Friday, December 9, 2011

A Texas beer joint story from the Jacksboro Highway

In those final, heartbeaking days of the fall, Wanda sat and talked to herself a lot – in a booth, her legs stretched out on the bench, her back to the corner by the wall, sitting under the old litho of “The Jersey Lilly,” the law west of the Pecos.

If you sat at a table near her, she would begin to talk to you, one crazy eye tracking off somewhere over your shoulder while the other homed in and focused on yours, piercing, and not a little bit aggressive in a way that commanded your attention.

Outside, the flatbeds whizzed on by, their deep, groaning and double-throated roar fueled by suicide jockeys pulling strings of pipe chained down and ready to fly at an injudicious touch of the toe on the air brake pedal, huge wheels singing on the scalding pavement, pushing great gusts of air toward the oil fields north and west of Cowtown, the gritty dust trailing them in waves of that sweet-smelling, sick-making diesel smoke.

The jukebox wailed and warbled about fighting, cussing, crying - anything from walking tall to a low-down crawl, twanging troubadours leaning over the rock maple necks of solid body electric guitars, moaning the white boy blues over hot licks and cold steel.

All the while, Wanda kept up a steady murmur about times past on the Jacksboro Highway, Mama and her sisters, and living in the back room with dusty cases from the country of 1100 springs and the national beer of Texas, pallets on the floor, pictures of cowboys and rock stars, football jocks and other favorite losers waiting around for the salvation of love or just a little tenderness.

I 'member how cold it was and the wind a'blowin' fit to beat the band. J.D. and them come down from Wichita Falls and raised hell all over the north end for a couple of days and he fussed with Mama until she tried to scratch out his eyes and they fought with their fists out in the parking lot 'til she throwed sand in his eyes and kicked him in the balls...and she made pallets for us girls on the floor and told us to stay in the back room where she kept the beer stacked up back there and way late that night I heard somethin' so I peeked out the door and there stood Mama – 'bout nekkid as a jaybird and a'wearin' only her cowboy boots – singin' with George Jones on the jukebox and a'playin' pinball...

She nodded, as if trying to gain her listeners' assent, took a healthy swig of her brew, pulling at the sweaty longneck wrapped in that kind of tissue paper they use in the old-timey beer joints out there, where the west begins, sliding it around on the table, drawing little pictures on the formica with the moisture.

She nodded one more time, and said...

J.D. Come in the door and stood there for a minute, looking at her, and he said, “You know, girl, Daddy said some ol' boy tol' him he was a'gonna go git his pistol and ol' Daddy said, 'You mean you have to go git your'n?'”

That's when Mama jerked up her bidness, that there little old Colt from where she laid it on a table in the dark - and she shot at him - and he run, run for his life - and we never seen that durn cowboy again...

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