“Why the fuck would anyone ever go to Cincinnati?”
— Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire
I have this good friend, Tim McMichael, who has been supportive of my career; being a visual artist, countless times he has anted up with posters for my shows, for instance. What’s more, together with Joseph Winterhalter and Zoltan Faltay, we created Volk in 2000, an Over-the-Rhine gallery/performance space that forced me off the ledge and onto something resembling a track.
For Volk had the unforeseen effect of opening doors: Performance opportunities followed, and one regular there, Arie Vandenberg, soon called to see if I was interested in writing for his new magazine, X-Ray.
At their first meeting, I didn’t have any formalized pitch, but it was clear to me that I should have. Thus, I thought about how I had moved to Main Street in 1994, and despite my having dropped out of a third college shortly thereafter, I had nonetheless gained an education from my environs. The place was crawling with stories that I could tell.
“What would you call it?” the X-Ray’s editor, Stephen Novotni, asked. Without having owned the album or having read Sinclair Lewis, the words just came out: “Why, Exiled on Main Street, of course.”
Which was somewhat unfortunate, except when one considers what the term Main Street conjures: small-town retail, traditional values, Disneyland, the mainstream. After all, there was a clear disconnect between where I lived and the bars that many frequented there.
My background was more as a poet than columnist, but I soon recognized that as a strength. The relaxed nature of the paper allowed me to stretch. We were the little guys, with big bad CityBeat in our sights.
It was during the two-plus years I was with X-Ray that my friend Tim once lamented, “How come you don’t ever mention me in your stories?” But before I could, the paper and I parted ways. Tim was there after my last piece ran, when I received a pair of panties in the mail as consolation prize.
Shortly after X-Ray, I received an offer from my friend Lance Oditt, a web designer that was living outside Dayton, to continue my series. He was starting semantikon.com, an online community-based arts journal that featured contemporary literature, visual art and film on a monthly basis. The idea was to have an ad-free space, relying on said community to help fund it and pitch in.
I hadn’t finished with my story of Main Street, so I agreed. It wasn’t long before I realized that I enjoyed publishing online, if only because it afforded a larger canvas with which to tell its story.
Somewhere near the 10-year anniversary of my living there, I was shot at, which wasn’t the most frightening thing. No, that would be the fact that I chased my assailant afterwards, while pretending I was an undercover cop. My precious street was becoming as dark as me.
After I finished the series, I moved up Sycamore Hill, to a place where I can still see my old abode. That’s when Exiled on became Exiled from, the latter having a better ring, as the thing I’ve always wondered is if there is space for someone like me, someone that falls between academia and the street.
Well, the problem with an online community is the same as any community: Most of its inhabitants are too busy, broke or lazy to support it. That, coupled with Lance’s move to another city, spelled a halt to what had been a six-year ride. The lights appeared to go out for what I called my “franchise.”
Enter Jason Gargano. Last May, he asked if I would contribute occasionally to the Living Out Loud column. The kids can say that “print is dead,” but ask any writer my age — I’m 40 — and they only want to get through.
Now I am bi. Weekly, that is.
Say what you want about CityBeat, but they actively searched out yet another writer who can only be described as difficult. Why, in the past year I’ve written about masturbation, acid and in defense of suicide, all of which have been treated decently.
Still nary a mention of Tim, though. Until now. For the other day, I received a call from him; he was making his boxing debut on the undercard of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. He was nervous because he was in tough against an undefeated fighter with a massive pedigree, while he had none. Worse, he confided that he had no trainer with him, as his had fallen ill.
I had just over an hour to make it to Louisville. Drove like a demon to get there, parked as soon as I was nearby. I could hear Joe Tessitore call the fight as I tore past the open dorm windows of U of L, saying, “That McMichael is game, but he’s entirely overmatched!” I could feel the thud of landed punches as I entered the arena.
Sure enough, Tim was getting pummeled when, just as I climbed up on the ring apron, he swung a left-handed roundhouse that felled his foe — for good, the arena erupting in pandemonium on par with my heart.
This was just a dream, of course. Yet, the pride I felt for my beloved friend was as authentic as it gets. And it leads me to believe that somehow, someway, someone is going to make it in this city in a real way without having to leave the motherfucker. It may not be Tim; it probably won’t be me. But somebody.
I hope I’m here to see it.
CONTACT MARK FLANIGAN: firstname.lastname@example.org