Signs of intelligent life in Jackson, Mississippi

With Valentine’s Day come and gone, and with my state yet again declaring its hickdom by pronouncing Paul Ott’s cliché-ridden “I Am Mississippi” as the official state poem, with my home state being the site of our Vice-President shooting someone in the face (and then waiting a goddamn week to make a public announcement), I decided to lay low this week.

I was fed up. I get fed up with Jackson, sometimes. You can get from any point in Jackson to any other point within 20 minutes, no matter the traffic conditions or time of day. That’s good. What’s bad about this closeness is that it can suffocate you—I can’t go anywhere in the city without running into someone I know. Last week, I went to Fenian’s Pub with Pete, and ran into a guy I went to college with, and had always wanted to kick. (He’s much nicer now.) Despite being a city of 250,000 souls, it feels much smaller, like a small town wearing trousers that are much too big for it. Every place is provincial, I suppose, but only certain states carry the aura of provincialism like an ancient burden. Mississippi is one of those states—the name alone conjures images of barefoot schoolchildren, lynchings, and hick accents. Most of the time, I’m happy to dispel my friends’ notions about the place—yes, we can read; no, we didn’t all vote for Bush; no, I don’t particularly like country or the blues; well, our public education system is better than Alabama’s, so that’s something, I guess.

But, as my boss said on Wednesday, “sometimes, I get tired of having to defend this place.” If you live in Mississippi, particularly if you aren’t the stereotypical Mississippian, you find yourself always in a defensive position. Constantly playing defensive is wearying. So, I’ve been feeling burdened all week. The yearly reminder that I’m still single doesn’t help.

So, I was already curdling with unfocused anger at the world when I went to the central library yesterday. I went in search of a Sigrid Nuñez novel that its online catalog claimed was there, but I could not find. In typical OCD fashion, I searched the entire “N” fiction section, and then the “S,” just to make sure it hadn’t been mis-shelved. (Don’t knock it—I once found a David Markson book in the D’s.)

Anyway, no Nuñez. As I was browsing, Dixieland jazz kept rattling the backs of my earlobes. It was coming from somewhere near the children’s section. I sauntered over there, getting peppier with every step. Indeed, in a meeting room next to the children’s information desk, there were five guys blowing up a storm. The drummer was a guy who works in the coffee shop at my local Barnes & Noble. He was grinning like a madman; I’ve never, in eight years, seen him more than casually morose. There were several rows of mostly unoccupied chairs, but the band’s enthusiasm was invigorating, especially since no one in the band (a five-piece combo) was under fifty.

Unfortunately, I was catching the last song of the set. But it was enough to get me out of my funk and stupid self-pity. The song ended with a crash and a boom that would have woken the dead. The small crowd clapped and cheered, as if they were at a real jazz club. A free big-band concert in the library—who’d have thunk it? I wish I had heard the whole thing.

After I had checked out Octavia Butler’s new novel, I went to Kat’s Wine Cellar to stock up on vodka and whiskey. A thirtysomething man walked out as I walked in, and I couldn’t help but stop him: “Where’d you get that shirt?” The bright orange shirt had blue lettering on it—Hüsker Dü/ New Day Rising. (Regular readers know of my love for all things Bob Mould.)

“Oh man, I found it online somewhere,” he said. “I’ve loved Hüsker Dü since back in the day.”

“That’s me, too,” I said. “I saw Mould live in October. Absolutely fucking amazing. I’ve been looking for a good Zen Arcade shirt for years.”

So, I had a five-minute chat with a stranger about post-punk, great bands, and getting old. By the end of it, I felt a lot better about where I lived, and the diversity of my neighborhood. Knowing I was twenty minutes away from a fresh martini probably helped my mood, but it wasn’t everything. It’s the little things that count, after all.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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4 Responses to Signs of intelligent life in Jackson, Mississippi

  1. Anonymous says:

    If you despise your own state so much that you get into depressive episodes when think about it, why don’t you move?
    I doubt it would solve your self-esteem problem, but at least you’ll complain about something else.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    1. What do you have against the blues?
    2. How are you enjoying Octavia Butler’s newest?
    3. Who’s the weirdo who posted above? I spent three years depressed in Cincinnati, and as a result I now possess character with the texture of fine velvet. Yours must be like a lovely suede by now, the kind that wine tastes like.

  3. dad says:

    interesting reading and funny at times. in every city there are the positives and negatives, but when it start to put in the lows frequently, maybe you should consider, as the first commenter suggested. hey, life is short, get the most out of it, whether in jackson or some where else. you are too great of a talent to let small issues affect you negatively.

  4. winter says:

    I concur with your Dad. I hear Tupelo is JUMPIN!

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