(CONTINUED) I didn’t go after the grey-eyed girl. Either she didn’t deserve me or I didn’t deserve her. I couldn’t decide which sounded better to me. And I couldn’t keep that other face out of my mind for long. No surprise there. I walked past the coffee shop and looked in the window. The grey-eyed girl was inside, at the first table by the door. I think the word is “fetching.” I smiled and waved, but if she reacted I didn’t notice. I kept on walking.
I went back to my hotel and made a phone call. A man answered, so I hung up. I made another call and bought a plane ticket. I wasn’t sure if I was looking to finally obtain my own desperately waylaid salvation or personally ensure someone else's ultimate destruction. At that moment I wasn’t even sure if the two events were necessarily exclusive of one another or if the one absolutely required the other. I hardly cared.
I drove to a battered honky-tonk just off the road out of Santa Fe, the Broken Spur. Inside it was dark save for a few beer signs and a couple naked bulbs above the bar and stage, upon which a band was playing old country songs. Lefty Frizzell, Buck Owens, Townes van Zandt. A few ragged couples tottered listlessly on the warped and stained dance floor. I ordered a beer and bought a pack of cigarettes, though I hadn't smoked in years. When in Rome, I figured.
On my side of the dance floor were two young girls, barely old enough to get in the place, if indeed they were old enough, each awkwardly sipping a single beer. One was very thin--too thin--with a drawn look and jutting cheekbones partially hidden by the black hair that fell over her face. Her friend was blonde and slightly overweight, heavily done-up in eyeliner and lipstick. I watched the three men eye the two girls from across the floor and eventually the guy in the trench coat came over and asked the blonde girl to dance. She giggled, smiled at her friend--who seemed utterly bored--and stood up.
The band, apparently without an uptempo song in their repertoire, lurched into “Silver Wings,” and the man pulled the girl close. She moved her feet tentatively, barely inches from his boots. When you want or need something--money, shelter, food, sex, or worse--the best and quickest way to get it is to prey on longing, uncertainty, and self-doubt. That is, you look for weakness. I knew as I watched the man dance with this girl that he’d found what he was looking for. And he knew it too. He nodded at his friends and they got up and walked over to the other girl and took turns dancing with her. Not one of those three seemed to be enjoying themselves. A few songs later I saw the man in the trench coat run a hand down the blonde girl’s ass. She just kept painfully shuffling from side to side, her arms wrapped around him.
The band took a break and the girl came back to her friend and told her they were leaving. By now the other two guys had gone back to sullenly pulling on their beers back at their own table. The skinny girl rolled her eyes, but got up wordlessly and followed her friend over to the three men. The guy in the trench coat put his arm around the blonde girl’s shoulder and grinned as he led everyone out the door. I wondered just how long it would take the girl to regret this night. Would she regret it tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Whatever the case, I knew she most certainly would regret it. But sometimes you have no choice but to make decisions that are wrong, take chances that you shouldn’t. Sometimes those are the only options you’ve been given and there's nothing else but to pick one hell or another. I ordered one more beer, hoping it would help me sleep, and started for the door just as the band was getting into “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” It seemed to fit, even though I wasn’t going to Phoenix and I wasn’t leaving. There was simply no place left to leave. (CONTINUED)
All photos are of Tucson, AZ.