SAT IN THE BAR IN GALLUP, NEW MEXICO. Hip-hop was blaring on the jukebox. I think it was DMX. Who listens to DMX anymore? There wasn’t any bartender behind the bar, and there wasn’t much liquor back there either. A few bottles, mostly empty. When I finished my glass of Dewar’s I walked behind the bar and poured myself another one. I opened up the cash register and put in five dollars. I decided that it was a fair price, since I was pouring my own drinks. I wasn’t sure if anybody owned the place. I wasn’t sure if there was a bartender. I thought maybe the owner had died and nobody noticed. That maybe it was a grave. Maybe the owner and bartender had killed each other in a knife fight in the walk-in fridge or something, and that now it was just a free place to drink.
There were three Navajo men in the bar. They were all at separate tables. They were all asleep. I don’t know how anybody could sleep with all that noise. I was waiting for my friend. He was having his motorcycle checked by a mechanic. I walked out on to the sidewalk with my glass in my hand. It was raining buckets. I stood there under the awning watching the rain come down. There was a cowboy next to me. Skinny-looking. Smoking a cigarette. I bummed one off of him, and we stood there smoking silently for a while in the rain. I never saw a cowboy wearing a necklace with a diamond dollar sign before that night, but he sure had one. Other than that, everything else was cowboy. Sweat-stained hat. Shit-stained boots. Horse stained crotch. None of it added up. I went back inside and poured myself another Dewars. I was an Emergency Room doctor on the reservation in those days. I was the head of internal medicine in the reservation hospital. The patients didn’t really talk to me the way patients talk to doctors in other places. I’m not saying they wouldn’t tell me their symptoms. They did that. But it was just the facts. None of the little side details. They didn’t want me to comfort them. Just to cut out bullets. Or set broken legs. Or cut them open when their gall bladders were fucked up. That worked out ok for me.
Weasel Dog screamed about the Pentecost for the next twenty miles. Then he screamed about the Apocalypse for twenty miles more. He screamed that my heathen soul was lost. He predicted my demise in seven different ways.
When I was in medical school, they wanted to throw me out. They brought in actors for us to diagnose. The actors told us their symptoms. We did things like stick our finger in their ass. Usually their symptoms were extreme. When they were extreme, I told them they were going to die. That wasn’t what I was supposed to say. I was supposed to say everything was going to be alright. In the end, they didn’t kick me out. They just told me to start being nicer.
I finished the next glass of Scotch and wiped the ring of water off the bar where the glass had been with a napkin. I went back outside and bummed another smoke from the cowboy with the necklace.
“Man or woman?” the cowboy asked.
“What ?” I said.
“You want a man or a woman?”
“For what?” I said.
“To fuck,” he said.
“That’s none of your business,” I said.
“That’s my only business,” he said. “It’s not like I’m charging you for the Scotch.”
“This isn’t your place,” I said.
“Maybe, maybe not,” he replied.
I went around the corner and got in my station wagon. I went over to the shop where my friend was waiting on his motorcycle. He said he was going to stay in Gallup for a few days until it was fixed.
I drove out into the night, across the bleak moonscape of the New Mexico-Arizona reservation. Winds of Change by the Scorpions was on the AM radio station. I thought that was funny. I hadn’t heard that shit since sixth grade. I loved it out there on the reservation in the night. Silent and dark and dusty.
My brother visited me here on the reservation once. He said it was horrible. He said it was the worst place in the world. What did he know? I’d been to his house in an East Coast City. A horrible little red row house across from railroad tracks. The last time I visited him, two Dominican heroin dealers were beating a Puerto Rican guy with a stick on the sidewalk in front of his house while all the neighborhood kids cheered. The guy tried to defend himself by running across the street and throwing bricks at the dealers to keep them back. The bricks were from a tree well that my brother had put around a spruce tree he was trying to grow in the grass near the tracks. Two of the bricks came through my brother’s window and glass was all over his basement. I helped him board the window up. He was full of shit. The surface of the moon is a thousand times better than the surface of the earth.
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