Research Notes, Days 9 and 10

Headed home.


May 27, 2013

“Satan is a snake with no leg to stand on,” a church marquee in the Florida Panhandle says. A man calls a rattlesnake Johnny No-Shoulders. Forest fire outside town, tall pines and palmetto. Sea Crows cry, “Uh-uh! Uh-uh!” in negation and denial. Muscadine grapevines in the scrub. The temptation of sin in the flames.

The homesickness so deep it’s nauseating that goes away after just a week. Oddly it’s because you get so sick of the road that you want to be home for your own sake, not for who’s waiting there, and then you realize you’re set free; anywhere will do.

That useful metaphor: The deadman, a buried anchor, such as a log in the sand, to keep a boat from floating off. Negative connotation: tethered, not free. Positive: secure. Applies to people too.

BG, who was obsessed with figurative qualities of vulgar language. “Picture this,” he’d always say: “Turd bird. I mean, a bird made of crap flying around overhead. Isn’t that weird? Where’d that come from? Picture this: Hammered shit.”

A stop at a shipyard in Biloxi, the beauty of various craft, as utilitarian as Huey or Blackhawk helicopters, as perfectly designed as spoons. What rots and rusts now would be treasured in museums of the future. The prevalence in marinas all over the region, from Louisiana to Florida, of small steel or aluminum pusher boats modeled on landing craft design. Swords to ploughshares.

My last major stop of the trip: A Vietnamese fishing community far south of New Orleans, profiled in a major news outlet for how the BP disaster disrupted their lives. Due to cultural and linguistic difference they were preyed upon by carpet-bagging lawyers and missed other opportunities for relief. Frenchy and I didn’t eat lunch for hours on the road, anticipating the perfection of the pho and cha gio we would get there. Long, long drive, hours out of the way, a day of travel, down through five-building towns on the watery land and along a canal. More shipyards, drydocks, oil rig supply boats, trawlers, the water just inches from the road even now, let alone in a hurricane. The two-lane highway curves around to go over a long bridge-causeway toward a barrier island that’s mostly empty. But where is our town? Mapquest doesn't even name such a town, though it rightly identifies a range of numbers along this stretch of state highway. The road continues, in a sense—a gravel and potholed blacktop advancing a quarter mile through a scattering of trailers, weedy lots filled with scrap metal and hurricane debris, a gas station and its restaurant on stilts, all something beyond industrial, more like an outpost, maybe from the movie Outland, with Sean Connery, high noon in desert space. Frenchy incredulous—“What newspaper did you read about this place in,” he says, not a question. “I don’t see a single Vietnamese name or word, not on the restaurant, on signs, on boats, nothing.” I start snickering at the folly while eating a fried shrimp sandwich in the restaurant, which is also a convenience store, bait shop, and motor parts store. The employees shout to each other between the two halves of the establishment, over the TV blasting overhead. A cashier opens a window and screeches down to a man trying to pump gas two stories below. I laugh harder, it’s getting difficult to chew and swallow the dry sandwich. We roll out of town, and Frenchy says, “That sign is the only thing I believe about this place.” I look where he's pointing, and the sign says: Bump. Laughing so hard I can’t see the road for tears.


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