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THE CHOPPING BLOCK: A different kind of darkness


A different kind of darkness descends onto town during April. The canyon, so full of fresh flesh and blood during the coldest days of the year, is left behind by the gush of humanity that happily paraded through it only months before and slowly atrophies into a scar-covered skeleton, barely breathing, to naturally recover from its most recent winter wounds. Few remain to nurture it back to health before the summer people arrive and must be satiated with live offerings.

The rows of houses, padlocked sentries no longer used for refuge, make up a cookie-cutter backdrop along the streets. Cloth curtains cover windows like eyelids. Inside, light switches rest and bow their heads. The doors, some adorned with dead animal antlers and “welcome” signs, locked like mausoleums.

The walkways widen without the clutter of aloof humans, offering a perception of sudden expansion and healing, like some form of bloodletting. The soiled veil of thick ice melts to reveal the deep gashes and pock marks that dot the roadway’s true face. As the earth thaws, men wearing fluorescent vests and white hardhats hurry to fix the imperfections and build new structures. Heavy machinery finds a home in empty parking lots. Roads are closed. The artificial screams are ignored.

Renters leave their lodgings like naked hermit crabs searching for a new shell, if only for the next four months. But most have better things to attend to elsewhere than witness this annual offseason regeneration. They know the ancient town will survive, as it always does, no matter what it suffers.

But those still here develop a deeper appreciation for the resiliency required to keep it going, to continually prop it up and march it out on stage for all the world to see, to enjoy, to destroy, season after season, year after year, potentially in perpetuity.

The hallow howl of a distant dog dies down an empty alleyway. I quit anthropomorphizing my surroundings. It’s blacker than most nights. The sky is absent of all color. Even the moon deserts us during April. A dying beam of light, yellow and pale, pierces the deep purple around me.

I walk toward the beacon of life and enter the market at midnight. There is no cashier standing behind the check-out counter. The four aisles of perfectly placed products before me proudly sell everything from chewing gum to hemorrhoid cream. There are 18-inch beef sticks, 32-ounce plastic bottles filled with Dr Pepper, hands of green organic bananas, pints of ice cream covered with the smiling heads of late-night TV show hosts. No wonder why we’re a nation of overmedicated, under-educated jellyfish. It’s easier to exist when you’re soft, numb and dumb.

I pluck a box of ham-and-cheese Hot Pockets out of the cooler in front of me. Before reading the nutritional value of such a microwavable meal, a woman with her head wrapped in white gauze approaches me, dazed and confused. But the bandaged banshee doesn’t acknowledge my presence. At least it wasn’t a drag queen.

Three pale-skinned teenagers wearing sunglasses walk down the lane from the opposite direction in forming a herd of trendy cattle refusing to budge. I hum a recently released tune from Nashville, “You can ban books. You can ban drag. Kids are still in body bags.”

A stockboy mindlessly places rolls of toilet paper on the bottom shelf behind me. We’re all stuck in this corner of cosmic chaos, 8,750 feet above sea level, where people concern themselves with the ownership and development of land, wealth, and greed. Happiness here is defined by zeroes and decimal points, not Hot Pockets. My mind mulls the static state of everything. Time becomes irrelevant in a place where no one goes.

Elsewhere, life in other parts of the world continues unaffected by the malaise of offseason. Pope Francis survived a bout of bronchitis after being hospitalized in Rome for three days, ex cathedra. Not long after the pope’s resurrection, a video of the Dalai Lama kissing a young boy on the lips and asking him to “suck my tongue” surfaced. The Tibetan spiritual leader later apologized and brushed it off as an innocent “joke.” As if Russia hasn’t caused enough problems, the Shiveluch volcano erupted and shot a giant ash cloud 12 miles into the atmosphere. An Australian cultured meat company, Vow, debuted a giant meatball using cultured DNA from an extinct woolly mammoth.

“We wanted to create something that was totally different from anything you can get now,” Vow founder Tim Noakesmith told Reuters during the debut of the softball-sized specimen at a science museum in Amsterdam.

He added that the company chose the woolly mammoth because scientists believe climate change caused the behemoth’s extinction.

But “everything is mystical,” as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, while sharing a grainy grey photo of an “elf” spying on a construction crew from a tree, supposed proof that the creature from Mayan folklore is real and always watching over us, for better or worse.

There are no elves or holy hiccups or active eruptions or Ice Age delicacies here during April, only a different kind of darkness, as I exit the market with my frozen meat treat. I eventually find the concrete porch of my hobbit hole. At least I can temporarily leave behind the hollow houses and barren Main Street, all the ills of the real world, during April.

The Chopping Block is Rev. Justin Criado's monthly column for the Telluride Daily Planet newspaper. It also appears in the monthly Four Corners Free Press print edition. This piece was originally published on Thursday, April 20.

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