When the Legends Die
Part III: The Arena: Chapters 25–27
While Red remains inside the house, sleeping off his drunkenness, Tom and Meo work together in the field to harvest beans. As they work, Tom and Meo converse a bit and familiarize themselves with one another. Tom explains that Red demands that he lose certain rounds in the competitions. Tom expresses his disappointment at Red's strategy but admits that he feels he must do as Red tells him. Awakened, Red eats with Tom and Meo, threatening to break Tom's neck if he ever double-crosses him.
Red and Tom travel to many more rodeo competitions the following spring. Tom, for the most part, accommodates to Red's wishe, and becomes able to exert further control over the horses given his new taller and stronger build. A year later, Red becomes determined to take Tom to north Texas for further competition. However, once they arrive, Red finds the betting there less exciting and proceeds with Tom to a competition on the Oklahoma border, where he places a lot of money on the final round. Tom draws an unusually sizeable horse that rams into a fence and throws Tom off. Barely succeeding in escaping from the horse's pounding hoofs, Tom's leg breaks. Red, wild with fury over his loss, appears blatantly unconcerned about Tom's physical state. The doctor informs Tom that he must wait until the fall before he rides again. Tom heals quickly as a result of Meo's care and his youth and overall health. He resumes his training in mid-summer and prepares himself for a return to the fall rodeos.
En route to Bernalillo for the next rodeo, Red gives Tom instructions on his performance. As Tom follows Red's instructions perfectly on each ride, Red wins all the money he had hoped to win. Over the next two months, Red and Tom enter seven rodeos across the state, five of which result in heavy profits for Red. At Carrizozo, however, Tom, directed to lose the first round, has difficulty fouling up without losing control. Thrown, he lands on his left shoulder and becomes unable to compete in the final round. His injury results in Red's loss of a thousand dollars in bets. Red drinks to excess at this defeat, becoming involved in a brawl and landing in jail for several days. When he emerges from jail, he arranges another ride for Tom, during which he wins many bets. The bettors, however, begin to grow suspicious of a setup. Barely escaping fights, Red and Tom head home, stopping at a saloon in Socorro where Red loses all his money in a drunken poker game. Tom becomes increasingly disappointed with his riding and increasingly frustrated by his dependence on Red.
In Chapter 25, Tom and Meo first establish a connection, and we begin not only to familiarize ourselves with Meo's character but also to see certain similarities between Meo and Tom. For example, they have both had experience with rodeo life. Having ridden in rodeos for the majority of his life, Meo suffered from an injury that ended his career. He understands first-hand Tom's experiences and disappoints.
Second, they share minority status and have suffered from the consequent injustices. For example, they must go out into the fields to pick beans, while Red has no responsibilities but to sleep away the day. Meo occupies a subservient position as Red's cook, and, while Tom's bronco riding may afford a bit more glory, he also lives and rides as Red desires. Red's attitudes toward these minority groups become clear in a passage at the end of Chapter 25. Borland writes, "'Heroes,' Red said, 'are a dime a dozen. Little two-bit heroes everywhere you go. And they all wind up broke. Especially if they are Indians or Mexes. Meo was a hero once.' He laughed. 'Now take a look at him. Just another broken-down chili-eater.'" However, it also becomes clear that Meo and Tom negotiate their subservient minority statuses in different ways. While the older Meo has become resigned to his role, Tom represents a younger voice, questioning, if only inwardly, Red's demands and control.
Third, both Meo and Tom experience a certain lack of a sense of belonging. Their families have disappeared along with their homes, and they have had to seek out their own lives elsewhere. Borland demonstrates these shared feelings through the following dialogue: "Tom asked, 'Why did you come here, Meo?' 'One must live somewhere.' For a minute Meo was silent as he sorted another handful of beans, then he asked, 'Why did you come?' Tom answered in Meo's own words: 'One must live somewhere.'" Their common fate speaks to the position of minorities in the Unites States during the first part of the twentieth century, when the government and private interests forced many populations from their land.
Red acts foolishly and selfishly during he and Tom's various excursions to rodeos. Not only does he force Tom to obey his specific instructions on riding in order to manipulate and trick the bettors, but he also squanders the money he has won with extravagant drinking binges and foolish risks. His true feelings toward Tom also emerge in these chapters. For example, his blatant lack of concern about Tom's injuries speaks to the sole importance he places on winning bets and on his own good time. His reactions stand in sharp contrast to Meo's. Meo cares for Tom's injuries, insists that he stay out of the saddle until a reasonable amount of time has passed, and makes certain that Tom rides gentle horses for the first two weeks of his training.
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