Friday, October 19, 2012

from the ruins of a rat town

i took a day off from work today. and i didn't have anything planned. so i just started walking.

as i was walking, i came along a bridge. near the middle of the bridge were two extended platforms, one on each side. someone had written on the metal guard rail on the south side. "strenth is yunity."

the bridge took me to the old skate park. i hadn't even been there on skates. i found it once before on a previous adventure and kept it in mind.

the path ran through a graffiti-smothered underpass to a stretch of asphalt below road level. the park was a hole to everything around it, spray paint on the ground since abandoned and blackened over. grind rails and stages worn by weather alone. fall leaves gliding and stumbling over them, their tricks lame and clunky at best. some man was wanding a metal detector at the ground. the site is very near florian's market, where a man was stabbed to death in june 2008. this place seems to have forgotten.

running along the side of the skate park is a mounded wall separating the park from a further drop off into river water. set atop this mound is a stretch of the remains of the grand trunk railway.

the grand trunk railway was active from 1852 - 1923, and it's main north american line connected portland, maine to montréal, quebec; where the continental operations were headquartered. the line then continued west to sarnia, ontario and connected with western canadian subsidiary lines. by 1880, the line also reached deep into midwestern american territory, stretching from portland to chicago, which was a major traffic hub at the time. in 1910, another atlantic line had begun construction to providence, rhode island, however, construction came to a halt when president charles melville hays was killed in the sinking of the titanic in 1912. poor management led to the railway eventually going bankrupt in 1923 and being nationalized by the canadian government. traffic continued to decline as new, more direct railways were built. the last train to hit the lewiston station was in 1956.

this piece of track pointed west/southwest of the station, likely the first stretch on its way to chicago. it set atop a mound of dirt too fragile to support a train, both ends disappearing into the earth. tracks that once knew exactly where they were going, and never moved, now lost.

i left the park, found my car, and took a few roads eastward until i found the bird sanctuary.

within the bird sanctuary are several paths and primitive monuments. although built in recent years, the technique, materials and weathering harkened to a much more ancient history. perhaps colonial. perhaps medieval.

the bird sanctuary's yellow trail ran straight up the middle of the land. i took the red and orange trails through the western half and approached the miller fireplace from the back.

the fire pit yawned with a disturbing serenity. stone benches circled on the decline nearby just before the ground tumbled to an unwalkable steepness. it felt like trespassing.

taking the yellow trail back to the gate, i found anthony's fireplace. though made roughly with the same materials, this felt far more ceremonial and distinguished. two older women were seated on the bench facing the fireplace in silence, gathering their thoughts. i passed the monument and continued walking without filming to avoid disrupting them. as i continued on the trail, i heard them begin to walk. i stopped and played with my phone until they passed me, then turned and approached anthony's fireplace alone.

four curved stone benches mounted in a circular shape, the center of one bench containing the fire pit and chimney that comprised anthony's fireplace. it resembled one of sherman's sentinels from the civil war era; jagged uneven stones burnt on the undersides and sun bleached on the top. a year was etched into the base of one of the benches.


it felt too recent to make sense. i wondered which one of us had seen more in those 18 years.

i came out of the bird sanctuary planning to return home, until i realized i wasn't far from the street where i had spent the first 8 years of my life.

this was once a tightly packed trailer park filled with a dozen or so families built next to a horse racing track, where the summer carnival was held every year. we left the park in 1992, and it was destroyed shortly thereafter due to infestation from rats. the race track had since been converted into a business complex, but the side street was simply ignored. rubble from the various foundations still left in piles, and recent trash from strangers looking for a hideout or a dumping ground was sprinkled in random locations. it looks so small now. i can't even distinguish the one tree we had in our tiny yard from the rest that grew in around it. it wasn't home anymore.

i remember at one point having a race with my brothers and nephew on the street. so i ran again.

we tell our stories to the world around us. walls that are tagged or scribbled on, without pay or permission, constructs built or broken and left in solitude. these stories are personal. these are stories told directly to the earth and left for the earth to tell them back. as time goes by, each story is infused with the same moral of impermanence, reminding us that our past is dead and no longer ours, eating away at the very stories entrusted to it. stories like these are the fading of who we once were. stories from the ruins of a rat town.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thoughts on Roller Skating

Roller skating owns a decent-sized chunk of my life. During this chunk, I’m either watching others do it or doing it myself. Or both. I’m ok with this. It’s a delightful way to forget about troubles, sweat a little bit, and if you’re feeling gassy, cropdust.

But it did get me thinking how we ever decided it was fun. Not everybody can skate. For those who can’t, skating can look like a terrible time. Direction becomes a challenge. Stopping is dependent on a stroke of luck. Gravity is suddenly a mortal threat. It’s a dark and foreboding place to find yourself in, all in the name of... fun?

But, some of us choose to learn how to skate anyway. In fact, as I have learned over time, most people seem to have stared in the eye of such menacing danger as mere children. This includes myself. I pondered this revelation recently, and determined that learning to skate is a mission actually best suited to children, and it’s for two reasons:


Babies seem so fragile, but after a few years, they become remarkably hard to kill. They carry their crying and whining and other displays of defenselessness into these years, but it is merely engrained behavior. A child under attack does not cry out of physical pain, but out of frustration, confusion, or sensing a critical loss of control. In other words, kids don’t cry “OW!”, they cry “WHAT THE F&%^!?”

There is perhaps no greater story I can tell to attest to the invincibility of kids than the time we got a strobe light when I was barely a teenager. It didn’t take us long to figure out that it worked best in the basement at night, where there wasn't a single other light source to interfere.

My nephew Dustin (two months younger than myself) came over some weekend to play with it, and I invited my neighbor friend Denise and her little brother Dennis (with the Mr. T haircut) over to join. Dustin, being the most adventurous of all of us, decided the maximum amount of fun we could have with this thing was dialing the strobe frequency to the lowest setting possible before “off” and running around the cramped concrete basement with three rock-solid support poles at full speed.

I decided to hide inside the hockey net and watch.

I grabbed a hockey stick to flick the upstairs light switch on. As we found Dennis lying dazed on the cement floor, we realized the startlingly loud and out-of-place gong sound came from a support pole being smashed by his face. Denise and Dustin moved in to check on him.

With that, Denise carried her little brother home in her armpit. No crying. Not even a whimper. The next day, the goose egg on his forehead was the only evidence left of the incident.


Kids take a lot of things seriously that adults make fun of them for. But a closer look at the reasoning behind it makes sense. A child may or may not find the act of skating to be interesting. But if the child has friends who skate, there is suddenly much more pressure behind learning to skate as well.

Nobody wants to be the kid at the pool party who can’t swim, or the kid at the makeout party who doesn’t know the first thing about kissing, or the kid who doesn’t know how to ride bikes with his or her friends. These things become more than goofy playground skills. They become rites of passage.

Recently at the Rollodrome, I observed a father trying to teach his daughter to skate.

After swinging her around a few more times, he decided to let her go in the middle at her own pace, which is exactly what she wanted.

A child knows the difference between riding a bike with mom or dad’s hand stopping it from falling over and actually riding a bike. For this child, learning to skate with dad pulling her was not good enough. It wasn’t about father/daughter time anymore. It was about taking a step toward growing up.

She was on a mission. Danger and fear be screwed, she was not leaving that floor until she figured out how to roll those clunky plastic Fisher-Price wheels under her own power...

Monday, December 6, 2010

the joy of song

so i've noticed i have this bad habit of seeing something be awesome, and immediately thinking that i, too, can be that awesome. i blame this on the fact that i daydream uncontrollably roughly 93% of the time that i am awake. just about all stimuli will trigger it. if i'm watching roller derby, i fantasize about being really fast on skates. if i'm watching pro wrestling, i believe i have what it takes to be a champion. and so on. these self-inflated thoughts bounce around tirelessly in my own head, however, i have learned to keep them to myself over time, as they are 100% false.

a few weeks ago, i had seen buzz about a website i had never heard of called "hyperbole and a half." i'm not much for reading, but the contents of this mysterious site were being hailed as "adorable" and "hilarious" among other generally positive adjectives. i was intrigued enough that it stuck in the random fact gizzard of my brain, and eventually, when the content filter was down at work, i decided to explore.

then my boss came in the room.

despite my time on the site being cut short, i was pleasantly surprised to find the rumors true. hyperbole and a half had made me giggle and snort using semi-fancy words to create narratives charmingly accented with crappy child-like illustrations. something about it was fun. and as i explored a little more from my couch at home later that day, i came to a predictable realization.

this notion usually passes as soon as i put pants on. unfortunately, this was a special case. normally, my delusions are about myself excelling at something that i do not have easy access to. the internet just happens to be the perfect forum for assclowns who think they have good ideas to share them, and my home is infested with internets. destiny or doom, it was gonna happen.

i set to work immediately, racking my brain for something to write about and doodling in an attempt to stumble on some inspiration. after several seconds, i realized that even terrible illustrations required way too much effort and quit the whole thing.

despite that, i found myself encouraged one doodle at a time by hyperbole and a half, and soon enough, a story began taking shape around them. and that story is about singing.

i behave strangely when it comes to singing. i do it constantly. at home, in the car, in the shower... it's loud and it's bad. except when i think people can hear me. in those situations, not only do i refuse to sing, but i'm profoundly horrified if i believe someone has heard me. it's illogical and inexplicable. what doesn't help the situation is that i can't remember myself singing in public ever having a positive result.

perhaps the best thing i can do is try to show what goes on in my head when caught singing. it is one of my greatest fears, yet it probably happens more often than i know. at any given time, i may be singing michael jackson's "smooth criminal" absurdly loud, completely oblivious to the fact that i am passing an open window where any number of people may be within earshot.

at this point, i believe i would be rightfully embarrassed. but what should be embarrassment feels more like this.

some may think that singing around people i'm more familiar with would be less traumatic to my hyper-sensitive ego. not necessarily. in fact, in cases of surprise, the opposite is true, as illustrated by the time i butchered bo burnham's "new math" in the shower.

i forgot i gave dad a key.

the only audience i can really perform for is animals. they don't judge talent, they only seem to care for my well-being when i attempt an axl rose rock scream. and it's reassuring to know that no matter how bad i am, they will never hold it against me.

the day my cat needed to go to the vet, she was very distraught and noisy.

there wasn't anything i could do about the cage or weird imbalancing car motion. she needed a distraction, and the best thing i could think of was a nice sappy song that i could never get away with singing to anyone else.

i didn't know the words, but i gave it my best shot.