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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Last night I went on a suttree.

With a handful of peanuts from the Fellini Kroger, I lock the door behind me on Armstrong and cross into the alley that opens behind Clark Brothers Pianos (exterior acrylic on cylinder block).  A copper camper van is washed up, half covered in black plastic.  That man sells junk he gets for free and fixes clocks.  He is an insulting salesman and he can have peanut shells.

The marquee at Broadway Carpets: 39 degrees and 9:18 PM.  Red and digital, you can hear it, I think, if you listen.  I’m already singing an old song to the beat of my steps.  Not a very good song, my song.

Two people walk ahead in hoodies and pillowy coats.  I draw my own hood, there will be more people out.  They cross over and walk into Dominos.

I pass the entrance to Old Gray where Suttree once awoke.  He could have slept at one of the new missions there now.

Along the banks of I40 the people sit and wonder.  I turn towards Regas.

“He and J Bone ate dinner at Regas.” (p. 302)

Then a billboard, “Regas next exit at Summit Hill then turn Right,” next to an old fashioned sign that is historically protected.  Though Regas was not.

I’m on Gay St now crossing the bridge to the 100 block.  Once I saw a man jump from this bridge when I lived in Sterchi.  The mission was on the corner then and people ran to where he leapt.  It is not high enough to die.  In the gravel railroad bed he lay rolling quietly from side to side.  Blood came from his head and his ankles made weird angles.

“That’s the craziest shit I ever saw,” someone said.

The Emporium Center is closed now, but I was there last Friday.  I like to look at art.  I’m on the other side of the street peering in another gallery and it is good.  Goodnight Milk, I think, but it is dark.

Nama has moved now and the door has a google map to further up the street.  You can see it there in neon anyway, just before the S&W. (p.367)

At Summit Hill I wait on the corner by a lady I just met.  Two nights ago she’d asked me for a $4 cab fare.

“Come with me and I’ll drive you.”

“Oh no,” she said, staring at the Lenten ashes on my forehead.

I’m leaning back in my hoodie tonight and she is wearing camouflage.

The WDVX station leaks bluegrass faintly in the mouth of the golden mile.  For this part I walk quickly.  I pay attention only to bikes, a habit after mine was stolen last fall.

The brewery has chocolate peppermints and I want to buy a drink.  I owe the bartender a tip from the last time I played Sapphire; they paid me in tab. But I don’t drink when I’m going on a suttree.

The S&W is boarded up and closed again.  Lights out, and those lights were awful. The glass says “Tennessee Shines, Friday Nights, Ben Maney.”  Donald Brown’s name has been removed.  I would stand outside and listen to them both.  The piano looked blue in the fluorescent operating room.  The cafeteria had hospital prices, too.

At the Bijou Theatre, two flat screen TVs glare behind glass.  The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, feathery and madeup like a Gaither Homecoming.  Marc Brousard.  A 32 second commercial for Sprint.

In the Bistro is Ben Maney himself.  I watch through the glass as the finest pianist I’ve seen anywhere plays to a slow Friday night.  I can’t drink when I’m on a suttree, and I keep going.

For the last block of Gay I think negatively of music.  Once in the S&W I saw people come in off the street because they heard the piano outside.  It was Ben playing.  They didn’t stay, just admired and left.  Probably thinking, “My, how much good music there is in the world.”

Art is its own reward, it has to be.  I am ashamed that more people aren’t at the Bistro.  I continue my suttree to the bridge.  Here is why I have come.

It is quiet, darker than usual because the Henley Bridge is closed, and busier because of it, too.  There is a joint in the rail at the halfway point.  I stop and look out at the black arches of Henley with the barge and crane below, barely discernible.

The kudzu is dead now and the streetlights throw ochre shadows down the cliffs.  The air smells like Calhoun’s.  The mouth of the Clinch is behind me, beyond the docked Riverboat.  Sutree’s houseboat is hard to imagine with the City County Building rimming the river like a fishbowl.

I bend my knees slightly and slump onto the rail.  My shoulders press my hands and the iron plants into my sternum.  I get comfortable between two ribs.  At the edge of the railroad tracks was the suicide (p.9).

Iron rattles my frame unhindered with passing traffic.  This bridge has hummed the song for a long time.  The water is under my feet, black and cold.  The moon reflection shimmers on waves.

I came here to talk and I start talking.

“He swung the skiff beneath the bridge.” (p. 11)

I’m talking to God.  To water.  To cold wind in my ears and behind my neck.  I pull back the hoodie and my skin leaps.  I can hear a voice between the cars, my voice.

I say what I need to say and I won’t repeat it.  Then I walk the rest of the way across the bridge.  The hospital spans the southern bank, and it is for rent or available or something.  A hospital, lit by red emergency exit signs only if you look closely, but otherwise dark except for a couple ceiling fluorescents.  It is our downtown reciprocal, having lived and died since Suttree hung his trotline.

I need to relieve myself.  At the south side of the bridge I ease around a wire fence beside the cliff of kudzu.  Sparse chunks of concrete let me under the armpit of the bridge.  The iron monster with its green arches reaches half a mile away and 300 feet above the water, impressing upon me that I am no longer safe by its ingenuity, but rather in company of that for which it was designed to defend.

The first noise I hear is Gene Harrogate and the Ragpicker, and I am scrambling towards the ghost hospital before I can look back.  I pee on a Laurel Bush at the foot of the steps of what was and could once again be the river’s looking deck of a great hospital.

“Suttree stood among the screaming leaves and called the lightning down. It cracked and boomed about and he pointed out the darkened heart within him and cried for light. If there be any art in the weathers of this earth. Or char these bones to coal. If you can, if you can. A blackened rag in the rain.”

—Cormac McCarthy    Suttree

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