THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- THE PLATFORM

by: Wes Ishmael

Hooter was feeling like some sort of zoo exhibit, sitting on a makeshift stage in the middle of Uncas Bingelmeyer's sale ring, which was itself a study in jerry-rigged pipes and boards. It was stout, though.

The occasion was the first annual Apache Elects political debate sponsored by the That's Right Political Action Committee (TRPAC). Like the parade that had launched Hooter's erstwhile presidential campaign, this was Peetie Womack's notion.

“I'm not debating anybody,” Hooter said when Peetie informed him of the event.

“I know that,” Peetie said. “But, it sounds a lot better than the first annual monologue. Besides, we'll just say your opponent bowed out. Folks will think he was too scared to debate you.”

“But, I don't have an opponent,” Hooter countered.

“Not yet, anyway. If folks are scared, we might be able to keep it that way.”

“Huh?”

It was Peetie who decided the Rio Rojo Cattlemen's Association needed a candidate, not to get elected, but to share the group's concerns and views with more folks than themselves.

Now, here he was across the Red River at his pal, Uncas'.

“But, wouldn't it make more sense to share our platform with the folks at home first?” Hooter had wondered.

“Can't risk it,” Cousin Charlie had told him; he was Hooter's acting campaign manager. “We need to test you out with folks that may never see you again, just in case, you know…”

“No, I don't know,” Hooter had replied. “Why don't you tell me?”

“Leave the details to us,” Peetie had interrupted. “That's what we're here for. “All you have to do is get ready to tell the folks assembled there what you think about current events, what you'd do if you were elected.”

The Show Before the Show

Most folks milling around the ring would glance his way from time to time, smile faintly or give a halfhearted wave before turning back to their conversations. A few, though, were taking way too much interest in him, as far as Hooter was concerned.

There was the beauty-challenged, middle-aged woman with an elegant moustache who would stare at him for minutes at a time, dimpled elbows resting on a rail, a distant look in her eyes, that moustache twitching at the corners. Uncas had introduced her as his cousin Edna Stick.

“Don't let her looks fool you,” Uncas whispered in Hooter's ear. “She's loaded to the rafters with that old musty money. And, she has her eye on lot #12.”

“Huh?”

About that time, Peetie Womack had grabbed him by the elbow to introduce him to someone else.

Hooter glanced up from the notes he was going over with Cousin Charlie pertaining to his speech, unilateral debate or whatever it was. There was Edna again, making moon eyes at him.

“I ain't kissing anybody,” Hooter announced.

“Huh?”

“I'll shake as many hands as you want, but I ain't kissing any babies or…that,” Hooter said, pointing his chin in Edna's direction. She, of course, took that as encouragement to keep ogling.

“Don't worry about that,” Charlie said, running his red pen through yet another line of Hooter's notes. “I can't do much about Lot #12, though.”

“Huh?”

Whack!

It was that the runny-nosed little boy again, who would come by the ring about every five minutes, hit one of the rails with a stick to get Hooter's attention, then cross his eyes and stick out his tongue at Hooter.

“I ain't saying I won't hurt anybody either,” Hooter said.

When Charlie looked up, Hooter was crossing his eyes and sticking his tongue out at the little boy, who squalled and screamed for his mama.

“Hooter! You can't do that to voters.”

“He's not old enough to vote,” Hooter grumped. “Given the path he's on, I have my doubts about him every reaching legal age unless it's behind bars.”

Hooter's present jail-like circumstances weren't lost on him. He watched as Charlie consoled the heckler with a pack of gum.

“So, that's how pay-offs work,” Hooter said when Charlie came back.

“Just behave. It's about time for the auction. You're one of the celebrity ring men, in case I forgot to tell you.”

“Huh?”

Charlie handed him a photo-copied, stapled stack of paper that was presumably a sale catalogue.

Opening Rounds

Unbeknownst to Hooter, Uncas and Peetie decided it was a shame to waste a sale ring and a crowd. They threw together a hodge-podge offering of detritus to raise funds for Hooter's nascent campaign.

Thumbing through the catalogue later, Hooter would find everything from crocheted ear muffs, to a decrepit pinball machine, to some seed corn that was dated in the 1960s.

Presently, though, Hooter quickly skimmed through the pages as Uncas welcomed the crowd and began the introductions.

“Your auctioneer today obviously needs no introduction,” Uncas wailed into the microphone, which squealed with feedback. “Our own Colonel John Paul Rathgobler.”

Judging by the reaction of the crowd, Hooter reckoned the colonel needed more than introduction.

“You already know about this celebrity ring man,” Uncas continued, pointing at Hooter from the block. “My personal friend, no finer candidate in the land than Hooter McCormick.”

There was too little applause to call it a smattering. Best as Hooter could tell, Edna was the only one paying much attention.

“As a special treat, our other celebrity helping us ringside today is none other than Champ Zollinger!”

You could have heard the proverbial pin drop as a pencil-thin, crease-faced and stooped man in his 60s or 70s stood on the front row of bleachers, both hands raised in a triumphant greeting.

Then, there was thunderous applause. This was in fact the legendary circuit rough stock champion of 1972 though 1978. Until he had abruptly walked away mid-way through the 1979 season—sitting comfortably atop of the standings once again—there was hardly a bull or bronc that Chap couldn't cover.

“I know about him,” Hooter whispered to Charlie as he joined in the applause. “When I was going down the road, there were all kinds of stories about the wrecks he got into and out of. Then, he just kind of disappeared.”

Bidding the Future

The Colonel started with the pinball machine. Hooter was impressed. The auctioneer was in fact mighty proficient. Bidding was surprisingly robust, all the way up to $35.25 when a gate clanged shut in the alleyway. Champ was turning in a bid when he heard it. He squalled like he'd been shot and scrambled up three rails before catching himself.

“Old habits!” Champ hollered to an appreciate crowd.

Rather than being immune to fears of the common man, Champ was apparently among that subset of former riders whose nerves are chiseled raw for all time. Champ was fuller of fidgets than a yearling heifer in a lightening storm. Every rattling gate, clanking chain or baby's squeal had Champ reaching for the rail and starting for higher ground.

Hooter was so caught up in the excitement of wanting to meet Champ and the old rider's subsequent ringside exoduses that he never looked to see Lot #12 that Uncas and Charlie had mentioned. That was a good thing.

Lot 12 was a date with the official candidate himself. That explained Edna's longing gaze. Had Hooter known, he would have been skedaddling for home rather than risk the chance.

As it turned out, Hooter needn't have worried, thanks to Lot #11. It was 100 units of semen from Bingelmeyer Shadow Catcher 312, an own son of Bingelmeyer Gotcha 101, which was the foundation of Uncas Bingelmeyer's unique proprietary composite.

Uncas figured that walking the old sire through the ring would add excitement and increase the bid for the semen. Never mind the fact that there had never been any excitement over him or his progeny.

The old bull lumbered through the gate so quietly that Hooter watched his ribs to make sure that he was alive and breathing, rather than some stuffed tribute Uncas had mounted on wheels.

The crowd had been calm enough for long enough that even Champ seemed to finally be enjoying the brief sale. He was unaware that the bull was in the ring…until Gotcha suddenly decided he'd rather be somewhere else.

“Brahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” the bull bellered at about the same time he rammed his scraggly head against rails beside Champ.

Champ jumped about two feet straight up, reaching instinctively for the rail, feet churning all the while. He had one leg over the top rail—mistakenly scrambling over the fence into the ring with the bull rather than away from him—about the time the bull hammered against the rails again.

The repercussion unloosed Champ's handhold. He did a perfect backward swan dive into Edna's waiting arms. Champ looked up at her and never even screamed. He just fainted.







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