It’s springtime. The dandelions popping up everywhere came from seeds we blew into the wind last year, and we have stopped again to remember.
EDITOR Kate Cline
EDITORIAL STAFF Josh Garcia Bri Hansen Michael O’Malley Whitney Williams
DESIGN & LAYOUT Kate Allen FACULTY SPONSOR Bobby C. Rogers
Printed at Tennessee Industrial Printing, Inc., Jackson TN
TABLE OF CONTENTS EXPLOSIVE REVELATION Casey Williams
STOLEN KISS Joshua Bullis
CRABAPPLES AND WISTERIA Chelsea Carrier
5 7 11 16 20
6 10 15 17 21
22 24 27 33
23 25 29
THE HIDEAWAY Josh Garcia
PALM READING Renae Matz
WORD PROBLEMS Rachel Moore
READING BY THE BROOK
I KNOW WHERE TO FIND THE BARGAIN BIN
EXPLOSIVE REVELATION Casey Williams Acrylic on Canvas Paper 12” x 16”
THE HIDEAWAY Josh Garcia
The Underground cool meets my bare heels resting flatly on the concrete. It fosters the smell of my father and his jackets I’m crouched under. Multiple skins of the man who chased us around the yard. I wipe webs from the discarded urn where I keep ashes and cigarette butts. Leather and tobacco. Few scents hold any significance for me. A collection of fishing lures stuck to a corkboard and a taxidermy duck hanging from the ceiling— things I’d forgotten bu gaped at back then. I can hear the dog’s lazy paws dragging upstairs, and I drop another cigarette into the urn, placing its brass lid back carefully, quietly. Back on the shelf where I once found photographs of another woman in a stack of his books. They were all asleep then, too.
STOLEN KISS Joshua Bullis
The rabbit dancing around me in the parking lot— “Hey, watcha want? Hey? Where ya goin’? Hey? What can I getcha? Ya want somethin’? What can I getcha? Come looka what I got. Come on. Where ya goin’?” “I’m just going back to my car,” I said. “Hey, who needs a car? I can getcha a car. What kinda car? Watcha got? Watcha drivin’ now? Hey? I can getcha something twice as fast—three times as fast—with pipes—pipes comin’ outta the sides—outta the back. It’ll be green. It’ll be orange —anything ya want. Black? Ya like black? I can getcha black. I can get anything.” “No, thanks. I just want to go home.” “Aw, come on. Home? Wacha goin’ home for? It’ll stay there. Come on. Just a minute. Just one—two minutes. Watcha got there? Ya got some crackers— some bananas—what’s that? That a melon? What kinda melon’s that? Ya like guava? I can getcha guava. I can getcha guava, mangos, whatever. They don’t got mangos in there. I got movies. Ya like movies? Or music? Hey, I can getcha tickets. Concerts, movies, whatever, plays, whatever. Waddaya want? I can get it.” “I don’t want anything.”
“Hey, it’ll just take a minute. Just come to my car. Anything ya want. I can get ya anything ya want.” “Money. Can you get me money?” “Sure, sure, anything ya want, hey. Watcha got in mind? Watcha looking for? I’ll getcha pesos—rupees— euros. I can getcha pounds. I can getcha dollars— American dollars—Canadian dollars—Sing dollars— African dollars. Ya want old money? New money? Watcha want?” “I was thinking American dollars. New money’s fine. I was thinking I could give you maybe five dollars —you’d give me twenty.” “Oh, I see. Haha. I see. Ya think you’re funny. You’re joking right? You’re joking. No, but I can do that—I can do that. I gotcha. I got twenty. It’s back in my car. Ya got five? Where’s your five? Come on. I got the twenty in my car.” The rabbit hopped towards his car, and I followed him with my cart. I hadn’t seeen the car in the dark, parked by a broken streetlight. I didn’t know what he was up to. Everything about him reeked of trouble from his ratty, dirty ears, stiking out of his ratty, dirty top hat, to his scuffy, oily feet, sticking out of his scuffy, oily shoes. I didn’t think he’d give me the money, but I followed him
anyway. I wasn’t doing anything that night, and it was too good a deal, even as an idea, to pass up just to go back and sit around at home. “Ya know most people wouldn’t do this. It’s bad business. I wouldn’t usually do this—too cheap—but I like ya. You’re a good guy. I like ya a lot. This is a good deal. I gotcha twenty. It’s right here—right here in the trunk.” He reached up with his nappy front paws and knocked a small keychain out of his hat, dropping it on the floor. He scraped it up with a claw and tried to position it between his two front paws. “Here, I got it. Just give me a second. I got it.” He turned his back to me. His crusty, matted fur prickled in frustration as he fumbled with the keys. “Here, I’ll get it” I offered. “No, no—I got it. It’s just—it’ll take a—almost—yeah. Ok, yeah you do it—you can do it.” He stretched up to pass the keys to me. “It’s that last one, that one. There’ a red one. It’s not the red one—it’s next to the red one. See the square one. It’s
got a square on top. It’s that one—next to the red one— next to the little tiny key.” The key slid in smoothly and turned with a soft click. The broken streetlight flickered. As I opened the trunk I looked down into the rabbit’s eyes, murky and black, sunken far back into their sockets, accentuating his grubby forehead and straight brow. The store light shining behind him made hime a defined silhouette with faded detail. His fur looked wet, sticky, and sparkly. His dirty brown color was littered with green and faded patches. He looked utterly, entirely, thoroughly used. I was immediately attacked by a storm of colored flecks from the trunk. I knocked back; fought them, clenched my eyes. I stumbled backwards, but the stream of specks continued to accost me. The horde battered my body. Yellow-green-blue-indigo—the mixed rainbow wrapped and shatttered around me. I was surrounded and drowning. Swirling color ripped against my clothes and lifted me into the air. I beat at the river with my arms, with my legs. My panic waned as the light increased. Brighter and brighter. Fireflies. They were a rainbow whirlpool of fireflies. They throbbed a steady drilling beat. The roaring ocean violently lashing, swelling with malicious contention and was gone.
The trunk was empty. Every beautiful bug dispersed into the sky, spread thin, unseen and silent. It was a black abyss, a void built of felt and hollow, cold air.
He kept muttering as he drove away, “Less busy. Busy night tonight—busy somethin’ vicious—somethin’ calloused—unfeeling—anything—busy any way ya like.”
“Nope! Nope—all done here. Ya’ve seen enough kid. No twenties—none now. There’s things to do—very busy— too busy for ya—no nothing now.”
The rusty car sputtered into the darkness. The chill of the night crept its way quickly along my spine. I grasped the cart’s handles, tacky from old ripped-off stickers. I clung to their dull redness, their holy normalcy.
The happy rabbit scattered for the door of the car. “Maybe twenty later.” He hopped into the driver’s seat. “Can’t promise. Nothing for it—just busy. Sorry kid, too busy—much too much to do.” He closed the door and rolled the window down. “Ya mind movin’ kid?” Wanna get outta the way there? Need to get out. Gotta go—stuff to do—so much stuff.” I inched away from the trunk and back over to my cart. “Thanks—thanks heaps. Really must keet the stone rolling—gotta burn some gas. Maybe see ya on a better night—colder—warmer—whatever. Less busy...”
The broken streetlight flickered again, blinked. I peered down at the groceries, among them crackers and bananas. I tested my legs; they worked. I pushed the cart back to the car, feeling the rough tarmac rippling through my arms.
Kelsey Nagy Porcelain Clay
THE DYE JOB Ellen Cline
It’s cold, almost, on the balcony. Overcast with a thick, gray cover promising rain. Rain—we haven’t seen it since June, maybe even May. I squirt a pool of dye mixture into a gloved hand and work it through Mom’s roots. Concentrate. The wind picks up pieces of my own hair and blows them in my face, and I can’t wipe them away because my hands are smudgy. Oh well, you make do, because it builds patience. Like the fight hour of wandering the streets of Bangkok on what we called a vacation. And needing desperately to relieve yourself after three bottles of water and one of Thai tea and you’re still a half hour’s walk from your apartment. You make do, and it builds patience; it strengthens your bladder control anyway. You’ll need that when you’re pregnant one day, so you keep right on trudging. Little perseverances like that make you strong. Mom sits slouching on the short plastic stool in front of me, her face calm. Dye has dried in a blue-brown splotch on her forehead and makes her look old, old with pale, translucent skin. I rub it away with my wrist. “Do you think,” I ask, “one day, you’ll be able to just eat something—a pill or something—and the hair will grow out darker? I bet one day that’s how it’ll be.”
Mom laughs, as I wanted her to, and the wind snatches away the sound, carrying it off the balcony, swirling down and around five stories. “Oh, I doubt it. They’ll make it easier, though,” she says. “Shut the screen, honey. Probably just shampoo something in and be done.” We smile. Imagine that, just a shampoo and none of this buffeting breeze and fear that it’ll turn out coppery and red if it doesn’t set long enough. Mother’s so young and old at once here in the open with her hair in congealing ringlets, the wide expanse of sky behind the balcony and an Oregon Ducks t-shirt on. All of a sudden I want to stop and rip off the gloves. Let the gray grow out, let it show, be older and not so close and vulnerable hunched here in front of me with that peaceful, trusting face. There certainly is a vulnerability that comes with getting your hair done. Sitting there meekly with your neck wide open and pale to the cold fingers of the air and your whole appearance subject to the whim of the person who stands behind, where you can’t see her. I’ve never liked hair salons with glass windows open to the street. To sit bowed over and helpless and exposed,
it’s a private thing. Why should the casual passerby be allowed to peek? Of course, sometimes you just have to accept vulnerability if you want to be presentable. That, as Reverend Ames would say, is a remarkable thing to consider. When Sarah was thirteen we took her to get a big girl’s haircut at the place that had done such a nice job with mine. The man—all the hair cutters in Turkey are men—was about thirty and his wife was there to wash my hair, which was a great comfort to me. In Istanbul the assistant who did the hair washing was a greasy boy with bold eyes and big hands. He took my head in his hands and leaned it back against the sink and ran the water slowly through my hair over and over and wiped the moisture off my neck, and I never went back there again. So I understood when Sarah saw the glass windows and balked. We’d taken a few wrong turns down the narrow, shop front-lined streets of Bostanli, but we had found the place eventually. In the semi-dark we approached the door and Sarah saw an old man, wrinkled as the newspaper he was clutching, guarding the red swivel chairs. She saw the gleaming silver scissors and the gaggle of grandpas smoking outside on the street, looking up from their little table of backgammon at us, and she lost her nerve. I couldn’t blame her.
As for the first haircut I ever got, aside from the ones mother gave me—I was twelve, more Tajik than American, and as mad as a boiling kettle of tea water. Poor Cindy Jo, who’d been a hairdresser before Uzbekistan, still kept up her skills on weathered wives who closed their eyes and remembered salons in Munich or Oklahoma or Edinborough as she snipped. And as a family friend she practiced on little squirming heathens such as myself. But it wasn’t a haircut. It was a royal stripping, a rude reminder that I was not, in fact, a little heathen. Mother probably figured that if we looked presentable in two weeks’ time when we faced our American relatives they might pardon our other eccentricities. And so I had to cut my long, straggling hair. It was dark enough brown that I’d had visiting tourists snap photos of me, indistinguishable from my dusty friends, to take home and show their families. Look at the poor little natives. The poor little natives shaved their heads until they were eight or nine to keep out lice and then grew the hair out long for their wedding days. Mother had never allowed us to go shaved and shorn, so when my friends and I compared length in anticipation of our own wedding-day braids, I came out three inches ahead. Well, no longer, there stood Cindy Jo, and there stood mother, in front of the wooden stool in our courtyard,
her mouth set firm. The picture is comical now, but it was dead serious then. It was all very well for Cindy Jo, newly arrived from Roxborough, North Carolina, who had short blond hair herself. But couldn’t they look beyond our American relatives to the future? How would I hold my head up? And what, for heaven’s sake, about my wedding? I cried and saved a long shorn lock all coiled up in a box with a dried rose. Of course the rose and the dusty curl got left behind two moves ago, and so did my sense of righteous indignation. Mother used to let us wear our Tajik dresses for long plane flights, due to their comfort and bright color. The chances of losing us, dressed like that, were slim. And so when all four of us sprawled out on the airport floor in Dulles, even our new American bobs couldn’t keep a wandering photographer from taking our picture. Poor Mother. She’s endured too many photographers in her life, too many airports, too many squirmy heathens with trembling lips and fierce aversions to haircuts. (Charlotte still has a braid past her waist, and I can’t help but feel a quiet satisfaction that she’s the only one with a beau.) It’s no wonder Mother looks tiered, slouching a little on her plastic stool as I rub the dye into her roots. It only
seems appropriate that we girls are the ones who do the dye jobs, since we put the gray there in the first place. I remember watching Charlotte do this in Istanbul. And I remember the first time I had to do it, awkward and astonished at how trustingly she sat there, as if I knew what I was doing, as if there weren’t a ninety-percent chance she’d come out splotchy. She never much cared about the gray. It was Dad who asked her to dye it, and it’s Dad who winks at her when everybody says we all look like sisters. One of these days I’ll have to train Sarah to do this. I’ll miss it, I realize suddenly. Squirt, smooth, search for more gray to disguise. The hair’s soft when it’s dry but sticky now covered in dye mixture. I can feel its texture through the plastic surgical gloves. They’re too big, left over from some long disassembled first-aid kit. Koyu kumral—honey brown. That’s what she’ll be tomorrow. But now she’s just tiny on the stool in front of me, huddled against the wind, choosing the cold rather than smelling up the kitchen before dinner. I twirl up the sticky hair and plaster it in a little bob on top of her head. It sticks there by itself. “A topknot!” she laughs. I strip off the gloves, watching her do a little twirl like a girl playing princess, and smile.
“Thanks, honey,” she says and goes inside to check on dinner. I shake out the duct-taped garbage bag cape over the edge of the balcony and see a strand of hair stuck to my gloved hand. The breeze blows it out until it is only hanging on by its end, like a spider’s thread. I shake it off and watch it float lazily down five stories. It’s gray. Then my mother calls from the kitchen, and I gather up the dye package and open the door to the warm smell of lasagna.
PALM READING Renae Matz
I see it now, my painted fingernail outlining your thumb’s silhouette, the callus mounting on skin that was once smooth, like the first time you called me “babe” and I laughed. Smooth like the time you tried, yes tried, to put your arm around my shoulders and hit my eye instead. Callus—a thickening on top of a formerly sensitive area, a localized hyperplasia of the stratum corneum of the epidermis due to pressure or friction. A lot of help, that definition. I call it a defense mechanism against hours of hammering. They say you can scrape it away, a layer a night, night after night. I say you leave it. Armor of defense Protecting your vulnerability. My Finger grazing the surface.
Betsy Marsch Pencil 15” x 22”
WORD PROBLEMS Rachel Moore
1. John took a drive to town at an average rate of 40 mph. In the evening, he drove back at 30 mph. If he spent a total of 7 hours traveling, what is the distance traveled by John? The real question: why is John such a slow driver? Is he one of those ancient people getting on everyone’s nerves on the Interstate and who probably shouldn’t even have a license anymore? Also, the way this problem is worded sounds like he lives several hours from the nearest town. That has to be pretty remote. Am I supposed to be figuring out how far away this “town” is? Why does he live so far from civilization? I bet he’s lie Brian from Hatchet, or Gary Paulsen. I told that scumbag Carter multiple times he should read some Paulsen books, but he never would. So this John character, he lives out in the wilderness and chases wolves and lights fires against all odds. What a man. A sexy wilderness hero. He’s making his monthly supply run into town, and drives slowly because he’s not used to it. No, scratch that. It’s too lame. Wilderness John drives slowly because he’s got a lot on his mind, and he needs time to figure something out before he arrives in town. There’s a shotgun in the back of his truck. I’ll write John a letter explaining what Carter did to me, and he will come to school and terrify Carter by
shooting the tires from under his car. Or maybe his primitive instincts will take over, and he’ll return to the conversation. We’ll live our simple life together with no one to bother us, and no skanky little piano players from his stupid band will steal him from me. He won’t even be in a band, and I won’t have to wait for him to get done rehearsing every Friday. I’m going to skip this problem for right now. I’ll come back to it later. 2. Paul and Mary are painting the walls of a room. Mary paints at a rate of 6 sq. ft. per hour. Paul can paint 20 sq. ft. per hour. If it took them 11 hours to finish painting, what was the total surface area of the walls? Has Mary never heard of a sponge roller? She’s probably trying to paint these walls using a two-inch brush. Paul seems to mean business. He’s super-efficient. Or maybe he’s actually being careless, showing off and rushing to cover 20 square feet per hour. He slaps the paint on those walls, spraying Mary with little flecks of paint. She squeals and giggles, telling him to be careful. He grins at her, waits until she’s focused on the wall again, then dots her nose with a painted thumbprint. They laugh, argue playfully, bare feet crinkling around in the dropcloth plastic.
“I don’t know how I would have gotten this done on my own,” Mary says, hands on her hips as she twists and turns, surveying the nearly completed room. “You would’ve worked on it for days,” Paul says, touching her shoulder lightly. “You’ve got to learn to paint a little faster. It’s not the Sistine Chapel.” “I know.” She bites her lip as she smiles up at him. “Good thing I have you here to help out, to push me a little.” They’ve been in this room for 11 hours. The windows are cracked, and the ceiling fan is on to diffuse paint fumes. In the weakening daylight, the new gold paint lights up their faces as they lean toward each other. Mary has already closed her eyes. Her phone starts vibrating in her pocket, a rock song garbling its way out of the small speakers. The moment is over; she answers with pink cheeks and a regretful grin at Paul. “Hello?” It’s John, her boyfriend from the wilderness! Over her sputtered greeting he tells her that he’s driven into
town a week early because he has a surprise for her. He wants to meet her at the ice cream place where they had their first date. She tells him she’ll have to clean up a little. He says she’s always beautiful, and she can come however she wants. John has been thinking about this date the entire drive to town. He gets to the ice cream shop early and asks one of the employees if he can reserve the corner table. The employee probably would have told him that people never reserve tables in the shop if John hadn’t stared him down. John puts a wildflower on the table and paces until Mary arrives. They sit and talk for alittle while. “John, I have something to tell you.” “What?” “I think it’s time to end our relationship.” This is not the kind of problem he is used to solving out in the wilderness: he hasn’t prepared himself for this kind of ambush. “Why?” he asks, unable to comprehend or accept her words. “What did I do?” “You—you aren’t a good wall painter, John. I’ve met someone who can paint walls at a rate of 20 square feet per hour. You hardly paint at all.”
“You’ve met someone? You’re cheating on me?” She avoids his eyes and grips the table’s edge with her fingertips, “John, you are never here. Always running around in the wild while I’m here in town needing someone to paint my apartment.” “Your apartment? I thought you wanted to come live in the wilderness with me someday. You told me you would gladly wait to see me once a month. And since when do you have an apartment that needs painting? How could I have possibly have known?” “You would have, if you were a quick painter like Paul,” she says. John stands up. “Don’t even say his name. I can’t believe you did this to me. But if that’s what you really want, then I’m happy to tell you that I’m not a quick painter. I never pretended to be anything other than what I am.” He starts to walk toward the door, but turns back one last time. “If there’s an explosion, Mary, and you wake up on the ground ten minutes later and Paul has already started running away at 25 miles per hour-I just hope you’re able to catch up to him.” He leaves her sitting there. Getting back in his car, he drives away from town very slowly at first, half-hoping
that Mary will have a change of heart and call him back. As car after car of angry people pass him, though, he realizes that the ring box in his pocket can wait for a more worthy woman. It’s not my fault he cheated on me. If Carter likes her because she can play the piano, then that’s his problem. And even though finding out is always painful, the truth is worth it in the end. It’s worth a total driving distance of 240 miles.
CRABAPPLES AND WISTERIA Chelsea Carrier
Our worn house on the dead end of Old Poplar Ridge Road sat in the midst of two hundred acres of farmland. The barbed wire marking our rented one acre held back all the hay and cattle except for the hay fever, the sound of mooing, and the smell of manure.
she ducked her five foot frame under and around the ugly, soured tree. And Daddy skirted around a scrawny wisteria vine planted in the front of the yard. But Mama, tired of fighting with shrubbery, mowed it down.
The grass beneath the apple and plum trees was slick with the fruit that burst upon hitting the ground, attracting bumblebees. Acorns dropped from oaks, and the bright yellow leaves of the maples and the pecans sprinkled themselves on the earthen carpet. During the spring, the paulowniaâ€™s hollow woody branches with leaves like elephant ears showered the earth with sticky purple blooms and just as sticky green seeds that dried up come late summer and crunched rather than crackled beneath the red lawn mower. Mama and Daddy took turns mowing. Cutting through the East Tennessee air was probably harder cutting through the grass. Up and over banks they crushed apples and plums in July and mulched the leaves and acorns in October. Mama tangled with the crabapple tree. The natural barbed wire tore her bare olive arms no matter how
READING BY THE BROOK Justin McEachron
Looking at the Winslow Homer Of the ten-year-old girl In the cotton, country dress, I felt like I was disturbing her. I didnâ€™t want to make a sound, Or draw too close to the oil paints And puncture her solitude, Sitting by the brook.
Or a daydreamer-like me. And she came to the brook To get away from a world wound tight With dinner table decrees And delicate matters of etiquette. Maybe she was reading some adventures, Huck Finn, or Treasure Island, Or my favorite, Les Miserables.
She felt elusive with her head hung low, auburn hair tied back in red ribbons, her face hidden behind the curtain of the canvas.
For a moment I felt myself dropping Into her antique skin, Her ponytail and white flower dress, And I sat there with my back to the world In the grass greens and the golden water, The warm brushstrokes with no memory, Forgotten in the fleeting solitude, Away from cell phone towers and spinning satellites, Cluttering a celestial night that no longer sings of mystery.
I thought about her book, which resembled a gold-leaf King James Bible, and I wondered if she were the sort of girl that attended the Sunday morning service in a tiny chapel filled with dust and cobwebs, ten miles from the farm where she lived and prayed every night, the same solemn prayer about God taking her soul if she died But maybe not. She could be a free spirit, a tomboy,
Kathleen Hartsfield Digital Photography
Caleb Booth Charcoal on Muslin 94.8” x 24.96”
COUNTING DOWN Cameron Puckett
Pinched between my gingers, a granddaddy longlegs writhes in impulse, its brown appendages already bent by nature. I grab the first lanky limb and pluck it like a dark eyelash. The leg drops to the gravel and acts as its own identity, eager to escape my egocentric fingertips. My eyes focus back to the aching arachnid. I twirl the seventh leg around my finger and rip it like a loose thread. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. The tadpole spider squirms without surrender. A sudden awareness of my mistake tickles my brain and a chuckle jumps from my gut. I had begun incorrectly, and the end was not pleasing, I drop the last long leg into the pile of amputated appendages. She loves me not.
The other night, I was told to remember. To pull memories as one would a tooth. Memories—of a loved one’s eyes, Christmas morning, Saturday’s yard work, hands. Pulling a tooth, you are one of two kinds of people.
Yank it, or wriggle for a week.
I yank. Give me sharp pain, fierce tears, hard grief. For the times it takes to say
This week, I could not avoid. This was the longest Mississippi I’ve ever said.
Remember your loved ones. Not the courtroom. Not the faces of the jury. Not the day it happened.
I am not homicide-loss survivor, but I am a victim of memories. One I was eleven, sitting at my vintage school desk. That citrus Yankee Candle on the
computer desk to my right, Abeka schoolbook in front of me. The phone rang. I was Too alone when I heard my neighbor’s voice cry for me not to leave the house. I still don’t understand why men would kill themselves to kill thousands in a tower and city far from my home. And why it should put fear in an eleven-year-old. Miss I woke to my phone ringing. A friend I’ve never seen cry was crying in the dark on the other side of the phone line. His dad, not hours before, had died of a heart attack. iss I was working on a paper about El Libro de Buen Amor and how incapable we are of portraying love rightly. I received a text from a friend I’d not seen in four years. “I’ve changed,” he said. “I smoke everything now. I do acid. I’m pretty messed up.” “Brother.” “You shouldn’t call me brother.” ippi How strong these people, survivors, are.
To see the moment framed by horror and yet choose the room-thatâ€™s full of good. Maybe if you were to wriggle a tooth, you would begin to appreciate all teeth a bit more. Appreciate their tenacity. Understand their reluctance.
Terilyn Wassel Pencil, Charcoal, and Ink on Paper 8” x 12”
I KNOW WHERE TO FIND THE BARGAIN BIN Michael O’Malley
The air in the electronics department is tinged with the musty scent that always seems to hang on the WalMart atmosphere, but I can also smell the faint odor of warm plastic-the smell of TV backsides and computer consoles. The back wall is covered with TVs the size of movie posters. They’re all high definition, stacked three screens high, all playing Toy Story 2 on Blu-Ray, which has been showing for the last four months. A dozen chicken mascot men are stealing a dozen Woody dolls. I squat down in front of the CDs. There is a brown splotch on the floor in front of the shelves, some spill-the final resting place of an ill-fated grape, perhaps-pressed into the tiles by armies of shopping cart wheels. It looks sticky, but I make a conscious effort to avoid finding out for sure. I hear the sales woman’s drawl behind me as she walks up to the shelves with an older lady. “Whatever Elvis we’ve got should be right here.” The customer’s hair is white and curly, the frothed-up perm that’s so popular among senior citizens. She picks up the Elvis album from the shelf (there’s only one) and looks at it. Her hand shakes, and she grabs the CD with her other hand to steady it before putting it into her basket. As she rolls the cart away, one of the front wheels squeaks and jitters back and forth on its axle. She may have taken the last Elvis CD from the rack, but the King still asserts his royal presence in the electronics
department. The DVD shelves hold three different titles starring Elvis: Jailhouse Rock, Viva Las Vegas, and Harum Scarum—which, judging from the cover, features Mr. Presley doing his best to channel Lawrence of Arabia. His image looms large on each cover, the swashbuckling hero with curled pompadour and gyrating hips. The picture on the front of Jailhouse Rock looks like it was taken mid“thank’y vury much.” Elvis is fortunate, prominently displayed on the shelf among the other top releases. Much of Wal-Mart’s DVD selection resides in a plastic silo with the words “$5 DVD Favorites” pasted in red and blue on its side, though the term “favorite” is a stretch for many of the bargain movies. Here, it’s a mix of the new, the old, and the absurd. Casablanca lies next to a copy of House Party 2: The Pajama Jam! The brightly colored cover of one DVD announces that it contains 200 classic Cartoons. Midnight Horror Collection: Road Trip to Hell, a darker cover says. Sometimes my sister and I slip away to the electronics department instead of looking for milk and bread or a parent’s birthday present to dig through the bargain DVDs, stacking the movies on top of the bin in a precarious, slatted heap. The plastic slips against our hands with the faint crinkle of the shrink-wrap as we plunge our arms in. The Green Mile, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze, a John Wayne two-pack, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, It’s a
Wonderful Life—all discarded into a bin, piled haphazardly like old lumber. Occasionally, when we tag a DVD from the bottom, the hole caves in, cases sliding and toppling into the gap like an inverted Jenga game. The pile on top leans and falls, and DVDs slap the floor, splaying out on the white, speckled tiles with a syncopated clatter. A few feet away, the tight rows of Blu-Ray discs wrap around all four sides of the column, a royal blue edifice standing apart in the center of the department floor. The cases are sleek and glossy, the same rounded corners and the same shade of blue tinting the edges of the cover art, giving the movies a futuristic sense of uniformity. There is no Blu-Ray bargain bin. A group of employees has rolled in a cart of cardboard boxes and is laying them one at a time on the floor between the TV wall and the Blu-Ray display. Several box tops hang open, revealing the insides packed full with video games and DVDs. “I didn’t know anyone still bought CDs,” a friend said to me once. “I do,” I replied, then bought a Modest Mouse album. There is no more Modest Mouse at Wal-Mart. I thumb though the CDs, reading the white labels on the sides. The plastic dividers on the shelves are supposed to tell
you the artist – there’s one for ABBA, Metallica, Taylor Swift – but they’re really just guidelines. There is a Josh Groban CD under “Guns ‘n’ Roses,” and some Rihanna with the Fleetwood Mac. All I find under “The Beatles” is a few copies of Abbey Road (digitally remastered, the case says) and a Britney Spears CD – one of her old albums at that. But no Modest Mouse. There isn’t any Bruce Springsteen, either. One of the dividers has “Bruce Springsteen” printed on it, but it’s just an empty marker, as if it were a commemorative tombstone: Here lies the Boss. I stand up and see the glass video game cabinets behind the CD shelves. Once a man asked me for advice on electronics. I was fourteen, playing the demo video games—something I liked to do whenever my mom coerced me into going to the grocery store with her —and he asked me which games were good. He was looking for his daughter’s birthday present. I told him my favorites. A teenager in a camouflage jacket is playing the demo games. He stands chest to chest with his reflection in the glass cabinet, arching his neck back to see the display on the TV that hangs from the top of the shelves. His hands fidget at the controller. The fluorescent strips on the inside of the cabinet splash white light on his face, accentuating the stubble on
his chin. Another teenager walks up to him—his girlfriend, maybe. “What are you doing?” Draped over one arm she has a gray hoodie, still on its hanger, a tag dangling from the hood. “Shooting an airplane,” he replies, His eyes don’t leave the screen. “How old are you again?” she asks. I looked back at the wall of TVs. On one of the screens, the sound is half-second behind the rest, giving Buzz Lightyear a surreal techno echo. The employees have unloaded almost half of the boxes from the cart. When they empty a box, they toss it on the floor, and it tumbles on its corners before settling down on one side. I catch snatches of their chatter – the back halves of sentences, floating names, vocal inflections, and the occasional complete thought. One complains about their manager. Another laments that she doesn’t know what to do with her son. This woman’s nametag says “Claire.” Like the other employees, her navy blue vest reads, “How may I help you?” in large white letters on the back. I remember once asking an attendant for help. I was looking for my mom’s Christmas present. She wanted a Michael W. Smith CD, and I couldn’t even find the
Christian music section. There were several aisles of music, and I had to ask the attendant to direct me to the right one. The shelves are smaller now. Everything here seems smaller now, except for the TVs; they’ve gotten bigger. But there’s only one aisle of CDs, and except for the Musica Latina section (which barely takes up a three-foot wide portion of the shelves), there are no genre divisions. The CD selection is a homogenous spread of everything from Miles Davis to Kenny Chesney. “Comes with a free song download from Wal-Mart.com!” purple stickers announce on the front of several dozen albums. One whole section of the shelf is no longer even CDs. Green iTunes gift cards line the rows, their purplesilhouetted dancers grooving to whatever music is playing through their iPod earbuds. The store keeps the iPods at the front of the electronics department, displayed on black felt in locked glass cabinets half the size of the ones that store the video games. The iPods’ smooth, glassy screens stretch and reflect the white images of the store outside the cabinet, looking as if a touch would ripple the surface. The CD players are hidden on a back aisle, next to the AV cables, and I can’t even remember where my CD player is at home. The employees are still stocking. Claire lifts a new box from the cart, holding it steady against her shirt, and
slices open the tape on the top with a box cutter. She pulls one of the top flaps, and it gives with a sudden snap, the DVDs inside sliding out into her hands. She asks another employee where the movies go. â€œEverything moved, and I donâ€™t know where anything is anymore,â€? I hear her say. I wonder if anyone really keeps up with where everything goes. Maybe people just lose track of the old things. They just toss in the new stuff and push the old stuff aside to make room until the old fades away, creating this bizarre, bargain-bin limbo that jumbles it all together until no one actually remembers where anything goes anymore. I watch them for a little while longer. When they are finished, they pick up the empty boxes and throw them back into the cart. Then they roll the basket away, probably to break the boxes down so they can fit better into the dumpster out back. I leave the electronics department and wander to the front of the store. The greeter nods at me from his stool. The scanner gun in his hands looks like an alien weapon from some 1950s B movie, and he looks like he could have been an extra in a movie even older than that. I nod back and walk outside through the sliding glass doors without buying anything. I was looking for a Springsteen album anyway.
BIOS Even though junior English major Josh Garcia makes quesadillas, he does not know the Spanish word for “three.” Casey Williams is a junior Art major, and he’s learning to enjoy the simple things in life. Freshman Ellen Cline keeps glass bottles for her light collection. Senior Art major Kelsey Nagy once got stuck in a freezer. Junior Cameron Puckett, majoring in Media Communications, knows that his dad could beat up your dad in a street fight. When she is not at soccer practice or working on art projects, junior Art major Terilyn Wassell is Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Junior English major Justin McEachron is proud to announce that his highly anticipated fifth novel will be published at Office Max. Caleb Booth, senior Art major:”Nifty. I do that.” Junior English Major Chelsea Carrier loves mountains, hot tea, and beards. On Saturday afternoons, junior Social Work major Bri Hanson visits “her” ferret at the pet store. Freshman Betsy Marsch is an Art major, and she reads the works of Dorothy Sayers somewhat obsessively. In honor of A.A. Milne, senior Kate Cline wants to add a few tiddly poms to make this more hummy. Sophomore English major Michael O’Malley agonized for three minutes. Baby Yo-Yo goes with freshman Kathleen Hartsfield for long walks in the
park. After she accidently bought one-ply toilet paper, senior English major Renae Matz realized she must now live with the consequences. Rachel Moore is a junior Art major with an emphasis in all-nighters. Freshman Joshua Bullis was told his childhood memories didn’t really happen, making biography difficult. Sophomore English and Philosophy major Whitney Williams knows how to spell cray-cray. Now you do, too. Junior Kate Allen does not drink Vietnamese Tea. Who told you that?