Tower, Old Fourth Ward

In the Old Fourth Ward, where Martin Luther King, Jr. strolled down Sweet Auburn Avenue and John Wesley Dobbs made the place shine, there’s a restaurant–nay, a muncheteria–called Jake’s. Inside, I stood staring at a picture of a young black girl, no older than eight, embracing a white girl, younger and smaller. The elder child’s joy was captured so beautifully; she’s so intent on her task that the tiny embracee is lifted into the air. This was part of a project where children in East Atlanta took photographs of people, places, and things that were important to them. The topics ranged from one subject’s big brother to a neighborhood’s barber shop. The photo of the two girls, though, was the last piece that I saw. I like to think that it summed up the entire project best.

The food came, eventually, and I sat down with Natania and Laura to discuss academia, Tolkien, and the lovely walk we had just taken through Little Five Points. There was a used bookstore on Euclid called A Cappella, and inside a glass display case toward the front, a first edition of Catcher in the Rye rested. A signed advance copy of Cold Mountain was also present, as well as about seven or eight from UNC-G’s finest. Ta picked up a rather striking bucket hat (I believe that’s what it is; cloche, perhaps?) at a vintage clothing joint, and we stopped in on a record store, as well.

Laura got some Burt’s Bees stuff at this food co-op called Sevenanda. When I was in high school, Burt’s Bees was still based out of Creedmoor, about twenty miles outside of Durham. In my AP Psych class, we visited the John Umstead Mental Hospital in Butner, where we received mislabeled Burt’s Bees lip balm. The patients at the psych ward made money by working for Burt’s Bees. Now, I doubt very much that the company works with Umstead anymore. They’re in Raleigh, now, so maybe Dorothea Dix, NC’s other big mental health facility, is getting their assistance.

On our way out of Sevenanda, I mentioned how co-ops are fantastic, I love ’em, but it’s sad that you really can’t trust 50% of the stuff inside. People who go for the whole foods thing are suckers like everyone else, if not more, and water with special “ions” or “cleansing agents” is just the type of hook they’ll swallow. Even in a bloody co-op, there are people trying to fleece their brethren.

The entire trip was a blast. Fish and chips at Limerick Junction, down in Virginia Highlands, and my Dekalb Farmers Market.

Miles, Natania, and I went out to see Big Fish, stopping first for delicious Thai eats at Surin’s Thai Bowl, pints of Guinness at the Highlander, and then to the Midtown Arts Cinema, probably the biggest, most cineplexy “arthouse” I’ve ever seen.

The movie was fantastic, and it reminded me of the importance of fiction in day-to-day life. Attitude helps, and good fiction is partly a hopeful attitude. And on the ride back to North Carolina, after leaving Miles’ empty apartment behind (both he and Laura had class), the most interesting piece came on the radio.

Paul Ford was talking about the Making of America site, put up by Cornell University. In his adventures through countless issues of 19th century Harper’s Monthly and The Atlantic, he stumbled upon a then-brand-spankin’-new publication of a story called “Bartelby the Scrivener.” Wading through these journals and finding such a gem–arguably Melville’s greatest short story, and one of the best examples of the genre to date–showed Ford that the fiction of the refined, in the case of “Bartelby,” is by far the exception to the rule. This isn’t a bad thing, though. It’s the details, the minutae of daily life that really makes up the bulk of things. Seeing the beauty in the lesser articles, the Burma Shave ads, the grammatically challenged letters-to-the-editor pushes something like “Bartelby the Scrivener” to something of an exalted position. It’s all the more beautiful–and distant–because it is so exceptional. Exceptional, as in… the exception. Especially when it’s smack in the middle of page 546, and you weren’t expecting it. And you live in 1891, and there’s no way you can tell that this thing of precious wonder will be assigned to millions upon millions of college students through the generations come fifty years.

So, here I am, writing about my own slice of life. My own minutae. For myself, mostly, but there are less selfish motives at work, I promise.

It’s good to be home, even if the cat on my lap does have killer gas.

Photo by crashmattb


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