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"To see you."
The crowd laughs politely.
There are two kinds of rodeo clowns: One performs a routine, often with animals; the other makes sure that the bull riders don't get themselves killed. He is called a bullfighter, and rodeo cowboys believe these superbly conditioned athletes are the greatest bullfighters in the world. But the public and the media continue to refer to them as rodeo clowns.
Leon Coffee is of the second category. He's 6 feet even and weighs 170 pounds, and in 1983, American Cowboy magazine named him Pro Rodeo Clown of the Year. Coffee is the only black rodeo clown on the circuit. He's already 29, and in this demanding profession, he's got only six or seven years left at most.
I know, because I used to be a bull rider myself for more years than I care to remember. Earlier, I'd been with Coffee in his motel room when he was putting on his work clothes. Surrounding him, even at that late moment, were bull riders who were still seeking his advice about the bulls they'd drawn that night.
The best experts in the game have said that Coffee has a "headful of bull sense." In other words, he knows what that bull is going to do before the bull knows. And that's why he's alive today.
"Leon, I've drawed 747 tonight. Brindle bull. What do you think?"
Coffee is sitting in front of a mirror putting on his greasepaint. He says: "Bull is going to come out, make one jump to the right, then cut back to the left and begin to spin. Depends on what chute they run him into. I'll speak to the arena manager and try to get him into a middle chute."
"Leon, I got old 44 tonight."
This is from Bobby Del Vecchio, a cowboy from Bronx, N.Y.