Posts Tagged With: small towns



saltfront cover - Issue 3

saltfront cover – Issue 3

Deepest gratitude to the editors at saltfront for including me in Issue 3. It’s hot off the presses and gorgeous.

Out of Salt Lake, ecological storytelling is this journal’s jam. I’m thrilled they said yes to my story “The Leaving Half.” About a Japanese-American girl working at a gas station mini-mart across the street from a pulp mill, the story’s also about loss and love, destruction and preservation.

Sorry online readers, to read Issue 3 means buying these pages and treating yourself to some really lovely poetry, art, and fiction. I promise supporting this small band of literary soldiers will be worth it.

Here’s a teaser:

More than this, there was his art sprung from the skins of what he purchased at the Timber Mart.  The plastic triangular casings from pre-made refrigerated sandwiches. Little Debbies or gum or hamburger wrappers.  Unsettling at first, the found objects that boomeranged back to her, origamied as fish or birds, others cut and collaged into tiny landscapes.  Most she carried to her apartment and staged on the bookshelf opposite her futon couch, where she could sit and examine his puzzling presence.  On tender days when she felt most alone, she’d rearrange the tableau of his art.  Tug gently on the folded wings of the birds, willing them to fledge and soar above her, their flight a glorious transformation, weightless.




Categories: fiction, publishing, short story, writing | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

depth perception

Deep and sincere thanks to Matthew Limpede and the staff at Carve Magazine, who said yes to including the story “Depth Perception” in their Spring 2014 Premium Edition.  I’m in great company in these pages and ever grateful for the chance to be there.


2014_1 spring.png

Categories: fiction, gardening, outdoors, publishing, short story, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Earth. Wind. Fire

2013 Matches for Blog Post 005

Many years ago, when we lived in the Eastern Sierra, John and I were nearly evacuated from our home.  That summer, the Rainbow Fire brought firefighters from all over the West to our small mountain town.  Whether and how we’d have to leave was all people could talk about.  For over a week, the sky was heavy with blood-red smoke that occluded the sun.  We kept our truck packed with a few essentials, those we couldn’t bear to lose.  Just in case.  Firefighters saved the day then, as they will soon, I hope, in the hundreds of fires that rage now in the West.

Years away from that proximity to wildfire have made me forget how fire worry cloaks dry places in summer.  When we lived in Pennsylvania, I can’t remember one fire scare that didn’t involve a structure.  Floods were that region’s menace.  In our seven years there, the shed in our backyard flooded three times.  Next to a culvert which backed up every spring from heavy rain and idiotically designed drainage from a nearby golf course, the shed was full of things we’d carried from move to move.  Memorabilia, furniture, yard tools. One March evening John and I forged through our backyard in chest-high water and hacked a section of fencing away so the water could drain instead of flooding the house.

In the Pacific Northwest, late summer means smoke from fires east and south. My favorite woods are closed down by the timber company in August and September.  Just in case.  But in general, for many years, I have spoken of fires as not that near to us.  They are over there.

This year, fire has been on my mind pretty much since spring, when we decided to move.  It is a story both short and long, too tedious to report here, and is also the reason for the radio silence in this blog space.

John and I have moved a lot in our together life, each time purposefully, each time surprised we’re doing it again, each time mystified about the way our belongings have multiplied like those gremlins in that awful 80s film.  Moving means limbo and heartache, straddling the line between the love of one place and the hope about the next place.  It’s exhausting, exhilarating, overwhelming, terrifying.  The cleansing power of fire – a proper burn of most of our things and the party that would accompany it – was a solution I thought about more than I should have.

Before we moved, I ended up burning only a few things I’m not at liberty to report here, but suffice it to say there was (probably) too much beer involved.  Not as a retardant but as liquid encouragement.

The second night in our new town, which is in the high desert, we were jolted awake by a thunderstorm and a fire raging in the hills above town.  It was three o’clock in the morning.  The seven fire trucks worth of sirens I counted were ultimately eclipsed by the din of thunder above us, which boomed so loud it rattled the glasses in the cabinets and made the dog hide behind the toilet (I’m not sure why this was a safe zone, but she felt that it was).  The kids climbed into bed with us, and it would’ve felt like a scene from The Sound of Music, except that ash blasted into the house through the open windows until it occurred to us to close them.

The next morning we found all the surfaces in the house covered with chunky silt.  Parked on the street, our car looked like it had been in a ticker tape parade.

This.  Our new life.  We’ve moved from the one of the rainiest places in the West to one of the driest, a climate John and I haven’t lived in for fifteen years.  In the months that led up to being here, I made a habit of turning to John and telling him all our moving troubles and expenses could be solved by one thing.

“Oh yeah?,” he’d say, “What’s that?  A brigade of leprechaun movers?”

His ideas were different every time.  A team of furniture-hungry zombies.  The world’s biggest yard sale with a complimentary deep-fried bar – Oreos, pickles, butter.  A Dumptruck Demolition Derby, all the contestants loaded down with our household goods.  The crowd could trash-pick our stuff when the event was over.  The list was endless.

“Nothing so theatrical,” I’d say.  “I was thinking a book of matches.”

“Your solution lacks imagination.”


I didn’t think we’d move again, at least not this far away.  For months, while I packed up our belongings, I cursed the weight of them, the knickknacks and kitchen crap, the books (oh dear, I DO have a problem), the clothes and shoes and yard stuff and furniture.  I fantasized about using this life change as an opportunity to become a family of ascetics.  We could retrofit our trailer and practice micro living, everything we owned having more than one purpose.  Downsizing!  The next frontier!

With my truck:  Eleven trips of donated goods, one trip to give away items to family members, several more trips to deliver plants in pots and those dug up from the yard to friends, one trip to the food bank.  A massive neighborhood yard sale.  And still, we had too much crap.

I mean, what do we really NEED my high school lettergirl jacket for?  Or the skis John lost in an avalanche twenty years ago that we found the next spring?  Or the newspapers from 1875 wrapped in wax paper my great aunt gave me?

It turns out downsizing is a tricky business.  Even though we gave away so much, we still have too much to fit into our new house.  (I’m mostly sure we’re not hoarders). So we did what all good Americans do and put the overage of our lives in a storage unit.  Boxes upon boxes of it, where it will probably mold overwinter in the rainy Northwest, the plywood walls of the unit wet with condensation as so often happens, and then we’ll probably have to get rid of it anyway.  Maybe we’ll learn our lesson this time.

Now that the world is burning all around us, the thought of lighting matches doesn’t bring me much joy.  Each morning we wake to see what our day will bring.  Some days it is a “red flag warning” (a trifecta of wind, lightning and plenty of tinder).  Others it is an AQI (Air Quality Index) level Orange or Red (UNHEALTHY).  Above Red are Purple and Maroon, levels that are “HAZARDOUS.” We plan our time outdoors accordingly.  Morning is best.  In the afternoon it’s hot as balls, and the air reeks of fire and burns our lungs.

The kids have begun to ask what would make the world reach Purple or Maroon, and I don’t trust myself to answer, because of course I’ve imagined something apocalyptic already that involves much more than wildfires.  As a family, we keep our fingers crossed that fire will not be the thing to get us into those foreboding AQI colors.

Truthfully, now that I’m a high desert dweller again, I can’t make the joke about needing a book of matches without thinking about the loss of life and property this year’s fire season has already cost.

But at some point we’ll have to face the music with the rest of our things, and I’m pretty sure the leprechauns are not going to help us out.  I guess I’ll stow my matches for another time.  Just in case.  For when the rains come (I hear they do here), for when there’s not such a constant reminder of how nature is the boss of us.  For our next move.

Or maybe I’ll put my matches away for good.  Now that I’m thinking about it, John’s Dumptruck Demolition Derby idea isn’t half bad.  We DO have a county fair here…

Categories: demolition derby, writing | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

how to grow a vigilante garden

The view of my neighbor’s house from my front windows has pissed me off for years.  It’s a 1950s ranch, which is not its real problem.  I’ve lived in a few ranchers over the years and been happy – you can make them cute.  But the offender on my current street is an unloved thing.  Amidst a street of Craftsmen and storybook homes built in the 1920s, it looks a little like it’s crashing a Kentucky Derby party in a tight polyester pants suit.  Beige asbestos siding, peeled country-blue shutter paint, cracked front steps and a tragic aluminum screened door that claps in the breeze.  It’s not good.

I don’t know the owner, but I do know the house is a rental that can’t seem to keep occupants for more than a few months.  Two haphazard front garden beds of invasive plants have died, one by one, over the years.  When someone comes to “care” for the yard, this means the high grass is mowed quickly and left to rot in clumps.  The latest dead plant is tossed into the back of the rusty truck on top of grass clippings.

Finally, about six months ago, there was nothing left in one bed but weeds and dirt.  My next door neighbor (I’ll call her Sally) went over to weed it.  The other bed, just beneath the living room window, was home to some jaundiced boxwoods. There wasn’t much she could do with those.

The whole of this house, from its single-paned windows to its listing chimney and waist-high backyard grass, was asking for help.

The place has been empty this time for months, a For Rent sign advertising its awesomeness – Great Neighborhood!—at the edge of the yard.  My neighbors and I hold our breath, hoping someone will move in soon.

Two weeks ago the sky opened and delivered the gift of spectacular weather.  A real, live bender.  Since then, our street has been stoned out on Vitamin D and things in bloom.

A week into our sun blitz, I’d dug up several hostas and helliobores, intending to pot them up and donate them for our school plant sale.  I pulled out the nandina (The owner before me had a real thing for plants from Asia).  I set them out on the grass.

My plan was spontaneous.  Mostly.

It was broad daylight.  People were out mowing, raking, walking.  I grabbed a shovel and a wheelbarrow and trundled my plants across the street.  I set them out in a pattern I thought would work and planted them.  I filled a watering can, added some fish emulsion, and soaked them.  After that, I sat on my front steps and had a beer, watching over my guerilla garden.

The next day one of my neighbors (I’ll call her Dolores) said to me, “I saw you.”  Dolores wagged her eyebrows.

“Oh really?  When?” (Uh oh. Trespassing is bad.  I knew I should’ve done it at night.)

“I’m so glad you did that, because I was just about to do the same thing!”

Dolores brought over a holly bush from her yard. Another neighbor (I’ll call her Martha) donated a Japanese maple.  I mowed the grass twice when it got too high, and then decided to pay my son to do it.  More plants showed up mysteriously.  I planted them all, and the place was really beginning to look like someone loved it, at least a little.  We were cooking with gas.  A community of garden lovers taking matters into our own hands!  Next stop, a coat of paint!  A new door!  Re-pointing the chimney!

Today I was working away at my desk, one eye on our new garden, thinking about when I’d get over there to water (Hooking our hose up to their spigot was definitely trespassing, John informed me.  Also, the water was turned off).

Up pulled a beat-up pickup.  Out came a weed whacker.  A man with a cigarette drooping from his mouth attacked the yard.  My son had just mowed.  Mr. Cigarette mowed again anyway.  Then he took out the plants (Our plants!  Sally’s, Dolores’s, Martha’s and mine!) and threw them into a heap in the front yard.

I ran across the street, my hands in the air, demanding to know what his plan was.

He turned to look at me through goggles covered in wet grass flakes.  “The guy’s paying me to take all this out.  He says they’re dead.”

I pulled a leaf off one of the helliobores and showed it to him.  “Do they look dead to you?”

“Well.  No.”  He looked over his shoulder at the boxwoods, already gone.

“Did someone buy the place?  Or rent it?”

“I don’t know, Lady.  I’m just getting paid to do the yard.”

“Did he rent it?  He never calls back.”  Even to my own ears I sounded pathetic.

“You want me to call him?  I’ll call him.  Then I can get back to work.”  He dialed the phone, waited for an answer and fiddled with the handle of his weed whacker.

It’s true I’d been calling the number every few days, pretending to be a renter on the message so the owner would call me back.  I’d just called again that morning.

On the other end the owner answered.  “Um.  Yeah.  There’s some lady here who’s mad about the yard.  She says she wants to talk to you.”  He passed me the phone.

“Oh, hiii. I live across the street.”  (Friendly.  Check.  Breezy.  Check.)  “You’ve got some guy here taking out all the plants?  Because not all of them are dead, you know.  (Oh dear.  A little nasty.) I’m just hoping you aren’t planning to leave the beds bare?  Like they’ve been for, you know, a few years?”

Traffic noise on the other end.  A siren flaring and fading.  “I don’t live in town.  It’s hard to take care of.”  A young guy.  I’d heard he inherited the place from his mother.

“I bet.”

Long pause.  Another siren.  “The last time I was there about a month ago everything was dead.”

This was the time to tell him NOT ANYMORE.  Garden vigilantism is your new friend, Mister.  But landscaping seemed a much bigger trespass than mowing.  And I’d made rules about my methods, too, which suddenly seemed completely crazy.  I didn’t MOVE any plants already there.  I just added them.  I didn’t sneak over at night; I gardened in the light of day.  But it was too complicated to explain.

“You’ve really let it go,” I said.  “Some of us in the neighborhood are mowing the front grass.”

He laughed.  “Really?  Cool.”

“Have you rented it out?  Or are you selling it?”

“Oh, yeah.  I’ve got a bunch of people looking at it.”  (This was a lie.  I live right here and no one has).

I asked what the rent was, and he told me.  His inflated figure explained why no one wanted it:  he was smoking crack.  He’d never get that kind of money for the place.

“That seems like a lot.”

Radio silence.  Some honking and a woman shouting.

“Could you just not leave the gardens bare?”

“Absolutely,” he said, then hung up.

I asked Mr. Cigarette to save the plants he’d dug up, and he said he would.  “Could you put the boxwoods back in?  They’re pretty healthy, don’t you think?”

“You gonna pay me?”

“You’re already being paid, aren’t you?”

“Just kidding.  Never hurts to ask,” he said and lit another cigarette.  “I’m supposed to go to Fred Meyer and get new plants.  You got a problem with that?”

He looked at me through the smoke.

I should’ve stepped away.  Let well enough alone. Transferred my energies to another cause.  “Can I write down some plants that would be good?” I said.  “I mean, if it’s all the same to you.  If the owner doesn’t care.  It seems like he doesn’t care.”

“Knock yourself out, Lady.”

I wanted to lurk around, making sure he’d be as good as his word, but I didn’t.

Later in the day, I checked to see what he’d done.  The boxwoods had been replanted unevenly, like the person planting them was drunk. On the far end, the biggest one had its roots exposed and lay on the ground.  Our plants, mine and Sally’s and Dolores’s and Martha’s, were all gone.

I’d lost.  I told myself I’d gotten what I deserved for muscling a situation that wasn’t mine to steer.

Around nine in the evening my doorbell rang.  On the  front  lawn stood Sally and Dolores.  They were giggling, sharing a bottle of Tequila hidden inside a paper bag.

“We don’t know what the hell happened over there today,” Sally said.  She gestured to the house across the street.  “Somebody told us you were in the front yard with that gardener guy trying to save the plants.”

They laughed and offered me a drink.  They said if we didn’t do something a bunch of hoodlums would break in and cook meth over there, or dismantle the place for the metal.  Both scenarios are a pretty big stretch, but I admired their passion.

“He said he’d save them for me,” I said.  “I guess he decided I was too insane.”

“Come with us.  We have a present for you.”

They took me into Sally’s backyard, where all our plants sat in a wheelbarrow by the garage.

“We got these out of the trash can behind that house,” Dolores said.  “Can you believe that asshole?  Throwing away our plants?”

Sally chimed in.  “Yeah.  This is our neighborhood.”  She took a swig of Tequila and offered some to me.  “We figured you’d want to…you know…do something with them.”

Tequila’s not my friend, so I said no to that.  But I’m up for gardening with my new posse.  Anytime.

It Takes a Village

Categories: community, gardening, girls, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

the well of souls

A few years ago, on a sunny spring morning, I woke up to find eight plants had been stolen from my front yard.  Not whole pots of plants waiting to find homes, but mature bushes from the ground.  Mornings are not my sharpest time.  It took a couple beats to identify what was missing while I stood at my front window, eyeing the yard over the rim of a coffee cup, confused.

Once outside, it didn’t take long to see the problem.  A trail of dirt faded off down the sidewalk two houses away and then veered into the street.  The thieves took a whole hedge of Pieris Mountain Fire that had been there for years.  I liked them for their jaunty winter foliage, and they were one of the things I’d kept from the previous owners.  Just at a place where I felt the yard had started to reflect my landscape sensibilities, I’d spent several weeks working on that section of the yard – taking down a hideous fence, planting native species. Now all I had was a bald section that looked like the front teeth of my yard had been knocked out.

My neighbor Tom across the street had had some plants stolen the month before.  The morning after it happened, several of us stood on the sidewalk in front of his house, shaking our heads at the news and wondering what the hell was going on in the world.  Those were Japanese Maples, still in pots sitting down the driveway and around the back of the house.  Someone was paying attention.  It was creepy.   Tom bought more, and these got stolen, too, before he had a chance to put them in the ground.  He gave up and planted something cheaper.  Azaleas, I think.

John wandered out to the sidewalk after a while and stood next to me kicking at the dirt, cussing, one of his less acceptable mixed-company hobbies.  He’s actually kind of a poet.  For pirates.

“What do we do?  Call the police?  Tom said all they did was take the details over the phone.”

“I guess,” he said.  “Maybe they’ll send someone now that it’s happened three times.” He pushed dirt into one of the holes with the toe of his shoe.

“Don’t mess up the crime scene.”

“This is shitty,” he said.

It felt absurd to even suggest involving the police.  I probably couldn’t identify my plants.  I doubted they’d be able to.  It was the perfect crime, really.  I looked around at my neighbors’ yards from a lens of stealthy acquisition.  Our street was a goldmine.

Thirty minutes later, we stood on the sidewalk again with the police department’s Landscape Crime Detective (I’m not making it up).  She was a one-woman show in a newly created position in response to the rash of landscape crimes happening especially in our neighborhood. The fact that lots of other people were waking to find their yards bare made me feel only slightly better.  Mostly, I had a hard time listening to her while I mulled over the world’s seedy underbelly.  Also, I should know her name and what her rank is.  Is detective a rank?…I’ll just call her Detective Blue, which is lame, I know.

Detective Blue wrote down all our particulars in her little notebook, licking her pen a few times to keep it working.  She was from New Jersey.  “We have a lead on a couple of plant rings in town,” she said, “but I’m afraid your bushes are gone.  How much were they worth?”

John threw the rest of his coffee onto the grass.  “Oh, Jesus.  Let me walk away first before she talks about how much she spends on the garden,” he said.

“But those plants were already here,” I said.  “Also, you love the garden.  Also, I get a lot of my plants from friends.”

He shrugged.  “True.  I’m just saying, it seems like we shouldn’t plant the same thing in this spot.”

Mountain Fire

As a gardener, I was out of whack for weeks.  It was hard to reconcile what had been stolen.  Not just plants, but sweat equity, creativity, joy.  I don’t have ten acres (yet) to tend, and while I wait for the time when that works, I’m transforming the space I do have into something uniquely mine.  Gardening gifts me all these things and also keeps me from going bat-shit crazy living so close to neighbors, whom I mostly like.  But still.

As a victim of theft, I was very pissed and a little paranoid.  Someone had been casing the neighborhood.  What else in my yard had the chance of being taken?  Why hadn’t the dog barked in the night?  The windows were open.  How could I not have heard someone digging outside?

I left that spot bare.  Afraid to plant the same thing.  Not sure what else to put there.  I spent a lot of time thinking about black market gardening, and whether those chain-linked-roadside stands that were stuffed with potted plants along the rural highways were legitimate.

A few months later, a zinger of an inspiration came while I was in the woods.  There were people at the heart of those landscape crimes who were trying to eke out a living in a bad economy.  What if those people were a bunch of kids?  What if they lived off the grid?  What would that look like?  How would they decide what to steal?  Who would be in charge?  What else was at stake?

Thus began a novel in response to some of those questions.  It’s a mess.  It’s my first.  The characters are very patient with me, and we’re searching for the story together.  It might be a project that lives in a drawer later, and I’m not too romantic about it being a bestseller or anything.  Some days it feels like giving birth.  Not the fluffy-after-labor-with-a-good-smelling-baby-in-your-arms part, but the in-labor-with-no-epidural part.

Still, I believe in the project as passionately as I believe in putting my hands in the dirt. This month marks one year I’ve been world-making with my band of plant thieves.  I’m darn grateful for these girls in my life, which I guess means I’m grateful for being robbed, because without my gone plants I might never have pulled this collection of souls out of the “well of souls,” as Dorothy Allison calls that place where inspiration is born.

I eventually did plant something in the bare spot.  Grass.   That seems about right for now, until I get the urge to put in corn.

Categories: gardening, girls, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

demolition…a love story

For a while when I was young we lived in a very small town in northern California.  Hours from any major city, you could only get to it on steep, winding roads.  There were no stop lights, no big box stores or fast food franchises.  I could walk anywhere in town from my house and, as long as I was home by dinner, I was allowed to roam. Looking back from the lens of parenthood and a world that feels more complicated and more dangerous than it did then, I realize what a gift that kind of childhood was.

Every summer we had a big Fourth of July celebration.  Our main park was also home to the fairgrounds and baseball diamonds, a community center and forest service offices.  Before the holiday weekend, a cavalcade of semis barreled into town and disgorged their sea-monsterish carnival parts while kids made excuses to hang out at the park and watch the carnies set up shop.  Elsewhere in the park, our local chapter of the Lions lined up trailers for food and beer in the concessions area by the playground and organized vintage fire trucks from five counties to participate in the parade.  A rodeo, a greased pig race on the baseball field, sack and three-legged races on the park lawn, music at the bandstand — our town transformed itself into a Norman Rockwell painting.  At least on the surface.

I loved all those things, of course, but what I really loved best was Sunday night, at the end of the holiday, when the demolition derby happened in the rodeo arena.  It was more popular than the rodeo, better attended than the parade, and every year the stands were so packed those who came late had to hang on the fence to watch.  Relative to the other events, it cost a lot of money to get in.  People had generally blown through whatever cash they’d allotted for the weekend by then, myself included, but that didn’t stop us.  The derby was the finale of our festivities.

The evening began with the rodeo queen and her court racing around the arena brandishing various flags.  Crammed into the tiny announcer’s booth, the school choir sang the national anthem.  After that the water trucks watered down the competition area to ensure cars would never get much traction.  The boy scouts sold popcorn and nuts, cotton candy and soda, and one of the rodeo clowns usually sat on the fence to entertain us in between events.  Derby cars caravanned slowly into the arena and parked facing the stands in a chevron so we could have a proper look at them.  Usually there were twelve or fifteen entries, sometimes more.  Inside, these cars had been stripped down — gas tanks moved to the back, roll bars installed, all the seats except for the driver’s and the glass taken out.  They were old Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Chryslers –trash-picked from junkyards or someone’s collection of vehicles from their land — implanted with engines that could withstand battle.  Cars were worked on all year in secret.  Drivers were people we knew from the bank and the hardware store, parents and teachers and firemen.  Once in the arena, derby drivers pulled themselves out of cars through driver’s side windows (the doors had been welded shut),  and then stood theatrically, often in costume, next to their rides.

The exterior of the car was the thing.  Painted, bedazzled, props welded to their tops, the cars were voted on by the audience before they even raced.  Voting was crude, the winner decided upon by the announcer for loudest applause.  I was generally hoarse from whistling and cheering before the destruction part ever started.

The suspense, until we got to see what we all came for, was delicious, tortuous.  In the beginning, three or four cars at a time would race in “circles” around the arena, like it was a NASCAR event.  There were several heats of this sort of racing so we could get a look at how each car performed.  After that, cars came back again in sets of three or four and ran the track backwards, and this was the beginning of lost bumpers, dented doors, radiators spewing hot fluid onto the arena floor.  Between heats, cars drove behind the arena to a place we couldn’t see, where each driver had a pit crew that kept the thing going for the big event.

The big event, when all hell broke loose, was, of course, what we’d all really come to see.  Event coordinators made us sit through a singer with a guitar, usually, or the rodeo clown doing his bit with a bull.  Water trucks mudded down the arena again.  We fidgeted through intermission, placed bets, loaded up on more snacks until cars limped back into the arena and staged themselves in a circle facing out.  The announcer gave the call.  Every engine gunned.  Sparks flew.  The din thrummed in our chests.  And then it began.  Drivers circled and rammed each other, ganged up on cars with popped tires and flattened back ends.  Props were severed from the tops of cars.  Some cars died early on, the driver required to sit inside until it was over.  Sometimes a dead car magically resurrected itself, able to battle again, a thrilling reversal of fortune.  I loved every minute of it.

Since that town, I’ve lived in several others that also host derbies.  One summer in my first few years of teaching a friend of mine from the city came to visit during our town’s Memorial Day celebration.  A die-hard urbanite who prided himself on visiting small towns only through drive-by, Brody was fascinated with the mule parade, the craft fair, and the rodeo, at which we featured chariot steer roping (which was more about how not to get ripped from your homemade, welded chariot by your horse than lassoing a hysterical steer calf).  He loved it all, but what he loved best was the destruction derby.

Because my husband was a paramedic, we were allowed access to the gate at the end of the arena.  Brody and I hung on the fence, close enough to get sprayed by mud, and watched people I worked with ram into each other.  Cars caught fire and got hooked together, waging attack as hybrid, two-car beasts.

A few minutes into the finale, Brody turned to me a little wild-eyed, and said, “Now I know how the Romans felt.”  He raised his fist into the air.  “Throw in some more Christians!”

Maybe my zeal for the derby grows from some primordial delight humans harbor for watching destruction.  Maybe it comes from the disjoint in witnessing people I know to be reasonable, thoughtful humans in their everyday lives step into an impulse that’s surprising, shocking.  I’m riveted by the marriage of art and savagery, of community and competition, of recycling and waste.

I’m in another small town now, and we have a derby here, too.   This year I’ll partake in the demolition again.  Only this time, I’ll be in the arena, driving an ’85 Cutlass.

Categories: demolition derby | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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