Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Free Falling in Old Small Towns

We at Free Fall Fridays are amazed at how the same prompt will result in many different pieces. Most of us hand-write, but since I came to writing through practical journalism I bring my MacBook Air.

Today’s pieces are all from my September 2014 file, with a theme:
Old small towns

prompt- He’s a legend in his own mind.

Every town has one, or should. I mean the man with the vintage, not old, 1950’s car all set for cruising; the man with the leather jacket, blue jeans while the other old codgers were wearing slacks, and, heaven help us, brylcream in his hair. I had Jake in my hair too, as he was my brother. Thank God nobody knew he used to be called Biff. Jake often parked his car at the bar on the street side where he could easily cross over to the gas station to supposedly get cigarettes, or cross down to see if anyone was smoking in the front of the bowling ally, looking to see “if anybody is there that owes me money.” Actually, he just liked to hang out.

I didn’t mind, because I liked fresh air more than I liked that bar, the Moosehead, because the bar still seemed smoke filled to me, although the pesky government had outlawed indoor smoking. It never fails: “they” up on capital hill, never ask us real smokers what we think. My god, it’s like bicyclists being asked to plan the next superhighway. I said to Jake, “Jake, the snobs on the hill just ain’t fair.” We were standing just outside the gas station.

“Tell me about it. I think I’ll mosey over and—

“—see if anyone owes you any money.”

“Are you coming?” Jake asked.

“Oh yeah, ” I said. As we walked, me in my slacks and Jake in his jeans, I said, “If you’re so good at walking, maybe you could walk Sandra down the aisle.” It was the first time I had ever seen anybody stop in mid stride before.

“Now, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean she doesn’t have a father and you are closer to her than I am.”
Jake was a legend in his own mind, doing a church walk would do him good.

Prompt- letter to grandchild
When I grew up children could play outside, and no one wore a pack to school. I could carry my food in a bag, fold it into my pocket, and then walk home with my hands free. I walked a mile and a quarter, about six kilometers today. It took me an hour. I would part with my friend Howard at the half mile point, and then walk on alone.
I guess that’s why I can be my own company today—we didn’t need any music or tablets. Do you know what the guy who wrote Treasure Island said? A man should be able to spend three hours waiting at a little train station, with no books or electronic devices, and not be bored. You need a well-stocked mind in order to do that; it’s something for you to work on.

We used to eat all sorts of berries on the way home. Now I see berries going uneaten—what’s this world coming to? We had television, in black and white, and we could get three to five channels, depending on the weather. When you turned the set on, you had to keep the sound off so it could warm up, and only turn up the volume after the picture suddenly started. From the back you could see little glowing vacuum tubes, and the picture screen itself was part of a really huge vacuum tube. Radios had tubes too. In the kitchen our radio had no box around it, it had been broken years before, and the antenna was a wire that went along the cupboard and then up the wall.

And each house had only one TV.

Prompt- (a picture from Swerve magazine)
When I was a boy we lived in neighborhoods, walkable neighborhoods. The streets were built by the government, in traditional Roman town fashion: a grid. Whoever thought that real estate developers could do it better? For them, any plot set aside for a shack for preventative medicine, or a library or fire hall, is one less shack to bring in the shekels for them.

No one walks because, when you get down to it, the developers don’t put in any focus: there is no “there” when you get there. The kids try to use the all-night convenience store, but that is a very poor substitute for grass and a park bench, a ceremonial slab to climb up on, a promenade for people watching, tables for chess and checkers, and an old civil war statue for the gamblers to make book on where the pigeons would strike next. No drinking fountain for today’s kids, just a sterile 7-11 out for your money, in a community that lets developers take everyone’s money.

When I was a boy you put down roots. If you wanted to paint your house fuchsia, who cared? A giant chalkboard on your garage? Great, keep the kids off the street. And a park swing set: No one cared that kids might not hold on tight—they always held on, same as when they climbed trees. But trust a developer to say that climbable trees, or swing sets, cut into the real estate gravy.

In my day you didn’t need community gardens, because everybody planted gardens. The old folks had their flowers; the young families had their vegetables. In my family I was always in charge of the pumpkin patch.

Oh, and in my day the kids could trick-or-treat. A stupid sterile mall is no substitute for gnarly apple trees and giant rustling sunflowers.

Fear is the problem: rumors of poisoned apples, poisoned candy. I have to wonder why people always found the razor blades before they bit in, and it was never the choir kids who got their pictures in the papers. A guy testified on Oprah that there had been only two poisonings in America, and in both cases it was the relatives of the kids, not strangers. But people with no roots, I think, are especially prone to wild fears. It’s too bad. We need nice rooted human neighborhoods, not prissy sterile ones.

Prompt- time keeps flying
Whoosh! Wisssh! Swoosh! That’s the sound of time flying. Now, I know what you’ll say, that time can’t fly because it’s not in the air, it’s on the ground doing a crawl, a slow slither, a stagger and a roll, no, a slow caterpillar hump, a snail ooze. Yes, that’s time, an oooooze.

Nope. Time is in the air, and it flies. OK, it floats, drifts, eases along, wafts… No, it helicopters like a maple seed of our childhood—there goes summer! There goes the leaves, the snows, the puffy parachutes of dandelions. Oh, ain’t life grand?

If we don’t want a frozen tableau and frozen smiles in a rictus world, well, we have to embrace time. And it flies. And if time didn’t fly, we’d have to adjust our clocks so that it did fly. How else to be reminded of the preciousness of each long day? Can you store time? No and yes. If I store stuff I can create a time sink, a joy well, a pit of despair. Forget stuff, live now.

Sean Crawford

We have a Free Fall Fridays blog that some of us occasionally post on. While it is OK to fix our spelling and punctuation, it is just not done to edit for publication, neither on our blog nor here on my own site. To be authentic, a Free Fall should be posted just as it is. Otherwise, prospective visitors to our meetings might get a false sense of how unpolished free-fall writing truly is. 

Those of us who normally edit as we go, which includes me, may really benefit from free-falling.

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