Lee Pitts: Seen from Afar
October 11, 2017
Americans collect things, everything from expensive wristwatches to empty food containers. Some collect things that cannot be possessed like bird and celebrity sightings, while others collect hard evidence of those sightings with photos and autographs. As for me, I collect sightings of famous and odd ducks not of the human variety. The ones I collect can be seen in rodeos, parades and zoos, and use their brains for something other than writing scripts for reality TV shows.
In my day I've met up close and personal Monty Montana's horse, a talking chicken, Jet Deck, a duck that could type, Peppy San Badger, and a two headed calf that was somewhat suspicious because I could see the stitch line where the second head had been sewn on. I've also met Bertha the Elephant, Poco Bueno and Borden's mascot, Elsie the Cow. Although I suspect there was more than one Elsie because from one year to the next Elsie never seemed to recognize me. Ditto for the Budweiser Clydesdales who I simply adore. Any time they showed up within 60 miles of my house I was there.
Collecting famous animals is dangerous business. You can't just whip out a small notebook to get their autograph like you would with a fading Hollywood star or a washed up third baseman. I've been stepped on by a Lipezzan stallion, pecked on the top of the head by a $35,000 ostrich, spit on by a famous llama and nearly gored by a bull with the longest horn spread in the world. I was also nearly drowned by Shamu the Killer Whale when he did a belly flop in his tank at Sea World and drenched the crowd from head to tail. I swear I saw Shamu smile afterwards. I think he enjoyed it.
My attraction to animal stars began early in my life when a nearby private zoo that rented animals to Hollywood declared bankruptcy and left all the old animal movie stars to fend for themselves. Some monkeys who had starring roles in Tarzan movies were sighted in the trees at a high school but I, and several thousand other residents, were far more interested in the lion and tiger stars that were rumored to be in the general vicinity. This was far more interesting to me than going to Disneyland because all the animals there had steel for bones and wires for brains.
I never did get to see Lassie, Mr. Ed The Talking Horse, or the Lone Ranger's mount, although I did get to see Trigger at Roy Roger's museum. (The stuffed horse deal kinda creeped me out.) At a supermarket grand opening I did see from afar the sailor who drew pictures of Popeye and many other cartoon characters on TV, all while talking to a colorful parrot on his shoulder. When the sailor showed up without the parrot 300 kids aged four through 12 rioted in the streets. It was no great loss because later I learned the parrot was real full of himself and cussed worse than any sailor ever did. Although in retrospect, I might have learned a few words they didn't teach us in English class.
Although I don't have a lot of famous autographs some heir can sell for lots of money on eBay, I do have memories of meeting Arlinda Chief (Holstein), Big Sky Guy (Angus), Lerch, (Hereford) and the "Angus" steer that won Denver but after the dye faded was determined to be at least half Charolais. Had I had any idea they were going to be as famous as they became I'd have paid more attention to them. But then, I can say the same thing after meeting Baxter Black or Bob Tallman for the first time.
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The only physical proof I have that I've ever met a really famous animal is the photo I have of me as a two year old mounted on Gene Rambo's horse at a rodeo my grandpa put on. At least that's what Grandpa told me, for all I know the nag could've belonged to one of the pick-up men. Oh, and perhaps some scientist can lift some famous DNA from the faded spot on my good shirt that, how should I say this delicately, was shat upon by the gaseous Grand Champion bull with projectile-like diarrhea through the bars of a Cow Palace sale ring.