Misery in Missouri – the birth of a poem

I think I almost died yesterday.
It was almost ninety and very humid. The weeds in the back yard were waist high. I changed the oil in the lawnmower, replaced the rusted spark plug that had come with the mower when I bought it ten years ago, and started cutting.
Halfway through and I was sweating profusely. Sweat was dripping off of me, my hair and clothes were soaked, but for some reason I didn't think of the danger – I was hot, but so what? I finished the lawn, washed my face, poured a glass of ice water and sat on the couch, and that's when it hit me. I was weak, disoriented, and realized I was suffering from heat exhaustion and had been very, very close to a heat stroke. Had I passed out while I was mowing I'd never have gotten up; I live alone, and there would have been nobody to find me and get me to medical care. Unconscious in the yard, I would have laid there until my body temperature reached criticality.
I realized this as I sat on my couch, sweating out what I was drinking in. I'd had two heat strokes in the past, back when I was a younger man. Once I'd seen it coming and gotten to an air conditioned public place before I passed out, and was taken to a hospital. The second time was at Disney, working in the hot sun when I'd collapsed on the asphalt. So I knew the danger, and had disregarded it. And here I thought it was only young people who were stupid like that.
Feeling a little better I thought “a beer would go down real good right now”, and headed to Felber's. My phone rang after I got there; it was Kathie, wondering what I was doing later. “Not sure,” I said. “I'm up at Felber's now.” She was at the park with her kids and grandkids and said that maybe we could do something later.
“Sure,” I said, “If I'm not too drunk to come get you.”
I took my draft outside to the beer garden, where someone was passing a bowl around. The pot made me feel a lot better, but the beer wasn't agreeing with me. I went back inside the bar; maybe the second beer would go down better. It didn't. I said something to Kathy, the bartender, whose name is thankfully spelled differently than Kathie's so the journal is less confusing than reality, about almost dying.
“At least I don't live in Joplin,” I said.
I went back home for more water, and called Kathie. “I doubt I'll be drunk,” I told her. “The beer wasn't going down good.”
“Why don't you come out here with us?” she said. I said “sure” and went out there. The park is right behind her apartment, which is handy for her I guess, as she doesn't drive. There were maybe a half dozen kids ranging from diapers to near adolescence, Kathie, five other women, and a very drunk, very gay man. VERY gay. Obviously gay; this guy made Kenny from My Name Is Earl look like a testosterone fueled macho heterosexual. His name was, coincidentally, Kenny.
This guy was the stereotypical limp-wristed gay. Every mannerism screamed “flamer”. I don't think I've ever met anyone like him before.
Kathie's friend Cynthia was as drunk as Kenny, and wouldn't stop hitting on me. It had nothing to do with me per se, except that I was male; she hit on every man that walked by. I probably don't have to say that she wasn't the least bit attractive. Both she and Kenny lived in Kathie's apartment building.
They ran out of lemonade, and Kathie asked if I'd give Ken a ride to the restaurant he worked in so he could pick up his paycheck; she was broke until Tuesday and he owed her money. “Sure,” I said, and gave Kenny a ride.
God but he was annoying. The damned queer couldn't keep his hands off of me. He bitched and moaned about his problems, which included having AIDS, being a drug addict, and having to face his boss when he was drunk. “At least you don't live in Joplin,” I told him. He stuck his head out the window and puked all over the passenger side of my car. At least he had his head outside. At least I don't live in Joplin...
He wanted to be dropped off at the apartment across the street from Kathie's apartment. “Tell them I got a phone call and you dropped me at Two Brothers and I'll be back in a few minutes.”
I lied and told him “sure”; I wasn't going to lie to cover up an addict's shenanigans, and went back to the park and told the girls. They were pissed, especially Kathie. “That son of a bitch is going to smoke his fucking paycheck! Take me over there so I can get my money before he smokes it. No, wait, we'll take my dog home and you can wait for me there. I'll tell him I saw another one of his crackhead friends who told me where he was.”
She came back and we went back to Felber's, where I got a pizza and salted the hell out of my pieces. The sweating had apparently drained my electrolytes and the salty pizza made me feel even better. I'd only had two beers and a couple of tokes hours earlier, but I started to realize that I was impaired, not by pot or alcohol, but from heat.
I took her home around eight thirty, walked her to her apartment and we had a passionate goodbye kiss. “I'm sorry for the way I act sometimes, but I have feelings for you and... well, I don't know why I get like that” she said.
“You're scared,” I said.
“Yeah,” she replied, “I guess I am.”
This morning I was listening to WQNA on one of their eclectic allkindsofmusic kicks (which I thoroughly enjoy) and following a rock song, a country song I'd never heard came on – and words completely different than what the redneck was singing came into my head unbidden. By the time I got the computer fired up the tune and most of the words had gone, but I managed to rebuild it.
A preacher held up his hand
And said “judgment day is on the land”
He was wrong except for me
And misery in Missouri
Everyone thinks it's swell
That Bin Laden's dead in hell
His violence could never do
What happens when a storm comes through
Everybody cried,
So many died
I thought Joplin was the place for me...
Misery in Missouri
I lost my home
And everything I own
I lost the baby that was born to me
Misery in Missouri.
Half the town is gone
I feel so damned alone
I lost my family
Misery in Missouri.

Thank God you don't live in Joplin. It's been on my mind a lot lately; as regular readers know, I've been through a tornado but it was a strong F2, it's impossible for me to imagine what an F5 must be like. If you have any spare change, please send it to the Red Cross or any of the other relief organizations that are helping those poor unfortunate people.
Every day is judgment day. Live accordingly. Today may be your last day on Earth.
May 30, 2011


July 20, 1969

mcgrew publishing