One day, during Holy Week in Pecos, New Mexico, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had been nine beers into that morning’s allotment and was beginning to think he ought to slow down before he passed out and wasted his buzz. He had a comfortable spot behind the recycling bin of the dollar store on a bed of discarded cardboard boxes. The sun was high enough to be warm, but not so high to be hot. Tires on Route 50 provided a steady hum for background music. He had enough work sweeping floors, mucking out stables, to keep him in beer, but not so much as to interfere with the drinking of it. He’d been three months free of ghosts. Things didn’t get much better than this for the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat.
He’d just started to doze off when a delegation of New Mexicans blocked his sun. Every one of these gentlemen thought the job of town drunk ought to be his and resented the fact that the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was making a decent run towards it. Even though they all, individually, desired the job, they would’t have minded if one of their own group got it, for at least then there would be some pride in association. They might have gotten used to it if the Indians, the Old Mexicans, or even the Americans were awarded the position because, after all, they were neighbors. It was inconceivable that a Cosmopolitan would win it, no matter how much fine wine they drank. But this interloper was a different matter. If he could be permitted to waltz right in and take the job, than what was to stop the rest of the country from doing so.
The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat thought these New Mexicans might try to beat him up. The spot behind the recycling bin of the dollar store was a perfect place to do it. They could have done it, too, if they wanted. There were, after all, many more of them. The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat might have run off, but that, of course, would have been what they wanted. He reasoned, no man can be a true town drunk without getting beat up at least once. Furthermore, anyone who could beat someone else up, even as a member of a group, couldn’t be considered the town drunk; for what town drunk could ever have the coordination, much less the inclination? They would disqualify themselves for consideration. This was a test and he needed to let them do it. He would not run away. Besides, after nine beers, running was out of the question.
The delegation of New Mexicans was smarter than that, though. They would never fall for it. They knew what was at stake and they knew all the tricks to getting it. They didn’t beat up the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. Instead, they told him how much they admired him and offered to make him one of their own.
The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat might have seen through this stratagem, too; but he’d been a loner for too long and an offer of belonging is an intoxicating beverage for anyone. Besides, they also presented tequila.
And so, for the next few days, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat became an honorary New Mexican. The immigrant Mexicans were envious. They had a far better claim to membership than that Gringo. The Americans were scandalized. Here was one of their own, gone native. The Native Americans were above it all, for they had their pride. The well-to-do Cosmopolitans didn’t know anything about it, but, if they had, they would’ve asked where they could buy an honorary membership and did it come with a certificate, suitable for framing. The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat could not believe his good fortune. This was too good to be true. If only for that reason, he should’ve know it was too good to be true.
The group of New Mexicans began work right away on their Easter preparations. There were usual statues to carry through the street that the Cosmopolitans had come to expect from authentic Hispanics. There were beans to boil, peppers to chop, and corn meal to grind for the feast. There were gaudy garments to mend. There was also, and this was done on the sly, whips, their lashes already encrusted with blood, to take out of hiding, thorns to weave into a crown, and a tree to cut down for the cross. The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat participated in all these preparations and thought himself lucky to be included. The Indians had never invited him to stomp around in their dances. When he tried to take a mid afternoon siesta with the Old Mexicans, they moved on. The Cosmopolitans never invited him to their wine and cheese parties. Even the Americans wouldn’t swear half so much when he came around. He was especially honored when the New Mexicans appointed him to be their Jesus.
At first the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat thought this might be like an annual play. He figured they selected him for his hair, which had gotten long by that time, his beard, which was more full than any they could’ve grown, and his kindly expression. He thought he’d make a good Jesus, as maybe we all do, if we only think about the parts where the Son of Man walks around, preaching, healing the sick, and riding into Jerusalem on a purloined ass. He got a little concerned when he saw the whips and the crown of thorns, but chalked them up to a gesture towards realism. The cross didn’t worry him at all. He could carry it around town all day long, if he had to. But, when they loaded all the paraphernalia into a pickup truck and drove off with him, far into the mountains; then he started to get worried.
He said there didn’t seem to be much point in putting on a passion play where no one would see it. One of the New Mexicans pulled out an iPhone, reminded the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat he could take a video, and claimed they were making a documentary. They got to a wind swept hilltop and unloaded the cross. They passed around a fresh bottle of tequila. They asked him to strip to his skivvies, lie on the cross, and spread his arms. He complied with this, too, in the awkward way that someone half in the bag might. But, when they pulled out a clawhammer and a five pound sack of sixteen penny nails, then he knew they had more in mind than he had bargained for.
This would’ve been a good time for all those spirits he had befriended to come on out of wherever they were and give him a hand. It would’ve been a good time for all the karma he had stored up to count for something. Even if there had been a drunken version of St Peter with a sword, ready to lop off a New Mexican’s ear, that would’ve been acceptable. But no, even the universe conspired to allow the New Mexicans to nail the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat to a cross, plant the butt end into the stoney, volcanic soil of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and leave our hero to rot alone for their sins. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, for nothing much has changed in two thousand years and what was good for the goose is good for eighty generations of her goslings.
While no legions of angels came to the aid of the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, the spirits in the bottle of tequila did. The man attempting to drive a nail into his hand had far too much to drink and had no business wielding a hammer. He had enough wits to know that he couldn’t set the nail with a little tap as a carpenter often does. He had to give it a good initial wallop to get it through the hand and into the wood. When he did so, he missed the nail head by a good six inches and, instead, got a good blow on the hand of the man holding Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat’s forearm. When the unlucky New Mexican withdrew his hand in pain, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was half free. Without ever thinking of his aspiration to be the town drunk and his vow to be the recipient, and not the deliverer of punches, he got a good one in on the face of the guy holding his other arm. The guy on his legs was a simple matter of a few adrenalin powered kicks. Before the guy holding his broken hand could say shit-god-damn-it-you-drunken-idiot-your-mother’s-a-whore three times in agonized Spanish, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was halfway down the mountain, running in his skivvies and wearing a crown of thorns.
I said the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat wouldn’t have been able to run when he was behind the Dollar Store after eight beers. Why was he able now, after half a bottle of tequila? Well, that is a mystery to go alongside that of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection. We shouldn’t ask too many questions about such things. Just marvel that they happen at all.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat never returned to Pecos after that. It would’ve been quite a sight if he did. Even the most skeptical resident of Pecos, upon seeing this year’s Jesus, alive and strolling among them, would’ve found faith. We shouldn’t be surprised that the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat abandoned his ambition to be the town drunk. He would gladly do his drinking without a prestigious position. We shouldn’t be surprised that, when he made it down the mountain, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat got some clothes to go over his skivvies and a new cowboy hat to replace the crown of thorns. People will do anything for someone they think is the Son of God.