I wonder how many of us had the same dream
of blasting a laser beam from the car window,
mowing down trees at seventy miles per hour,
or a giant saw blade clipping streetlights
at the root. That line of mailboxes? Forget it.
Those rotted trees, toothless in the swamp?
Billboards? Telephone poles? I sent them all
to an orderly doom. Like wipers slicing through
a field of rain, just doing my job.
Why does riding in the backseat
conjure such visions– a minor apocalypse
along the interstate between dad’s house
and mom’s every other week? Why is it
the pines up front pass so much faster
while the deep forest hovers behind the blur,
secret black at the center? No matter. My long
arm lays em down, a thicket of dominos.
It’s finer than anything in real life, wider,
cleaner than the stubbled path of a tornado.
It shames the power company and their half-assed
tree-trimming. My knife never stutters, never
strays, leaves not even a splinter dangling.
It slips through trunks like scissors through bangs.
I dreamed I clear cut acres with my stare,
the blade of one palm flexing in the wind.
I wonder how many of us had the same dream
Do men have nightmares about deciding what to wear?
This is a constant anxiety dream for me and I had another one last night. It involved a bunch of girlfriends all trying to get ready for some ball or dance or something and rooting around in my magical closet for vintage dresses. (You wouldn’t believe my collection. The Pucci patterns were amazing.)
This seems like a close cousin to the classic “naked in public” dream. Always there is urgency and people waiting for me and I am frantically dressing and undressing, tearing through my drawers in search of the perfect outfit. Does it make me a terribly shallow person that my nightmares involve not war or hunger but “the perfect outfit”? Is fashion my secret, superficial heart? Or a symbol for some deeper anxiety?
As I was ironing a shirt this morning, running late for work, as usual, I caught myself humming the song from Disney's Cinderella where the mice are pitching in to create a ballgown from scraps: hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry got to help our Cinderelly, got no time to dilly dally... The dark climax of that movie is when the stepmother says she can come to the ball, if only she had a dress to wear. I also remember much panic and intrigue about having clean white gloves in Little Women. In Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge, a fashion faux pas is like the central conflict of the story. And what about The Scarlett Letter? I bet there's lots of examples of fashion anxiety as a symbol in literature. So maybe I'm not spiritually corrupt. But does it apply only to women characters?
At work yesterday we called 911 because we saw these two teenage boys beat up a homeless man. Or something. I didn’t see it happen. It happened so fast. I just saw the old dude laid out on the pavement and two kids running away. I think the kids were running from the marta station and it was Friday afternoon and they were racing. The street between our two warehouses looked empty and the breeze felt good and they couldn’t have known they were being watched. Our office is on street level and people routinely stop in front of our windows to pick their teeth in the reflection.
So the guy is spread eagle in the middle of the street, not moving. Should we call the cops? Everyone in the office was standing at the window watching with the thrill of disbelief. Was it worth it? Getting the police involved, getting ourselves involved? Was he worth it? What appeared to be an emergency to us could be just another day, another sordid episode to him. Then the dude managed to push up to his elbows and we could see the wide bloody splotch on the back of his head. It dripped. Me and the other woman pirouetted away from the window. Yes, let’s call. And get an ambulance.
Isn’t that the way it is with emergencies? It’s broad daylight, you’re thinking of getting to work or getting home, there is a noise or a phone call and you just refuse believe what you’ve seen or why its happened. You dwell in that moment of disbelief for as long as possible. You muster up the energy to care. Banality makes a stubborn retreat as the story takes form in your head. The victim is ambling down East Cleveland Ave, the kids are skittering away, looking over their shoulders, his Braves cap is upside down in the street.
It’s the classic graphic design dilemma. You have only moments to grab the attention of passing cars, so what do you say? And what if you can’t say too much? How do you advertise prostitution in the bible belt marketplace? It's a challenge. This should be an assignment for marketing and design students.
Driving into Atlanta last weekend, I fell in love all over again with roadside advertising. My favorite “litter on a stick” ads are for the SPAs. They are bold, bright, indicators of something urgent, something big, I’m not sure what. What are these SPAs? What’s going on inside? It’s a mystery. The colors, images and letterforms reveal nothing. The towering signs are so generic that they actually become tantalizing.
Design that communicates only halfway is often part of a series or a “teaser” campaign. We are accustomed to this kind of advertising...suspense with a purpose. First the question or provocative image and eventually there will be a payoff.
The SPA aesthetic messes with these advertising and design concepts. SPA ads are scaled to grab attention but to communicate nothing. In saying nothing, they imply everything. My imagination runs wild. These SPAs must be dens of prostitution, happy ending massage parlors. Every once in a while there’s a subtle “oriental” flair to the design. The message I get from the typeface used in “Garden Spa” is: sex slaves that will be deported back to Korea once this place is busted.
My first warning that Crockett’s was a little rundown was the grimy kitchen odor that permeated the place: grease-soaked concrete, pressure washed, steamed broccoli, yeast. It triggered a powerful memory of running around in the kitchen of Mister J's, an ill-fated business venture in which my dad tried his hand at managing a family steakhouse.
There is an appetizer menu pinched between the Heinz Ketchup and the A1 bottles on the table. It’s a generic offering of fried cheese, fried broccoli and cheese, and some other fat bombs, no doubt frozen and bagged, sold as a package to the owner of Crockett’s with this attractive presentation menu, imprinted with Your Restaurant Name Here. Surely, they must’ve thought, now we can compete with the big guys.
Her name is Kari and she’ll be our server this evening. She takes our order briskly, without making eye contact and then vanishes.
A thick, bleach blond manager is distinguished from the teenage waitresses by her short sleeved denim shirt and tie. The girls all wear purple Crockett’s T-shirts (for sale at the hostess stand, $14.95 each). Manager roams the dining room settling disputes. That job will give you a stroke.
An oversized boy, maybe 12 years old, has slid down in the booth next to us so that is head is level with the table. “If our food don’t come, we should just leave,” he’s whining in his whiniest voice. “Can’t we just leave?” This kid seems awful young to be doing the customer service moan. “It’ll be here in a minute,” says his mother, pleading.
The steamed broccoli is a happy green, but drenched in butter or something. It slips around the plate when I cut it with the side of a fork. The fork has one inner tine slightly bent and it scrapes my lips with each bite.
We start piling our trash in the bowl of peanut shells. The red onions from our salad. The lonely squares of kale that decorated the steak. A slab of blubber from the prime rib. The wrapper from a lemon scented Fold-a-Fresh. The bowl is now the prettiest thing on the table.
The oversized boy and his two even bigger brothers and their mother are eating now. All four are bent over their plates, eating wordlessly. One reaches for a drink. Mom has her head resting in one hand, turned away from the dining room as she feeds herself.
In the men’s room the floor the old brick red with black grout. Then there’s another section where the floor is a grimy terrazzo that looks like it belonged to another room. A guy in one stall appears to be vomiting and smoking at the same time.
Later I peed and it smelled like Baby Back Ribs. I image my dinner was drenched in liquid smoke, frozen in some far off processing plant, thawed and microwaved at the Roadhouse, and slathered with sugary BBQ sauce. The smoky flavoring survived my digestive system with minor alterations.
The four of us in Conversational French
that Spring were: Denise, a math major,
Nooshin, the Persian debutante,
Agnes, the imported instructor,
a round-faced, lollipop francaise,
And me, preoccupied with love.
We spent a weary hour each day
trying to fit opinions through
our flimsy French vocabulaire,
like funnelling Kool Aid through a straw.
Je pense que… Nooshin studied
her manicure. A mon avis…
Denise sunk down behind her books.
I swiveled in my swivel chair,
and watched the clock behind the poor
girl sent from France to be our friend.
We spilled out into madeup words,
into English or just silence.
Agnes would steer us onward to
new topics: la musique popularie,
la politique, le mariage.
But talk was still a sack of bricks
passed around the conference table.
The afternoon when Agnes asked,
De quoi avez vous peur? our blank
stares were misunderstood.
She tried again. What do you fear?
What worries you? Still no one spoke.
Rien? There must be quelque chose.
To the doodler she offered, Le chômage?
To the princess, La guerre?
And to me, L’avenir? I just shrugged.
Outside the window azaleas burst
In tacky, unrepentant pinks.
Maybe I lacked the words in French,
But I think there was a moment when
I wasn’t afraid of anything.
You stop me underneath the neon sign.
Hear that? You ask, and I am not the kind
of person, yet, who hears these things and smiles.
The hum, you say, plus there’s an orange fuzz
around the street lamps, where muggy air
is changing into mist. Now listen to the hum
and watch the bugs colliding in the light.
You’re making videos these days and this
must be the soundtrack to the Plaza Drug
on Highland Ave. You don’t make any sense
when talking about art but you make eye contact
and that’s enough. Hold my hand. Pretend
you don’t know where the sound is coming from.
It’s like the movie version of our life
where everyone’s the walking dead except
the two of us because we hear the soundtrack
all along and we’re invincible.
I wish I had a camera for every time
you turned the radio up on the interstate
and from that windy wasteland, springs bluegrass
and a t-shirt sleeve flapping from the trunk
of a beat up Honda, to beat the banjo,
at 70 miles per hour. See that? You ask.
But this is not an act, a tragedy
or comedy. We hear the soundtrack swell in
the produce aisle where chrome carts stutter to
Vivaldi or the Marshall Tucker Band.
You record the dogs as they dream and whine
while the percolator twitches on the countertop,
a tractor trailer guzzling to a halt as
an old man clears his throat, conjunto from
the neighbor’s yard while outside our window,
nandinas dance by the air compressor,
a twelve year old doing cartwheels in a leotard
with AC/DC from a background boombox,
and raindrops play piano on the asphalt.
You offer me these clippings like roses
from the yard, one at a time, before they burst.
But this not a gift. Just a soundtrack
at a given time, whether I am there or not.