when we entered the auditorium they were doing some spiel about how great the usa was, and everyone was standing. i sensed the anthem coming, and stopped, but it was hard to stand there with three drinks, five popcorns, and a hat that the little fellow got tired of. we kept walking. but then the prayer started, and i felt even more comfortable, so i stopped again. but it was a long prayer. and i was afraid of spilling these enormous drinks. eventually we kept walking again. nobody seemed to mind.
the rodeo is cowboy skills: riding a bull. riding a horse while roping a bull. jumping off the horse getting the bull off its feet, wrapping a rope around its feet. some of these guys were pretty good at it. others just plain missed the bull and didn't get another chance. they had these 'rodeo clowns' and apparently one of their jobs is to distract the bull so that if he's going to gore anyone, he goes after a clown who knows how to get away. it's a whole world and people came from far away to see it; the performers were from far and wide, towns like calgary alberta and boot stomp, wyoming.
they announced that any kid under ten could come and enter the arena and try to win these big prizes and my seven-year-old wanted to do it and led me to this tunnel going down onto the arena floor; the tunnel was enclosed, and hot, and there were a lot of kids though some of the parents stuck with their kids as long as they could. i let him follow other kids down into the tunnel but i could still see him from the rail above. then they had to wait about ten long minutes. i got claustrophobic, even though i wasn't the one in the tunnel. i began to worry that he was the only black kid in the whole auditorium, and that he was surrounded and unable to get out of the tunnel even if he wanted to.
he, however, was happy in there. i heard the rules; there'd be hundreds of kids out there, and three small calves would have pink ribbons on their tails and the idea was for the kids to pull the ribbons off their tails. when it started the kids tore around in a huge pack and the little calves, scared, stuck together and tore around also. mine was right in there among them. the heck of it was, though, that he didn't appear to know the rules. everyone else knew the rules, but he didn't hear them, because he was in the tunnel, and didn't come to the rodeo last year. or whatever. he tore around, and seemed to catch up to a cow, but didn't come out of it with a ribbon.
i breathed deeply. claustrophobia over. it seemed like a pretty safe crowd, kind of like west texas itself. conservative, religious, maybe, but safe.
the question, as i told my boys, one of whom wants to be a cowboy now, is whether it really hurts the animals or not. sure we saw cows and horses bucking and throwing themselves way in the air, trying to get rid of their rider. had they been tortured before being turned loose? it was hard to say. they were active, and looked mad, but sometimes they just looked confused, or they were like, ok tie me up, but then let me go so i can go eat. sometimes the animals had these airy looks in their eyes, like why would thousands of people want to see this?
they take easter seriously around here; they give you monday off, on the assumption that most places in texas are seven to ten hours away, so to really give you sunday off, they have to give you one more day for driving. they don't seem to hold that feeling for friday, though. easter services, it was beginning to be spring, but the eggs, filled with candy and such, were hidden out on a muddy yard where they'd done construction, and it was an uneasy match of easter's best clothes, and texas's reddest mud. my own son, who lives entirely for the candy, happened to step on a construction nail, but we couldn't find any blood, so didn't ship him off for a tetanus shot. a religious experience, i guess, kind of like how i felt, letting him go down into that tunnel, trust in fate, hope that it'll be ok, keep your eyes open so you don't lose a little kid in a big crowd. one thing about being mixed race, father and son, is that although everyone's reasonably friendly, still we are pretty quickly recognizable, if someone came by maybe five minutes later and said, did you see those two, and where did they go, everyone would know. it would be like if someone wore purple hair. people would pretend not to see it, but in the end, everyone saw it. and noticed it. we weren't the usual cowboys.
but both places were, in the end, safe, and friendly. the lazy river was too; we had our first day of lazy river, of the season, and all i could think of was, this could be the best place in the whole world. one son came out with a pinkish glow in spite of using sunblock. we swam and swam, and stayed outside. we felt the glory of the spring, the sun coming out, the grass turning green, slowly, new flowers and plants coming to life. i get the sense that you have to get out now, while the getting is good, enjoy the sun, do the fun stuff. it doesn't last forever.