THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- HANDLE WITH CARE

by: Wes Ishmael

Hooter was riding shotgun with Peetie on a trip north of the Red River to see a set of mismatched bull calves. Though he still bought pot loads, prices being what they are, Peetie had taken to piece-mealing together singles, cuts and odd lots like he had when he first got started, trying to find any sort of hole in the market.

“If they're even breathing and half of them go to hunting a grave, the price makes it hard to screw up,” he told Hooter. “But I told Rufus I want to eyeball them before we make the deal. With bulls, you just never know…”

In order to pass the time, besides pressing, punching and pulling at every switch and knob on Peetie's new truck, Hooter was relating a recent visit he'd taken to the Fort Worth Zoo with Bugsy and her pals.

“That's the business we ought to be in,” Hooter said, taking a dip from his Copenhagen can. “Between parking and admission, you can drop 50 bucks before you spit. That's not counting $4 for a single dip of ice cream…a single solitary dip.”

“Mmmhhmmm,” Peetie grunted.

“I tell you what, though, I would have paid the price of admission just to see the people. It's amazing what some folks will try to cram themselves into.”

“Mmmhhmmm.”

“You ever see a monkey frog?” Hooters asked. “They had one in a little glass case that I swear to the world looked just like Lonnie did the morning after Delmar served up some of that Leprechaun juice last St. Patrick's Day: eyes wide as baby moon hub caps, glazed and with no blink to them, just staring off into space like a level that's lost its bubble.”

“Mmmhhmmm.”

And on and on.

Rejected Offerings

When they finally arrived, a sour looking young man informed them that Rufus, Peetie's order-buyer friend, was away on an errand. But, the young man named William said he'd bring the calves up for a closer look.

“No need for that if they're close,” Peetie said. “Just point the way.”

“Like I said, I'll go bring them up,” William replied. He picked up one of three hot shots leaning against the chute and trotted away.

Peetie felt Hooter stiffen beside him. He put a hand on Hooter's arm and said, “That would be fine.”

When he was a ways out of ear shot, Hooter, who had been squirming like a kid on the last day of school, started in, “You going to let that idgit talk to you that way? He's insolent is what he is. All duded up like he's some sort of real cowboy. Those bulls are just over in the next trap. Just give me five minutes with him and…”

“I know what you're saying. But, we don't know what kind of morning he's had,” Peetie said. “We all get cross every now and again. Let's give him a chance.”

“And why you suppose he needs three hot shots?”

Before Peetie could respond, they heard what sounded like approaching thunder. A cloud of dust blew toward them as did shouts and cussing: William was bringing the bulls up.

“Peetie, let's hit the road right now. Those calves won't be fit to kill if that's how he handles them.”

“Let's just wait and see,” Peetie said without much conviction.

In the distance they saw William close one gate then approach the group brandishing yet another hot shot…hollering all the while.

It always mystified Hooter to see folks bellering and caterwauling behind a group of cattle, flummoxed when the cattle won't go where they intend.

“Just leave me alone, stay out of sight, and Lord help you if you make a peep.” Hooter had told more than one person over the years when it came time to move cattle across the pasture, into a pen or alley.

Hooter didn't consider himself any kind of cow whisperer, but he had a knack for understanding where he needed to be. Plus, the late Pockets Geronimo, who some said had supernatural abilities, had taught Hooter well.

“Can they see you?” is what Pockets would always ask when a young Hooter had stalled a set of calves. “They have to see you.”

So, Hooter knew what to do, though he had been uncertain of all of the whys until folks like the late Bud Williams, Temple Grandin, Tom Noffsinger and other practical animal behaviorists began explaining it over the years.

Hooter started toward the fence. Peetie grabbed him.

By now, William was standing a couple of rails up, shouting and prodding at the calves that were now running a perfect circle, bouncing off the fence, picking up speed as they went.

“Hey junior!” Hooter shouted. “For what it's worth, those calves will move a lot easier if you given them a chance to settle and see where you want them to go first. I'll be glad to give you a hand.”

The young man glared at Hooter. “Thanks for the advice, pops. I've been doing this for a while now. I know how to get them where I want them.” He turned back and started hollering and prodding all over again.

“Hey junior!” Hooter shouted again. “You may have been doing this a while, but I can show you a couple of simple tricks that will make life a whole lot easier for both you and them.”

The young man glared at Hooter again, didn't say anything and then went back to hollering and poking.

Hooter simmered a second longer.

“Just leave it be,” Peetie said under his breath. “I ain't bought them yet, and I'm not about to tell another man how to run his cattle.”

“The good news is I'm not part of this potential transaction one way or the other.”

Hooter grabbed one of the hot shots leaning against the chute and sauntered along the fence. He came up behind William's perch, stuck the business end of the hot shot between the rails and gave him a long zap at the same time he shouted BOO! as loud as he could.

“Ooooouch!” William screamed, falling off the rail and grabbing the back of his leg at the same time.

Peetie would remark later that Hooter was lucky that William hadn't been trampled. Hooter allowed it was bad luck.

Quick and quiet as a gnat's sneeze, Hooter was over the fence. He grabbed William's hot shot from him.

“Stings a mite, don't it!” Hooter shouted. Peetie hadn't seen him this worked up in a while.

“What's the first thing you did when you got zapped and heard me shout?” said Hooter a little quieter. “You stopped to turn around in order to see what all the fuss was about. Depending on your inherent disposition, you are now scared to death, mad enough to fight or a little of both. That about right?”

William didn't say anything, didn't even try to get up.

Hooter threw the hot shots over the fence as far as he could.

“Junior, did it ever occur to you that cattle are about the same in that regard? Why would they move forward when you're making them stop to turn and look at you and all the commotion you're making?”

William didn't say anything.

“See that post right beside you?” Hooter shouted again. “It's better help than you are because at least it's not causing problems.”

“Get yourself up and off the ground, Billy!” boomed an unfamiliar voice behind Hooter. It was obviously Rufus. Just as obviously, Peetie had been explaining the situation to his friend.

“My apologies, Mr. McCormick. William here is my nephew…by marriage.” He glowered at the young man.

“I don't care if he's the king of Siam, he's worthless as a cow hand,” said Hooter. “No disrespect intended to you, sir. But I wouldn't trust that kid with a stick horse.”

William had gathered himself up from the ground, positioned himself in front of Hooter. It was plain that he was feeling a might cockier.

“But, Uncle Rufus…”

“Hush!” shouted Rufus. “I told you if they showed up to tell them I'd be back. I never told you to bring the bulls up. Besides the fact that there wasn't any need, as Mr. McCormick here pointed out so eloquently, it's not your calling.”

“But Uncle Rufus…”

“Boo!” Hooter shouted again for good measure. William fell in a heap.







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