“O.M.GEE! Puleeze tell me you’re not wearing that!”
“I totally am, girl.” Martin looked down at his shirt with satisfaction and pirouetted in front of the floor-length mirror in his living room. “And I look fabulous!”
Curt closed his eyes in anguish. “Everyone will be staring and pointing. Darling, you know I love you but you look like the Rhinestone Cowboy.”
“Darling! These are Swarovski rhinestones, my perky gay ass,” Martin scoffed. “Besides, black on black! This is as tasteful and elegant as a little black dress. I look fierce!” He glanced in the mirror to admire the sparkle gleaming from the shoulders of his shirt. A single line of dark blue crystals picked out the vertical seams of the slim-cut shirt with a subtle gleam.
“I guess I should be grateful you’re not wearing your glittery fairy wings too,” Curt grumbled but he couldn’t keep a smile off his face. “You know I only have your best interests at heart.”
“Fairy wings are only to be deployed for Gay Pride or art gallery openings. Now on the other hand, no one would ever guess you were going to the rodeo. You look like a depressed emo goth hipster on her way to a faux funeral to mourn the breakup of My Chemical Romance.”
“They broke up?” Curt put a hand over his heart with a mock-stunned expression.
“Don’t get your mascara wet, it was just an analogy.” Martin rolled his eyes and opened the door to answer the knock. He leaned forward for air kisses when he saw his friend Dale and invited him in. “Hello, sister girl.” He turned to Curt. “Wreak your fashion judgment on her. Miss Thing deserves it. Fringe!”
“Dale, you have accomplished the impossible—making Marti look almost normal. Where did you get that… thing?”
“It’s vintage.” Dale gave a little shimmy, making the fringe ringing the embroidered yoke of his cowboy shirt dance. “I found it in that thrift store over on 14th Street. It’s fab, isn’t it?”
“Anyone would think this was your first rodeo.” Curt crossed his arms and glared at both his friends from behind his square black-rimmed glasses.
“It is, and I’m showing up in style,” Martin said. He leaned closer to the mirror to check his eyeliner.
“I hate to tell you, sweetie, but spiked hair is totally out,” Dale said, complacently fluffing his artfully tousled surfer locks with his fingertips.
“When did you last have your eyes checked? This is a pompadour. Totally ironic and stylish.”
“Tell me again why we’re doing this,” Curt begged. “This is like walking into the lion’s mouth. Rednecks and Bible-thumpers go to the rodeo. We’ll be lucky if we get away with just a black eye.”
“Because we’re flamers?” Dale put in helpfully.
“Speak for yourself. No one would automatically assume I’m queer,” Curt said.
Dale and Martin glanced at each other and giggled at that statement.
“Darling, real he-men don’t wear glasses like that, nor do they crop their hair when they realize they’re going bald,” Martin said. “They never learned to face reality, poor dears.”
“Yeah,” Dale said, “they’d rather comb their armpit hair up onto their head and think they’re fooling everyone. Like you, if you think you’re passing.”
“I’m passing about as well as you’re looking stylish. But seriously, armpit hair? Darling, it’s like you have no idea at all about grooming. Everyone knows if you want to do a comb-over you use the Friar Tuck monk-fringe. The armpit is just trés awkward and spoils the line of your jacket.”
“Now that we’ve dissed everyone in the room and practically all rodeo fans, our job here is done. Let’s roll. I don’t want to miss a thing,” Martin announced.
He locked the door behind his friends and followed them down the stairs to the lobby. When he pushed the outer door open, he huddled into his peacoat against the chill.
“You never did say why we’re doing this insane thing,” Curt said. “And since when does the rodeo come to Washington, DC?”
“Asses, darling. Fine, round, muscular asses packed into tight jeans,” Martin said, cupping his hands lovingly.
“And just how did you find out about these asses?” Dale asked.
“Fell asleep on the couch one day watching football—”
“Those are some asses in tight pants.” Dale sighed romantically.
Ignoring the interjection, Martin went on. “And when I woke up, there it was. The best ass I’d ever seen. And then the next boy came out and his ass was better! And the next—”
“We get the picture. So we’re going to an ass museum,” Curt said.
“You can’t take the art home from a museum,” Martin said.
Curt stopped walking. “You are not—not—planning to try to seduce a straight, redneck, hillbilly cowboy, are you? Because if you’d told me this was going to be a suicide mission, I wouldn’t have signed up for it.”
Uneasily, Dale agreed. “Really, sweetie. Look but don’t touch is the safest policy at sporting events.”
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Martin said. He kept walking and the other two hurried to catch up. “No guarantees, but I’m gonna try to bag me a hot cowboy, yes sirree, Bob.”
Curt said, “Don’t encourage him, Dale. And your cowboy accent needs work, Marti, if you hope to deceive one of them into thinking you’re a good old boy.”
“The law of percentages says there’s got to be one or two cowboys who’re gay,” Martin said.
“For a guy who works in finance, you are an incurable optimist,” Curt said. “Have you no sense of self-preservation?”
“That’s why he has us,” Dale said. “Safety in numbers. If you want to go to the rodeo, we’re here to see you get home safe. Just forget about the door prizes, sweetie.”
“WE COULD have watched this on TV and sat closer,” Curt grumbled as they waded down the crowded row to their seats in the Verizon Center.
“We could, Eeyore, but then we would have missed all this pomp and circumstance.” Martin waved his hand at the columns of flame shooting into the air and the frenetic pulse of the laser beams. “It’s exciting!”
“And the flies. Why are there flies in the Center?” Dale batted at a single fly that happened to come by.
“Bullshit,” Curt said.
“You bring in horses and bulls. They poop. Flies come,” Curt explained patiently. “Haven’t you ever visited a petting zoo?”
“Oh, that’s what that god-awful smell is.” Dale held his nose. “A petting zoo stinks too, which is why I tend not to frequent them.”
“You’re imagining it. There’s a reason I got us seats in the nosebleed section,” Martin said. “You can’t smell it all the way up here.”
“Nor can I see any of these famous asses you’re promising. Those guys look like ants running around down there. Did you bring opera glasses?”
“Giant monitors,” Martin said, pointing triumphantly. “We can watch asses galore in all their slow-mo, close-up beauty.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.” Curt turned his eyes to the ring, almost as if he were divorcing himself from his more flamboyant friends. “See? That girl is pointing at you two and laughing. I knew this was going to happen.”
Martin smiled and waved cheerily back at the girl, who turned away quickly. From the shaking of her shoulders and the way she huddled with her friend, he could tell she was indeed laughing at them. Indulgently, he said, “Competition of the hunt. She wants to believe one of those hunky cowboys will charge into the crowd and sweep her off her feet like Bruce Springsteen in that ‘Dancing in the Dark’ video when in reality he’ll be coming after us.”
“God, if you really think that you’re just as hopeless. A cowboy would have to have X-ray vision to spot you up here,” Dale said.
“Hence, Swarovski!” Martin gestured triumphantly at his crystals.
“Keep dreaming,” Dale said. “You should have worn neon. And besides, even Curt knows that was all staged and the girl Springsteen got up on stage was Courtney Cox.”
“What the hell do you mean even Curt?” Curt looked outraged. “I know my pop-culture references perfectly well!”
“Don’t worry. If my hunky cowboy doesn’t find me, I’ll hunt him down later,” Martin assured him. “Oh, how adorable! A canned opener.”
Squinting up at the monitor where images of various cowboys were cut together in rapid succession, Curt said in a disappointed tone, “They’re no better than ninety percent of guys on the street. Saggy, baggy jeans.”
“But at least the crotches aren’t down to their knees. They must need the room for when they ride. Or maybe for their junk.” Martin waved an indulgent hand. “Wait ’til they mount up.”
“Mount,” Dale whispered and shivered in delight. “He said mount.”
“And look on the bright side. Chaps! Delicious chaps framing taut hips and bulging thighs—”
“And those bulging packages!” Dale sighed. “I’m in heaven, and let me just point out the preponderance of fringe on their chaps. I am making a fashion-forward statement by having it on my shirt.”
Watching the cowboys enter the arena in single file as their names were called, Martin leaned forward in his seat. “Look, that one tipped his hat to us.”
“He’d need binoculars to see us,” Dale said and then added hastily as if not wishing to dampen Martin’s enjoyment even more, “but I’m sure it was us he was saluting.”
“It’s a quaint little custom, isn’t it?” Curt said. “Too, too Western.”
“When do they start riding?” Dale asked.
“Like I’m an expert?” Martin said. “Maybe after all the fireworks die down. Oh my God, a clown.”
“Scary. He could totally use a makeover. They’ve been using that face paint for what? A hundred years,” Dale said. “Look, he got up on the circle thing in the middle. Maybe they’re ready to start. Or maybe he’s going to do a striptease.”
“Oh, I’d so much rather he didn’t,” Curt said, shuddering.
Martin jumped in surprise when a gate swung open and a bull exploded into the arena, the rider on his back bobbing disconcertingly as the animal jumped and kicked. “They should warn a person. How do we know where to look?”
“Look at all that hard muscle throbbing between his legs,” Dale crowed. “And that’s just the bull so far.”
“Oh yeah. Pulsating with male aggression,” Martin agreed. “Look at all the round ass-clenching and pelvis thrusting going on. I could just swoon. Admit it, Curt, I was right about the jeans.”
“He said thrust,” Dale murmured.
“Okay, you were right,” Curt admitted grudgingly, his gaze fixed on the monitor directly across the arena. “He’s sporting a very handsome set of cheeks and fills out the jeans well.”
“Oh no! He fell off!” Dale stood up in dismay, his hands over his mouth. “I hope he’s okay.”
Martin laughed. “They have to get off sometime, I imagine. And there was some sort of alarm so maybe he was supposed to. Look, he’s up!”
Curt pulled Dale back down into his seat. “See those other guys in hockey shirts and cowboy hats down there? They acted like it was no big surprise, so I’m sure he’s fine. He’s walking over to the fence thing.”
“You mean running for his life!” Dale fanned himself with his hand. “I would faint if I had to do this! Those animals are so—ferocious!”
“It’s like riding a whirling, bucking dervish!”
“Look at the horns. Oh man, that guy almost got smacked in the face,” Curt said.
“Hola, lover! I wish I remembered more Spanish from high school,” Dale said, sitting up alertly. “That’s one tasty burrito!”
Martin turned around when he felt a tap on his shoulder, bracing himself for disdain, but an older lady with white hair, and black brows in a gamine face was beaming happily at him and his friends.
“That’s one of the Brazilian riders, Gervasio Moraes. I’m afraid your Spanish wouldn’t do that much good. They speak mostly Portuguese.”
“I’m sure I could get my point across,” Dale said in an undertone. “Hip thrusts are universal.”
“Shut up, Dale!” Curt frowned warningly at his friend.
“But he’s so handsome!”
“He is one of the handsomest men riding today. He sets a lot of hearts atwitter,” the woman agreed. “I’ve tweeted about him myself.”
“I wouldn’t say he’s the only eye candy out there,” Martin murmured.
“Your first time?” she asked.
Quelling his immediate impulse to answer with a sexual innuendo, Martin nodded. “It’s very exciting but we’re a little lost.”
“New fans then? Let me explain. Each rider has to stay on the bull for eight seconds to earn a score. They can’t touch the bull with their free arm or they’re disqualified. They can earn up to 100 points, 50 for the rider and 50 for the bull.”
“The bull gets points?” Curt demanded.
“For being hard to ride,” the lady explained. “If a bull is really hard, the rider gets more points.”
Martin frowned horribly at Dale who was blissfully murmuring, “She said hard.”
“Why are they flapping their arm around like that? They look like rag dolls up there.”
“They use that free arm to correct their position to stay with the bull.”
“I thought they were just really, really strong.”
The woman laughed. “No one is strong enough to outpower a bull, I’m afraid. Most of those bulls weigh over a ton and are highly trained athletes.”
“And why are those guys in hockey shirts running around down there?”
“Those are the bullfighters. Their job is to make sure the bull doesn’t hurt the rider after he gets off.”
“How did you get interested in this?” Martin asked after shooting a glare at Dale to forestall him commenting on the “get off.”
“I used to be a dancer. I caught bull riding on TV one day and was fascinated wondering how these cowboys manage to ride such a tumultuous animal. Of course, it’s all a question of balance, just like dancing or any other sport.” The woman’s eyes twinkled as she added, “And I am as great a fan of a fine derriere as you all are.”
Martin felt his face get hot. “I guess maybe we were a little loud.”
“You might want to tone down your appreciation a bit.” The woman nodded toward a group of men casting disgusted glances their way.
Rebellion welled up inside him. “We shouldn’t have to.”
“I agree, you shouldn’t have to, but sometimes it’s safer. The world isn’t always a kind place.”
“There’s got to be other gay men here. And I’ll bet there’s even some gay riders,” Martin said defiantly.
“I’m certain you’re right,” the woman said with a meaningful smile.
Then Martin flinched as the woman stood up and screamed, pumping her fist in the air. “What is it? What happened?”
Still smiling, the woman sat down, panting as she answered. “Jesse Cumberland just rode Barracuda! No one has covered that bull in the five years he’s been bucking. That’ll be a big score, you’ll see!”
Peering into the ring, Martin smiled as the rider tore off his helmet and tossed it in the air, letting it fall wherever while he yelled into the camera chasing him and pounded his chest with both fists. “You like that guy?”
“He’s my favorite rider,” the woman said, “but they’re all so good. Somehow I’ve always rooted for him, though. I think you’d like him.”
“He is very cute,” Martin agreed.
“Yes,” the woman said with a smile. “A lot of them are, but what I admire most is their bravery, the way they embrace the risks. All of them have been or will be hurt, but they accept it as part of the sport and just keep on riding.”