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.
“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.”