Grown men would tease and pander to get Father to partner with them. They wanted the money and a chance for the buckle. Father enjoyed the attention and admiration with gibes and good humor, a subtle coaxing for side bets and lofty wagers. And while rodeoing is about athletic prowess and skill with the animal, it was also an occasion for good ole signifying, drinking, and gambling. This was outlaw business, and those who attended knew very well that only one or two constables might be present and, if so, probably drunk. So you had to watch your mouth and your stuff because anything could happen inside or outside the arena.
Father spotted his close friend, the bull rider Arthur Duncan, who would later become the first black man inducted into the Professional Bull Riding Hall of Fame.
"Eh, John Frenchy, who ya team-roping with?" Arthur Duncan said while helping me off the horse.
"Awh, none of these niggas can rope. Hell, I might have to carry me two ropes and work that steer by my damn self," Father boasted as Arthur Duncan handed him a bottle of Wild Turkey for a hearty swig.
Father turned the bottle up, then chased it back with a Schlitz. A few slutty-looking rodeo bunnies eyed him from afar with suggestive gesturesbatting fake eyelashes with over-applied eye shadow and nail-matching lipstick wet as water, exaggerated leans and bends to highlight skintight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and danty snakeskin boots, and a "Hey, John Frenchy," or a "You ropin' today?" and almost always a "Where's Mrs. Frenchy?" Answer? Mrs. Frenchy was at home asking the Blessed Mother to watch over her child and make certain Mr. Frenchy didn't bring home anything she couldn't wash out with Tide.
Of course, these rodeo bunnies found me absolutely adorable as it was Father's habit to dress me in the same clothes that he wore when we'd go to rodeos. Strangely, only a few knew of John Frenchy's affinity for dolls. I was a miniature version of him, I guess. And what greater trophy for a man than an actual living and breathing doll that looks just like you.
But these women fawned over Father incessantly, which only emboldened his hubris as we circulated around the arena before his events.
For his part, Arthur Duncan was the perfect colleague-in-recreation for Father. Duncan was a pure country boy from Brenham, Texas, who'd fine-tuned his championship bull-riding mastery in the Texas Prison Rodeo, where he served seven years for cracking his first wife's skull after she commented on his complexion. Duncan was dark, very dark, and didn't take too kindly to disparaging remarks about what the good Lord gave him. You didn't talk about Arthur Duncan's complexion or his pride and joyhis signature white cowboy boots.
When Duncan walked out of the Huntsville prison, in 1969, he became a black revolutionary but not with black berets, leather jackets, and propoganda. He carried his protest to the rodeo arenas. The white rodeo arenas. Besides his entrance fee, he typically had to pay much more to enter the events, which were basically white-only affairs in huge arenas constructed of steel and tin. Normally after he'd win an event he'd either have to fight envious cowboys or hightail it back to Brenham, usually both, in that order. But as the years passed and the number of championship buckles and subsequent fights grew, the white pro rodeo circuit accepted himthe man who fought for civil rights on the back of a bull with glowing lily-white cowboy boots.
Arthur Duncan and John Frenchythe dangerous menwrapped in a titan aura, a glow that gave them an air of nobility among derelicts, pleasure seekers, and good ole country boyswere royalty on the black rodeo circuit. And for two country boys that was a mighty fine accomplishment. Mighty fine, indeed.
Blues and country music blasted from the scratchy PA in between events. A fight broke out here and there. Somebody had a knife. Another had a gun. Men and women would make eyes and lurid whispers in ears for romps later, when it got dark.
Excerpted from Red Now and Laters by Marcus J Guillory. Copyright © 2014 by Marcus J Guillory. Excerpted by permission of Atria/Emily Bestler Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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