The Old “South County” Stretch

Deep south St. Louis county is a sight for “instant-credit, Americanus”. . . . . as “let’s hear-it” for drunken, clotted-eyed amusement “a little south of sanity”, just slightly west of the Mississippi river. The gray sky converges into the. . . . .tawny, rolling plains as you’re looking at just one long stretch of roadside desolation, a low rumble as cars rattle over the horizon. The wheels “wheeze” to a stop, and the brake-lights glow a dim red in the stiff, biting-wind and uninviting haze. The blinkers click in the frigid misery, then the car veers into the parking lot of the “White Castle” restaurant– rising like an igloo, a frozen outpost, an ice-fortress with the white-block parapets, lit in the gloom like a homing-beacon.

A good day “to stay indoors” as you push through the entrance, enveloped by the inviting heat and smell of frying-onions like a blossom of meaty-steam fogging your glasses. Customers crane-around to appraise you, bundles of rags and winter-clothing huddled, weary, over tables. If anything, the weather is a prime excuse not to work today as you’d think of some heavy, disagreeable job—maybe the hauling-clank of chains down some bramble-stick gulch, with plenty of wet, damp goose-shit like natural sediment.

But here, the country Muzak croons like a sad moon-slipper, like fancying over the fortune of luckier-men over twang n’ grit. Maybe a full belly, because after-all—this is a restaurant.

A man with nebbing, liquid eyes and streaming hair hiccups over “the goodness of American-made, “born & raised”, a hand pressed on knee in “flat-out” pride. There he is, half-turned around like a foreman at his perch and adding his voice to the conversation—a slurred, open-hearted assent to the course of things like winding rivers and “git-fiddle” ballads over life.

Two bulks crane around, these two journeymen—wayfarers—overheard at their table of ketchup-splattered napkins and onion-ring cribs in a litter of cheap-eats. The unclean one—rotten-hair in a yellow, putrescent tangle as his eyes bulge-out from black eye-sockets, looking your way and swaddled in a foul, vomit-stained parka. His partner-in-crime: as your impression is of a ponderous belly and a bearded face, an overbite locked in a perpetually-undignified expression with stunned blue eyes, beneath a Stetson.

Call them “the friar” and “the gravedigger”.

Locals, at the heart of it—as you think of the rolling, haunted Missouri wastelands of both low-animals and glimmers of the higher-functions, heads bobbing over the Spartan landscape like balloons, as you think about the absurdity of life. Why there’s “something”, that makes-up our world, the difference between “nothing” which precludes, “a kind of purpose” in the eyes of the religious—and if so, the rough-shod evidence stands before you like waddling, pot-bellied protoplasm and clotted, fucked-up chromosomes unto “godly purpose”, if you insist upon-it, yet over the grotesque, splurting asshole of existence—which might take your notion of “a higher, intervening order” in the universe and destroy it– unto slime, or scriptures, or body odor, or bubbling-life—insistent, fundamentalist, and ignorant.

Between them, telling stories whose punchline rises like a cyclone of zaniness and screwball woe, as if further fancying over those fortunes, of luckier men—and maybe “paradise” doesn’t have tow-trucks and your shit-wagon “locked-up” behind a fence, for errant “No Parking” violations, unto property and tickets and civic law. “Show-me” tax-returns, proof of insurance and “a title” and I won’t call you a broke pair of shit-sacks, stranded in the county—a winter trek, to where they sit, now with a bemused and shiny-eyed audience.

Throwing in his two cents:

“That’s a problem all right”

The two look to each other, deliberating over a flurry of nominating fingers, barreling-out with mortified laughter, a chuckle as “the friar” lets loose with his plea, voice rising in slurring nasality like squirting, plaintive mustard as “the gravedigger” seconds him. A carnival of bloated, gaseous schemes, a twist in the tale like bargain-basement mania, a ziggaruat like fly-blown dog turds. Your “good fortune”– like a dented box you’d hold, squarely before you to some crummy iteration that fall off the back of a discount truck “that you didn’t want, anyway”. . . . . will you help us?

And hell is paved, like a black, icy road of crude, “blue-collar” energy like a barrel of gun powder, a case of orange soda-pop, as sure as you see the giant “King Kong” bouncing outside the auto-dealerships with a line of fluttering, racing-flags. Insta-credit, burnt-out firecrackers, and piss-poor planning as the hours drag-on, hitching a ride “and held over a barrel”.

“How much will it cost?”

The car salesman straightens his tie.

“How much you got?”

Walking—the perfect exercise. And they get “a lot of it”. Don’t owe your soul to the repo-man or fall to the noncommittal mercies of strangers. Looks like “they’re on their own” unless you say the name, “three times”.

“Fan-Fiction!”, “Fan-Fiction!”, “Fan-Fiction!”. . . . . bringing you the best as more will come shortly, when one is possessed by the spirit—and turn-on the juice, to see what shakes loose, next time.

smokestacks

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The Old “South County” Stretch

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