Mulberries


The walk to the nearest grocery store is about 20 minutes in whatever weather Changzhou has for me – usually rain and wind. I call this local Tesco the fish market and if you went in I think it would be clear why. All along the way up to Tesco there’re a lot of things happening but in Tesco there’s even more going on. There are two floors to it, the first having clothes and shampoos and anything else you shouldn’t eat if you can’t help it. My little fish market isn’t so packed on the first floor but ‘packed’ is relative even past the normal standards for most adjectives and it’d be too crowded for a lot of folks I know back home. Up top where the food is it gets truly hot and hectic.

A kind of low-sloped escalator walkway leads slowly up to the top floor where all the heat has risen and sticks around in glops. Right out front are the bread, fruit, and fish sections where most people crowd around to inspect the fresh food for the freshest food. Kids are clamoring and people are talking up more hot air to feed into the already hot and healthy glops. The glops crowd around with the smell of fish and bread and fruit until eventually things yield into pre-packaged things such as Oreos and other big cookie and snack brands. All of the checkout stations wrap around in an L at the front – the smaller side of the L being quick shop stations that are rarely open. After a normal ten to fifteen minute wait with my red bag bloated up with daily things I step out of the whole place back into the relative cold.

Along the way a friend says she’s nearby so I go looking a little bit and after not catching her come into a chain bakery called Bread Talk. In China most folk don’t have ovens or like to bake so there are bakeries everywhere. In the back of the warm and orange tinted Bread Talk there’s a row of drinks packaged with deep primary colors that stir me. I go to the one with blue so dark it nearly seems like velvet. It’s shaped like a little jug and the top is wrapped off with a cloth on top like homemade jam. It’s mulberry juice.

It feels cold on the edges of my hot fingers just recently roughly wrought by the hard and heavy pull of my red bag full up with food for the week. It’s not competing on price but I am buying on feeling so that doesn’t matter. As soon as it’s sold I peel the cloth wrapping off and twist it open. It is cold and deep and rich.

My best childhood friends live down the block and a little ways away from a mulberry tree whose sweet fruit hangs its branches low. We were lower stooped back then but reached up enough to pull the mulberries down and I remember my friends introducing that kind of taste to me. It was sort of like a blueberry in taste, without the sweet bite of sugary juice. Blueberries are tense capillary fruits with thin skins full to burst with juice and flavor, but mulberries have a more mellow grind – like a less intense raspberry.

It is cold and deep and rich. I am ambling back to my home in Changzhou on muscle memory-based navigation because my head’s back underneath that mulberry tree; I am clinging onto branch like those rich little berries. That day the skies were gray in China but I was looking up and feeling the light blue of humid Indianapolis summers. There were white clouds above me, white clouds as fluffy as my thick sighs after each greedy glug of the deep blue – almost purple – juice. I am home in Indy now and walked the family dog underneath that mulberry tree. I had forgotten how all the berries fall and stain the concrete sidewalks with smatters of purplish blue and bluish purple. I had forgotten how small it really is now. Despite all that the sky is really just as wide and just as blue; the clouds are still fluffed up as Midwestern sighs.

~Austin R Ryan

Do You Miss Home?


“你想家吗?Ni xiang jia ma?”
“Do you miss home?”
“Sometimes.” I’ll say the answer in Chinese but I hear it in English.

There are comforts everywhere you go, but there are more of them at home. The dogs in Changzhou aren’t so sociable. They stick leashless to their owners and don’t bound excitedly over – at least to this foreigner. I have gotten to a low level and given invitations, but never really an answer. Each time it makes me miss my mutts.

 
Weaving through food streets for search of something leaves me wanting the familiar. Chinese food tastes great most of the time and eating out at a good restaurant costs a lot less here. There are some new places along my road that have even become old favorites. A little Muslim restaurant with delicious, clean noodles often thick with seasoning and flavor sustains me through bad days. When I am really missing home, there’s always the Burger King and KFC. Still, there’s a lot of home’s food that can’t be bought here. The light lunch and morning things like snacks loaded with evenly sliced lunch meats, the cheap buckets of solid quality ice cream, the well cooked burger at a reasonable price are all luxury goods that don’t taste quite the same away from home.

 
The food mostly does me good, but when it gets me ill it is a kind of foreign sickness that makes me miss the shaky stomachs and running noses I got at home. The way I feel right now, it is like there are little tears on the lining of stomach nagging me to patch them over with pieces of the place I came from. I have been feeling slight stabs inciting cramps all week, and it almost makes me miss the regular churning of pains I am accustomed to. The way my head aches or my stomach quakes, it all speaks in a different language and I don’t like filling the meaning in anymore. Do I miss home? Well, sometimes I do. Of course I do. It is what I am used to.

 
Things feel heavier here, with kids that count on me to be a certain way and people that practice their English with me. Twisting tongues to new shapes is a daily thing – a kind of Peter Piper plotline to tug on. When I was home there were times I’d look up and feel a feetless upward floating sensation. It was like things were so light and empty up in the blue sky you could fall right out of the earth into the hole of air all around it. Here there are so many sorts of skies, often more full. I have seen some really giant clouds stretched across the horizon here. The way the sky shapes up it almost seems I can see it stretch over the Earth entirely. Even on the foggy haze days where grey encompasses every inch of the distance, the obscured air feels vast, deep, and enveloping. I don’t think I could pull the same slipping away here. My feet feel anchored and mostly it keeps me steady, but of course it feels daunting sometimes. Of course I miss the feathery lightness and the chances I had to slip away back home.

 

When I am sitting at my computer looking through Facebook photos for old Thanksgivings to show new people – you can guess what the feeling is. It is not entirely unpleasant. It is a bit wistful and endlessly sincere to long for a thing like that. There are no questions that need to be asked and hardly any words worth saying. Basking in those old photos feels very full and sociable because it is a conversation with a younger self and an aging moment. All the parts of it aren’t really gone either, they are just continuing on in a different way. I feel fluid in that moment and unified, but each sensation has a bitter side to it.

 
People say that it is homesickness, but it feels pretty healthy to me. I had enough trouble sorting out whether traveling was another way of running away that wanting to run right back seems like a good sign. It is on my shoulders and in my head and around my stomach like my body’s sorting something out. In that way it resembles illness.

 
Sometimes I think it is really the sensation of two houses battling it out. In all my recent dreams I have been living in my old neighborhood in Indianapolis but when I am running from the oddly cold weather here in Changzhou I am calling for a different kind of home. The white walls all have my posters on them and the white tile floors all have rugs that I chose too. My clothes are the ones in the cupboard and hanging on the drying line by the back window. Most of the time all the signs are here and I am with them, but of course sometimes my mind’s wandered back to old placed I laid my weight. There are times I can let it go, and there are times I have to drag it back to get my work done. It kind of reminds me of when my family watched a neighbor’s dog and accidentally let it run off. We found her on the steps of her owner’s home and when we came to pull her away she started barking like she would never get to go back . I can’t tell you how many places there are to go, but there are always enough that two locations can run tug of war on separate sides of a person’s mind.

Folks tell me I talk a lot about my old home, particularly family and friends, but I am happy to do right by the people I am proud of. The little moments I did wrong by them makes the times I rectified stick out that much more. All the funny things in between the good and bad still get me laughing occasionally. Those moments are sublime. Old joys from a shared joke or a strange instant spill back over into the present. When that fresh happiness comes up the original joy of it mixes with the nostalgia of its return and for a while everything feels brighter. There is a subtle sadness lingering in the transience of that joy. It is impossible to hold and one day it will bit by bit slip away, but I don’t mind too much seeing the good go. I feel sad knowing I’ll never return to it but the feeling of it occurring and reoccurring until it gradually fades is the thing that pushes me on to other memories. Old joy is proof of new ones, and old joy dying is the reminder to find the right moment to stand in for it.

 
That feeling of lingering longing for things going is what got me here, a thousand miles away from home and missing Thanksgiving dinners. It is the thing that got to me spend my Thanksgiving teaching native English tips to other teachers. That peculiar melancholy had me listening to a Chinese teacher I work and speak with deliver a poetic paragraph on the nature of joyous living and a real, hard, confession on the frustration of educating kids in impossible English grammar. And I can’t say my Thanksgiving dinner eating KFC mashed potatoes in the company of a new friend wasn’t just as meaningful. I can’t bemoan the feeling of missing, but I always will. It is the feeling of looking back and wanting that’s got me moving forward, but it’s what’s tripping me up too. Try to catch the past and you might miss the present moment floating in all the little things.

 

Do I miss home? Right now I miss it melodramatic, but I am just fine with my bit of missing and reaching back. I don’t always feel like this it is a sometimes thing and it is Thanksgiving here in China so of course sometimes should be right now.

~Austin R Ryan

Pointless Stories: Whispers


Did you miss me? Well, I haven’t been gone for long and I have got places to go so listen in for a few whispers I have of my spooky old home. It’s short, I promise not to keep you too busy.

I grew up in an old house that speaks in creaks. It whistles little secrets through air vents and tells tall tales in drafts. Every time I go away, I drift far off and forget about the whispers of an old home. When inevitably I return, the noise always catches me off guard.

Underneath the dim glow of the living room and the kitchen addition, the ceiling fan shakes at its base so hard that it clicks at me. The bathroom has an AC fan and it hums heavenly. Five years old, I stumbled down our rickety stairs. Half the steps are sturdy underneath the press of pounding children. They don’t complain much. The other half groan with a love for the melodrama of their lives, spread on longer than any of their residents’. It is dawn, maybe 5 AM. Young and up too early, it feels like a dream but I’d always swear it wasn’t. A voice radiates from the corner of the living room. At that time the ceiling fan did not shake so hard. I chase it down out of a half awakened hunger. It seeps out from the almost closed bathroom door, the sonority of sweet hums layer over the AC units breathing at my back. In the silence between falling beats, the wood planks creak. “Mom?” I ask the voice to identify itself, but it just keeps humming. Our family is so tone deaf, even at five years old I found it hard to believe it was one of us. “Mom?” I ask again half in disbelief. I pull open the bathroom door, nothing’s there and the voice is no more. Just evidence of how an old home never empties.

The memory entered in through my ears in whispers. I stayed up late that night not minding the slight sound one bit. The groans of old homes have the stuff of half formed urban legends told by anxious kids. Little bits of lore form up in the etchings on walls, words leftover from former tenants. It’s a narrative waiting to be made. Boy, did we make something of it.

My mother tells us – when the topic of ghosts are broached – that when she and my father thought to move, the house made quite a racket. Cupboards closed hard on their own, doors slid shut without a nudge. My second sister and I grew up afraid of the dark. She said once that a little girl popped up and looked at her when she was in the bathtub. When none of my sisters owned up to it, she refused to take baths alone for a while. On my end, I just had a rash of nightmares, saw strange shapes in trees and turned the formless noise of those whispers into something sinister. I had a dream once where a little girl who looked similar to what my sister described, forebodingly demanded I go up to the addict with her. Both of us thought she looked like my youngest sister, if we had seen the same girl at all.

Once two wild wiccans came to our home and said they sensed a spiritual energy. They whipped out a Ouija board and asked to phone home. My sisters obliged, finding something funny in the odd fancy. I would too. The wiccans felt a foul energy on that board and fled. Depending on who you talk to, the Ouija is an ancient occult board game gateway to the ethereal or a cheap piece of wood given a ghostly narrative to spook up sales. Either way, we still recall the odd incident and laugh about it.

When my friends would head over I’d unleash all the stories I collected over the years. It was a means of bonding them to me and my home while adding a luster to this slice of Middle America. Sometimes I did it just because I loved the paranormal. We used to have this old pullout couch crammed tight with a terrible mattress. When I was small enough to fit in its unfolded cracks, I’d climb under with my childhood friends, cover the entrances with a blanket, flick on the flashlight and read something from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The pictures in those books looked too surreal and wild to be for children, which was why I loved them. Friends, relations, and in-laws that visit say they feel something off, but everyone admits it may just be that we’ve given these whispers a booming voice with all our stories. Who knows?

When I got older I wanted to know. I have always been a night owl. I like the quiet when everything but the house and I have retired. In the dead of the night I’d feel cold sensations sit on the small of my back and spread up across the shoulders like the sweeping of hands and I always wondered if it was just the draft. When I went on the internet for answers the search results were inconclusive. Paranormal forums and boards had plenty of stories but not so much insight.

Years later in college I would sleep in brand new dorms and apartment buildings low on cracks, creaks, and speeches filled with the wisdom of age. At first I did not sleep as sound, but maybe that was just because I was settling in. I felt alone for a few months. Sophomore year was not so bad, save some episodes of sleep paralysis after some between-class cat naps.

When I returned home around Sophomore year the house was full with the components of our growing family, the husbands of sisters. As the youngest people make so much of how you grow, but time seems to work faster for your elders. I was back in the tiny room I had slept in as a kid. In those days I did not get along with that room. The feud went on for longer than I like to admit, pushing me at first to sleep with my parents and then with the couch and TV downstairs. What riled me up, I think, was how small it was (no bigger than a garden shed) and how far down the hall it was (all the way the opposite to my parents and the bathroom).

I had revisited the room a few times before Sophomore year, but not often and not when I had the choice. Bygones had gone by, but I still preferred something more spacious. The night I returned to the room had been cold and I came to bed as late as 3 or 4 AM. I pulled the full set of sheets all the way over my head, balled up, and fell into deep sleep. An hour or two later, heat punctured my whole body and made me shove off the blankets. Then came a burst of icy feeling bubbling in my center and pushing out toward extremities. The heat shot back again as soon as I grabbed for the blankets. The hushed murmur of voices entered through the slight opening of my door. Thinking them to be from family up early, I rolled over and did my best to get back to sleep. Then the murmuring grew louder and louder, voicing in the tones of people I did not know. The whispers packed themselves in denser and denser, each word scrambling faster as time wore on until the air around me felt crowded with conversation I did not opt in to. It burst my tired eyes open and I flew back to the couch in the living room without much hesitation.

I have come back to that room plenty of times when the house got crowded. Ever since then I have hardly heard a peep, at least nothing past the usual hemming and hawing of the old abode. Truth be told, the room I count as my own is much noisier. Various woodland creatures have set up shop inside the walls and some nights they scratch like crazy until you smack a surface and tell them to stop. It drove my second sister out of the room once, but I mostly find the animals funny. In the room across from mine, there’s always a bird nest right next to the window-installed air condition unit. Ours is a home for more than humans and their ghosts.

This time I have moved back in, though again not for long before I am off to a foreign shore. I am back after bidding goodbye to my college life and looking on to see what’s next. By now, I have come to love the little whispers of my old home. I settle in at night, later than I should be up, and I hear the familiar history of this place. The same floorboards greet my feat even as I try to step softly. The same steps crunch and crackle at my approach. Cars whizzing by our dark neighborhood pull apart the night air outside. Sometimes I even think I hear a voice. As I strain to catch it, it slips my grasp like an auditory sleight of hand. It was probably never there, but I don’t mind wondering.

When I go to bed with my fan and my TV blasting white noise, these little whispers comfort me. Sometimes they bring me back to the narrative I have always treasured. Other times they assuage the kind of loneliness that even seeing friends and family can’t resolve. Mostly they remind me that – transitory as things are – they don’t disappear, they just fade.

Thanks for listening in, and sleep tight.

~Austin R Ryan

On the eastside of what west lies


Pardon me
For my sentimentality
Not a shade off from
Some form of
Emotional brutality

I feel far enough
That sad songs
Sing relevance

I wanted to move in a way
I used to
And I wanted to be in the skin
I felt comfortable in

I’ve stretched my arms
And bore my abdomen

But I only feel hungry

I’ve made my bold step
Right here at the gates of civilization
I’ve brandished my meticulous mind
On the details of book learning

Pardon me
For not feeling gratitude
Not a hue off from
Some need for
Inescapable rectitude

I’ve stitched it together all wrong
And wondered if it was because
you never taught me to sow

I’ve filled my ears with urgency

I’ve lost my hands holding on
To things I never needed
And I cannot think of how to communicate
Without using sign language

I am marking the page each day
Out of numerous hopes of vanity

I never wrote for you
And still I hold you to read me

I am perpetual
In my fear of pink and baby blue
I am flippant
In my wanting the broken shower back
I am certain
In that those trees will bear the weight I tried to keep from your shoulders

I never wanted to be carried

So I placed myself on high
And all day and all night
I can only imagine
The confrontation that would
Set my effervescent isolation
Right

I looked at my phone
Thought to set the record straight
But I wanted to be alone today
So I turned it into a shovel
And I told myself
That if I kept digging
I’d break new ground.

~Austin R Ryan

New Nostalgia


My roommate recently started on an Outkast spree. “Hey Ya” blares on through the speakers and across the room. Reveling in the nostalgia feels glorious. Memories of riding back on the bus from public school in 2003, kids asking the driver to turn up the radio, come flooding back.

It would take endless effort to separate the song from childhood. The same goes with “Ms. Jackson” and “Roses.” I would spend the article space writing a love letter to Outkast and exonerating the good things of the late nineties and early thousands, if I were sure I really loved any of it.

Nostalgia works like a pair of rose-tinted glasses. Something slips them over my eyes whenever I glance at “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers. I loved the song once, do I still love it now? Is my mind caught as much in the music as it is in the past? “Mr. Brightside” remains buried with Outkast and all the old Kanye while modern favorites sit in all my playlists.

After all that time, can any sound penetrate the raw wall of nostalgia laced over each beat? There is no complete way of knowing. If the enjoyment feels sincere, run with it. No one needs another reason than nostalgia. For all the obfuscating it may do, I would not abandon nostalgia. I’d rather the past flow like honey, than sting like a bee.

    Rose colored air waves

But each moment of remembrance that made an old song feel so much stronger came to me from the radio. Billboard still got a few in one hundred in my head. Bands formed up vast waterways of sound. Labels became seas opening and genres oceans.

The radio made Somethings float to the top and gloss the surface of sound in every car. The radio formed up rivers of hit songs that we would trace back out to the oceans and seas. I got older and made it out to the ocean more often. I swam to the bottom to pick pearls up from the seafloor. Getting through the radio-pop gloss at the top made it worthwhile.

It seemed to work that way even for my non-musical friends. The most nerve wracking moments came in pooling up the jewels everyone gathered from the deep sea. We got to be explorers breaking through the surface trying to measure our successes using the ears of others.

When the water left my ears those old glossy songs on the surface sounded better then I remembered. The notes rang with radio intervals. Colorful personalities played it out to me. Sitting there, the radio brought plate by plate of commuter music. The rose colored air waves made it age like wine but it still felt less classy than a natty. The pleasure was guilty to the bone.

The radio brought the songs it beat to death back to life in vivid color.

    Radio is dead. Long live radio!

This image is from Broadcasting World's article: "ONLINE, DON'T MIRROR OFFLINE RADIO INDUSTRY"

Now radio dwindles and old seas grow into oceans. Everybody has a fond memory, and that reverie will create nostalgic ecstasies. With so many more bands, fan groupings, and new scenes I wonder how nostalgia will come of age.

Will kids ditch radio but stick with the top 100s? Perhaps radio will never die, not even faint, ever revived and kept alive to dish musical entrees out of large label kitchens. The kids might socialize it quicker, torrenting CD’s, speeding through discographies to keep friendly. Hit songs might not live long, and maybe memory will no longer wrap easy around the ears of a full generation.

It could all stay the same, just put in a different with new tools just used the exact same. Soundcloud and Google made it useful to scoop seaweed off the surface of the deepest oceans.

It would not work to try and divine nostalgia’s next line. But when dealing with the horizon you should make some stretches. To me it seems that something new might come through. With so much changed, media so rearranged, one true pop king might find harder to reign. Instead warlords come claiming teen scenes in scattered out places. The nostalgia of Orlando will not sound the same to kids from Kansas City riding high on the new Killers.

Pointless Stories: A Stroll Down Michigan


Most stories I’ve told have points or directions. I decided to ramble for four pages, and this was the result. This is my pointless story.

In Indiana Minimum wage is roughly under eight dollars. I believe it stands at 7.75$ an hour. Working at a cafeteria downtown I earn around minimum wage for each hour I spend manning the register. The folks I work with are polite and for the most part older than I am. The place has a pleasant energy. One fellow looks a lot like my boss, which has caused me occasional confusion when trying to ask the right question to the right person.

The clientele of this urban kitchen are middle aged marketers and members of that business class that goes to work semi-formal. I find the culture a bit of the workplace a bit strange. My employers did not seem to mind me missing two weeks of work due to miscommunication nearly as much as they minded my unkempt hair and clothes that strayed slightly from uniform standard. At this point I am happy to have the job. My Midwestern homestead is bloated with young college students searching for scraps of paper.

I work five miles from my house, but still I like to get a ride to and from work. I clocked out of work at about 2:30 PM and strode out of my steel tower. The One America building, they call it. One of Indianapolis’s humble skyscrapers. It was made for business though, and unless you have business in it, you may as well keep outside of it. I pulled my phone out of my black jeans and found it dead. I pressed the power button, holding on to some shred of hope. It blinked on just long enough to tell me it did not have any power left in it. How useful. I stared at the hot sun and let my phone sit in my palm.

I felt the temptation to throw it. My father and I both had a way of exhausting ourselves with rage towards the smallest of roadbumps. We are both devout Buddhists. I never knew with him, but the irony of being an angry Buddhist proved too much for me. I bit down and chewed on the anger for a moment before swallowing it.

I got past the unfortunate fact that I forgot to charge my phone that night, and walked towards home. I decided to make some use of the occasion, and stopped off at the library. Downtown Indianapolis underwent some beautification recently. It always had some beauty. I cannot remember a year this city did yearn for something to be proud of. I am proud of our central library. At 6 stories it is no hulk of a building, but it sits a pulse away from the heart of downtown as a mesh of old and new. An expansion to the building gave it a bright new futuristic glass edifice attached to the Greek styled columns of the old building. The organization of the books was a bit haphazard, but I managed to find the Hemingway books I was looking for. I picked up a Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut book too. We are all proud of Kurt Vonnegut here. Granted, we aren’t so proud of his odd respect for suicide bombers. We aren’t the kind of city that produces such bold opinions. Our prominent politician was a quiet family man, who won respect by being good with numbers.

Vonnegut’s books were surprisingly hard to find in our library. At this point, I thought we’d have a small shrine dedicated to him. I am sure we did when he died. I left the library with a back of books heavy in my right hand. The afternoon was pleasant. The sun blazed, and in my black clothes I felt the heaviness of the heat. People were smiling though, and the city seemed in an amiable mood. Our city runs on a grid. I started to wander home, because I knew that if I continued to feel like it, I could wander all the way back.

I walked past one of the cleaner looking homeless people by the mall. He had a little dog with him as well. I glanced at them. The dog looked well groomed and the man not too unkempt. I generally ignore homeless people, but I have a tendency to engage more than most of my friends. This city is not filled with twenty somethings trying to scrape their way into a grand destiny. This city does not have metros for homeless people to sleep in. This city is filled with family. We won’t shoo away a straggler, our hospitality is wholly Midwestern, but we won’t carve a place out for them beneath our eyes.

I walked lazily through downtown with my bag of books swinging at the end of my right arm. The bag of books periodically rammed me in the back of the leg. I would readjust the bag’s flight path after each time it hit me, but I would ease my right arm eventually and let the bag hit me again.

My leg got tired of taking hits and so I decided to find Michigan Road and take it back to my house. The road was a straight shot to home, but it wasn’t scenic. If I wanted scenic, I would have gone down Mass Ave. Mass Ave is the self-proclaimed arts district downtown. The art on the street is the modern kind you learn to forget quickly. We had some notable artist put in a display of that cookie-cutter woman used on signs swaying back and forth lethargically. She lacked a face. She simply swayed and swayed and swayed through the humid air. I always wondered who we were impressing with that display. The orange, pixelated woman moved lazily and rhythmically, unchanging every single day. As far as I saw, she was the most lifeless thing in the entire city. I much preferred the giant mural of Kurt Vonnegut or that giant black and gold obelisk we devoted to the memory of America’s wars.

The best part of Mass Ave aesthetically had to be the sidewalk. At some point, my fair city decided to expand the sidewalk, rebuilt it in a dark red brick patterned with some cement blocks. The crosswalks were colored green or blue and stretched wide. Purple signs indicated that this was the “Cultural Trail” of Indianapolis. It frustrates me that people don’t like to put things into context. Mass Ave is a nice place full of great stores, but decades ago, it was not anything special. Decades ago, it did not matter much more than the rest of the run-down east side of the city. What culture does that trail run you through, if you are visiting?

The construction of all the fancy things in Mass Ave blocked off the roads long enough to kill a few businesses too. That little video store I applied at once went out. Now I think a gardener’s moved in. Luckily, most business that went out were replaced. Mass Ave is the gay area of town. Statistics show that making your area of the city a little gayer will make it a bit more profitable too. I can’t say I know why one man’s choice to suck another man’s dick helps my city, but it does.

I did not go down Mass Ave though. I went down Michigan. Michigan’s got plenty of cars, but little else. I walked across the streets of the old city, before renovations and cultural trails. There wasn’t much shade from the sun, and my black clothes started to stick on me like they were good company. I started to read Hemingway on my way home. The book bobbed a bit as I walked, and the sun glared heavy on the words. I found it hard to focus, so I got through one of Hemingway’s many short stories about war before I left the book dangling in my left hand. I lagged on past the part of Michigan that intercepted Massachusetts and appreciated that old German theatre, bar and eating establishment on the way. I started in on the part of Michigan where I could still spot the interesting theatres and establishments of Mass Ave. I crossed ways with a man who seemed half interested to talk to me. He was in a hurry to find Ohio, and the best I could tell him of the street was that it was somewhere downtown, in the direction he was headed. I could have led to him to Pennsylvania or New York, even Vermont or Delaware, but not Ohio. He walked on in a hurry.

I kept on my way and found the tavern and store of spirits that seemed perpetual. I had seen that tavern since I was a kid, and I wondered what in the somewhat shabby place kept it from floating topside. Not too far from there was the entrance ramp to I-65, my little conduit to the north of the city. I-65 connected me to my old school and to my old friends too. Most of them lived up north in suburbs lined with houses that stooped at the same low height. Indianapolis stretched out for miles. The blood of the Hoosier city flowed out seamlessly into smaller suburbopolises in all directions. I never liked the name of any of the suburbs. Beach grove never seemed so scenic. Carmel is not a sweet as it sounds. I have never heard of any fast times in Speedway. I’ve never found Zionsville to be a haven. They all have their character, but I never liked the way they masked it behind those names. Every single one sounded more appealing than Indianapolis, more meaningful than Michigan, but I could not think of anything I ever found in those places, beyond a friend’s house.

They were all safer than the stretch I walked. I might have just hated driving to them enough to dislike the places a bit by proxy. Maybe I just never got the hang of their flavor. Perhaps the silence of it never sat well on my tongue. I felt safe serenaded by sirens. I felt energetic, engaged by unfamiliars. I think I just got sick of kids stranded in suburbs insulting my city like they ever knew it. Perhaps that was the snobbery I would bear, being raised in Indianapolis proper.

I walked underneath the overpass and past the entrance ramp that provided my portal to far off lands. The train tracks that came up a bit past the entrance ramp I remembered well. More than a few times, a train derailed my efforts to get somewhere on time. Unless you spotted the long queue of cars and anticipated the train, you could not turn quick enough to find a detour. Even if you did find a detour, the tracks spread for so long that half the time it wasn’t worth the effort. I glanced down the train tracks. They led for so long down such a flat path. I passed an old man with a bushy grey beard and weathered skin. He asked me for the time. I had to ask him to repeat himself, because I lost myself crossing my old tracks. I told him my phone was dead, and I did not know the time myself.

Home wasn’t too far off. I realized that I had held my book open at the spot I left off at. I put the book back in my bag and stretched out the fingers on my left hand. They were sore and stiff from maintaining the same position for so long. It felt good to breathe some fire into each digit. I spotted Arsenal Tech to my left. A lot of kids in the neighborhood chose to go there, though I never heard much good about it. I loved the scenic way it looked behind the black iron rods that fenced the campus in. I saw the trees fan the green grass with their shade. I felt a strong urge to clasp those black rods and pull myself over that fence. Each rod used to have a black spade shaped on the top of it, but rust saw the end to that. I figured I would not risk too much if I climbed the fence and scaled a tree. But I figured that trespassing on a campus I never properly walked on probably wasn’t the best idea and trudged on through the sunlit sidewalk.

Cities always put in pockets of nature that I loved to languish in, whether it was a park or a simple patch of trees next to a road. I picked up tree climbing in my own neighborhood flush with foliage. Scaling a fence then clasping a high branch with your hands and hoisting yourself up into a leafy embrace always felt victorious. I never found anything quite like scaling a massive tree in the middle of an immense city. Once I reached the top and saw the stretch of steel and concrete and splotches of waving green grass, I really felt as though I were in a jungle.

Once I passed Arsenal tech I approached my neighborhood. Woodruff Place was founded as a suburb in the 1800’s for upper class Hoosiers. Now the city enveloped it fully. Woodruff Place was not more than five miles from the heart of the city, and even less of a distance from Mass Ave. Woodruff Place consisted of three drives (West, Middle and East). Each drive had a road that ran a wide oval through it. In the middle of that oval were medians full of tall and old trees. Old and grand two story houses decked each of Woodruff place’s drives. These days Woodruff place was a middle class enclave in the poorer part of the city, just a block away from the predominantly black and predominantly Latin American parts of town. I had to pass west and middle drive before I reached east drive.

I looked back down Michigan. The five miles I walked felt long to me. I wondered how many people walked down those streets and saw some life in these old streets worth remembering. Maybe it just was an old road in the middle of a fairly young city in a region full of aging individuals. Maybe I would go back to DC and realize I made more of it than was ever there to begin with. All I knew was that the thinking made the heat feel less bitter.

~Austin R Ryan