The steer-ing committee (Best Of)
A cowboy’s status in his community can best be measured by what job he is given while attending a neighbor’s branding. For example, last year at John’s branding I was on the prestigious steer-ing committee. This is perhaps the finest honor that can be bestowed on a rancher. Tiny was the knife man, Jimmy got to carry the buckets, and I, to show you the esteem I was held in, got to spray the wound. As the fourth member of the steer-ing committee it was Donny’s job to stand back and make timely and sarcastic remarks and to keep the dogs out of the bucket, if you know what I mean.
Now, John is my friend and a good neighbor, but we, the members of the steer-ing committee, resent the fact that John is the perfect cattleman. He is way too serious about it. So when John told us to, “Save #81 because he’s the best calf I ever raised and I am going to save him for a bull,” that set our minds to wandering.
When the time was just right and John was busy down at the other end of the corral, we got the #81 calf down on the ground. At just the right moment when John looked in our direction Tiny raised up with a knife in one bloody hand and two mountain oysters in the other. I was spraying the still intact bull when Tiny asked John, “Say what number was that bull calf we weren’t supposed to cut?”
John took one look at his precious #81 calf on the ground and another look at what was in Tiny’s hands and came flying across the arena calling us every name in the book. Everybody but John knew all about our little practical joke and people were falling off corral boards bent over in laughter. But not John.
It was an Academy Award performance for which Tiny should have received Best Actor. And our efforts were long remembered by everyone in attendance, especially John.
Seeing we could not be trusted, John immediately transferred us to less vital positions. For instance, he gave me the job of keeping the flies off the donuts. It was a humiliating experience, to say the least. Throughout the morning John was watching us all like a hawk. After the donuts were gone I didn’t have anything to do, so me and the former members of the steer-ing committee had a meeting and tried to figure out what we could do to John next.
“We could loosen his saddle,” suggested Tiny.
“We could mix up all the cows and calves so they’d have to be resorted,” said Jimmy.
I thought my former committee member’s suggestions lacked originality and I had a better idea. Every time John would rope a calf the former members of the steer-ing committee held up cards with scores on them. We scored John’s performance just like at the Olympics, except our scores were mostly in the low twos.
John didn’t really appreciate this practical joke either and he realized that unless he gave us real jobs he’d suffer the rest of the day. “OK Harpo, Chico and Groucho,” he said, “you can have responsible jobs if you promise to quit messing around. Do you think you can read ear tags?” asked John as if we were illiterate.
Our new job consisted of reading the ear tag of the calf being processed and transferring that information to the ground crew and the recording clerk. That was the final humiliation: turning real cowboys like us into a bunch of bookkeepers!
Now, it is a fact of life that when ear tag #81 is read upside down and backwards by a bunch of slightly inebriated cowboys suffering from sugar highs caused by eating too many donuts, #81 can look like #18. And John, we, the former members of the steer-ing committee, just wanted to warn you that you’ll soon discover that your Mr. Perfect #81 may not be all the calf that you thought he was.
(Just kidding, of course.)
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