Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bandit Country

Profiles in conformity
In order to blend in I have tried to find a costume that the locals can accept. They don't sell top of the line palm hats like this at the gas station and you'll have to wait to see me wearing what I call my "Ronald Reagan Pants" which are officially called "Ranch Jeans" made of stretchy polyester and better fitting than denim. With my stooped and shuffling walk it doesn't really make me look any better.

I fled the 109 temps in Austin because the city wore me down. I had worked out a system of survival that was teetering on disaster every minute, my heart palpitated and the crickets freely roamed my kitchen area. There was a long shot job opportunity that I decided to investigate but it required going south toward Mexico into ranch country and driving to the HX Ranch to try to talk my way into a ranch hand gig. Basically, it's like the indentured servitude that most people live with except for two factors:

1) They don't pretend you are a free individual. You are on the clock 24 hours a day to maintain the ranch and "keep the owners happy". You live there. They provide you provisions to stay alive, like you are one of the (smarter) cattle. This appealed to me because the indignity of working 12 hours a day doing bench electronic work was compounded by the fact I also had to maintain a home if the two were possible. So basically, the job claims all of your working time but then you must hustle and sweat to maintain a home life that you rarely even see. Boy, the big bosses must be laughing their asses off to see the working man scrounge for a buck that he has to turn around and pay his rent with while the television collects dust. lol. This brings me to...
2) They pay you hourly wages on top of providing your living quarters and utilities. So even though you are not technically on the clock you will get a check twice a month that more than pays for your food and clothes and online porn subscriptions.

Basically, ranch hand work is indentured servitude with an exit plan. You will save enough money to buy a house or land in Belize but you will only get to visit the house twice a year. So, you had better like to live on a lonely ranch in the middle of Comanche country.

I can't speak from experience on living where the Comanche once roamed so I could only present my cowboy hat in my hands and promise to work hard. Jobs like this aren't unusual in this part of Texas but it's very unusual for a northerner like myself to drive up to a 3000 acre ranch and try to talk my way into it. Jobs like this are handed down from father to son or agreed on in bars. There is no way on earth you are going to advertise for work on the internet and find someone who will fit in. "Help Wanted: Cattle Hand. Must be ok with hunting and gutting hogs and dressing deer and quail. Tractor experience a must. Well digging and Welding skills a plus. Wildlife habitat will be your office. Single men only. No pets. No kids. No women. No drugs. No television. No internet. No phone. Nearest populated town one hour. Nearest WalMart 2.5 hours. Expected to be on ranch 24/7 350 days a year. Serious applicants only."

I mean, really, who is going to fit that job description? If you are a ranch owner then you basically have to get to know people so you'll know who to hire. And even the person you hire won't know if it's a good fit until they've been there a few months. As the guy said, anyone who wants that job already has that job. Very unusual job bordering on Edward Abbey type stuff. Makes Thoreau look like a social butterfly.

Rancher: So, Oggy, what kind of experience do you have decapitating coyotes? And when was the last time you fired a .30 caliber rifle?

Oggy (thinking of his bongo drum): Well...

It's one thing to read about this kind of life in a Louis L'Amour book but it's quite another to be walking down a trail with a punishing hot 99 degree wind in your face, scorpions and lizards watching you from the shade of scrub brush, your ranch pants roasting on your thighs, your shoulder not feeling very good despite the 5 pain pills you took, with a shotgun in one arm, listening for wild hogs, looking to shoot a quail and you haven't seen another person in three months.

Sadly, the man whose job this was worked 5 solid years, never asked for a day off, got sick one afternoon after lunch...felt bad all weekend...went to Mexico for a cheap doctor visit...diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer with 6 months to live...week later had an unrelated brain embolism that left him with the use of only one hand ( and I mean only one hand)...the bunk house still smelled like his cigarette smoke when the help wanted ad went up.

So, that's not a fate one can look at contentedly. But I had to find out and at least see the ranch and talk to the man with my cowboy hat on and my ranch pants and the dust and sun in my eyes. I wasn't sure this was a perfect fit but there's no way I'd know that. It got me out of dead end Austin. I guess I'm out of other options and have been seriously considering a Trappist Monastery because they have a pipe organ I could play. The ranch hand job would be like a monastery except you get to kill and dress deer in between prayer.

Now I'm eyeing the border with Spanish eyes, though everyone tells me it's suicide to go there. Suicide by Mexico. There was a movie called "Old Gringo"(1989) and I think it had Gregory Peck playing the author Ambrose Bierce in 1914 Mexico, While in Mexico, Bierce wrote a letter to a friend that stated: ‘If you should hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think that it is a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a gringo in Mexico-ah, that is euthanasia.’

That quote has stuck with me all these years. Mercy-killing in Mexico and it returned to my mind when a friend I met in La Paz, Don, wrote me that the old British soldier who had told me stories about a lovely fictitious nurse had face planted drunk in his room and died. And then the mental case American vet who lived in a broom closet and painted terrible creepy portraits had not woken up one morning, his unfinished masterpiece still on the easel. No emergency contact. No relatives. Cremated at the animal shelter as bells rang in the nearby church and Catholic saints looked on in mute clay repose, dust blowing across the dry desert. When poor Don dies there will be on one left to relay me the message.  He may already be dead. It's a romantic notion to see these deaths as merciful but I'm a romantic and an anonymous life assembling electronics for superficial enjoyment seems to me not as merciful a death as kidnapping and assassination in Nuevo Leon.

The Corpus Christi harbour bridge with patriotic colors.

I don't really qualify to be a monastic hog hunter in the ranch country of southeast Texas. I would take the job and fake it until I either cracked the code to my scrambled conscience or else became another Comanche land casualty to John Deer thrasher mechanisms. Maybe I'd even find the time to write. It's not a decision that is in my hands at this point so I'm looking for other gigs and considering a visa to Guatemala. The money is almost completely depleted (that hat wasn't cheap) and the ocean breezes from the Corpus Christi bay are hurricane force. The police chose July 4th to get in my grill about reading my paper in a parking lot. That was fitting because the parade and musical synched fireworks were the most audaciously jingoistic I'd ever witnessed. Everyone took pictures and combed their hair and posted fake smile video to fakebook and then waited 3 hours in a line of cars to go home. America is a beautiful study in image so I wear my cowboy hat to better fit in and be trusted. I'm at peace with my destiny, whether it be a Trappist Monastery or a shallow grave in Mexico or as hog assassin in the desert. I was helping a man fix his 1970 Chevy Nova and asked him if I should go to Tampico. "Pray," he said. "If god tells you that you should go. Then go. If not. Then stay. God's will is at work, my friend."


Anonymous said...

Enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written - you are having way too much fun!

Oggy Bleacher said...

Finally, praise.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.