Divining Over Biscuits at the Flying Bull Ranch
Art will tell you: the dinner bell rings at 7:30 sharp, and if you don’t haul ass to the buffet, consider yourself screwed. You will get the roast beef’s crusty edges and the bottom-of-the-barrel pinto beans, which will be mostly beanwater and a few floaters. Art will tell you: put your phone away because you won’t get any reception out here and no one is going to call you anyway.
Art is head of the Chuckwagon dinner here at the Flying Bull Ranch (but don’t call him Cookie or Hopalong, or you won’t get any butter for your potato). The Flying Bull is one of those fake western towns where you can play horseshoes and learn how to pan for gold. There’s a gunfight nightly where the Sheriff (cheers and applause!) most always wins, and there are troubadours that sing cowboy songs and tell bad jokes. But Art knows what folks really come here for: the food. They show up early and watch him cut out biscuits with the lid from a jelly jar. They wipe their mouths when they get a face full of smoke from the pit barbecue.
Sometimes Art will look up from his biscuitmaking and say: heed my warning. (He tells fortunes while he cooks. This was not a job requirement. From what we can tell, he’s right about half the time.) He’ll say: that job you looked at is coming through. He’ll say: your husband is doing that thing you hoped he wasn’t; a great gift will arrive in the mail. Some folks enjoy this; some don’t. Most don’t pay him any mind. Just another old nut, they figure.
Art makes the chunky applesauce by hand, crushing the cooked apples with an old potato masher. He adds a secret ingredient from a ceramic bowl marked “Secret Ingredient” (we’re pretty sure it’s Allspice), then winks at anyone who might be watching. He hauls the applesauce to the buffet and then marches outside and rings the bell. He’ll tell you: you want to be at the front of the line, that way you can get seconds on the applesauce.
When everyone is fed and settled in to watch the Flying Bull Band, Art sits in a rocking chair out back and he rocks and smokes. He looks toward the west and rubs his jaw. Art tells you he can feel the rain coming even when it’s a day away. He says he can feel it in his teeth, and in the holes where his teeth were once. He walks out to the middle of the fake road, holding his jaw, staring out toward the horizon.
Art will tell you: there’s a big storm coming. And you’ll believe him, even though he’s only ever right about half the time.