Archive for January, 2009

January 18, 2009

We Are Prime Time; or, Change (the Channel)

by cowboylands

In times of moral confusion

I turn to prime time

where good can conquer evil

in the space of sixty minutes (minus twenty for 3.9 percent financing on Chevy pickups and softcore Viagra porn).


Once upon a time prime-time showdowns between good and evil came in a haze of gun smoke and rawhide

men bristled with single-action revolvers and laconic one-two punches.

They had only half an hour

but without fail,

the good guy won.

Good always won, back then, while these days it takes an entire season to conquer evil and the episodes are so fucking confusing no viewer actually knows what happened, or even if anyone won at all.

We are what we watch—back then we used to be the cowboy, trim slacks and clean shirt, aced with a tight concho belt around our hips.

True to Cold War form, we’d posture and preen without crossing that line in the sand,

stroking guns and thumbing hats, staring and squinting, a détente in a western town on a vacuum-tube

boob tube that shot ramrods up every child’s spine so he or she would grow up to be good little yes/no-

black/white-right/wrong fighters for the American way.


Back then the villains wore their badness on their sleeve and everyone acted according to script.

Back then the hero never said much but told the truth and torture was having to wait for the next installment of Bonanza.

But that time has its own ghost images of armament build-up, its own static-y pixels of injustices that flash beneath clean-cut white cowboys and blonde horses.

We still identify with our heroes, now flat-screen knights in high-definition armor.

For eight years we were mediums, those Great Deciders who go beyond laws and constitutional rights because a little voice tells them to.

We were paranormals who thirst for common mortals’ blood and fight for world domination against those who are just like them.

We were mediocre reality-show contestants yearning for the fifteen-minute touch of media Svengali.

Omniscient know-it-alls who sat in spider-dens of high-definition surveillance equipment.

plugged-in technical virtuosos in forensic labs and behind-the-scenes commando raids.


We were above the law, below the radar, over the top, beyond mortal ken.

No wonder when we are hated. despised, laughed at, threatened and killed.


So—we change our president. Will it be like changing the channel from one hero to the other: Intuitive to methodical, insular to cosmopolitan, sound-bytes to elaboration, yes-men to debaters, threats to communication, isolation to interdependence,  black gold to green energy, division to union?

Yes we can, we say.

But what will happen when the day after the inauguration turns into one of those weekend afternoons, when you flick through hundreds of cable channels, all proclaiming the change you need but looking the same?


Our primetime heroes are bigger than us, they are grander. They have better teeth, more hair where we want there to be more, less where we wish we didn’t have to wax, they have more guns, better ideas, they never tire or give up hope.  They don’t get laid off, worry about paying health care premiums, or work minimum wage—unless it serves a dramatic or comedic function.


But they have our DNA that shouldn’t sit back on Target daybeds with bags of organic chips and bottles of microbrewery beer, changing the channels. We have to metamorphose, turn from us vs. them to us and them.

It’ll make for boring TV, but why not turn off the flat-screen and play a game of catch with your neighbor? Or better yet, do something to make a difference. Effect a change.


January 14, 2009

Adios Cowboy?

by cowboylands


After my tirade about sunsets and cowboys and the latter riding into the former, you’d think I would have stayed away from that shooting-fish-in-a-barrel type of analogy. I couldn’t.

Sun Setting with Cowboy (After Roy Lichtenstein) ©2009 cowboylands

As the current presidential administration draws to a close, I have to wonder if W is already practicing his squint into the setting sun. I’m guessing he isn’t anticipating a child running after him shouting “George! Come back, George!” at the top of his lungs.* 

Perhaps this blog will starve for lack of cowboy fodder during the next administration, but I have a feeling that America’s Cowboy isn’t going away. This Cowboy with a capital C may take a break to get a smoke or see a girl, but with opportunities to (at worst) meddle with countries whose export is at the basis of an energy addiction, or (at best) encourage and support countries and organizations who are struggling out of poverty, I think we’ll be seeing some white hats and black hats again. 

* for those of you not in the know, it’s a Shane reference. See the last scene.  


January 11, 2009

Shoot-Out at the Viral Corral

by cowboylands

If I’m going to battle a cold, I would want Ernest Haycox to write the story. 

The Whispering Range, by Ernest Haycox. Wherever the hell that mountain chain is, it also exists in my throat, which is as raw as the dark borderlands and filled with rustlers herding my healthy cells through secret byways.  

Night time: Coughs explode like the pound of six-guns. Sneezes erupt like the hiss and pop of whips cracking over mule teams. Sighs rise as mournful as a woman’s, left behind for a horse. 

Whispering Range, by Ernest Haycox
cover illustrator unknown but Robert Stanley-ish
Popular Library/ Eagle Books 1953
from the collection of ES

I was dry-gulched by some varmint bug, before I could even draw my Airborne from my holster. I just wasn’t fast enough. I’d like to think, paraphrasing the back cover of Whispering Range, that after the first surprise my battle cry shattered the tense silence and my men burst from hiding to follow their fighting leader in a desperate but courageous charge against the outlaws. A lifetime feud would be settled at long last–settled by thundering six-guns! Alas, I’d be the one left behind to on a pioneer wagon train, or forced to chop wood for Cookie on a cattle drive. I can’t even cross the narrow straits of my railroad apartment without complaining bitterly. 

It’s the Haycox mood that settles over me when the phlegm is high. Moody, dark, and full of people feeling sorry for themselves and getting over it, Ernest “Erny” Haycox’s stories still rock my world, a full seventy years after they were first published. He crafted the ambience in his stories meticulously, rising each morning to don business attire, and sitting at his desk to write in the morning, and to revise and edit in the afternoon. About 300,000 words per year arose from his diligence, including the short story that became Stagecoach, an epic-in-a-handbasket, 

Haycox’s characters hold sorrow in their eyes, old hurts in their stoop, ferocity in their stance, and–I have to admit–the only time they get sick is when there is a beautiful woman to lay a cool hand on a forehead, silently offering more. 

Wish I could say I deserved to be a protagonist in one of his novels. I’ll dream about it, though, if the coughing lets me sleep. 

For my reading pleasure, and yours, an excerpt from “Stage to Lordsburg,” which originally appeared in the April 10, 1937 issue of Collier’s. The rest is here, with thanks to Bob Gay. 

This was one of those years in the Territory when Apache smoke signals spiraled up from the stony mountain summits and many a ranch cabin lay as a square of blackened ashes on the ground and the departure of a stage from Tonto was the beginning of an adventure that had no certain happy ending….

The stage and its six horses wafted in front of Weilner’s store on the north side of Tonto’s square. Happy Stuart was on the box, the ribbons between his fingers and one foot teetering on the brake. John Strang rode shotgun guard and an escort of ten cavalrymen waited behind the coach, half asleep in their saddles.

At four-thirty in the morning this high air was quite cold, though the sun had begun to flush the sky eastward. A small crowd stood in the square, presenting their final messages to the passengers now entering the coach. There was a girl going down to marry an infantry officer, a whisky drummer from St. Louis, an Englishman all length and bony corners and bearing with him an enormous sporting rifle, a gambler, a solid-shouldered cattleman on his way to New Mexico and a blond young man upon whom both Happy Stuart and the shotgun guard placed a narrow-eyed interest.

This seemed all until the blond man drew back from the coach door; and then a girl known commonly throughout the Territory as Henriette came quietly from the crowd. She was small and quiet, with a touch of paleness in her cheeks and her quite dark eyes lifted at the blond man’s unexpected courtesy, showing surprise. There was this moment of delay and then the girl caught up her dress and stepped into the coach.

Men in the crowd were smiling but the blond one turned, his motion like the swift cut of a knife, and his attention covered that group until the smiling quit. He was tail, hollow-flanked, and definitely stamped by the guns slung low on his hips. But it wasn’t the guns alone; something in his face, so watchful and so smooth, also showed his trade. Afterwards he got into the coach and slammed the door.

Happy Stuart kicked off the brakes and yelled, “Hi!” Tonto’s people were calling out -their last farewells and the six horses broke into a trot and the stage lunged on its fore and aft springs and rolled from town with dust dripping off its wheels like water the cavalrymen trotting briskly behind. So they tipped down the long grade, bound on a journey no stage had attempted during the last forty-five days. Out below in the desert’s distance stood the relay stations they hoped to reach and pass. Between lay a country swept empty by the quick raids of Geronimo’s men.



January 1, 2009

New Year in Cowboylands

by cowboylands

Every start of the year I find some time to write out a few goals. I prioritize and create little boxes for checking off when I’ve completed them* and otherwise make curlicues and asterisks and bold underlines. This blog was one such goal from last year (alas, the Web site is still under construction–anyone know a good Flash artist?). I keep away from calling them resolutions–I can resolve to do anything w/out getting it done–but “goals seem to be sufficiently motivating.

sparkly boots © 2009 cowboylands

I always hope for a year of shiny energy and tremendous success. Like the boots I wore this New Year’s in NYC,** I hope the coming year will be sparkly, high-heeled, comfortable, eye-catching, over-the-top lovely, and, yes, slightly ridiculous. These boots I bought on the way to a reading (Bob Heman’s great CLWN WR readings at SAFE-T gallery in DUMBO), and I haven’t looked back. These would definitely fall apart in mud and dust and sweat, but who cares? Would someone who was wearing these actually work for a living? They embody the giddy times of bubble America, pre-2008. Or, the sad but titillating life of a lounge singer. 

worn boots © 2009 cowboylands

My practical side says the year isn’t going to be any such thing unless I work like hell–the aspect that I admire most about cowboys (other than the spurs and chaps and laconic wit and such). These were scooped up on the cheap in a Goodwill in a western state lost to my memory. They are stiff and creased, worn and drab, although someone industriously and somewhat clumsily applied shoe polish to shine ’em up (hey, it worked–it got an Eastern fool to buy them). Life isn’t going to be shiny unless I plant my rear in the saddle and stick to my steed-of-the-moment. Nor should life be all glitter. There’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had in working hard and making a living in a chosen field, whether its publishing or sage-covered corrals. 

sparkly boots II © 2009 cowboylands

Happy New Year, buckaroos! may our virtual trails cross often.



*My anality lasts about a week–I usually forget about the list, although I do tend to complete a few of the goals. 

**Imagine taking these out to fix fence posts. They’d scare the herd.