Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Sunset Cowboy (Short Story)

         The 1st Bullet
Dave offered Patrick a liter-sized drink named ‘Adios Asshole’. It had an odd blue coloring; if presented in a clear plastic spray bottle, the liquid could have been mistaken for a non-streak-glass-cleaner. Patrick almost didn’t accept the monstrosity. He shouted over the obnoxious EMO-punk music blasting from large overhead speakers.
         “What the hell is this?”
         “Just take it,” Dave shouted back.
         “I don’t want that! It’s blue and it’s gaudy!”
         “I bought it for you! It cost twelve dollars! You wanted a drink, right?”               
         “I wanted a fucking beer, not a carafe of Smurf piss!”
         “It’s an ‘Adios Asshole’, stronger than a Long Island Iced Tea! I thought you wanted to get drunk. I was trying to do something nice…”
Back and forth conversations of this sort happened daily between Dave and Patrick. Dave was a control freak and a manipulator. For example: Dave had listened to and nodded at Patrick’s original request for a beer, but ignored it while speaking with the bar tender. Dave ordered what he knew to be the complete opposite of a beer, just to stir things up.
Patrick had a hunch that the ‘Adios Asshole’ was neither a mistake nor a friendly gesture, it was simply a mind game; he was now an unwilling opponent in a stand off. Patrick understood though, Dave was sick and socially awkward. Situations of this sort were how Dave compensated for his own brand of social retardation.
Patrick, as usual, suppressed the urge to punch Dave’s jaw. Instead, being the better friend and an overall better person, Patrick removed the blue monstrosity from Dave’s hand.
“I’m already too drunk as it is. This will send me over the edge. I’m telling you. I shouldn’t drink this…”
Dave laughed a weasel’s laugh and took a swig from his own beer bottle. He relished the meaningless victory. Dave could tell Patrick was on the path to an inevitable blackout, to be followed up with a drunken stupor. He was glad to help fuel the fire, it was how he entertained himself while feeling awkward in public.
The surroundings suddenly grew louder and more obnoxious. They were inside the crowded Cowboy Cantina on Sunset Blvd. It was a Saturday night, mid-July, which meant numerous Los Angeles douche bags were out in full force, and touristy douche bags were intermingled in the crowd. Faux Cowboys and Cowgirls (the wait-staff) borderline harassed the Cantina patrons. They were relentless in their shouting. They offered drinks, food, shots, and worst of all, muddled serenades with acoustic guitars - all for the glory of a tip.
To add to the miserable surroundings, glossy and unoriginal music videos played on countless TV sets mounted near the ceiling. Images of young white men whining about life coincided with over-driven guitar riffs. Patrick wished for a blackout to cut the speaker’s flow of electricity. Silence would be a welcome friend.
The most interesting thing about the Cowboy Cantina was a mechanical bull in the corner, fenced off behind a wooden barrier. The operator played it safe. No speed beyond level two, out of ten, had been reached that night - maybe ever? The operator was simply there to make sure drunken girls with big boobs bounced plenty for the crowd. If the crowd around the barrier cheered in approval, the operator was a success. Tonight, the crowd’s cheers were uproarious.
Patrick winced while breathing in through his nostrils. Beneath the Cantina’s ultra-strong odors of alcohol and perfume loomed a sweet, yet repulsive scent; a pungent flowery chemical odor. Patrick supposed the managers must have used a chemical cleaner to cover up the building’s true abnormal essence. The cover up would go on for infinity though; the managerial staff was trying to hide a stink that was embedded in the very foundation of the Cowboy Cantina. Patrick decided to breathe in through his mouth and ignore the strange fragrances. 
He took a first sip from the blue asshole monstrosity in his hand, and coughed. It tasted too sweet for binge drinking. He glanced around the room and imagined what would happen if a real Cowboy entered the Cantina’s plastic double-doors. He pictured a bearded devil, spitting tobacco juice on the ground, punching a waiter in the face, quick drawing a six-shooter, and gunning down the music speakers to silence the EMO. Patrick swayed, in a daydream.
“Who are these sluts we’re with? What are their names again?” Dave asked, breaking Patrick’s train of thought.
“They’re friends from work. The Double Jens.”
Patrick glanced over to the mechanical bull. The Double Jens were hanging out by the wooden barrier, rooting on the riders. They were Jen Turner and Jen Collins. Patrick worked with them in the offices of Hollywood Munch. His fellow coworkers had nicknamed them ‘The Double Jens’ because they were almost always together, inside or outside the office.
“I think the blond has great moose tits.” Dave said.
“Did you get her a drink?”
“Fuck no!”
“You said you would…”
“I know I said I would, but I’m not laying down money for either of them. If I turn my back and they start tongue kissing a Guido, I’m out twelve bucks.”
Patrick took a second sip of the liter-sized asshole in his hand. Gulp. Wince.
A rowdy bachelorette party was seated next to Patrick and Dave at a long dining table. The women were in the midst of yelling at one another, sounding like a group of clucking chickens in a barnyard. Patrick overheard the maid of honor, who was wearing a silver tiara, finish up a story about the bride-to-be giving a C-list celebrity head in the bathroom. Her fellow bachelorettes roared with laughter. The bride-to-be, wearing a golden queen’s crown, wiped her mouth, flashed a thumbs-up, and downed a shot. Ladies at the table broke into a scattered applause.
Patrick observed the women out of mere curiosity. He couldn’t look away. They were all unattractive, yet somehow intriguing. The maid of honor caught Patrick staring and made a face in disgust.
“There are a lot of ugly guys in here tonight,” she said, purposefully loud enough for Patrick and Dave to hear.
Dave turned away, hurt by the comment. Patrick stayed put, thinking for a moment, then opened his eyes wide and spewed forth a string of animal noises – goats, ducks, dogs, wolves, cats, and chickens. For the finale, he stared straight into the maid of honor’s eyes and let out a long moooo-ing sound. By the look on her face, she was genuinely hurt. Patrick felt satisfied. Before any of the bachelorettes could retort, he walked away sipping his monstrous blue drink through a straw. Dave almost followed, but thought twice and retreated towards the bathrooms.
Patrick decided to get away from the stale air of the Cowboy Cantina and walked through a curtain, out onto an open-air patio. He was met with a thick fog of cigarette smoke. Cowboy and Cowgirl servers continued harassing the bar patrons outside, but now the patrons were allowed to suck dirty lung smoke in through their mouth. For some, the smoke was their only solace.
Patrick saw his two friends, Jacob and Nina, in the corner by a heat lamp. He worked his way through the jumbled crowd to join them. Nina unleashed her usual greeting by smacking Patrick on the chest.
“Let’s get a shot you big hairy bastard!” she yelled, followed with a burst of unladylike laughter.
Jacob shook his head and leaned in toward Patrick. “She’s fucking drunk man. Getting home is going to be a nightmare.”
Nina noticed Patrick’s over-sized drink and threw her hands up in approval.
“Yeah! Adios Asshole! Wooo-hooo!”
         Patrick looked down at his drink. He was surprised to find it three-quarters empty. The alcohol demon had overtaken his body on stealth mode. It was blocking out his common sense.
         “Okay! Fine! Let’s do a shot!” Patrick said. “What should we take?”
“Southern Comfort and lime, motherfucker!” Nina blurted out.
         Jacob shook his head and laughed. “Christ. I’ll go get them for you two lushes.” He disappeared into the cigarette fog.
         Nina began swaying all over the place, dancing to EMO music. She bumped into some nearby hipsters. They scowled. Patrick laughed and tried to steady Nina, applying his hand to her shoulder for support. Nina mistook Patrick’s help as in invitation to dance. She began grinding her pelvis in circles on Patrick’s thigh. Patrick grew an erection.
After a song’s worth of grinding, Nina noticed a mannequin dressed in Cowboy garb mounted on the wall next to them. She snatched up the mannequin’s hat and placed it on Patrick’s head. Patrick accepted the hat like a king’s crown. Nina took a step back and laughed out loud.
         “You look like a real Cowboy!”
         Patrick touched the hat. It felt good on top of his head.
         “I am a real Cowboy,” he said in a faux Southern accent. “I’m from Texas.”
         Dave appeared from out of a cigarette cloud, holding a beer, and two shots decorated with limes. He laughed at Patrick’s appearance, handing over the shots.
         “Where’d you get the hat, fool?” he asked.
         “Off the dummy,” Nina pointed.
         “What’s this?” Patrick asked. He studied the shot. He was already forgetting, browning out.
         “So-co and lime,” Dave answered, taking a sip from his own pint of beer.
         “I thought Jacob was supposed to get these...”
“Jacob went to the bathroom, so I bought them for you.”
Nina wobbled from side to side.
         “Bottoms up!” she shouted.
         Patrick and Nina clicked glasses and pounded the liquor. Three seconds after swallowing, the world went black for Patrick, like the shutdown of an old television set.

         The 2nd Bullet
         Patrick woke the next afternoon buck-naked in bed. His whole existence pounded in a slow, deep rhythm. The pounding was his head and his heartbeat combined, transformed into a sinister internal bass drum. A pasty film covered the roof of his mouth. He tried swallowing, but his throat was too sore to oblige. The left side of Patrick’s skull housed a second unnatural pulsation, faster than the internal bass drum. He felt around his forehead and found a swollen wound. The wound was covered with a balled up mess of band-aids. He winced in pain, touching the makeshift dressing.
         Over on the far wall, above the computer, a Cowboy hat sat mounted in prominence. Patrick stared at the hat and searched his memories. The last clear vision he could muster was a shot with Nina. Everything else was lost. Pieces of the night were surely missing.
         It was a struggle to sit up. Patrick stepped down on the carpet and his feet were met with an odd, cool sensation. He looked down. Covering his bedroom floor was a mangled mess of sliced turkey, yellow cheese and sourdough bread, looking as if a bear had devoured it. His headache suddenly doubled and morphed into a marching band’s snare drum roll. He rose slowly and retrieved shorts and a t-shirt from his dresser. His body cricked all over. Bruises and scrapes decorated his pasty pale skin.
Patrick’s bathroom counter was covered with the contents of an old first aid kit. Scissors were left in the sink, tweezers on the floor. Band-aids and bandages were strewn all about. Patrick looked in the mirror and recoiled in horror. The left side of his forehead was swollen purple, crusted with blood. He removed the band-aids and recoiled again. Three deep gashes were embedded in his flesh.
         Patrick was bothered by his lack of memories. He commenced cleaning the gashes with peroxide and water. It was an arduous forty-two minutes before he felt satisfied that there was no serious infection. After cleansing, the wounds looked worse than before. He cursed his own image.
         “You motherfucker! What the fuck did you do? You stupid son of a bitch! You fucking drunk! WHAT DID YOU DO???”
He continued with the self-deprecating tirade while applying gauze to the wounds.
         Exiting the bathroom, Patrick noticed Dave’s bedroom door was shut. This seemed odd being it was three o’clock in the afternoon. Patrick heard a TV on inside the room and knocked.
         After a few moments, Dave opened his door.
         “What the fuck happened last night?” Patrick asked.
         Dave shook his head. He let out a snide puff of laughter as he approached the refrigerator. He grabbed a bottle of water for himself.
         “What didn’t happen?” Dave asked, opening the bottle, gulping down a drink.
“The last thing I remember was taking a shot with Nina.”
         “The last thing I remember was you telling me over and over, ‘I’ve seen Rambo thirty times. I know how to heal my wounds.’ I tried to convince you to go to a hospital for that gash on your forehead, but you said all you needed was gunpowder and a book of matches.”
         “No fucking way.”
Dave pointed to the living room coffee table. There sat an empty and opened DVD case for ‘Rambo 3’. Patrick stared in shock. Sylvester Stallone stared back in defiance.
“I…  I...” Patrick stuttered. He closed his eyes. “I can’t remember a thing.”
“Do you remember knocking over two tables at the diner, then throwing your wallet and keys at me while running away?”
“No!” Patrick shouted. The image formed in his mind. He cringed.
“Then, outside of the diner, you had a fist fight with four black teenagers.”
“I showed up at the tail end,” Dave said, shaking his head, remembering. “They were walking away shouting, ‘you ugly white cowboy motherfucker!’ You body-checked one of them and they got scared and kept going. Then you spotted me and went on a tirade about how you fought and won against, your words, ‘four little punk-ass tricks’. After that, you said the cowboy hat on your head was the only thing that mattered to you anymore.”
“I was still wearing the hat?"
“You wore the hat all damn night! I started calling you 'The Sunset Cowboy’! It was the only name you'd answer to!”
“Holy shit! I remember!” Patrick said. A foggy memory spilled into his mind. “I dove into the bushes to hide the hat, so they wouldn’t take it. The black kids laughed at me, but one of them kicked me while I was down.”
“Well, according to what you told me later, you beat the shit out of them using a wind-mill fighting style.”
“Is that how I got this?” Patrick pointed to his forehead.
Dave shook his head no. His expression turned grim.
“After we got back here you started flipping out, saying that you should  go have sex with The Double Jens. You decided to leave and find them.”
“Oh Jesus! Did I go to their apartment?” Patrick was horrified.
“Luckily no. I followed you and talked you out of it. But then you met some ugly ass blond girl on the street,” Dave said, making a face in disgust. “You were going to bring her back here to smoke weed and have anal sex.”
“Anal sex?”
“I guess. That’s what you kept saying. She was fucking gross.”
“Did she come back?”
“No. I convinced you to come home without her and you just took off running, sprinting down Sunset. That’s when you tripped over a parking meter and smacked your face on the concrete.”
Patrick felt dizzy. He had no clear memory of anything Dave was describing.
“Can you hand me a water?”
Dave opened the refrigerator and handed Patrick a bottle of water. Patrick almost finished it all in one gulp. He shuffled toward his bedroom, wiping his mouth.
“I’m going back to sleep,” he said. “I’ll be hung over for a while.”
Dave applauded and announced in mockery, “There he goes
ladies and gentlemen, ‘The Sunset Cowboy!’”
Patrick closed and locked his room door. He stepped over the turkey, bread and cheese and plopped down in bed. He was asleep within three minutes.
 The next day, at dawn, still hung over and soar, Patrick arose, entered the kitchen, and chugged a container of orange juice. He returned to his room and set his alarm for eight a.m. Work started at nine. He needed two more hours of sleep.

The 3rd Bullet
On his way to work, Patrick drank a coffee, a Gatorade, and two waters. He also ate three donuts and a cinnamon raisin bagel. This was his usual hangover cure and it worked like a charm.
Almost every employee at the Hollywood Munch office asked about the white gauze bandages taped to Patrick’s forehead. He gave a few quick one-line answers about a drunken accident, and tried to look busy on the phones. He did his best to avoid further conversation.
One of The Double Jens, the brunette, asked Patrick out to lunch during the mid-shift. He accepted her invitation, but remained convinced something horrible had transpired between them on the night of debauchery. However, over tacos, Jen explained the hilarity of Patrick’s performance at the Cowboy Cantina from her point of view.
“You came up to me and Jen and you were wearing a Cowboy hat. We thought you looked great. You started dancing with us, saying you were a real Cowboy, and that you were from Texas.”
“Oh man,” Patrick said, fully embarrassed.
“No, it was funny. Jen T. opened the top three buttons on your shirt and let out your chest hair. You were overjoyed. It completed the Cowboy look. That's when you decided to ride the bull.”
“I rode the bull?”
“You really don’t remember?”
“Not at all.”
“Well, you signed some papers and paid five dollars to ride. It was your turn after about ten minutes. You jumped on the bull and pointed up to the sky. One of the employees tried to teach you how to ride, but you just ignored him. So, the ride began and the operator must have jacked the bull’s speed up to a crazy level. You were thrown right off. But, without hesitation, you jumped back on and pointed up to the sky again. People were cheering for you. The crowd loved it, but the operator threw you off again. The second fall looked like it hurt, but you got right back on a third time.”
“A third time???”
“Yup, but now, people started booing you. The crowd turned in a heartbeat. And the operator threw you off really bad. It was the worst fall of all, because you smacked your hand against the side of the bull as you went down.”
Patrick took a look at his left hand. There was a dark bruise between his index finger and his thumb. He opened and closed his fist a few times.
“I was wondering how I got that,” he said.
“The best part though, when you were exiting the rider’s area, a big meat-head bouncer stared you down. He had his arms crossed and shook his head in anger. He said, ‘Nobody rides the bull three times. Nobody,’ and you said, ‘Reckon I’m the exception, partner’.”
Jen took a break from the story to have a bite of her taco and a sip from her soft drink. She resumed, “Then the three of us went to the bar and ordered drinks. Every time the bartender turned around, you reached up to turn off the television set. You kept yelling, ‘Emo sucks shit! Emo sucks shit!’ Then lectured the bartender on how the place smelled bad, like chemical flowers. She had a bouncer escort you out for being too drunk. That was the last Jen and I saw of you.”
“What a nightmare,” Patrick said and shook his head.
“It was a fun time.”
“From the outside looking in, it's a laugh riot. From my point of view, it’s completely depressing.”
“How did you hurt your head?”
Patrick groaned and took a bite out of a steak taco. "I’m still a bit foggy on that.”

The 4th Bullet
Later that night, Patrick was relaxing in bed, smoking a joint, staring at the Cowboy hat hanging in prominence over his computer. The phone rang. Patrick checked the caller ID and saw it was Jacob.
         “What’s happening Eastwood? How you feeling?”
         “Like shit. I’m still hung over. Trying to smoke it off.”
         “You were a wild man the other night.”
         “So I heard.”
         “Nina was bombed, I had to carry her home. She ended up pissing in my closet, thinking it was the bathroom. Before I left the bar though, you kept walking up to girls saying you were from Texas. Some of them were into it. Did you get any action?”
         Patrick relayed the bits and pieces of night he had heard from Dave and brunette Jen.
         “Did you get your forehead checked by a doctor?”
         “I don’t think it’s that bad. There are only three deep gashes. They’ll scab up and eventually turn into scars. Not that big of a deal,” Patrick said with the utmost sarcasm. 
It dawned on him: his sarcastic statements were most likely true. The three deep gashes would scar up and stay marked on his forehead in permanence. The idea was depressing. He would be doomed to remember ‘The Sunset Cowboy’ for years to come. He stubbed out his joint in an old coffee mug by his desk. The Cowboy hat above his computer suddenly seemed like a gaudy ornament, straight out of a nightmare.
         “Your roommate is a real dickhead,” Jacob said.
         “Why? He saved me from getting an STD from some dirty anal whore. He’s an angel.”
         “Angel my ass. He slipped you a Mickey. You and Nina both. That’s why you guys were so wrecked. I should kick his ass.”
         “What? A Mickey? You’re fucking around.”
         “Nah. I’m serious. I ran into him while I was making my way to the bathroom. I told him you and Nina were out on the patio waiting for me to return with shots. I asked if he wanted one and he said no. When I came back later on with the So-Co shots, he’d already given you both one-hundred-fifty-one proof whiskey, with lime. He passed them off as the fucking southern comfort! I flipped out. He got all scared and ran away before I could choke his neck.”
         “That sneaky son of a bitch! He tricked us? I can’t believe that...”
         “Come over to my place and check out the piss stains in the closet next to my dress shoes. You’ll start believing.”
 “How did you find out?”
         “After Nina became an incoherent mess, one of the Cantina servers told me. Dave ordered two whiskeys, specifically requesting the highest proof, and fed them to you guys.”
“That dirty fuck!”
“Nina puked for about two hours and didn’t fuck me at all the next day. I should really kick his ass. For real.”
         Patrick decided to end the call. He needed to confront his roommate.

        The 5th Bullet
Dave was in his bedroom watching TV, giggling along with the canned laughter of a sitcom. Patrick entered, Dave gave him a round of applause.
         “There he is ladies and gentlemen! The return of ‘The Sunset Cowboy’! How’s your head feeling today, pilgrim?”
         Patrick ignored Dave’s question and got right to the point.
         “Did you slip Nina and I shots of one-fifty-one the other night? Did you put lime on the glasses to trick us into believing they were Southern Comfort?”
         Dave sat in silence with his arms crossed, blinking his eyes rapidly. He was flustered.
         “Who told you that?”
         “One of the waitresses told Jacob. Nina pissed in his closet. Jacob wants to beat the shit out of you.”
         “Tell him to calm down. It was a joke,” Dave said, brushing off the severity.
“A joke? Look at what happened to my head!”
“You’re blaming me for your drunken stupor? Take responsibility for yourself, man! I didn’t force any liquor down your throat! I just happened to hand you a drink. Or two.”
Patrick stepped forward. Dave flinched.
“If you ever pull something like this again, I’ll let Jacob beat the ever-loving shit out of you. In fact, forget Jacob, I’ll do it myself. You hear me?”
Dave looked away. He sat frowning in silence.
“When I ask for a beer, you get me a fucking beer. You’re a manipulator and I’m through with it. By the way, I want your half of the cable bill tomorrow! You hear me? Tomorrow!”
         Patrick walked away, but thought twice and returned for some final words.
         “And do the dishes every once in a while you lazy prick! I’m not your goddamn cleaning lady! I'm tired of wiping your shitty little ass!”
         Dave sat slack-jawed and stunned.
Patrick left the room feeling good about what he’d said. Hopefully, Dave would dwell on his bitter words for a long time to come and bleed with the bullets of truth.

The 6th Bullet
Back in his bedroom, Patrick got down on his hands and knees to pick up the big pieces of turkey, cheese and bread from the carpet, which he'd been ignoring for two days straight. He thought about what transpired moments earlier and wondered if he had gone too far with the outburst.
Deep down inside, Patrick blamed himself for the Cantina blackout, but would never let Dave know. Dave deserved a payback for his multitude of past offenses. Maybe this was the dawn of a new day, a day where Patrick didn’t have to look over his shoulder and second-guess himself while his deviant roommate skulked about.
         Patrick looked up at the Cowboy hat mounted over his computer.
         “The Sunset Cowboy,” he said, and laughed to himself. He liked the sound of it.
         Patrick threw out the largest chunks of food and decided to vacuum the rest in the morning. He cleaned his wounds with peroxide and water and examined them closely in the bathroom mirror. His forehead looked no better than it had the day before. He applied an antibacterial ointment and fresh gauze pads, accepting the fact that the three large gashes would scar up and stay visible on his head for life. They’d eventually become a distant reminder of the night he couldn’t remember. The night he was a real cowboy. The night he came from Texas.

Child Cowboy Hat (Brown) Child (One-Size)

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