Tuesday, January 31, 2006

That Dog I Mourn

It has been noted that in space no one can hear you scream. I submit the same is true of submersion in a large vat of petroleum jelly.

Now, someone would have to be very drunk, or very stupid, to confuse a large vat of petroleum jelly with outer space. But Latigo Flint has been known to shoot people in the face if they call him stupid, so I've a pretty good idea which way the consensus will trend.

One of the unfortunate effects of mistaking a vat of petroleum jelly for outer space is that you end up looking rather silly demanding Astronaut Wings from NASA with your clothes stuck to you, your hair slicked eight ways and Vaseline oozing from your ears. (Not to mention you tend to get labeled a pathological masturbator.)


Hey, which do you think is going to get to go to space first: a wolf or an otter? Or will neither get the chance?

In 1957, Laika became the first animal in space. She wasn't a wolf or an otter but rather a mongrel dog of indeterminate breeding, picked up while wandering the streets of Moscow. Laika in Russian means "barker". Turns out her trip was never to be anything but one-way, and a bark is a scream to a dying dog.

Some people raged like some people do, but they may have been hypocritical fools. We kill dogs every day, in the cruelest of ways and for few causes grand as hers. I think she knew on some level and to say that she didn't, might be denying senses different from ours.

Hell, but I don't know anymore--I understand yet I don't and that's a wretched place to be. Laika went from cold and alone to on stamps and well-known, and Russian winters are savage to strays. I do know she was one in a trillion, a very good dog, and just happens to be mourned to this day.

I can't talk about Laika without getting bunched up, and tonight would seem the same. That's likely why I discuss her so seldom, and probably won't ever again.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Between the Lobby and the Storm

You know something... The doormen at posh downtown hotels never believe you when you shout back at them through the glass that you just remembered there are demons waiting outside and you're going to need to reverse the revolving door and come back in.

They tell you lies like: "The revolving door only spins one way sir." And, "I don't see any demons." Then they don't even bother to look when you point all the demons out. They just nod patronizingly and tell you you're holding up traffic and would you kindly un-wedge your boot toe from beneath the door.

Well guess what--no one tells Latigo Flint where he can and can't wedge his boot toe. And if Latigo Flint decides he needs to wait in the quiet quarter of a sectioned door between the lobby and the storm until all the demons go away, then by the waxed handlebar of Earp, that's exactly what Latigo Flint is going to do.

Anyone trapped in the section opposite yours tends to become significantly less than cordial after a minute or two. They whine about being late for a meeting and then say very cruel things, and at some point threaten to have your family killed. (It usually takes at least half an hour to get to that last one though.) I really don't know what they're so pissy about. They're safe from the demons where they are and to go forward means being in the same room with that jerk of a doorman, and being in the same room with jerks is bad for your chi.

Sometimes playing your harmonica chases the demons away. Demons don't like harmonica music much, it makes them uneasy and gives them a headache. But the angry crowd that has formed on both sides of the door is gonna go batshit when you pull out your harmonica and start to play, so though it'll probably chase the demons away, just make sure you're mentally prepared to deal with being the focus of that much rage.

Only when the demons are gone do I un-wedge my boot toe from beneath the door and continue outside. I find a child on the edge of the mob and lock eyes with her or him as I'm swallowed up by the crowd and maimed. I've always thought that makes a maiming more poetic somehow.

In lieu of a child a hobo will do.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Depth Cords

Even the dumbest squid I ever met could have been a world-class harpist had it only a harp to play.
--Harvey Cousteau (Jacques' younger brother.)

You know what Latigo Flint finds odd? Few, if any, musical instruments are designed to be played in underwater caves. That's probably why squid are so lonely. Hell, I've got half a mind to bolt waterproof lights to xylophones and harps, and declare myself an innovator.

Women adore that sort of thing--I'd probably do very well in that department. They'd approach me, holding the latest issue of Popular Science, intently comparing my face to the one on the cover.

"It's really you." She'd gush. "The one who invented musical instruments designed to be played in underwater caves."
We'd chat for a bit and then I'd produce scuba gear and invite her to an underwater cave for private concert. It wouldn't take but three songs at most before we'd be making love. The squid wouldn't dare swim into the cave and interrupt 'cause they'd know if they do, they lose underwater harp playing privileges for a week.

And squid have almost no concept of time, which would make every one of a week of minutes all the more agonizing.

"Has it been a week yet?" The squid would ask. "Can I play the underwater harp now?"

"No you stupid squid." I'd reply, turning from the girl to glare over my shoulder. "It's only been a minute, and guess what? You've just tacked on another week!"

"Awwww!" The squid would cry, and squoosh itself back to the open sea, where it'd probably be eaten by a whale. And its death, while tragic, would teach the other squid a very valuable lesson: They're allowed to play my underwater cave harp anytime they like, except when I'm in there, using it to romance a girl.

Then sooner or later someone would turn my story into a made for TV movie. And they'd probably add a scary scene with a shark, even if that never actually happened in real life. The executives would say, "Look. You can't have a movie about a man who plays harps and xylophones for women in underwater caves without at least one scary scene with a shark! The audience is going to feel cheated and angry."

And you know something? They're probably right.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

True Western Truth #71

In the squinty-eyed American Old West, cowboys that couldn't afford a saddle had to make do with a badger hide and twine. It was often difficult for such men to successfully woo women. Not so much because they were poor--strength of character and pistol skill, not accumulated wealth, was the measure of a man in those days--but rather because they tended to reek of badger. And twine stirrups chafe horrible sores to the calves and inner thigh.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Quickest Way Down

The nice thing about falling is that no one cares if you swear. It's like a free pass to be impolite. Well, except for racial slurs, those are still off-limits--unless of course you die on impact--then everyone scuffles their feet, looks away and pretends they heard something different.

One time Latigo Flint fell off the seventh-floor balcony of a fancy hotel into the lobby atrium. Latigo Flint wasn't sure if he was going to survive the fall so he kept quiet the whole way down--even though it'd been a Swede who bumped into him at the top.

Turns out that was the right decision. My fall was cushioned by several ficus trees and one exceptional fern. Guests and staff who would have been deeply offended by a plummeting epithet, hastened to my side, and the Swede couldn't have been more apologetic. He bought me a new suit and took me out to dinner. Then I slept with his younger sister and told him all about it the next morning. He didn't like that one bit but had no choice but to listen, what with him nearly killing me the day before.

That's the great thing about Swedish men, they understand they're morally obligated to let men they nearly accidentally kill sleep with their sisters.

Sometimes when I'm near a Swede on a cliff I'll brush up against him and then topple off just to make him think he was at fault... of course the joke's on me if all he has are brothers, but I make do--you'd be surprised how hot Swedish boys can look wearing stockings in the shower.

(Um... someone stole my password, this isn't me tonight.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Crazy Wind

Robert stared out at a field bent in half, rubbing his jaw with a fist.
"It's a crazy wind what blew tonight." He remarked with a sigh.

"You mean the way it swirled and seemed to change direction?" Bentley asked.

"No." Robert replied. "I mean when it hit it could make a man crazy." And then for good measure he tried to eat his own sock.

"What on earth are you doing?" Bentley asked, when he noticed Robert trying to eat his own sock.

"Don't ask so many questions Bentley." Robert replied, and calmly killed him with rusty trowel.


Women you love but can't have are very much like crazy winds. They seem to swirl and change direction and often your only available reaction is an attempt to eat your own sock.

Oh yeah, and sometimes you kill people with a rusty trowel.

Latigo Flint would feel worse about killing all those people with a rusty trowel if he wasn't choking right now.

And he'd run to the woman and tell her how he felt if the wind wasn't blowing so goddamn hard.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Space Child Has No Name

One of the problems to surely face the first child conceived in outer space will be her awful name. Her future parents (and they walk among us today, bank on it) are going to name her something unbelievably dumb... you know they will.

I don't and won't blame them for what they're going to do. It's not like any of us would perform any better if tasked with choosing a name that is already certain to be on history's lips for quite some time. They'll temporarily lose their minds and name her something ridiculous. We'll try not to laugh too hard when we hear it, and that will be that.


I think humanity finds itself now in the very early days of the next Space Age--the real Space Age--the one based on commerce. Which, and don't let the foolish or mean tell you otherwise, is and has always been a good thing.

People will pay incredible sums of money for a fifteen-minute ride into outer space. Many thousands of them have already paid their deposit, and the seats aren't even upholstered yet. And like any service or commodity for which there is a demand, the cost is going to come down.

Richard Branson's ships will fly, and eventually to hotels. Weightless research laboratories will facilitate breakthroughs in nanotechnology as yet even undreamed. And the unlimited, renewable supply of energy that our sun is kind enough to spew will be collected by giant, orbiting arrays and efficiently distributed to every country on Earth. New opportunities will present themselves to untold millions of restless men and women of all nationalities and creeds--the likes of which haven't been seen since we first learned to float structures on water.

Will it solve every problem? No, of course not, and thank goodness for that. Life would become intolerably boring if there weren't any problems to solve. But what shall keep us away from the dark slopes of irreversible evil that have and always will, line humanity's path like freeway exits you didn't mean to take? Same as always of course--the dark slopes of irreversible evil will be avoided by average people sharing ideas and information, each making the countless tiny decisions that together drive a world. And this crazy internet thingy facilitates that as never before.

What if the nations of Ye Olde Europe had said: "Hey, we have problems here." (And there were problems--some very, very big problems.) "We should solve them first before spending all this money just to find out what's across the sea."
What if ancient tribes had said: "Shit, it looks awful chilly on that Bering Strait, and you know what else, I bet there's bears out there too."

Bollocks to that, right? It's a good thing cowards don't prevail.

Exploration, in its many forms, is a pure joy. Making a buck is a personal and familial necessity. Throughout history the two have combined to produce some magnificent results. I see no reason this won't continue.


Which brings us back to the matter of the first child to be conceived in outer space. I don't know to which girl and boy I should be speaking, but whoever you are, you better not name your child something silly. She's gonna hate you for it if an eon's worth of history classes snicker every time they read her name.

I humbly recommend you name her after me: Latigo Flint. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Latigo Flint, Space Child.

I guess if you must, you can make 'Flint' the middle name and slap your surname on the end--unless your last name is Boyle, 'cause then the first child conceived in space would be named Latigo Flint Boyle--which would be way too close to Laura Flynn Boyle--and that would just be weird.

(From The High Frontier by Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill (1927-1992)

"We need, I believe, to lift our eyes..... to remind ourselves of the shared vision for which our work is done. Ultimately that vision will expand our physical, political and mental boundaries from the confines of a single planet to the much broader limits of a race freely expanding its habitat throughout our solar system, and from there to the stars. Even the beginning of realization of that vision will bring profound benefits to our planet and its life.")

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Night We Fell

The children ran with fire in the night. They went up and down the shore of the lake--tiny, giggling streaks of light. Molly and I sat on our deck in our folding chairs, holding hands as we watched them play.

"From here," Molly said in her low, soft voice. "You almost forget they're children."
And it was magical that she'd said that just then, because I'd been thinking the very same thing.
"They could be angels for all we know." Molly continued. "Or some new, amazing species of bird."
Well okay, maybe we hadn't been thinking the exact same thing--I'd been thinking something more like Angry Villagers, but close enough.

Molly gently rubbed my knuckles with her thumb and I knew she was happy.
"Know what I mean?"
I shrugged. It was too dark for her to see it, but of course your shirt tends to rustle a bit with a shrug, and I'd certainly done it enough times over the years for her to catch the move. She laughed lightly.
"You know what I mean--you just think it's manly to pretend not to."
I dismissed that statement with a very grumpy snort but met her thumb with the tip of my own so she'd always know I cared.

"Let's join them Molly." I proposed after some time had passed. "I think there's some sparklers in the shed. Let's light those sparklers and run crazy in the night."
Her hand went rigid in mine and I knew I'd said something wrong. A moment later I remembered she had no legs--which was just a truly absurd thing to forget. I mean, for Pete's Sake, in half our wedding pictures you can see the stack of apple crates she'd been placed upon to bring our eyes at least close to level.
Senility's a real fuck in the mind sometimes.

"I'm sorry Molly." I whispered. "I keep forgetting you have no legs."
"I know you do." She replied. "It's one of the reasons I love you."
I sat up abruptly, a wild grin spreading across my craggy face. "We're doing it anyway." And I tottered off to get the sparklers.

It had been years since I'd lifted her but I put that from my mind. Hell, I had already fetched the sparklers by then, which was easily thirty steps and back, and at my age you don't ever want to waste perfectly good strides.

We were halfway to the lake when the stroke hit. I dropped as if shot but managed to safely cradle Molly as we fell. I'd have probably minded the pine cones digging into my spine a lot more if I could have actually felt my spine.
"Run for help Molly." I managed to groan. "I think it's the big one now."
A second later I had to laugh at myself, though it came out as more of a whimper.
"Oof, I'm such an idiot."
She pulled herself over, propped her elbows on my chest and kissed me for a very long time.
"Yes, you are." She replied. "But in the very best way."

And a man can't do better than that. And even if he could--why would he want to?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Song of Tivens Roundelby

Cattle stampedes were a big problem in the squinty-eyed American Old West. Think how frequent and annoying traffic jams are, even the minor ones, in your day-to-day life. Now imagine that statistically, every fifth traffic jam you find yourself in results in your gruesome death.

Cowboys tried singing to the herd at night to keep them calm. Being exceptionally lonely young men, the cowboys would tend to sing achingly sad songs about love lost and faraway women who had surely married by now. But it didn't make a difference, the cattle stampeded anyway--mostly because the cattle weren't afraid of loneliness--the cattle were afraid that mountain lions were going to come in the night and eat their faces off.

(Which of course, if you want to get transcendent about it, is at its core, nearly identical to the fear of loneliness. But cows are relatively shallow thinkers.)

The stampedes were gettin' pretty bad and our young nation was on the verge of scrapping the whole beef thing and switching to soy-based products as our primary protein source, when one day a young man by the name of Tivens Roundelby crossed the Mississippi and rode west into the annals of cowboy lore.

Tivens Roundelby was an assistant schoolteacher and amateur stamp collector from Saint Louis. He should have been utterly unfit for life on the brutal range were it not for two seemingly disparate attributes:
One, he possessed a singing voice so lovely that angels gnashed their teeth in envy, and two, ever since the circus accident he'd witnessed as a young boy, he had always known how frightened cows were of mountain lions.

Tivens Roundelby went on to become the greatest sonic preventer of cattle stampedes the world has ever known. It is common knowledge that every spring, Trail Bosses would routinely square off in the barns and corrals outside Abilene and shoot at each other for the right of his employ.

Today you can't find a museum within a hundred miles of the historic Chisholm Trail that doesn't display a bronze placard inscribed with the lyrics to Tivens Roundelby's most famous cattle calming song:

Don't fret my gentle cows. Put aside your snorty scares.
No mountain lion prowls, and these plains are free of bears.
And even if they were about, I'd surely shoot them down,
for I'd sooner swallow scorpions than let a lion hurt my cows.
So don't fret my gentle cows. Put aside your snorty scares.
No mountain lion prowls, and these plains are free of bears.


One night in late September 1884, just two day's ride from the trail's end at the stockyards in Kansas, Tivens Roundelby came down with laryngitis and was unable to sing to the herd. His replacement forgot the words, and Tivens was trampled to death in his sleep by the subsequent stampede.

Rugged cowboys the world over wept like children when they heard the news.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fire on the River Flint

The other day Latigo Flint strode into his local Starbucks. He was feelin' awful parched and reckoned a Mocha Chip Frappuccino would go down mighty smooth and slake thirst and soul alike.

Then Latigo Flint noticed the cute barista with mean eyes and blonde highlights behind the counter. The busy roar of a crowded Starbucks faded away to just the dullest of hums. Wavy lines and bursts of light danced across Latigo Flint's vision, and he seemed to detect the faint odor of burning feathers.

She works the afternoon shift, and it was the afternoon. Now I'm not gonna lie, I had a pretty good idea she was going to be there, but my plan had been to play it cool: Order my drink using none but the sanest of words. Calmly pay for my drink and quietly wait for it to be made. Then steadily grasp it and stride away with dignity intact. It was a good plan, a sound plan, a plan of which I was proud.

Unfortunately what we plan and what we do are so very seldom the same. (Especially when cute Starbucks baristas are involved.)

"Your order sir?" She warily asked as I approached the counter.

I cleared my throat.


I cleared my throat again.

"Um, I would like..."

I picked up one of the music CDs they keep on display near the register and intently studied the back for some reason.


I returned the CD to its rack. Some distant part of me knew that this was where I was supposed to tell her my drink order, so I raised my head and looked her square in the eye.

"Yes, I will have... You know something Starbucks barista--I actually love you, as it were, with easily twice the savage intensity of a surface fire roaring up the oil slick eddies of a dark, industrial river."

Which, damn my insubordinate heart and mouth, wasn't a drink at all!

Then apparently I lunged across the counter and started licking her neck, and maimed her boss with a syrup pump when he tried to intervene. (Or so the prosecution claims.)

Anyway, now I'm sharing a ten-by-ten with three tattooed skinheads and a transient. I'm nursing a caffeine headache and a broken heart, and may have just been sold for a book of matches and a broken joint.

These days you're allowed to trade your one phone call for five minutes of internet time, which only a fool would use to post to his weblog, but, you know, I reckon I must just really like you a lot.

(Oh yeah, turns out they take your six-guns away at the door in places like this, so someone needs to do me an urgent favor and send forty cartons of cigarettes to a Bernard "Bulldog" Smith, care of the Burbank Department of Corrections. Thanks. More than you'll ever know probably.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Girl in the Shed

A while ago, the residents of the City of Fresno, California did something quite remarkable. They built a tiny shed on the outskirts of town, stuck an Irish girl in it, and then just started blaming everything on her.

It was actually a rather incredible innovation. Unsolved crime dropped 100% practically overnight. Mothers stopped yelling at children for tracking mud through the living room. Husbands stopped yelling at wives for putting new scratches in car doors. And nobody ever got in trouble for being late to work.

"Johnson, it's eleven-thirty!!! We had a conference call scheduled for nine--do you have any idea how pissed the client is?!!!"

"Sorry Sir, but when I went to my car this morning, uh, my steering wheel was gone. I had to walk all the way to Bob's Auto Parts for a new one--set me back, like, three hundred bucks or something too."

"Oh jeez Johnson, that's rough. Bet you that Irish girl in the shed took it."

"Gosh Sir, you think?"

"Yeah, she got Rodriguez's also, and last week hit Taylor, Brown and Gunderson. Someone really oughta do something about that damn Irish girl in the shed. Come on, I'll buy you lunch."

And so it went. Across all of Fresno, life's brutal rhythms faded and gave way to tranquility. People even started blaming things they were witnessed doing on the Irish girl in the shed. That was soon followed by male pattern baldness, obesity, impotence and the flu. Best day of the butcher's life was when he realized he could probably blame salmonella on the Irish girl in the shed.

And the citizens couldn't have been happier. But then one fateful night in August, Phillip Haverstromsky, the star quarterback for Fresno High, went up to the shed on a dare, peeked in through the tiny window and was instantly smitten. Phillip promptly demanded the Irish girl's release, claimed he was in love with her.

At first everyone thought he was just using that as his excuse for cheating on his girlfriend with the entire cheerleading squad a month before.
"Oh honey." His girlfriend cried. "I know that wretched Irish girl in the shed retroactively tricked you into sleeping with the entire cheerleading squad last month. It's okay, of course I forgive you. Someone should do something about that damn Irish girl in the shed."

But Phillip wouldn't be dissuaded, he actually had fallen very much in love with the Irish girl in the shed.

"Listen!" Phillip Haverstromsky yelled as jogged backwards to top of the courthouse steps. "I slept with the entire cheerleading squad because I was really, really horny!"

No one could believe what he was doing. They screamed out for him to stop, that it wasn't too late--he could still blame everything on the Irish girl in the shed. But Phillip was having none of it. He went on to confess to cheating on geometry tests, a half-dozen vandalisms and robbing the till at his after-school job.

When he started listing other people's transgressions that had been previously blamed on the Irish girl in the shed, they knew he had to be stopped. So they beat him to death with bats and chains and blamed it on the Irish girl in the shed. Then they all went back to being innocent and happy and never spoke of it again.

There are some who say that Irish girl is there to this day--sitting in the dirt, dreaming about the face in the window. Others claim there never was a girl in that shed at all, just a cardboard cutout of Daniel Day-Lewis in drag.

One thing's for sure though: If you find yourself shortchanged in Fresno, or feel your pocket picked and see the Chief of Police tossing your wallet in his car, consider that money well spent and get the hell out of town. Push it and you're liable to find yourself killed and your murder blamed on the Irish girl in the shed.

(p.s. If you liked this wonderful and true story, then thank you very much and you should probably, like, email me lots of money or something. If you didn't like it... well, then that goddamn Irish girl in the shed stole my weblog password and was the one who actually posted it.)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sara and the Falconer

The other day Latigo Flint happened to come up with a great idea for a Sears commercial. Would you like to hear it? All right then.

Fade in on a beautiful young woman running along the edge of a rocky ravine in a thunderstorm. Her tiny, white slip of a dress is soaked through and her black hair flows in ringlets down her slender back. (She has lipstick on.)

She cries out above the roar of storm: "Falconer!!! Falconer!!!"

Cut to:

The Falconer stands, battered by wind and rain, in the center of a small clearing in the middle of a dense pine forest. His arms are flung wide, head thrown back. (He's wearing jeans and nothing else.)

"ARRRRRGHHHH!!!" screams the Falconer to the violent sky.

Cut to:

The young woman is crouched on all fours in the forest. Water streams through the pine needles, streaking mascara to her chin. Her bangs hang down like a slashed black veil, stopping just short of dangerous eyes. She curls her lip and snarls.

"I feel you Falconer."

Cut to:

A falcon circling the clearing.

"Screeeeee!" says the falcon.

Cut to:

The Falconer brings his fingers to his mouth and lets out a piercing whistle. Lightning flashes, and the falcon is perched on his bare shoulder. Its talons dig deep into the Falconer's flesh. Blood trickles down his chest.

"Hello my bird." the Falconer whispers.

Cut to:

A long shot of the clearing: Regular lightning flashes reveal something white and crawling on all fours emerging from the forest behind the Falconer.

Cut to:

Close up on the falcon's dark brown eyes. It blinks and its eyes are suddenly blue.

Cut to:

The young woman standing directly behind the Falconer.

"I found you Falconer." She murmurs in his ear.

The Falconer turns around, extends a cautious hand and gently strokes the woman's hair. She leans forward and kisses him hard on the mouth.

Close up on the falcon: "Shop at Sears." it whispers into the camera and flies away into the storm.

Fade out.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Salvador Nightshade

In earlier cultures, the first repeated story of the year was always a highly anticipated event.
"I wonder which story Grandfather Shaman will choose to retell first this year?" The young Pawnee children would eagerly whisper. "The one about the Fern who Cheated Winter or The Raven and the Vole?"

"Say, do you reckon if we ask real nice, Cookie might tell us the one about the preacher, the mule and the dance hall girl again?" The cowpunchers would say when Cookie was out of earshot.

It was a wonderful time. There weren't that many stories and so each was worth a lot.

Of course, these days a repeated story is viewed as the unwelcome product of a lazy or perhaps infirm mind and met with groans and much rolling of the eyes.
"Oh Christ! Dad's telling The Office Party and The Trick Candles again."

Well, so be it. If you roll your eyes at Latigo Flint he shoots you in the face. And half the time he's probably so drunk he actually thinks you're Pawnee.

From the archives - August 12, 2005. Enjoy.


Salvador Nightshade

There was once a young Gypsy named Salvador Nightshade who lived in Bakersfield, California. Salvador played the harmonica so beautifully and with so much passion, that when two people heard it there was a very good chance they would instantly fall in love with each other.

But no one ever fell in love with Salvador Nightshade. Salvador was kinda funny looking to begin with and when he played, his eyes would cross and his cheeks bulged. It also didn't help that all that rapid in- and exhalation tended to make him extremely flatulent.

Well, Salvador and I became occasional drinking buddies. We'd wile away evenings, decimating cases of Coors Long Necks and playing Musical Magic 8-Ball with the upcoming songs on the jukebox.

"Hey Musical Magic 8-Ball, will a girl ever fall in love with Salvador?"


Blame it all on my roots
I showed up in boots
and ruined your black tie affair

With every Musical Magic 8-Ball answer, Salvador and I would giggle drunkenly and collapse against each other. Then we'd demand another round with hearty slaps upon age-stained oak. We never compared our interpretations. Sometimes now I think back and can't help but wonder if we ever read the same answer into a given song. I guess it's not important--our response was always the same and that's probably all that matters.

When our giggles started to become hysterical, the bartender would unplug the jukebox and then Salvador and I would go our separate ways: I to a nearby barn, bedroll under my arm, Salvador to his concrete culvert where he'd practice harmonica 'til dawn. His melancholy strains and trills would drift reverberantly across lonely truck stop lots, bringing unexpected tears of joy to the handlebar cheeks of weary long-haulers.

Salvador Nightshade was so incredibly good with that harmonica, you can't even fathom. If you heard the first half of a song, you'd be willing to eat a puppy just to hear the rest. Salvador Nightshade made John Popper sound like an asthmatic mule with a kazoo in its nose.

One night Salvador Nightshade took his own life with a modified hay baler and a barbed wire noose.

It made me so goddamn sad that I forgot how to speak and spent the next four months trying to headbutt passing freight trains off their tracks.

(Which is impossible by the way. It can't be done. Not with a headbutt. You may try if you like--I guess I can't stop you. But I am kind of like, the foremost expert in the world and stuff, at headbutting passing freight trains off their tracks, and if I say it can't be done... Well then, you know, it probably can't be done.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Savage Meadows

The worst fall I ever took was in the middle of a mountain meadow. I'd sooner plunge from a cliff or be battered by storms than brush one more wild rose petal.

Don't be fooled, listen carefully to Latigo Flint now--despite meadows' gentle grandeur and beauty, they possess an incredible capacity for cruelty. See, meadows like to lull you with their rippling sway of lush grasses and wildflowers.
"Here you are safe." Meadows whisper through the silken throats of a thousand songbirds.
"Here there is joy." They say, and send out a family of rabbits to prove it.
"Take your woman to me," croons the meadow, "and I promise she'll love you more than yesterday."

Then the meadow makes sure to position the best looking trees around its rim, and directs the sun to shine through the leaves, casting the loveliest light there's ever been. Meadows often divide themselves with a stream, shallow enough to wade splashingly across, and meadows forbid leeches in their streams, only speckled trout and the greenest of moss.

But just when you think you're probably the happiest you've ever felt... the meadow tells your woman to leave you. Or sends a grizzly bear to eat your face off since there's nowhere to run away to. (Usually both.)

I don't know if you've ever had a woman leave, followed moments later by a grizzly bear eating your face off, but it's no fun at all. It tends to ruin your day. You're down on your knees in mud you hadn't noticed before, (goddamn sneaky meadow) asking her to reconsider, promising to change, and watching her pace quicken with every anguished word. Then she's gone and the clock starts ticking on minute one of ten thousand lonely hours.

You start mentally running through your options but can't even get past the first three: drink heavily for days, weeks, months--before noticing that a grizzly bear is lumbering toward you from the forest.

Then the grizzly bear eats your face off while the meadow laughs.

Ooh gunslingers hate meadows--boy do we ever. Give us a barren wasteland any day. At least a barren wasteland is up front and honest about how it plans to kill you; you certainly can't say the same for those wretched meadows.

Monday, January 09, 2006

True Western Truth #118

In the squinty-eyed American Old West, it was considered highly impolite to shoot a man carrying a basket of kittens. If you wanted to shoot him you had to wait until he put the basket down, or until the kittens squirmed out and ran away--which usually didn't take too long--kittens were much friskier back in those days, and basket lids weren't invented until 1905.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Legend of Latigo Flint and a Mongoose Named Corduroy Junction

There are those who will say, with much smug assurance, that it is physically impossible to draw, aim and fire a six-gun quicker than a mongoose winks.

They smile condescendingly at any who profess it feasible and none-too-subtly imply him or her an ignorant fool, thoroughly uneducated in not only basic physics but wildlife biology as well. And these smuglings get away with their pseudo-intellectual bullying because they travel in packs and are cruel, derisive debaters.

Many a frontier enthusiast, whose only crime was gentle admiration for the quickdraw skills of some bygone cowboy hero, has stumbled sobbing from a cocktail lounge, the laugher and taunts ringing in her ears, eroding her passion and the charm of belief.

Now, there is no doubt a mongoose winks very, very quickly. Mongooses routinely kill and eat cobra snakes, a mighty speedy critter in its own right, and have evolved a blazingly fast wink for deflection of spat venom.

But Latigo Flint, the quickest quickdraw the world has ever known, is faster by at least a third, probably half, and plans to someday make friends with a mongoose who'll travel around with Latigo Flint and help him prove it to those who'd otherwise sneer.

I think I'll name my mongoose Corduroy Junction, for no other reason than Corduroy Junction would be a great name for a mongoose. Of course I'll check with him first 'cause it's mean to give a friend a name he hates. But I'm quite certain he'll agree.

Oh, my heart leaps even now just thinking of it: Corduroy Junction and I will happen upon a beautiful young woman crying her eyes out in the moonlit parking lot of some swank, hipster eatery.
"What seems to be the trouble Ma'am?" I'll ask in my smooth, low drawl as Corduroy Junction nuzzles her hand with his soft, velvety nose.
"You'll think it's strange," she'll reply, her voice hitching. "But I've adored the gentleman gunslinger, Doc Holliday, for as long as I can remember."

"I don't reckon that's strange at all Ma'am. Doc was a prince among men."

She'll stare at me though wide, beautiful eyes, searching my rugged face for a hint of sarcasm. Finding none, she'll continue.
"Well, I was dining in there with some smug hipsters and happened to mention that Doc Holliday could probably draw his pistols faster than a mongoose winks."
She'll drop her face in her hands and sob the rest through glistening fingers.
"They laughed and called me a fool... a stupid fool... said it was impossible... all of them laughing and laughing and facts and figures... and... said I was..."

I'll stop her then by kneeling down and taking her hands in mine.
"Ma'am, do you know who I am?"
"I'm Latigo Flint, quickest quickdraw ever, and this is my mongoose, Corduroy Junction."
She'll look up and truly see us for the first time. Corduroy Junction will make that adorable little burbling/purr sound he makes for people he likes. The girl will let out a little laugh of delight and scratch him behind his ears.

"Now follow us Ma'am if you want to see the arrogant cry."

Then Corduroy Junction and I will stride inside and split with our savage axe of proof, every last smug closed-mind.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Coin-Operated Hemorrhage

Today Latigo Flint went to the supermarket and was pleased to discover they had recently installed a coin-operated horse out front, just to the right of the sliding glass doors. But the odd thing about this particular coin-operated horse was that its eyes seemed to follow you as you moved and it would growl and snap when you inserted a quarter.

'Course, turns out it wasn't a coin-operated horse at all but was in fact a Great Dane, and a grumpy one at that. However, Latigo Flint had already deposited his two bits (come to think of it, Latigo Flint actually doesn't want to know how... or where) and damned if he wasn't going to get his thirty-second ride.


The trouble with bleeding on the produce displays is that they make you buy it all--even the okra. Now you know and they know, that there was no way in hell they were ever going to sell all that okra. It was just gonna sit there for a week, like every other shipment of okra since the dawn of supermarkets, until it blotched and moldered and had to be thrown away. Okra is on the books as a loss before it's even delivered, and so apparently it's friggin' jackpot day for management if someone happens to bleed all over it.

"Clean up in the produce department of a biological nature." Crackled the voice over the store intercom. A stubby-legged manager sprinted around an aisle, several assistants in tow.
"Did he bleed on the okra?! Did he bleed on the okra?!"

They fanned out, grunting with almost orgasmic anticipation as they raced through the displays.
"Arrugula, artichoke, kale, watercress, jicama... come on-come on-come on...... OKRA! THERE IT IS!!!" The assistant manager dropped to his knees, waving his skinny arms above his head and shrieking with hysterical joy.
"The poor fool bled on the okra boys--he motherfucking bled on the motherfucking okra!!!"

"The motherfucking okra?"

"The motherfucking okra!"

They let out a cheer, linked arms and started manically dancing around the berry island.
"Hey Phillip, okra's out of season, is it not?!!!"
"By god man, I think it is!!!"
"Premium prices, premium prices--buck ninety a pound, buck ninety a pound."
They all whooped and took up the chant:
"Premium prices, premium prices--buck ninety a pound, buck ninety a pound."

I could feel my slowing heartbeat, a groaning throb in my throat and ears. I crawled in the direction of the front door and absently wondered, as I crossed over to the chip section, why the produce department is carpeted and the rest of the store is linoleum.

That Great Dane, the one I'd minutes before mistaken for a coin-operated horse, sure had tore me up pretty bad. My femoral was external and whipping around like an unsecured fire hose. I had puncture wounds so deep that they were shallow again on the other side, and every time I drew a breath my pancreas bonked my spine.

Now I'm Latigo Flint and certainly no stranger to seemingly fatal injuries. But with an entire produce department now on my tab, including what appeared to be nearly half a ton of out-of-season okra--well, for the first time ever I actually felt financially incentivised to die.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Heroism Deconstructed

Ask any hero if they'd rather be tough or lucky and the responses are going to vary. Many are going to choose tough. They'll tell you things like, "The tough make their own luck." and, "You don't have to be lucky when you're as tough as I."

Other heroes will go with lucky. They'll stroke their chins thoughtfully and point out that it doesn't matter how tough you are--everybody dies if they bleed enough.

At which point the heroes who picked tough are going to start yelling at the ones who picked lucky.
"Why you tepid little sissies." They'll say. "What a disgrace to heroism you are."

And it will surely end in fisticuffs.

But ask Latigo Flint if he'd rather be a tough hero or a lucky one and his only response will be a long, cold squinty-eyed stare that quivers your guts and enfeebles your mind. See, 'cause Latigo Flint knows that true heroes are like an old bobcat drinking from a mountain stream--sometimes tough, sometimes lucky, but always given to wild screams and vengeful wrath if a pinecone happens to bonk them on the head.


Actually, I'm not sure that's quite right, let me try again.

See, 'cause Latigo Flint knows that true heroes are like a surface fire roaring up the oil slick eddies of a dark, industrial river--sometimes tough, sometimes lucky, but always an awesome sight.

Dang, that isn't quite it either.

One more try?

See, 'cause Latigo Flint knows that true heroes are like a dirt clod--sometimes tough, sometimes lucky-

(That doesn't count as Latigo Flint's last try because he didn't finish it.)

See, Latigo Flint knows that true heroes are like a beer--sometimes tough, sometimes luc-


Okay, Latigo Flint is through messin' around--here's the steady truth: Latigo Flint knows that true heroes are actually... exactly like Latigo Flint--sometimes tough, sometimes lucky, but always given to wild screams and vengeful wrath if a pinecone happens to bonk him on the head.

(You know, kinda like an old bobcat drinking from a mountain stream.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Spider in the Dish Rack

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.

And I looked to my dish rack and behold a pale cup: and the spider's name that sat on it was Gary, and hell followed with him.

One of the secrets to the incredible productivity and success enjoyed by Gary, the spider that lived in Latigo Flint's dish rack, is that every evening he took the time to write down a detailed list of things he wished to accomplish tomorrow--and at the same time reviewed that day's list, crossing off the things he accomplished and moving to tomorrow's anything he didn't manage to get to.

Now it's true each list typically consisted of just two items:
#1. Be hideous.
#2. Scuttle around on things.

But even if it didn't change, Gary wouldn't ever get lazy and reuse the list. No, Gary knew how important it is to take the time to acknowledge the accomplishment of daily goals, while renewing focus and energy for tomorrow.

It's quite admirable really. One can't help but admire Gary's self-motivation and drive.

I'll tell you something though--Gary really should have added a third item to today's list:
#3. Be sure to avoid that Zippo-fed blast of deadly aerosol flame.


I faintly recall loving a cute Starbucks barista with a passion so savage that when the wave finally broke and I staggered away, dull-eyed and eternally numb, it may have actually been the kindest of a thousand possible outcomes.

Now I admit this has very little to do with searing highly motivated spiders beneath Zippo-fed blasts of deadly aerosol flame--but then really, what does?

And I looked to my dish rack and behold a pale cup: and the spider's name that sat on it was Gary, and hell followed with him.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Climber's Goggles

We awoke at dawn and broke camp in silence, our empty stares and frostbite sores obscured behind scarves and climber's goggles. We shoveled a meager breakfast across frozen taste buds and tried not to think of home. Then compressed a day's supply of snow into our bottles, shouldered packs, and set off to summit a mountain we no longer wanted to defeat, simply survive.

At 4,000 feet you start to notice something is different about the air you're sucking. At 10,000 feet the trees stop growing. Marmots refuse to go any higher than 15,000, and dumb as they are, they must know something. At 20,000 feet above sea level, sneezes become potentially life threatening and you sometimes bleed from your hairline for no apparent reason.

We were at twenty-nine thousand, five hundred feet above sea level, slowly making the westerly traverse of Hyperventilation Ridge, still a good four climbing hours from the Suicide Steppes, that near-vertical ascent of rock and ice that separates mortals from the summit of K4. (K4 is not as well known a mountain as its little brother, K2, but is easily twice as deadly.)

In fact, K4 has claimed so many lives, local and foreign alike, that in 1989 the Sherpa’s Union in association with the Himalayan Board of Tourism unanimously voted to permanently deny the mountain's very existence.

"Pray tell good Sherpa, what is the name of that mountain?"
You can ask, pointing at the gnarled pillar of ice and snow that looms on the horizon, dwarfing famous summits like an optical illusion. The Sherpa will follow your finger, then abruptly drop his gaze.

"You are pointing at the outhouse directly in front of us atop a little hill." He'll reply. "We call it Nearby Hill with an Outhouse."

"No, no." You'll splutter. "I see the outhouse--I'm talking about way above and beyond, that massive peak jutting up in the distance."

"Oh that?...That is a circling bird; it is known locally as Bird that Circles."

"No dammit, you wretched Sherpa!!! To the left of the friggin bird and way behind it--the giant mountain on the horizon line." But it's no use.

"Time for tea!" He'll shout and quickly scamper away.

Press the issue any further and they crush your skull with rocks and blame it on a yak stampede.

Needless to say, K4 is a seldom-climbed mountain, and by the time what was left of our party reached Hyperventilation Ridge, we had long since discovered why.

I could tell you that seventeen of the original twenty in our party had simply turned back and were waiting for us, cozy and warm at base camp--but that would be a lie. I could tell you that a succession of avalanches didn't sweep away some of the finest climbers I ever saw, and was so random in its death-selection that the witnesses’ only response was a silent rededication to nightly-prayer.

I could tell you that Bobby "Good Hands" McGraw hadn't slid, screaming and wailing into an endless ice fissure, his final descent marked only by bloody fingernail grooves and snot. I could tell you that a freak wind flurry hadn't picked up the muscular Bavarian Twins and deposited them in a pulpy lump at the bottom of a thousand-foot gorge. I could tell you that later that day the remaining members of the group, myself included, didn't bludgeon Charles Haverley to death with his own ice axe after he refused to stop whistling Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline over and over as we climbed--

I could tell you many things that would make this, if not a happy tale, at least a hopeful one--but they would all be lies and Latigo Flint is nothing if not truthful.

It is very cold and Latigo Flint needs to sleep now. So goodnight to you, or, to quote an old Sherpa saying: May the yak of your dreams be gentle and rarely given to trample.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Random Answers

1) I reckon.
2) Sure.
3) Doubt it.
4) Samuel Clemmons.
5) I'd prefer you didn't.
6) Albany.
7) Quarter to eight.
8) Cry all you want, answer's still no.
9) I'm not really sure.
10) It was Bill Paxton dammit--you're thinking of Bill Pullman!
11) Once or twice I suppose.
12) Absolutely.
13) Simple: JoJo forgot Salvador had a brother, and it just cost him his life.
14) Yes, that would make you gay.
15) 42
16) Tough to tell.
17) Of course I still will darling--I'm in love with you, not your eyebrows.
18) 'Cause you forgot to carry the one... Stupid.
19) Scatman Crothers
20) That's true, but I don't think you've noticed what the acronym would be!
21) Maybe someday.
22) Burt Rutan.
23) I said, 'watch out for water weasels'!!!
24) I would love to.
25) All right, guess this is goodbye then.
26) I'll send it right over.
27) Probably.
28) I can't see how that would ever work.
29) Cornelius already asked me that dammit, and the answer hasn't changed.
30) Yes you may.
31) No, it went Blood Simple then Raising Arizona.
32) I'd like that very much.
33) Three inches at room temp, one and half in the cold.
34) Fine, if that's really what you want.
35) Okay, but only since you asked nicely... and I'm already wet.
36) Oh, that's an easy one--Latigo Flint, without a doubt.