I stood as closely as I could to the old brick wall, then looked straight up. Two stories of solid history, as full of past as the wall of a cave. Fire engine red blocks sandwiching gray mortar, too much mortar, squirting out from between the bricks like rock-hard mayonnaise. The owner told me the place was 160 years old. How red must those bricks have been on the day the masons laid down too much mortar, built that wall, and left it here for me to find?
I look over my shoulder at the car, parked at the curb just behind me. The girl inside, still struggling to put her shoes on. I turn my attention back to the bricks. I worked at a brickyard for seven years after I got out of college. Bricks are old friends to me. Red, brown, yellow, tan, and black. I even saw some purple ones once. Rectangles, squares, trapezoids, wedges, keys, wavy ones, ones with holes through them to make them lighter to carry. I was at a class in upstate New York, and a few of my fellow brickmeisters and I saw I fellow laying down some pink ordinance for a sidewalk, and we walked over and helped out for a few minutes. I was young, with money in my pocket, and most of the flaws that have dogged me through my life had not manifested yet. That fair time is inextricable tied to memories of piles of clay, sieves ten feet wide, and ancient impact presses creating thousands upon thousands of bricks,to be used by the world.
And these that I admired as my lady friend finally fit her shoes over the thick, red socks I had given her, red as the bricks in that old building, bricks made with equipment even more primitive than we had used in our broken-down factory, all those years ago. Sometimes, technology stops — there is nothing new to do, no faster you can go, no cheaper or lighter or easier to use that you can make it. Then, the industry turns to something harder.
160 years. If true, then the wall had held up remarkably well. It was bowed from side to side, and probably from top to bottom as well, but by no more than a foot or so. Given that it had passed through 160 Ohio winters, that was quite an accomplishment. There was some spalling on the west corner, and a few bricks had fallen out of place. I wondered if people with the expertise to fix the wall still existed, and I hoped the owner would find them. One head shake from the building inspector, and the bulldozers would roll, just as they were doing in old neighborhoods all over the city, and just as the will here one day, no doubt.
For now, though, we still have half a dozen convenience stores like this one. Imagine! My date was a bit short on groceries, so I gave her my last twenty and told her to get what she wanted I followed her up and down the aisles, aisles that sloped sharply to the south in some places — the building wasn’t in such good shape on the inside as out. She picked up a 12-pack of soda, some lunch meat, and a frozen pizza, and we checked out. I dropped her off on the corner, near where she was squatting with two other girls in a vacant house. The house was brick, and you could tell it had once been beautiful. It could be again, if someone spent a little time and effort on it. But to all but me (it seems), the time has passed. The sad brick house is a nest for urban blight, and the only cure is let condos roll over it.
I thought, “I wish I could save you.” Was I was thinking of the girl or the house?
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