The American Bottoms

August 7, 2014

This part of the Mississippi River Valley has some of the richest soil on earth. Look on a topographical map and read its designation: The American Bottom. Drive south along Route 3, parallel to the river and gaze on the immense flat, black plains, the rich soil heavily infused with limestone.

The Cahokia Mounds builders knew it. Theirs was the first organized agricultural community in pre-history. Calhoun peaches know it (Georgia, thy charlatanic peaches pale next to ours) and so do Poag watermelons and blueberries and blackberries and the best-tasting tomatoes in the country.

And there is another type of American Bottom—or should I say bottoms.

She walked into the café, her eyeballs honed in on her smart phone, and ordered something to go, without even looking at her waitress. She might have been seventeen, might have been a volleyball player. She was blond and tall and lithe, and her bluejeaned American Bottom was beautifully rounded and muscular and just slightly bouncy.

I didn’t like her—because of her jerk attitude—but art lover that I am I could admire her robust roundness from afar. (A waitress in a roadside diner, in “The Grapes of Wrath” calls such uncompassionate customers, “shitheels”)

She sat at the first table by the entrance, still absorbed in her ironically named smart phone, completely disinterested in the people in the room. Her waitress looked over at me and rolled her eyes: dumbass teenager.

He walked into the café a couple of minutes later. You could hear him coming, the scraping of his swollen feet and the metallic clackity-clack of his aluminum walker. His breathing was like moaning. He might have been seventy-five, might have been a retired farmer. He weighed at least 350 pounds. His shirt was a tent. His grey beard was unkempt, long strands of his mustache blowing in and out of his mouth.

He had to place the walker, which seemed in danger of imploding from the strain of its owner, two feet in front of him, to clear his enormous girth, making him lean perilously forward, in danger of tipping forward and down.

He wanted that first table. He moaned and glanced at Blondie the oblivious. She didn’t see him. She didn’t see anything. The next ten or so tables were taken by customers; he was in for a journey.

He planted the walker and stepped, planted and stepped again. And his pants fell down, revealing threadbare, stained boxer shorts on his enormous American Bottom. He grabbed the back of his worn khaki pants and hauled them up below his belly.

He planted the walker and stepped, planted and stepped again. And his pants fell down—again—revealing the boxer shorts and a butt crack the size of my wrist. He grabbed the backs of his worn khaki pants and underwear and hauled them up below his belly. He had twenty feet to go. He improvised by pushing the walker with one hand, keeping his other hand on the waist of his pants and stepping straight-legged and tenuous.

Finally, he collapsed into a chair. I was sure the chair was in agony. The waitress approached him.

“Sorry for the peep show, hon, I have lost a lot of weight and I cain’t keep muh pants up.”

The room fell silent. The girl tapped at her smart phone. The waitress bit the inside of her cheek.

The old man ordered the #1 breakfast: two eggs, two bacon strips, two sausage links, toast and hash browns. As the waitress turned to walk to the kitchen, he called her back, opined as how he was starving. He added a full stack of pancakes and a breaded chicken breast sandwich.

The smart phone girl bounced her fine American Bottom to the cash register, her meal fist-sized and bagged. She actually paid without looking, throwing some bills on the counter and turning to walk away.

“Do you want your change, ma’am?” the waitress asked. The girl reached behind her for the money—without looking; the coins dropped to the floor. She left. No tip. A nickel and some pennies on the floor.

I didn’t wait around to see the old man eat his gluttonous breakfast/lunch/dinner.

I have nothing to say here, no moral of the story to offer. This isn’t about sex or sexy—it’s about a seemingly unfeeling girl. This isn’t about morbid obesity—it’s about a lonely old man, his former dignity evolved to grotesque slovenliness.

And the American Bottoms—the profoundly fecund one and the human ones. I see things; I write; I report.

Why am I so sad?

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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