This article originally appeared in Esquire and is reprinted on Longform by permission of the author.
LONG ABOUT FIVE in the evening, Ron heads down to the pool for a soak. That's instead of a shower. Way he figures, it just makes sense. Shoot, if he was to take a shower, he'd soil the washtub, and then Ardith would have to scrub it up. Sides, he don't mind to bathe outside. Fact he'd rather it. There's something decent about setting out under the light of day, making ripples in the water. Not to sound like a danged hippie, but it's peaceful.
So come five, he gets moving. Shuts off the TV and unfolds from his easy chair wearing nothing but a thin gold chain and a pair of blue swimming trunks. He stretches, all six foot two of his leathery self, tanned to smithereens. Yes, sir. Big, broad Coppertone thing, ain't he? He knows it, boy. Still looks pretty good, too, what for getting older and all. Proud to say he's still long and lean, except for his beach-ball belly, and there ain't a bit of bald on his head, neither. Nothing in the way of back hair or ear hair or such like that. Just one tuft of white chest hair sprouting up, wiggling in the AC current like a tiny tumbleweed.
Ron chugs his last slug of beer, sets his favorite baseball cap on the very tip-top of his head. The blue one, the one that says, ligurta station rv park, where the old west still lives. Yup. That's it, boy. Says it all. The Old West: room to breathe, space to call your own. All Ron ever wanted, really. Just the freedom to set back, stretch his legs, make himself at home. He burps, walks around to the bedroom, straps on his .22 magnum holster, grabs a pack of Winston Lights off the counter. Sparks one, struts to the front door, and steps outside, into the heat.
The heat, man. Damn. The glare. The desert. The bleached-out sand. The tumbleweeds. The naked, humongous sky. The scorpions. The rattlesnakes. The beaver-tail cactus (which, by the way, cooks up real good in an omelette). The coyotes. The tarantulas. The cat, Shitferbrains. And, of course, the mobile homes. Can't forget about them. Them's the main of it. Them's what Ligurta is, man. Just a little bitty ring of trailers setting out in the middle of Dome Valley, Arizona, the second-hottest desert in America , right snug on the border of California and Mexico. Yes, sir. Sight to see.
Ron stands on the porch, looking out. There's only ninety and some mobiles that make up Ligurta, but, boy, they're all different kinds. You got your Silver Bullet Airstreams, your Layton Celebrities, even Tahoes. You got your bay-window additions and Arizona rooms. You got your single-section fifth-wheelers with side decks and exterior birdbaths. Hell, Ron's even got himself a multisection spread with additions. Course, right now, him and Ardith's place is the only one getting any use. All the other mobiles is vacated for the off-season. Come winter, when the temperature gets back down to the 80s, the people's gonna get back. But for now, it's summertime. Whole 'nother thing. Hot and empty. Not another man for miles.
Stepping off the porch, Ron ambles over to the truck, his cigarette at half-mast. It's an okay truck. Runs good, and, hell, it's paid for. Got a cooler of Busch in the bed and an advertisement for Budweiser taped over the rear window, blocking out the sun. He opens the door and lets the heat blow from the cab, studying the horizon while he waits. Might get some rain, like the weatherman said. Hard to tell, but it might. That'd be useful--it'd cut down on the heat. Not that he's complaining or nothin', but it is 116 degrees.
Ron slides into the truck, fires her up, throws her into first, and rolls down the drive, kicking up a touch of dust. He wouldn't mind to head straight for the pool, but since it might rain, he really oughta check for footprints, 'fore they wash away. Just to be on the safe side, just in case there's aliens on the loose. So he steers away from the park, out over the dunes, his head bobbing around, his neck straining every which way, looking for footprints, for empty water bottles, for anything, any sign of life.
"SEE HIM RUNNING across there? Boy, he was haulin'. An ol' scorpion. I've never been stung, and I don't want to be. These around here, I don't think they're that venomous. But they'll hurt you, from what I understand.
"The rattlers, I ain't killed but two this year. If I see them across the road, I won't bother them. I don't want to take a chance of getting bit. You should see one of them things move through the sand. I've had them come right at me and then I've had to kill them. Trap their head with a metal pole, put my foot on it, make sure I got him good, then stick my ice pick through his head.
"One lady around here, Kathy, she told me, she said, 'Well, you get some rattle-snakes and we'll cook them.' So I killed two, thirty minutes apart. She told people she was gonna deep-fry them, and nobody didn't want any. But then after she cooked them, everybody wanted to try. I only got two little old pieces. But she's gonna give me one of the skins. Yup. She made a hatband out of it.
"See there? Look out there. That shoe ain't been there long, 'cause I was out here day before yesterday, and it weren't there then. Aliens must've come through. I see more of them than anything else. They look pitiful, man. They're dirty. They're grungy. They don't know where they're at or nothing about it. Sometimes they can't speak a bit of English. You ask them questions, they don't know what you're saying. 'Where you headed?' or something like that. 'Water? Water?' I give them water and I give them food. And then I call the Border Patrol."
TRUTHFULLY, RON FEELS bad for the Mexicans. Well, you have to. Poor little devils. For one thing, all they want is work, and you can't hardly blame a man for that. That's just as America n as pie. For another thing, when they do work, they work damn hard. Fact, from what Ron's heard, a Mexican can work twice as hard as a white man. If that's true, all Ron can say is damn. 'Cause a white man can work. Ron oughta know. Back when he lived in Key West, he took a job at the greyhound track, and that there was work. Man's work. If one of these Mexicans wants to work as hard as that, well, let him. It don't seem right to keep a man from working just on account of what country he was born to. Just on account of that border. Border don't seem natural, lines in the sand and whatnot. Didn't use to be nothing like that out here. No, sir. This used to be wild country. Indian.
Ron eases down from the pickup and squats by the shoe. It's just a regular ol' sneaker, but you can tell it's Mexican, 'cause it ain't Ron's, and it ain't Ardith's, and it sure as shit didn't drop out the sky. He turns the shoe over and looks at the tread, then scans the area, but there ain't no tracks in sight. Damn. No way of knowing what direction the aliens come from.
Walking around to the truck bed, Ron reaches for the cooler and drags it toward him, clinking empty cans out of the way. He lifts the top, snags three beers in his left hand and one in his right, then strolls back around to the cab, popping the brew in his right hand and taking a three-gulp swig as he walks. Yes, sir. Hit the spot. Back in the truck, he puts the full cans on the floor, sets the open one next to him, plopping it down inside a roll of masking tape. Good a cupholder as any man needs.
Anyway, like he was saying, there didn't use to be no border out here. Not in the old days. Things was different back then. He's heard tell from some of the old-timers. They like to spin windies about how things was. Now, most people's eyes roll back in their heads when the subject of history comes up, but for Ron, it ain't the same reaction. He'll pay close attention. Way he figures, a man can learn something from looking back. There's lessons in there. 'Bout people. 'Bout how things work.
First thing you got to understand about this piece of land is that most people didn't ever choose to live on it. Back in them days, this was more like a pit stop on the way to California. Colorado River cuts through just about twenty miles west of Ron's place, and the main reason folks ever stopped off here was to fill their canteens. They weren't stopping for the nature or the dry air, and it weren't for the heat or the sun or the peaceful lonesomeness of it. They come for the water. Kind of funny when you give that a second thought.
The Spanish come first, preaching the Catholic faith. They already took over Mexico, but they was trying to expand up into California, and this here was on the way. So they come through, but, boy, they damn sure didn't like it. Fact, they looked on it worse than hellfire. Even had a name for it: El Camino del Diablo. Ron don't speak much of that Spanish, but he knows what it means: the Path of the Devil. A lot of them missionaries died in the heat. Ain't much men can last through what Ron can.
First time the U.Â·S. ever had control over these parts was 1848. That was part of the Manifest Destiny, what with the U..Â·S. growing bigger. After the Alamo and such, we come away with Arizona. But still, it weren't a state for two more generations. Fact, it was the last state, not counting Alaska and Hawaii. Folks out here didn't want much government. Still don't, really. That's part of what Ron likes. Man can be his own self.
Some others come through Ligurta between then and now, but none lasted. Some Chinamen come through to build the railroad a hundred some years ago, but soon as the tracks was laid, them Chinamen gone someplace else, left the desert empty again. Really, it was only twenty years ago the area started filling up. Fact, Ron heard Yuma was now the fourth-fastest-growing city in the country. Yup. You can see it, too. New RV parks every which way, spreading out, creeping east, over the desert, across the hills, all the way to Dome Valley, twenty miles out. And Ron, well, he's like the point man for the expansion, 'cause he's the furtherest one out. The front of the frontier. A trailblazer of sorts. A missionary. Rebel. Or anyhow, that's what he feels about it, cruisin' over the dust dunes, keepin' watch. This here is his Manifest Destiny. Ain't nothing gon' take it away.
"BEFORE 1995, I had never been out west. I was born in 1950, raised in a little town called Bladenborough, North Carolina. Industry there was the cotton mill, and that's where my father and mother both worked.
"I graduated Bladenborough High in 1969 and went straight to work in the cotton mill. I started off reeling twisters. When the yarn run out on the spools, I would put the new yarn up. And then I went to work in the paper mill. I worked there awhile, then I went to work with DuPont for about six years. That was okay, but it was shift work. Day after day, same old thing. The human body is not set up for it. Then I went to work in the knitting mill, and then I went to work for the insulation company, installing home insulation. After a while, I decided to start my own business, and I done that for a while, until the crunch in the eighties put me out. That was '84, when I went out. I went broke. Sure did.
"I decided to move to Key West. Got there on a Friday afternoon, never will forget it. I didn't have but forty bucks, so I went to a convenience store, and I bought a six-pack of beer and a newspaper, looked in the want ads, and saw they were hiring help at the greyhound racetrack. So the next morning, I went there and filled out an application. They hired me on the spot. I started out pulling the weeds out of the dog kennels. Then they moved me to taking care of the track, grooming the track, then I was the starter, letting the greyhounds out when the race starts. I never screwed up. Never did. I never screwed up.
"But they closed down the track. Bunch of do-gooders. Mistreatment of the greyhounds and all that. That's a whole different story, man. I had my rounds with them. I was wrongly accused. They dropped the charges eventually.
"One night I went out in Key West, went to what they called Memory Lane. It's a disco place. And that's where I met my wife. She was there visiting her son. He was stationed with the Navy. I went over and asked my wife to dance. Just went over and asked. It worked out.
"Like I say, I had never been out west, and neither had my wife. I asked her, 'Where do you want to go on vacation?' She picked Yuma. We didn't know anything about Yuma, so what we did, we wrote the chamber of commerce and asked for literature. We come out here and got a little place at Country Roads RV Park. It's supposed to be one of the top five RV parks in the country. I've still got a place there. Paid cash for it. But it just wasn't for me, man. Now, it was nice and all. They've got a poolroom with twenty-some tables. There's ten or twelve swimming pools. But everywhere you go on the property, people have name tags on. Well, I wasn't crazy about that. Not really.
"I saw a job in the paper for a caretaker at Ligurta Station. Well, I didn't know where that was or nothing about it. But I called the number, and me and my wife come out to have a look. Right off, we decided this was it. That was five years ago. I got no plans to leave."
NO TRACKS, no trespassers, no trouble. Awright, then. Fine by him. Ron don't like catchin' aliens nohow. He'd rather turn 'em free. But, hell, we can't even take care of our own in this country. So that's why he turns 'em in. Doin' his part for America . One time, he caught forty-two aliens in a week. Boy, he felt terrible about that. It's hard sometimes, doin' the right thing.
But anyway, today's nice and quiet. Not an alien in sight. Ron throws the truck into gear and turns her back toward Ligurta, crumpling his beer can and reaching under the seat for another. Yes, sir. Nothing left to do but take a soak, eat Ardith's supper, and settle in front of the TV to watch a picture. Not much chores during summer.
Come to think, though, there is one more thing could use doing before he heads off to the pool, and that's sort the mail. Ain't much mail in the summer, but it is some, and you got to keep an eye on it, else it'll pile up. So when he gets back to the park, Ron pulls over at a little freestanding office near the edge of the property. He shuts off his engine and jumps out. The cat's lying under one of them beaver-tail cactuses, and Ron stoops to pet him. Good old Shitferbrains. Cat and a half. Tell you what: There's something rare in that cat. Ron don't even have to feed the danged thing most of the time. Takes care of hisself. Gets by on lizards and such like that. A fighter. Survivor. Naturally, Ron holds a good bit of respect for him. Like a kindred soul or whatnot. Sometimes the cat does worry him, though. Like the last time a rattler bit him, Ron thought it was all over. Little old head swelled up like a melon. Looked like it was gonna pop. It was bad, brother. Ron even let him stay inside the house while Ardith nursed him back, and they talked about keeping him inside for good, just to be on the safe side. But after Ron give it some thought, he decided no. No sense locking him in. He'd be better off dead than kept. Just like Ron.
In the office, Ron fumbles with the mail. It's mostly junk he'll put in the trash, but some of the people send letters to him and Ardith, letting them know where they're at and around when they'll be back for the winter. Like he says, they're good people. Mostly older folk, retired. Everybody's different, but they're all nice guys, and their wives are, too. You've got some that are actually millionaires, and then you've got just the guys that's living off a small retirement income. But don't nobody pay no mind to the different circumstances. Everybody gets along real good.
They'll start coming back about late September. January and February is the busiest months. That's when they're full up, packed in. Things get wild, too. Even though it's out in the desert and everything, Ligurta's still got all the modern conveniences: telephones, hot water, gas stoves--most people even got satellite dishes by their trailers, and when they throw a party, boy, it's all there, everything you need to make it good. They have cookouts, normally three to four a year, and the ladies will bring a dish and everybody has a drink. Ardith don't drink much, but she'll take a cold Mad Dog now and again. There's barn dances every Friday and country-western dances every Saturday. There's all kind of arts and crafts for the ladies. Shuffleboard, that's serious business for some of these guys, even though Ron don't mess with it. He'd rather watch them all fuss and get mad.
Course, there's plenty enough space to expand, but people like it the size it is. Everybody's more or less like family, and most people know one another pretty close. There's cliques, but not like it was at Country Roads. Over there, a lot of them people was high-minded about Ron and Ardith, didn't want nothing to do with them. Here, it's more like there's cliques, but they're still friendly with everybody. Mostly all the cliques do is get together for happy hour. You can set your watch by them at four o'clock, toting their chairs to one or another's place. Just for one hour, from four to five. They'll get together and BS. Then they'll tote their chairs on back home.
And on the third of the month? Gosh almighty, that's a day. Social Security checks come, the people line up around the side of the office and wait for Ron to sort the mail. Then if it don't come on time, whew-eee. Ain't kidding you, man, you don't want to keep the people waiting. No, sir. Ron, he likes everybody, but, boy, he's glad they're not waiting outside right now. Right now it's peaceful, man. He's just flipping through the mail, whistling through his teeth, not a care in his head. How sweet it is. And after a while, done is done, and, well, guess he might as well just head on down for the pool, wash up.
"THIS HERE'S home to me now. It's hot, sure. But let me tell you something, my friend: You get used to it. Your blood thins out. The hottest I've seen it out here was 128 degrees. I've seen that a couple times. But it really don't bother me. I ain't kidding you. Your body adjusts. When it gets 50 degrees, that's cold to me.
"Right now, I'm the only one here except Ardith. There ain't nobody else within ten or twelve miles, unless it's somebody out there in the desert. I stay inside most of the day. I watch a lot of old westerns. I watched Dead or Alive with Steve McQueen. He was in Wellton, coming through on the stagecoach. Well, Wellton's about nine miles up the way, and they were taking a man to the Yuma prison. You hear a lot about Yuma in the movies. They'll make it sound worse than it is.
"I love it, man. I do. I love it. The people that's never come to all these parts, I don't think they realize how enjoyable it could be."
RIGHT AT THE EDGE of the pool there, it's a couple tables, and Ron sets his beer on one of them, slipping out of his sandals and taking off his cap at the same time. He unbuckles the holster and sets his .22 magnum in a chair, then walks barefoot over to the water. Doesn't bother dipping his toe in. He knows it's warm. Always is.
Walking down the steps into the shallow end, Ron wades out. Yes, sir. Feels good creeping up on him. He heads out deeper and deeper, until his blue swimming trunks are wet, then the bottom of his belly, then the top, then the tuft of white chest hair, all the way until the thin gold chain is lined up with the surface of the water. Then he stops. Awright. Perfect. Ripples sloshing away from his neck in all directions, lapping at the edge of the pool. Mmm-hmm! Summer days is nice and easy. And, hell, Ron deserves easy, after working like a dog half his life. It's his time now.
From the sky, looking down, you can see what it is. Circles inside circles, all centered on him. Hell, his head ain't nothing but a speck surrounded by the ripples of blue water. Circled around the water, there's a concrete deck, and wrapped around that, an iron fence. Outside the fence, there's a gravel driveway loop, and around that loop, all the mobile homes lined up. Then outside the mobiles, nothing but sand. Dome Valley, big ring of hot pink grain, all wrapped around this circle of mobiles that's wrapped around this gravel driveway that's wrapped around this iron fence that's wrapped around this concrete deck that's wrapped around this light-blue oval that's wrapped around Ron's single, lonesome head, point center on the desert floor. Nothing else doing. Nothing to bother him. Nothing to stop him from living like he pleases, from living right. This here is his piece. His patch of land. First time he ever had that. Ain't none of them factory foremen yelling, not here. Ain't none of that plucking weeds from the greyhound cages, none of that sweeping the track, none of them do-gooders to shut him down. None of the bullshit. No, sir. Not here.
Most people didn't ever choose to live out here. That's still the main thing to keep in mind. Most people didn't. So Ron did.