On the morning before the book tour began, a morning so pristine and blue that from the hills above the beach in Malibu, even the horses seemed to be taking in the view, the author sat in a rusted patio chair with her back to the sun trying to define yet again the nature of the attraction.
Lust? No, not exactly. Soul mate? Well, perhaps. . . .
In the lower paddock, the object of Sara Davidson's attraction was picking mud out of the horses' hooves and pulling the knots through their straggly manes. Davidson, whose last bestseller chronicled the lives of women in the '60s, gazed at the wrangler and shrugged.
"Mmmm," she said. "I guess it's the cowboy thing."
Most every girl has a cowboy fantasy. Tight jeans, boots with spurs. Suede-fringed, leather-creaking love in the saddle.
Davidson, the journalist and scriptwriter best known for her coming-of-age book "Loose Change," had a cowboy fantasy right off a Marlboro man billboard. And 5 1/2 years ago at a poetry and music festival in Nevada, she met him. "He was wearing a tan Stetson and dark aviator glasses, and had brown curly hair that tumbled to his collar," she writes dreamily in her new book, "Cowboy: A Love Story" (HarperCollins).
But as a lightly fictionalized account of her real-life love affair with a real-life cowboy, the story is more complicated than any fantasy. As Davidson explains, "Here was a cowboy who barely finished high school [while] I was a writer of books and television shows with degrees from Berkeley and Columbia."
True, the cowboy is gentle and kind, honest and spiritual--and, oh, yes, dynamite in the sack. But--and here's the frustrating part for Davidson--he's so lacking in cultural sophistication that not only has he never been to the ballet, "he doesn't even know who Anne Frank is!"
From the first, says Davidson, the affair was "ludicrous, impossible, laughable." It was as if they came from different planets--he from a hardscrabble ranch in Arkansas, she from a comfortable home near Fairfax Avenue and Olympic Boulevard.
As a child, Davidson rode in the safe confines of Beverly Ponyland--a trio of concentric riding rings that years later would be torn down to make way for the Beverly Center. When she was 30 and her first marriage to New York radio talk jock Jonathan Schwartz was ending, Davidson took up riding again, joining a class of 9-year-olds to learn how to care for a horse of her own.
After her second marriage--this one to a well-to-do Los Angeles businessman--ended, Davidson found herself once more drawn to horses.
"I was working as a writer on 'Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,' and one of the hired wranglers let me borrow one of the horses," she says. "Instead of eating lunch, I would take the horse out for a ride."
Now Davidson and her cowboy--the one she calls Zack in the book but whose real name is Richard Goff--drive out to Malibu in the author's silver Mercedes SUV several times a week to exercise friends' horses.
"Ready to ride, hon?" asks Goff, handing Davidson the reins to a sorrel mare named Sangria.
"Gettin' on a horse can make your whole day," says Goff, as he swings easily onto a muscular buckskin named King. "When I rode for a livin', I took it for granted, but not anymore. Thanks to Sara, I appreciate a whole lotta things I never did before."
At 45, the cowboy is 11 years younger than Davidson, but out here with the horses, he's clearly the one in charge. He stands up in the stirrups and reaches over to smoothe her windblown hair. Then he leans over the horse's neck and kisses her.
"I never kissed anybody on a horse till I met Sara."
She closes her eyes and smiles.
"There is something about sitting on an animal and being kissed that's very, ah, exciting."
The cowboy likes it too.
"Yes, ma'am," he says, touching his hand to the front of his Stetson.
When Goff and Davidson met, he was making his living with his hands. He worked as a hired hand punching cows in southern Arizona and lived in a trailer in the desert. When he wasn't on the back of a cutting horse, he was braiding long strips of rawhide into fancy Western bridles.
Over the years, the knots and braids have become more elaborate, with Goff working as long as three months on a single piece. Although one of these unique handcrafted bridles can bring as much as $3,000, Davidson believes "this is no way to make a living."
That's why six months ago, the cowboy began learning something new to do with his hands. Something very New Age, Southern California--shiatsu massage. He recently had business cards printed that read: "Eastern technique. Western attitude."
"Richard always has to be doing something with his hands, rubbing, braiding--he's the kind of person who can't have his hands idle. So this is the perfect way for him to support himself," says Davidson, who until recently was doing most of the supporting.