Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Old XIT Cattle and Social Club

The Old XIT (pronounced “excite”) Cattle and Social Club was meeting in a small town southwest of the small town of Cactus, Texas.

Tinguely Querer looked at the announcement in the local paper and wondered what that the members of the club did for fun. Bingo? Monopoly? Horseshoes behind the barn? Knife throwing? Tarantula hunting?

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She wondered what it would take to join, and if it would be okay to join and attend just one meeting.

It was hard to predict when she would be in the Texas Panhandle and precisely where she’d be. After all, the Panhandle was a large place, the same size as eight Rhode Island’s.


Back home in Oklahoma, she shared her thoughts with her mother.

"I would never join a Cattle and Social Club," said Tinguely. "Out of principle. I don't think that animals that are about to be slaughtered have much in common with people looking for love."

"Oh, you don't, do you?" Tinguely's mother had reappeared after a long absence. Once back in town, she gave Tinguely a call, and they met at the local Starbucks. Mother drank a green tea frappuccino. Tinguely had a non-fat chai latte. Tinguely munched on granola and a whole-grain roll with maple almond butter while Mother feigned maternal concern.

Tinguely was not buying the maternal concern routine. There were too many episodes in the past, too much abandonment – not intentional, but in pursuit of a higher truth. Abandonment of one’s children and pets was not an easy thing to confront, so Mother had learned the art of deflection and rationalization. She also told some whoppers of tall tales.

The latest was when Mother told Tinguely she was on a cruise, when in reality, Mother was at a Christian version of a Hindu Ashram in northeast New Mexico n a retreat with her Bible study group that focused on healing and praise.

When Tinguely learned that part of the retreat involved locking each individual in an isolation chamber, she was horrified. The women stayed for three days and three nights and logged their thoughts, visions, and hallucinations in notebooks with waterproof pages.

All Tinguely could think of was the medieval diarist and mystic, Margery Kempe, who chronicled her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. If one read between the lines, one could see that Margery had to have been an absolute pain to travel with. Her visions tended to portend great calamity and personal discomfort. Mother tended to have similar visions – crashing planes, danger on certain routes, food contamination, evil spirit-infested hotels, and horribly aching feet, riddled with corns, bunions, and blisters.

“Mother.” Awkward pause. “It’s nice to see you.” Tinguely tried to keep her face expressionless. She did not want to give Mother an entrĂ©e into her private life, or an opportunity to express opinions about Tinguely’s weight, hair, and clothes.

Mother could be scary-skinny, and she could be the kind of person you’d see on the first row of an Armani style show or in a PRAISE NOW tele-evangelist ministry broadcast. Mother was a true believer.

One would think that being in faith healing circles would give Mother a positive, "I believe in miracles" outlook on life. It did, but it also engendered a deep cynicism about human nature as it existed in its unmediated "fallen" state.

“Don’t you think that they’re just looking for trouble? After all, both end up in the same place. The only difference is in how they grind the flesh, and who consumes whom. That’s why I’m a vegetarian.”

“And why you’ve never remarried,” added Tinguely.

“Well, my point, Tinguely, is this question: Don’t you think the whole endeavor is fraught with a morbid fascination with hopelessness?”

"No, Mother, I don't. I think that the cattle are hanging onto life. All they want to do is breed in hopes of cheating death. That’s not hopeless.”

"I think you're giving those randy steers a lot of credit, dear," said Mother.

"Maybe," said Tinguely. She continued. "But Mother, let's look at the other side. The Social Club side. People looking for love are something else entirely. Renunciation of the individual self. At least that's how South Americans put it. If you renounce your individual sense of self, aren't you essentially obliterating yourself? Your identity?"

"You've put your finger on the slaughterhouse connection, Tinguely," said Mother. "Feedlot cattle. Sad men and women willing to erase themselves if only ... well, if only they can feel love - even if only for a moment."

"Mother. That idea makes me want to weep. It's almost saying that the human condition is worse than that of doomed, soon-to-be-slaughtered cattle. People are willing to "self-slaughter" if they can have a moment -- no matter how fleeting -- where they feel a warm, loving embrace -- an existential acceptance that is, well, unconditional."

"I don't know if I'd go that far. Let's just say that the core "pivot point" of existence -- for cattle -- for human beings -- revolves around sex-death equations followed closely by an 'if I die, you'll love me more, and then you'll take my energy to build a huge, better world" equation. I don't think it's very healthy,

“What’s it like to be in an isolation chamber for three days and three nights?” asked Tinguely, suddenly bold. She never knew Mother to have such insight into the human condition.

“I slept a lot.” said Mother.

Some things would never change.


A couple of weeks later, Tinguely found herself in a small town southwest of the small town of Cactus, Texas, still curious about the XIT Cattle and Social Club.

She went to her first meeting, which was in an old rock and mortar building perched on the side of a steep hill that overlooked a small canyon. They sat on the patio, which was draped with strands of all-white Christmas lights. The air smelled of sage and rain.

“We were going to have square dancing lessons, but our instructor called in sick,” said a woman in her late 20s who was dressed in a gingham prairie dress.

Tinguely thought she looked like a grad student in anthropology or an escapee from an isolationist polygamous cult. Tinguely’s first impression did not lead her astray.

“Hi. I’m Katwell Dantzen. I’m getting a master’s degree in ethnology, and I’m doing my thesis on folk dances. I am really sorry we aren’t having square dancing. I was really looking forward to it,” she said. She extended her hand. “Are you new?”

“Uh. To this, I am,” said Tinguely. “Where are the cattle?”

“The cattle are not actually invited. We just talk cattle when we can’t talk about love,” said a husky man with a kind face. “I’m Roy Anguster.”

“So that means that pretty much all we talk about is cattle. Deworming, growth hormones, antibiotics, putting the weight on quickly and safely,” said another man, leaner, with bushy white hair. He had a slightly less pleasant expression on his face.

Tinguely guessed he was embittered by the constant cattle talk. Love would spice it up a bit. As would square dancing.

“Say, Katwell. Don’t know some moves? You’re getting an advanced degree in this stuff, after all. You even have the costume for it. Even though I’ve never seen a lady wear cowboy boots with a long prairie girl dress,” said Roy.

The white-haired man with the slightly embittered face answered his BlackBerry.

“Hello. Hello? Can you hear me now? Bad signal. What? I’m not anywhere. I am just down here at the Cattle Club.” Katwell was talking to Roy about why she mixed boots with skirts. Tinguely tittered lightly to herself, unable to keep back the chuckles.

The man’s face clouded as he continued to speak on his BlackBerry.

“No one. It’s just the same old Cattle Club. Same as ever. Who am I with? Cattle club. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry about me. Woops. Bad signal. You’re cutting out. I’ll call you when I get in.”

“Your voice sounded really guilty just then,” pointed out Tinguely.

The guy smiled. His face softened and he seemed approachable, suddenly.

“That was my daughter. She doesn’t trust me a lick. Don’t know why that is. She always thinks I’m on the verge of getting corralled by some woman who is up to no good.”

“How do you know that isn’t the case?” asked Tinguely. “Maybe you are.”

She smiled. This was fun.

“She doesn’t know it, but I make myself sound guilty on purpose. It drives her crazy,” he said.

“Kind of serves her right, doesn’t it,” said Tinguely.

“Give a person enough rope and enough time, and they’ll tie themselves the fanciest noose you’ll ever see,” smiled the man. “By the way, I’m Potter.”

“As in Harry Potter?” asked Tinguely.

“Close. Potter Harris,” he said. Tinguely smiled. Images of cattle being levitated, flying on broomsticks, and goose-stepping while mooing in unison along a line of giant wind turbines flooded her mind.

“Looks like the place is shutting down for the evening.” A woman was turning off the Christmas lights, shutting the doors.

“Will you be back next week?” asked Potter.

Roy and Katwell chimed in, “Hope to see you again sometime, Tinguely.”

“Maybe. I never know. I’m always in different places, it seems,” said Tinguely.


“They didn’t talk about love, and they didn’t really even talk about cattle,” said Tinguely to Mother. She was able to get a good signal, so she had called her mother’s home phone. Surprisingly, Mother had picked up.

“Will you go back?” asked Mother.

“They did not really do anything. All they really did was talk about what they might have done, but couldn’t do. That was the square dancing.”

“Sounds like a normal sort of meeting to me. Isn’t that the way people really communicate? They hardly ever get around to being direct and asking for and getting what they really want.”

Tinguely reflected for a moment.

“Who knows what he or she really wants anyway?” she asked Mother.

“Maybe that’s why it’s so much easier to give people what they demand, rather than demanding something yourself,” said Mother. Her voice was starting to break up.

“Too much effort,” said Tinguely. “Well, have to go now, Mother.”

She ended the call, then called to the front desk of the hotel where she was staying to request another set of bath soaps, and then to complain that the wireless Internet signal was low, and that they had given her a handicapped room instead of a normal one. She always ran into or tripped on the fold-down shower seats. They always seemed to have mildew on them. Who designed these things anyway? Who actually thought about thinking from the handicapped person’s point of view?

The woman at the front desk dealt with Tinguely’s complaints with good humor. “Guess you got lucky this time,” she said.

“Yes, if my luck continues to hold, maybe we’ll run out of hot water, or I’ll cut myself shaving my legs,” said Tinguely. How did a person who was partially paralyzed or with mobility problems shave her legs?

Getting access. A handicapped person was basically all about positive self-actualization. They thought about how they could gain access and mobility.

The non-handicapped person’s perspective: Losing access. Losing contact. Losing hope of transformative action.

The XIT Cattle and Social Club held the answers, and Tinguely sensed it. She just wasn’t sure if she had the courage to find out.


Stephen Downes' OL Daily

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Rochelle Owens' Early Poems (at light&dustbooks)