Rendered Fat Content


Harold Edgerton: Rodeo (1940)

"Who or what was never made explicit."

I'd never been. I'd never attended the rodeo part in the sixty-some years since I first attended The Southeastern Washington Fair and Rodeo. It required an additional admission, and I had no particular interest. The Fair had also featured parimutuel horse racing, something for which I possessed neither curiosity nor inclination, so my birth family and I satisfied ourselves with the offerings on the Fair side of the fairgrounds: the midway, rides, animal barns, and 4-'achie entries, massive ice cream bars, and, of course, the Dippy Dogs, the local variation on corn dogs, and turkey legs. We'd see the fair queens in the parade and witness loads of cowboys, even some with cattle as well as hat, but we were never once tempted to enter into that world, even as witnesses. Never once until last night, that is.

Friends offered us loge seats in one of the newly-constructed platform boxes suspended above the chutes on the opposite side of the arena.
These were recently constructed to allow the stinking rich to put themselves on display for the more ordinary grandstand crowd. Privilege demands a stage upon which to perform, a platform from which to both see and, more importantly, be seen—and receive concierge service for their watery Coors and Pendleton whiskeys.

We entered a little late after closing up The Muse's fair booth for the evening. Strictly speaking, we were supposed to maintain a physical presence there until eleven. Still, one of her election team members was scheduled to arrive a little later, and we both believed that we'd earned an evening off from the continual politicking. There are only so many times anyone can spout the same spiel before it wears on them, regardless of how compelling it seemed back nearer the beginning. We were tired and hungry, weary from the long days in that booth, not to mention from marching the parade route that morning. We bought ourselves celebratory burritos before slipping up onto the platform level.

As we entered, an announcer, whose voice was amplified far beyond all reason, was blathering about something. We were out of context, so we couldn't quite understand what. We felt a little on display because nothing was happening in the arena below, and the announcer was carrying on. I noticed the cowboys removing their lids and the beer drinkers holding their Coors down along the outside seam of their Wranglers. The announcer was preaching. I heard him invoking Our Heavenly Father, whom I'd never once suspected of being a Roe-Day-O follower, and even Jesus, to protect both competitors and the animals. The prayer went on almost until Sunday morning with increasing fervor. It felt more like a declaration than an invocation, something one might recite to incite budding Onward Christian Soldiers than any church choir. In the vernacular, It felt like we were loading for bear.

A lovely young woman was then escorted out into the center of the arena and introduced by that voice whose sole purpose seemed to be to make noise. Between his drawl—which, frankly, Charlotte, didn't seem all that believable—and the volume, his pronouncements came out like a dense brown fog, like he held a whole bag of marbles in his mouth and had just swallowed a couple. The young woman was there to sing our national anthem, and I finally got that the announcer was inviting everyone present to sing along. Cowboys even more reverently removed their Stetsons again. Others held their right hand over their heart while holding that can of Coors down along their pant's outside seam, safely hidden from the priest's eyes or the evangelist’s. The reverence was evident if fleeting.

By the time the blessings were finished, The Muse and I found our box and tied into our burritos since it had been a very long time since breakfast. I couldn't see the proceedings; earlier arrivals blocked the front rail overlooking the show. A Jumbotron offered views, but adjacent revelers essentially blocked it, so I studied my tortilla and kept my own counsel. Our announcer, whose presence by then exceeded mere annoying, provided continuous blather at an ever more deafening volume. He sure seemed wound up about something. I gathered that some excitement was commencing in the arena, but I couldn't quite fathom what it was focusing upon. Not a single cowboy was bucked off a single stallion, and the whole show, what little I could garner from my disinterested peeks around corners, seemed terribly choreographed and predictable. It was show business.

I wandered along the back of the platform overlooking the stock pens and watched while cowboys sorted animals in preparation for the following performances. The announcer’s noise was unrelenting, and I suddenly felt near-complete exhaustion overtake me. The Muse had told me that the team member had reopened the booth, and I thought that the booth might be preferable to the din of whatever was going on down below in the arena. I hadn't realized the county had sponsored such an overtly Christian Nationalist gathering. I felt complicit by then, as if my presence encouraged insurgents to rebel against their duly elected government. Lots of war whoops finally nudged my decision. I wandered down the stairs and across the arena, back into the Fairer side of the festivities.

On my way back toward the Pavilion, I happened upon a mechanical bull concession and an odd sort of bumper car replacement where participants donned inflated plastic sleeves that fit over their bodies down to just above their knees, heads sticking out the top. The object of the activity seemed to be just to run around and slam into others. Who wouldn't find that entertaining? Finally, I found myself in the middle of what I gathered was a laser tag layout where kids were shooting at each other with realistic little automatic rifles. How could that go sideways? My heart was heavy and in need of normalcy as I stumbled back into the Pavilion to see The Muse's candidacy booth and her team member waiting there for me. I set about pretending I hadn't seen what I'd seen, and I sold a few passersby on The Muse's viability as a candidate for Port Commissioner. She'd seen that The Port maintained one of those platform booths, too, and as a result, wondered anew just what she thought she was doing trying to become a member of that curious club that by their very presence there engaged in something terribly offensive. The Roe-Day-O's motto exclaims, "Let 'Em Kick!" Who or what was never made explicit.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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