Late one night I was traveling north through old
Mississippi after visiting a friend
in northwest Louisiana named Whitworth.
He’s got stripes around his shoulders, orange pants
and black boots strapped tightly around his ankles.
Dude’s a giant. The way you think of Meatloaf
standing next to Ed Norton in Fight Club? Yeah,
he’s at least six feet seven inches (minus
the bitch tits) and he’s not Fletch, meaning he does
not need an afro to add three more inches
to his height in the Sunday program. He’s bald
as shit with a lumberjack beard and makes his
dough as a big mauler offensive tackle
for a team in a town I once called home: Cin-
-cinnati. Riverfront is gone, but The
Jungle still roars on Sundays when Bengals play.
Anyway, I was walking north, headed up
Route One running along the levee.
My car was dead on the side of the road,
hazard lights flashing, about … oh … I’d say ‘round
seven miles back. It’s a blue Terraplane.
Cost me 700 bucks, but it only
ran the right way once, then it broke down
like the steaming heap it was. I’d found the wreck
parked behind King Tut’s Bar and Grille in Raceland,
LA. A man named Sun Pie sold it to me.
Pie’d tended bar back in the joint’s heyday and
bragged about a yarn he’d spun for a punk kid
‘bout how some men can’t hold their arsenic. “It
was back … way back … all the way back in thirty-
eight,” he said. “R.L. became the third member
of the 27 Club. See, first there was
Alexandre Levy back in ’92.
I’d just sold Abercrombie and Fitch their first
canoe. They’d asked me what to do with the head
of the moose they’d just killed for sport. I’d frowned and
told them to nail it to the wall. They did. Then
they charged 90 dollars for pants. I didn’t
know they’d take me so seriously. Good God
people are touchy, aren’t they? Where was I?”
“Alexandre so and so,” I said, wiping the
sweat from my brow with my shirtsleeve and eyeing
the keys to the car the old-timer dangled
from the bony, yellow index finger on
his right hand. The man jingled them like bells, then
tossed the set to me. I caught them and put them
in my pocket immediately, all while
wondering if the old man could read my mind.
“Ah yes,” he said. “Alex played piano. He
was all right. So was Louis Chauvin. Lou-ee
died second, in 1908, first time the
ball dropped in New York City on New Year’s Eve
in the middle of Times Square, right down the road
from Rockefeller Center and Central Perk.
He was an old-timey rag-time man, played with
tigers, ran down hills in South Carolina
with eleventeen of his closest friends and
family. The third man? I used to call him
the seventh son. His name? R.L. Johnson. That’s
Robert to most, Bob to some and Bobby to
a few select people. … Write this down, kid. It’s
important. It’s a line from a song you’ll find
out there blowing in the wind. Write it down. Now!
“You will not die. It’s not poison.” … “Uhhhh,” I said.
“Fuck that. It’s poison. Guaran-fucking-teed. Drop
the glass or chalice or grail you’re holding and
step away from the bar. Go outside and look
up at the stars. Kneel. Look down. Keep your eyes and
ears to the grindstone. Put your right hand on the
earth and feel the iron in the blood-stained dirt
from a brawl that happened last night over that
same damned woman you’ve been buying drinks for!”
I took a step towards the car as the old
man’s eyes turned from blue to green to red like two
burning coals or stars in the atmosphere. I
stood there, watching him extend his arms and pin-
-wheel around the junkyard we were standing in.
I looked to my left at a blue-nosed pitbull
named Zeke. I nodded. So did she. “Good dog,” I
said, reaching into my pocket for my last
piece of gum. It had to be 90 degrees.
“Could I have a piece of that?” Sun Pie asked as
I unwrapped it. I looked at it for a long
moment, sighed, and handed it to him. “Sure thing,”
I said, licking my lips repeatedly due
to the cotton mouth produced by heat and de-
hydration. The old man popped the pink stick of
Hubba Bubba into his mouth and started
chomping away merrily, the way a cow
does when it eats cow food. “That’s ridiculous,”
the old man said, as he burst out laughing. He
was obviously crazy, I thought. He yelled:
“Pray, Bobby! Ask the soil for forgiveness!
Will it answer you? Hold it to your ear. Hey!
Bobby! It’s just dirt! It’s not gold! Let it go!”
The crazy loon kicked at the ground underfoot
and started to weep. “Please go home, Bob,” he said.
“It’s 3:38 AM and you have a
gig tomorrow. Just one more round before you
go. No. No! Just go. … I wish I could tell him
that,” he said, turning towards me and blinking his
eyes back to green. Well, green-ish, with red flakes ‘round
the edges. They were anything but calm. He
raged, “Maybe then I wouldn’t be selling this
rusty junkheap of an automobile to
a lily-white, lace-curtain motherfucker
like your Saltine Cracker Ass. Oh, by the way?
Yo momma! … Yo Grandmomma!” … I just laughed and
shook my head. “All right now,” I said, the grin on
my face widening into a smirk as I
maintained strong eye contact with the five foot tall
Chinese man staring up into my pale face.
“Did you know Miami University…”
I began, but I stopped when he grabbed a ford
wrench and shook it at me. “Stop. I fucking hate
Florida! Don’t even speak to me about South
Beach! Not one of those people speaks Chinese! Not
one!” I nodded and glanced up at a cat on
the tin roof ten feet above me … eleven
above him. What can I say? The guy was short.
It’s just the truth. Nothing more. Nothing less.
No, he was not holding a camera. There
was a big metal wrench in his hand, like the
one Colonel Mustard used to kill you know who
in that game and film called Clue, starring Coleen
Camp and those two big, wonderful boobs. … What? I’m
talking about Tim Curry and Christopher
Lloyd. They’re boobs. Y’know … goofs? Meatballs, like that
Bill Murray guy who used to caddy for the
Dali Lama. “Gunga galunga. … Gunga.
Gunga-lagunga.” Mr. Pie was saying
that now as he shuffled aimlessly around
the junkyard, juggling imaginary
golf balls. I reached for the closest pitchfork but
found only a post-hole digger and a torn,
stained bumper sticker reading, “World’s best Grandpa”
in faded red ink. “I have to go now, sir,”
I’d said, backing towards the car. “What if she
breaks down on you?” he asked, still juggling. “She won’t,”
I said. She did. That was hours ago. Here
I am, trudging down the this dusty highway in
Bumfuck, Mississippi on my way back to
Memphis with this piece of history and the
fan belt snaps in two, sending the fan flying.
I’d just made it over the river and through
the woods surrounding the blood-stained, iron-soaked
earth of Vicksburg when the jalopy’s motor
quit altogether. Piping hot steam shot out the radiator
and into the starry night sky above me.
“Terraplane blues indeed,” I said, loosening
my collar and taking a deep breath. Rosedale
was ten miles away, according to a
hand-written sign on the right side of the road,
but that couldn’t be right. I’d just made it out
of the besieged city so crucial to the
American Civil War in the eighteen
hundreds. Thousands of people died there. Grass does
not grow in some places. The trees are gnarly.
The goats are even gnarlier. The hills are
alive with the echos of gunfire and
artillery rounds ripping flesh from bone with
the utmost precision. Tactical machines
with an unquenchable thirst for oil and
killing. Thinking, but never feeling. Ah … bliss.
Ah … a bus! A Greyhound. “See America.
Leave the driving to us.” It takes just six days
to make it from Columbus, Ohio to
Columbus, Georgia. 900 miles. Uh…
No rush, ladies and gentlemen. Just let me
settle into an aisle seat. I have to
pee frequently and don’t want some pissy-ass
little radio DJ blocking me in.
Serenity now? Insanity later.
Self-help books and motivational CDs
will only lead you down someone else’s path.
Are you a follower or a leader? Eh?
Neither, you say? Then get out the way. I go
to the back of the bus and sit down with the
bums who smell like urine, sweat and shame. Insane
eyes, hard as steel, watching me move. I grin and
make my way to the back, plop down in the last
seat on the left and smile at the dirty
blonde girl with the huge gums seated to my right.
She has large breasts as well, and a throbbing cyst
in the middle of her forehead, oozing pus,
plasma and blood. “Ain’t she a disgusting thing?”
snorts the man near the window to my left. “That
monster on her head keeps getting bigger.
I’ve been waiting for it to erupt like Mount
Vesuvias and leave us all covered in…”
“That’s enough,” the girl snaps, glaring at the prick
on the other side of me with a look so
cold I wonder if she’s a human being
or some strange cyborg and that’s 10-double-you
30 she’s leaking from her noggin release
valve. “I will kill you, asshole,” she growls through her
tiny teeth. I smile. This belle has moxie.
I like her, but the cheap diamond on her left
ring finger says she’s taken. Lucky bastard.
I slump down into my seat and close my eyes….