A SUCCESSION OF WORDS
Winter is spasm: collapse and radiation. Things do indeed fall apart, but disintegration is predicated on compactment. On Michigan Avenue, smoking, my brisk pace interrupted only when obliged to deposit forearm into chest of particularly insistent cigarette bum undeterred by my solipsistic headphones, refusal to make eye contact and perfected look of mild disgust, Appalachia is inescapable.
Winter in the hills is pristine. Nevermind comparisons to the filthy far-north winter sidewalks of Broadway: syringes, crumpled cigarette packs, cigarette butts, smashed tall boys, patches of urine, patches of vomit, fast-food bags and fast-food remnants all jutting from the heaps of carbonized snow that stretch unbroken on each block; walking in the ever-gurgling bowels of Uptown, the trails of heavenly shit provide an all too easy allegory. No, not pristine as this city is filthy and by no means halcyon or Elysian or whatever else; transplanted country mice have no fondness for the spring-pins and bait of the traps from which they've fled.
Great Lake gales cannot stretch statewide, and if they could, Appalachian foothills would choke them out. We hill folk fear no wind, neither winter gusts nor spring tornadoes. The hills bless us with vacuum; snow strangles the landscape and the air is stark, inert, the atmosphere to be filled, the same sort of winter enjoyed by those indomitable J Crew Christmas catalogue kids. To this day I cannot look at a boiled wool roll-neck sweater without weeping.
From autumn, inward. Cold constricts and heat expands. At a party, talking with distinct animation, but also exclusiveness, to three people on my left when a glassful of gin finds the right side of my face, luckily the lesser side -- but still. The monster simply walks off (I say monster, for what kind of a man is it that would waste good [read: all] alcohol?), unfettered when I douse the back of his oxford in my own monstrous response and lodge a considerable wad of spittle in his ponytail.
In Uptown the urban outdoorsman's autumn pleas of 'spare some change?' have turned to demands, and render nearly impossible the better sense of sparing fists to meet them, when my shoulder finds his when he assumes my pathway and refuses to move. He follows me inside the liquor store and hands me a lit match with "Lemme talk to you, brotha." I oblige and ignite the tinderbox by screwing my head to the side and shouting, "What's up, brotha?" While calculating the total cost of multiple six packs, my friend waits for speech suspensions to offer: "Guys, settle. Joey, take your hand out of your pocket," and it's all too clear that the urban outdoorsman and I want no resolution, but simply to be opened by one another's fists.
Some dilettante with one foot stuck in the frat house accosts my girl and I after a reading and offers: "What's up with you? You're talkin' with this hot chick who's got a little bit of an edge to her." 'Edge' as in "slant," as in epicanthic folds.
Such cruelty and violence: unprovoked and unexpected, but then only if you watch porns because you can't get enough of the spontaneous plot tryst/twists between super-undercover cat-suited bombshell secret agents and bellhops. Ninety-eight point six degrees times three million, not to mention the heat of my transplant brothers and sisters who opted to not take part in the census, all gelled into one atom. Enough potential radiation to make Hiroshima look like an M-80 in a dollhouse.
But we do not explode. We radiate as a semi-truck tire loses air through a pin hole, for in winter we can no longer stand the charade that sustains us during expansive seasons: pleasantries now elicit the bile that anticipates the vomit of touch. Ordering a roast beef sandwich is to go to war. To my right film students spit up 'contrast of dark and light,' 'it's my art, not their art; I don't care if it is their fucking school.' To the left a true minimalist in black ribbed turtleneck and perfectly-worn brown corduroys examines the menu while smoothing the hair of the triangular flavor savor sprouting beneath his bottom lip and spits into his cell phone. 'Existential,' 'postmodern' and 'Kierkegaardian dread' fuse with the Bergman bellyaching into a nonsensical mantra. Through this and beneath the steady murmur of the airplane-hangar fan overhead, the woman on the other side of the counter mumbles broken English, smiling. I nod and smile. We smile together, but her strings of consonants always end with a sharp chirp, so I know I'm being asked to make decisions. I slightly lean over the counter: "Roast beef." She smiles and nods and murmurs. "Roast beef. Look, please, I don't care. Please, just a roast beef. Bean sprouts, avocado, everything, anything, whatever." My shoulders hunch and lock, swivel side to side as I desperately petition for help. The filmmakers have been roused from blueprinting artistic vision and one seethes, "Jesus Christ, what kind of bread do you want?"
His heat, my heat, the heat of the city, the same heat each of us human cattle send whirling out our sloppy noses in a collective hiss every time we're pressed together in CTA cattle cars and are assured "This is Grand."
Ain't it though.
Joe Jarvis hails from the magnificent Appalachians of Southern Ohio. In Chicago, where he currently resides, he has commandeered an intramural badminton league at the city's Columbia College, made many, many devoted friends and enemies, and written semi-regularly for New City, a local weekly, among others.