Paul Bunyan was a pal of mine, and so was Babe the great blue ox.
I met them first in a logging camp way out Minnesota way, and when the cold winds came and the heavy snows, and logging season came to a close,
me and Paul and Babe hopped on a sidewheeler riverboat and steamed on down the great Mississippi -- New Orleans bound.
And what times we had on that riverboat, drinking wine and playing faro and whist, and other games of chance! We had a whole season’s wages to play with, the three of us,
and we didn’t care if we lost or won. It was the game that mattered. The thrill of the game.
But then one day Babe seemed different. Kind of quiet and distracted like. Couldn’t concentrate on his hand, which proved a real annoyance when you had him as partner in a game of bridge.
He started losing, not just at bridge, but at whist and poker and roulette and even craps. I guess it was catching, because me and Paul started losing too. And then we lost everything -- All three of us, busted out.
Paul and Babe and me went to the bar, and Paul ordered three gallons of steam beer, backed up with three quarts of corn whiskey and three pints of mulled cider,
and after we lighted up three cigars the size of a baby’s arm Paul said, “Babe, talk to me, man. Talk to us. We’re your pals. Something’s bothering you for sure.”
Babe ordered jeroboams three of the finest fine champagne, and after we had drunk them down, he said, “Pals, I am smitten. Smitten in love with one of them cows down in the hold, one of them self-same cows bound to wind up as steaks and roasts for some New Orleans fancy eating place. Her name is Daisy, and I’m in love,
and I don’t know what the fuck to do. I was gonna buy her from the cattle merchant, but now I’ve lost every red cent I had.” “Me too,” said Paul. “So also I,” said I. “Which brings us to the question: how we gonna pay for these drinks?”
“The hell with the drinks!” said Babe. “What about my Daisy?” “Don’t you worry none about Daisy,” said Paul. “Yeah, but what about the drinks?” said I. “Don’t you worry about these drinks, neither,” said Paul. “Just leave it to me.” And he turns to the bartender. “Hey, pal, put these on my tab, will ya? I’ll take care of it later tonight.” “Sure thing, Mr. Bunyan,” says the bartender,
and Paul turns back to me and Babe and says, “Let’s go.” And he led us downstairs, down to below the decks, and on the way we couldn’t help but notice that he grabbed a fire ax from off the wall. “Paul,” I said, “what are you gonna do?”
“Yeah,” said Babe, “you’re not gonna get us in trouble, are you?” “Relax,” said Paul, and finally we got to the part of the hold where they kept all the cattle, behind a sort of wooden fence down there.
“There she is,” said Babe. “There’s my Daisy.” She was a pretty cow. Spotted black and white. She said moo.
First thing Paul did was take that ax to the fence and chop a big space through it. “Come on out, Daisy,” he said to the cow. “It’s okay.” Daisy came out and she nuzzled snouts with Babe. Then without saying a word Paul went over to the bulkhead and started chopping.
Two or three mighty chops and the mighty Mississippi came gushing into that hold.
Paul, Babe and I were among the lucky ones. We managed to swim to shore. Others were not so lucky, including the poor cow, Daisy.
Standing sopping wet on the shore, shivering, looking at the still-smoking stacks of the riverboat poking up forlornly and crookedly from the surface of the littered water in the moonlight, I had to ask, “Paul, just what were you thinking?”
“I only wanted to set Daisy free,” he said. “And besides, we had no way to pay our bar bill. I’m sorry, Babe.”
“I know you meant well, Paul,” said Babe. “At least you tried.”
For another minute we stood there, shivering, sopping wet, looking out at the dark mighty Mississippi, with those slightly less-smoking stacks
sticking up crookedly out of the sparkling surface of the water not so littered now with inanimate and formerly animate objects all drifting downstream in the moonlight -- New Orleans bound.
And then we walked off down the moonlit road, me and Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox,
in search of a warm and dry place to rest for the night, in search of new adventures.