"WE HAVE LAWS IN THIS TOWN"
Day 106 Linn to Gerald
today: 31 miles cumulative: 2,167
Grandma wakes me early for breakfast. Strawberry Belgium waffles, and my trademark 22 cups of coffee. Betty tells me about getting drunk on peach brandy during WW II. The senior class of 1942 and other histories. Conservation of energy. Betty lived with an alcoholic. I lived with a cocaine addict. I only took one day off, but I am anxious for movement. Momentum. Pushing me out of this booth and away from the comfort of coffee and books and what I know. Throwing me to the dogs of chance, and I like that game. Whenever I am thrown to the dogs I learn new tricks. Fashion some kind of saddle to ride them into the sunset. Like Kentucky derby hallucinating the next 30 miles flashes of what is to come. Dont mind me when I talk like this, its just the thoughts bleeding, Id rather let them leak out than have some kind of hemorrhage from keeping them in. There will be no understanding all of this, that would be too easy for all of us. Hug grandma. Wave. See you in a couple days.
Cosmo is not pulling the cart today. She walks in the grass beside me. When the grass gets long Cosmo begins to run. She loves the long grass. Deep snow and long grass are her favorite places to be. It makes her bark and roll and run laps and run ahead and thats too far Cosmo. Cosmo come back! She is a good listener after 106 days on the road, so she runs back to me, like a racing greyhound, bounding, stop motion and see her 4 legs all off the ground and her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth, she looks so healthy now, not like she looked in Texas, then she was too thin, now she is strong and her coat is soft and beautiful and she makes every head turn when we walk down the street, and still bounding, racing back to me, and at the last second, just before reaching my side she cuts right and I scream COSMO NO!!!!!!!! And I hear the brakes and I see the red minivan sliding and I think she is either dead or she did not get hit, because it is slow motion time, and I am waiting for that split second to go by so I can see where she is on the other side of the van, and I see her spinning and hit the ground and I hear her crying and I think Jesus Christ shes dead. Shit. Cosmo! Oh shit, oh shit, f**k (and yes, its is appropriate for me to be saying f**k at this moment) and oh, god, f**k, damnit and I carry her across the street and she is still crying and I'm thinking they are going to have to put her to sleep. And the 2 women from the red mini van walk over holding their mouths, and one is starting to cry and I say its my fault, I shouldnt have let her get so far ahead of me, she likes the long grass, and it make her run, and I wasnt thinking. It's not your fault. Cosmo? Cosmo are you Ok? She is shaking. And I am turning her over looking for where the blood is coming out but I am not finding any. Squeezing her whole body and her legs I cant find any sore spots even. She is not crying anymore. She lies there quietly. I feel each of her legs pressing on the joints and the toes and the muscles. Nothing. She should be dead. "Maybe you just grazed her." "No we felt the bump." She caught the bumper in the meat of her thigh. She is not even limping. It was not meant to be. The journey continues.
What thats it? Yes, thats it. No point in dwelling on the past. Present moment. All is well. A lesson learned. And the road goes through Liberty, and Useful, and Mt. Sterling. Mt. Sterling has a sandwich counter where the ranchers eat. They dont have any lettuce or tomatoes, just meat and mayo on white bread. Men are talking about cattle prices as they do in all of these small towns. No one here is going to talk to me without my flaming chariot. They look at me sideways. Wait patiently, I want to talk to the old man on the far end of the counter, he is very tall and thin, he has something to say. He is the only one not talking.
His name is Elmer. I meet him in the parking lot before I leave. Elmer wants to tell me about D-Day, about landing on the beach and about people he knew getting blown up. About waiting for his turn to make the run across the beach. "So many bodies and the Lieutenant went first and they got him right away," and Elmer does not look sad, he has a strange smile as he tells this story that I do not understand, but then I have not been to war. "And then they sent guys 2 at a time and they got all of them. Then they decided to try to send just one. And they called me, and there were bodies all over the beach, some whole platoons were dead and floating in the water or just on the edge and I had to run from here to that truck over there (100 yards) and you didnt have much choice, so you just go, and I made it. And then more of us started to make it and I was in a group with this big black guy, this football player from Akron, Ohio, he was 300 pounds and he says hes not digging in because it would take too long time for him to dig a hole that big and then they got him with a mortar and there were pieces of him all over me and some shrapnel from the shell in my neck and when they were carrying me away another mortar hit and I saw the guy carrying my stretcher and another guy flying up over my head. Yeah, that was some day." He has a lizard grin. Thin lips.
Miles. That is all I can say about this part. Walking many miles up hills, up and over from Mount Sterling to Drake and Rosebud. Rosebud is far enough for today, but it is too small so I will walk to Gerald tonight. Hiding from a short rain shower 3 miles out of Gerald I am told that three men carrying crosses have passed through here. How do I always end up in the wake of the cross bearers? Gerald. Dairy Kreme restaurant. Sara is my waitress, she does not have the usual waitress face, she has the pretty high school face, she is not going to be a professional waitress, she will most likely run away from here when she finishes school. Run Sara, run! The special is BBQ hamburger, baked beans and coleslaw. A hamburger soaked in BBQ sauce. I substitute French fries for the cole slaw. Yes, this important information.
So, I am at a loss for a subject today, I do not want to have to go to a bar to find someone to talk to, but that is the only place in America where a community gathers after dark. No baseball tonight, no town picnics, just 1,700 people huddled around TVs, so a bar is the only place to go. And the first thing I see in the bar across the street is a man with a teamsters hat on that says "HOFFA" in big black capital letters. He is bragging about beating up a cop at the lake last weekend. He is very tough, very impressive. He sounds like a low budget mafia movie. And he is talking to the man on the stool next to me. The man on the stool next to me is John. And from Johns own mouth I hear that "John can do no wrong." John also thinks he is tough. He is bragging. "Look at this. (throws down a heavy gold nugget looking key chain) Its real. Won it in a card game. Worth a couple thousand." John is annoying. John is milking the disability system. John keeps talking, about crimes he has committed and gotten away with because he knows the right people. He stole a police car one night at this bar and drove it home. Left the lights flashing, went inside and passed out. Got taken in but got out of a felony because his brothers are cops or something like that. And on and on. And he could have sung with Johnny Cash and he could have done this and that and he knows all the big biker gangs and they begged him to join them and he "could have" and more could haves and he is making himself look bad sitting here talking about could haves when he is currently a bum. And then he insults the bartender by saying her sister is better looking, because she is thinner. This guy sucks. The "teamster" jumps in and defends the bartender and I am glad for that because the bum really hurt her feelings. Ive got to get out of this bar. The bartender is the only one in here that I like, she sends me looking for a man named Conrad, she says hell put me up, says dont worry about it being late. He doesnt have a phone, he lives in a castle behind the restaurant on the far end of town. He collects old paintings of the pope. He has a scale model of the Vatican made out of marble. He was a stone mason. He built churches. So at 11pm I am going to knock on a strangers door and ask for a place to hide from this storm.
The castle is made out of blocks of cement and wood and tin and plexiglass and old grave stones and I cant find anything that looks like a door, so I knock on a few places and yell his name and give up quickly because I dont want to wakeup an old man that I dont know. Ill find something else. There must be a church or something with a covered porch.
Walking past the Catholic Church on the way back I see a large monument with a statue of the Pieta, Mary holding dying Jesus, inside. The statue is protected from vandals by a piece of plexiglass. I am thinking about jimmying the glass and sleeping under the statue. Marys second son. The lightning is coming. Save me Mother Mary. It would be a tight fit, and where would Cosmo go? So lets go back to the bar for one more beer. Im not tired yet. Something will turn up.
At the bar no one says anything as I come back in. I am not in love with this town. I wait. I drink my Corona. 2 pretty girls, its always pretty girls, my greatest weakness, they are playing pool, then sitting at the bar, then one looks at me with a warm smile and asks me where Im from. And as the story unfolds she comes over to my table, and so does the other girl and I am thinking their boyfriends, who are still sitting at the bar are not going to be too happy about this. The girls are looking at me. I am looking at the guys they came with. This is really not a good idea. Ashley and Carla. Carla is excited about my story. Ashley tells me she is afraid to do great things. She is afraid to take risks. She is afraid to go to school because what if she spends all that money and then decides she doesnt want to use that degree, so she would rather work at a gas station the rest of her life than take a chance. And I cant believe I am hearing this. You arent even willing to try? And then she tells me what shes always wanted to do. She wants to be a forensic pathologist. But she is not willing to take the risk and move away to try. Like someone broke her knee caps along time ago and told her that dreams were for fools. Who holds that hammer? Who can I blame? I cant blame society this time, it is too specific. Ashley wants to do something that fits into the expectations of this society, she is just unwilling to jump. America is afraid. And as I try to convince this girl to run away and follow her dreams she replies with "what ifs" and "buts" and I am reminded of what Mr. Wheeler, who taught my 9th grade geography class, used to say. "If ifs, ands and buts, were beer, pretzels, and nuts, wed have a hell of a party." And that is what we are having here. Between John, the petty criminal bum who "could have" done anything, and Ashley who is relentless with her "what ifs," weve got one hell of a party. Beer, pretzels, and nuts, and all that leaves you with is a hangover and a job at a gas station and living off of disability checks.
A trip to the bathroom. When I return Carla invites me to stay at her house. The guy at the bar was her husband. Im not sure that idea is going to fly I say. And she says she already asked him, so we work out how to get there, and I will get up early with her husband and get an early start. Perfect! And so we talk more about the way things could be in the world and about not being afraid. And I hope that I am inspiring the people that I meet who are afraid. I will not be a hypocrite and say that I have no fears, but I have so many less than I did. I am afraid to be alone sometimes. Not on the road, just in life. I need people. I am afraid of walking out the door sometimes, because it is easier not to, I am afraid to write because I am not sure if I am good enough and all the same fears you have. I have them all, but I have been walking through them, and talking through them, and writing through them. And some of this writing may be crap and som eof my talk may be just that, but I am trying to flow so here it is. I will try to prove my theory in action.
The guy who came with the girl who is afraid comes up to the table and tells me that contrary to what I have just been told I will not be staying at Carlas place. "Its just not a good idea man," In other words he does not trust me, "so see ya later buddy, come on Carla were going." He tries to grab her. She is pissed, she is not leaving. But I am, this bar is bad news. Id rather sleep in the rain than be in this bar for another minute. And sleeping in the rain is exactly what I will get, it is starting to sprinkle as I walkout of the bar. Come on Cosmo. Run across the street to a tiny white church, built in 1859, next to the Dairy Kreme, with a roof over the stairs, it is not as covered as I would like, but the rain is starting to come down and just when I start to get out my sleeping bag and pad the thunder and the lightning come overhead and the rain is now pouring and blowing sideways. I guess this is it Cosmo. She is happy anywhere these days. So let us watch this light show. Mist and blowing rain curves around the corner and we are getting wet, so I grab a tarp and put it over us, this is going to be a good show. Sonic booms and the whole place is tearing apart, and the lightning is all over, blowing south. For being a north wind it is unusually warm. Cosmo lays right next to me because this concrete platform is barely big enough for two of us. Leave the bag unzipped. Before I fall asleep I pull a tick off of my neck and 2 off of my side. Still thunder. Fall asleep with the lightning moving south, with my arm around my dog. I am easy to please at the end of the day, I can sleep any place that is flat and dry. This concrete is comfortable tonight. I like it here. I sleep. I wake up to a tick. I sleep. I wake to another tick. And throughout the night I wake up 10 times to pull a tick off of my body. They are coming from Cosmo. She was running in the weeds all day.
At 4 am someone is trying to talk to me. A police man with a large flashlight in my face and his hand on his gun. I dont like his voice. "What are you doing here?" "Hiding from the storm." "Well, what business do you have in this town?" And so I tell him about my epic journey. He does not care. "Do you have a drivers license?" "No, I have a passport." "Why dont you have a drivers license?" "Because Im not driving." He thinks I am a smart ass and a liar. He thinks Im a no good hippie hobo. And if I could find my platinum Master Card I would use it like a Chinese throwing star and throw it at his face and say, "Take that copper, Im not a hobo now am I sucka!" Not that I can pay the bills, but I could buy a car with it. God bless America for giving me a Platinum MasterCard. But I cant find it, and I cant find my ID, Im still delirious, I can hardly see, my eyes are stuck shut, and I am digging though my bag looking for my passport, for anything. "Were going to have problem if you dont have any identification." I did deeper. Nothing. "I think I left it at the bar." He shakes his head, "If I dont have any way of checking on you, youre going to have to leave town right now." I still cant find my passport. I give him my Social Security number and that should be enough, but it isnt and he is giving me his power trip. Someone forgot to tell the Gerald Police that we are not living under marshal law. This guy is being an ass.
I finally find my passport in a place I already looked, and he is satisfied as to who I am now that everything checks out, but he is still not convinced I should be in his town. And hes not so sure that the picture in the passport is me. This guy sucks, I just want to sleep for a couple hours and get the hell out of here. But he keeps, "We have laws around here to protect people from vagrants." "I told you what Im doing, Im not a vagrant." "Well, that doesnt change the laws, you cant be here." And he just keeps saying it over and over, "If you dont have any business in town then you need to be moving on." "Im clean and I do have business here, and I am spending money here, and there are no hotels in this town, and there was just a huge storm. Its 4am, are you really going to tell me that I have to walk out of town right now? I dont think that this church would object to me being here." "That doesnt change the law." And he just keeps going, trying to tell me he has the right to kick me out of town or take me in, he loves this small town police thing. He loves his little police state, he loves the fact that he is still holding onto his gun, and that he gets to threaten people. I finally beg him to let me sleep a couple more hours. He acts like he is doing me a big favor. More ticks. This town goes down in my top 3 no return category. Gerald, Missouri, dont be caught in the streets after dark or youll get shot.