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The Abandoned Road

By , 31 May, 2014, 2 Comments

IMG_1098NHPR’s Word of Mouth is doing a show on “abandoned” things so I went to visit and walk an abandoned road in Keene, NH to work up a story.

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As I drove down the last stretch and got close, I started thinking about how a story about an abandoned road might go. What was there to make of a mile or so stretch of pavement that once upon a time was called Washington Street?

I could track the whole thing, front to back. The sound as I got out of the car. The key. The seatbelt. The door opening to birds. That faint transition from inside to out. Machine to world. Town life to wild life.

IMG_1103How there’s a gate, makeshift and irregular like several gates fell together and no one could figure out what. Two white poles, red striped, 10 feet tall. Heavy crossbeams over half of it. Cut pipes and chain dangling across the other side. I’d put in the sound of the chain as I passed onto the road. By the sound of my footsteps, I’d show how the real road and the abandoned road went right together.

I learned initially about the abandoned road from Allen, who grew up in Keene. He says the people that walk the road don’t really want it to be known. To match that, Allen doesn’t want me to use his last name.

Allen: And I have friends who say they remember driving over it and I can remember as a boy driving that road with my father. I just think it’s great that they left it and didn’t totally close it off.

IMG_1065The river, always close, is soon the road’s shadow, running right beside it, about the same width, for the rest of the way. The river noise is like a static. No burbling music. Just a thrash of white noise that stretches out like a tablecloth beside the road.

Allen says that even though he tried to find out about the road, not much was clearly known or remembered.

Allen: But I couldn’t find out exactly when it was abandoned and exactly when they built the new highway, Route 9. So I went and talked to Alan Rumrill at the Historical Society and he said that he was quite sure it was in the early 70s.

The last cars to drive this road: Chevy Impala’s, Ford Galaxies, Plymouth Roadrunners, Nova’s, Fairmonts, Pintos, Coronets. The old late 60′s early 70′s cars with their bulky metal shells. Inside, radios playing the Rolling Stones, Ziggy Stardust, Neil Young’s Heart of Gold.

IMG_1095There are bugs and dragonflies and I might say it was a little humid. I put on sunglasses not from the sun but from the green bright leaves.

A warning somewhere in the story about the poison ivy everywhere. Allen, who’s a gardener and amateur botanist, lists off the other plants. Purple trillium. Jack in the pulpit. Red elderberry. Solomon’s seal. Rare things too like rose moss, blue stemmed goldenrod. The poisonous white baneberry, called doll’s eyes.

The area, Allen says, is famous for its garnets. Granite ledge rises up on one side, veined with feldspar. Inside the feldspar Allen says, tiny and perfect, blood red garnets

Allen: They’re peppered all through there. It’s as if somebody took a shot gun and shot them into the stone

IMG_1073At three quarters of a mile, the river begins to roar and down a steep bank I stand before heavy waterfall that dumps out through a chokehold tower of stone into a wide pool.

En plain air is what a painter might do and how I decide to write this story with a pen and paper. Set their easel up if they were here and paint the road’s coal and purple elephant skin – the tree bark colors of the road. The too green leaves below a not enough blue sky loose with long peninsulas of smoke and white knots, and blimp-sized cumulus popcorn. The black yellow of the painted lines of the road beside a tea brown brook, the water rushing from glassy to snow white.

The road not at all apocalyptic. No old grocery carts or tumbleweeds. With the earth burrowing up through the tar, cracking it along into pieces. Both sides going under leaves and needles and the center split with an upward axe of grass.

IMG_1087En plein air I write, happy to remember the fancy French. I write down that I want to write the whole thing here at the end of the abandoned road but not say so. I sit where the road dies in the manner of ocean waves reaching up the sand with round arms, and write down what I remember of my plans, what to include, what not to forget.

IMG_1082To start with the sound of the car, the engine, the keys, the door, go into footsteps and river and falls – and end with the sound at the end of the road, if there was a sound that wasn’t me, and certainly not the sound of writing. That’s my plan anyway unless something in the abandoned road says otherwise, somehow insists that intention itself, secret and planned, be displayed side by side like the cars that once drove here might be as against the loss of the name of the road itself.

The Lamplighters 8 – The History of the World

By , 17 May, 2014, 3 Comments

TheLamplightersImageThe History of the World, old vending machines, and the mysterious neighbors.

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The Endangered Song

By , 14 May, 2014, No Comment

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Here’s the story for Word of Mouth:

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I have one of only 400 vinyl prints of the song “Sumatran Tiger” by Portugal The Man – the first song ever designed to go extinct unless it’s “saved” by uploading to the internet. The project began with the Smithsonian Zoo reaching out to ad agency DDB (the company that supposedly inspired Mad Men) and requesting a campaign that would raise awareness for the nearly extinct Sumatran Tiger. DDB came up with the idea of a “song that would go extinct” – asked the band Portugal The Man to write a song – and then found a record maker in New Zealand who were able to print on a degradable polycarbon. Only 400 tigers are left in the world – thus 400 copies of the record.

I have ripped the song and uploaded below and will upload to soundcloud and youtube, but my record player isn’t that good and I wanted to mail the record along to someone else who might be interested. If you have a record player and would like to participate in this Endangered Song project, please email me at sherwinsleeves at yahoo dot com and I’ll send you the record. If more than one person asks for it, I’ll have to figure out some way to fairly do it. So if you’re active on soundcloud or youtube, or if you like to make videos that go along with songs, then I’ll probably send to you.

Here’s the explainer video put out by DDB and the Smithsonian:

Here’s my rip of the song:

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Of Two Minds

By , 12 May, 2014, No Comment

IMG_0273Sean takes a walk in his socks and realizes he’s of two minds about walking in socks and everything else as well.

End music by Bonnie Prince Billy

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Books and Shows

By , 7 May, 2014, No Comment

Sean takes a walk – talks about books (The Martian, The Circle, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry) and TV (True Detective to Downton Abbey to 24 to Spongebob and iCarly).

Beginning music by Yo La Tengo, end music by Archive.

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The Circle of Life Squared

By , 4 May, 2014, 1 Comment

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We live in boxes, work in boxes, drive on the rectangley ribbon of the road in box-like things that run on circles.

A series of bright boxes before bed – the TV screen, the book or kindle, the smart phone.

We sleep on rectangles, heads on rectangles.

It’s possible to eat square sandwiches on round plates on rectangular trays at the top of skyscrapers, the grandest quadrilaterals of the earth.
Money is another grand quadrilateral of the earth. Trillions of different colored soft rectangular bills stuffed into billions of pockets above the basement clang of coins. The painted dream of paper money. The filled hole of a penny.

Most everything we see or like is kept in a squarish frame. Paintings. Movies. Shows. Stories. Photographs. Football. Refrigerators, cereal boxes. Newspapers. Diaries, postcards. We especially love the window on our world that is the battery powered handheld rectangle.

Our natural vision sees wider than it does tall. Side to side more than up and down. A rectangle is a good harbor for such an eye. It crops away the unseeable and contains both the clear and the not.

Once, before the squares and rectangles came there was a tumbling jumble of everything. A kind of endless pile of things that fell or toppled as against the things that roamed or rose up. Nothing was topsy-turvy, but nothing was quite arranged. Draw a square in the sand with your finger and it is easier to focus on the sand enclosed. There’s less sand to see, but seeing all the sand is too much sand.

For years the prevalence of the geometry of squares increased until the rectangle became our most keen portal. Like newspapers everywhere, it was the space we kept our world in.

The envelope, the novel, the letter, the screen. The home, the mirror, the gravestone.

But it’s possible the future will belong to holograms and robots. Artificial intelligence and sprayed dimensional light.

Books may become single words that appear before us, one after the next, clean and centered, hitting our optic nerves with the precision of nails.
And with things like Google Glass and the blue sky development of holographic displays in phones, televisions, tables, walls, wherever – our rectangular window on the world might lose its familiar enclosure. We are getting the world ready to spring up again in an illuminated fabric.

In that way, the world might open up again. Instead of a photo of a beach on a small squared screen, we’ll have the beach remade before us in explorable miniature light forms. Here come in the waves and tide, there stretches out the beach and dunes. There could be boats and a city far off to visit with the urge of a dilating lens. Then, as long before, we’ll see the tumbling jumble of everything, an endless pile of things that fall or topple around the things that roam or rise up.

In that hologram of the beach with the boats and the city, we could draw a square in the sand made of light with a finger made of light. But it’s hard to say no to too much information. Why see less, when you can see all?

And maybe what’s being sensed is the imminence of too much sand. Beneath that the loss of rectangles. Beyond that the arrival of so much light. Within that perhaps, a world within a world, taking us closer to seeing what was there to begin with.

Orphans, Paris, Space

By , 1 May, 2014, No Comment

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The wind roused me.

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This Old Man

By , 27 April, 2014, 2 Comments

IMG_0670Note: For reasons relating to requirements of diminishing fields, all new audio will simply appear here and atomsmotion.com. No longer on iTunes. My preference is smaller and less. The known closet, rather than the endless amphitheater.

And so a little walk in which Sherwin confesses that still fingers, empty pockets, and a cloudless sky are the fundamental principles of babbling. Also, a description of the musician’s path toward stardom, financial security, or penury.

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Abandoned Train – Bartlett, NH

By , 6 March, 2014, 1 Comment

I was out skiing at the Bear Notch Ski Touring place in Bartlett and came upon this old train. I bought a ticket, climbed aboard, and rode it down into the dust.

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The Rats

By , 28 February, 2014, 3 Comments

A shortened version of “The Rats” essay below aired on Word of Mouth last week. Here’s the audio:

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“The Rats”

I can’t quite believe we called the smoker kids, the n’er do wells in high school, “rats” – but we did. “He’s a rat,” I suppose we’d sometimes say, hanging a curtain over a doomed soul. Not a Jimmy Cagney “dirty rat”, we had our own feeling for the word. A rat was a kid in a too big leather jacket who scuffed the hall floors with the rubber tire soles of his monster boots. You could hear every step they took. The ropey whine of leather coats, the shick and shuck heartbeat of their boots. They were like odd pirate ships and they moved among us like that with the vague sense of pillaging about them.Tough Kid2

The rats…

Who sometimes dumped the books from your nervous clutch as though to create a little movie of who you were. Their attacks were always in service of this same revelation. You are not what you pretend to be. They’d make a key dramatic scene in your otherwise silent, action-less film and everything would be revealed. In the crease of your good behavior, you were nothing but a rabbit. On your knees, flushed and ruined, scooping papers together as the world laughed and judged and knew your very core. A bureaucrat in the making, a folded up answer no one would ever want to read. You would say nothing, you wouldn’t fight back, your day or week or year was wrecked. Look how small you are, was the lesson.

Who smoked outside the back fire door. Who smelled like vodka in class. Who lurked in the dark hall. Who were always late, who never had passes, who sometimes just left, who never quite arrived anywhere. Who you’d sometimes see from your chilled desk in math or English illegally slipping into the forest. Going home. Skipping school. Suspended.
Who got called down to the office day after day. Who we were mildly afraid of, who we faintly admired. Whose confusing rebellion we tried to source and emulate in safer places. Who kept away from us mostly. Who we watched with disdain, whose schedules and habits we naturally cataloged that we might avoid them with unconscious skill.

Who had knit brows and who could sometimes laugh harder, with more freedom than any of us and yet with the ring of forgery. As though this was the first time they’d ever laughed. An uncomfortable, unexpected explosion that hurt their throats. We fell for their toneless, make-believe, expletive rich, old man voices. They were the best actors in school by far.

Everything for them was dramatic, dangerous, ill-conceived, wrong footed and somewhat brave. Bravery was what I sensed at the bottom of it all. But not foreground bravery. Not the bravery of heroes, but of convicts in the yard putting up a strong enough front.

That they were battling against cruel fathers or disparaging mothers or brothers that beat them we didn’t know. But we saw they wore the outfit of soldiers. A uniform that spoke to a truth we couldn’t suspect about a war we never saw and could only wonder about. There was a great darkness somewhere in their lives, we knew, uncaused by them.

They never had pencils. They never had notebooks. School was important only as a reprieve. For a game of dice, for candy, cigarettes. For the pleasure of mischief whose punishment didn’t sting. Pulling the fire alarm, blowing up toilets. The price for being caught secretly prized.

We were seeing them in the downtime. In the daylight evening of whatever calamity, in the truce that was made by their distance from the front line. We saw them in the washed out cease fire, walking dazed between the peaceful tents. As content as they could ever be with nothing raining down, despite all they said. Their hatred of school. And yet how they kept returning.

They might have been wild of themselves, their lonesome natures vile. Born awful, treacherous.

But a few times over your four years at high school you would for a short time get to a know a rat. A fringe rat, you’d think. An eccentric specimen. One who happened to be gifted at trigonometry, or who liked a particular book. You would warm together over some shared object. They’d get you to come their way a bit, and you’d get them to come yours.
You’d smoke a cigarette, skip a class or a whole day with them and experience the thrill of lawlessness.

And in return, they would get to see what it was like to be so innocent, to be so hopeful, to think so highly of the future without regard to any proof. And to be so nervous about such small things as homework and tests as never before had bothered them.

And for that moment the dumb dream of picket fences and happy families and combed hair and clean clothes and the whole polished life of a good citizen, of plain regularity and one fair thing after another would rise up before them to witness.

They would fall hard for it and then burn it to the ground.