Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Well, someone finally got it right

As many of you know, I' a struggling atheist, one that slips into superstitious thinking and panicky prayer when I hurt or lose something. But there is one thing I REALLY can't let go of; I've always said that the closest I've come to the experience of having real faith is through reading. I'm thinking of Haven Kimmel in particular. She would love this, I'm sure.
Maybe I am a little prone to romanticizing bookstores (ahem): the scope, the nature, the feeling they give you. But I also believe, dear readers, that they are my holiest places, where I can breathe in the smell of paper and glue, silently commune with my fellow parishioners, and sometimes, just sometimes, feel the presence of something larger than myself and terribly good.
What are your favorite bookstores?
Thanks to Tara for this

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Are you happy?

This feels apropos: sometimes I just need a little reminder. Thanks to Tara for this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New assignement: fake obituary

This piece is for my creative nonfiction workshop.
Former NC Senator Elizabeth “Liddy” Dole, 73, drowned yesterday in a mud bath at a high-scale salon in Washington, DC. The Red Door Salon, attended by many members of the House and Senate, provides many services such as facials, massages and aromatherapy which are covered under the health insurance afforded to member of Congress. Dole was a known opponent to health care reform and the recipient of a failing grade from the American Public Health Association indicating an anti-public health voting record. Had she survived and chosen to sue the establishment her reward may have been affected by her own yes-vote on limiting medical liability lawsuits to $250,000.
Born Mary Elizabeth Hanford in Salisbury, North Carolina, Dole’s origins became a source of contention in her bid for the NC senate seat vacated by the late Jesse Helms. Opponents pointed to her permanent residence, a condo in the infamous Watergate Hotel, which she and her husband, former senator and 1996 presidential hopeful Bob Dole, have owned for nearly 40 years. Her official residence was shifted to her mother’s home in Salisbury in order to seek election. After a comfortable childhood replete with niceties such as dance lessons and a beach house, Dole graduated high school having been voted as most likely to succeed. She then attended the honorary-Ivy League Duke University, as a brother before her did, and majored in political science, though her mother had hoped she would pursue economics. A member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, she was nominated to the May court and was titled queen. She was also elected student body president and graduated with honors as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, preparing her for post-graduate work at the blue-blood bathed Oxford and also a master's degree in education from Harvard University, no stranger to privilege and political capital of all stripes.
In 1962 Dole began working toward a degree in law at Harvard, one of only 24 women in a class of 550. Her mother was deeply disappointed that Elizabeth pursued her career over getting married and starting a family, despite the fact that her daughter was not seriously dating anyone at the time. Instead of wedding a phantom husband and building an empty house on the lot next to her family home in Salisbury, North Carolina, Dole graduated in 1965 and moved to Washington, beginning her political career in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under President Johnson. A registered Democrat, while Elizabeth was working for Johnson’s Great Society program, her future husband was voting against it. One must surmise from her later record that the future Elizabeth Dole--staunch conservative and loyal Republican--would have voted against the program as well.
Contradictions and change thus characterized Dole’s political life. After representing poor clients at a public interest law firm in 1967, Dole jettisoned her needy clients as her resume and connections took her to work officially for Johnson in the White House in the Office of Consumer Affairs. When Nixon came into office, the savvy (though not particularly loyal) Elizabeth switched her party affiliation to Independent and remained in the White House, one of a minority of staffers who was allowed to stay after the Republican president took over. The switch enamored her to Nixon and she assumed the position of executive director of the President's Committee for Consumer Interests in what Dole has categorized as the “heyday of consumerism”. Her experience here no doubt led many years later to the rebranding of her husband through dignified endorsements of brand names such as Pepsi and Viagra. Nixon then appointed her to the Federal Trade Commission for a seven-year term. After years of tutelage under Nixon and forgoing the young woman she was when she worked for Johnson, Dole switched parties again, this time to Republican, in 1975, shortly before she married.
Routes of power and the privilege of access brought Elizabeth and Bob Dole together within the insular circles of Washington politics. It is fitting that they were reacquainted at the party of Clement Stone, an insurance mogul and millionaire. Dole was reluctant to pursue Elizabeth romantically due to a thirteen-year age difference, but eventually he asked her to a date at the restaurant of Watergate Hotel, the site of this Washington power couple’s future home and the symbol of corruption that would color American politics for years to come. In a strange twist of fate, the apartment next to theirs would eventually be occupied by another symbol of political corruption, Monica Lewinsky.
Elizabeth, once so ambitious, set aside her own political career to campaign for her husband’s Vice Presidential run on the unsuccessful 1976 Republican ticket with Gerald Ford against Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. 1979 she left the FTC for good as she campaigned for her husband again, in another unsuccessful run, this time for president, in 1980.
Reagan’s victory led to renewed ambition and success for Elizabeth Dole, first as director of the White House Office of Public Liaison from 1981 to 1983, and as United States Secretary of Transportation from 1983 to 1987. She broke glass ceilings as the first female Secretary of Transportation and as the first female head of a military branch as the Coast Guard fell under the jurisdiction of the DOT. During this most fruitful political period, Dole began to question the centrality of her career to her life. She had no children though she was stepmother to Bob’s daughter from his first marriage. She was a political anomaly, a conservative female politician who had no children and was known as ambitious and successful. On the precipice of true success, Elizabeth Dole doubted her ambition and stepped back from politics while she had what she has characterized as “a spiritual awakening.” On the campaign trail with her husband in 1996, she could often be seen carrying a turquoise, leather-bound bible with her, winning the minds of conservatives and the hearts of Evangelicals, voters that would stand by her in later pursuits. Though she returned to politics under yet another president as George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of Labor, she left to become President of the Red Cross in 1991. She resigned in 1999 to pursue her own unsuccessful Presidential run. She found victory in the 2001 NC Senate race, filling the seat of the notorious and controversial Senator Jesse Helms after his retirement, like so much milk to his fiery moonshine.
Loyal at last, she voted along party lines, and was often counted on to co-sponsor bills rather than write her own. In fact, out of the 52 bills she authored, 46 never made it out of committee and only two passed at all. Her constituents often remarked on how little she was in North Carolina, in 2006 spending a paltry 13 days in her “home” state, no doubt preferring to stay in her luxury condo at the Watergate than in the confines of her Mother’s home. She was also voted one of the least effective senators, 93rd out of 100.
Despite, or perhaps because of her unremarkable senatorial record, Dole was elected chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Under her watch, Republicans lost the majority in the Senate, and were out fund-raised and out recruited by the Democratic chair. As a result, Senator John Ensign of Nevada soon replaced her.
In 2008, Dole lost her seat to Kay Hagan, a state senator from Greensboro, North Carolina. The convergence of many factors led to this underdog upset of the incumbent Dole including aggressive campaigning in the state by President Obama, galvanizing the Democratic base, and the unequaled spending of Political action committees for Hagan. Despite her pledge to run a positive campaign, Dole appeared desperate to change the momentum of the campaign, and authorized a series of extremely controversial commercials that painted Hagan, a Presbyterian Elder and Sunday school teacher, as an atheist. The ads prominently featured a woman’s voice saying “There is no God”, a voice that viewers were to surmise was Hagan’s. The commercials were largely considered the worst kind of political maneuvering, and routinely criticized as pure mud slinging. An unfortunate turn of phrase, considering. Atheists and agnostics poured money into Hagan’s campaign, exacerbating the worsening situation for Dole. She lost by an 8 point margin, the largest margin of defeat in the last thirty years of NC Senate races. The commercials are her most public failure, in a life that was marked by a series of unsuccessful campaigns, a husband that once backed a rival opponent, and an unwillingness to embrace true greatness whenever given the chance. Her undoing reflects the largest theme of her life; the compromise of self in the pursuit of power. Elizabeth Dole, known as Liddy by her friends but not allowed to be called that by her peers or her constituents; known as a Democrat then an Independent then a Republican. Elizabeth Dole, once a sure bet for the first female president, became a victim of her own inability to make a decision, to decide what was right, and stick with it. Dole’s unfortunate legacy will undoubtedly be tied to the method of her passing, an irony that will be immortalized on late night television, not unlike her former neighbor.
She is survived by her husband, Bob Dole, and stepdaughter Robin.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"the impact...depends on who is watching it"

from my new favorite website Sociological Images:

"This cartoon satirizes the common sitcom family that includes an average-looking, bumbling husband and a gorgeous, put-together wife. It reverses the roles to illustrate (1) how offensive these sitcoms are to men (men are useless oafs who can’t be expected to act like adult human beings) and (2) how we take for granted that hot chicks should marry useless oafs,"

"I know, it’s satire, and, if you’re a regular reader, you know how I worry about satire. To me, this points out how stupid (and gendered) family sitcoms are. But, for others, it might just reinforce the hateful stereotype that fat women are disgusting and useless. The problem is that the impact of the cartoon depends on who is watching it."

I worry about satire too, it's so easily manipulated into the opposite of what it sets out to be.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cupcakes make it better

A friend sent this pic to me, I sure could go for these right now, but it would be difficult to eat something so rad.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Wackness not the Dopeness

The Wackness
1) The commercial for a female heroine centered video game with the horrible horrible awful title of WET

2) 17 hours this semester
3) no time for the gym in over a week
4) my exam tomorrow
5) fat jokes on a friend's Facebook update and The Daily Show
6) cigarettes
7) one of my classmates making me feel dumb b/c apparently reading Marx is sooooo easy for him
8) the healthcare "debate"
9) being broke
10) not sleeping

The Dopeness
1) MAD MEN!!!
2) the chicken tetrazzini Jeff made dor dinner
3) ...

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Craziest Thing I Have Ever Read

So I peruse the Onion AV Club when I am not drowning in Marx, and today while reading the comments on the latest Mad Men episode write up in the TV Club portion I ran across this little beauty and I had to share:

The dark undertones of this episode brought me back to a dark time in my life

7 Sept. 2009 | 12:13 AM CDT

As a teenager I suffered from severe depression and formed a strong bond with the character Garfield and his outlook. Its sad but reading garfield anthologies obsessively was the only thing that made me feel normal and it eventually took on something of an erotic fixation.

To avoid feeling like a sicko I drew pictures of garfield with a womans(Think Pamela anderson circa 1991) body and garfields head, so that I was assured

that my fixation wasn't with animals or repressed homosexuality. This garfield/pam hybrid still had the same biting wit and acerbic outlook and tended to cut herself in self loathing while wolfing down a lasagna to fill the void after sleeping with drawings of a much more handsome and muscular version of myself. These drawings eventually evolved into erotic fanfiction starring garfield and myself (In my head Garfield still has a womans body but someone reading the stories would think Im having sex with regular Garfield.) I killed off Jon in a jealous rage, I didn't touch Odie, I enjoy his companionship and don't mind if he watches.

The stories are your pretty basic wish fulfillment stuff, balanced with self loathing rants. I've been doing this near daily for years and I have a substantial amount of writing in a folder I keep buried in 8 different folders.

Jesus Christ Bananas. I am speechless
It also gives this panel a seriously creepy vibe:

For those uninitiated, be sure to check out the melancholy world of Garfield's Jon, in a life of panels sans Garfield at http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/
Surreal, funny and heartbreaking. Unlike the previous joker who is just a freak.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Door to Heaven

I've been gone for awhile.
This last week I have been writing a piece for my Nonfiction workshop about Shelbyville. The assignment was to write about a small town I know well, so the choice was obvious. For those who don't know, Shelbyville is the town in Indiana I grew up in, until my family left after a series of personal disasters. For a long time, I didn't know if how I felt about my childhood there--idyllic, storybook, almost perfect--was the result of skewed perspective, sentimentality, selective memory. That may still be true, but after seeking the memories and recollections of childhood friends I realize that it was more complicated than that, a lovely place to grow up in but with an undercurrent of darkness that we rarely addressed openly.

Thank you to all those that helped me, that were willing to remember both the darkness and the light.

The Door to Heaven

In the thick of summer, the parks of Shelbyville, Indiana, shine and shimmer like emerald mirages amidst a desert of corn and soybeans. Moth-badgered Halogen lights illuminate well-tended fields of deep green and startling white, base lines as straight and predictable as the furrowed rows of the fields of surrounding farms. The community congregates to watch their sons participate in that most sacred and American rite of passage: Little League. Baseball fields are the non-denominational churches of summertime; the sounds of bats connecting with balls the hymns. The air lays like a hand across the back of their necks, a perfumed humidity that reeks of salted hot pretzels, drug-store cologne, chewing tobacco. There is a restlessness about them, the people of this town: this is only what they do while they wait for basketball season to start

Adults bring cheap Styrofoam coolers (won at Cagney’s Pizza for dining in ten times) filled with Miller Light and Schlitz in cans, sodas for the kids and the benefit of the umpires. As the parks technically prohibit drinking, each can is wrapped in some kind of koozie: pledging allegiance to the Shelbyville Bears, the Indy 500, John Deere--one nation under Bobby Knight. Tom Crean, two years in, is still the “new” coach of the Hoosier’s, still earning his stripes—and everyone likes to forget about the Mike Davis and Calvin Sampson years. The smaller children stand in front of the bleachers, grasping the slightly rusted metal of the chain-link fences that separate the spectators from the players. The metal diamonds leave slightly orange indentations on their palms as they make the metal ring with the tension of so many bodies leaning. The hands of their parents and neighbors grasp their slippered drinks as they sit on bleachers in duets or trios, singing the gospel of bases and boyhood, and they drink while they watch boys play ball.

Underneath the bleachers, scarred with the signatures and proclamations of love of five generations, are the kids who are not playing ball. So many girls, and boys also. Boys too old for baseball, or too cool or clumsy or too protective of their bodies as they condition for the “real” sport of the upcoming season. They sit in the shadows underneath their parents and watch the game occasionally, but more often watch one another. They sneak beers and wander to the dark spots of the parks, not wary of muggers or rapists, not wary of anything really, except more of the same. Sounds from the game occasionally echo around them, like apparitions of sound--phantom plays from ghost runners. They roll joints and pass them like collection plates. They flirt and sigh and posture as adults. They look at the imposing, inevitable Mid-Western skyline and wish they could get the hell out of this place.

Many of them do. Many leave, some stay, some leave and come back, some never look over their shoulders, afraid of turning to pillars of salt, of the terrible reach of aging parents, of the familiar, of the easy rhythms of being who you are in a place where everyone knows you and will only allow you to become so much.

At the heart of Shelbyville is a circle, with a fountain that runs until it gets too cold--usually October--a circle that used to comprise the hub of activity and business. Now industry in Shelbyville has moved to the edge of town, along the interstate, where Bruce Springsteen tells us there is darkness too.

Adults work for Knauf, the giant fiberglass-products manufacturer or for Major Hospital in the expanded oncology wing, or for Makuta, a medical device micromolder. Others work for Kroger, or the maligned school system. Some work for the Super Wal-Mart that drove all the useful stores downtown out of business. Now there are “boutiques” on the circle, filled with antiques and tchochkies, ceramic statues of the character Balzar holding two bear cubs, one in each upraised hand; Balzar from Charles Major’s signature work The Bears of Blue River, set in and about Shelbyille. Every year the last weekend of summer, the one before school begins, the town holds the Bears of Blue River festival to honor the author as its most famous native beside former tallest woman in the world, Sandy Allen. It used to last a week, now it is only three days. The smell of elephant ears and fried pork tenderloin sandwiches wrapped in see-through, grease-strained wax paper drift over the crowd that collects in front of the bandstand. The girls share pineapple whips, the kids eat tri-colored snow cones, the boys smoke cigarettes and watch the girls from under groaning metal bleachers. From this vantage point the country music sounds like it’s swirling in a tin can, piped over the thinnest of wires. The whole town tours the circle and the streets that shoot off like spokes on a wagon-wheel, walking the same paths through crushed wax Coca-Cola cups and smashed pop corn kernels over an over, for hours and hours, hoping to see something different, finding comfort when they don’t.

Except on the occasion of the festival, downtown feels hollow. If you throw a coin in the fountain, you can hear the echo bouncing off the windows of empty storefronts. A real statue of Balzar stands on the circle as well, looking over the still fountain, the empty circle, the town that ate itself, a ghost town, dead.

It wasn’t always like this.

When I was little my friends and I would walk the same pavement without thinking, barely watching for cars as we crossed roads and played tag in the streets. We stayed out until after midnight in the alley behind my house in the summers, our moms trying in vain to call us in. We walked downtown to the circle to sit on the fountain and cool off, get the humidity off our necks and watch the high school kids cruising, dreaming of the day when it would be us. We walked to school in the morning on the same streets our parents walked to the same schools. We walked and walked, getting nowhere, really, without knowing we would one day want walking to take us somewhere new.

When I tell anyone of a certain age that I am from Shelbyville, the town seems familiar to them, the name rings a bell. Their faces light up when they stumble upon it in the random highways and bypasses of tangled memory and recall nestled in their brains. Then they ask, always, inescapably, “Like from The Simpsons?”

No, not like that at all. It is not an imaginary place, my childhood home. I think.

Silvia’s mom worked for the Knauf’s. She cleaned their house, and lived in a small white cottage on the backside of their no kidding, real-deal, straight-up mansion, a model of the big house in miniature. They had two handsome sons they sent to boarding school in Switzerland or some such nearly unimaginable place. In this way (and many more) they were of the town, but not from it. For Silvia’s tenth birthday we were invited to a pool party at the Knauf mansion. Silvia broke her leg two weeks before. She rested on a chaise with her leg in white plaster, glowing like a lighthouse. She cried while she watched us, and we did nothing, continued to play, ignoring her on her birthday in pursuit of so much fun. Her mom, who reminded me of Sandy Duncan or some other cheery Disney heroine, died when we were young. It felt unreal, disconnected from the rest of our lives, death didn’t belong here, so I stopped thinking about it. For some reason, I have always felt worse about her party, her broken leg.

When something terrible or great happens to us, time becomes binary: before your divorce and after; before I loved you and after; before he lost his money and after. That is what time is like for me: there is my childhood in Shelbyville, and then there is after. More precisely, time has made Shelbyville binary: the town of my childhood and after. I do not want to go back there now, do not want to admit or despair what it has become. I do not want to turn into a pillar of salt. But I miss my town, and I miss who I was there. It was a place where I believed in God, where my home was a castle on a hill, where I was allowed to grow-up without fear. My happiness there is the barometer upon which all other happiness is measured, measured in the lengths of long summers of walking, in depths of admiring boys from and under bleachers, in widths between then and now.

One measure of a town is how it treats its eccentrics. Shelbyville has been home to a host of oddballs, iconoclasts, freaks and lucky losers. They say God looks over drunks and sleepwalkers, and if that is true, I am sure he also used to look after the most unusual residents of my home. It is no small thing to buck the tide of homogeneity in a small town. You may be branded an outcast, dangerous, treated as an outsider when inside access determines whether your business survives, whether your children are liked, whether you may sit in the bleachers with the rest of the town and take communion.

Pat drove a school bus and the town taxi, a service provided after the buses and trolleys stopped running. In the 1960’s she dressed as a man; her hair slicked back and smelling of lemons, the rough tan skin of her neck of Old Spice. She dressed in Dickies and mechanic shirts, and could be found at Bob’s Chug-A-Lug on the weekends with her girlfriend. When she got too far into her cups, she sang along with the songs of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash from the jukebox, off-key, and as lonesome as a hound dog in a chain-metal pen. She picked us up on Monday like the weekends never happened. The people of Indiana respect work ethic, and believe enough in it and minding your own business to repay deviance of one sort with the courtesy of pretending not to notice. It’s the children that notice, that make things awkward and unbearably honest in their asking, “Mom, is Pat a boy or a girl?” It’s complicated.

My father ran an appliance business on the circle, in the tradition of his father before him. I was raised, in part, in this store. We spent hours, days, weeks, climbing refrigerator and washer-dryer sets in cardboard boxes stacked upon one another in the back warehouse, our own personal Mount Everests; conquests marked not by flags but in the amount of dust in our hair, the dirt under our nails, the sting of deep paper cuts on the insides of our elbows. Here we were privy to a parade of characters: my father’s customers, his employees and friends. The strange became ordinary--different became our everyday. When we were hungry, Charlie Hershey, my father’s right-hand-man who happened to be a dwarf, would take us out to Taco Bell or The Chicken Inn and make us laugh so hard we would fart and beg for mercy. What we didn’t know until we were older were his midnight hours after work. While we slept sound in our castle--protected by night-lights, luck, our last name--Charlie could be found at the strip club, or at Bob’s Chug-A-Lug looking for easy company, for comfort in dark bottles that would not show his fun-house reflection. When I heard he died this year I remembered meeting him for the first time. I sat in the car on the way back home from dad’s store, quiet, wheels turning in my head until I said, “Mom, Charlie needs to have some more birthdays.”

One night Mr. Knauf showed up at my dad’s store when it was closed. He wanted to buy a television. My mother, having never met the man or having even seen him, recognized him for who he was despite the fact as he knocked on the front glass doors. When you are rich in a small town, and are of a certain disposition you expect favors. My mother, quick, found my father to tell him “Thies Knauf is at the door.” My father, more curious than obsequious, opened the doors for him. He was dressed impeccably, like Jay Gatsby, like Dapper Dan. He looked at a few models. He chose one and left. The store was quiet with the deflation of myth. Thies Knauf was no longer a mystery, he was an RCA man, just like my dad.

In Little League there are rich teams and poor ones, teams that are desirable and teams that reek of desperation and failure before the season starts. The good players go to the rich teams and the bad ones don’t. Knauf had a team, of course. My dad’s store sponsored a team for a few years. Little League is like any other democracy, in that it isn’t.

My parents were wealthy in a poor town. Our house was a Victorian mansion that took up half a block. It was only home to me, bigger than my friends’ houses but it gave me no pause, it was no Knauf monstrosity. The strange becomes ordinary. My parents were ambitious, and busy. They hired a babysitter, Renee, who took care of my brother and I at her house after school. She made us butter and sugar sandwiches for a snack. Her son and daughter, Tony and Jada, rode the roller coasters at King’s Island with us, teaching Chris and I that fear could be a wonderful thing as long as someone held your hand. Her husband, June, was the biggest man I had ever seen, he picked me up with one hand and held me aloft until my back scraped the sharp plaster pebbles of their ceilings. They used to take us to Noble Roman’s for pizza when my parents worked late. My grandfather saw us there one night while getting take-out. An unbearable bigot, he chastised my parents, telling them the picture was strange, these two towering, rotund black folks with these two little white kids squirming all over the burgundy fake leather booths laughing like no one else was there. The statistics for Shelbyville from the last census say that Blacks make up less than 2% of the population. One of the most important stories of Shelbyville could be told by what is missing, what refuses to change. She was a Jehovah’s Witness and her church shunned her for going in a bar. They refused to speak her name, literally turned their backs on her and made her sit in the last pew alone for service. She set herself on fire and left her husband and two children to piece together their own narrative from what remained, from what was missing. Ashes. The Holy Spirit. A melted gasoline container. My family was on vacation when it happened. She circled our block in her car, looking for my mother before driving to a parking lot on the edge of town and setting her heart on fire. She found darkness there, no doubt, but not God, nor any hand to hold to make the fear better.

Whenever I tell a woman of a certain age that I am from Shelbyville, Indiana, their faces go still until they remember, that’s right, I know that town and ask me, “Did you see that article in Time? That piece on Oprah?” They know my hometown as the example of a town that failed its children. Shelbyville is the town that spent millions on education, on top-of-the-line facilities, on counselors of every stripe, only to have the highest dropout rate in the state. I did see that piece on Oprah, one late night, in an empty bar in Raleigh, North Carolina, the station left on after a UNC game. Gut punched and sick I saw the streets of my hometown on parade as an example of How Did It All Go Wrong? I saw it, and I tell them no, that’s not the one.

The teenagers initially have few options for jobs; the unemployment rate is almost 12%. Those that do find jobs work in fast food, detassel corn in the summer, power-wash houses. One group of friends always takes over The Bear’s Den, a relic of 1950’s carhop culture, with root beer on draught and girls on skates. My childhood best friend worked there when we were in high school. She tells me, “I think you would have worked there too, had you still been in town.”
Kids drive “The Strip” after work, the short loop between the circle downtown and the Kroger out in the newly developed part of town. Sometimes they go out in the country, where someone fastened a plastic chicken and cow on a farm fence. It became a destination, something to do and somewhere to go, as in “let’s go to chicken and cow.” The kids, they meet out there, bathed in moonlight but protected by darkness, by obscurity and randomness, smoking pot because it’s easier to get than booze, or just talking, endlessly talking about how nothing is happening, about getting out. These are the things you do when you have nothing else to do.

Our elementary school, the one just a few blocks from my old home, it sits abandoned now. It is filled with the debris of crumbling hallways, papers graded but never returned, the dust and dirt of neglect, lost memory, childhood. I can not bear to see it now, humbled, unbelievably small, unrecognizable. The basketball hoops have no nets on them, that is how I know it is forgotten.

A few years ago, Shelbyville was on the news. Knauf was on fire, the building burning. It was so bright, it lit the whole town up; the alleys and back ends of parks, beneath bleachers, the pale underbelly of normal. They rebuilt the factory, made it bigger, tearing down houses on the darkest, most neglected streets. When I was little, I saw the smokestacks and I believed that was where the clouds were made, where the door to heaven could be found.