The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had not always been a weather beaten man in a cowboy hat. I have no idea of his former identity, although I do know he once wore a Michigan Wolverine’s cap. He traded it and his identity away as he wandered back and across the country, attempting to shed the unnatural voices of the dead.
This man in a Wolverine’s cap, before he was the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, sold his hoof trimming rig and drove away in an ancient Ford truck until it died by an Oklahoma turkey farm. While he was at the farmhouse, calling for a tow truck, he got a job as an inseminator; of turkeys, that is. Yes, he inseminated turkeys; necessary because they’ve been bred too fat to do it themselves. If you were responsible for impregnating thousands, you might forget your own name, too.
As long as he was working, he found that the gobbling of the hens he’d violated could drown out the voices of the dead. But you can’t screw turkeys all the time. Art and Edith Gates stayed back in Michigan, but there were ghosts everywhere who, having found someone who could hear them, had something to say. None of them offered the promise of freshly baked bread, but they all creeped him out as only the dead can do.
The Weather Beaten Man in a Wolverine’s Cap had noticed that, arriving at a new locale, it took a day or so for the dead to find him. He concluded that the thing to do was to go on the road and never stay anywhere for long. Therefore, he joined a circus and marched, carrying a shovel, all over Texas behind the elephants.
In time, even the constant traveling didn’t keep him ghost free. For one thing, the circus would stay in a new town for a few days before moving on. This gave the local spooks a chance to find him. The ghosts got better at honing in, so that no sooner had the big top been raised and the elephants watered and taken for a walk, than the dead were already lining up to bend his ear. It was as if someone had erected a neon sign over his head or all the ghosts had written Yelp reviews and gave him a five star rating.
Listening to the dead talk is not as interesting as you might imagine. Art and Edith Gates had a good story to tell, but they’re not all like that. Most ghosts wanted to talk about the same thing. They were all pissed off that they were dead; they held particular people or institutions responsible, and wanted our hero, the Proto Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, to do something about it. Unfortunately, there was nothing the Proto Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat could do about it. Dead was dead and that was final, but it didn’t stop them from complaining and not getting annoyed when he claimed his hands were tied.
In Texarkana, he jumped ship, taking a job with a carnival heading into the Southeast, hoping to evade them. He’d seen enough of the back end of elephants, anyway. The carnival people put him to work cleaning puke on the Tilt-a-Whirl.
As it turned out, the South was filled with ghosts; and they liked a carnival every now and then, just like anyone else. It was in Murfreesboro, just down the road from a battlefield, that he finally cracked. Caught in the cross-fire of an argument between Civil War veterans over what was worse: death by minie ball versus grapeshot, he started screaming at them to shut the hell up. This made him stand out from among the carnies as a little crazier than the rest. By the time they released him from the Murfreesboro psych ward, the carnival had already moved on to Mississippi.
He’d gotten two things from the psych ward: good drugs and good advice. The drugs made the ghosts go away. The advice was to seek a less stimulating environment. Therefore, as soon as he was released, he headed out to the Great Plains, where few people had ever lived and, consequently, few people had ever died.
The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, when he was still wearing a Wolverine’s cap, got a job helping with the wheat harvest; but he couldn’t get insurance, so he had to give up the drugs. It didn’t matter so much, though. Except for the occasional Indian brave, he was mostly ghostless. Once, over by the old Oregon trail, he stopped his combine to let a wagon train pass. But, overall, being an itinerant wheat harvester was probably the best part of his life, although you never know it when you’re living it and the harvest, like all things, had to come to an end.
He was celebrating the end of the harvest, and wondering what to do next, on one end of a bar in Mitchell, South Dakota. On the other end was a lone woman and she was making eyes at him. She didn’t look too good at the first beer, but, by the time he’d finished his sixth, she could’ve been Miss South Dakota. The Proto Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat would normally have been too shy to talk to a Miss South Dakota, except for the six beers, which had the happy effect of escalating his boldness at the same time it augmented her beauty.
He slid over to her end of the bar, bought her what she was drinking, and got himself a seventh beer. She’d been wondering when he’d come over and talk. She was lonely, sitting there by herself. She got right to the point. It had been a long, long time, an eternity, really, since she last had a man. What she really wanted, more than another drink, was a quickie in the coatroom, just to make her feel alive again.
Perhaps he should’ve known better, but, as they say, he was thinking with the wrong head. Maybe the beer was doing the thinking for him, or he wasn’t thinking at all. He’d never had a woman be so bold before. Usually, they played it coy and made him want it so bad he’d do anything to get it, so that he’d have a chance to reconsider. This was a new thing, though, and, being a new thing, he didn’t know what to do with it, except to go along with it.
When the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat told this story at the Epiphany Cafe to the Therapist Emeritus he skipped over much of the sex scene. He was a gentleman and the Therapist Emeritus was a lady. He did let slip an important, but graphic detail because it was crucial to the understanding of what happened, as well as his state of mind, afterwards.
What he told us was Miss South Dakota was unnaturally cold inside, as cold as a Michigan blizzard was outside, as cold as a cold beer drunk at the end of a hot day harvesting wheat, as cold as hell, literally. Indeed, it was so cold inside Miss South Dakota, he didn’t even have to pull out, although he did, and very swiftly. His second head, having a mind of its own and not without some sense, shriveled from the cold inside Miss South Dakota so much it just fell out.
He couldn’t get out of that bar fast enough. He pushed open the door while he was still zipping up. He left his seventh beer untouched, only to walk into another bar, next door, and order another. He drank that down faster than he ever drank any beer, hoping to forget the cold inside Miss South Dakota. When that didn’t work fast enough, he ordered a ninth, and then a tenth. When he finally slowed down his drinking, it wasn’t because he’d forgotten; he never could forget. He slowed down because the bartender threatened to cut him off.
He sat there, mulling over his situation. In time he was able to counsel himself that, while there was nothing he could do now to undo the fact that he’d been suckered into screwing a dead person, he could prevent it from ever happening again. He was just trying to figure out how to prevent the dead from speaking to him when he noticed, sitting next to him, a weather beaten man with a cowboy hat. At first, he couldn’t be sure this wasn’t another ghost entrapping him into a conversation. The man drank his beer slowly, even watching the bubbles as they rose to the surface. His cowboy hat was on the counter. His hat-mashed hair hadn’t been washed in a week.
When the bartender served the man another beer, he thought he’d take a chance. Bartenders don’t generally serve beers to dead people.
“Why are you sad, partner?” Our hero asked. Even though he was not yet a Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, he knew how they were supposed to talk.
The man took a long time to answer, as if he had to watch the answer rise from his beer in the bubbles. Finally, he gave a sigh, and replied.
“My woman died a few months ago. I miss her terrible.”
Our hero didn’t asked whether she was bit by a rattler, scalped by an Indian, fell off a horse, or murdered by an outlaw, all likely demises when you’re a cowboy’s woman. He knew for certain, then, that this man was not dead. Not yet, anyway.
“Don’t you ever see her ghost?”
The original weather beaten man with a cowboy hat gave another sigh and took another drink of beer. It took him long time to answer, and, when he did, it seemed to come up from deep within him.
“At this point,” he said, “I’d settle for that.”
The original weather beaten man with a cowboy hat didn’t say anything more, nor did he need to, for he’d said it all. In time, he rose up and went to the men’s room. You’ve got to go to the men’s room with regularity when you drink beer.
The original weather beaten man with a cowboy hat had left his cowboy hat behind, I suppose, so he could keep his place at the bar. The hat just sat there and gave our hero an idea. It was an idea that would solve both their problems. It was such a good idea, he executed it immediately. He took the man’s cowboy hat and left that bar in Mitchell, South Dakota with a new identity, leaving his old Michigan Wolverine’s cap behind.