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    The K-Mart in my hometown finally closed down. 

I don’t live there anymore, so that doesn’t mean a whole lot, except for one little thing: the times when someone asks me where I’m from.

    Before, I’d tell them my town’s name, and when they inevitably said they’d never heard of it, I would reply with something like, “I wouldn’t expect you to, after all, it’s so small we’ve still got a K-Mart”. And then they’d throw me the laugh I was looking for so we could move on to the “nice” I’d give to whatever place they called home that I’d probably never heard of either. Now, I’ve got to say we had a K-Mart, and that we’re just another nondescript town among thousands across the country that are helping ease the chain into an existence only in the collective consciousness. But, on the bright side, I guess, if the person on the other end of the conversation is local enough, my town is now on their map, if only for the Dutch Bros. that cropped up seemingly out of nowhere, like it’s the one good scene worth slogging through a bad episode of some old TV show for.

    My town is also the “Cowboy Capital of the World”, a title more nebulous than it seems. With that information alone, one might think I live in at least three different American towns at once, across state lines. As a child I found this moniker, proudly emblazoned on welcome signs posted at either end of town (and in no one’s heart, truly), first enticing, seductive, and then ridiculous. Sure, we have the Cowboy Museum someone set up (which I have never set foot in to this day), and the Rodeo Weekend every year (one part parade, one part rodeo). Lonely train tracks run perpendicular to Main Street (F Street, but it might as well be Main). But these are fleeting, like the hordes of bikers I would watch rush by with my brother and mother, pulled over along 120 outside of town. There are no gunslingers, no abandoned mines full of dynamite and gold, no out-of-control stagecoaches. I remember more clearly the bitter, pathetic taste of a breakfast sandwich from the immortal Burger King, maintaining its keep at the edge of town, forever hypnotizing hungry passersby looking for something familiar, than I do the rodeo parade we were set to see that morning.

    This was eternally disappointing for a little boy who was, by all rights, in place to be the main character in a spaghetti western. I was the Mysterious Stranger, the Man With No Name. Even before moving, when I could honestly call my town mine, I lived ten minutes outside of it; a quiet little neighborhood nestled among the old trees and brush along the river. My brother was the only other swashbuckler around, and we made good on it. We were, in turn, pirates, Union soldiers, astronauts, and yes, cowboys, among other things. We wrestled in the dirt and mud, walked warily along the banks of the Stanislaus, one eye looking out for the forces of some malignant undead army, the other watching for the all too real threat of mountain lions. We stared at each other from opposite ends of the dust-choked field we called a backyard before our legs couldn’t take the stillness any longer and charged us into battle. A trip into town left us always somewhat unintegrated, like the piano stopping when we passed through batwing doors, an old man halting the gentle rocking of his chair to squint at us from his porch. A woman pulls her children close around her, a fierce glare in her eyes as she slams the door. No hostility, no hatred. Just unacceptance. In fact, there was nothing to be accepted into, though I so desperately wanted there to be. So we kept moving, kicking up the dust ‘round our ankles.

    It’s been years now since moving, albeit just a half hour away from where I still call home. Inside me roars the Mysterious Stranger, gung-ho gunslinger out to make things right like he never got a chance to before. These days he’s buried somewhere under layers pensive and remorseful, but maybe that’s just part of who he’s supposed to be. Clint Eastwood never talked much.

    Being on the other side of that town now, in more ways than one, I think it may have been more of a piece of the Old West than I gave it credit for. If you wanted anything you couldn’t find at the general store, that evanescent K-Mart, or at one of the little shops dotting the streets, always with the same face at the counter, you really would have to go to a Big City to find it, although there was no Sears catalog to order from. The deep, waspish roar of new, fast cars surrounded us in the quiet hours at dawn and dusk, but never passed through us. We were quiet, away, apart, traffic comparable to the days of universal horseback travel. The Bank was the most powerful entity, far from the reaches of skyscrapers and massive factories dotted with city slickers. In fact, a lot of the buildings along Main are the same as they were in the nineteenth century. Death, too, was constantly hovering along the periphery of existence, like a wayward cow skull in a stereotypical depiction of the American desert. I don’t know how many times my brother and I marched into raccoon bones and the remains of squirrels along the riverbank as we hunted dinosaurs. I heard about family members recently lost in that house, and stalked through trees with baseball bats, looking for branches to smash because the demons I was dealing with myself had no forms I could fight.

    Above all, in retrospect, it felt like a town waiting for something to happen to it, waiting for the sweet-talking mustache-twirler with the long coattails and black top hat to arrive and talk about buying land while secretly planning a devious exploitation. The quiet, smooth rhythms of life there seemed to beg for disruption on the grounds of their existence alone.

    And yet, as long as I lived there, nothing happened. And now, gazing again at that place I love, I feel my worst fear has come to pass. Throughout my life, painful and tumultuous as it has been at times, two riders have always been alongside me, their consistent presence providing order to my disarray: home, and change. My only hope was that they would never meet, and they have.

    Sure, there’s the Aaron’s that was a T-Mobile that was a Rent-A-Center that was a Blockbuster, maybe not in that order, maybe it’s something else right now that I don’t even know about. And it seems like the gas stations change hands on a weekly basis. But other than that, there was a persistent stillness to existence there, like things were untouchable. There were no big scandals, no horrific murder cases. Half the town wasn’t plowed away to put in condos. And as ridiculous as it sounds, the K-Mart closing was a sign for me. It, more than anything, was a symbol of constancy, the idyllic nature of life. There it always was, with the handful of employees I could recognize on sight because my father had made friends with them years before, with that one last pair of Nerf guns that had been gathering dust on the shelf for years (acquiring them would obviously bring the ongoing war between my brother and I to an entirely new level of brutality). Even when I was younger I figured out K-Marts were already a rarity, just by how infrequently I saw them around the state and country. It made town feel like a rarity too, like there was something just waiting to be grabbed by the horns. And though I was never truly part of that community I admired so much, I clung to that, even after leaving. But things are mortal there now, and I’ve had to accept that I’ve fallen away from a lot of things, from my brother, from all the half-forgotten friends I promised not to forget, to the core pieces of myself that have degraded with years of sorrow and loneliness. 

    Sometimes I still imagine a cloudless summer day where Main is clear of cars because everyone is inside because of the intense heat or out having fun somewhere, maybe Knight’s Ferry. I am staring down a man in all black, spurs clicking as we come closer to each other but not too close. The leather holster, real, not like the spongy plastic one that held the cap gun I broke over a decade ago and still have somewhere, slaps against my thigh, heavy with the shiny revolver it carries. I squint despite the wide brim of the cowboy hat I keep in my closet that still barely fits. After a lifetime of reaching and grasping for purpose and for something to overcome, I’ve found it in the dark figure before me.

    But no one notices the things like that about our town, or worse, no one believes they could even be possible. Somewhere along the line in our little lives we forgot adventure and learned complacency, let things come over us instead of looking out for things to overcome. I love that town, but more than the town itself I love my memory of it and what I always wanted it to be, what it maybe still could be. I am willing to die on this hill, but no one cares enough to come and kill me on it.

    Maybe I’m no longer just the Man With No Name, with a gun on my hip and the right thing in my heart, caring for the town he never learns fully or opens to completely. Maybe I’m a little more tired, a little more grizzled, grayer around the edges; (in part) the man rocking on the porch, watching, trying to keep things out with my eyes, waiting for the right bad thing to let in.


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You did it. You made me miss Kmart.

Excellent story/mediation. As someone not from that kind of small town, it's a fascinating subculture I always find interesting to learn about.

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"You are an absolute in these uncertain times. Your past is forgotten, and your
future is an empty book. You must find your own destiny, my brave adventurer.
-- Turaga Nokama


Click here to visit my library!

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This is why Napoleon Dynamite sometimes feels like a documentary in my life... growing up in rural Utah I related to that film a lot. My first college was just near the Utah-Idaho border 30 miles south of where they filmed that movie actually. 

Then again, my small town was always a bit different since we are so close to Salt Lake City. Our rural isolation ended as soon as we hit the city just 30 miles west. I remember as a kid going to SLC and admiring the Lego isles at Toys R Us. Even as an adult, my first experience with Bionicle G2 was walking into the Lego Store in Murray and being surprised to see Bionicle was back. I live in my hometown still, but I commute five or six times a week to SLC now, so sometimes I feel more part of the city than my town. 


All aboard the hype train!




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