This wasn’t the first time Vincent had spoken with a drug dealer. Back in Tampa, a few of his friends were in the game, all small-time stuff, though—weed, pills when they could get them. Vincent didn’t think of these dealers as bad people, and definitely not as criminals. In his mind, they were closer to prom queens tossing candy from convertibles, or modern-day fairies, blunts for magic wands, traveling around town and sprinkling good cheer. And this guy here sure fit the good-guy bill: long, greasy hair, faded tie-dye and a big, moony smile. Seemed he knew half the kids out that night, too, calling out nicknames and quick jokes after them when they passed in their big groups, clumps of pastel Polo shirts and Atlanta Braves caps, blondes sprinkled among them. These groups had more or less ignored Vincent all night, his first hanging around the college bars in downtown Milledgeville, and the dealer’s facility in this scene set Vincent at ease. He felt he could trust this simple, happy, harmless young man in front of him—at least, he felt he could trust him about simple, happy, harmless stuff, like drugs. But then again, Vincent hadn’t been around much.
After flying the pigeons for a few minutes Vincent was sweating again—still must have been pushing ninety—so he led the birds back into the coop and locked them up. Preacher Stanley Greene had already ducked back into the car to wait in the AC, where Vincent joined him.
“That was something to see,” Stanley said.
“It really was,” Vincent said, checking the shoulders of his shirt. “They crap all over the place, though.”
“Vietnamese homing pigeons,” Stanley said. “You know,” he continued, “there’s something I have to tell you.” He was looking dead ahead at the padlocked coop, the wood bleached under the car’s headlights. “Your father was a troubled man, Vince.”
Vincent moved into a bottom floor apartment on Martin Luther King Avenue, across the street from a car stereo store, a title pawn, and a murky pool hall called Weak’s Market, all with iron bars over their windows. At the corner of MLK and Jefferson, a Shell Station with a Golden Pantry grill served spicy chicken biscuits and wings until three am—with Vincent’s building the exact distance it takes to walk and eat a box of hot wings and tater logs. Every morning Vincent found wax paper and wing bones on his front lawn. Once he found a man stooped in the grass, picking through them and eating leftover “top-meat.”
A specter appeared at the end of the driveway, shimmering in the heat. From his post outside the pigeon coop, Vincent saw it was a man, a white man, in a pink shirt, khakis, boots, a white hard hat. He surveyed the dying rows of the nursery to either side of him as he approached, head swinging left and right, pausing every now and again to dig the toe of his boot into a furrow, testing the strength of the dirt.
A couple months ago, I met a guy, Vincent, who changed how I see the South.
It was Easter Sunday, and, for the third year running, I’d designed an Easter-egg hunt for my classmates at Georgia College, though I knew that, for the third year running, none of them would participate. This disappoints me, but I can understand why.
Last weekend, I graduated with an MFA in creative writing from Georgia College, here in Milledgeville. For the celebration, my mom drove down from DC, picking up her sister Cindy on the way, in Greensboro, NC, and my younger brother and his wife flew in from Austin. Over the course of the weekend, each of them independently mentioned The New Kroger.
“That’s right,” I’d say to my guests in the back seat, making eye contact through my rearview mirror. “Third-largest in the state.”
This fact always scores silent nods, looks passed back and forth, until someone says, “Well, let’s go see it.”
I’ve spent the past couple of weeks 1,400 miles north of The New Kroger, Milledgeville, Georgia, with my beautiful girlfriend Elizabeth and her parents at their home in Traverse City, Michigan. On the skin of things, as a class of American small towns, Traverse City couldn’t be more different than Milledgeville.
This legend is a key to the formatting used throughout to indicate topics that will be expanded in future columns, and that those terms mean something more than how they appear:
Underlined = vestigial racial tensions of the Deep South
Italics = culture that arose out of geography
Bold = political wards
CAPS = corporate arrogation of traditional Southern culture