On Defeat and Diego
On Defeat and Diego
Once, while I was training at the Police Athletic League in Oak Park, Diego “Chico” Corrales walked into the gym holding a trophy half his size. He was a local amateur standout, a home-grown offensive dynamo poised to terrorize the professional ranks in another year or two. My dad followed his career in the newspaper, so I’d been told about his reputation as a heavy-handed bogeyman. I watched Diego balance the trophy against his hip. He was still a teenager then; I was seven years old.
Oil Town Overture
At five AM I smell coffee through the floorboards. Carter only drinks organic. He set up his own kitchenette down there. I hear the clink of his spoon against his ceramic coffee mug. I hear the shower come on, and after the shower, I hear him speaking on his phone to his wife, Jane. It’s still dark outside, and the wind is up. I scatter two scoops of kibble into my dogs’ metal bowls. They knock against me trying to get to their food. I crawl back in bed, hoping Carter will slip out into the frosty Wyoming morning without speaking to me. But it is not to be.
“Hey, man,” he says just outside my bedroom door, “Can you take me over to Miguel’s to drop off my truck?”
“I’d like to get it over there this morning so he can get my brakes done before the weekend.”
Carter is smiling, holding his coffee cup close to his face. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece he picked up from the community college’s annual art sale.
“Yeah, I’ll do it.”
I throw back my sheets and pull on my jeans.
By Robert Stothart
Everything seemed married to everything else.
—Gustave Baumann, printmaker, Santa Fe Overture
A mere 7,918 miles in diameter, Earth, our home together, travels a minuscule distance in relation to all that we see on clear nights, light years away out in the stars. The core of our globe is a mix of iron and nickel, solid like a cherry pit. That solid inner core is wrapped in a liquid outer core, and around that a mantle eighteen hundred miles thick, about the distance from New York to Denver. This mantle—solid in parts, liquid in places, plastic in others—roils in convection currents under a relatively thin fourteen-mile crust, a vulnerable skin of sorts that weathers all seasons while holding on in a tenuous relationship with the globe’s deeper workings. That crust beneath our feet is constantly buckling, cracking, spreading, wrinkling, and pouring forth to reveal, as a face reveals, what goes on inside. Earth is face-all-over, and its insides are hot, reaching in places eight thousand degrees Fahrenheit.
The Valley of Boys
The Valley of Boys
Boys, boys, a valley of boys. We lived in a small town. The snow rose in silent blankets outside the classroom window. It came down so white and heavy we couldn’t see the mountains. We listened for the low growl of the snowplow in the playground pushing the snow together. By recess, there would be a large, long mound of snow on one side of the playground.
A Series of Tubes
Although widely ridiculed for the statement, the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was right when he said, “The Internet is a series of tubes.” He was just off by a century.
Starting in the mid to late nineteenth century, pneumatic tube postal services linked post–telegraph offices with each other in every major financial hub in the world, on every continent but Antarctica. As improbable as it seems, propelling messages through hundreds of kilometers of subterranean tubes and pipes was a good solution for delivering messages across a busy city jammed with carriages and motorcars. The first pneumatic post system opened in London in 1853; New York’s pneumatic post shuttled first-class mail across the Brooklyn Bridge till 1953, their postal workers called “rocketeers;” the Prague system was in operation till 2002. Paris’s Poste pneumatiquewas the most extensive, encompassing some 450 kilometers of tubes in 1945, and it wasn’t until 1984 that telephone service became reliable enough to merit shutting down the Poste Pneumatique. There were many more pneumatic postal systems in more than sixty cities around the globe.
One night while counting down the till at Casa de Agave, the San Diego tequila bar I’d been working for a couple of fun but exhausting years, I received an unexpected text: Hey stranger . . .
Rowan and I had dated throughout my final anxiety-riddled year of law school. Our breakup was hard but practical: her remaining year of legal studies, the relatively short time we’d been together, my desperate need to escape the monotony of Illinois and explore the West and try to become a writer. But we’d been good together while we lasted. Rowan was into hard rock, double gin and tonics, Stephen King novels, animal rights activism, and the wearing of very tight blue jeans—interests that had mirrored my own more or less seamlessly. In truth, looking back on law school, on those three interminably dull, dry, slogging, soulless years, Rowan was the only thing I missed. So I was excited to hear from her, although as far as I knew she was still back in the Midwest practicing law. That, and she was engaged, or so said the grapevine.
Hey stranger . . .
I shift from foot to foot. Both my feet hurt. I’m packing magnets at my dad’s factory, and the rubber mats meant to cushion my joints from the floor don’t help.
A little to my left is bald-topped Tom, and a little to my right is chatty Candy, and in front of me is a concrete wall. If I go further to the left of Tom, the warehouse door opens out onto the parking lot, where my dad eats lunch in his car. I understand why he does—he’s a salesman, albeit one trained in the physics of ferrite, who draws complex equations for his clients in China—but still, he spends a lot of time on the phone: yak, yak, yak. I’d hate it: I’d rather pack, although I’m not allowed to pack the rare-earth bundles, so strong they could crush my fingers without enough cardboard between to keep their relentless attractions apart. Plus, the packing jobs I do are not always so good to start: a few broken shipments have come back in the mail, and sometimes I wonder if I ever properly learned to count. Candy shows me how to weigh the smaller pellet-magnets properly in batches, and that helps a little.
On Hearing/On Listening
I play the tenor sax, and at sixty-five, I’m usually the youngest in this band. We play the oldest of old standards—very little from after the War, plus novelty tunes, blues. The most senior player is a trumpeter who, even if you ask him, won’t give his age. I don’t ask.
The trumpet is a very physical instrument, and Sam confessed to me once that he never practiced. The band leader introduces him as having “that fat New Orleans sound,” which, I think, is likely a result of him being as old as he is, and never practicing on the most unforgiving of horns. It all depends on what you mean by “fat.”
In Noise, Feeling
Exile in the Desert with Sarmi Moussa
In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.
It was past midnight, and the bench I sat on in the small mud-brick airport in Ouargla was hard. It kept me from sleeping. I was in transit in this remote oasis town, waiting until just before sunrise to board the flight to Djanet in the southeastern Algerian Sahara. It was here that I saw Tuareg men for the first time.
Two large draped forms filled the bench across from me—men dressed in their traditional indigo caftans with white turbans called cheches wrapped around their heads and draped across their faces so only dark eyes were visible. Tuareg men are sometimes referred to as “blue men” because the indigo dye can stain their skin. The pictures I had seen of Tuareg people didn’t do justice to these two imposing figures, and I watched them doze off. The Berber-speaking Tuaregs of North Africa were known for their camel-caravan journeys across the Sahara. Now they take planes when they need to, and drought has forced them to sell off their herds and crowd into tented camps and oasis towns.