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Josh Russell



I grew up in a Chinese restaurant. It wasn't my family's restaurant. My family owns a junkyard on the opposite end of Main, and they're not Chinese, but I don't fit in there. Someone's always throwing cans of beer and soda my dad finds in wrecked cars into the pool to see if they bubble. Someone's always trying to choose from the fridge full of mismatched salvaged tallboys in the basement. Someone's always asking, "How do you spell 'language'?" When I'm not at the restaurant, I'm at my friend's apartment, over by the university. His family's from Iran. When it's just them and me, there's a picture of the Shah tacked up over the toilet. When people we don't know well come over, we swap it for a picture of the Ayatollah. Our school's downwind from the Beer Nuts factory and we can smell it when we're on the playground at recess. DQ is open only in summer. Once upon a time it was the snack bar for the drive-in theater. The screen and some of the poles where the speakers used to hang are still there. It's where in December the Boy Scouts sell Christmas trees. Around that time of the year the university floods the basketball courts by the high-rise dorms. The water freezes and college guys play hockey. This all went on in Normal, Illinois. I didn't know the name was funny until I moved away.




You get caught shoplifting paint markers from the Wheaton Plaza Walgreens and then you wait and wait and wait in the basement mall security office for your dad to come and pick you up. When he finally arrives, he's dressed in tuxedo, top hat, and spats because, he explains to the nodding security guard, he felt the occasion "demanded a certain solemnity." After a halfhearted lecture he drives you from Silver Spring, Maryland to Chicago so the two of you can go to a dry cleaner's under an L bridge where there's a showcase of baseball cards. The terrazzo is tracked with dirty slush. What he wants to show you are the 1969 Topps decals, small and delicate as antique postage stamps. After he points out the Mantle, the Clemente, the Aaron, the Yastrzemski, he pulls from his pocket a receipt and goes to the cleaner's counter to claim the sharkskin suit he left when a teenager in 1959. It's bright blue and it shimmers. He pays with a handful of wheat pennies, Buffalo nickels, and silver half dollars.





on NORMAL: Quarantined with my kid, I spent a lot of time thinking about being a kid, and how things I saw or heard when I was a kid didn't strike me as weird until much later.

on CHICAGO: Old coins, baseball cards, long car trips in winter, my dad's lukewarm lectures: lockdown provided a lot of time to pine.