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Robert A. Mills

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CITY SLICKERS -- Week of Dec 24
12/24/2011 7:00:58 AM


There used to be a place down in the Bristol Hills south of Rochester, NY — not really in the Southern Tier, probably closer to Canandaigua — before you got to the Bristol Mountain Ski Resort — it was a large spread catering to groups who wanted to go overnight horseback riding and enjoy the experiences of ranch life on the trail — as though it were 1872, not 1972.

The place was called El Rancho Sore Butts, Bar Tendertootsies, or something like that. For jus $9.95 a head (they offered ‘group’ rates, which is probably what attracted us) for which you got a saddled horse, a box dinner of fried chicken, cole slaw and beans, a jug of cheap Muscatel wine, a sleeping bag, bonfire ingredients, and a ‘ranch manager’ who accompanied the group and kept the festivities festive. As I played baritone ukulele back then and knew every Grand Ol’ Opry song ever written, I knew we’d have the time of our young lives.

After partying and sleeping the night away under the stars, at first light the gang would head to the bunkhouse and be treated to a sumptuous ‘ranch-hand breakfast’ of ham and eggs, grits, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, Texas toast and fifty-five gallons of coffee strong enough to wash your car in.

My wife and I were still dating when we agreed to spend a Saturday night on the trail, along with some future in-laws and about two dozen out-laws who were as young and foolish as we. Being city slickers of the first water, we eagerly looked forward to our baptism of fire at the crudest dude ranch in all of Western New York.

We arrived at Bar Tendertootsies at least three hours before sunset, and I was assigned ‘Frisky Fred,’ a stallion of undetermined lineage who neither liked nor disliked me. If there was ever an ambiguous, disinterested animal it was ‘Frisky Fred.’ He seemed to tolerate me, realizing I was just another greenhorn passing in the night. Christine drew ‘Slovenly Sarah,’ and that’s exactly what she was (the horse; not Christine.)

The future brother-in-law’s horse was ‘Snifin’ Sam,’ so named because he was so enamored by the horse in front of him (‘Frisky Fred’.) It was such a rapturous love affair that he kept his muzzle as close as possible to the fore-horse’s rump. We rode (nose-to-tail) for a while until we came to a clearing in the rolling jungle of trampled trails, thick underbrush, shallow fiords and primeval woods.

“This here’d be a good nuff spot,” announced scraggly old Leroy, our trail boss, “tuh make camp fer the night.” Anyway, I think that’s what he said.

Our trusty mounts were watered and properly tethered to stumps and trees, while we watched ol’ Leroy (a redneck hayseed of at least sixty) prepare a raging campfire. “Can we be of any help?” we offered, hoping he would say no, which he wisely did. “Nope. Jes’ undo yore sleepin’ bags an’ set ‘em about. The outhouse is maybe a hunert yards inna woods, thataway, in case any of you has tuh go wee-wee.” Giggling idiotically at his own cornpone wit, he indicated a direction with his thumb I assumed was north by northwest.

The bonfire became a genuine holocaust, sputtering and crackling with showers of sparks and constant eruptions of dry kindling, emitting puffs of occasional odiferous black smoke and suffocating heat — but we loved it. Huddled close, the box dinner was worthy of anything we were to ever enjoy on the Bateau Mouche on the Seine; the Muscatel was to die for. We sang at least 5,325 songs, and my baritone ukulele never sounded so good as it did under the canopy of a starry, starry night.

When the wine was at last gone, my future brother-in-law confiscated what was left and chuck-a-lugged it. The party lasted until the campfire surrendered its final dying ember.

We crawled into our sleeping bags, unconcerned that although it was late spring, the nighttime temperature would, by 2 AM, hover near 40 degrees (or less.) My nose, an appendage thrust into the stratosphere from beneath of edge of the stuffed bag, was frozen stiff within minutes. Plus I had to pee so bad I could taste it.

They say foresight is the triumph of expert planning, and because I had been an Eagle Scout, I had dutifully pocketed a small flashlight before leaving home that afternoon. It served me well as I rolled out of my sleeping bag and headed north by northwest toward the distant outhouse.

“Don’t pee long,” Christine mumbled from deep within the comforter. “I need that flashlight when you get back.”

I was about to enter the outhouse when some sixth sense alerted me I was no longer alone in the woods. “Who’s there?” I asked, shining the torch in a small arc in every conceivable direction. I was instantly amazed at how dark night could actually be, but at first I was not alarmed — until the beam rested on two beady and rheumy eyes that seemed to be as frightened by me as I was of it!

In fact, I was not frightened at all by the huge wolf (I first thought it was some poor lost dog) until he bared his gleaming white teeth ands snarled furiously at me, saliva dripping in a torrent from his fanged bicuspids.

Back to the sleeping bag I flew, pulling the edge over my head as Christine said, “Gimme the flashlight.”

“I musta dropped it.” My teeth were chattering.

“Great. Where’s the head.?”

“You better wait til morning.”

“Yeah. Like you did.”

The next day at breakfast she gave me the flashlight. “You dropped it just in front of the outhouse. The battery must be dead.”

“It is?”

“Yeah. You wimp. I like to pee my jeans,” she said, suddenly developing a Tucson twang. “And why’d you leave the outhouse door open?”

Merry Christmas and Hav-a-Happy New Year! Remember, Xmas gifts are great, but most of us already have all we want or could wish for. All the rest is excess. For example, I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.



Copyright©2011 by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved


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