‘I have a terrible secret that puts most men off,’ admits the esteemed British scholar seated next to me at a chi-chi restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas. All four members of an earlier conference panel on sixteenth-century gynecology laugh before taking a communal sip of Royal Tokaji. Though I am regretfully far away from my lift and bitch companions, the conversation has taken a familiar turn toward the vicissitudes of online dating. The prize-winning professor who is fluent in ancient languages has been amusing us with tales of senior romance. Those oldsters can be surprisingly naughty, sometimes in groups of three or more! In any case, once she decided to settle down and find ‘the one,’ the doctoress had constructed her profile carefully, running it past savvy friends, before deliberately excluding references to her high level of education, and including visual evidence of her possession of relatively normal limbs and a smooth rather than humped back. ‘After confessing to being an academic,’ she explains, ‘I needed to reassure potential suitors that I was not as weird or freakish as they might have expected.’ At this point you should picture three wise female professors—one in her 40s, one in her 50s, and one nearing 60—advising a younger assistant professor to stop restricting her dating interests to fellow scholars; in fact, we agree that she should avoid them altogether. ‘And what does your partner do?’ the lonely lady asks me. ‘He plays poker and has a sunny disposition,’ I brag. The two other partnered women nod in sage approval but the single one seems dubious. For you see, dear readers, she is naïve, and has not yet been in love. In fact, she has not even been to her first rodeo. I invited her, but she said no. More about that later.
The phrase ‘it’s not my first rodeo,’ has multiple meanings, and is sometimes invoked as a warning, as in: Do not even think of taking advantage of me jackass! It can also refer to ample sexual experience, usually muttered by a bitter meat sack who is miles away from those heady days of awkwardly eager virginity. However, I am approaching the idiomatic expression literally, and will shortly be describing my recent encounters with cowboys and animals. Before I regale you with those tales of demonic possession and masked humiliation, I cannot resist exploiting this somewhat unexpected opportunity to discuss my first sexual encounter. As you probably guessed, it was with a tumultuous washing machine. One of my childhood chores was to sit on top of it during the ultra-shaky spin cycle, lest it hop across the basement floor and cause a flood. All I could say to that task was: ‘Yes Ma’am!’ Despite my obedience with regard to vibrating appliances, I resisted the follow-up chore of emptying the dryer. My brothers would often play hockey downstairs, using a hard orange ball to practice slap shots. Their primary target? My face. Ah yes; it was a typical Canadian girlhood. And now I will venture into a dangerously unethical zone by revealing that my partner’s first rodeo similarly took place in the basement of his family’s home, when he was watching the Saturday morning cartoon Super Friends. While conveniently wearing loose pajamas, he would hump an overstuffed lazy boy chair. Later, when we were ‘dating,’ I would spy that chair at his parents’ house and say ‘Back off bitch. He’s mine now.’ Oh how I laughed at his expense! I still sometimes accuse my partner of eyeing up the furniture when we cut through Sears. ‘I saw you looking at that red velveteen sofa. You make me sick. Am I not fluffy and soft enough for you anymore?’ He just sighs. Aside: he has warned me never to mention this incident online, so I hope you enjoyed it. I will likely owe him five ‘boy days’ now. On such days, he gets to demand anything he wants and I must instantly comply, no questions asked. Yes, the first thing that popped into your filthy minds is indeed correct, but it gets worse, for I predict a whole lot of Green Lantern, Captain America, pizza, beer, and brownies in my future. Fuck!
This ain’t the first time this old cowboy’s been throwed
This ain’t the first I’ve seen this dog and pony show
Honey, this ain’t my first rodeo. (Vern Gosdin, 1990)
This week I travelled to Texas for the first time. Those friendly cowpokes sure have a way with words don’t they? For one thing, they love adjectives, with the sign in the cowboy museum requesting ‘please don’t sit on this pretty old chair,’ and the gregarious shuttle driver agreeing to take me to that ‘fancy little gym down yonder’ after I tipped him ten dollars. He treated me like queen bee after that. My favourite phrase was overheard at the Holiday Inn Express breakfast buffet: ‘Lordy, I should have worn my yoga pants!’ That downtown gym was quite fancy and I had a great work out there, complete with kettle bells and a TRX. Oddly enough, its name was Inursha, pronounced Inertia. I found that hilariously irresistible but still decided to head to the local YMCA the next morning, in the hopes of having some blog-worthy encounters. Aside: don’t you see how I am always thinking of you, my sweet potato pies? I was not disappointed when an old man with a southern body—can I say how much I enjoy these stockily corpulent man bodies that nevertheless move gracefully?—politely introduced himself and then asked me my name. Looking puzzled, he inquired ‘Arnie?’ I repeated myself more loudly. ‘Ned?’ I couldn’t help but laugh and he joined me, admitting that he was in fact ‘pretty darned deaf.’ Pointing to a seriously sturdy woman in the midst of doing chest presses, he declared ‘That there is Sue.’ The glint in his rheumy eyes and broad smile on his face suggested that he and Sue were doing it. Bet you weren’t expecting a post filled with old people fucking, were you?
I had numerous interactions with cows and cowboys in Fort Worth, eagerly seeking them out. I watched game 6 of the world series in Riscky’s Barbeque, lured by the promise of beef brisket that would taste ‘Moo-licious.’ It sure did. The next day, I went out to the historic stockyards to see a longhorn cattle run and visit the stock houses, and that evening I returned to view live bull riding at Billy Bob’s Honky Tonk, a gigantic entertainment complex that occupies a cattle show barn built in 1910. All of these things I did alone, as none of the professor ladies wanted to accompany me, fearing red necks. Well, I happen to love red necks and working people of all kinds, understandably skipping parts of the conference to interact with them. Of course I also gave a paper on early modern maternity, commented on the three talks presented at the gynecology panel, and heard a number of fascinating presentations about Turkish food ways, the randy Duke de Berry and his sexy Très riches heures, and—a personal favourite—the various ways in which criminals were humiliated during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Germany by being forced to wear bird or pig masks in public. Animals could also be charged with crimes, as conscious intent was not a big issue back then. You do the crime, you do the time, and a bad sow who had trampled a child to death could be hung in the gallows, even as early modern people did not believe that animals were rational beings. I began to consider the human-animal identification process, noting how the borders between the two terms have shifted over time, wondering if an interest in redefining these categories in relation to each other was particularly strong in Texas. I certainly sympathized with the bulls being ridden for a few seconds at Billy Bob’s, especially the one that refused to leave the pen after throwing his cheeky rider. My camera later revealed that he was in fact possessed by the dark lord.
You might think that I take risks when I travel, heading out by myself late at night, talking to strange men at the gym, and insisting on walking around as a way of getting to know a place. Yet I am mostly very careful, being sure not to get too drunk, and hanging out near groups of people in pubs, pretending that I am with them. I nevertheless sometimes make mistakes. For instance, after the last conference panel on Friday evening, I called the Holiday Inn shuttle—thanks for the free ride snug bunny!—to drive me to the world famous Kimbell Museum, viewing the rich paintings by Caravaggio and Poussin. I then decided to walk home, a trek that turned out to be miles longer than I had anticipated. At one point I was traversing a long overpass, when a white car pulled up just in front of me. At first I thought that the nice Texan man was simply offering me a ride (this had already happened a few times at other locations), dismayed as he was to see my legs moving forward in an unusual fashion while outside. What on earth was I doing? Then I realized that dusk was falling and that the narrow high bridge had left me with no escape routes, should he try to pull me into his car. At that point, I simply stood still, waiting for him to drive away. Instead, he kept looking back at me, gesturing, and the light bulb suddenly went on: he thinks that I am a prostitute, despite my prim conference dress, control top tights, expensive boots, and the heavy book bag dangling from my shoulder. Damn you, whorish figure girl blonde hair! I then decided to run to the hotel, assuming that the average smelly pirate hooker would not partake in such strenuous exercise. I must now apologize for my unfounded bias against working girls, who may well be concerned about their cardiovascular health. Always one to turn lemons into lemonade, I had transformed a potentially dangerous situation into a rather long weighted run, arriving at my room sweaty and pleased. Then I made another mistake by heading to the Texaco next door for a snack reward. That was definitely not a highlight of my trip—thanks for nothing, RenMan!—but I had a great time in Texas and look forward to returning one day.