Every neighborhood needs someone to ignore, and so every year Little Aleppo chooses a Poet Laureate. There’s no shortage of candidates: the Town Fathers roust a random drunk out of the Morning Tavern; it is invariably someone with a chapbook, and several restraining orders from literary magazines. There’s a big ceremony that no one attends, and then the Poet Laureate’s name gets taken away, and critics are assigned. Extending credit to the Poet Laureate is a felony.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning did not get along. Often, at dawn, sleepy churches and sketchy parties would rumble in the street. This might have seemed odd in some places, but Little Aleppians had long since grown accustomed to conceptual battle royales–just ask anyone about the time Truth threw Beauty through a plate-glass window–so they regarded the fights like a farmer did a rooster. Cheaper than an alarm clock.
Those hours between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning are sin’s liminal zone. The body and the flesh, or the Body and the Flesh, and your choice of beverage factors in. The party people put on their fancy clothes, and go to a crowded building to try to make sense of their lives. The church folks put on their fancy clothes, and go to a crowded building to try to make sense of their lives. You can see how conflict between the two groups would be inevitable.
There is a feral cat colony in the Verdance, where everything grows. It is their territory, according to them, and it is not, according to the humans; skirmishes flourish. Not cat vs. person: strictly intramural feuding among residents. The catch-and-release folks have their traps sabotaged by the Feline Free Love association, who in turn have their tires slashed by cat-killing bird-lovers. Meanwhile, the kitties fuck, and kill animals smaller than them, and nap.
The cats avoid the swans. Dogs, too, and so do humans. There are white swans, and also one black swan that came out of nowhere, and no one was expecting. Floating, hateful beauties: the swans attacked anything that moved. If nothing moved, the black swan–who caused way more trouble than anyone could have predicted–would shake some plants with his beak, and then the swans would attack that. Several people in the neighborhood believe that the swans have now begun making prank phone calls.
The Holy Synod is a junkie’s motel run by a religious maniac named Frankie Teakettle; everyone calls it The Nod, and all the occupants started off on the hourly rate. There are never enough towels, but it’s homey. Frankie has been awake since 1986, and though he has won the war against sleep, his eyeballs have lost and they jooble and jimble around in their sockets; very early in the morning, when it’s quiet, you can hear them rattle like counterfeit pennies in a coffee can.
The comforters are dull green, quilted, and thin, with pilled fabric springing out like mushrooms from the countless washings; below that were beige blankets made of scratchy wool with a satin-ish seam along one sides; on the mattress was a see-through white sheet. A chair, a teevee, a desk with a matchbook from the Hotel at Salt Wharf under one leg. And a bathroom and a door with three locks, solid and well-anchored. There was a fire extinguisher in each room, and fucking with the smoke detectors was just about the only thing that would get you 86’ed.
The Poet Laureate has gotten all turned around in the supermarket, and has been stuck in the dairy cul-de-sac for hours. The stockboys ignore his whines; the cashiers have seen his type before.
Crime Alley is, counter-intuitively, the safest place in the neighborhood: no Little Aleppian would go anywhere near someplace named Crime Alley. Trouble seeped in through the drywall and floorboards on a normal day; why go searching it out? If you show God your dick, children were taught, then He will laugh at it.
The Hotel at Salt Wharf is full of brokenhearted sailors, none of whom ever quite get their land legs back, and so the hallway walls are bruised and cratered where stubbled men bounced. They check in with duffel bags full of fish and knots, and get their pipes re-cobbed. Parrots are available for rental at the desk. The whole building is up by four a.m. and earns an extra buck making wake-up calls to the other hotels.
Little Aleppo loves a show, and if a cage door at the zoo has to be unlocked to get one, then so be it. There’s music in the cafes at night, and the crash of crockery being thrown at cafe musicians from people who live in apartments above. The crossing guards sing Verdi, and the mailmen write poetry on the back of your gas bill, and the sanitation crews groom the landfill into towering trash topiaries. Art for our sake; the circus is the town.
Shrieker’s Corner is in the Verdance, which is oval-shaped, and it is in the most out-of-the-way section. There are two transverse foot path running through the park, and they are bisected by the Thoroughfare–from above, the Verdance looks like a black “‡” in a green egg–and the Corner is backed up almost onto the street away from any of the lanes. Little Aleppians are staunch believers in free speech, but that doesn’t mean they have to put up with it.
You can yell about anything you want at Shrieker’s Corner, and the Parks Department will even provide you with a soapbox. This is not altruistic: before the boxes were standardized, there was a height war. One guy brought a soapbox, and then another guy brought a ladder, and then some lady showed up in the cage of a cherry-picker driven by her cousin, and then the Town Fathers had to step in, and now everyone is issued a regulation-size soapbox.
On the other side of the Verdance, where everything grows, is the cemetery. No one knows it’s a cemetery but the dead people who were buried there without their names. The area has a pico-climate where it is always about to do something: the sun is trying to come out, or the clouds want to open up; the weather is always going to happen five minutes from now, you just wait. Meteorologists and conspiracy theorists have puzzled over this for years. The Poet Laureate could explain it, but Little Aleppo has always ignored the Poet Laureate. That’s why they have one in the first place.