According to Wiki, the word cowboy derives from the Spanish word vaquero, which comes from the Latin vacca, and vaca, as you may know, means ‘My sister is a right bitch’, in Romanian. It’s a small world.
However, when I was 8, it was a big world, cowboys lived on the other side of it and I wanted to be one. Didn’t you?
In those days, a cowboy was a cool guy on a white horse, or a baddie on a black one. Today, in English, cowboy also means someone who cannot be trusted, the smecher* who promises but doesn’t deliver: a real cowboy. More of him later.
For now, I want you to imagine you are a little boy, aged 8. When you are not sitting in school, you are out with your mates, playing football or galloping on an imaginary horse, chasing invisible Apaches (Note: Computers do not exist yet).
One day, your life changes. A new boy arrives at school. He has no friends, because he is pompous, wears old-fashioned clothes, blows his nose into a cotton handkerchief with ‘PF’ embroidered in the corner, and has curly, carrot-colored hair. Sometimes, he even wears a tartan bow tie. I mean, let’s face it, Peter Fogerty is weird. Ah, yes, but, oddly enough, despite all that, you rather like him.
The reason being, Foghorn is very intelligent (that’s his nickname but you call him Peter); He plays violin instead of footy, chess instead of cowboys; he knows things you don’t and he doesn’t care what people think. You discover that sitting listening to Peter in a quiet corner of the playground makes a pleasant change from ripping your knees on concrete. He has lived in America; he has lived in France and other amazing places in the big fat Atlas that nobody looks in except him, and you. Soon, he’s your special friend and you don’t care what anyone says about him.
“Do you like cowboy films, Peter?” you ask. Peter looks sad. “We don’t have a TV,” he replies. “Mummy prefers books.” A heavy silence falls. However, Peter has something even better than a TV, and when he tells you, you cannot believe your ears. “Why don’t you come and ride my horses, sometime?” he says. “Horses, Peter?” you ask, staring at him. “Yes, my friend,” says Peter, we have four, on our farm. Come if you like.”
That night, you lie in bed, sleepless. Perhaps this is a reward from God. Have you done anything good lately? No but never mind. Perhaps God is glad that you have befriended the outcast, the creep. With four horses. Thank you, Baby Jesus. When at last you drift and dream, you’re a real cowboy and you hear Peter’s posh voice, calling to you across the prairie: “Soon, my friend.”
Eventually, you nail him down to next weekend, and, because you cannot keep a secret, you ask if you can bring Carl and Kenny Caxton too, because they have fine cowboy hats and gun-belts and such details count. Peter agrees, of course.
Soon, it’s Saturday. The walk to his farm takes longer than expected, way beyond your grim housing estate and the boundaries of parental approval, but worth every step, lads.
“You sure he’s got horses?” The Brothers Caxton have lots of freckles and lots of doubts, which are cruelly confirmed when Peter leads you up the garden path of a rambling cottage in the middle of nowhere and says: “Not here, in that big field over the way! Ask the farmer! Bye, then!” He scrapes his boots on the old doorstep and vanishes inside for tea. Kenny Caxton picks his nose and says: “Thought so.” Carl Caxton, who is older, pulls out his little green penknife and threatens to scalp you.
Since you don’t possess a pipe of peace, you offer bubble gum, which cost you half your pocket money but buys you time. You walk to the stone wall across the road and look into the big field. There are no horses just a smell of pigs, but from what you’ve seen on TV, cowboys don’t lasso pigs. If they did, they’d be pigboys.
“We’ll ask that farmer”, you say, climbing over and walking through the field.
The farmer has a thick black beard, a greasy waistcoat and no horses. “Now get off my land or I’ll fetch my gun,” he says. So, naturally, you run for your life.
It takes you two hours to walk home, at the end of which, your two friends promise never to speak to you for the rest of their lives, which seems reasonable. However, they do speak to the rest of the class, first thing Monday morning, and before long, your new name is not Tex or Doc Holliday or Billy the Kid, but Pinocchio.
The next time you see Peter, you call him Foghorn, among other things. You don’t know it then, but Foghorn is your first real cowboy. He walks away quickly, patting his hair, and replies in his posh voice: “I said we used to have horses.”
(First published in FHM, November 2009, by S.C, Sanoma Hearst Romania SRL)
*smecher = Romanian slang for smart ass, wise guy, diamond geezer, cowboy. Pronounced sshh-mekka. A very evocative word and now its all yours. Try it on your Mum? Mike.