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.

on mayo’s bridge

about 1 a.m.

a panorama

My father was a fisherman in his spare time.

I have memories of him getting his gear out of the trunk before we stood on a pier somewhere along Hampton Roads or the James River.

I was a squeamish kid. I can’t recall ever holding a fish unless it had taken a pit stop in a grill, oven or fryer.

I recall him trying to teach me to fish regardless. Typically, he would hand me a pair of binoculars when I tagged along.

I remember the ships going by, the waves lapping the shore, the seabirds wheeling.

I remember the smell of the salt air, dewatered fish, the beers that were secreted in his pockets sometimes and the grape sodas for me.

I don’t remember him catching much of anything.

I don’t think it mattered to him.

I walked across Mayo’s Bridge last night, the city’s unofficial fishing pier. As 14th Street and Saturday night in Shockoe Bottom rushed by, several men, some of them not much older than me stood over the James, waiting for that tug on the line and not caring if it happened.

I thought of how those souls were asked what they were doing Saturday night, they said they were fishing and they meant it.

I thought of the speeding vehicles, the sirens, the boisterousness, the distant bands, the glow of the city, the people like me shuttling between bars and bed.

Then there was a break in the traffic. There was the lapping of the James, the faint smell of salt there at the end of the estuary, the fish, the night birds, the faint odor of booze, the small boat below.

I wish my father kept trying to teach me to fish.


paisley park is in your heart

I’ve got 3 chains o’ gold
And they will shine 4 ever
If one of us has 2 go
U will go before me

I’ve pretty much stopped marking celebrity deaths here, partially because there was a point when I lost touch with pop culture and it felt a little silly when it was someone who didn’t truly touch my life in some way.

Prince is different.

As I’ve said many, many times, Theresa was an absolutely hardcore Prince fan. Sure, she loved New Edition. Yeah, Maxwell was great. Of course I never would have heard A Tribe Called Quest when I did without her (I’ll never forget where I was the first time I heard Award Tour).

But then there was Prince.

She lived for Prince. At 15, she forced my mom to take her and her best friend to the movies to see Purple Rain. For years, my mom complained about having to sit through it. There was a battle over Theresa’s poster of Prince in chaps. I have faint memories of her singing along to Raspberry Beret.

Because of Theresa, I know every syllable of the Purple Rain album.

Because of her, The Love Symbol Album, despite it not being exactly how Prince intended it, is one of my favorite albums. Because of her, I knew Prince could play basketball before Charlie Murphy told the tale of him and his crew versus Prince and the Revolution.

He spoke to her, and because we were so close, he spoke to me.

As Theresa’s multiple sclerosis progressed, I got serious in immersing myself into the purple world. I already was screeching Prince’s lyrics at karaoke nights. One of the moments Shaunelle shares when telling people how she knew we were going to be friends was when the Purple Rain title track was playing at one of our parties and I slid across the hardwood floor on my knees at the start of the third verse: “Honey, I know, I know, I know times are changing.” By 2012, I had a good chunk of his discography. I still have a few albums to get, especially those in that weird period around 2000 when he mostly rejected traditional music distribution. What I do have is about 300 songs. I don’t think anyone comes close in my music collection.

As my eldest sister approached the end, I knew there was something I needed to do.

I burned CDs. A whole fistful of them — my favorites and hers. She couldn’t speak by that point but I told her what I did and told my mom to play them for her. She heard most of them; my mom caught the lyrics of a song and couldn’t believe her little girl was given allowance that went to a record store that sold cassettes with songs like that to her. I called my mom Tipper Gore.

She didn’t get it.

But Theresa got to hear the Purple Rain soundtrack one more time.

When my sister died in May, I promised myself I’d listen to his new albums for her. He cranked them out like nobody’s business. I still haven’t gotten to HITnRUN Phase Two because it was first on Tidal and getting music from iTunes to my computer archive and the cloud is a few steps more than I’m sometimes willing to take.

I thought I had so much more than a year before I reached a world without both my sister and Prince Rogers Nelson.

In a strange way, I’m glad Theresa never had to live in a world without him.

I went through the motions at work after I heard the news. I was grateful that no one ratted out how much of a fan I am, and I was relieved that the only person who comes close to being as big of a fan as Theresa moved heaven and earth to get to the newsroom to write the sendoff. Otherwise, a variation of this entry would be what they would have gotten.

Before I left for the day, I knew what song I wanted to hear on the ride home. I’ve always felt 3 Chains O’ Gold was Prince’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Although When Doves Cry is my favorite song of his and Delirious had me from the second the synthesizer kicked in, I just love how big 3 Chains O’ Gold is. It’s one of those songs where I’d be OK if the artist vowed to sing no longer after making it.

I started it the second I started backing out of my space at the parking garage at work. It ended as I was shutting my car down in my parking lot.

The tears I shed while playing Paisley Park before I pulled myself together and played Love 2 The 9’s as my wife walked through the door were for both Prince and Theresa. They’re both gone, but the memories are just a few notes away.

you were a valued member of our staff

I miss these guys

Best of luck

This is my best wishes card from Charlottesville. I got it in February.

A few hours ago, I read all of notes for the very first time.

I managed to get through all of my job changes up to this point without getting an office going away card. I always thought they were stupid. Coworkers who know next to nothing about your or possibly loathe you get forced to pretend that they’ll miss you for about 10 seconds when the card comes around.

Although some of that is there, this one felt different. I guess it was because, in glancing at it, some were more than one-liners and some of them were more than one-liners after those writers told me that would be equally as long if written on the card.

Although I fish for compliments sometimes (all the time), I don’t when it comes to my job. I didn’t write that article so that someone would later tell me it was great. I didn’t sit by a reporter’s desk and rant about a story because I wanted to hear about how good of an editor I was. It was my job. It needed to get done, it’s important, and damn it, I’m not going to half-ass it because I’d rather be sleeping or binge watching MacGyver.

That’s why I couldn’t read the card just then. That was why I thought up a speech to say on my last day but couldn’t find the words when the cake was out and my desk was clear and I was minutes away from putting that newsroom in my rear view mirror for a while. I simply was overwhelmed.

I actually miss them. I really do. But it was time to go, and not just because I was commuting from Richmond.

I always tell reporters to get all they need to get out of the newsroom and get the hell out of there. Because our industry is evolving rapidly to avoid complete collapse, you can’t sit and stagnate until it’s time to cash out your 401(k). My trajectory didn’t involve staying in Charlottesville forever. I knew that when I got there. But I gained a lot more than I expected in those more than three years.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Thank you for having me.

hunter holmes mcguire

I have a weird relationship with Richmond, especially South Richmond.

When I was a kid back in the early 1990s (probably when Exit 265C still was Exit 67) there was a mileage sign nearby that said Richmond was 75 miles away. I was cognizant that Richmond was the capitol, and I wanted to see it. The prospect always got shot down because my mom was certain we’d be shot if we went to Richmond, because this was back when Richmond was averaging more than 120 homicides a year.

A few years later, in October 1997, I finally got to go. In a year that Richmond had about 140 homicides, a car I was in took the exit to virtually all of South Richmond then proceeded to the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center. In that building, my father was drawing his last breaths. A few months before, I was in a hospital in Maryland, holding my first nephew as he drew his first breaths.

My father never got to see his grandson.

Although the path from Interstate 95 to the VA hospital is clearly marked, the path back is not. We wound up on Hull Street, across Mayo’s Bridge and onto 14th Street. That was when I first saw it: Shockoe Valley. The Fall Line. The place I would call home 12 years later.

I returned six years later. I saw The Roots in concert in Kanawha Plaza with a few friends. I tried to refrain from saying it was my second time in the city, and the last time was because my father was transferred to the hospital there in hopes that he’d receive a new heart and return to Hampton.

I think I failed. I forget. The years between when Renée and I were first apart and the beginning of the spectacle that was being the charter member of a fraternity chapter are a blur.

In high school, I went to the Moorefield Mines in Ameila, the State Fair and Liberty University by way of what was then Longwood College. I don’t count these trips through Richmond because I didn’t get out of a vehicle within city limits.

I also don’t count the drives I would take, often at night, from Christopher Newport University to Richmond. I never knew why I did until I found what I was looking for. One night, I vaguely mapped out a course. I was going to take U.S. 60 to U.S. 360 and then take Route 10 to either the Jamestown Ferry or the James River Bridge. (Gas was like a dollar a gallon back then, y’all.)

I turned from Hull Street to Broad Rock Boulevard. Nothing registered until the light turned red at the northern intersection of Broad Rock and Belt.

I cut my drive short. I was fine until the CD I was playing got to What a Wonderful World. I don’t know why that song hit me. I was miles away then, at Route 10 and I-295. I took the ramp and took the interstate back to CNU. I wanted to be out of the car as soon as possible.

I avoided South Richmond for a while after that.

When I worked in Petersburg, there was an event at the hospital that was related to my beat. I politely declined it, but no one at the moment was able to do cover it for me. I continued to demur as I repeatedly was asked why I couldn’t do it. Then I yelled, “MY FATHER DIED IN THAT HOSPITAL, AND I’M NEVER SETTING FOOT IN THAT BUILDING AGAIN.”

The conversation was over.

When I considered living in Richmond in late 2008, I drove past the hospital a few times to see if I could do it without any problem. It’s fine, although it’s strange to me that I think about it every time I’m at that intersection. I never give Grandma’s death at Hampton’s hospital a second thought. Theresa expired in my mother’s house roughly where the dining room table is now. It doesn’t sting.

I guess it’s because I was 14, and 14-year-olds already have enough issues going on because 14 is so hard, and then my father dies. I guess it’s because I dreamed of going to Richmond for years and it took a grave illness for it to come true. I guess it’s because if you told me in January 1997 that my father wouldn’t live to see 1998, I probably would have called you a damn liar. Sure, he had problems, but he wasn’t going to die yet.

It’s fine, although I think about it every time I pass that hospital and I drove past it tonight after I heard that two children who woke up with a father are going to bed without one because a state trooper holding a conversation was slain in the city today and I sometimes wonder if the reason I’m so compelled to live in this city is because my father died in this city.

It’s fine.

It’s fine.


Back in 2005 — Oct. 23, if I remember correctly — I left myself a note to play “The Gate” by Belle & Sebastian at 10:43 a.m. a year later, or something like that. That morning in my childhood bedroom, as the sun was setting on my college career, I wondered where I’d be a year later.

When the notification buzzed, I was in my Petersburg apartment, getting ready to head to my first newsroom. I could have sworn I mentioned that in an entry here, but that week, all I really talked about was how I was using my old desktop computer, LSW1, after LSW2 died on me for the second time. Oh and going to the New Jersey Institute of Technology for its annual Halloween party. My car didn’t get broken into that year.

Renée and I have been talking about moving out of this house almost since the day we moved in. Closet space is lacking. The living room is too small to hold more than a couch and some folding chairs. The in-floor furnace up here and electric baseboard downstairs is too inefficient in the winter and I finally figured out how to keep it somewhat tolerable throughout the summer with just window fans (although we acquired a window air conditioner a few weeks ago).

I’ve resolved to be in a new place in October.

Dave shared Kerbside Collection with me a few hours ago. I said I wasn’t going to buy more music this week, but here we are with both their albums.

I have a reminder to play this album at midnight a year from now. It’s a Saturday and probably a payday, so I’ll at least have the reminder. I just want to pause for a moment a year from now and think about how I was sitting in my living room on still brand-new LSW8, listening to Australian-style West Coast jazz/funk. I want to think of the plaster walls, the Art Deco accents, this tiny house on the side of a hill, the apartment in Petersburg, how July 2006 was the first time I left the country and the first time I saw No BS!

I don’t know what the next 365 days hold, but I’m looking forward to them.

the world keeps on turning

From the driveway, it was obvious over Independence Day weekend that things were going to be different throughout my mother’s blanching beige house. Gone was the ramp that plagued the front porch and its slate blue paint earnestly attempting to blend in with that of the wooden balustrade. In its place, the brick stairs I spent countless hours sitting on with Theresa returned. Vestiges of my late childhood and early college years finally had been cleaned from a metal and glass étagère in the corner of my former bedroom. A box of relics from 2001 to 2005 await my perusal.

Downstairs, traces of the past several years have all but disappeared. A dining room that became a den and then a makeshift bedroom before its conversion into an improvised hospital ward has become a dining room again. Strategically placed, sun-bleached school portraits now hang with a slight incongruence. A temporary kitchen island sits a little too low in the sea of linoleum.

My mother mentioned that one’s voice echoes in there when the central air unit’s deafening roar abates. It’s one of the reasons at least one downstairs TV blares during most waking hours.

Talk of how enamored mom has become with an assistant living home in her hometown repeated as I returned the china cabinet to the dining room, moved the picnic table to the other side of the backyard, dug through Theresa’s poorly shot wedding photos in hopes that there was a good one of Uncle Wilson.

We then headed to North Carolina.

According to Grandma Elliott — one of two grandparents still living when I was born, the only one I can recall seeing more than once, the one who was the eldest after Grandpa Elliott, the one who outlived them all —  my great-great-great grandmother’s family, the Georges, were from somewhere in North Carolina. My recent bumbling around ancestry.com supported that story, but trying to find records for a somewhat common name in the time between 1830 and 1850 is like trying to find a haystack in a needle.

Some of my cousins who settled initially in Newport News’ East End moved en masse to North Carolina over the past four years or so, gravitating toward Ahoskie. One of them planned a Fourth of July cookout, and there’s been a renewed push to reconnect before there are more questions on this family tree I’m constructing.

We stopped on Newport News 16th Street on our way down to pick up a matriarch of those folk. She lived mere blocks from a fatal police shooting that happened just hours before. When all those cousins first moved to the East End, it still was at its zenith. Its continued slide prompted some of the migration. For others, it redoubled their resolve to stay.

Ahoskie, population 5,000, is the largest town in Hertford County, population 24,500. Where we were going wasn’t exactly near Ahoskie. It was closest to the village of Cofield, population 400. Although it isn’t terribly far from Hampton Roads, my mom decided we’d stay overnight. She is adverse to dark country roads because of wild animals and other stories from her childhood in the 1950s and ’60s and her parents’ at the dawn of the 20th century.

“That’s the price for one room?” Ma asked after I told her the quote from arguably the best hotel for miles.

“No, that’s for both,” I replied.

For several reasons, my mom was ready to leave the festivities before they set off their North Carolina fireworks. I briefly considered going back. I grew up with some of them but we haven’t been close in years. There used to be yearly reunions, and up until the late 1960s, everyone at least spent one night at my great-grandfather’s post-Depression homestead at 5 N. Curry St. in the former town of Phoebus. Who knows the next time we’ll be back in some combination like that again.

Before Renée and I headed back to Charlottesville that Sunday, we visited the cemetery in Hampton where some of our family is buried. That weekend was the earliest Theresa’s headstone could have appeared. It wasn’t there yet.

While we were there, my mom wanted to see Uncle Wilson’s grave. Uncle Wilson, Grandma Elliott’s little brother, was my favorite family member. In grade school, I would sometimes miss the bus so he could give me a ride to school. I visited his grave monthly from 1999 to about 2002. I plan on giving my son the middle name of Wilson and calling him that — Wilson was Uncle Wilson’s middle name.

Because of the amount of time since I decided my monthly sojourns were unnecessary, I remembered a landmark to find his grave, but I forgot exactly where it was. Once we found it, the discussion turned to his wife, whom we called Ms. Louise. She had her name installed when she purchased the headstone so all that was left was adding the date of her death.

My mom said she regularly visited Ms. Louise until it became stressful for them both recently. She completely forgot who my mom was.

Ms. Louise died that following day.

father’s day

Soooooo much wood paneling.

By my best estimation, 1986 or 1987.

This morning, I thought about the last time I spent an extended period of time alone with my father.

It was the last day of eighth grade. Because it was a variation on the magnet school format, the middle school I attended didn’t have buses. I carpooled in the morning with a kid who was an acquaintance at best, and either my mom or dad picked me up at 3:15 p.m.

When my dad got me in his shiny, black Lincoln Mark VII that day, he said we were going for a ride before we went home. My dad, the road and me — that was our thing. I’m beginning to see where I get this from.

We left Hampton and headed to Ocean View in Norfolk. We hung out on the beach for a while, and a baptism occurred while we were there. When I was in college, I met the person who was baptized that day. Because I’m living proof of the small-world experiment.

After leaving Ocean View, we went to downtown Norfolk then took the Elizabeth River Ferry to downtown Portsmouth. We got some food and then, finally, returned home.

Meanwhile, my mother was wondering where in the purple-spotted hell we had been for hours.

I’m beginning to see where I get this from.

* * *

The sunbeams were a surprise when I reviewed the photo.

Rest in peace, Dad.

Within a year, Dad was pretty bad off. Soon afterward after years and years of wanting to see Richmond, I was in a crammed car, saying my goodbyes as he was on a hospital bed in the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center. It took me a very long time to drive on that stretch of Broad Rock Boulevard again.

Then it was that Monday in October. All I remember is that I was in social studies class.

His first grandchild was born that summer while he awaited in vain for a new heart. He never got to see him.

Looking back at the last day of eighth grade. I think he knew he was dying and there was so much he was going to miss.

But that day with him was a good day, and I’m glad that day is one that has stuck out in my mind.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

two weeks’ notice

We’re in the final countdown for our new boss and two of the three new reporters to arrive. (Our new boss is hiring the final reporter once he gets here.)

That also means we have about a month before the current managing editor leaves. I’ve come to like the guy a lot, so I’m a little sorry to see him go, although he’s been trying to go for quite some time now.

One of the two new copy editors has started. For those of you who have been reading this blog for nearly 11 years, you know what I’m going to say next: I know him from Jacksonville. I sat to his left, actually. He completes the Charlottesville set — at least one person from every newspaper I’ve ever worked (and interned) has been in that newsroom since I’ve been there.

Say it with me:

My life is like a sitcom with a very, very limited budget for casting. You also could say my life is the plot of a very, very bad Charles Dickens novel.

With all the changes that have happened, I had to make a big decision.

Back in 2008, I made a mix CD for my resignation from Petersburg and my moving to Hopewell. I decided to extend that playlist when I initially planned to head to Jacksonville, changed my mind and wound up in Jacksonville anyway. Typically I picked two leaving songs and two arrival songs. The exception is in leaving Petersburg, because the first song — despite being titled “Interlude” — is more of a prelude.

Here is the playlist through  arriving in Charlottesville. I posted this before in 2012, and mentioned including it in my perfect Charlottesvile-to-Nashville playlist. The amount of Death Cab for Cutie is unintentional. Ben Gibbard speaks to my soul, apparently.

It's my Er


Leaving Petersburg

  1. “Interlude,” by Lunar
  2. “The Unknown,” by Lunar, remixed by TWH
  3. “Line of Best Fit,” by Death Cab for Cutie (Something About Airplanes version)

Heading to & Leaving Hopewell

  1. “Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed,” by múm
  2. “The Ballad of the Eagle Claw: The Centipede,” by No BS Brass (Alive in Richmond 2.0 version)
  3. “Stable Song,” by Death Cab for Cutie
  4. “Stability,” by Death Cab for Cutie

Heading to & Leaving Jacksonville, N.C.

  1. “Life in Mono,” by Mono
  2. “Music Is Math,” by Boards of Canada
  3. “Jungleland,” by Bruce Springsteen
  4. “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” by The National

The Return to & the Final Departure from Hopewell

  1. “I Didn’t See It Coming,” by Belle & Sebastian [no pun intended]
  2. “Wrecking Ball,” by Bruce Springsteen
  3. “That’s Incentive,” by Death Cab for Cutie
  4. “Amputations,” by Death Cab for Cutie (Something About Airplanes version)


  1. “Night Moods,” by Bob James
  2. “Git It Awn!” by No BS Brass

Although I haven’t gone anywhere, enough has changed to not only mark the changes but conclude this playlist.

The End of an Era

  1. “Tiny Capers,” by Clifford Brown
  2. “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot,” by Grandaddy

But I just couldn’t end it right there. If we’re about to embark on a new phase, the playlist has to reflect that.

Since I titled this playlist ELLIOTTrobinson, it made sense to call this section

ELLIOTTreloaded: A New Beginning

  1. “Frank Sinatra,” by Cake
  2. “Barragán,” by Blonde Redhead

The playlist begins and ends on a prelude. I find the ending fitting because a prelude builds up anticipation for what’s yet to come.

I’ve started a new playlist that is called and begins with the two songs under ELLIOTTreloaded. I wonder, since the new beginning doesn’t begin until the 18th, if we’ll continue tradition with a third song for the playlist’s first phase.

The odds are pretty high that this hypothetical third song will be a by Death Cab. I’ve semi-purposely held off listening to the band’s 1-month-old album, Kintsugi, until this very second.