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Paul Boyer

By Tanya Rey

Essay

Tanya R 4

 

Recently I had a job writing the life stories of people with Traumatic Brain Injury. Accident victims, named so because they’ve had tragic events happen to them. Ceilings collapsing on their heads, steel fences burying them in construction rubble. Their only role in all of it was being there—showing up for work or living in a home with a soggy roof. The accidents were often fluke-like. Fateful. One woman was walking down the street when a giant red R came unmoored from its awning and met with the crown of her head. Her last name? Rodriguez. Coincidence?

The job made me question just how much control we have. I began to think it a silly notion, that control is something one can possess. Like drinking water from the earth and calling it yours.

I wrote these narratives for a law firm. I interviewed the clients and recorded their stories. They were used to strengthen the accident victims’ cases for trials. A “good case” was one in which the victim was at no fault and yet was undeservedly suffering a great deal. It’s a backwards reasoning that could sometimes get you into trouble. My boss liked to tell the story of a man who’d once been a potential client. The man had had an accident but his injuries didn’t seem severe enough to warrant a lawsuit, and the firm turned down his case. Years later, running into my boss on the street, he confessed that he’d only gotten worse—he was now experiencing debilitating head and back pain. Without thinking, my boss clapped his hands together and said, “That’s great!”

One of my best cases involved a man with light green eyes and hands covered in calluses from a lifetime of fixing cars. He’d had an accident while driving for work. It was a messy collision that killed the other driver on impact while my client stumbled away with multiple serious injuries but alive; and this, he said, was the exact problem he faced every morning when he woke up.

I knew from early on I didn’t want to hear his story. The deposition was practically damp with trauma. It awakened something in me.

Toll 1

 

In Tangier, in the winter, the Café Hafa becomes an observatory for dreams and their aftermath…. Long pipes of kif pass from table to table while glasses of mint tea grow cold … a matter of indifference to customers long since lost to the limbo of hashish and tinselled reverie…. They look at the sea, at the clouds that blend into the mountains, and they wait for the twinkling lights of Spain to appear.

—Tahar Ben Jelloun, Leaving Tangier, translated from French by Linda Coverdale

 

Just before departing for Morocco with my family, I finish reading Leaving Tangier.  The protagonist, Azel, looks toward Spain, recalling his beloved cousin who drowned attempting to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, imagining his own “naked body … swollen by seawater, his face distorted by salt and longing…” This melancholy novel unfolds in a series of mutating reflections—in addition to the twinkling lights of Spain bouncing off the water–the view north reflects the view south reflects the view north again.

To reach Morocco, my family travels by ferry from Algeciras, Spain to the port of Tangier.  Which is not Tangier, but an armed camp with a formidable police presence, enclosed in barbed wire.  As soon as we disembark, we are bused to a blocky concrete building to be processed.  Tangier may have captured the imaginations of western literati, but this particular port of embarkation lacks signs of human habitation; it’s a bulwark to prevent trafficking emigrants and drugs.

Azel finally makes it to Spain in Leaving Tangier, but his successful crossing leads to sexual exploitation and ruin.  Laila Lalami plies related waters in Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.  In that novel, she plumbs the frustration caused by lack of opportunity and failed futures, a sense of defeat that spurs her characters to risk everything for a place on a rubber boat speeding across the Strait of Gibraltar.  A character named Murad judges passage in a Zodiac preferable to sneaking in on vegetable trucks.  “Last year the Guardia Civil intercepted a tomato truck in Algeciras and found the bodies of three illegals, dead from asphyxiation, lying on the crates.  At least on a boat there is no chance of that happening.”  Murad is a bit too optimistic.  Despite paying exorbitant sums, these passengers are not smuggled onto dry land; they’re forced to jump from the boat 250 meters offshore.  It’s a miracle that none of them drowns.  All but one ends up in a Spanish detention cell awaiting deportation, or worse—rape and expulsion to a life of prostitution in Madrid, tempered only by Valium.  Like Ben Jelloun, Lalami sets her novel between opposing mirrors.  Initially the Zodiac passengers look north.  After they’re forced to jump into the sea, those who survive Spain’s underground economy look south to Morocco–anguished for the life they abandoned, while those who are deported from Spain assess the implications of that brief northern sojourn from their final, southern vantage point.

Photo credit, Jill Talbot

My daughter, Indie, and I sit on the back deck at night in the hour before she goes to bed and I go to worry.  She’s usually just out of the shower, her blonde hair still wet. She stretches her long legs from a plastic chair we found in the shed. I sit on the top step. We moved here last August, and three months from now we’ll move again.

***

There is history here. Indie and I sense it in the creak of the pine floors, the groan of the heavy branches hovering over our roof, the way sifted dirt settles on the kitchen counter, fallen from hidden gaps in the vigas.  The adobe home we rent in Las Vegas, New Mexico, the oldest in town, is one of nine-hundred buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The row houses along our street were once the last stop on the Sante Fe Trail before settlers and searchers drove their wagons over sixty miles to the big city.

When my worry has worn itself out, I climb into my bed hours after Indie has fallen asleep on the other side of the house. Both of us often wake in the dark to the sound of footsteps and pauses in the pine. Out on the deck, we share stories of the way we sat up for a moment the night before and wondered about the noises. I never tell her how my wonderings fall fast to worry, and I tiptoe through the dark to check the empty living room. I never tell her how I press down on window frames and tighten latches, how I open doors and shut them again, turning the key.

NYE first photo

New Year’s Eve has never been a favorite holiday of mine, so I tend not to put much pressure on it. Don’t get me wrong: I love over-imbibing and celebration in general. I appreciate the idea of looking back and thinking ahead to new opportunities, but there’s something about the hype around New Year’s Eve that feels forced to me. Still, despite this aversion, I often find myself remembering the holiday mid-year. It’s possible that I do this because my birthday falls at the end of May, and birthdays seem to be a similar annual marker of celebration and progress.

None of this is to say that I haven’t had my fair share of wild year end celebrations. I lost my virginity in the wee hours of New Year’s Day to a fellow grad student. (Yes, you’re correct, I was a bit older, 22 to be exact, when I lost my virginity. Either you’ll accept the excuse that I went to theater school where there was one straight male to every fifteen women, or you’ll draw your own conclusions: that I was insecure or uptight or a late bloomer. All of these theories have at least a modicum of truth, so do what you will.) Earlier that night, before the clock turned, I’d decided to “embrace the old,” and publicly made out with a former undergraduate classmate at a party. After we rang in the new year, though, it was a current colleague that I accosted in the back of a cab we were sharing home, ready to find the “new me” of 2006. I love/hate that I lost my virginity on New Year’s Eve. It seems absolutely appropriate, like some harbinger of the year to follow, like a crux on which my life could pivot, but I hate that it sounds fake and planned, like it was a resolution I made, which it was, if only in that it was a vague hurdle I had wanted, for some time, to have already jumped. The New Year, though, had nothing to do with it.

Once upon a time in New York

I bought my Penguin paperback of Moby-Dick on February 23, 1988. I’m certain of the date because it’s scrawled on the first page, just above a thumbnail biography of Herman Melville. I used to have a habit of noting a book’s purchase date on its first page, and sometimes I would also note the store where I bought it, though I only added the city in this case: “NYC.” I remember the circumstances vividly. I bought Moby-Dick at St. Mark’s Bookshop on St. Mark’s Place while headed to see, for the third time, a Brazilian-themed production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Public Theater. Then, at a stationery store, I bought a blank greeting card with a Monet landscape on the front. The card was for Elizabeth McGovern, who was playing Helena in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and I inscribed the card at a coffee shop cater-cornered from the Public Theater on Lafayette Street. “I’m an actor and writer in town from L.A.,” I wrote, “and I’m planning to see the play tonight and I’d like to say hello afterward,” describing myself briefly—“I’m tall and wearing a black leather jacket”—so that Elizabeth McGovern—or “Liz,” as she was known to friends—could recognize me after the performance. I listed a few mutual acquaintances without mentioning Orrin, as I’ll call him, who was also in the cast of Midsummer and had advised me against trying to contact Elizabeth McGovern, and I certainly didn’t mention that I had seen the play twice already. She might take me, rightly, for a stalker.

Docs_Errata_RashedHaq

For the week of April 20th, we offer the following corrections to our public communications in our role as a parent at Marby Elementary School.

 

Sunday, 4/20: A response to a class-parent email thread, which stated our unwillingness to volunteer for “yet another frickin’ school carnival,” incorrectly implied that several carnivals are held every year at said elementary school. In actuality, only one carnival is held, namely the May Day Carnival, which is not to be confused with the Fall Heritage Festival, the Winter Holiday Gift Wrap Fundraiser and the post-holiday 70’s-themed PTA Auction. The Reply All-sent response was also unintentional. We apologize for any intimidation felt by those readers who frequently take three hours out of every weekday for the betterment of our school and children.

 

Monday, 4/21: While arranging donuts at the Spring Teacher Appreciation breakfast, we misstated the details of a fight between the PTA President and President-Elect. The particular fight being referred to (and the resulting change in the Auction dress code, from hippie to disco, as well as a newly incurred expense to the PTA of a disco ball, which is surprisingly hard to find in anyone’s attic anymore), was a fallout of the hot mess of this year’s Holiday Gift Wrap Fundraiser, traditionally the responsibility of the President-Elect. The President-Elect pointed out that Christmas-themed gift -wrap wasn’t exactly PC these days. The President clarified that she would be damned if the Christ was taken out of the gift wrap while she was in the PTA, and that she was taking back the management of the 70’s-themed Auction. The President-Elect made it known that the old guard just needed to die out. This discussion occurred on December 15 of last year, not November 15.

 

Root People

By Meg Tuite

Essay

"Searching for Within," Deanne Richards

The world expanded when a stranger, who would have slammed back Reverend Jim Jones Kool-Aid without question, asked me if I knew where the molasses was.

“Sugar is the yeast beast,” she said. “Only bake with molasses.”

This was a gas station with beer, wine, chips, ice cream, tampons, and motor oil. My head moved horizontally. Molasses did not fit into the repertoire until Kool-Aid rounded a corner of a three-aisle gas-stop with a bottle in hand.

I had just moved into a shack in a mining town outside Santa Fe. My existence for over a decade had been parked in downtown Chicago in a high-rise working at advertising firms. Everyone was an addict. Gucci bags with gold tiny spoons were Christmas gifts. We wore long linen skirts in muted colors, snorted through the most expensive bathroom stalls in the city. It was either leave or die.

After shivering for a week buried under covers with snow filtering through cracks in the split seams of this shed, I decided to put a coat over my pajamas, throw myself in the car, and drive to get some supplies. This was the only store for miles, as far as I knew.

“Are you on vacation?” I asked, as if I was a local.

She set her molasses on the counter and pulled a change purse out of some unseen pocket of her patchwork skirt. “Have you been to the Tibetan stupa on Airport Road?” she asked.

I stared at her. I had actually landed in a place exempt of chit-chat. And Tibetans were here.

Bill Hillmann author photo

So, you’re an author, a journalist and a bull runner. Did reading Ernest Hemingway have anything to do with these life choices?

Hemingway has everything to do with those choices. I hadn’t read a book until I was 19. I took Professor David McGrath’s Hemingway class at College of DuPage and it changed my life. I sat down in the library with The Sun Also Rises and read it in one six-hour sitting. That experience made me want to be a writer and want to go to Pamplona and run bulls. When I want something, it usually happens, eventually.

Mozos CoverI slept in doorways, on curbs and benches. It gets chilly in Pamplona at night, even in July. I got really cold. Cops would wake me and move me along. Other times partiers would offer me a drink and try to pull me to my feet. In my tired wanderings I stumbled across the Hemingway statue outside the arena. He looked stoic, full-bearded and happy. There’s a curved brick slope at the foot of the statue. It made for a comfortable bed. Surprisingly no one bothered me and I slept well there at the foot of Papa Hemingway as fiesta rambled on a half block away.

Photo credit John Venable

It seems that colors were brighter, deeper, more various when I was a child, and this is way they still are in Oaxaca. It is as if the color itself, along with the city, had not quite grown up.— Larry Levis

 

There’s a park off the zócalo rimmed by fountains and huge blue agave. Other interesting and over-the-top specimens flourish, such as the organ pipe cactus and The Montezuma cypress. There’s even an old man pressing out corn tortillas and using country cheese and squash blossoms to make tacos. A few baroque churches, a place to exchange money, a health food restaurant, outdoor cafes with waiters standing around to take your order, you get the picture. It’s close to my hotel on 20 De Noviembre so it’s easy to come here in the afternoons and jog around the square with my hotel key pressed into my palm. My running shoes are only a month old, but they’re already beginning to stink. And because I can’t sleep, and because John Venable is already three days late for our rendezvous, I have been jogging in the park now so much that locals are beginning to recognize me. Or at least that’s my impression.

We’re doing this as a sort of promise to ourselves that we’d get together after so many years. When I say “this,” I mean two unrelated men traveling together without their significant others. Perhaps you’ve seen other such examples as you’ve gone about the world. And perhaps you’ve glanced up from your menu in the café you walked past three times before wandering in, and wondered: Two grown men together out in the world—what are they up to? There is no word for it yet, but there needs to be. Venable now owns a restaurant in Pittsburgh. He’s a certified cheesemonger. His wife is a sommelier. I am none of these. I live in Wyoming. We chose Oaxaca, because, as we’ve aged, we’ve both become interested in food, and similarly bored with America. Oaxaca is known for its mole′s, seven different types which I can’t seem to remember, except for the Mole′ Negro, a rich, black sauce that I see on all the menus. But, due to a recent breakup, I have no appetite whatsoever. I think of mole′ in a symbolic sense. And there’s another reason we are here.

patrick_oneil_b&w

 

My memoir: Gun Needle Spoon begins with the last years of my heroin addiction, my consequent descent into crime, primarily armed bank robbery, and my eventual incarceration. My final arrest was June 25, 1997, and I look back at the person that I was then and wonder who that person was. He certainly is not who I am today. Over the last 18 years I have worked hard to instigate such an internal psychological change. If you had told me then that I’d become a recovering drug addict, a published author and a college instructor, I would have laughed and told you, “no fuckin’ way, dude!” Heroin addiction’s mental and physical stranglehold combined with the junkie tunnel vision of procuring the drug at all costs, mentally altered me from the person I was meant to be and the direction I was heading. In 1977 I was an artistic kid at art school right as punk rock hit the radar and the music world exploded, flash-forward twenty years later, I was a semi-illiterate career-criminal facing a 25 to Life Sentence under California’s Three Strike Law, and wondering how the hell it had all turned out so wrong. Patti Smith said, “I never thought I was gonna make 30.” Well, I never thought I was going to make 21. It has been a long road to get to who and where I am now, and it makes me wonder what the “1997 Patrick” would have to say to the Patrick of today. 

PrintLast Day

San Francisco, June 25, 1997

Chunks of the doorframe fly through the air and fall on either side of me. I stand there, immobile. A hundred cops outside, some in uniform, some not, guns drawn, faces and bodies tense. A tall, heavyset blonde police officer steps forward through the doorway and smacks me in the face with the butt of her shotgun as more cops push past her and into the apartment. I lie on the floor, a foot across my throat, a knee in my groin, a shotgun and a 9mm leveled at my head.

I Have Slept

By Jeff Burt

Essay

Photo credit Jim Fischer

Photo credit Jim Fischer

1.

Gault Street Park is Next to Nothing

 

Homeless, I curl like a shrimp in a sleeping bag under the skirt of dipping pine branches, dry on the side close to the trunk, wet on the side past the dirt ring underneath the branches where the grass is clothed in dew, the pine needles shed fog as it aggregates into drops, suspends, then falls to the grass. Underneath the branches, the sun does not penetrate, which makes it good for sleeping but not for warmth. At Gault Street Park, the first park I sleep in, three other men have their own trees. We are wary of each other, perhaps like the first Neanderthals by their caves or covers, perhaps like dogs. I suspend a bag of belongings from a pine during the day in fear every second someone will steal it.

The rooster crows when the first mother and her children enter the park after leaving another child at the elementary school nearby. Mothers run the park during daylight; homeless men run it at night. The mothers run us out of the park first with menacing looks. It’s an incriminating, suspicious glare, a glare that announces men could be pedophiles, circus clowns who play with kids but end up terrorizing, or hair-touchers, pawing long hair like Lenny did in Of Mice and Men.

IMG_2872.JPGI tried to stop writing, but the stories kept manifesting.

My father encouraged me to go to law school. I’d have to get to the point. I’d learn to think in outlines. I’d sit in lectures and imagine what my professors were like at home, if they had sex with their husbands or wives, or with hookers. Toothless old hookers with bunions. With six-fingered hands. I’d extrapolate and pray I didn’t get called on.

tmbtpcover2035 E Turney, Phoenix, December 31st, 1999—

The turn of the millennium and I am with my father, his wife, and her eldest son. I have swallowed five valium and have been drinking straight whiskey while we all watch Dick Clark on the television. For weeks, the world has been anticipating some kind of Y2K madness to occur. As soon as the clock strikes midnight I go outside into the street and light a joint and start to yell “WHERE IS YOUR JESUS NOW? WHERE IS THE END OF THE WORLD? WHERE ARE YOUR DAUGHTERS TO TAKE ME TO HEAVEN?” and people start yelling back at me as I pull on the joint and my father’s wife’s eldest son comes outside and just stares at me. I extend my hand and offer the joint—which is dusted, as always—and he just shakes his head and goes back inside.