At 75 miles per hour, on the curve in the road past the Western Overpass, Johnnie Newsome closes his eyes.
When he times it right, he can still see his chartreuse on the sixth floor of the…he already forgot what they called the building now…and nothing else.
He remembers the scaffold rocking in the wind, the hum of traffic on this same freeway he closes his eyes on whenever he drives along this curve.
The mayor’s niece got shot in the neighborhood when he was a kid and it had looked like a police convention ever since.
Some young idealist from up north bought that big brick building that shadowed the neighborhood houses and junkyards.
The telephone company built it back when telephones were still attached to wires that went through walls.
The young idealist found Johnnie Newsome, heard he was the guy-the guy- to paint his building.
Johnnie did, higher in the air than he had ever been.
The young idealist wanted chartreuse and lavender, and Johnnie gave it to him, brightening the neighborhood, making it look alive.
A donut shop came, and a gallery, even a record store that didn’t last.
The interior of the building never matched the beauty that Johnnie had created on the outside, and the young idealist had gone away, in search of another young ideal.
Johnnie’s mural stood. More than a mural, a sign that things can change, if you want them to, if you’re willing to stand on wobbly scaffolds and devote the time.
The young idealist sold the building to another young idealist who sold the building to who the hell knew, when most people had forgotten the mayor and his niece and started rehabbing the homes and selling them for what whole blocks had once been worth.
It was who the hell knew who sold the side of the building to a marketing company, and Johnnie laughed, not bitter, just resigned, a bit disgusted, that his chartreuse and lavender matched the logo of some new lemon-lime concoction and now his mural, his beacon, has a can of carbonated liquid pouring upside down into the mouth of an anthropomorphic lizard.
He painted chartreuse and lavender, hope and beauty, and someone decided to give the neighborhood sodapop, and on that curve, doing 75, is the only time he closes his eyes.
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