Thurman and I stopped and spent the night in Hanford, a farming community on the way down to where we were going. Corcoran, the town where we were headed was only eighteen miles south, so I asked Thurman why we just didn't keep on going.
He grabbed his suitcase out of the back of the truck and tossed it down on the sidewalk in front of a large, bare wooden building with a sign in the front window that said in big, bold, red letters
We do Yur laundry by hand
I took one look at the sign and said, "I don't know, Thurm. Seems like we still might be in Oklahoma."
He shook his and replied, "Don't know about that. Whoever made this sign spelled laundry the right way. Besides it wouldn't do to go start off a new life by rolling into town in the middle of the day."
It took me more than a second to realize that he was answering my first question on the tail end of another idea.
The inside of the laundry room where the washing took place was bare wood too. I had been in California the better part of a week, and I saw a lot of unpainted wood. Made me wonder if there was a shortage of paint, if the people were too lazy or busy to paint, or if they just had an aversion to painted wood.
It did remind me of home in that regard cept people back home generally painted something once and called it good. I guess they figured they had made a go of it and felt that if the wind and rain reclaimed it that it was all part of the natural cycle.
The older looking Chinese lady wearing a light blue smock asked me a question, "You want starch?" I looked and she was holding up a bundle of my underwear.
I was half in the room and still half in Oklahoma evaluating the lack of paint on barns when she asked, so I didn't answer.
Thurman answered for me, "That's his undergarments, Ma'am. He don't like his stiff things in his undergarments ."
The woman said for us to come back in a few hours, so we left. The country kind of reminded me Oklahoma with lots of fields and trees. We were driving out west of town seemingly heading nowhere in particular, so I asked " OK, now I get it. Who shot who here, or what famous outlaw got hung from that tree." I pointed out the window at a random tree."
"Well, funny you should ask. That area where that laundry we was at was located where the Chinese leader Sun Yat Sen came to California on a fundraising tour. He stayed four days if I remember right."
"Thurm, I ain't got a fucking clue who that be. I have hard enough keeping up with us Mericans, I ain't got no room in my day to remember the Chinee or what they might have did. I do know of Confucius though. "
"He's the boss of China."
"So, we are driving out to see the place where this Sun Yat was born or what?"
"No, he was born in China; he only came here to raise money. We are driving out to see a place where a famous shooting took place."
I decided to just shut up reckoning it would save me the trouble of thinking, and that he would explain shit once we got where we were going. I don't know where he got all of his facts, all he ever read was the newspaper as far I knowed, but there were alot of times that I wished he keep more of them to own damn self instead of spraying them out like machine gun bullets.
Well, let me take that back. He never did spit em out all forceful like, but would just let them roll out like water rolling down the side of a mountain in a small stream at first, but if you didn't check it it right away, it would pick up momentum and turn into a river.
Sometimes I would just let him go like when we were driving across the flat, dusty, boring ass plains of West Texas. Listening to him talk then helped fill the time. Besides, it was easier to listen to him tell me about the Civil War battles that our folks had been involved in than to think about the graves up on that hill back home.
Other times, I'd try to turn the course of the conversation in as many ways as possible. He'd start out talking about the Kings and Queens of Europe and before too long we'd be arguing over the merits of different flavors of chewing gum. Even then, he would amaze me with what he knew and how seamlessly he could keep the water flowing downhill while it took everything I had to try and damn the flow.
After about fifteen minutes of driving, we finally arrived a place in country that looked like a million other places I knew; it look liked any damn field in the whole damn world, a whole big bunch of nothing. A field, a plain ass field with some trees around it. There was a slight depression to the north of where we stood that looked like it might have held water at some point.
Thurman jumped out of the truck and stretched his legs out. He was wearing his levis and blue work shirt and the flat brimmed cowboy hat that he had bought in Lincoln, New Mexico. He then walked a few steps out into the field, bent down a pulled a stalk of grass out of the ground and stood back up with his eyes searching the surroundings for something. I couldn't see nothing worth looking at, so I was slow to get out of the truck.
Someone had nailed a handmade sign to a tree by the side of the road. It read,
Mussle Slew Trajedy -
7 men lost there lifes here on May, 11, 1880,
In a disspute over land.
I immediately thought that this sign once again reflected upon the sorry state of general education in California.
It was like Thurman could read my mind, " Someone who cain't spell wrote it. Ain't no use you thinking ever body here cain't spell."
He went back to his searching, and I kicked over a rock and then bent down and dug out the top of a glass bottle that was buried in the ground. In the afternoon sun, it had looked kinda like a diamond ring. I was examining it when I asked Thurman, " Might I ask why you drug me out here in the middle of nowhere to look at a misspelled sign?'
He didn't even turn around, " Read the damn sign, Billy. Seven men were kilt here in the space of a few minutes."
I gave him a few seconds to further explain, and when he didn't, I stated rather petulantly, " Still don't see how it matters to me one way or another who killed who lessen it was me who did the killin or was on the receiving end of the killen.
Thurman kept on searching for whatever it was he was looking for, and it was a several seconds later before he replied. " I think we have firmly established the fact that you are as happy as pig in mud being the center of a very small world, and that nothing outside of that very small world holds much interest for you at all."
I knew he was going to go on a bit, so I interrupted, " I loved my wife and child. I like eating regular and having a drink at the end of the day and a good cuppa coffee at the beginning along with some bacon, eggs, and toast. I liked Oklahoma, mythology and books. I like knowing that Jesus died for my sins. I like reading about the Greeks and them stories. So excuse me if I appear to be uninterested as I see very few Greek mythological heroes running around these parts."
The outburst caught him by surprise. He turned around to face me before he had collected his thoughts enough to continue, then said, " But that's it! The fucking point I been trying a make ever since we left Oklahoma. Maybe you cain't see them, but them myths are here. So, are the heroes and their stories. They are everwhere we've been."
His face transformed as he continued. I don't know if was the sun shining through a gray cloud or what, but it seemed like his face was glowing.
"Seven men died here on day in a space of minutes. They were actin out a drama as old as human beings. It was like the story of Cain and Able except told with bullets." He could see I wasn't getting it, and so he slowed down some, Myths ain't no child stories. They are about the big, big moments in life masquerading as small things. What happened to you and your family was a myth; us being on this journey too. You just too damned dumb to see it.
You just rode across this country looking out the window and seeing nothing but a bunch of mountains, trees and shit. It's a bigger world than that and big things going on in it ever single fucking day."
" Bigger than Hilda Springs's ass?"
Whatever point he was about to make got stuck in mid-air. He had right index finger raised over his head like a Baptist preacher. He lowered it slowly, shook his head sadly, and spoke, "God damned, Billy John you are a dumbass."
"I was just grasping at things trying to come up with a comparison. You know trying to put it all into some perspective. You were talking about big things, and the biggest thing I could come up with was Hilda's ass. Woman had a humongous rear."
He quit talking for a bit and just wandered further out into the field. I didn't tell him so, but his words had moved me. When he had said that thing about life and myth being the same, I had felt the ground neath my feet move. I knew it was a big moment in a way, at least for me, but that feeling of the ground moving was kind of unpleasant, so I made a joke.
On the way back to town, Thurman was engrossed in whatever it was he was thinking about. We came to an intersection a couple of miles down the road before he spoke again, " I seen her ass you know?"
My jaw dropped, "Hilda Springs?"
"Yeah, when I about twelve, I was going fishing down at one of the feeders into Mud Creek one day, and as I was walking, I heard some noises in the bushes. When I went to investigate, I snuck up behind some bushes where there was this small clearing. I pulled some of the bushes aside, and I saw Hilda squattin stark neked on top of her dad's farm hand." He was acting out the story as he told it, "From the back, it looked like it was some gigantic, white, fleshy, space creature type of beast eating him alive."
"What was he doing?"
" He seemed to being enjoying hisself. Ever so often, I'd hear him say, 'Oh, God! Oh, God.'"
I thought about it for a bit then answered, " Only goes to prove I was right."
His eyes turned puzzled, "Right? About what?"
"Bout the size of her ass being a good comparison for all the big shit you was goin on about."
He was even more puzzled, " How the hell you figure that?"
" Well, it must have been pretty substantial if it had Moses evoking the Deity."
He didn't hesitate before answering " He coulda just been a Holy Roller. Them sumbitches get that excited over a blister."
We drove back to get the laundry and then stopped downtown at a cafe to eat. When we got out the truck in front of the cafe, Thurman said, " I guess we'll roll into Corcoran first thing in the morning."
When I didn't answer him, he added, "I thought, the trip would be an educational one, and you'd learn something. I guess that I was wrong on that account."
"Oh, I wouldn't be so quick to say that. I got a couple things out of it alright."
"Yeah, I got here. I'm in California, and I also got an image of Hilda Springs's ass gobbling up old Moses Moore that I probably ain't never going get shed of."
"Well, there ya go, another myth."