To The People of Intercourse
I live in Intercourse Pennsylvania, have three phone lines and never communicate with any of my living relatives.
Don’t ask me what I think of Intercourse. I don’t know. I haven’t left my property in two years, since I relocated from Dayton, Ohio. I say "relocated" instead of "moved," because, despite the transition I have remained essentially inert.
I know that you are trying to be logical, in your way, when you ask: "Isn’t your property here in Intercourse? So that by knowing your own property you are, in essence, knowing Intercourse, at least a little bit?" You have me there. You are right, at least a little bit.
Because your mind is occupied by these lofty, philosophical ideas, you don’t have time to wonder how I shop or earn money. Let us pretend you are polite, and asked anyway, and let me tell you that it has something to do with the internet, and, like everything having to do with the internet, is not quite alright. Allow me that.
You are correct in supposing that when one’s means of sustenance are not quite alright, it shows in one’s appearance, particularly around the mouth and in the ankles. Well, I am not a child molester, but I look like you might imagine a child molester to look, if you were the type to romanticize the appearance of child molesters. Heaven knows, you probably are capable of that.
I wear pajamas in the daytime. I wear sweatpants. I go days without shaving. I feel like it is an appropriate moment to mention that I am a woman. Sometimes I forget. My gender is of no importance to my job. My gender is of little importance to the only person I ever come in contact with: the UPS man. He would bed anything. Maybe you know him personally...
He too goes for days without shaving. Lately our cycles of unshavenness have fallen into synch. This amuses me. I have been told that when I am amused, my eyes acquire a far-away-in-love look. It must be true because when he comes to the door, and we are both unshaven, he immediately puts his hand on my hip and juts his crotch towards me like a disco dancer. This little maneuver never fails to melt my heart, as well as my resolve never to copulate with delivery people— ever— again.
His name is Ronnie. It fits nicely with his whole middle-aged heart-throb disco mustache porno thing. It’s so funny, actually— his name. Sometimes I scream it during our mindless rut-fests, and it just cracks me up. I can’t stop laughing, and he’s up there, ramming away, going
"What, Baby? What is it?" And I’m like
"RONNIE! RON-NIE! HAHAHAhahahahAHA…" It’s too much.
There are native rhododendron bushes in my front yard and it’s a hobby of mine to pretend to take care of them. I know I’m not fooling you. I put on knee pads and gloves with powder pink paisley cuffs and go out there and hack pieces off of them with this vibrating saw-thing. There is no logic to this trimming business of mine.
I saw off branches with flowers.
I saw off branches with new growth.
I saw them pepperoni-style, one tender brown disc falling into the mulch after another.
I dump bags of it, bags of 5:10:5, 6:2:3 and Miracle Grow at their roots like burnt offerings.
But they do not grow because I have hacked off most of their leaf bearing branches. They hate me just as you hate me. I am not a model homeowner.
Sometimes I just stand there staring into the mulch like one of the undead. Why am I staring into the mulch? Because I am working things out. What kind of things? Intercourse, mainly. Why am I here? Because everywhere is the same. What do the townspeople think of me? "Townspeople." The word makes me feel like even more of an aberration. Pasty, thick-chinned townspeople with head scarves and torches. Any day now you will be assembling on my front lawn, chanting "The beast must go!" and then "Oh my God! Look what she’s done to her rhododendrons!"
There are some adolescent boys who walk by some days. They walk in a struggling clump and kick at things as they make their way. They kick things down storm drains. (I can hear the "plunks" when the things go down the drains.) Their clothes do not fit them and they are always jerking their heads around like paranoid freaks. One of them doesn’t wear a shirt. He has different things written on his bare chest and back each day. Sometimes brand names: "Abercrombie and Fitch"; "Polo". Sometimes cryptic adolescent boy things like "I suck." and "Herpes: We love to make you smile." One of them is extremely fat but carries himself well. He doesn’t jerk around or kick at things but walks evenly, with his hands clasped behind his back. The rest are just spidery and wiry and hormonal. I don’t see a point in describing them to you. Not that they are off-putting in any way. There is a certain quality to being just one of a mass, as long as the mass isn’t completely moronic.
It is a fantasy of mine to develop a cute, suburban rapport with the boys. They would jerk by while I am harassing the rhododendrons and say
"Hey Missus F!" and I would say
"That’s Miz F, you little creeps." and they would mumble something under their breaths and I would say
"Why don’t you go suck some cock?" and that’s when they would realize that I am not your typical middle-aged woman. I am not someone’s "mom". They would be in awe of me.
This fantasy is becoming an obsession. These reptilian kids are the only people in town I have any interest in… except for Ronnie, because of the disco-hip-move, but that’s such a sad kind of interest. Ronnie has resigned from life. Getting some while he can, watching basketball naked, having the perfect mustache: these are the things that keep him from despair… and happiness too. Of course, I am worse. I am disgusting: in my furnished basement with my sugary sodas and my computers, but that is why I am like your boys – because I am not living in Intercourse. We are the only people in Intercourse who are not living in Intercourse.
They’ve all taken up smoking cigarettes now, and I must admit it has added a dimension of coolness to their group. The fat one has learned to tap a cigarette from his pack and light it without breaking his perfect stride and it is the finishing touch on his fat-but-confident mystique. Instead of stamping on it or flicking it when he’s finished, he drops it… right there in the street, as if to say that when he is through with something he is through with it, and if you are a teenage girl and he is through with you, he will drop you, without another thought, just like that cigarette, leaving you to smolder in your passion.
The rest of them are flickers: down storm drains (I can hear the hiss) into mail boxes, at squirrels, at each other. The no-shirt boy does this move where he flicks a butt high and far ahead of him, directly into his path. When he reaches the spot where it lands he just happens to walk right on it, putting it out without looking. I don’t think the others realize he is doing this.
The fantasy-turned-obsession has bested me, so I squirt No Shirt with the garden hose. The boys are lurching down the street like little zombies, and I am creating this mulch / 5:10:5 / mud volcano in front of my rhododendrons and I put my thumb over the end of the hose and squirt him on his back where it says "sweat shop." This is when they are going to realize I am not their mom. I am not their mom’s friend from yoga. They are going to adore me.
"What the fuck!" he says
"Yeah. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. What the fuck!" they say.
"Why don’t you guys go and lick some balls?" I ask.
They are silent.
They are terrified.
You already told them I was a child molester.
This confirms it.
"Sorry." I say.
"I had a rough day."
"Why don’t you come inside for some fuzzy navels?"
This confirms it.
"They have alcohol in them. They’re, you know, alcoholic beverages."
This too confirms it.
"No. You’re sick." They say, but they’re not leaving. I have them with the alcohol.
"Why don’t you just give us the drinks and we’ll drink them here."
"Because furnishing alcohol to minors is illegal, and everybody on this street already hates me and will definitely report me."
"Why don’t you just pour the drinks into a soda bottle and give it to us and we’ll go somewhere else?"
"Because then I’d have to drink alone."
So here we are in someone’s dad’s van, maybe it’s your van, drinking fuzzy navels out of a Mellow Yellow bottle en route to the tri-state mall, where I am going to buy whipped cream propellant because I am over eighteen and I can do that. The sun is shining in on us from all angles. There is fuzzy, scrunchy, cryptic boy-music twitching out of all four speakers. The van is a lurching stag beetle, an armored tank – blasting spinning, smoldering cigarette butts out of all four windows on the world. We are a spider’s nest in motion and I am their revered queen and my great white thighs are sticking to each other and to the vinyl seat and I am at the helm of this beast, plowing along the earth’s surface as they whimper "left" and "right", "hoop-de left" and "exit thirty-two" and "shit-face!" when we are refused permission to merge, because we are above the law and we are more like lizard people than we are like you townspeople and we will not be refused permission to merge.
Do you know what it is like to live outside the mean, on the foothills of the bell curve? I special order cases of Mellow Yellow directly from the southeastern distributor. I am the 0.00000000032% of households in Pennsylvania drinking Mellow Yellow. So I am rounded of to 0.00%. No households in Pennsylvania are drinking Mellow Yellow. I do not exist. The more I persist in behavior that does not fit a target market the more aspects of my life will me rounded down to 0.00%. I do not defecate because I insist on ordering medicated toilet paper from Australia. You have rounded me down to zero. I am not your neighbor. I do not live in Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
The Delaware County Ore Refinery is not listed in the Delaware County yellow pages as a bar, coffee house, pizza shop or pool hall and therefore we are not hanging out on top of it. 1.20% of the males between the ages of thirteen and eighteen I am with are inhaling nitrous oxide out of Chuck E. Cheese balloons but I am not, because 0.00% of females between the ages of thirty and forty-eight whose’ income is over $80,000 per year use inhalants.
We are having a good time throwing gravel into the blue flames of the "smelter", or whatever it is. Down, down, down into blue hell goes each lonely piece of gravel, and up comes an orange crackle as it gives up the ghost. We have a box radio and are listening to the fuzzy spider-music, which is nice, and we are smoking mentholated cigarettes and talking about fiberglass and how bad it is for our lungs. We are a long way from Intercourse, relatively speaking, but we are not far from home at all.
Matthew Kirby lives with his wife near the parade grounds in Brooklyn. He is working on a collection of short stories and co-designs the literary annual Raised in a Barn.
Moving Through Grief and Transition: devynn emory’s deadbirdBy Noa Weiss
MAY 2021 | Dance
deadbird + can anybody help me hold this body? is a reflection on devynn emorys time as a COVID-19 hospice nurse and the American aversion to grief, death, and bodies in transition. emory brings their whole self into the piece, exposing the transitional nature of all people, especially those who are dying.
What Are White People So Afraid Of? Claudia Rankine’s HelpBy Alexis Clements
MARCH 2022 | Theater
Alexis Clements reflects on a trio of works by Claudia Rankinean essay, a book, and a new play starting March 15 at The Sheddissecting how they circle a question that has caught Rankines, and the zeitgeists, attention: why is it so hard for white people to confront their whiteness?
The Business of Art is the Business of PeopleBy Lise K. Ragbir and Julia V Hendrickson
JUNE 2023 | Critics Page
People of the global majority are being invited into predominantly white art spaces like never before. And, at rates like never before, were seeing the ways in which many of these institutions are under-supporting employees. Efforts have been made, but diversity hires and DEI fatigue shed light on the ways in which stop-gap measures alone cant upend a system that wasnt built for everybody. Even if, in our capitalist society, were all seen as human resources.
Faith Ringgold: American PeopleBy Ann C. Collins
MARCH 2022 | ArtSeen
Organized by The New Museums artistic director Massimiliano Gioni with curator Gary Carrion-Murayari and curatorial assistant Madeline Weisburg, American People is jam-packed with more than forty years of Faith Ringgolds most prominent work.