I met Red in Jake’s Corner, a small Arizona desert town that never grew much beyond the way its life began–as a stagecoach stop.  The town has a general store, a trailer park, and Jake’s Bar that was both community center and traveler’s oasis.  I arrived to the sight of two dozen Hogs, their black enamel paint and chrome pipes polished within an inch of showroom perfection.  They peeled out on to the highway in throaty, testosterone-rich roars.

The bar had a couple of big-screen TVs with a choice of sporting events, a busy dart board in one corner and beery laughter in another.  Outside in the back there was a large open space for several picnic tables, an industrial strength grill, and three lanes for horseshoe pitching.

It was here Red was sitting in a shady spot alone.  He wore a white, vee-neck tee-shirt with a pair of glasses hanging from the vee.  His baseball cap had writing on it.  The lines in his face and pale skin with daubs of red evidenced a man who’d worked in the sun. I guessed him to be eighty or close.

I nodded and he nodded back.

Sometimes I can remember the throwaway acknowledgement or question that I pick from my conversational bait bucket   Usually, I can’t.  I ought to write them down because so many have led to a story.

Whatever the nicety, I soon got to the doorway of Red’s story.

“What brought you to this town out here?”  I asked.  I wanted to say godforsaken or in the middle of nowhere but that would not take me where I wanted to go.

“It was the first place I came to after I left my wife.”

“When was that?”

“Eighteen years ago.”

“And where did you leave from?”


“Why did you leave her?”

“I told her that if she didn’t quit gamlin, I’d leave.”

“What did she gamble on?  Cards?  Ponies?

“She gambled on everything. I told her she had two years to quit and if she didn’t, I auction off the farm.”

A young girl walked by.  Her shorts were short and tight, her top tighter.  Red’s eyes followed her like she was a target in a video game.  After three seconds, he turned to me with a twinkling grin:

“I may have slowed down a lot, but I ain’t dead.”

And then he went on with his tale.

“I had eighty acres in Missouri, eighty-seven head of cattle and two hundred hogs.  Most of the farm was old timber.  I miss that timber.  I don’t miss the farm and I don’t miss her, but I missed that timber.”

“So what happened?”

“She never believed me and I auctioned off the farm.”

“Do you mind if I take your picture?”  I asked.

“I wish you wouldn’t.  It would be like a Korean mortar going off.  What do you want it for anyway?”

“I remember stories better if I can see the face of the person who told me.  I have pictures of people I met thirty years ago and I remember what we talked about and what they said.  But I’ve forgotten people I met last month.  But, no problem, I respect that you don’t want your picture taken.

My name is AL, by the way.  And I thank you for taking the time to talk to me.” 

I reached my hand toward him and he grasped it with the strong grip of a man whose life had been working with his hands. 

“I’m Red.”

“Tell me, Red, your farm was in Missouri, but you came from Oklahoma.”

“After the farm was gone, I took her to Oklahoma where she had people.  I got her a paid-for house and a little property and then I left.”

Red fell silent for a long minute, then said, “you can take my picture if you want, but only one.”

8 Responses to Red

  1. Dave L says:

    A man that takes care of his obligations – rare these days and refreshing.

  2. karen wittgraf says:

    Well, he certainly isn’t eighteen, is he? I can see the twinkle in his eye, however.
    Love the part about missing the timber, not her or the farm, just the timber. Strange, the environment we keep with us, like cracked sidewalks and lilac bushes and pigeons poking near the railroad tracks. We are a sensory bunch. I’m loving your stories..don’t stop..this is an enlightening mission you’re on.

  3. Shelley Wagner says:

    Hi Al,
    What a beautiful conversation, and the photo is so intriguing! I love the feeling I get from this piece. It’s transporting and fresh.

    • allevenson says:

      Thanks, Shelley.

      I did not see you at all when I looked in on writers club events when I was back in Alameda in November and in February. Are you writing?


  4. Michael Joyce says:

    Down the road from our orchard in Dutch Flat, right next to the railroad crossing, is a small old house, maybe 500 square feet, corrugated iron roof, tired and falling shingle walls, a sagging porch, all under a big shade tree. It’s there in some old photos of our place from 1856, and hasn’t had much maintenance since.

    It’s empty through most the winter, but about this time of year you’ll see smoke coming from the chimney, and a 1970’s Dodge Dart, Arizona plates, rust and faded green, parked beneath the tree. Albert is back. Overalls, bald head with an untrimmed white fringe around the sides, glasses he often misplaces, skinny, and wrinkled, he told me he passed 80 “awhile back.”

    Sometime between Thanksgiving and before Christmas Albert tells me he makes “the same damn choice.”

    “Whats that?” I once asked.

    “Two things I hate. Being with my wife, and being cold. When I hate being cold enough, I go home to her in Arizona, ’til I jus can’t stand being around her. Then I come on back here.”

    It’s less than a quarter mile to Alberts place, but far enough our visits were just occasional. A cup of well aged coffee, blacker than hell, with cream if I brought it.

    In the fall we’d take him an apple or pear pie, and eat a good bit of it together. A few times I brought him some firewood for his old kitchen wood stove, his only source of heat in the uninsulated house. As fall came, the kitchen door was closed and he lived in that kitchen. “I got a refrigerator, and that old book case full of stuff to read. What else do I need? ”

    He never says goodbye.

    Two years ago I didn’t see any smoke, or the old Dodge. Last year either. The phone number didn’t work.

    I was up in Dutch Flat last week, didn’t any smoke, but it’s still pretty cold.

    Maybe when I go up next week . . . .

  5. patbean says:

    Great piece of observation and writing. I love the phrase testosterone-rich roars, but I want to know what Red’s hat said. A bit of my own observation from my travels is that while I meet a lot of lone women like myself RV-ing alone, you’re only the second man I’ve come across soloing it on more than two wheels. Instead I have met quite a few Harley riders out there seeing the world alone. Most times they set up a neat camp site, pull out something to read and settle in at a picnic table. By the way, Maggie’s my immediate conversation ice-breaker.

  6. Gene Morita says:

    I like this fellow Red. He’s a decent sort. I like the way he took care of his former wife. I would love to have seen a picture of him. The negative does not do him well he’s a positive fellow.

    • allevenson says:

      I have a problem with people pix. I get permission to take close up pix but I dont ask for permission to post to the internet. I think most would say no even if I had established an even greater rapport. People are willing to tell personal anecdotes to one person they meet who they might not ever see again. Internet posting is something else.

      I alter the photographs to the point where someone could probably not be personally identifiable but try to retain the personality–no simple task. Red was not this person’s real name although it suited him.

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