I was thinking yesterday about a quote I read way back in 1994, in a Spin Magazine article about Buckle Bunnies, which I wanted to use in an essay now. I went looking for the article online and found it on Google Books; after re-reading this article 20 years after it was written, I found it so interesting that I have reproduced the text of the article below (you can click on the Google Books link to see the original article with pictures). There are two interesting aspects to this story, both the content itself and the subtext implied by how the authoress, Elizabeth Gilbert, an obvious liberal feminist, relates the events. I won’t analyze any of this article yet, but I have highlighted a few lines here and there which I found particularly interesting (please note that this article contains some very crass language):
“Charlie used to be able to call up Cocksucker any time of day and say, ‘Cocksucker, come over here and suck my cock,’” a cowboy named Jason told me. “Cocksucker really liked Charlie,” he added fondly. “She liked him a lot.”
This is a story about women in rodeo. It’s not about the women who rope calves or race horses around barrels, or these days, get tossed off bulls for a living. That’s another story altogether. This is a story about the women who follow rodeo, or more specifically, the women who follow rodeo cowboys.
There’s Nasty Wendy, TJ, Tammy, and Angie. There’s a girl called Fisheyes, whom the cowboys told me I would know on sight. In Canada, there’s someone called Motorcross, for no reason that anyone remembers. There’s Hoedown, who’s handy with a MasterCard, and Dawn, who will spend a week’s paycheck on a bull rider, if he asks her to. There’s a little woman in Montana named Andrea, whom a cowboy can always go home with at the end of the night, if he hasn’t found anyone better. And there are the famous Clarksville, Texas, girls: Peterbelly, Blondysocks, Grapenuts, Copenhagen, Tiny Tim, Hammerhead, Skoals-a-Little, and Cocksucker, who likes Charlie a lot.
Buckle Bunnies like cowboys enough to screw random ones rapaciously, often several at a time, and then provide breakfast, laundry services, telephones, and medical attention the next morning. They like cowboys enough to pay their rodeo entry fees, which can run anywhere from $50 to $500, depending on the prestige of the event.
Buckle Bunnies travel. They hang out behind the bucking chutes at every rodeo with six-packs and ice-packs, waiting for cowboys to finish tempting death in the ring. They stand in pairs at country bars, laughing crazily, as if standing with a girlfriend in a strange bar is the most fun a person can have in this life. They fill arenas with their tight jeans, their pink blouses with the geometric holes cut out of the backs, and their Loni Anderson hair. When the rodeo is over, the bullriders limp out of the ring with the adrenaline rush of firing-squad survivors, grabbing beers and girls. And every night the grabbed girls shriek and laugh, as if all the attention is a big fat surprise.
“If you’re a top cowboy,” Jason said, “getting laid is never a problem.”
“What if you’re not a top cowboy?”
“It’s still not a problem. It’s just that the top cowboys have more selection.”
A cowboy’s trophy belt buckle is engraved with every kind of necessary proof. “Champion bullrider,” it might read. “San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, 1993.” It’s the shape of a shield and a little bigger than a nice bar of soap. Since it’s a hideous offense to wear a buckle that you didn’t earn yourself, it’s a pretty safe way to tell quickly who matters and who doesn’t.
A cowboy will pass through a crowd with one hand casually on his buckle, touching it and shifting it, like it’s a satellite dish emitting and receiving information. Which, of course, it is. The buckle is conveniently portable, a trophy that only comes off when the jeans come off, at which point its work is done anyhow. Girls in bars kneel or squat in front of guys to read the buckles closely, a gesture rich with promise for later. In a sport without any protection, a buckle is the only point of invulnerability on a cowboy’s body. And in a community where divorce and desertion are epidemic, a buckle is the only token of real worth.
One morning, bored in San Antonio, I called 68 local pawn shops and had this conversation 68 times: “Hi. Do you have any rodeo belt buckles in stock?”
“No, ma’am, we sure don’t.”
“How about wedding rings?”
“Yes, ma’am, we’ve got hundreds of wedding rings.”
It means something to be given a belt buckle. Wives get belt buckles. Sweethearts get belt buckles. Mothers get belt buckles. Buckle Bunnies, generally, only get cowboys. But a buckle can redeem a woman, too. Many rodeo wives and girlfriends are ex-Buckle Bunnies, promoted out of trashhood to a moral high ground from which they can scorn the whores below. And many Buckle Bunnies are ex-rodeo wives, who lost their marriages and their standing and are back in the bars, scanning the buckles for a different future.
I once asked a bullrider named Mel to describe the perfect wife. “Tall, blond, long legs,” he said. “Great job, great cook, great mother.” Then I asked him to describe a typical Buckle Bunny. He said, “That’s a piece of trash. You put it outside your windows when you’re done with it, and someone else will pick it up.” (Incidentally, when asked to describe the perfect husband, Mel said, “Great attitude. Not a woman hater.” Luckily for Mel, there are no height or salary requirements for men.)
A woman involved with rodeo cowboys can either be the wife who gets cheated on or the woman who has one-night stands with married guys. And while it may seem like a choice between nothing and not much, the distinction between Buckle Bunny and buckle holder means everything. Still not everyone gets it.
Several cowboys told me proudly, “Bunnies aren’t after the buckles. They’re after what’s under the buckles.”
Hey guys? Bullshit. It’s the buckle, stupid.
I could have used a buckle myself, because the Bunnies didn’t want to talk to me. I was only in Texas for a few days before word got around that I was asking around about getting around. It’s a small world for a big state. I was in Uvalde, interviewing a candidate in a bar when a woman came running over. “Don’t talk to her!” she yelled, pointing at me. “She’s doing a story about Buckle Bunnies!” Then she ran back out onto the dance floor. Her friend watched, then turned to me. “A few more drinks and she’ll be taking her shirt off,” she said sadly, then walked away. She wouldn’t give me her name.
“You only came over because someone told you I was a Buckle Bunny,” hissed a girl in the same bar. I had some trouble denying this convincingly.
She went on. “Well, you can write whatever you want, but I think there’s enough wrong with the world that we don’t have to worry about other people’s business. And if a girl wants to run around, or die of a disease, then that’s her business. And I don’t care what people think about me.”
Well, I do. And she hated me. Finding a woman who wants to talk about her experiences as a Buckle Bunny is like finding a Frenchman who wants to talk about his experiences as a Nazi collaborator.
But guess what? Getting the cowboys to talk was no problem at all. In San Antonio, I met Kirby, a bareback rider who wanted nothing more out of life than to set me straight. “We don’t call them Buckle Bunnies anymore,” he said. “That’s a 70s expression. These days, we call them good old dirty-legged rodeo whores.”
Kirby had some swell stories. He sought me out one night in Cowboy Corner to tell me his favorite Buckle Bunny moment. It was about this girl in Somerville, Texas, who everyone tried to screw, and how he chased her down a road and caught her finally, and they screwed in the middle of the highway until a car came and scared her and she ran off into a barbed wire fence and cut her titties all up. Kirby was a million laughs.
I changed my approach. “I’m doing a story about Buckle Bunnies,” I started telling women, dropping the little Texas two-step of innuendo and evasion. “Can you tell me anything about them?”
They were delighted to talk. Every woman had an alibi for why she herself was legitimately at the rodeo. Either she was a cowboy’s wife or girlfriend, or a civic volunteer, or a former barrel racer, or the daughter of an old bullrider, or a rodeo queen from 1985. And while she may only date cowboys and while she may have traveled a great distance to get there that night, she certainly was no Buckle Bunny herself.
When I asked women if they would point out who in the room was a Buckle Bunny, it turned into a cross fire of gossip, a farce of indictments from across the bar. Two unattached girls told me heatedly that you can always tell Buckle Bunnies because they’re the ones all dressed up fancy to walk around in cowshit. Vicki, in a hot pink shirt so small it might have been a necklace, said, “You can always tell a Buckle Bunny by the way she dresses.”
Vicki also told me that she and her friend Christy were not themselves Buckle Bunnies, but they play them as extras in the movie “8 Seconds.” Shannon in Houston said she thought Buckle Bunnies were slutty out of insecurity, and when I didn’t respond she said, “Don’t you think so? I mean, to sleep with someone? You don’t think so?”
Two women in San Antonio wouldn’t give me their names. One, because she’s a rodeo official; the other, because she’s the ex-wife of a well-known bullrider. The ex-wife, after a half hour, admitted that five years ago she’d been “the biggest Buckle Bunny on the face of the earth.” When I asked her to define the expression, she said, “A Buckle Bunny doesn’t care about a guy’s name or anything except that he’s a top cowboy. She’ll fuck him for one night, and never see him again.”
“Was that you five years ago?” I asked, and she froze, like a perjurer trapped on the stand. “No,” she said finally. “See, I knew all those guys.”
I asked Vicki if women in rodeo ever get hurt or raped. She said, “It doesn’t happen.” Doesn’t happen? “Well, if you’re stupid enough to go to a motel with a guy you don’t know, then you’re a Buckle Bunny and you get what you deserve.”
The next day, I called the local Planned Parenthood to ask about women’s issues in cowboy country. “This is not cowboy country,” someone named JoAnn told me. “That’s a misconception about San Antonio.” Then Little Miss Conception went on to say that it did sound to her like a girl who goes home with strangers gets what she deserves.
Then I called Joyce at the battered women’s shelter, and she said they get more victims of truckers than victims of cowboys. Then I called the courthouse to ask about divorce rates, and Mr. Garcia told me he thought rodeo marriages break up so often because cowboys have sex with their horses.
Then I called my sister to complain that the only thing a woman can be in Texas is somebody’s good girl or somebody’s bad girl. “Or somebody’s governor,” she added.
Then I called a friend in Philadephia and she told me to watch what I wrote, unless I wanted to become the Salmon Rushdie of rodeo. She called my story “The San-Antonic Verses.”
On my last night in San Antonio, I went to a place called Midnight Rodeo − one of those strange Texas bars big as Kmart, sunk in some epic parking lot. I met Tonya, who was born on an Austin ranch but now worked in the city. She was smart and funny and her hair wasn’t big. I asked her about cowboys, and she told it straight. “None of them are worth a shit,” she said. “They can’t keep a job. They cheat on their wives. They’re never home. They’re lazy, and you can’t trust them. None of them are worth a shit.”
As a visual aid, good old dirty-legged Kirby came over just then. He was staggeringly drunk, and he wanted to talk to me some more about girls. “I got a beautiful girl I’ll probably marry someday,” he said. “Sometimes I like being nice to girls, like, “Hey, how ya’ doing, nice to meet you.’ Other times, I just go around like, “Fuck you, bitch! Suck my dick!’”
I was writing all of this down. “You’re going to make someone a great husband someday,” I said.
Kirby considered this. Then he howled, “Hey! I’m young, I’m dumb, and I’m havin’ fun!” Suddenly, he noticed my new friend Tonya. “Wanna dance?” he asked her.
She looked up at him and smiled slowly. “Okay,” she said. “Sure.”
Later, I drove down to Schertz to drink at the Blue Bonnet Palace, a great big place with a great big idea: Live Bullriding! Inside the bar! I sat with the rodeo wives and watched the bulls circle that small ring like sharks. Kids hung on the fences, swinging like bait. Oddly, nobody was killed. Bulls are scary. So are rodeo wives.
An arch-blond named Lola told me about how she, an innocent, was deceived by Nasty Wendy, a legendary Buckle Bunny. “For a whole year I thought she was my friend,” Lola said. “I didn’t know she was a whore. I even tried to warn her that there are a lot of whores in this business, and to be careful to stay away from girls like that, but she fooled me.”
Lola was full of shit. Lola’s been around rodeo for years. I’d been in Texas three day, and I already knew all about Nasty Wendy, who is famous only for sleeping with the current top 15 bullriders in the country. The National Finals Rodeo Bulletin is known as Wendy’s black book. She’s a legend, for Christ’s sake.
Jennifer, a 20-year-old rodeo wife, told me, “Sometimes I’ll be in a bar with my husband, Beau, and some girl I’ve never seen before will run over and hug him and say, ‘Hi Beau, remember me from Denver?’ But he doesn’t even know those girls. They just think they know him because they recognize his name.” Jennifer seemed happy with this answer.
Later, I was interviewing a bullrider name Ronnie, when the bartender asked him, “Do you think all women should be treated with respect?”
“Every woman should be treated with respect,” Ronnie said.
“What about Buckle Bunnies?” I asked.
“That’s different. Buckle Bunnies don’t count.”
Hell, who wants not to count? Sluts? Whores? Trash? Who wants to sign up for that mailing list? For all the cowboy talk about the freedom of the lifestyle, rodeo is basically a small town on the move, a road show of the same bulls, the same cowboys, the same bars, the same girls. It’s a circus, and everyone knows you don’t see the world when you run away with the circus. You just see the inside of the same grimy circus tent from Beaumont to Buffalo and back.
In a community where the only liberal thing around is the use of makeup, it’s not surprising that no woman is ready to stand up and say it loud, I’m a dirty-legged rode whore, and I’m proud. Which is a shame, because they subsidize the whole show. Without their cash and ass, the sport could not exist as it does, and if Buckle bunnies ever unionized, the changes would come fast and hard.
But there’s no danger of this. The ethic of rodeo forbids boat-rocking from any angle, and the urge to conform shows up in weird ways. One night in Houston, the announcer asked the 58,000 spectators, “Is anyone here not from Texas?” A dead silence fell over the Astrodome. It was exactly as if he’d asked, ‘Who here likes taking it up the ass?” If there were any among us who were guilty, we weren’t talking. I sure didn’t volunteer. I may be from out of town, but I’m not stupid. When in Houston, Ich bin eine Texan.
A bullrider named Will said to me one night, “Buckle Bunnies get a bad rap. But when you’re 1,000 miles from home and broke and hurt, and it’s 2:30 a.m. in Iowa, and the bar is closing, they’re pretty nice to have around.”
A kind statement, sure, but this is the same Will who described his girl-selecting process to me in scientific detail, finishing it up by saying that if he’s still solo at closing time, “It’s time to change weight class.” He pointing to a chubby girl across the bar and said, “If I really needed a place to stay tonight, that would be my target, right there.”
“So go talk to her,” I said.
“You don’t want to get one too early,” his friend explained. “Then you gotta buy her a beer.”
The older guys seemed capable of greater generosity. Mike, who’s 37 and still riding bulls against all advice, calls the dedicated Bunnies “campaigners” and “solid sons-of-bucks.” He told me about being rescued in Canada by a girl when his friends had left him, broke and broken-ribbed, after a rodeo. She took him home, and the next morning her mother came into the bedroom to ask how they wanted their eggs. Mother and daughter took care of Mike for a week, and then lent him the money to fly back to Midland, Texas. They still send a Christmas card every year. He said campaigners will do anything for anyone, and it’s not all about sex. It’s about something weirder than that, about some fascination with providing the most macho guys on earth with the only brand of nurturing they will accept: a one-night marriage.
Will went with me to Houston, to make sure I got into the Chute Club, the bar under the Astrodome where the big-name Buckle Bunnies would absolutely be hanging around. A pretty, pregnant woman called Will over. While they talked, I read a note on the bulletin board. “Jerome Davis,” it said. “We are here. Where are you? Meet us at the Chute Club entrance one hour after the rodeo is over. Love, Tiffany, Cindy, Linda, Patty, and Kelly. Think you can handle this?”
Will kissed the pregnant woman, and came back over. “That was Wendy,” he said under his breath. Nasty Wendy, of the National Finals Rodeo top 15. I felt like I’d seen God.
Around midnight, Wendy and a handful of the most legendary Buckle Bunnies in Texas invited me to play poker with them at the Holiday Inn bar. I can’t relate much of what happened because my permission to be there was a fragile thing, hinging on my emphatic promise of no names and no questions. I also can’t remember a lot since we were drinking pretty seriously.
Someone made a toast, “To bulls that buck and girls that…dance good.”
I told a joke, “How come Texas never floated away into the Gulf of Mexico? Because Oklahoma sucks so much.”
I had a spectacular losing streak. When I ran out of money, Wendy paid my ante and TJ kept dealing me in. The place was packed with cowboys, but it was all women at the table, with their smart bets, cigarettes, and inside jokes.
The Holiday Inn campaigners were wonderfully content, the only women I met around rodeo who weren’t nervous about something. By late night, the rodeo wives were all at home, worrying about their marriages, and the young bunnies were in scattered hotel rooms working hard. The campaigners were left in the calm company of their own people. And if a cowboy stopped by the card table to say hello, he would sit on the edge of someone’s chair and get a warm, wifely kiss. He would watch the poker game for a while. Then one of the most famous Buckle Bunnies in Texas might lean forward and let him see her cards, easily, comfortable, as if she held no secrets in that hand at all.
On a final note: does the name of the journalist who wrote this, Elizabeth Gilbert, sound familiar to you? It should; Ms. Gilbert is also the authoress of the 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which is like the Frivorcees’ Bible. However, she wrote this Spin article when she was still a young, twenty-something journalist trying to make it in the world as a writer.
[Note: Just a reminder that comments are closed for Lent. The charity drive is ongoing.]