I purchased a plane ticket from the airport in Spokane. I paid for the ticket from the wad of cash in my front pocket. I had an urge to use a credit card, platinum, though this was not possible. The ticket attendant watched as I patted my backside for a wallet that was not there.
I waited two and half hours for the plane to arrive. I sat at the airport bar and sipped light beer, domestic, and it tasted good even though I kept glancing at the bottles of bourbon lined up behind the bartender. I drank four beers in the time it took the plane to arrive and did not get a buzz. This concerned me.
On the television above the bar was a baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs. I watched this contest with interest despite the fact that neither team felt like my favorite. One of the Astros crouched like he had to defecate when he batted, and I knew that at some point I had shared a laugh with a friend or friends at the sight of this comical stance. I did not think our banter was particularly good natured.
Shortly before the tickets were collected I noticed a woman looking at me. She was in her late thirties, dark-haired, and wearing a tight dress that revealed the upper half of her breasts. She had brown eyes and red lipstick that left an imprint on her martini glass. She didn't look away when our eyes met, so I did. Of all the feelings that seemed to go against my being, this was perhaps the strongest. It was as if my legs wanted to walk my body over there and charm that woman out of her panties.
The woman got behind me in the line to board the plane. She spoke with a sexy Southern accent.
"Home to Austin?"
"Not home, no. At least I don't think so."
"Tell me about it, friend."
The plane was two-thirds full. My seat was all the way in the back, directly in front of the restrooms, a narrow area that allowed for only two seats. My seat was next to the window. The woman with the sexy accent appeared as I buckled in.
She smiled as she stored her bag in the overhead bin. She pulled out an airline blanket and sat down next to me. She had a slender neck. She smelled nice.
"Well, what do you know," she said.
"Huh," I said.
The plane took off on time and soon the attendant came around for drink orders. The woman ordered herself a martini and me a light beer, domestic.
"You were paying attention," I said.
"Hmm," she said. "You sound Canadian."
I kicked this around. I was fairly sure I wasn't Canadian, though apparently I had lived close enough to pick up the lilt of a Canadian. So far all I knew was that I was coming from the state of Washington, which didn't feel like home either. I could drum up nothing on Washington.
The woman claimed it was chilly and spread the blanket over her lap. She made a point to cover my lap as well. At this point the attendant came back with the drinks and gave us a sly look. I was slightly embarrassed but left the blanket over my lap as to not seem rude.
The woman drank half of her martini in one pull and made a sound of relief. Then she picked up my left hand and said, "No rings on these fingers."
I pointed at her hand and said, "Like that one?"
"Just a rock," she said, and lowered my hand. She kept hers there, however, and eventually eased it under the blanket and into my lap and began to knead. She seemed exceptionally skilled at this type of activity.
"My, my," she said. "Mile High Club?"
I looked into her brown eyes and said, "Your heart's not in this."
"My heart's not involved," she said, continuing to knead.
I said, "Knock the shit off."
The woman jerked her hand back and uttered an obscenity. She drained the rest of her drink and gestured for the attendant. I placed my end of the blanket in her lap and turned my attention out the window, nursing my beer and keeping an arm over the stubborn lump in my pants.
I ran through the baseball teams in my mind, hoping that might spur memories of my home state, but all I could come up with was a severe hatred for the Yankees. I caught my reflection in the window and guessed my age at thirty-three. I glanced down at my clothes: black silk shirt, shiny gray slacks and expensive looking black loafers. I thought, I must do well for myself.
"You have children, Slick?"
I didn't think Slick fit, but she was angry. And judging by my apparel, I really couldn't blame her. I looked like a playboy.
"Not that I know of."
"Well, you need to. I have twin boys, six years old and full of heaven's glory."
"What do you call them?"
"Caleb and Conan."
"Like Conan the— "
"Named after his father."
"Huh," I said.
"He's a professional wrestler," she said. "And a whore."
"Huh," I said. I was not at all familiar with professional wrestling.
The woman exhaled loudly. She seemed upset. She had two more martinis and then passed out, her head coming to rest against my shoulder as we landed in Phoenix. Roughly half the passengers pulled down their luggage and banged off the plane, only to be replaced by an equally loud set, yet the woman slept through it all. Just after takeoff I felt myself going under as well, and when I woke up we were touching down in Austin.
"Here we are, darlin'," said the woman. She was standing and smiling warmly.
I stretched, wiped a sheen of drool from my chin and watched her tremendous breasts shift as she retrieved her bag. I had awoken horny, which felt typical.
Finished, she held my gaze for a moment and then said "Thank you" and made her way up the aisle.
I was on a bus motoring down Highway 71 and a graduate student named Ha-Chin was telling me about a whorehouse. He talked like a television announcer, deep and smooth with plenty of inflection. He had a copy of Texas Kitsch under his arm and a Lone Star pin on his shirt. He said he was on his third bus tour of the state. He told me he planned to make a documentary about Texas for his dissertation.
"Chicken Ranch was a modern-day bordello here in La Grange," Ha-Chin said in his deep announcer's voice. "And a very successful bordello at that: Toward the end of its existence it accommodated two hundred customers a day and brought in a million dollars a year. It eventually was shut down, but not without spawning a rousing Broadway musical and subsequent movie starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds."
There were seven or eight others on the bus, all of them, I noticed, listening to Ha-Chin. It was hard not to, for he knew of many compelling facts and presented them in a lively manner. One elderly woman wearing headphones scowled at him, as if Ha-Chin were some type of alien. An obese man with a cowboy hat shook his head and snorted each time Ha-Chin stated a fact.
Ha-Chin said, "And, of course, the CC Top classic La Grange was inspired by Chicken Ranch."
I knew of this band, and it wasn't called CC Top. I told Ha-Chin this.
Ha-Chin bowed his head and said, "Yes! CC Top."
To which the obese man snorted and used a derogatory term about Ha-Chin and his ancestors.
I turned toward the obese man but Ha-Chin put a hand on my arm and told me that such, ah, pride was part of the Texas charm. He had a pleasant look on his face. I had the feeling that nothing fazed him.
The elderly woman removed her headphones and said, "Some of us are trying to relax."
Ha-Chin said, "What are you listening to, ma'am?"
The elderly woman stared at him for a moment and said, "Roy Rogers."
"Happy Trails?" Ha-Chin said excitedly. Before the elderly woman could respond he said, "That is one of my favorites," and began to sing aloud, starting with the words, "Bum-ba-dee-da." I recognized the song and believed it was one that everyone could sing aloud with Ha-Chin. But no one did.
Cheryl's tire was flat. She leaned against her convertible in the parking lot of the bus depot and appealed to the departing passengers to please, for the love of God, give her a hand. She seemed sincere enough, yet no one would help. Cheryl's voice was several octaves lower than my own and she had hairy, muscular arms hanging from the ruffled sleeves of her blouse.
I walked up to Cheryl and told her I would change her tire for a ride to Reggie's. Her long blonde hair was unusually dry, similar to straw. Her breath smelled of cigars.
Cheryl barked, "Who's this Reggie, partner?"
I liked being called partner even though it didn't seem authentic coming from Cheryl, who was from Boston. I thought, People from Boston are easy to pick out by the odd way they speak. Plus, Cheryl told me she was from Boston while I changed the driver's side rear tire on her Cadillac.
I told her I didn't know who Reggie was, exactly.
"Well, where does he live then?"
I told her I didn't have an address, or know the names of the streets, but that I could direct here there from memory.
Cheryl said, "Sounds like an adventure."
It was a hot, humid day and Cheryl kept the top down as we drove past brown pastures and skinny cows. I saw some scrubby trees and cactus plants. I saw the Texas flag several times. I leaned back in the leather seat and thought, This is familiar.
Cheryl said, "Bet you never rode in a lime-colored Caddy with a gal like me, hey partner?"
I couldn't be certain, of course. I motioned for Cheryl to take a right. We were running along the Guadalupe, a dense, leafy area that resembled a jungle.
"I'm not your run of the mill beauty," said Cheryl, and this might have been a joke. "I happen to be a congressional candidate. I filed the paperwork yesterday. I figure, if a Libertarian can win in this district, the general populace is ready for the next step."
I nodded. I appreciated Cheryl's ambition, though I didn't know what the next step beyond a Libertarian was. What I knew about Libertarians was that they smoked marijuana and collected guns and complained about the government. Beyond that was, what, anarchist?
Cheryl stared at the side of my face for a moment. She said, "You have the aura of a Republican. You a supply-sider, partner? Feed the corporate hog?"
I kicked this around. It sounded right. I recalled using terms such as fiscal responsibility and work ethic. I envisioned a world of stiff suits and sixty-dollar haircuts. I knew I had cut deals over varnished oak tables, only I couldn't remember what those deals were or who else was at the table.
Cheryl fired up a cigar and started talking about her campaign, about how she was going to go door-to-door starting tomorrow and could you imagine her on your doorstep in her light yellow pantsuit and matching sunhat? From there, she talked about her troubled youth as a pudgy lad named Bob, her college years as a confused frat boy, her angry ex-wife up in Dallas. Like any good politician, Cheryl liked to talk.
We made our last turn onto a gravel road, a dead end, and Reggie's faded pink house came into view. It was a vine-covered shack with a backyard that sloped down to the river.
We pulled into a dirt driveway. Cheryl put the Caddy in park and we sat looking at the shack for a few moments. A pitchfork with bent tines leaned against the wall. A cattle skull was hung above the front door. A large bird with a red saggy throat sat on the tin roof, eyeing us.
Cheryl said, "You want me to go in with you?"
I told her, "No, thank you."
Cheryl said, "Well, good luck then, partner."
I said, "Reggie."
He sat in a recliner in the corner of the room. It was nearly dark, and all I could see was the milky glow of his eyes, which, I knew, did not work except on shadows and bright light. The innards of the shack smelled of lots of things, none of them pleasing.
"How was the trip, boy?"
"A trip," I said.
"What'd you bring me?"
"Questions," I said.
Reggie snorted and said, "I'll ask the questions."
I said, "Okay."
"Have you met a woman scorned?"
I pictured the woman on the airplane with the breasts and the legs and the husband named Conan. I said, "I did."
"Have you encountered the ugly heart of man?"
I thought of the riders on the bus and Ha-Chin. I said, "Something like that, yeah."
"Have you witnessed a political revolution?"
I laughed as I imagined Cheryl's thick hairy arms passing out campaign literature. I said, "You could say that, old man."
"Ain't that some shit," said Reggie. "Now sit your ass down and listen up."
He pulled a harp out of his breastbone pocket. There were no other chairs so I sat on the floor. The carpet was worn and greasy, and as Reggie began to play either my neck hairs danced or some gnats flitted about on my skin, it was hard to tell. At any rate, the tune was a howl, and it was good to be back.
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