Was That the Real Cowboy Cliven Bundy? Searching for America’s Most Famous Rancher
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
written in endless disquietude
“Bundy, whoever he really is, doesn’t matter. He’s a neon sign in the great American west flashing whatever colors the infantile left-right political paradigm wishes to convey. He was everybody’s illusion at once. Yet, there is more complexity in that situation than the average American’s mind can contend with.” — Hubert Humdinger
At first we thought Cliven Bundy was walking toward us in a white sheet and pointed hat. Dear Lord, I told Marlin, the rumors are true. The man’s a bona fide racist. I lifted one arm and pointed ahead. My knees dug into the baked desert soil. The white color, unmistakably in the shape of a lanky man, drifted in our direction.
We were in the rolling desert without water and food. We’d mismanaged the difficulty in navigating the rugged Western landscape, and even our GPS device failed. We’d lost sight of my car. Was it behind us or ahead of us? The sun was terribly vicious that afternoon. Marlin, my co-pilot and comrade who had bravely rode shotgun from Los Angeles into the wildness so we could meet the nation’s most famous cowboy at last, crawled beside me. Both of us were too wiped out to stand.
See? I said, but I realized I wasn’t speaking, only thinking. My mouth was too dry. My tongue was stuck to the roof. But Marlin saw me pointing. He raised his balding head and squinted. Do you see it? I managed to ask. Is that Cliven Bundy in a white sheet?
Marlin flopped onto his belly next to a scrub brush. “If it’s Bundy, he’ll know how to get us out of here,” he said. “He can use an old cowboy trick to drill down and find some water.”
Through the shimmering waves of heat I watched the figure approach. It could have been a mirage. The thing, whatever it was, floated without the usual bob of footsteps.
“Why aren’t you boys doing something productive?” I could almost hear Mr Bundy ask us. “This far out in the middle of nowhere. Well, hell, there’s work to be done. No time for naps in the sun.”
Behind him was a mountain rising out of the land like the spiked-back of a sea creature taking a lazy gander along the ocean’s surface. Our only hope was that Bundy’s residence, supposedly nearby somewhere, was holding some type of meeting where people dressed up in white robes. They’d be able to get two friendly fellows like us back to our car and pointed in the direction of Los Angeles.
Marlin let out a yelp. We were close to death at that point. Marlin’s greasy rat tail, into which he always strung the last hundred or so hairs left on his head, was drying out. We’d die like James Pike, the Arch Bishop of San Francisco. Out in the desert, carrying only two bottles of Coke and a cheap road map. Except we had no map and no cola.
The high desert of Nevada is not a safe place for old hippies or Millenial raw foodists, because neither of us could find a green smoothie anywhere. There weren’t even shots of wheat grass juice to perk us up. There is supposedly some trouble for the Nevada desert tortoise also, except when there’s a rancher’s watering hole available, although those are drying up as the last ranching families move off the public lands under rising federal grazing fees and pressure from the Bureau of Land Management. It’s been a tough decade for the desert tortoise, as they poke through the wild sage and bear the burden of a desperate plan to transform the area into a giant solar energy network.
People love to imagine the second American Revolution sparking into action to overthrow a government so illegitimate that it spies on every single American citizen, reserves the right to kill, without trial, and keep in solitary confinement any American citizen at any time, and has declared preemptive war in over half a dozen countries to protect the interests of its favorite financial tycoons. But it’s going to have to be catered, and everybody who takes part will need to earn some sort of reward for having participated.
So if the next Lexington and Concord were to prematurely ejaculate onto the hardened belly of the Nevada desert, Marlin and I wanted to say we’d been there. Maybe we’d even catch the first onslaught of war, when the King’s troops fired upon the men in camouflage flanking Mr Cliven Bundy, the cowboy.
We’d spread a blanket on the gentle slope of a hillock nearby and enjoy a picnic of organic avocados and mango slices while the smell of burnt gunpowder drifted over. We’d cheer for the cowboys, of course. Both of us love a long shot. If any of the paramilitary troops bothered us, we’d tell them we are not part of the fighting. No thank you! Not today.
There would be very few willing to fight in the manner a true physical revolution requires. No time for television dramas, sports updates, and coffee breaks. Fewer and fewer of us in this modern era can hack a physical confrontation with the King’s mercenaries. It’s easier to wage war online. Fire volley after volley on Twitter. Start fiery networks on Facebook. Suffer social media PTSD. But then it’s time for lunch, and I don’t want that disrupted.
Early that morning I’d picked up Marlin from Western and Wilshire. Who knew where he lived, exactly. He never told anybody. He was digging through the trashcan in front of the old art deco theater. You can’t get into my car with those filthy hands and arms, I yelled at him through the lowered window.
“Nothing good in there today!” he said, in his yapping voice that sounded similar to a tiny dog raising a fuss. He dropped into the car. I could do nothing about it. That was Marlin. Take him or leave him.
We’d been excited to visit Bundy for a long time. Marlin is an extreme liberal who at first reviled Bundy as just another Zionist backed racist Mormon rancher who was freeloading off of federal land.
I hate to be a hillbilly about this, I told him, but I have to side with Bundy on this one. Neither side is easy to support, but the federal government wields too much power and control in people’s lives, and this is a perfect example. It’s impressive to see the people stand up against tyranny. Just because tyranny makes a law and then proceeds to collect on it, doesn’t mean the law is just or legitimate.
“Hola mami!” Marlin shouted out the window at two Latinas walking past a local breakfast spot. Both were heavyset, just how Marlin loves them. “Bundy still needs to pay taxes and fees for that land like everybody else, no?” he asked.
Marlin’s lone tooth, lodged into his lower gums, flashed in the early morning light.
Of course, I said. But the way the feds design it, family farmers and ranchers are meant to go out of business. They cannot pay the fees unless they are a huge agribusiness outfit. And that’s the point. There is no right and left here. It’s blurred so badly that we have to support each other on a family and individual basis.
The federal government largely governs on behalf of a handful of transnational corporations and global banks, I said. Marlin nodded. We’d had that discussion before. So when they start taking 600,000 acres of land here and there, and say it’s for ‘environmental reasons’, it seems like a positive agenda. What they are doing, actually, is kicking off families and people who have lived there for over a hundred years, putting them out of business, moving them into cities to look for work, and then clearing the land for pet projects for senators’ sons, or for other people on behalf of these mega corporations.
“Tae kwon do!” Marlin hollered at a middle-aged Korean woman. “She’s too old for me,” he said, “but she’s maintained a nice figure after all those decades.”
You’re a liability, I told him.
Marlin is not young himself. He tells everybody I’m his brother, yet nobody believes it because Marlin is grizzled from years of living on the streets. He’s also double my age. But he drinks wheat grass juice every day, which is why I’ve never seen him without abounding energy.
“I suppose calling Bundy a racist and throwing out the whole situation is a two-dimensional argument,” he said. “But Bundy calling people Negroes and talking about picking cotton is unsettling. Very racist undertones.”
You’re a racist!
“I’m not racist,” he said, as he waved at a frail, pale-faced woman wearing a floppy hat and walking down the street. “I’m just particular.” Marlin pulled his hand back into the vehicle. “Did she look Chinese to you?”
But before I could answer, Marlin nearly leaped through the open window. I grabbed the back of his thrift store Dickies and yanked him into his seat.
Settle down! I warned him. You’re going to get us pulled over before we’re out of Los Angeles.
“I recognize those full cheekbones. She was Mongolian! Maybe a pure bred. Turn around. I’ve always wanted to marry a Mongolian. She’s a rare treasure if she is. There are not many Mongols left.”
That had been when the trip was still on a good path. We’d made a few wrong turns. The gravel road had run out and turned into a dirt road not fit for a wagon. So we hoofed it. Marlin’s idea. “Let’s walk toward that patch of trees,” he said, “I’m almost positive that’s Bundy’s. We can crawl through the trees and get a look at the action without alerting the militia guards.”
Are you nuts? I’d asked him. But he was already out of the car and running over the pocked desert land. His scuffed white Velcro shoes flashed in the sun.
Somehow we’d lost sight of the belt of trees and become marooned in that unending desert, like a muddy ocean stiffened in mid-undulation. And we did not even have a schooner or a pair of life vests. There were no sharkish predators, and the desert tortoise is not known to be mean, nor to even have teeth, however, the sun would do us in within a matter of hours.
When I glanced up, the white figure was gone. It was a mirage, I tried to tell Marlin. The fragile lining inside my mouth felt like it would split if I dared to speak again. Next to me was a foot. I stared at it. Big, fat toes. Squiggly hairs branching out of the joints. I looked at Marlin. If it wasn’t his foot, then…
The man in his robe stood over us. I couldn’t get a look at his face.
“There are only seven types of people on the planet,” the figure said.
Marlin and I both stared at him. Behind his white hood was the glaring sun.
“There are Jews, Negroes, Mexicans, Arabs, Indians, and Russians. Then, there are cowboys,” the figure said. “And you boys are none of these things.” The figure sucked in a long line of mucus. “What are you boys?”
“You forgot Chinese,” Marlin said, with a croak. “What about the Chinese?”
There’s a flaw in his logic right there, I said. He almost had me believing him.
“I ain’t concerned about the darned Chinese,” the figure said. His hood blotted out the sun for a moment. I thought I saw a whiskered cheek.
We’re good Americans just trying to get a handle on how globalization is changing and undermining our geopolitical realities, I managed to say. We’re trying to sustain the human rights and liberties left to us by our forefathers, no matter how imperfect some of them were, and we’re concerned with finding a proper mix between progress and holding the conservative roots that makes the nation prosperous. We’re also in need of a little water.
The figure drifted away and left us to die. The bottom of his garment dusted the earth but didn’t seem to darken from the soil. The figure’s robe caught on a snarled green weed. He tugged at the flap. The garment came free and he moved on until we could only see him as a white dot on the shimmering landscape.
Was that Bundy, I asked, or an illusion we both happened to experience?
“Hola mami,” Marlin said. “We’re going to die out here.”
Not…if…. I said, and I crawled to that wiry green bunch of weeds on which the figure’s cloak had caught. I remembered a long lecture presented by a young man named Sergei Boutenko. He’d revolutionized the lifestyle of the locals in Missoula, Montana, by introducing the loathed weeds that plagued the farming communities into their weekly diets. Not only should one eat spinach or kale, but what about wild weeds from the nightshade family? Like Lamb’s Quarters?
Unknowingly, the figure had alerted us to a whole patch of Lamb’s Quarters. We’ve got to eat these, I tried to tell Marlin. I ripped a wiry green plant out of the soil and banged it against my pants, just how I’d seen elephants do the same while pulling up clumps of safari grass and slapping it against their legs to knock off the dirt.
“Is that pitseed goosefoot?” Marlin asked.
That’s another common name for it. If it doesn’t kill us, it’ll save us, I said, and bit into the leaves and stock. Bitter green juice prickled the delicate lining of my mouth. But soon I had enough lubrication to speak properly. Marlin bent over like an old woman in her garden and yanked up a plant. He didn’t even inspect the leaves or the stalk before chomping. He chewed bravely, handling the bitterness and tough plant fibers like a true hippie who survives on the streets of LA and rifles through restaurant dumpsters looking for edible produce.
“That’s an instant rush!” he said.
It’s the chlorophyll, I told him. Chlorophyll is almost identical to a molecule of blood. It soaks into the body and cleanses the cells.
“We can’t let all this go to waste,” Marlin said.
There were weeds all around us. We’d stumbled onto a health goldmine. Well, screw Bundy, I said, I think we’ve hit another reason for driving all the way to Bunkerville, Nevada. Let’s bundle up as many as we can. We’ll eat them and suck the juice from them for strength as we look for the car.
Maybe the BLM can block off a few hundred acres out here to save the endangered Lamb’s Quarters, I said. Then we can come out here and harvest them and sell them at the Larchmont farmers market to all the yuppies and the yippies for a high price.
We piled high the Lamb’s Quarters. I loaded as many onto Marlin’s twig-thin arms as I could, and I carried the rest. We marched with renewed vigor, hoping we’d spot the sunshine glinting off the car, and also retreat out of Bunkerville before the sheeted individual floated to us again.
Ultimately the cheap plastic bottoms of Marlin’s Velcro shoes is what led us back to the car. I noticed his barely distinguished footprints in the hard-baked desert soil, and my noticing them was no doubt a positive side effect of the heightened awareness one has when eating Lamb’s Quarters. My eyesight then had the ability to zoom onto a lady bug hugging the underside of a thin branch.
The nutritional density of these pants outstanding , I told Marlin as we trudged toward the light glaring off my windshield in the far off distance. You’ll feel like a new human, freshly created by God, and impervious to the soiled demarcations of Satan and his processed food society. Blasting one’s bloodstream with wild nutrients and sun-charged chlorophyll is the most thorough way to clean the blood and wipe out the heavy metals and veins of toxic substances ensnared in the juicy fats of the brain.
On the way home, with all the car’s windows rolled down, and the air conditioner on its most aggressive setting, Marlin asked me if I still supported that cowboy Cliven Bundy. “That had to be him in that white sheet, bro,” he said. “How can you support a racist?”
First of all, I said, Cliven Bundy doesn’t float. That figure floated. If you want to see him as a racist, then he’ll fit your bill. If you want to have him as a beacon of freedom from an overreaching federal government, then he’s your man.
Second of all, we were in such a stupor from lack of proper nutrition and water, that we probably imagined the entire charade. I mean, where did that creeping thing drift in from?
Third, even if that was Bundy and even if he hated all the people on earth except cowboys, it wouldn’t change the circumstances that some federal laws that allow sweeping land grabs, carried out by heavily armed Bureau of Land Management agents, and under the auspices of saving an endangered animal like the desert tortoise, only to then hand those acres over to a transnational corporation, like the Chinese energy conglomeration ENN Energy Group, are illegitimate, corrupt, and need to be challenged with force. As force is the only response the federal government understands. You cannot beg these people for mercy, or for understanding. They are armed, arrogant, and ready to proceed.
“I wouldn’t doubt if Snopes tried to debunk that theory,” Marlin said and chuckled. “They’ve got the final word on truth. They can decipher the conflicting codes of reality and set the record straight.”
In fact they did, I said, however, they debunked it like a knowledgeable spectator breaks down from his seat in the stands a well-orchestrated play on a football field without considering the larger context of exterior realities outside of the stadium. Like who owns the players, the stadium, and how much taxpayer money they receive, as well as which political candidates they fund. If you just want to talk about football plays, fine, then you can talk about cattle trespassing on a certain acreage of land.
If you want to talk about the bigger picture, I said, then Snopes failed. They thought by showing the Chinese energy company had rescinded their plans in 2013 to build a solar farm near Bundy’s, the hands of Senator Reid and the BLM are cleansed. They also cited as evidence that the Bundy / Reid land grab was a conspiracy theory because the proposed plans are twenty miles away from the ranch.
Yet, they do not consider that the solar energy project is much larger than that, and the BLM’s own documents show that they do not want cattle grazing anywhere near the project. Six hundred to seven-hundred-and-fifty thousand acres is an enormous chunk of earth.
The BLM was also needed to grab the land from private rancher hands so it could then be awarded as “compensation” to others who will have to be more directly moved off their land because of this burgeoning solar and wind power plan.
We drove the rest of the way back to Los Angeles without stopping. Nor did we speak much. We thoughtfully chewed on Lamb’s Quarters, otherwise known as Chenopodium berlandieri, to stay awake and energized. It was dark by the time we arrived home, but Los Angeles was brightly lit as usual. Marli, bathed in the green light of the art deco theater, said goodbye and waved. A petite Asian woman walked by. He turned to follow her as I pulled away fromthe curb.