Down at the Arroyo Cafe, Preston Surface, whose name sounds like a fertilizer, was telling us about the time he was doing standup at the Chuckle Barn in Willcox and how he unwisely mentioned the bumper sticker he saw on a pickup parked out in front of that fine establishment.
"If you ain't a cowboy, you ain't..." Preston cleaned up the sentiment as Rosa poured another cup. "...bovine waste product. I told them I studied logic at the university, and logic would suggest that if, in fact, you are a cowboy ... then wouldn't that logically make you ..." At this point his story turned into a chase involving assorted cowboys and a rope.
I told Preston I respect cowboys. Real cowboys. Which are about as rare as snow in Tucson. I've worked with livestock. And cowboys. And here is what I learned: Cows have walnuts for brains and you never ever want to mess with a cowboy.
When I was a greenhorn pitching hay in Sasabe, I told a ranch hand I dreamed of being a cowboy. This inspired him to tell this story about a hungry mountain lion.
"He looked down at the bottom of the canyon and spied a tasty looking bull. He was sure there wasn't a ranch hand in the bunkhouse so he bounced down the side of the canyon and he killed the bull. Ate every last bite of it and fell asleep in the sun. After a long nap he woke up, stretched and yawned the loudest yawn you've ever heard. It echoed around the canyon, waking the cowpuncher napping in the bunk house. Winchester in hand, he came out and dispatched the cat to paradise."
"Know the moral of the story, son?"
"When you're full of bull keep your mouth shut."
Oscar Wilde in overalls. Like the coffee quaffing cowboy next to us, Baxter Tiberius Fly, subject of the yellow news clipping that's been on the Arroyo Cafe bulletin board since before the chimichanga was invented. Baxter is older than the Chiricahuas.
"Meteor expert Michael Van Allen said the light seen streaking across the western Arizona sky last night was Baxter Tiberius Fly, a hapless rodeo competitor who was tossed aloft during a bull riding event at the Tucson Rodeo. Residents in Yuma reported seeing Fly arcing across the sky over the Colorado River."
Preston ate his salsa omelet and scanned the morning news. "Says here in the paper an estimated 200,000 people see the rodeo parade each year."
Gesturing to Rosa for a refill, Baxter quipped, "And twice that many smell it."
Preston told Baxter he didn't mind hard work and getting his hands dirty, that he never gave up on his dream of being a cowboy.
"If you want to clean up after a herd, I hear Carnival Cruise Lines is hiring."
Very funny. Preston ached to have Baxter's life. I could see why. Baxter lives on a ranch. Preston uses ranch dressing. Baxter is a wrangler. Preston wears Wranglers. Baxter rides on the range. Preston has a rusted range outside his trailer next to a busted washing machine.
Must have been around the time Cochise was teething when Baxter renounced the world that tenderfoots like you and I live in. Like an ancient saint, he took a vow of poverty in exchange for the sun on his face and a daily grind that in reality is 20 times tougher than the kind of daily cardio workout Preston fantasizes about when he's on his "Happy Trails" treadmill daydreaming of riding Trigger into the sunset.
Baxter's weathered face has more lines in it than a map of Santa Cruz County. From my vantage point, sitting between these two, I'd say Preston's pasty white face looks like a cow's udder with eyes. Those eyes grew large when Baxter talked about the rodeo.
"I got more more broken bones than the Apaches got broken promises." As he showed us his scars, Preston mentioned his favorite event. Bull throwing.
"There ain't no such event as 'bull throwing'. If there was I'd say every politician east of the Pacific should be banned from 'bull throwing' because that's their natural gift, a God-given advantage over the rest of us.
"My days of competing for prize money and a clean gurney at the local emergency room are over. I'm impressed Tucson still thinks so highly of this exercise that two days are subtracted from school learning so thousands of young 'uns can stay home and watch 'Cowboys and Aliens' on pay-per-view. Brings a tear to this old bull's eyes."
As we were leaving, Preston asked Baxter, "You still sleep out under the stars?"
"Yes, boys, I do. But I gotta tell you - some days I wouldn't mind trading in my life for someone who had an easier go of it."
I picked up the tab for the old cougar. He was yawning.
Email Star cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org