Some years ago Congress actually wrote the term “socially disadvantaged” into law and it found its way into use by America’s agriculture agencies.
The documents using the term piqued my interest, along with some mirth I could barely contain. After getting clarity from the USDA office for the specifics of “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers, it was quite clear to me my definition of same was not at all similar to theirs.
It was explained to me with great patience that “socially disadvantaged” is a term that means they belong to one of the protected groups such as women, Native Americans, African Americans, etc. Behind the scenes in the government office, the joke aimed at the ranchers is that it means, “they can’t dance.”
While I realize that particular skill is certainly lacking among many in the cowboy set, I didn’t exactly have it on my “socially disadvantaged” list.
I suggest to you that dancing is an athletic event requiring timing, rhythm and an ear for a musical beat. The social aspect of it takes place on the perimeter of the dance floor with said cowboy leaning up against the bar holding a cold long-neck, or around the pool table where looking cool is as important as sinking the 8-ball at the right time.
I believe that the social disadvantage for most cowboys is not so much in what they can or can’t do, but more powerfully in what they say. They have an uncanny skill for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person.
Last summer, a wife had used a shovel to kill three rattlesnakes on the road to ranch headquarters. Deciding she preferred a garden hoe as her weapon of choice, she dug around in the shop until she found one. However, she quickly realized it was as dull as a politician and not in “snake-killing shape.”
She went on to the house where her rancher husband was settled in for the evening. “Any idea where I can find a sharp hoe?” she asked.
Barely looking up from the newspaper he was reading, he replied with a completely straight face, “Not in this town.”
Ranchers in the area have spent daylight to past dark this winter breaking ice and thawing out frozen pipelines in order to keep the livestock watered.
One willing ranch wife decided to pitch in and help with the thawing job on a water line that ran from the float box to the trough. Out in an open, treeless pasture, the pair built a cow manure fire along the 8-feet of frozen water line. Two hours later the water ran free making the cows and the cowboy happy.
Not able to leave well enough alone and possibly thinking an ornery grin would buy forgiveness, he set his social skills aside. As they walked from the pickup to the house, the cowboy dutifully mentioned to his bride that she “smelled like a burning cow turd.”
Not many days later, she had just mopped the kitchen floor as he and the kids came tromping through from the muddy corrals. No one bothered to stop and pull off their over boots, leaving muddy tracks as clear-cut evidence.
“I just mopped and waxed this floor,” she said with disgust and despair.
His notoriety in witty comebacks was not in hibernation. The cowboy quickly if unwisely retorted, “Good. Your mop must still be handy then.”
Any long-range thinking about consequences had completely missed the moment. That, my friends, is case and point for the term “socially disadvantaged cowboy.”
Julie, well-versed in cowboy social skills or lack thereof, can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.