this is from the vault, but never really widely seen:
not long ago someone who follows my writing sent me a blunt email. there was no subject line and the single line read: "damn, don't you like anything?" and i sent a four-word reply: "butter-pecan ice cream." even more recently a friend told me that my essays sometimes seem jaded and world-weary. i had to plead guilty to the jaded charge. i look at the plotlines in current events -- needless war, exploited poor, municipal callousness, moments of great possibility that seem to slip out of the brackets and shatter before we get a chance to truly enjoy them -- and it often seems like the world is one of those long-running sitcoms whose writers have run out of new ideas.
i've consciously started writing about people/moments/ideas that i really think highly of. it happens to be the case that things that piss me off are more likely to get me to the computer. but sometimes there are bitter sweet moments that i take pleasure in describing too.
for instance, the other day my car got towed for being parked in the wrong place. i had to go to this lot that is waaaay out in the cut. it is literally next to a city garbage dump and on this long, winding road that is surrounded by overgrown woods on either side. the kind of place where people dump evidence of things they hope god didn't see. then on top of that you had to go up this long, steep blind alley to get into the tow yard.
my ride fell through so i thought it would be a smart idea to ride my bike there -- at close to 1:00 a.m. (mind you i didn't have a clue as to where i was going.) atlanta is full of hills and i alternated between cursing myself slipping out of my exercise routine every time i hit a steep incline and being grateful for the exertion because it was an uncharacteristically chilly night for atlanta in october.
when i got to the top of the alley and entered the yard i saw a run down bungalow and a tow truck idling with no one in it. i knocked on the door and no one answered. then i looked inside and saw a big man, easily my size, watching a football game. he had a beard worthy of an imam. i knocked on the window and he held his finger to his lips and pointed downward. i looked down and saw a newborn asleep in a carriage. when i came in i saw a little girl in a pink jumper with a ski cap that was waaaay to big for her on her head. it was rolled up so it would shield her eyes from the fluorescent light overhead.
her father was manning the desk for the midnight shift. he was a dark-skinned brother covered with tats and about 23 years old. i asked how old she was and he told me she would be two months old in a week. we made small talk while he was processing my paperwork. turns out he had been a semi-pro quarterback until he got cut. he had a serious demeanor, but wasn't grim or bitter. he said it kind of matter of factly. every so often he looked down at the girl and adjusted the cap or tucked the blanket over her. at some point his girlfriend came out of the adjoining room. she was about his age with a kind of gold hue to her skin tone and baby locks. i realized that this whole young family was working the midnight shift together in a yard that was located in the most forgotten corner of atlanta.
before we went out to get my car he pulled the ski cap off his daughter's head and put it on his own, which made his girlfriend laugh. the hat completed an improbable outfit consisting of a white long-sleeve thermal t-shirt, black and red nylon basketball shorts and timberland boots. when i got back outside i realized that because it was way up on a hill on the outskirts of the city, this desolate little corner had the absolute most stunning view of the atlanta skyline that i've ever seen. we wound up having to put the car in front of me into neutral and push it out of the way because the keys were missing. when i got to my car i saw a copy of The Devil and Dave Chappelle in the backseat and i asked him what kind of stuff he liked to read. he said a little of everything. i gave him the copy and said "i used to work the midnight shift back in the day and i was always glad to have something to read to make the time go by." he said thanks and went back inside.
for whatever reason that experience made me happy. i tried to figure out why, thinking maybe it was because they were young and had years in front of them and were too idealistic for worry to have given them furrowed brows, or because they were obviously struggling but hanging in there together, even in the dead of a chilly night in an abandoned precinct of the city. or maybe because the thought of a brother working a midnight shift while reading my book gave me a new understanding of the term "target audience."
what i did know is that it i "liked" that experience for complex reasons -- which is why when people ask me open ended questions like that i take the simple route and say things like "butter-pecan ice cream."
maybe i'm not so jaded after all.