An Everyday Stranger

Woodford PO
Woodford, VA

The closest post office that would accept our passport applications would not see us until our scheduled appointment in June.  In fact, most of the post offices within a 30-mile radius required appointments & while that did not surprise me, the length of time until our appointment did.  There were only two post offices that had walk-up service & both were small buildings located in the middle of nowhere.

So, impatient & high-strung creature that I am, I got directions to the Woodford Post Office & we headed out on a rainy day.  The building was located somewhere between Thornburg & Bowling Green & we drove narrow, curvy country roads slowly, since the roads were slick & the bends were blind.  We drove past older homes with DIY parking lots filled with fresh gravel & a slew of various cars as well as wild parcels of land that had overgrown logging trails & were flooded at every flat place.  It was hard to imagine anyone turning those pieces of land into anything profitable. It was also hard to imagine that we would see bold-faced RESIST signs lurching from the treeline not far from a home flying a Confederate flag, but that we saw proof of as we inched along.

Woodford Railroad Crossing
Across the street from the Woodford Post Office

As we approached the railroad crossing, the only sign that we were anywhere close to our destination was three greying buildings.  As we slowed, hoping to see some street sign, the entry for the post office popped out behind a stand of sagging wet trees.  We turned & soon found ourselves inside one of the smallest & tidiest post offices I’d ever seen.  It reminded me a lot of the Hartwood Post Office, which had the functional-but-idealistic vibe of New Deal architecture & was also small but tenaciously holding onto its surrounding community.

The woman behind the counter was eager enough to help us, but she only had one question: did we have our pictures with us?  When we said yes, she sighed in relief, “Good, our camera’s been out of film & I’m still waiting to be restocked.”  She processed our forms efficiently, telling us genially that she’d been doing applications for a year & that we really had made the right choice to go with the passport book instead of the card.  “I know its cheaper, but say you’re on a cruise & the boat breaks down.  When they come to get everybody, you won’t be able to go if they’re flying everyone home.  That card is for North American travel only & they won’t make exceptions for you.”  I had to admit I had not thought of this.

Then she came to the place on the form where the dates & destination of travel were listed.  We had left them blank because the band we had planned to see in Canada hadn’t announced its dates or its venues yet.  My husband, more inclined to small talk than I, explained this & when he mentioned that they don’t hardly tour in the United States, she asked who we were going to see.  “Matthew Good,” I said.

Oh,” she replied, clear that she didn’t know who that was, “I was hoping you’d say Rush; I love them.”  My husband & I replied at the same time that we’d seen them in Bristow a few years back.  We talked over each other a bit & I debated mentally whether or not to mention that he’d hated it & had only gone for me, much like this upcoming trip to see Matt Good.  “I’ve seen Rush too,” she said, trying to remember, “When was it?”

I hazarded a guess, “2012?  Clockwork Angels?”

She smiled—a wide, bright smile, “Yeah!  Yeah, you’re right, it was in Bristow.  Oh my god, they were so good!  It was the first time I saw them live.”

“Me too!” I said & we all joked about the scarcity of women at a Rush concert & what were the odds, y’know?  The rest of the paperwork process got a bit lighter & she was patient with us & our questions as she went over the various payment options & expected wait times.  I don’t think any of us wanted to waste this small moment of shared goodwill.

When everything was done, we all cheerfully said our goodbyes & my husband & I headed back out into the drizzling rain, trying to decide how to head home.  “I wonder what its like to work here,” I said as we waited for a train to slowly finish its crossing.  “Do you think its boring or that its peaceful?”

“Its probably boring,” he said, “I mean, its even smaller & more isolated than where we live & you know how it is there.”

I stared out the window & thought Maybe.  But I was also thinking about the Rush concert, where we had sat in a row with some other ladies & at the end, after we had danced & cheered & sang along with nearly every song, one of them had turned to me & said, “God, that was so fun! It’s nice to be near someone who knows how to enjoy a show!”  I thought about power chords echoing out over the overgrown fields.  And I thought, I bet you at least have a few stories at the end of the day.


Early Morning Anxiety

And then you wake up at 2am
And you run through the quick-list of safety checks
(odd sounds? husband breathing? unidentified presence? lights on?)
To make sure
You’re safe
You think briefly of the late afternoon coffee you had (no caffeine after 12pm)
Before your thoughts shatter & pile up treacherously in your head.

And the sky is smeared with amber streetlights bouncing off the mist
And the rain on the window is irregular
And your neck throbs pain to a fine point in your temple
And the choices you didn’t make yesterday return with imagined consequences
And you remember gruesome stories about roaches living in people because
Your abdomen hurts & you think it must be roaches pickled in caffeine

And you want to start crying
But you don’t want to wake your husband
And you want to fill the glass on the nightstand with water
But you don’t want to wake the cat
And then the red numerals from the alarm clock tell you
The exact minutes of sleep you’ll be missing in the morning
And the blue light from the stereo reminds you that your melatonin levels aren’t right
(Clearly, because you are awake).

You’re never going to sleep again because the air is muggy & the arrhythmic rain interrupts your breathing & the false dawn outside is a reminder that you are lying to yourself about the amount of air you have left to breathe & will there even be a world tomorrow if we keep manufacturing plastics & lights & weapons &

Your hair has joined the harmony of pain between your neck & your head
And when your husband shifts uneasily in his sleep beside you
You try to keep your fear contained by counting backwards from 99 by threes
Because you love the threes table & the magical song created by children’s musicians
And covered by rock bands.
You get stuck at 90 & realize how stupid you are, you can’t even get
To the next number without saying 89, 88, 87 to yourself.

The clock turns to 2:45 am & the very fact almost
Brings you to tears again because of Elliott Smith.

Your neck pops and snaps when you move it
And your husband turns, somehow knows you’re awake,
Says sleepily, Are you ok?  What are you doing?
, you say.
You should turn a light on, he says and you mumble something
About writing by feel & the dim outline of the page and
Not wanting to wake him.
He complains about being cold despite burning up to the touch,
Like so often happens now at night, right before you go to bed.

You tell him everything is ok & tease him for not being able to keep his inner thermostat straight.
He keeps asking questions, making sure nothing else has happened or intruded here.
The cat is still downstairs and does not need to be fed,
The circling fan still hums,
The pillow is cool,
The rain quiets.
You arrange the covers better around you both &
Everything is ok.
Everything is ok.

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Bassoon King

The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and IdiocyThe Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy by Rainn Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A memoir by Rainn Wilson about art & personal experience in the vein of Yes Please, Scrappy Little Nobody, or Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living.

It’s 2017 & I’m just now getting around to watching the American adaptation of The Office. But as I’ve made it through the first two seasons, I was reminded of how much I loved the character Arthur in Six Feet Under & oh, yeah, that actor guy wrote a book awhile back. There are some interesting stories here that I really got into, especially when it touched on topics like growing up religious with conflicted parents or being anxious about pursuing an artistic life. There was also lots of cool anecdotes that I wanted to hear more about. (Dude, tell me more about Arthur, I think it’s awesome you love that character too but why?)

There were some curmudgeonly asides that grated, but at its core King is more about Wilson’s interests in the intersection of art & faith & he has plenty of room here to talk about his search for understanding these parallels. Overall, the book walks the line between being quirky & being philosophical & it doesn’t always work. But, I still think it would be cool to compare weird religious upbringing stories with him.

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Books, Thoughts

FCBD 2017 Recap

Photo May 06, 1 43 43 PM

Hobbes has been stealing my comics again because its that’s time of year–Free Comic Book Day.  (I know, I know, it was actually on the 6th, I’ve been busy.)  & because Hobbes has to learn that he can’t hog the comics for himself, I thought I’d share my finds.  NPR has their own complete list here if you’re curious.

Free Comics:

  • The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius: I was really really looking forward to this small introduction to the larger project that Jodorowsky & Moebius started as a result of their failed Dune script.  First Impressions: sprawling & clearly influential in many different regards.  Something like The Fifth Element loses its luster when you see the panels of Incal, like it’s a retelling of a story that someone better had told.  (Also, this thin little comic smells like book glue & nice paper.  Bibliophile joy!)
  • World’s Greatest Cartoonists collected by Fantagraphics: A collection of short comics created by artists published by Fantagraphics.  I’ll admit I picked this up because I thought Liz Suburbia was going to be in it.  First Impressions: kinds weird & cool & opaque, like looking through a sketchbook shared by an artists’ co-op.  Also, apparently this is the issue where the meme frog Pepe dies, which I didn’t really register because I am unhip & unaware in the Internetwebz.
  • Hostage/Poppies of Iraq collected by Drawn & Quarterly: another one I picked up because I’ve read other artists that D&Q have published.  First Impressions: both stories are teasers for atmospheric, nonfiction graphic novels looking at people in conflict zones. An evocative reminder that nonfiction comics can be great too.
  • Lady Mechanika by Joe Benitez: So these next three comics I picked up as my junky reads to go with my serious cred reads.  First Impressions: Boobs, steampunk guns & sass–that is all you need know.  I was surprised to see that apparently this comic has been around longer than something, like, Monstress.  Despite their similarities, I like Monstress better though.
  • Betty & Veronica by Adam Hughes: Confession time–I do not get Archie Comics.  My brain cannot track the appeal.  But since they are super-popular now, with the teen show & everything, I thought I’d try this intro to see if I’d like it.  First Impressions:  Nope, still not getting it.  …….the art’s nice though……
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken by David & Scott Tipton: You guys, you GUYS!  Buff Star Trek!  With everyone looking like they are posing for a ludicrous 1950s pulp novel.  How could I not pick this up?!  First Impressions: Gloriously brainless.  I didn’t even bother reading any of the text, just looking at the melodramatic action in the panels was enough.  Like watching a soap opera on mute–so good!

And because one should always be a good customer & buy something to show your local comic shop that you really do appreciate them, I bought 2 volumes of Saga by Brain K Vaughn & the first collection of something called Revival.  The flavor text on the back called it a country noir but with zombies & since I couldn’t picture The Walking Dead added to something like Winter’s Bone, I asked the guy behind the counter.  He said the horror is more existential-like, more like everyone’s whose come back is sad & not murder-y, so I thought I could give it a try.  I’ll let you know what I think.

Happy Belated Free Comic Book Day, everyone!

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Winter Tide

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy, #1)Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aphra Marsh is one of the three types of humans; she is a daughter of the water & an Aeonist who believes in the cosmology of the Old Ones. Her people have fared badly in the United States, having had their communities raided & families sent to concentration camps. Now, as WWII ends & the Cold War begins, Aphra is recruited by the US Government to investigate any possibility that the Russians may have learned forbidden Aeonist magic–a weapon even more frightening than the nuclear arsenal both nations have at hand. For Aphra, this means returning to her destroyed hometown & recovering what she can of her past life.

I picked this book up on a whim from my library, mainly because I recognized John Jude Palencar’s cover art. When I also saw that Tide included deep references to Lovecraft, I started reading him at the same time so I wouldn’t be lost. However, I soon found myself much more interested in Aphra’s story. If interested readers have played any of the Fallen London games, they’ll find Emrys’s rearranged America familiar–even enjoyable with examples like a Harvard-like school that is the best place to learn Enochian & other esoteric pursuits. Tide is also driven more by its events & locales than by its characters. On the plus side, this approach keeps readers’ interest engaged. On the negative side, there are numerous characters to keep track of & frequently do not become more than a list of traits (gay, Jewish, patriotic or Black, multi-lingual, cynical).

But, the thing that Emrys does well is emphasize the community-building & empathetic insights that her characters have with one another. The ultimate subversion to Lovecraft here is that this book about social misfits learning to trust & help one another, not retreat, secretly think themselves vastly superior, or wander so far up their own assholes that you wonder why you, the reader, are even paying attention. (& you are probably starting to guess why I put the original Lovecraft on the back burner.) Tide is a good, engaging start to a larger series & I’m hoping the narrative kinks will be worked out as Emrys continues to explore her take on the Lovecraftian world.

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