The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WHAT TO DO TILL THE COWS COME HOME, OR OUR BOVINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES: I don’t know about you, but I wonder sometimes where the cows have gone to when someone tells me that I can wait till the cows come home. I never thought of cows as being a particularly adventuresome lot; they strike me as being a sort of homebodyish species, if homebodyish even counts as a word, and not at all given to the sorts of adventures your average American bison might think normal. And I know that cows used to have all sorts of adventures out West; like any American boy of my generation, I grew up watching my share of John Wayne movies and so I saw the Duke and his troop of cowboys move cows from one place to another more times than I can remember right off the top of my head.. But I didn’t really think about where the herd was going and neither, I suppose, did the herd. It’s bad enough to get a bit part in a Hollywood epic when you have bigger plans for yourself; finding out that you and your part, and your parts as well, get smaller and smaller in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle would really be upsetting, especially since the hero of the story isn’t you but some dumb Lithuanian who should have stayed away from Chicago if he didn’t want the forces of inhumane capitalism to oppress the hell out of him in the stockyards. Still, at the beginning and end of the process, you would still get some screen time—first, as one of Wayne’s stampeding herd; no cowboy epic is complete without the cows go wild like girls on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras and run off in all directions for no apparent reason; and second, as a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in a McDonald’s commercial; but in the long run it’s probably not much of a consolation one way or the other. Nobody really wants to grow up to be a comestible, no matter how much of an American staple you may be.

In the time between their birth and human digestion, however, the cows must go somewhere or otherwise you wouldn’t have to wait for them to come home. And given that there’s always a bit of a wait involved, those cows must be off doing something interesting while they wait for their number to come up in the abattoir. I haven’t seen any statistics on the rate of bovine tourism recently, but it seems to me that this must be a growth industry, especially for travel agents whose traditional business has suffered so much from the Internet. For travel agents cows are the perfect customers; they prefer to travel everywhere in groups, which means a big commission for the agent, and to date no computer company is offering a keyboard big enough to accommodate hooves, so unlike humans, cows have nowhere to go unless they book with an agent, creating a win-win situation for the agent looking to expand his customer base beyond the usual computer illiterates.

So where do cows go on vacation? As they are herbivores, I like to think that they are drawn to pastoral scenes, to places like Gettysburg, for example, where they can walk the paths of heroes and calmly graze on the vegetation in the Wheat Field and the Peach Orchard and contemplate the sacrifices made for liberty in those hallowed places. Or they might go on genealogical expeditions out to the West, seeking out the places where their ancestors made the long drive north along the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Abilene. The movie fans amongst the herd could even point out the points of cinematic interest, the places where John Wayne or Randolph Scott almost lost the herd in a great stampede, or where the Indians or cattle rustlers tried to use the herd as a shield to creep up on the heroes and do them in [this rarely worked, of course; the cows would get nervous and stampede and the only person the bad guys would actually kill would be the cook at the chuck wagon whose food nobody liked, but who would go down defending his lousy beans and grits in a blaze of gunfire and culinary glory like a true American hero]. The calves might even do a re-enactment of a great stampede if they’re in the mood for it, although I imagine that their parents would probably tell them to stop running around like crazy kids before they hurt themselves; parents are like that, you know.

How the cows get from the one place to the other, I couldn’t really tell you; it strikes me that cows are great hikers, so they might choose to walk the distances between the sites of particularly interest to them. Hiking is good exercise, no two ways about it, and cows can eat whatever is growing by the side of the road so they don’t have to factor in the cost of restaurants in their travel budgeting, and let’s face it, nobody likes having to factor in the cost of tips for bad service; it’s one of the really annoying things about any kind of travel planning. Hiking also lets your average herd of cows to get off the interstate highways and really see the country up close and personal, something too few people do nowadays, and lets the herd avoid the embarrassment of having the TSA feel them up at the airports. Cows are sensitive that way.

In the end, I have no objection to cows going off somewhere every now and again. Travel expands one’s horizons, leads to greater understanding of the world and one’s place in it, and for the cows, means putting off the day when they wind up on the ineluctable bun with the side order of French fries. What I do object to is my having to put my life on hold until they get back from their gallivanting about. I see no particular reason why I should have to wait for the cows to come home to do anything I think necessary, nor do I ever remember voting on a proposition that gave cattle the right to be the final arbiter of what I do with my time. I’m sorry, I realize that this is very small-minded of me, but sometimes a person has to be small-minded. If you don’t look after your own interests, no one else will look after them. That’s just the way things are here in this our Great Republic.

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