the pears of mary lee’s corner

A few minutes ago, I ate a fresh pear. My mom bought some and forced me to go home with them when I packed up from visiting over the weekend.

I can’t remember the last time I had a pear. Although I eat vegetables for fun, I rarely buy fruit.  And when I do, it’s almost always a grapefruit. There was a time when I ate more fruit, sometimes for free. Especially pears.

Some of the homes on my block were the second or third generation from after the farm that once was there was subdivided. Several of the lots with newer homes featured fruit trees. A few doors down was a peach tree. We had a cherry tree. On the corner were several pear trees. It was an older building, so it either was the inspiration or a coincidence.

That corner lot housed a corner store, some small apartments and the home of the proprietor. The portion of the large, rectangular building that was Mary Lee’s home was a maze. Before I knew that it was Dickensian, I knew that home felt Dickensian. The troubled boy she adopted briefly was my friend. Before he compelled me to sever our friendship, fell into more trouble than someone our age should, wound up in Florida and received a life sentence there, we tried to get pears before they fully ripened and began to rot on the ground.

We’d throw rocks or the ball we were playing with or any other object to rattle the branches enough to send some down.  When Mary Lee caught us, she’d yell and I had to go home. When she didn’t, we’d run off with our unripe bounty, ignorant of stony and bland not being the flavors associated with them.

I was expecting this pear to be a challenge to bite, be flavorless and remind me of relatively innocent times.

It was soft, had a taste close to the chunks in heavy syrup and did no such thing.

dreams

My suspension of disbelief is terrible.

I blame it on horror films.

My mom loves horror movies, so I was exposed to them at a young age. To spare me from going insane, my mom went through great pains to explain that they were only a movie, people liked them because they either liked being scared or saw them (and myriad other reasons), it would be all over the news if it happened in real life and it was all special effects.

I stopped watching them because I picked up on each one ending with the opportunity for a sequel, and I wanted something with a definitive end.

This inability to fully enjoy something fantastic has bled into my subconscious.

If I dream about being able to fly, I say, “Wait a minute. This is impossible!” and I wake up. A talking animal or inanimate object? Ice cream grows on trees? Something that traditionally is a nightmare? A little voice announces that it isn’t real and wakes me up. Back in college because I didn’t actually pass a class or something? Completely rejected and sent to the waking world.

Unless I have a lucid dream and play around in the space or a dream is framed in being a film, I dream about going to the grocery store, having conversations with friends, driving somewhere, going to work, so on and so forth. It’s a little bothersome because I’m afraid that I’ll reach a point in my life when I’m not certain whether something actually happened. I sometimes remind myself that a married couple I once worked with being in a ’70s folk rock band and this information not coming out until another former coworker who also is a DJ noticed them on an album cover when he was digging in the crates did not happen.

The worst was when I was in high school. I went to bed on a Monday night and dreamed about getting up on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The dream included getting ready, riding the bus, going to class, going home doing homework and going to bed. When my alarm went off and morning news program mentioned it was Tuesday, I had to explain to the rest of the house why I was shouting, “TUESDAY? TODAY IS TUESDAY?”

This even comes into play when I have routine dreams with deceased people.

Except for one exception.

Last night, I dreamed of going home. I took my niece and one of my nephews on a college tour. Their mother went with us.

My brain doesn’t cancel dreams with Theresa in them. It definitely has tried, though.

I’ve had the realization that a dream was impossible because my sister is dead. It didn’t end the dream.

I don’t even get the reminder anymore.

In a way, they make me appreciate the plausible slice of life dreams. I like having the occasional conjuring of doing the normal, boring things with my sister I never got the chance to do.

Thank you for at least let me have this, brain.

penultimo

I just realized I missed noting my 2,100th entry a few months back. I think I’m going to switch to noting every thousand at this point and rename to “hundred” tag to “big round number,” or something like that.

It’s my penultimate work day in Richmond. I’m off Friday, and I plan on doing nothing constructive beyond seeing Bill before he enters the next chapter of his life in Kansas.

Earlier this week, traveled around 2007 Richmond in Google Street View. There were times when I got excited because I remembered that something was a weedy lot or an abandoned building or a bar I loved.

I picked 2007, which also is a far back as you can go on Street View, because I formally met Richmond a decade ago.

As I’ve mentioned many, many times, as I kid, I wanted to visit Richmond because it was the state capitol and only was 75 miles away. I didn’t get to go until 20 years ago when my father died. The next time, not including driving through city limits on two trips and going to the State Fair when it was in Henrico County, was in college when I saw The Roots play in Kanawah Plaza. And then my fraternity did some volunteer work in the Fan.

I didn’t really go into the city my first year in Petersburg. My friendship with some high school classmates fell off while we were in college, and Bill and Craig generally stuck around either my place in or Bill’s parent’s house in Chester or Craig’s parent’s house in Powhatan County.

2007 was when I really started experiencing the city. It was my first real impression.

Since then, I’ve seen couch fires on Hell Block, drank in the seediest of bars, woke up in weird places, ate amazing food, made great friends, experienced amazing audio and visual art, briefly became a social media influencer and fully embraced how delightfully weird what went from Cap City to RVA was. I made it my home.

In 2011, I figured it was time to leave.

It was a combination of things: I figured I had carried the Hopewell paper as far as my inexperience could. I set a good framework, I figured, so it was time for someone to take it to the next level. My relationship status changed, so moving to New York also because a goal. And people were starting to leave. That year also was when I ditched my 10-year high school reunion to throw Bill a farewell party.

And the city was changing.

People started to not call Hell Block Hell Block. There were fewer reports of furniture fires, my favorite seedy bar became a trendy restaurant with an event space that wasn’t that bad but wasn’t quite the same. Parties shifted to my place — and were awesome — but I would waver between wanting to keep the dynamic with me, Matt and Shaunelle forever and thinking about how one day the three of us would wake up one day at 35 years old and wonder how and why we were still there.

Those vacant lots became apartments, condos and more restaurants. Places became cleaner and safer. Homes were flipped. Entire trendy neighborhoods popped up like mushrooms overnight.

My departure didn’t go as planned. After a stutter-step, I was gone for three years.

I was excited to return in 2015, but the world kept spinning. Richmond continued its path away from having that gritty but endearing edge, at least in its core. More of my friends moved away or the relationship died. A lot of my old haunts vanished. I felt too old for others. Even more just no longer felt the same. The strange cast of characters all but disappeared. The death of Dirtwoman seemed to be the end of an era.

The magic was gone. Richmond just became I place where I lived. I guess that happens to all places. I realized I didn’t need to be here, like in the middle of it all. I considered moving to the West End when our lease ended. Sure, walking to do a lot of my errands is great, but I don’t need it. I rarely go out anymore. Parties and/or wanton partying happen like every other month now or maybe less frequently. No one on Twitter cares what I have to say about #rva anymore. And I’m married and we’re thinking about kids very soon. I’ve had several rants about how we were putting our kids at least in a better part of the Richmond’s zoned schools to help them get into the better middle and high schools later.

Meanwhile, I never stopped reading the paper in Charlottesville. I constantly was in contact with various people in the newsroom. I sometimes wished I never left, but it seemed like this move here was permanent and it made no sense to me for someone on a newspaper’s management team to live an hour away in another paper’s coverage area. It wasn’t time to go just yet, and I’m glad that I got the chance to come back

But this doesn’t mean I hate being here in Richmond, although I’m not sad about leaving in a little while. What bums me out is that Richmond and I grew apart.

By all means, come here. Live, work, play. It’s awesome. It’s just not where I am, at least right now.

hot take

The problem is that, for some of them, their core beliefs are being attacked. It doesn’t matter if they’re wrong — these are things their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins have told them in their formative years. This information from the first people they trust became a part of them. It’s bigger than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny; they weren’t just stories to placate a child, they were things those adults believed to be true. As the world shrinks and changes, they can wonder if certain things about their community and their culture are nothing but foolish lies or reject that possibility. It’s easier to lash out than to consider that another worldview is equally valid or actually correct. Even when the evidence is overwhelming.

The solution to this problem is something we’ve sought for millennia.

deletion

AS SOME OF YOU know, this whole thing began as a LiveJournal blog on June 1, 2004. In April 2011, I migrated everything to WordPress but the LiveJournal still existed. At the time, I had stuff — e.g., photos — hosted there still. My initial plan was to let it slowly fade into the ether; although all of the entries are here, I could go back there and … I don’t know.

I quietly restricted access to entries before Jan. 1, 2013, recently. I felt like a good break between trying to figure out how to function as an adult and faking it like every other adult in this world.

Also, there was a long period of me recounting how drunk I got the night before.

Overall, I’m not ashamed of anything back then, but I felt it was time to put the past in the past.

And this is the last step.

In 60 days, the two communities I ran and my LiveJournal join my MySpace pages in the Great Internet Hereafter — you know, the place where it remains intact but becomes slightly harder to find. The Internet is forever, folks.

10 years suspended

On Friday, I got a letter from a prisoner. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten one, because I haven’t written any crime articles in my short stint of being a reporter and I haven’t been a listed-in-the-paper editor in a while.

I was excited by it. Typically, they go on and on about various miscarriages of justice that happened either before or after their convictions. Sometimes, they’re right. Sometimes, prison is exactly where they need to be.

I was fully expecting a few pages from a sex offender swearing he had no idea how those images got on his computer and that the real perverts are the judges and the members of the Bilderberg Group who conspired to keep him in prison to stop him from revealing the truth.

Instead, I got a letter written on a computer. He formatted the return address in a way that made it look like he had a corner office instead of a tiny cell. I figured this was going to be a doozy and excitedly announced that I had a letter.

It was a doozy, all right. It was about the stories I wrote to catch up with the communities in our coverage area that were struck by tornadoes on my first week in Richmond.

The article “captured my attention because of the compelling subject and later, because of your compassionate voice,” the prisoner wrote.

“Because of your article, two of us at [the prison] … sent our contributions to help in the recovery,” he wrote.

The clerk of the county court, who was handling the recovery fund, sent letters of recognition and appreciation to the inmates. He sent me a copy.

“Such praise for a more-or-less natural response to a tragedy was both unexpected and highly motivating,” he wrote. “And it all comes back to your article.”

He went on to say that he aspires to become a better writer and hopes to at least be published in our paper one day.

“In the meantime,” he wrote. “several of us at [the prison] are continuing to look for ways to help those caught up in misfortune beyond their control.”

To say I was shocked would be an understatement.

I shared the letter with an editor and our criminal justice reporter, hoping that a story about convicted felons scraping what little cash they get in prison to aid in storm recovery would be worthwhile.

But first, I needed know what he did.

In the early 2000s, he beat a man to death with a hammer and robbed him. He has an active sentence of 74 years in prison for first-degree murder and other charges. I vaguely remember the case.

Being a murderer doesn’t mean all you are is a monster. Being in prison doesn’t mean you ceased to be a human being. Knowing that you will spend your last days within those walls doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happens to lives outside those walls.

I plan on writing him back.

benchmark 2

A year ago last weekend, I was in Charlottesville house with subtle Art Deco flourishes. I wondered where I would be a year later. We were talking about moving out at that time and figured it would be to another place in Charlottesville.

I considered finding a new place in October while listening to Trash or Treasure by Kerbside Collection. I made a note to listen to this album again and talk about where I we  wound up.

Closet space is better but there still isn’t quite enough storage space, which is ridiculous because we really don’t have a lot of stuff. It’s not like there’s crap all over the floors, but there are some things I would like to keep out of sight until needed or have a more efficient home for them.

The new property management company has spotty hours, which is a challenge when getting packages. If we stay, we need to go back to getting things shipped to work. If we leave, we’ll have to anyway, because this is Richmond. Additionally, there are some minor annoyances beyond that. It’s surprising since we went from a on-site property manager and maintenance man to a large company with other properties in town.

I think they want to get us all out so they can renovate and jack up the rent.

The building dumps all the rainwater from the roof onto the front walkway, which currently is the only entrance. It leaked in our living room after a recent rainstorm. (Mind you, we’re on the second of three floors.) Hearing the neighbors is driving Renée crazy. It’s impossible to get to central or western Henrico County without going through the Bryan Park interchange.

But we can walk to Shockoe Bottom and downtown. I can get to work on foot in 40 minutes. I’ve walked as far as Carytown. I’ve wanted a loft with exposed brick and hardwood floors as much as I’ve wanted to live in a brick Cape Cod. I’ve done both now.

Tomorrow, I’m looking at a house to rent. I have a list of questions about it, because I want to live there until we’re ready to buy.

I won’t be able to walk as much because it’s in a tricky spot — a valley separates it from the city’s core and the crossings are extremely limited. It’s also in one of the city’s vast food deserts because our over-saturated grocery market consists of several stores all near each other on the city’s fringes or suburbs.

But it is a fully detached American Foursquare house — I haven’t been in a detached house since 2008, if you don’t count the six months in North Carolina, and that’s sad. It’s also been a decade since I’ve been in a two-story detached house. It has a yard and a porch and it’s in a transitioning part of town. Two high-profile buildings on the main drag recently were purchased and are poised for redevelopment. In a way, it’ll be like being back on 33rd and Clay.

We can have a dog of any size. Katy lives a few blocks away.

But I don’t know what it looks like yet. There’s only an exterior photo. It could look like a total dump, and then we’ll have to start the hunt again. Or stick it out one more year. We’re running out of time to give our terrible new property management company notice.

I think I need a new benchmark song. I hope it’s the last one for a while.

 

Burn all of your art

More like Fails from Imperial City.

Repair the wasteful part.

Over the weekend, I finally got my dresser. It’s not where I want to put it just yet, but when it is, I’ll photograph it and tell the story about why I’ve been obsessed with this piece of furniture for the past decade.

While I was moving things around to get it out of my childhood bedroom, I found a box of things I thought I lost years ago. I was fairly certain some of the things in that box were stolen at some point. Since it’s been about eight years since those things went missing, I have no use for them, so I wound up going through it and then tossing the box and its contents in my mom’s trashcan.

Except for what you see in the photo.

What you see here is something I started on Dec. 17, 1998. This is the handwritten first draft of the original Tale from Imperial City: Thirty-Eight.

What’s in the lower right is a map of Imperial City. Wessex County is to the immediate north of city limits. If this were a larger map of this portion of Virginia, the main action of Brown River Blues occurs roughly where the top right green folder is.

Thirty-Eight — which is named for the internal designation Imperial City Public Schools uses for Greenfront-Council High School — is where we first meet Lorenzo Santiago Williamston, Marian Moreno and some characters who are lingering in the background of nearly every piece of fiction I write.

I didn’t know what it was about, so I kept writing until I did. It was a comedy, it was a tragedy, it was a piece of magic fiction.

It was terrible.

But I decided the gist of what took place was canon and everything else has been a sequel of sorts.

Somewhere in the process of starting Brown River Blues, characters from Thirty-Eight slowly appeared. Although Wessex County was just down the street from Imperial City, I initially had no intention of placing any of those characters — especially Lorenzo — into the story. When Lorenzo appeared, I made a promise to myself that it would be the final story about him. I found that amusing because it would possibly be the first story about Lorenzo printed for mass consumption.

Another part of the deal was that I would destroy every trace of Thirty-Eight. In both Thirty-Eight and Brown River Blues, I mention that Lorenzo is writing a novel about me in which I’m writing a novel about him in which … you get the point. As I didn’t enjoy some parts of high school, I decided it was for the best that we left that bit of our lives in our collective head.

Furthermore, the last thing I want in this world is Thirty-Eight rearing its ugly head and winding up published. I do not even want that to happen posthumously.

A few weeks ago, I felt like I was finally ready to get back into editing Brown River Blues,  restarting Project 792 and maybe writing more short stories. Losing LSW5 in 2013 and LSW6 and 7’s inability to properly call up the Brown River Blues file brought my fiction writing to a screeching halt. I haven’t recovered because that’s my thing — if I get repeatedly thwarted or the task of putting something back together is painstaking, I rage quit to the point that I do not come back to it ever again.

Example: There is a model Lamborghini Diablo collecting dust on a shelf in my childhood bedroom. I put one together in high school and, to occupy my youngest nephew, my brother-in-law handed it to him to play with, not realizing it was a model. My hours of work were crushed in seconds. I pleaded with everyone to not buy me a new kit because I knew I wasn’t going to go through that effort again.

I hoped for a sign that it was time to get back into the world of Imperial City, and I finally got it when I opened that box. Somehow Draft № 1 survived the purge.

I rode back to Richmond with that more than 200 pages of draft; the maps of the city; and the schematics of Lorenzo’s childhood home, Rosewood, the high school and the glass shop his friend’s parents owned.

I hummed the Greenfront-Council High School alma mater, Hail Greenfront and Council High (yes, I also composed a school song), and I headed over to the dumpster to personally see that Thirty-Eight was no more.

After I come back from vacation, it’s writing time.