Table of contents

The Athens Dispatch - A Tour of Abandoned Places and People

It takes a certain amount of pretension to name a middle-of-nowhere patch of hills after the birthplace of democracy. In Athens, GA, the overwhelming emotion is a dull sense of boredom, but in all fairness, that is the overwhelming emotion for most places in Georgia. Long periods of nothingness punctuated by the occasional happening. Putting my cynicism aside, I would like to write the first and only issue of the Athens Dispatch1. A mostly true retelling of the forgotten parts of this city with my favorite people.

Time is a Bland Soup

I’m sure you find yourself exhausted from the minutiae of existence. You’ve studied at every library, gone on a date at every coffee shop, and been drunk at every bar before your 21st birthday. Luckily Athens has more to offer you, so join me on a tour. It’ll take us a day, but it took me a year so long that I’m still not sure it’s over. Every so often, I still wake up expecting to be drenched in sweat because our AC at Dearing Garden never quite worked. On rare occasions, I yearn for it, the time characterized mostly by lack and stasis. Follow me at your own risk2.

The pandemic was a boring time in an already boring place. What little saturation remained in the colorful walls around town drained out – some of it never returned. A town of red and black faded into a weak pastel pink flanked with a thousand indistinguishable grays. Tuesday was no different from Saturday – time was a bland soup. An entire city reduced to just five people. Every night we would descend upon that shitty apartment because what else was there to do. My roommate, Alex, and our friends, Han, Hugo, and August. Most nights differed in only what was playing on the TV.

On a few occasions, we scrambled around the city, scavenging around every nook in town to find anything of note. It was Hugo who took us to the first location. It is hard to talk about Hugo without mentioning his flawless physical appearance, but it’s rude to dwell. His wardrobe consists of flannels, old t-shirts, and crop tops. He dressed like an Appalachian logger or someone obsessed with Ru Paul’s drag race, usually somewhere in between. He says he’s moving to North Carolina. I think he’ll fit in well. Hugo spent most of his time behind the camera, capturing that year like one long moment, a shot with more than enough time to set up, but when you leave the aperture open long enough, all detail is lost in a bright foggy whiteness.

Our tour begins on Barber Street past the Restore, just after the water treatment plant at the long-forgotten clock factory. Our need for analog clocks had long disappeared, along with Westclox as a corporate entity. That summer, the concept of keeping time seemed particularly laughable. Institutions form a dialectic with the people who comprise them; they can outlive generations yet die in a matter of years, leaving their components behind to continue living. Westclox had met this fate, a ship of Theseus that had lost its crew. Its remains rise up as a corpse of bricks; the building still bears its name. There’s even a door on the east side where the small glass window on the door has been punched out, leaving a star of absence surrounded by ragged danger. If you dare, you can reach your arm through, advisably with plenty of protection, and open the door from the inside.

But we didn’t go inside that day. A single photo peeks inside, framed by the small broken window. Like most of Athens, there’s really nothing to see, forgotten floors littered with debris. Hugo’s photos now remind me of a distant time not so far away. A different me, yet continually connected and gradually changed, differentiable at all points. The death of a clock factory is a kind of poetry reserved for creative writing classes, yet here we stand. I can’t explain to you why it makes me so sad or why I come back here so often, sometimes walking the five miles from my apartment. Maybe it was just boredom – it is the overwhelming emotion, after all.

I apologize – for lying. All the pontification about death isn’t why Westclox makes me sad. It’s because I don’t have the same friendships with Hugo, Alex, Han, or August anymore. We still get together on occasion, but it’s not the same as it used to be, and not because of some vague sense of nostalgia. We grew apart.

Some of it is my fault, I wasn’t always a very good friend or roommate. There was the time I yelled at Hugo when we were visiting our friend in Statesboro because I didn’t like his pick for movie night. There were days when our kitchen and living room would fall into disarray as I forgot to clean, Alex speaking up once or twice before mostly giving up. When we first moved in together, we hung out almost every night; by the end, we’d go weeks without talking. Weeks and months would pass by, and I would forget to ask about someone’s day because I was so obsessed with my own life, personal and professional.

Some of it was the natural flow of life, we’re all headed in different directions, and my path drifted away from theirs. Maybe it was that summer when I went away, and they stayed. On occasion, I miss it – the stability brought by the world stopping. Eventually, time ticked forward. The people who worked at Westclox found new jobs. Other businesses set up shop nearby. Athens began to shift away from manufacturing like the rest of the country.

I’ve always had a strange relationship with admitting my faults. I’m afraid that self-awareness doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t translate into change, but change is impossible without self-awareness. Either I can believe in my ability to grow as a person, be a better friend, or I can give up and be miserable. There’s no real option here – you have to try. I guess that’s why Westclox makes me so sad.

Power Lines

Alex was obsessed with power lines. I couldn’t ever figure out why he found them fascinating, but he’s always found something entertaining about the mundane – maybe that’s why he’s moving to the Midwest. His fashion sense lies somewhere between Bill Gates and Biggie – that is to say, firmly in the 90s – and it’s definitely better than whatever you threw on today.

If you take a right at Westclox, you’ll turn onto Dairy Pak Road. You will miss it the first time and maybe the second. It has fewer potholes than the average Athens avenue, but it’s mostly a sign of its disuse. At the end of the road lies a train. A train without an engine, stripped of its cars. Feel free to climb on top of the forgotten cargo platforms that once carried all manner of hopes and dreams across the country. Eventually, you’ll arrive at a place I’ve been to many times – a platform centered at a clearing in the forest made for power lines. Hugo’s photos captured us looking into the distance. As we stood there, I wished the train would start moving. Some mishap, a stroke of strange luck. Moreover, I hoped that I would have the courage to stay on.

Alex and I had been friends since we were in the same 5th-grade class, colloquially known as Novelli’s Nerdy Ninjas. We were both undeniably geeky, even at ten years old. When we were sophomores in high school, he bought a mic so we could start a Star Wars-themed podcast. It never materialized because Disney botched the sequels. Homecomings, proms, graduations, concerts, house parties, abandoned places, our shitty apartment in Dearing Garden, which he still occupies, minor and major characters drifting in and out of our plot, a lifetime of shared friends and memories.

For that entire year, I took pictures of power lines whenever I came across them. Imagining where they were going, where they came from, and why I couldn’t turn into a bolt of electricity myself and carry my electrons away from here. Unfortunately, there is no rail or power line taking me in the right direction. Instead, I spend my days stepping on clouds – floating and hoping. Maybe that’s why I can’t seem to stick to anything longer than a one-year plan.

My friend Srijita is the opposite. She’s intelligent, kind, and fiercely fixated on the future. Her life has unfolded precisely as she anticipated when we were teammates on our high school mock trial team. Conversations with Srijita bring me equal parts awe and terror. She delights in the things that frighten me the most: suburbs, stability, having kids, trapping her kids in the suburbs. But my opinion is an outlier. Most of my friends appreciate and love the suburbs where we grew up. Maybe I hate the suburbs because I wasn’t a particularly happy child. I wasn’t a sad one either, but I struggle to remember many details of growing up. For most of my life, I have merely existed. I guess power lines are more interesting when they’re the grandest structures around.

My first real attempt at writing was inspired by power lines. Armed with too much time and just the right position on the Dunning-Kruger curve, I forged ahead with 20,000 words of hubris. It’s for your sake that the manuscript remains buried deep in my laptop. The story’s chief problem was that it wasn’t much of a story, more of a character study. The character study’s problem was that all the characters were just me. I started a writing club with our five-some to get someone to read it. Every week my contribution grew exponentially while theirs approached zero.

Alex wrote about music in the way only music critics can. Separating drums from vocals from melody and assigning flamboyant adjectives to describe the way music carries you through emotion. It was beautiful, but I’m still not sure what makes a song ephemeral.

Hugo engaged in a month-long endeavor of capturing the beauty of smut. The subject – Jon Ossoff. Every sentence was crafted with artisanal prowess. His writing has always been above my head because he talks about film the way Alex talks about music, but this I could access in all its nude glory. I have never seen such deft wordcraft applied to such crude matter. The irony of it all was gorgeous.

August was just happy to be there.

I learned that if you stare at powerlines long enough, they carry you away. Perhaps, that’s why Alex’s moving to the Midwest3.


The one thing that separates Athens from the average college town is its undying love of music. You may have heard the old-heads talk about R.E.M. and the B-52s, or perhaps you’ve encountered some indie-wannabes fangirling over Hotel Fiction4. If you’re brave enough to venture away from the Georgia Theatre, the 40 Watt, and Flickr Bar, you may find yourself at a house show. It’s grimy. The bartender is probably the drummer from the band that played earlier in the day. And if you’re charismatic enough, he’ll sell you a handle of Jack for a crisp twenty – much to the dismay of the rest of the party.

Recently Han has donned a new moniker as DJ Han. His rise in the scene has been meteoric. These days he’s the main attraction at the house party. His mixes come from France, Turkey, India, and other faraway lands. If you catch a DJ Han set, then consider yourself one of the chosen few. It was at one of these sets that I first met Anjani.

We had known of each other for many years through friends and acquaintances, but this was our first encounter. It’s strange knowing so much about someone when you first meet, but I’m not one for deceit. It’s equal parts gratifying and terrifying hearing “I know” in response to an introduction. I left that conversation with a vague sense of satisfaction, but I couldn’t tell if I liked her or the fact that she gave me attention.

As I arrived at our lunch a week later, I was wearing my best impression of a British Schoolboy, trousers and sweater vest included. I was off balance before I sat down.

“I think I saw you downtown on Saturday. You were helping your grandma cross the street, so I didn’t come say hi.”

“Yeah, I really love her. I’m really gonna miss them when I move away. Do you feel like that?”

“No, not really. I love my parents and my friends and my little brother, but I don’t usually miss them. Even when I was over in Oxford. I only missed them a handful of times. I keep myself busy with work, travel, and socializing. There’s always so much going on.”

“That seems a little hollow, doesn’t it?” Her words pierced through me. It’s not very often that people call me out. More often than not, they get lost in my currents; they forgive my faults; they trust that I know what’s best for myself. Yet here I sat, hollow.

“Yeah, I guess it is. I don’t know. It’s that classic immigrant thing of being caught between two worlds. At least, I used to think it was an immigrant thing, but these days I think we’re all trying to find our place in the world. I’ve never quite felt at home anywhere. Not in Athens, or Milton, or even in India.”

“That’s kinda sad.” We sat in silence for a moment5.

“Palo Alto is cool, though. I’m sure you’ll have a great time at Stanford.” I attempted to shatter the awkwardness.

“Not as cool as New York.”

“Yeah, I’m really excited and a little afraid. I’m just happy to make another friend who studies economics. I don’t really know that many people in the program, and most of my friends hate it when I talk about economics.”

“You can talk to economics with me,” she smiled.

“I’ve been really worried. It feels like so much of the world is coming undone lately. Our institutions are so politically polarized that nothing gets done, so all the responsibility falls onto undemocratic ones, like the Federal Reserve. Congress treats The Fed as the god and savior and throws its arms up in the air. But monetary policy only offers blunt tools for addressing inflation, and Congress does nothing. And then Elizabeth Warren gets on the stand and makes the Fed out to be evil because, uh-oh, the Phillips curve is real! Maybe if they actually raised taxes on the rich to take money out of the economy, inflation would come down faster, but they can’t do that because it angers corporations. Have you looked at how cheap you can buy some of these people? Some sell out for like ten grand. Shit, I could buy them, and I’m still in college.”

I had stopped looking at her at some point during the rant, and the silence returned. “That’s a very sad way to look at the world.”

“I know, but I still believe I have the agency to make things better, to change the world. Maybe it’s because I have to.”

“Of course.”

Vertigo. The ground beneath me disappeared. I pulled my legs close to my chest. I sat on the opposite side of the picnic bench across from her. It’s one thing to dissociate from reality, to feel a thousand miles away from the person right across from you, but what I felt was vertigo. There was no reality left. It was all hollow. At that moment, an oar made of gold fell from the sky. She didn’t seem surprised. My small slice of our picnic bench detached, hovering above the grey below. I began to row away from her. The oar paddled through cement and air all the same. I floated away, not quite sure why I had said the things I had said.

The Twilight Criterium is the one time of year when Athens is the hottest city in all of Georgia. The streets close for the racing cyclists and open for drinking. People from every walk of life come to see racers from around the world. Food, live music, BMX shows every half-hour, and even a Livewire set from DJ Han.

Anjani stood too close to ignore. Not that I’d want to.

“The city’s alive today,” I commented.

“It’s the greatest city in the entire world,” she replied.

“Out of everywhere, you’re gonna pick Athens, GA.”

“Of course, look around. I think you’re just jaded.”

I used to call Hugo jaded. I didn’t realize how much it hurt until Anjani said it to me. I gazed into the wheels of the bikes. Spinning endlessly. When did I become so afraid? When did I begin to hide my joy in a thousand layers of cynicism and intellectualism? Why couldn’t I see what she saw in this city? The pandemic was over. I was surrounded by thousands of people enjoying the beautiful breeze. Who had convinced me that I was still miserable?

Pizza Night – Interviews with My Friends

Last night we had a pizza party at Aiden’s place. It was a frosty March night, winter’s swan song, the final plucking of strings in an encore that has gone on too long. Nothing warms you up better than making pizza, Frank Sinatra, and a bottle of wine.

I picked Kylee up on our way to Ruth Street. She was excited to share news, “I’m moving to Florida, my old manager hit me up, and she wants to hire me full-time, and she’s going to let me live with her in a two-bedroom extension to her home.”

Sounded too good to be true. “When are you leaving?”

“Let’s see. We graduate on May 12th, so I’ll be driving my ass down there on the 13th.” There wasn’t a hint of sadness in her voice. New York City, Seattle, Madison, Richmond, DC, Atlanta, and now Seaside. Each of us choosing a different cloud to rest our next step on. Hoping the weight would hold.

“Well, I’m gonna call you this summer, and just know that I’ll be on my way to visit.” I fully intend on going, but that doesn’t mean much from me.

My mother has always critiqued me for my bad habit of running away. But last night, for a reason unknown, perhaps the wine, possibly the weeks of isolation, or maybe some strange combination of my brain chemistry and the weather, I felt good.

When we arrived, I got to work shredding three pounds of cheese. On the fridge, there was a large6 dildo with a suction cup that was used as a handle for opening the door. On the table next to the side door was a 3D-printed life-size replica of Kim Jong Un’s head. Nobody was surprised by the strange artifacts.

As I shredded away, I accidentally trapped Hope and Harper into a conversation about our political system. “Did y’all hear about the recent bank collapses?”

“Yeah, there was a run on a California or something, and they got bailed out,” Harper responded.

I’m not sure they really cared about my deep dive, but they care enough about me to listen to my impassioned rant. I’ve been told that part of growing up is coming to terms with the harshness of reality. The election of Donald Trump, the pandemic, and the inflationary crisis have coincided beautifully with my bildungsroman. Is it really just growing up? I’m not sure, but I try not to voice my doubts about the future. Hopelessness is bad practice, so I project optimism. Fired up. Ready to go. If you say something enough, you start to believe it – maybe hope is the thing with feathers.

Unfortunately, you can only love your friends so much in the face of boredom. I lost 50% of my audience as Hope maneuvered away. My educational side quest came to an end as Andrina finally arrived.

“How are your classes going?” she asks.

“Pretty well!” My face lights up; I love talking about myself, “I’m thinking about making a video instead of writing my essay.”

“It’s cool that your professor is letting you do that.”

“Well, she doesn’t know. I figure it’s easier to ask for permission than it is for forgiveness. Besides, it’s not even a class I need to graduate. I think I’ll ask Hugo to help. He’s a film guy.”

“Well, if he’s there, I won’t be,” she says.

My audience had slipped my mind. I rushed to justify myself, “Well, he’s just good with cameras and stuff, you know. I think he’d really be able to help with that. Besides, we used to be really close.”

“Same,” she said with all the seriousness she could muster before we broke into a giggle.

“Well, yeah,” I acknowledged.

Kylee joined our conversation, and we dove into wine-fueled Freudian psychoanalysis.

“You know, when people have daddy issues, it’s always in the same way, but when it comes to mommy issues, it manifests differently every time. Every crazy person I know has mommy issues.” Kylee emphatically nodded along with my rant.

“Ayush, do you want to come help make our pizza?” Aiden yelled from across the room.

I was deeply engrossed at the moment, “Can you just do it? I trust you.”

Most would roll their eyes, Aiden took it on as a sacred duty, “alright, I’m gonna impress you. This is going to be the best pizza you’ve ever tasted. I’mma do this right. Trust me.”

Aiden has always been a connector. He has a remarkable ability to be anyone’s friend. Whether I’m at a party full of strangers or in a country where I know nobody, I simply ask: what would Aiden do? He’s responsible for half my extroversion, but that night his brilliance took a different form.

An hour later, his stroke of genius was revealed: garam masala on pizza. Indian and Italian fusion. “You inspired me with your skin,” he laughed. It was brilliant, every flavor amplified. I was jealous that I hadn’t come up with it first in all my years. I’m sure my ancestors were disappointed in me, but I didn’t care. It was delicious.

At the end of the night, our more adventurous members found their way downtown. Andrina graciously offered to drive me home. “I’m kinda scared of moving to New York City, not gonna lie. I don’t think I know how to make friends outside of sheer proximity.”

“You’ll definitely find your people, New York is such a big place. Besides, you like music and have hobbies. I made a lot of good friends just by going to concerts alone in Atlanta,” Andrina responded.

“I’m also very bad at keeping friends. You can ask people. I have a bad habit of disappearing,” I continued thinking aloud.

“Don’t be so harsh on yourself, life is hard, and all you have to do is reach out,” she gave me her final words of wisdom as she dropped me off.

Nothing was special about that night, yet as I drifted off to sleep, it meant the world to me. For once, I thought I might be a little sad to leave7.


She asked me – what is the most beautiful thing
in the world?

The sun on our skin – Gorgeous brown skin,
Beams of molten gold dripping over our soft edges,
Filling the cracks in our hearts,
leaving them more beautiful than before – Kintsugi.

Lahiri could never write me like this,
she would rather us hollow, shattered, a narrative device.
But when I drown in that ocean of fire

I’m not Indian-American,
Broken in two by the blue.

I’m not jaded,
Eyes glazed over, soul calloused.

We are golden.
A golden people with
golden skin, our hearts beating with
golden ichor, our darkest fears fleeing in the face of our
golden bravery, our deep brown eyes shimmering with specks of

Your skin in the sunlight is the most beautiful thing in the world.

  1. I do not believe in the existence of journalistic neutrality and will not be beholden to it at any point in any story. ↩︎

  2. I am not liable for any damage, bodily or property, that may be caused by following me on this tour. If the police are reading, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of my mind or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to real people, establishments, and crimes is entirely coincidental. ↩︎

  3. Alex is moving to the Midwest for an excellent software engineering job, and not because of an off hand comment he made years ago that I have a strange obsession with. Just to clarify, I am the insane one. ↩︎

  4. It’s me, Jade and Jess have my entire heart, and I’ve seen them in concert four times. ↩︎

  5. In my defense, how the fuck am I supposed to respond to that? ↩︎

  6. I guess it depends on what you consider large, but in my opinion… ↩︎

  7. Such ludicrous thoughts ceased with the hangover the next morning. ↩︎