A man strolls down Main Street at lunchtime playing a trumpet. Drumbeats ricochet off the windows in storefront churches downtown, where one Sunday morning a dozen or so congregants stand and sway to the music, their eyes closed, their right hands raised.
Every spring, our neighbors, some of them dressed in kilts and codpieces, blasted dance music and skipped around a Maypole in their backyard. Meanwhile, a bare-chested man in Spandex pantswe called him the flaming majorettetwirled fiery batons. They moved away, and I miss them.
Durham is the smell of tobacco floating from old drying warehouses, the scent of dryer lint hanging in the air on my street on Saturday mornings; the aroma of flour, sugar, water and yeast wafting from the Mexican bakery on the corner.
At Duke and Morehead streets, a stranger takes my elbow and we walk to the bus station. He tells me about an operation on his foot as a child that left him blind.
Under the train tracks on Chapel Hill Street, someone has placed a sticker on a concrete barrier that says, “Read motherfucking books all damn day.”
Near the jail I find an inmate’s letter written on the back of an intake form. It is torn into about 20 pieces. When I puzzle it back together, I find a list of pros and cons of being in jail. Pro: Food.
On Anderson Street, I hear a beeping in the grass that sounds like a wounded bird. It’s a broken security tag designed to deter shoplifters. I take it home, wrap it in a hat, a shirt and a sock and stick it on a closet shelf. It beeps for two weeks before dying.
Around mile marker 1.5 a red fox streaks across the American Tobacco Trail. At mile marker 2, a pair of rainbow-striped women’s underwear has been discarded in the grass among the empty beer cans.
In East Durham, a junkyard dog sits in the passenger seat of a wrecked car, waiting for a driver. A man leaves a friend’s house in Forest Hills carrying a mounted deer head, a bow around its neck.
“Can I take your picture?” I ask.
He smiles. The deer does not.
In 1961, acclaimed journalist Gay Talese wrote a book containing the essay “New York Is a City of Things Unnoticed,” which is the inspiration for this piece.