“Charlie Johnson: Hometown Dissident”

by Mike Palecek


This is for all the lonely letter writers, thinking that life has passed them by.


“It’s all right … you can all sleep sound tonight “I’m not crazy, or anything…”

— Five For Fighting, Superman


Wednesday afternoon

Dear Editor,

There is a church that I pass oftentimes when I go for drives in the country when the town gets to be too much.

For some reason I expect the country to be different.

It fools me every time.

There’s this church and a nice lawn and a flag and one of those glass enclosed signs — you know, it tells when the services are and gives a little quip for the week.

Some churches change them often and some leave the same one up all winter, maybe because it’s too cold to stand out there and try to get those magnetic letters to stick.


Anyway, they could say so much with those things, but they don’t.

They stay uber patriotic and American, which is to say not very Christian, which is depressing, disheartening, defeating.


I wonder if the people who go to church here feel the same.

I wonder if they drive to town, just to see if there’s anything different to be found, anywhere.


You couldn’t tell by looking at me.

That I am a stranger in my hometown.

What’s it like to walk around my town and be a dissident?

Let me tell you.

Oh, you don’t agree with my terminology? You don’t like that I use “dissident”. You prefer I used unemployed or some other word that would say that I am different, out of touch, perhaps, because of my own fault.

You want me to feel bad about who I am, rather than tell you that you are the one in the wrong.

I won’t.


The word stays.

I stay.

I am a social deviant, perhaps, that’s what they might call me in a first-year psych course at the community college, someone not abiding by society’s norms, mores, customs.

But I am more than that. I am someone willing to fight, and for that I claim political status.

There is no embassy for me to run to. I sit alone in my kitchen drinking re-heated coffee.

I stamp the cup down on the table and claim it.

I write a letter to the editor and my neighbor looks away even more deeply into his garden as I walk out my door toward the front walk.

The mailman is coming and I wait for him. He pulls his truck to a squeaky stop in front of my home. I prepare a quip about the brakes on his buggy.

He seems embarrassed to see me, then slips the mail into my hand with a hurried comment on the weather and scurries off, and I see that I will have time to refine my joke.

I leaf through the mail and stuff it under my arm, then walk down the street, looking at the driver of every car that passes. Maybe I know them. Each one stares intently ahead. They are all excellent drivers.

I walk downtown, into the cafe, looking for friendly eyes. My best friend from the high school basketball team — not that I played, but he did — gives me a kind of nod as he finds a way around me.

I decide I am not hungry and turn to go out.

I follow my own footprints to walk home. I don’t bother to check who’s driving past. I don’t look to see who is out and about, sitting, standing, gabbing.

Staring straight ahead, I walk faster.

I pull up to my house just as my neighbor puts a full garbage bag over his shoulder to take to the alley. I don’t bother to try to catch his eye.

No over the shoulder “how you doing?” wave. Not this time.

Not anymore.

I turn in at my house, push inside, drop my mail on the floor by the door, sit in my big chair.

I stare straight.

I sit there for a few minutes. It gets dark.

I’ve been sitting there a long time.

And inside my head — inside the brain and heart that belong to me — I have either decided to die, or I am thinking of another letter to the editor.

I don’t think you could tell by looking at me.



From Terror Nation


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