A garishly painted sign
By J W Edwards
The garishly painted sign in the tall grass along the roadside read, “WELCOME TO POLITICO” and beneath that greeting in smaller but bold letters read “This is a no weapons town, all firearms must be relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits.”
WELCOME TO POLITICO
This is a no weapons town. All firearms must be
Relinquished to the Sheriff upon entering town limits
Jasper Johnson, better known as ‘Jelly Roll Johnson’, hauled on the mares reigns stopping her a few feet from the sign. “What in blazes is this all about?” He thought to himself. This was West Texas. The signs request amounted to about the same thing as asking all thirsty persons to drink only rain water that fell directly from the sky while in town. It was plain stupid.
“Well horse, I guess we’ll head on over to the Sheriff’s office to see just how serious they hold onto this notion of bein’ gunless.” Horse, his mare, snorted a quick agreement. With a slight flick on the reins, Horse continued on into town. The town consisted of a dusty but hard packed main street cross sectioned with maybe as many as six intersections. Most all the buildings showed little weathering from the harsh west Texas sun. In fact everything looked well taken care of and near picture book perfect.
Gazing about at the clean architecture and neat signage secured above each business in a precise and matching height, Jelly Roll commented, “Dang Horse, look at this here place. Did we fall asleep while travelin’ and end up makin’ our way to Boston?” Jelly Roll spotted the Sheriff’s office ahead on the right. A slight tug on the right rein along with a mild pressure from his right heel turned Horse to the hitching rail out front. With a creak that only a working cowboys old leather saddle can make, Jelly Roll dismounted and loosened Horses cinch.
Removing his tattered slouch hat, he flapped it over his shirt and down his chaps causing dust to fly. Satisfied he would now be recognized as human and not a walking dirt clod, he stepped up onto the full block wooden walkway.
A brass bell attached to the door jingled above his head as he entered the Sheriff’s office.
Seeing an old man who was obviously asleep at a small desk, he loudly cleared his throat to awaken who he assumed to be the Sheriff. A loud snort and a twitch of the mustache was all he earned from his attempt to wake the Lawman. “Hey, Sheriff?” he bawled. At that the old man popped one eye open which glanced at the man standing in front of him and then shut again followed by a long snore.
Jelly Roll stepped back to the door and with his hand slapped the brass entry bell multiple times until he finally saw the old man wake up.
“What the heck you makin’ all that racket for boy? I got ears if ya’ ain’t noticed.” Pulling himself upright in his chair and still grumbling, the old Lawman continued his half asleep tirade. “They should be a law against treatin’ an’ old man as if he was deaf. Sneakin’ up on a body should be against the law too. Now just who are you an’ what’s so dang important that you need to jangle that bell that a way.”
It was then that the Sheriff noted the Colt pistol tied low on the cowboy’s leg. Moving to stand up quickly but nearly falling backward trying to get out of his chair, the old Lawman tried vainly to loosen the flap on his holster. “Stand where ya’ are fella, an’ don’t touch your iron while I get my gun unloosed”.
If it weren’t so weird a scene, Jelly Roll would have laughed watching the old man’s antics at trying to pull iron on him. “Sheriff! Jelly rolled loudly yelled, “I ain’t pullin’ no iron on ya’, I’m just passin’ through when I saw your sign alongside the road tellin’ me to surrender my piece.”
The old Sheriff finally gave up trying to clear leather and stood there with his hand shaking above the butt of the pistol. To Jelly Roll, he was now looking confused rather than frightened.
“What’s that you say? Sign? What sign? Speak up boy!”
“The one that says everyone has to turn his gun in when entering town, that one!”
Still standing there with the expression of a child caught peeing on his neighbors flower bed, The old man felt a bit foolish and replied, “Oh, yeah, that one.” Remembering the stranger still had his pistol he yelled, “ Hey! Get that gun belt off mister! Don’t you know this here’s a no gun totin’ town?”
Expelling a breath through clenched teeth, Jelly Roll slowly said, “That’s what I’m doing here Sheriff, relinquishing my gun like the sign out there says to do. I ain’t seekin’ no trouble, just a few drinks to clear the dust from my throat an’ a hot meal, that’s all. Just as soon as I can, I’ll head back out an’ hit the trail up Amarillo way. I hear a few spreads are lookin’ for wranglers an’ I plan to sign on if they’d have me.”
Extending a shaky hand, the old man calmed down a bit, “Well… you gimme’ your gun then an’ come back and get it when you leave town. According to the law, I gotta’ put the thing under lock an’ key in this here safe with all the others.”
Jelly Roll unhitched his holster belt and wrapped it around the pistol then handed it over to the Sheriff. The Sheriff opened the top drawer of the desk and pulled out a ring of keys. Turning to the safe sitting along the back wall of his tiny office he opened it.
Jelly Rolls eyes opened wide when he saw the vast assortment of guns packed like sardines all stacked up inside the safe.
“Dang,” Jelly Roll exclaimed, “Just how many guns you got in there Sheriff?”
“Never you mind, but when the law was passed, everyone in town had to turn in their irons.”
“Why’d they make a law like that?”
“Our Mayor come back from visiting Boston one year an’ said if we’s to be as progressive, then we all should follow suit.”
“Well don’t that kinda leave the towns folk at the mercy of no goods if they come in wearin’ a gun??”
“If they ride in wearin iron, then they’s breakin’ the law! Besides, the Mayor insist that studies show if guns is outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns… ‘Course they had to pass a whole herd of other laws after that to cover up any flaws the first one had. I guess you’ll find out what they are if ya’ stay here for any length a time.”
“Yeah, well I don’t plan on stayin’ but maybe a day or two to rest up, so I guess I ain’t gonna have the privilege of breakin’ too many of em’.”
“Huh, if you do, you’ll get to rest here in a cell rather than in any hotel bed. Judge Flavious Maximus don’t take kindly to lawbreakers in his town. He’s the Mayor an’ head of the town council too. I warn ya’ boy, if he don’t cotton to ya’ he’ll make up a law right then an’ there so’s ya’ come back an’ spend the night here with me behind bars. So be careful boy, I’m warnin’ ya’.”
Leaving the Sheriff’s office feeling naked and vulnerable without his firearm, Jelly Roll shrugged it off, went and stabled his horse, then headed off to find the nearest saloon for a long overdue drink.
Halfway up the second block Jelly Roll found what he was looking for. A well kept saloon who’s bat wing doors never looked like they’d ever left their hinges from a fight. Stepping up he stuck his head in the saloon doorway and took the place in at a glance. A piano player was plinking away while a young girl standing next to him sang. The tune sounded kind of familiar and he soon realized she was trying to sing an opera song he had heard once at a theater in San Antonio.
“Each to his own,” he thought as he made his way to the bar.
“Bartender, give me a whisky, an leave the bottle will ya?”
Wiping his hands on a towel, the bartender strode over to him saying, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have whisky, just wine and what the Mayor calls ‘craft beers’.”
“No whisky you say? What kind of saloon doesn’t serve whisky? What next? You gonna tell me you only serve lamb instead of beef?”
“No, no we don’t serve lamb here, that’s for sure. But we don’t serve beef neither, just chicken.”
“What!!? You gatta’ be pullin’ my leg, haw haw, haw! That’s a good one!” Still chuckling he said, OK, I got the joke, now gimme my whisky and a plate of beef stew an’ I’ll be mighty grateful to ya’.”
“Sir, I was not pulling your leg. The Mayor outlaw’d anything but chicken an’ even that may soon be made illegal. I do have a fine bottle of ’68 wine from New York State I could offer you though.”
Unable to endure the ill tuned piano’s plinking with that of the off key Italian wailings of the singing girl, he stepped away from the bar shaking his head. “Forget it. I can’t take this no more. I’ll find somewhere else to go to do my eating and drinking.”
Making his way towards the other end of town, Jelly Roll spotted a small diner across the street. Making his way inside, he saw a vacant table and pulling up a chair sat down. Grabbing up a menu he began looking it over. A cute but somewhat thin young blond haired girl wearing it piled atop her head approached him with a pad and pencil for his order.
Pressing his lips tightly together he let the menu fall to the table in disbelief. Looking up at the girl standing over him waiting for his order, he said to her. “Ma’am, I can’t make heads or tails of this here menu. It’s in French. Can I just get an order of coffee , steak an’ apple pie?”
“We believe the French language is just as important as English. We don’t serve Arbuckles here sir, the owner is now a vegetarian and he won’t order any coffee beans because they are dipped in egg whites to keep them from spoiling. I can give you a heavenly no egg noodle soup made with pinto beans, celery and onions served with unsweetened Chinese tea. We don’t serve meat or sugar because both rot your insides out”
“Geez lady, what kind of fool town is this? I can’t get no whisky, no meat an’ I bet a sweet slice of apple pie is forbidden too!”
Suddenly the girl broke out in a smile and said, “Oh, we have better than a sugary old apple pie sir, we have mock apple pie. It’s a recipe the Mayor brought back from his trip to England.
“What in the name of God is a mock apple pie?”
Rearing back from the waist up as if insulted, she exclaimed, “There’s no need to swear at me sir! We have a no swearing law in this town and I strongly suggest you abide by it. Blah, blah blah…” Jelly Roll’s eyes began to glaze over.
“I think I’m having a nightmare.”
“…and if your through taking the Lords name in vain, I’d tell you that mock apple pie is made from crackers and spices instead of old dried up apples, butter and sugar! It’s much better for your constitution and keeps your movements regular!”
She pointed to her small behind, “Yes, you know…your moooovements.”
Jelly Roll put his face into his hands and leaned forward as if in deep prayer. Mumbling into his hands he spoke, “Jesus, take me right now, let a bullet come somehow flyin’ through this window an give me peace. Let the roof cave in on me Lord. Anything Lord! All I wanted was a shot of whisky an’ a hot beef dinner. Was that askin’ too much Lord? “
Interrupting him, she said, “Sir, I don’t mean to disturb your giving thanks to the Lord for your delicious meal, but wouldn’t it make more sense to order one first before prayin’ on it?”
Jelly Roll slowly removed his hands from his face and lifted his beleaguered eyes to the thin girl still waiting for his order. “I just lost my appetite Ma’am, an by the way, just who is this Mayor Maximus Ma’am everyone keeps yappin’ about? It seems to me this entire town is run more like his private property than a public town.”
With hands on her hips she told him, “ Mayor Maximus is the best thing that this town has had happen to it. Why before he come along, there was loose girls working in the saloon making men wobbly legged! There was gun shooting and brawls and drunkedness and swearing on the public walkways! He also got a college degree from Yale and was a rower in the famous Harvard-Yale regatta rowing race in which Yale beat Harvard! Why his middle name says it all, Acadamious. Yes sir, when we need something we just got to call on Mayor Flavious Acadamious Maximus for help. We couldn’t get by now without him.
Turning around she pointed to a well trimmed bearded man with long grey hair tied into a neat pony tail two tables away. Soft, manicured hands delicately held a cup of Chinese tea to a face painted with all the honesty of a horse trader from Kansas City. “Our Mayor is sitting right over there listening to every word you’ve been saying, haven’t you Mayor Maximus?”
“Oh yes I have my dear Susan, oh yes I have.” Getting up from his own table he bullied his way past the other table and over to Jelly Rolls.
Standing over Jelly Roll like his dung don’t stink he asked, “You have a gripe here cowboy? Maybe you find our town too refined and civilized for your buffalo grunt taste. You do realize that putting another person in an uncalled for stressful situation such as your waitress Susan is now experiencing here, is against the law?”
The jail door slammed loudly behind him.
As jails went, it wasn’t too bad at all. He flipped the blanket on the bed aside and didn’t see the usual scurrying of fleeing bed bugs or rings of old pee stains.
An old man was in the cell next to him that wasn’t in there an hour before when he first arrived.
“What they got you in for boy?” the old man spoke through a raggedy beard trying it’s best to hide a set of picket fence teeth. “Judge Marcus got me tossed in today ‘cause I accidently spit on the street. No public spitten allowed here ya know. A filthy habit he says. Damn bug done jumped right in my mouth, ‘course I had to spit it out. I ain’t into swollow’n no bugs.
“Old man, I don’t wanna know why you’re in here or anything about your bug eatin habits. Ya could tell me though what kind of meals they serve here, I’m starvin’.”
“Well, that depends.”
“If ya got any money to pay for it.
“Pay for what?”
“If you’re like me an’ havin’ no money, it’s whenever the Lady from the ‘Society for the Ethical Treatment of Prisoners and Other Bums’, better known as SETPOB gets here. It used to be ‘Prisoners Eat Terribly Awful’ or PETA, but then some animal group complained they stole their initials an’ was all set to sue ‘em so they changed it to SETPOB.”
“So you’re sayin’ I gotta buy my own meals?”
“You should anyway, SETPOB meals is horrible stuff. Ain’t fit for no human, that’s for shore. Why last week when I was in here for not crossin’ the street at the marked road intersection, they fed me nothin’ but a slab of beef drenched in gravy over white bread!”
Jelly Roll perked up, “Damn! For real?”
“Yup, they figure if you get locked up, then you don’t deserve as good a meal as a decent folk would eat. Don’t expect no hot tea either. Just coffee! Tea’s for good folk “
“Well… Guess I’m broke then’” Jelly smiled pleasantly.
After a ‘terrible’ but very filling meal of butter made biscuits, pork sausage and coffee, Jelly Roll lay down and fell into a deep sleep on the jails recently purchased firm foundation mattress.
The old timer in the next cell sat complaining that his civil rights were being violated by being fed such a horrible meal.
At 30 minutes after midnight The jail house door silently opened. A cowboy wearing a dirty bandana over his mouth stepped inside. The Sheriff sat in his chair sleeping. The intruder slowly lifted his greener shotgun and aimed it at the sleeping Sheriff.
“Wake up old man!
“Damn it, I said wake up!”
“He’s half deaf” yelled the old man from the cell next to Jelly Roll. “Jes’ tap him on the head with the greener, that’ll get him awake.”
Lifting the Sheriffs hat off his head with the greener, he brought the barrel down, giving the slleping Sheriff’s head a resounding bonk.
“What in blazes?” The Sheriff yelled as he fell backward grabbing his head and sprawling bodily onto the floor.
“Who did that?” He shouted as he fumbled through his vest pockets looking for his spectacles. “There’s laws against whatever just happened!”
“Stand up Sheriff, an’ put your gun a top the desk then back away from it.”
From his cell, Jelly Roll watched the scene with interest. The old man in the next cell whispered to him, “That there is Blasphemous Bob Barkus, he used to be an actor in California. He helped Mayor Maximus , whose real name by the way is Johnny Deep, set up this town years ago as an experiment in social living. Seems he left before the town was completed sayin’ he heard the call of the whale, or somethin’ like that. Anyway, he signs onto this here oriental whale studyin’ ship as a crew member and sails away. Only thing is, the only studyin’ that ship did was to study how better to harpoon the dang things. Seems bein’ three years at sea harpoonin’ whales did somethin’ to his thinkin’. Soon’s he landed, he come back here wanting a giant veal steak sautéed in a onion Rum sauce with pickled eggs on the side. The man had completely gone off the deep end… threw away everything he earlier stood for. I heard he died of a fat clot in his blood or somethin’ after he left to take a job at a Cajun restaurant in New Orleans. I guess not though, cause here he is again, alive as ever without no clots!”
“What’re you two whisperin’ about there? Walking over to the cells Blasphemous Bob demanded. Pointing his gun at Jelly Roll he asked, “What’re you in here for cowboy? Murder? Rape? Bank robbery?
“I just wanted beef stew and a whisky.”
A look of shocked disbelief plastered Blasphemous Bob’s face, “What?!! Son, didn’t you know that’s illegal here?”
“I do now.”
“What in tarnation was you thinkin’ by comin’ here? Ain’t nothing normal nor desirable ‘bout this place. It took me 3 years to see what every Texan sees right off about what’s wrong with it. No real Texan like you could abide here, no way! That’s why we settled it with college graduates, ex politicians, lawyers, bankers and bums! Didn’t you take the time to read the sign by the road?
“Sure I did.” Jelly Roll said, “It said to hand in your guns, that’s all. I saw nothing too unusual about that. I’ve known other places do that, like Boston.”
“You been to Boston? How’d you like their baked beans? I just love how they toss that big ‘ol hunk a fat back in there for flavor. That sure makes it Yummo in my book!”
“No, never been there myself, but if it’s anything like this here town then I don’t want to either. I like wearin’ my gun and eatin’ beef n pickled eggs an’ drinkin’ whiskey too much.”
Blasphemous Bob shouted, “Beef n Pickled eggs? Here’s a man after my own heart!” Demanding the jail’s ring of keys from the Sheriff, he opened the cell door Jelly Roll was locked behind.
“Get on outa’ there son, I commune your sentence to time served! Now you get on the nag you rode in here with an’ ride till you come to that fork in the road again. This time read the dang sign in it’s entirety.”
Walking over to the Sheriffs gun safe, Blasphemous Bob Barkus unlocked it and tossed Jelly Roll his gun. He then grabbed arm load after arm load of the towns peoples pistols and threw them out the door into the street. “As for me? I gotta correct the errors of my ways. This here towns gotta go. No one should be forced to live like this…it just ain’t natural an’ shore ain’t Texan!”
Waking the livery boy, Jelly Roll saddled up and headed out of town. Behind him, the dark sky began to brighten with a yellowish glow. Blasphemous Bob was correcting the errors of his ways by burning down the town that was not fit for any Texan.
Suddenly he remembered something and turned the mare around and headed back to town at a gallop. The town was fully ablaze. The townsfolk were all wandering about in the street watching their town burn down around them. Seeing their guns lying about they began to retrieve them and buckle them on once again, just in case. Heading up to the now flame engulfed diner, he scanned the crowd for the familiar face he’d met only hours before.
Finding what he searched for, he rode over to the cute although somewhat thin blond girl who’s hair was still hair tied atop her head even though she no longer had a waitress job.
She stood frozen as she watched her town quickly burn away around her. A hanky with prints of chickadee’s that matched those on her night gown, was busy wiping the tears that rolled down her pretty cheeks. She looked up as he approached her and he smiled down at her.
Patting the saddle in front of him he asked her, “Want a lift some where’s? I got plenty of room up here seeing as how thin you are and all. Why I bet you could ride all the way back to Amarillo with me an’ not even crowd me out once.”
“I was born somewhere near Amarillo.” She sadly replied, “When my parents graduated from college with degrees in Mime psychology and performing arts, they took up the Mayors offer to be settled here at no cost. They both passed on last year when they was poisoned by some paint they had purchased from a Chinese paint company they wore in their Mime act.
I have nowhere to go now except back to Amarillo. Maybe I’ll find my extended family, maybe I’ll just get married, settle down and have a whole passel of children as a result of keeping my man happy an’ wobbly legged. Sir, If you don’t mind a somewhat thin cute blond girl that wears her hair up riding there in front of you, I’ll take you up on your offer because I have nothing to keep me here and besides, I have always wanted to eat a medium rare slab of beef with pickled eggs on the side.”
Jelly Roll reached down and hooked her up into the saddle in front of him with one swoop of his arm. “My, you sure are strong Sir.” She breathlessly told him.
He could smell the fragrance of patchouli in her hair and feel the heat of her body against his as Horse clopped down the road he had come in on. “You said you might look to get married an’ have a passel of children from the results of keepin’ your man happy and wobbly legged? What kind a fella you got in mind?”
As if deep in thought, she put her pointing finger to her lips and finally said, “Well, he’s gotta be strong, like you are. He has to have his own horse of course, like you have. And if he’s going to live in Texas with me, he has to eat beef and drink whisky, like you do.”
Looking skyward, Jelly Roll said smiling. “Gee ma’am sounds like you an’ Blasphemous Bob should hook up!”
She turned in the saddle and kissed his ear, “I thought about it but he likes rum, not whisky…unlike you.”
As they passed the town welcome sign, he stopped and said to the somewhat thin cute blond girl who wore her hair up,” Blasphemous Bob asked if I’d read the sign before I entered town, I read it but didn’t see nothing written on it that would warn me of all the strange non Texan things about the town. Is there something on it I missed?”
She smiled and patted his cheek affectionately, “Look real close at the bottom my sweet Sir. It’s about covered by the tall growing grass but if you look close you can still read it.”
Jelly Roll dismounted and approached the sign with a lit match to light the way. Squinting his searching eyes, he brushed away the tall grass and was finally able to read what was hidden, suddenly he understood. There written in the same French Script MT as the name of the town was written in it said, ‘If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico’.
If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Politico
Jelly Roll shuddered. With a herculean hop skip and jump, he landed back in the saddle and spurring Horse into a gallop, Jelly Roll Johnson and the cute but somewhat thin blond girl with her hair worn atop her head fled into the night towards Amarillo. There they married, ate beef and pickled eggs three times a week and had a passel of kids as a result of her keeping him happy… and wobbly legged.