Monday, February 8, 2016

A Hundred Rodeo Clowns

As essay about a Nicaraguan rodeo. I guess the Hemingway connection was too hard to resist, so that explains my tone. But I left out the emasculation part because that's too personally relevant.

The young Nicaraguan man takes a final swig of white rum (really defined as ‘liqour beverage product” on the plastic packaging) from his liter jug, holding onto the broken chain link fence with one hand as an assistant attached spurs to his sneakers. His pants are dirty. Everyone is screaming for blood. The band plays a double time version, almost indecipherable, of the Mexican fiesta song Cielito Linda, so no one sings, since the tempo is too fast. The M.C. asks if the crowd is ready and there is no clear response. The trumpet melody is the only recognizable note as the rest of the Brass section, the Tuba, and the woodwinds play some kind of improvised Harmony line. The drums and the cymbals crash rapidly and erratically drowning out everything but the trumpet. The 140 lb. young man’s spurs are attached finally and he climbs over the fence into the area where he mounts the 1200 lb bull. The bull is angry as hell and lashing his huge horned head back and forth against the metal cage, bashing the metal bars. Suddenly there are two huge sonic booms from unexpected fireworks overhead. My heart jumps almost out of my chest from surprise. Car alarms…drunk sleeping in the vacant lot nearby, a dog is jumping against a chain at a gas station. Kids are playing soccer in the distance under a single street light on cobblestone streets. Traffic, lights, the stars are still visible because there is largely no air pollution or light pollution. There are two nearby volcanoes, It’s Nicaragua and the rodeo is in town.

The man finds his place on the beast’s back and wraps his left hand tightly around a rough rope halter that encircles the bull’s neck. The bull rider appears neither confident nor fearful. Nor is he so drunk as to appear careless. He knows what he is getting into and like an inmate walking to be executed he is resigned. Maybe he believes he can ride the bull without injury, but he’s not giving the impression of confidence. Sober Nicaraguan’s are emotionally reserved normally so maybe this default expression is either fear or confidence but it is simply hard for a foreigner to tell which. My observation skills may be lacking, is what I’m saying, when I write that his expression appears like he is mounting a motorcycle instead of a huge, horned, angry mammal.

The real drunks are the several dozen young men who await the bull’s release into the arena where they are standing. These men have paid the 30 cordoba ground level admission price and apparently that comes with an option to join in the action by climbing into the arena where the bull riders do their thing. I'm feeling slightly self-destructive but decide I should not tempt fate with a non-lethal injury to add to my misery. In an American rodeo, there are two or three rodeo clowns to distract the animals when the rider goes down. In Nicaraguan rodeo there are about 40 rodeo clowns all dressed in street clothes. These local men are actually drinking beer and liquor as they wait, sweating in the early night heat, dirt across the front of their pants from crawling under the metal fencing when charged by a previous bull.

We wait. Cielito Linda rises in volume and urgency, the M.C. asks if the crowd is really ready and then asks the men in the bull ring if they are ready. Several men are obviously more reckless than the others, as they repeatedly run in front of the gate to taunt the bull. I have paid the extra 40 cordobas to get elevated standing room with optional folding chair seating so I am looking down on all the action like a Roman Emperor. I look around me and it not only appears that I am the only Gringo or foreigner, but I am also the only non-local Nicaraguan. Daria is a small town between nothing and not much else but the arena has about 200 people watching and they all seem to know each other. I know the event is public, but it’s a local rodeo so it is public only in the sense that everyone in the local community can come. So, the people around me are thinking, why is a bearded white gringo in a cowboy hat at our rodeo? The answer is too complicated to go into but lately I have been thinking that chemistry sets in motion other events that we perceive as physical, but are actually only blunt, pre-destined, chemical reactions. I can do nothing to blend in with a beard, pale skin, brown hair and a polka dot disco shirt. The suede leather pants don’t help either since they look like I’m wearing chaps. But, fuck it, I just want to watch the rodeo and write a descriptive essay, but I subtly alter what I am watching. I can not report on the authentic rodeo because my attendance causes ripples in the natural course of events, like that biological reference that I mentioned earlier. This audience is not easily distracted, but I present a more interesting spectacle than the bull riding. So I stand in the shadows to avoid drawing too much attention to myself.

turn volume down before playing video...!

The beast is released and the young man is immediately in trouble. The previous bulls were bigger and less agile but now I see this is the smallest bull yet and he is angry and more compact and able to move much faster than the previous bulls. So the man on top of his back is thrown forward when the bull’s ass end rears six or nine feet above the ground. The rider has no saddle to take advantage of, nothing to grab except the rope. Whether he wants to or not he digs his heels into the bull’s side, which causes the bull to kick even more ferociously. Within seconds the bull has kicked his ass high up, causing the young man to fall forward, and then the bull snaps his horned skull back into the falling man’s nose. The collision is noiseless compared to the cacophony of integrated insanity coming from the band, but the crowd groans as the man’s nose or jaw is probably fractured. Maybe the man is beyond stunned, definitely concussed, but he starts to loosen the rope on his left hand, considers getting off but the hazards of getting off the bull and staying on the bull are nearly equal, so he grips the rope even harder but quickly loses his balance to one side. He can’t pull himself back up to the center of the bull and I know he is finished.

An ear-drum-splitting sound effect screeches from the speakers and I am forced to plug my ears with my fingers. The sound is a woman’s horrified scream. It’s awful. It’s worse than any blood curdling scream in a haunted house. The effect is annoying and dangerous and damaging and pointless since I would prefer to hear the authentic groans and cries of the crowd than this pointless, stupid, canned sound effect. I don’t like the periodic and random use of deafening explosions and alarms and sound effect or music. Senseless and without any encouragement from the crowd. Maybe the M.C. believes it will encourage or replace genuine reaction but the sound effect belongs in a haunted house for partially deaf psychopaths. Here at the rodeo it serves no other function than to damage the hearing of everyone within a 20 yard half-radius of the speakers. I only emphasize this point because the live music is already deafening and the crowd is shouting and the recorded music is beyond tolerance but this particularly awful sound effect of the woman screaming is so incredibly annoying and loud that I nearly jump out of my sandals when it happens randomly. It can probably be heard for miles and I’m 30 feet from the large speakers.

The man on the back of the bull has lost his balance and is bleeding from the nose. He slides to one side and can not regain an even mount so he tries to get his hand untangled but momentum makes this impossible. The bull shows no mercy and the man falls with one arm trapped in the rope. First his legs are trampled. His arms is wrenching and he is tossed around like a balloon on a string during a hurricane. Finally he is thrown away, maybe his arm has been amputated. Then the bull turns and tramples on him with massive hooves. Then the man pounds the man’s head and an enormous groan comes from the crowd. I make a textbook cry of sympathetic suffering as the man’s lifeless body is pulverized by the bull as dozens of men try to distract the bull. It has happened so fast, maybe 7 seconds between the man losing his balance and him losing consciousness. The woman’s screaming sound effect pierces the air and I say, “A la gran puchica!” Some women hear me and give me a nasty look. This is followed by an equally annoying sound of an amplified car alarm beep. Imagine recording a car alarm and then doubling the volume and patching it through huge speakers to delight a crowd. It’s insane, awful, painful.

The man is being trampled to death as I cover my ears. I’d like to take a photo but the lighting is horrible, exposed, harsh bulbs directly in front of me and there is no good location in the shadows behind a chain link fence and a row of people dancing to Cumbia. It’s 7PM and totally dark outside the realm of the plaza del toros. I take a few photos and the preview looks like shit so I give up.

The man has been trampled to unconsciousness or else is faking it. The bull doesn’t care and trounces his face and head and chest until it is distracted by a brave man behind him who slaps his huge ass. The trodden rider returns to life and appears to realize how much danger he is in but his body won’t respond. He tries to rally his energy and as he turns to look at the bull he is gored in the face by an indifferent horn. Everyone groans and shouts. The man holds his face as another of the men in the arena rescues him by pulling his shirt and dragging the wounded man to safety of the fence. He can’t see and can’t walk without assistance but they reach the fence seconds before the charging bull and roll under the fence. The bull tries to gore several others before calming down. Men hanging from the fence kick the bull’s sides. A vaquero runs out and lassos the bull and leads it into a gate of the cheap seats with the bull manure and saw dust and used condoms and empty aluminum beer cans. Someone throws a shoe at the bull and people cheer.

The injured rider is forgotten. His ordeal is over and the bull is gone. The band hammers out another chorus of cielito lindo. “Ay ay ay ay, canta no llores…” double time. I walk to the corner of the seating area and buy a bag of popcorn and a hot dog with mustard for $1. The bloodletting is suspended and now the audience is bored. Teenagers text into their smart phones. Parents cuddle their young children. Couples hold hands or kiss. A drunk man stumbles into the corner bathroom which is nothing more than a hole through the planks.

A new bull is set loose with another rider who seems more experience even though he walks with a serious limp, like his spine is fused. Young men surround the bull and throw soda cans and cigarette cartons, a shoe and a black and white FSLN political flag at the bull. Someone runs behind him and whips his ass with a belt. The bull endures, turns, blinks, makes a movement like he is going to charge and this causes the men to flee for the top of the fence or slide on their stomachs under the bottom rung. The bull never actually charges. The hot dog tastes like salty sawdust. The bull stands alone. The bull endures.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.