A Ted Nugent interview caught my attention several years ago when he said, “The silence of the swamp and the roar of fifty thousand fans—all magical stuff.”
The author part of me is drawn to contrast. The speaker who clips along, but then slows to make a point holds my attention far better than the monotone slowly delivered drivel I suffer through all too often.
Most of us tweet and facebook. We sell, emphasize and focus group ideas. But when I see something that’s truly unique, that differs from what I’ve come to know, I’m traumatized in a good way, because I walk away changed.
Maybe contrast explains why my friend Roger listened so carefully in 1995. Day three of our Grand Canyon float trip found us in Redwall Cavern on the Colorado River. A pristine place with an overhanging ceiling covering a football sized field of sand. We’d tossed the frisby, thrown the football and had lunch. Several people were in siesta mode, sleeping away calories while Roger and a few others visited near the shoreline.
Perhaps I wanted to impress the group. Prove I wasn’t as green at everything else as I was on the oars. So I told them of going to work for a dairy farmer named Oscar. How my best friend Wayne and I, who were thirteen at the time, milked the cows on a dairy seven days a week. I took four days off in sixteen months. Wayne took even fewer.
Then I told them of a bull named Hoover and I think it was the last thing my new friend Roger expected to hear.
Hoover stood just over six feet at the shoulder, a giant Holstein, with an even temperament. My boss, Oscar, only owned part of him. A third as I remember. Two other farmers claimed the rest. They rotated Hoover between dairies. A few months to cover the cows had to’ve been a great life. Eat, sleep, hope a young heifer is receptive. Hoover was “the man” before anyone invented the phrase.
Wayne and I would arrive at the dairy about five pm. The first day Hoover was put in with the cows Oscar met us at the barn.
“He’s a lover not a fighter,” Oscar said. “Wants to eat and fornicate mostly.”
Wayne and I laughed. We were thirteen. What can I say?
“Keep an eye on him. Don’t piss him off,” Oscar warned.
I’ve a bone to pick with anyone who claims boys can’t be responsible—for the most part. Each evening we’d herd the fifty or so cows into their holding pen. From there we’d bring them into the milk-parlor nine at a time. A Folgers can of grain would entice them into the proper position where we’d lock them in a headstall. The veterans understood. Getting milked was good and the rookies soon learned from the veterans. We’d rotate the three automatic milkers through the nine cows that stood side by side. When all nine were milked, we’d turn them out to the larger corral. Then we’d let nine more in and repeat the process.
Wayne and I traded nights. While one of us milked the other fed calves and put hay in the mangers. With all the cows milked we’d both clean up and head home.
It all went without incident, even with Hoover roaming about. A few times he chased a cow into the holding pen, but we were able to separate him okay once he’d finished his business. Mostly Hoover napped the day away between romantic interludes, which is what he was doing one day as Wayne and I herded the cows into the holding pen. The cows strolled from the shed where Hoover was bedded on fresh straw. Wayne and I came up behind him. Hoover’s eyes were shut tight, perhaps dreaming.
His legs were tucked beneath his belly, and his entire body rose with each breath. When he exhaled, the straw fluttered near his nostrils.
This is the part where I’ll recommend reading another blog post if you’re an animal rights activist. I’m not proud of what I’m about to write, but in the end no animals were killed or permanently damaged, and some people have seen great humor, especially Roger, in Redwall Cavern.
Wayne shush signaled me with his finger to his lip and snuck behind Hoover whose testicles rested beneath his tail. Hoover’s package was the size of a plastic grocery store bag with two large grapefruits. Before I knew it, Wayne lifted his foot and stomped.
Hoover exploded to his feet and Wayne and I sprinted into the milk parlor. Hoover’s stall was through the wall from us. The building shook and dust settled from ceiling boards from what I guessed was an extremely pissed bull bashing his head against the wall. Snorts and grunts and banging continued for several minutes. The milk parlor door was split half way to allow the top to be opened for ventilation in hot weather. We locked the bottom half and peered down the wall as the ruckus continued. Several minutes later we saw Hoover’s Brass nose ring emerge through the doorway. The same lungs that moments before had wiggled the pile of straw now blew bull snot sideways several yards. A sound like someone striking concrete with a sledgehammer was Hoover smacking the Corral’s cement floor with his front hooves. He’d snort, toss his head, and smack the concrete, sometimes all at once. We peered down the wall as Hoover inched out; and we came to realize what was taking him so long. When his hind feet emerged he moved them in unison. He’d step with one front hoof, toss his head, blow snot, stomp and then step and stomp with the other front foot before jumping with both back feet at the same time.
Once his body was through the open doorway he spun to look at us. If you’ve attended a rodeo and seen the clowns taunt the bulls, after the cowboys are beat to hell, you have a reference. Wayne and I didn’t have a barrel to jump into. He fake charged several times while we stood like the teenage dip shits we were, behind a cobbled together lower half of a plank door that could’ve been splintered to toothpicks. By and by it didn’t happen because while Hoover’s spirit was willing, but his balls hurt too bad to move quick.
I milked and Wayne fed while Hoover stood. The head tossing and stomping and snorting slowed until he’d see one of us and get all fired up again, but all it amounted to in the end was some posing.
I’d turn nine cows from the barn and they walked past Hoover who tossed his head to hurry them along to their mangers. We swept and cleaned the equipment at the end of the night and left Hoover standing where he was.
I don’t remember talking it over the next day at school or worrying much about it. When we returned twenty four hours later and went to herd the cows into their pen, Hoover stood looking. He always faced us from then on, keeping that tossing head between us and his family Jewels.
Halfway through the milking Oscar stopped by.
“Hoover must’ve had trouble with one of them cows. Come up lame this morning.”
“Hadn’t noticed,” Wayne responded.
“Eatin’ and fornicatin’ all day.” Oscar rubbed his whiskers. “Hoover don’t know how good he’s got it!”
Wayne and I chuckled.
Hoover lived to sire hundreds more calves. Oscar was jealous, and I’ve lived long enough to be glad no permanent damage occurred.
My kids bug me to tell the Hoover story and how Roger went bright red as he lay on the sand clutching his belly back in 1995. We’ve been back to Redwall a few times. The “Hoover” story’s always a hit. There’s plenty of build up; so I think folks are better braced for the contrast of Grand Canyon’s serenity and the story of some idiot teenage boys, because nobody has laughed as hard as Roger the first time. At his suggestion, I named my raft Hoover and eventually I became Hoover to all my river running friends. It’s a name I love, an alter ego and the least I can do for a dairy bull whose solitary painful afternoon contrasted so dramatically with an otherwise pleasant existence.