Ever fantasize about going to a dude ranch? Me neither. So how did I come to find myself standing in line, waiting my turn to have lunch ladled onto my tin home-on-the-range style plate?
I’ll get to that in a minute. But for now, just put yourself in that line with me. What would have been on your mind?
Frankly, what was on mine was the rumor of chili. It’s one of my favorite foods, nutritious and delicious, and one of the recipes in the sexy cookbook I’m writing.
‘Oh, I hope it has beans (and to hell with the restrictive “purity” standards of the International Chili Society). Beef or turkey, ground or chunked? Ratio of chili powder to cumin? What other flavors? Bite-sized pieces of vegetable or just flecks of color that hint at some? And what will they serve with it?’
“They” in this case were represented by the young Mexican-American man serving the chili and sides. And these were my thoughts as I ambled behind the others and felt the slight nudge of the plate belonging to the woman behind me. Distracted by the imminence of food, I nonetheless was able to make a bit of small talk with her.
“Did you ride this morning?” she asked.
We shuffled a little bit closer to the real object of our interest.
And then I was standing in front of him with my plate held slightly forward. I’m sure my lips were parted in a hopeful little smile, as my eyes met his in anticipation.
His were a deep brown. They caught and captured mine.
“I waited for you this morning,” he murmured.
The woman behind me muffled a gasp.
This morning??? He waited for ME??? Was I supposed to meet up with this hunk of manboy??? Where??? And why???
I racked my brain to remember the night before. First there was the wine reception on the patio. Pinot had flowed like horse urine. As the sun sank lower, I felt the liquid gold move languidly from the top of my mane down through my loins. Had he been the one who brought out the perfect guacamole? Did I say “Thank you” – or something more?
Then there was the hayride out to the BBQ. The sky was lit with flames of sunset, and I held the half-empty bottle between my haunches as the wagon slowly rocked us back and forth along a dirt road. Had he been our driver, hitting a rut as he turned back to give me a meaningful stare? Did I return a slight nod back to him?
The BBQ took place in a grove out in the middle of a field, under a canopy of cottonwoods. It was the night of the Harvest Moon. As we ate our tri-tip, chicken and corn, the sky turned to midnight, and the perfect orange globe moved higher through the trees. A slight breeze kicked up so that I had to put a blanket over my withers. Behind the huge iron grill were the dimly lit shadows of the cowboy cooks, the low rumble of their voices. Was he one of them back there helping to char the meat? Did I imagine it, or did he slip me an extra ear of corn?
And why did he say “this morning”? If we had a tryst, shouldn’t it have been under cover of mysterious night? The trail would have been just visible enough, the leaves turned to silver in the light of that glorious moon. When I thought I heard a woodpecker in the pine tree outside my door, was that actually him tap-tap-tapping discreetly at my stall?
Maybe his work continued long into the night. And maybe, as the sky grew light, he had climbed the hill to the broken-down barn instead of going to his bunk. There by the old pickup truck was where he thought I would be waiting for him, pawing the ground, whinnying softly. We’d unlatch the barn door, slip out of our tack, and ride to a lather on that sweet-smelling hay…
Hey! The woman behind me cleared her throat, nudging her plate a little more deeply into my flank. I turned one eye on her. She raised an eyebrow. But I could not just trot on without knowing.
Quietly I asked him, “Where did you wait for me?”
A screen door banged. He startled. In a loud voice he said, “Why, at breakfast, ma’am. I set a place for you and your sister. I asked the cook to hold the food. But you guys didn’t come.”
“Oh…yes…you’re right. These ranch hours are a little early for us, huh huh huh!” I hoped I wasn’t turning roan red as I continued to hold my plate out. He spooned me some chili, forked me some greens, and topped the meal with a huge square of corn bread. As I thanked him, I saw that his eyes were already looking to his next customer.
How I came to be there was that my sister is learning to ride and asked me to keep her company. I saw it as a getaway for some bonding, reading, writing, R&R. I was not particularly looking for a dude. And even if I were, he would not be a ranch hand half my age. (Now if Jeff Bridges had turned up, well, that might have been a different story!)
But isn’t fantasy marvelous? And isn’t it intriguing, in both an embarrassing but also a brain-teasing way, how we can imagine that we’re so on the same page with somebody else, only to find out we’re not even in the same book?
By the way, the chili had beans and was quite tasty. And even though I don’t ride, horses that is, I enjoyed my weekend at Rankin Ranch for many reasons, one of which was: Viva la dude!
In Licking the Spoon, my book in progress about food, sex and relationships, I explore the fun of fantasy for individuals and couples.