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16 Jul 98

General Truthful Administrative Paul Ford Update

General Truthful Administrative Paul Ford Update

0. Notes for the Reader

  1. And anyway, I'm not a real writer here. It's just a web diary. I need criticism more than I need comfort. Feel free to express your disappointment if you think an entry is weak or annoying. Contribute to the natural selection of my evolving abilities. See the Subway Diary as a gene code, and yourself as an intelligent gamma ray. Knock out the chance that offensive, boring entries will reproduce, by telling me why you dislike them. Provide specific reasons you enjoyed an amusing entry. Be my creative writing roundtable.
  2. Later, I'll add a request form, but for now, if you want to see me write an entry on a particular topic, send me an email with a brief synopsis of the proposed entry. Topics people have asked me to write about, coming soon: "The History of Poetry"; "Ginger Spice"; "Imaginary Sodas"; and more. No term paper requests.
  3. I see writing as a service. My Official Subway Diary motto is "evoke, or amuse." That's what they'll print on the T-shirts. In order to evoke or amuse, I want to understand my audience. Not to mollify you with what I think you want to hear, like television research focus groups, but to understand this medium and my own voice, so that I might improve my own work and challenge each of you in new ways. It would be a true favor if you would challenge me back.
  4. Of course, if you want to read without participating, I'm still awfully flattered. Thanks for hanging out.


I. The Audience, the Customers
I went into Popeye's Fried Chicken. A man wearing heavy gold chains ordered 500 pieces of chicken. When the teenager behind the counter began to laugh, the man said:

"You find something funny, motherfucker? I'll come over this counter and kick your fucking ass. I will destroy you, motherfucker. I will get my boot so far up your ass motherfucker that you will shit laces. I will fucking kill you. You are a fucking son of a bitch and I will absolutely destroy you." He spoke clearly, loudly, reciting, holding his girlfriend's hand.

You could feel the customer's brains working in a dozen languages: "Order your chicken, you twat."

The manager came over. He'd been in a corner, arguing loudly with a woman who wanted a job, but didn't speak much English, or have a social security number, or immigration papers, or a work permit. She was having difficulty advancing her case.

"Is there a problem?" asked the manager. You could see it had been a long time since the answer to that question was "no."

"I want the number five," said the man in the gold chains.

The manager shrugged. "Give him the number five," he said. "You want spicy or regular?"


II. Trip Home
I left Brooklyn (home) and took the train to Philadelphia (home) last Saturday morning. My father picked me up at 30th St, and we drove past Philadelphia (home) towards West Chester (home). On the way, we found a DMV and I got a new photo license. I haven't driven a car in six years, but Pennsylvania doesn't mind.

My mother had asked my brother's family, my father, and myself to visit the house on South Franklin St (home), where my brother and I grew up. We would have a last picnic, before the deed of sale is signed on Wednesday.

My brother brought a videocamera and I walked through the rooms taping. I took shots of the floorboards, pointing out the layers of paint. "Remember the Georgia O' Keefe poster on this wall? The way I put a hole in this panel when I was eleven? The Amiga used to be here. Here was Greg's darkroom."

My mother lived there 30 years. My father, 20 years. My brother, 18. I had fifteen, before going to Milton Hershey School (home) and later, Alfred (home).

I took shots out of all the windows and zoomed in on the porcelain bulk of the clawfoot bathtub. We ate cake--it was my neice's first birthday. My brother pounded at his Sears $100 guitar and we sang spirituals and camp songs to the kids. I asked my mother a favor.

Later that night, she and I drove to Home Depot in West Goshen, and I bought a new door knocker on my debit card. We drove back to South Franklin, and unscrewed the old black wrought-iron knocker from the front door. It weighs several pounds and has a small, sculpted bat at its top. It held the house together for me, so I asked if I could replace it before the final sale. I would take it to my new home, in Brooklyn (home), and hang it inside my apartment door.

With the knocker off and the house uncapped, all the memories gushed out and spilled into the street, oily and wet. A car turned off Rosedale, going too fast, and fishtailed through the slippery pool. There was a scary moment, then the driver gained control and drove off. After the flood, the memories settled into the gutters and rolled towards Linden St, into Goose Creek. After a few minutes quiet, my mother and I did some drillwork and installed the new, shiny brass knocker. It felt good to empty out the house, leaving plenty of room for arguments and lovemaking. There is space in the kitchen for good chicken dinners and cold-cereal breakfasts. There is room for parties in the backyard. Good luck to the new owners.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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