Get Off My Lawn

I can't tell if he's laughing or crying.

American Graffiti

Montana was every cowboy movie he’d ever seen. This was first time he’d been outside the forest of Ontario and he had no idea that space like this existed, with yawning parcels of seemingly infinite land and a sky that was as large as outer space, with a blue so bright it seemed to be shouting. Then the suddenness of the mountains that seemed to appear out of nowhere like a magician’s trick. He loved these sharp pieces of infant formations that jutted from the ground proud and confident. And stored within the small valleys were isolated storms that were small enough that a person could drive through them like nature’s car wash.

He pulled his car over to the shoulder to stretch and maybe take a few pictures with the cheap disposable camera he bought at a gas station. The store was full of families buying slurpees and overpriced t-shirts; the lights were harsh and felt soul depleting. The noise from the makeshift arcade in a half-closed-off room at the back was almost annoying enough to induce some nervous twitching. He felt panicked as he ran the gauntlet of parents and kiddies decked out in fanny packs and wraparound sunglasses.

He took a few pictures of the rolling hills that were set ablaze by the dipping sun. Here and there smoother, reddish rocks peeked out from the earth like the callouses on a farmer’s hand. He wanted the pictures to be the tangible evidence that he was actually right here, at this place, in this time. He could believe that none of this was real, but if he had some sort of record then maybe he could come to terms with the part of him in denial.

That’s when he saw the man on a horse. He was riding fast, kicking up a trail of dust, and the stiff rope attached to his saddle jerked up and down in time with the horse’s gallop. His face was lean and symmetrical and he wore a leather work coat and a denim shirt accented with a red bandana that hung loose around his neck. The traveller knew that this was the Marlboro Man. He was every billboard and magazine ad he’d ever seen.

Marlboro Man drew up close to him. Each man was silent for a while staring at the other, neither sure who was the anthropologist and who was the untouched tribe. Finally the cowboy spoke. “Hey there.”

“Hey,” Traveller replied. “Nice horse.”

“Thanks.” Traveller reached out and petted the horse, and the cowboy smiled as he rubbed the steed’s neck. The horse was a beautiful shade of chestnut.

“What’s its name?” asked Traveller.

“Her name is Chestnut.” He shrugged. “I was going to name her something like Diaspora or Simulacra, thinking I was clever, but I was just drunk and when I sobered up I thought Chestnut was a far less pretentious name to give the best friend I ever had. The only friend really.” The reflection of the sun winked off the gun in his holster as Chestnut shuffled a bit.

“You don’t have any friends? Human friends? Why?” Traveller held up his hand to shield his eyes from the sun.

The cowboy smiled sadly. “You’re passing through here, right?”

“Yeah. I’m not too sure where I’m going but I sure as shit know I ain’t going back.”

“Then you’re a lucky son-of-a-bitch.” He looked off into that endless horizon. “I have to go now. You drive ten more miles west and you’ll come to shitty little roadside dive called The Rhizome. Go take a piss and you’ll learn everything about me you need to know.” He turned Chestnut around and rode off into the sunset.

Traveller did as he was told. The parking lot of the bar was filled with Harley Davidsons and pickup trucks with gun racks in the cab and animal horns mounted on the hoods. He could hear ZZ Top pounding out through the door. Traveller thought to himself: Jesus, I’m in shit-kicker heaven. I hope I leave this place with my pecker intact.

But as he made his way to the bathroom he was greeted with friendly nods and a few smiles. Traveller took a piss and as he was washing his hands he saw written on the side of bathroom mirror in black marker:

I Hate This Part of Texas.

This struck Traveller as funny. He laughed. He felt good. He dried his hands and took out his camera from his back pocket and laid it gently on the sink, leaving it behind. He walked lightly back to his car and drove west. All the way to the ocean.






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19 replies

  1. “yawning parcels of seemingly infinite land”—Love that line!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. You need to do this more often. This is one of those once-in-awhile stories that I feel like I’ll need to come back to for a re-read. There are things here that need to be explored and considered more than once.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much. This whole thing just poured out of me as I was thinking about my travels through Montana and the ideas I have formed about parts of America and how these ideas are formed from the representations in movies, books, and advertising. And how America is an idea, or a set of ideas and aspirations that some love and some can feel trapped by. And as a traveler to be confronted with the reality of a place while still nursing the romance and myth of a place like “cowboy country” can be stupefying. Blah, blah, blah, I’m starting to fall in love with sight of my own words so I’ll leave it that. Thanks again. This was a fun little piece to write.


      • I’m about five years from retirement and one of my goals is to see all of the parts of the country I haven’t got to see. The wide open vistas of Montana are one of those places. Your piece brought me right there and really, really strengthened my desire to get the in person. And I love the graffiti on the wall. That statement right there just says so much about one of the “ideas” that is America.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is truly stunning. Montana and Idaho were places that made me understand the meaning of sublime beauty.


      • If I have my way, I will eventually make my way through every state and also plenty of Canada. When I was seven, our family went on a 10 week, 10,000 mile vacation across the country. We hit 22 or 23 states and also spent about a week in Canada, entering at Sault Ste. Marie (or thereabouts), spending time in Ottawa, Ontario and Montreal. We almost got hit by a train in Sudbury, by the way, and my mom still raves about some pizza we had at a place in Ottawa. I to hope to have the opportunity to do something similar in the years ahead.


      • I’ve taken a train through Sudbury. Ottawa is a great city, The Rideau Canal is a World Heritage Sight and worth the price of admission. If you go there for Canada Day (July 1st) you won’t be disappointed. Montreal is having a huge gang war right now but I’m sure it has some positive aspects as well.


      • “Gang war” and “Montreal” are somehow words I never imagined could be in the same sentence. Disappointing.


      • The Mafia and Hells Angels are a big part of the city. Quebec has a corruption problem. It is sad. Yesterday, some big deal mafia guy was gunned down in his own neighbourhood and placed in the middle of a busy intersection.


  3. So, that’s how all his nude photos got leaked onto the internet.


  4. Impressive writing 🙂 I’ve never seen or met an American cowboy…. Or been to places with them. On my bucket list.


  5. You’ve been places dude! This story makes me want to go to the states! I’ve been to uh…Buffalo and New York….and Florida…and…Cuba…


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