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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Not a story.

It’s just a setting, basically.  No action or character development or anything like that.  I just really like the idea of a hidden suburb.

“But you know how my mom gets about her girls.  She’s just got to make sure we’re happy.”

“Yeah, your mom’s so wonderful,” lowering her voice, “How is your sister, by the way?”

With an eye roll, “Get this, Jess:  we just found out Kathleen’s moving to Verdale.”

“Verdale?  Well.  That’s just like her.  That is just like her to move half way across town.”

Verdale was actually about ten miles closer to Jessica than was Kathleen’s sister’s apartment, and it was 8 miles closer to Kathleen’s sister’s apartment than their wonderful mother’s house was.  But no one who lived outside of Verdale had any idea where it was; they all just had this hazy but unquestioned impression that it was way on the other side of town.  The mapmakers didn’t do anything to correct this impression.  They didn’t have the foggiest idea where it was, and in fact usually completely forgot about it, resulting in maps that stretched the borders of the adjacent municipalities a good 12 or so miles beyond their legal definitions to fill in the gap.

Jessica nor Kathleen’s sister nor their wonderful mother would ever speak or think of Kathleen again.

The mass of suburban development that wrapped around New Croston could be roughly separated into 5 and a half belts, based on age, each about 15 miles wide.   The innermost contained homes from the turn of the century; the outer half-ring was new developments in various stages of completion interspersed between farmland and formerly stand-alone towns. The city of Verdale had been engulfed by the metropolis in the late 70s, sorta wedged in between the 3rd and 4th belts.

It was possible to reach Verdale from the freeway — in the same sense that it’s possible to prepare a completely accurate tax return by hand. The most direct route went like this:

Take I-34 West from the airport to exit 246 (the Patecan/Japonica Rd. exit).

Follow Japonica road north through the new commercial part of Patecan until it curves a little bit at the new shopping center with the Safeway. Stay straight onto Old Japonica Road.

Bare slightly to the right when Old Japonica forks at the Patecan Station shopping plaza, which’ll put you on Paz. This is getting into a seedier part of town, so be sure you’re aware of your surroundings.

About 3 miles up, Paz dead ends into the old Target. (The new Target off Japonica on the other side of the freeway was a SuperTarget with a Starbucks. so most people were surprised to find that this Target still even existed).

If you follow the main drag down through the parking lot, it’ll take you back behind the Target, and to the right of the dumpsters you’ll see a little residential street  that’ll take you into a pretty-much-abandoned old subdivision called  The Bluffs at Waverly. Take a right at the tennis courts onto Waverly Crescent Dr.

Now, just stay straight here for 3 quarters of a mile or so, till you’re out of the subdivision and into this sorta old office park-looking area.  It’ll seem like you’re on a private drive, but just keep going.

Careful for potholes; nobody’s resurfaced this road in years.  And you’re basically in the woods now, so you’ll want to be watching out for deer and things.

(The deer were actually the only herd of Jamaican Elk left in this part of the state; the rest had been driven out years ago by habitat destruction. But this patch of forest that lay between Verdale and the rest of metro New Croston was so completely isolated and virginal that the herd that occupied it at the time of the third and fourth rings’ encroachment had never even known there was a reason to leave. They just assumed — to the extent that Elk have the capacity to make assumptions  — that they were in a remote section of a large national park.)

About two and a half miles past the point where a rational traveler had given herself over to the nagging fear that she’d misread the directions, the road would gradually start into a gentle slope up a low hill, and when it crested one would find herself on Dent Street, the little alley that ran behind the book-bindery district, and likely have her first encounter with a Verdalian in the form of a congenial wave from one of the hookers who made this street their place of business.

Not that hardly anyone needed directions to Verdale, since no one from outside Verdale ever went there, and people who lived there usually just took the subway.  Most people completely forgot that it existed until rudely reminded for whatever reason — the death of a forgotten relative who lived there, say — at which point they would feel a swell of unexplained rage, and promptly forget it again as soon as the reminder had the decency to remove itself from their consciousness.

There was something off about the Verdalians that no one really understood, because no one ever really wanted to think about it.  They talked quieter than most people.  Less prone to raising their voices.   It was almost impossible to have an argument with them about anything, because you could never get them worked up and self righteous.  But these were just symptoms of the real problem.

It was a person’s responsibility to define herself with what she believed or didn’t believe, bought or didn’t buy, looked like or didn’t like, the company she kept or didn’t keep.  But people who ended up in Verdale, for whatever reason, just didn’t seem to get this.

In a classroom full of kids, you could always pick out the future Verdalians during class debates in Political Science.  While most everyone was gleefully spitting back and forth bite-size rhetoric they’d heard from their parents or read on the internet (“If we spent as much money on helping the poor as we do on the building up the military, there’d be no more poverty!” and “That unborn baby could have grown up to be president!” were perennial favorites),  there’d every once in a while be one kid with a distraught look on her face, not saying anything.

“Judy,” the teacher would call her out, thinking she was slacking or shy, “you need to participate in the discussion.  Is global warming real or isn’t it?”

“Well, I mean it’s just impossible to know, isn’t it?  I mean, I see all of these statistics and whatnot, but, I mean, I barely understand science at all.  How do I know that they really mean anything?  And I really want to have faith that these people know what they’re talking about, but everybody’s wrong sometimes.  What if it’s like when everyone thought the Earth was flat?  But then what if it is real, and we don’t do anything about it?  Or if it’s not real, and we spend all of this time and money and energy trying to fix something that doesn’t exist when we could have been spending the money on social security or education or something?  Or what if it can’t even be fixed at all?  It just all seems so hopeless, you know?”  She lowered her head in sorrow.

The winds were by now knocked out of everyone else’s sails, and there would be no more discussion today.  The Civics teacher’s hands were curled into tight little fists, helping him to fight the urge to say something that might cost him his job.

“Judy.  Please leave now.”

“Ok.”

It wouldn’t be long now that Judy would first get curious about Verdale, that place she’d always known existed, but strangely had never been to. Where as it, even?  Why wasn’t it on the map?  Her parents would of course feel that unexplainable rage when she brought it up, and scream at her to go to her room.

But she’d persist, and eventually she’d encounter a real estate speculator or Jehovah’s Witness  (these seemed to be the only two classes of people whose devotion to their pursuits managed to overcome their instinctive aversion to the place) who would provide the directions from above, or a similarly meandering path from another part of town.   And at long last, Judy would make her way there.  Everyone who belonged in Verdale ended up there sooner or later.

I get in these stages every once in a while where I’m completely obsessed with some old song for a couple months, and I have to find every single version of it that’s ever been released.  Past obsessions have included Walk on By, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and everyone at work was just about ready to stab a pencil in their ear last month if they had to hear If Loving You is Wrong one more goddamn time.  (The Isaac Hayes version is the best, in case you wondering.)

So this is my current song obsession.  This is kind of an interesting one, because it turns out there is both a country version and a folk version, and each has its own separate lyrics.  I’m not sure which came first.   The country one’s really pretty, but the folk one makes me sadder, so naturally I like it better.  This is my favorite performance so far.  (It appears that Isaac Hayes didn’t get a chance to work his magic on this one, which is a damn shame.)