I had originally planned to spend the weekend here at the ranch and then head to Arlington, Texas to visit my brother Joe and his family. But given the unexpected influx of hunters and the chance to watch the Bills game on Sunday with my brother I decided to hit the road Saturday morning. Though I was going to Arlington a couple days early Joe still called me and asked if I wanted to come that Friday morning. He was well aware of my illiteracy regarding guns/hunting and my general disdain for our gun crazy culture. But it didn't matter. I had a good time the previous night drinking beer and watching the game with these guys and decided to stay. This whole dove hunting thing fascinated me and except for the occasional gunshots in the distance this was a good place to catch up on my homework.
At any rate I was up early, doing my thing. By 7am there were a couple of guys sitting in lawn chairs in an open field next to the driveway. They were casually drinking coffee, talking and shooting at any doves that happened to be flying above the open field. It seemed to be a rather peaceful way to spend the morning. After a while this big guy pulled up in a full sized F150 white pick-up truck and came up on the porch where I was sitting on this cool west Texas morning and introduced himself. His name was Lane and he was the ranch’s groundskeeper. He took me on a tour through all the backroads of the ranch and showed me where they had set up feed stations to keep the deer, well fed and in place. Lane estimated there were four or five hundred deer on the ranch and they would be subject to first bow and then shotgun season in the coming months. He was a sweetheart of a guy and sang my brother’s praises in a way that felt completely genuine, like all the Cooper guys I met did.
After the tour I tried to sit on the porch and continue to write, but it seemed as if some of the desert flies from Joshua had been imported here. They were so annoying. With that big comfortable air-conditioned double wide available to me there was no need to try and be Zen about it at all. I just went inside and did my thing.
About 7pm some guys started to assemble on the patio and drink beer. Three young clients and one Cooper guy who had worked with my brother for thirty years. It was a great night of sitting by the fire pit drinking beer and listening to country music.
Though I’d been listening to Outlaw Country throughout this whole trip these guys were playing nu-country stuff. I guess the distinction would be that Outlaw Country was like the classic rock of country with some Bob Dylan and Tom Petty thrown in the mix. Nu-country was like the top forty of country music, I think. Again I know next to nothing about it other than it sounded more poppy than the Outlaw stuff. One thing I learned on this trip is that there is more of a rural sensibility in the country than I’d imagined—even in a place like Joshua Tree. Though Buffalo is hardly a jet-setting town, it is urban with an urban sensibility. There is a popular country station in town but not many people sporting cowboy hats, yahoo belt buckles or shit kickers.
The point is a guy like me is kind of an outlier here. Though it hasn’t happened much in my life as a white, straight, male I think it's good for the soul to be on the outside looking in. In my last job, my work group consisted of thirteen women, myself and another guy. It was a great learning experience where I really had to be on my toes, watching what I said all the time. That’s often not the case when you’re in the majority. People become familiar and just say any old shit that pops into their head. At the ranch I had to fit with these guys rather than them fitting with me.
The first place where we found common ground is through an old honkey tonk singer named Gary Stewart. I was introduced to Stewart through my old music savant pal RJ, and while I liked his twang I wasn't all that familiar with him, but these Texas guys were. In fact, they were like, “Me and my daddy used to listen to him all the time.” We went deep into the catalog for maybe forty-five minutes, which was very enjoyable.
Next, and I don’t quite recall how it happened, but we stumbled onto Todd Snider and the story of “The Devil’s Brokeback Tavern.” The Devil’s Brokeback Tavern is an actual tavern on Rt 32 in Fischer, Texas between Austin and San Antonio. Snider made the place semi-famous with a hilarious story and song about it while looking for Luckenbach, Texas where his hero Jerry Jeff Walker recorded. One of the young Cooper clients said he grew up like three blocks from the bar and said it used to be everything Snider said it was in the song—a rowdy place with a bunch of cowboys, bikers and barroom brawls. So we played it and everybody had a good laugh, but the young guy said its changed a lot, that now every time there’s a fight in the bar they call the cops which really seemed to piss him off almost as if he had been cuffed a time or two. But we didn’t go there.
After building my cred and having a good time with these guys all night I blew it. One of these young guys was joking/boasting about having high cholesterol and blood pressure the way guys sometimes do, like it shows how tough they are or something. I know—white guys wtf? Anyway, I was a little buzzed and very earnestly I said maybe he should think about trying some “Beyond Burgers,” which are made from plants and are really good. When I explained to these Texas boys that these weren’t veggie burgers, but burgers made from plants that taste like beef they glared at me like I was the biggest asshole in the world.
I knew my mistake instantly—trying to sell Texans on plant burgers was like extolling the virtues of ranch dressing on wings to Buffalo people. But I was quick on my feet and I told those boys: “Ya know, I write poems, but not sissy poems like Robert Frost. I write tough poems like Jewel.”
He eyed her up At church for months Brown hair, big brown eyes Lovely curves and oh so cute
He couldn’t muster the nerve
So he went through her friend
Got the number
And they began to talk on the phone
When school finally gave way
To the easy days of summer
He started to go over to her house
And sit on her porch steps
From behind the screen door
Her mom looked him over
And delivered her answer
With a warm sublime smile
Sometimes they talked
On those porch steps
Sometimes they held hands
Sometimes they just smiled at each other
But mostly they sat there
Not doing much of anything
Just looking at the neighbors and the cars
Watching the summer just drift on by
Never was monotony so glorious
Never was anything so easy
He liked her
She liked him
It was a warm safe space
Where no one yelled at him
Where no one kicked him
Where he wasn’t a disappointment
But as summer faded he stopped visiting
And when he saw her after church
She awkwardly looked at her feet
And said,“Mom says, “Hi.”
Then, she turned and walked away
And with that
The guileless summer On the porch steps was gone forever