Finally, all the other passengers & I were seated on the coach ready to leave Albuquerque, when, suddenly, I realized I was not wearing my coat. Where’d it go? I must hadda left it a-hangin’ on the door hook of a toilet stall when I was, in privacy, a-countin’ my money. Jesus Christ!
I leaped to my feet with one minute left to go, darted down the aisle of the filled-up bus & bumped into a locked gate right there behind the empty driver’s seat. A locked gate right there on the bus ~ and a driver’s seat that was, like, in a bullet-proof closet ~ God bless Greyhound. Ever since they busted the union some years ago they’ve been treating us passengers like cattle!
Now it was time to go. Where was the driver? Would he let me delay the trip to go hunt in the station for my perfectly faded red~denim coat that everybody said looked like a shirt ~ and that cost me $50? Would the driver let me go get it? Would he? What if he got to his bullet-proof closet before I got to him? I went back to my seat, mumbling.
When the driver got back, I didn’t bother him with a lame request. I just let him lock himself inside his “safety” cubicle and make his announcements and lame jokes on the speaker and off we went ~ like a comet ~ outta Albuquerque and the sink of the Rio Grande Valley ~ flashing across the fading-away rocky plains ~ thru the town of Gallup & blazing into the night!
Restless, fidgeting, without a coat, I slouched down down into the night’s black pit where my highway-rolling memories faintly glowed. Ahhhhhhh yes, as the Greyhound rolled along, I remembered another time, in another place, when yours truly did not say “good-bye”. T’was Gila Bend, Arizona, about 10 years earlier…
Ray Mariam, grumpy old bear, sat at the table in front of his old RV, in the back of the empty lot on the edge of town. Gila Bend, I had discovered, was an embittered town. The fan-belt capital of the world had gotten the run-around by the freeway built some years back & become embittered. Ray was the town’s Produce Man. I was the Book Man. And the selling season was definitely over at our two-booth flea market in this town that was mostly ignored by all the folks passing by on yonder freeway under the desert sun.
Oh maybe for about 6 months Ray sold fruit & vegetables off his produce wagon while, parked next to it, I sold history & poetry outta my book mule. There was a third party, and a fourth party, and a fifth party at times, but always, almost always, he & I sat there by our lonesomes, waiting, selling, counting our dollars. I had passed thru Gila Bend a year earlier when I couldn’t find anything to read there. So there was yours truly ~ selling books now ~ in Gila Bend.
Ray’s wife was there too.
The big feller had suffered some harrowing time as a ranger in Vietnam some years before that. I myself had draft-dodged the war. So it wasn’t real easy for Mr. Mariam to put up with me. But he gave it a real good shot.
Ray never went to college, like I did. He’d camped, and hunted, and hiked. Drove a truck. And worked with John Wayne & Lee Marvin & Steve McQueen, not to mention that damned Clint Eastwood who stoled Ray’s six-shooter. Ray had worked as a stage extra from place to place with these rising and falling stars. He also wrote a lot of westerns that never got published. But they all got lost by and by ~ except one. He was re-writing that one. And I was correcting it, a dollar a page, which was Ray’s idea.
I remember one night, we were sitting in his RV after eating a scrumptious meal that his wife had cooked, watching a video-tape of the western, “McClintock”. And there was Ray, about 20 years younger, standing right there in the middle of a crowd scene ~ young & broad-shouldered.
“Whoa!” said I “Was that YOU?”
The old fart with a T-bone steak under his belt & mellow as a flower in a breeze, didn’t say anything. He just smiled a little bit. His devoted wife set down a bowl of cheerios in front of him. And we watched another movie.
Eventually, a point was reached at which Mr. Mariam got sick of re-writing his western and could not write another word. He had just one chapter left to do. But he just couldn’t do it ~ and the selling season was over. I, his copy editor, had to go.
That morning, I went and stood in front of the table at which he sat grumpy as a man can be, there in the great Arizona outdoors, with a hot & empty Sonoran summer breathing harder and harder down our necks. “Ray, I’m going to the post-office,” said I.
“See yuh,” said he.
I turned around, walked over to the Book Mule, got in and drove away. I never came back…
(Copyright Clyde Collins 2012)