He studies himself carefully in the small bedroom mirror. The
nose is ample, but not too big, no Semitic drop at the end. The
lips are not too full, the hair brown and straight. Maybe the eyes.
No, the eyes are alright as well.
He puts his hands up to the brim of his hat, presses the
curling straw edges upward. Just right. It almost never rains in
the desert so he had to use hot water to make the front of the hat
droop. Now it sags, dips down, shading his eyes from the sun. It
looks battered, hard days on the range trailing the dusty cattle
herds. The bootcut Levis are sharp and clean, worn a slightly
lighter shade of blue, but not too faded. That's for beach bums.
Malibu guys. He sits down on the bed and pulls on the rough-out
Tony Lamas. Three whole weeks boxing groceries at the
Safeway for these. The toes are already getting shiny, losing that
too-new look, the nap of the leather flattened forever. The white
shirt sets off his tan, the red packet of Marlboros showing
through the top pocket. He stands up and fastens the silver
buckle of the leather belt. He squares his shoulders, hooks his
thumbs in the top of the Levis, leans back on one leg.
Nonchalant. Hard. Beautiful. He's ready.
* * *
‘Get him, a regular cowboy. Oye! If your grandfather could
only see you. This is what he came to America for?! This?! So his
grandson should be a cossack?’
‘Jesus, Grandma, will you get off it! This isn't Russia, it's
Palm Springs. 1958 not 1898. That's ghetto talk.’
‘Ah right, Harreleh, ghetto talk, ghetto talk. What do you
know about the ghetto? Huh, my Hopilong Kessidy, my Roy
Rogers? Now he wants to tell me about ghettos! Mr. Big Shot
‘Ya know what I mean, Grandma. Come on. Please.’
‘I'll make you a nice sandwich? Even cowboys...’
‘No Grandma, thanks, we'll get something on the way.’
* * *
He goes outside to wait for his friend. April, 8 o'clock in the
morning and already into the mid-70s. The sky burnt blue, Mount
San Jacinto looming and granite clear over the desert. He can
smell the warm sand and the blacktop road. It is clean, familiar.
He squats down on his haunches, takes out a cigarette and puts
it in the side of his mouth. Even though there is no wind he cups
one hand around the book of matches before he folds over a
match with his thumb and strikes it against the rough brown strip.
* * *
She looks out through the window at her grandson.
Squinting against the glare off the white sand, she remembers
white winters in Berdichev. Poorer winters in the Bronx, four
flights up, radiators leaking steam and knocking, his mother
already an American girl then.
‘No Yiddish, mother! English! I speak only English.’
And she had learned English. It had been necessary. But
as she watches her grandson, sitting on his heels in the desert
sun like a Mexican, she feels once again how alone she is, how a
whole world disappeared when she got off that boat. At least his
mother had understood Jewish.
* * *
A white Chevy pickup stops. He uncurls upwards slowly,
walks over and gets in. The leather seat is warm against the
backs of his legs.
‘How ya doing cowboy?’
He smiles and nods at his friend Rob.
‘OK, partner, OK. How they hang'n?’
‘Never better, boy. Never better.’
The ritual over, they lapse into silence.
He likes being with Rob in the pickup. It smells of oil, dust,
old leather and horses. Sitting up high above the road, above the
cars, arm hanging out the window, hot breeze against the skin,
Hank Williams on the radio, they own the morning. Anything is
‘Where we goin' today?’
‘La Quinta. A roping is all. Maybe some bulldogg'n. OK?’
‘Sure, fine, just fine.’
‘Gotta pick up the trailer and the horse.’
They drive down Sunrise towards Smoke Tree. At the
junction with Highway 111, a black box with three colored lights
dangles on thin wires above the middle of the road. It's brand
new, the first traffic light in Palm Springs. They stop behind a
battered VW and wait. Rob stares up at the red light.
‘How about that’, he says, rubbing the side of his nose with
this forefinger. ‘A God damn traffic light. Just like the big city. God
damn! I mean to tell you boy things are a changin'.’
* * *
She hears the rushing noise of the air cooler from the back
of the small house. It gurgles, rattles and bangs. Always there,
keeping away the desert heat. Her hand to her breasts she feels
the thudding of her heart.
‘Mom, we'll come to visit. We'll send Harry down on the
Greyhound to visit. It's not so far. A hundred miles. Lots of people
‘Sure, Mom. They've got a synagogue and everything.
You'll see. It will be fine. Really it will.’
* * *
They pull off the road into the stables. The dust spits up
from the pickup's tires, thickens into clouds and swirls over the
wooden fences and the horses. A black mare pulls its head back,
shies away, canters a few feet then stops. Legs planted in the
sand it swishes its tail against its rump.
The brown clapboard stalls and the tack room are set back
against a tall stand of eucalyptus. The boys drive into their shade
It's quiet. No dudes from the hotels. They'll come later, after
they've had their breakfasts by the pool. They'll come in their stiff
Levis, crisp western shirts, and unaccustomed boots. Rob and
Harry will lounge against the fence and watch them from under
their pulled down hats. Dudes.
A giant figure shambles out from one of the stalls. Eyes
deep set in wrinkles under a greasy felt hat, massive sloping
shoulders, arms like thick clay pipes. He carries a shovel, a toy in
his outsized hand. With a plastic bucket he would be ready to go
to the beach, build sandcastles. But Domingo has never seen the
sea, never been further than Banning to the north or Indio to the
south. Half Mexican, half Agua Caliente, he moves slowly through
his life, as if waiting for something else to happen. He cleans
stalls and from the reservation he watches the town change size,
shape, direction, fill up with whites. Whites like the two boys who
get out of the truck.
‘Hey Domingo! What's goin' on amigo ?’, calls Rob.
Domingo looks at him, shakes his head and carries his
shovel into the next stall.
‘Not a lot I guess’, says Harry to Rob with a laugh.
* * *
There had been Jewish people, just like her daughter said.
But not like in New York or even Los Angeles. Here in Palm
Springs they all had swimming pools, drove big fancy cars,
belonged to a golf club. Her neighbors were black people,
Mexicans, poor whites, not what she had expected. Not Jewish
She puts the dishes in the sink, turns on the faucet and
watches the water rise slowly to cover the plates, the egg stains,
the bits of butter.
* * *
‘I've got to make one more stop before we head out. St.
Mary's. Ya know my mom and all that good stuff.’
‘Yeah, OK, no problem’, says Harry.
Every Saturday it's the same. Harry has been to the
Catholic church more than most Catholics. He's even become
used to it, the stillness filled with echos and murmuring. Only the
plaster statues bother him. He doesn't like the washed-out colors
or the way they smile. Self-satisfied, exclusive. They make him
‘Does it really help?’, asks Harry, now they're back on the
road again. ‘Confession that is.’
Rob smiles at his friend.
‘Gotta do it son. That's all.’
* * *
She looks at herself in Harry's mirror, pushes a strand of
hair away from her face. What would Louis think of her now? So
far away from their life together. Lost in the American desert.
She bends and picks up a white shirt. Folds it over her
arm, smoothes it with her hand. She straightens the bed sheets. A
magazine falls on the floor. A naked girl with big smooth breasts
smiles up at her. A plastic smile to go with the plastic breasts.
She looks at the picture for a moment and then shakes her head,
folds the magazine closed and puts it on the bedside table.
* * *
They stop the pickup on the far side of the corral and get
out. The sun is higher, hotter. They drop the trailer ramp and
ease the horse out. Her hooves cut a sharp echo against the
wooden platform as she backs down. Restless after the drive she
pulls hard on the halter rope, tosses her head angrily.
‘Easy girl, easy’, Rob croons at her.
He turns to Harry.
‘Walk her around will ya, Harry. Calm her down a bit. I gotta
go over and see to getting my name down.’
Harry takes the halter and leads the horse towards the
roping chutes on the far side of the corral. Head down he
watches his boots sink into the soft ground at every step. He
passes a small set of bleachers where a few tourists are settling
in to watch the roping. A cowboy and his horse. The picture is
simple, for Harry it is almost complete, almost perfect.
* * *
She takes the framed photograph down from the shelf. The
three of them at the beach, little Harry in the middle, all smiling,
defying unhappiness, denying mortality, suspended. She sighs
and puts the photo back.
Behind her the TV flickers and drones. Slicked down hair,
pencil moustache - Jack Bailey, master of ceremonies on Queen
for a Day. Poor women, middle-aged and in trouble. Husbands'
health broken, down on their luck, kids sick. Telling their stories.
At the mercy of the audience and the applause meter. And for
the winner? Dinner for two at Mocambos. An automatic washing
machine and a year's supply of Tide. A day- trip to Catalina. A
complete set of Samonsite luggage.
* * *
He puts the saddle on, hooks a stirrup over the pummel
and tightens the cinch. After waiting for the horse to blow he pulls
it up another notch, drops the stirrup back on the side of the
‘Ya got her Harry?’
‘You're all set to go Rob.’
Across the way they're loading the first calf. It bleats and
crashes against the sides of the wooden chute. Eyes wide, saliva
flecks on its nose and the corners of its soft mouth.
‘You goin' to do the untying today boy?’
A very tall man, broad shouldered, a raised white scar
running from his left eye to the side of his jaw, looks down at
Harry. He tips up his black Stetson. The top inch of his forehead
is deathly white.
‘Wayne, how ya doin'?’, says Rob
‘Can't complain, son.’
Wayne Cooper. One of the five fighting Cooper Brothers
from Fallon, Nevada. Father's got a bar there. A rough place.
People say Wayne's got some Indian blood, but no one says that
to Wayne. A genuine western hero.
‘I'd like to get me some of that, hey Wayne?’, crows Rob.
The older man turns to watch two teenage girls walk by,
their blond hair poking from under their cowboy hats, rounded
behinds filling out their Levis, showing how much they love
The fighting Cooper Brother, the western hero smiles. Then
he laughs, thin lips pulled back over too-even white teeth.
‘Straight up, partner. Shee-it boy, that quail's ass is tighter
than a Jew's wallet.’
Harry pulls the brim of his hat down further to shade his
eyes. He looks away and concentrates hard on what's happening
over on the far side of the corral where the roping is about to
Causes Bill Albert Supports
Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People
Disabled Peoples' International