by PJ Mack
Jim was seventeen but he was a big boy who passed for a man.
Jim was seventeen; Elves Presley handsome and already he loved to drink. Our family lived on a crumbling farm in Hopedale, Massachusetts. One afternoon in the summer of 1969 Jim had a few of his fellow indulgers with him on the patio in our back yard. Getting bored Jim and his drinking buddies decided to hop in Jim’s Demo-Derby looking 1963 Chevy Impala and go riding around the back country roads. There were four of them in the car, the girl Jim was with and another couple in the backseat. When they came upon a cow farm the girls immediately wanted to pull over and watch the cows and maybe get a chance to pat one or two of them. This was where Jim saw his chance to show what a professional he was with farm critters. Everyone had a good buzz going and each had an open can of beer in their hand as they jumped out of the car and climbed the banking to the fence to watch the cows.
Jim hung back before getting out of the car so he could take a large gulp of Tango from the bottle he had in a paper bag that he was protecting between his knees. He was paying more attention to that bottle than the girl he was with. When everyone got out the girls ran right up to the fence and began calling for the cows to come to them. Jim, however, went to the rear door of the car, opened it and sat on the back seat. After slipping the bag with his precious Tango under the drivers’ seat he reached down and took a big hand full of grain out of the coffee, can he kept on the floor. He closed the door and walked over to the girls. “Hold out your hand,” he said then he poured a little grain into each of the palms of their hands. The girls were thrilled and sure enough the cows slowly came toward them.
Everyone was happy petting the cows when the other guy with them said, “Hey…look at the size of that big cow under that tree over there”. Jim looked over and immediately knew it wasn’t a cow, but a big bull escaping the hot sun in the shade of large tree. “That’s no cow, that’s a bull you idiot,” Jim said exhibiting his expertise to the young ladies.
“I wouldn’t want to mess with him, he’s a monster”,
“are you kidding I work with those things all the time,” Jim said boasting.
“I do…I’ve even ridden them” Jim ventured to say.
“Yeah, well why don’t you hop on that one?” the guy said jokingly but with a challenging look on his face. Knowing the girls were listening Jim stuck to his story. The more Jim bragged the closer he brought himself to being humiliated in front of the girls.
“You don’t think I will?” Jim was now on the path of no return.
Jim’s mouth was the cause for most of his problems. The girl Jim was with spoke up,
“no Jim don’t do it”
“I bet he won’t even let you get near him” the guy taunted. At this point Jim knew he was in too deep to back out now. Jim threw his head back as he finished off his can of beer,
“I guess I’ll have to show you.” He walked back to the car opened the back door and sat with his leg’s out the door, reached under the front seat and snuck a huge couple of swallows of Tango and put it back under the seat. As he got out he took the coffee can of grain with him. Jim kept the grain in his car for when one of our horses would break out and he would have to use it to lure the horse close enough to grab his halter. Then he would walk or ride the animal back to the corral. To keep his stash of Tango secret, Jim displayed the can openly so everyone would think that was the sole reason for him returning to the car.
To keep the Bull from getting to the cows, a barbed wire fence separated him from the cows. As Jim slipped through the fence the guy asked, “whatcha gonna do with that?” as he noticed the coffee can in Jim’s hand.
“You don’t know much about Bulls do you?” Jim said as he paused, looking at the guy like he was an idiot.
“These critters are as dumb as a rock, maybe even dumber than you? They’ll do anything for some grain with molasses in it.” With that, Jim started walking toward the large tree. At the same time, he was struggling to show no indication of fear, as Jim got closer the bull finally became aware of him. The bull was content in the shade so he stayed put and just followed Jim with his eyes for a while. Eventually dropping his head back down to graze some more. The bright, hot sun made Jim’s eyes squint as he slowly walked toward the tree. A bead of salty burning sweat ran into his right eye causing him to stop and rub it dry with his right shirtsleeve.
When he finally reached the tree he looked for the lowest branch under which he poured the entire contents of the coffee can then quickly and quietly he climbed the tree and placed himself straddling the branch above the grain. By now his accelerated heartbeat was helping the Tango do its job and with his Vodka enhanced bravery Jim began showboating waving and silently mocking the bull for his audience as he sat on the branch like it was a horse. When the bull finally got a whiff of the grain he immediately went to it and began to eat it. Jim knew he had only seconds before the Bull could finish the grain so he had to do it now or never. He hung on to the branch and swung around to where he was hanging on with his feet and his arms over the bull. He let go with his feet spreading his legs careful not to touch the bull and then finally lowered himself onto the bull. At first contact the bull jumped, but just a little, he was not yet finished with the grain and was sure not to leave any behind.
Jim thought, hey this wasn’t as bad as he had thought it would be and although the height really alarmed him he began waving to his friends. The guy who dared him to ride the bull looked at the girls and said,
“Damn, he really wasn’t bullshitting, no pun intended”. Then the girl that was with Jim said,
“Oh my god, the bull is moving”
“so…” the guy said. Suddenly Jim realized he had nothing to hold on to and looking down, it seemed like he was sitting on the top of a tractor-trailer. The bull walked for a few feet but soon began to break into a trot. Jim found himself bouncing up and down on the Bulls back with nothing to hold on to and each time he did the bull got more alarmed with the foreign presence on his back and went faster and faster. In fear of falling Jim grabbed the bull by the horns, pun intended. The bull then broke into a full gallop. Jim was now hanging on for dear life the bull sensed something grabbing his horns and stopped on a dime throwing his head toward the ground and between his front legs, the momentum flung Jim over the bulls head breaking his grip on the horns propelling Jim for some distance landing him hard on the ground and on his back with such a force that it not only knocked the wind out of his lungs but the centrifugal force tore his shoes from his feet, so that they cart wheeled kicking up little puffs of dust as they went spinning across the ground.
Jim lay there unable to move or breathe. He was flat on his back and on the verge of losing consciousness with his socks pulled down to his ankles leaving about a half a foot of empty sock pointing in the same direction as his toes. Jim could not move but he was still aware of the bull and then he heard his friends voices all holler at the same time,
“He’s coming back!” now, Jim was drunk but he knew that meant move or die. With no air in his lungs and no strength he forced himself up and staggered as fast as he could stagger toward the fence. He could hear the bull coming then he could feel the ground vibrating as the bull got closer and closer. His vision was as distorted as a hand held camera being handled by an armature running for his life as he saw the fence get closer and closer and the bull louder and louder behind him. He knew the bull was close because he could see his friends backing away from the fence as he approached. When he got to the fence he threw himself through the barbed wire tearing his shirt and rolled down the embankment to the gravel at the edge of the road.
He laid there motionless on his back looking up into the blue, and watched the white cloud’s moving across the sky. All were asking,
“are you alright Jim?” still finding it hard to speak he said,
“I told ya I could ride em.” Then he got up on his elbows and his girlfriend helped him struggle to his feet, he was covered in dust his hair was sticking up in every direction, his socks hanging from the ends of his feet, his shirt was torn. He staggered to the car opened the back door and sat down with a thump on the back seat. He reached under the driver’s seat and grabbed his bottle of Tango under the front seat and took a huge couple of gulps, then wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt and leaned back against the car seat and said to the guy that dared him to ride the bull,
“Okay big shot, now you try it” the girl’s said,
“what about your shoes?”
“Yeah… there you go big shot, go get my shoes”.
“No, I’m not going out there”
“yeah just like I thought, all mouth”. Jim took another swig, put the cap back on his Tango, put the bottle down then pulled his socks back up.
He got out and walked to the fence.
“Where is he” Jim asked.
“He’s back under the tree”. Jim looked to be sure and then went through the fence and quietly, calmly walked over and picked up his shoes and came back. He went through the fence and walked back to the car, he sat on the back seat and brushed off his socks and put his shoes back on. The other girl said to Jim’s girl,
“your boyfriend’s a mess” Jim interrupted the conversation,
“yeah but at least she’s with a man”.
The next day I went to my mothers house, I saw him sitting in a lawn chair on the patio, Jim could hardly move, he was covered in bruises, cuts and scrapes. My first thought was he got into another bar room brawl.
“What the hell happened to you?” I asked anxiously awaiting yet another bar room brawl story. Jim looked at me, reached around behind his chair grabbed his bottle and held it up like he was the statue of liberty and said,
“Nothing a bottle of Tango can’t cure”.
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