A greenish color tinged the edge of the low-hanging storm clouds, and thinking back to what my cowboy friends all said, I knew we were in for one kinghell hail storm.
I had just pulled into Clearwater, just over the Texas line, and decided to seek shelter from the storm. It was getting dark, and I almost didn’t see the one business that was open in town. So driving past, I pulled a u-turn and parked underneath the awning of a deserted D-X station. Lightning was beginning to flash now many miles to the west, and secoonds later the thunder rolled and grumbled like a drunken sergeant in his sleep as the storm made its way toward Oklahoma.
It was downright cold for the last week in May, and the light golf shirt that I had on didn’t do much to stop the wind as it swirled and eddied the wheat chaff and dust there on Main Street.
I was on my way to a wedding of one of the Durees’ twin daughters and the only thing that I had in the way of outer wear was a light blue seersucker jacket that serves me well—both weddings and funerals.
No one looked up at my entrance. The room was overheated as most places where old men hang out are. Ahead of me was a little short bar with three or four stools. It was a typical beer bar with racks of potato chips and pretzels on top. There were also big jars of beer sausage soaking in vinegar and pig’s feet and boiled eggs.
A couple of guys were sitting at the bar, working men from the cotton gin, I could tell from the little fluffs of lint that clung to their clothes.
Around the room were scattered a number of tables—some of them regular cafe tables and some the slate-topped kind that you see in domino halls. They’re slate topped because the players like to keep score with chalk on the slate. Hell, in my travels around the oilfields and with the pipeline I’d been in a hundred such places. I could speak the language.
I sat down at the bar and the old boy down the row from me never paid the slightest attention, just went on sipping his Falstaff. The bartender got up from a corner table where he had been entertaining a pair of aging snuff queens.
“What’ll you have?” he asked.
“Bud Light,” I answered, thinking that a beer bottle makes a fine weapon if needed.
The bartender was a big, beefy type, the kind you see every day swaggering, blustering, usually with a pack of Camels rolled in the sleeve of a T-shirt that must be the uniform of the day for this type.
“What’re they playing?” I asked the bartender.
“Moon,” he answered in a hurry to get back to the girls. Dismissing the bartender as a lost cause, I drank my beer, halfway watching the game over my shoulder. Finally I wandered over and sat at a table all by myself, but next to the moon players.
Two old men and a young guy were playing. The old man that I sat beside was called Amos by the other two, and he wore a flannel shirt that was buttoned up to the collar, a grey sweater with a windbreaker covering the whole affair. Underneath it all I was sure that he had on long underwear. He was old and weathered with a bristle of white covering his cheeks. He had the cold butt of a cigar jammed in his mouth.
They took no notice of me when I sat daown. Finally I asked, “Are sweaters allowed if they keep their mouth shut?”
“Not if you do like you say,” said the old man giving me a gruff look.
“I can handle that.” I replied.
After watching the game for a half hour or so, the conversation turned to cable tool rigs. It turned out Amos was a retired cable tool driller, and I’d worked around the rigs for most of my adult life. So Amos and I became fast friends in the mode of the oil field.
Shortly after that, I had commenting rights, which I soon exercised when Amos went set on a five bid.
“If you’d have come little, led your deuce ace, you could have knocked down his calf and that throws him in a bind over his cow. If he goes small you’ve got him. If he holds you, you trump back in and lead your trump double and knock out his cow. Then all you’ve lost is your one trump and your off rock and you’ve made your five,” I said.
“You’re mighty late with that advice,” said Amos giving me a hard look.
“I thought I’d better wait until the hand was over,” I said.
I was enjoying myself. Sitting in an overheated bar in Clearwater, Texas sweating a two-bit moon game. Life is full of strange propositions, indeed.
After a while the younger man left, saying he had to get home for supper, and they invited me into the game. We played for two hours. I won a little but was certain to give it back by buying the beer. I didn’t do it in an overbearing manner, just casual like, a stranger glad for the company on a cold west Texs night.
I felt good. I was a little drunk, but very mellow, perhaps I’d even feel better if I could have struck up a conversation with one of the snuff queens, but I doubt it.
So I just hung around digging the party.
The beefy bartender was half drunk by now also, and the place had filled up considerably over the last two hours. People were trying to two-step to Hank Jr. and Merle and having quite a time of it. It was small town Friday night at its best. The bartender was bellowing out ths manhood to anyone that would listen.
It was about that time that the stranger and the bartender started having a heated discussion that I couldn’t quite make out.
The stranger was dressed in the style of the ’50s, black vest, shirt and jeans. He wore black boots that had little silver tips on their pointy toes, and the vest was adorned with silver conchos on the back.
Without a word the stranger took three measured steps down the bar, turned and with a great hawking cough spat up a great gob of phlegm down the bar at a Coors ashtray about ten feet away.
The bartender called out, “That’s one” and cheerfully wiped the bar clean. The cowboy tried to spit in the ashtray twice more brefore walking over to the bartender and handing him a ten-dollar bill and promptly leaving the saloon.
The bartender yelled out something about winning and teaching the cowboy not to bet with him and promptly bought the snuff queens another beer.
“Yeah, that’s right Harley. You really taught him a lesson,” said the old man that had been playing moon with Amos and me. “The only trouble was that he bet me $25 that he could spit on your bar three times, and you’d smile while cleaning it up.”
Life is full of strange propositions indeed.
written by Bob Briggs