by Brian Kerstetter
FAT FLOYD AND THE BULL
After deciding not to open the helicopter door and jump into the mouth of the Grand Canyon, we arrived at a “real” Dude Ranch on the lip of the canyon. It was essentially a retreat in the middle of nowhere for recovering drug addicts and drunks, where they could play cowboy for visiting tourists from Las Vegas.
The boss of the ranch was Floyd, a Jack Daniels-drinking Marlboro-smoking egg-shaped cowboy with a bushy mustache. If Floyd were to get on all fours you would have difficulty differentiating him from a porker with a hairy face. The ranch had a dozen horses and two bulls fenced into a coral near the helicopter landing. By the time we starting filming, Floyd had already nipped off a half bottle of Jack Daniels. When he saw the red light of the ‘record’ button on our movie camera light up, his eyes blazed and his tobacco stained mustache twitched. “Wanna see me fuck with the bull?” he asked us. We just smiled. Because of Floyd’s cowboy accent, O. thought Floyd had said, “Wanna see me fuck the bull?”
Before I had time to explain the question, Floyd climbed inside the coral with the bull. The bull watched Floyd pull his fat stomach over the fence. Judging by the bull’s reaction, you could tell this wasn’t the first time old Floyd had pulled this trick for a couple of city slickers. We stood back and started filming. Suddenly, I had the vision of Floyd, like an overstuffed doll, being stuck like a pin cushion by the bull’s crooked horns. I saw a glint in the eye of the bull, as though the bull, too, had been drinking that day. “Wanna fuck with me today, Floyd?” thought the bull. “Wanna fuck with me and show off in front of the tourists, you drunken whale? Okay, let’s have some fun today, Floyd.”
Fat Floyd slowly walked right up to the bull. The bull stood erect, staring at Floyd. They both stood there staring at each other for what seemed like five minutes. I didn’t know whether they were going to shake hands or charge one another. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the dust from the incoming helicopter, but for a moment I couldn’t tell which one was the bull and which one was fat Floyd. Then, suddenly, Floyd ran toward the bull to spook him. The bull ran to the left and started running around the coral, hitting the fence, snorting, and kicking up chunks of earth with his hind legs.
By this point everyone on the ranch was watching drunken Floyd fuck with the bull. A helicopter was landing and little dust tornados were circling above the ranch and the noise was deafening. All of a sudden the bull crashed over the top of the fence and started running through the ranch. All the tourists scrambled. Mothers dragged their children into the barn. On the porch, an English woman from Manchester put down her hot dog and stood to watch what looked like a scene from Apocalypse Now.
About five cowboys ran to their horses with their lassos in pursuit of the bull, one screaming, “Goddammit, Floyd, goddammit!” Floyd ran out of the broken coral and hopped on his horse and cried, “Yeee! Whoaa!” The next thing you know Floyd is in pursuit of the bull and just when it looked like Floyd had the bull cornered, he fell straight back off his horse and into the dust, as though an invisible hand had given him a push. I confess that I have never quite heard a sound like the one fat Floyd made when he hit the earth, a mix between a ‘thud’ and the sound a water balloon makes when it hits the ground and doesn’t break.
A tumble like that would have knocked sense into most drunken cowboys, but not Floyd. He was up running behind his horse, which was in turn running behind the bull. It was quite a sight, three animals running after one another. By the amused look on the arriving tourists’ faces, they thought this spectacle was today’s dude ranch performance because a few of them started clapping and cheering Floyd as he ran behind his horse. When I look back at the film footage of this event, what strikes me is the synchronicity and intricate collaboration of all the characters. A gifted choreographer could not have organized and timed the chasing cowboys, the runaway bull, the arriving tourists, the fleeing tourists, and Floyd’s dramatic finale any better.
When the commotion started and to avoid danger, we ran onto a little hill overlooking the ranch. The film footage of the event has a landscape proportion. It all looks perfectly controlled, as if a movie director were about to shout, “Okay, cut!” and the whole scene would immediately stop. But in fact the spectacle was complete chaos.
All stories must have heroes and this one has an unlikely hero, a Japanese cowboy. This regular Japanese guy from Tokyo had won a Western reality TV series in Japan and the prize was the opportunity to live the life of a real American cowboy on a ranch for a year.
Our hero looked like a Japanese version of the Marlboro Man. He was weather-beaten, dark, silent (he didn’t speak English) and looked good in cowboy boots. On this occasion, he took it upon himself to save the day for our drunken American cowboys. When Floyd hit the ground, there was a general mobilization of the cowboys – I think they realized the danger a wild, pissed off bull could pose to a group of tourists who thought the whole thing was a pre-arranged cowboy stunt for their benefit. Our Japanese cowboy hopped on a stallion, spurred his horse to charge and swung his lasso in the air, I swear, just like in the movies.
The ranch was lost in a cloud of twirling dust and sunshine. Now and then the bull would come charging out into the light followed by two or three cowboys trying to position themselves in a way that would convince the bull to retreat back into the coral. Then Floyd would come crashing into the scene, scare the bull into charging one of the cowboys and the whole scene would start over again in another part of the ranch, as the cowboys continued to holler, “Goddamn it, Floyd! Goddamnit!” When the mayhem finally seemed to reach a ridiculous peak, like the finale of a circus performance where all the entertainers are on stage at once, the Japanese cowboy lassoed the beast and escorted him back into the coral to the applause of the tourists. The large English woman with the hot dog cried, “Good show!”
When the excitement died down, we all had a lemonade with the cowboys and showed them part of the film. Everyone except Floyd. Fat Floyd was sitting on the steps shaking his head, muttering, “By Gawd, he never done that before. By Gawd.” One cowboy with a guitar started to write a song for us about our experience at the ranch. He looked at my white eyes and called me a strange boy. Then he wrote his enduring masterpiece, “Culture Hopper,” that would eventually become the soundtrack to the scene I’ve just described. “Cuz he’s a culturehopper, he goes from place to place…”
After all this the day wasn’t finished. I needed to learn how to die, cowboy style, for a scene in O.’s movie. One of the scenes in the film required me to be shot to death, brutally and unjustly, in a Western-style shoot-out. I needed to learn how to get shot and die, in convincing fashion. “Shoot me,” said the cowboy. “Shoot me three times in the chest.” So I took my gun out of my holster, pointed it, and shot. The cowboy twisted, grabbed at his chest, turned and collapsed motionless in the dirt. “Now you try,” he said. So he took out his gun, fired, and I did my part by twisting, jerking, and tumbling into a heap in the dust. Apparently I looked like a collection of arms and legs dying. I’m a natural when it comes to acting. It’s just something I was born with. My cowboy instructor didn’t say anything about my performance but cowboys, when they are happy and satisfied, never say anything.