- The New Old West
The ghosts were browsing tonight, picking through the off-color knickknacks and refrigerator magnets. Truth told it was more annoying than spooky. Trent, my manager, worried after them constantly. He swatted at them with a cheapie electric bug swatter that he’d paid for and unwrapped for the very purpose. It looked like a tennis racket and was emblazoned with the words “Skeeter Defeater.”
It was an ungodly hot summer night, and I’d rolled my short sleeves up on my shoulders, and he came over, and tapped me on a shoulder with the damn thing, and it stung.
“God, fuck, Trent.”
“Gotta stay in uniform, Jen.”
“I am in uniform.”
His nose hair bristled. “Sleeves down. Be professional.”
I looked around. Aside from the ghosts, of which there were three or four, there was no one else here. One of the ghosts was trying repeatedly to pick up a ceramic eagle statue. From the frustrated look of him, when living he was the kind of person who wanted to speak to the manager.
Trent ran over there and whipped the Skeeter Defeater around. It passed right through the ghost, swirling him up a little bit. The ghost threw his hands up in exasperation and walked off. Sweat slid down my back. I looked at the ghost by the coffee mugs and gave her a look of well whatever. Aside from occasionally submitting to being shooed off, the ghosts never interacted with us. Still, she was one of the ones I liked. She had a classic ghost look—long braided hair, flowy dress, barefoot. I thought if we could just have a conversation together, it would be lovely. My life in Abilene would finally pass the Bechdel test. I sipped at my sweet tea.
With Trent out here I couldn’t read and I couldn’t sneak outside to smoke and I couldn’t change the music and then lip sync into a magic marker for the ghosts. The only thing I could do was wallow and listen to the air conditioner struggle and fail.
The New Old West Rest Stop and Restaurant was in a sorry state these days. The restaurant and minigolf course were both closed down. No one was allowed to take the stairs up to the top of the giant cowboy hat anymore. Now it sat there atop its fake oil derrick, its paint going pale from the sun, being mistaken for a riff on the Eiffel Tower. Tourists would stop and ask if this was Paris, TX. When I told them it was just Abilene, their [End Page 71] faces would sink. I went up there once, and it was like you could see nearly to Oklahoma.
The only things that were still open were the snack bar, the gas station, and the gift shop, and I bounced between all three as needed. The fireworks stand had been open for the 4th, which was marked by Trent buying a box of snappers and flicking them at my feet when I wasn’t paying attention. Trent’s management style left something to be desired.
During the day people came in, and the shop did decent business selling tacky cowboy and Americana memorabilia hecho en Mexico— refrigerator magnets of snoozing caballeros under massive sombreros, tin coyotes howling at the moon, that kind of stuff. I couldn’t imagine owning any of it, but people came in to use the bathroom and ended walking out with at least a Don’t Mess with Texas coffee mug. It sort of blew my mind. Growing up I’d hated Abilene and the surrounding plains, and by extension anyone with even a shred of outsized Texas pride. And yeah, maybe I secretly enjoyed seeing the cowboy hat lit up and buzzing from my window in the back bedroom of the trailer, and maybe when I was staying up with the window open blowing out weed vapor through the screen (even with a vaporizer, I had to be extra careful of my moms and my brother Denny finding out), a highlighter between the pages of a Judith Butler book, I’d see some nice stars...