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New American Western
Saddlebag Dispatches




Western Short Story
The Starving Ego
John Duncklee


Western Short Story

Dane Biggers had a starving ego. He had had the condition all of his adult life. It didn’t plague him because he had no idea what it was that demanded attention almost constantly; but Biggers condition bothered many who came in contact with him for one reason or another.

Born in the Great Lakes Region, Biggers left for the West at age ten because his father got transferred to Arizona. Even at that tender age, Biggers had put the cowboy on a lofty pedestal, and during Biggers’s seventies, he had never removed that cowboy from his perch. Living in Arizona gave Dane Biggers his opportunity of a lifetime to become a cowboy, the kind that he avidly read about in pulp western novels. During his teen years Biggers borrowed horses from his friends and rode in the riverbed, but he never saw a cow. He didn’t need a cow to feel like he had arrived at his goal of becoming a cowboy. He found a straw, broad brimmed hat in the river, soaked the brim in hot water and curled it up like he had seen the movie cowboys wear theirs. He never realized that cowboys bought broad brimmed hats to keep off the rain and block the hot Arizona sun, but he didn’t care. He was a cowboy. It was not long before he gained enough weight so that he had difficulty borrowing horses from his friends. Nevertheless, Dane Biggers was a sure enough cowboy because he had ridden in the dry sandy bed of the Salt River that ran through the city of Phoenix. Some called Biggers “a drug store cowboy,” coming close to the truth.

After graduating from high school he got lucky and entered the local state university where he immediately registered as a major in animal husbandry where anyone wanting to work with cattle enrolled. Dane took all of the animal courses there were except nutrition that required far more knowledge of chemistry than he would ever have. He took English X because it was a required course for those who didn’t do well on the placement test, but he missed most of the classes. He failed and had to repeat the courses three times.

Somehow he graduated. He didn’t know any more about cattle than when he had registered as a freshman. English grammar was another subject that was either totally dormant or totally missing from his realm of knowledge. However, his announcement to his friends that he was going to seek his fortune in Arkansas caused brows to wrinkle and mouths to open in questionable silence. “In ten years I’ll come back here driving a Thunderbird,” he said. Ten years later he had put a small down payment on a Ford Fairlane. Arkansas had been good to Dane Biggers.

Over his first ten years as an Arkansan, Biggers had developed an Arkansas accent in his speech that even a lifelong resident of Arkansan couldn’t match. The only term to describe that accent was ‘Phony Hick”, and it was almost unintelligible over the telephone.

He had married and many were surprised. Those who had become acquainted with Dane Biggers thought that the only woman that would ever marry him would be one who longed to take care of someone. She got him. It could have been that she thought he had tremendous potential as a radio talker about livestock that he knew little about, or it could have been his appointment to the local rodeo board of directors. Dane Biggers had the strong notion that the road to success was to get on the boards of directors of as many organizations as possible. It became Dane’s addiction. However, his principal employment became a position of chicken farm inspector. He got hired because they had noticed his degree in Agriculture from a university that had long been a teacher’s normal school. The job turned out to be perfect for Biggers because he enjoyed palavering with all the chicken farmers and telling them that he had once been a real cowboy in Arizona. He knew that the chances were quite slim that any of those in his audiences would ever make it to Arizona to substantiate anything he said.

As a member of the local rodeo board of directors, Biggers became further fascinated by rodeo than ever before. His great blunder was believing that rodeo and the life of a cowboy were one in the same. It was about that time when he remembered all of the shoot ‘em stories in the western pulp magazines and pocket books. He loved Zane Gray to the point where Gray became Bigger’s major hero of all time. Biggers decided that he would become a writer of westerns. That decision could have been as bad as moving to Arkansas after graduating from college. He had obviously forgotten or chose to neglect his lack of interest in English grammar. But, that didn’t stop Dan Biggers. Not only did he change his name to one that “sounded cowboy”, he also began writing series westerns that were all under one pen name. The stories were awful. Some editor that had once been employed by the publisher had devised the series and had written “the bible” for it. This meant that every writer hired by the editor to write one of the books for the series had to have the main character seduce four different women in each story. “Sex with a Stetson” was born. And, Sex with a Stetson could have been one reason for the demise of the “Western” in commercial American literature.

Undaunted by any slowdown in the popularity of “Traditional Westerns”, Biggers wrote his stories and finally, after buddying up with a New York editor and a new York Agent he got a couple published, qualifying him as a member of a writer organization that lived by the notion that they were the most prestigious organization anywhere. Biggers immediately saw that the writer group would be an excellent place to politick his way up their ladder to eventually become president. What he failed to realize that none of the members wanted to become president because all they wanted to do was write. However, Biggers made a plan that would allow him to reach his goal in less than twenty years.

Throughout all this period of ego feeding one must understand that Dane Biggers was and continues to be a blatant racist, stemming from his deep felt insecurity, the basis of most racism and bigotry. Like most racists Biggers never realized that it is he that is the loser in racism because he is so crippled mentally by racism he cannot expand his mind to accept and intellectually profit from races other than his own. In addition to his bigotry against blacks, Biggers held Mexicans and other Latin people in an enthusiastic contempt. He might have learned this condition while he lived in Arizona close to Phoenix, the capital of bigotry against Mexicans. But those wealthy Phoenicians within or connected to the state government look to the Mexican population for labor. This condition is clearly a remnant of southern slavery, always vehemently denied. Like most bigots, Dane Biggers is quick to deny that he is a racist and refers to himself as an American and a Christian. But, he has never written a Christian novel. Too much research involved in a Christian novel and Biggers would have to start from scratch.

Year after year Biggers attended the annual convention of the writing group. Year after year, Biggers shook hands with the members until his right hand got sore from all the crushing it took from those who believed in hearty handshakes that were becoming to cowboys used to quick-drawing their revolvers to save ladies of the night. Biggers had a number of drinks with one of the board members one evening during a convention. He was careful to not be too aggressive in asking the board member to nominate him to run for the board of directors to replace a man who had written his last book before collapsing dead in front of the Alamo.

Biggers ran unopposed and, of course, won a seat on the board of directors. He was constantly mindful that he should not rock the boat even when he disagreed with any decisions that came before the board. The next huge step in the plan arrived while having a conversation about the dying Western with an old time member who was serving his third stint on the board. Biggers convinced the old timer that the group would improve greatly if he, Biggers, were vice president with his new ideas on membership qualifications.

Bigger’s only opponent was a new member. The opponents name was not familiar to most members who are infrequent conventioneers so Biggers became vice president. He gave out a long sigh upon reaching his long sought after goal because according to the organization’s constitution the vice president, after serving a two-year term, became president. Biggers was happy about that article in the constitution. He could relax at conventions and he had never heard of many tasks given the vice president. But, even becoming vice president of the writer’s group could not fill his still starving ego. Somewhere, along the way, he had become acquainted with a small independent publisher. It must be remembered that Biggers still wrote four sex with a Stetson series novels every year, but the teeth of his ego jaws still gnawed at his psyche. While somewhat basking with his new title, Biggers rummaged around for new awards to finagle, much to the consternation of his fellow writers who were thoroughly convinced that Biggers’ awards for writing were totally unwarranted. However, those doing the awarding were perhaps unaware that Biggers becoming their recipient, diminished the award’s credibility considerably. This was especially true when a non-fiction magazine named him best living western writer. Biggers never wrote non-fiction. Rumors flew that since that magazine depended on their readers to vote, Biggers might have sent in enough ballots, voting for himself, to garner the award. All this further convinced a lot of people that awards are always a “crap-shoot”.

When Biggers announced that he had become an editor for the small independent publisher, eyes rolled at the thought that Dane Biggers, a writer needing an editor far more than most, had, indeed, become an editor. Biggers’ original plan had not included becoming an editor, it was something that his ego had tossed into the neurotic pot for consideration when stirred.

Time will tell the possible bitter truth that Biggers, as president, might spell the death knell of the writer group, but there is one ray of positive thought streaming through the morass of negativity. With the advent of electronic books and magazines, Biggers’ creations of sex with a Stetson will no longer use up any more trees.