A TALL DRINK OF COWBOY by Chris Milam

I built a portal inside my pleather recliner. It wasn’t as complex as you’d imagine. Copper wire, batteries from the remote, coffee grinds, two ounces of mercury, a mirror, strobe lights, nuclear waste that I ordered on Amazon, a telephone cord, circuit board from my chromebook, a carburetor from a Pontiac Fiero.

Where to go? The problem, according to my amateur calculations, is that I only have one shot at this. Do I stay here, hit the day labor place every morning hoping for scraps? Ride my emptiness into the eternal sunset? Stay and rot, or flee and whatever the opposite of rot is?

I admire lions, maybe the African savanna. Sleep with the pride underneath the shade of an acacia tree, our bellies stuffed with fresh warthog. Alaska is tempting. Track a moose across miles of virgin snow, the debilitating isolation my only companion. Plus, I’ve read that serial killers dig it out there. Sharing a hunk of bear jerky with a budding psychopath sounds intriguing. Possibly Morocco. I’m not familiar with their culture and customs, but I do enjoy saying Morocco, feels nice in the mouth. Mo roc co, harmony in three syllables. I wouldn’t mind a trip to South Korea. Outdoor cafe, eating a bowl of brown bean noodles, my aching soul hell-bent on locating the drug lord who murdered my pregnant wife, Soo-jin. Except that violence

isn’t really my bag, so it’s a no-go on avenging my fantasy wife on the rain-splashed streets of Busan.

In the end, there was only one choice.

We’re hanging in his man-cave inside a massive, stone house that resembles a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Black Label whiskey.

“More meat?” That’s how he talks, no wasted words. More meat, not “would you like another cougar burger.”

“Please.”

“I killed the big cat with a left hook.”

His twangy voice is all bacon grease, diesel fuel, and sawdust. His mustache is glorious, thick as tree bark. Sam fucking Elliott, the coolest A-lister in Tinseltown. “Tell me that story about Stoltz again.”

He tosses me that crooked, heartthrob grin that makes me melt like a chocolate bar left in the summer sun. “After a shoot, he was messing with that map of his, pinning shit on there. Poland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, other pansy places. I was folded, man, just gone. Rocky said: ‘Hey, Gar, any other locations I should pin for the motorcycle trip? I think I need to fill this out a bit more for the next scene.’”

“I looked that freak dead in the eye and said ‘my feet.’”

“What about your feet?”

“‘That’s where you’re going next.’ And he did. Kid was a natural born masseuse. We slaughtered a mongoose later that night. Ate it raw.”

“God, you are so smooth. And he stayed in character the whole time, the mask or whatever?”

“Always did. Said it was empathetic art or some crap. He still drops by every now and then, brings me a new pair of Wranglers and a belt buckle made from barbed wire.”

For the first time in my life, I feel happy. I’ve made a connection. I’m not alone anymore. It’s me and Sam Elliott. We smoke hand-rolled cigarettes, skin wolves with knives made from beer cans, lasso steer, chop wood, train falcons, tend to his orchids every spring. I wouldn’t go back to Kentucky even if I could. He didn’t really trust me when I first showed up. “I worked with Cage in Ghost Rider, I know a shady sidewinder when I see one.” But over time we became friends, maybe even brothers. Tomorrow, he’s taking me on the set of his new movie – Roadhouse 3: The Bones of Wade Garrett.

“More meat?”

“Sure. I meant to ask this earlier, what was it like working with Val Kilmer in Tombstone? I loved the way he spun that tin cup like a six-shooter. A slick middle-finger to Johnny Ringo.”

He brings a fork to his lips, smiles like a grizzled cactus. “Well, that’s a tale for another time, son, but let’s just say I might have a taste for huckleberries and tuberculosis.”

Screw the African savanna, minimum wage, and the endless self-pity. I am now a member of the Sam Elliott pride. We live as kings in the acid-washed heart of la-la land.