An Extended Metaphor

My apartment in Detroit is in a high-rise building, like most of what comprises the housing stock in the downtown core. In the standard set of amenities for these apartments is a balcony, which looks out first and foremost on a tennis court, then beyond to the southwest. I know it’s west because the sun is currently glaring through my balcony doors. It creates a nice slice of sunlight on the floor, but makes it seriously impossible to work if you’re in the direct line of sight, which is revealing a furious storm of dust motes as I type.

Anyways, so this balcony. When I first moved in, in addition to the leasing office’s cheerfully off-mark “Welcome home!”, I noticed a bunch of cigarette butts on said balcony. “Okay,” I thought. “I guess the former tenant was a smoker and they forget to clean it up.” Not exactly what I was hoping for with the building’s stupidly inflated rent, but I had more important things to worry about at the time, like finding a bed and starting my new job.

Days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months. More important things tug our attention away. Later in the fall, though, I had a good friend coming to visit, and cast my eyes upon the mostly-neglected balcony. I can ignore proximity to what’s become serious squalor, on this balcony, but not when someone is coming into my home. By this point, there’s all kinds of trash out there, more cigarette butts, food wrappers, unidentifiable objects. Not mine, obviously. I walked out on a chilly evening and picked the garbage up and put it into a bag. I was gagging the entire time. Beyond just the basic gross-ness of picking up this mysterious proliferating refuse, there was something just off about the whole deal. It just didn’t feel right.

Fast forward a few months. The cigarette butts appear to be of an unusual, spontaneously regenerating vintage, because they’re accumulating again, spread out all over the dumb balcony that I never even use. Okay. It’s seriously gross, but it bothers me more to have garbage all over my balcony, so I clean it up. Again. I don’t bother giving much thought to where they’re coming from. I guess maybe someone is flicking them off another balcony and the wind is blowing them into mine, but there’s a lot of cigarette butts, dude.

Other things in Detroit take up my attention. More months pass. Weather maybe starts to get warmer–oh, no, wait, you blinked, and we’re still in the middle of the late winter hellstorm. One guess for what my balcony continues to be filled with.

Here’s the thing. You can go to great pains to make a space for yourself–of any sort–that is beautiful. For my part, I managed to get maps of Chicago and Detroit and some sick wall-mounted shelves to display all my poetry books, but I’m still working on the whole “getting a sofa and chairs that are not of the folding sort” thing [how’s that post-college transition treating you, eh?]. You can endeavor to make that space beautiful, clean, peaceful, whatever those things mean to you. But your balcony may still fill up with garbage, and it’s hard to ignore this dirtiness on the periphery of your private space, the only space you’ve control over, in a city full of derelict and beautiful spaces (some both).

I am reminded of Kimberly Dixon’s line from “Hyde Park Walking Tour,” in the Anthology of Chicago: “bits from the outside blow in.” You can try really hard to carve out a space for yourself; but bits from the outside blow in.

As for the title of this post? Figure it out.


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