Blame it on the satellite. Blame it on the black star. Blame it on the fallen sky. Fall on me. Repay me for it, and don't waste time or bullets. Point that thing at me and let me say, "Watch out, honey! That gun is loaded!" Let me see if I can catch the missile before it passes through me. The harm I've done passed through so easily and left me living; why should metal treat me worse?

Cruelty for amusement is only amusing to fools.

Three of us were cruising around in cars, as kids will do when all they care to do is get the hell away from the ones who raised them. The ones who spent every last dime they had on them. The ones who stayed up at night worrying about them. The ones who would have stood in front of that missile and caught it. The ones who only wanted to make their children bulletproof. . . (Wish I was.)

We were so far past too cool for school. We were the masters of our little town. And the smallness of the locale could not begin to measure up to the smallness of our behavior. One breeds the other, I suppose. I guess that's why so many kids stay where they were raised, no matter how gruesome the prospects. "Local townie kid gets new position as assistant manager in Farm Equipment Department! (At age 32.)" Headlines in some little 6-page newspaper. He'll cut that article out and put it in a folder. The ones he'll spend every last dime on will toss it in the dumpster when it's time.

We were cruising behind the one mall in that small desperate town. There was a classmate on his bicycle. It was as if three alley cats had spotted a bug which they had no interest in eating, but which might be amusing as a temporary toy. The driver pulled up to the kid on his bike. He was not a popular kid in school. He was what would be considered a bottom feeder.

Now I think back on it and wonder who his parents were. I wonder if he had brothers and sisters, and how they treated him. I wonder where he lived and what he was doing behind that mall that day on his bicycle. But, most of all, I wonder if he remembers what happened next.

I was in the passenger seat and the driver and my other good buddy in the back seat usually looked to me for the primary entertainment on these outings. The car stopped by our classmate on his bike. I rolled down the window and asked how things were going. As he was answering me, swelling with pride that the cool kids had bothered to stop and speak with him; probably thinking of how he could perhaps leave that bike behind the mall and actually get in the car. Thinking of how this could be the turning point in his high school career and could change everything forever.

I harked up a huge loogie and spat it on the side of his face.

As the driver peeled rubber leaving the scene of this small and horrible crime, I have never felt worse in my life. No matter how much it could have hurt this young boy, it could not have done as much permanent and unyielding harm to him as I'd done to myself.

I look in Classmates to see if I can find his name, in an effort to beg forgiveness all these years later. His name is not there. Fall on me. Black hole sun, swallow me in the lip-stretching fashion of some gravitational horror. At least do me the favor of wiping me free of this memory.

I lift my arms up to the sky and ask the sky and beg the sky. I do not want to have to tell this story to Satan every afternoon for His amusement.

All my friends are so small town
My parents live in the same small town
My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity

Smalltowns begin and end with signs. You are now entering, you are now leaving. With each sign a different mentality emerges; these signs are borders, like the borders of countries, topped with razorwire and militia. They can be seen. You are now entering Northern Bay, Newfoundland. Look here.

The south sign is beside the road, smothered in evergreen trees. The trees stand tall; the sign marks the fourth quarter of the schoolbus trek home. The kids always spot it; no snow ever touches it. Part of the endless pattern of smalltown life: you are now entering Ochre Pit Cove, you are now leaving Northern Bay. You are now committing yourself to the circle of existence; you are now committing yourself to everyday life.

Dara walks the road every single day. She lives more on the south end of Northern Bay, at the bottom of a huge hill, right across from Vincent's Fish and Chips. She has a well-off family, for such a smalltown--she has her own tennis court. She walks a good two miles each day, across the entirety of Northern Bay, and into Gull Island, past Shannon's old house. Walking keeps her in shape, she says, and she always gets waved at. There are rumours and opinion in smalltowns, and her reason for walking was always one of them: she's seeing Jane Smith's husband while Jane's at work. Exercise is a great excuse. Gossip, constant behind-the-back conversation. Welcome to smalltown. Dara's coming up on fifty now, and she still walks, every day, bad weather-permitting, and whenever she goes In Town.

Mack doesn't live anywhere. Plays a mean game of Monopoly. Smalltown is boring. There is always work, very litle play. In '94, the power was gone for four days and all Mack did was play Monopoly at Darren's house. Mack doesn't live anywhere, so his personal hygiene isn't tip-top. He sleeps in back of the old post office, past the Gull Island town line. He's got his own little set-up, but no one ever cares to take a look at it. No one cares. Mack's a fixture, living in a fixture's world. He can't break out of the fishbowl. This fishbowl is home. He walks the roads day and night, like Dara. He'll help fix things if they're broke, and in exchange maybe a few cigarettes gone from your pocket into one of thousands on his leather jacket. Perhaps payment will end up being the pleasure of company. It gets lonely in smalltown when you have no home.

There's a town drunkard in every human habitation on earth, isn't there? Call him Barry. Big, blustery fellow with a loud, incomprehensible manner of speech. Married a girl eleven years his junior. Met her when he was twenty-one. There are smiley-smiles on his face at all times. He once got a private stripper to come into his home and entertain some houseguests; his thirteen year old son was there too.

Crazy old ladies, smalltown's got them all. One mother allowed her son to marry his cousin. Another started dating her daughter's husband.

Drunk-driving in smalltown is on the verge of becoming a competitive sport. In a way, it already is. Derbies happen once a year. The cops don't come down smalltown way. The nearest police station is in Harbour Grace, about twenty-five miles away. Up the shore. Occasionally they put up checkstops near the bars, to capture the drunk drivers. This happens maybe once every two weeks, but by the time the checkstops are spotted, everyone up and down the shore knows where they are, so the drunk drivers merely stop off at a nearby friend/cousin/faint acquaintance's place, to have a few drinks. And drive home once the roadblockers have headed back up the shore to tend to other duties.

Every smalltown has its little quirks, those indescribable nuances that differentiate one community from the next, but the above commonalities pervade every home, infect everyone. It's too subtle to notice sometimes--one day, you're fulfilling your smalltown role, hitting the parties, driving your car home at three when you can hardly see the road.

You are now leaving smalltown. You are now entering the world.

But I've seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town
Married an L.A. doll and brought her to this small town
Now she's small town just like me

Lyrics by John Mellencamp

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