The following is my response to Joe Mackall’s “Words of My Youth.”
The point of this piece is that kids often do things that they know they shouldn’t do, that they don’t have a reason for doing, that if they didn’t do they wouldn’t be affected one way or the other.
At the end of this piece of flash prose, Mackall suggests that when kids do this—say inappropriate things like dyke and dirty jew—that it comes quickly and out of nowhere. In his genius, Mackall expresses this sudden act of intuit in one long sentence that reads very quickly: “The slur just seems to have been out there, there and somehow not there, like incense, Iike the way a Wiffle ball whips and dips, the way adults laugh at things kids don’t understand, the way background noise from a baseball game leaks out of transistor radios, the way bits of gravel bounce out of pickup truck beds, the way factory fires flirt with the night sky, the way sonic booms burst the lie of silence.” While reading about how something can be quick, you yourself are reading quickly.
Tension arrives when Mackall first mentions the boy down the street and intensifies when his mother is scolding him. I think that if he had not said that the parents in the suburbs stick together to fight a common enemy—the kids?—I don’t think that there would be much tension towards the end. Amazingly in just a few lines Mackall makes us scared of his mother.