Once, in Senegal

Once, in Senegal

This is a true story. An anecdote, really. A dot that can perhaps be connected to other dots to make something more impressive, but right now is just a dot.

My first long trip without my family was a research trip my university organized to Senegal. I was barely eighteen years old. Ostensibly I went to research the roots of American music in West Africa, but I had absolutely zero experience as a musicologist and no idea how to go about doing research or any scholarly work of any kind. The ‘unknown unknowns’ involved in the enterprise far outweighed the other categories of knowns and unknowns by a ratio of maybe thirty-to-one. So as a scholarly endeavor, my trip was a complete waste of money and jet fuel.

For the vague purpose of personal growth and spiritual/intellectual development, though, it was a total win, and the stories of my week-and-a-half have provided fodder for many a drunken conversation in the years since.

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A lesson from a caterpillar

A lesson from a caterpillar

The girls are mostly grown now, and according to Facebook they’ve become good friends, but I’ll change their names anyway, to protect the innocent. They were children, after all, by some reckonings the very definition of innocence.

By the beginning of May, just about the entire fourth grade had found a reason to let Shannon know that they didn’t like her. The consensus was remarkable. The less couth children groaned whenever they were partnered with her; the more polite kids signaled their displeasure more discreetly. Even the teachers (with varying degrees of tact and good intentions) let Shannon know that she was not, generally speaking, contributing positively to the broader elementary school community.

Because these were modern times, of course, outright rudeness to Shannon was strictly forbidden, no matter how much she had it coming, and so a lot of good kids got themselves in trouble when they finally snapped at her. I remember one especially delightful little girl who refused to apologize after saying something unexpectedly nasty–she turned to her teacher, trembling and teary, and said, “You don’t understand: she’s been in my homeroom since kindergarten!”

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The Merciful Death of Antonette Charles

The Merciful Death of Antonette Charles

The Blue Line was one of only two things known to connect Thurman University with Kannady Chicken on North Third Street. The line’s University stop had an entrance directly at the front gates of the university. The stairwell was actually integrated into the design of the marble gates, from which attractive wings stretched out to surround and perhaps partly conceal the stairs. Most students actually used the back entrance to the subway, which spilled out in front of the larger but less attractive west gate and closer to College Hill’s commercial strip, but the main gate was symbolic of the university as a whole.

The Kellerman Avenue stop (which was actually on Ann Street, one block west of Kellerman) had a single entrance, which was in front of Kannady Chicken. Generally speaking, the less said of Kannady Chicken the better. Not so much a neighborhood institution as it was merely a thing that inexplicably existed in a neighborhood that itself only barely existed, Kannady served up edible fried foods, mostly but not exclusively chicken-based. The business depended on the fact that sometimes people came out of the subway hungry, and since the food at Kannady wasn’t any worse than anything else in this part of town it was just as good a choice as any. But make no mistake, nobody ever in the business’s history made a special trip to go to Kannady. It was just there, and so people went. Often enough that it stayed in business.

The other thing that connected Thurman University and Kannady Chicken is that Antonette Charles was a sophomore at Thurman, studying anthropology, and lived with her mother in the apartment two stories above Kannady. (Not, blessedly, the apartment directly above–everything she owned would smell like poorly-fried chicken if she had. She knew this for a fact because her neighbors, who invariably broke their leases every few months and were replaced, always sooner or later smelled like chicken.)

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