At the end of my block, where my street meets Archer Avenue, sits a boarded-up shack. It used to be Hamburger Heaven Express until a grease fire shuttered it last year, or was it the year before? Time, as we all know, has gone haywire in the last four months. In any case, I used to stop by for a cheeseburger and onion rings—which were a lot better than they needed to be for a place open all night—back when I drove cab. I never used the drive-thru window awkwardly positioned in such a way that most vehicles would need to back in to use it. If I had, I’d miss the banter between the white counter woman and Latino cook. She was older, with homemade tattoos and a few missing teeth. Very friendly, the kind to call you sweetheart. But after taking my order she’d holler it out as if the cook was miles rather than inches away. He’d mutter something in response, then I’d hear the meat hit the flattop. I’d take my food and eat it in the lot, leaning against the back bumper of the cab.
A few weeks after the plywood boards went up, somebody spray-painted CLOSED DO TO FIRE on both the Archer and Lock sides of the building. It’s still there. I pass by nearly every day and always think the message describes our current situation well, bad grammar and all. If anything, the lack of literacy feels just right to the moment.
I’ve been reading a pretty amazing book called The Yellow House. It’s a lot about the author looking back to her younger self, which, of course made me think back to my own. One night after putting the book down but unable to fall asleep I typed the name of a girl I went on a summer art trip to France with in 1988 into a search engine. A few minutes later I was looking at the fifty-year-old version of her smiling in a spotless kitchen somewhere in Georgia. She has a business offering a Southern version of Martha Stewart/Marie Kondo living-your-best-life coaching services. She’s married. There are likely children. But I recognized the smile of the girl I had a crush on thirty-two years ago. I find a sketchbook from that trip and scan in a drawing of her asleep on the bus on the shoulder of the guy she chose to be her boyfriend for those two weeks. I think we exchanged some letters after, then lost touch.
I debated sending the email a minute or two, but it was the middle of the night when all kinds of nonsense feels like a good idea, so I sent it. She wrote back the next day. It was good that she remembered me but I didn’t write back. What would I even say?