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Sidewalks

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Scott Dickensheets

A fairly typical patch of Downtown sidewalk

Lately, as I walk to and from Desert Companion’s temporary Downtown office, I’ve been wondering about the etymology of the stains on these crusty sidewalks. Every segment of concrete presents an incredible density of splotches, dribbles, smears, drips, smudges, blots, spots, blemishes, splatters, blotches, splashes — some are dark, some faint, some a battered shade of whitish. Their swirled layering invites a facile but not wholly inaccurate comparison to Jackson Pollock. It’s engrossing (and just gross) to imagine all the potential sources of these marks: spilled booze or soda or juice, spit, spit tobacco, oily residues tracked over from the asphalt, ink, hobo urine, dog and cat urine, feces from many species (including, ugh, human?), vomit, human blood, pigeon blood, snot, chemicals, gum, dropped food ... what, I wonder, would a forensic chemist would make of the riot of molecular grime clinging to this cement? Or, for that matter, a forensic storyteller? Each stain represents a point in a narrative of some kind — something specific happening. Most of them utterly forgettable (a hawked loogie, a dumped Coke, a pigeon with diarrhea), sometimes more fraught (a tourist barfing up a night’s worth of El Cortez whisky; someone bleeding after a parking-garage fistfight), but each one leaving behind its own gunky residue, all freckled together in strata of unknowable story. But there have to be a few doozies, right? How many separate incidents did it take to gunk up this single patch of sidewalk? Over how much time? And what about the next square over? Scott Dickensheets

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