I unearthed so many 90s artifacts this weekend while cleaning. This sticker-covered comics box is just one example. When I played in a hardcore band in the 90s, I remember sitting in the trunk of my friend’s VW Golf reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation while we raced across the Turnpike en route to shows each weekend. Naively, I thought our band could act as an agent of change in a cruel world. Not only from an animal rights perspective, but from a humanist perspective too. I think everyone in the hardcore scene had that same wish in one way or another. But like so many good movements, there were a fair share of assholes and bad ideas too. Like hardliners and the neocon ideals of bands who felt obligated to preach to audiences instead of nurture them. If anything, those experiences helped to refine my bullshit meter, which has remained an asset.
Writer’s notebook as scrapbook and journal. I started doing this after I attended a writing workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, and it’s remained a useful way for me to visualize stories. I also have a tendency to ignore my own handwriting and self-written notes after a certain point, so this helps to chunk the information in different and meaningful ways.
Chance plays such an important part in finding books at thrift shops. This grouping, found across three different shops today, is a perfect example. While each book is vastly different in its own right, themes of alienation, anxiety, and dehumanization cut across all three. Which, in the end, always makes these finds strangely predestined. I’m particularly stoked to read Sam Quinones’ book, which I’ve had on a list since hearing him interviewed by Marc Maron last year.
High anxiety days as of late. Took a walk in Braddock this afternoon to catch some relief and found this discarded big screen on Washington Avenue near the Monongahela River. I remember when these were new. I worked as a stock clerk at Sears at the time, after dropping out of high school, and we used to uncrate these TVs and have to hoist them up on tall display risers on the sales floor. These seemed like the pinnacle of technology at that moment, something I’d never be able to afford given my trajectory. Fast forward 15 or 20 years and it’s no more valuable than a spent Budweiser can. Scrappers won’t even bother with them. There’s not necessarily a lesson to be learned here, because most everyone knows objects like this have a lifespan. But to see a TV wreathed in weeds, so far from an electrical outlet, the only thing that can bring it back to life, is jarring in the same way that a single shoe on a highway can incite worry. It offers a story with no arc, a truncated history of separation from its intended place or person.
(Photograph: Matthew Newton. Caption: Washington Avenue in Braddock,Pennsylvania, April 2016.)
“That’s sad, isn’t it?” a woman says, watching me peer through the window of an abandoned storefront on Braddock Avenue. The doors, wreathed in gold, are partially open with an old chain holding them together. The smell of dust and mildew is strong in the air, wafting from the crack in the door as if the building let out a sigh. Inside there are thousands of items strewn across shelves and left in haphazard piles on the floor. A metal bedpan rests against the glass of a display window; trinkets languish in the darkness just out of view. It appears to have been a junk shop, one that I recall having stepped foot in at some point in recent years. Now it sits among dozens of other storefronts in Braddock that exist between near-death and obsolescence, a reality shared by countless mom and pop shops throughout the Monongahela River Valley. Change is taking place in Braddock, but it’s hard to ignore such examples of business dreams derailed by unknown circumstances. As I turn to walk away, the woman shakes her head. “Not a slice of pizza or nothin’ on this dead-ass street.”
(Photograph: Matthew Newton. Caption: Storefront on Braddock Avenue, November 2016.)