The Place Untamed

The Place Untamed

Gwyn Atkinson

There is a place, an anthropological wonder, in which all manner of human insanity can be found. It is wild and kind. There are Baptists, single moms, alcoholics, Buddhist monks, dominatrixes, men named Albert, etc. They shoplift baby formula, they make love, and they try to do the right thing for the most part. In an Asian market, smoke rises from an incense stick like one long, slow exhale. On a plate under the lit stick, ash sleeps in a ghostly pile. The incense is lit everyday for the shrine that lives in the hollow inside of the first checkout counter. Eleven plantains and a plastic bottle of Ozarka brand water keep the saint fed and watered. In a café downtown, an aunt and nephew—both of them librarians—eat breakfast in a librarianly way. Nephew stirs Splenda into his coffee with a knife while Aunt reaches across the table to straighten his bow tie. It has developed into a sort of holy ritual for the two of them. We all grow into our own messy ways of worship without even realizing. Their church involves the Dewey Decimal System more than most, but it is holy nonetheless.

In the eighth lane of a small bowling alley, three men and two women—all dressed as various superheroes—bowl very poorly, laughing all along the way. The neon lights rinse their faces with childish wonder that burns forty years old. The Hulk puts his polyester faux-muscle around Catwoman, and what can be seen of her eyes crinkle with a smile under her mask. Female Batman wins, bowling a 155. Male Batman flips her a friendly bird and hands her seven dollars and fifty-six cents. Spiderman temporarily removes his mask to eat a mozzarella stick. He will write this all down and read it to his lorikeet, Pepin.

In this place, people are unapologetically themselves for better or for worse, in rain or shine. It is a place easy to observe, but harder to love. It is full of people eating rice cakes next to people eating fried pie. Everyone eats, everyone shits, and everyone loves in this contradiction of a corner of the world. On a lively dead-end street, an eight-year-old girl follows her dad into the night to stand with him on the porch while he smokes. He tells her never to love a man that smokes. She tells him it is too late. It is their running joke, but it is never funny. After a few minutes, he tells her to go back inside and that there’s no use in both of them developing emphysema in their thirties. The single glowing eye of his cigarette drifts in and out of consciousness. He is lighting his own incense, worshipping into existence the dryness of a smoker’s cough. The inky letters on his fingers contort around the white stick to disfigure the words “THUG LIFE.”

In this place, there are missing cats, jilted brides, and P.E. teachers all living happily unaware of each other. We are all praying in our own human ways, letting the love come unexpectedly under street lamps. The love must not escape, the rituals must not die out, and we must all remember to wash our hands.

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