Back in May of 2009 business was slow on 47th Street. Richie Boy and I hadn't closed a diamond deal in weeks and his father was looking to cut operating costs at the jewelry store. His eyes fell on me.
"The goy isn't pulling his weight." Manny got mean in the low season.
"I'm doing my job."
"Standing around." Manny hated the sight of an idle employee. "For all the good you're doing, you might as well be a broom."
"Leave him alone." Richie Boy came to my defense. "He sold a ruby for a $1 million in April."
"That was April and this is May."
I was saved from any further abuse by a phone call.
It was Brock Dundee from London. The fifty year-old moviemaker was shooting a documentary about Barry Flanagan's statues. I had heard his name. Statues o Hares. Not Rabbits.
"He's not doing well, so I'm visiting his old pieces around the world and filming people's reactions to the hare sculpture and showing this footage to Barry in Ibiza. How'd you like to be my driver on a trip through the Midwest?"
"Firstly, because I can't drive and who better to show me America than a man who hitchhiked from Coast to Coast." Brock had been enthralled by my tales of the open road.
"That was back in the 70s." The fourth and last time was in the winter of 1975. "And I zipped through the flatlands as fast as possible."
"Then it'll be an adventure for both of us, plus I'll pay you $250/day plus expenses."
"Those are the magic words. When?"
"Count me in."
"I'll verify everything tomorrow; flights and all."
I hung up and told Richie Boy about my upcoming trip.
"What about work?" Manny wasn't happy with this news, since I came in early to open the safe.
"I'm getting paid more than you pay me."
"I wish I was going with you."
Without me there, his father would pick on his son and .Richie Boy and his father fought over everything.
"Go get me a broom. I'll call it you."
Manny loved that line.
"Fuck you." I loved that line as much.
The following week Brock and I set out from Chicago in a rented car.
The Interstate proved tough going and we traveled south on the back roads to avoid the 7/11s, fast food intersections, mall sprawl, and the interstates. The land was ancient. The banks of the Illinois River were dotted by 13th Century Indian mounds. The main settlement near modern-day St. Louis had been larger than London in 800 years ago.
The Cahokia Mounds were the biggest on the Mississippi. Brock and I climbed to the high plateau of the Monk's Mound. Its builders were gone, but to the south the spread of woods replicated the millennium-old vista.
To the north a six-lane highway hummed along the Interstate. We were the only souls in the ruins of suburban West Cahokia. No one lived there anymore, but neither do people populate the downtown Rockford, Illinois, which Brock and I visited at the end of our trip.
My friend Malinda came from this desolation.
Factories once employed thousands.
Manufacturing was gone and Illinois third largest city had a deserved reputation for crime. No restaurants were open downtown. Ruins doomed he streets to shadows even during the midday. Gunmen hung on the corners. Brock suggested that we leave. I offered no argument and explained how Archaeologists blamed the collapse of the Mississippi culture to the exhaustion of natural resources. America was dying due to the sale of its soul.
"Same as 800 years go." I could see through time.
"2012." Brock said in reference to the Mayans' end of times prediction the end of times.
"I think we can last until 2050," I said, driving out of Rockford.
"Judging from Rockford the end of times came a while ago."
"And no one will build any mounds here."
"No, there is nothing here."
And we were glad to leave Rockford.
It had nothing to offer us and I was glad to be heading back to Canokia.