Along with its hard-nosed skepticism, Odessa is renowned for an acerbic sense of humor, expressed most characteristically in iconic set-piece anecdotes. While most of them feature local community flavor, Odessa has a way of drawing innocent and often colorful travelers into humorous adventures of their own. For instance, Mark Twain’s visit to Odessa in 1867 may have entailed far more anecdotal episodes than his book The Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrim’s Progress reveals. This story seems to emanate straight from his imagination — but we promise this did actually happen.
Today, as I was returning home from my office, dressed in a sober black business suit and black tie after attending an earlier meeting at City Hall, I ran into a personage wearing an entirely different sort of suit.
Arriving at the entrance to my apartment building, I saw a man with a droopy mustache. He turned out to be an American dressed in a cowboy hat, denim jacket over well-worn jeans, a plaid shirt and cowboy boots, the outfit topped off with a Wyoming State belt buckle. Intrigued, I struck up a conversation with the stranger, and eventually inquired about his profession.
“Well, I am what I look like,” he replied. “I am a cowboy from Wyoming, on the South Dakota border, where I have 3000 head of cattle!” We had a conversation about this being his first trip to Europe, and I took the opportunity to tell him that Mark Twain had visited Odessa in the nineteenth century. “Really?” the Cowboy exclaimed with amazement. “I like Huckleberry Finn, and all that good stuff… He reminds me of my younger self!”
I asked the Cowboy to stay on the corner as I ran upstairs to my apartment to get him a hard copy of this magazine as a souvenir of his visit.
He assured me that he would wait, but when I returned a few minutes later, he was gone.
Disappointed, I looked all around the street to find him. Somewhat dejected, I made an inquiry with a pair of Old Odessa men smoking on the corner.
“Did you see that gentleman in the cowboy hat? Where did he go?”
“Well, I have never seen a gentleman before. There are no gentlemen here other than yourself,” one of the Odessan jokesters replied.
“There was a cowboy here!” I tried to convince him. “The one from Wyoming? He had a droopy mustache and a pair of cowboy boots.”
“Listen, there are no cowboys in Odessa. Cowboys live in the desert, with horses,” he tried to assure me.
“But he was really here, the Cowboy…” I began to protest. “He had come to Odessa to find a mail order bride! He told me he was going to take her back to Wyoming.”
But the shrewd old Odessite would have none of it: “It must have been a mirage. You are imagining him, there never was a cowboy. It is because of your glasses, you can not see straight…”
I am comforted by the conviction that somewhere, the Cowboy is telling his friends of his encounter with a New York dandy in Ukraine and trying to convince them that it really happened.