I. The Interstate.
That Echo could not wait to get past me. There it goes, d’ya hear it? Forty-four west for me, not all the way to Tulsa, though. Not even to Springfield, nor to Rolla.
My fantasy baseball draft was supposed to be in progress at this moment. But it is not. The commissioner messed something up and had to move the draft back ninety minutes. Oh well, alas, alackaday. Let it be. I’m too serious about fantasy baseball as it is so maybe this’ll let a little air out of my red balloon face.
The 84 lumberyard. Bobcat of St Louis. A Subaru Outback passes me on the left. Turkey vulture. Lone Elk Park. I’m doing 72 mph.
Shannon and Rooney from Florida. Strasburg is mowing down the Redbirds. Downhill, toward the Meramec. I pass the old Times Beach. It’s a park now. It’s empty as usual. Eureka! Six Flags, second right. Headlights On When Wipers are Required. Not now but this time tomorrow forsooth.
Strasburg is at 51 pitches through three innings. Lane Ends, Merge Left.
This is where the roadside bluffs start up, where they used all that dynamite.
“I had a love song with you baby, oh yeah…”
Rolling highway. Buds on the trees, no leaves yet. Franklin County. It’s around here I start to look for a semi-truck to draft on.
There’s that crane with the Christmas tree-shaped wire structure dangling from it. At first I thought it was indeed a Christmas tree but it’s there year-round so I’m not really sure what it’s doing there. A light mist upon the windshield does fall.
“Bridge Work 2 Miles Use Caution”
No phone zone. The Bourbeuse. A cleared field. Trees lay in piles, their rootwads exposed and lifeless. Development or pasture? I guess that depends on the price of a home and the price of meat.
A turkey vulture arcs wide and slow against a gloomy sky, insulated against the heavens with a lining of cloud. Matt Adams—now a National—loses one. The game is tied. A Forester with a dog in the passenger seat. The cars pass on my left, pass on my left. My dad would say, “Let ’em go.”
Now Michael A Taylor loses one. This has turned into a rough outing for Brebbia after Jordan Hicks went five scoreless. Fifty miles to Rolla. One mile to that rest area that sits between the two sides of I-44. The fantasy baseball draft starts in ten minutes.
Three grackles. Now I’m behind a semi.
I’m going 70 mph, the limit. I’m drafting alright, but a semi—not a fantasy baseball team. Melted snow off the top of a different semi pelts me like rain as we round a bend. I think that same truck was the source of the earlier mist, not the clouds.
I see a sign pointing up Planet Sub, exit 208. Winsel Creek. Strasburg walks Matt Carpenter.
Pawnmart. A text from B about Ronald Acuña Jr. Sullivan, Missouri. Jimmy Johns, Ford, Dominos Pizza. The Du Kum Inn. Second Sullivan exit. Crawford County. I’m lagging my semi. Four miles to Bourbon. Now for the second consecutive farm trip I pass on Planet Sub, a stop that had become a staple.
I brought my own sandwich fixins along, something I did thinking I would not have time after the draft to stop at Planet Sub. I could have sat and drafted while I waited for my subs!
“Well, it won’t be long before we see ole Fredbird back again,” says Shannon. Rooney follows with a joke about bird flu. Rio Grande Boot and Jean. The Leasburg exit, or how you get to Onondaga.
I’m behind a slower semi now and the world is passing us by. There are plenty of cars on the road. Cows, off to the left, a couple doZen. Black and white, brown and white. Some standing, some lying down. City limit, Cuba.
Every car and truck that could’ve passed us has done so by now. Oh wait, here’s a couple more. I will need to make a stop for gas; the tank is about a third full. I’ll stop in Vienna or maybe at that gas station along the jog at 133 and 42. Two choppers appear, now three. Low. Military. Black and grey. A fourth. The Cards and Nats are knotted at two after six innings. Where are those choppers going?
Bob’s Gasoline Alley. Old filling station signs and alpacas. Vacuum Museum, exit 195. This semi I’m tailing is going a little slow but sitting content in its draft takes all of the decision work out of driving, a relief and a condition necessary to the drafting of this travelogue.
The 4M Vineyards stand, just south of the eastbound lanes. I once saw a couple park their car on the shoulder and scramble across the ditch to patronize it. A vineyard on my right. An old seat cushion, its bright white cottontail stuffing clambering out. The small “Grapes” stand just north of the interstate, closed today.
It’s 46 degrees at 13:56 central daylight, March 25, 2018.
II. Country Roads.
Exit 195, St James. My exit.
I go north on 68 west. The Maries County Bank. A trailer full of wood. Looked like oak. An old Ford parked next to the standalone trailer, its bed also full of wood, the same wood.
It’s gonna be harder to do this on these country roads. Curves and hills, my blindness over and around them. Hughes Angus Farm, since 1978. The Rolla Horse Auction. The Bourbeuse, again. A killdeer. I used to see them at my parents’ place, then I saw them in the parking lot at the O’Fallon office I worked at. Changes pushed them away from both spots.
Maries County. A pony. A farm for sale, 392 acres. A house for sale, 5 acres.
I do have moments when I’m saying to myself, Why am I doing this? Why I am driving down here, again? Am I craZy?
Longhorn Cattle. The Lorts Auction sign on a truck parked in front of the nice farmhouse that sits along the longhorn pasture. I’m still getting 1120 KMOX just fine here. This is cattle country through and through. It is perhaps not ranch land but large pastures and rolling hills.
Broadway Baptist Church and a creek with no name.
Hays Enterprises, which consists of a car lot on either side of the road. Two steps away from a junkyard. At 63, 68 ends. You can go south to Rolla. I turn right, heading north.
The Rolla National Airport on my right. Eleven miles to Vienna. Spring Creek Gap Conservation Area. B and I stopped there once, hiked around a little. But there’s just as good a view from the road, right here, sighting the blue hills of Missouri. Today there’s a smoke plume out there, white. Along here are a rare couple of flat straight shoots of road. I’ve let my speed up and now someone’s gaining on me.
The Gasconade, a slate blue.
Is this the Catfish Patch rise and turn? Oh yeah. Moreland’s Catfish Patch. Catfish and steaks. Plenty of both around here. A blue water tower in the distance. Vienna Firewood. Seasoned oak and hickory. Feeler Lumber. Vienna, population 628. Sinks Pharmacy.
Break Time, literally. That’s the name of the gas station I’ve stopped at in Vienna.
After putting in 14 gallons I used the restroom and paid. Then I parked off to the side of the station and made the last several picks in my draft. I needed relievers bad but I had considered a strategy of laying off them in the draft and picking them up as the season went along. It worked out alright. I took Jesse Winker with my first “live” pick—it happened to be my turn just as I got the app open and running.
Headed west out of Vienna on 42. I thought I would have to take a detour and leave 42 at Route V because of a sign for bridge work I saw the last time through. But I didn’t have to detour. Road work the next 23 miles though. Work on the bridge over Fly Creek but there’s still one lane open, with lights in either direction, green or red, so the file can progress. You know how they do.
Onward. Maries River. Eighteen miles to Iberia. The coupling of two storage sheds not so far apart. The Hatfields got one so the McCoys had to follow suit. Could Helm be down here? Highly unlikely. The largemouth bass mailbox. Cows shoving their face into some hay. The Little Maries River.
Uphill to the jog, where 42 runs with 133 for about a quarter of a mile, a little north-northwest of Brinktown. I make a right on 133 where there’s an erstwhile convenience or general store, a soda machine still out in front. I strongly considered stopping to see if I could put money in and get a soda, but I demurred, as usual. Now a quick left as 42 becomes independent once again, a Sinclair station on my left, fully operational. I’ve stopped there only once, with Helm. Turkey vultures. Tall golden grass along a fence line. Little Tavern Creek. The cemetery where the Lee Vaughans are and will be.
I give a toot. Miller County. Now the slanted descent into and then up and away from Greasy Creek.
Double Limousin. Faith Tabernacle. Two of the last steadfast markers. Iberia Fire Station 3. Sudhammer Road. At TT I hang a left. Right on Alder Springs, where the pavement ends.
I hit some button, which B knows, turns the skid off, kickin’ up dust.
And there’s the house. It’s always a sight for sore eyes but I’m here, flushing a pileated away.
III. The House.
No one’s been in here. It looks alright. It’s chilly out there. In my first moment, I’m unloading everything but the wood I brought.
Tonight’s stove wood is unloaded, stashed on the back porch. I’ve got a fantasy baseball podcast spinning, one from the folks at Baseballholics Anonymous.
I heard something—someone? it couldn’t be—walking in the attic. Jeepers fucking creepers.
At 15:37, sun!
I’m moving wood around.
I need a staple gun and either a sledgehammer or an ax.
I put the plexi in. I need some moulding at its bottom. I’ve got two Busch going. It is nearly clear outside and sunny.
The kitchen sink, a new washer in there, appears to be working. The bathroom sink is a disaster.
At 18:08 there is plenty of light left. It’s getting chilly though. The stove is going, the doors still open lest the smoke. It’s 52° in the kitchen. It’s 46° outside.
I was wrong in my last missive from here about the light/bulb outside. It wasn’t a bad bulb or a bad light. (The cows are voicing.) But as Helm explained the light is on a sensor . It only comes on at night.
As I’m filling one of the kettles to sit atop the stove and steam I see the kitchen faucet still tearing up around the screw cap behind the spout. It’s a lot better than when it was spraying out from there two weeks ago but still it is not right.
In the bathroom, the trap under the sink is cracked. Period. When I was here the last time I noticed water on the floor in there that I could not have imagined came somehow from the shower. Correct. It came from the sink. I am measuring four-and-a-half across and perhaps five inches from top to bottom.
I took the trap off, just to be sure. It’s definitely cracked at the bottom. One side is about three inches to the base, the other more like five inches. The pipe is an inch and a half wide. I slathered some marine on the bottom as a hopeful short-term fix.
Meanwhile the kitchen sink … I put the original washer back in. Did I crack the screw cap in the midst of all of this or was it like that? Hell. The kitchen spout screw cap is one and one quarter’s inch across.
IV. The Dark.
19:16. Missed gloaming. Baseball podcasts flow.
The oven is running at 300°. I fixed up a veggie sandwich and put it in there.
The sandwich was fantastic. I’m ready for bed, though. Three Busch and half a Scorpion Bowl bomber. No vodka yet.
The stove is poppin’. I’ve sat down on one of the beds. It might be some of the old mulberry that’s poppin’ in there. Outside the tree frogs beep. The moon is bright, two-thirds full. A plane far overhead left contrails that the moon pointed up in nacre gleam. Orion, Taurus, the Pleiades. Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper. The sky is suddenly so clear.
I am nauseous with trepidation. I am leaving lights on. I have poured a vodka stiffy. I’m not yet done with the IPA. The stove is crackling. It is 73° in the kitchen. A cot in there would not be at all bad. The stove is solidly at 350°. If I get up to piss—when I get up to piss—I’m not going outside. I’ll piss in the bathroom trash can. F it. I’ll try to read some. I picked up a used copy of Breece D’J Pancake’s short stories somewhere a ways back. I had read the book before, perhaps a rental from the St Louis University library. That must’ve been ten years ago, eleven. I brought the used copy down here and will leave it. His stories are set in a rural place, West Virginia I think. He didn’t publish much because he killed himself before he could write more.
I edged into the foreword on Pancake. A high-pitched whirring sound caught my ear. It was building. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen. I got up and went in there. The teakettle. I had refilled it. It was back to boiling. The oven part of the stove is at 400°. I went to try and slide another piece of wood in—hot! I’ve never gotten the stove this hot before. It’s a marvel. The old chunks of oak I had from home are probably faring the best. The honey locust is popping, amongst others. The prevailing sounds are the stove popping and the tree frogs chirping. I’m going to need to sleep soon but I’ll try to read some more.
Ha. The clock in the kitchen is wrong and I am just now realiZing it. Time change! I just lost an hour.
Yet, it feels good to be awake, somewhat sober and reading.
At 23:10 I am somehow still awake. I have hit “the bathroom” a couple times. I got a text from Ray, very welcome. He took our capitaliZed zeds to the next level by dropping a capital ‘X’ in ‘eXcited’ on me. I rolled with it, though I thought, “We better be careful here or before long we’ll be talking to each other in ALL CAPS.”
He noted the start of real baseball in four days. It is eXciting. I am consistently adding wood to the stove. I want coals in the morning, unlike last time. My chances are fair. I imagine I stopped adding wood at 20:00 last time, having been in the tent and not wanting to stoke a stove I wasn’t planning on being near in the night. I also topped off the water in each of the three kettles that sit on the stove. Where are they all from? Helm?
I have continued to pour and sip vodka. I am a little buZzed but I think my pacing is solid today. I have a little acid reflux. I’ve been taking ibuprofen and that sandwich was a bit much, also late in the evening for me. I am really enjoying this foreword to the Pancake stories.
With my head lamp on I find I can much easier spot the mice droppings. On the bed(spread) I’m on. On the dishcloth laid upon the counter. It is what it is. Not the best countertops, not the best wallpaper. People I love know people who called it home. I say, “I’m home.” They say, “But it’s not your home, John.” I say, “But home is where the heart is.” Let’s go check on that stove, eh?
I used the—wash basin, basinet, bed bowl, what did they used to call that?—pissbucket again, took it out, dumped it. Got a little wood, topped off the stove. It is 76° in the kitchen. That ain’t half bad.
My first thought: it could be five. It was 5:15. Bingo. Or as Ray would say, “Giddyup.”
This time there were coals in the stove, plenty. It was 56° in the kitchen. My restart skills are weak, though. It’s a little smoky in here and I’ve got the doors back open.
The frogs are still chirping. It’s dark. Farther away, an owl. I add some thin sticks of cedar. They catch and pop. I slept with the light on and I slept well.
I fiddled with the bathroom sink, put the trap back on—if you could call it that. Neither of the nuts really seem to hold the trap in place. The caulk on the crack at the trap’s nadir should help but it could still leak at the second (downstream) joint.
I made coffee but I haven’t had any yet.
“No coffee by 6:30, you been up an hour and a quarter, boy, what’s wrong with you?”
“Not sure. Busy doin’ stuff I guess.”
I deployed some mouse poison. It’s just a little disconcerting to sleep on a bedspread that’s got mouse turds on it. I left a note about poison being out: three trays in total though one is a “child- and pet-resistant” station. I put two in the kitchen and one in the back bedroom.
Folks, it’s coffee time.
I put my tater in at 6:34. The Jewell is at 250°. This’ll take a while.
At 6:37, I can see there is a little bit of light outside, finally. No rain yet.
I will walk the vodka handle, still 65% full, along with the shovel back up to the shed from whence they came.
I talked to Carmack. I was moving wood around. He looked tired. I probably look the same. He asked me where I was from. He asked me about Eric, like he always does. He said he was supposed to go to St Louis to work on a crew laying pavement on 270. But they called it off because of the rain. He said it was looking to flood here. Three inches of rain. To end our conversation he said he was gonna get his feeding done. Before he got up here, as he came down the road, across the creek and around the turn, the cows were already up near the pasture gate. They had eyes on his truck, hay bales on the back of it scraping ass along the road. They voiced. My car at that time was yet up by the gate, blocking it, for wood reasons. I had a sense of what was in motion and promptly got my vehicle out of the way without even being asked to do so.
—Farm, Missouri, March 25-26, 2018.