Shoes

Throughout the United States, you'll find shoes dangling from power lines, utility cables, and trees.

Somewhere in Nevada

Tied together by their laces, the shoes are flung at wires or branches until they catch and hang. Very few people have seen these shoes actually thrown and of the twenty-eight witnesses who have been surveyed, their reports vary as to the average number of attempts before the shoes find their mark, ranging from three to fifteen. This practice is more frequent in urban areas, although this may simply be a function of population density rather than any fundamental difference between the psyche of the city and the country. The style of shoes and their arrangement, however, are worth noting. Lone sneakers are common in the city, but when shoes appear in rural areas the formations are much more elaborate. In the Mojave desert, work boots are clustered in dead Joshua trees. In Oklahoma, black army boots hang from irrigation pipes over neglected crops.

Some say that a pair of tennis shoes draped over a telephone line indicates a place to buy drugs. Often referred to as ‘crack tennies’, they serve as a storefront shingle for the local crackhouse. They may also mark a shooting gallery where heroin is used, a reminder that once you get hooked you can never walk away. These theories, however, do not explain the shoes that hang on remote county roads or beneath the highway overpasses where even drug dealers won’t go.

Many of these shoes once belonged to children. Seeing a toddler’s shoes dangling over a bottle-strewn alley or swinging from a lonely tree bothers the soul, calling to mind Hemingway’s famous six word short story: For sale: Baby shoes, never worn. Some say these abandoned shoes memorialize a site where a child was murdered or possibly a gangland killing. Others believe they mark the sighting of a ghost. More levelheaded folks chalk them to up to run-of-the-mill bullying in which a kid steals another kid’s shoes and tosses them beyond his reach.

If any of these theories are true, there are an awful lot of victims, ghosts, and bullies in the USA.

Linda-Darnell

April 10, 1965

“So many years have been ruined because I was considered beautiful.”

Look at that face with the Valentine eyebrows and pin-up girl pout, her little ribbon mouth blowing a plume of smoke like come here and give me a kiss. Nobody could smoke a cigarette like Linda Darnell. And here she is at forty-one, curled on a friend’s couch in a Chicago suburb, lighting up a Pall Mall while watching one of her old movies and thinking about her strange relationship with time. That’s what happens when Life magazine calls you ‘the most physically perfect girl in Hollywood.’

After twelve years of bombshell service in romance, noir, and adventure films, Twentieth Century Fox let her go, citing concerns about her weight gain and heavy drinking. “Leaving the studio was like leaving home at twenty-eight years old,” she said. “I’d been there since I was sixteen.” When she was nineteen, she eloped with the camerman. He was forty-two. Then came Mickey Rooney and Howard Hughes and a dozen scuffed-up footnotes on Hollywood and Vine. There was the screenwriter with the yacht and the powerful director with rough hands like an ape. Yet the only man she truly loved was her high school sweetheart, a quiet Mexican boy who was terrified by her fame and moved away. She took her broken heart to Rome and did spaghetti westerns and opened an orphanage. “At thirty-two, I can see tell-tale marks in the mirror,” she said, “but the ravages of time no longer terrify me. I am told that when surface beauty is gone, the real woman emerges. My only regret will be that I could not have begun it earlier, that so many years have been ruined because I was considered beautiful.”

She dozed in the warm living room, listening to her younger Star Dust self say “Do you want to kiss me?” Maybe her Pall Mall dropped to the floor. Perhaps it landed on the script she was studying, a play at the local theater. The fire bloomed fast. Afraid to jump from the window, she tried to make it to the front door. The doorknob was too hot to touch and the flames took her as she heard herself on the television saying, “Now this is romance.”

Indianapolis Writing Desk

Desk One. My writing desk during a five-week residency in Indianapolis. Books that I brought with me include: High-Rise by J.G. Ballard, The Image by Daniel Boorstin, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces by Georges Perec, as well as biographies of André Breton and Marcel Duchamp. Also: The White Album by Joan Didion, Vollmann’s meditation on violence, and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. Having these books nearby helped me write this thing, a collection of myths and speculative histories of the Circle City.

Lake Superior

Remembering Lake Superior

Crossing the 45th parallel always gives me a thrill. Whenever I see the green federal sign that marks the occasion, I instinctively hit the brakes and snap a photo that comes out blurry and gets deleted. The 45th parallel is the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole, and you can feel a geographical shift when you see all that big pine and cold water. Last week I crossed this line while speeding towards Michigan’s upper peninsula on an empty road in the dark.

Lake Superior frightened me when I was small. My parents enjoyed camping along its shore on long weekends, and I remember sleeping on the sticky pleather backseat of our Pontiac while we drove from Detroit to Marquette. I also remember squirming in my pup tent, unable to sleep with that mysterious lake sitting out there in the night like it was waiting for something. In second grade, I read a pamphlet about the Great Lakes that described Lake Superior as the deepest and coldest of the five lakes. Scientists have not yet reached the bottom of Lake Superior, and they do not know what lives there. I studied that sentence until it became a hymn, and I’d lie awake chanting it in my head while thinking about what might live in all that uncharted space.

There’s enough water in Lake Superior to submerge North, Central, and South America. Its southern edge is known as “the Graveyard of the Great Lakes” due to a cascade of shipwrecks. On July 30, 1985, Jeffrey Val Klump became the first person to reach the bottom of Lake Superior at 1333 feet. This must have occurred after I read that pamphlet. Over the years, I’ve made my peace with Lake Superior. Antarctica scares me today. My head goes swimmy if I look at it for too long on a map. All that blank land feels like leaping off a rooftop. Maybe this is why I’m drawn to signs that clearly position me on the planet: the 45th parallel, the Continental Divide, and my telephone’s pulsing blue dot that accompanies me wherever I go.

Windy & Carl - Set Adrift

from Depths | Kranky, 1998 | Bandcamp | Spotify

In 1997 and 1998, the metropolitan Detroit duo of Windy & Carl recorded two records that are perfect soundtracks for majestic landscapes: Antarctica and Depths.