Better times...First off, call your mama. Stopped in Villa de Pecos to check my postal mail, and first thing I see is a tear-stained letter from your mama saying she hasn't seen hide nor hair of you since your embarrassment with the coons. I know I wasn't around enough, maybe I didn't hug you enough to turn you as queer as is required by these backward days, but I know I taught my boy better than not calling his mama on her birthday. I don't know if it's still the coon business that's agitating you, son, but if it is, you need to toughen that hide.
Sure, you got run out of town. Every man in the history of this family has been run out of town. You call up the ghost of your great granddaddy, Euwell, and ask him what he thinks of your little ordeal. You know what he'll say? He'll say grumbling neighbors are one thing, but he was run out of town in a much higher style, watching the federales burn his stills, plumes of smoke thirty foot high. Looking back on his livelihood up in smoke, now the federales are burning down his whorehouse, too, whores still inside screaming his name. The moral of this story is: do you think Euwell cared what his neighbors thought of him? Well, the moral of the story is maybe he should have, then maybe those whores would have lived and bred and had little baby whores, and your dad wouldn't be so lonely out in the American Southwest.
That was a joke of course, and a rather more cruel sort of joke than I'm accustomed to telling, but the isolation of the endless deserts of the American Southwest will tune a man's mind to a bawdier station. The kind of station that plays Loveline.
I got run out of town too, you know. Ain't no room in Sedona for a man who hogs the jukebox. If I had it to do over again, maybe I wouldn't put in that last twenty dollars for another two hours of Joe Walsh, them last two solid straight hours of Ordinary Average Guy that got me run out of sweet Sedona on a rail. Then again, maybe I would. I do believe it was John Steinbeck that said Ordinary Average Guy was the greatest work of human endeavor of his last century. Not the John Steinbeck you're thinking of, obviously, but my old boss, John Steinbeck.
I found a bicycle tire and couldn't think what to do with it, so I boiled it and seen if it turned into something I might sell. Well, see if you can guess.
Heard tell of another dad out here in the lonesome American Southwest. The way folks talk about him, I think maybe he's just another tall tale, but I've kept my eye out. The Southwest- and I mean the real Southwest, the high desert- well, it can get lonely. I aim to find that other dad one day, the dad who roams the American Southwest ruminating on the failures of his past, and I intend to buy him a drink and talk business. You see, I have an idea, son, the kind of idea that might make us rich, might settle up the score on all those times you wanted an item and your lonesome Southwestern dad was too broke or too scarce to fix it up for you. I remember when you wanted that Casiotone, and I was too blind and too drunk to see what it meant to you. Maybe I'd be writing a letter to little Mozart Jr. right now, instead of Idiot John, the no-account boy who got run out of town for being unintentionally racist in front of the neighbor kids.
So this idea, the one maybe the other dad can help me with. Here's my idea: I figure, he's dad, he's been on these same roads as me for god knows how long, maybe we've passed each other a thousand times between Los Moches and Navajoa, both of us too singular in our pursuit of the Real American Southwest to notice the other. I figure he knows the lonesomeness of the American Southwest as well as anyone, as well as the cactus that fell down in the prairie breeze and turned into a dry old cholla wood skeleton before any farmhand could find his way to put it back upright, or like the tortoise who flipped over when he stepped on the farmhand's rake and now he's a bleached skeleton decorating the American Southwest like a grim portent of where each and every one of us is heading, each lonely dad out here with a story to tell and no town to go back to because of all the Joe Walsh he played that fateful night.
They say Don Henley was a steel-driving man. You won't see any evidence of that out here.
As I drove down one of the lonely highways of the American Southwest tonight, a specter appeared in front of me clear as day: an old Navajo man, braids down his back, right there in the middle of the road beckoning me to stop. Not today, skinwalker, I've got more life to live. Further on down the road I stopped at a stand to buy some fresh cherries, and the shapeshifting Navajo appeared again, but this time it was clear that it was actually a middle-aged Armenian woman. It also turned out I was in Gilroy, so I turned around and headed back toward the Southwest.
You'd better relate the story of your shame just one more time, because I still don't know if I'm one hundred percent understanding this. So you're out in the street one day, kept up all night by those critters uprooting your trash cans, and the neighbor walks out with his family and children, and you say "did you hear? Family of coons moved in next door, up all hours congregating in the streets, they're loud and they smell bad, wish we could just run 'em over with our cars, god-damn coons." Well, I can rightly see how that would get a fellow run out of town, and in the future you should be more careful with the vagaries of our language. You're a god-damned idiot, son.
Next time you talk to your old dad, maybe he will have finished with all his rambling, maybe he'll be out of the American Southwest, up toward the Pacific Northwest where the fog rolls in like a dulcet solo off Joe Walsh's guitar. Don't you forget the idea I laid out for you, the one with the other dad, when I find him. You write it down and keep it in a safe place, far away from the lonesome desert and the Real American Southwest.
After years of being misunderstood, I had hoped we finally had "our" story. I was wrong.
He had a yellow inflatable tube around his waist, the kind with a comical duck head. There was a tiny fish in one of his hands, and a trident in the other. In the background a squirrel wearing shades was water skiing.
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