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These Girls - Richard Barthelme Sonnenmoser
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Liner Notes for “These Girls”


The radio told me gray paint started selling like crazy in 2008. Financial meltdown. Something happened with Lehman Brothers. Something happened with Bear Stearns. Sometimes we listened to Hank Paulson give a news conference. For a while, regular citizens explained credit default swaps to each other the way me and my neighbor sometimes meet in the road and look up at the sky and share notes on the storm. Underwater mortgages. Housing crisis. Folks doing the skedaddle. Everyone shaking their head. And it could have been a fad, a gotta-sell-your-house-quick thing—a year, maybe two. Two coats of gray paint. Stage furniture. Snickerdoodles in the oven. But then HGTV got involved. Oh, that's fraudulent. Let me revise: HGTV was already involved, and they were paying attention. How else would I have known of so many plucky blondes who’d demo an old house and have Eureka! moments at the salvage yard? Funky dressers began new lives as bathroom sinks. Oh, I just love these old glass door knobs! Once, I went to a salvage yard, and I couldn’t even find someone to tell me how much. I’d overhear people at shopping malls saying, “Pop of color,” without winking. Almost a decade before, I was half in love with three different women. That was the summer I was painting propane tanks, some silver, some white. The three women I thought of as “girls,” even though they were 19 and 20 and 21 years old. And I was in a different half with each of them, of course, because some bridges were burned and for others I’d only acquired my courage, which is another name for gasoline. Took me too long to shake that habit, calling young women girls. But growing up is slower than you’d think. And more plagued by speech impediments. More turned-around and hungry on a wayward trek in the bluffs. When I finally started referring to women as women, according to the story I tell myself about myself, I became a marginally better person. The minor efforts that convince us we’re marginally better—that’s what I wish this song could be about. Or the stories told about those minor efforts. I took a lot of baths in mineral spirits that summer. But that wears the skin away, and so, after a time, the uncovered parts of me stayed gray. Any fad of the year might grow legs and become a decade-or-maybe-longer trend. And then there’s another name for it, but I don’t know what that other name is. I want to say Behr now has 200 varieties of gray, for your interiors. I want to say being half in love is something like that—that sense of certainty: Oh, isn’t there something timeless about the paint on this wall, the upholstery too? There isn’t! There never is. But it’s cute, kind of, that naivete. Mostly harmless. A certainty so foolish it starts to seem like optimism. Like pluck. Like being half in love. And that's something like saying anything without winking, breathing hitched with hope, not even a crumb of doubt.

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