Enlightenment Among the Sand Dunes
Death Valley is Good for the Soul
Mike leaned towards me with the kind of expression on his face that politicians get when they are about to impart some great secret. Looking as though he might start quoting from Hamlet, his words sounded as though they belonged on the stage. ‘I am a painter,’ he confided. This was the last thing I had expected to be told by anyone at the Corkscrew Bar in Death Valley that evening. Mike’s large brown eyes widened as he took in the room, as if he was challenging disbelievers with a mere glance of his eye to speak up.
Without blinking, he continued his royal discourse. Waving his hand at his loyal subjects seated on bar stools, he gestured at the large mirror at the back. ‘If this bar were in my house, this mirror would be my painting.’ Not sure whether he wished to be taken literally or figuratively, I asked him whether he had paintings that large in his home. He answered without being direct, his usual manner. ‘I paint life.’
He continued to hold court over the local cheap brew while someone put a quarter into the jukebox. A live version of the Eagles’ Hotel California began to fill the room. ‘I have a painting that I could show you…like this mirror, that I could sell for fifty thousand dollars. But I don’t want money.’ Pausing for effect, the song playing from the corner speakers briefly distracted him. ‘I have been an actor, a poet, a painter, a waiter, a ditch digger and a pool attendant. I clean the urine out of the pool at Furnace Creek.’ And then without missing a beat, Mike was singing what he called his custom brand of ‘white boy, blue-eyed blues’ along with the jukebox in the corner
Furnace Creek actually has a bar where the locals hang out after work and trade stories. Janice was reading horoscopes out of Cosmopolitan when I walked in. She was the bartender on the evening shift.
‘We’ve just been reading horoscopes, and mine says I should ask for a raise,’ she said.
‘When was the last time you got one?’ I am not good at small talk, but this seemed like a fairly standard question.
‘I got twenty-four cents seven months ago.’
Mike interrupted, ‘Jas, meet Rick here. I feel he is quality people. Treat him as my guest.’ I thought there was something vaguely familiar about Mike. With a few less pounds, he could have passed for Olivier…