suddenly what a miracle yesterday's little storm truly was in a drought-plagued place like this. Dying cattle, fires everywhere, foundations cracking in homes and dust on every surface. I realize I'm in the presence of people whose very survival depends upon the rain for crops and animals. All I had to worry about was whether or not the Scotchguard would keep the suede on my boots looking good. Not a bad trade-off. It just goes to show you that you're never too old for perspective to kick you in the ass. And if you're wearing the right pants, it only hurts a little bit.

22 Comments:

Blogger Ditsy Chick said...

Great boots! I cannot watch rodeos, because I am so afraid someone will get hurt.

Ah, life's more affirming moments, you are a great person for picking up on them and writing about them so very clearly.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Rock said...

Wordgirl - I don't know if you really mean it but in alot of your posts you seem to tear our wonderful University down -it had it's issues - hell they tossed me out of a dorm - I remember the hypocrisy big time! But you know we loved alot of the stuff there - it was college and that stuff just happened - it was simple and it was pure.

I understand when you say it was a place where the written word was not wanted or appreciated - but it is a place like no other - and for me - a Yankee - trying to aclimate it was even tougher - but I am stonger and fairly proud - to wear that ring - and have those memories.

Old Texas stuff is great. Rodeo is great. Boots are good. Good friends are better.

God bless.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous irene said...

I so want to see a rodeo once in my life!!!

2:20 AM  
Blogger turboslut said...

Just to let you know that I have moved you to the members list on Creme de la Creme. Sorry for the delay but I have been away. Enjoy, T xxx

3:17 AM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

We are ALL about the rodeo down here in H-town. I will be seeing Pat Greene and maybe Sheryl Crow in March - oh yeah, and bulls and stuff too.

I refuse to dress the part though. I grew up riding and showing horses but I don't like dressing that way now.

And, Rock? Its Aggieland. There's lots to make fun of!

4:41 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

Those boots are wonderful!

5:13 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

Rock- I'm not tearing down A&M. I just said that it is often made fun of. Not justifiably so, however. People who make fun of it are jealous, plain and simple. Or they don't understand it because they haven't experienced it. Certain truths have to be faced, though. They ditched their Journalism dept. It is no more. If you're a creative person and plan to use that in your work, you won't find much to nurture that at Aggieland with regard to majors. Again...I'm not trying to make fun...I'm saying that needs to be addressed. But a Democrat can survive there and I am proof of that. What made that possible were good friends. Plus you and I both know that two people who graduated from Baylor who run into each other on a street in NYC don't have nearly the connection that two Aggie strangers would have. Maybe that's what others just don't get. And they never will.

Debbie- Pat Green lives about two streets over from me.

6:04 AM  
Blogger The Queen Mama said...

Amen, sister. On so many levels. On the jolt of perspective. And most definitely on the pants. I owned a pair in the early 90s. There would be no way I could squeeze my three-C-sectioned self into those things now. Kudos to you for accomplishing that feat.

7:12 AM  
Anonymous jon deal said...

It's true, Aggies are looked down upon by just about everyone, unles you went there, it seems. My late father in law used to tell Aggie jokes, instead of Polish jokes. To wit:

Q: Why didn't the Aggie call 911 when he his house caught fire?
A: Couldn't find the "eleven" on the dial.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

Yehaw. I love rodeos. Of course the ones I've attended weren't classy like yours. The bulls acted more like cows and the cowboys looked like surfers in costume.

7:47 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

But even the detractors change their minds just a little bit if they visit the campus. Politics aside, it is the friendliest campus ANYPLACE.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Hänni said...

OK wordgirl I am totally ignorant about all things rodeo, so i want to thank you for your lovely recap.

I do have one question though. What the hell are "calf fries"? I'm imagining some poor baby cows all battered up and fried real crisp.

I hope I'm wrong about that.

But if I'm not, I guess I understasnd. We certainly have some strange regional foodies going back home. In fourth grade during our "Alaska Native Potluck" someone's mom (an Eskimo lady) brought in a big, cold bowl of crisco with berries and sugar mixed in. This is called "eskimo ice cream." In the villages - where this sort of thing is readily available - the crisco is replaced with whale blubber.

10:00 AM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

Well, this is the closest I think I'll ever get to a rodeo. Sounds interesting, except for the "lift and separate." LOL!

10:47 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

The fires are still raging down there? I have not seen anything in the papers for days.

Don't you wish that bush would acknowledge the drought and fires?

12:06 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

Hanni- As gross as it sounds, Calf Fries are (gulp) their testicles.

Batter-dipped and fried with ketchup...they're not all that bad. I'm not much of a gourmand when it comes to food that is "out there". I've never even eaten sushi. The Calf Fries thing was peer pressure, I tell ya!

12:10 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

Love the boots, I've been dying for a pair, but I don't think I could pull it off.

I think you forgot a major accutrement of a true Texan cowboy in your description - The Belt Buckle.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Nessa said...

and that is why you always go with the Wranglers (pockets on the butt and true cowgirl style too)

:)

1:23 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

Uh...ya know? I was raised in a home (My father is a class of '56 Aggie) where we were forbidden to take potshots at ourselves by telling Aggie jokes. Woe to anyone who told one in my father's presence. Years later, I don't consider myself a rabid Aggie. Sure, I rag on the culture of conformity and the left-brained nature of its leanings. Truth is Truth. But there's no truth to the jokes, and they make me damned uncomfortable still. I'm just sayin'.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

Testicles?! Oh my god. I totally thought that was just a cute name they gave to the fries there. The Museum of Science and History here serves "Dino-fries" in the shape of dinosaurs for the exhibit. But testicles?

1:50 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I'm afraid of rodeos as well because I'm panicked over whether or not an ANIMAL may get hurt. People, not so much.

But I do have to say that I was once deeply in love with an Aggie who couldn't have been sweeter, and consequently I have nothing but fondness for the school. Any place you get to have a kiss for every touchdown is ok by me.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

My mom grew up in Pendleton, OR, home of the Pendleton Ruond-Up, and I've been every year of my life, except for 4 years of college. I love rodeo. Wrangler butts don't drive me nuts, but a crisp white western shirt, a tall, clean straw hat, and a belt buckle that doubles as a satellite dish make me swoon. Icing on the cake is a thick, dark, porn star moustache. All in context, of course.
Your photos were excellent, too!

3:46 PM  
Blogger Nilbo said...

I adored your descriptions - of the events, of the food, and of the jeans ...

And what a lovely finish for the story .. kinda cold-cocked me ... wasn't looking for the left hook there.

Well played, my dear, well played.

4:09 PM  

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