Just when you thought you had seen everything, behold the carnage of a “game” called Cowboy Pinball.

I was amazed the other day when a friend made me aware that such a thing exists, but for crying in the mud, I was shocked and amazed when I watched video of this unreal activity actually taking place at a recent rodeo event in Kentucky called the Owensboro Bull Bash.

The rules are fairly simple: Volunteers – who have produced identification and signed a waiver freeing the event organizers from any and all liability – gather in a relatively small pen inside the arena and stand inside small circles painted on the ground. A bull is then released into the pen with a $100 bill (or a string worth a hundred bucks) tied to the top of its tail. Whoever grabs the prize without leaving their circle is declared the winner. If you leave your circle, you’re out – regardless of whether your exit was due losing your balance while trying to grab the prize, or running away from – or being sent airborne by – a fired-up bull.

Keep in mind, too, that there isn’t much space at all between where the competitors stand; barely enough for a full-grown bull to move about without making contact with human flesh. And it stands to reason that most bulls placed in such a situation will certainly be looking to make that contact on purpose.

The whole thing is really quite distressing, and witnessing it did significant damage to the already low level of hope I have for society in general. And what’s obvious from the video is that several of the non-winners (oh, let’s just call them what they are: Losers) are not surprisingly left to recover from various injuries – minor and major – and perhaps ponder the way they make decisions in their lives.

At the “Bull Bash,” one bull comes and goes from the pen without wreaking much havoc, but the second one released into the ring of lost humanity tosses people around like rag dolls and makes its superiority well known to everyone in the building. One rag doll man can be seen lying on the ground unconscious for what seems like a very long time.

Kind of a hush falls upon the crowd, and the arena announcer barely knows what to say. Following the inevitable results of the ill-advised and ill-fated attempt at entertainment (and the subsequent public bashing online), Owensboro officials have apparently said there will be no more Cowboy Pinball at their event.

Ya think?

Shoot, what could possibly go wrong? It’s just an angry 1,000-pound animal with horns bouncing about amongst a bunch of people who are no more prepared to be in close proximity with it than they are to fly to the Moon.

And hey, they signed a waiver, so it’s all good, right?

With that in mind, why stop there? There could be a million other versions of the activity that could be “enjoyed” by folks outside the rodeo arena. Of course, each variation would incorporate the same basic premise as its cowboy counterpart; basically, you stand in a small circle and Yippee Ki Yay, hope for the best!

And of course, I have suggestions for some variations.

•Mountain Pinball.

Willing (but not wise) participants stand below on onrushing rockslide and attempt to grab a $100 bill attached to a half-ton boulder and avoid being bludgeoned by a host of other half-ton boulders. Rock on, people!

•Puppy Pinball.

Participants gather in a small dog-fighting pen and try to grab a $100 bill attached to the snout of a large, half-crazed dog that has been starved for nine days. C’mon, it won’t bite your hand!

•Shark Pinball.

Participants stand in waist-deep water in a tank and try to grab a $100 bill that’s attached to a harpoon stuck in the head of a bull shark that’s been starved for two weeks. Fished in!

•Pachyderm Pinball.

Participants stand inside the center ring of a circus tent and try to grab a $100 bill attached to the tail of a bull elephant that hasn’t been fed in a week and has a set of those evil spikey things digging into its feet. Trick or trunk!

I could go on and on, but I’m pretty sure you get the idea and could come up with many of your own variations.

Anyway, you can easily watch the video from Kentucky for yourself – if you dare – by simply doing on online search for Cowboy Pinball. Be warned, though, what you’ll see isn’t pretty.

And you’ll likely have less hope for humanity than you did beforehand.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.


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