To the west black clouds towered over the brown spring plain. Hot flashes strobed through the thunderheads. A swirling finger touched the earth.
"The Dakota Indians called tornadoes iYumi which means bastard son of Face and Wind
"An appropriate name and this one doesn't look friendly either." Brock aimed his movie camera at the roiling wall of weather.
"No, it doesn't." I stepped on the gas and the rented car ate up the rural road paralleling US 169. Young corn filled the fields. We hadn't seen a human for an hour. No one in New York or London had ever traveled this route through Iowa.
"We're heading north?" Brock studied the map. The Scotsman couldn't drive, but knew the points of the compass.
"Yes." My only tornado sighting came from THE WIZARD OF OZ. "Far from that."
We approached a deserted farmhouse with a haunted yard. Paint peeled off the walls like potato chips. All the windows were broken.
"Stop." He was the boss and I punched the brakes to batslide to a halt.
"When you think that family left that house?" The Scotsman stepped out of the car.
"Back in the 90s. Farms crapped out back then."
I got out of the rented Ford and shut off the engine. Brock walked around the house.
"We can't stay here long." I didn't like the look of the sky.
A storm's mutter invaded the quiet. The wind whooshed through the barren trees and the crackling of lightning bolts increased in volume.
As Brock set up his movie camera, he explained a little more about his film's subject, "Barry once said to a journalist, “I enjoy the third dimension and I appreciate material in time and space. I find it exciting to the eyes.”
"Then he'll love this." The house was timeless in its desolation, but a black funnel had formed several miles away. A little too close for comfort and I said, "Let's go."
We jumped in the Ford and left at full speed.
Thirty miles later we stopped at a Blackcat Fireworks store.
"This is the first store we had seen since this morning."
"Civilization at last. Can I use your phone?" asked Brock.
There was no service.
"We're in the middle of nowhere." He handed back the phone.
"There's a lot of that out here. Are you buying fireworks?"
"I love a little pyrotechnics." Brock was homesick for the noise of war and spent $100 on rockets and M80s. The only food for sale were sodas and potato chips. We sat back in the car and the filmmaker said, "Only four days ago I was in Afghanistan. Sometimes it was quiet like this. Sometimes not."
"Very and then you hear muffled explosions in the distance."
His sudden silence said he had seen the targets later.
Twenty minutes later we pulled over on a dirt road. Iowa had thousands of them. I lit the fuses and Brock filmed the explosions.
"Not even close to the real thing," he said, as the report of the last M80 faded into the tree line. "The ringing in your ears lasts for hours. Worse than the artillery were the IUD."
"You mean IED?" Road bombs had savaged the occupying troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Yeah, slip of the brain."Brock scanned the clearing sky. "Looks like we outran the storm."
"Maybe." I was superstitious and didn't like talking about storms or bombs.
We got back in the car and kept driving north.
We arrived in Des Moines after 5.
The state capitol was devoid of people.
"Is America dead?" Brock asked, as if a plague had killed my countrymen.
"After five everyone leaves the cities for their home, eat, watch TV, and then sleep."
"No, not us."
We visited the Barry's hare at the Art Center. Brock focused his camera on the statue. I sat in the car and called Thailand.
My son Fenway was better.
His mother was angry at me.
"Why you go trip? Why you not see son?"
I offered no defense, because a man was always wrong in the eyes of his woman.
We stayed the night in Des Moines. Brock and I ate ribs at the restaurant next to the motel. The TV over the bar showed fast cars. At the end of the meal I ordered a doggie bag.
"Why did Barry sculpt hares?" I asked, walking back to our room.
"One day he bought a dead rabbit from a butcher in England and remembered a jumping hare. To him it represented freedom. All kinds of freedom."
Freedom was hard to find in America of 2009 and I called Rockford in Iowa City.
The old hippie was looking forward to seeing us.
The next morning we left Des Moines. Silos towered over the old highway.
"This is farmland." Iowa was the center of America to me.
"It's all farmland. Corn and wheat."
"Tortillas and bread?"
"No, corn for bio-fuels and GMO cows."
The farmlands were a food desert.
"And prisons. My friend Rockford spent two years at the state penitentiary after the police had raided his farmhouse and found something else other than the grass they knew he had."
"And we're meeting him tonight?"
"But of course." Rockford and I went back to an acid trip on Moonlight Beach in 1974. He was a hippie, not a criminal.
Train tracks ran beside US 6 to Amana, the Old Pietist commune.
Only a few tourists were wandering around the Heritage site. It was too early in the season for the hordes. I ordered chicken pot pie and Brock chose a ham steak. The waitress served us water. There was no beer on the menu.
"What were the Pietists?"
"Disgruntled Lutherans seeking salvation through leading a virtuous Christian life dedicated to hard work or Werkzeug." I had studied religious sects in college.
"Mostly. They worked and ate in communes. Not many of them left here. Maybe a thousand."
After lunch we visited the brewery. It was the oldest in Iowa.
Brock filmed my drinking an ale.
"This can't be very cinematic."
"Barry likes to see everything."
"How much longer you think he has."
"He might make the end of the summer." Brock intended on visiting the artist in Ibiza after our return to New York.
"Do you think the Hare would like the beer?"
"Maybe the Hare Thinker. All the others run to fast.
I raised my glass to his toast and then sipped my beer.
"Hmmm good." I knew how to act for Brock.
Nice and natural.
Leaving Amana I received a call from Rockford. His farm was outside Iowa City to say he was holding something special.
Brock and I could only guess what that was.
We would find out soon enough.
Rockford and his son met us at a bar on the outskirts of town. I hadn't seen John since he was a baby. He was a teenager now.
I gave John a Ferrari jacket from my defunct internet site. He loved the red red. His friends picked him up.
They were going to a movie. X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
I had loved the X-Men as a boy. I never went to the movies anymore. I hated the smell of fake popcorn.
Once he left, we ordered another round.
Rockford told how we met and later worked as chicken messiahs.
"Yes, we were secret shoppers for KFC. We tested the chicken all over the USA. The car would be packed with packed with fired chicken and we'd distribute it to the homeless, who called us the chicken messiahs."
"Just like the SLA," I explained further how one of the girls at his Moonlight Beach commune looked like Patti Hearst."
We got stopped everywhere and she refused to dye her hair."
"Pam was beautiful."
We toasted her and the bartender offered us shots. I had a Jamison.
Jake was back from a 3rd tour in Iraq.
"It sucked. All I ever thought about was coming home and my commanding officer wants to go again."
"Bring the troops home. From everywhere."
The USA had troops in scores of countries.
The bartender, Rockford, Brock, and I clinked glasses.
Three right-wingers were drinking Bud-Lite at the bar. They must have heard me, because the chubby one said, "This country was founded on conservative values."
I slammed down my PBR.
"This country was founded on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, so shut the fuck up about your conservative values." Obama was my president.
"Calm down, my friend."
"No fucking way. I've been listening to their bullshit way too long."
Rockford suggested we move to the Deadwood, which was Iowa City's best dive bar.
"Sounds good to me>"
Brock and I had more front teeth than any of the regulars at the Deadwood. Rockford broke out a bottle of Bolivian Pink 1975.
"I've been keeping it for a special occasion and nothing more special than an old friend visiting me." Rockford offered me the first blast.
1975 had been a good year.
"Was he a hippie back then?" Brock's 'he' was me.
I hated being third-person.
"Not even close, but he was good people." Rockford knew my soul.
I got another blast.
2009 was even better, because we were alive and alive was all there was everywhere in the world.
After the bar closed we returned to our motel. We went to sleep, but Rockford kept hoovering his pile to dawn.
"Hope I didn't keep you up." His voice possessed a growl native to the Hawkeye State," he said, as I crawled out of bed.
"Not at all." I had crashed into the pillows like a plane without wings.
"It was nice to meet you." Brock was polite.
"I wish you could stay longer."
"Me too." Brock was no angel, but a museum in Minneapolis expected him tomorrow.
Rockford said good-bye and drove back to his farm. We skipped the motel's complimentary breakfast and hit I-380 northbound.
"I love these dirt roads." Brock was into the trip as much as the movie.
"Only trucks and traffic on the interstate."
I pushed the Ford to 90.
We had to make some time.
And time was easy to make once you were off the highway.
Especially when we had one more Hare to see.
To show to Barry.
It was far from the Fly-Over.