NoBo in Boulder in Colorado

canneryrowThe “Cannery Row Assignment” is a legendary writing exercise in Mr. Reed’s Advanced Composition and World Literature (Senior English) class. Here’s the prompt:

“After a careful examination of the opening pages of Cannery Row, choose a place you know well and describe it using the opening of the novel as a model. You should try for a sentence-by-sentence parallel to Steinbeck’s style. For example, when he writes, “Cannery Row in Monterey in California” you could write “Northwood School in Lake Placid in New York.” The idea is to carefully mimic Steinbeck. Find similar characters in your place to those Steinbeck mentions in Cannery Row.”

Every year he gets some outstanding work. This year, the staff of The Mirror found senior Amalia Theodoredis’s response, an intimate look at her neighborhood in Boulder, particularly good and worthy of a larger audience.

NoBo in Boulder in Colorado is a metallic screech, bitter taste left in the mouth, a piercing cold, a dull pain in the heels, an attitude, a perception, a memory, a heartbreak. NoBo is the rusting machinery, left unsympathetically in alleys, mildewing leaves mixed with oil and snow runoff, cheap Mexican food, strip clubs and trailer homes, and airless rooms of starving people, and warehouses and military cars. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “Bagmen, hobos, working girls, and punk rock musicians,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Priests and altruists and mothers and sentimentalists” and he would have meant the same thing.

amalia

Amalia Theodoredis ’17

In the morning, when the dull chill eases just slightly, residents of the small tin buildings wander into the streets sending echoes of footsteps through the tense silence. The semi-trucks turn, slowing off Highway 36. Then the bell at the elementary school down the street shrieks and the people on the street corners and in the garages wake severally and stumble off in no particular direction. Then the people in pressed suits arrive in shining cars, real-estate agents, agents of change, small-business owners hurrying quietly into meeting rooms. Then from the residences to the west pour the elderly, unemployed, or illegal. They come begrudgingly to drink bitter coffee, pawn worthless items, and inquire about work. The street groans and cracks and complains as the trucks carrying goods from Nevada rush faster and more frequently by. The deli and gas station and liquor store hum and the brakes on trucks and cars squeal until the school bell rings again.

And the drained, unfulfilled, drunk men and women wander out into the street and again turn west into the alleys or back to their garages and NoBo becomes itself again — silent and yet harsh. Its eerie quiet returns. The kids with bmx bikes and spray cans take on the dead streets and empty parking lots. The waitresses from the restaurants count the minutes until their shift ends. A man steps into the crosswalk to the small market to buy a gallon of milk. A bum sifts through the dumpster in back of the market. Then night begins to fall and the pavement once again gets colder than ice. A woman from up the street looks for the man who went to buy milk, he has left and is going back to a one room apartment to get loaded.

How can the metallic screech and the bitter taste and the piercing cold — the dull pain, the attitude, the perception the memory and the heartbreak — be set down alive? When you look at all the moments in NoBo, there are certain breaks or pauses so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture, for they are just as easily gone the next second. You must allow the noise of the passing trucks and the yelling paranoid drunk to become melodic. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book — to open the page and let the stories flow like music.

 

 

 

 

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