In the cool of the morning, low-hanging lights brighten the arena spread with fresh sawdust. Hours later our ears are ringing with the eternal tide of the auctioneer’s voice, and flies are slow in the heavy heat. Throats and eyes feel the sting of air acid and sweet, rising strong from darkened sawdust, scuffed and moist with the manure of hundreds of cows, horses and sheep, pigs and goats, and – this morning – an African zebu.
Most of the buyers sit near the ring in broken auditorium seats, buying fat calves and long-sided pigs and horses with skittery eyes with a nod of the head or flick of fingers, downing hot dogs, lukewarm fries from greasy little paper bags, and cheap coffee in flimsy foam cups.
Men big or thin, pot-bellied, hunched, in suspenders or overalls, or skinny jeans showing wallets and cans of chew wearing holes in their back pockets. Men in baseball caps, flat Australian hats, curved cowboy hats with brims and crowns bent into peculiar shapes. Men in dim plaid shirts, collars slick and gray with sweat, or old, stretched tee shirts advertising beer or beef (It’s What’s For Dinner).
And the man with one leg shorter than the other always leans on the gate to the arena, pointing out bids to the auctioneer among the red lights of cigarettes tips.