|MCG, in front, in a crowd of Tuolumne and Sonora punks and weirdos -- circa 1986.|
We called him Cowboy, and we sneered when we said it, “Cawhoboyee" in our affected southern drawls. It was a ridiculous display of hatred. He was a junior, and Amelie and I were sophomores. He was lanky and awkward in his light colored denim jeans cinched tight at the waist with an over-sized belt buckle, his cowboy hat, and dark blue corduroy FFA jacket. “Future Farmers of America, sheep fuckers,” we’d say under our breath as he’d pass by the band room on his way to the FFA building. He would usually be walking alone to his class, to that side of campus where none of the band geeks dared to go. We practiced our marching formations on the football field, and during football games, we sat in the bleachers as the pep band, but we never went beyond the snack bar out where the FFA building stood.
Amelie and I had become known in town for being those punk girls. We had become a topic of conversation, derision, and stares. Meanwhile, tensions had been growing between the punks and hicks who perceived a threat, a takeover of some kind, even though we were rather small in number. Things had gotten so bad at school that Amelie and I, and many of our friends, like the super tall, lanky freshman, Josh Wilson who had bleached bangs, wore ripped jeans and got called a faggot, didn’t bother going into the school’s cafeteria, not even for nachos. We had grown tired of guys in cowboy hats or buzz cuts beaming us in the head with tater tots or launching half-full cartons of milk in our direction. Both newly vegetarian, Amelie and I decided it was best to bring our lunches from home anyway, but we sure did miss melted, hot, artificial cheese poured over corn chips. Things got so bad that when we went to visit our punk friends in Sonora, we took special precautions, traveling only in packs when we went to the movies or cruised the shopping center parking lot. We drove around in Amelie’s mom’s Fiat that by this time could only be started by putting two wires together because her mom couldn’t find the ignition switch in any of the local auto parts stores.
One night in Sonora, we were confronted by a truckload of hicks who found several of us parked in the movie theater’s overflow parking lot. We had just finished drinking beer, sitting in the branches of a tall tree just off the lot. The tree was of our favorite places to drink because once up in the tree, we couldn’t be seen by hicks or cops. Walking back to Amelie’s Fiat, tipsy and giggling, Sammie, Cindy her best friend at Sonora High, Toby, Cindy’s younger brother, and his friend Tim, and I noticed a raised American-made truck coming our way; the bright headlights flashing directly into our eyes blinding us a little, we knew we had to make a run for it. Fortunately, Amelie who vacillated between being straight-edge and not was straight edge that night and she got to the car first, unlocked the driver side door, dove in and unlocked the passenger-side door, where I jumped in and reached over the seats and unlocked both the back doors. Sammie, Cindy, Toby, and Tim were shouting and screaming for us to hurry. As they clamored into the back seat and slammed the doors shut and locked them, Amelie attempted with jittery hands, to connect the bare tips of wires to get the car started. The raised truck was now directly behind the Fiat, terrorizing us with its bright lights. We could hear the hicks shouting, "Fucking freaks! Commies! Fuck You!" The Fiat lurched forward a couple times, began slowly and picked up speed, taking off just as the truck inched closer to the bumper. We weren't sure if they would really kick our asses or not, but we knew we had to protect Toby and Tim. They were younger than us three girls, and the hicks would go after them first. They weren't likely to hit us girls unless we hit them first. I had mouthed off to them a number of times, and they never did more than say, "fuck you, bitch" or "suck my dick."
“Go, go, go,” someone was shouting from the back seat, as we sped out of the parking lot. Our favorite drinking spot now exposed and ruined forever.
The raised truck followed as we sped down the hill toward the shopping center where other teens were cruising, making out, or standing around in packs, with nothing better to do. Knowing there'd be police patrols the hicks, while staying on our tail drove at a reasonable speed down the main highway and through downtown Sonora. The truck tailed us through downtown, passed the Europa, and the one stoplight in the whole county, over the small hill by the red church, and passed the high school. Going uphill toward Columbia where Sammie lived with her mom and brother, both vehicles picked up speed. Amelie tried to lose them, but the white boxy Fiat was heavy with teenagers and easy to see. We thought for sure that once we turned off of highway 49 onto the road that turned to dirt, was dark, lined with trees, and filled with ruts that they would give up, but they didn't. We didn't want them to know where any of us lived, but we didn't know where else to go. The Fiat slowed a little at the first small hill, but Amelie knew the road better and had a better idea of how to avoid the rocks that could damage the under carriage, and we bounced over ruts, swerving this way and that. The trucks followed its lights bouncing and lighting the way ahead of us. The road, which came to a dead end at Sammie’s rented two plus bedroom house, was just in front of us. Skidding to a stop, the truck stopped behind us, its headlights practically scraping the back window. The doors flew open, and three hicks jumped out, shouting, cursing and banging on the Fiat. Sammie got out, screaming for them to get the fuck off her property then her mom came out too. Seeing there was an adult and probably fearing others, the three hicks jumped back in the truck and it began backing up and turning around before they had time to shut both doors.
By junior year, the tensions between the hick and punks climaxed with a street riot on Washington Street near Sonora High. School had just let out and male and female students, mostly male on the hick side, cursed and taunted the punks with insults like’ faggot’, and ‘fairy’, and ‘freak,’ threw rocks and bottles and whatever else they could find on the ground, while the punks, and some stoners too, shouted ‘sheep fuckers’, ‘KKK’, and ‘fuck you’ and even came to blows in a scene the resembled West Side Story minus the cool dance moves. The fighting was broken up by the police before anybody was seriously hurt, and it made the front page of the Daily Union Democrat the following day.
In Tuolumne, things came to a head between Amelie, Cowboy and me too. In PE, stripped of our black clothes, band t-shirts, and studded bracelets, Amelie and I had to exercise with the other juniors and seniors who had PE during that period. In baggy t-shirts, shorts, and Converse, we did wobbly-armed push-ups and lots of jumping jacks. Inevitably, the gym teacher chose a team sport that would only humiliate us further: dodge ball. Not picked as team captains and picked second to last (Amelie because she was tall) and last for a team (me for the opposite reason), Amelie and I both noticed that Cowboy, in his shorts that only accentuated his long, skinny, pale white legs, was on the other team. He had been picked almost last too.
In position and waiting for the teacher to blow her whistle, I just hoped nobody would notice me in my baggy plain white t-shirt, short spiky hair, and heavy, dark eyeliner. At the teacher's whistle, balls began whizzing past me, looking up, I saw Cowboy on the other team with a ball in his hand, aimed right for me. Notoriously afraid of balls, I froze in place just long enough, and fwap! The ball hit me in the face and skidded off my forehead with great force. Falling to the floor, I grabbed my head in a display of attention-getting agony. On my way down, I saw the look on Cowboy's face -- a look of surprise and maybe even regret. Amelie ran to my side and helped me off the floor, as the teacher and the others impatiently waited for us to get the hell out of their way.
“You hit me in the head,” I screamed.
Cowboy just walked back to position on his team.
A couple of months later, after being picked on even more by others in PE and watching them pick on Cowboy too, Cowboy struck up a conversation. We were all three sitting on the gym floor waiting to be tested for how many pushups, pull ups, and crunches we could do.
"I never meant to hit you that hard," he said, his long legs crossed awkwardly in front of him. He reminded me of a newborn foal.
Neither Amelie nor I knew what to say at first.
“With the ball,” he continued.
"It hurt," I said finally speaking for one of us.
"I'm sorry," Cowboy said, looking down at his dirty gym shoes.
"We haven't exactly been nice to you either," Amelie volunteered,
saying what I was already thinking.
"I didn't know that I could throw a ball like that."
"I didn't know you could either," I answered.
"I always get picked last for teams too."
"Yeah, we noticed that," said Amelie.
He looked down again.
"That's okay," I said, "It's just PE."
"Yeah, he said, "It's just PE."
"Can we still call you Cowboy?" Amelie asked, as people in our line were standing and moving forward.
We knew by then that his real name was Sean.
"You can still call me Cowboy," he said smiling.
"Okay," we said in unison, smiling and moving forward with the rest of the line.