The Trail To Marfa by Scott Laudati

Prada Marfa

1.

There’s a town down deep in Texas that calls like a Grail to the faithful looking for a fresh dimension. A hack into the mainline of the Universe 200 miles from any airport. Where the brown sand gives way to lush peaks. Where Beyonce disciples and the freshest beards pull in like modern conquistadors hunting their own El Dorado. A place where a trust-fund can buy you a mountain of hallucinogens, $9 burritos, and the option to rent a yurt with no plumbing, next to a Coachella DJ and his guru, for $85 a night plus tax. Its name sounds almost biblical the way it rolls off your tongue in two expanding syllables: Mar-fa.

Marfa.

Marfa, Texas.

My trip to Marfa began under a sweaty mist on the tarmac of George Bush International Airport. Our pilot had just quit and walked off the plane without an explanation. Stewardesses sat on the runway smoking cigarettes and looked ready to give up too. I stood with a small band of men while the intercom told us a new pilot was being located. There were no other updates and eventually we were loaded onto a prop plane without complimentary pretzels. I slept hard, and when I woke up the plane was in the air just outside of Amarillo. Silos scattered the landscape, the only things that stood higher than the yellow grass. In Trump We Trust was painted on their slanted roofs in big block letters. Like a message for UFOs. And during our descent onto a small patch of dirt in west Texas, the words seemed more of a warning than a creed.

While I waited for my friend Thom Young to pick me up I asked a Sheriff where I could kill time.

“There’s a rattlesnake round-up over in Oklahoma,” he said.

“Is that a music festival?”

“No, though some of the best do bring their guitars.” This realization seemed of great concern to him. The concept of what exactly the round-up was suddenly became much larger. “I guess I’d say it’s a big ol’ rattlesnakes hunt. They catch ’em and stitch their mouths shut and the kids ride ’em around like ponies. Then we eat.”

Thom Young picked me up and told me rattlesnake tasted like chicken. Then he said, “They eat 1% of the state’s rattlesnake population every year.”

We drove south from Amarillo to his home in Hereford, Texas: The Beef Capital of the World. It had a distinct smell when the wind hit right. A smell full of death, but oddly, not unpleasant.

Hereford, TX

For four days we drank Lone Star and worked on our novels. At night we sat in chairs by the side of the empty road and drank more Lone Star. One night, from end to end, our usual deserted road had a traffic jam. Mexicans in 10-gallon hats crawled by in new pickup trucks. I asked one what was going on.

“Cockfight, man. Big cockfight tonight!”

It wouldn’t have been my first choice for a Thursday night, but I was curious. Thom said when the police broke up the last cockfight they found three guys tied to the ground. I didn’t argue when he said, “We should sit this one out.”

2.

We ate at a taqueria for dinner. Taquerias appear in west Texas like Chinese restaurants everywhere else. In an abandoned Blockbuster Video. An old garage. A lunch table in a backyard. All converted with no pretense or fresh coat of paint. Right under the advertisement for a burrito with pollo or carne might be an old sign for a discounted oil change. This is how the good food is made. Waste money on nothing. Put an eyeball or tongue in the burrito. And that’s all well and good, but I’m a vegetarian, and explaining that to a people who grew up dreaming about a full meal isn’t just confusing, it makes me sound like a total asshole.

Our taqueria was in an old dancehall. A few lunch tables were bolted into the floor in front of a stage. It was a relic from a different era when the white Texans crossed the train tracks for downtown. The experiment of “community” was still alive, though. The taqueria was like an Elk’s Lodge for the women and children who weren’t betting on dueling roosters. Bright pinatas hung from the ceiling like kitschy wind-chimes. The kids pointed at the line of trucks outside and “cock-a-doodle-doo-ed” to each other in strange cadence.

None of the waitresses spoke English and I was having trouble convincing them that I didn’t want any meat. They took me into the kitchen. A grandmother stood over the stove and I pointed at the things I wanted in my burrito. Everyone laughed at me, but I ended up with the best burrito I’ve ever eaten. I could taste every smile that woman had ever given right there in her food.

Later, we sat at the side of the road and watched the slow trickle of pickup trucks heading home. Thom reached over and gave my beer a cheers as we hashed out the plans for tomorrow’s trip to Marfa. I was going to turn in early but Midnight Cowboy came on around midnight and I sat up late thinking about New York.

3.

We pulled out at dawn the next morning and the giant Hereford grain silos faded to a memory. The sun rose and we drove through the red dirt and cotton fields. Due south through the Texas plains where prairie dogs sit like gnomes and watch flies bounce off windshields in a black hail.

The farms eventually decomposed to desert. Oil pumps became so frequent they formed an iron forest. The slow rotation of their arms had a mesmerizing effect on my eyes.

“We’re almost in Odessa,” Thom said. “The armpit of Texas. Crappiest place in the world.”

The outskirts of Odessa have a distinct Middle Eastern patina. A million miles of earth cooked under a sun that doesn’t really rotate throughout the day. The oil supplies (old pipes, bolts, truck skeletons) lay scattered around the sides of the interstate like a graveyard exhumed. It’s a habitat that should only exist for the scaly and clawed things that crawl into your shoes at night, but a city appeared. The least inspiring city of all – Odessa. A white-trash boom town that spent most of its existence fighting off the encroaching desert. But an ocean of oil was found sloshing under Odessa. And with the money and brawn from the last oil spike, Odessa built itself from a blip on the map to a blob. Now, it’s home to a 1/4 million who can’t spend their money fast enough at Chuy’s, and Walmart, and Red Lobster. But they sure seem to be trying.

“What a nightmare,” Thom said. “Odessa is the capital of crap.”

The scenery started to change soon after. We climbed higher and the sand gave life to green shrubs. Little white clouds dotted the sky like a painting that made you feel good when you stared at it. It seemed like we were on our way to something holy. That mystical town out there beyond the red mountains.

Alpine, TX

Three hours from Odessa, we rolled through a pass between Alpine and Marfa. Just as we were commenting on the lack of tourists, we turned a corner and hit a traffic jam. Police cars angled everyone into a single lane. One by one, the cars were searched.

“Damn,” Thom said. “What’s Border Patrol doing here? We’re 90 miles from Mexico.”

The green uniforms motioned for us. We rolled down our windows.

“You boys American citizens?” an agent asked.

“Does it matter?” Thom said. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“Sounds like a ‘yes.’” He motioned at another agent up ahead.

Then he continued on to the next car. No more questions.

“Wow,” I said. “That worked.”

“Texas is the only state that used to be a country. Federal government can kiss my ass.”

Two bluffs hugged the road, but as we came down the mountain into the flat lands, they backed away. By the time we got to Marfa, those bluffs were pushed to the edge of the world, and they seemed to make an already impressive sky much bigger.

A light drizzle began to ting our roof as we approached a rickety bridge. Lightning flashed behind us but a large blue square hung over our future. And as we crossed the bridge we saw our our first sign: Marfa. Population 2121.

“There’s something about that number I don’t like,” Thom said.

I had to agree, though I’m not sure why.

“Let’s roll through town and get a feel for the place,” I said. “I need a burrito before we drink all night.”

Downtown Marfa

All I knew about Marfa was that at some point, in a fantastic display of the uselessness of performance art, someone had built a fake Prada store out in the desert. And for unknown reasons, very attractive women like to be photographed in front of it.

But Marfa was actually a different animal all together. The streets were lined with homes pulled right from a Cormac McCarthy novel. Ranch wire fences ran perimeters of places that looked like they were carved from bone. This kind of dystopian suburb surrounded a downtown that seemed teleported from a movie set of 1920’s Hollywood, a golden era of America and architecture that made me very jealous I’d never get to share in the dream.

The Hotel Paisano

The sun began to set low and a warm wind blew against the concrete walls. “James Dean stayed here once”, Thom said. And at that golden hour it seemed almost possible that he’d never left, or aged, and he might’ve been outside the saloon smoking a cigarette right then.

We took the main artery straight through town to a little taqueria named Mondo’s. All the trucks in the lot had bumper stickers with some version of “stay away from my guns, stay away from my country.” I began to realize this wasn’t the hippie enclave I’d been led to believe, but some libertarian outpost that tolerated the tourists because the money was good. And while they claimed to believe in freedom, there were also hints of God all over town. And God led right to the military. And the military led to the government. And basically, this all meant that the beer would be plentiful, but I wasn’t going to be smoking any weed on Marfa’s streets.

The burrito was the worst I’d had in Texas, and Thom and I had to drive to our motel with the windows down. A Mexican kid was asleep on the ground in front of the door for check-in. I nudged him with my foot and his eyes shot open.

“Who else is here?” he asked.

Thom and I looked back at an empty parking lot.

“No one,” I said. “Why?”

The kid rolled over and pointed at the door knob above him. We stepped over him into a carpeted room with a man behind a desk. The man nodded at us but he didn’t speak. I saw a coffee machine and poured some into a cup. Thom looked at the man, then the floor, waiting for something to happen.

“Coffee’s cold, huh?” The man smiled.

I took a sip and then poured the rest of my cup back into the coffee pot.

“Yup.”

Thom handled the negotiations. We were given keys to the furthest room from the reception desk. I loaded a case of Rolling Rocks into the fridge of our room, and we took turns using the bathroom while the other napped. It was a bad start, and I wasn’t looking forward to anything until Thom yelled from the bathroom, “Let’s go see the Marfa Lights!”

Like the Jersey Devil and the Florida Skunk Ape, Marfa has its own source of paranormal weirdness – the Marfa Lights. What are they? Glowing orbs? Tail light reflections? No one really knows. The only consensus seems to be that sometimes, on clear nights, little balls of light appear and float around. But why here? What is their purpose? The U.S. Army has twice tried to figure this out. And while there are proposed explanations by skeptics, they all sound crazier than the actual alien conspiracy.

By the time we felt moveable, it was dark enough to head for the viewing area. We passed no one on the drive to Marfa and saw even less people in town, but when we pulled up to the Marfa Lights viewing area at least 300 cars were beeping and trying to park.

Thom drove his truck off the road and parked in the sand. There were so many Europeans standing around, it was like the World Cup was in town. We followed behind a gang of Germans to the lookout.

“Goddamnit,” I said. “In New York the Europeans stand right in the middle of the sidewalk and look at maps. I’m at the bottom of the world, and here we go again.”

We pushed our way to a stone wall and looked into the abyss.

“There’s one,” someone yelled.

“That’s a reflection.”

“It’s a shooting star.”

“Will these idiots shut up for two seconds?” Thom said. “My eyes need to adjust.”

He brought his hands up and cupped them around his eyes. Suddenly, an incredible blast of light blinded us. Everyone gasped and a roar of “WHAT THE HELL?’” echoed from the crowd. But it wasn’t an alien landing – it was the History Channel. About 100 gaffers and interns were toying with huge searchlights.

“Shut those off,” a guy yelled.

“We’ve got a permit,” a gaffer said. “Sorry.”

“Why is everything always like this?” Thom asked me.

We drove back to our motel, but I couldn’t leave the car. There was a snake under every light. I made Thom hold the door to our room open and I jumped from the hood of his car into the motel. I started wondering about bigger snakes. And spiders. I’d been in New York too long. I hadn’t seen a reptile in a decade.

Thom threw me a beer.

“They’re more scared of you,” he said.

“How do you know that? They’ve never seen me before. What else are they going to eat out here?”

After 10 more beers I didn’t care at all, though. Our motel was just outside of Marfa, just before the small bridge that led into town. We walked single file across the bridge and immediately found a bar called The Lost Horse Saloon. The crowd was an interesting blend of desert people in boots and hipsters in plaid. And we weren’t getting free smiles from anyone. Three girls in Spiritual Gangster Yoga shirts were having a photoshoot with an Italian. And they were sitting on the only pool table in the room.

“Let’s get some beer,” Thom said. “We’ll wait for this nonsense to end.”

I hadn’t paid for anything on the whole trip, so I went to the bar to buy a round. A cowboy with an eye patch looked at me for awhile, but he didn’t give me any beer. A very pretty hipster in a sundress took every other order at the bar, but not mine.

I walked back to Thom.

“Everyone hates me,” I said. “Maybe you should try.”

Thom got served in two seconds and the hipster smiled at him. Nothing was going my way. When the Italian challenged me to a game of pool I said Hell No. He looked at me, amazed, and pointed back at his harem. I wasn’t impressed. I wanted to hang out with a Yoga army like I wanted to go burn crosses with the Trumpers out on some stretch of desert sand.

“What’s that guy’s problem?” Thom asked me.

“Nothing. I just don’t like his scene.”

We went out back and drank next to a fire pit. Every girl in Marfa was beautiful. It didn’t make any sense. We watched dogs run around the bar and howl at people eating ribs. I watched a guy hold a rib towards a dog then pull it back. He kept doing this until the dog’s ears went back and it started growling.

“Look at that,” Thom said. “Now that dog’s going to bite him and they’ll think it’s the dogs fault.”

I looked around.

“This sucks,” I said. “Let’s get out of here.”

The Italian guy waved his hand at me and I returned a peace sign. I think he could sense 75% of me shared his blood. Normally, I would’ve felt some solidarity, but I was exhausted. Americans are permanently tired from the stress of inevitable failure. I didn’t expect an Italian to understand.

It was a short walk back to the motel, and everything was very quiet. A “moo” from some distant cow made us both jump. Our sudden movement startled a big black creature under one of the parking lot lights. It was so big I had thought it was a rock.

“Don’t move,” I said. “There’s a Gila Monster looking at us.”

It walked towards us anyway, and it was something far more terrifying. The hair along its back caught the light and I realized a giant tarantula stood between us and our door.

“Should I kill it?” Thom asked.

“No. There’re probably more watching us.”

I scanned the parking lot. Everything was still. I felt some control over the situation and got down on my knees to study it. It’s head tilted to the side and 100 glassy eyes observed my face. I could see myself blinking in their reflection.

“I’m facing my fear,” I said to Thom.

I stood up slowly and we both stepped around the tarantula. Our room was dark when we walked inside and shut the door. Light from the parking lot flooded in underneath. I bent down and measured at least an inch between the bottom of the door and the ground. More than enough room for anything crawling on its belly.

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “We’ll be an all-you-can-eat buffet in our sleep.”

Thom fell face down on his bed and started snoring. I turned the bathroom light on and left the door open. That way, if anything came in they would head for the light. I pissed in old beer bottles all night so I wouldn’t have to step on the floor. It was absolute worst case scenario for me. Before I closed my eyes I had to imagine, and then rationalize, every scenario of waking up with a creature on my bed.

4.

I woke up to Thom on the phone with Marfa Public Radio. He put the call on speaker.

“Yes, this is Thom Young,” he said. “PBS recently did an article on my poetry. I was wondering if we could stop in for an interview.”

The woman on the other end seemed to be Googling him.

“Oh yes,” she said. “I see you here. And you’re a native Texan! We’d love to get you in. How’s Monday afternoon?”

“It has to be today. We’re leaving town at dawn.”

“We can’t do that, it’s Space Rock day. Maybe next time.”

The woman hung up. Marfa seemed destined to not come through with anything.

“I’m never coming back,” I said. “I can’t be around spiders and snakes like this ever again.”

We drove to a breakfast spot on the other end of town called Buns N Roses. I was hungover so we ordered at the counter and then sat outside. If I had to puke, I wanted to do it in the cactus and not ruin everyone’s morning. Of course, as soon as we sat down, a whole family with little kids came out and sat right next to us.

Buns N Roses

I still had some beer left from the drive over so I drank it at the table. One of the little kids walked over and said, “Why are you drinking that?”

“You’ll understand when you’re older,” I told him. “It makes everything a little easier.”

I had last night written all over my face and the kid’s parents called him back. The waitress came out with our food. Texas is tough eating for a vegetarian but the bean burrito was delicious and the coffee was strong.

Two Border Patrol agents parked and walked inside. I gave them a nod but neither returned it.

“You know what, Thom? I think today we’ll see a different side of Marfa.”

“I hope so. It’s just been weirdos and bugs for 24 hours.”

The desert warmed a bit and we got back into Thom’s car and drove for the Prada Marfa. Like most things out there, the name Prada Marfa doesn’t make any sense. The store is a good 30 minutes from town.

About half-way to Prada Marfa, we passed a giant blimp … but it wasn’t flying. It was connected to the ground by a long hose that seemed to be blowing up and deflating the blimp. It would rise from the ground for a few minutes and then lower back down and hover. There were no windows. And the exterior was painted so white that when it rose to the sky it almost camouflaged into the clouds.

The Blimp

“That is the most sinister looking thing I’ve ever seen,” I said.

“There’s a military base out there. I can only imagine what something like that is preparing for.”

It was so strange we thought it might be a sculpture or something to go along with Prada Marfa.

“There’re always videos of UFOs on this border,” I said. “I’ll bet that’s how they make contact.”

America from New Jersey to Los Angeles is one giant corpse. There are ghosts of things that once were, but none are as beautiful as Egyptian pyramids or even half-standing huts. Here, in the wealthiest country of all time, we have shopping malls rotting on our interstates. Their interiors are cold even in the summer because the copper pipes and light fixtures were looted long ago. Those cities on the sides are like little fading heartbeats from an infant who took one peek at the world, thought Nope, and decided to strangle itself with its own chord. A restaurant with a catchphrase. A bowling alley with no pins. And those surrounding suburbs, little tremors off the main host, crumble further into the old dirt while the youth run away. And the few left behind stick their hands out under overpasses and wait for a savior who will never come.

That sort of sums up Valentine, Texas – the town Prada Marfa is actually in. Every house looked like the Alamo after it had been overrun. I had Thom pull over so I could take a piss. In the ruins of an old house I saw a chewed-up box of family photographs. They looked like my family. A dog on the couch. A grandpa with a fishing pole. An uncomfortable reminder that once upon a time this was all for something. A thread in the fabric of this idea we call America. When did it lose all meaning?

5.

I thought Prada Marfa was iconic, but no one I’ve told this story to has ever heard of it. And after seeing it, I understand why. It’s a standalone storefront. It’s small. There are high heels in the windows. That’s it. If Beyonce hadn’t done a photo shoot there, it would rank just under a water park in Ohio on a list of places to visit.

“We should get a picture,” Thom said. “We can prove that we did something.”

A group of models who all looked like Taylor Swift did dumb things in front of the store. We sat on Thom’s car and watched them jump and do handstands. Watching handstand re-dos for a better Instagram photo gives you about the same feeling as when your boss decides to have a company picnic on your day off. It’s such an insult to your time you begin to wonder if this life is just a punishment for your last one.

Finally, Thom and I were able to take a picture of each other. Then Thom took a picture of another German family.

“I’m so glad I don’t have any kids,” he said.

“Me too.”

Scott Laudati and Thom Young

6.

We stopped at a 7-11 on the way back to the motel. The parking lot was full of white passenger vans. They were all jammed to the gills with Mexicans. I thought that given the current state of my country, their lack of awareness was naive. I can’t say with certainty that they were all illegal, but the scene looked like every documentary I’ve ever watched. The drivers had horns tattooed on their foreheads. And the passengers all held garbage bags full of what I assumed were clothes.

I walked into the store and grabbed two six-packs of Dos Equis from the freezer. All the Mexicans that weren’t in the vans were on line buying hot dogs. What a welcome to America.

Thom pointed at the two Border Patrol cops we’d seen earlier. They were waving “Hello” to the people filing in and out. Everyone knew each other. A few of the drivers shook hands with the cops like old friends. We never saw any money exchange hands, but I’ve seen some version of this every night in front of my bodega back home.

“See that,” Thom said. “Everyone’s on the take.”

7.

I walked into the scrub outside our motel and called my mother. She told me a tractor trailer had just been found near Dallas with thirty illegals suffocated in the bed. I kicked logs trying to erase the innocent I had just seen eating their first American wieners. Maybe they’d make it. Maybe they’d find a town with more compassion.

Thom and I brought the beer to the pool. We sat at the edge and watched a whole colony of red ants form a floating ring. They sailed like a bloody armada to the corpse of something bobbing by the filter.

A woman came out from the door behind the front desk. She looked like everyone else born in Marfa. A little Indian. A little Mexican. Maybe something I’d never even heard of that fit the term “cowgirl.”

“Feel free to lose those bathing suits,” she said. “Clothing’s optional in Marfa.”

I looked at Thom.

“She’s all yours,” I said.

“Maybe later. We’ll see what happens.”

We gave the woman a beer and she told us, “It wasn’t too long ago the best thing you could do for a kid in Marfa was buy him a bus ticket out. Now the whole world comes here.”

“What are they all looking for?” I asked.

“The same thing you’re looking for.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“Then you’re just like them. They don’t know either.”

8.

Marfa, TX

Marfa is a perfect place for hiding. It’s like an outhouse at the end of the family farm. Everyone’s feet are kicked up. The horses silhouette the sun from every angle. And if you decide not to talk to anyone you can make it years without any interaction. A Shangri-La for writers and outlaws and everyone who hates anything enough to just walk away. The July climate was pretty excellent to that corner of the world. I found myself kicking weeds behind the motel because the sun felt that good. And just as my stomach started to grumble Thom hit me with the best news of the trip – Marfa had pizza!

I showered up to try and erase some of the drunk, and it started raining. We each grabbed a beer and stepped out under the awning.

“I don’t want to drive into town,” Thom said. “There’re too many cops to drink and drive.”

The woman from earlier came out with a cigarette and yelled for us.

“Be careful,” she said. “All the tarantula burrows are gonna be full of water now so you’ll probably see them crawling around.”

“I’m buying a gun, Thom. I won’t be able to sleep tonight.”

Two hipster guys came out of the room next to us. They stuck out like big bearded toads. They watched the rain for a minute and one of the guys combed his mustache. We must look insane to the world, I thought. These hipsters had managed to transport ironed plaids all the way to Marfa, and I could see they didn’t like our vibe. We’d been drunk for a week, and neither of us had changed our clothes in almost as long. It didn’t help that we had turned brown throughout the day from all the desert dust.

Their hatchback was parked right next to Thom’s truck, so an interaction was unavoidable.

“Hey,” I said. “Are you guys going in to town?”

They didn’t respond.

“Hey,” I said again. “Can we get a ride into town?”

They ignored me and jumped into their car. Neither looked at us and they both slammed their hands down on the door locks.

“Brooklyn assholes,” Thom said. “We know where you’re sleeping tonight!”

They pulled away and I chased them across the parking lot.

“I’m from New York,” I yelled. “We’re on the same team.”

Thom caught up with me and ran his finger across his throat.

“Nice move,” I said. “I hope they’re watching.”

We were soaked by then, so we gave up and walked to Foundation Pizza. I stayed right on the yellow line down the middle of the street. I figured I could spot a spider better from there, but we didn’t see any.

The hipster’s hatchback was the first car in the parking lot.

“Too small of a town to make enemies,” Thom said.

Foundation Pizza was like some kind of pizza stock exchange. A giant storage container jammed wall to wall with raised hands. Every table filled with screaming kids and pissed off parents. Handwritten order tickets flew around the restaurant and by the time they reached the cooks no one seemed to have any idea where they’d originated. One single waitress was running around trying to calm the madness. She’d have her back turned to a table, trying to explain that “Yes, they needed to card anyone who didn’t look twenty-one,” and a grubby hand would reach over from a different table and pull her shirt. If she turned around she’d get an earful of “Hey we ordered a half-pepperoni half-sausage pizza, like, twenty minutes ago, can we change that to a half-pepperoni half-extra cheese?” and the poor woman had to head back to the kitchen where some desert mutt would yell at her and then try and sort through a stack of tickets that rose closer to the ceiling with each passing minute.

“Let’s sit at the bar,” Thom said. “We’re never going to get a table.”

It didn’t make any difference, though. We were both so burnt-out and drunk we couldn’t do much more than grunt at each other. For two hours we mumbled about hipsters and occasionally extended our hands for new beers. I fell asleep on the counter and eventually a pizza appeared. We ate the whole pie like two pirates who’d been lost at sea.

It hit my body like a bucket of coffee.

“Alright,” I said. “I’m ready now. Let’s conquer.”

We walked past the hipsters on the way out. They pretended not to see us again. We each chugged the last of our beers and dropped them on their table. No one said a word.

Thom winked at me. “Pussies.”

9.

I had worked at The Standard in the Meatpacking District for the last few years. I knew they had an outfit in Marfa called El Cosmico. The hotel industry is as incestuous as a trailer park in West Virginia, so the odds were pretty good I could find a bartender or a bellman who owed me a favor from the old days.

“The cool kids are all going to be at El Cosmico,” I said. “Let’s do some recon.”

“I’ll drop you off. That pizza is tearing up my stomach.”

We made a left at a stop sign and saw El Cosmico’s neon logo in the distance, the last lights on the edge of town. There was still a campsite between us and the hotel, but Thom jammed on the brakes where we were.

“I gotta go,” he said. “Now.”

I hopped out and headed across the campsite. The sky had cleared. Stars burned like flood lights and I could see teepees and trailers in their glow. Music was coming from a main lodge.

No one was outside.

I watched Thom’s rear lights pull away behind me. Just as they disappeared I started to feel the little kicks of something toxic growing in my stomach.

You can hold it, I told myself. But every step became disembodied. The sweat rolled off my forehead and down my back as I threw myself into a wood shack with “El Cosmico” written across the slanted roof.

There was a girl folding t-shirts in the gift shop.

“I’m from The Standard High Line,” I said. “I need a bathroom.”

“Cool! I’m going to New York this fall!”

She watched my face turn from white to green. Both hands wrapped around my stomach.

“Please,” I said. “Where’s the bathroom?”

She pointed to a line of girls holding soap and toothbrushes.

“Most of our lodgings don’t have plumbing. That’s the only bathroom.”

“Shit,” I said, ran back out the door, tripped on the porch steps, and landed in some weeds. I could see a shrub-line beyond the lights, in the distance. I crawled to it and watched the stars crash into the desert and eventually the music faded. I looked up into the sky and saw my dog smiling down. I saw my ex-girlfriend or maybe it was God in a wig. “I still love all of you,” I yelled. But they didn’t reach down for me. I bit the dirt alone. I’m going to die here, I thought, and the spiders are going to eat my face for breakfast.

10.

“Hey, man,” I heard a woman’s voice. “Are you cool?”

I opened my eyes and saw a blonde angel with a hula-hoop staring down at me.

“Hey,” I asked. “Are you real?”

“Tonight I am.”

She handed me my t-shirt. All of my clothes were gone except for my boxers.

“You saved me,” I said. “I saw my dog.”

She took my hand and brought me back to camp. I sat on a bench in my t-shirt and underwear and watched a bunch of girls hula-hoop under the moon. It could’ve just been endorphins from the food poisoning, but I loved everything again. I remembered the first time I had climbed a tree, when I was suddenly bigger than the world I’d been walking in.

I spent that night on a fur skin rug in a yurt under an American flag while at least three people had sex in the bed above me. At first light I walked back to the road and called Thom Young for a ride.

As we drove out of town I looked over and asked, “Did we learn anything from our time in Marfa?”

“Yea,” Thom said. “Don’t eat the pizza.” ♦

Scott Laudati lives in upper Manhattan with his boxer, Satine. He has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, once in fiction and once in poetry. He is the author of Hawaiian Shirts in the Electric Chair (poems) and Play The Devil (novel). His newest collection of poems, Bone House, was published in March 2018. Visit Scott Laudati on instagram @scottlaudati. Titles available here.

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