Monday, August 3, 2009

A Cowboy's Job is Loneliness

A cowboy’s job is loneliness. How can I assert this? I have just shot my best friend.

Also, the sheriff, others.

The prairie acts as giant telescope, so the cowboy can observe his subject. His subject: loneliness.

A cowboy eats only jerky, drinks only whiskey and campfire coffee, the latter keeps him up at night. He has his horse, his best friend, which takes him out on lonesome ways. He has a blanket and a saddle on which to sit on his best friend. He has a hat to shield his eyes from the sun he walks on, and to shield the world from his looking. These are the tools of his trade, his instruments of loneliness.

The Cowboy’s Options for Companionship Considered:


Plentiful. Playful. Effervescent pinwheels of the prairie. Yet their basic nature makes them unsuitable for long-term companionship. Like the sun and the sky and the moon and the long whistling wind, their presence accents, rather than relieves, the cowboy’s loneliness.


Not uncommon in the world of the cowboy, cactus appear to almost be hailing the cowboy in the long lonely distance, so cordial as to be virtually pressing their friendship upon him. Their arms seem to call out for an easy, comradely embrace, perhaps even support in the suggestion of a shoulder, a little prickly nook where the cowboy’s long nose-whistling sobs would be received not unkindly.

Yet, the embrace of the cactus surely brings trouble and pain; a cowboy is driven to it only at the ends of loneliness, in desperation when he can stand it no longer. He is rewarded with sore and hurt directly proportional to the intensity and duration of his involvement with the cactus.

This is how the cowboy views involvement with people generally.

Gopher Hole

Ubiquitous. Without the gopher, it’s just a damn hole. With the gopher, the gopher disappears, leaving the cowboy lonely.

Low Down Rattlesnake

Like the cowboy, seeking of needful shade by day, and warmth by night. Like the cowboy, strikes only out of fear and desperation. Like the cowboy, full of venom and totally unsuitable for companionship.

Best Friend

A cowboy’s best friend never deserts him, never gives out from under him. A cowboy’s best friend brings the path, the trail, the mountains and the endless prairies to him, unflinching, natural generosity, asking nothing in return outside a handful of sugar. A cowboy’s best friend is surer than his own footsteps, which weaken without the music of spurs; he is closer than his shadow, which stretches out and leaves him at dusk. A cowboy’s best friend is true.

Yet it is also true, I have shot my best friend. Also, the sheriff, others.


A cowboy’s options for friendship and companionship can be quite limited. He is a lonely professional in a lonely profession.

And yet, haven’t even I been seen, ridin’ into town with some small coin, whoopin’ it up, tossing back beers and singing songs with my fellows and even dancing with beautiful straw Sally? Yes I have. Every cowboy rides into town, when the howling of the wolves, the emptiness of the sky and the problematic aspects of the scorpion drive him there. He will drink a lot, become merry and even drag his inauspicious bones to dance with long tall Sally, who smiles at all the cowboys. He will then awake, broke, hurt, robbed and betrayed, with a burning inside his urethra like a million scorpions giving him his undivided attention, with a headache and no hat, a thirst as great as he is far away from any water. He will have shot his best friend. Also, the sheriff, others.

These are the sorts of experiences which only reinforce the cowboy’s patterns of loneliness.

Cowboys and Other Professions Considered

Lighthouse Keeper

True, the lighthouse keeper is a lonely sort. But when he does his job correctly, there are ships who need him and the brilliance of his lantern to keep him company. When he doesn’t there are shipwrecks and shipwreck survivors. Also, tourists love to come visit the lighthouse. Buzzards only visit the cowboy when he is already dead or dying. Dying of loneliness and complications from loneliness, such as exposure and gunshot wounds.

Coal Miner

Are you kidding? Though the mine is itself lonely and deep, miners never travel alone. They rarely die alone. Even if the whole thing collapses they have each other, the weight of the coal like a big heavy blanket and the sound of shovels from above to awaken them. They’ll rise to the surface, weak and blackened, but greeted by the cheers of a whole town, a crying wife and family. Cowboys think about dying in a mine to cheer themselves up while the coffee stirs in the belly of their brain and they watch the last embers die, knowing they won’t sleep at all.

Prisoner In Solitary Confinement

Has his crime. Also, if the prisoner could but escape his prison, he would be free. A cowboy’s prison is his freedom, which is unending. Also, the prisoner gets regular showers.

Many cowboy songs have lonesome words. But the loneliest cowboy songs have no words at all. They have no melody. There just a string of unbearable lonesome sounds that drift past the cowboy’s spittled lips as he drifts on the prairie, when he’s been gone so long he can’t even remember. Not even the cowboy hears his song; he’s so lonely, he’s forgotten he’s singing it. It just goes on by it’s own, like a radar echo. It’s about his best friend and how much he misses him.

1 comment:

  1. You've got the whole Johnny Cash thing going on.

    Also, this blog entry reminds me of a certain movie: "Darkness warshed over the Dude - darker'n a black steer's tookus on a moonless prairie night. There was no bottom."