CONTENTS MAY HAVE SHIFTED, #49 - #60
[Iowa Review, Spring 2011]
49. Denver, Colorado
I get out of Doug Olsen’s black-sheeted bed at 5:30 in the morning, get a double latte at Peet’s, and meet the CEO in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart, so he can follow me to the ranch.
The CEO gives me an antique book called Five in One, or How To Make and Save Money where all the little pieces of advice are numbered and include one thousand mini-chapters, for example #86 Lice Destroyers, and #349 Lemon and Its Value, and #655 How to Make your Clothes Last Longer, and #760 Butter Making and Marketing, and #858 Blackhead Remedy, and #948 You Will Never Be Sorry If, and #962 How to Find Out a Girl’s Age Without Asking Her. As the CEO zips up Kenosha Pass behind me in his Porsche I think, this is the summer when my life turns into a reality TV show.
In Aspen last week, at the millionaire’s house, with three original Chagalls on the wall, the Latina writer ate Pedigree dog food, I guess, to make a point. Later when they made us tell “campfire stories” (there was no campfire) about “one thing we know for sure,” to the people who were willing to pay two hundred dollars a plate for barbecued chicken and a chance to sit next to Tony Hillerman (who didn’t show up), every single one of us misbehaved.
I went first and said the thing I knew for sure was something I had suspected all along and it was that black people were way cooler than white people, and Ron told the joke about King Kong that goes, “If they didn’t want to let him out of the jungle, why’d they make the door so fucking big,” and M. Scott Momaday told a series of tales where the cunning Indians outsmart the white people every single time, and then Annick started out as if she was going to toe the line, saying one thing she knew for sure was that being a grandmother was way better than being a mother, and all of the rich people who paid two hundred dollars to eat barbecued chicken with Tony Hillerman(who didn’t show up) started nodding, knowingly, but then she started to talk about her cracked and sore and leaking nipples and it became quite clear that she was not.
50. Mallorca, Spain
Everything is green and soft, there are goats in the hills who wear bells around their necks that I hear all night but never see, and two donkeys, one light, one lighter still, that come to the fence for fresh apricots. Yesterday we went as a class to one of the world’s most perfect beaches and swam way, way out--the nice thing about the Mediterranean--and then all the way back, and I slept like a rock for the first time in months. In Pollenca there is a gorgeous old square and a place to get heavenly coffee and liquid chocolate so thick you can stand a spoon in it.
I was reading Cory’s most recent I’m sorry and I want you back e-mail out loud and all the girls were oohing and aahing and falling for it completely, and Jessica, who works with military boys in Garmish, Germany providing R and R inside a system she despises, said, “He sounds like a total narcissist to me.”
This afternoon we all piled into Ralph’s Land Rover on the Imelda Marcos field trip. Ten women on their way to the Camper shoe outlet: Beth the ultra marathoner who lives on a commune in Boulder where the master gets to have sex with all the women but they don’t get to have sex with anybody else, and Jennifer who looks about sixteen and is nevertheless battling what Tania keeps calling mole cancer, and Tania herself, with the Botticelli hair and the BBC voice, and Mary, who is from Ohio, and who only has lived in London for six years but who has nonetheless acquired an English accent (she keeps referring to Washington and Oregon as the Western Terra-trees…and I say, “I know you have been away a long time, Mary, but we call those states now”) and who seems not to know what color her own hair is. Then there is Ruth who works for The Guardian and keeps saying we’re all mad as a box of frogs, and Kathy, who has written ten cookbooks, and Lina, who didn’t want to study writing at all but just came over because she had read--perhaps erroneously--on TripAdvisor that Ralph would sleep with anybody who signed up for a course, and London Sarah and New York Sarah and me, all hurtling the wrong way down a one-way because it is a shortcut.
Ralph’s a nice guy and a pretty good cook with the single glaring exception of the skate wing he served last night, doused liberally in ammonia, and so radically undercooked that you would have to have sawed it off the bone. We had watched the sunset over Cape Formentor and so were late and therefore already in trouble. Kathy said, “Has there been an accident?” so strong was the chemical smell when we walked in the room, and she took the skate back into the kitchen for a do-over, but even cooked through it was hard to choke down.
After dinner we found out that seven out of seven of the American women here this week, including myself, have not only been in a sorority but have held a major office in a sorority, in most cases president, though I had been chaplain of Delta Delta Delta, ostensibly in charge of eighty girls’ spirituality, when I was just a girl myself.
“In what ways did you advance their spirituality, then?” asked Tania, who had never even considered the idea of a sorority.
“Well,” I said, “I blindfolded them and bound their hands with silver, gold, and blue ribbons and told them stories about Poseidon, of course!
51. Berkeley, California
Victor says, “I want to say this in a way that makes you think I am a normal person. My daughter Dakota still sleeps with me. She is twelve.”
But I already don’t think he is a normal person. What he has told me so far is that his half-brother is a non-functioning bipolar married to another nonfunctioning bipolar and his sister committed suicide. His father has children with four different women and those are only the ones he will admit to. His stepfather was so abusive that Victor left home at fifteen.
Victor came home on the night he was going into the Navy to say goodbye to his mother, and the stepfather saw him and put a 37 Magnum to his own four-year-old’s head and said if Victor didn’t get out that minute he was going to blow the kid’s brains out. He named his daughter after his ex-girlfriend from the Ardeche region of France, in spite of his then wife’s protests.
Not that being abnormal is necessarily a bad thing.