Across the street is the Southside Collison Center. Next to that is Active Auto. Planet Fitness shares a parking lot with 'Thrift Store," which is evidently part of a church. I walked in there just a bit ago and was met with a friendly voice on the radio above. The man was pleading for money for some sort of religious purpose. I hate to be this way, but I burrowed into some instant cynicism at the thought of reaching into my pocket and calling the man to make a pledge. No one wants to feel used.
There was a placard on the wall with four pictures on it. In each, a person or persons are laying with their eyes closed on a sleeping bag on pavement.
"Grandma shouldn't have to live like this." And there is grandma laying on a bright blue sleeping bag on the pavement. She is overweight, obese. In the next picture, there is a child with olive skin. She could be Mexican, Honduran, Egyptian, Israeli or Pakistani. She is not white.
"Wake up Naptown - protect children from homelessness."
The picture on the furthest left shows a bassinet next to a woman and a baby sleeping on a pink and purple sleeping bag. It's on concrete.
"Babies shouldn't have to sleep on the streets. Eliminate homelessness."
The digestion of these pictures, and the reality of the lives that belie them, made me feel a little guilty about paying 85 cents for Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude." I found it in the back next to the lamps and men's sport coats. If you look long enough, you can usually find either Joseph Conrad, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salinger, Sherwood Anderson or Marquez.
Once, in a dingy little bookstore in Queens, New York, I found a tattered copy of one of Bukowski's early books. i took it to the counter, where a man in his 70s listened to a Mets game.
"85," was all he said, without really looking up from the radio.
"85 what," I said.
"Dollars. That's an original Sparrow Press edition. 85 bucks, and it's a pretty good price at that."
I thought I had found an Ernie Banks rookie card in a Salvation Army store. Instead, this old guy was probably used to half-a-hippies like me coming in browsing around and thinking that we had found something no one else had. Bukowski would be amused that his original editions sell for thousands, if not more.
The key to this blog entry is that I'm sitting in the front seat of my wife's nine-year-old Lexus in a driving rain between a Planet Fitness and a thrift store. This gives me time to think. On the way down here, Alexis and I stopped in Fair Oaks, Indiana, at the big agri-tourism center they have there. Six busses met us in the parking lot, one of them with "Badger Country" emblazoned on the side.
We tried to do what we've done many times before, which is slip into the restaurant and pick up a plate of eggs and speed away. But no chance today. There were several dozen really old Wisconsonians in line at the counter. Without speaking, and without even going to the bathroom, we turned on our heels and left.
On the way out, Alexis asked this really old couple - "So where you guys from?"
"Wisconsin. Badger Country," the woman said, repeating the words on the side of the bus. "Near Madison."
"Oh yeah," Alexis said. "My daughter went to Wisconsin. Madion's a great town."
"Sure is. Been right by there there all our lives. Go Bucky." The woman used a walker. Her husband helped her along.
"She's in New York City now," Alexis said. "A long way from State Street."
There was some solace in the stop at Fair Oaks. At the gas station along the interstate, they sell Fair Oaks cheese, which is amazing. All of it, and they make many different kinds. Alexis bought some jabanero cubes and a couple apples. That's what I'm eating now. And it is perfect, even if it is a rainy day on the south side of Indianapolis.
I can't think right now of a more depressing place than this overgrown farm town on a rainy, gray day. As the three or four of you know, since I've mentioned it several times over the years, I find this place a facsimile of itself. There is no here here. It's raining and there's an ugly purple building in front of me. An orange garbage truck just roared down Pennsylvania Street. There is color here but no hue.
I've been having a little trouble of late trying to figure out what my role should be as the purveyor of the local broadcast media. If you listen to our president, I am an enemy of the people. I produce fake news. I am a fraud. I must change my ways soon, or else.
These are familiar tweets from Donald J. Trump. And a lot of people feel as he does - that we are scum, swine.
By the way, on the way down to Naptown, we drove through an area that includes one of the largest hog farms in the Midwest. It's owned by a guy named Malcolm. I met him at the Purdue Northwest commencement in May. My wife gave the commencement address. She did a good job, but on the whole it's a long day. You have to get there in the morning. She gives the first speech to the first group of graduates.
Then you wait around a good portion of the day until she gives the same speech to the second group of graduates. In between, Malcolm and I got to talking. I took him over to the Strack & Van Til studios at the Purdue Northwest Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center. I explained streaming video to him. He seemed interested.
Then, back at the VIP room for the commencement, he told me all about hog farming, which, if you can believe it, is infinitely more interesting than streaming video. Malcolm invited me to his hog farm. We had it all set up, but as often happens with any structured event, I canceled at the last minute.
I will see his hog farm. You can bet on that. Why? Pigs are in my blood.
I remember as a kid going to Iowa for the funeral of my Dutch great grandfather. One of the uncles ran the local John Deere store and we got to sit on all of the tractors in the showroom and throw things at each other. I have a ton of siblings and cousins and for whatever reason, we grew up throwing things at each other.
Another one of the Dutch relatives ran a pig farm. We got to step through the fence and play with the pigs. I can't tell you why this was so appealing, but if you can get past the god awful smell, then playing with pigs is a lot of fun. Especially the little pigs, which were the only ones we were allowed to mess with. I get the feeling, though, that when I go to see Malcolm's pigs I won't be able to jump in with them and rile them up.
Back to purpose. I'm wondering where I sit on the media continuum. A popular sport these days is for everyone in America to separate into two camps. 1. Trump camp. 2. not Trump camp. There isn't another category. Really. It's like a computer. You're either an X or an O and there's no in between.
I keep thinking about Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider.
"They're not scared of you. They're scared of what you represent," Jack says around the campfire.
"All we represent to them is somebody who needs a haircut," Dennis Hopper says.
"Oh no. What you represent to them is freedom."
Now this is where it gets weird. Any half-a-hippie worth his salt will know that soon after this speech, some rednecks come out of the bushes and beat the hell out of Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack himself. They actually kill Jack. It's a sorry state of affairs. When you first watched the scene, you may have even cried. I did.
"They see a free individual, it's gonna scare them," Jack says.
"Well it don't make 'em runnin' scared," Hopper says.
"No. It makes them dangerous."
For whatever reason, this scene rattles around inside my head. The rain is coming down even harder. Every once in a while, a guy in a black jacket runs from his Nissan Sentra or Chevy Impala into Planet Fitness. He shields his head from the rain with a bag. A blond woman just locked her door with a beep-beep. She didn't cover her head at all.
I look around, not at this parking lot, but at the media mileu around me and I feel as if I don't fit in. I don't even really understand how we have been allowed to exist.
Oh, I know how. We are small. We are a pimple on an elephant's ass. I own the radio and the TV and I speak pretty freely on both of them and so do a few other people. And we let others in the community speak their minds. It's a bunch of freedom going on, which, according to Jack Nicholson could make them dangerous. But it's not enough to be noticed.
Freedom's just another word for you're gonna get your ass kicked eventually. And that's how I feel as we live in these apocalyptic times and as we approach a midterm election. You get to see, as the purveyor of the local broadcast media, the underbelly of the political process. It's ugly. And if you tell the tales of woe from a position of freedom, you may wind up dozing off in your sleeping bag and never waking up, as happened to Jack Nicholson.
"it makes them dangerous." In your quest for something to say, remember this refrain. It's still raining in Naptown. Somewhere, presumably pretty close to here, a mom and a baby sleep under a bridge, away from the rain. Planet Fitness. Thrift Store. Southside Collision Center.