PRETTYFAKES

Polaroids by the Artist
David McCarty
of Jackson, Mississippi
I just stood there on the sidewalk for a minute, staring at the pastel reflection of the neon sign from the jeweler across the street. Tightened the scarf around my neck; hunched my shoulders. Years ago someone had carefully painted these letters on the store window, and now the sun and time and the sodium streetlights had revealed every brushstroke. Each letter was golden, a black shadow dropped to the left of each one, with pencil-thin white for highlights.
I leaned forward and pressed my forehead up against the glass. It felt like a Coca-Cola bottle in July, the kind you could get out of a vending machine at the Forestdale Pool when I was little, the bottles slender and green, yanked out through the circular grate with a dull and violent clank. It had been a few months, maybe even a year, since I’d been back. The wind burned my ears. A stubby white Christmas tree made out of plastic sat on a dusty wooden table in the window. It was decorated with a dozen red poinsettias, synthetic as the tree. I wondered who painted the sign, wondered what they looked like.
I remembered there had been a Salvation Army around the corner, shoehorned into an old movie theatre.  I found an Otis Redding record there one time for three bucks, and even though “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was scratched, the rest of it sounded brand new.  The thrift store was long closed, and I marveled what had to happen for a Salvation Army to go out of business.  I wondered what they did with all the records when they shut it down, suddenly fretted at the thought of Volt and Tamla promotional singles shattered beneath black and white TVs down at the county landfill in Bessemer.
A car alarm throbbed in the background. It began to sync up with the pulse beating through my cheeks and face against the shop window. My phone buzzed once in my pocket, then again. Two text messages in rapid succession. I tried to remember what was even on the menu that I could eat. Did they even have an actual salad you could order, or was it just a trio of fist-sized bowls filled with creamed corn and asparagus and boiled potatoes? It didn’t really matter, I would just eat a few rolls and drink coffee either way. The alarm shut off.
The phone buzzed in my pocket again. I leaned back from the window. There were three little cartoon kids standing on the last letter, pulling another one up by a thick brown brushstroke. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked down at it. Where r u? I looked at the sign. The car alarm started up again. The phone buzzed in my hand:  incoming call from MOM. I looked at the little boy climbing on the letter in the sign. “SAVE THE YOUTH,” it said.
Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Bessemer, Alabama

I just stood there on the sidewalk for a minute, staring at the pastel reflection of the neon sign from the jeweler across the street. Tightened the scarf around my neck; hunched my shoulders. Years ago someone had carefully painted these letters on the store window, and now the sun and time and the sodium streetlights had revealed every brushstroke. Each letter was golden, a black shadow dropped to the left of each one, with pencil-thin white for highlights.

I leaned forward and pressed my forehead up against the glass. It felt like a Coca-Cola bottle in July, the kind you could get out of a vending machine at the Forestdale Pool when I was little, the bottles slender and green, yanked out through the circular grate with a dull and violent clank. It had been a few months, maybe even a year, since I’d been back. The wind burned my ears. A stubby white Christmas tree made out of plastic sat on a dusty wooden table in the window. It was decorated with a dozen red poinsettias, synthetic as the tree. I wondered who painted the sign, wondered what they looked like.

I remembered there had been a Salvation Army around the corner, shoehorned into an old movie theatre.  I found an Otis Redding record there one time for three bucks, and even though “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was scratched, the rest of it sounded brand new.  The thrift store was long closed, and I marveled what had to happen for a Salvation Army to go out of business.  I wondered what they did with all the records when they shut it down, suddenly fretted at the thought of Volt and Tamla promotional singles shattered beneath black and white TVs down at the county landfill in Bessemer.

A car alarm throbbed in the background. It began to sync up with the pulse beating through my cheeks and face against the shop window. My phone buzzed once in my pocket, then again. Two text messages in rapid succession. I tried to remember what was even on the menu that I could eat. Did they even have an actual salad you could order, or was it just a trio of fist-sized bowls filled with creamed corn and asparagus and boiled potatoes? It didn’t really matter, I would just eat a few rolls and drink coffee either way. The alarm shut off.

The phone buzzed in my pocket again. I leaned back from the window. There were three little cartoon kids standing on the last letter, pulling another one up by a thick brown brushstroke. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked down at it. Where r u? I looked at the sign. The car alarm started up again. The phone buzzed in my hand:  incoming call from MOM. I looked at the little boy climbing on the letter in the sign. “SAVE THE YOUTH,” it said.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Bessemer, Alabama

To celebrate the first day of summer here’s ELECTRIC CITY, a little zine I made featuring 5 Polaroids of nighttime scenes from Mississippi, plus a story about the Waffle House. They’re free if you want one, just email me your address at davidmccarty at gmail!

To celebrate the first day of summer here’s ELECTRIC CITY, a little zine I made featuring 5 Polaroids of nighttime scenes from Mississippi, plus a story about the Waffle House. They’re free if you want one, just email me your address at davidmccarty at gmail!

This is the one Waffle House in Mississippi that’s not just bone-shatteringly cold.  You know because you froze to death in them in high school and trips back home at Thanksgiving and Christmas and summer, trips that gradually dwindled to every-other Christmas, down to “we’re going to try to make it this year, I promise.”
The glowing yellow rectangle is jammed into the parking lot of a gas station.  You wonder why more don’t do that.  Even so, it’s quiet, like an aging suburban library with tall metal shelves stuffed with faddish books that nobody reads anymore, hardback copies of The Thorn Birds and Michener’s Hawaii and Reader’s Digest Condensed books, stuff your grandmother devoured.  You feel like you could actually relax here, it’s not filled with shouting drunk twentysomethings hogging the booths and vomiting in the bathroom sinks, no intense trucker guy sitting at the counter hissing like a ferret at anybody that walked too close, nobody with face tattoos talking about a court date.  In other words, unlike every other Waffle House in Mississippi you’ve ever been in, some of which take on a palpable aura of danger at a certain point in the night.
A young woman in a pink Waffle House cap makes her way, roundabout like, to the booth you picked—what seemed like a good booth, one where you can see the unlocked back of the U-Haul, the padlock left somewhere hundreds of miles north, far north enough that you’ve given up trying to remember what gas station or terrifying motor court you left it at, tried desperately to stop trying to remember, anyway, still grinding molars and squinting eyes even as I-55 snaked across state lines from Memphis to Southaven.  
Pink Hat has freckles and a big button with a picture of a little boy in a Cubs hat on it, and three or four dollar bills pinned to her starched apron, one of them fanned out prettily like an accordion.  “Hey, welcome to Waffle House, what can I get you to drink,” she says without actually asking a question.  “Coffee and a water, please,” you croak.  You realize you haven’t talked all day, other than mumbling a quiet “thank you” to a man at a 7-11 ten hours ago.  
“The coffee—well, the coffee ain’t no good,” Pink Hat laughs.  “Nobody know what happen, but—but listen.  You don’t want it,” she smiles, and from behind the counter there is hyena-like laughter.  “Just water, then,” you manage, and then, remembering suddenly, like a second cousin you’d forgotten:  “Is it your birthday?”
Pink Hat’s freckles stretch out as her smile squints her eyes into little slits.  “YES!” she screams, and spins around, like an actual 360 degree spin.  “Twenty four, my friend,” she says, drawing out the “four,” and spreading her arms wide like a magician, or maybe a ballet dancer.  
“Awesome, happy birthday,” you say, feeling a little embarrassed that you said “awesome.”  She grins and like runs off for the water.
You contemplate that maybe Waffle Houses are kind of mid-modern in design, look around at the molded plastic booths and wonder if this one is old or new, briefly consider looking up on Wikipedia if anyone has written about it.  The thought of doing this fills you with a sense of shame, so instead you inhale slowly and stare out the window at the back of the U-Haul, thinking that you have paid more money to rent that lumbering thing and drive it across America than for all the mostly-Ikea furniture crammed inside, some of it now probably broken after an accidental swerve last night.  
You mentally count the money in your pocket one more time, hoping you have an extra dollar for Pink Hat’s birthday, suddenly wanting more than anything in the world to see her pin that dollar to her apron.  
Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Miss.

This is the one Waffle House in Mississippi that’s not just bone-shatteringly cold.  You know because you froze to death in them in high school and trips back home at Thanksgiving and Christmas and summer, trips that gradually dwindled to every-other Christmas, down to “we’re going to try to make it this year, I promise.”

The glowing yellow rectangle is jammed into the parking lot of a gas station.  You wonder why more don’t do that.  Even so, it’s quiet, like an aging suburban library with tall metal shelves stuffed with faddish books that nobody reads anymore, hardback copies of The Thorn Birds and Michener’s Hawaii and Reader’s Digest Condensed books, stuff your grandmother devoured.  You feel like you could actually relax here, it’s not filled with shouting drunk twentysomethings hogging the booths and vomiting in the bathroom sinks, no intense trucker guy sitting at the counter hissing like a ferret at anybody that walked too close, nobody with face tattoos talking about a court date.  In other words, unlike every other Waffle House in Mississippi you’ve ever been in, some of which take on a palpable aura of danger at a certain point in the night.

A young woman in a pink Waffle House cap makes her way, roundabout like, to the booth you picked—what seemed like a good booth, one where you can see the unlocked back of the U-Haul, the padlock left somewhere hundreds of miles north, far north enough that you’ve given up trying to remember what gas station or terrifying motor court you left it at, tried desperately to stop trying to remember, anyway, still grinding molars and squinting eyes even as I-55 snaked across state lines from Memphis to Southaven. 

Pink Hat has freckles and a big button with a picture of a little boy in a Cubs hat on it, and three or four dollar bills pinned to her starched apron, one of them fanned out prettily like an accordion.  “Hey, welcome to Waffle House, what can I get you to drink,” she says without actually asking a question.  “Coffee and a water, please,” you croak.  You realize you haven’t talked all day, other than mumbling a quiet “thank you” to a man at a 7-11 ten hours ago. 

“The coffee—well, the coffee ain’t no good,” Pink Hat laughs.  “Nobody know what happen, but—but listen.  You don’t want it,” she smiles, and from behind the counter there is hyena-like laughter.  “Just water, then,” you manage, and then, remembering suddenly, like a second cousin you’d forgotten:  “Is it your birthday?”

Pink Hat’s freckles stretch out as her smile squints her eyes into little slits.  “YES!” she screams, and spins around, like an actual 360 degree spin.  “Twenty four, my friend,” she says, drawing out the “four,” and spreading her arms wide like a magician, or maybe a ballet dancer. 

“Awesome, happy birthday,” you say, feeling a little embarrassed that you said “awesome.”  She grins and like runs off for the water.

You contemplate that maybe Waffle Houses are kind of mid-modern in design, look around at the molded plastic booths and wonder if this one is old or new, briefly consider looking up on Wikipedia if anyone has written about it.  The thought of doing this fills you with a sense of shame, so instead you inhale slowly and stare out the window at the back of the U-Haul, thinking that you have paid more money to rent that lumbering thing and drive it across America than for all the mostly-Ikea furniture crammed inside, some of it now probably broken after an accidental swerve last night. 

You mentally count the money in your pocket one more time, hoping you have an extra dollar for Pink Hat’s birthday, suddenly wanting more than anything in the world to see her pin that dollar to her apron. 

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Miss.

On Monday the New York Times published “Being Called a Plain Jane,” by the artist Ashley Gates.  Even though it is less than 200 words, the writer creates a world you can see immediately, and perhaps more importantly, even feel—the new warmth of Spring, soft enough still that it would be worth walking twenty blocks; the unyielding stone of the steps; the certain feel of turning the plastic cap on a bottle of water.  The effect is as luminous as a full moon.
This very precise deftness is a hallmark of her writing, which often features a bittersweet, almost dizzying mix of hilarity and resigned confusion in the face of an overwhelming world.  This is strikingly apparent in “I Need to Tell You Something,” where an offhand comment by a deli employee triggers a host of increasingly frantic internal responses ricocheting from heartbreak to cancer to robbery in nanoseconds.
Much of Ashley’s writing deals with the difficulty adults face as they grow from the child they once were—or, in many ways, the remaining memories of their childhood.  In “Synesthesia,” an unknown and unidentified smell on the subway triggers an intense recollection of a piano lesson from years past.  
In a more recent story, the grown-up writer dreams vividly of seeing the second-grade version of herself, complete with family, and struggles even to talk to the miniature version of herself for fear of disappointment. 
Key to decoding these stories is understanding that childhood isn’t some soft-focus montage of laughter and balloons.  Instead, it’s a blend of “both wonder and despair,” where even the happiest child might be perplexed with the threat of loss, or threatened with perpetual confinement.  We could watch Elliott fly with E.T. in the movies, but there was no equal freedom for children in the real world.  Even Santa might end up being a disappointment.  
But keep flipping past the omnipresent trauma of childhood and there’s a deep and wry humor.  Like how to deal with heatwaves (1950s pop instrumentals and crying, obviously), of what her mom thinks of online dating, of what to do when there is a child stuck to your leg in a store.  And of course peppered throughout the writing on Cosmopsis is Ashley’s stellar photography, balancing and complementing the richness of the writing.  
Then there are the stories which are so personal that you almost recoil from their intensity—when Ashley reveals almost dying as a teenager, or her fear of flying.  
The crown jewel of Cosmopsis might be “Pain In My Heart,” where the writer distills the three minutes of a soul song and the simple act of making a grilled cheese into heartbreaking revelation.  The most intimate details of her life unfurl for the reader while she sways back and forth, talking on the phone with her mom, the delicate poetry of the words bobbing and weaving through the almost audible, tangible voice of Otis Redding.  The effect is exactly the one achieved in “Being Called a Plain Jane,” where you just know the Yankees sweatshirt the man wears is a little worn, because you can feel it.  In “Pain In My Heart” you can smell the burning sandwich, the weight shifting from foot to foot, the delicate pattern on the memory eggs.
The body of work created by Ashley Gates is already stunning.  It is a grand thing to live in a world with writing this beautiful.

On Monday the New York Times published “Being Called a Plain Jane,” by the artist Ashley Gates.  Even though it is less than 200 words, the writer creates a world you can see immediately, and perhaps more importantly, even feel—the new warmth of Spring, soft enough still that it would be worth walking twenty blocks; the unyielding stone of the steps; the certain feel of turning the plastic cap on a bottle of water.  The effect is as luminous as a full moon.

This very precise deftness is a hallmark of her writing, which often features a bittersweet, almost dizzying mix of hilarity and resigned confusion in the face of an overwhelming world.  This is strikingly apparent in “I Need to Tell You Something,” where an offhand comment by a deli employee triggers a host of increasingly frantic internal responses ricocheting from heartbreak to cancer to robbery in nanoseconds.

Much of Ashley’s writing deals with the difficulty adults face as they grow from the child they once were—or, in many ways, the remaining memories of their childhood.  In “Synesthesia,” an unknown and unidentified smell on the subway triggers an intense recollection of a piano lesson from years past. 

In a more recent story, the grown-up writer dreams vividly of seeing the second-grade version of herself, complete with family, and struggles even to talk to the miniature version of herself for fear of disappointment. 

Key to decoding these stories is understanding that childhood isn’t some soft-focus montage of laughter and balloons.  Instead, it’s a blend of “both wonder and despair,” where even the happiest child might be perplexed with the threat of loss, or threatened with perpetual confinement.  We could watch Elliott fly with E.T. in the movies, but there was no equal freedom for children in the real world.  Even Santa might end up being a disappointment. 

But keep flipping past the omnipresent trauma of childhood and there’s a deep and wry humor.  Like how to deal with heatwaves (1950s pop instrumentals and crying, obviously), of what her mom thinks of online dating, of what to do when there is a child stuck to your leg in a store.  And of course peppered throughout the writing on Cosmopsis is Ashley’s stellar photography, balancing and complementing the richness of the writing. 

Then there are the stories which are so personal that you almost recoil from their intensity—when Ashley reveals almost dying as a teenager, or her fear of flying.  

The crown jewel of Cosmopsis might be “Pain In My Heart,” where the writer distills the three minutes of a soul song and the simple act of making a grilled cheese into heartbreaking revelation.  The most intimate details of her life unfurl for the reader while she sways back and forth, talking on the phone with her mom, the delicate poetry of the words bobbing and weaving through the almost audible, tangible voice of Otis Redding.  The effect is exactly the one achieved in “Being Called a Plain Jane,” where you just know the Yankees sweatshirt the man wears is a little worn, because you can feel it.  In “Pain In My Heart” you can smell the burning sandwich, the weight shifting from foot to foot, the delicate pattern on the memory eggs.

The body of work created by Ashley Gates is already stunning.  It is a grand thing to live in a world with writing this beautiful.

What:  Little Big Store
Where:  Raymond, Mississippi
Who:  Betty Jo Strachan, Owner
What, for real:  One of those hidden Mississippi gems, a retired railroad depot jammed top to bottom with records, cassettes, 8-tracks, and cds, from every conceivable genre and time period.  It’s a treasure for music lovers, an essential trip even just to marvel at the physical space.  I popped in to buy some 45s and ask Betty some questions.
First record you ever bought:  Meet the Beatles
First record ever sold at Little Big Store:  Electric Mud, by Muddy Waters
How many records are in your store:  “Billions and billions”
All-Time Favorite song:  “Smokestack Lightning,” by Howlin’ Wolf
Quote:  “Elvis is a god”
Most expensive records ever sold:  estimated that it was a tie at $200 each for an LP by the Crystals and an early RCA 78 by Elvis
Record I bought on my visit:  “It Never Rains in California,” by Albert Hammond, Jr
How many copies were available:  3
How much:  $3
Did I get pulled over on the way back for going 40 m.p.h.:  Yes
Ha ha, really?:  Yes
But isn’t that song grand?  Yes
Polaroid 600 B&W.  A previous visit. 
  • What:  Little Big Store
  • Where:  Raymond, Mississippi
  • Who:  Betty Jo Strachan, Owner
  • What, for real:  One of those hidden Mississippi gems, a retired railroad depot jammed top to bottom with records, cassettes, 8-tracks, and cds, from every conceivable genre and time period.  It’s a treasure for music lovers, an essential trip even just to marvel at the physical space.  I popped in to buy some 45s and ask Betty some questions.
  • First record you ever bought:  Meet the Beatles
  • First record ever sold at Little Big Store:  Electric Mud, by Muddy Waters
  • How many records are in your store:  “Billions and billions”
  • All-Time Favorite song:  “Smokestack Lightning,” by Howlin’ Wolf
  • Quote:  “Elvis is a god”
  • Most expensive records ever sold:  estimated that it was a tie at $200 each for an LP by the Crystals and an early RCA 78 by Elvis
  • Record I bought on my visit:  “It Never Rains in California,” by Albert Hammond, Jr
  • How many copies were available:  3
  • How much:  $3
  • Did I get pulled over on the way back for going 40 m.p.h.:  Yes
  • Ha ha, really?:  Yes
  • But isn’t that song grand?  Yes

Polaroid 600 B&W.  A previous visit

Twenty years ago we were still teenagers, still going home once a month and cruising down the streets we grew up on, still building death traps out of rusting Detroit steel.  We were riding in that Trans Am you bolted together in high school, an engine big as a St. Bernard jammed under the hood, half a dozen clearcoats gleaming over silver paint.  The first girl I ever loved was nestled in the back seat, and we were taking her around Birmingham and Forestdale and all the old places we grew up, and let’s be honest, we weren’t listening to the Pixies or even Nirvana, we were listening to Counting Crows and Stone Temple Pilots, playing driving-around-music with the windows down.  
I loved that Trans Am.  I loved that it could actually get fast enough that it was scary, that you could feel the heft of it beneath you as it roared, even though I could never get the dang door shut on my side, those bafflingly heavy metal wings that had sagged over the years, wouldn’t latch good.
I suppose that machine had retractable seatbelts—unlike my Camaro or the El Camino, which only had lap belts—but there’s no way we would have been wearing them back then, cloaked in the invincibility of the still-young, babies with hair down to our shoulders.  My major remained undeclared and I still dreamed of being a painter.  
So when you floored it and jerked hard pulling out of the Arby’s parking lot, going into a heavy U on the sleepy four-lane, and my passenger side door shot open, there was nothing to hold me back from the rushing pavement, scraping Pontiac steel spitting sparks in my face as it sanded down the Alabama asphalt.  
A scream from the back seat mingled with “Plush” as your right hand shot out and grabbed my shirt—you put the TA in a muscular left jag and whipped me back into the cabin using a precise mathematical formula known to anybody that’s ever been on a Tilt-A-Whirl—and I did my part by using the same inertia to pull that tricky door shut on my way back in.  
Your eyes were locked on the road.  There was still screaming from the backseat.  I realized that I was calm.  The Trans Am growled.  
We turned on the road to my grandparents’ house, the same road they’d lived on since our fathers were friends twenty years before, since they’d cobbled together deathtraps and screamed them up and down Highway 78.
At breakfast today we laughed and talked about small things and big things, tornados and water meters, breakfast talk.  Your daughter chanted “daddy daddy daddy,” her blues eyes flashing in the fluorescent lights of the diner.  When we got up to leave you put out that same right hand for her—that sure hand, that quick and strong hand—and she put her tiny little version in yours.  Then you lifted her up, and we walked out into the morning light.

Twenty years ago we were still teenagers, still going home once a month and cruising down the streets we grew up on, still building death traps out of rusting Detroit steel.  We were riding in that Trans Am you bolted together in high school, an engine big as a St. Bernard jammed under the hood, half a dozen clearcoats gleaming over silver paint.  The first girl I ever loved was nestled in the back seat, and we were taking her around Birmingham and Forestdale and all the old places we grew up, and let’s be honest, we weren’t listening to the Pixies or even Nirvana, we were listening to Counting Crows and Stone Temple Pilots, playing driving-around-music with the windows down. 

I loved that Trans Am.  I loved that it could actually get fast enough that it was scary, that you could feel the heft of it beneath you as it roared, even though I could never get the dang door shut on my side, those bafflingly heavy metal wings that had sagged over the years, wouldn’t latch good.

I suppose that machine had retractable seatbelts—unlike my Camaro or the El Camino, which only had lap belts—but there’s no way we would have been wearing them back then, cloaked in the invincibility of the still-young, babies with hair down to our shoulders.  My major remained undeclared and I still dreamed of being a painter. 

So when you floored it and jerked hard pulling out of the Arby’s parking lot, going into a heavy U on the sleepy four-lane, and my passenger side door shot open, there was nothing to hold me back from the rushing pavement, scraping Pontiac steel spitting sparks in my face as it sanded down the Alabama asphalt. 

A scream from the back seat mingled with “Plush” as your right hand shot out and grabbed my shirt—you put the TA in a muscular left jag and whipped me back into the cabin using a precise mathematical formula known to anybody that’s ever been on a Tilt-A-Whirl—and I did my part by using the same inertia to pull that tricky door shut on my way back in. 

Your eyes were locked on the road.  There was still screaming from the backseat.  I realized that I was calm.  The Trans Am growled. 

We turned on the road to my grandparents’ house, the same road they’d lived on since our fathers were friends twenty years before, since they’d cobbled together deathtraps and screamed them up and down Highway 78.

At breakfast today we laughed and talked about small things and big things, tornados and water meters, breakfast talk.  Your daughter chanted “daddy daddy daddy,” her blues eyes flashing in the fluorescent lights of the diner.  When we got up to leave you put out that same right hand for her—that sure hand, that quick and strong hand—and she put her tiny little version in yours.  Then you lifted her up, and we walked out into the morning light.

Scattered, smothered, covered, & peppered // Jackson, Miss. // Polaroid 600 B&W

Scattered, smothered, covered, & peppered // Jackson, Miss. // Polaroid 600 B&W

Caitlin McAnally Cox + Cody Cox // Jackson, Miss. // Polaroid 600 B&W
Today I lured the duo known as Liver Mousse over to my apartment for pizza and Polaroids.  I’ve been talking about taking photos of the matching Mississippis on their arms for weeks.  The duality is comforting to me—his points to his wrist, hers to heart, mirroring yet somehow completely different, just as their music can veer from the soft folk of a 1950s country song to a busted-speaker garage stomper.
We got Domino’s and listened to a Fleetwood Mac bootleg from today’s date in 1977 and then some Gene Clark and Caitlin talked about mowing their yard in a zig zag and Cody talked about writing his name in the snow on a New Year’s Eve in north Mississippi.  They put up with me running around the room trying to light them a certain way for the Polaroid, and then turning the lights on and off and moving them around so I could take photos of the Polaroids to post on Instagram. 
Here are two things that capture the essence of both of them, and how kind they both are:  when I began to furrow my brow or worry about an angle, Caitlin would say “you’re doing great!” in the most sincere way, and I couldn’t help but smile.  And Cody brought me a mix cd with handwritten liner notes, stuffed with Pixies and Paul Simon and Nick Cave and Jay-Z and Tom Waits and Pavement.
There was also a lot of love expressed for Muppets Take Manhattan.

Caitlin McAnally Cox + Cody Cox // Jackson, Miss. // Polaroid 600 B&W

Today I lured the duo known as Liver Mousse over to my apartment for pizza and Polaroids.  I’ve been talking about taking photos of the matching Mississippis on their arms for weeks.  The duality is comforting to me—his points to his wrist, hers to heart, mirroring yet somehow completely different, just as their music can veer from the soft folk of a 1950s country song to a busted-speaker garage stomper.

We got Domino’s and listened to a Fleetwood Mac bootleg from today’s date in 1977 and then some Gene Clark and Caitlin talked about mowing their yard in a zig zag and Cody talked about writing his name in the snow on a New Year’s Eve in north Mississippi.  They put up with me running around the room trying to light them a certain way for the Polaroid, and then turning the lights on and off and moving them around so I could take photos of the Polaroids to post on Instagram. 

Here are two things that capture the essence of both of them, and how kind they both are:  when I began to furrow my brow or worry about an angle, Caitlin would say “you’re doing great!” in the most sincere way, and I couldn’t help but smile.  And Cody brought me a mix cd with handwritten liner notes, stuffed with Pixies and Paul Simon and Nick Cave and Jay-Z and Tom Waits and Pavement.

There was also a lot of love expressed for Muppets Take Manhattan.

When he was little, the New York writer Willie Morris would ride the bus down from his home in Yazoo to see his grandparents.  (Like many Mississippi artists, he was melded both to the South and that great City).  “Sometimes in the summer I wouldn’t even let them know I was coming,” he wrote in Good Old Boy, sneaking in their house and pulling pranks so they’d think the house was haunted.  The young writer carved his name into the magnolia tree in his grandparents’ front yard, the one facing the Jitney-Jungle’s new 14th store, which was air-conditioned.  
The house where the grandparents of Willie Morris lived is long gone, and the tree now gnarled and misshapen, and a vandal scratched out the name of the writer from the trunk of the tree.  Yet the magnolia still flowers in the spring, still has wide leaves as green as those seen by the young writer of Yazoo and New York all those decades ago.

When he was little, the New York writer Willie Morris would ride the bus down from his home in Yazoo to see his grandparents.  (Like many Mississippi artists, he was melded both to the South and that great City).  “Sometimes in the summer I wouldn’t even let them know I was coming,” he wrote in Good Old Boy, sneaking in their house and pulling pranks so they’d think the house was haunted.  The young writer carved his name into the magnolia tree in his grandparents’ front yard, the one facing the Jitney-Jungle’s new 14th store, which was air-conditioned. 

The house where the grandparents of Willie Morris lived is long gone, and the tree now gnarled and misshapen, and a vandal scratched out the name of the writer from the trunk of the tree.  Yet the magnolia still flowers in the spring, still has wide leaves as green as those seen by the young writer of Yazoo and New York all those decades ago.

At the beginning of Spring I met the writer Mary Miller for coffee, and asked her about her novel Last Days of California.  Having grown up in an evangelical home in Alabama, it was achingly familiar.  My family never packed up everything and drove to the edge of America to wait on the Lord to break through the clouds, but plenty of summers to visit grandparents in Tennessee echoed the road trip life in her book—Moon Pies and gas station bathrooms and vaguely dangerous, half-deserted motor courts. 

It was the kind of book you loaned out after you finished it, after you’d stayed up a little too late on a Wednesday night reading it, chewing on phrases and texting friends the little jewels scattered throughout—shining, tiny valuables betraying Mary’s origin in short stories and flash fiction, where every word counts.

We talked about writing and how creating can be so hard sometimes, contemplated the lonely, yawning gap between The Secret History and The Little Friend, and about the people we cared for and wished were closer to us.  We hopped in the car and listened to Abbey Road during a trip down the street, and then we stood in the garden of the artist Eudora Welty and took a clutch of Polaroids just as daylight was running away.

Selected Google Searches from the Past Two Weeks:
where is walker percy buriedrevolving toothbrush holdertoad the wet sprocket walk on the ocean lyricsyoung and the restless themewhy are flags at half mast todayhow long is flash fictionhow long is a short storythe owls are not what they seemgun street girl lyricspink quartz meaningorange calcite propertiesbest kitten photo evermaude claythe band the night they drove old dixie downcardinalblue jaydrive all night springsteen lyricsis there a word that means sadness after returning home from a tripdefine grace
Polaroid 669 film // Polaroid 420 Land Camera // New Orleans, Louisiana // November, 2008

Selected Google Searches from the Past Two Weeks:

where is walker percy buried
revolving toothbrush holder
toad the wet sprocket walk on the ocean lyrics
young and the restless theme
why are flags at half mast today
how long is flash fiction
how long is a short story
the owls are not what they seem
gun street girl lyrics
pink quartz meaning
orange calcite properties
best kitten photo ever
maude clay
the band the night they drove old dixie down
cardinal
blue jay
drive all night springsteen lyrics
is there a word that means sadness after returning home from a trip
define grace

Polaroid 669 film // Polaroid 420 Land Camera // New Orleans, Louisiana // November, 2008

Your Town, That One Night You Swore You’d Never Forget // You Forgot // Polaroid 600, 20xx

Your Town, That One Night You Swore You’d Never Forget // You Forgot // Polaroid 600, 20xx

So Friday night it was really late and Cosmopsis and I had been working on Polaroid transfers all day and eaten fantastic Mexican takeout and I was pretty tired, but I had this new black & white film, and there was an idea kicking around in my head all day.

So I asked her “do you want to go to Times Square and take pictures?” Without hesitation she said “yes!” And so we did, and we took these photos, plus she got a Brooklyn Nets hat
.

May 2014 // Polaroid 600 B&W

In 1917 an artist named Jacob Kurtzberg was born in this building on the Lower East Side of New York City. Twenty three years later he drew a picture of a man clothed in the flag of the United States punching a person named Adolf Hitler in the face, a full year before the U.S. would go to war against Germany, but after folks had heard murmurs of what was happening.
The artist got death threats for the picture, which was published on the cover of a newsprint magazine filled with lots of other color drawings he did as well. It sold almost a million copies. The Mayor of the City, Fiorella La Guardia, called the artist to tell him that he supported him and his drawing.
In 1943 the artist was drafted into the Army, where he served as a reconnaissance scout, because he could draw maps and other useful things. He also saw things other people didn’t see, or would never see; maybe couldn’t see, or shouldn’t see. Private First Class Kurtzberg came back to the U.S. with a bronze medal shaped like a star, just like the one on the chest of the man who punched Hitler in the face.
The artist kept drawing; drew until his body stopped being able to draw. He drew the world, he drew a universe! He drew the man in the flag, named Captain America; he gave him friends named Thor and Iron Man, made them a team, called the Avengers. He drew another team of New Yorkers named the Fantastic Four, another team of New Yorkers named the X-Men, who were hunted and feared because they were born different, even though they looked just like you and me. The Black Panther, genius king of Wakanda. So many new gods, so many New Gods!
When I say the artist “drew” these characters, I mean “dreamed.” Until he drew them, they weren’t real yet; the artist dreamed them into being, pulled these myths into our world from deep inside.
The man born in this building in 1917 as Jacob Kurtzberg had other names. Children by the billion called him “Jack Kirby.” I call him “KING.” There’s no plaque on the brick of 147 Essex Street with any of these names. There doesn’t need to be. Don’t you know why? Didn’t you see the clerk at the Strand wearing the shield of Captain America on her shirt, see a graffitied and fading billboard for the Avengers in the Union Square station, see the baby in the stroller yesterday in an Iron Man onesie? New York City itself in the 21st century is a plaque to Jack Kirby.
Plus like acorns falling from an oak there are millions more plaques to Jack Kirby printed every month, billions printed since 1943. We call the dreams he drew “comic books,” call the people he drew “heroes,” all these dreams are brighter than the star on the chest of that soldier punching Hitler in the face.

In 1917 an artist named Jacob Kurtzberg was born in this building on the Lower East Side of New York City. Twenty three years later he drew a picture of a man clothed in the flag of the United States punching a person named Adolf Hitler in the face, a full year before the U.S. would go to war against Germany, but after folks had heard murmurs of what was happening.

The artist got death threats for the picture, which was published on the cover of a newsprint magazine filled with lots of other color drawings he did as well. It sold almost a million copies. The Mayor of the City, Fiorella La Guardia, called the artist to tell him that he supported him and his drawing.

In 1943 the artist was drafted into the Army, where he served as a reconnaissance scout, because he could draw maps and other useful things. He also saw things other people didn’t see, or would never see; maybe couldn’t see, or shouldn’t see. Private First Class Kurtzberg came back to the U.S. with a bronze medal shaped like a star, just like the one on the chest of the man who punched Hitler in the face.

The artist kept drawing; drew until his body stopped being able to draw. He drew the world, he drew a universe! He drew the man in the flag, named Captain America; he gave him friends named Thor and Iron Man, made them a team, called the Avengers. He drew another team of New Yorkers named the Fantastic Four, another team of New Yorkers named the X-Men, who were hunted and feared because they were born different, even though they looked just like you and me. The Black Panther, genius king of Wakanda. So many new gods, so many New Gods!

When I say the artist “drew” these characters, I mean “dreamed.” Until he drew them, they weren’t real yet; the artist dreamed them into being, pulled these myths into our world from deep inside.

The man born in this building in 1917 as Jacob Kurtzberg had other names. Children by the billion called him “Jack Kirby.” I call him “KING.” There’s no plaque on the brick of 147 Essex Street with any of these names. There doesn’t need to be. Don’t you know why? Didn’t you see the clerk at the Strand wearing the shield of Captain America on her shirt, see a graffitied and fading billboard for the Avengers in the Union Square station, see the baby in the stroller yesterday in an Iron Man onesie? New York City itself in the 21st century is a plaque to Jack Kirby.

Plus like acorns falling from an oak there are millions more
plaques to Jack Kirby printed every month, billions printed since 1943. We call the dreams he drew “comic books,” call the people he drew “heroes,” all these dreams are brighter than the star on the chest of that soldier punching Hitler in the face.