It didn’t seem at all strange to me that there was a cowboy in Terry Robinson’s back yard. This particular cowboy was dressed in black, had a cowboy hat, a six-gun and a lariat. He said his name was Cowboy Bob.
It was Terry’s ninth birthday, and the invitation had said something about cake, ice cream and a surprise. What in the world would Terry Robinson have in his backyard that the kids in the neighborhood had not already climbed on, run around, or pretended it was something else? I personally thought it would he a new tire swing. Melanie Ashcroft was holding out for a tree house. But the surprise was Cowboy Bob.
Cowboy Bob appeared about half way through the party, precisely at the point where the boys start thinking about starting an ice cream war with the girls. But when Cowboy Bob strolled out of Terry’s back door, all thoughts of battle vanished. After all, even kids have priorities, and there was a real live cowboy on Beecher Road.
He said “howdy pardners” like cowboys are supposed to do and told us his name was Cowboy Bob.
Cowboy Bob wanted to know where each of us lived and then wanted to know if any of us wanted to be a cowboy when we grew up. I said it sounded like fun, and Freddy Wingo wanted to know if it meant he wouldn’t have to clean up his room. Eventually, every hand went up except Melanie Ashcroft’s and Skippy O’Brien’s. (Everybody knew Skippy had his heart set on being a garbage man because he liked the truck. I’m pretty sure Melanie wanted to be a terrorist.)
“Well, let me show you little cowpokes what cowboys do.” Thinking that this HAD to involve cows somehow, three or four of us started looking around the Robinson’s back yard, watching where we stepped. No cows.
Cowboy Bob twirled his rope a couple of times, and then threw it over Chris Upshaw’s head. Chris was about two feet away from Cowboy Bob and was still looking for the cows when the rope slipped around his shoulders. Cowboy Bob wasn’t aware that Chris was claustrophobic, and was more than mildly surprised when Chris started screaming like a branded musk ox. Cowboy Bob finally got the rope off while two of us held Chris down, and then Chris ran to the corner of the Robinsons’ yard where he stayed for the duration of the party.
Cowboy Bob smiled bravely and went on to rope a few more kids, missing half of us on the first try. He said it was because of a long trail ride. I personally thought it was because Chris had bitten Cowboy Bob’s arm in a desperate attempt to free himself from the rope.
Then Cowboy Bob did that bit where you twirl the rope around your body and jump in and out. He tripped twice and got his pants dirty, made the long trail ride excuse again, and then told us it was time for Cowboy Bob to ride off into the sunset.
Melanie Ashcroft’s voice rang out before Cowboy Bob could take two steps towards the kitchen door: “What’s your horse’s name?”
“Uh … Jeff.”
“Where is he?”
“Oh. Jeff is off in a stable. They won’t let me ride him in the neighborhood.”
Another voice.: “Who won’t let you?”
Third voice. ”Where’s the stable?”
Cowboy Bob looked pleadingly at Ms. Robinson.
Ms. Robinson: “Children, the stable is too far away, and I’m sure that Irv … uh … Cowboy Bob has a long way to go. Isn’t that right, Cowboy Bob?”
“Uhh … right! A long way. OK. buckaroos. I’ll … “
Fourth voice: “Is that a real gun?”
Ego trumped good sense. He said: “Sure is. Want to see me fast draw?”
Even 9-year-olds know when adults should have left well enough alone.
Cowboy Bob assumed his best Alan Ladd pose, narrowed his eyes, gripped the handle of the gun, and pulled. The hammer caught on Cowboy Bob’s belt, but his hand continued north. Two things happened: he got a nasty cut on his hand, and he used some very specific, very descriptive, very uncowboy-like profanity that even made Melanie Ashcroft blush.
By that time, Joshua had blown his trumpet and the walls began to crumble. Cowboy Bob stomped away nursing his hand, shouting at Ms. Robinson.
The consensus in the backyard was (1) Cowboy Bob was probably not a real cowboy, although some among us held on to the dream. Chris Upshaw continued to hold on to a fence post. (2) Jeff is a stupid name for a horse. (3) Everybody knew it was OK to ride horses in the city. (4) He never said he had a TV show, and everybody knows that real cowboys have TV shows. (5) Real cowboys don’t say “crap!” a lot when they hurt their hand on a six shooter. (6) He never said he knew Roy Rogers. A strong indictment from a rough crowd.
It was a disappointment. Hell, at our age we were still reeling from the news about Santa Claus. Some of us are carrying the Cowboy Bob scars to this day. Chris, for example, refused to join the Navy because there was too much rope involved.
You’ve got to he careful when you start messing with heroes. People dressed up in Spiderman suits, for example, don’t count, because everybody knows it’s some copier salesman who’s been laid off trying to make enough money to pay for the Mercedes. But fake cowboys?
Come on, Roy, tell us it ain’t so.