Charlotte, NC II

The Charlotte Symphony is playing pops tunes on a warm, purple southern evening. Their halogen-lit-white bandstand glows like a small sun, its radiance duplicated by the still water of the moat bordering it. Throngs of people sit on the surrounding grass: high school couples, parents with kids, retirees. Some are there to overindulge in picnic foods, or catch up with family, or get hammered. The mood is infectiously good and a symphony of loud and cheerful conversations overwhelms the music piped through loudspeakers from the stage. A piece concludes with an unnoticed finale and The Conductor begins speaking in a thick, almost charicaturish accent. Is he Italian? Nebulously Eastern European? A New Yorker who survived a stroke? The crowd is indifferent. The Conductor may find this liberating or intimidating, but it seems more likely that he reciprocates the crowd's indifference. As sixteen year-olds prove that it is possible to simultaneously neck and text, the conductor tries to be a Wild and Crazy Guy, though he abjectly fails to channel a particle of Steve Martin's charisma. The Conductor talks about how he loved the scene in Rocky where Sly Stalone chugged raw eggs. Then he makes a few lame sports references. Then he resorts to double entendres. Then to single entendres. "He didn't just say that, did he?" A head turns toward the stage from a glowing iPhone screen. "I... don't... think... so. But that sure sounded like 'cunt' to me." The symphony resumes as the sky darkens and the crowd drifts back to their conversations.

The angry looking man in the restaurant says that Ohio is in the Midwest. There is disagreement at his table and an adjoining table is brought in to adjudicate. They say that Ohio is in the Midwest. The angry looking man looks angrier and his mouth works as his brows furrow. He cares about this deeply. The conversation drops.

The gracelessly aging strip mall has two large thrift stores and a discount supermarket with palettes instead of shelves, cheap carbohydrates instead of produce. The sidewalks are covered in the black bacterial polkadots of old chewing gum. The stores are empty. The parking lot is empty, too, except for a small demolition derby of vehicles in the far corner. They are outside of the plasma donation center where the waiting room overflows with people in sweatpants. The entrance and exit doors swing open and closed, swishing and thudding quietly in the still air. Inside, donors slouch in contemplative silence, waiting to re eve their checks.