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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

erasers

There was a tiny shack, a kiosk that sold cigarettes. It stood on a patch of grass along the main drag of our little neighborhood. One day, it was simply gone, as if a giant had swatted a fly away. A pale mark, some broken earth, the remnants of a miniature foundation were all that was left. And then a few months later it returned, shiny and new. Then a few months later, gone. A phantom. This happens all of the time here. Ramshackle buildings were declared eyesores, and are razed without warning. Torn plastic bags and dead flowers are all that remains. They flip in the wind and wash away until there is nothing. 

There are new bus stops, all thick glass and shiny seats. There are old women with cardboard boxes, a handful of potatoes or carrots strewn across them. They stare up at the people passing, hands in slow-motion gestures towards their merchandise. When they have wildflowers, I normally buy them. Short bouquets of lily of the valley, to place in water glasses on the kitchen table. 

I weaseled my way through the door to one of my favorite vegetable kiosks while the wind was whipping my hat off. There were men in yellow overalls outside, with clipboards, pens poised as they looked at car license plates. I asked for five avocados. The young woman nodded, standing on a stool to reach them. There was a rattling outside the door. She craned her neck. I told her there were men looking at cars and she frowned. A walkie-talkie perched on her hip and she grabbed it, speaking to a man named Dima, telling him to see what was going on. The sound was getting louder outside the door and I blamed it on the wind. I asked for fresh spinach next, a rarity that gets marked up three times depending on where you find it here. 

Outside, I see those men with the signs from the vegetable kiosk, dragging wires and loose bolts behind them as they take everything to a van parked on the street. Do they work for the city? Maybe, maybe not. Do they work for the competition? No idea. I just know the sign is gone, and I begin to wonder if the kiosk will be there next Sunday. 




I studied a lot of critical theory as a young man. Most of it gets a bad rap. People think strewing a salad across a plate and putting the dressing on the side is deconstructing it. It is hard to quote any of these theories without encouraging a lot of eye-rolls. One concept does haunt me though, in moments like this. Derrida offered that when something is erased, when something is redacted or deleted, it is inherently "true". For example, you write a letter to your lover but in the process you cross a few things out. Chances are, these blackouts, these erased fragments are the things you wish you could express but were scared to, or you worried about how they might be taken. They may be too much to bear. The idea is that history plays by the same rules. "Under erasure" equates to something authentic, something untainted by perspective or interpretation. 

It was what it was, until it disappeared. 


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