We are always thrilled by the sight of armed men on horseback. The Lone Ranger. Tom Mix. Clint Eastwood. We love them all.

And now just the sight of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's posse members at our shopping centers brings a sense of the Old West's romanticism back into our humdrum lives.

These days, just to see and hear the horses depositing their droppings on the walkways of our malls at such a great rate is even more romantic.

We feel proud just to be part of Sheriff Arpaio's great cowboy soap opera.
"Who are those men, Momma?" a young child asked the other day at Park Central Mall. "Why are they on those horses?"
"They are members of the sheriff's posse," was the answer. "They're here to protect us from any bad men who would rob us."
"What are the horses doing?" the little boy asked.
"Right now, they are going to the bathroom," his mother said. "Horses do that all the time."
There was great confusion. Pedestrians were bounding, hopping and recoiling at full tilt in an effort to get out of the way. The horses were performing their toilet functions. Fortunately, no one's clothes were soiled upon this occasion.

"I know Sheriff Arpaio gave orders for those horses not to do that in the malls," a supporter of the sheriff said.

Actually, this is a good lesson for the sheriff to learn. In life, some orders are impossible to obey.

But it's exciting to see Joe Arpaio's armed and mounted volunteers. They are dedicated though clumsy, determined but inept. You hold your breath as you watch them move awkwardly through throngs of pedestrians at places like Scottsdale's Fashion Square.

One contingent of winter visitors immediately mistook the posse members for part of an old Wild West show. The visitors wondered out loud where the main part of the rodeo was being held.

They were amazed to learn that Sheriff Arpaio has actually ordered out these armed volunteers and set them to the task of apprehending criminals in the streets.

One man from Minnesota had read about Arpaio's plan in the morning newspaper.
"This seems crazy," he said. "What will the sheriff do the first time one of his volunteers shoots an innocent shopper by mistake?"
"You don't have to worry about that happening," Arpaio's supporter said.
"Why not?"
"Because Arpaio said it wouldn't. He's ordered his men to be careful."
"Tell me something. How long has this man been sheriff?"
"Couple of years. He's still in his first term."
"What did he do before that?"
"He worked for his wife's travel agency."
"And what did he do at his wife's travel agency?"
"He was a messenger. He used to get into his car and drive around the city delivering the airline tickets she sold. In fact, one of their best customers at that time was one of our previous sheriffs, Dick Godbehere."
"What kind of sheriff was Godbehere?"
"Oh, he was interesting, too."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, before being elected sheriff, he was a lawn mower repairman."
"And how did he get to be sheriff?"
"I guess it was because Jerry Hill, the incumbent sheriff, spent most of his time planning to get married. Ol' Jerry got married ten times. Last time, he made the mistake of turning it in as part of his office expenses."
"Was Arpaio ever involved in police work?"
"Joe was an undercover man for the DEA. He used to sell marijuana and then the other agents swarmed around and made busts. His nickname was 'Nickel Bag Joe.'"
"And does that qualify him to handle an organization as large as the Maricopa County Sheriff's department?"
"I guess no one ever thought about that.

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Tom Fitzpatrick