Early one Friday morning my friend Chris and I were sharing eggs at the when an elderly stranger approached our corner table. His skin was the color of my cappuccino. Wiry gray hair poked from beneath the wide brim of his dark brown cowboy hat, and his crystal blue crow-footed eyes captured my attention immediately.
He looked as if he had stepped from the dog-eared pages of one of my husband’s favorite pulp paperback Westerns – embroidered shirt with silver collar tips and mother-of-pearl snaps under a fringed leather jacket and snakeskin boots with sharp pointed toes. (Any horse kicked with those boots wouldn’t think twice before shifting into gallop.)
The cowboy leaned low across our table to point out the window over Chris’ shoulder and ask if the black Mercedes on the lot outside was ours. (It wasn’t.) He said that whoever did own it should consider investing in oil stock because he had a car like that once, and it got about 10 miles to the gallon.
Then he said, “I don’t need to worry about high gas prices much myself, because I rarely drive outside the Alameda city limits, and even then it’s only to go as far as the Oakland Airport.”
I told him he was indeed a true Alamedan. He smiled and then said, “You ladies look like you might want to hear something good.” (We were game. As a writer, I am always in the market for a good story.) He said, “This very morning, when I was driving up along Skyline…
(Immediately, I became suspicious. This fellow just told me he rarely leaves the city limits. What was he doing way up at the top of the Oakland hills this morning? Made no sense, but I kept it to myself.)
He said, “There was a car stopped dead in the middle of the road in front of me. I got out to see what was holding it up, and saw an older man bending down over a lifeless rabbit. The fellow was crying, saying he had hit and killed that bunny and in all of his 80+ years had never killed anything.
“Just then, an impatient young woman jumped out of her car to find out why traffic was at a standstill, and when we told her what happened, she went back to her car and got an aerosol can. She proceeded to spray the rabbit from whiskered nose to fluffy tail. The lifeless bunny stirred, then shook its ears, stood up and hopped away.
“We said, “What the heck was in that spray, anyway?” And she replied, 'Hair spray. It says right on the can that it restores life to dead hair!'"
Hair. Hare. Get it? Rabbit?
Chris and I groaned. The cowboy said it came from his favorite book, Good Jokes for Old Folks. This man had my father's and husband’s shared horrible sense of humor. My dad always called jokes like that “shaggy dog” stories.
When I complimented his fringed leather jacket, the cowboy said that his wife lays out his entire outfit every night: brown underwear to match his crisply pleated brown dress slacks, white T-shirt, turtleneck, cowboy shirt, belt – right down to his gold rings and silver-links bracelet.
They have been married for over 50 years. He said she grew up in Texas and always wanted a cowboy of her own. He claimed he was actually a total “city boy,” having attended NYU.
Dapper. Dapper and absolutely charming... Not the beer-bellied-motorcycle-club-tattooed-type cowboy in a beer logo t-shirt, but a true gentleman cowboy. Roy Rogers to the core.
As he picked up his “To go” order and left, I looked out the café window, half expecting a palomino stallion to be tethered to the metal bike stand outside. I wanted to watch them both gallop away down Clement Avenue, into the morning sunrise.
I asked some of the café employees if they knew anything more about him. No one could remember his real name. They said everyone just calls him “Cowboy.” Josh, the cashier, thinks that he counsels juvenile offenders.
If you know the rest of the story, do tell. I’ll just put another kettle of water on the campfire and we’ll all gather 'round…