The Belt/Love of America

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Minnesota
Saturday, July 17, 2010

          DAY TWENTY-EIGHT:  It really takes only a moment to decide against Frank's friend's cabin, though it’s a nice offer (thanks, Frank, and sorry for calling your messy drunken self out), but we make a Minnestoan compromise and stop at the Mall of America on our way out of town.  Leaving the girls behind is tough as they treated us, strangers, oh so well, and the time spent with them was of course good fun, but as always, that’s the nature of the trip, and at worst we can chalk two more good ones up on the pro board of humanity.  Yup.

            Anyway: Mall of America.  We park across the street in the miles and miles of spillover parking, as if we were going to an amusement park – though if we wanted to say we were, we could, as there’s one in the mall – and, with a deep breath, we head in and make a pact to be out in thirty minutes

            Cornbread and The Beard had left their shoes at the Cowbard Ranch, so they follow their noses for some processed moccasins after a quick lunch upstairs.  It’s funny, that lunch, looking around at everyone and their red plastic trays, how lumpy and unfit the whole scene is, and in an effort to make myself feel better, I choose what appears to be the only place that isn’t a chain, a fast food place with a Japanese name serving Chinese food.  I immediately feel like hell after eating it.

            I should note that this is Tristan’s paradise, is the Mall of America.  For the duration of the trip, he, Tristan R. Mullet, has been fighting against the current of freshness and self-respect to consume all the things truly American.  On nights we’re set to cook at a campsite, he always runs across the street from a gas station to sneak a crispy KFC Double-Down (the sandwich with fried chicken instead of bread) and, almost like in the Mike Judge film Idiocracy, he drinks Mountain Dew instead of water, though not for its electrolytes (Is that the second Idiocracy reference made in this narrative?).  He’s an enigma of the most complex sort, often switching between playing Chopin and the NFL on FOX theme song (while often playing CLUB MUSIC on the bus, receiving the highest level of my disdain and verbal prodding without the slightest bit of humor or cheer…seriously, he’s playing it right now on the bus to get "ready for a night out", and I hate his guts; the world has enough assholes that listen to this music, but when someone wants to listen to a 12-minute guillemots song, they get BORED.  Ugh), throwing his growling 6’6" frame into a night of slamming pitchers of beer, though he prefers blueberry flavored vodka and something called MD 20/20 (the label only says, "grape wine with citrus spirits”).  We just saw two girls on a Harley.

            Our first stop into Wisconsin is at the nicest gas station I’ve ever seen (it sells lettuce alongside cognac), and eventually we arrive full-steam into Milwaukee, the city of Alice Cooper.  The weather rolls off the buildings like melting butter, and, after a beautiful greeting by the green and brick Miller Park, glimmering like an old warehouse in which new baseball is played, and we continue inward.  So far as I write this (I’m playing What Made Milwaukee Famous, just because they have the city in their band name) everything looks like it could be in an old black-and-white Bob Dylan music video, were the women in ratty furs and polka dots, the men in fedoras.  The Miller Brewing Company scrapes the sky but the bars advertise PBR, and everything looks slightly old, slightly covered in grime.  I’m kind of really digging it.  Calatrava here, Harley Museum there; woo, it’s so legitimate!

            We roll into the city, walking along the regal riverside, blue and white lights twinkling off of the surface from incredibly European columns and facades.  So there’s an incredible dichotomy between the outskirts and the inskirts, both appealing in their own ways, and the city’s split personality is further defined by the presence of Calatrava’s winged Minneapolis Art Museum, which glides into Lake Michigan with a sort of alien grace.  Double-, triple-dig.

            Now we’re off to Chicago, where I have some friendlies.  Should be good, as long as Tristan turns off this horrific music.  I don't want to have to enact a Bus Owner Embargo, and it's one thing to subject your body to the horrors of fast food, but I don't want to draw any associated parallels between my bus and a place called "Ice".  I hate clubs and everything involved therein.  Hooray for Chicago!
            The night begins with us crawling into Bucktown at midnight, where North Street is full of neon and sluts.  Tristan’s friend advises us to park here, but obviously that’s not possible on the main road, so we head into the residential neighborhoods and park next to a school in what is surely a rather womb-like experience for Pearl; the curb gifts us a cherry tree that juts directly into all the windows, and, in a very Washingtonian manner,, The Beard hops out with a hatchet and trims her down with the cobblestone stoop homes bearing witness to all. .  We’re tired and slow moving, but we’re charged to change out of our sloppy undershirts and into some slightly-more-respectable digs.  Tristan leads the others ahead as Cornbread and I lock down the bus, and while trying to catch up to the others, the old redheaded locksmith trips on a crack, which apparently ruptures an artery, as blood is spraying everywhere.  He and I head back to the bus for a bandage, then try to catch up; they’re at The Flatiron, so we take Flatiron Alley, and soon Cornbread and I, amidst the alcoholic brick and the murderous steam, all reflecting off of puddles that couldn’t have come from terrestrial sources, start to consider mugging one another to ward off criminals (following Statute 12.2 in the Official Thieve’s Code of Conduct).  After marching around the neighborhood with a plum toe and diminishing will, we do find the place, and are lifted as if by a gust of wind when the juke greets us with some Bowie song I can’t remember.

            The bar is a touch grimy, but stylishly so, and we all sit by the pool table, ordering PBR from the waitress in blue while Tristan greets his blonde friend by engaging in a marathon conversation to last the duration of the night.  I occasionally engage in a game of pool – my luck is high, but The Beard’s playing to rigid rules – and often watch the monsters on the wall while a waifish blonde is twirled and dropped and flung around, vagina-first, by her two gay, drunken friends.  One of them tells The Beard that the stringy toehead has eyes for him, but he nods appreciatively and continues to play his pool as stoic as can be.  Navin, on the other hand, is outside with them in an instant for their smoke break (though he himself does not smoke), and we watch him through the glass as he discusses underwear, then drops his own pants in the middle of the causeway to display his wares.

            I, meanwhile, stand pat in my seat when a wavy redhead approaches me blinking big, wet eyes.  Her skin is a soft while and her toothless smile curls up like a cartoon’s, and when she’s not bobbing up and down, darting around, she’s nodding enthusiastically, making her hair flop all about.  I chat with her about this or that, my tongue tripping over its words, and reference Socialism when I mean to say socialite, for I can only dream and hope to keep up with a girl like this.  Everything I say, though, she responds to with an empty blink or a shrug, and soon I’m wondering why she remains at all when the conversation peters out as it does; soon I find it’s because she’s mute, and she brings her friend around to tell me so.  As she’s darting about, poking her head into the face of a serious pool player, mock-sneezing when he’s about to shoot, doing all the things a man’d get his ass kicked for, I curiously grill her friend, a standup fellow himself, about this bizarre and hilarious person.  Married young, failed soon after, she spends all her time running around like this for six days, crying on Sundays, challenging everyone she meets while deeply harboring a desire to meet someone to match her.  It’s all too much for me, and I’m immediately dreaming up fifteen hundred novels, some of heartbreak, some of love, to describe what it is in this bar.  Even better is when she and Navin cross paths, and they look like two puppies put into a cage for the first time together, mimicking one another like mimes on an imaginary mirror, trading off ballerina poses, rubbing one another’s faces, where one prays for the serendipity to draw such souls together forever.  Either way, she’s there and gone an instant later, and by the time the bar closes at 4:30, I’m getting Al’s number in the hopes of seeing the two in the day coming. 
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