GCSPrank Is Here

For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

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Gil C. Schmidt was born. Lucky for him and some 416 people, many of who don't seem to know it. Lives in Puerto Rico, which is convenient because he also works from there. Gil writes about dozens of real things (with relish) and dozens of imaginary things (like phantasmagoric pickles), in separate forums. Author of several books and a son, Gil gets in trouble when he's bored. Please head to the egress now.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Oxpatch

Every character needs a stage. For GCSPrank, that stage was a tiny village, wrapped in its myth of literary and historical pedigree. Dropped amidst the emptiness of northern Mississippi, Oxford was irreverently and accurately called Oxpatch, a moniker that framed its attitude and size quite well.

From dusty arrival one cool January morning to testy departure one cloudy January morning four years later, Oxford accepted me reluctantly. Long accustomed to outright rejection—some of it well-deserved—the lazy, impassive, almost bovine indifference to my presence that Oxford dropped in my path was like a Welcome Wagon on skids. Passing for an American in appearance and name, but Puerto Rican in heart and mind, the surprise was not that I was suddenly cold-shouldered after the revelation, but that Oxfordians and state brethren would consider it almost their duty to do so. The Old South had changed, from white sheets to blank eyes.

I walked the village for days, days I tell you, from one end to another, through shaded streets and open roads to grimy alleys and mottled woods. Time and again I’d visit the town, with its early rush of “farm folk” in the post-dawn hours to the staid passages of the mid-afternoon throng, heavily influenced by students, businessmen and passers-through on their way to someplace more important.

Oxford had a warm heart, a generous helping of Southern hospitality and gentility that could ease your mind. Oxford also had a mean streak, one that afforded open approval of a KKK rally during a Confederate flag controversy more academic than racial. The whites stayed on their sides; the blacks on theirs and I wandered through both sides. Never in defiance. My presence was never a challenge, but an admission that I could only truly learn if I shared openly. It was a challenge to myself and I confess I didn’t do as well as I wanted to.

I spoke more often than my habit with dozens of people of all ages and skin colors. Some conversations were brief and sharp. Very few, really. Most were rambling jazz sessions, trying to find a common rhythm we could attune ourselves to. The gap could be too wide and the end result was a slow descent into awkward silence. At other times, the gap was bridged with a rainbow of words and images that carried its own reward from beginning to end.

From oddness to odd comfort to odd distaste, Oxford mutated in my mind. A blanket in the dark, an aquarium during the day; playground in the summer and prison in the winter. I was unimpressed at first sight and unsentimental at the last. Oxford holds its own place in my mind, a curiosity that no longer inspires the need for examination, collecting dust on a mental shelf tucked deep.

One day I could arise to feel the urge to return to Oxford, though it has changed into another world by now. But I’ve learned quite well that what’s possible is very much outside of what’s expected. Especially in Oxpatch.

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