Monday, November 21, 2016

"A Cowboy's Best Friend... Besides His Horse... And His Sixgun... And His Comical Sidekick (Or Faithful Indian Companion)... But Is Is Definitely In The 'Top Four'"

One thought leading inevitably – if you’re me – to the following…

I wrote a while back about how in Southern California, the abrupt loss of a pair of sunglasses… well, in terms of emotional upsettedness, “Where’s my sunglasses!?!” is the distressing equivalent of “Where’s the baby?!?

I know.  It’s sunglasses.

But it’s true.  The “Anxietometer” is through the roof.  (Italics included for easier reading.)

A couple of days later, my brain alerted me to a paralleling response to an item of personal apparel towards which a similar assiduous attention was always applied:

The TV and movie…

Cowboy hat. 

(And possibly the actual ones as well.)

In the arena of head coverings, only the Orthodox Jew rivals the cowboy in proscribing the uncovered head.  For both, the unswerving rule is:  No Exceptions.

(Okay, one exception for cowboys – when they recruit their hats at waterholes to drink out of.)

There is no necessity for wearing a hat indoors… unless you’re a cowboy, or an observant practitioner unsure when he’ll experience an ecstatic impulse to burst into prayer.  Setting the miniscule number of Orthodox cowboys aside, despite no reasonable concerns regarding “indoor sunstroke”, the non-Orthodox cowboy still regards a separation from his headwear as unthinkable as entering a saloon without wearing his pants.  Or taking them off and hanging them up on a “Pants Rack” after he does.  Or checking them and receiving a ticket, which he can later return to redeem your pants.  Saloons do not provide such a service.  Not for hats; not for pants.

A cowboy and his hat are never parted.  Did you ever notice – I don’t know if you even watch westerns, but did you ever notice if you do – a cowboy gets involved in an extended fistfight, and a surprising number of times, throughout the elaborate donnybrook,

The man’s hat never falls off. 

He gets knocked down, he’s somersaulting backwards over tables, he crashes through windows into the street –

His hat remains impeccably in place.      

And when it does uncharacteristically fall off…

The barroom brawl could last minutes.  His shirt’s in shreds, his ribs are broken, rivers of blood streaking his countenance, he’s so profoundly exhausted he can barely stand up. 

The fight comes to an end and it’s

“Where’s my hat?”

That’s all he cares about.

“You better have ‘Doc’ check you out.”

“I will.  Right after I find my hat.”

The man’s entirely obsessed with his hat.   The doctor’s patching him up, he’s like,

“Could it have fallen behind the bar?”

Here’s how much cowboys care about their hats.  They’ll endure humiliation and shame to insure total security.  I mean, think about it. 

“What’s that under you chin, cowboy?”

“A string.”

“What’s it fer?”

“It keeps my hat from blowing away.”

A string to keep you from losing your hat.  That’s like little kids with their mittens safety-pinned to their sleeves.  You can get punched out for that when you’re six!  I probably was.

Imagine being the first cowboy inaugurating “The String”, the Jacques Plante of frontier hat-wearers.  Sorry, either you’ll get that or you won’t.    

Like with all sartorial innovations, it required a major superstar to break the ice.  Remember Clark Gable wearing an undershirt in It Happened One Night and then everyone wore one?  It was the same with “The String.”  

The first cowboy to wear a hat-securing device under his chin was the immortal “Hopalong” Cassidy.  After that, it was Roy Rogers, “King of the Cowboys”, paving the way for cinematic lesser lights like “Lash” Larue and “The Cisco Kid.”     

Some hardliners scoffingly rejected “The String”, identifying the procedure with “womenfolk”, fastening their flowered bonnets under their chins with satin bows.  The strings could be made of tough rawhide, but in their minds, anything tied in a bow was inarguably “girly.” 

(Note:  There is no record of any owlhoots-chasing cowboy, having his hat blow off and the attached string choking them as they galloped along.  I’d have paid a nickel to see that happen just once, if I’d had any idea where to forward the money.)

When I was a kid, there was this “B” western anthology series on TV hosted by “Cactus” Jim, and every time they would break for commercial, old “Cactus” Jim’d pull himself away from the fence post he was leaning against and say, “I gotta water the horses.  I’ll be right back.”

Well, sir…

I gotta water the horses.  I’ll be right back.

Man, I always wanted to “Cactus” Jim.

I guess if you live long enough…


Mike T. said...

A typo you might want to fix:

"The first cowboy to wear a hat-securing device under his chin was the immoral 'Hopalong' Cassidy."

The missing letter--at least I'm assuming it's missing--does change the meaning just a bit.

(P.S. I apologize if this shows up multiple times, but it keeps seemingly failing each time I try to post it.)

Stephen Marks said...

So Earl I was just thinking....

While reading your wonderful post I kept thinking about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
In the movie Newman's character wears a kind of bowler hat instead of the traditional stetson. Ruined the movie for me. If I'm watching a western I don't want the main guy looking like Patrick Macnee in the Avengers, especially if he's going to be riding a bicycle and singing "Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head", no way man.

It's bad enough I have to watch that movie knowing somewhere William Goldman is bitching, moaning and whining about something. Fuck you Goldman and the horse you rode in on. Are we allowed to swear in here Earl? Anyway, for those of you who don't know, Jacques Plante was a French Canadian cowboy who is famous for being the first person to ever cover his face with a neck handkerchief while robbing a bank. Now everybody does it.

JED said...

As usual, you got me thinking and instead of coming up with my own, original thoughts, I went a searchin' the net. You've even got me talkin' like a cowboy, Earl.

I found this entertaining page about the six rules for how to wear a cowboy hat.

Rule number 2 - Keep it on Your Head. It even mentions the use of a "string" but they call it a Stampede String. They are as cautious as you about its use but as they say, "...if you are comfortable with it, go for it. It is a far better alternative than chasing your hat through the sagebrush."