The shimmering curtain of late summer heat maintained an uncertain distance
as I raced along the narrow ribbon of pavement. I had long since tired of the
mirage and its equally illusive accomplice, the maddeningly flat terrain that
stretched on forever in all directions. Together they poked and prodded at my
imagination until I began to wonder whether I was really moving at all or simply
frozen to the spot as the unchanging world rushed past.
So when the billboard loomed out of the haze inviting me to Grab a cold one at
Walt's General Store and Feed Emporium (just five easy miles east of the
highway) I took the exit without the slightest regret for the detour. There was
nowhere I needed to be, no one waiting anxiously for my return; just the end of
another long and mildly fruitful sales trip through the farm belt.
The wind swept through the open window as I sped past fields of corn and soy and
sunflower, leaving a long trail of dust to slowly settle back to earth. In one
of these fields I noticed a young man driving golf balls into a plot of cut
cane. What caught my eye was the intensity the youth displayed towards the
practice session, and the odd fact that he seemed to be hitting an entire bushel
of balls instead of a mere bucket.
Welcome to Morely, Population 89 another sign announced as I entered the tiny
town almost hidden beyond it. Beneath this someone had scrawled: The smack-dab
middle of Nebraska. The entire town consisted of a single block and the eight
buildings that graced its parallel walks. Locating the general store was not a
difficult task, especially since the proprietor had painted one whole side of
its rusting tin roof with: "Walt's, Where You Can Get Just About Anything
You're Lookin' For."
"Yeah, right," I muttered as I left my car and climbed onto the
I stepped through the screen door and revised my initial estimate of the place.
It was much bigger than it appeared from the street, and the first thing I saw
upon entering was a wide assortment of computer hardware, each decked out with
the latest and greatest features fresh from the fertile valley of Silicon.
Surrounding this high-tech display, Walt had carefully arranged an ensemble of
stuffed prairie dogs posed with various musical instruments. Their bright, beady
eyes glittered with mockery.
My interest piqued, I began to wander down the aisles. Most of the shelves
seemed devoted to the ordinary staples found in any backwater store, yet
sprinkled here and there among the everyday were other, less pedestrian wares.
An Italian espresso machine tucked innocently between the Coffee Mate and the
Folger's Crystals caused me to linger for a moment, as did the vintage WWII U.S.
Army Air Corps parachute that was trying very hard to blend in with the rest of
the sporting goods. I strolled past a saxophone, a speargun, a jackhammer, a
telescope, a fax machine, and a lobster trap that reeked of brine and seaweed. A
hijacked New York City parking meter, its red violation flag waving impotently,
lured me down an aisle to gawk at a rather shocking array of women's lingerie
modeled on, of all things, old milk cans with faces painted on their battered
But by far the most interesting item that Walt had to display was the huge polar
bear rug that had been tacked across the back wall. Dangling from a shiny claw
was a small tag claiming that the rug was once the property of Errol Flynn and
the site of many a risqué romp with an assortment of Hollywood starlets. I
stepped back and pitied the once majestic brute, finding it hard to imagine
wicked old Errol writhing naked on the snow-white fur with Monroe, or Mansfield,
or whomever, clutched in a drunken embrace.
I suppose the idea was for someone to purchase the rug and carry on the
tradition, but the bear's hazy glass eyes had an odd glint to them, as if to
suggest that they had witnessed enough fornicating, thank you very much, and
would like to be left to hang in peace. Even the carnivorous mouth managed to
express its contempt for the rug's sordid past, frozen not in a snarl but rather
a grimace of distaste.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...