I once had an existential crisis at a chuck wagon dinner and show in South Dakota.
If you’ve never had the pure joy of being on a such a dinner, then hold on to your tits Betsy, because I am about to shake the foundations of everything you consider fun. You pay some dickhole $40 per person to sit in a Home Depot Conestoga. There’s usually some cowboy tomfoolery, possibly a shootout in which, disappointingly, no one dies, and then you eat the shittiest food you can possibly imagine while people from Ohio make-believe John Wayne. If you pay $50, you get to eat around a Duralog campfire while swatting away grasshoppers and feelings of wanton despair.
I hate it so much.
We had already been on three other chuck wagon dinners in 3 other states, each one more kitschy than the last. This one promised to be different because they advertised that it was the location where they filmed Dances With Wolves, Grace’s favorite movie. Filled with visions of tatonka and movie sets, we paid Union Soldier Private Ance-Prone, and he mumbled while pointing at a rickety shack. Upon entering said shanty, we noticed 50 midwesterners wildly photographing a post-it note scotch taped to the floor. On this note was scrawled, in a couple of pens that were nearing the end of their existences, “Kevin Costner Stood Here Once.”
The hate began to rise in my 12-year-old heart.
It was the room where they filmed one 9-second scene, filled with no other indication of its movie history. I was done, and no one had called me ‘lily-livered’ for not wanting to eat any cornbread yet.
“Fuck this place,” I whispered, and Grace stared me down.
“Just smile and deal with it.”
“This is some bullshit, and you know it.”
She was silent–she did know it. It was bullshit, and it was only going to get worse. We were herded into a waferboard prairie schooner (because realism, you guys) by a recently-immigrated nebulously-asian cowboy, who insisted we were going to have a, “rootin’ tootin’ cowboy shootin’ good time.”
Lies, across the board.
Pulled by one mangy fucking donkey and what I suspect was a massively deformed camel, the Triumph Of The Prairies drove us proudly across the parking lot to the Wild Ass Saloon and Hate Buffet. At the head of the buffet line, we were handed a very thin metal plate and cup and were told to move quickly through the line. To save time, I immediately placed my cup on my plate, and a hair-netted she-beast ripped it right back off.
“YER PLATE WILL BE TER FULL TER PUT YER CUP ON.”
Not one second after my tender pre-pubescent hands had wrapped back around the cup, the She-Beast dumped a ladle full of searing hot beans into it. Into a handle-less metal cup. At the beginning of the line.
“MOTHERFUCKER! IT SEARED OFF MY HANDPRINT.” I shouted, no longer giving any fucks who heard me. My mom, who under normal circumstances would have beat me to death for that, just shook her head in solidarity.
“These beans are HOT,” I shouted at the She-Beast.
“Yeah. Ther beans, what der yer expect?”
“Not to put them in A METAL CUP?”
“KEEP THER LINE MERVIN’.”
My metal plate was soon filled with corn, ‘brisket’, hot-ass apple cobbler, and corn bread (“SHE AIN’T NO REAL COWBOY IF SHE DON’T EAT NO CORNBREAD.”) The cup of lava beans burned through all layers of my skin and were now charring bone. At the end of the line, Ernie Oakley hatefully shook a cup of lemonade at me.
“How exactly am I supposed to carry that?”
That bitch shoved the cup right on top of my beans, which sent the still-on-fire beans overflowing to my hand, mimicking the fountain of disbelief in my soul.
It was then that I started to laugh, because in the deepest parts of despair, that’s all I know how to do. What the fuck was even happening? I wasn’t convinced that these people were even real anymore, because no one was capable of niceness or forethought or even a production that might hint towards being Western in any way.
As I burned my digestive tract on those goddamn beans, a cowboy approached us with a microphone. He shoved it in Grace’s face and asked her to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and was not pleased when she called him and did. He then turned to me, hoping to catch some yokel in embarrassment, and demanded I sing, “Git along little dogies.” I stared him down like a cornered wolf for an uncomfortable amount of time, daring him to keep asking me.
“What’s wrong, little lady? Prairie Dog got yer tongue?”
Alright, fuck this noise.
I shoved my maimed hand into his microphone, which slammed delightfully into his lopsided-moustache face and rang out my rage to the entire banquet hall. I stormed out indignantly and sat on the porch of the Wild Ass Saloon. My mom strolled out to make sure I wasn’t planning to run away to California for gold/drowning myself in the ocean.
“He’s going to make us stay to watch the show.”
“I know. I don’t care. I refuse to go back in and make those bastards think this is okay.”
“Are your hands okay?”
“No. But if you need me to rob a bank or murder someone soon, let me know, because I’ll never have fingerprints again.”
“Well, at least you’re looking on the bright side.” She left me to stew in my own rage.
South Dakota had already been a smorgasbord of utter terribleness, and now we were there eating magma, being harangued by Michael Landon Fanboys while high school drama rejects sad astride sawhorses and sang, “Rawhide.” My entire childhood was nicely summed up by this experience: forced, uncomfortable and usually western-themed fun had only by my stepdad, and the rest of the family using sarcasm as a defense mechanism to fend off the awfulness.
I’ve never felt more further from faith than this moment. Surely all of the events that led up to this were punishment for some deed that wronged Jesus. Is this what happens to people who, while dressed as presents for the Church Christmas Pageant, slam into the baptismal font and shout, “GODDAMNIT” in front of their pastors?
I pondered my hate and regret for everything that had apparently led to this night when the truth dawned on me.
This was all Kevin Costner’s fault. Kevin Costner was the reason we were here, the reason I was burned, the reason why everything that had gone wrong in my life. He was a terrible actor and a giant asshat, and oh how I wish he was here for me to whip beans at while shouting, “YER BEANS ARE HOT.” Kevin Costner was the source of all bad things in the universe. Kevin Costner was my Satan. I felt a little lighter then, throwing anything I could pick up towards the shanty, cursing the name of Costner.
I never let go of that hate. To this day, whenever anything goes wrong, I blame Kevin Costner.
What an asshole.
Who do you blame when things go wrong?– Favorite Comment From The Last Post: From Carrie: “Not so much wondering about fictional people, more like projecting personalities on objects. For example, whenever I take an egg from the carton I imagine all the other eggs saying “Oh no, not Larry! There goes another good egg. Wonder who will be next?” Weird, I know.”