That’s a superb title, isn’t it? The title alone made me want to buy Dinty W. Moore’s book, but the Prologue quickly confirmed I’d be glad I did. I am also a regular reader of Brevity’s blog, edited by Moore, and an accompaniment to Brevity magazine, a journal devoted to “the extremely brief (750 words or less) essay form.” All are worth a read. Enjoy the excerpt below from the Prologue of Between Panic & Desire.
Deep in the scrub hills of Jefferson County, about eight miles north of Punxsutawney, lay two towns, Panic and Desire, separated by farms, trees, and a narrow road.
Returning from Pittsburgh one morning, I tug my steering wheel to the left, swing off the main highway, and motor up a steep rise. I have seen Panic and Desire on a map, and for some reasons I want to visit.
Desire comes first, and proves to be little more than a few old houses and a modest cemetery I’m curious how the town got such a name, what it is like to live here, what the people know that I don’t, so I roll my compact car down the main road, looking for someone to ask.
But no one is out.
The graveyard appears to be my only alternative. I search the ancient stones for clues until a large white dog appears from nowhere. He shows me his teeth, follows me to my car, and barks his sharp warning until I leave.
So I head to Panic, a five-minute drive past tumbledown homes and modest trailers – families who have lost their farms, and those who are barely hanging on.
Like Desire, Panic turns out to be just a few ragtag family houses along a strip of asphalt. One of the homes has been completely gutted by fire and blackened furniture litters the front lawn. It looks as if it has been this way for months.
A white-haired gentleman bundled into an orange hunting jacket ambles down the road, so I step out of my car, walk toward him. “Any idea,” I ask, “why they call this place Panic?”
He gives me an odd look.
“How about Desire?”
The man in orange shakes his head, offers a sad shrug, hurries down the road before I can squeeze in another question.
I’m intrigued, though, and fairly stubborn. In nearby DuBois there is a library, and I am heading more or less in that direction.
Twenty minutes later and I’m in the stacks, unearthing a handful of local history books. For the next two hours I settle in at a wide table and read about the first European settlers – German and Scotch-Irish farmers pushing west across Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. The hills were full of deer, wild turkeys, and wolves.
There is no mention of Panic or Desire.
I ask the librarian. She doesn’t know either.
So I return to my car, but instead of continuing east toward home, I double back, revisiting the road that separates Panic from Desire.
At what I approximate to be the halfway point, I pull over, switch off the ignition, and get out one more time into the cold March air. I am in the middle of a small patch of hemlock, a secluded spot, and it is here that I finally realize I don’t want the actual answer, the truth of where these towns found their names. The mystery is sweeter.
I just bask in the unknown for a while, alone on the road, halfway between Panic and Desire.
Until it occurs to me: I have been here all my life.