Southwestern Gothic

Unlike Bobby Cooper, I haven't had two of my fingers cut off. And I'm not driving a red '64 Mustang that's about to blow a hose. But, like the character played by Sean Penn in Oliver Stone's U-Turn, I'm heading for Superior.

It's 60 miles from Phoenix, which sounds longer than it actually is when you drive there. It takes about an hour, and it would take less if the roads weren't so treacherous. It's as if the roads were designed by some evil genius who wanted to cause accidents.

And, as I near Superior, I know there have been accidents. The intoxicating beauty of the mountains takes on a sinister meaning when I notice the little crosses planted at the side of the road, crosses in memory of people who have died here.

I drive up Main Street, past the small wooden building that serves as Superior's town hall. There's nobody on the street. The buildings have a desolate, abandoned look, even the ones that aren't. But the place isn't ugly--there's a melancholy seductiveness about it. I cruise around the surrounding streets--which means the whole town--and only see a couple of cars.

Los Hermanos Lounge is right by the highway. A poster on the window reads:
Are you bound by drugs, alcoholism, depression, gangs, suicidal tendencies, family problems, cancer, AIDS, witchcraft, etc.

Jesus Christ is still the answer!!!
Tent Deliverance Crusade
424 Main Street
Sounds like Superior is a happening town.

I go inside, sit at the bar and order a beer. I give the bartender a five-dollar bill, and she gives me four ones. She hasn't made a mistake. In Superior, beers are a dollar each.

The place is quiet. I'm the only white person. The bartender is Hispanic, and so are the half-dozen customers. Two guys are playing pool, but they keep stopping to look at me. Then one of them walks toward me. He's big and he isn't smiling. I take a deep breath.

He punches me on the shoulder, but he's not trying to hurt me. "Don't look so sad, bro. It can't be that bad," he tells me.

I smile at him.
"Is your beer cold enough?" he asks.
"Can't be that bad, then."

The bartender's name is Jenny. She looks like she's in her 30s, a heavy woman with a pretty face. I ask her about the movie. She tells me that people think it was good for the town, but some people are angry because the movie makes it seem like most people in Superior are white, when it's really a Mexican community. She has a point; of the 3,000 people who live here, 60 percent are Mexican.

The bar gets busier. A girl comes and sits on the stool next to me. She greets me with such familiarity that I think we must have met before, but we haven't. Her name's Melissa. She's in her early 20s, with shaggy dark hair, olive skin and beautiful, haunted eyes. She's sexy as hell. She's also very drunk.

When I ask her about the movie, she smiles in a dreamy, spaced-out way and murmurs, "It opens on October 3. I'm gonna go see it." October 3 is two days away. She talks about how little there is for somebody her age to do in Superior. "I hike and take care of my kid." The kid is 18 months old.

She sits very close to me, pressing against me. I feel the warmth of her body, smell the warm fragrance of her breath. I say something about the tattoos on her hand and arm. "I've got 11 of them," she says. I don't ask where they are, but I enjoy imagining.

She keeps asking me why I'm in Superior. I keep telling her, and she keeps asking again. I don't know it at the time, but this kind of weirdness is common to certain of the townsfolk. I haven't found that out yet, so I just think it's because she's so drunk.

It turns out her boyfriend's here. I don't know whether he just arrived or has been here all along. It doesn't matter. What matters is that he's here and he doesn't seem to like his girlfriend talking to me. He's sitting at the bar alternately watching the pool game and glowering at me. He seems to be friends with the pool players. If he thinks I'm hitting on Melissa, I might have a serious problem.

Melissa picks up on that. She says she'd better go talk to him. She goes and stands beside him. She talks earnestly for a while, putting an arm around him. Then they leave. I'm disappointed and relieved.

Charlie Jiminez comes over and talks to me. He's middle-aged, works as a miner, and has lived in Superior all his life. Does he like it? "Very much." He says his daughter, Mia, was Jennifer Lopez's stand-in. When I ask about the controversy, he tells a different story than Jenny. He says it's not about race, but morality. People are worried by the movie's R rating. They're disturbed to hear about the sex, especially the incest. They didn't know about that when they welcomed Stone and helped with the movie.

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Barry Graham