. It is the kind of moment that shoots itself straight into your bones and stays there, the experiential delight that one plans an unplanned trip for, the free beauty and ecstasy that can’t be duplicated for all the money in all the coffers of the business suit world
. All night we’ve had cars pull up alongside us to look out at the framed view of the twinkling town below, surely couples that come to sit on the hoods of their cars holding hands, touching noses, reading constellations, and while we sit here getting drunk, talking about the depth of romance, the albatross that hangs across the necks of so many otherwise functional humans, it is nice, if hopeful, to think that the music emanating from Pearl’s gut only helps them get that much closer. I throw on my usual moonlight crew: Guillemots, M. Ward and She & Him, Aki Tsuyuko, a little Long John Baldry, Cliff Martinez, but everything falls at the feet of Beethoven, and George Enescu is next. If only I had Chopin on my iPod, the stars would burst into flame and lovers everywhere would plunge into some sort of sad, emotional, romantic passion inimitable but by nature herself. This is a night where we’ll all fall asleep without concern of locking doors or setting pillows, as the world seems to have lined itself up completely. I can’t help but be thankful – I’m sorry, I keep shoving this down your eyes – for being part of this amazing experience.
Anyway, back to the chronology. We wake at seven as we’re parked smack in the middle of the city of Knoxville, right in front of a café, and Cornbread, Shmark and myself feel through our exhaustion to tear down the curtains and cots so we might drive to a more acceptable and legal locale
. Cornbread is indeed bouncing around with energy, imploring and joking, and I hate his guts for it. Shmark is passed out in the back already, and The Beard is still sleeping in his cot above, the chains and piping slamming against the bus at every turn or bump, and I hate the two of them, too, for I am awake. Cornbread tries to ask me this or that, where I think we should park, but I can’t physically respond, I’m so tired at 7am (those of you with real jobs are hating my guts at this moment, if you weren’t all along). In spite of all of this, and thanks to CB’s clear-headed prowess behind the wheel, we drive a few miles outside of town and park alongside a grassy knoll that will eventually lead into the Knoxville Zoo. The minute Pearl’s in neutral I’m asleep again, sweating all my water into the cushions on the box, and even the poor fellow charged with mowing this immense lawn that surrounds us at a distance can’t stir me from my slumber, even if he’s at it for a few hours. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the others’ sleep, as they apparently get none at all, though you wouldn’t guess it, considering that by nine Cornbread, Shmark and I are all awake pissing in the open lawn, writing, reading our books, until The Beard is up by eleven-thirty. Once his head is up, we’re, “what the fuck are we doing here, still?” We shove off in the direction of Nashville without any clue between.
As The Beard had come from Nashville to meet up with us, it stands to be only fair that we don’t go directly back to that city, and thusly we take a small detour to the Smokey Mountains. If nothing else, they sound delicious, don’t they? I don’t know when or where it happens, but we soon arrive at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, where Shmark fills our water bottles while I’m on my first daily bowel movement, and The Beard is in the center, studying a topographical map in the interest of determining where Pearl can go without overheating. Freshly clear of all things burdensome, I join him in the center, and opt to ask the park ranger that looks slightly like the priest in The Royal Tenenbaums
(the one that gets pushed down the stairs), with wide, judging blue eyes and a bushy white brow. He points us toward Townsend, and we comply with his kindly advice.
Along the way, we’re studying with jealousy the river that slithers its way amongst the ivy overgrowth – it’s something so unique to this area, from initial view, and so eerily beautiful, how ivy is so dominant that it covers everything
, from forest floor all the way to the tops of trees, as if it were some sort of evil fungus, though it may as well be – and after a time, we can no longer bear it, pulling ourselves over to a precarious spot on a cliff, ripping our filthy, sweaty shirts off, hiking down the cliff, and splashing immediately and manically in the brisk and beautiful liquid
. The rocks within are all rounded by aquatic time and covered in slithery brown algae, but the current is not so strong to where we can’t use the stuff to just slide around on our rears. There’s even a miniature waterfall with carved rocks where we can sit comfortably as the river rages overhead. Lean back against the rock and you find yourself in a sort of echo chamber that exists in bottled water commercials; we even hop onto the top of the falls to lock knees against the current, daring it to throw us the ten inches overboard, completely comfortable in leaning back and letting the strong of the tide support our weight. Again, we partake in the Campsuds and enjoy our THIRD BATH IN THREE DAYS! Finally, the shade offered in the forest means that we’re not sweating so much until we’re filthy again, five minutes later. Tennessee is wonderful.
We drive along further and spy a few adolescents diving into the water from a ten foot rock, and we park the car to spy on the for a bit; Shmark is not ogling the teenage girls in bikinis, and nor are any of the rest of us. We do watch The Fat Kid climb up and flop down over and over again, splashing with his dimpled belly, waddling in the water back to the launching pad where he does it all over again, insatiable in his delight. A young girl in water moccasins, however, spends the duration of our viewing time walking out to the ledge, prepping herself to jump as an old time golfer addresses a tee, then backing off into safety behind, over and over until we get so annoyed that we have to leave
. It’s tragicomic to imagine her doing this every Wednesday afternoon until she’s sixty, then finally mustering the courage to leap, and in doing so, hitting her head on a rock and meeting her ultimate demise. Shmark just talked in his sleep, and in whatever language he’s speaking, I’m sure he’s informing me that I’m on my way to hell.
We finally reach the destination that the old man told us about, but it’s swarming with stupid rafting businesses and overpriced camping sites. In the same vein, the town where The Beard’s hitchhiking hosts told him to visit is basically all Ripley’s Believe It Or Not architecture, full of over-the-top, tasteless attractions and little of the culture for which we’ve come to really appreciate this state. I guess it proves that advice is half the beast that is experience herself, and that you can only trust tips to a certain point. We drive right through this town, up a one-way alley alongside a marsh that is also overrun by ivy but punctuated by a tiny blue house wrapped in rusting auto parts, boasting a most enviable place in the world, and are forced to turn around when the home’s resident pulls up, waving kindly, to be fair, in his pickup, telling us without words that we’re not to camp here for the night. We soon find a parkway that leads back into the national park, drive up the hill to our current vantage point, and lay on towels reading for a while as Shmark pounds away at the piano – his love of and commitment to music is something to really, truly admire – before The Beard and I deem it worth a trip back into town for beer and supplies for dinner and breakfast
. Cornbread seems unimpressed with drinking more, and I do side with him on a level, but humidity does dictate refreshment, and we make our way to a general store, whose proprietor is so southern that I am simply unable to make out anything he’s saying. “Mmbbago slayyto orn der beargo.” What? Back up the hill we go and begin the lovely night outlined above. I’ve finished this entry in a hasty manner, but everyone’s been asleep for an hour and if I stray too far from the general sleeping schedule, I’ll be curtains all day; I sound old.
********QUIZ TIME**********QUIZ TIME**********QUIZ TIME*************
Alright, we’re going a bit musical on this one, but the round will be John-themed: “I am a famously tragic folk hero, renowned for my work on the railroads, commemorated by numerous artists, most recently on a 2006 album by Bruce Springsteen (which even Shmark himself enjoys in spite of claiming to hate The Boss). HENRY OR HARDY?
DAY FIFTY-FOUR: I know I always try to write chronologically – such importance is dictated by the fact that every entry is led by the day of the trip – but I brought out my computer tonight specifically to capture a moment and all devices and manipulation be damned, for this is absolute magic. We're parked at a turnoff a few miles away from a campsite on some peak in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park here in Tennessee, and after a dinner of Bush’s Baked Beans and Safeway Spaghetti, after sitting under the stars and the noisy and melodic insects in the trees above, greeting two wild kittens, one loving and desperate for love, the other skeptical and standoffish, we, now sipping Milwaukee’s Best with a cheekful of sunflower seeds (these the kind without MSG, thanks) are sitting together in the darkness listening to Ludwig Van’s "Adagio" from