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A VERY TALL AFRO –
A WALLY BURGER –
AND THE DUMSTORFF DILEMMA
Day 113 O’Fallon to Carlyle
today: 32 cumulative: 2,287

Cosmo slept on the couch with me because there is a large wooden elephant in this house, the size of a dog, and Cosmo thinks it is real. This elephant and a concrete cow in Missouri are the only things that I have seen Cosmo bark at. So we lay together on the couch for a while, I need this time with my dog, because soon we will be walking the hard walk again, and that is when there is stress. Here before we get up there is no stress. Then she stretches like she always does and slides off, and I start the coffee. "Hey Patrick, we going to go help your dad?" I yell into his room. Hung over, "yes." Moaning. And there is no hanging around, it’s go time. I can’t believe Patrick can walk. He says he’s probably still a little drunk. I think he is too.

Pat’s Dad lives in a rundown house in O’Fallon, and the city’s been on his case about it. Wants him to fix up the gutter in the back. So that is what we are here for. There are 6 black children running around the house. His Dad’s grandchildren. His Dad is with a woman addicted to crack. She is not here right now, she is in East St. Louis looking for crack. But her daughter is here, and the daughter’s 6 kids, and their dad Chris, who has a very tall afro. He wears a Pirates baseball jersey. He seems to be very patient with the children. They gather. I photograph them. Fix the gutter, watch the children play, watch the men drink beer. Wonder what life would be like, if. If. But walk away and hug my new friends who believe in love so much they took me to see the rock stars. You are not an ion, you are not an ant, Patrick, you are a damn fine human being. You drink too much. Phil is moving to East St. Louis, it’s all he can afford. Keep your head above the water Phil. I won’t forget you guys.

The sun is not too hot. We walk. There are shoulders then there are not shoulders. The water is high. The rivers are all well above flood stage. Fields look like lakes. The road could go under tomorrow if it rains again. Sun squint. Cosmo pants. Hide in the shade. The shoulders are gone. But the walking does not hurt today, and the town of Breese is ahead. I pause on the edge of town looking for a place to rest. A woman asks if I need a ride. No, I’m fine, looking for a place to eat though. And she says it has to be Wally’s, so Wally’s it is. A small cream colored cinderblock building with a few tables outside and a U-shaped counter inside. Cheese burger, fries, and a chocolate shake. A place frozen in time, same as it was in 1950. Highschool girls wait on locals who are talking about the flooding. A birthday. A fire last night. All American high school faces walk in the door. Walking talking Apple pie and ice cream America, their names are Eric and Ann. I drink a Ski, a heavy syrupy soft drink that I have never heard of, it is yellow, it is highly caffinated and highly carbonated, the way we like it.

On the wall of fame a poem about Wally’s written by a local youth.

WALLY’S

When you walk in the door,
There may be a spill on the floor,
You get in a bad mood,
And you’re grouching, "I want my food."
Then you smell the fresh ground beef
But you’re still thinking "good grief."

When you sit on the stool,
Your mouth begins to drool.
Then the sight of the fries,
Hypnotizes your eyes.
The taste of the creamy milkshake,
Will immediately make your heart break.

When you taste the food,
Your bad mood turns to a good mood.
Now you’ll never want to leave,
Because the food will make you believe.

When you walk out the door,
Who cares about that spill on the floor!

Wallys. –by Nic Schurman

And I have to laugh, because in a world with so many tragedies and so much suffering there are these little ways to escape, a Ski and a Wally burger to wash away the world. A strange little time capsule. Like a place where the problems of the world cannot penetrate. A man pulls up on a tractor, comes inside to get a cheeseburger. The girls behind the counter tease the cook. The All-Americans beam at each other. Maybe they are in love. I hope there is a Wally’s in heaven. Jeff is managing the restaurant tonight, he wants me to autograph my ticket for the wall of fame. He puts it between a signed photo of an Elvis impersonator and an autographed picture of Nolan Ryan. Below that there are letters from Generals and an aerial picture of Wally’s from a satellite, Little league team photos, and the waitresses in prom dresses, and a photo of a Wally’s bumper sticker on a car in Berlin. But with the sun setting it is time to roll the dice again and see where I land.

Walking toward the baseball fields on the way out of town I see that there is another way of thinking. A different way to see how and why events unfold. I see myself pulled into the paths of others and I smile as I feel that pull. And I know it is where I am supposed to go. Guided to make some kind of changes that I do not fully understand. And I am pulled into a park where there are baseball games, and I talk to a woman who smiles and I know from her eyes that she wants to know, maybe she heard something that started some chain reaction in her head. And children pet my dog, and I photograph the Beckemeyer boys in their baseball uniforms, and a man named Dumstorff says, "I’ll tell ya what…" And he wants me to come to his home to tell his girls about my travels because they want to ask me some questions, and he has a place for me to stay, so I say I’ll meet you there, and he gives me the directions. Why this man, why these paths? Will these stories sway one of his children to take up the journey, to roll the stone up this mountain, will they want more by hearing this? I do not know but I know that the words I will say tonight will move something, which in turn moves another, ad infinitum.

A whisper today is the hostage crisis of tomorrow, a young girl in Illinois becomes a homemaker, or a journalist, or a junkie, and who knows what series of words over series of years. I wish there was a colored dye that we could use to chart our thoughts, like they do with air currents and water and blood. I think we can see it in social movements and world events and the way the traffic moves and the way cities grow and coast lines erode, but the oversight necessary to truly see the whole requires absolute removal from this world, a magic carpet if you will, to fly above the events and the sprawling strip malls, to see that fractal from above, that epic pattern of behavior, to fly high enough to see the source.

Trying to fly, but still I am so human it is sickening. Weighed down by things and too many needs and too much ego. Still I know I am supposed to walk this way, this way across the country, this way across town to the Dumstorff’s. The children want to know if I get lonely, homesick, scared? I think of Alissa, of the Pecos River, I think of so many miles to go. But the conversation does not go as far as I thought it would, it is short, because something is a little off. The wife is afraid of me. She does not trust me. I can feel it. I will not be staying here. And although this is not what I had hoped for, it is what it is, and that is right, I cannot trace the thoughts, but perhaps my few words were enough to move the minds of children, perhaps the dominoes will fall on the Dumstorff children. Lightning is coming. Mr. Dumstorff wants me to stay. He asks me please. "Damnit, please just stay." I like this guy, he really wants me to stay. But I know his wife is uncomfortable, and I know that I am pulled back to the road, and it will not be as comfortable, and maybe I will get caught in a storm, but it is where I am supposed to go. He protests. I thank him. Good night to the girls. I walk. I watch the lightning to the North. I think of the story he told me about his wife and his dog getting hit by lightning.

Good shoulders but sleep bars every 15 feet make the cart shake and make me trip in the dark. The lightning looks like it is getting closer, no towns to find shelter in. Walk faster. Lightning changes direction. New flashes from the south. But this time we are lucky and we are not caught outside, we pass the city limit sign for Carlyle at 1am. A police woman says we can sleep in the park. We made it, and although I am sleeping on the ground tonight I am not burdened by making someone uncomfortable, I have no one to answer to, I am free.