In the pocket of a sheepskin coat,
moonlight in a madman’s eye
For the unfairness of it all,
surely something had to die …
— the prophet mcmurtry
We’re walking around in a ghost town crammed full of people who don’t appear to be ghosts.
Mo said she had claustrophobia, so of course her solution is an outing to a former mining town that now appears to be hosting everyone in the greater Phoenix area. I have no idea where the people in the lesser Phoenix area are spending their holiday.
I like coming here because they have ice cream. I like coming ANYWHERE because they have ice cream. I like ice cream.
It’s a sunny day, the usual brutal mid-70s arctic chill. We mosey along (one must mosey in ghost towns) through the familiar sites. The cool pottery studio, the saloon, the jail, the outhouse, the little train that rides around the perimeter at a glacial pace for the approximate price of a SpaceX flight.
We go in the hat store and Mo decides I should buy a cowboy hat. The cowboy hats decide otherwise. We find ourselves at the far end of the joint, at the combination chapel and shooting range, the perfect combination for a certain political party I keep trying to forget. An ancient fire truck rests contentedly in back in retirement, awaiting a ghost fire.
We stand at the fence and look out on the desert. I suspect you could live here a million years and never tire of gazing at the endless empty miles of saguaros and brush. It’s so easy to forget you live in a wildreness when you spend most of your time on freeways and in ice cream drive-thru lines. I like ice cream. I might have mentioned that.
We turn around to face the crowd again. And then.
“We can’t go past the line,” Mo says. I speculate she’s quoting Clint Eastwood from “A Fistful of Ice Cream.” But she points downward, and sure enough, there’s a line drawn in the dirt. Visions of the Alamo dance in my head. Not really. I was raised as a Southern Baptist. Visions of the Alamo stand awkwardly in the corner in my head.
But the line means it’s time for the show to start. We find ourselves on the edge of a Wild West Shootout. If you have never experienced a Wild West Shootout, it goes something like this. People in Wild West costumes shoot each other. It’s kinda like a Rambo movie except they all wear shirts.
The crowd swarms around the little area next to the jail and sheriff’s office to see the show. There are the sheriff and deputies, dancing girls (actually they’re just standing-around girls so could be Southern Baptists), and bad guys. Hats, guns, vests, spurs that go jingle jangle jingle.
As we wait, the sheriff explains the rules. “We’re using live bullets,” he says in a remark that probably would have been funnier before the Alec Baldwin incident, “so stay behind the line.” Luckily, Mo has already coached me on this. He said some other stuff, but I couldn’t hear after someone fired a rifle next to us just in case we were dozing off. Hopefully the sheriff wasn’t offering free ice cream. And then we wait.
The show begins. It consists of the good guys standing around, the bad guys walking up, and everyone killing each other. Not much of a plot, but again, not unlike Rambo, except none of them say Yo, Adrian. Three minutes after it started, it’s over. Nobody left but one bad guy, who is preparing to finish off the badly wounded sheriff, who is on the ground trying to hang on until possibly someone comes along with free ice cream. The bad guy lowers his gun. The sheriff is helpless but defiant.
The sheriff’s wife, sporting a provocative bustier (and settling any question as to whether she is indeed a Southern Baptist), marches from the crowd sporting a shotgun. “Stay away from my husband,” she yells at the bad guy. He does not. So she nails him at point-blank range with the shotgun. Once, but he is still standing. Then, a second time, and he goes down. Then a third time while he is on the ground, just for fun.
The crowd roars. What fun! Possibly they hadn’t watched the similar hijinks in the Arbery trial. Watching people shooting defenseless people with shotguns doesn’t seem that entertaining these days. But they seem to love it. And then everyone pops back up. They will live again until the next show, in roughly an hour or whenever the ice cream runs out.
And that’s our entertainment. Watching people pretend to kill each other.
But here’s the funny part. The spectators are jammed together. Virtually none are wearing masks. They’re talking, cheering, whistling, singing Southern Baptist hymns (“Onward, Christian soldiers, shoot the bad guy in the cajones”) in desperately close proximity to one another. I suspect this is a crowd that eschews vaccinations in favor of ivermectin, given the horse theme. The COVID rate is rising rapidly again in Arizona. They do not care.
They’re watching people pretend to kill each other. All the while, some of the members of our little audience are surely killing machines. Surely something had to die.
The victims won’t fall down immediately. They will linger, a slow, agonizing death that won’t be entertaining at all. Nobody will clap. No one will pass the bucket to collect tips. They will wonder why this happened to them. Helpless but defiant. A few more ghosts to add to the town.
We head home. I try to remember back when I cared. Oh, well. More ice cream for me.
Life is funny …