Russ Ringsak

Skink & Bull

November 19, 2007

A friend told me that when he was a kid in South Saint Paul they lived on the bluff overlooking the significant meatpacking plants and the vast historic cattle pens on the Mississippi River flat below. He and his pals climbed all over those bluffs and in warm weather they'd catch skinks. I said we didn't have skinks in my boyhood woods in North Dakota. He said they were long skinny lizards and when they'd get scared they'd drop their tails and take off. They'd grow a new one later. About half the skinks they found had ejected their old tail and were working on rebuilding.

I like that word skink. It sounds like what it is, a nervous critter that crawls on its belly and eats bugs. You can change the vowel and get other deprecating names, like skunk and skank. Skonk would pass for a another pronunciation of skunk, but even more moreso. I would offer a new word, 'skenk,' as an obnoxious person who disagrees with one's own strong opinion on something. And 'Skynk' might pass for a mythological waterway in a poem: the River Skynk, which would disappear off into the grey mists of the great unknowable and from which there would be no return.

One cannot but notice the similarity of the easily frightened skink dropping its tail to the politician dropping their position in the face of a little heat. Read the latest poll, drop tail. Grow a different one. Be a skink.

It could be verbed, as in "the senator skinked out on that one, big time." And it has more punch than the word chameleon, which has overtones of cleverness and even beauty. Skink puts it into the proper aesthetic mode. Drop tail and run.

Somebody you just can't stand might fit them all: "That no-good skenk is a skanky skunk, and a skink on top of it, and they're gonna end up floating down the River Skynk, is all I hope."

* * * *
Speaking of word play, I used 'double entendre' recently and wondered if there isn't a seldom used plain old single entendre. Checked my forty-pound Random House and entendre isn't in there in any form except when it's double. They apparently exist only in pairs, the entendres. It's like quantum mechanics maybe, where there's always this matching opposite particle out there somewhere.

But I figured it's more likely to be one of those fashionable French derivatives, like faux pas. And it is. The computer translator tells me 'pour entendre' is 'to hear,' not the expected 'to understand,' so a double entendre would be to hear it twice but the second time wouldn't be an echo. It'd just mean something other than the first one. I was happy to get that cleared up.

* * * *
A couple of months ago, September 17th to be precise, the Peruvian radio station RPP reported a "fetid mystery meteorite" had struck near a remote southern village in the Andes mountains near the Bolivian border. It left a hole a hundred feet across and twenty feet deep and it smelled so bad residents got headaches and began vomiting. Seven policemen sent to the scene got sick and had to be given oxygen. Boiling water came out of the crater. And that was it. Never saw or heard another word about it. An amazing event like that. But the term 'fetid mystery meteorite' is lyrical, and The Fetid Mystery might be usable as a name for a very now pop band. (We stink and we don't know why.)

About that same time a dead guy in Venezuela named Carlos Camejo woke up on the autopsy table when they started to slice his face. He'd been in a car accident and they just hauled him straight to the morgue and, one presumes, put the tag on the toe. The pain of the knife woke him up. In the photo taken after his release from the morgue he looks to be in pretty good shape except for the knife cut on his face. And he looks kinda ticked off about it.

Back here in Portland Oregon a young rattlesnake hobbyist named Matt Wilkinson put the head of his pet diamondback in his mouth. He said it felt like getting a shot in there; his tongue swelled immediately and filled his mouth like a little weather balloon, entirely cutting off his breathing. His nose bled and his arm went dead. They were able to get him to a hospital and sliced a breathing tube into his trachea within the seven minutes he had to live; he was put into a three day medical coma and they managed to neutralize the venom, of which he said he "had enough of to kill 12 or 15 people."

He had owned three diamondbacks and had trusted them, saying they were more afraid of you than the other way around. A few beers with friends had preceded the episode, which might explain a lot. And now after all the excitement he just has one snake, a nice bull snake that probably wouldn't bite anybody at all. And if he did it wouldn't instantly bring someone to within seven minutes of meeting the Grim Reaper.

* * * *
In a new scientific breakthrough, last month researchers at New York University claim to have found optimism. It's in the rostral anterior cingulate in your brain's frontal cortex and in the amygdala, which is in the medial temporal lobe. For those of you who know where these zones are, having an optimistic thought will light them up on the screen of the sophisticated brain imaging rigs they have now.

The catch is that these same areas seem to also be the wellsprings of depression and pessimism. So it won't necessarily bring you an optimistic rush if you try to tweak the old amygdala with an icepick. You might just make yourself more pessimistic. Or more depressed. Or worse. You could shut the lights out altogether.

* * * *

So anyway, the skinks were more interesting to my friend Tony than were the thousands of smelly cattle milling around down there in the beat-up old wooden corrals of the stockyards. But a friend from North Dakota named Karen told me a story of a ceremony that took place back there this last summer. A retired rodeo bull named Little Yellow Jacket was inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora, the first living animal to be so honored and the most famous. He's a cross between a Brahman and an Angus, weighs 1800 pounds, and was the world champion for three years in a row before retiring in 2005.

Top riders said he was the best ever and when he was on his game he simply couldn't be ridden. He was quick and agile and had a lifetime 85 percent buck-off rate; the average rider lasted but 2.7 seconds on him. In a dramatic one-time event in 2003 a Professional Bull Riders champion named Chris Shivers was offered a million dollars to stay on Little Yellow Jacket for 8 seconds. That highly publicized ride lasted 1.8 seconds and Chris had to settle for a $50,000 consolation check.

She said he was showman, that bull. He'd stop and snort at the crowd with the cowboy lying in the dirt behind him, tossing his horns and taking his time circling the ring, soaking up the applause. Before the bell he never kicked or threw himself around in the chute but would stand calm until the gate opened, and then he'd simply explode. She said he seldom went after the fallen rider. Shivers said, "He just really wants to win, you can see it in his eyes. He has this desire to win and he seems to understand what it's about."

LYJ is now spending his retirement on a ranch south of Mandan, where his owner says he misses show business. He starts bawling when the trailer comes to load the younger bulls for the rodeo.

No skink ever had such a career. 'Tis a far more noble exercise to come busting out of the chute bucking and kicking than it is to drop one's tail and run. And of course it could also help to be huge.

* * * *
If you are wondering how all these stories are tied together, I would say don't spend too much time on that. I don't know myself other than they all happened in 2007 and the world is a very interesting place. But if you do find a hidden connection, I'd like to hear what it is.

© R.Ringsak 2007

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