Local color

I went back to the High Country Saloon tonight. (The interior promotion all says High Country Lounge, but what does Anheuser Busch know? The sign above the door says “Saloon”, and that’s good enough for me. The other door says “restaurant”. You know which door I went for. I wrote for a time, with Nikki cheering me on. I’ve had people ask me what I’m doing, but rarely does someone ask, “Are you writing a novel?” For those people I am always embarassed to answer yes, because people who ask tha question are clearly more literature-oriented.

Not so Nikki. She told me that for school papers she had a hard time getting past two pages. I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her that the ability to put a good idea into the smallest space was a great virtue. I know I could learn to be more compact. Still, it was nice the way she remembered me this time. Sure, “Laptop Guy” is easy, but “Get Novel down to less than 500 pages guy” requires a little more customer interaction. Plus Nikki is cute.

SamIAm Nikki is not who I’m writing about tonight, though. After I did my work tonight I moved from my table to a barstool, where I sat next to Mr. Lujan, disabled veteran who fought in the pacific, who went on to be a magistrate judge, who went without benefits for thirty years because of the bullshit. (His first name started with an S. I was told it more than once, but I’m not so good with names.) He was a rancher, a small businessman, until taxes put him out of business. Two years ago. He’s not a big fan of Dubya, even though he’s the exact profile of citizen that our fearless leader is supposed to be loved by.

Lujan had stories. I only heard a fraction of them. He sat next to me, and with his soft voice he held me. He spoke of watching him return through his binoculars at Leyte Gulf. He told me about Okinawa. He told me about about the clarity of his conflict, and how he felt for the Marines overseas now, with no clearly defined enemy and no clearly defined goal. His war was easy, he said, compared with what our soldiers face now. He told me that after he showed me the scars he had picked up from shrapnel. “We just have to bring them home,” Lujan said.

Then he told me how he had landed in jail for DWI, even while he was a judge. Some of the boys he had previously sentenced sprung him from his cell after he took some time to learn their stories. He wanted to know how they had ended up there, and when the rest of the law enforcement community figured out who they had collared and came to let him go, he refused to leave. He served the sentence he would have given himself.

Lujan is retired now; he sold the last of his cattle two years ago. There really is no room for the small farmer anymore. I’m not going to put a value judgement on that. Big farms are more profitable. There aren’t many big farms up here, though, and the famous tax breaks aren’t doing anyone up here squat. The last large animal vet is about to move a hundred miles south.

Retired I suppose is the wrong word. At eighty-something, he still works cutting hay and who knows what else. He has his horses and his passion. He has his health, and he has his friends at the High Country Saloon.

14 thoughts on “Local color

  1. Now you’re seeing a side of Rio Arriba County that a lot of people don’t look for. In Albuquerque, you get one of the most respected judges caught DWI and also in possession of cocaine, and because he’s a big-city judge, the whole court system is shaken up. In Rio Arriba County, even though the judge’s buddies tried to let him off the hook, he took the punishment. That’s contrary to the reputation the county has — the rest of the state thinks Rio Arriba County is full of behind-the-scenes deals, but that’s not necessarily the case.

    As far as veterans’ experiences go … maybe that’s a way to get Pat’s dad up here — he could compare WWII stories with Mr. Lujan and others. He doesn’t much like to talk about his experiences with non-soldiers, but perhaps he could swap stories about Anzio and Monte Cassino for tales from the South Pacific.

  2. Did I read correctly-you moved to a bar stool? Why weren’t you there to begin with?

    I would be interested in the WWII stories if they get a chance.

  3. Having a laptop open on the bar is both risky for the laptop and a buzzkill for the others. While I’m writing, I prefer a table.

  4. Pat’s dad just doesn’t talk much about his experiences, at least not to non-veterans. But, yeah, it would be great to get him and Lujan talking.

    For a great place to find old guys who REALLY love telling WWII stories, try the Lane Victory in San Pedro, California. It’s a WWII Victory Ship, run as a museum, and the docents are mostly guys who served on it (or on similar ships). We went there, intending to spend an hour, and spent three (about an hour per docent), since Pat just totally loves hearing the stories these old guys love to tell.

  5. The oft-quoted factoid is they’re dying a 1000 a day. If any of us can get some stories down it’s a good thing. I met a guy at a town museum, (had nothing to do with WWII – it was colonial), he was retired a WWII vet and he just kept sliding really interesting sh*t into his conversation: the island he invaded (he’s pacific theater), how he was in china in 1946 one step ahead of Mao, and so forth. A colleague-in-VA’s father was a vet, and absolutely refuses to tell wife or son anything. Some memories are apparently terrible. Just by luck happened to be in D.C. in April, after the new WWII memorial opened, but before its memorial day dedication. It’s another one of those things where you gotta be there to appreciate it – it doesn’t look like all that in photos, but in person you can tell they did a really nice job.

  6. Jess — Yes, different vets have different levels of willingness to share. In the case of Pat’s dad, the feeling I get is not so much that the memories were terrible, as that he doesn’t think what he did was all that interesting or important. He doesn’t want anybody making a big deal about it. He did what he did, and that was what he was supposed to do, and that’s that, and he doesn’t think he should get any special treatment for that, since he didn’t do anything special. He just did his duty, which is what any soldier would do, and that, as far as he is concerned, is not worth special recognition.

    Interesting thought … today, we feel it necessary to praise our troops simply for fulfilling their duties, where before, the accolades went to those who went “above and beyond.”

  7. The table thing works for me. I am still using the pen and napkin thing and attempting to use a PDA. Plus my local waterin’ hole has windows that people “fall” through and I don’t want to risk it. And the invitation stands for anyone that wants a personal tour.

  8. Just for you, I will supply all the napkins you need. The least I could do for a man who sent me to wander through Prague with one word-“Pivo”

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