A beautiful, wild cowgirl wearing a cowboy hat and a leather fringe jacket

Photo by Omar Lopez

Jarette drove through Sacramento quickly. He wanted to get away from the congestion, the stress, and the thickness of urban traffic. The smell of heat rose around him as morning put on her afternoon dress.

He listened to no music, just the whir of the wind. The window was open and cars were passing him. A driver glanced over, looking at him like he was a lunatic. Put your AC on, you dumb shit, he imagined them saying. Eyeing him. Burrowing into the side of his face as they passed.

Personal license plates like 4JESUS leered on the backs of sports cars and bumper stickers on SUVs promised that “My Babies Carry Guns, Too”. They made him laugh and it felt good to release. A maniacal machine gun of laughter erupted from him.

Maybe I am insane? A broken-minded fool. A court jester with no bells jangling on his extra large hat or shoes. Just bouncing down the silent road accompanying myself with my own hysteria. A split personality. Me and fucking crazy me.

He knew he needed to get beyond the stench of humanity’s exhaust. Up into the Sierras where the air was clean. Pollution-less. Somewhere to erase this self-immersed lunacy.

Climbing into the foothills, suburban homes and strip malls dotted the landscape. He pulled away from it going higher. The highway began to slope at a steeper incline. Pine trees grew around him and mountains with snow on their peaks rose in the distance.

Donner Lake appeared, glistening lights danced off the top of the water with their own reflection. Reno was close and he planned to get off the interstate and drop down into “The Biggest Little City In The World”. There he could pass by some old haunts. Childhood and innocence.

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After an hour, he reached the outskirts of the casino city ringed by nuclear family homes. He passed through the neighborhoods. Homes mirrored themselves over and over like identical models on dry desert shelves.

Did people buy these houses from a hobby store? I used to want to live in these when I was a kid.

Reno smelled of flatulence and french fries as he neared downtown. Flashes of clowns and trapeze artists appeared in his mind.

Those postcards I received on my birthdays for years. Bertha the elephant. In a small cage outside The Nugget casino. Standing on concrete. Wearing pink ruffles like an abused ballerina.

Bertha the Elephant standing next to words that read "The World's Most Talented Performing Elephant"

Photo courtesy of LA Dance Chronicle

He remembered being taken to see the elephant in between visits to the casinos. An adult holding his hand with a drink in the other. The child got to feed the pachyderm before the adults fed the slots.

On one casino night, he got food poisoning from the buffet at Circus Circus. He was just tall enough to see over the side of the salad bar. Before he vomited, he had watched the performers spinning overhead. The daredevils on motorcycles inside the giant metal ball going around and around. Until he retched on the carpeted floor.

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In the daytime, the casinos less easily lured wayward gamblers to their deaths at the blackjack tables. The magnetic pull of casino lights was weak in the daylight because the sun washed out the casinos’ beacons. Even Bertha could have a respite and be left alone. Jarette realized that he needed to get away before the sun went down.

He drove up from downtown and from the toilet dug in the earth for the flushing of money. Driving up and out into the emptiness of the desert. A place where his phone wouldn’t work. Free from being reached. Emancipated.

It grew more isolated and quiet. Less cars, less people. More space, more sky. A big, beautiful, blue sky opened up and enveloped Jarette. The tires on the asphalt followed the Truckee River.

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Miles passed and there on the right was the World Famous Mustang Ranch. The first legal brothel in the state of Nevada. He had never been inside but he knew it well. His father frequented the whorehouse with him in the car. Waiting. Then, his dad would return carrying gifts. Hour-long visits washed away by horses instead of elephants.

Dad got me that tee-shirt with the horses and girls on it. I thought he went to be a cowboy but his roping and his rides were of a different kind.

The front of the tee-shirt had an image of the state of Nevada and there were horses on it that signified where each Mustang Ranch in the state was located. Each horse was ridden by smiling cowgirls. Jarette wore the shirt to school once when he was six years old.

They called him into the principal’s office and made him go home. He wasn’t allowed to return that day and he didn’t understand why. He didn’t want to go home because it was a frightening place. Ashtrays and magazines. Bottles and boots. Broken boards and rifles.

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He was on and past the ranch and the cowgirls now. Into a warm swath of open desert. The road under him felt good. A warm, sensuous rhythm of movement. His imagination rose up and told himself a myth. The air blew in his ear like a desert whore. A queen of prostitutes on the whipping wind.

There you are. Riding the currents on the air beside me. The ghost of a harlot. Naked on the back of a wild elephant.

Djinnis in the dust. A herd of elephants road by beautiful girls. Fierce and in control. All of them free in his mirage. Warrioresses on elephants riding beside the car to the drum beat of Jarette’s heart. Hannibal was a woman. She always had been. And she would conquer her oppressors on the back of Bertha.

You’re free now, girl. The Nugget can’t fuck with you anymore.

The liberation he felt mixed with the silence and his delirium. His joyful mood began to grow darker as the last light of the sun streaked crimson across the heavy, black clouds moving in. Pregnant with rain. He felt his own silhouette creeping up inside him. The silence allowed the music of the past to envelop his thoughts.

The road led to Fernley where the road would split off and he’d take Interstate 50 deeper into nowhere.

Out here there are memories that are darker than any evil, he thought. Driving further into the blackness with visions of the past looming. Calling out and dragging him nearer.

A wild elephant in the desert looking directly at the viewer

Photo by Geran de Klerk

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If you missed any of Tedium, read:

Part 1: Waiting for the Cat in the Hat to Show Up

Part 2: A Plastic Soldier After an Imaginary War

Part 3: The Alamo Inn