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Paper Trails
by Pete Dexter

Field-Tested by Karen Abbott

in Atlanta, Georgia

Things had not gone well for quite some time, and nothing I did hurried the bad stretch along. Instead, my minutes seemed to help themselves to extra seconds, stretching long and thin to nearly breaking, like chronological taffy. I should not have been surprised by what happened as I walked to work in Center City, Philadelphia, but it was 9:30 a.m., and I hadn’t yet had my coffee. In fact, when the man hit me — when he literally came out of nowhere and nailed me with a sledgehammer, an uppercut to my chin — my coffee, my briefcase, my head, my everything, collided with a storefront’s brick wall. After a moment, I got up. I started to run after him, and then thought better of it. I realized he didn’t take my wallet. He didn’t take anything. He didn’t want anything, except to hit me. He gave me something, though. I had thought about leaving Philadelphia for a long time, and within months of that morning, I moved to Atlanta.

I had been living down South for five years when my pre-ordered copy of Pete Dexter’s latest book, Paper Trails, arrived. Before turning to fiction, Dexter was a newspaper columnist, arguably the best Philly’s ever had. During a notorious bar fight back in 1981, the city nearly killed him, and much of Paper Trails reads like a love letter to its ugliest instincts and darkest corners. I read about the little old alcoholic lady at Doc Watson’s who thinks all little old ladies should be shot. I read about Mummer’s Day on Two Street (“The body is laid out on the corner. The pink dress is pulled up around the neck, which is painted green. The eyes are partly open; but when you look into them all you see is white.”) I read about the parking-meter repairman who found a skull in a paper bag. He carted it around all afternoon to various city offices, one of which decided, finally, that it belonged in New Jersey. And then it hit me, sitting in my office 800 miles away, how much I truly missed home.

Karen Abbott is a native of Philadelphia, where she worked as a journalist for several years. Her first book, Sin in the Second City, was a New York Times bestseller. She now lives in New York City, where she’s at work on her next book, a portrait of Gypsy Rose Lee. Visit her online here.

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