Each morning, I start my Iowa City day by taking Stella & Eleanor for a walk. Stella pees and does her thing while Eleanor points to the phenomenological world and says, “See? See?” As for me – I read the paper. Just the headlines, mostly, unless I read something unusually interesting, which is rare.
I don’t know how my Secret Ritual happened exactly. It began a couple weeks after we moved here. But I do my Secret Ritual on these morning walks as well. It’s completely pointless. I don’t even know why I do it. I just do. There are other things I could be doing during the few minutes it takes me to execute my ritual, I suppose. I mean, I am a busy man. But for whatever reason, I do this instead of yoga, prayer, or balancing my checkbook.
Basically, I decided one morning that, instead of bringing my newspaper all the way back home and into our recycling bin after I had perused the headlines, I could leave it on someone’s doorstep. I guess I happened to be at the intersection of Lucas & Jefferson Streets when this occurred to me, ‘cause that’s where I dropped my first paper. A ritual was thus birthed.
The house on the southeast corner of Lucas & Jefferson is an old lofty flophouse with white slate paneling covered in grime. It looks like it hasn’t changed in sixty years or more. An old demented t.v. antennae is perched on the roof like it’s keeping an eye out for the Commie Invasion. There are about eight different entrances and mailboxes, giving one the impression that the landlord rents solitary rooms to individual tenants. Bathrooms, I imagine, are shared. On the front porch, by one of the many entrances, a yellow porch light is always shining, no matter the time of day. There is an ashtray and a cinderblock. The ashtray is always full of gnarled cigarette butts and gum.
One day on a walk around the block with Janelle, a few days after we arrived in town, I noticed this old house. “Lookit that house, man,” I said to her, “it’s ancient.”
”Yeah it is,” Janelle replied, waving to a Townie girl, maybe twenty-two, who was perched on the cinderblock underneath the porch light, chainsmoking the sunset away.
”We used to have siding like that on our house, when I was growing up.”
I remember that siding well because, as I grew older, it started to give way and crumble. I once lost control of a basketball, which banged against the side of our house. In an instant it smashed two or three slabs of siding. They crumbled to the ground and made a sound like Moses himself had just stumbled on a tombstone and dropped one of his prized earthen tablets.