Today’s little odyssey came with a Texas twist. My brother Joe is a big shot at Cooper Natural Resources, and though he wasn’t going to be there he had arranged for me to stay at the company’s hunting ranch in Brownfield, Texas, just south of Lubbock. This west Texas oasis is used to entertain clients and is normally unoccupied, but as fate would have it, I was passing through the area at the height of dove hunting season.
That’s right, in Texas they hunt and kill doves. Those monogamous birds that people release at their weddings and the Catholic Church uses as a symbol of peace and serenity. In Texas it’s not enough to kill deer, feral pigs, porcupines and a billion other things, they kill these little white birds too.
The nearly seven-hour drive into Brownfield started on Rt.40, which skirted Albuquerque and its skyline of Saul Goodman like injury attorney billboards. At Clines Corner you turned south on Rt 285 and went through New Mexico the desert towns of Encino and Vaughn. At Roswell you moved east on Rt. 380 toward Brownfield. Along the way there was several burnt down towns, vast desolate expanses, working ranches and many active oil wells. It always seemed weird to me that “Breaking Bad” was set in Albuquerque but once you drive through New Mexico you totally get it.
I arrived in Brownfield around dinner time and due to my brother’s big shot status I was given a VIP room in one of the three luxuriously equipped double wide trailers which sat at the edges of the eight-hundred-acre ranch. My trailer came with an expansive living area, a huge kitchen, a fully stocked bar and lots of guns and information about guns—gun mags and a bookcase stocked with manuals and hardcovers on guns and ammo. It even had a bunch of gun art on the walls. In the bookcase there also was a volume of the “The Reagan Diaries.”
After I took a shower, I went out to a little patio area between the trailers where some of the people my brother worked with (okay, he’s their boss) tried to pump me for information about him. My brother Joe is quiet, unassuming and extremely competent. When any of us takes on a big job like building a deck or maybe makes a major life decision like buying a van and travelling around the country the joke in our family is to say: Before you do that, maybe you should check with Joe to see if it’s a good idea.
Besides his extreme competence you would never peg him as a big shot (okay, he’s the CEO of Cooper Natural Resources) because he doesn’t project himself as the prototypical—I’m the boss—type. He never talks about himself and treats people with dignity and respect. When a person of power asks about your family or some life challenge you’re facing in a sincere way it throws people off and makes them nervous. They think that person might be playing some inside game. But with Joe it’s genuine.
So, my unsatisfying answer back to them was something along the lines—I could be wrong, since he left Buffalo in 1976 and I see him maybe once or twice a year—but there is no subtext or inside game. He is completely genuine when he asks about your daughter, your vacation or the next shitty novel you’re writing.
After we got past that the night became surreal as I sat there drinking beer on the patio with some Cooper guys and clients as they talked hunting, guns and ammo, like say musicians talk about Rickenbacker’s and the three best Stones albums (“Let It Bleed,” “Sticky Fingers,” “Exile on Main Street”). There was all this conversation about different models of guns and bullet calibers. Of course, there stories about mishaps like holding a powerful shotgun incorrectly as a kid and the kick breaking a collarbone. Or the pursuit and conquest of a twelve pointer.
Though I have zero desire to hunt or shoot anything—beyond the occasional bourbon—it was really fascinating to listen to these guys talk about all this stuff and the passion with which they did it. They talked about guns, ammo and hunting the way Buffalo people talk about Josh Allen and the Bills these days.
But as I sat there just taking all this in, I wondered if at some point they were going to turn to me and ask what my story was. Wanting to represent my CEO brother properly among his colleagues and clients as they talked of guns ammo and killing shit, I knew I needed to have a strong, clear-headed answer. So, if they asked, I was going to tell them that I wrote poems, but not sissy Robert Frost poems—no, I wrote tough to the point poems like Jewel.
The question never came up though and we went into one of the doublewides ate a bunch of red meat, drank tequila and watched the Dolphins v. Bengals game on Thursday night football.