There’s an alley in Macon where you can see the word “EVERYBODY” scrawled in faded paint along the side of an old, red brick building. I have no idea what it used to advertise, though I imagine it wouldn’t be very hard to find out.
There are old advertisements like that all over downtown. Macon’s not a big place, but it’s an old one, and it’s always had a substantial population. I think you can almost measure spikes in growth by the number of painted ads you find along the sides of buildings. Right now Macon is at the cusp of a minor boom, and murals praising it as a hub for history and music are slathered all over. In a few decades, the paint and prints will fade into sun-bleached ghosts. People will photograph those old hustles, and imagine the atmosphere the ads tried to promote. The product will be long out of date when it finally sells.
I’m reminded of the “EVERYBODY” ad when someone who is shockingly rude to me is inexplicably gracious just a few moments later, a look of anxiety telling me they fear being written off by anyone, even inconsequential twentysomethings they don’t know. I think of the ad when exes leave voice mails I’ll never return. I think of it when I text friends in Nashville, and we pretend there’s a possibility we’ll hang out again one day.
In nearby Rose Hill, there are graves so old the lettering has been nearly ground away by rain. There are whole tombs you can only reach if you climb down embankments and weave your way through brush. They are built of brick, and they are faded pink by time. In the stillness of those alcoves of kudzu and camellias, where whispers are nearly shouts, it is impossible to believe that moving hands ever laid the mortar that holds those vaults together. I think of the ad even then.
The ad pops up in my mind when I hug my parents after a visit. When my cat is asleep in my lap. When I see reports of terrorism on the news, and when I throw out homophobic pamphlets I find littering the post office.
The ad says more than the capitalist who commissioned it ever meant to say. It’s an accidental message, one that could only emerge when the old message washed away in the sun. Even that adds to the telling.
It’s neither melancholic nor optimistic. It simply is. The meaning transcends mood.
Everybody fades away.