On the banks of the Mississippi


If you’ve got any spare cash lying around to invest in a sure thing, don’t listen to all the liars on the radio trying to sell you pieces of scrub land in Colorado or smoothie franchises. All you have to do if you want to clean up is go long on air conditioning manufacturers. They’re going to make a mint. 

Roo thinks she died and went to hell. For the first time in at least a year she bailed out on her shotgun seat and went in back. Here we are in mid-May, and already the bottom half of the country is in the 90s. It’s murder out here. Everything from Atlanta to north Florida is going up to 100 this week, but that’s only a few degrees hotter than it’ll be for 500 miles north of that. Everyone all the way up to Cincinnati is going to get broiled. And just wait until July and August for the real heat to sink in. The country is going to turn into a raging tenement fire.

Not too surprisingly, the refrigerator in the camper had it up to here with the heat and called it quits today. All the special bones I stocked up for Roo in Oklahoma are shot. Nothing goes bad as fast as bones. I don’t know how I’ll explain it to her. Tomorrow morning I’ll be performing surgery on the fridge, here on the banks of the Mississippi near the Tennessee-Missouri-Kentucky border. We landed in an especially humid place favored by a breed of famously vengeful mosquitoes. It’s a miracle that they managed to get rid of malaria in this country, but they did, so at least that’s one less thing to worry about.

We made it to Mountain View (if you didn’t read about the difficulties getting there, here’s the story). I’ve never seen any place like it. Everyone in that town plays some kind of instrument. Roo and I walked down to the the city park, and there were two jams going on. One of them featured the guy who owned the RV camp where we stayed. He played the mandolin, and man, could he play. Even Roo, who has earned her profound hatred of the mandolin the hard way, was soothed by his playing. I laid off playing the thing after that, mostly out of shame after being reminded of what it’s supposed to sound like, but also to let Roo live with her good impression of the mandolin for a while. Not that it could fool her. If I ever take the thing out again she’ll be right back to wanting to chew it to pieces like a rat skeleton.

All the businesses in Mountain View have banjos or fiddles on their signboards. There are even a couple of guitars up on pegs in the grocery store in case anyone needs to break out in song as they move from the produce section to the meat racks. The campground office looked like it was one of the barber shops when I was growing up in New York, with dozens of framed pictures of celebrities on the wall. Instead of Soupy Sales and Burt Reynolds these were all country and bluegrass players. All the pictures were inscribed to the mandolin-playing owner. They all probably all tried talking him into joining their bands, but I guess he prefers to stay in Mountain View.

But there is a downside to Mountain View: ticks. Trillions of them. Last night, after the thunderstorms hit and Roo squeezed in next to me on the dinette seat in the camper, I felt one on my arm. It was a minuscule nymph. Once you find one tick you start to imagine that they’re crawling all over your body, so, even though I had checked earlier, I checked again. I had nine more.

Some of the ticks were too small to identify, but there seemed to be a variety. The good thing about getting so many different ticks all at once is the chance you get to study their different temperaments. When it comes to outright surliness, the Lone Star tick is in a class of its own. They attach themselves to you like a suture, and when you try to rip them out they hold on until your skin is stretched out in a little tent as if you’re being poked from the other side with an ice pick. When you finally get them, they’re so ticked off that they start fighting you and you have to be careful not to let them get the upper hand because they’ll wrestle you straight to the ground and start punching you in the face. Those Lone Start Ticks are a real son of a bitch, but, with the heat getting turned up the way it is, it’s their world now. We better get used to them.

Every person to whom I mentioned anything about ticks in Mountain View agreed that there seem to be more of them now than there have ever been. The woman in the office at the campground had just mentioned the need to watch out for them while I was checking in, and just then one started crawling up my arm.

“Speak of the Devil,” I said.

“Oh!” she said. I flicked him away and another one started crawling up the same arm. They were advancing like a Fifth Column.

We weren’t going to stick around anyway. My doctor in North Carolina has decided to stop writing prescriptions for me without my coming in to see him, so we probably have to go there. But with this heat, I don’t know. That, and if I pick up my mailbox full of threats from the government and various banks it’ll break the spell of ignorance.

So, our next destination is unknown, beyond the certainty that it won’t be Switzerland.