“Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal, and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, and look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy—the restaurant business as we know it—in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are “stealing American jobs.” But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dish washing job, a porter’s position—or even a job as a prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do. Continue reading “Anthony Bourdain’s “Fields Notes on Mexico,” 10 January, 2018. In His Memory”
“The blank page is the mirror image of my brain.” My friend said this and then went out in his orchard, looked for buds on his favorite Gravensteins, maybe for meaning in general, then went to the pump house and blew his brains out with the .357 Magnum he’d kept hidden there, wrapped in an oily rag. Next to the well, open like a man hole.
His wife had gone for a walk. When she got back, she ran the washing machine so she’d have some nice things to wear that evening for him—for them both. She couldn’t account for his absence till she drew hot water before starting the dishwasher. If you got the water hot, then the dishwasher didn’t have to run its electrical element to heat the water, thereby saving energy and money.
She noticed the reddish hew of rust in the water, then went through the house looking for him. He would be able to fix it. “Are you in here?” she asked, knocking once on his door, stepping into his room, expecting to see him bent over his computer, typing furiously with two fingers, focused intensely on some plot, some story that would make people laugh or cry or gasp. But he wasn’t there. She went to the stairs, said fairly softly, “Dear?”—then ascended, crossed the Delft blue wooden floor to the far end, bent to look through the finger hole in the simple door, looked through to see if he was sleeping.
This was a man who took sudden naps after asking, “Where will you be for the next half hour? Are you going to be telephoning? If so, could you do it away from the bedroom window?” He always said this with a wry smile, a look of incredulity, a look that said “I know it’s going to be hard for you to remember but I would sure love it if you’d try.”
But he wasn’t there either. The tractor was standing with its mower in the field, with no husband near it. She went around to the shop, looked in, chirped “Jim?” and kept going toward the pond. He wasn’t on the granit bench beside the pond, thinking, watching for the big bass.
She kept going up the hill. He wasn’t in the upper garden, wasn’t weeding his onions and garlic there. She went along the Cypress, checking the aluminum chaise-longue, but it was empty. She came down the hill through the field of North Coast Dry Pasture Mix he would mow again later in the summer when the grass was dry and the thistles were getting ready to give up their seeds to the wind.
He wasn’t in the orchard. She checked his car to see if he was lying with the seat back, listening to a book on tape. She crossed the road, picked her way down the path through the Eucalyptus, edging by strands of poison oak, to his writing cabin. The aluminum and green cloth cot was propped against the wall. He wasn’t there.
He must have gone for a walk—a walk that could last no longer than an hour. Back in the house, she checked the bikes. All three of them were in place. She drew drinking water from the swinging glass carboy, put the kettle on the gas flame, and looked out the kitchen window to see if she could see the blue birds—see whether they had decided to use the birdhouse Jim had put up.
She marveled at the places she had been to find him. He was a hard man to keep track of, so many interests, so many projects: writing, gardening, language learning, cabinet-making, dreaming, thinking, boats, musical instruments, and endless short stories.
She remembered the dishwasher and ran the water to get it hot. It grew warmer and warmer and, at the same time, redder and redder. Then she remembered why she had looked for him in the first place. She felt the warmth on her hands. She thought about the color. And as the water got hotter, a thought came to her and she turned the faucet to stop it, and watched until the last of the water swirled and disappeared clockwise into the drain—leaving the sink white again.
They approach the house in one’s and two’s. Some of them have been coming for fifteen years or more. Still there is fear, the urge to pee. But instead they reach down, gather up the strands of their intestines, the pieces they have dragged along behind them for years–the results of encounters with other men. They draw in deep breaths to ease the tension. They smooth a hand over the place on their stomachs, just below the umbilical wound, just above the pleasure wound, now shriveled and apprehensive. They knock, open the door, and stamp their feet to shake off the rain that has not clung to them. Like small boys, they have wide alert eyes and hope for the best. They step forward gingerly. Most of all they want to feel affection directed at them from other men. But they are not accustomed to offering affection in return—and therefore pitifully little of it is shared. They do not know whether to shake hands, whether to stand up for the greeting, or proffer a hug, and if so with what intensity, and for how long, and how close to bring their heads, or their stricken stomachs where there is no feeling now because there is something profoundly off-putting about a gathering of men. And how is it even possible to gauge the possibility of reciprocated openness if we have not mastered the art of it, not in the course of thirty, forty, fifty or two million years?
And why should we really, when we sense–just beyond–the hidden carcass that one of us may have placed in a cave or the crook of tree or under a heavy rock, before entering the house? And isn’t that the smell of woman—whose woman?—that someone has carried in on his clothing, an odor that narrows pupils and asks the question: Exactly in what place have I left my sling and stones, my obsidian knife, my Colt, and am I sure that all seven chambers are oiled, and primed with cap and ball?
We ease ourselves into chairs. The smiles are inviting, there’s a tendency to over-compensate. At intervals, there is wheezing, laughter, snorts, sweet moments of more than a little letting down. The boundary between concerned inquiry and irony is thin. We can mistake openness for blood and start to peck at the sacrificial runt. Like turtles, we retract our necks and paws, our kindred feeling. And so, little is said and little is risked.
We write. We read aloud. We discuss. Carefully. We dissect without picking up the instruments, without incisions. And when we trundle home and crawl into our dark warm beds and meet our women’s questions, we are often at a loss to explain how our male companions were that night. Was so and so healthy? they ask. Did he mention his woman friend? Did you talk about hope, dreams, fears, illness, death, sexual tenderness, the miracle of touching, success or failure in being close with this or that companion, lover or wife?
And then, on hearing little, our mate begins her deep breathing–the soft engine re-starting at our side. We lie awake and run through the evening again, like old bears who have come back from lumbering through cold forests, where we smelled scat and scent, and anguished over the scratch marks of rivals on fifty trees, if even one, and pondered the prints and tracks and tail sweeps of countless threats–earlier prowlers passing over the snow and through the dampness of hollow, draw, ridge, and swale.
We retrace the path of gestures, tones and glances. We squint out into the bedroom’s darkness. We re-measure the temperature, flavor, brightness or sudden movement, implications, signals and intent of everything we have taken in. It is a long chronicle, accurately kept and true, recorded carefully, in essence complete.
We see that we have noted exhaustion, boredom, vulnerability, pinched souls, even a lover’s bloom. The whole time as we watched on this evening the males in our group, we saw far behind them their dogs, leashed, but showing a curled lip and a yellowed warning tooth. Their eyes, the men, I mean, were soft with fear, their writing hands longing, generous perhaps–the pulse of their hearts beating out–each in a different rhythm–what remained of the five billion heart beats each of us is granted.
As we write, at the men’s group, perhaps we forget for a while the meat, the scent of carcass, the stiffening kill, which would belong to the strongest of us in the end. But I have to say it–what I am thinking. I do not trust these men. We hunt momentarily together, as if in a truce required by nature–so that we don’t die of loneliness, but always at the risk of a blow of irony that comes too quick and is hard like steel and cold.
Perhaps if the conditions were right, and if we were fishermen and our steel boat was sinking, I ask, would I give up my survival suit for any of them? Or they for me? I would for either of my children. I would give it up for my mate–the one who sleeps on, leaving behind for the moment her amazement at how little men know about each other.
Or would I give it to one of them as well? Since each one may be as kind as he is dangerous, as generous as he is treacherous, as much soft as competitive. Then the steel plates pop, in the middle of the icy night and sixty tons of boat roars and moans and plunges out of sight, nearly sucking me and one other man along with it. This happens in less than ninety seconds and in the numbing water you have one immersion suit between the two of you, and you say to your companion: No, you take it, your children are young. And he says: No, you take it, you are older than I am and not as strong.
And in the end, one of us holds the other in his arms, and when he can almost no longer keep his gaze on you, and begins to slip away, you hold his face close to yours, and you say what has to be said, what it is you feel and what is true. O my dear friend, I love you. I love you. I have always loved you.
Thank you for returning my clothes and my jackknife. It is not easy to understand what has happened. You are in your new warm home, with bright windows and skylights, clean wide Persian carpets. You have the privacy and sense of home you’ve always yearned for. How silly of me to have worried about theft. It wasn’t high school boys, it was you all along, teaching me, I suppose, about the absurdity of possessions during a time when you had to live in a slanty old farm house with a backdoor made of plastic sheeting with an inch of straight daylight showing underneath—and skunks fighting under the un-insulated floor.
One blue Patagonia jacket, one pair of running shoes, my soccer uniform, and my Swiss army knife—gone from the seat of my Toyota pickup truck, now mysteriously appearing in a paper bag on the truck’s hood. No mystery left. No questions. Except for one. Why did you bother to tell me after these six months? Why not right away, or in a year? Or not at all?
I am sorry I took the clothes and the knife. Such an indirect message, such a strange way to say good-bye. I hid them under the bed during our final month together—during the hours you spent fuming and pouting, in bed, turned away from me, and only two and a half feet above the missing items. That thought provided me with a malicious satisfaction, a delicious revenge against a man who read L. L. Bean catalogs during his treasured private moments in the bathroom while I sat in the living room beside the ridiculous stove, seeing my own breath—warmed only by my reading of feminist politics and social psychology .
But now you have your things and I derive some satisfaction knowing your world is complete again, even though I am gone.
Thank you for your letter. Yesterday, I went up onto the hill and cut a dead tree, which was as thick as the distance from the tip of my middle finger to my elbow. I always get nervous around tree cutting because of all the weight and forces involved. I miscalculated, and the top of the tree I was felling got tangled in the branches of the tree next to it and would not fall all the way down.
It is better in such cases to hire a tree expert. But you know me. Instead, I thought and thought, and looked for a place to make the critical cut, in such a way that all the forces contained in the caught tree would neutralize each other, and the tree would continue its fall without incident.
Instead, the enormous weight and the hidden tensions unleashed an explosion and splintering, such that a piece of wood about the size of a man shot past me. It caught my Patagonia jacket at a spot between my shoulder blades and tore it nearly in two, barely jiggling me in the process—and left me in a cold sweat and with some nausea. It is not easy to hang on to a tree, hold a running chain saw, and throw up, all at the same time.
When I stopped shaking, I thought of you and realized how pleased you would be, knowing I had probably been given a lesson in what is valuable, and what is not.
I am glad you survived. I am not glad you have finally lost your Patagonia jacket. I have changed my mind about the symbolism carried in your jacket. I am glad instead you are still climbing trees, still make wood to heat to the old house. There was some bit of warmth–in another sense–in those fires. I can even say I miss them now. Somewhat.
I am sending you the halved Patagonia jacket. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what it means. Perhaps as a final gesture of our relationship. You can toss it, if you like, or hide it under your new bed. I have become superstitious about Patagonia jackets and have decided–in my new relationship–to no longer to wear them.
Here is your jacket back. I don’t need it. I also have a new relationship. To soften the sting of this news, one last communication from me: Hank insists we each wear pink Patagonia jackets when we go out.
You might be amused to hear I finished the back door after all this time. The house is insulated now, and painted, too. And I have begun tunneling underneath the house as part of the first step in bringing up a foundation and driving the skunks out forever.
This morning I was vacuuming under the bed, and thought of you. I looked around, found the old torn Patagonia jacket, and spent the rest of the morning sewing it back together. After all, we do still talk.
Forgive me for sticking this note under your windshield wiper. I had the chance, so I thought I’d do it. A friend of mine said she saw you at the American Peace Test action at the Nevada nuclear test site last April—handcuffed and in the men’s cage. I think it’s wonderful you were there.
It was good to see you at the play last Saturday. I liked your friend. She was very funny, and you looked better than I have ever seen you—with your wit, your warmth, the irony in the turned up corner of your mouth.
This is an odd world. Yesterday I noticed my hand-sewn Patagonia jacket was missing from the front seat of my Passant. I hope whoever got it is warmer now and appreciates its long history.
I have your jacket and, after a great deal of thought, I’ve decided it’s not going to be enough, and I want what comes in it.