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Iggy's thirty-fifth year had been all about Being Here Now, thanks to the book he'd read profiling the counterculture man who turned from acidhead to yogi in a blink. He'd interpreted this to mean, at various points,
Do what I want right here right now
, if in a hedonistic, self-destructive mood;
I miss you and I want you to be here now
, if missing his ex;
Feel my body now
, during aroused moments, and, most true to the cause,
Maybe I do have a god-source, where is it, I need it right now
. He hadn't received any spiritual clues yet and therefore planned a deluxe Be Here Now package for summer, beginning with regular detoxifying lemon-cayenne cleanses and a high-protein, low-carb steak and salad diet.
While Iggy longed to take his health to the next level on a pilgrimage to India, all he could afford was a $3-a-night campsite in the Missouri Ozarks, where he'd heard of a dolomite canyon that hosted annual gospel choirs. He wanted to hear that country mountain singing, in case divine vibes might absolve him of the skepticism he'd been schlepping around like a suitcase with a broken zipper, dropping bits of his bitter aggregate, his heavy thoughts, everywhere he went. He buzzed his red hair and read a few more books on Buddhism to prep for the trip, aching to bury complaints about his life's sequence of events in the Ozarks. The regional potential for Christianity didn't bother him as much as it used to, since the Dalai Lama said that all religions aim towards goodliness. Meeting some Christians would be wise in comparison to assuming complete strangers were self-righteous and petty. It was small-minded of him to
criticize Christians when he hardly knew any and certainly had never spent more than 24 hours in the Bible belt.
After driving four days from California, across the Southwest and up through Oklahoma, Iggy selected a campsite on the banks of Missouri's Meramec, a gentle river whose ochre, chert-lined shores are hard and sharp in parts and velvety-smooth elsewhere. The chert hunks reminded Iggy of humongous camel teeth: the gorge was a dynamic, tawny experience. Many of the sedimentary chips resembled arrowheads, lending his temporary meditative landscape a tribal feeling. He pitched his tent and frivolously ambled away his first two afternoons on his patch of beach, slamming river stones together like a caveman. Some of these chert flecks housed dainty geodes with sparkling quartz crystal veins. He tended his rockhound hands, palms bruised from crushing rocks, in the aqua medicinal water. Both evenings he lined his lair's perimeter with mineral scores, ate simplyâramen and cans of beansâand did some zazen. Iggy had a week until the concert and planned to sit with his rock collection in the meantime.
As usual, his monkish plans went awry when he tired of pinto beans and craved a can of beer. Late afternoon on the third day he drove to the nearest diner, bought some French fries to eat while skimming the local paper's Crime Blotter, then stopped in the corner market for a beverage to make roughing it more palatable. Iggy was surprised to find that the convenience store had some apparently elaborate hook-up with Chinese importers, as he perused an immense collection of pyrotechnic supplies and fireworks. Way more variety in this remote store than in the Chinatowns on either coast. He selected some neon sparklers, smoke bombs that looked like mini-Navy submarines, and a Chinese lantern whistler and laid them on the counter.
“Best selection I've ever seen,” Iggy said, exhilarated.
“We like fireworks up here,” the clerk said. She looked to
be about twenty, had a mullet jelled back with extremely stiff curling-iron bangs jutting forward, heavy green glitter eyeliner, and wore a sleeveless black t-shirt that said
DON'T ASK ME
. The muddy car out front must have been hers.
“Any fireworks displays coming up?” Iggy asked, in opposition to the t-shirt's imperative. “I'm camping on the river for the week, getting a little stir crazy.”
“Not officially,” the merchant said, handing Iggy his change and goods. “But my brother is always practicing in our yard. He hopes to go pro.”
“Is he practicing tonight?” Iggy asked. “I'd tag along, if I could. I'll bring a couple sixers.”
“Probably is,” she said. “I'll mention to him your wanting to come.” The girl jotted an address down, described the dubious rural directions, and told Iggy to arrive just after dark. Iggy had a good feeling about the invitation.
“Ig,” he said, extending his hand. “Short for Iggy. See you tonight.”
“Jody,” the girl said, shaking back with an iron grip. “We'll party.” Jody smirked, and Iggy interpreted it to mean that they were going to get tanked. This was great, a date with the locals. Iggy headed back out to his campsite to river-bathe and change into clean clothes with the remaining sunlight.
As he put clean underwear on, he had no intention of showing them to Jody; it was more to boost his spirits and to enhance any impending camaraderie. His dad used to say that a person should always wear clean undergarments in case of a car accident. Otherwise, if ambulance technicians had to strip you, they might assume you're a dirty bird. Iggy hated himself for bowing down to this kid mentality, for allowing his dad's chiding voice into his head while preparing for a night out. But there he was after having scrubbed with castile soap, suds already downstream, self-consciously pulling crisp checkered boxers on
inside his tent.
, he thought, next pulling on his jeans,
for making me into a self-conscious wimp
. For a second, he even felt victimized by the whole of Western Society, after all, because it had dictated that father teach son to wear clean underwear at all costs. He was so middle class.
The real issue
, Iggy thought as he zipped his fly and combed his hair,
is our ill society
the barriers we build between ourselves
. Then, he remembered that he hated constantly doubting himself, his inner critic. Underwear has nothing to do with sociological barriers. Why couldn't he just pull a damn pair of boxers on without feeling so conflicted?
“This is exactly why I came out here,” he said to himself, inhaling the humid Ozark air, tying his bootlaces proudly, as if shooting off fireworks with strangers might cure his fears of being wrongly judged, and in turn, cure his own ineffable judgments. Judge not lest ye be judged. That was Christian, and it made lots of sense.
Jody's house was easy to find on County Road MM because it was dark, and he saw shimmering rainbows cascading up and down over the property. Nobody left porch lights on in these hills, and the moon, tonight a tiny, insignificant sliver, was waning towards the end of its cycle. Iggy followed the display and pulled up under a green and purple spark shower.
“Howdy,” he said, for the first time in his life. He was toting a case of beer as proof of ready participation.
Jody said hello then walked him over to her brother, who was lighting the fuse on a gargantuan tower called The Big One. He lit it, then took a few quick steps back before acknowledging Iggy's presence.
“Hey,” he said, offering an even stronger grip than Jody's had been. “I'm Kitty.” They all paused to listen to a tense bursting whistle followed by a silver explosion.
, Iggy thought. Kitty's buff, hairy arms were covered in modern primitive tattoos, and he too wore a sleeveless
black tee, but it said,
DON'T HATE ME BECAUSE I'M BEAUTIFUL
. The siblings must have purchased them in tandem. Iggy wanted to tell Kitty that he liked the shirt's irony, but thought he'd better take it easy until he understood Kitty's humor better. He handed the beers to Kitty, and Kitty nodded with approval. With this, the newly forged pal trio fired up a variety show while polishing off several cans of beer.
Tastes and preferences guided Jody and Iggy's first line of conversation while Kitty worked the display.
“I noticed you went for the smallest fireworks earlier,” Jody said, initiating the chat.
“They're illegal in California,” Iggy said. “I thought I better keep it simple.”
“California?” Jody asked. “I thought they went crazy there on Cinco de Mayo.”
“Southern Cali is one giant fire hazard,” Iggy said. “And honestly, I enjoy small displays as much as the fancy ones.”
Iggy realized this was an unpopular view, as he'd noticed that there were no sissy smoke bombs, worms, or sparklers on-hand in this household. Every firecracker in site was titanic, cylindrical, and erect; Iggy had entered a fervent penis world, much more macho than his own more tender universe.
Dudes blow each other's cocks up all night
, he thought snidely,
then stumble in to say their prayers
. He assumed that Kitty and Jody were Christians, due to region, but again, he caught himself making assumptions and aimed to halt this. Judging these firework displays, much less making immature, sweeping judgments against Christians who kindly invited him over, just minutes after arrival: geesh. He cursed himself and attempted to decontaminate his brain.
Love thy neighbor
it's all the same
, he generalized, continuing to talk with Jody about California versus Missouri.
Just then a snapping turtle ambled across the dirt driveway, through the obnoxious sirens of a Whistling Pete.
“That turtle must be deaf,” Iggy shouted, putting his fingers in his ears.
Once Kitty spotted it, it was doomed. “Kill it!” Kitty yelled, and the siblings brutally kicked the turtle back and forth like a football until its head and legs were hanging limply from its shell. Iggy almost barfed, but didn't feel he could intervene mid-violence for fear of Kitty's backlash.
“Why'd you kill him?” Iggy asked sternly, post-mortem, as he and Jody stared down at the dead turtle illuminated by yet another firework Kitty had already walked a few paces away to blast.
“You ever been bit by a snapping turtle?” Jody asked. Iggy had not.
“He was just trying to walk over to that pond,” Iggy said, pointing to the side yard. “He was probably going to lie down by his wife.”
“Turtles don't have wives,” Jody said, kicking dirt over where streaks of turtle blood marked the ground. Kitty sauntered over from pyro headquarters a few feet away.