Every two weeks, I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.
“COWBOYS AND INDIANS”
This story was originally published in TooSquare Magazine in July of 2002, though, if I’m remembering correctly, the actual events took place in 2000. This is the first piece of two in the book that focuses on law enforcement, with the second one being “Mad Dogs”. Though the two stories are separated by a few years and an ocean, both are connected, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to see it.
The first question that is always asked about this story is “Did you really put your brother into the trunk of the car?” and the answer is “Yes, I really put my brother into the trunk of the car.”
And yes, I was left tied to a tree as a child. In fact, there is very little in this story that I had to change to make this story work as a narrative. The stories told by the police officers are all true (though I could’ve heard some of those on different evenings), and the things that happened at the party are all true as well.
The club where the party was being held had a lot of problems with drugs and underage drinking at the time, so the owners were more than happy to host a S.W.A.T. graduation party as a way to show that they supported the local law enforcement. Even though the party had its own VIP section, it was a difficult endeavor to keep these guys contained, and from what I was seeing, I’m certain that security simply didn’t know how to approach the situation. Can I tell the cop he’s had enough? Am I allowed to kick out a cop? By the time some of the police officers were swinging on the scaffolding thirty-feet above the dance floor, most of the security had given up completely.
The observations about the women and their attraction to police officers, I believe, are pretty spot on. I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time with different members of law enforcement and the way some women perk up when they’re in the presence of officers or agents is fairly alarming. I’m not saying that the attraction isn’t valid, but there definitely seems to be a severe disconnect between the expectation and the reality. The same can be said about those who seek to be in law enforcement and how the romantic ideal of doing the right thing collides so heavily against politics and bureaucracy; it’s a recipe for instant disillusionment. I’m not saying it’s like this across the board, but it’s interesting how so many of the people I’ve met who have careers in law enforcement share the same stock phrases when discussing their work, as if they need to convince themselves as much as me that the job is important.
Even though those statistics are almost a decade old, I still find them to be frightening.
The only significant change I had to make in the story for the sake of space was the detail with Alan’s truck and his then-girlfriend driving off with it. The original plan was to dump his body into the back of his truck and have his girlfriend drive him home, but instead, out of spite, she took his keys and drove off without taking him. She was a winner, that one.
And this is why he ended up in my trunk.