“No Country for Dangling Modifiers” by Con Chapman

Image by Kelly Caldwell / @kellycalledwell


The mozo was an old man with a bad leg named Luis who had fought at Torreon and San Pedro and later at Zacatecas.

The charro stood leaning against the front fender of the truck with one thumb in his carved leather belt smoking a cigarette.

       –All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy


We rode for two days straight into the high country up where the commas stopped growing and there was nothing but scrub brush and rocks.

Do we have enough commas to make it to Saline County my unnamed companion asked.

I don’t know you cain’t have none of mine.

We’re gonna need a lot.

Why’s that?

Because if we don’t have commas pretty soon we won’t understand each other.

Feliz Navidad I said.

It’s not Christmas.

I know but we are supposed to lace our conversation with random un-translated Spanish to show we are authentic or something and that is just about all I know except for Carlos Santana.

He is not a holiday he is a rock guitarist.

I know that.

You should also know piso mojado so you don’t slip on wet floors.

Fine I will learn that too.

Our horses carried us up the hill slowly as if they were going to the end of the earth and their deaths and an afterlife where they would be free from suffering.

Our horses are fatalistic no?

Wait–who is talking.


I know it is you but who are you I lost track.

We turned our horses around and went back down the hill to the point where I said Feliz Navidad and figured out who was who and started back up the hill again.

As we came over the rise we could see clear to the town of Tyler Texas which had recently lost its comma in a tornado. We encountered an old mozo with a bad leg making their way up the hill toward us.

Hola the mozo said.

Hello I said because even though I didn’t know Spanish I knew enough to know he was saying hello. What is your name?

My name is Ramon.

And what is the name of your bad leg?

His name is Luis.

These are good names my companion said.

You could do worse I said.

Actually you mean their parents could have done worse nobody names themselves.

You have a point I said but if you comb your hair right maybe no one will notice. How come your bad leg has a name I asked the mozo.

It is because he misplaced my modifier the leg said.

Where did you see it last?

It was in my saddlebag when we left Juarez the mozo said.

Maybe if you broke up your long run-on sentences into smaller ones they would fit better and would not fall out my companion said.

There you go again I said cutting him off at the root. I have told you time and again to pace yourself we’ve got a two-day ride to the next chapter.

You could put in a semi-colon every now and then the bad leg named Luis said that would help.

I looked at Luis through narrowed eyelids. What makes you so bad I said.

Did you not read the little squib that introduces this piece Luis said I fought at Torreon and San Pedro and later at Zacatecas.

That is a lot of fighting for just a leg my unnamed companion said how did you pull it off?

It is simple to pull something off a leg the mozo said boots socks huaraches all of them easy-peasy.

Humph I said.

Look my companion said there is a charro coming this way in a truck.

Charo? The multi-untalented actress comedian flamenco guitarist and ubiquitous talk show guest whose full name is Maria del Rosario Mercedes-Benz Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza and who is known for her trademark phrase cuchi-cuchi the mozo asked.

No. Charro with two r’s meaning horseman.

If he is a horseman why is he driving a truck the leg asked.

The same reason police dogs do not wear badges I said.

The truck of the charro came to a stop and he got out along with his thumb which was smoking a cigarette. Buenos dias the thumb said.

I looked sideways at the two can I give you some free advice I asked.

As long as it is worth every peso we pay for it the charro said.

So what is your advice to us the thumb asked without removing his cigarette which dangled precariously from his lips.

This is no country for non-smokers so go ahead it don’t make me no never-mind but.

Yes the charro said.

Don’t go dangling your modifiers around here you may never see them again.



Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer.  He is the author of two novels and forty-five books of humor, most recently Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up! (Humor Outcasts Press). His humor has appeared in national publications including The Atlantic Monthly, The Christian Science Monitor, and Barron’s, and regional newspapers including The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald.  He is currently writing a biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington’s long-time alto sax player, for Oxford University Press.