Stolen Wallpaper

Words but a whisper, deafness a shout

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Location: Zeeland, Michigan, United States

Hi. I wish I had a job selling squirrels. They're so furry, and give you toothy grins. Unless they're rabid, in which case they will eat your face off and then find the rest of your family. That's not so good, I guess.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Sunday Stroll

He walked. It was late fall; the last few laggard leaves drifted downward, joining their deceased brethren on the lawns. The leaves always seemed to take longest to fall in the city; something to do with trapped heat, or wind resistance from structures, or something. It was cool, but not yet cold, at least to him; all those years working in the freezer at Bil Mar had permanently altered his body chemistry. He would break into a sweat on a fifty-degree day. He sauntered down the sidewalk, swinging his hands semi-consciously in time with the music playing in his giant ridiculous headphones: late-period They Might Be Giants. Hey Nyquil driver, it's Nyquil drivin' time.

He'd parked at the corner of Logan and Paris, in Heritage Hill, a neighborhood of grandiloquent centenary manses, about half of which were subdivided, because who could handle that much house? The preservation commission dictated colors, trims, repairs all within acceptable norms, as bad as any penny-ante condo association in its way. But you couldn't argue that it helped: when he crossed James, and left the district, the houses went to hell immediately. Cheap aluminum siding, windows that still bore their "Anderson" sticker after twenty years, broken concrete steps, garbage in the yards. These were the homes of people who'd lost hope. There were a few churches along this street; high fences and gates fortified them, kept them safe from their own neighbors, made it acceptable for the suburbanites to jet in, say their Hail Marys, and jet out again, tut-tutting about the state of the old borough.

He truly believed he didn't have a racist bone in his body. So he had to worry about what made his throat tighten, his pace quicken, as he passed a few young black men sitting on a stoop, laughing and smoking. They spotted him coming, stopped talking, watched him pass. He thought he saw hostility in their eyes; was that just paranoia? He told himself he just didn't trust groups of men, whatever their color, which was certainly true from what he remembered of frat boys. He tripped on a crack in the sidewalk, flailed a moment but didn't go down; he could hear laughter behind him. He didn't look behind but kept going, cheeks hot.

The character of the street kept changing every half mile or so. The "hood" gradually became a middle class black district, then a mixed working class area, then a middle class white neighborhood, then, crossing Gladstone, he entered East Grand Rapids, Home Of The Man. Wide tree-lined boulevards, half million dollar homes, lawn service crews deployed strategically for maximum leaf removal. He felt as unwelcome here as he had a mile back. But, hey, they built the sidewalks; it was his right to walk them. ALL of them. But then, back to the trailer park with you, Schmuck-Boy. He flipped the tape in the Walkman, went up two blocks to Sherman, and headed back across the socioeconomic strata to his car.

Would he ever have a home? A love? A life? Or was he doomed to just walk through other people's lives every Sunday?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bye Bye Burdie

He drove. The heater was broken, but at least it was in the right direction: the vents blasted superheated air into the car. The windows were all rolled down partway, to attempt to reach a comfortable middle ground between interior inferno and exterior late November. The CD playing was hers: Devo. Too odd even for him. She was asleep anyway, so he popped it out and put in the Verve Pipe.

They were returning from visiting her mother for Thanksgiving. She'd dumped him the night before, but, like a chump, he'd agreed to take her home. His eyes still hurt from suppressing his tear ducts by brute force. She, having no such inhibitions, still had raccoon eyes as she slept the miles away. Her mother had liked him; mothers always liked him, it was the daughters who were never sure for very long.

She'd cheated on him a few weeks before. But he didn't know that yet. No, now he was just confused, and hurt, and wondering why he couldn't muster the stones to leave her ass in Massachusetts. Hey. Whatever. He had to drive back this way anyway. Up across that majestic bridge into Canada, then later across another, even bigger one. He loved those bridges, though it was certainly dangerous to rubberneck in heavy truck traffic. There was nothing like it, to climb up, up, out over vast blue, the sky and the water meeting in a thin pencil line far below. You got to rise above the noise and confusion, for a few blue moments. And then you got to be in a foreign country, for a while. What could be better?

He looked at her again. Sleeping peacefully. Half of him wanted to kiss her forehead; the other half wanted to carefully unbuckle her belt and push her out of the moving vehicle. Prudence won out. It always did.