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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G.

Chapter 5: Beautiful Downtown Nowhere.

Some of you have been wondering about my sarcastic attitude towards the center of our nation. It’s not so much the geographic center that bugs me as it is the “middle of the road.” I am quite sarcastic about that.

And why not? That’s where people have a problem with someone changing their name. Or shortening it. Especially to just one letter.

“Yer called whut?” is a frequent reaction from the middlebrow middleclass denizens of Midville. “Gee?” they ask, with suspicion in their eyes. “Howzat spelled?” is another common response.

As you might expect, I often poke a little fun at these folks. To that first question, I sometimes reply, “It’s really Godot, but you haven’t been waiting for him long enough.” You can imagine how well this goes over with someone who thinks the character in that play is pronounced “go-dot.” And just think what kind of brain freeze happens with folks who never even heard of Samuel Beckett.

In reply to the last question, I sometimes tell people my name is spelled S-M-I-T-H but it’s pronounced “G.” Why do I do this? Just to watch that little eye-twitch that affects people with an IQ below eighty whenever they’re told something involving irony, hyperbole, or Dadaism. (Oh quit complaining and look up a word now and then.)

Every once in a while, the questioner turns out to have a few functioning brain cells, so we can have a decent conversation. For example, after the “Smith is pronounced G” gets a smile, we can discuss “ghoti” and how it can be pronounced “fish.”

Like so: Take the [gh] from “laugh”, the [o] from “women” and the [ti] from “nation” and you’re all set.

(And BTW, I have always wanted to write a decent sentence using square brackets [like so], curly brackets {like these}, and parentheses, like I’m already doing in this sentence.) Hey, I did it!

Hmmm, not as big a thrill as I had hoped.

Poking Fun

If you are in doubt as to whether you might become an object of derision because of English or brackets or weird names, rest easy. It’s your ability to reason and your sense of humor that interest me.

But if you’re still wondering, ask yourself this question: When you saw “Fargo,” did you think it was a comedy or a drama? If you said “comedy” or “both,” welcome to reality. If you said “drama,” by all means continue to enjoy whatever small pleasures you find (tractor pulls come to mind) but please leave the rest of us alone to enjoy life in all its squalid splendor and beatific horror. Most of my mom’s Midwest friends took offense at the Coen brothers’ film because they thought the townspeople depicted in it were being mocked. Well, duh.

If you missed “Fargo,” try this short Q&A session on the topic:

Question: Is it really so bad in the middle of the road?

Answer: Oh no, it’s absolutely great! As long as you don’t aspire to anything above the intellectual equivalent of a corn dog.

Name Game

My dad, thank heavens, decided to pack up and move the whole family to another place. Any other place. All right, not exactly any old spot; he did what he had to do: he moved to where there was a job waiting for him. And so it was that we found ourselves in the lower sideward portion of the state of Washington in a section once called. . . Parts Unknown.

Okay, it probably had a name. And more likely than not it was a Native American name. In the state were the mighty Cayuse, Kwalhioqua, Nooksack, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Snoqualmie, and Puyallup tribes, among many others with equally colorful titles, and quite a few of these names became attached to cities and mountains and canyons and valleys. So naturally, the powers-that-be deemed the place . . .


Q: Seriously?

A: Yup.

Q: Was the land rich?

A: Nope.

Q: Well, then why — ?

A: Dunno.

Friend of mine gave me an answer that is as good as any: “That’s what white people do.”

“Well,” I replied, “it’s more like what a Chamber of Commerce would do.”

“That’s what I said.”

Three, or Maybe Four

Richland is a proud part of what is called the “Tri-Cities Area.” If you check their Visitor & Convention Bureau website, you’ll see all the city names: Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, and West Richland. Yeah, I know: that’s four. Guess it should have been the Quad-Cities Area. Apparently, these folks can’t add. But they sure know how to try to write. Here are a few choice examples from their website:

The Tri-Cities are cradled near the confluence of the Columbia, Snake and Yakima rivers. . .

Sounds like one of the horrific sentences I was forced to write when I did public relations for real estate developers. “Tell the writer to make it sound romantic to live near the Snake River.”

Fun in the sun is a way of life. . .

Sounds like a parody of lyrics in a Beach Boys song.

Our vineyards thrive in the sun-kissed climate of the state’s mild, airy climate.

Yes, there is nothing quite like the sun-kissed climate of a mild, airy climate. And come to think of it, wouldn’t every climate on earth be airy?

Richland started out as a small farming community but the population boomed when the government built the country’s first nuclear reactor on the Hanford Site.

“Boomed” may have been an unfortunate choice of word.

The Hanford Site continues to play a major role in the Tri-Cities economy and is also a huge part of the science and technology communities worldwide.

Absolutely true. Because the world often looks to us for advancements in the science and technology of things that can totally fucking destroy stuff.

The Hanford Reach is the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River in the United States and was recently designated as a National Monument by President Clinton.

“Recently”? How long ago was this site updated? And as for “the last free-flowing stretch” of a river, what happened to the rest of it? Does this river defy the laws of physics?

I’ve never understood the point of brochures and websites extolling the visual virtues of any area. Just show good photos. Where you really need words is in describing the heart and soul of a place. And describing the people who like being in that place.

And besides, when taking those marketing photographs, would it hurt you to throw in a little gal scenery once in a while? I’m just saying.

On the Map

After paying a visit to Richland on Google Maps, you may enjoy reading some of the street names, like Bombing Range Road and the By Pass Highway, which suddenly becomes Stevens Drive for no apparent reason.

Also check out Newcomer Street, which becomes Newcomer Avenue before turning back into Newcomer Street. And then it becomes Newcomer Avenue again, and so on, somewhat like that shocking moment near the end of “Chinatown” when Faye Dunaway is telling Jack Nicholson about her sister and her daughter, her sister and her daughter. But my favorite thoroughfare on the map is St St, which could be short for Saint Street, but I like to think it’s short for Street Street because of a recommendation to the Richland City Council by the Assn. of Redundancy Association.

Best-laid Plans

Let’s back up to when the government decided to build this city of shock ‘n’ roll. Imagine that you are looking out over an open area of land in the lush Pacific Northwest. Picture a small group of men in uniforms. A “detail” I believe they call it. A detail of Army Engineers is trudging to the top of a knoll, where they halt and look out over the lovely natural vista . . .



“Do you remember the Colonel’s instructions?”

“Yes, Sir!”

There is an awkward pause.

“And, um, what exactly were those instructions, Sergeant?”

“We are to determine where to build the bomb factory, Sir!”

“It is not to be called the bomb factory, Sergeant.”

“Yes, Sir. Our orders are to build the town on one side of the river and build the bom- the facility on the other side, Sir!”

“Uh, yes. That is correct, Sergeant. Very good.”

There is an awkward pause. The sun shines, the birds chirp, the breezes breeze. Finally, the Sergeant speaks.


“Yes, Sergeant?”

“Which side of the river gets the town, Sir?”

“Yes. Well. Um, what difference does it make, Sergeant?”

“Begging the Lieutenant’s pardon, Sir, but if I had to live here, I’d want the wind to blow across the town and toward the facility, not the other way around. Sir.”

“Hmmm, blow across the town. . . and toward the facility. . .”

There is an awkward pause.

“Uh, Sir? If the facility is here and the town is downwind from it. . . ”

“Yes. . . Yes, I see your point. Excellent observation, Sergeant.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Well then, Sergeant, your duty is clear.”


“Find out which way the wind blows.”

“Wouldn’t that be a politician’s job, Sir?”

“Watch your tongue, Sergeant.”

“Sorry, Lieutenant.”

“Now, Sergeant, using every scientific methodology known to the Army Corps of Engineers, determine the direction of the wind!”

At which point the good Sergeant stuck his right index finger in his mouth and then held it up above his head.

Had the Army Engineers bothered to check the available atmospheric data which measured the direction of the prevailing winds, they would have noticed that, for as long as there had been measurements, the wind blew from the West, across the plain and over the river to the Eastern bank and the flatlands beyond.

But when the good Sergeant made his scientific calculations, it was determined that the wind was blowing in the opposite direction. Why? Because the wind just happened to be swirling that way, at that moment, of that day. Just one of those things.

We Built This City

They came in with their bulldozers and excavators and cranes and backhoes and Zambonis. Wait, not that last one. But with graders and loaders and forklifts and trucks. Lots of trucks. Dump trucks. Pick-up trucks. Cement mixers. Ya gotta like those. You know, the big, rumbling behemoths with the huge, bloated rotating containers shaped like a cut-off teardrop. There were a bunch of ’em, all keeping their load of concrete from hardening inside until the construction crews let it slide down the sluice where it would waddle in and around the rebar to form a foundation, a sidewalk, a schoolyard.

Platoons of men scurried and swarmed and slogged this way and that, all armed with shovels and hammers and saws and ladders and pickaxes and pliers and screwdrivers and wrenches and drills. Well, perhaps they didn’t carry all of those tools at the same time. But it does create a nice mental image of them clanking around the worksites.

Location Envy

So, on one side of the river, a facility. With labs, and scientists in lab coats, and containment towers, and buildings with metal-lined walls, and innocuous-looking cooling pools (not for swimming!) All of it located safely behind plenty of electrified chain-link fencing topped with bristling barbed wire. And the whole kit-and-caboodle patrolled by armed soldiers twenty-four hours a day.

While on the other side of the river, a town. With houses and schools and churches and shops and grocery stores. All carefully situated in the path of the aforementioned prevailing winds. . .


The wafting gentle drafts, the warm zesty zephyrs, and the swirling stormy gusts, all seeping and sweeping and swooping down from the nearby mountains, moving over each of the nuclear reactor towers and across the river and out over the houses and schools and churches and shops and grocery stores of Beautiful Downtown Nowhere.

Not that there’s anything to worry about. I have it on the highest authority (some guy on the maintenance team) that there is “positively little or no problem with radiation leakage or outflow or discharge or anything like that.”

And besides, this nuclear research facility, which is only utilized for pure research, has been constructed to exact specifications using the finest-grade industrial-strength concrete, steel, and lead. Oh my, a lot of lead.

So you can rest easy on the job or in your bed, safe in the knowledge that your government is looking out for your safety and well-being.

Although some people thought it was strange that maps of the city were in the form of x-rays.


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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G, is Copr. © 2011 by JSG, all rights reserved under U.S. and international copyright conventions. Commercial use in any form is forbidden without express written permission of the author. Originally published on with permission. Credits: Book cover design: Phil Hatten; Author photograph: Brian Forest.