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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Foreign Desk
Kent Washington: Blackout
by Ron Gibson, Jr.

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These days I can't help but notice the measured silence of drought. It's like death. I miss the singsong Northwest mantra of rain falling, ticking panes like time. Instead, the mountain reservoirs retreat from their shores, falling back over exposed stumps and Native American bones left naked by centuries of murder. Salmon dive suicidally headlong into turbines, ignoring fish ladders. And lights blink out in response; rolling brownouts becoming the West's version of Montezuma's Revenge. Everybody is paying their penance: inflated electric bills and reservation casino losses.
     I can't seem to find any peace, anymore. My neighbor stops at the edge of our domains, his schnauzer shitting on the lawn (usually mine), to tell me he finds promise in a tax cut proposal, like his wife finds promise in goldenrod envelopes with Ed McMahon's likeness on the front. He then checks up and down our street, and when his conscience feels it is safe to cross, he confidentally whispers that the "niggers" are taking over our town. He warns that our property values will decrease and our crime rates will increase. And he keeps assuring my silent disdain with: "it's a proven fact." And I can't help but wonder what happened to the days when years went by without a word exchanged with my neighbors.
     But now it's too quiet. Except for the television. News snippets show people flash anger over Boeing moving away, and I can't help but think it's time for me to do the same. Time to see what's past the dusty rain gutter and gray satellite dish rooftops. Time to canoe through Canadian-geese-shit-filled, man-made ponds, built inside overnight-raised apartment complexes. To see what's over that hill, where the landfill's methane gas torches blaze all day and night. Where 747s descend and sink into its fire; an illusion. But it's no magic. I know what is over that hill, past those freeway overpasses, past those sunset-stained copses hiding the vein of the Green River and traces of a dead serial killer. I know the unmarked territory where fourteen-year-old runaways age expotentially with each trick they turn, and which all-day-and-night-parked Winnebagos aren't filled with Okies, but meth labs. I know that Sea-Tac is waiting with a jet. A jet that will take me 20,000 feet into the atmosphere before my bladder bursts like an overfilled water balloon. All the Vicodin-popping parties in New York could not dissuade me of the facts.
     So I look away from the edge of the sky, downward, and dig to discover suburban roots - petrified crabgrass, tupperware, and rusted Ford Fairlane hubcaps. The shovel dips and slices through the rich layers of wasted soil, where once this town grew out of to be a capital of agriculture and beer consumption. I hum the old Hamm's beer commercial. The one where the cartoon bear hits a homerun, and the Native American drum thumps hypnotically in the background, sent along with the affirming chant: "Hamm's, the beer refreshing. Hamm's, the beer refreshing. Hamm's." I dig past the splintered remnants of popsicle stick forts and lost pacifiers and melted army men and pet rocks and nickel-loaded fish hook containers and Black Cat firecracker duds. I dig until I stop to realize I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know what I'm looking for. I don't know what the purpose of this is, or better yet what the purpose of anything else is. All I see is emptiness around me. And when my neighbor spies on me through the crack of my fence, and declares that I need a city permit to dig in my own backyard. I accept it as a reprieve, throw down the shovel, and resign to a chair in front of the televison.
     I flip through the remote awhile before halfheartedly watching the lesbian relationship between Xena and her little poet friend. But I don't have enough time to worry if I'm just another A.D.D. addled Gen Xer that hasn't read Douglas Coupland, when the power blinks off. I imagine a huge map, the Western power grid, state connected to state, like firing circuits of the brain, all at once fading into night, like the dark clouds of disease on a CAT scan image.
     But the seashell silence is broken with my neighbor's yelling. I look out my window, cast in the oily sheen of stars, and see his shadow rush inside his house. I can't help but notice the peaceful moments before he returns and unloads round after round at imaginary looters, like a paranoid banderillero on peyote chasing shadows of bulls. I duck down, quick, before his crosshairs catch my silhouette. In this dark, nobody's safe.

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