The Lives of the Cowboys
Saturday, June 3, 2000
Listen

(GK: Garrison Keillor, SS: Sue Scott, TK: Tom Keith, TR: Tim Russell)

Lefty and Big T as drawn by
Tim Kraack, age 13

(WESTERN THEME)

SS: THE LIVES OF THE COWBOYS....brought to you by Old Leather Butt Saddle Soap and the Old Leather Butt family of fine harness and saddle products --- ....and now today's story....

(HORSE WHINNIES AND HOOVES, OUTDOOR AMBIENCE)

GK: Beautiful summer day, ain't it, Dusty? Look at that blue sky. Few high clouds. Sure makes a person feel like there must be some green pleasant land that goes with that sky, stead of this dusty desolate windswept sun-scorched wilderness we happen to be in right now. Don't you think?

TR: Huh?

GK: I was talking to you.

TR: Oh. What'd you say?

GK: I was saying that this beautiful blue sky makes a person imagine there must be some beautiful place that goes with this blue sky instead of this barren tedious fleabitten desolate wasteland we're struggling across right now, driving this miserable herd of fifty mangy cattle.

TR: Oh. What makes you say that?

GK: I donno. Hope, I guess. Hope that this miserable and ridiculous cowboy life is not all there is. Hope that there is such a thing as beauty and when I find it I won't be too old and cynical to recognize it.

TR: Well, all I know is that in ten miles, we come to Deadly Gulch, and when we do, I'm'a gonna pawn this here gold watch and chain and head for the Belly Up Saloon and get me a steak dinner and a bucket of beer and follow that with a bottle of rotgut whiskey and become best pals with one of those dime-a-dance floozies and dance with her until the sun comes up and hoist myself back in the saddle and head for Cheyenne looking like death on a cracker.

GK: Not what I call the good life, but that's your business.

TR: You wouldn't go for a big steak and a bottle of rotgut?

GK: Not my favorite things.

TR: What are your favorite things? Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens?

GK: Just never you mind.

TR: What you aiming to do in Deadly Gulch?

GK: Well, sounds like I'll be spending the night with the herd, but if I can, I'm gonna go in to the Deadly Gulch Health Food Store and get me some soy protein powder.

TR: Ha!! There ain't no health food store in Deadly Gulch!

GK: Is now, Dusty.

TR: Ha! All there is in Deadly Gulch is the Belly Up Saloon and the livery stable and the assay office and a couple fleabag hotels and Doc Hawkins's office and the barbershop and the general store and the undertaker's.

GK: The undertaker's, that's the health food store now.

TR: Speaking of health, the cattle don't look so good, Lefty. I think maybe someone's been singing t' 'em at night and givin em bad dreams. Look at how they're draggin their feet.

GK: You might want to think about trying this soy protein powder, Dusty. They say it's good for the prostate.

TR: At the end of a long day in the saddle, Lefty, I don't care to discuss my prostate.

GK: All you do is mix it up with soy milk and a banana and some strawberries or other fruit.

TR: Pardner, you know my motto: if it don't seem like it's worth the effort, it probably ain't.

GK: But it is worth the effort. Did you know that the incidence of prostate troubles among cowboys is almost nine times more than among celibate sheepherders in northern Mongolia living off brown rice and fermented yak butter?

TR: Well, that's what I call a fascinating statistic.

GK: You know what one of the big factors in prostate cancer is? It's diet. Too much animal fat. Those guys right up there.

TR: They don't look fat to me.

GK: We are pushing our own poison down the trail. We're like a couple of alcoholics driving the beer truck.

TR: What is that up ahead?

GK: Got no idea. ---Are we on the right trail?

TR: I thought we were.

GK: I don't remember ever seeing that before.

TR: That's because it wasn't there before.

GK: A big shed surrounded by flowers.

TR: Maybe it's where the undertaker moved to.

GK: Whoa! Whoa! (WHINNY, HOOVES STOP) Anybody home? Hello? (CREAKY DOOR OPENS, FOOTSTEPS IN GRAVEL)

SS: Howdy. Welcome to Deadly Gulch Home & Garden.

TR: Howdy, ma'am.

SS: What can I interest you boys in other'n what cowboys generally have on their minds most of the time anyways?

GK: Just stopped to say hello, ma'am. Never saw a combination plant store here before.

SS: Moved here in April. Was in Deadly Gulch but the cowboys kept spitting on the plants and killing em.

GK: Yeah, they'll do that. What sort of plants you carry, ma'am?

SS: Lots of kinds. What you interested in?

GK: Ma'am, I've spent the larger part of my life riding back and forth across this bleak and barren sun-blasted sandburr-infested wilderness --- to me, the thought of any flowering thing, any color at all, is an omen of hope ---- what's that?

SS: Flowering cactus.

GK: I've seen enough of those, ma'am.

SS: How about this? A begonia.

GK: I sort of associate begonias with elderly aunts, ma'am. Begonias and ferns.

SS: Well, where were you going to plant these flowers?

GK: I was actually thinking I'd carry them along with me on the trail.

SS: How about this one?

GK: It's very pretty.

SS: This is a narcissus.

GK: Narcissus, huh?

SS: Narcissus.

TR: I never heard of a cowboy having a narcissus.

GK: Good point.

TR: You have a narcissus, the boys're likely to give you a nickname and it won't be Narse.

SS: How about a rose?

GK: A rose.

SS: Got this here prairie rose. Give it to you for fifty cents.

GK: A rose, huh. What do you think, pardner?

TR: Well---- (HE WHISPERS TO LEFTY)

GK: My pardner thinks that a rose might expose me to cruel derision among my fellow cowboys and lead them to question my manliness, ma'am.

SS: Roses are very masculine.

GK: They are?

SS: There was the War of the Roses, you know.

GK: I forgot about that.

SS: This here is a special variety of rose, called the John Wayne Rose.

TR: Well, why didn't you say so----

GK: That's entirely different, ma'am.

TR: We'll have two. To go. (BRIDGE) (DOOR OPEN, JINGLE, CLOSE. FOOTSTEPS, AND STOP. TK SNORING.)

GK: Excuse me, sir. Sir? (SNORTS) Sorry to wake you. But---- is your barbershop open for business?

TK: Huh? What you say? (SHAKES HEAD TO CLEAR IT. THEN BLOWS NOSE, LONG HONK)

GK: You just take your time waking up.

TK: Get in the chair, mister. How'd you like it?

GK: I'd like it reasonably decent. (CREAK OF CHAIR)

TK: Okay. No problem. (HAWKS AND SPITS. DING OF SPITTOON) (SNIPPING STARTS)

GK: Must be nice, being a barber. Get to meet people. Talk to em. Sleep in a bed at night. Eat food that doesn't have dirt in it. Breathe normal clean air instead of living in a cloud of dust and dried manure. (SNIPPING) How long you been a barber?

TK: Bout a year. (PAUSE) Used to be an undertaker. (PAUSE) Now I do both. (HAWK AND SPIT. PAUSE. DING OF SPITTOON) You new in town?

GK: I'm a cowboy. Just passing through. Headed for Wyoming with fifty head of cattle.

(SNIPPING)

TK: Oh. Thought maybe you were a decorator.

GK: How's that?

TK: Not too many cowboys walk around with a potted geranium in their hands.

GK: That ain't a geranium. It's a rose.

TK: Oh. (PAUSE. SNIPPING.) Don't look like a rose to me.

GK: Well, I can't speak for you. But to the rest of the educated world, that there is a rose.

TK: Okay. (SNIPPING)

GK: You know, I hate to tell a man how to do his work but, it sure feels like you're taking an awful lot off the top, mister. What are you doing up there?

TK: How'd you want it, mister?

GK: I told you. Not too much off the top, short around the sides.

TK: Oh. I thought you said shave the top, and leave the sides alone.

GK: Oh for heaven's sake. (CREAK. FOOTSTEPS TO MIRROR AND STOP) Oh for---- look at what you just did. Look at that. You made me look like an escaped lunatic.

TK: Well, that's how I thought you wanted it.

GK: You thought I wanted to look like I just escaped from an institution? Forget it. How much do I owe you?

TK: Judging by how you look, I'd say maybe I owe you.

GK: Doggone it. (FOOTSTEPS. DOOR OPEN. JINGLE. SLAM. RAPID FOOTSTEPS. HORSES PASSING, PASSERSBY.) Now I got a haircut that makes me look like an escaped imbecile and I am carrying around a rose in my hand. Boy, talk about social liabilities.(DOOR OPEN. CAMPTOWN RACES. BAR LAUGHTER. FOOTSTEPS. CLINK OF GLASSES.)

SS: What can I get for you, mister?

GK: You got a Chardonnay?

SS: A what?

GK: A Chardonnay?

SS: Is that a brand of whiskey?

GK: Never mind. Bring me a beer.

SS: Okay. You want me to bring you a hat too?

GK: No, I got a hat.

SS: This might be a good time to use it. You want me to bring a beer for your plant, too?

GK: No, thanks. We'll share. I'm lookin for my partner, big tall lonesome looking guy, unshaven, greasy hair, smells bad, and is probably half drunk by now?

SS: You're describing three-quarters of the men in Deadly Gulch.

(FOOTSTEPS)

TR: Howdy, pardner.

GK: Hey, Dusty. Care for a beer?

TR: Sure. Why not?

GK: One more beer for my pardner here, ma'am!! --- So, you got the cattle all settled down?

TR: Reckon so. Had to read em that dumb book three times.

GK: Goodnight, Moon?

TR: Yep. Read it once and put it away and they looked like they was about to stampede. Had to read it twice more before they'd close their eyes.

GK: Well, I'll just have me a beer and then I'll go out and bed down with em.

TR: Okay. You mind if I don't set next to you while you drink your beer?

GK: No. Suit yourself. Why? What's wrong?

TR: Lefty--- I'm here to pick up some cheap floozy and dance with her all night. I don't think it's any recommendation for her to see me setting next to a guy with a potted rose and hair that looks like you cut it with a circular saw.

GK: Okay. Well, if that's how you feel, maybe I'll just leave then. If I'm so embarrassing to be seen with, then maybe I'll head out and just wander this forsaken wilderness all by myself, then. If that's what you want.

TR: No, I didn't mean that---

GK: This is absolutely the worst day of my life in a long time and coming from me that's saying a lot.

SS: Here's your beer, mister.

GK: Put in a hard day in the saddle. Driving ornery and carcinogenic animals. With a pardner who is no great conversationalist. All I want is a little beauty in my life. And I am humiliated at every turn.

SS: Mister, if I were you, I would put on that hat.

GK: Ma'am, you're talking to a desperate man. Can't you see that?

SS: You're going to be even more desperate if you get to messing with Big T over there---

GK: Which one is Big T?

SS: He's the one with the chaw in his cheek, dealing cards. (LOUD LAUGHTER, OFF) Him.

GK: Well, I'm on my way out the door anyways. (COIN ON BAR) Thanks for your trouble. G'night, Dusty. (FOOTSTEPS, DOOR OPEN, CLOSE. NIGHT AMBIENCE. FOOTSTEPS ON GRAVEL. STOP. WHINNY.) Oh for crying out loud. Don't that beat all. (FOOTSTEPS ON GRAVEL. DOOR OPEN, CAMPTOWN RACES. BAR CROWD AMBIENCE.) Okay, you cowpokes! I have had about all I can take. Listen up! (QUIET) I have just spent one of the worst days of my life and now I go outside and I see that one of you sidewindin' hombres has gone outside an' painted mah horse's hooves a bright red like they was toenails. WHICH ONE OF YOU POLECATS PAINTED MY HORSE'S HOOVES RED? (CREAK OF CHAIR. SLOW FOOTSTEPS APPROACH AND STOP)

TK: That was me. Big T. I done it. (HE SPITS)

GK: You painted his hooves red.

TK: That's what I said. I did it. Big T.

GK: Okay. Just wanted to let you know the first coat's dry. (BRIDGE, TIME PASSAGE)

(NIGHT AMBIENCE)

GK: There's one nice thing about darkness, it never fails to improve the aesthetics of the barren wilderness. Same thing about solitude. It's what every true artist needs. To be alone with his guitar and to invite his soul. (HE STRUMS)

I drive my dogies, I ride an Old Paint.
I look like a cowboy but I think I ain't.
I'm an artist in the coulee, an artist in the draw.
Raising my roses, the finest you saw.

 

Whoopitiyi yo, git along little roses
I'll feed you and water until you are grown
Whoopitiyi grow all you little roses
And someday Minnesota will be our sweet home.

 

How I envy roses, their beauty and bliss,
Their days spent enjoying photosynthesis
Me I am living in a godforsaken gulch,
I'm looking for water, I'm looking for mulch.

 

And someday I'll find it, a sweet little porch.
Where the wind does not blast and the sun does not scorch.
I'll sit there all summer reading literature.
No sand in my face or cattle manure.

 

Whoopitiyi yo, git along little roses
I'll feed you and water until you are grown
Whoopitiyi grow all you little roses
And someday Minnesota will be our sweet home.

SS: THE LIVES OF THE COWBOYS......brought to you by the American Cowboy Liberals United.....the ACLU....carry your ACLU card in your holster, and if your rights aren't respected, pull it out and see how the room suddenly gets real quiet. And join us again soon for THE LIVES OF THE COWBOYS. (MUSIC OUT)

 

(c) 2000 by Garrison Keillor

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

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