At a tricky-dicky little intersection today a guy cut me off – nearly crashed up my truck. I don’t have a properly functioning horn, so I was left with only the shoulder shrug and hands upturned, the international sign language symbol for, “What the what?” There was no international sign language response. The vehicle behind me, made to slow down abruptly, let his horn go without hesitation. My superhero responses were engaged immediately and, before I knew it, my body was extended halfway out of the window, looking backwards, fist shaking, as I unconsciously gave voice to a flawlessly realized string of curses and hexes which ended in something like “…so shut yer damn mouth, turkey!” Everyone has a talent, I suppose.
Scowling in the hot vinyl heat of my truck, I headed down the block, turned into a gas station, and noticed the offending honker pull in behind me. Because I’m a moron, I got out to hear what he had to say. The vehicle was driven by a junk scrappin’ good ol’ boy of proper Jefferson County vintage: truck piled high – all the way high – with scrap metal, fake Gucci shades, sunburn on his balding head, cut off T-shirt, gold chain, white beard. He was the picture of a dude who worked for a living, got by, and, I assumed, did not suffer fools lightly.
“Hey man, I just wanted to tell you that I was honkin’ at that other guy,” he said. “You believe the way he blew that stop sign? He coulda really hurt somebody. I got all this junk in the bed o’ my truck, I was skirred it was gonna crash right through the back windshield.”
My shoulders slumped a little and I felt like a tool. Bad day, bad behavior. Of course he was honking at the other guy.
“Yeah, sorry about hollerin’ like that,” I said as we fist bumped. “Have a good one, man. My apologies.”
“Awright, partner. You have a good one too. Take care.”
I drove around completing my errands, more than a little disappointed in myself. I turned on the radio and heard Diane Rehm (smartest, hottest NPR grandma on the planet, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you) speaking with a graceful, articulate Englishman about his new Buddhist-tinged novel, “The Illusion of Separateness.” The conversation hit all of the spiritually appropriate counterpoints to the undeniably ugly exchange I had just presided over, as well as the compassion and forgiveness Ol’ Captain Junk Trunks had laid on me. Rehm and her guest talked about the unconscious interconnectedness of our lived experiences together, the effects of our actions on others, etc. This is the type of hippy-dippy stuff that, given even passing consideration, reveals itself to be completely self-evident, but which I still manage to ignore half the time. It’s all true though. Every damn bit of it.
As I went about my errands – on a day when I absolutely couldn’t wait to be back home, away from people, secreted away in my solitude – I ran into a dozen folks who I know and care about, each one nicer than the other, each one carrying on with their day as best they can in the city where we live together, each one a Louisvillian. I was greeted with kindness as a neighbor, one who was having a crummy morning.
I got home and my 10-year-old nephew was in my backyard. He lives around the corner and comes over to see and sometimes terrorize the chickens. We worked together cleaning out the coop, feeding and watering and chasing the little dinosaurs. I made him wash his hands twice in the hose and, in turn, he helped me while I washed my hands and face.
There are no mysterious revelations in my encounters today, or in their subsequent meditations. It’s all remedial education for me – a necessary, periodic reiteration of well-worn understandings. Louisville is a beautiful, forgiving place. I love it here. We do OK. Shit happens and it gets cleaned up. We support one another when we can, the best we know how.
The Paper showed up a couple of years ago, just when it was needed most. The Courier-Journal had just announced another round of layoffs and there was a moment there when it appeared as though the Neighborhoods section might take a fatal blow and be lost entirely. Then here comes this little newsprint monthly, all bold colors and tight design, intentionally positive, with a shot of DIY, to take a swing at covering some of the people and institutions that make this city worth hollering about. Folks pitched in, bought ad space, wrote articles, interviewed friends, drew pictures, took photos, and showed off their neighborhoods. I was given a lot of leverage in this publication and it was a real pleasure to write about Louisville and the people who make “Louisville the hometown of my heart,” as the old song goes.
Now The Paper is closing up shop. This is a drag – undeniably so. It doesn’t signal defeat though. For 24 issues, this paper did the job that it was meant to do: It encouraged us to think of ourselves as a community. Even more important than the thoughtful and playful stories printed in each issue, The Paper reminded us every month that we’re doing something together here. It’s a good message that encourages us to eliminate the illusion of separateness. That’s a message and a practice that will come up, over and over again, because it must.
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