You won’t find it on any map. When spoken of, it’s usually by old men drinking coffee at the local Dairy Queen. The town is part legend, part myth, a relic of the old west that left nothing behind to mark its existence save a lot of old bones and a half-buried, rotted sign displaying the town’s name.
Not that anyone has lately seen these bones, or the sign; they are lost in the vast West Texas desert, bleached by the sun and sniffed at by coyotes. The sun returns daily to further ossify the bones, and the coyotes abandon the bones in search of something worth eating.
Even the name of the town is debated. Some say the name was Gordia, not Gordita. Arguments ensue. The old men’s grandfathers’ recanting of the tale are passed around from old man to old man. Everyone under the age of sixty don’t care. The employees at the local Dairy Queens want the old men to leave, to make room for people who desire to eat their life-shortening burgers and fries.
The one thing all the old men agree on is that something calamitous happened to the town for it to disappear so completely.
They are right.
Gordita (Gordia?) met its end because of three seemingly innocuous situations:
1. The astounding level of laziness and bureaucracy in the state cartographer’s office.
2. A traveling circus coming through town.
3. The mayor recently discovering tequila.
Joe and Marylou Statler stopped midway through their journey to California. This was due to Joe’s indolence; he never saw the advantage of working hard when one could work less hard. Marylou had married him, despite knowing of this shortcoming. She vowed to remake Joe in her own image.
They built a small house in the desert. Marylou planted a vegetable garden and Joe planted a baby inside Marylou. Jessie, when born, saw a world that made little sense to him. This would not change much over the years.
Jessie’s father died when he was twelve. Rather, he watched as his mother shot his father over a dispute about her culinary abilities. To wit: he complained about undercooked corn one too many times. Jessie had to dig a grave and plant his father.
His mother died ten years later. A rattlesnake bit her. She didn’t die, though, before prying the snake off her ankle and bashing its brains out.
She also didn’t die before creating a budding empire in the desert. She and Jessie built a general store, catering to travelers going west. She soon added a saloon that sold cool beer and whiskey of sketchy provenance. She added a sheep ranch to provide the restaurant with mutton and cheese. The year before she died, she brought in prostitutes from New Orleans and Ft. Worth.
Jessie, now a young man, buried his mother and continued their legacy. Like his mother, he was ambitious. Like his father, he was a bit lazy. This combination worked until it didn’t.
One warm June evening, Jessie got gloriously drunk. Not an unusual occurrence. He also eschewed female company for the night in lieu of doing something productive. This was very unusual.
He desired to name the town, and it seemed fitting to name it in his mother’s honor. He thought about it for a few minutes before coming up with a) an appropriate-sounding name, and b) one that he could spell.
Gordita. Pudgy woman.
Conchita, a sporting woman (and the one who introduced Jessie to the pleasures of female intimacy), called his mother by this name, though never to her face.
Jessie found a thick piece of wood and some paint. He started working. The first four letters were legible and evenly spaced. Unfortunately, there was little space left for the remaining three letters. Jessie squished them in anyway. He attached the sign to a post and planted it in the ground. It fell over. So did he.
Conchita got a couple of ranch hands to secure the sign the next day. It stayed up, firm and true.
Jessie appointed himself mayor of Gordita on his sixtieth birthday. He had appointed himself sheriff on his fiftieth birthday, so it seemed right that he would become – at least in his eyes – more important every decade.
Because of his new-found status, Jessie decided to contact the state of Texas and ask that they put Gordita on the map. Surprisingly, they acquiesced. They arrived in August. Four bespectacled men in gray suits, accompanied by strange instruments and wide eyes. They had never seen such a place, a veritable oasis in the desert.
Conchita, too old to be lying on her back for a living any longer, now managed the bar and the girls. She brought in better whiskey and friskier girls. The bar no longer carried a sour, musty odor. Jessie was so happy about this that he gave her a month off work to go back to Sonora and visit her family. She came back with a husband and several bottles of something that Jessie had never heard of: tequila.
He liked it. He liked it a lot. He liked it so much that he appropriated the twelve bottles of the magic elixir for himself. Conchita’s husband went back to Sonora to procure as much as he could of the clear, peppery liquid.
Conchita went back to work. She provided the cartographers with female company for the duration of their stay, had the bar cleaned up again, and whiled away her free time mixing the tequila she had hidden from Jessie with lime juice and sugar water. She considered selling it in the saloon at some point.
To commemorate the presumed status of Gordita as a place on the state map, Jessie also managed to get a traveling circus to perform while the cartographers were there. Jessop Witt’s Amazing Spectacles arrived a day before the cartographers. Elephants and lions and tigers made their way down the main street, advertising the circus. Bearded ladies cavorted, strong men flexed, clowns danced around, handing out sweets to the kids, and Jessop Witt himself led the procession.
This is where things got interesting.
Jessop Witt wasn’t simply the owner of a traveling circus; he was also the ringmaster and the lion tamer. Although a skilled orator, he wasn’t much of a lion tamer. He would saunter into the cages, crack his whip a few times, getting the lions to roar, and then leave the cage.
He was prone to drinking, and somewhat less prone to quality control. These didn’t seem like terrible sins. Until the animals escaped.
It had happened before, but never in such a vast landscape. Rounding up the animals would prove much more difficult in such terrain.
The elephants were easy. The monkeys were less easy, but still accomplished in a few hours. The lions, though, proved impossible. Men searched for them every night, but to no avail; they had simply vanished.
But that wasn’t quite true. The lions left evidence of their existence: dead sheep. The ranch hands would find a half dozen slaughtered sheep every morning, half-eaten. The hearts and livers were always gone because lions, apparently, liked hearts and livers.
Jessop Witt decided to do a flit. The circus, like the lions, had disappeared. They could do without the lions but they didn’t care to face an increasingly hostile populace. There was talk of incarceration, or worse. Jessop decided that discretion and distance was the better part of valor, so the circus high-tailed it to New Mexico.
The lion problem remained, as did the cartographers. They tarried, more because of the free drink and free women than anything else. The lions tarried because of easily-had food.
Jessie was distraught. When Jessie was distraught, he drank.
Tequila has an amazing effect on people. It soothes the soul, warms the belly, and goes down as easily as a good cup of coffee. Too much, however, causes a person to lose any sense of perspective. Jessie was good at having too much of everything, and tequila was no exception.
He was drowning his sorrows with tequila and adventurous prostitutes the day the circus left town. Both revived his spirits, to a point. The early-morning hours found him crawling over nubile bodies on his way to the outhouse. He felt like shit, and his mind was once again troubled by the lion problem.
Morose and full of self-pity, Jessie decided to hunt the lions himself. He would wait no longer. It was dark, feeding time for the lions, and he was ready to tackle the problem himself.
The effects of the tequila became apparent almost immediately. The waning crescent moon created a dim, hazy atmosphere. Shadows lurked in the desert. Ghosts appeared out of nowhere. A low, guttural growl pierced the air, terrifying Jessie. He started shooting wildly at the dark.
He didn’t manage to hit anything carbon-based except for the town sign. He had shot off the sign at the spot after the “i” and before the “t.” Jessie didn’t know this; he had run screaming back to his hotel room. The growls of the lions scared him more than his mother ever did.
A couple of ranch hands found the damage as they were heading into town for coffee and supplies. After gathering what they needed, they consulted Conchita on what to do about the damage done to the town’s name. Conchita, shrugging, told them to just attach the pieces together and let it go at that.
“The “t” is gone, Conch,” one of the men informed her.
Conchita thought about this bit of news for a moment.
“No one’s gonna miss one little ‘t.’ We all know the name of our town, anyway.”
The men nodded at Conchita’s good sense and went off to repair the sign. They attached the two pieces together with a couple of bracing boards on the back and set the sign back in the ground. Standing back to look at their work, the men noticed that the remaining letters were now evenly spaced and more pleasing to the eye. Gordia looked a hell of a lot better than Gordita ever did, they reasoned.
Conchita had been almost correct in her assumption that no one would notice the difference. Unfortunately, the cartographers noticed.
Discussions took place in the saloon. These mutated into arguments. Two of the four cartographers swore that the name of the town was, and always had been, Gordita. The other two swore that the name of the town was, and always had been, Gordia. The impasse remained unresolved, even when they left town on their way back to Houston.
Dominic Farleigh was the head of the mapmaking division for the state of Texas. He took his job seriously enough to work diligently to create a department rich in graft and corruption. He made friends in the accounting department so that he could eat and drink on the state’s money. He greased the palms of several other bureaucrats to procure nice clothes, a fine house, and the occasional frolic with women of loose moral character. He, in turn, aided and abetted the schemes of his fellow bureaucrats. Texas may be a young state, but its bureaucrats were wise in the ways of greasing the wheels for the government.
The cartographers were fortunate enough to find their boss present and fairly sober when they returned. The quandary regarding the town’s name was put to Dominic.
Dominic grimaced; he actually had to make an official decision. Dominic lectured the cartographers on many things, most of them dealing with the fact that they brought him a problem to deal with. After a couple of snorts of whiskey, he calmed down. After lighting a cigar, he became downright philosophical.
“That’s a knotty little problem you boys gave me.”
The cartographers nodded, contrite. They had no idea that decision-making was frowned upon by the state’s machinery.
“Listen, boys. A town that can’t decide on what to call itself has no business being on our map. We’ll just leave it off.”
The cartographers looked at each other, frowning.
“But – but it’s there,” one of them said.
“That’s as may be, son, but is it really worthy of being on the map of the great state of Texas? This is a state of boldness and decisiveness, boys. Hard men, forging empires and becoming legends. This Gordita Gordia thing doesn’t sound like it belongs on my map. Sounds like it belongs in Oklahoma.”
The cartographers couldn’t think of any argument decent enough to put forth to their boss, so they left it at that. Dominic waved them out of the office so that he could take a nap. It had been an exhausting thirty minutes.
Jessie got gloriously drunk the night after the cartographers left Gordita. The tequila had invaded his system once more, dulling his senses to the point that he thought of a brilliant plan to get rid of the lions. The problem, of course, was that the plan wasn’t at all brilliant.
Jessie did what he had to do, then went to bed; he slept well, certain that his brilliant plan would be the talk of the town. He was right.
This is where things got very interesting.
The sheep were dead. All of them. White clouds of wool dotted the landscape, fluttering in the breeze and beginning to decay in the desert heat. Several men wandered through the carnage, looking for a reason why every sheep in the area had died.
They found the reason soon enough. Someone had put out poisoned food.
Jessie was stunned – and silent. He wasn’t going to tell anyone that it had been his doing. He thought about his plan, and realized, in his sober state, where he had gone wrong. He had thought that the lions would eat the poisoned food, neglecting to think that the lions’ diet had consisted exclusively of sheep. The sheep, however, ate the poisoned food.
The townspeople were unusually quiet and sober when nighttime arrived. This was a fortunate occurrence, for several lions wandered into town, looking for a new food source. Bedlam erupted.
People ran, screaming, for cover. The lions roared at the screams, pawing the air as if they could rid the air of such a terrible sound. Men grabbed guns and started shooting. The lions evaded the bullets, slinking towards the shadows.
In the chaos, someone had knocked over a lantern. The fire spread from building to building in the stiff desert breeze. Soon, the horizon was alight with fire and people running. Lions prowled, looking for food. No one was killed by a lion that night, miraculously, but Gordita had burned to the ground.
The lions all died that night, in the fire. The knotty problem of ridding the area of lions had been solved, but at great cost. Jessie found no comfort in this.
Everyone left. Nothing remained of the town except smoking embers and singed lions.
Jessie, still drunk and very distraught, climbed on his horse to join the exodus. He slipped off and fell to the ground, under his horse. The horse stepped on Jessie’s skull, thereby sending Jessie off to God’s judgment.
Jessie Statler was the last victim in Gordita to die from drinking and driving.
Conchita and her husband found Jessie’s body. They buried him beside the repaired sign that had altered the town’s name, figuring that the sign would double as Jessie’s burial marker. After saying a few words over the grave, the couple left Gordita. Sonora was their destination. Conchita wanted to have a bar of her own so she could sell her new concoction.
The town’s sign fell over a few months later. The Statler legacy was left to the tender mercies of the desert.
“I’m sick of those old men. All they do is argue about cattle prices and some stupid town that probably never existed,” Larry Gregson said, shaking his head before returning to the grill to flip a few burgers.
“They’re harmless. Tall tales aside, I like ‘em,” Jill said. She popped a couple of steel cans into the milkshake mixer.
“Don’t know why,” Larry grumbled.
“They have great stories, and they tip well,” Jill said.
“Made up stories,” Larry said.
“Yeah. Maybe. But stories are all they have now.”
Jill eyed the old men with a mixture of sadness and pity. She prayed that she would never wind up in a Dairy Queen, telling old stories, probably apocryphal, at the end of her life. It was tragic, she thought.
Like all those Greek mythology stories old Mrs. Crannick made us read. Someone rises to glory and then dies. I never got why that was so great.
Somewhere in the deserts of West Texas, a coyote urinated on the very spot where Jessie Statler was buried.
The universe, it seems, has a very twisted sense of humor.