Nathan L Marshall © 2013 - 2024 |  All Rights Reserved                                                                                                                                                          

"Look at your surroundings, listen and be glad, for they will teach you all that you need to know."

At this corner, your home, there is a vacant convenience store, a burned down restaurant, a lot gradually turning to gravel, and an enormous tree, so dry, its limbs fall and look like driftwood; there is a church with a food bank and free health screenings, there is a tire shop. There are apartments on all sides for $400-$450/month, a "No Parking: Third Thursday of the Month" sign that served as a rally-point for drug deals at midnight; the dealer's girlfriend has a car seat and a child in the back; she has a shaved head and perfect breasts. During the day a man in an Undertaker t-shirt washes cars on the lawn, and drinks 99c cans of beer in the alley. He talks about how hard you work on the yard.

There's a struggling bakery that closes, gets new signs, opens, serves chicken, and closes again. There's a man above that hits his girlfriend and threatens you when you notice. She covers for him, and his own conscience makes him nervous enough. There's a woman with a stroller that says she’ll turn tricks, though you’ve never seen that yourself.

In the alley, litter has money mixed in. Trucks stop for metal scrap, vans stop to pick through clothes. When you walk by a stranger in the alley, or when crossing the railroad tracks, through the weeds, where the tunnel doors are closed off, you size each other up: who is the bigger threat? Then they ask questions like, "Do you know how to get to Shoe Carnival?” or “Do you know where to buy scratchers’ tickets?" when they pass. The neighbor in the apartment complex calls you 'buddy' and compliments the yard. The new owner complains about back rent, but is happy.

The two-family shotgun house on the other side is inhabited by Arabic families, one whose family brings bags of vegetables, mostly eggplants, on Sundays, dressed head to toe in black. When times are tough, the families run an extension cord from one window around the back to the next. In the backyard, there is an apple tree that makes sour apples for baking. They are a mixture of red and green. Bosnian men ask for some to bring to their girlfriends. Some ask if you work for the bank, if you know anyone that needs help.

Around the block there are strips of bungalows and blocks of apartment complexes in patterns-- sections of acreage sold off piece by piece from one large chunk of farmland. In the basement, the mortar between stones that make up the foundation turns to sand. One day you sit on the roof and listen to the children down the street, at recess, laughing and screaming. You listen and you replace the sand between bricks on the chimney.

Seasons change and you keep the thermostat high, and then low. Inside, you wear your coat. You teach yourself to fix foundations. You are paid in cash.

"From here, you will learn business."