Cinema to Fiction, Go West (1925)


  We, Cowboys

   Based on the comic movie ‘Go West’ by Buster Keaton of 1925
      written by/with Charlie.translate1

'I work here', was the first thing Buster said to me. I was standing at the well drinking water from a saucepan and wasn't exactly in a talkative mood. A little earlier that day my favorite cow Brown Eyes had been put to the milking test and failed to give any. This means on our ranch to be sat apart on the field with cows destined for slaughter. You must serve some purpose in here, can't be just standing around like that Buster was doing. I said, 'you don't seem to be...' Buster stared blank at me first, then blinked with his eyes and started walking in the direction of the cow that needed milking.

He approached the cow cautiously and placed the stool facing her head, sat down and started staring the cow in the eyes. He leaned over forwards, then backwards, and then, after placing both hands on his knees, got up to check the results. Faced with the empty bucket the next idea was to show the bucket to the cow and put it back again. After another attempt at cow hypnosis with similar results a new idea arose. The stool was now placed behind the cow, who was kindly invited to sit down. After finding an empty bucket again, Buster started touching the udder softly, as if to see if something was wrong with it. I resisted my tendency to call out: 'Just pull on the udder you idiot' because, to be honest, looking at the idiot quite amused me, something softened inside and I cried and laughed at the same time. I thought: 'Well actually, whether this cow is milked now or in ten minutes, does it actually really matter?' I had never had a thought like this before, but it released a deep tension between my shoulder blades. I took a deep breath while Buster removed the stool from behind the cow, placed it at the front again and recommenced the initial 'staring strategy'.




This strange figure that arrived on our ranch today was absolutely incomparable to any other new hand I've seen arriving. You could see at first glance that he wouldn't really be good for anything. But more so, by his mere presence he shook up the whole order of things.

I'm the only offspring of this ranch's owner and that was all there was left of our family very soon after I saw daylight. I've always been considered 'different' on the ranch, first only because I lacked something between my legs, later also because I had something too much on my chest. Not belonging was never something personal, it was just because I got those body parts wrong. However when I have to sit in church with people who have more or (sometimes) less of the same body parts on their chest, I feel even more different and like I don't belong although in the eyes of the others, I am then at the right place, in the right category. They'd never believe me that I feel out of place with both groups, that I just don't really fit in this whole system. I once heard someone say that the Indians had other gender options for people who felt different and even let those people fulfil sacred functions in their community. I almost wanted to speak up. Then I heard the conclusion of their story: 'Thank God we have successfully destroyed a people that held such creepy beliefs'. I kept quiet and returned to my tasks on the ranch.

Until the day that Buster came around. A person who did have those body parts right (as far as I could tell) and yet was different as well. Just that this didn't exactly remain well hidden. It intrigued me that Buster was pretty much undisturbed by being different, as if the outside world remained something so vague that it didn’t seem to be worth the effort of trying to understand it. The unexpected consequence of this attitude was that the difference between Buster and the other cowboys didn't become a problem for him. It felt like a relief that, at least with him, nobody could possibly ignore what was going on.

Something similar was true for our respective outfits and visual appearances. I was dressed in a long skirt and wore shoes with heels which, to onlookers, fitted me. Nothing about it was too small or too big, so it didn't seem to be wrong. But it was. Wrong. Very wrong.

I’d much prefer to wear cowboy clothes and not just because it's more practical on a ranch. Also, simply because, despite the hints my body gives people, I just feel more like a boy if I am honest. I’d also like my cowboy clothes to be much too big, in order to look kind of funny and not to have my chest shown as much. And I would like to walk like a cowboy, but slightly funny, just to mock them a little bit. Not much, just enough to show I like them a lot, even though they take themselves a bit too seriously sometimes.

Buster was exactly that! His cowboy clothes were much too big. It almost looked as if this tiny and skinny figure was carrying those clothes around instead of wearing them. Busters' way of trying to walk with big wide steps as if you're tough and ready to kill anyone who would get in your way, was by no means convincing. To begin with, because of all the stumbling and falling and bouncing back up like a metallic spring. Besides that, the typical cowboy way of walking he imitated looked completely ridiculous and remained exactly that: an imitation. And even if you would feel threatened by Buster at first, then there was the five centimeters big gun playing hide and seek in the holster with Buster and it usually won. Which would leave you plenty of time to run and be gone.

I tapped our new hand on the shoulder and said: 'Get yourself a horse, will you, and help the others drive the herd together.' Buster shook me off like an annoying fly pointing at the cow as if to say: 'Don't you see I've got important business to do here?' I walked over to the bucket, found that it was still empty and repeated my request. Buster now listened, grabbed a saddle and walked towards the group of horses.


I sat down on the stool to finish the milking. Or, as one could argue, to start it. This somewhat boring routine task suddenly felt a bit different now that I learned that it was possible not to know how to do it. Besides, there was something funny to observe again.

As soon as the horses saw the hand approaching, they started trotting fiercely. Buster ran away upon their hostility, then stopped and turned around only to see the group grazing peacefully as if nothing had happened. When the horses looked back Buster turned around and discovered our only mule standing right behind him, somewhat apart from the horses. He jumped back and took his hat off, then saw that the mule remained calm and tried to touch it. And touched it again. No reaction. So Buster took the saddle and, after almost dropping it again, placed it on the animal with the back end upfront. I was so engaged in observing that the cow, noticing my distraction, started walking, the right back foot was placed with a splash in the middle of the bucket that was now full of milk.

I must have gotten infected with the virus of stupidity, not only because normally I make  sure to look at what I am doing, also because I strangely didn't mind. Instead I thought, for the second time today: 'Does it actually really matter?' While I was busy getting the cow's foot out of the bucket, Buster had managed to turn the saddle the right way around. Just now, it wasn't placed in the middle, but at the mule's butt where it was too tight and got stuck halfway through. As a result it stood out and was much too high to get on the horse without climbing on the fence first. It wasn't clear to me whether Buster was aware that something was wrong about that or that he assumed this was just the way one would get on a horse. Or a mule, for that matter. I'm sorry I said horse about you, dear mule. 


Buster got on the mule in squatted position, then he let his feet hang as they'd never reach the stirrups. He took the reins and the mule started to move, slowly entering the field, Buster put his hand towards his head to look at the cowboys in the distance working hard to drive the reluctant herd together. Meanwhile the saddle kept moving backwards further and further and Buster was leaning backwards more and more in an attempt to keep his balance. Finally, both saddle and Buster slid off the mule, slowly, almost in slow motion and Buster ended up still sitting on the saddle that was now lying on the sandy ground. The mule somehow didn't notice and awkwardly kept walking as if the weight was still on him. 

Buster got up and started walking, obviously frightened when passing a group of cows but trying to hide it by walking by them in a seemingly nonchalant matter, with his arms on his back, whistling. I think what gave him away was how his walking speeded up more and more and became almost running. He turned around, looking at the cows from a distance, looking left and right, turned around again and saw: more cows! He ran undisguised now until he reached a palm tree, where he stopped and took his hat off, and put it on again while Brown Eyes passed him by, limping. Buster, deeply concerned, followed the cow, passed her by, they both stopped. Buster stroked Brown Eyes’ head tenderly. He lifted her front left foot, removed quite a big stone and showed it to the cow as if to explain to her what it was that had been bothering her.
He made a big thing out of burying the stone, demonstratively, dramatically, with a lot of stamping feet and throwing sand as if to say: 'Don't worry love, that won't happen again.' He took his hat off once again and started walking away. Suddenly the ground gave way and Buster's left foot got stuck. As much as he pulled and pulled it was impossible to get it out and be free again. Soon enough, this easy target got noticed by the big bull in the field who started scraping the ground with his hoof. When Buster noticed, he got terrified and pulled harder, but to no good. Brown Eyes saw what was happening. It made her so angry that she ran and confidently put herself between the approaching bull and his victim (who were both very impressed) and became the savior of her savior. As soon as Buster was brought to safety, liberating the foot was suddenly peanuts, he took his hat off and started walking away again. Brown Eyes, however, started to follow Buster around and, as he soon noticed, it was simply impossible to shake her off again.

During dinner, I waited for Buster and Brown Eyes to arrive. God knows what took them so long, but they never showed up. I went to the living room to continue reading in my book about Indian cultures while my old man went out to discuss business in the cowboys' dorm. When he came back he told me, somewhat contemptuously, that Buster had chosen to sleep in the stable when the boys didn't allow the cow into the dorm.

I surprised both myself and my old man by saying: 'Does that matter? Cowboys like us surely bring some life to this ranch.'


Charlie.translate = a translation machine that translates early 20th century comic films from the medium of film to the medium of fiction. Charlie.translate is programmed to rewrite those parts of the original story that are based on racism, sexism and gender essentialism without actually deviating of the material. 

this story was also published here: