26 June 2015

Being a Cowboy

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof-beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!”

All the boys in our little neighborhood area of Batavia, New York, would religiously head for their parlor radio after dinner in time to listen to The Lone Ranger Show. It transported us to a time and place where we could become the hero cowboy and drive the villians and varments out of the wild, wild west. After saving the beautiful storekeeper's daughter and restoring law and order, we would ride off into the sunset on our handsome Palomino. It was difficult to come back down to earth after such nobel adventures, but reality would settle in a day or two later, after we had all told each other of our exciting imaginary deeds three or four times, each telling becoming somewhat more embellished.

Then in 1939, the cowboy gods smiled down on us. Uncle Henry, Mom's younger brother, sent a package for Fred (my brother) and me from Tucson, Arizona, that contained cowboy vests, cowboy chaps and two gun and holster sets. Shazam! I was a real, live cowboy!

Now what better thing to do than to put on our own cowboy show? What, indeed? So Fred and I invited the neighborhood to our show, at the amazingly low price of one pin. We had wanted to charge real money – one cent – but Mom said just a pin was enough; after all, we were still coming out of the Great Depression, whatever that was.

Being new to the entertainment business, we had no idea what to do, now that we had an audience, so, being the troupers we were, we improvised. Fred would do something and I would draw my gun and arrest him. Then he'd have an idea and tell me what to do, then I'd set the next scene, and on it went. Thunderous applause at the end? Well, not quite. Any applause? Well, a few polite claps.

We did continue our roles as imaginary cowboys, except that now Fred and I could put on our outfits and become the “real thing.”

Fast forward to 1949! Here I am enrolled at Oklahoma A & M College, right in the middle of the Indian Territory (school nickname: Cowboys; mascot: a cowboy named Pistol Pete). Like all my New York buddies, I rushed right out and bought flight boots, the nearest thing to cowboy boots I could afford, then asked one of my neighbors to make me an authentic lasso. Whallah! Instant cowboy!

Really? Well, close enough so that I could visit some friends on a farm in Hoyt, Oklahoma, and practice roping the young pigs. That is, until the father told me to practice on his fence posts, as roping affected the quality of the pig meat. Who knew? So I became an expert at roping fence posts – so to speak. I was even asked to mount up one of the horses and go shag a couple of cattle that hadn't come in for the night. So off went Cowboy Bob, into the dusk, to save the 1,000 head of longhorn steers from being rustled by them thar varments and villians. Except the horse knew he had a pilgrim on his back and proceeded to try to rub me off against a tree along the path. Managing to head the cayuse away from such shenanagins, he and I brought the errant herd to the barn for the night.

And so ended the career of Cowboy Bob, who went on to other adventures, but always cherishing his days ridding the Wild West of varments and villians.

08 June 2015

Barbers and Barbershops

It may have started when that first person rid me of my golden locks, but I don’t relish going to the barbershop for a haircut.

I was ten when we moved to Rochester, New York, and my brother and I started going to Frank’s Barber Shop, which was just at the end of our street. Frank was old, in my view, but probably only in his early 60’s, a heavy smoker, but a good barber. My mother would give us a dollar for the 75 cent haircut and remind us to make sure Frank kept the change. As time went on, we noticed Frank’s hands were beginning to shake and more and more he was pulling out our hair rather than cutting it, so we moved on to Norm.

Norm had a shop a few blocks down Clinton Avenue, next to the blacksmith’s shop, where we could stand in the doorway and watch horses being shod. Norm had been a barber in the service during World War II and said he was given two minutes per recruit to strip them of their pride. It was a treat to go in on Saturday when the operas were being broadcast on the radio, because Norm would join right in with the lead tenor, or whoever he decided needed his assistance. We stayed with Norm all through High School and summers home from college, through brush cuts and “the wave” and other such styles as were in vogue.

With moves from place to place, it was a struggle to find someone who could do a good job. Prices rose, and so did my expectations. Having moved to a suburb, I found a place in a shopping mall and went there until the owner was arrested for taking bets on the horses over the phone. He never let a haircut get in the way of taking a bet, but he did a good job of cutting my hair. His younger brother worked there, and had applied to the Sheriff’s office to become a Deputy; unfortunately, his brother’s arrest ended that quest - and sent me on a new one of my own.

Over the years, I’ve visited many shops, some of which earned return visits. However, my quest has finally ended here at Westminster Village with my own personal barber, my wife Shirley. And no appointment needed!