The only reason I have a newspaper in my apartment is because some guy at my local grocery store was handing out this particular issue of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN for free in an effort to postpone the slow death of the printed word.
He also asked if I wanted to subscribe for something like $12/month. I told him I don’t even read online newspapers.
“That’s because you like newspaper grime. You need newspaper grime to read all its grimy stories.”
“You may be right about that, but I rarely eat chicken wings because I don’t like getting my fingers dirty.”
“Apples and oranges, man. Apples and oranges.”
“No, not really.”
We continued like this for 2-3 minutes. He almost got me to admit my life would be better if I read the newspaper everyday.
“Your life would be better with a daily dosage of the STATESMAN.”
“No. My life would be better if I planted an avocado tree in my backyard.”
“No. That, and only that.”
I walked away with a free copy of the September 16th, 2010 issue of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN and no subscription.
Fast forward 13 days and I open the paper for the first time, grimed fingertips. The only headline that catches my attention reads:
CHILE’S 33 TRAPPED MINERS HAVE OVER 1,000 POTENTIAL JOB OFFERS
I vaguely remember hearing about these miners on NPR, but that was a long time ago, at least it feels like a long time ago.
I scan the article for an exact date. Sure enough, those 33 miners have been trapped in that mine in Chile for 41 days, since August 5th.
Back then, 41 days ago, this crew was big news. The media and a certain fraction of the world population reached out with prayers, hearts, and sunshine meditations.
Some families talked about these unfortunates over dinner.
Some yuppies thought what if that were me and shook their barbered heads on the morning drive to work.
Meanwhile, in Copiapo Chile, the poor families of these miners set up camp around the collapsed mine and tried their best to fill the dusty air with positive thoughts as they continued to live from day to day.
One wife gave birth to a girl. For how long will she be fatherless?
When I finish the article, I scan the black-and-white picture of a boy staring down at the spot where a Chilean flag is staked into the side of an arid hill.
Beneath this flag, somewhere in the underworld, lives this boy’s father.
The encampment of miner’s wives is in the backdrop.
My attention shifts from the newspaper to my community swimming pool. I see one kid hop the fence with his backpack. He turns around and helps a thin little girl over. They strip down to their underwear and splash into the deep end.
It’s clear they don’t live here. It’s also clear their truants, it being Wednesday morning.
I’ve never seen them before, but they have friends.
3 more boys and 1 more girl jump over the fence with relative ease. Only the girl, chunkier than the first, strips down to her underwear and swims.
The boys pace around the pool, take off their shirts, and look at the wind-bristled water. They have shorts that hang down from their boxers to their ankles. They have gold crucifixes around their necks.
none of them say anything to the first boy and girl who trespassed into the swimming pool even though they’re in plain sight. Not even the chunkier girl who is swimming shows any signs of acknowledgment.
This is because the boy has pinned the thin little girl against a corner of the deep end and is getting busy.
Her legs are spread, one foot steady on the wall, the other with its toes clinging to the ladder. Her arms wrapped around the boy’s neck. They’re eating lips and tongues. They’re aroused and too young to buy a room with some privacy. This is as private as it gets, skipping school in broad daylight with rebellious friends.
The thin little girl eventually tears away from the boy. She seems perturbed, like she wants some space, so she swims over to the chunkier girl and hugs her in the deep end. They don’t kiss, but they whisper about something clandestine, and then the maintenance man comes and ruins their fun.
“Do any of y’all live here?”
All of them point to different apartments and say they live there. He laughs and says no kidding around.
“The manager is about to call the cops. This is private property.”
Mention the three-letter word and all delinquents react the same way. In a matter of seconds, the troupe marches into the laundry room – chlorine dripping off their hair and clothes – presumably to dry their shit and get back to class.
Because everyone knows it’s no fun sitting through school in wet underwear.