“We’ve been very blessed in Alabama. We’ve traditionally had low population density in the watershed. One of the reasons I love living here is just being able to get up in the Delta. Ten minutes from here and I can be in this vast wilderness that is not only aesthetically beautiful but also providing all of these essential life-support services for humankind and I think we take that for granted. But it’s not a guarantee that it’s going to be there in the future. So I think the average citizen just needs to be aware that we’re all connected to this, and that there are limits to growth and how much humans can exploit our resources.”
We were spies in a foreign land
I was a fugitive, running just as fast as I can
You were a bird on a bludgeoned wing, busted flat in Dallas
Dancing for a diamond ring
You asked me if I’d been here before
As I regaled you with memories of my melancholy whores
You crossed your legs and lit a cigarette
Talked about your mama, and said as your eyes got wet
I’m tired of fighting in this cold war
Nobody wins that’s just daddy’s drunken folklore
I’m leaving this town tomorrow you can come if you want
In the armpit of Arkansas
Where the river split and sang neath the stillborn stars
You started bitching we were out of beer
As we danced real close and came upon a midnight clear
In the morning with the mountain dew
And the sun’s cruel eye, the day after Waterloo
Lou Reed and that summer in Siam, you took a walk on the wild side
Oliver Stone in Vietnam
I’m tired of fighting in this cold war
Don’t want to die for a country I don’t know no more
Based on the poem "Cold War" by Quinten Collier.
It was just after six o’clock in Prague when one of my roommates, Barton, a tall, laconic Texan who had been a basketball star in his youth, entered our flat in Vinohrady and said with characteristic stoicism, “Someone blew up the Twin Towers.” He might as well have been talking about the Laundromat changing its weekend hours, judging by his tone.
It was a Tuesday (as you know), and Barton was returning from his afternoon duties teaching business English to a crew of budding capitalists somewhere downtown. I had been home for a few hours after wrapping up my own classes in Malá Strana, at a private language school next to the American Embassy and just a stone’s throw from Prague Castle. My other roommate, Clay, a Texan and a childhood friend of Barton’s, had spent the day at the flat, smoking European cigarettes, debating man’s place in the universe, and devising plans to publish an expatriate newspaper called The Village Idiot (which, sadly, never came to pass).
Barton, having just learned of the attacks via text, was scant on information. There was no television in the flat and no Internet service. Anxious, we fired off a volley of frantic texts and arranged to meet our friend Tom at a pub in Žižkov, where he said a TV could be found.
The pub (I forget its name) was one of those nondescript watering holes in Žižkov that bore all the hallmarks of midwinter Soviet charm: decades-old red tablecloth, bad lighting, old bartender with a grizzled beard. Žižkov, where I lived months later, has always been a working-class stronghold and even carried the sobriquet “Red Žižkov” prior to the Velvet Revolution. It was easy to see why.
Tom was sitting alone at a long table not far from the television when we arrived. We all hugged, took a seat, and for the next few hours, over pint after pint of Gambrinus, watched the scenes of carnage unfold on the screen as a Prague newscaster delivered the rundown in Czech, a language that fell on deaf ears and only added to our sense of disorientation.
The next morning, as I made my way to class, I saw a crowd gathered in front of the American Embassy. Flowers and various condolences were strewn over the ancient cobblestones. Many of my Czech friends extended sympathies that week, but it wasn’t long before you caught a whiff of “America had it coming” by the odd expatriate at the bar, a sentiment that was hard to hear at the time.
The pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium can feel like the loneliest place in the world. It’s a feeling Jake Peavy knows in his bones. A Mobile native and one of the most decorated professional athletes to ever come out of the Azalea City, Peavy wasn’t immune to the slings and arrows that come with being a big-league hurler, despite his many accolades. It’s midsummer, and we’re talking with the former pitcher in the mixing room at Dauphin Street Sound, the state-of-the-art studio in downtown Mobile that he and a team of local talent opened back in 2016.
Peavy is waxing about his days in the big leagues and what got him hooked on music in the first place. After winning titles with the Giants and Red Sox, the two-time World Series Champion retired from the game in 2016 after a 15-year professional career, but in his jeans and T-shirt, he still appears to be in fighting shape.
“So here’s a picture of me going to Yankee Stadium and getting my butt kicked by the Yankees,” he continues with some animation. Peavy is a passionate storyteller; in fact, it’s clear after spending more than 10 minutes with him that he’s passionate about most anything he does. And while baseball may be a team sport, pitching is a solo act, and music became a way for him to unwind after three hours of hyper-focused intensity that, in the moment, felt like a matter of life and death. “It’s lonely on the mound, and it’s lonely with the press afterwards. It sucks leaving the stadium, getting on the bus, and then getting off the bus. And the last thing you’re going to do when you get to your hotel room is flip on the television and watch the sports channels and highlights.”
When Peavy first got called up in 2002, most of his teammates were 10, 15, 20 years older than him. He couldn’t go out to bars with the team, so he ended up spending a lot of time in his room by himself. It was in this scenario that the St. Paul’s alumnus found a creative outlet through music. Padres third-base coach Tim Flannery liked to pick country tunes in the hotel stairwell after games, and it was Flannery who gave Peavy his first six-string. “I could sit in there, play that guitar and not think about how I got my ass kicked,” he laughs.
I wonder if anyone in Richmond has considered erecting a statue in memory of Black Dog. This near-mythical, dread-locked stray canine roamed the streets of Richmond’s West End neighborhood for nearly fifteen years, some say, eluding animal control the entire time. A woman once claimed he saved her from a mugging, such was his legend. Some Richmonders built dog houses and left food out for him, hoping to adopt and domesticate him (he never let humans get too close), but that is not how outlaws roll.
In the two years I lived in Richmond I saw him three or four times. He would sometimes come out of hiding and walk the perimeter of the park near Mary Munford Elementary in the mid-afternoon, when the kids were being let out of school. I looked for him every day for a year before first clapping eyes on him. When I did finally catch a glimpse, it was as if I had just seen Bigfoot. One afternoon, my toy poodle at the time got loose on a walk and, to my horror, approached him, as if to say, “Hey buddy, wanna play?” He declined the offer, but was cool about it.
His longevity was such that some speculated it was “Son of Black Dog” they were seeing in those later years. But they underestimated the indomitable old lion.
Mark Holmberg, a celebrated Richmond journalist who penned several columns about the stray, said it best when he wrote: “It’s important to remember how much Black Dog reminds us it’s okay to be independent, to be free, to be scruffy, and to be hungry every once and a while.”
Black Dog has been gone for nearly a decade. It’s high time the city of Richmond commemorates his legend.
For the past month, I’ve worked as a part-time tutor in south Alabama, helping high-schoolers prepare for the verbal portion of the ACT, the standardized college admissions exam generally preferred by the universities down in Dixie.
As part of the interview process, I was required to take the English section of the test and notch a certain score.
I felt a pang of terror upon hearing the news. It had been 24 years since I walked into Murphy High School one fine spring morning and filled in those tiny ovals with a pair of sharpened No. 2s. I had worked as a writer and editor since 2004, but, under the gun, was I really the prince of punctuation I fancied myself to be?
It was too late to take a practice test, so I decided to “get in the zone.” I sought to achieve this through a form of method-acting, by which I’d recreate a day in the life of my 17-year-old self. That afternoon I ran wind-sprints in cleats and washed my hair afterward with a green, toxic slime known as Pert Plus. I ate ham-steak for dinner with baked potato and washed it down with a Carnation Instant Breakfast while watching an episode of “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.”
The next morning, I was ready to go.
I finished the English section of the test with a minute to spare, and completed Reading Comp at the buzzer. I think the ACT gods were smiling on me. The Prose Fiction section of Reading Comp was written by a not-so-well-known Vermont novelist named David Huddle, whose daughter taught me poetry writing at UVa. The Natural Sciences section sported a passage by Oliver Sacks, whom I’d been reading that very week.
After finishing the test, I sat nervously in a small cubicle awaiting the results. I soon found out I’d aced the Reading and missed a few on English. I was ecstatic. I imagined at that moment I had the world by the balls. I had made it. I could go to any college of my choosing. Then I could land any job in the world and marry any girl I wanted.I walked out of the tutoring center like a man on fire. I got in my car and blasted “Rain King” by Counting Crows, fishtailing out of the parking lot as my car shape-shifted into a burgundy-and-cream ’89 Ford Bronco.
Charlie Craddock stood on his wharf and looked out over Barnacle Bay with two clear eyes. It was the morning of his seventieth birthday. The day was bright and he could see schools of mullet in the water. He threw his casting net toward the shore and caught several but decided to release them back in the bay. Honor thy fish, he thought. His wife Tammy never had a taste for mullet anyway (“a trash fish,” she snobbishly would say) and he sure as hell wasn’t grilling on his birthday. Today was a day for fishing.