I still see him from time to time when I’m working at the restaurant. He’s a passerby, a wanderer. He caught my eye one day amongst all the ordinary people. A real life cowboy, walking down the street, having a stand off with some imaginary stranger in the distance.
The first time I saw him it was busy at the restaurant. I needed a minute to cool off, so I went up to the host stand for a little while and pretended to clean something. It was easy enough and I never seemed to get caught for doing it. And that’s when I saw this guy.
It was probably his outfit that caught my eye. It could not have been more perfect. Sun bleached Levi’s skinny through the knee down, black cowboy boots, and an old tan wife beater with some stains on it. He was somewhat short for the American cowboy figure that I had in mind, but still. His hair was bleached from what I could see under his cowboy hat. It was short, a sort of dirty blonde. He had a warm face, tan like the rest of his appearance.
And so we made eye contact, briefly speaking, through the glass doors. The literal and figurative barrier between us. I suppose I could have just opened one up and greeted him, but I didn’t. I figured there was some disconnect. No. Maybe.
“Did you see that guy?” I remarked to Alex, my co-worker.
She was busy playing on her iPhone. “What? Oh, the cowboy. Yeah he’s just a weirdo. Walks by here all the time.”
But he didn’t seem like a weirdo. He just seemed out of place; out of touch with reality.
After that first instance I saw him pretty regularly, always when I was up at the host stand playing greeter. I noticed new things about him too, like the multicolored paint stains on his jeans. I wondered if he was an artist. I figured a guy like that had to have some craft, something to help him sleep at night. I asked one of my co-workers about his art career and he told me this guy was actually was a painter. Amazing, I thought. My co-worker told me he paints in the back alley from time to time, but that his work is nothing special.
Naturally I was curious. Maybe his artwork was worth the sight? What kind of work did he do, and why? I was thinking about it so much, mainly because I was bored at work and even all of the characters in the restaurant were not nearly as interesting as this guy. Seeing all those designer jackets only has so much appeal after awhile.
So after my next shift I decided to head back to the alley and check out this “artwork”. It could have been a complete letdown but I didn’t really care. I just wanted to put some reasoning behind his step. There was an idiosyncrasy about him that somehow screamed artist.
I clocked out at 9:30pm and said bye to everyone I was working with and exited through the back door. It was cool out and the fresh air felt nice as it always did when I left. I turned the corner and lit up a cigarette, I needed one pretty badly. I turned the corner again to the alley-way, felt some trash and other litter on the bottom of my shoes as I stepped through. It was fucking dark back here. There was hardly any light so I pulled out my phone and used its glow as a flashlight, trying to illuminate some meaning on the wall in front of me.
I scanned over a variety of abstract designs. They were all drawings of artifacts of some sort. I scanned a little further. Feathers. Colors. And then, a man holding an ear of corn. And then, a Native American smoking a pipe. I scanned and then re-scanned the drawings to make sure I was seeing them all correctly. And sure enough I was. They were all manifestations of Native American life.
What a fucking trip, I thought. And the artwork, the artwork was so good. It was amazing that the alley-way concrete gave the paintings such contrast. Intricate designs and a really amazing use of color, especially the different shades of red and orange. Nobody was around so I stood there with the glow of my cellphone just taking in the artwork like tourists do in a museum. Just reflecting. The only real difference being that I wasn’t some tourist in a museum.
Afterwards, I felt all weird inside.
I slept terribly and woke up late for work the next morning. Shit, I thought. I threw my wrinkled work shirt on, matted my hair down, and almost forgot to put on pants before grabbing my keys and heading out the door. All this rushing. What was it good for? You had to be at a certain place at a certain time and it just didn’t make sense anymore. Why couldn’t I be a drifter, a rogue, a…
I wasn’t going to say it. Not a cowboy. That was weird. It was too soon, too sudden. The guy probably had zero money to his name and was sleeping in some field or something. Maybe it was just an act. Maybe he was rich and was putting up a front to look more artsy and get “donations” when people saw him and felt bad. That’s what was really going on.
I drove fast to work, and luckily found a nice parking spot on the street. It was close to the restaurant and I hopped out of my car. I speed walked down the street while simultaneously taking my phone out of my pocket to check the time. I hoped it wasn’t that late. But it was. 11:16am. 16 minutes late. I put my phone away and increased my walking speed when out of nowhere the slow grace of the cowboy came into clear sight.
And then everything just kind of slowed down. Time. My breathing. Did somebody drug me? He was approaching me steadily and we made eye contact.
“How’s it going?” I asked blankly.
“Fine and dandy,” he said.
He was about to turn and continue on when I blurted out, “So are those your paintings?”
He stopped and laughed a short cowboy laugh and said, “Why, yes they are. How did you find out about those?”
I thought about my answer for a second. “Oh, well a kid I work with said you were an artist.” It sounded kind of cheesy but he seemed flattered.
“And what do you think?” he responded. He didn’t look at me when he said it. Instead he was reaching for his cigarettes or something in his pocket.
I stood there for a second, not really knowing what to say. I watched him light up a cigarette and take a long drag on it. “Yeah, they’re good. Actually I really like them. But why Indians?”
He chuckled. His voice was more hoarse this time. “That’s a good one. If you gotta know, just look around. Everyone in this damn city runnin’ around like they’re some cowboy, with some mission or another. The only way to live is like them if ya ask me.”
He stumbled a little bit and looked completely out of it. I think he was drunk. He gave me a big off-balance salute and continued on down the sidewalk, strutting from side to side, wisps of smoke appearing behind him.
I watched him until I realized my phone was ringing and my manager was calling me, probably wondering where I was. I didn’t pick up and instead made my way over to the restaurant, where I apologized for being late and started doing prep work.