Big John, 2016
There stands Big John firm against the brilliant sky, tall and hollow, alone and happy. He's been there awhile now, along Highway 61 on the outskirts of town. It's hard to say whether he's coming or going. But he's a happy, abandoned relic in the roadside museum of American kitsch.
Yes, there he stands, an empty-armed mascot of a supermarket that once was but is no more. Big John is unburdened now, free of the fiberglass bags of groceries filled with myths that he once carried and free even of the supermarket itself that told him who he was: provider, breadwinner, hardworking family man who brought home the bacon.
A hundred yards to his north sits a boarded-up "gentleman's club," a "strip joint" in the unvarnished vernacular of working class men in blue jeans and tieless shirts like Big John. I wonder if Big John ever feels his hollowness on some of those dark, lonely nights along the Blues highway. I bet he's tempted to stumble in there, imagining himself a supersized Don Juan with a giant fistful of dollar bills in search of intimacy and companionship now that he is out of work and short on self-worth. But alas, his feet are bolted firmly to the ground.
A bit to his south is a fireworks stand where the crowds pull in to buy their freedom by the box. For a few bucks and weeks in midsummer, they can bask again in "the rocket's red glare" while waiting "for the dawn's early light." I wonder if Big John ever wants to swagger over there and light a few Whistling Petes or Roman Candles in the name of liberty, reliving the founding myth of bullets, bombs, and liberty one sparkler at a time. But alas, his feet are bolted firmly to the ground.
A dozen yards to his east is the ramp onto Highway 61, the way out of Dodge. I wonder if, short on work and meaning, lonely and disconnected, and bored with the the rituals of bullets and bombs, Big John ever longs just to "hit the road," to ride off into the sunset like a cowboy in search of a fresh start. But alas, his feet are bolted firmly to the ground.
Being tied down has saved Big John, saved him from himself and saved him for us. Being bolted down isn't so bad. Look, he still smiles and even has shiny shoes. And watching over the endless line of other cowboys on their way out of town seems good for the big soul of this grinning idiot.
Hey cowboy, as you whiz down Highway 61, pay attention to the kitsch. It can teach you more than it ever intended.