Back At Rattlesnake Ranch

The man looked as if he meant to be Chicano and tough. Really tough. Being Chicano was easy for him, of course -- he had no choice, there. His hair had that leonine, flowing quality with such an intense blackness that it seemed to completely swallow light except where it shined brightly. His face had been cut and had healed. His nose was hawklike, sharp.

His womanfriend was a visual counterpart. Such a grim visage, with lips that looked as if they never smiled, with eyes that could but didn't. One could not discern whether this couple was enjoying the party or just biding some time.

They stood easily in the smoky, narrow dining room, just past the old wood-fueled enamelled and chromed cookstove on the left. On the right was a small table with a coverless phone ("easier to fix the innards", sez Dr. John, "never got around to putting the cover back on."), many paper and foam plates laden with charcoal-roasted bits of meat, breads and other foods.

The woman braced herself in the corner, looking as if it were the easiest place to defend, the safest. The man expounded to someone off to the left, unseen, in the kitchen.

"It was a really fine shirt, y'know? Boo'ful!"

he continued in a voice that became angry and complaining

"And he ripped it! He was stinkin' drunk and he just ripped the pits right out of it! I wanted to beat the shit outta him. . . Maybe I will, the next time I see'im"

The man swung his head and glared in my direction as I entered. I winced at the heavy pall of tobacco smoke. The woman's eyes did not show anything -- she was nearly motionless.

"Good evening!"

I said to him, meaning it as earnestly as could be, because it had been such for me, and because I truly wished him a good evening. His face was such a mirror to read at that point! It told of shock at being treated politely, of warmth at being treated kindly.

The former is a skill that I had practiced nightly for the previous two weeks on an inter-computer "chat" program called forumnet - a place where one can just experiment with having conversations. The latter was just a declaration of self - that I am a nice man.

He wasn't quite willing to give up, to let go, to get off of all of his remembered upset just yet, though. Somewhat challengingly, or so it seemed, he swivelled as I passed and remarked:

"That's a real nice shirt you got there..."

The look in his eyes was almost one of desire, of longing for a simple, but elegant bit of very black cloth. I replied, simply but emphatically, with:

"Thank you."

I looked him straight in the eyes for a moment and then turning back into the living room. For that one moment, the painful memory of his own ruined shirt seemed to shine there. He continued:

"Where didcha get that shirt? What western store didcha go to?"

His tone was still aggressive. I spun back one last time and replied:

"I don't know."

His expression flashed through disbelief, all the way into speechlessness.

"It was a present."

I could feel my eyes twinkle.

"A lady-friend gave it to me!"

At that point a look of complete understanding filled his face, a look of kinship and ease went with it.

I continued into the semi-darkness and the loud rock music and began to dance.



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