Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Rodeo

The conversational atmosphere in our employee breakroom at work is usually light of topic. Those of us who share this small room are careful to avoid philosophic discussions, but on one occasion, we slipped into the realm of religion quite by acci­dent. To most people the Mesquite Championship Rodeo is as natural and all-American as apple pie, baseball and hot dogs, but for Vinnie it is an unthinkable abomination.

My very colorful and much thought of friend, Vinnie, is extremely different. Vinnie is of Indian descent, not Cherokee mind you, but from the country of India, as in the Taj Mahal or Gandhi. Born wealthy, the oldest son from a very affluent Hindu family, Vinnie was reared to believe that when you die, you are reincarnated according to personal karma. Hinduism is the oldest known religion and has many complex laws and dieties. It is believed Vishnu the God of preservation has appeared from time to time in the form of a cow; therefore, these particular animals are deemed the highest of all that is sacred and holy, and must always be protected.

The red blooded, all American, blue-collared employees were gathered around the table in the small break room laughing, remembering the events of the company picnic held at the Mesquite Championship Rodeo the previous weekend. Each one telling their favorite episodes about the bullriders or calf-ropers. Most of the gang sitting at the table were born and raised in the Dallas area and very proud of their wild West heritage of the open plains. We were either red-necked (belligerent, tobacco chewing, bossy complex) or some modification of the urban cowboy or cow­girl who wore Ropers (boots), big silver buckles, and Stetson hats for dancing (only) in the boot scootin', buckle rubbin' fashion popular to the Dallas country and western bar-rooms. Most all of us were raised on the "rollin', rollin' rawhide" theme song that accompanied the trail hands, Rowdy (Clint East­wood) and Gil Favor (Eric Fleming), while they rode tall in the saddle herding the large head of cattle to the railroad station for sale, in the popular television series "Rawhide". Right up there with "Rawhide" is our biggest idol John Wayne, who roped all our hearts with his lasso. To profane any one of these men is an unspeakable thing.

You could have heard a pin drop as we turned to see who had entered into the break room but not yet joined in with the gaiety of the loud scene. All eyes were on Vinnie who stood frozen with the awkwardness of the moment. Suddenly without shame we were embarrassed for something we truly believed to be the gospel truth according to our Christian backgrounds. Cows are not Gods, nor are they beloved lost family members reincarnated; there­fore, not sacred or holy. So it is perfectly fine to ride 'em and rope 'em and have a darned good time doing it! After several seconds Vinnie sat down to join us for the afternoon break, but to say the least, the conversation was a bit stilted and slow going until after our scarlet blushing was over with.

Out of respect for Vinnie's religious beliefs, we attempted to define the art of rodeo. We tried to explain to Vinnie, who did not attend the company picnic, about the fun and thrills a person would have enduring a ride for eight seconds on one of the wild Brahma bulls. A few of the guys at the table had actually rode the huge bulls in the rodeo competitions, not just a mechan­ical broncing bull in a dance hall somewhere around Dallas, but the long-horned and fiercely mean, rodeo bulls. Around the table, our genuine cowboys tried to explain to Vinnie from their view­point, of how it made you feel like you could master the whole world if you could find the guts to ride the animal for a few short seconds, of all the dangers involved, and of the unfailing respect for the massive beast required to participate in the highly competitive sport. We all took turns and expressed how simply viewing the games from the grand stands was like riding the creature yourself, of how the bull riding and calf roping captivated and spellbound all your energy as you focused on the overwhelming, awe-inspiring feats being performed by these men so full of courage. As a group, we unanimously deemed these rodeo men as symbols, the rough and rugged, western heroes, the true Marlboro men of the nineties, who keep risking their necks for the ritual of bronco busting and bull riding inherent to our civili­zation. Each of us gave this effort of persuasion, which was directed totally at Vinnie, our best shots. Every one extended to Vinnie an invitation to come as our guest to the Rodeo and see firsthand for himself; but Vinnie would not, for the sake of his mother, agree to watch a sacred idol of his religion be blas­phemed. After all the convincing arguments were exhausted, Vin­nie's beliefs remained the same, as did ours.

Except for Vinnie, the rest of us left the break room that particular day with a new and somewhat different outlook on a few of our American traditions we took for granted: a thick, juicy porterhouse steak; a tough, salty piece of beef jerky; and our ancestral, western rodeo games. As we filed out of the break room on our way back to our respective jobs, our thoughts were almost audible. One of us was wondering how a person could actually desecrate a cow, while most of us were wondering how could a person actually bow down in worship to a cow.

--- Terri Bonney