Title: The Dodge Mahal

Takeaway: Getting to you was a journey across place and time, and a mix of emotions.

Seat: Front

Logged: 02 Oct 15 (Friday in the PM)


Time: 5 minutes

Replies: 10

Revisions: 23

Publicity: Superfeed

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It wasn’t easy to find you. I had to go back in time.

You were a software engineer from Mumbai. “India is a lot like America,” you said, “with its great contrasts.” I asked you about places there, like the holy city of Varanasi, the tech-hub, Bangalore, and the tourist destination of Agra. You hadn’t been to any of them. But you had been to Dodge — Dodge City, Ford County, Kansas.

*          *          *

I seemed to be doing circles around where you were waiting for me. You were in an unmarked place on my phone’s GPS — a virtual no man’s land. While looking for you on my screen I thought about the uncharted, monster-dwelling oblivions on old sea maps, or a Nintendo game’s out-of-the-way world I’d haplessly stumbled into through some glitch. “I was just over there,” I said aloud, scrolling faster with my thumb back and forth over the empty landscape where you supposedly were — over to where I was being led yet again.

It was then I got the feeling I knew the monster that held you captive. Looking for you vividly recalled the experience of discovering these behemoths as a child. I watched clans of them set up camp just outside my 1950s neighborhood development. Before they colonized our woods, we played manhunt there; before they reshaped the land and diverted the runoff, we watched salamanders in the brook; before the vast drainage chambers were mapped, I got my dirt-bike stuck in rich, black mud. Some one-of-a-kind autumn day just beyond our streets, I found myself engrossed in wonder at the foot of an incongruous mountain. I ditched my bike to climb it. Part way up I looked down upon my bike, wondering if I would ever need it again. At the top I dusted my pants and stood up, stunned. I panned across the vast construction site covering a world I once knew. I reprocessed what I was standing on — a manmade yet biblical mass of boulders displaced to make room for them: the big box stores.

Between me and an inevitable investigation of their lair — of the reserves of electronics that would enable sunny afternoons in a windowless basement — there lay a treacherous level of mangled flora, uprooted fully matured trees, piles of rolled up metal fences, and a slope of tank tread like an interstate on-ramp, which is what it would basically become. This was an evolutionary threshold between the polliwog in a cloudy stream, the remote control car on the linoleum store floor, and the computer program on a TV screen.

*          *          *

A loud truck changing its gears behind me brought me back to present tense; I was looking for you on the verge of a similar threshold, many years later. Awakened by this childlike sense of peril, I looked back at my car like I once looked at my bike, and then turned into the giant’s lair to go find you.

Like I had done so many times as a kid, I crossed lanes of long white lines, jumped a barrier in the middle, and cut through a thicket of weeds to reach a fence, through which I might have some view of your predicament, which was really our predicament. You hadn’t cancelled, and right then I knew you weren’t going to. I was grateful to finally see you and your pod hadn’t lost hope. You had that unmistakable pose which suburbanites discern as that of the utmost persona non grata — someone waiting for a ride. About a hundred yards off I noticed a point of entry from the service road I navigated earlier. “My car,” I thought, much like it was the bike I’d ditched as a kid.

*          *          *

You were three — father, mother and son. I asked if we were going to take the Cozy Coupe toy car your boy was sitting in. You looked at him, proud, and smiling. He stared back at me very seriously, like he was revving his engine. Hitched to the back of the Coupe was a wagon full of bottled water, a huge vat of vegetable oil, and a case of Sprite. Nobody moved or spoke. I wondered if I’d forgotten to do something obvious like say hello. I clapped my hands once and went to work stock-piling water into the trunk.

I asked you if you liked that particular store. You moved your head in a circular, floating motion the way I have seen only the people of India do. I heard, “It reminds me of the Taj Mahal.”

*          *          *

You lived in Kansas for one year of high school. Your father was there for work. You went to the mall on weekends. The pictures you took of yourself and your new friends often had the mall in the background. One of your cousins back home asked you if the building in the pictures you sent had any significance. You told her it was a mall, what that meant, and that you gathered there once a week. When she came to visit, she wanted a picture of herself taken in the mall’s parking lot. The snapshot shows her with hands out and palms up, like she is “a model on The Price is Right” presenting something “magnificent.” You laughed teasingly.

Since you left Dodge, you hadn’t met another American who’d been there. You said that most people think of Dodge, “if they think of it at all,” like a Western, a movie, “a mythology.” You said, “That is America,” and like a foregone conclusion tagged it with, “a fictional story.” But you assured me I should go there, because, “It’s the genuine article.”

For the remainder of the ride you all spoke to each other in a language I didn’t know. When we pulled up to your building I helped you unload your stockpile. You thanked me for picking you up like I had done you a favor, and I appreciated that. I thanked you in the same way, and I think you could tell what for. You revealed to me something American that only someone from somewhere else could do. I watched you and your family waiving in the rearview mirror.


Horse » Authorship
Horse » 3:29 PM 21 Jun 19
Elk » 12:50 AM 27 Mar 18
Horse » 4:13 PM 19 Mar 18
Elk » 9:44 AM 19 Mar 18
Elk » 9:38 AM 19 Mar 18
Horse » 12:38 AM 19 Mar 18
Horse » 12:12 AM 19 Mar 18
Horse » 5:03 PM 18 Mar 18
Horse » 9:56 PM 20 Oct 15
Elk » 9:22 AM 10 Oct 15
Horse » 3:07 PM 05 Oct 15
Horse » 3:06 PM 05 Oct 15
Horse » 3:02 PM 05 Oct 15
Horse » 2:54 PM 05 Oct 15
Horse » 2:54 PM 05 Oct 15
Horse » 2:53 PM 05 Oct 15
Horse » 2:50 PM 05 Oct 15
Horse » 2:47 PM 05 Oct 15
Horse » 2:44 PM 05 Oct 15
Horse » 10:20 PM 04 Oct 15
Horse » 9:59 PM 04 Oct 15

The Thread (10)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. Needs a touch of work. The beginning is great. The mall ties into the monster’s lair thing, in theory, but not in the story. It goes nowhere after you pick them up, other than to set up Dodge Mahal, which, again, doesn’t tie into the childhood suburban apocalypse thing – which, again, is great.

  2. It’s gotten a rewrite. The trick here has to be in one of two places: present the topics the way they come up in conversation – episodically, without story, and importantly, without even implying one; or craft that linear connection you seem to think is in fact implied.

  3. I sensed that was the dichotomy – that’s actually a common if not ubiquitous or synonymous dichotomy of all writing.

  4. The pony ride is conversational. It always has been. The tangent is a sign of its realism. There are usually several ideas of stories, or histories, and an underlying story that is the ride itself. I don’t want to defend bad craft, but let’s find the stitching that will give this piece the grace and voice I’ve been told ponies have.

  5. Obviously don’t want to introduce something that doesn’t get resolved or fit in, unless of course it’s done properly.

  6. I thought the stitch was suburbia gone tame — the unwilding by disjointed and labyrinthine development. Hence the Mahal of America, our crown jewel.

  7. I’ve been thinking a good bit about this one recently. The shopping list is just so damn accurate I feel I know who these people are.

  8. Finally seeing the significance of this piece — went to town on it, pun intended.

    Perhaps take it from here — read it all the way through in its current form and take note of any incongruities or juxtapositions that inhibit the flow.

    The objective here — and almost always — is to carry readers through, somewhat effortlessly, from sentence to sentence, thus paragraph to paragraph, without much pause, so that they arrive at the ending with a not altogether vague feeling. I think this piece is there, or very close.

  9. Change

    But you had been to Dodge — Dodge City, Ford County, Kansas.


    But you had been to Dodge City, Ford County, Kansas.

    This sentence is screwy. I’m not sure how it’s meant to read. I don’t like it ending with a question mark.

    Part way up I looked down upon my bike, wondering if would ever need it like that again?

  10. I’ve been advocating for more background on the narrator, so this will sound a little hypocritical – I don’t think the bike flashback works here. There’s too much on the narrator and we lose track of the rider. Whatever parallels exist between the two stories aren’t enough of a payoff.

    I’d cut it way back. And when implementing information about the narrator, keep it very short and very tight.

    Another way of thinking about it: this seems like two stories spliced, not one unified.

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