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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.

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.

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.

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.

heart photoAnne is the goofy but sensitive friend, remember?—think Annie Hall/ Keaton—who goes with me to chick-flicks now, the ones You can’t abide, where they turn us to sappy crybabies, but we’re cool with that because girls are born knowing our genetic duty to share life’s triumphs/ wretched tragedies, though for a change of pace we jumped into our Sarandon outfits –breast-clingy blouses & kinky metal & sooty mascara & blood-red lipstick—for The Rocky Horror Picture Show where we strutted our stuff in a dark midnight theater shouting bits of dialogue  (**My high is low**I’m dressed up with no place to go**And all I know is I’m at the start of a pretty big downer**) with kindred spirits, passed a flask of Crown Royale and in the stark light of day I said, Who am I? because I used to know, now I don’t.

Better-to-have-loved-and-lost than loved You forever and I should take out a full-page ad in the WSJ:  “Thanks a million  – You – for bailing so I don’t have to feign shock & awe one more time at that bulging ‘S’ on your ripped-up, grey-faded Superman thong.”

lipstick530

M told me he’d be taking a chance on me since I hadn’t worked in sales before. He said he figured I knew plenty about massage tables, however, which was true. I’d been doing massage in northern California’s Wine Country for years. By the time I met M, I’d done hundreds of massages—frequently using tables manufactured by his company. I already knew that therapists who did outcalls preferred his tables because they weighed less than most, requiring less effort to carry and transport.

“These tables will be easy to sell,” I said.

M was built like a middle-aged gymnast—compact, fit in his polo shirt and slacks, gray streaking his dark hair. He led me through the showroom past massage tables and chairs. They were set up and ready for customers to fold and adjust them, test the cushions for softness, the legs for sturdiness. Shelves stocked an arrangement of oils and lotions, a stack of flannel sheets in pastels. Innocuous new age music—something with a rain stick—reminded me of the spas at which I’d worked.

We were seated in M’s office when he asked if I wanted to hear his demo tape. I didn’t understand the question. Or rather, I didn’t understand the question in the context of a job interview.

“It’s three songs, all about massage,” he said. Now I noticed the portable stereo. He was sliding the cassette into the slot. “You ready?”

I shrug-nodded: Okay?

The acoustic guitar was pleasant enough, as was M’s voice. The lyrics, however, were cringe-worthy. It’s tough to pull off a line like everybody wants to be touched.

“Wow.”

M seemed satisfied with my reaction. He asked if he could train me over the weekend–when the business was normally closed. “It’ll be easier if it’s just you and me here.”

Elvis is King coverLiverpool, Nova Scotia, is the hub of the Lighthouse Route’s scenic drive along the province’s South Shore. Blessed by Mother Nature, it’s picturesque, book-ended by beautiful beaches, parks, and forests. As the home of the third oldest lighthouse in the province, it’s also rich in history but not exactly the center of the pop culture universe.

Even less so in the 1970s when, as a music and movie obsessed kid, I went to Emaneau’s Pharmacy every week to pick up magazines like Hit Parader and Rona Barrett’s Hollywood. Perhaps because I grew up in a renovated vaudeville theater (it’s true!) I was deeply interested in a world that seemed very far away, and those weekly and monthly magazines were my only connection to music and movie stars.
Liverpool wasn’t on the flight plan for the people I saw in those pages.

LM Bod pic

For the first week after my brother died, I drank a bottle of wine a day. Typically I’d have a coffee at 7:00 a.m., followed by a glass of wine and peanut butter on toast. I’d go back to bed and continue the marathon of TV crime drama from last night. The second I finished the first glass of wine, I’d have a second. Followed by another coffee, and a hit off a joint. 

image2343sBefore the Boston Marathon bombers were identified, my friend Genevieve said a prayer: “Please don’t let them be Muslims.” She is married to a Muslim man from Morocco. When they lived in America shortly after the World Trade Center bombing in 2001, he was routinely pulled aside by security officers because he “looked like a terrorist.” Now they live in Paris, and they hope that the recent shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo won’t cause another wave of anti-Muslim hysteria.

I hope so, too. But I know how easy it is to imagine the worst in people, once the idea that they’re dangerous is planted in our heads. It can happen to any of us. It happened to me.

Boredom

Accountability

The salt is out everywhere and right now we are in the midst of a rain that is frozen.  I’m content to remain here and do various things that need doing, but the dogs, they are bored. And I am anxious over their boredom. I feel responsible for it. I feel responsible for everybody’s boredom. Even yours. My therapist would probably remind me that nobody actually holds me accountable for their negative feelings, least of which their boredom. Nobody. Probably not even the dogs.

I know she’s right. At least about people. At least about you. But I do tend to think that I am in my dogs’ thoughts constantly. They are in mine, after all, and it only makes sense it would work the other way. They may not “hold me accountable” for their boredom, but they certainly hope I will fix it. On the list of things they hope for every day (a new bone, a fresh tennis ball, a squirrel under the shed, a groundhog sighting) there is certainly this: Bald Man Relieves Us from Boredom.

Look, scratch what I said previously. I’m positive the dogs do, in fact, hold me accountable for all of their feelings, especially their boredom.

21 + 21 = 42

By Carley Moore

Essay

Last summer I turned 42 years old. On the morning of my birthday, my then-boyfriend asked me what I was doing when I was 21, half that age. I said, “Baking quiches, dropping acid, and chasing boys.” I imagined this retort as a tweet—short and to the point. I’d managed to get my life at that time down to 39 characters, and it was mostly accurate.

At 21 years old, I was obsessed with Molly Katzen’s Moosewood cookbook, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I was going to a state school in upstate New York, not far from the home of the Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, which had always seemed to me a cultural mecca in a vast state of industrial depression and blight. Ithaca was the home of my favorite thrift shop, Zoo Zoos, and a lot of cute hippie musicians I dreamed of fucking. The cookbook was steeped in that same sexy, vintage, hippie musician lore. I imagined myself cooking for one of those musicians. I could be his “old lady” for a recipe or two. Many of my activities then were overlaid with a fantasy plot line, worthy of an episode of Laverne and Shirley or Three’s Company. I was rarely just doing something; I was doing that thing while imagining I was in the TV sitcom version of it. As a child, I’d made it through my sometimes chore of washing the dishes by pretending I was in a Dawn dish soap ad.

My favorite pages in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest offered a basic crust and quiche recipe on one page and on the facing page a list of choices for fillings—cheeses, veggies, and meats (if you must). It was my favorite type of recipe, more about endless iterations and the idea of a food more than its reality. That year, I regularly turned out a ham and cheese quiche, brown gazpacho, and rocky oatmeal bread that my roommates and I ate with lying gusto to prove to ourselves that because we could cook–we were adults.