Ninth & General Way

Originally submitted here.

On the corner of South Ninth and General Way, just behind the SmartMart in the deep corner of the alley untouched by the city’s sanitation probes you can find me. Dressed in withering clothes that have long outstayed their lifespan, down to nothing but a patchwork of fabrics old and new. An old tan bomber jacket like the ones your great-great-great-great grandfather wore in those old SmileBook photos, cobbled together with fabrics from many decades that are yet still at least three decades out of date. A pair of jeans that look like they belong on in a cultural museum than on the body of a man who hasn’t showered in at least five, or perhaps six, decades. Seriously, the fabric these babies are made of could probably be sold for enough to get me out of this rut and into a hanging condo in the Juno district, and many have tried but I refuse to part with them. When you’re as old as I am you just get stuck in your ways, no matter how many luxuries have sprouted up since your youth. And finally there’s my shirt. Long and faded in an older script of English that looks like to you what the archaic dialect of Medieval English looked to me. If you can read through the ghost of the screen printed letters and through the murk that covers them up, you would see “Head Ringers World Tour” printed on the front, and the back a list of cities, states, and countries, most of which you’d only recognize from history lessons or immersive interfaces. Like you, I’ve never been to them, but I’d hear about places like Paris, Beijing, or Houston from passers by as I sat in the corner trying to make my way in the world.

“This city isn’t what it used to be,” I hear a lot from the older folks as they drift on by in their PeraPods. A statement I’ve been hearing for so so long. Yes, a city can change a lot within one’s lifetime. Each city in itself is an amorphous construct of its citizen’s wills, always shifting and adapting to fit their needs, or like the case of the Terrible Twenties (the first and second ones), the world will push back upon the city through the forces of capitalism, self-interest, and good ol’ fashioned mismanagement, causing it to buckle under financial and political stress and thus shifting the city’s innards into a cancerous mess of crime and corruption until the inevitable might of the new national government comes in with enough equipment to wage war against a small nation (as with the first Terrible Twenties) or an young ambitious councilwoman changes the city forever (as with the second), “cleans up” the streets and sets things back on track. The perks of being content with having next to nothing most my existence makes the rising and falling of the city bearable, and I suppose being able to take a bullet to the head as nothing more than a forced fourteen day nap not so bad either.

I’ve seen the city build up and tear down. I’ve watched skyscrapers rise into the air piercing through the clouds like giant needles, only to be felled a century later when they’re deemed too old, dangerous, or just out of date, only for another one to be put in its place waiting to meet its same fate a hundred years later. I’ve seen historical districts come and go. It seems that people stop caring about historical buildings after a century passes and inevitably the city government will step in and revoke those designations and new buildings go in their place, only to be awarded historical markers a few decades later before being torn down once again. I’ve seen whole generations of families grow up before my very eyes. I’ve seen fashion change and evolve only to come back twenty years later as if it’s suddenly new all over again (the ninety-seventies for instance still seems to live on the longest for reasons I don’t know why). I’ve heard people talk about the news about the fall of China, the complete nuclear eradication of Europe, to the flooding of various coastal cities turning them into modern day Atlantises. I’ve lived through the collapse of the United States and watched the disparate factions shifting through its ashes try to make sense of the terrors of the uncertain future. I’ve seen the city captured by the New American Federalist and forced under its martial law, all the way to General Way’s coup and liberation of the the people three generations later, and the later renaming of Meadow View to General Way. Meanwhile Ninth has maintained its name for as long as I’ve been around, I suppose people jus like the simplicity of numbered streets.

I don’t know how this curse came about me, and I don’t recall being able to pinpoint just one day that I realized my body’s refusal to call it quits. Just as time went on my friends grew old and sick, got caught up in the wrong fights with the wrong people, or died in cold snaps and heat waves, and I stayed perfectly fine. Unchanging, permanently stuck in the body of a fifty seven year old man’s. The only thing that’s really changed about me is my beard. I’ll shave it once ever few decades whenever I feel like it. There was a time when this curse felt like a gift. I would showoff this talent of mine by taking a blade across the jugular or a lethal dose of whatever was the trendy street drug at the time, and faint only to awaken again a few hours or days later as a way to mess with those around me. But over time people grew jealous or weirded out and left me behind. I don’t blame them though, if I were so naive about my curse as they were I too would be jealous. No need to worry about starving to death when your body refuses to die anyways.

I’ve been around for two and a half centuries, and I expect to be around two and a half more. A passive bystander, doomed to watch the world pass by like a river through time.

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