[an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Stealing of the Cows

Written 1/23/2006

By Bryan A. Thompson  



Authors Note:  This is the story of my Senior Year at Grandview High.  I decided to write it after finding the portrait while I was cleaning up the garage, over 16 years later.  Enjoy.







Bryan's Homecoming


It was a tradition that the juniors at our school stole the big fiberglass cow from the Golden Corral up the street, and he made an appearance at the Graduation that year, then they took him back.  I just got my first video camera, and so I decided to do a documentary on "The Stealing of the Cow". 


It was *so* cool!  It really was stolen.  They had to get bolt cutters and break the lock, then find some hick with a tractor (this was a suburb of KC, so that was a chore).  He drove it to school that day, so they had to pay him like $500 to get him to do it and put up with the humiliation for the next year.  The night before graduation we all load into a car and meet the tractor guy at the Golden corral about 2 miles away.  So we hitch it up and are towing it down the road, past the police station, and all these Grandview townies are coming out to meet us.  They're all cheering and throwing stuff at us.  Turns out that there was an article in the paper the day before, and they all know when we're doing it.  No one seems to mind that 20 drunk high school kids are riding on the big stolen cow driving down the road at 2MPH.  I'm filming all this and laughing my ass off. 


So we get to the school, and these 20 drunk idiots with a tractor and a stolen cow decide to take it up to the top of the school so he can overlook the procession.  OK, they may have had some help coming up with that thought, but nevertheless that's what was decided.  How do you get a 16ft cow up to the roof of the school?  Freight elevator, that's how.  They had to unbolt it from the trailer that it was on to get it in the elevator.  So I've got this great video of them trying to shove the cow up into the elevator then go up with it to pull it back out before it comes back down again.  So they're piled two and three deep, and I'm on top of the cow, filming 20 idiots and a 2 ton giant cow riding in an elevator marked 2 ton capacity. 


We get to the top and drag it out of the elevator.  They start pushing it over to the edge of the building overlooking the football field where graduation was going to happen, but they forget he's not on wheels any more.  So his front legs bust off and he nose dives into the gravel roof.  They thought about it and talked it over for a while and the general consensus was "Oh, shit!"  So they needed some way to hold up his head, which was really the only part you could see from the field anyway. So they carry it over and prop his chin on the wall that borders the roof.  His back feet are still OK, problem solved.  Except the back feet break off instantly from holding all of his weight.  More discussion, again, "Oh, shit!".  Bryan the engineer to the rescue:  “No problem, no one will be able to see the legs.  We still have a whole day, we'll get some 2x4s and build a frame.”  "Yeah!"  Everyone stumbles off into the night, drunk and stupid. 


I gave them the idea, so of course they all show up at my place the next day about noon (5 hrs before) with a truckload load of 2x4s and want my help.  OK, sure - just build a frame under the cow.  "Yeah!"  They all leave.  About an hour later, they come back with the well thought out question, "How?"  Idiots.  OK, I'll go with you.


We get the 2x4s to the top of the roof, and I ask for nails and a hammer.  "Oh, shit!"  Everyone piles into the bed of the truck and we go to the Midland True Value hardware store and buy some nails and hammers (to speed things up), then get back in the truck and drive half way back to the school before I think to ask about a saw.  "Oh, shit!"  Back to the Midland True Value hardware store we go.  After taking up a collection, we buy a saw and a measuring tape and head back to the school.  I start measuring boards and telling idiots where to cut, then what to nail together.  Before long we have an artificial platform for the cow.  Why don't you go ahead and set the cow up on it now?  "Because he has to make an appearance!"   Whatever, idiot.  I have to go down on the field and get set up.  They send a guy down to look at it and see if he's angled right. 


Turns out he wasn't, but they're running out of time.  So the first half of graduation we all hear construction noise up on the roof.  The spotlight guy keeps panning up to where the cow should be, but he's not there.  Then a couple of the guys doing construction come back down and tell me they've "propped him up some more" so he'll be visible from the field when he "makes his appearance".  It was the 80s, and everyone knew about being fashionably late and the importance of making an appearance, so I didn't question it too much.  Instead I asked why they thought they weren't going to have to help lift the cow up, because he wasn't going to make an appearance all on his own?  They looked at each other for a minute then decided that their part of the cow was the busted off legs, and just sat there.  Idiots. 


So then about midway through the second half of graduation, another idiot comes down from the mountain (roof) and signals the band director.  The band interrupts and starts doing a fanfare for the big cow.  The spotlight pans over to the spot where he's going to make his appearance.  We hear grunting and heaving noises.  A head appears - they're pushing him up onto his artificial leg base!  It's working!  More of him appears!  We see the stumps where his front legs used to be.  Someone painted them blood red!  Well, that's the only original thought they had, so I congratulate them.  The crowd recoils in horror - somebody cut off the big cow's legs.  What the hell?  More of him appears.  They're still pushing him from the back trying to get him to flop down on the base so that he can sit there and watch graduation, but there aren't enough of them to lift the cow at that point.  So they're struggling and struggling with him for like 5 minutes, and everyone's just sitting there silent (the band had stopped playing) except for the three idiots that were in on the theft that are down in the crowd.  And no, they don't go up and help yet.  Instead they start yelling, "Wooooooooh!  Yeah!  Come on, Billy Ray - get tough!" 


Then one of them up on the roof gets the idea and starts running at the back of it and tackling it, trying to give it a final shove to get it up on the platform.  We down on the field hear the grunting and the thuds.  But we can't see the guy.  All we see and hear is the grunt and the thud, and then the cow's head go up in the air and then back down again.  Three or four times they do this.  So it's like some hick is back behind the cow doing unnatural things to it.  So now the crowd is laughing at the hick doing the amputee cow up on the roof of the school.  I go over to the three idiots sitting on the field and kick their chairs out from under them and make them go up and help the idiots on the roof.  They go, apparently because I'm the smart one in the group.  The idiots on top of the roof are still humping the cow.


So the field idiots get to the top of the roof, and they take the cow back down to get a grip on him.   One of them runs over to the edge to give the thumbs-up and the band starts playing again.  After a minute or so, the cows head appears again and they get it up on the platform.  But his head drops down and he starts sliding on the modified legs!  This legless cow slides down the ramp, over the edge, and plunges four floors to his death!  As if on queue, the band starts playing "Taps" to mourn the death of the cow.  It was udderly destroyed. 


At which point the principal, entire male faculty and the football team, who take this as some sort of football-player-doing-a-cow insult *all* start rushing from the ceremony to the top of the school.  Uh oh - didn't see that coming.  I keep filming this whole thing just in case any of the juniors slides down the ramp and the evidence was needed at trial.  About a minute later, the mob reaches the top of the school, runs around for a while, then someone yells, "They're gone!"  Just then this big white pickup truck that no one has seen before goes tearing out of the parking lot and plays "Dixie" on the horn as it's leaving.  No one chases it - they all come back to the graduation.  Afterward I got grilled for several hours because someone said they saw me riding on the cow the night before (they didn't - I was filming from the hood of a VW following the cow), but I didn't have the tapes of who did it on me (they were in my car) so no one ever found out who did in the cow. 


Apparently no one else talked, either.  It came out that the school knew that the theft was going to happen (they were the ones that tipped the paper) and didn't do anything about it, so they ended up getting stuck with the bill for the cow.  It came to like $1600.  Well, money doesn't grow on trees, so they decided to make up for it by eliminating Senior Homecoming.  Not only did I not get to go to my Senior Homecoming, but I never got to go back to that Golden Corral.  It went out of business before the end of the year. 


No problem.  I’ll still be able to go to Prom.  Right?





Bryan's Senior Prom


Stacey Pennington was by far the *hottest* chick in my Senior class and by all accounts a Total Fox.  She was short for her height, and had long, straight brown hair and green eyes, a deep sexy voice,  a cute little butt and the perkiest little…  God, she was beautiful!  We met in Senior Art class – she sat at my table.  I graduated early, so she was a year older than I was.  We hung out at Joe’s place after school for a few months, then a rotating group of about six of us started doing stuff on weekends.  One day in Senior Art she decided that she was tired of waiting for me to make a move, and took off her shoes and started playing footsie with me, at which point I spit my Coke all over my drawing.  All her friends knew what was going on and start laughing, and of course all of the guys are clueless.  What the ?  I hadn’t figured out at this point in life that chicks talk. 


This week we were drawing portraits of each other.  It was the last class of the day and the teacher was a drunk and didn't pay much attention anyway.  So we're using the enlarger in the storeroom to do the portrait enlargement, and of course it had to be dark.  We finish the trivial assignment in like five minutes, as usual.


So apparently she decided this was the day.  It was near the end of the school year, and this was something we'd joked about every day for the last six months.  Did I mention it was dark back there?  This is how I remember the conversation going:  “Want to?”  “Hell yeah.”  “Over there.”  There was this couch in the storeroom.  We tossed a drop cloth over it and proceeded to get to know each other a little bit better.  It was really dark.  Neither of us had a watch, but it’d only been 10 minutes or so, and apparently she told her friends to cover for us and keep everyone else out.  And it was really dark, and we’re snuggling on the couch forever.


And then there was some light.  Even when the word was out, there was always someone wandering in and out.  “Nice!” I whisper.  “You think so?”  “Yeah, they’re incredible.”  “You don’t think they’re too small?  I think they’re too small.”  “No, I love how perky they are.”  “Thanks, babe!”  We were almost busted and we’re carrying on a conversation about her body.  Which was totally worth it.  Then we smelled the alcohol.  The drunk stumbles back to the back of the storeroom where the couch was and pulls the light chain.  “Uh oh.” 


Drunk Billy starts screaming something about class being over an hour ago (whoops) and that he wants to go home and watch “Win, Lose or Draw!”, and that he’s known Stacey for 15 years and how disappointed he was.  Stacey starts yelling something back about the drunk being a perv and that he was probably jealous that it was me that got into her panties instead of Drunk Billy.  Surprise of surprises, that didn’t help our situation.  Drunk Billy gets all pissed and stumbles down the hall and tells her dad, who just happens to be the football coach at Grandview High.  By the time they got back to the art room we were *way gone*.  Everyone knew he was a drunk, he was Drunk Billy for God’s Sake.  No one could prove anything, so we didn't get killed, but her dad wouldn't let her go to the Prom, either. 


The drunk wasn’t about to flunk her because of her dad working there, and apparently word got back to the drunk that I’d better come out of there with a good grade, too, because I got an ‘A’ for the year.


God, she was beautiful!





Bryan’s Graduation


No, the story doesn't end with the prom.  Golden Corral had gone out of business because it took so long to get their money from the school that they didn't have any advertising, and therefore no business.  I think the image of the cow with bloody stumps and "Golden Corral" painted on the side of it may have put some of the younger families off their collective appetites, and that only added to the problems.  There was no cow to steal, and even if there were, there would be no way to make an appearance at the school after what happened last year.  I decided that the problem with last year was the idiots responsible for organizing and executing the plan.  That wasn't going to happen again. 


Remember those advertising balloons - those things that car dealerships used to fly hundreds feet high to get you into the stores for a test drive?  Well, about 3 months before graduation I happened to see an ad on TV for one that was way out in the middle of nowhere - and get this - they had a 10ft tall cow balloon to make fun of themselves being out in the middle of nowhere!  So I start talking to some of the more delinquent juniors at lunch, planting the idea in their minds, and got one of them to lie and pretend he was the ringleader organizing this whole thing.  I remind them that there won't be a cow this year and that "we" have to do something about it. 


So one night they go "borrow" this thing and hide it for the next three months till graduation.  Meanwhile we have to find enough Helium to fill it so it'll float, because we don't have access to the roof, which is at this point well guarded.  Helium costs big money, even in 1988.  The thugs in the juniors’ crowd start collecting money, mostly from the underclassmen.  The official reason was that "It's for graduation."  Everyone knew, and they ended up collecting over a thousand dollars in 1988 money. 


Stacey sees me organizing this stunt and decided that it would be funny if the cow is the ghost of the cow that plunged to its death last year.  She repaints this huge cow all white, glues her legs back and paints the stumps red, sews up some wings and a harp and halo, and paints "RIP Golden Corral" on one side and "Headed To The Golden Corral In The Sky" on the other side.  


For his entrance we planned to have him "make his appearance" by flying in from behind the crowd to take everyone by surprise.  The juniors took up a collection and bought some radio controls used for model airplanes.  He talked on the cow's channel and it came out the bullhorn on the cow.  One of my friends that went on to Rolla to become an aeronautical engineer built the cow controls.  We weighted him down with sandbags and we tested him several times.  She flew pretty well for being a cow with wings.  He could go up and down and forward and turn.  She was really slow, but most importantly, almost silent.  Someone decided that it'd be funny if the cow could talk, so they get a bull horn and hook it up to an old CB left over from the days of "Smokey and the Bandit". 


The plan was that my aeronautical engineer friend would pilot her, and one of the juniors - the one that actually went to drama class and did improv - would be the voice of the cow.  We staged him out in the woods behind the school and left a junior out with him so that he untie the balloon at the right time and tow it in most of the way and then run.





May 26th, 1988 - Graduation Day


Graduation day was here.  Final preparations were made by the juniors and the flying ghost of the Golden Corral cow was stashed.  I went to the mall and got a suit and tie - something I decidedly did not own until this day.  Then I went to The Barbery in Waldo and got a haircut from my new barber, Dennis Shoemaker.  As he always promises, "Guaranteed to get me laid."  Then I went to Gates "Hi, may I hep you?" BBQ and got some food for the family. 


Graduation didn't start till 7pm so I went to see the preparations.  Joe's little brother was rehearsing the Ghost Cow script.  The plan was for him to make his appearance late (as common decency in the late 80s dictated), then to fly in before the first half ended, then to remain silent for a while, then go into his act during commencement speeches, be as obnoxious as possible for as long as possible.  Then he had to make an exit before the ceremony was over - you see it was just as important to be seen leaving the party early as it was to arrive late.  “Everything's OK?”  “Cool.”  “Peace, Dog.”


The planning is done, and I'm now just a spectator.  So I go home, get dressed and head back to graduation.  I called all my friends to find out when they're going, but no one was home.  Apparently I was the only one not out trying to score some beer for afterward.  So I went to pick up Stacey.  I got there about two hours before graduation started.  And waited.  And waited. I'll be right out.  And waited.  Thankfully her dad wasn't home or I'd have waited outside.  Then she made her appearance.  She looked beautiful.  She always did, but even more so today.  Since we didn't go to Homecoming or Prom, this was the first time that I'd seen her in formal wear and with her hair up.  "Oh my God I want you!"  From a back room we hear her mom yell "Keep your hands off her!”  “Mom!”  <pause>  “You’ll mess up her dress!  Wait till afterward."  "Coolest mom ever," I think.


Stacey was the last to arrive as everyone knew she was the reigning coolest chick in school.  If it weren't for her I wouldn't even know about how cool it was to arrive late and leave early.  I didn't recognize anyone.  It turns out that when everyone is dressed in graduation caps and gowns, it’s pretty hard to tell your friends apart from any other pack of idiots.  Then I saw Joe and his sister (see Bryan's story "Picking up Chicks With Your Grandmother" for more info), and then the other Joe and Tim, more guys I knew peripherally.  I spotted Joe's brother Jeff in the crowd alongside the cow pilot and wondered if they were going to move before the show started.  I was worried that the crowd of grandmothers would turn on them if they were discovered. 


You know the grandmothers.  At Halloween they're the ones that give dimes instead of candy, or else put a sticky-ass popcorn ball in the kids sack that ended up sticking everything inside the bag to the inside of the bag.  And in those days there were no plastic Walmart bags - oh no - the bags were paper.  And when they got wet, the bottom fell out and emptied the contents of the bag into the pile of gravel alongside the road - upside down for maximum damage.  But that didn't matter, because how often did it rain on Halloween?  Freaking always, that's how often.


Graduation starts.  Some stuff was said that I don't really remember.  Whatever it was I'm sure it was designed to make everyone forget if only for a little while.  They knew that they hadn't done a damn thing to prepare us for the real world, and just wanted to get us the hell out of there before any of us figured that out. 


Just before the first half ended, the speaker stops mid-sentence and it gets real quiet.  Then the band strikes up “It's A Hot Town In The Old Town Tonight”, which I guess was the only cow song they could think of.  Everyone is looking up at the roof of the building where the cow usually appears.  The spotlight guy is searching for her.  Just then a kid in the bleachers screams, “Cow!”  And there she is, hovering about twenty feet over the field.  It was a total surprise, and the crowd goes wild!


Since they were looking the wrong way when it appeared, I think that most of the people didn’t realize that it moved.  We were lucky – there was practically no wind and it hovered perfectly over the field.  No one seemed to want to do anything about it, so we waited for a while.


Then it was time for surprise #2.  The cow started spinning slowly around in circles.  More cheers.  More meaningless speeches by people we’d never seen before that day.  I snuck down and kissed Stacey.  “Get back to your seat!” someone screamed.   “Tell me my name and I’ll do it.  <pause>  Yeah, I thought so.”  The class was so large no one knew who anyone really was.  Someone behind me screams “F*ck off, Roger!” But I didn’t want to cause a scene (that’s what the cow was for) and sat back down. 


Then commencement starts, where we line up and run across the stage trying not to trip.  Then the cow buzzes over to where the principal is standing and stops.  Everyone goes nuts for 5 minutes while everyone is lining up, laughing at the principal, who has confiscated a rogue beach ball.  He tosses it at the cow, and the cow dodges out of the way, and says, “Mooooo!”  More cheering – it has a horn! 


The cow decides to go over to the line and start making fun of guys and hitting on chicks.  “Hey, baby!”  “Marvin!  How’s it hangin’?”  “You suck!,” and so on.  And people start talking back to the cow!  


Stacey and I kept trading places until we were next to each other in line.  Then the cow spots us.  Uh oh.  The cow starts a conversation with Stacey.  “Hey, Stacey, how’s it going?”  Stacey says, “OK.”  “Having a good time?”  “No, not really.”  “Why not?”  “You.”  “Me?”  “You.”  “Oh, sorry.”  And the cow turns his back on her.  There’s a pause, then he turns a little more, looking back over his shoulder, and says, “You know, I’ve had a crush on you for the last three years.  But I heard you were going out with someone else.”  “Yep.”  And in the guy’s best Drunk Billy voice, “Well put your clothes back on and get the hell out of the stockroom!  Class was over an hour ago, and I wanna go home and watch Win, Lose or Draw!”  And the whole class out on the field goes crazy – apparently the story was out.  Stacey is hiding her face in my chest and laughing at the cow, so she looks out in the crowd and flips off the comedian and the pilot.  And the cow steps things up...


“I bet you can’t wait for this to end so the guy behind you can F your brains out.”  Not missing a beat, I turn around and start looking for the guy, and every damn last one of them was holding up their hands.  So I turned back around and held up my hand, too.  That did it.  The powers that be were actively trying to eliminate the cow.  They started throwing things up at it, but the cow just climbed up out of their reach and starts threatening to take a dump on its tormenters. 


Meanwhile commencement continues.  We get up to the stage.  Its almost over.  Stacey went first, then me.  The cow starts playing Jump! by Van Halen.  We hand our cards to the announcer at the same time and both start going across the stage arm-in-arm.  We hadn't rehearsed it,  but we both jumped and threw up our hands.  A slight cheer from the crowd.  That was kinda cool.  Its over.   No one tripped.  God, she was beautiful!


The ceremony was almost over, so it was time for the cow to make its early exit.  As soon as everyone in line has commenced, the band starts playing “Amazing Grace”.  The cow lights up this eerie blue and starts circling the field, saying goodbye to everyone.  “Bye.  Bye.  I have a crush on your sister.  Bye.  Dick.  Bye.  F*ck you, Roger!  Bye.”  Then the cow starts slowly spiraling upward.  Roger followed the balloon for over a mile, with the pilot running along behind Roger.  They had to keep the balloon up and flying in circles for another hour or so before Roger went home. 





Graduation Night


That night I followed Stacey and the gang to King Louie's on Metcalf for bowling (Rock-And-Bowl Rules!) and ice skating.  Afterward Stacey and I went down to the lake behind Joe' Roberts' house and sat on the hood of my 1985 Chevy Celebrity and talked until 4am.  Stacey was leaving the next week for New York to be a dancer, and I was headed to school in Rolla in the fall. 


That was the single best day of my life.  





Life After Graduation


A few months later I heard that one of the guys that did the cow stealing and the pushing died.  Dennis was drunk and robbed a bank.  While making his getaway, he was driving at over 120MPH and went over a hill.  His car jumped up over into the next lane and killed him and a family of four coming the other way.  At the funeral, I found out from some of the other guys that they built the ramp that way on purpose so the cow would slide over the side because they knew they had to pay for it anyway.  They had a ladder on the back side of the school with the truck waiting at the bottom so they could make their getaway.


Last year I was lonely and joined Classmates.com to keep up with people, and the first day Stacey emailed me.  And I'm like *cool*!  She's single!  She still remembers me!  But then I read the email, and it's this depressing story that she’s sending to everyone on Classmates, telling about how she had twins, and one of them died of some rare cancer, and wanted me to install software on my computer that donated its free time to helping them do research.  I checked it out, and it does like 1/2 cancer research and half missile research.  I don't know why, but I never installed it.  It was *so* depressing!  That's why I dumped Classmates.com. 


It's almost twenty years later as I write this.  Today I was in the garage working on my car, and I saw the portrait of me that Stacey drew all those years ago.  That cheered me up again.  God, she was beautiful. 


Bryan A. Thompson



[an error occurred while processing this directive]