The Magnificent Seven
I felt I had marching orders and therefore a goal, a destination, and the direction was south.
A week later found me at the Bell Inn in downtown San Diego across from a tourist trap called Seaport Village. Although I’d never visited a pub in the U. K. this one seemed authentic. There was a long oak bar with ivory-handled pumps and tables, a beamed ceiling and wood-paneled walls. One more thing was necessary to complete the perfect picture, a neighborhood clientele drunk on camaraderie.
It had that too.
Even though it was early it was crowded. You expected any minute to see Arthur Seaton tumbling down the stairs, wrestling with the other drunk and angry young men, fueled to the brim with dark bitter ale, Nottingham accents, and swallowed up by depressive moods as dark as the pits.
Then I heard, “Howdy, Barkeep, I’ll take a Miller Lite.”
It was a cowboy, a cowboy! I could tell by his boot-cut Levis, snake-skin boots and ten gallon hat.
He caught my eye and responded with a Howdy and a smile, and sat down. The sad beer that sat before me was my last. I was out of money, and since travel relies on money as a precursor, I suspected my mission was about to end with a whimper, not a bang. The cowboy looked over and noticed my empty.
Then his eyes moved to the barkeep filling his order. The cool amber liquid flowing into the glass was topped off by a foaming head, a delicate piece of liquid art. The cowboy rubbed his manly hands together in anticipation.
“Partner, I’m as dry as the Sonoran desert in summer, how about you?”
“Me? I’m as dry as a pop-corn fart.”
“Oooowee! Hear that, Barkeep? You’ve corralled one sharp maverick. Give him another of the same.”
He slapped his knee and then my back. “Where you from?”
“That’s as west as you can git. Know anything about horses?”
“Not me,” I shook my head. “Only what they look like. I just saw the film War Horse though. It was amazing how that horse was trained. It must of taken some time and patience.”
“Partner, you’d be surprised how smart horses are. Say, I thought the minute you said film instead of movie, you had an education. Maybe I was wrong. So git on over here and let me tell you a thing or two about horses. If there was a class I’d be doin’ the lecturin’. I’m what you call an expert.”
“You have an M.A. in horses?”
“Feller, it’s more like a P.H.D.”
The next hour we sat at a table and he lectured. He was the only ‘feller’ I ever met that actually sounded like Slim Pickens. Most of the talk was about horses, pedigrees, boots and saddles, Custer, the Seventh Cavalry, but at the same time the beer unleashed his more private side, where he was born, his family, his hopes and dreams, and eventually, as he put it, ‘the whole enchilada’.
In the process he wheedled out of me much the same information, and the fact that I was stalled in my travels and broke.
“You know,” he looked thoughtful. “I got a job right now that’s a little too big for me to handle. I could use some help. I need a ramrod.”
I wasn’t sure what a ramrod was, only a vague black and white memory that Clint Eastwood played Rowdy Yates, Gil Favor’s ramrod on Rawhide.
I looked a bit puzzled.
“Don’t you worry yourself, Ishmael, you don’t have to ride ‘em!”
You get a feeling that what’s happening is directed, just like that gold eagle when it rolled into the room off the library and I followed. So what did I do when confronted with Kismet?
“O. K., Sonny. I reckon you got yurself a hired hand.”
That’s me, Cameleon Man, whose miraculous powers allow him to get along with anybody. Maybe I should be a diplomat, and bring peace to the world.
As it turned out a week later, the job wasn’t quite how I pictured it.
I imagined I’d be driving a jeep somewhere on the north forty, mending a barbed wire fence, wearing a pair of sweat-soaked leather gloves, even, saints preserve me, smoking a Marlboro, the smell of purple sage filling my nostrils when I wasn’t exhaling clouds of toxic cigarette smoke, and humming the theme to The Magnificent Seven through manly-clenched teeth.
Instead my assignment was on a small freighter, out in the Pacific, heading towards the Panama Canal, wearing canvas deck shoes, breathing clean sea air, humming What Will We Do With The Drunken Sailor, ready to shave my belly with a rusty razor.
And the horses? The horses were twenty thoroughbred polo ponies whose ultimate corral was on the Lion Castle Polo Estates, St. Thomas, Barbados.
Me, ride? That was out of the question. I didn’t even know how to swim.
https://youtu.be/yulmgTcGLZw The Magnificent Seven -Elmer Bernstein
©Steven Hunley 2013