April 13, 2020: “The Perp Walk” by Jim Ray Daniels

How are you today, Story366?

I’ve not discussed some key world issues recently, as timing led me in other directions. Yesterday, I focused on the Karen, as it was our anniversary, and made my pre-book chat about her agloriousness. That prevented any discussion of the Kamala Harris selection, which I’m thrilled about. I wanted her from the get-go—for the nomination, and then the veep job—and the only reason I could think of not to pick her was because she’d make an incredible attorney general instead. Overall, though, this is a win—and I believe it will lead to the win in the fall.

I also made a fuss about my new trimmer, aka, edger, aka, weed whacker. Because I know a lot of you were hanging on the results of that purchase, I want to assure you that the weeds are whacked—I’ve taken it out a few times now and have neatified the front lawn to the point where I almost walked by my house when I came home today, it’s that stupendous-looking. Lots of good think-time when you do stuff like that, I found, so if you’re trying to work out a story, plan for your fall classes, or win an argument with the voices inside your head, I highly recommend one, as it’s way-good for all three.

Today we continue with a Two-Timers Week here at Story366, a week where I cover an author for the second post, this time for a different book. I’m more than happy to include Jim Ray Daniels—aka, Jim Daniels—on this particular list, as he’s a tremendous writer and another one of those nicest-ever types (and a fellow Bowling Green alum). I last covered Daniels’ work in December of 2016 when I read from his collection, Eight Mile High. Today I’m discussing The Perp Walk, out just last year from Michigan State University Press.

The lead story, “Circling Squares,” a short, uses some of the sights and sounds of Daniels’ native Detroit to paint a picture of a city on the move, a city going through transition, a city that’s always busy, always full of life.

“They Swim” starts off as a communal narrator story, but the we drops down into an at some point, and tells the story of a group of guys around Eight Mile—the western border of the city, between the suburbs and actual Detroit. Here the boys will be boys, playing baseball, taking up smoking, and picking on a kid named Sliver, who makes the unfortunate announcement to everyone that his parents don’t fuck anymore. The narrator then investigates, though this lyrical journey, one way the boys come of age.

Another short, “Baptism By Fire,” chronicles a sad sixteen-year-old’s process of burning the love letters sent to him by his first girlfriend, who is, to note, no longer his girlfriend. Again, Daniels’ lyricism takes us on a gorgeous journey through this particular heartbreak.

“Pop Quiz,” yet another short—Daniels includes a lot of these, and as you can tell, I like them a lot—gives us two timelines, both with a narrator focusing on Angie. In one, it’s high school geography class and our guy stares at her as the teacher fumbles with maps of Mesopotamia. In the second, at a future reunion, he and Angie chat about her life since, and no matter what she details, he’s clearly still smitten.

The title story, “The Perp Walk,” is a longer piece, about this guy recounting his relationship with Claire, and their eventual breakups—there are several. In fact, Daniels using “perp walk” to refer to that final breakup, a term that comes up several times, regarding several different characters. This is a double-voiced story, told from a future vantage point, but Daniels doesn’t do that right away—adding all kind of revision and insight into the narration, depending how you look at it.

Claire and our narrator start out (though not sequentially) by getting married one night while drunk. They are determined, after sobriety sets in, to make it stick, Claire even moving with our guy to Pittsburgh from Detroit. That goes south quickly, and Claire returns to Detroit, sans our narrator, to hook up with Oscar. Oscar is the couple’s drug dealer, by the way, and a good friend of our narrator. Even after Claire leaves him and hooks up with Oscar, he and Oscar take some road trips together. In this story, relationships fall apart, but drugs keep the world turning.

I should also mention that during a visit to Detroit, our guy hooks up with Marie, Oscar’s wife. It’s that type of story, the history of some people making some bad choices, though they seem to all emerge from the carnage, relatively unscathed.

While in Detroit, our guy runs into Claire because Oscar plays matchmaker, or the devil, and tells her he’s in town. When I said earlier that this couple breaks up more than once, it’s because they keep hooking up with the opportunity arrises. That’s probably because that’s all they ever should have done, just hook up that night they were drunk and got married. But again, some people make bad choices that stick.

Daniels also employs a lot of objects as motifs. There’s a really, really heavy table that our guy is stuck with, impossible to move. It takes on metaphorical significance, after a while, as it tethers him to a place, but also invokes good memories (i.e., he and Claire did it on that table quite a bit). There’s also a slip of paper with some scribbles on it, and the Powder Puff, the adult store the couple resided over in Pittsburgh. Our guy can’t get over how Claire spells Pittsburgh without the H, either.

Eventually, more characters, more complications, and more drama are introduced. There’s a woman named Holly who takes a couple of perp walks of her own. Our guy, we find out late, has been happily married for decades, and is telling this story at a particular time, for a particular reason.

All in all, this story showcases more of Daniels’ poetic sense, and in a broad sense, paints a picture that most of us have, that relationship that went on too long, is probably best forgotten, but sticks with us, such a major part of our lives. I have one of those, spending five prime years of my twenties with someone who I should have broken up with after a week. I had my Claire, though I wish I had as much fun as this guy did.

I can’t say enough good things about Jim Ray Daniels, an author I’ve admired for so long, as long as I’ve been in this business. The Perp Walk is just another testament to his legendary career. I hope he just keeps putting out books, as I’ll be there, waiting, ready.