Johnny America


Cat­tle Drive


I am dri­ving the bovine eyes back from Wyalus­ing, Penn­syl­va­nia. Part-time job, gives me a lit­tle kit­ty mon­ey while at school. Once a week, about sev­en hours there and back. They call me a lab assistant.

The pairs have been sep­a­rat­ed. Each one sits in a plas­tic buck­et, like a very large mar­garine con­tain­er. The buck­ets sit side by side in card­board box­es. I’ve got a box on the seat next to me and two more in th back. The guy in Penn­syl­va­nia, the lab as­sis­tant, who loads them, al­ways lays a tow­el in the bot­tom of each box be­fore he puts the buck­ets in. To­day the tow­els are mauve. I nev­er bring the tow­els back, I won­der if I’m sup­posed to?

I think about the eyes when I’m dri­ving. I don’t talk them or any­thing, but I do sing old west­ern songs on the ride back. I go a whole week with­out ever want­i­ng to sing cat­tle dri­ve songs and then I get in the car with the bovine eyes and au­to­mat­i­cal­ly start singing ‘Git along lit­tle dawgies.’

You can’t dri­ve through Penn­syl­va­nia with­out hit­ting some con­struc­tion, you just can’t. I try to dri­ve smooth­ly so as not to dis­turb the bovine eyes. I can hear them slosh around in­side the mar­garine buck­ets. Poor daw­gies. What a life. Spend their days graz­ing in the fields, chomp­ing clover, and then they get their eyes tak­en to be put in mar­garine buck­ets and shipped off to a uni­ver­si­ty to be cut up by some un­der­grad­u­ate up­starts. Some­how it does­n’t seem right. You would­n’t think they’d be al­lowed to do some­thing like that to the poor lit­tle daw­gies. There must not be any bovine unions.

So I try to make the ride as peace­ful as pos­si­ble. If that means go­ing a lit­tle slow­er along the grooved roads, then I will. If it takes me sev­en hours and twen­ty min­utes, then it does. Does­n’t both­er me, I know lots of songs.

I some­times think about my par­ents on the dri­ve back from Wyalus­ing. I won­der what my moth­er would say if she were to see me chauf­feur­ing these mar­garine buck­ets over a cou­ple hun­dred miles of bro­ken roads. She does­n’t keep any­thing in plas­tic mar­garine con­tain­ers. Not left over meat, veg­eta­bles, rice, noth­ing. She does­n’t even keep mar­garine in mar­garine con­tain­ers, pre­fer­ring to scrape but­ter from a stick ly­ing on one of her glass but­ter dishes.

At func­tions she makes a point to say, for the ben­e­fit of poor, dear Mr. Noo­nan, who has had every valve with­in eight inch­es of his heart re­placed by plas­tic tub­ing, that, “The but­ter is but­ter and noth­ing but.”

“You had bet­ter watch your cho­les­terol, Mar­jorie,” states Mr. Noo­nan in a stern, com­pas­sion­ate voice.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate your con­cern, Jack, but it’s all in the me­tab­o­lism. I’m one of the lucky few that can eat what­ev­er she wants,” my moth­er says and cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly places a wafer, piled with smoked salmon, in­to her cav­ernous mouth.

And then Mr. Noo­nan will ask my fa­ther, “Bill, how’s that boy of yours do­ing at school?”

“Fine,” dad will say. “Just fine.”

Moth­er, off to the side in the di­rec­tion of kind, old Mrs. Noo­nan, says, “I think Steven is tak­ing on too much.”

“What is he study­ing, Bill?”

“In­ter­na­tion­al Re­la­tions, pre-law.”

“But he has a job, too,” my moth­er chimes in. “He’s a lab assistant.”

Oohs and aahs all around.

“You know, Bill,” moth­er says, fold­ing her lit­tle white sand­wich nap­kin in­to small­er and small­er squares. “I would not be at all sur­prised if Steven ends up pre-med in­stead pre-law.”

“Well, dear, I don’t know about that.”

Mr. Noo­nan spins his ice cubes around the bot­tom of his glass, watch­ing them glide. There will be a lull, a short one, but a lull.

And that is what it comes down to. To my fa­ther I am a lawyer, to my moth­er I am a doc­tor, and to me I am a cowboy.

Filed under Fiction on August 11th, 2006

Care to Share?

Consider posting a note of comment on this item:


Previous Post


Next Post


Join our Irregular Mailing List

For very occasional ramblings, word about new print ephemera, and of course exciting investment opportunities.