I feel like I’ve been in an unwarranted bad mood recently, so here is a story about a nice thing that just happened:
This morning A. looked at the rest of my week and was like “you are working too many hours. You’re going to drive yourself crazy! Skip this meeting tonight.” So that was the first nice thing: going home for in the first time in weeks with no freelance assignments to catch up on or this dumb novel to edit or even a yoga class to go to, since I bashed my knee into something last night, like an idiot, and it’s still sore and stiff.
But I got maybe two blocks from work before I decided that I could not, in good conscience, ignore the sound my car was making, a sound I was pretty sure— and was right to be sure— meant I had a flat tire.
I could have changed the tire myself. I have done this before. But it’s been years, and I happen to know that AAA will send someone to do it for free, and I am a lazy motherfucker, and whatever, you know what, I called them, I spent fifteen minutes reading One More for the People and freaking out about how good it is, and then a friendly guy showed up and changed the tire for me in maybe a tenth of the time it would have taken me to do it myself. “I know a guy who owns a shop down the block,” he said. “They’re open, and they can probably patch the tire up for you if you want.”
I was wary! The last time a dude instructed me to go to a place and tell another dude that he’d sent me, I got gouged on a smog test. But this evening is my only free set of hours in a row between now and… Sunday afternoon? And it’s LA. I need the car. So I thought I’d chance it.
The tire shop was two blocks away. They patched the tire for $10.00. The guy was profoundly grateful for my business. Now I am at home, drinking a beer.
The year I drove out to Deep Springs to visit A., who was basically in charge of dinner for— I don’t know, sixty, maybe seventy of us? There were buttermilk pies on the sideboard in the kitchen and I stuffed a huge turkey with halved oranges; we deep fried it out back. We went on a hike through the desert in the morning, scrambled up rocky outcroppings, found an abandoned bedframe high up on an outlook. I have a picture of A. reading philosophy up there. After lunch the boys played football in a fallow alfalfa field. A. showed me the live pigs, the meat freezer where unbutchered cuts hung waiting, the animal dump where they disposed of scraps. It was cold and clear and dry and beautiful, and very far away from anywhere I had ever been before.
Last year NSH was in Oklahoma and JMM was in Oregon so they loaned us their Williamsburg apartment for the duration. J. came up from DC and M. left her own Williamsburg apartment— blocks away— and for three or four days we just camped out like it was college all over again, eating the cider caramels NSH had left us, drinking wine, watching Say Yes to the Dress on my laptop. The night before we made carbonara and martinis and so on Thanksgiving everyone had bad hangovers, and I got to do what I like best, which is to be bossy and productive and in charge of something. It was ramshackle, haphazard, more fun than I could have imagined. After dinner we were so full— so full!— but there was dessert, still, and we wanted to get drunk, so we played cards and listened to music while we waited for things to digest. A warm room and full bellies: animal comforts. We listened to stuff we’d loved in high school, Modest Mouse and the Mountain Goats. We stopped playing for a minute when The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton came on: when you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you. The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you. Hail Satan! we cried, slamming fists down on the table in unison, all of us who’d fallen in love with these songs in different places, years ago. Hail Satan, tonight. Hail Satan. Hail, hail.
“You don’t need to go to India to escape materialism. If you want to escape materialism, quit being materialistic.”
“The least feminist person in the world will take a selfie at some point, and so will the most feminist person in the world. An extremely insecure girl who wants more than anything to be pretty will take a selfie, at some point, and so will a girl who’s supremely confident and wants to challenge mainstream beauty standards. Some people will take politically charged and theory-enabled selfies, some people will just want to show you their new haircut. It doesn’t seem like an inherently politicized action, because it’s an everybody action.”
-Sady Doyle, as usual
D and I broke up so many times that I finally got good at it: deleting our text history, hiding and then eventually de-friending him on Facebook, throwing away whatever bits of detritus I’d kept around out of packrat sentimentality. He was not much for gift-giving, so these were things like miniature bottles of whiskey we’d paper bagged in a park together and the keys to the Farm truck. He bought me a birthday present, once, when we were still in college. He gave it to me a week or so after he told me he wasn’t in love with me anymore, that he probably never had been. I threw it in a drawer, and eventually into a dumpster, when I moved out after graduation.
The only thing I’ve never been able to part with is a this awful little stuffed blue parrot that he won—not even for me!— playing carnival games at the Durham County Fair. It sits on the console in my car, attached to the gearshift, accumulating grime and wear; it would be ugly under any circumstances, but every now and again I notice it and realize that it is actually getting kind of disgusting.
I wouldn’t even have to throw it away. I could just move it, I tell myself— but I can’t, and I won’t, or I don’t, anyway, which amounts to the same thing. I know why, too, and the certainty seems like an excuse, which it isn’t, really. That day was our best day, easily, the day on which we were as good to each other as we had always wanted to be, when I was tired and so I handed him the keys and let him drive us home.
All the talismans and totems I kept were supposed to form a protective barrier against the awful rest of it, as if a hoard of empty bottles and fierce, desperate text messages could keep me from the truth that he didn’t love me, and didn’t want to, and never would. With S. it wasn’t like that. I didn’t have to hang on to things to remind me that there was something worthwhile at the bottom of it all.
So when that ended, I kept what was left without worrying too much about it. I wouldn’t have known how to throw them away, the red notebook with ideal stamped on the cover in gold, ticket stubs and pictures of the sea of sheets on his bed, his cat and his laptop balanced between my knees. It didn’t seem like hanging on, so much, though it was not exactly letting go.
This song is on a mix he sent me— not even made me, sent me. It’s a great mix. It has nothing to do with us. But sometimes the whole world feels like this: and lilac sprays from girls who just have to tell me they saw you. It is just so: even when you try to get rid of stuff, when you think you’ve stripped yourself bare and clean, some tide unsettles the layers and there it all is again, the sandy bottom stirred up, twigs and branches and clumps of seaweed swelling shorewards. I know I sound ungrateful with my teeth sunk in the hand that brings me things I really can’t give up just yet.
Like all good love songs, this one is specific, and it is not about me or about this. But it sounds to me like Los Angeles on clear days, when it has rained and you can see the mountains all around you, and the way sound can carry all of the way from the Hollywood Bowl to my parents’ house in Hanock Park, the cupped bowl of the world, and how unpredictable echoes are, reverberating back to you as if out of nowhere at all.
While it’s still fresh: V. and I were sitting at a bar just now when a man came up behind us and started asking questions. He put a hand on each of our backs, briefly, to get our attention, and I was instantly on my guard. Not that it matters— not that it would be okay if this wasn’t true— but I do not like being touched, as a general rule, not by friends and certainly not by strangers.
He was a big guy— not strong, but big, and we’re girls, so we tried to politely deflect his questions. This irritated him. He wanted to know why we weren’t being nice to him. “We are being nice,” I said. “But we’re having a conversation, we’re here to see each other, and we don’t want to talk to you.”
"Listen, honey, it was mostly about her," he told me, indicating V. He touched my back again.
"Then you need to get your hands off of me," I said.
It was like I had flipped a switch. Suddenly I was a miserable bitch, I was miserable because my boyfriend had dumped me, my boyfriend had dumped me for being a fat miserable bitch. He moved a few seats down and asked the bartender to close his tab and spent the next several minutes talking loudly, to himself and anyone who would listen, about the fat, miserable, unfuckable bitch who wouldn’t be nice to him at a bar.
I feel like I’ve been angry a lot, in the last few months, about things like this, angry in a way that worries me, sometimes. I believe that anger is important and useful, especially if you’re a woman, whose anger is always coded as hysterical and dismissed out of hand; but I also believe really deeply in empathy and compassion and kindness whenever possible. I do not want to be angry. I do not want to want to hurt people, to go out with a friend and walk out of the bar an hour later trembling with fury, with rage.
But I think it’s reasonable to wish for men like this nothing more than what they make me feel: the sick, gut-twisting fear when I am catcalled, when I have to wonder whether this is the time the car pulls over and all I can do is run and pray; the implacable, inexpressable anger when a man thinks he deserves your time and access to your body just because you dared to take it out in public. I want this man to feel simultaneously enraged and diminished by the ownership strangers take over his body, by knowing that the same people who want to possess it think it’s their place to dismiss it. I want him to know what it feels like to be trapped in a game where any kind of rejection or dismissal gets turned back against you, because you’re frigid, because you’re ugly, because he never wanted you in the first place and you must be mad. I want him to go home and feel the phantom pressure of stranger’s hand against his back, each fingerprint distinct, like a promise that this kind of thing will certainly happen to him again, and again, and again.
The first time I saw it rain in New Haven I was sitting on the windowseat in my friends’ dorm room; I had been watching the storm gather instead of doing work. Everyone else in the room was from the northeast, but we were all freshman, nervous and uncertain and endlessly willing to be charmed, so when the clouds broke open we ran out into it and, when we came back to dry off and warm up, J. played this song on repeat. “I always listen to this when it rains,” she said, so for a while, I did, too.
I stayed in New Haven long enough to get sick of the rain, the endless days of it, dreary misery, slippery streets, the perpetual wetness of the world. In the office I would play You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive until someone came in to remind me that I wasn’t a coal miner, and that maybe it was time to at least try to get a grip.
Now I’m back in the desert, where I save It Never Rains in Southern California for the days when it does, of course.
I got to watch a rough cut screening of this when I was still working at Yale, and it is completely incredible— like, I am sick to fucking death of the Michael Pollan-level arguments about culture and fat people and microwaveable food and getting back to the land and blah blah blah but this is a really beautiful, fascinating take on the actual science of why organic food matters on an ecosystem level. It’s playing in LA starting this weekend! Everyone needs to go!