Originally published in print by the University of Iowa Press as an inaugural Chapbook Prize winner.
McDonald’s, 804 S. Riverside Dr., does not serve ice cream after 11:30 p.m., contributing to its “midnight in Hell” appeal. Freshly twenty-one years old, I was dismayed to learn I couldn’t ring in my newfound adulthood with a chocolate milkshake. The lone cashier broke the news to me expecting a hostile reaction. Based on my eyes, a local youth accused me of being on ecstasy and looking into his soul.
While we waited for our food, Erica talked about how the lone cashier deserved to have her salary doubled, then doubled again for what she has to deal with as a late-night McDonald’s worker. Erica lives roughly five blocks away from me at an unknown address. Later, while we crossed a bridge on the way back to my apartment building, she revealed to Dan that the cigarette she rolled on the plastic table inside earlier was actually a spliff. Dan’s girlfriend Kelly used to be adamant that she would never smoke up so as to snag a job at the FBI at an unspecified future date. Now they regularly partake.
In my apartment building, 630. S. Capitol St., Erica marveled at how prison-esque the building feels. Each floor rings around an open concrete courtyard with lounge chairs with each door leading to the outside air. I tell people the building used to be a motel, but I don’t actually know that for sure.
At my place, Apt. 412, we discuss how we’re, like, long overdue for a “revolution,” or at least some sort of painful sweeping shift in American society. Kelly starts to doze off and mumbles incoherently about electricity bills and enchiladas. Dan is waiting until he feels sober enough to drive, slumped in my depressed Craiglist couch. I offer a taxi and a glass of water, but stop short of pointing out the obvious solution. Kelly’s townhouse, 1202 E. Burlington St. Apt. 1, is a fifteen-minute walk away.
The only criterion for my undying affection is that you take me to a tiki bar. As of yet, there is no tiki bar in Iowa City.
The Madison Street Services building is about a block away at 640 S. Madison St., as well as the home of the University of Iowa’s “sustainable energy discovery district,” featuring self-driving cars and a biomass energy plant. The site was formerly the home of The 620, 620 S. Madison St., a gay bar that closed in 1998 after the UI snapped up the property. In a contemporaneous newspaper article, the incoming director of the UI’s sexuality studies program paraphrased Allen Ginsberg as saying: “Iowa City is the only place worth visiting between New York and San Francisco.” A quick Google search calls the quote’s veracity into question.
Neither OrderUp nor Google Maps know where the university’s journalism building is. OrderUp sends drivers across the street, while Google Maps sends them across the river.
Dubuque Street is home to at least seven establishments serving alcohol. My dad once told me that the Deadwood bar was known as the place with a “hippie, grunge” vibe when he attended the university in the second half of the 1980s. Just down the road is Sports Column, which was not known as “Spoco” by the general population until relatively recently. Not too far away is DC’s, which used to be a two-story Burger King. My mom has mentioned that Iowa City has the most bars per square mile in the US, a mantra repeated on Iowa Hawkeyes message boards. (Other cities purported to have the most bars per square mile in the USA include Hoboken, NJ; Maynard, MA; Newport Beach, CA.)
At least two streets in downtown Iowa City are chopped into pieces. Capitol Street is split by the Pentacrest Apartments, with well-worn muddy pathways, parking lots, and half-hearted chains offering minimal resistance for those who opted not to walk around a hill. Two blocks later, it is cut off by the Pentacrest, with well-manicured concrete pathways and Iowa City’s center of gravity.
It’s easy: MacBride has the bus stop. Schaeffer has the other bus stop. Jessup has the president. MacLean is the other one. The Old Capitol (building, not mall) is in the middle.
Inside President Sally Mason’s waiting room at Jessup Hall, 5 W. Jefferson St., the side tables were equipped with the most ornate coasters ever. I was obsessed. They had just the right amount of gloss with subtle curves of gold delineating the university’s seal, the same one etched in stone on the Pentacrest. I posted about them and how “super swanky” they were in a Jan. 27, 2014 Facebook post following my interview with Mason and snagged numerous likes. That said, I didn’t take a photo. I don’t know if they’re still there.
At the beginning of our interview, I asked Sally Mason about the university’s actions against sexual assault, to which she responded, “the goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature…” followed by 112 more words in a single sentence about making moves to “not bury it or try to cover it up” and “to get a more educational, proactive mindset” and to let survivors know “you’re not all by yourself.” I did not flinch at all when she said this, or when I hurriedly transcribed it. She devoted 637 words in total to the subject. Everything was more or less cool, calm, and collected at her oversized office table. I ended up writing a story the same day about planned renovations at Seashore Hall, which have yet to occur.
Two days later, one of my colleagues did a quick write up about a report of sexual assault on the UI campus, and included the “human nature” line with eighty-four more of Mason’s words about sexual assault from my interview. My colleague’s article also paraphrased her as saying “that although she knows sexual assaults happen, she wants students to stay educated to be more proactive during these incidents.” The next day, my colleague’s article blew up and the campus burst. I didn’t personally witness any of the protests that erupted across campus, but I did see the photos and videos on social media: “NOT IN MY NATURE, SALLY”; “THE UNIVERSITY PROTECTS RAPISTS”; “Bud $ + Mason = RAPE”. A new activist organization formed: Radicals Organizing Against Rape. A website notinmynature.com, which no longer exists, was created. The story hit the Daily Mail. Sally Mason revealed that she herself was a survivor of sexual assault and later retired.
It’s a miracle the cops didn’t spot me that night, given the American flag unraveling around my body.
The former Studio Arts building, 1375 Highway 1 West, is also a former Menards. Beneath a suspiciously tall sign printed with the words “Studio Arts” lies a tombstone:
“SAVE BIG MONEY”
“Earth hath no sorr[o]w that anoth[er]
[?]lot[?] cannot heal[”]
I didn’t know this tombstone existed until the day before the Studio Arts building was set to close and its inhabitants set for a sexy new building across campus. Towards the end, the space had become a canvas, with murmurs of two grad students planning to paint over every wall. They didn’t succeed before the doors were closed for good, but it was the thought that counted. It’s not totally clear what happened to the tire sculpture out front; a lone bottle of hot sauce in the ceramics room; that smiley face I stuck somewhere once; and so on, beyond what’s being auctioned off online. I wouldn’t really know where to start in creating a tombstone out of a concrete slab.
United Airlines customers traveling beneath the earth at O’Hare International Airport experience Michael Hayden’s art installation Sky’s the Limit. A cursive rainbow jags above the moving walkway like a 1980s sitcom title screen, joined by thousands of lit watercolor panels echoing along the sides. I once bonded with someone over our mutual love for Terminal 1.
In San Francisco, the Castro was dead. The marquee of its namesake theatre was advertising a “Frozen” sing-a-long. The namesake avenue was under construction, cutting into my ability to photograph the iconic view. I was unable to find even one coffee shop at an acceptable level of hipness. It was Google Street View come to life. On a streetlamp banner promoting an event, the “g” came before the “l” in “glbt.” I could never figure out whether anybody actually lived in San Francisco. A possible culprit: whoever left that typed, single-sheet note decrying impossible rent prices on some door. Another: the West Coast Fran Lebowitz in the back of that diner in the Castro, 3991 17th St. My waitress, who was from Nebraska or Kansas, recommended that I visit Mission Dolores Park, where the going rate for LSD was fifty cents and the skyline views were tear-inducing.
On a “Ghosts of Chinatown” tour, one stop was particularly striking: the sound of men illegally clacking down mahjong tiles, audible through a closed door.
At The Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., I once eavesdropped on a conversation between two freshly-dressed older gentlemen while waiting for a Chinese musical performance by Wu Man and the Shanghai Quartet. One of the men was of my favorite “deeply steeped in Iowa City” variety. He told his companion about how the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper used to have its plant on Capitol Street, but moved after the university purchased the property. An excruciating few minutes of research online revealed that the plant was, in fact, on Dodge Street, and is now home to the Iowa City school district’s offices.
I walked past death and destruction on the way to Chinese class twice a week. At the dawn of spring, I was taken aback when I first saw that the former Sabin Elementary School had simply disappeared, making way for some new townhouses. When I hit the corner of Prentiss and Dubuque streets and stumbled upon a demolition for the building housing Broken Spoke, a bike shop, I was confused. At some hazy point in time, the building was simply gone, taking its “PROTECT (or was it SAVE?) OUR NEIGHBORHOODS” sign with it. The intriguing former St. Patrick’s Parish hall building and its spiritual murals are slated to be replaced by a glass box luxury housing development. I was horrified when I noticed the ugliest building in the world is right here, 302 S. Linn St., housing the windowless offices of CenturyLink.
I wonder if anybody in Estherville, Iowa will remember in ten years that I drove a car into the wall of the Super 8. Ideally, the slight crack will be inscribed into the motel’s stone façade forever.
In April 1973, Ana Mendieta invited several friends to visit her apartment at the intersection of Clinton and Linn streets. When they arrived, they found the door left ajar and Mendieta tied to a table, backwards, naked, pants pulled down, with blood rushing down her body and pooling on the floor. Bloody clothes and broken dishes were strewn around the floor under harsh lighting. Her friends were alarmed and also relieved that a stranger did not happen upon the scene to take advantage. They sat down and discussed the scene as Mendieta remained in the same position for an hour. The performance art piece was recorded in a series of photographs called Untitled (Rape Scene), none of which capture the artist’s face. Mendieta had recreated the crime scene in the brutal assault and death of Sarah Ann Ottens, 429 Rienow Hall, from a month earlier — the first of several works directly inspired by the highly publicized murder. Often, writers and critics discussing Mendieta’s art misspell or even omit Ottens’ name.
My friend once witnessed a Hilary Duff drag performance and I attained enlightenment via her Snapchat story, which I screenshotted.
I know that she was lesbian. I know that she lived in Coralville, albeit not at which address. I know that the taxicab from Studio 13, 13 S. Linn St., to her apartment for seven people was pushing fifty dollars and she used her card. I know that she obtained her Master’s degree in social work, but I wasn’t sure she was doing anything with it. I know that she had the biggest bong I will ever see, though I didn’t join in. My friend congratulated her on receiving a Master’s in social work. I know all of them displayed semi-sarcastic concern that my friend would be assaulted by the alleged heroin addict with whom she shared a taxi back to Iowa City, but I also know she wasn’t. I know her living room carpet was highly comfortable and effective for everyone involved. I don’t know if her roommate was actually drugged, causing some vomiting the next morning, but I do know I was stunned when she brought it up as a possibility. I know her car was quite small for five on the way back. However, I don’t remember her name.
The night of my twentieth birthday, I told a Village Inn worker on the dance floor my name was Carly and confirmed that, yes, I meant Carly Rae Jepsen. The worker invited me and the real Carly to an after party with other Village Inn workers, but we politely declined as the ceiling lights blared back on.
On the Tumblr page for Radicals Organizing Against Rape, roariowacity.tumblr.com, there is a May 2014 repost from the iowacitydragkings page congratulating Studio 13 for having “immediately sprung into action” following a “confirmed drugging” the month before, taking numerous steps to improve safety, such as drug test strips and brighter clothing for employees. Another Tumblr user, ewstraights, chimed in to say that bartenders there have “drugged and raped visitors in the past” and that the bar is “only reacting this way because a large collective voice of people spoke against them for their bullshit.” ROAR’s Tumblr page also includes a long statement from a month later regarding a former Democratic candidate for a local political position. The statement accuses him of inappropriately pursuing and manipulating women, including those in the collective. Apparently, though without confirmation, the political candidate in question addressed the issue on Facebook. None of this was recorded in local media.
I once mustered up the courage to order a 多多绿 off the Chinese-language menu at Bubbleology, 325 E. Washington St. The cashier asked me if I knew what it was.
Erica finds Iowa City to be “wack,” or varying words of similar effect. Of particular wackness is story of the The Tobacco Bowl, on the Ped Mall, where she could read comics and stay alive via vibrant chain smoking. Following complaints, it’s now a pizzeria. Steps away was her former workplace, The Wedge Downtown, attached to the Iowa City Public Library. The Wedge was locally-owned and had its lease terminated by the city. It was replaced by an entrepreneurial center. There was The Red Avocado, a vegan restaurant, knocked down to make way for newer commercial space. There were those Civil War-era cottages on Dubuque, one of which was demolished on Christmas Day. The rest of the block is due to go.
When Prince died, one of my professors took the opportunity to inform us via e-mail that he (the professor, not Prince) was once a wannabe opera singer.
In late 2014, construction workers unexpectedly stumbled upon a nineteenth-century ethnically-diverse neighborhood under Hubbard Park, on the corner of Madison Ave. and Iowa Ave. It had apparently been forgotten and may have been buried forever, were it not for a devastating flood 150 years later, which necessitated work to mitigate further risk from rising waters. Archaeologists dredged up arrowheads and a privy. I once held a dusty trade token they discovered and suppressed an urge to stuff it into my pocket.
In Clinton Piece, Dead on Street, Ana Mendieta lay still in a puddle of blood while as another student photographed her with a flash camera and members of the public walked past. The police investigating Sarah Ann Ottens’ death failed to secure the crime scene initially, allowing access to university administrators and members of the media. Months passed before the police formally charged campus football star James Hall with the murder and he was eventually sentenced to fifty years in prison. It later emerged that investigators did not follow the lead of another suspect and that a prosecutor made an abrasive, racist comment to the grand jury, among other issues. Hall’s conviction was overturned and he was released from prison after a few years. Sarah Ann Ottens’ murder case remains open.
Qing Da Yi Street, in Qingdao, disappeared over a year before I arrived. Every business up the hill is gone. I arrived too late to experience a restaurant enticingly called Chicken Commune. The 7-Eleven shuttered. A lady who sells miscellaneous trinkets, including Russian chocolate and hair clips, had to move owing to a lack of traffic. She used to work at a wonton place that also closed. At the top of the hill is the tomb of the late-Qing dynasty political figure Kang Youwei. His gravesite sits above and apart from the neighborhood with nowhere to sit and is now overgrown with weeds. I once saw an old couple gather some greens and carry them back down the hill.
Every post office I ever saw in Beijing was closed and apparently abandoned.
Erica and I once talked about opening up a lowkey-dance-club-that-also-sells-pizza-to- order somewhere in China. She’d make the pizza, I’d throw on the Top 40 goodness, and we’d recruit some entrepreneurial business students to tie it all together. I went so far as to Google “opening up a club in china” and set myself up to pursue my new calling.
The Elements club, 58 Gongti Xilu, Chaoyang, Beijing, is virtually impossible to find. It’s unclear what the space used to be judging by satellite imagery. Anyone with a blue set of eyes unlocks access to unlimited alcohol for the equivalent of sixteen dollars. There one summer, Amanda and I discovered a perpetual energy machine: grab our drinks, head to the back of the line, and have an empty glass by the time we made it back to the front. We both disappeared without a trace onto the anonymous dance floor, separately. My phone was my dance partner.
My internship colleague knocked on my door the next morning and notified me that something was wrong and we needed to take Amanda to the hospital. I opted to wear shorts in public for the first time in years. We wandered into the China-Japan Friendship Hospital’s emergency waiting room and simultaneously wandered right back out. For me, it was the woman with a bandage tied snugly over a pained face, ringing around her entire head. The sun made me feel like I was outside my body.
At the International SOS Hospital, off the Kunsha Center parking lot, I sat in a waiting room as my friend drunk texted me from a party thirteen hours in past. We learned that Chinese law requires a stop at the police station before anything else as part of the formal process.
A Snickers bar at the grocery across the street from the police station cost the equivalent of fifty cents. Eggs Benedict at the café a block or two away cost the equivalent of eleven dollars. The University of Iowa study abroad office didn’t know we were in China until someone saw a column I wrote in the campus newspaper.
The police station was somewhere in an alley in Sanlitun, across the street from a Pakistani-owned grocery, just behind the glitz and the glam of Beijing’s hottest strip of hangouts for foreigners, though the neighborhood’s sheen isn’t as neon on a sunny July afternoon. Above me was a photo array of every police officer in the department, all with those prototypical Chinese professional portraits on a blue background and a facial expression of vague detachment. A scrolling LED sign announced that any alien staying in a Chinese home must disclose their existence to authorities. We had trouble communicating to our HR rep what actually happened, and she believed we merely needed to take Amanda to a hospital before I translated “rape kit” on my phone.
I’ve been telling myself I’m going to start keeping a journal for five years now. The handful of entries I’ve ripped out over the years and crumpled into a box somewhere do not count.
In Moffitt Building Piece, Ana Mendieta splattered animal blood and flesh in front of her apartment complex, the Moffitt Building. She surreptitiously filmed passersby from the inside of a car as the mass congealed and pooled on the sidewalk. Most displayed a passing curiosity in the blood, perhaps staring for a few seconds while walking past or stepping over it. One woman poked it with her umbrella. The sun set as Mendieta filmed. A man walked briskly past the blood before her film goes black. James Hall is serving life in prison for the murder of a woman named Susan Hajek. The Moffitt Building no longer exists. It was demolished and replaced with the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.