After the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat saw what he saw in Boise City, he decided to get as far away from the dust bowl as he could. He thought he would go to somewhere lush, verdant, and green; where a man’s feet need never touch the ground because there’s always vegetation to bear him up. Where the air is not black with dust, but having a bluish tinge from the water molecules floating around. He thought he would go where water itself is not hoarded like a precious gem. He got as far as Pecos, New Mexico, which is not very far at all and not much different from the place from which he came. He stopped there because he’d seen an opportunity which ignited his imagination and gave him a new goal in life.
The flag in front of the post office in Pecos was flying at half mast when he drove through. He hadn’t been listening to much of the news lately, so he wondered who had died. Was there another school shooting? Had 9/11 repeated itself? Was another president lying in state? He turned around, stopped, and went in to ask the Post Mistress what had happened.
The town drunk had been found dead outside, it had been cold last night and he perished from exposure.
The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat immediately knew that any town that honored the town drunk by lowering the post office flag was a worthwhile town in which to live. He also knew that the position of town drunk was open. His next stop was the grocery store, where he bought some beer and immediately applied for the job.
The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had always been a hard worker. Whatever job he had, and he had quite a few, he always performed to his utmost. He was never one to shirk responsibilities, loiter near the water cooler, steal post-it notes, complain about the boss, or have someone else clock him out. He was conscientious, diligent, industrious, and persistent. He never minded the dirty work. Someone had to do it. He was the first to start each day and the last to leave. Everyone always said he was a model employee and would be amply rewarded someday.
And so, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat set right to work at being the town drunk of Pecos, New Mexico, a dusty little town on the wrong side of the mountain from Santa Fe. The Pecos River was said to have originated there, although for most of the year, no river could be found. What did flow in plenty were the various forms of alcohol available to any one with a job, a social security check, or savings from a better day. It turned out that most of the population of Pecos would vie for the position.
The indigenous people had a head start on the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. Pecos had quite a few, hanging on to their ancestral pueblo, irritably putting on their ancient dances for the tourist trade and selling jewelry in sunbaked turn offs. If you called them American Indians, they would correct you and say they were Native Americans. If you called them Native Americans, they preferred American Indian or just Indian, but never call them Injuns. They resented losing their land to, first, the Spanish, then the Mexicans, then the New Mexicans, and, finally, the Americans, forgetting they had taken the land, millennia earlier, from someone else. In reprisal, they never told anyone the meaning of their dances, hiding the fact that, perhaps they had forgotten, themselves. They loved their dances, nonetheless, because they gave them an excuse to stand in the hot sun, stomp around in a dusty courtyard, and get a good buzz on. Although they did not believe in owning land, they felt one of their many candidates for the position of town drunk should get it because the land belonged to them.
Then there were the Mexicans, who really had Native Americans’ DNA, but were from Mexico. They could be called Native Mexicans, except Mexico, like the entire western hemisphere, is all American; so they were Native Americans, after all. They’d crossed the border to reclaim a region stolen from them in the Mexican War, which, for them was the American War. They claimed the position of town drunk for one of their own. After all, they were the ones who invented tequila; and tequila, as everyone knows, is a better drink for a town drunk than anything else.
The Mexicans could easily be confused with the New Mexicans, who were more American than the Americans, who were newer to New Mexico than the New Mexicans, but not more American than the Native Americans, who’d been there longer than anyone. The Americans called them Spanish because they thought they spoke Spanish, but they spoke English as well as anyone else and Spanish infused with a lot of English. They had strange customs of lighting candles on Friday nights, which caused some to suspect they were really crypto Jews, gone underground during the Spanish Inquisition, and fled to the New World. The New Mexicans claimed the position of town drunk because it was their town. They had founded it and they gave the name to the river, which was often not a river.
Then there were the Americans, who were really emigrated Scots-Irish, by way of the Appalachians, into the desert, to escape the law or make some quick money. These bewhiskered, bad skinned, rotten toothed types wanted the job of town drunk because they belonged to the greatest country in the world and ought to enjoy the privilege of being white.
There was a fifth group in the population of Pecos, New Mexico, but they did not compete for the position of town drunk. They scarcely knew there was a town drunk and, although their zip code indicated they resided in Pecos, they really belonged to suburban Santa Fe and had more in common with well-to-do New Yorkers, Londoners, and Singaporeans than with the other residents of Pecos. These Cosmopolitans would never pass out and freeze to death because they lived in all the best houses. They had more Native American jewelry, pottery and rugs from the Native Americans, than the Native Americans. More weathered wood panels, furniture, and strings of peppers from the two strains of Mexicans than the two strains of Mexicans. More barbed wire, lassos, and leather chaps from the Americans than the Americans. Many of them drank as much as any town drunk, but they did so from delicate crystal glasses; and they drank fine wine, rather than the fortified variety, like the Americans, rotgut whiskey, like the Indians, or tequila, like the two strains of Mexicans. They belonged to the whole world, while estranged from the earth. Therefore, just as the Cosmopolitans might play at being Native American, dabble at what they called Spanish culture, and call themselves Americans, they could never be a true town drunk; for that required an authenticity forever out of their reach.
The racial politics of Pecos, New Mexico was all so confusing that the only thing anyone could do was get drunk, and there weren’t even any Blacks.
The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat didn’t stand a chance to be appointed town drunk; but that didn’t stop him from trying. Although he had more in common with the White Trash Americans than any of the other groups, he could not point to a long linkage of drunks, as could they, and his drink of choice was beer. He hoped that the degree of difficulty would factor into the decision.
The curious thing about Pecos, New Mexico, was that there were no ghosts in Pecos, New Mexico. You might assume otherwise because Pecos itself had been settled for hundreds of years and the adjacent pueblo for thousands of years. That’s plenty of time to accumulate ghosts. There ought to be enough ghosts to fill the football stadium on a Saturday night, all the churches on a Sunday morning, and cause a traffic jam on Route 25 to Santa Fe, Monday through Friday. But, in all the months the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat spent in Pecos, he did not encounter a single ghost. Maybe because he was shit faced drunk all the time. Maybe the ghosts saw he was engaged in serious business and left him alone. Maybe all the living people, so avidly represented the interests of their ancestors, that the actual ghosts could rest easily in their graves, knowing that the living, like a team of lawyers, would advocate for them in their place.
The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat might have elected to stay in Pecos for the rest of his life, whether he succeeded in getting appointed as the town drunk, or not, if only because of the freedom from ghosts. But he had to leave very quickly. Easter was coming and the Penitentes were looking for this year’s Jesus.