Boots and Saddles



300 east 6th st ny

Neighborhood: Letter From Abroad

The first time I saw Billy Brooks he was riding around Ojo Sarco, a sparse village of yellow adobe huts and longhouses grouped on either side of a ravine. It was 1971. Billy was on a tall horse the color of city mud and surrounded by varmints waving rifles like the banditos in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. Among them was a guy named Sunshine, a Puerto Rican from the Lower East Side, with a nice dog, Davy, who had a wolfish ruff around his neck. Another was Earl from L.A., who had traded me a sleek little shotgun –an antique Smith and Wesson twelve-gauge with a burnished wooden stock– for a mean looking blunderbuss with a scope. This weapon came with the starving red pony, Chinito, I’d bought from another bilingual New Yorker. Homesick and broke, he’d sold the lot for $100, ammo and all. Now Earl wanted his Smith and Wesson back, and he snarled and said to hand it over. “No, it’s mine”, I said. “You better give it back,” Earl said, all menace and teeth. I told Earl I wasn’t scared of him; the gun was mine—he’d traded; I said, “Fuck off and go to hell.” Then the banditos cackled and rode off repeating, “Fuck you, Earl” in thin falsettos. Billy Brooks laughed too–an “Oh, come die” kind of laugh that broke in the arroyo.

The second time I saw Billy he was with the same bad company loitering about the dirt road where I’d last seen them. Earl didn’t say anything this time. He just strode up, flicked his shoulder length tresses, and wrenched the rifle away while the others watched rubber faced and expressionless.

“Give it back. It’s mine,” I said.

“Yuh, whuduhyuhgonnadewabowdit?” said Earl.

Then Billy asked if I didn’t have any other clothes. I was wearing a Mexican wedding shirt made from coarse cotton and a pair of disintegrating jeans. Oats fell from my pockets, hay, horse treats. I was one with quadrupeds and didn’t think much about clothes.

So the next time I saw him, Billy gave me a pair of jeans. He said, “Here” and tossed me a bundle, which turned out to be stiff new Levis folded neatly into a square. There was no thank you from me. I liked to think I could radiate something greater than manners–a trust in the benevolent cosmos. I did this by emanation whose willed force I hoped would meld me to the great being himself. A shot in the dark, a hypothesis of the imagination– whatever it was, Billy emanated it too, blank-eyed and goofy-jawed. I took his imitation of my imitation as shared feeling. And later, on the crest of a small hill, sage brush tumbling by, and silhouetted against the sunset, golden saxophone gleaming–when Billy played his one perfectly clear, lugubrious line, I thought he was an artist. This line was the only one he could play. But I didn’t know that yet. There was a lot I didn’t know.

Soon after, the banditos crossed an invisible line. Sunshine shot Davy by accident when he was trying to shoot Earl , and that was after an all-nighter of drinking and extravagant drugging when they very intelligently shot holes into every room of an adobe longhouse. The dog was the superior being among the banditos, so I mourned Davy; but Sunshine always did have a hand-eye problem, requiring horn-rimmed spectacles thick as plate glass, which made him fun to beat when shooting at cans. Earl went back to L.A., and, even before all this happened, Billy ran out of money and left for New York.

I left too. I left Chinito, who had grown fat and sassy grazing on summer grass. I left the hippies living in teepees and the banditos’ girlfriends who had stayed behind. I left the hot springs in Jemes and in Taos where the Chicanos hid in bushes and drank beer while watching the naked women frolic. I left drinking whiskey alone in the woods and swearing at shadows and peeing under trees and in wooden outhouses under the stars in the cold dry winter. I left summer lightning storms that scratched and crackled across the night sky like giant claws. I left mountain coffee brewed with salt and egg shells. I left visions of strange animals gleaming in the moonlight. And I never did say goodbye to the Hog Farm, a commune started by Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, which was one town over from Ojo Sarco. But no great loss. I showed up in New York. That’s where I saw Billy Brooks again. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t, but I did.

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