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"WHY YOU WANT TO LEARN SO MUCH?"
Day 104 Eugene to Linn
miles today: 34 cumulative: 2,131

In the morning, still gangster rap, still volume 50. Again I wonder how I got here, and where is here anyway? Zachary is asleep on the floor, his younger brother is in the easy chair staring at the TV, left on the Rap station all night. Gayla is up and wearing all white, making coffee. She is a different person when she is sober. The slur is gone. The red glassy eyes. I am not afraid of her when she is sober. She sits on the flowered couch where I slept with the ocean above. Her smile does not scare me today. Today she will tell me sad stories. Today I will find out who she is.
Gayla calls her mother and asks if she feels like cooking a big country style breakfast for the guest. So, to grandmothers house we go. And the breakfast is big and it is good and it makes me happy. A big storm is moving in. Black Hole sky is falling and here comes the rain. But the birds are not flying and the horses are huddled together, so it will blow over quickly. They know out here, they have plenty of time to watch. If the storm is going to be big they animals will continue to walk and fly so they can eat as much as possible before a big storm, if it is going to blow over then they huddle or hide. When the storm blows over it is time to roll. Gayla and I talk some more. She is in a hard place, and she will never leave. She says it is because of her father, but I think it is because it is easier not to leave. Even if it hurts to stay, even if it makes you sick and sad and makes you drink, it is still easier than getting up and walking out.

A sign on the wall:

It is easy enough to be pleasant
When life flows along like a song, but
The man worthwhile is the one who will smile
When everything goes dead wrong.

Gayla’s daughter says she is, "…a weirdo magnet that needs asshole radar." Her husband beat her. One night after church, on New Year’s Eve, her husband of 22 years drank a half gallon of Tanqeray, and then he snapped. He was a champion weightlifter and a boxer. He beat her so badly that it took her 7 months of hiding at the end of this dirt road to heal, her face was so battered her mother didn’t know who she was when she came to the door. He went to jail, and her kids moved his things out. Does she want to leave this place? Pointing to a meth lab on the way back to the highway she says yeah, she wants to leave. But she likes her job and doesn’t want to leave her mom and dad. Black in the sky is turning blue and we will soon have to walk. Gayla has been a good host. I see again today that everywhere I go, people need love, people are hurting, people are afraid. Her face is much younger when she is sober.

Hills, slide down. Hills rise up and we will walk them all and we will skip this Jeffrey City, this capital city, because I don’t car efor stopping today, I want to motor, Make ahard right, and I am finally walking east again. Highway 50 goes all the way to Washington, D.C. We will take it into Ohio. Highway 50 has shoulders made of gravel. Curses. Mud and gravel. 5 miles down the road a small shoulder, we will walk into traffic. We will talk to a police man, we will be told there are no shoulders for the next 100 miles. The policeman is smiling though, he knows we will make it. He envys us he says. Doing what others are not willing to do. It is true that what you do in life echoes in eternity. Walking on closed roads. Resting under a huge billboard: The Family That Prays Together Stays Together. Cosmo pants, it is hot even under cloudy skies. I feel dirty and wet from this air and from a week of sweating in these clothes. On a long steep hill I am pulling the cart, Cosmo is not staying on the shoulder, she is going to get hit. I am trying to hold the cart and control Cosmo, I fall in the mud. I am sweating in streams dripping off my forehead and off of pieces of hair stuck to my face. I am pissed off at Cosmo, but it is not her fault, she has no idea what she has done wrong, she has no idea what we are doing. Do I know what we are doing? Sweating on a muddy shoulder of a long steep hill falling in the mud. I am filthy and I do look like a bum today. But I am a bum with a shield of Platinum, the platinum MasterCard, and I have no way to back it up, but it keeps me from getting kicked out of towns. Look at me, I have no money and no job but I have this!!! Pow! Shazzam! And so I flash it at the first store I come to, temporarily blinding the cashier with the platinum sheen. "Sandwich and soda please!" "Yes sir!" Happy America. Happy Debt. Happy Economy. Happy happy. Buy, buy, buy, buy!

There is a swallow on the shoulder that has just been hit by a car. Its neck is broken. I have to kill it. Metallic purple feathers. And so it goes.

Still these hills that are ridiculous and long and I don’t think this next 3 days will be good for Cosmo, we will figure something out, we always do. Jesus man, you look like shit. Just before the town of Linn I stop to find my other pair of pants to change into. These are covered with mud. Last big hill and then the tiny town, and I already knew the name of the only bar in town because I asked where I could go at that last gas station where I blinded the cashier with the Platinum. BJ’s lounge.

Ernest, the bar tender is looking out the door, hoping people are going to start showing up, not expecting to see Blue Comet.

The bar is empty, just Ernest, the cook, and a guy watching WWF wrestling. Body slams and clotheslines and kicks to the head and folding chairs slammed across the back of a guy with a leather mask. Soap operas for men. Ernest (or Ernie) and Tom play pool. A basketball game is on the other TV. Not much to say. Not much to do. Watch the pool balls disappear, watch the basketball game, yawn. I am not feeling like probing the depths of the human mind tonight, so I just watch the outer most layer. Head scratching, body slam, pool balls, TV screens, water condensing on my beer mug. Just trying to keep breathing, just taking up space, just buying time, I miss my studio, and my books. I am waiting because usually when I wait something happens. So I wait and hope it will not be a superficial soulless waiting game.

Dale and Bob enter. They tell me that if I didn’t like the hills before then Im really going to enjoy the next part. "After you see a sign that say Mt. Sterling, its really going to start to suck after that." The phone rings. "Ernie, we’re not here." People start pulling up in front of the bar asking about what we are doing. Kevin, Jess, Chad, Nathan (who likes to go by Nasty Nathan) and Jesika, and a few others that I can’t remember. One guy is rolling a joint on a car hood. We are right in front of the police station. 2 other joints are already in circulation. Chad is burning June bugs with his lighter on the widow sill under a neon beer sign. Ask if they will ever leave this place and Chad says no, "I’m gonna drive around these county roads till the day I die. Maybe take a vacation now and then." But mainly he wants to drown in alcohol and cruise this main street and burn June bugs with a lighter, and Nasty Nathan says he wants the same, he just wants to get messed up and drive around and they all want to get high and do as little as possible. I am not so sad about Nathan and Chad, they have no desire to leave, but Jesika wants to leave and probably never will. She says she will probably be stuck here. I don’t think Nathan and Chad feel the pain of wanting to leave, Jesika does.

Nathan says, "I probably won’t do nothin’ for the rest of my life."

Jesika is 20, she has a 3 year old daughter, it is much harder to escape these prison walls carrying a child. But saddest of all she does not know what she wants to do, when I ask what she really would like to be doing, she says she does not know, not even a hint, not even a maybe, just an I don’t know. And I am looking at this girl, and she seems intelligent, and she is beautiful, and I thought when I met her that surely she was a student here and that she was going to leave as soon as she got done with school, but that is not the case. She quit nursing school after two years because she saw a dead body and had to clean it up. It gave her nightmares. Now she works at the grocery store to pay the bills. Not enough to save, just enough to get by. I have never known what it feels like to be that lost, to not have any direction at all, but I would imagine it feels sad and empty, and gets filled with alcohol and drugs and routines and TV. But I assume too much, she has a child which is another world, and one that I don’t know, and one that does not need much from outside. It makes me sad to write these things and I want to call Jesika and ask her to talk to me some more, because I want to believe that there is more. I will call her, because it is not so simple as just being able to say, look at these people doing nothing. There is a story, and there is a hope, I have to believe that there is. I will call Jesika and ask her more. I will not judge when there is hope. For I can be judged just as easily. Do I have right to tell people to run away. Do I have right to tell them to do more?

Chad asks, "Why you want to learn so much?"

A moment of silence. A red light flashes in the intersection, the flag in front of the courthouse changes directions with the wind, a storm is coming, we can see the lightning, a plastic sign for an insurance company swings in the wind. One of the guys goes and sits in a car to light a joint. Drink drive smoke work drink again. No exit.

The storm is coming and I have not found a place to sleep. Nasty Nathan says that if I walk all the way through town I will see a red Blazer with the rear window busted out. If I make it that far I can sleep in the back, its his. Thanks Nathan, but I’ll probably stay close to this breakfast place. Or I’ll try the police station. But when they leave I start walking down main street towards the park. A soft rain starts to come down. 2 am, no cars, just the stranger. And I’d better set up before this gets ugly, so I find a piece of grass next to a church, next to a tombstone that says: UNBORN. The thunder louder now. And when the last stake goes in the rain starts right on cue, hard rain, flooding rain. Violent rain. I lay on my back trying to pretend that I am not in a lightning storm. I can see it through my closed eyes. I can hear it at the same time because it is not outside of town, it is right over this church. Lightning hits the street. Lightning is making my tent hum and my hair rise, and I can hear a crackling. And I have been pretending that it will not hit me, and that I should just try to sleep through this and it will be over soon, but the crackling sound makes me grab my bag and unzip the tent and run under the canopy of the church. I will leave the tent out there, sleep on this bench where I am not a conductor for the storm. Watch the show. Rain swirls into my hiding place, but I am in my sleeping bag and I am warm and I am delirious and this rain will put me to sleep. It rains all night.