I pour and they drink, and I am always mesmerized by their desires, their needs, their dry heaves between drunks so calamitous they’ll never know the impact till they get to the great beyond. I’m a bartender, barman, pourer, scoop setter, sudsman, but I will say at the same time that this menial job, though one with a great overview of the human soul, has saved my own soul for the long ride into the hereafter, though my travels don’t go beyond the 25 feet of the bar.
I have seen the dry cowboy, wearing the trail on his face, in his hands, in his clothes, in the almighty odor he can let loose on arrival in any saloon in those towns where the herd runs to, and have seen the mighty dirty waters that run from his tub with all its discolorations, grime and trail residue like flotsam and jetsam off the surface of his body. He is a ship loose on the oceanic dust pile. But now, at this point in my life, they are my people. They bend to any task, to any request, in order to help and abet their fellow man. They work long and often endless hours against huge odds and determined enemies. I am not a malarkey thrower, but come at this effort in my own manner, that this west has given me a new lease on life, that one day I will have my own place, that on certain occasions I will throw my bar wide open to those who come to me to slake their thirst, wash the trail out of their mouths and throats, find in the camaraderie of a saloon their one great break-out from a harsh life. We were not born to the saddle, we who come bent and docile, but we have certainly earned our way sitting astride it. That is the great truth of the matter, that we will ride to the edge of the ocean beyond the great Rockies, for the final rinse of the trail.
In the meantime, they all come to me, every last man jack of them, sometimes robust, sometimes filled with dread at what they have seen or endured, from what the meager future might hold out for them. One drink, or a few, can bring solace to so many coming late into town, the atmosphere and ambiance of my place sitting atop their imagination for their last struggling miles of the trail. Expectation is a great herd boss, striking a whip of its own the full length of the dusty trail, to a smiling end.
Ask any of them, they know me or my ilk in every town that has risen from a bare patch at the junction of two paths, at the convergence of two roads, at an edge of a river, at the gateway to the far west, at the place where the suds flow and the booze is real hard (when we choose it to be, a nickel saved is a nickel earned.) We are the first stop in town. Any town. We are the first reward, and we know it. And we know who needs a new hand to hire, a trail boss, a cook, a remuda wrangler, whose widow needs help. We are job finders and information centers. And when life gets rougher, when bullets fly in the face of town folk, we help start posses when they are called for.
They call me Paulie Boy and have done so since I arrived here from the east with my tail between my legs and my tongue plain hanging out for a few suds. I thought this road to the west would be a piece of cake but I have had my eyes opened for me… by highway robbers, injuns, card sharks, scoundrels, painted women, sheriffs with the strongest arms I could ever imagine, and some folk so kind they could make any man’s heart break, not like some folk I came to know in the east end of big cities, the sun beating on them too early in the day, noise up and running before the day had a decent start, and them already at fighting odds with the whole world. It’s not they were mean or evil, but more lost in what they were doing and where they were at in this short run all of us have to the bidden and the beyond. For me it was always out here, with wide lands, high skies, mountains to take your breath away, on the far flat plains at evening when the red sun’s like half a pie about to lose its other half.
On my way here, some years ago, I was robbed, pummeled, stripped, set loose without a horse or a gun on the great wideness. And I was fed and put back in britches and bloused by people who had almost as little as I had. They were religious people going north to a settlement, but stayed with me until I was put on a horse by another fellow human being who stopped long enough to help. He let me ride his pack horse and when we were jumped and he was wounded, later to die, he signed all he owned over to me, with his feeble hand signed the paper minutes before he died. That is a westerly story for you, as we head to the end of land, and it probably has happened a number of times. I don’t have any doubt about that.
Next time some dry-throated, dusty, cantankerous old trail hand walks through my front door, a bit bent over but not broken, no way broken, the evening sun afire behind him, half glee about to spring loose on his face, I own that I’ll treat him to the first round of his choice. That’s my cut on the day’s good deeds.
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