under overhead lights

Tim Jones

is a fiction writer living in Northern California with his wife and two children, and when not writing is engaged in an active business career. His fiction has appeared in The First Line, and he also enjoys working with, and encouraging other writers.

Tim grew up in Michigan, and in first grade actually did witness a kid sticking his tongue to a frigid metal pole in the middle of winter.

 

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Fiction

Under Overhead Lights

written by Tim Jones

We all make choices and then must live with the consequences — intended or unintended.

In Under Overhead Lights, Chase reluctantly returns to the middle-sized, middle-class mid-western town he grew up in, and had previously left as quickly as he could. As a college kid, he rejected the town as bourgeois and closed-minded. He also separated himself from his family more than he realized and missed out on some of the positive aspects of his hometown.

In a moment of nostalgia during a visit back home, he tours the town and reconnects with unlikely allies — two people he had nearly forgotten. In the process, the impact of an old judgment becomes visible in the overhead light of experience and maturity.

Read by Gill Bahnsen

“Everybody always comes back to Riverside,” his mother said. And for his sister, Angie, and his brother the cop, this was true. They both bought homes there and raised kids who would attend his old school.”

“Tinny horns blared earnest and fierce, and drums beaten while pretty girls in sweaters thrust fists into the night and exhorted the crowd: “I believe (stomp, stomp)… I believe (stomp, stomp)… I believe (stomp, stomp)…”

“He looked through the windshield at the view of the town, mottled by the grimy film and cracks peppering the glass that diffused the iridescence of the sodium light overhead. Draining the beer, Chase noticed the smell in the car, like the matted hair of an old dog had been burnt, then extinguished with cherry Kool-Aid.”

Q&A with Tim

Tell us about your story...

Under Overhead Lights is about the choices we all make, and the consequences, intended or unintended, that they have. The choices we make as young adults are some of the most impactful because we make them at a time in our lives when our convictions about right and wrong, good and bad, etc. tend to be the strongest, and unaffected by life experience, nuance, and perspective, so we don’t always appreciate the impact until much later.

In Chase’s situation, he made a judgement as a college student about his hometown, but the judgement could have been about a person, a group, an idea, a political philosophy, etc. He has held firm to his conviction for a long time, but when he re-examines it later, with the help of two people he thought he had forgotten, the impact of the choice becomes visible in the dark when aided by the overhead light of experience and maturity.

What was the inspiration for this story?

I am fascinated by that time in young adulthood, when we tend to cement the value judgements that set us up for the rest of our lives, when we think we are dead solid sure about most things.

I had been thinking a lot about the small Midwestern town I grew up in, and was remembering specifically the glory of autumn in Michigan – football games, bonfires, wood smoke, chilly nights, when I started writing this story.

I recalled visiting my hometown as an adult, and running into people I knew from childhood who had chosen to put down roots there, as someone who had not made the same choice. I thought that contrast was interesting, and started thinking about the consequences of choices we make, especially the ones we were very certain about.

I had a lot of fun with Chase’s nostalgic trip through his hometown, as those scenes were based on things I did, places I had been, and people that I knew. For instance, there was a kind of seedy convenience store in my hometown very similar to Crazy Jerry’s where I ran into someone from high school once. And, my sister and I did have a theory that the long-haired Rock singers of our childhood hit their soaring falsetto high notes with the aid of wedgies.

What have you recently read that you loved?

Not long ago I read Homesick For Another World, by Ottessa Moshfegh, a remarkable collection of short stories. I found myself taking an extra-long time to read each story because I was constantly stopping to re-read, saying to myself at the end of just about every paragraph: “Wow, how did she do that?”

The stories are quirky, and even dark, but the writing is brilliant, and rich in humor and impact. Most of the characters are odd, the kind not usually featured in fiction, and some are even unabashedly unlikeable. But the fact that Moshfegh makes the reader hungry to know more about them and their often skeevy circumstances is testament to her skills as an author.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

My favorite pursuit is spending time with my family. We can be doing anything – a vacation trip somewhere, a game of Cornhole, movie night, or just pizza – and it is time well-spent as long as we are together.

My wife and I have a daughter and a son who are at that age when they are making their own plans and moving towards independence, so we realize that we have to seize on, and enjoy, every opportunity we have together.

I am also a big sports fan, and having grown up in the Detroit area, I follow closely the Lions and Tigers. While this has not rewarded me too often, it has taught me to deal with disappointment, and the importance of faith and perseverance, which often comes in handy in other ways.  

Do you have any hidden talents?

I’m usually able to guess with stunning accuracy which house the couple will choose on House Hunters. It is not always the charming Cape Cod near downtown that appeals to their arty tastes, or the suburban split-level that is perfect for their growing family that they will choose – but sometimes it is!

“Eerily prescient” is one of those snappy writer phrases that I once saw in an essay, and have borrowed a few times, and it perfectly describes my hidden, but largely useless, talent for guessing the outcome of House Hunters.

On the weekends I like to...

I always have a project around the house. Home improvement takes up most of my weekend time (except, strangely, in the summer here in California where it is a little too hot to do much outside). I enjoy seeing an opportunity and figuring out how to create a solution, and get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from seeing the completed product and knowing that I did it myself.

When I was just starting out in my career I didn’t have a lot of money for furniture and figured it was a lot more cost-effective to build it myself, so started building furniture. I enjoy designing and building my own furniture, and spend way too much money now on tools.

Tomorrow I absolutely refuse to...

Check Twitter. For once I’ll not be reminded of how low the lowest common denominator has truly sunk. On second thought, I’ll probably check it. I’m not much better than most. Feel free to follow me: @timjones734.

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