Bar Exam Nine

The High Moral Plane of Urban Cattle Rustling

We humans are often guilty of animal abuse, outside of the fact that we kill and eat other creatures. But, putting consumption aside for the moment, we have done worse. We have insulted our food.

I witnessed such an event, and personally witnessed the mammal that is the centerpiece of this story, while walking up to buy lunch at a fast-food burger outlet. Yes, guilty as charged. But in this case I stood with mouth open for a good ten minutes just to try and mentally digest what I was seeing. Then I became upset, so disgusted at the scene and the callousness it signified, that not only did I skip lunch, but rather went home and called everyone I knew to make some noise and at least protest the situation.

One of the people I called was my biker friend Grizzly.

By sunset, when the first picketers arrived with signs, the animal in question had disappeared, as had Griz. The restaurant chain’s PR firm, realizing their huge error in judgment and sensing a tsunami backlash of more public opinions like my own, decided to keep the incident quiet. The offending animal had been removed, by what means they did not know. They would say nothing further.

Grizzly knew of the removal, in fact was guilty of participating in it, but didn’t realize that suddenly, in the eyes of the law, there was no problem. That there was no animal. And no crime reported. But not having been informed of this, Grizzly and his two quintessentially American outlaw friends went temporarily on the lam.

It was only in the last years of his life, some decades later, that he told me his version of what had happened.

* * *

“Whoopdeefriggin-MMOOOOooo!” yelled Edward P. “Grizzly” Smiley III, the largest of the three large men seated in the front of the pickup truck. Actually, a term like “pickup truck” usually signified an object possessing a great deal more unity. This vehicle was more an assemblage of disparate elements wired and welded and tied together, with only a vague idea of locomotion as a final goal. Though it did possess a Louisiana truck license plate, roll of its own accord, and have the potential to carry a significant amount of material, it had little resemblance to what is standardly called a pickup.

A single bench seat was mounted in the front for the driver and passengers. Beyond that, the rear wheels and undercarriage were exposed. Two rough strips of foot-wide pine planking were bolted to the rear frame on either side of the drive train, extending just past the rear tires. Normally one to four motorcycles were chained and bungee-corded to ride back there. This day, secured by dozens of flexible cords, the place of honor was filled with a bellowing, live, two-thousand-pound bull with a blue ribbon pinned to its natural cowhide derrière.

“My two wildish companions, we have secured ourselves a place in bovine history, freeing the King of Cattle from the infamous shackles of The Man!” yelled Grizzly in glee. He stuck his head out the window. “The Man is defeated once again and the Flying Gonads are the willing instruments of that defeat!”

“Okaayyyy, The Man defeated,” said Crazy Charlie, pulling on a beer.

“Have you ever noticed those purple swirls around the moon?” said Weird Harold.

The men, all members of the Flying Gonads Racing Club, had stolen the animal from its tether, directly outside the front doors of the Highland Road Burger King in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were proud of their accomplishment. Though they were, to a man, meat-eaters (with a vengeance), they had liberated a noble animal from “the absolute worst sort of cracker cultural aberration,” as the Griz put it. Similar actions in the past had often required that the Gonads temporarily disappear from their normal stomping grounds between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The last time an incident of note to the authorities had occurred, Griz had hopped on a friend’s ‘52 Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide, equipped with standard suicide clutch and hand shift, and hauled ass out of town without even calling his partner. He knew the cops might question her and he didn’t want her to have to lie about his whereabouts.

He planned to hang for a few days in the Hoo Shoo Too, at Charlie’s place, a remote area at the dead end of a gravel road near the Comite River. Crazy Charlie had housed him for a week and then put him in contact, through intermediaries, with The Family in a similar off-the-map bandito haven near Austin. Griz’d traveled to Texas, where he liked the folks he met, and as usual established himself as a central voice of reason within a month.

He lived off intermittent mechanic work and odd jobs, ate his VA-prescribed medication, and was happy with his quiet, happy life.   Was even thinking about bringing his babe over to Texas. He hadn’t expected to draw attention to himself ever again.

Until he’d come back to Baton Rouge to visit and seen the fast food bull.

The local Burger King management team had decided to bid on and buy the Louisiana State University Agriculture Fair’s prize animal to prove that, despite widely accepted rumors to the contrary, the King served only the very very best in beef. Then as a publicity measure designed to call attention to the quality of their products, they had seen fit to display the unfortunate beast at the entrance to their establishment just outside the gates of the University, where an expansive banner announced the bull’s eventual fate in large fluorescent orange lettering to the scholars and intellectual icons of that prestigious seat of learning.

The bull snorted wildly and rolled its eyes pitifully each time it got a whiff of its medium-well predecessors to the grinder, which was often. Another sack of steaming burgers walked out the door and past the bull’s twitching nose every two to three minutes, the gaily-decorated paper containers exuding the aroma of charred flesh.

The animal looked none too happy when the Griz and his two companions, Crazy Charlie and Weird Harold, pulled up in the parking lot.

The three members of the Flying Gonads Racing Club had originally arrived at the fast food outlet with raging appetites and a holy mission to procure an assortment of three dozen specialty burgers for the Club’s evening’s repast. They had not truly believed the phone calls they had received from me that afternoon about an animal in distress, and if anything my do-gooder’s message had only served to inspire their hunger.  Burgers, yeah!

But the Griz stepped into the asphalt parking lot, took one look at sad-eyed “Lucky King Leo Bargedweller IV, LSU Overall Grand Champion & Blue Ribbon Winner: $45,000 of prime Whopper!” and realized that their mission was much different than mere bags of meat and buns. And extra ketchup for Harold.

No. Griz was adamant. There was such a thing as conscience and moral responsibility, even when it came to hooved entities, and there was no way in the world that he was going to allow this great beast to be degraded and then reduced to a stack of uniform grey patties, all so some money-hungry corporate geek could build a bigger plastic empire. No way. He liked his food anonymous, the Griz did, and here it was staring at him with big brown eyes. No way was “Leo” gonna get ground up into sanitary portions.

Action was necessary.

Even if it meant they had to start driving twenty miles further for their burgers in the future.

“We do this for the oppressed everywhere,” orated the Griz.

“What the hell,” said Charlie. “Won’t be my first jailbreak.”

“Is that a comet?” said Weird Harold.

So, in a spontaneous explosion of empathy, the three Gonads liberated Lucky King Leo IV. Charlie created a diversion, lewdly propositioning all five teenaged burger-slingers, simultaneously attempting to fart the first four notes of “Hold that Tiger,” the LSU football team’s fight song. Charlie always knew how to make a scene.

While the panicked youngsters ran to the rear of the building, breaking the handle off the burglar alarm in their haste, and then locking themselves in the meat freezer, the Griz and Weird Harold led and secured the large animal to their makeshift truck bed. The liberated bull seemed to realize what was at hand, quieted, and complied with their requests while maintaining a certain demeanor of cattle-ish grace .

And off they went, oddly enough making good time and quick turns.

“Damned thing handles a lot better with all this beef on board. Somebody thank King Leo,” the Griz yelled as he slammed the truck into a couple of abrupt diversionary shortcuts through the urban neighborhood.

“MMMMmmmoooo,” said Weird Harold, sticking his head out the window. He couldn’t see very far, his eyes being temporarily irisless black orbs due to the ingestion of a minute though spiritually effective amount of a native Louisiana mushroom. He considered his evening dose of fungal caps both a healthy appetite stimulant and a karmic cleanser. “You are some kinda big damned cow, though, Leo. Never seen one this color, either. Or with this many legs,” Harold opined.

The Griz suspected there would be a massive dragnet out in no time: cattle rustling was historically dealt with in serious fashion in the South, even if this particular cattle unit had a name like Lucky King Leo. Griz told his compatriots in crime that he figured to sell the animal cheaply, at least to cover his gas money, to a Cajun rancher friend of his who’d been looking for a good breed animal to liven the gene pool of his herd, but who like most small businessmen working the land could not afford a creature that came with a five-digit price tag.

Charlie approved. “This way our Leo back there gets fed and pampered the rest of his life just for the heavy duty of getting laid regular. Seems the way somebody named King should be treated, don’t it?” said Charlie.

“The Grizzly is the King of the Tundra. I am Grizzly. I also should get laid,” proclaimed the Griz, raising his paws off the steering wheel into what he assumed was a position signaling imminent procreation with another large mammal.

“Can I take Leo’s place?” asked Weird Harold, who seemed to be hallucinating more heavily as he stared out the passenger window at the towering oak trees whipping by.

“That one looked like a baseball player,” said Harold in a rare moment of clarity. “If giraffes could play baseball.”

* * *

None of the four individuals was ever investigated, much less incarcerated, for cattle-rustling. There was no dragnet, no police search.    As soon as the local franchise had alerted corporate offices about the theft, they immediately shut down any further knowledge of what had occurred.  They reimbursed the $45,000 and told the Baton Rouge burger manager to forget that the unfortunate PR plan and its abrupt removal had ever happened.

King Leo lived a long life in South Louisiana, and happily never again traveled to any venue that celebrated serving his kind between toasted buns.   He had many many progeny.

Grizzly also had a number of healthy and inspired offspring, while still navigating a maze of life-changing adventures, and settled down a bit in Baton Rouge.

Charlie went underground, and there he willingly remains. I think.

Harold stopped eating mushrooms and spent many of his last years “born-again” as an evangelical visionary, though fellow believers were surprised at how often he let loose a loud “MMMMmmmoooo,” when inspired by the spirits to speak in tongues. He was weird, they all thought.

Copyright ©2018 Jim Gabour