The other day my friend sent me a text message just before midnight.
“I need a drink,” it said.
I asked what that had to do with me, but we both knew.
As a kid, my friend used to read Nax columns all the time, and back when I first started at the paper in 2008, he asked if I ever went with the legendary columnist Ken Brodnax to the Crawl On Inn. We never did, and the place has been under renovation so long now I wonder if it’ll ever re-open.
But Odessa still abounds in two things: churches and watering holes, and I met him at one of the latter knowing we’d need one of the former before the night was done.
When I got there, he had a whiskey on the rocks with a straw in it in front of him and three straws laid down on the bar. I got one of my own and a coffee.
“Going back to the office?” he asked.
I said I planned to. “So what’s the matter?”
“Half of this country believes in things so completely ridiculous they shouldn’t be allowed to vote,” he said.
“And the other half?”
“The other half doesn’t exist.”
So we spent a good while arguing abortion, religion, universal health care and gay marriage. You know, wasting our time. When we spun around to the military he said he was thinking of joining.
“Really?” I said. “I thought you had a good thing here,” and enumerated his good job, good pay, the plenty of women reciprocating his affections.
“Uh huh,” he said, then rolled his eyes and ordered another. “I left my job today.”
“Well yeah, you’re here right now.”
“No, I quit. I have to go back in tomorrow to finish some things up, but I’m done.”
“Jesus.” I said. “What the hell are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. But not this. Not here.”
We sat around for a little while listening to someone sing some especially bad karaoke of Dwight Yoakum.
“The grass ain’t necessarily greener outside of the desert,” I said and gulped my coffee.
“Maybe. But there’s less mesquite.” Another whiskey came to him and he drank it. “And I can meet a woman who doesn’t already know what I look like naked from her friends. And go shake someone’s hand without him already having a story to tell about me from high school or where I used to work.”
“Who leaves Odessa during a boom, though? That’s crazy. And you don’t even have another job?”
“If I stay another five years, I’ll never leave. And the next time someone runs a stop light and nearly T-bones me at 55 mph, I’d at least like to have it happen further than 10 miles from where I was born.”
I didn’t have a whole lot to say to that, and last call came soon after. He tried to pay my tab, and I told him where he could stick his money, then we paid out and he said he was going next door for breakfast. I wished him luck and told him to call me again before he left town, and I went back to the office.
I ran into him about a week later, and he said he was going to stay around a little while longer. They’d given him a raise and promised him a promotion in a few months, and the deal was too good to pass up. He’d re-upped his lease and rent only went up $50 per month. What luck.
So I slapped him on the back and congratulated him on the good news. But for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking of what he’d said about the mesquite.