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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.

Bed2

Originally I’d bought the bed for another girlfriend, the one before C. She’d insisted I get a king-size, one with enough space to guarantee a good night’s sleep, one where she could lay on her back, her arms crossed over her chest in a death pose, insurance against my slow creeping during the night to slide my hand under her pillow, happy to feel the weight of her head through down and feather. I slept on the right side (as I do now with C.), the side nearest the bathroom, my path a sliver of wood floor and wall, the same tightrope walk I still make now in the dark, the wall to steady me as I negotiate dog-in-dog-bed, bench, rug, dresser, and door. Most nights I arrive at the bathroom unscathed, but others produce bruised ankles, calves, and tails. The bed is too big for the room, no question; the bed has been too big for every room.

In part, I am to blame. I chose an Eastern king, a choice only Californians must make when sizing up from a queen. The California king is a longer (+4”) and narrower (-4”) bed than its Eastern counterpart, an implication we’re taller and skinnier here in the Golden state. More likely, it’s a product of our constant need to be original. I explained the difference to my girlfriend, the one before C., rattling the tape measurer across the room so she could appreciate the extra width I was willing to sacrifice. She waved me off and told me it was my bedroom, my house, so I should be the one to decide.

But the bed’s size wasn’t my girlfriend’s only complaint. Noises, even small ones, would wake her. She would sit up, put in her earplugs, and announce she was signing off for the night. I waited until then to tell her things I was too scared to say when she could hear me. Once, just as she was falling asleep, I whispered, I’ve been praying that you’ll stay. Her eyelids flickered, and for a moment I thought she’d heard me.

On top of the world...............Sometimes when we walk down the quiet hallway, and stop at apartment #210, the door opens into a narrow dark foyer, the bathroom to our immediate left.  But sometimes, the door opens and reveals nothing but blue sky. In the former of the two possibilities, if we turn right, we walk down another hallway. Keith Richards plastered on the purple wall. We enter the living room with its low red sectional couch, covered in purple and black sheets and red pillows. Looking east, towards Lake Michigan—a bank of horizontal windows, the blinds usually drawn.

He sits down and pulls out his black lock box of narcotics.

He arranges his pills on the glass-topped coffee table. On a good day, Roku is working, and he picks something from Youtube to watch, or asks what do you want? I always say Law and Order. In this iteration, he’s okay—the pain seems to be manageable, he might eat something, or he might not, he might throw up, or he might not, and so things are in a kind of equipoise; meaning, theoretically, days like this could go on forever. And this is why I go to the kitchen and pour a glass of wine, and eat a candy bar.

DAL Young012I seem to forget how much my oldest brother hates the way I reminisce about the past because I continue to try to engage him.

He’s sitting in my den watching basketball on TV, the sound turned down out of deference to me. He’s twirling a toothpick in his cheek, a habit he’s had since adolescence.

“Remember when you and the boys in the neighborhood turned our backyard patio into a roller skating rink so you could play roller derby?”

He doesn’t respond.

“And you were always the fastest skater.” My brother was fearless in those days. I can still see him, jeans cuffed at the ankles, flannel shirt fanned out with the wind he created as he skated by. “And Princess used to nip at your pant legs while you skated? Remember?”

“Princess? We never had a dog named Princess.”

Sherman-Alexie-credit-Chase-Jarvis

Let’s just get it out there. Because I got it all out there. I puked on Sherman Alexie. Yes, that Sherman Alexie. Celebrated author of short stories, novels, poetry, and tweets. Wearer of very nice leather shoes, possibly handmade in Italy or Spain, or some such country where stooped artisans of the lost art of shoemaking spend months hand-stitching beautiful footwear for famous authors.