SUNDAY MORNING AROUND lunchtime, Janie and I headed south out of Santa Fe in José’s brand-new ‘56 Desoto. The rodeo had pretty much wrapped up by noon—not much to see after that, except everybody leaving town, so we skipped lunch and hit the road. Fifteen minutes later, I was hungry, but Janie didn’t want to stop, so I pulled my new cowboy hat down over my face and laid back in the front seat with the idea of taking a little nap.
As soon as I’d closed my eyes, I heard Janie, yelling:
“Look, there he is, again!”
I came up quick to see what was going on. I said, “Who?”
Janie, at the wheel, was shouting: “It’s that same kid we passed on the way up—the weird, skinny kid with hair like a girl’s that sticks out in every direction!”
I squinted in the side view mirror at what looked like a stick in the distance, getting smaller and smaller.
Janie said, “I’m stopping!”
She hit the brake and the back end of the De Soto fishtailed as it left the highway and we came to a stop on the gravel shoulder.
I said, “Are you talking about that stupid guy who didn’t even have his thumb out?”
I said, “He’s too far back now. You didn’t stop soon enough. It’ll take him twenty minutes to get here.”
“No, it won’t,” she said, checking the rear view.
“Why do you want to pick him up?”
“He looks helpless and needy.”
A slap at me.
I said, “Aren’t I helpless and needy enough for you?”
“I have this thing for young boys.”
Another slap at me. Janie loves to tell the story of how, last year, when I was just a kid, she took me off the streets and nursed me back to life. It’s true—when I was fourteen, my mom was living in St. Louis with some guy, and my dad, who fought the Nazis in the war, was drinking himself stupid every night. I didn’t see any reason to stick around there anymore. So I took off on my own. I had my mind made up to go out West and find Roy Rogers. All my life, from when I was little, I’d wanted to be a cowboy, and ride around on horses, with cattle, and make campfires at night and sleep outside. That was the kind of work I wanted to get into.
I found out right away that there’s a lot people in this world who’ll try to do you in, for no reason at all. I had to learn how to defend myself. About this same time, I took up the habit of drinking, which made a lot of things easier to take. I got all the way to Albuquerque before I guttered out. That’s where Janie, who wasn’t much older than me, took charge of my stupid ass, and she’s not letting me forget it. She keeps reminding me that, in spite of my smart-alecky attitude, I’m only fifteen years old.
I kept watching the mirror—the guy was taking his time. Even after most people would’ve broken into a trot, he kept to his slow shuffle.
Janie said, “Here he comes—get in the back seat so he can sit in the front.”
I said “What?”
I didn’t wait for an answer. I opened the door and climbed out, just as the guy came up. He looked at me, but didn’t say anything. I pulled the passenger seat forward for him. He nodded and threw his bag in the back and then waited for me to make the next move. I decided it wasn’t worth a fight, so I climbed in next to his bag, and he got up front. So far, I didn’t like this guy.
Janie drove the De Soto back onto the highway.
She said to the guy, “How far you going?”
He cleared his throat and said, “You can let me out anywhere north of the border.”
At least, that’s what I think he said—he was mumbling and hard to understand. I looked at the back of his head. His stupid hair looked even weirder from that angle.
Janie said, “We’re going to Albuquerque.”
The guy cleared his throat again and said, “I really like your car.”
The conversation wasn’t holding my interest, so I pulled my hat back down over my face in the back seat, but kept listening.
Janie said, “What’s your name?”
The guy mumbled something that sounded like, “Bob Dillon”.
I sat up and said, “Are you any kin to Sheriff Matt Dillon?”
He said his name was different. He spelled it out: “D-Y-L-A-N.”
I wasn’t much good at spelling, but that didn’t sound right to me.
Janie said, “I’ve never heard of a name like that before. Where are you from?”
He said, “Colorado.”
That got my interest.
I said, “Are there a lot of cowboys in Colorado?”
He looked back at me with a funny kind of grin and said, “There aren’t any cowboys in Colorado. All the cowboys are in Cheyenne, Wyoming.”
I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not, so I shut up.
Janie said, “Do people call you ‘Bobby’?”
He said, “People call me anything they want to.”
“What do you call yourself?”
We rolled on down the road.
By the time we got close to Albuquerque, I could see where this deal was going. Janie was taking the guy home with us. When we got to our exit off the highway, she didn’t say nothing and he just sat there, like it was understood between them. I couldn’t believe it. When we pulled into the driveway of Janie’s little house, the guy got out and then waited for me to get out so he could get his bag. Janie held the front door open for him while he lugged it inside, which is more than I would’ve done, but he didn’t even thank her.
Janie told him he could stow his bag behind the couch, but he just let it drop to the floor, beside the door. That’s another thing I didn’t like about this guy. He didn’t do anything Janie told him to do, but she didn’t get after him the way she would have gotten after me. She asked him if he wanted anything to eat and he said no. I could have eaten something, but she didn’t ask me. I was beginning to get a little steamed, but I didn’t let on about it.
I went to the kitchen and ate a little peanut butter out of the jar and washed it down with a little milk. When I got back to the living room, Janie had turned on the radio and was sitting on the couch. The guy was sitting on the floor, hugging his knees, like he wasn’t used to sitting on furniture. A Cowboy Copas record was playing on the radio. I sat down on the couch, next to Janie, but not too close.
Listening to music on the radio was what Janie and I did most nights after work, when we didn’t have this weird dude, sitting on the floor in front of us. Sometimes, when it was just us, and one of those lovey-dovey songs was playing, she’d start cosying up to me, like she thought I was sweet on her, or something. I guess I was, but she knew I didn’t want to kiss her or anything like that. I figured she wouldn’t start any of that stuff while this guy was around, but just in case I kept my distance.
After a while, Janie slid off the couch to the floor, right beside the guy, and tried to start a little conversation with him, but he didn’t hold up his end. He mainly grunted or gave out little laughs, when nothing was funny. What a jerk. But Janie kept talking and smiling at him. She was acting like she liked him, but I didn’t know what it was she was liking.
When it seemed like she’d run out of things to talk about, Janie asked the guy if he liked to smoke. He made like he didn’t care, either way, so she crawled over to the end table beside the couch and pulled her makings out of the drawer. The first few weeks I was with her, Janie didn’t allow me to smoke—she said it might cause me to take up drinking again. But I didn’t mind, ’cause I wasn’t too hot to try it out, anyway. Actually, I didn’t know what weed was until Janie told me about it. She said that a cowboy she used to know put her onto it. I decided if cowboys did it, then it must be okay. So, when she decided I was ready, she let me try it out. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but when it finally hit me, everything got really interesting. It occurred to me that smoking weed would be a good thing to do, out on the prairie, sitting around a campfire, with nothing else going on. Janie and I got to where we smoked every night when we were listening to the radio.
Now, here she was, offering her weed to this guy, first pop out of the box, without knowing if he had a drinking habit or not. She rolled a joint and fired it up, then handed it to him. He took a long drag and then passed it back to her—like I wasn’t even there. She took another drag and passed it up to me. I took a couple of hits and then passed it back to her. Before long, I was feeling like a cowboy. But it didn’t make me like the guy any better. In fact, I started thinking that he was up to no good. He probably hitched rides with people just so he could rob them in the night— or maybe, kill them in their sleep. I kept my eyes on him, but eventually decided that he didn’t look like the type that could carry off that kind of thing. I went back to thinking he was just a jerk.
Down on the floor, Janie kept mooning at the guy and he just kept smirking back at her. After a while, I got fed up and said I was going to bed. Janie just waved at me and said good night, so I went to the room where I did my sleeping. It wasn’t really a bedroom—there wasn’t any furniture in it at all, just my bedroll on the floor and a little radio I bought after I started working for José. I laid down, but couldn’t go to sleep because I got mad, hearing them mumbling through the door. Then I couldn’t hear them at all, and that made me even madder. I guess I finally went to sleep because, the next thing I knew, light was coming in the window.
I got up and went out to the living room, but the guy wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere that I could see. The door to Janie’s room was closed, and that gave me a really bad feeling, but I knew I couldn’t go busting in there—Janie would kick me out and give my room to the guy for sure, if I did that. I could’ve gone to the kitchen and gotten myself something to eat, but I didn’t feel like it. I just stood there in sight of her door, waiting for it to open.
When Janie came out, the guy wasn’t with her. My spirit improved right then, but she seemed upset. She said:
I said, “He’s gone.”
She thought about that for a second and then said:
“He’ll be back. He told me, last night, he might go out looking for a newspaper this morning. He told me he likes to read the newspaper. He’ll be back.”
We went to the kitchen and got something to eat. But, after we got through, he still wasn’t back, so we got in the car and headed off to work. We both worked at José’s restaurant, a few miles away. When Janie pulled me out of the gutter, she had been working there for a while as a waitress, so she got José to give me a job too, clearing off tables. She said that José was real good to her. He gave her little bonuses, like the use of the De Soto. And he owned the house that Janie and me was staying in, and didn’t charge her nothing for it. He was good to me too—he told me that someday I might work up to being a fry cook and make more money. He said I could make a career out of it, if I worked hard. I figured, if I did that, my daddy might be proud of how I turned out.
I was happy all that day at work, not having to see the guy’s face. I figured he was back out on the road trying to hitch a ride with some other girl. But, when we got home that evening, there he was, sitting at the kitchen table. A newspaper had been thrown all over the floor under him and he was writing on some papers. When he saw us coming through the door, he snatched up his papers real quick and stuffed them in his pocket. Janie looked like she was happy to see him. She asked him what he’d been doing all day, and he said, just walking around.
That night, Janie cooked up some rice and beans for supper, and then we smoked some more weed and listened to the radio. Janie kept to the couch this time and left the guy on the floor by himself. I stayed on my end of the couch. The guy still passed the joint back to Janie every time, instead of to me, which told me he wasn’t interested in being friendly. I didn’t pass anything to him either.
The guy did a little more talking, that night. At first, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t seem to know when it was his turn. But Janie kept asking him questions, and eventually he started saying stuff.
She said, “Did you go to the rodeo?”
He shifted his weight on his haunches and kinda scrunched up his face like he was getting ready to say something.
Finally, he said, “Yeah, I went there to see about getting a job.”
I said, “Do you know how to rope and ride?”
He kinda chuckled. Something about me seemed to tickle him and it was pissing me off.
He said, “I was looking to be a rodeo clown.”
Janie said she’d heard that rodeo clowning was the most dangerous job in the whole show. The guy didn’t say nothing else.
So Janie said, “What are you doing now?”
The guy shifted his haunches again.
He said, “I’ve been following the carnival as far as Gallup, doing pickup jobs.”
I said, “Like what?”
He said, “Roustabout.”
That didn’t tell me nothing. I didn’t understand much of anything this guy said.
Janie said, “Are you still doing that?”
He said, “No.”
I said, “Why not?”
He chuckled again and said, “My boss and I got into a misunderstanding about my vacation benefit.”
I knew that wasn’t right. I chuckled right back at him.
Janie then asked him about all the places he’d been, and he rattled off a few. Then he asked her where all she’d been. She said she hadn’t been anywhere, but she wanted to go to Louisiana, because that’s where the Louisiana Hayride came from. I knew what was coming next. I’d heard her say a hundred times that she wanted to go to Louisiana and meet Elvis Presley. I told her I wasn’t interested in meeting Elvis Presley, but I never said I wouldn’t go. I waited for her to say we was going, but she never did. I figured she wasn’t serious about it. But every time Elvis Presley came on the radio, She started talking about going to Louisiana..
So, sure enough, Janie told the guy about wanting to go to Louisiana and meet Elvis Presley. He said he didn’t want to meet Elvis Presley. He wanted to be Elvis Presley. When he said that, I fell out laughing and Janie started laughing, too. The guy didn’t seem to take offense. But he wasn’t laughing.
The next day, on the way to work, I asked Janie when this guy was going to be leaving. She just hunched her shoulders up and said she didn’t know. I didn’t say nothing else. Saturday morning, he was still there. We went to work again and, after the lunch crowd slacked off in the afternoon, Janie got a box of groceries together from José’s larder to take home. I helped her take the box out to the car and offered to ride home with her to carry it in the house. She said I didn’t have to bother—”Bobby” could help her. I didn’t like that, but there wasn’t nothing I could do about it.
That night, we smoked some weed and listened to the radio. Saturday was when the Hayride came on. Elvis Presley was on the show that night, singing “Don’t Be Cruel”, and Janie made us all be quiet while it was going on, which was stupid because she was the only one doing any talking anyway. When it was over, I waited for her to tell us again how she wanted to meet Elvis Presley, but she didn’t say nothing. I figured she’d finally got it out of her system. She might have thought that, since the guy didn’t want to, she might as well give up on it.
Sunday morning, I woke up, expecting to hear Janie messing around in the kitchen, but everything was quiet. I went out to the living room and looked everywhere, but there was nobody around. The door to Janie’s room was open—I went in and saw all the drawers in her dresser were pulled out and empty. Then I ran out the front door and saw the de Soto was gone. That’s when it hit me—that son-of-a-bitch was on his way to Louisiana in José’s car with Janie by his side! I went back in the house and knocked the radio down on the floor. Then I went into the kitchen and turned the table over. After that, I went through the whole house, opening drawers and throwing everything out on the floor. It wasn’t until later that I realized there’d been a sheet of paper on the kitchen table when I pitched it over. I found it on the floor—it looked like one of the guy’s papers, but it had Janie’s writing on it:
Bobby’s taking me to Louisiana to meet Elvis Presley!! And he wrote a poem about me—imagine that!! Tell José he needs to hire himself another waitress. Tell him thanks for everything and kisses for the car!! Take care of yourself—and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. You have a good job with José—I know you’ll do alright and find a nice girl someday and be happy!!
I tore the paper up into little pieces. Then I got all my stuff together in my bedroll, put my cowboy hat on and headed out walking. It took me an hour to get to the restaurant. I told José he was going to have to hire another waitress and another table clearer. When I told him about the car, he started yelling at me in Spanish. I got out of there pretty quick and started in walking toward town. On the way, I did a lot of thinking. Janie’d been just wasting my time—holding me back when I needed to keep going. I’m lucky to be shut of both of them, and especially him—nothing he ever said ever made any sense to me. What a jerk!
When I got to town, I walked around till I found the bus station. I hung around outside for a while, then went in and bought myself a ticket through to Cheyenne, Wyoming. The bus leaves tomorrow at 8 AM. I can’t see any reason to stick around here, anymore.