‘Sincerely Yours’

Paragraph - July 2016-8038

For the past month, some of my writing has been featured in a group show at Paragraph gallery along with visual artists Neil Goss and Monica Dixon. I tried something a little unusual for this show, which is titled “Sincerely Yours.” Instead of standard wall text or a booklet, I constructed writing panels that look almost like kitchen cabinetry, with titles on the outside and continued text within. To fit with the theme and title of the show, I called it “Cover Letters.” The pieces are short — only about 500 words total. The goal was to address personal/intimate topics to create short moments of communication with the reader. I like the way the show turned out. The expansive fabric, varied textures and colors of Neil’s and Monica’s work creates a pleasant, slightly dreamlike atmosphere, and the writing is presented in a more interactive fashion than past shows I’ve been a part of. If you’d like to see it in person, drop by Paragraph on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 1 p.m. We’ll be giving a short talk (30 minutes total) and answering questions, along with curator Michael Krueger, a visual arts professor at the University of Kansas. There will also be coffee.

For further reading, here’s Annie Raab’s review in The Pitch.

And here’s some background about my portion from the Charlotte Street blog.

 

Kawsmouth

In April 2012, Jennifer and I started a literary & arts website called Kawsmouth, which highlights writing, artwork and photography from writers and artists primarily in the Kansas City region. We currently publish new issues. on a quarterly schedule. The following are my own written contributions.

Coney Island Wintertide (Issue 1, April 2012)

Palace of the Apes (Issue 3, June 2012)

 Crumblecake Metropolis (Issue 7, October 2012)

 A salute to the Rockhill Theater ruins (Issue 8, December 2012)

Waiting For Devin: A pre-mortem for a retrofitted airport (Issue 13, Fall 2013)

12 on 12th (Issue 16, Summer 2014)

A short walk through Rosedale in 104° heat

An appalling lack of sidewalks in this little city. Nowhere to walk but front yards or the middle of the street. The BBQ joint has a line out the door but isn’t open on Sunday. From the forested corners of the park, a chorus of cheers from the late evening pack of disc golfers. Someone has drilled a hole in one. I’m too faded to drive, which is why I’m on foot. The plywood firecracker shacks have been taken down and put into storage. Elsewhere kids lounge in the heavily vignetted decadence of fake Polaroid sunsets. Here, the workweek is just one long, boring flash mob. The construction crew lowers the cornerstone to the brand new CVS, a nice enough location they probably won’t have to lock the condoms up. A beautiful mural is painted on the wall of a parking lot that no one ever parks in. The word “ROSEDALE” and some animals and plants and people and the Memorial Arch opening up to a rainbow utopia. Beauty, as envisioned and painted by children. Next door the neighbors fight the nightly battle of the basses: rap vs. Latin. When one guy refuses to turn down his subs, the other one turns on his own car alarm and blocks his neighbor’s car in — handling the situation like an adult. On Tuesday night the lightning storm blew out the transformer. It sizzled for a minute until it exploded blue and prettier than anything I saw on Fourth of July. On Fisher there’s a little place for sale on a big lot, but it’s more like you’d be buying a really nice big tree that comes with a crappy house. Mid July and the Mimosa trees are in full bloom, pink silk feathers carpeting the little sloped lawns on Minnie. Vacation Bible School is over and the empty church bus is parked across from McDonalds. The man in a tank top and matted hair staggers by the Jiffy Lube shaking his head vigorously and talking to himself. He doesn’t look crazy as much as preoccupied. The lack of sidewalks doesn’t seem to bother him.

11 impressions of an EF-5 tornado

Once people find out you’re from Kansas, they always want to know if you’ve ever seen a tornado. Thankfully, I never have. But after the May 22 tornado that tore through Joplin, I’ve definitely seen the damage it can do.

After photographing the damage in the days following the tornado, Jennifer put together this slide show depicting the damage the storm did to her hometown. I typed up a few of my own first and second-hand impressions of the aftermath below.

In the six weeks since the tornado, the debris is getting cleared and the city is doing some rezoning before the rebuilding begins in earnest. There are already leaves growing on the twisted remains of the trees, which looks unusual but is nonetheless a small reminder that life goes on.

Thank you to everyone who has dedicated their time, labor and resources to helping the people in Joplin. I know they greatly appreciate it.

* * *

On 1-44, the giant brown sign to George Washington Carver is turned upside-down. Coming up the crest of the hill you see a giant American flag lowered to half-mast, a torn strand of its fabric blowing as if in slow motion.

* * *

Aaron and Pam were at a movie when the announcement sounded to leave the theater and take shelter. They were driving by the high school when the telephone polls and trees around them started falling, which I imagine looking like the approach of The Nothing from the “Neverending Story” or the Smoke Monster from “Lost.” As the storm began to devour the landscape in front of them, Doll threw the car into reverse, weaving around debris and crashed cars until they got out and ran for shelter.

* * *

It doesn’t matter how much you’ve seen on TV or in photos — nothing can prepare you for your first visit to the disaster area. After only a couple of blocks you feel like you’ve entered an impossibly vast and detailed disaster film set. The trees that are left are macabre sculptures, mattress linings and car parts impaled on their bark-stripped upper branches. Where you used to be able to see only a few blocks you can now see several miles. Dan and I drove through in his truck at dusk, just before curfew. Most everyone had gone home, wherever that might be now, but one man stood in the middle of his lot staring off to the south. Dan offered me a beer from the back seat and said why don’t you grab one for me, too. I don’t think anyone is going to mind.

* * *

At night a wall of police cars and armored vehicles blocks off entry to the disaster area. We began to refer to the once perfectly normal patch of neighborhoods as the “demilitarized zone,” or — in the fashion of Tarkovsky’s “Stalker,” just “The Zone.” To get downtown from the south, you have to drive all the way around the zone on either side. Not that you would want to go through the disaster area at night anyway. Too dark, too spooky, too tragic, too soon.

* * *

Aaron and Casey nailed a 40-foot American flag to the front of what remained of the house — a crafty way to discourage looting and be patriotic at the same time. A man walking by with his wife stopped and pulled out his phone. “What are you doing?” the woman asked her husband. “Just taking a picture of some real Americans,” he said.

* * *

The week before the storm I called Cool Guitars on 26th to see if they still had that Regal guitar in stock, a resonator guitar that used to belong to the owner. They said they had several Regals in stock, so I set aside a good chunk of my first paycheck toward purchasing one. After the storm we drove by and saw their sign but no trace of the store itself. I have no idea what happened to all those guitars.

* * *

A sampling of messages painted on houses:

“Down but not out”
“You loot, we shoot”
“It’s not a parade!”
“Stay classy, Joplin”
“Put down your camera, lend a hand”
“F5? FU!”

* * *

Driving down Main Street wondering where Main Street went.

* * *

In a video I’ve seen reposted several times, a group of amateur storm chasers drive parallel to the storm’s path from miles away, marveling at the “monster tornado” moving over the city. I’ve got it all on film, one guy keeps repeating; the camera’s impartial recording a proxy for what he can’t believe he’s seeing with his own eyes. The fascination takes a dark turn when they drive back into town on South Main only to find everything around it destroyed. “This is ridiculous,” one of them says, sounding scared. One thing to watch a funnel dancing from a distance, another to look a tornado in the face.

* * *

Joplin High School is destroyed, but the sign on the corner of the lot has been turned into an inspirational shrine. An “H” and an “E” have been added to either side of the only remaining letters in the city’s name, the “OP.” The “HOPE high school” sign is presided over by life-sized wooden sculptures of eagles — a tribute to the school’s community and mascot.

* * *

Jenn’s family salvaged everything they could from her Grandma’s house by the end of the first week, but the grandkids decided to go out Saturday morning to try and find her wooden statue of the laughing Buddha. Don’t worry, Dan said, it’s one of the first things I grabbed. But even with Buddha saved and cleaned, we still craved a totem of recovery, of salvage-tion. After seeing the decapitated Papasan statue on a shelf, we dug through the debris to try and find his head. Miraculously, Jessica found it after only a few minutes. It’s in good shape except for the missing beard. But that can be glued back on again.

Dreams of public transit, part 32

The other night I was riding on a tram somewhere in Greece, and I was just about to fall asleep when I looked behind me and saw a lady checking tickets. The other passengers held out their tickets and IDs but she didn’t even look at them, just walked by each person nodding and smiling. When she got to me I pulled out a pile of expired tickets and she said something I didn’t understand. Just then we pulled up to the next stop and she asked if I would like to step out to get some coffee. I couldn’t tell if I was being fined or not, but I went along anyway. She linked arms with me and we walked to an ice cream parlor (instead of a coffee shop, as initially suggested). I told her it was my treat and we spent a good half hour deciding what to get from the hundreds of unlabeled flavors presented in the glass case. I asked if she always went out for ice cream with fare jumpers and she said she only stopped passengers on trams that were headed to the airport, or to the sea. She mentioned going to the theater next but by that point I was concerned I would be missed at home. When I told her I had to leave she didn’t like it, but there was nothing she could do — I’d purchased my freedom with the price of the ice cream cone.

Sketches from the morning commute

* * *

After leaving the party we turn the corner to Schlesisches Tor and hear what sounds like a live gypsy band with horns and drums and everything. Inside the station, a full-blown cabaret is underway, the likes of which Berlin hasn’t seen since 1929. People lock arms and dance jigs and hoist their beers and clap in rhythm, all at 2:30 in the morning. But by the time I’ve bought a beer at the station shop, the music has already stopped. Cops pile out of paddy-wagons on either side of the station, and as the crowd boos and begins to disperse a girl hands out fliers.

* * *

On the way to catch the 4:45 a.m. train to Erfurt, I walk by the Trinkteuffel, the Kreuzberg corner bar where the patrons sit and drink their beers with the same casual nature you’d expect at a nice Sunday afternoon cafe. Further down the street I see a man slipping all over the ice, which is pretty thick at the moment. He’s having a hard time keeping his balance, and I feel sorry for him until I notice he’s just really, really wasted.

* * *

Still dark outside, and it looks like I’m the only one awake on this ride to Alexanderplatz. Everyone else is sprawled out on the benches with their eyes shut and their mouths open. When the U-Bahn turns a corner, however, I catch a glimpse of at least one other awake soul — a girl a few cars down waving her arms in half-windmills and tossing her pink-streaked hair from side to side. Nobody bothers to tell her she’s no longer at the dance club. But, nobody seems to mind.

* * *

At the back of the tram to Europaplatz, the teenage Mutti watches over the stroller while Papa strides toward the ticket machine in the front car, taking his hands out of the pockets of his black hoodie to steady himself against the swaying of the tram.

* * *

On a cold Friday afternoon on Kotbusser Dam, a girl with frizzy hair and a red-and-white jacket juggles juggling pins at the stoplight. She drops them several times but still has the nerve to jog between the cars and wave a change basket before the light changes. Nobody obliges, and I wonder if anyone else is missing the fire-breather who set up shop there last week.

* * *

Just before dawn along the cobblestone street to Südplatz, a lady in high leather boots, a ski coat and jewelry shuts the car door and steps toward the door of her building. I’m on my way out the door to work and she’s just arriving home. I know where you’re going and you know where I’ve been.

* * *

At Mehringdamm an old man in a long black coat tries to step out of the U-Bahn just as the red lights flash and atonal bleeps sound in alert. The doors close halfway on him, but he manages to free himself by prying them back open with long, spindly fingers, gasping as he steps out into the station. His face is as pale as Nosferatu, and we can’t help but think we might have just witnessed something release itself from the underworld.

* * *

A few minutes until 6 outside Leipzig Central Station, and dozens of bakery employees in red jackets huddle in clusters and smoke cigarettes outside the exits, puffing with the urgency of people who think they might be smoking the last cigarettes of their lives.

* * *

Here comes a headache, I think as I watch a trio of guys lug instruments and a mobile p.a. onto our midnight car to Kotti. But once they start playing — saxophone, melodica and beats — everyone starts clapping and singing along to “Hit the Road Jack.” Even the sullen kid across from me puts down his book and lets out a tiny smile. When someone shouts for an encore the band launches into the first few bars of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” And when the train lurches and pulls everyone into each other, the dancing kids do their best to keep their beers from spilling.

* * *

On the morning commute, I being to realize I’m the only one on the U-Bahn not wearing a black top and blue jeans. After a few stops I start to feel like a corduroy-clad crasher of their impromptu denim convention. The jeans themselves come in all varieties: The man on my right has opted for dark and distressed, while the woman beside him sports a lighter shade of stonewashed.

* * *

Riding though the Saale in January, I see for the first time the cupolas of churches and houses of a hillside village built around a valley waterway. I marvel at how closely the buildings are intertwined with the river until I realize that it isn’t supposed to be this way; that the town is half-flooded.

* * *

As the tram nears a stop, a young couple embraces in what looks like a very passionate farewell. When the doors open, the man behind them waits calmly for the couple to finish instead of pushing his way past. It looks like they are saying goodbye for a long time, he probably thinks. But when their lingering kiss finally ends, they join hands and walk off the tram together.

* * *

Author’s note:

As a journeyman English teacher, I do a lot of transit riding. In fact, yesterday I had to get up before 5 to catch a train to the central German city of Erfurt, where I teach three classes at Siemens. I teach at different schools and businesses in Leipzig, and before moving here I had to race all over Berlin to take class, meet friends, and collect various visa papers and stamps. I can barely sit down without expecting the scenery out the window to begin moving at any moment.

What makes the commute interesting is not just the time I get to sleep, read or stare out the window, it’s the fellow passengers and people I observe along the way. The other day I compiled this little people-watching catalog from my rides to and from class these last few months. I was going to upload this from the train for extra style points but the connection on “das Internet Stick” was too slow.

This one goes out to all of my fellow U-bahn Ratzen and tram travelers, and to especially to Jenny, who has a long voyage ahead of her tomorrow to get back to her man. I welcome any feedback or and it would be extra fun if anyone wants to chime in with their own transit observations in the comments. Love, LW