SWALLOW THE LIGHTNING,
MARYLIN MONROE and THE BLACK SEA
Day 98 Branson to Highlandville
today:20 miles cumulative:1,965
My dreams. I have been having amazing dreams that I cant remember because I wake up confused about where I am, and by the time I have processed all of that information about who I am and how I got here and whos house is this or why am in this field, it has pushed all of the dreams out of my mind. I think that dreams have something to do with butterfly wings and tornadoes. I have, in my life, had a few dreams while I was awake. I tell people about them, but I am not sure if they believe me. They just tell me I was hallucinating.
Forget about that for now. I have told you about some of them, I will tell you about more when the time is right. So, while we are on the subject of hallucinating I bring Jon into our story, Jon used to be a jewel smuggler, now he is a legitimate(?) businessman. Jon is supposed to be crossing some state with me on an experimental po-go stick too dangerous to release to the public. Jon has no guilt. Everything is sacred, nothing is sacred. Jon sees, as Im sure we all do, that our utopia is not our existence. He says to me in a letter: "Aaron, you are closer than most, but are you living all you say? Do you think you ever will?" To that I reply: No. If I was living all I preach (and I have been preaching), I would not run away from lightning, I would run after it with a 20 foot metal pole in my teeth and I would swallow the lightning and laugh. I still know where my Achilles is, I am still concerned with product and status and I have chained myself to debt, indentured servant, and I did not start this walk prepared never to return, I started this walk with bills and part of my mind already in New York, my head running to the future before I have finished the present. But I have a vision, another way of living that has already begun, a place where it can really happen. Again I tell you that I know where the Ganges River flows and I will tap into it. And at the end of this walk, in a way, I will have swallowed that lightning. I am already laughing. Bring the po-go stick Jon.
Chris drives me around the woods, it is raining. Tornadoes are passing through the area I will walk today. Wishing I could see them. I should be walking right now, but I shouldnt because I am listening to "Panama Red" driving through the places I could not see through the trees. Green, green, green, and then in a clearing; more green. "Panama Red, Panama Red, Hell steal your woman, then hell rob your head." And the rain comes down harder, the sky is not dark but lightning strikes near by. I have to come back here. I have heard stories about the men here who dont wear shirts or shoes, just overalls, and they build their own cabins and drink moonshine, in these hills. I want to find them. Drive by the old meth labs. People always point out the meth labs to me.
I want to talk to someone I dont know, and so does Chris. A man sells vegetables out of his house. We dont want vegetables, but it is a good way to meet someone. Well take a bag of green onions and a bag of lettuce. $2.25. Ernest C. Knight. We are in the village of Hilda. Ernests wife died a few years ago. He lives alone. He is happy we are here to buy his vegetables. What he really wants to show us is his 64 Malibu. He pops the hood, a V8 and we stand there listening to the engine, he says its 527 632-90 and I nod my head like I know what is going on. "Are you good Christian boys?" I keep nodding my head like I did when he showed me his engine. "Of course we are." I say. There is a time to discuss such things and a time to keep things simple. We will keep it simple. He invites us to a revival tonight, but tonight I will be photographing old people watching celebrity impersonators and old people watching old lounge singers. He shows us the humming bird feeders he made for his wife before she died. Ernest needed company.
5 miles down the road Chris tells me he couldnt do what I am doing, he would be too attached to people. "Ill be thinking about that old man sitting there alone all day." So I say lets turn around, I have time, time to visit more with the lonely old man, because no one wants to be alone. And maybe we will ride in the big blue Malibu. But we just end up talking about the way things used to be and neighbors and old school houses and the weather and I think we made Ernest happy, and Chris has made a new friend. And the lettuce is good too.
Chris takes Cosmo so I can walk the little Las Vegas that is Branson, Missouri. The strip of wax museums and the Silver Spur and the Bobby Vinton showcase and Celebrity Impersonators and Elvis Presley and the Superstars and the Incredible acrobats of China and the Jennifer Show and Magician Kirby Van Burch and Skull Island miniature golf and Country Kitchen buffets, and Go carts and Budget motels, and budget food, and more show
houses and Dolly Partons indoor rodeo, and Yakov Smirnov and people who sang songs popular in the 50s still singing the same songs. The wax museum is very outdated. It has models from the TV shows no one watches anymore. Their John Wayne is cross eyed. They have a wax Last Supper. And Elvis singing in a church, with pews for you to sit and pray in. And the worst two wax figures in the place are for a movie that was popular 3 years ago, but the problem is that they dont look like the actors and the guy showing me around says they paid $125,000 for them, and that they get complaints about them everyday. I cant believe people pay $12 to get into this place.
I am not willing to pay to get into any of the show places, the tickets are $30, and I dont have time to see one, so I will try to find some celebrity impersonators to talk to before their show. At a place called Legends in Concert. Tonight: The Blues Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Ray Charles, and Charlie Daniels. The women at the ticket booth let me in to take some photos in the lobby while Marilyn and the Blues Brothers are having their photos taken with everyone that walks in the door, they sell the photos to you when the show is over. They repeat the same poses over and over and over for the retired folk that have come to see the show. Marilyn is gorgeous. The Blues Brothers are joking with her and grabbing all the women that come in and making jokes that make their husbands uncomfortable. This job looks like fun. And they tell me it is, except for the 500 photos a night and the energy it takes to smile for 500 flashes. Marliyns real name is Stacey, and the Blues Brothers are Justin and Bucky. They want me to stay for the show, "If anyone gives you any trouble, tell em youre with Elwood." They pose for me. I watch them being themselves then being in character and back again in between every photo. I watch Marilyn struggle to maintain the sexy wink and lip pucker and seductive pose, Elwood points at the camera, Jake just looks tough with his arms crossed. Shows on people, lets go.
Charlie Daniels is up first. "Devil went down to Georgia." And I think I would bet a fiddle of gold against my soul too. But I am waiting to see Marilyn. Happy Birthday Mr. President. I wish it was my birthday. She plays with an old mans hair, sits on his lap, whispers naughty things in his ear. Diamonds are a girls best friend. Fogs up his glasses. She has a great voice. I need to start walking, I see the beginning of the Blues Brothers, cartwheels onto the stage. Out in the lobby Marilyn is standing on the stairs signing autographs, she winks at me, a perfect seductive Marilyn wink. She wears a huge necklace of waterfall diamonds. God I love beautiful women. See you down the road Stacey. The manager gives me a free photo of myself with the stars. "Love to handsome Aaron, XXOO, Stacey." God I love beautiful women. And that wink could knock a man out.
Chris is outside waiting. We eat together at an all night diner. It is 10 pm, I am tempted to ask him if I can stay another night, but that is a weakness, it is easier not to walk, so I will walk all night. Chris has already helped out too much, I need to get back out on the road, even if I only walk 10 miles. I am sure I will see Chris again, there are a few people on this journey that I know I will see again, Chris is one of them. He is one of the people who will have keys to my home.
It is a hot humid night. What Black Sea is this? The fog is building and we are walking into a wall of black water, I can feel the moisture in the air building up on my arms to form beads of cold water. As soon as we have begun I know it was right to walk tonight. This is one of those nights when my path takes me through the veil. Tonight we walk through a place where headlights and billboards are light sculptures, a cloud lays on the ground, so thick I cannot read the signs, but I can see their beautiful paintings of light as I approach, and as cars come up from behind they form a ring around my body, like a ring around the moon, a circular rainbow, and my shadow is projected perfectly into the gray. Shifting as the cars pass and gone and back again. Cosmo and I stop to lay down on the side of the road and breathe the humid air. Cosmo is my pillow, but she moves after awhile and wakes me up, and I realize that we are on the side of the road at 3 am and this is probably not the best place to sleep. I feel like I have gone 25 miles, but Im still not to Ozark. The hills, huge hills. But never gaining any ground. 500 feet of vertical gain and down, and up and down, and up and I have done 4,000 vertical feet in 20 miles and lost it all. But crossing those bridges and walking through huge cuts in the hills past the light sculpture bill boards, I never thought billboards could be beautiful, the prisms in the fog. Even the dreaded semis make prisms with their headlights on this strange night behind the veil. But at 20 miles I am exhausted and it feels like it has been 35 miles. I did not make it to Ozark. There is a strip of mown grass at the exit to Highlanville. It is right on the highway under two billboards. One is for the show I saw tonight, and Stacey is there winking, but the shorter grass is under a 40 foot tall billboard for Dolly Partons show club. So I pitch my tent. Good night Dolly.