March 28, 2009

The Jukeboxes of Clarksville, Pt. 1

I was saving this to get published somewhere else, but it doesn't seem to quite fit anywhere I'm looking to put it. Besides, it's not like I'm going to get paid for it.

This is a fairly extensive rework of a previously posted blog. This first part should look familiar to people who follow my foolishness, but the next couple installments are substantially new.

Oh, and sorry about double posting the poem, but I decided to leave it in even though it's already here.

The Hut on the Trail West

The Pizza Hut on Lewis and Clark Parkway stands largely silent. In the J-Town Pizza Hut, the jukebox spews top songs until someone ponies up some change to play something different. Here, however, silence is the rule rather than the exception, and the austerity is matched by the empty tables – no grated cheese, no crushed red pepper, no salt, no pepper.

The jukebox is one of those modern CD jobs, 4 plays for a buck, 25 for a five, filled only half full. Lots of cowboy hats, lots of classic rock, that's what this Clarksville jukebox has. Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger, Martina McBride, John Mellencamp, John Mayer, and lots and lots of cheap compilations – rap, r & b, rock, country, all straight off the radio . . . the only thing that would earn a worn dollar bill from my pocket is Johnny Cash's 16 Hits.

A couple of the employees are hanging with friends at a corner table. They are loud, but not obnoxious. They are older than average pizza jockeys (this being late afternoon, the kids are in school), of ambiguous age somewhere between a hard-rode 35 and a weathered-but-youthful 48. I jump a little when, from out of nowhere, the jukebox springs to life. It's some generic manicured cowboy hat. As suddenly as the jukebox blares awake, it again falls silent. In the three times I've eaten there, I've heard three songs: two cowboy hats, and one hippie lite jam which I imagine was Dave Matthews . . . it seems no matter how many times I hear Dave Matthews, I never can register how he really sounds.

Driving back to the store at the end of my break, I think about those soldiers who go in before the bombers fly and "paint" infrared tags on the selected targets. I think about calling in an air strike. I am not in a good mood. There's something about Clarksville that makes me feel like Céline (and I don’t mean Dion). It's not like Anderson, which is getting progressively poorer, damaged, displaced, and desperate. Clarksville's not this thing in decay; it's just this thing. There's something about Clarksville that puts my gut on the boil.

Corporate Corned Beef Could Be a Lot Worse Than an Arby’s Reuben Sandwich

It's not as if there's a kosher deli in Clarksville, IN. Far as I know, the closest top-notch deli is Shapiro's in Indianapolis. The Arby's reuben has soggy, processed "marble rye", stringy sauerkraut, flavorless swiss cheese, and corned beef that can be pretty nasty at times. Nonetheless, more often than not, it hits the spot . . . besides, corporate food rules the Lewis & Clark Parkway, so there's not much in the way of competition.

The Arby's also stands out because, unlike most of the other joints on the strip, it actually plays a normal over-the-air local radio station in the dining room. Of course, "local" needs to be segregated out with big-ass quotation marks, since commercial radio is no longer local. The only hint of local flavor is in the advertising, making it local in the crassest of ways. So, you’re sitting there chilling with your reuben, and there's irrepressible chatter, commercials, commercials, commercials, and (theoretically, at least) music. I'm not sure exactly what is what, because it's all woven together in a white-noise-invisible tapestry of blandness, like the swiss cheese and sauerkraut on the reuben. This is what seems to be called Easy Listening (a step blander than Adult Contemporary), though it should be called "I Don't Want Anything Even Remotely Involving to Pass Through My Earholes".

Besides the reubens, the main reason I come to the Arby's is the big front window. It's a grand window, from tabletop to ceiling, with minimal interruption from support pillars or dividers. I chill in the booth with my books, notebooks, sandwich, fries, unsweetened ice tea, and look out the window . . .

And, friends, it is a bleak view indeed. Down at the southwest corner of the dining room, looking up to the northeast, the massive white block overpass of 65 marks the horizon. The rest of the tableau spreads forth like a perspective exercise in an intro to drawing class: streetlights, signs – Hooters, Denny's, Home Depot, h h gregg – concrete, and a wire-crossed sky vast and indifferent. I have often tried to capture the emptiness in words, and even with a camera, but the void escapes my expression.

I have written a chapter of a detective novel staring out the window of Arby's. It will more than likely never be finished, but in it, I (the detective) am a voyeur spying on a banal lover's tryst in the Don Pablo's across the street. The lovers disappear into static air. In reality, everything gets swallowed up & disappears in this landscape.

One day, as I stared out the window, a Dodge Neon pulled up in the lot & kicked me out of my reverie. The Neon was sort of a dust-brazed dull gold color, and it had a spoiler, and a HUGE white Playboy bunny decal taking up most of the back window. A skinny white boy (about 20) rolls out, sporting a wife beater, baggy jeans, and a medium-thin gold rope. He seemed like a nice kid and all; he had his 20 year old wife with him, and a little girl, and he treated them both with obvious love and uncommon respect, but the symbol was still jarring . . . that fucking Playboy bunny, blaring incongruously from the back window of a sad little Neon, an aspiration to a goal simultaneously worthless & unobtainable, a playaz desire to be what his disguised handlers say he should be (though what he really be is cannon fodder in the culture wars), filed & forgotten by the true playaz populating the capitol of this country, a lost boy doomed by a defective cultural marker . . .

Ah, Clarksville. I resist accelerating this strip of mall of a town into a symbol, but it keeps reaching out to me, positing itself as type . . . and it promises nothing but oblivion.

I slouched down to Louisville Derby weekend of '97. I've lived in the Highlands; I now live in Butchertown. The majority of the last ten years I've worked in Clarksville. I’m not slow: it hit me between the eyes as soon as I showed up. From '98:


Rain ankle deep
soaks through holes in shoes.
They're dealing morphine at truck stops in Clarksville -
it's not news, friend,
nothing surprises, and little lives here.
This, then, is the promised land:

cancer as connective tissue,
a facile denial of what is, followed by the
disappearance of is:
a map spread across the passenger seat . . .

here, by this cigarette burn,
an anonymous junction of Interstate 65.
Hell is there, or hell is not.
Stories are told, rich at a dime a dozen:

and a filmist’s manufacture,
an oncologist's atmosphere . . .

and this, the promised land,
blurred with opiates
dispensed like potato chips in the Bigfoot.

I’m not wrong about this.

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