Six Head Harper, Texas is not everybody’s choice for a weekend destination. But my new boss, head purveyor of Lister’s Bowinkle Ranch, a giant spread among spreads, was short-handed and needed six head delivered to Raz’s Livestock Auction. I’m not a cowboy, I’m a bookkeeper, but it was cowboy work – so I put on my boots the next day, logged the mileage and left at 6 am climbing Forty Mile Hill with 3 tons of hoof attached wondering if I should listen to Country and Western. I pushed in a CD of Iggy Pop instead.
Low clouds burned off in the distance, but then high in the sky I noticed something strange, a parallelogram cloud. Symbolic for sure, I thought. Something was up.
Six hours later I rolled into Harper at high noon. A giant Texas flag fluttered above a Chevron and three men in camo-jackets smoked beneath it eyeing two buffalo, whose gutted, still-steaming remains covered the deck of a thirty foot flatbed.
I kept driving, slowly, down Highway 90, looking for Raz’s. In the distance pick-ups of all styles lined the road; step sides, dualies and long beds. Stetsoned heads shuffled along the shoulder. A black metal hog with red painted eyes caught my eye. Welded to a gate the sign warned: “No Bears, Cats, Wolves or Coyotes – NO CAMERAS.”
I stopped at the ticket booth and asked the lady where she wanted the cows.
“Cows?” she questioned. Her turquoise glittered in the sun.
She took a good look at me. “Take your minis down to the back shoot, darling.”
I backed in the trailer without killing anybody.
“Whatcha got there?” the chute man asked.
“Six head,” I said, wishing I had worn a cowboy hat.
“Head of what?”
“Sex?” He asked.
I shook my head.
“Jeremy get in there and see what the man brought us.”
Jeremy opened the trailer gate and checked the cargo. “Heifers,” he called out.
Then a high pitched shriek pierced the air.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Black Buck - don’t like pens,” the chute man said nodding toward the corrals.
I looked over the top of the railing. About twenty animals three foot tall with spiraled dark horns, and elf-like faces paced in a pen. One shrieked, jumped into the wood, bounced off and fell on its cousins. In the next pen two water buffalo with big sad eyes and short thick horns looked up. Next to them, a Zebra. I looked down the row of iron; Reindeer, Axis Deer, Impalas, Buffalo, Multan Sheep, Aoudad, and Shetland Ponies.
“Had a giraffe in here once,” the chute man said. “Couldn’t get him under the roof – had to auction’em off outside.”
Jeremy handed me the papers. I said, “Much obliged.” He spat brown juice and said, “Good Luck.”
I walked past the fowl department. Live chukars, quail, pheasant, and peacocks were boxed up with number tags wired to their cage.
“Interested in any bird action today?” The bird man asked.
I spread my own wings and banked around the corner.
A man with a monkey on his back stood at the front door of the auction auditorium. The primate’s tailed curled around monkey man’s crotch.
“Wanna buy her?” He asked. “Golden Squirrel Monkey, Congo, pleasant animal. Believe she might take to you.” He winked then smiled revealing several teeth.
“Not today, thank-you.” I walked into the auction house.
Bleachers in a semi-circle surrounded a white painted iron bar cage. Inside the cage, doors on both sides seemed proportioned for elephants. Elk horn chandeliers spread across the ceiling like webs spun by nervous spiders. The lights flickered. Then two burly dudes appeared at the doors in Army jackets with big sticks. The auctioneer stood tuxedoed above us in an intensely lit red-curtained platform suspended in the air by a crane. He tapped the podium with a conductor’s wand, cleared his throat and after explaining the rules offered everybody a happy Sunday.
The door to the right swung open and a high stepping Black Buck jumped to center stage. It lowered its head, circled once, looked up and sniffed as if checking out the crowd. Then it tapped the dirt floor with a black paw, let out a shriek, and leaped across the stage whacking his horns against the white metal bars.
“Hey now, hey hey give me five, give me five, give me five huuuundred,” the auctioneer bantered. He went through the chorus several times then stopped. He looked out; gimme hats, camo jackets and facial hair. The men dressed that way too.
“This is a fine specimen,” the auctioneer noted in a soft sympathetic voice. “Now who’s gonna give me five hundred dollars to start this thing off?”
A hand with five fingers rose in front of me.
One of the door dudes popped the Black Buck and it jumped twenty feet.
Beer Breath leaned over and said: “Them blacks can jump.”
“I got five now give me five and a half. Five now five now give me five and a half.”
The man in front of me bought the black buck for 650 dollars.
A portly man in a leather vest and a bolo tie next to me nodded, leaned in.
“That feller runs a huntin’ ranch down the road. Takes orders from Dallas and Houston. Comes here, buys’em and sets’em loose. They drive down and shoot’em, like they’ve done something,” he said, shaking his head, like fair play had been breached for the first time in the Lone Star State.
I walked out to the concession stand.
“Do you carry any vegan products, perhaps a meatless taco?” I asked.
The girl’s eyes rolled.
“You’re funny,” she said.
I rambled past a rusting 57 Chevy on jacks then out through the gate. I opened the door to the truck and Iggy Pop fell out. I picked it up, plugged it in then checked the sky for parallelograms.
published 12 July 2014