by Julie Marie Wade
In the For Lease City, lightning for days and thunder rumbling like the thorax of a long train. How do you feel about graffiti? In the Under-the-Gun City, the Are-We-Having-Fun-(Yet) City, Cyclopean traffic lights glower and sway. For on the mailbox, on the undergirding of the green bridge, ‘tis tagged “Purity Extinct, ReAct!” Out there in Butler County, you can see it: Night of the Living Dead—original cemetery just south of Evans City. As we drive, the light falls so hard it thuds. Light like a muffler dragging on the road. Romero didn’t like props. Did you know all his headstones were authentic? On Route 22 toward Normalville, site of six trailer arsons this year: the person or persons responsible for setting each blaze will be persecuted. (I think they meant prosecuted, but who knows?) In the Grapevine City, Beer Nuts ‘n’ Wine City, only a few fingers hold the kitty for the whole town. Drive up old Millionaire’s Row—you’ll see. Andrew Mellon lived and died there. The Big Place—well, in comparison. “America’s first indoor pool.” In this Bushel City, did our little lights ever stand a chance? Recently, I spoke with a social worker who said he could remember when businessmen brought spare shirts to the office, to change into at noon. The first shirt was soiled by midday, spoiled by pollution from the factories. “Now,” he said, “we have clear days.” When we first moved here, we stayed in a motel on McKnight Road. The InTown Suites. $160 a week for a kitchenette with dial-up internet. Later, a man was killed there. As in, didn’t just die. Then again, I don’t believe in natural causes. In this Facsimile-of-a-City City, we are mere newsprint, blurred ink on transparency. “The blue laws are over,” my boss assured me. “But in the old days, you couldn’t buy a thing on Sundays. Still no liquor in the grocery stores.” This is the first I’d heard that laws came in different colors. Bumper sticker: Murray Avenue: Perversion is NOT a Family Value. Three blocks from the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, worlds collide, sepia and rainbow. When lightning strikes, Squirrel Hill is the worst place to be. (The ancient mores. The religion.) In the Understudy City, the phone never rings. Waiting for Buffalo to call in sick, Cleveland to take a paid vacation. “Living here, you’re three-five hours from Anywhere,” a classmate states with no trace of irony. The InTown Suites shared a parking lot with Club Mirage, its flashing signs that promised lap dances and live nude girls. When the power went out, it was the only place left glowing. Ten-mile radius. In the Spent City, Implacable Rent City, Lawrenceville grows gradually appealing. A whole house for half the price of our last apartment! (“Two bedroom stand-alone with fenced patio and basement laundry room. Amenities include large kitchen and convenient commute to multiple campuses.”) It’s true! In the City of Bridges, there are clear days. “You’re not from around here?” a reliable FAQ. At first, I liked it, but there are consequences to joining a program already in progress. Of all 50 states, this one boasts the largest population of lifers: people born here who die here, people who never leave. And the best thing about the house, did I tell you? The street is Plum Way! I-79 toward Canonsburg: birthplace of Perry Como, home to a hundred antique stores closing at four o’clock and Sarris Chocolates, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. Why yes, I will help myself to some free samples! Lightning snaps in the distance like an electric rubber band. (Here, they call it a gum band.) Gonna get myself a decoder ring, that’s what I’m gonna do: “sub” becomes “hoagie;” “soda” becomes “pop;” “gay” becomes “don’t mention it.” I hate to break it to you, but Queer as Folk’s filmed in Toronto. In the River-Spill City, Nearly-Had-My-Fill City, we move closer to the industries: Moose Lodge and Cigna’s Lounge just around the corner. (Fish Tonite $5.00!) Someone’s bathtub, a planter box for pansies. In the Handle-with-Care City, Are-You-Out-There City, I was telling you how we found a little white house in Lawrenceville with a patio out back worthy of a dozen Steelers flags. Just down the street a mauve diner called Barb’s and just up the street two graveyards: very authentic. (Fact: Busy Beaver is like Home Depot here. I keep waiting, but no one ever laughs.) In workshop, we learn to save what we liked best for last: over at The Warhol Theater, Blow Job playing on a constant loop (some sign of sex in the Sexless City); outside the Business School, wild turkeys flirting with their own reflections in the glass (same). And off in the distance, that beacon (is it hope?)—Heinz Ketchup bottle, positively glowing.
Julie Marie Wade is a member of the creative writing faculty at Florida International University in Miami. A winner of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir, her collections of poetry and prose include Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures, Small Fires: Essays, Postage Due: Poems & Prose Poems, When I Was Straight, Same-Sexy Marriage: A Novella in Poems, Just an Ordinary Woman Breathing, and Skirted. Her collaborative titles include The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose, written with Denise Duhamel, and Telephone: Essays in Two Voices, written with Brenda Miller. Wade reviews regularly for Lambda Literary Review and The Rumpus and makes her home in Dania Beach with her spouse Angie Griffin and their two cats.
SLAG GLASS CITY · Volume 8 · May 2022
Header image by Richard.