Summer was the club’s annual one-ton tug-o-war tournament held on the sand near the Manhattan Beach pier. Each team was allowed to have a maximum of 2,000 pounds of humanity, and they weighed us in right on the beach. Twelve teams were entered that ranged in size from seven to 13 men, the majority closer to eight since the club boasted quite a number of ex-professional and ex-college football players. I was on one of the two 12-man teams most of my team being endurance athletes (handball players, runners, tri-athletes), while the other 12-man team was all beach volleyball players. The little guy team, 13 men, primarily consisted of former gymnasts. |
The event was scheduled to be covered by local television. Cameras and crew trucks were all over the place. Then they got a look at the team names. Here’s a list: Swinging Dicks, Cleveland Steamers, Muff Divers (my team), Sphincter Boys, Long Dongs, Rusty Tampoons (that was the intentional spelling), Blue Steel Meat Rollers, and 69ers.
…but there were also some normal names: NFLers. Little Mean Machine (the gymnasts), Fat Face Fenner’s Falloon (Hermosa Beach bar), and The Bulkstars.
The TV crews shot some boring footage around the edges and quietly left.
We got a kick out of the muscle teams, those consisting of large, buffed-up weight lifters and football players. They worked out together daily, snorting and sweating all over the weight room at the club for a month before the event. They strutted all over the beach on game day warily eyeing each other, wondering which large, testosterone-laden behemoth would prevail. And so did the on-lookers.
Some of us knew the answer: none of them. From the waist down, endurance athletes are usually stronger than the big guys. With 24 feet on the ground versus 14 or 16 we couldn’t lose, at least to the muscle heads. It was about leg strength, not upper body strength. They also aligned their people smallest to largest, the largest being the anchor. We did the opposite. Did I mention most of my teammates were engineers? So, the muscle heads had American Athlete’s Tribal Knowledge (what I call ignorance and superstition) on their side, and we had physics (science and virtue) on ours’.
First tug was Muffers (my team) versus the club owner’s team, Swinging Dicks, an eight-man weight-lifters squad. When the whistle blew, we dropped to the sand and locked-out. The Swingers strained, sweated and screamed, but couldn’t budge us. We let them exhaust themselves for 45 minutes, wise-cracking and conversing with the crowd constantly. Finally, our anchor began a cadence and we pulled the blackguards over the line in seconds. That’s the way they afternoon went much to the displeasure of practically everybody. The Little Mean Machine beat us in the final, but “learned ignorance” was the real loser—or at least should have been.
The next year, the muscle heads refusing to learn, came up with a new strategy mainly, 1) working out for two months prior, and 2) getting a physician to offer an opinion that pulling for more than 30 minutes could damage hearts—thus taking away (they thought) the endurance athlete’s edge. Except we still had more feet on the ground and stronger legs. A 30-minute time limit was mandated. The team that pulled the center of the rope further during the time limit won. We beat them just as badly only in less time thanks to “their” new rules.
But if ignorance is simply the absence of knowledge, then stupidity is another thing all together. With that in mind…
That autumn Carson and Bobo rushed into the club one afternoon and declared that they, Gates, and I were officially registered as the Manhattan Beach Professional Rodeo Club.
“Say, what?” said Gates with a screwed-up look. I returned his look and shrugged my shoulders. I had no idea what they were talking about.
“You have to be a professional rodeo team to enter the wild horse race in Prescott,” said Carson as if explaining to a retarded child.
“So what?” said Gates.
“What’s a wild horse race?” I asked completely bewildered.
“Yeah, we got these forms,” said Bobo, “easy to get; just wrote in for them.”
"What's a wild horse race?" I asked again, everyone ignoring me.
“So what?!” said Gates.
“Hey, dumb ass,” said Carson, “remember that eight of us have a road trip scheduled for the Prescott Rodeo?”
“Yeah, so?” I began. “You don’t have to actually be a rodeo rider to get in, dumb ass!”
“You do if you want to enter any of the events, dumb ass!” said Carson.
“We’re not entering, we’re watching!” yelled Gates.
“Not any more,” sniffed Bobo. “We’re a wild horse racing team. Maybe win a couple hundred bucks. Take care of our bar bill.”
Gates and I looked at each other. “What do we have to do?” I asked.
“See, here’s how it works,” said Carson, “the first guy ropes the horse, the second guy distracts the horse while the third guy saddles it; then the fourth guy hops in the saddle and rides to the finish line. Simple.”
“I can throw a lasso, so I’ll be the roper,” said Bobo, “Myers, you’re the hobbler—“
“What the hell’s a hobbler?” I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like whatever it was.
“You get in front of the horse, grab his head by the mane, and bite his ear. It really pisses him off.”
“I imagine it does—“
“Anyway, the horse is so distracted that Carson can saddle him, and Gates—you’ve ridden horses, right?”
Gates gave me a blank look. “Yeah, tame ones at Griffith Park—“
“That settles it,” said Carson with finality. “You’re the rider.”
Gates whispered to me, “We got nothing to worry about. There is no way Bobo can ever rope a horse.”
Prescott, Arizona was festive when we arrived. Bobo and Carson dressed like cowboys, and Gates at least wore a hat. Me—I never cared for the attire so I went in standard T-shirt, jeans, athletic shoes, and baseball cap. Carson and Bobo were afraid the officials would disqualify us because I didn’t look like a “rodeo guy”, which was all right with Gates and me. Gates was cavalier about the whole affair figuring there was no way he would ever have to fulfill his part. He was right.
Before the event, we decided to hit a few saloons to fortify ourselves. At least Gates and I did. Carson and Bobo were completely at ease and bragged to those within earshot that we were going to win the wild horse race competition. I cursed myself for getting involved.
When we got into the corral with six other teams you could tell pure chaos would ensue. The highly spirited, nervous, angry horses were pacing about snorting loudly, and kicking up dust. Bobo selected a large roan that looked a little more passive than the rest, and directed us to form a rough semicircle around the beast while he tried to rope it. Parroting the other groups, we spread our arms and started to close in very tentatively. Bobo’s roping skills were terrible, and served only to piss off the horse even more. The beast started kicking the air while Bobo swore at him.
Damned if the impossible didn’t happen. Bobo threw a rope over the horse’s neck. “Get in there. Myers, you chickenshit!” yelled Bobo. I replied with a string of profanity including a few f-bombs.
The horse was going absolutely bonkers and bucking all over the place while Gates and Carson helped Bobo hold onto the rope and keep free from flying hooves.
My heart was in my throat and beating rapidly. “Damned thing won’t hold still,” I whined. I watched several of the other teams from the outset, and tried to emulate their hobblers. When the horse had his head down, I jumped him from the front and grabbed his mane. The horse went nuts tossed me around like a rag doll. I held on for dear life, but couldn’t get high enough to bite his ear. Remember what I wrote about “learned ignorance”? This wasn’t that; this was pure stupidity!
Carson ran up and attempted to throw on a saddle, but it flew over the bucking horse and landed on the ground. Carson scrambled to retrieve the saddle, going behind the horse (more stupidity) as he did so. Big mistake. In one great heave, the beast threw me off, kicked out powerfully, pulled free from Bobo and Gates, and ran for open space continuing to kick wildly. Carson was on the ground, deathly still.
Two medics appeared in warp speed. “Good thing he was falling when the horse kicked,” said one.
“Yeah,” said the other, “otherwise he’d be a goner.”
Turned out Carson took a hoof to the solar plexus, which knocked him unconscious. A foot higher, and he’d have wound up either dead or a vegetable. They carried him off on a stretcher, the rest of us following behind to thunderous applause. When the cheering started to die down, Carson lifted a hand and got it going again. He was milking it. What a ham!
We were the only team (What a surprise!) that didn’t make it to the finish line, but Carson’s “injury” gained us crowd sympathy and guaranteed us hero status in the saloons that night.
Funny, I didn’t feel like one. I just wanted to go home.
Copyright 2011 by Gene Myers. www.myersamazon.com
Author of SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE (2010) from PublishAmerica, Baltimore, MD.
Author of AFTER HOURS (2009) from Strategic Publishing Group, New York, NY. www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/AfterHours.html.
Both now available in Amazon Kindle format
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