True Grits

The double doors at the front of the saloon swung open and a man stood framed in the doorway.

The piano-playing stopped. Men sitting at low tables about the room suddenly found the cards in their hands very interesting. Ladies wearing four inches of make-up headed quickly upstairs.

Rooster Cogburn was instantly recognisable, being famous for his eye-patch, fast drawing and slow talking. He was also famous for his almost permanent bad temper, which may have been due to the fact that in an era when men had nicknames like “Buffalo Bill“, “Wild Bill” and “Butch”, Cogburn was basically named after a male chicken.

He approached the bar. The bartender approached him.

“Drink,” grunted Rooster.

The bartender poured some liquid into a huge glass into slid it along the bar. Since the glass had a long stem the odds against this manoeuvre being successful were as long as the stem itself and both men watched it topple and break about half way through its journey. The barmen fetched a similar glass, filled it and this time set it down in front of Rooster, who stared at it.

“What’s this?” he growled.

“Wine,” said the bartender.

“I wanted whisky,” said Rooster. “You know, firewater.”

“Try drinking that,” said the bartender. “You wouldn’t believe the heartburn it gives you.”

“It looks like horse-piss,” said Rooster. He thirstily gulped the entire glassful into his mouth, then hurriedly removed his ten-gallon hat and spat about half-a-gallon of wine into it. “Tastes like it, too,” he gasped.

“What can I say?” said the bartender. “Sometimes the grape harvest fails and we have to improvise.”

“Look, forget the drink,” said Rooster. “Get me something to eat.”

The bartender headed off through a doorway, and Rooster settled himself in a chair to await the favourite meal of every cowpoke (a word it doesn’t do to think about for too long), beans and grits.

The piano-player recommenced playing, but to Rooster’s surprise the song was not about prospectin’ for gold, some famous shoot-out or his darlin’ Clementine, but instead informed anyone listening that when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza-pie, that’s amore.

The bartender reappeared with a plate which he set in front of Rooster. There were no beans, no grits (whatever they are), just white sea-shell-shapes in a creamy yellowish sauce. In Cogburn’s mind a suspicion evolved towards certainty.

“What’s this place called?” he snapped.

“It is the town of El Pasto,” replied the bartender.

Rooster Cogburn stood up, jammed his stetson on his head (drenching himself in spat-out white wine) and headed for the door.

“I hate spaghetti westerns,” he growled.

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