Feeding the Bull
By Mike Ingles
It was late and the booze did little good. Harridan’s Pub was all but empty with old Sally looping at one end of the bar like a spider in heat and a couple of young guys sitting at a table in the back. The young guys were getting pretty loud and Tony the bartender walked over to their table to settle them down a bit. After he spoke with them, they nodded their heads in unison as if their 3rd grade math teacher was teaching them a lesson in civics. All became quiet. I like it that way.
The old guy ambled in without so much as a look in any one direction; he took a beeline straight to the stool next to mine. “I don’t suppose you have Tittlemen’s Lager?” The question went over my head and into Tony’s ears.
“No.” Grumbled Tony. “I never heard of it.”
The old man wore a gray coat, more of a frock actually. His shoes were so very scuffed I could not decipher their original color. His dark pants were shinny and worn at the cuffs. He had a small mustache like a movie star might have worn in the thirties. His hair was thick and gray and had not been trimmed in ages. His eyes were brown and ponderous with age and played into mine.
“I don’t suppose you ever fed a huge bull by hand?”
The words floated out of him like he had been asking that same question to a thousand souls in a thousand bars all over the city. I was a bit taken back, but soon recovered enough to respond, “No sir, can’t say I have.” I smiled at him.
“Well then you’re probably the young fellow I’m looking for. For the price of a beer, I’ll tell you a story that you’ll want to tell your grandchildren.
Tony grumbled from behind the bar, “Beat it Pop or I’ll call the law.”
“No Tony,” I said, “let’s hear about the huge bull.”
Tony poured a draft and sat it in front of the old man. He took a drink and half the beer vanished.
“It was 58 or 59 I can’t remember exactly. No. It was 1959 cause I was with Ringling Brothers Circus. I had a roommate named Hershel he was a one-eyed midget, but that son-of-a-gun could see a dime from a quarter mile away. Lost the eye in a poker game around Las Vegas. A sheriff accused him of counting cards and threw him in the slammer. They took all his possession as jailers often do, but Hershel hid a pack of cards in his sock and when in jail talked two Indians and a defrocked Baptist Priest into a game of Five-Card Monte. Well sir, by the end of the night Hershel had taken all those boys had and even had the sheriff stuck for forty dollars. You ever seen Five Card Monte played the way it should be?” He finished his beer.
“No,” I said. “But what about the bull?”
“Well I’m coming to that, just a little dry is all.”
“Tony, give the man a beer. I think he needs a short one.”
“Thanks. As I was saying. It was 58 or 59. No, it was 1959.” The old man’s voice grew stronger and the two young guys at the table across the bar became silent, as they listened to his tale. “I traveled light in those days. Town to town with the circus, up at 5:00 AM every day. I saw the last Bald Eagle in Alabama on a windswept morning. Fell in love with a woman who had three titties in Golden Colorado. Really! Had three tits, more cleavage than the Grand Canyon. She had an idea of marrying me and that kind of stuck me off, if you know what I mean. Her brother was mayor and promised me a parcel of land that would be worth a million dollars, if I were to wed the gal. I thought about it for a few hours, but decided against it and hopped a train to New Orleans. Now there’s a city for you. You ever been to New Orleans cousin?” His beer was all but gone.
Old Sally walked over and took the seat next to the old man. “Give the old fellow here a beer. I think his throat must be dry.”
“Thank you ma’am. You sure are right about that. I haven’t talked so much in ages. Most people don’t give a damn about old fellows’ stories now a days.”
“But what about the bull?” I questioned.
“Well it was just after I left New Orleans, I think it was 1958. May have been 1959. I took off for Hollywood on a steamer that took us through New Mexico.”
The two young men at the table dropped their conversation and came to the bar to join us.
“Everything is red there you know. Met a young Indian fellow by the name of Horse Two Shoes. Could kiss a scorpion in the mouth and drink Tequila and eat salt until the cows came home. Had a wife that would scare a Grizzly Bear. She lost an ear to a rattlesnake bite and was deaf in the other. Horse Two Shoes would smoke cigars and blow smoke rings to communicate with her. Had one tooth right in the middle of her mouth and she could open a can of beer in an instant. Sold jewelry to the tourists and claimed she was kin to Chief Red Cloud although she never took on any airs. Mother was a Black Foot Dakota Indian and it’s said she’s the one who lifted Custer’s scalp. I‘ve never been to the Dakotas but would like to visit sometime. She’s one on the best people I have ever met. You ever been to the Dakotas?”
“No.” Said the unison of five voices.
“Well, I had to move on. I heard they were making motion pictures in Hollywood about cowboys and such and I was just the man for a leading roll. Hired an agent by the name of Tom Foolsettletter, he got me a small part in a John Wayne movie. I took a punch from Duke; he knocked me through a pane-glass window. Nice fellow, liked bologna and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Drank 3V-Cola by the bucketfull. That is until after the shoot, then he preferred Wideman Beer. We drank at some low-end joint named “Parson Brown’s”, served chili and beer that’s all. Duke could hold his liquor and wasn’t cheap about paying for it either.” The old man had finished off another draft and looked around the room and into the faces surrounding him. There was a moment of silence and then one of the young guys helped him to another draft.
“Say, what about that bull?” I asked.
“What bull? Oh Yea, the bull I was just coming to that. Well sir it was 1958, no wait it was 59 cause I was with Republic Pictures then. Had an agent by the name of Folksettler.”
“I thought you said his name was Foolsettletter.”
“Naw, I fired that bitch. Turned out to be pretty effeminate if you know what I mean. She liked to dress in men’s clothes and smoke cigars. Found out about it when we went to take a piss in “Parson Brown’s”. She tried to piss in a urinal and the piss hit her shoes. Fired her right then and there. Hired her second cousin, a guy by the name of Folksettler. Was the world’s fastest draw, could draw a Colt 45 in three tenths of a second. They used him in all the movies until the accident.” He paused while he finished his beer and without a word, Tony poured him another.
“Thank you kind sir. Okay now where was I? Oh yea, it was 1959 we was shooting a picture with John Wayne.”
“Whoa! Wait a minute partner,” I said, “what kind of accident did old Folksettler have?”
“Who?” He asked.
“Your agents second cousin.” I responded.
“Oh, him. I don’t generally talk about him in mixed company, but if you must know he was doing a movie for Century Productions, I think it was 1959, no it was 1960 cause I had already fed the bull. As I said Folksettler was a mighty quick draw. Well sir there was this scene where he was to ride a stallion and as he dismounted he was to fire three shots into the sheriff’s office. Well sir, Folksettler didn’t much like animals and horses in particular, but he was a pro and he aimed to make the movie right. He tried his best but just couldn’t sit a horse worth a damn. After about the 10th take old Folksettler aimed to get it right. He came a-riding into town at a full gallop and in a second pulled the reins tight and went for his gun. But the Colt 45 never cleared his hostler and the blanks in his gun went off at close range to his privates. After the surgery he and his cousin Foolsettletter opened a gay bar in the valley, made a fortune.”
“Have another beer.” Someone said.
“Thanks, don’t mind if I do, but I got to be going soon. I’m just waiting for my ride.”
“But what about the bull?” I reminded him.
“You are an impatient man now aren’t you. I was just coming to that, but I can’t miss my ride. A big Hollywood producer is to meet me here. They want to do a movie about my life, but I won’t do it unless I get a part in the picture, at scale.”
“Yea, sure pop. Let’s hear about the bull while there is still time.”
“Sure son, just need to wet my whistle is all, felling a little dry.”
“Ok pop, but this is the last free beer until I hear about that damned bull.” I said.
“Well sir, it was 1958, no it was 1959 cause I had just left the circus. Meet an Indian girl who was the daughter of Chief Red Cloud.”
“No, no, Pop we have already traveled that road and your movie with John Wayne and all that. Tell us about feeding the bull.”
The old man took one last gulp of his draft beer and emptied it. “Well son,” he said with a calm of a man who had been down this road many times before, “I just fed the bull for six beers, and with that I will say goodnight.”
© 2004 Mike Ingles
Mike Ingles is a freelance writer living in Ohio. He has a degree in American Literature from Franklin University, Columbus, Ohio. He has published stories in SCR and other periodicals.