Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trains, Strange, and Branches

In two weeks the travel starts. Me on a train. Me at my aunt's wedding in Monmouth, then me on a train for a day and a half, a two-hour layover in LA's Union Station, then another two days on the train, this time with lie-down and feed-me accommodations (as in, I got a room). I get a room when I go to Kansas because the train ride ends for me at 3am. Then I get to hope my rental car is waiting there in the station dark, parked someplace I can find, key handed to me by the disinterested party of the station attendant (after all his other chores of off-loading and loading passengers is done). The last time I waited 25 minutes in the blue station light, watching the child's-fist-sized flying midwestern bugs beat themselves senseless against the overlarge lights on the platform outside. 

I get the keys and I drive for an hour and a half. I hope my grandfather has left the door unlocked. Otherwise I look for the key, if I remember he keeps one hidden outside. I will get to his house at 5am. If I can't get in I go to the all night Walmart and try on sunglasses and drink chocolate milk and sit under a light in the parking lot where fist-sized bugs beat themselves 20 feet above me. I read a book or I nap. I hope the right people travel through the parking lot, if any travel through at all. I am afraid of small towns in the middle of the night. I am right to do so. I grew up in a small town. I grew up gay in a small town. I am right to be nervous. 

But nothing has ever happened to me there. My grandfather's town feels good to me. I get to his house a few hours later when I know he is up and drinking decaf and reading the morning paper if the morning paper has found its way inside to him. Now he is less mobile though, and no longer takes the paper; he told me last week. What I will do without the crossword and sudoku and jumble, I do not know. What I will do without the local news to educate me on their ways. I will eye the big bottle of bourbon too early. I will talk about the ice road truckers. I will show pictures of my dog. I will listen to him breathe, and listen to his oxygen machine breathe. I will wish things had been different, and that I had known him for more than just these past several years. He's a good guy. Interesting and smart. And so am I. We get along. Laugh at the same things, vote the same way. We think the same women are beautiful usually.

My parents separated when I was five. And it was ugly. And then none of us lived in Kansas anymore. And everyone hated everyone. And I saw my grandparents when I was ten and then never again. Until I made it happen when I was 27. My grandmother died a month later. Now I go back every year.

This isn't what I meant to talk about.

I meant to say what I was reading. Partly in preparation for the journey. 

I just finished reading Michael Newton's Savage Girls and Wild Boys and am typing up notes. (An odd relation: I get off the train in Newton, KS.) I am reading Andrew Zawacki's Anabranch. Slowly, the way I read things that are good. Things that stun me. 

From the page I am on, this...


Nor were we immune to such evolve and overwhelm. A diminishing match the frontier of unbreaking, we vexed oscura to spark, hearing it inhabit a new constellation: neither the sisters who cluster for beauty nor Sirius in a bid for omnipotence, but wax flower and ironbark, plainchant of a diesel engine coruscating rock at the edge of across. Where--razorwire spiraled to prevel the dead from defecting, or ghosts from insinuating when least required--a flood lamp broiled the salt flats torn from a page too charred to read, as we wagered who the photographer was, cutting our hearts on the hours until sunrise, on anything not expired. The soul opting out through its second-hand lens: the eye that eroded from lexis to shadow, azure by estrange, or the eye beset by a looking-glass inlet, a mile ago dark but now dazzling.

Odd how well that random grab fits with this post. It's such a good book.

And this, I read today by Anna Journey:

In either scenario, a stranger flees in mortal fear through an exit. 


In the classic anthropological text, The Stranger (1908), German sociologist Georg Simmel articulates his concept of a unique sociological form. A “peculiar tension” arises, Simmel suggests, from “the stranger,” who manages to be both close to and remote from us at once. The value of such figures in society, then, stems from the strangers’ “objectivity.” Because they aren’t intimately connected with our lives, we feel freer to confess to them our secrets. In pre-modern societies, Simmel writes, most strangers within a group made their living as traders or tradesman, those “‘strange’ merchants” who move closely among us in a crowd, performing necessary tasks, even as they remain enigmatic.

I have more to say, but no time to say it. The dog deserves a walk. 

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