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We Are Beautiful, We Are Wild

May 18, 2016

We have names for everything, and they are usually in Denglish, the language we speak with each other. The bedrooms in the Wohngemeinschaften, the student housing apartments, open to balconies. Each bedroom has one—large enough for a few huddled smokers or some creative outdoor sex. These buildings look like concrete honeycombs. Some of us live in the Altstadt, the old part of the city, where the cobblestones and bedrooms smell sweet and damp like caves. And some of us live in Eppelheim, in a place called Alcatraz. We find this endlessly funny. Alcatraz is not very prison-like except for all of the exposed concrete and metal. The railings are painted blue and yellow and red.

Tree Houses

April 1, 2015

It’s a Saturday in January, late morning, as Joe Alsobrook slides down the gully side into the creek bottom and hikes far up the creek by himself, a second-hand coat keeping him warm, and a hat that smells like camphor. It’s 1983, a new year, and Joe is eleven years old and lives with his mother and father and two older sisters in their small town in a small house with dirty green shag carpets, peeling linoleum in the kitchen, and an ever-present smell of dog piss. But the house is a good house because it sits next to the gully with the hardwood bottomland and the creek running through it.

The Key

February 5, 2015

I stick my hand inside my coat to unfasten my key from the safety pin, and I can tell by how quick the pin moves, how thin it feels, that the key isn’t there. I cross the street in front of the school bus and make my way to my house. The cold makes the bones in my hands hurt. Fresh snow covers this morning’s dull snow. It looks stiff and tricks me into thinking I can step on it, but I drop through. The skin of my ankle is wet. The wind is an Indian burn.

Ten Years

February 4, 2015

It is six a.m. and the line of cars outside the parking lot is already snaking out of sight. Silver Chevy Blazers, white Ford F150s, SUVs, pickup trucks, an occasional station wagon or ancient Buick idle in the glimmering pre-dawn. I sit with the heat running and read with the dome light on. At six thirty the gates are unlocked and cars start flooding in, filling each row in a disorderly quadrille. I park my black Mercedes between a beige station wagon that looks like someone bashed in the taillights with a baseball bat and a shiny white Escalade.

The Zhangs and the Zumans

February 2, 2015

One Saturday afternoon, Mark and Annie Zhang decided to visit their tenants, Frank and Naomi Olivetti. They wanted to see for themselves the purportedly amazing landscaping work the Olivettis had completed over the past few months, as reported via one of their former neighbors, Mrs. Winifred Callahan. Mrs. Callahan had initially contacted Mark and Annie about a downed maple she had insisted, quite rightly, that the Zhangs remove from her yard after a windstorm knocked it down from the Olivetti/Zhang side. This the Zhangs accomplished with upstanding promptness, hiring the EZ Tree Company whose phone number and reputation (“expensive but good”) Mrs. Callahan had conveniently furnished, along with an unsolicited update on the Olivettis.

Just Plain Rosie

February 1, 2015

The voice-over from channel seven said, “The Pick-Four number for Friday night, September 25, 2009, is zero, three, seven, five.”
Ed almost leapt from his sofa. “We’re rich, Mister Brown, we’re rich!” His house mate, a large Chocolate Lab, lifted his head, yawned widely and eyed Ed skeptically. “Okay, not really. But hey—a thousand bucks isn’t exactly chump-change, is it, big guy?” Ed ruffled Mister Brown’s ears and turned back to the television. There she was, Lady Luck, in another ad for the Virginia State Lottery.