I’m the artsy type living in a cowboy community. It’s a great little community here as long as you remember your place. I respect their tough cowboy ways and they let me be artistic. We got along fine until I got my pickup truck.
You need to understand; down here trucks are for the tough cowboys and the tough women who marry them. The truck signifies the man. You go out to check on the cattle you go in your truck. You pick your girl up for a date she better be able to climb into your truck. You need to pick up a gallon of milk you go in your truck. My son worked with a local fellow who grew concerned when my son told him he was going to college.
“You just need to get yourself a truck and a job and you’re set,” he said.
Getting a truck is the right of manhood. It usually comes after shooting your first deer. You have to look good in a cowboy hat. A farmer’s hat is acceptable if it sports a John Deere logo.
I knew better than to go out and buy a big truck. I was allowed the ’72 Chevy I brought down from the city with me. It didn’t offend others to see an artsy type driving that. It finally wore out. My brother meant well when he gave me his old Dodge Ram. I had never dreamed of owning such a truck: V8, four-wheel-drive, towing package, running board, the works.
When my teenage daughter saw it she exclaimed, “You got a man-truck!”
This immediately made me apprehensive. She was right—this truck crossed the line into big truck territory. What would people think when they saw me driving it? I had been seen riding my bike to church. I was comfortable in a minivan. I felt a sense of foreboding.
A couple of years earlier I had broken an unwritten code of conduct. I had driven my minivan up the steep, narrow, canyon road behind the town to the beautiful ridge at the top. It’s understood that only four wheel drive pickups or four wheelers can make it up that road. I don’t know what got into me, but one day I loaded the kids into the van—it was an all-wheel-drive Ford Aerostar after all—and successfully negotiated my way to the top. The truck owners who were already up there were unhappy to see the minivan come zipping along. I felt like a man in shorts and a t-shirt at a formal event. They never forgot.
Now, in my pickup truck, I tried not to meet the eyes of the cowboy in the truck with the dualies who pulled up next to me at the light. I parked on the other side of the parking lot from the pack of big trucks belonging to the men who met for coffee and news at the convenience store/post office in town. If I was unloading trash at the dump when another truck pulled in next to me I would act meek, letting the other man know it was an honor for me to be operating my truck. I liked my truck. It was useful. Still, owning it added stress to my life. I knew I was a pretender.
One evening, right after dinner, there was a knock on my door. Two men stood there, cowboy boots, cowboy hats, jeans, beer bellies extending slightly over large, shiny belt buckles—I knew who they were before they spoke.
“Man-Truck Police,” the man with the handlebar mustache said. He wore a bolo tie with a nice piece of turquoise in the tie clip. He flipped opened his elongated, rawhide wallet and flashed a badge.
“That your truck?” asked the other man. He didn’t have a mustache, just two day’s growth of stubble. He wore a Western shirt of yellow plaid with the collar open. He pointed to my truck. His diesel powerstroke sat behind it rising a good foot higher.
“Yes,” I said. The word came out weakly. I was acutely aware of the words on the t-shirt I wore, “Writing’s my superpower. What’s yours?”
“There’s been an unworthiness complaint,” said the first man. He didn’t speak unkindly, but he was all business. “We’d like to see the size of the trophy deer that you keep on your living room or family room wall.”
I swallowed something bitter that didn’t taste at all like the quiche I ate for dinner.
Noting my hesitation, the man in the bolo tie added, “We already have a warrant.”
“I don’t have trophy deer on the wall,” I mumbled.
“How’s that?” the man said, leaning forward, straining to hear. “You mean it’s in storage? You remodeling?”
“I’ve never shot a deer,” I said, mumbling a little louder this time.
The two men stared at me speechless. The temperature dropped ten degrees.
Finally the man in the stubble spoke. “You own a gun, don’t you?” I sensed the critical nature of this question.
“Yes,” I said, with great relief. It was only a single shot .22 my dad had given me when I was twelve, but they didn’t ask. They were visibly relieved.
“No one’s ever seen you in a cowboy hat.” He spoke like it was a known fact, but he was letting me challenge it.
“No, but I have this.” I reached behind the door and brought out my straw gardening hat. If you looked with a little imagination it could be a cousin to a cowboy hat.
They looked at the hat then glanced at each other not quite able to hide their disgust behind their professionalism.
“Any headwear with John Deere?”
“No.” I was going down hard. I knew it.
“One last thing,” said Bolo Man. “Would come out and man your truck for us?”
What could I say? You don’t tell the Man-Truck Police no when it comes to a Man-Truck investigation. I went out, trying to swagger a little, but the knee-length, cargo pants shorts ruined the effect. I reached up and opened the door. I hesitated before I climbed in. The height was slightly more than I could manage without the running board, but using the running board I often hit my head on the way in. I grabbed the steering wheel and pulled myself in without the running board. It took a little shuffling, but I didn’t hit my head. I couldn’t tell by the looks on their faces whether or not I had passed that test.
“Close the door and relax,” said Stubble Man.
I did as he asked. I rested my elbow on the open window and tried to think cowboy. There was a way to fill out the cab of a big truck. I had seen even small cowboys do it well. The two men studied me from the side and then from the front. They were inscrutable.
Finally they turned their backs to me and talked, but only for a moment. Coming back to the door Bolo Man said, “I need to ask you to get out of the truck.”
To my credit I slid out of the truck in a fairly macho manner, but it was too little too late.
“It is our judgement that the worthiness complaint is valid. You can give up your keys now or appeal in front of the truck posse tomorrow night at 8 pm at the town hall.”
It would be no use. I could do without the humiliation. I removed the truck key from my Pokemon keychain and placed it in Bolo Man’s waiting hand.
“I’m sorry, son,” he said. “There’s no shame in this. We understand you were given the truck by a city boy. They don’t understand.”
My brother was a city boy, but he was man enough for a truck. They wouldn’t have questioned him. He had even shot a deer once. He was going to be disappointed when he learned why they took my truck away. My brother gave it to me because he thought it would make a man of me. It hadn’t. Instead I had disgraced the truck.
I watched as my truck disappeared down the street following the Diesel. They would make sure it found a home with a man worthy. I looked over at my minivan. At least I didn’t have any trouble getting into that. And it could carry all eight of my kids at once. It suited me far better than the truck, anyway. I pictured one of those cowboys sitting in driver’s seat of the van. The picture made me smile. The smile faded when I remembered actually seeing that happen once. The cowboy had been in hard times. It was embarrassing to us all. The memory helped me understand more clearly why they took my truck away.