I love it when the world tells you just what book you need to read next. Two weeks back, after a day of lakeside watercolor painting in April sun, I settled happily into my seat on the bus home from Burlington. The bus got crowded at the next stop, and I moved my pack to make room for a well-muscled, sun-burned guy of about thirty. He wore faded jeans and a gray tank shirt, had pierced lips and nose, and carried a large duffle bag.( I know, you are maybe thinking Queequeg here, but that’s not where I’m going with this.)
We exchanged quick hellos. I went back to writing in my journal. Before much time had passed, I heard the pop and hiss of a can opening, and then got a waft of modern, hoppy micro-brew beer. When I happened to glance his way a bit later, I saw that he was reading an old book in what looked like a hand-tooled leather cover embossed with gilt letters in an old west -style font.
I couldn’t help but ask him about it, and he seemed glad to show me: A TEXAS COWBOY,OR FIFTEEN YEARS ON THE HURRICANE DECK OF A SPANISH PONY, By Charlie Siringo.
I knew I had come across that name, and recently at that, but I couldn't quite place it. The young guy and I had a short conversation-- he was friendly but taciturn- on subjects ranging from country music to racist language in old books, and then on to dairy farming ( “I’ll tell you,” he said, “It”s not bad work, but I think the state of Vermont should maybe not romanticize it quite so much. Puts a lot of bad stuff in the lake..”)
When the passengers thinned out, he moved to a free seat. I went back to my journaling. I wrote the name “Siringo” in a margin.
Later that evening at home, I picked up a book I had just finished reading, “Ranger Doug” Green’s SINGING IN THE SADDLE, the definitive study of singing cowboys. I was pretty sure that’s where I’d recently come across the name of Charles Siringo I checked the index. Yep. I found the pages referenced and got the jist: Siringo had been a cowboy, a Pinkerton detective, and a New Mexico Ranger. His 1885 autobiography was likely the first book to mention a cowboy singing in the saddle…
I jumped onto my laptop and placed an Inter-Library Loan request.
I would have read Siringo eventually, I’m pretty sure. But a beer-drinking stranger on a bus made sure that I got around to it sooner than later.