Originally scheduled for August 23.
“…should you ever meet her, call her Aubrey and she will tell you a secret.”
A woman sat down next to me on the train. I glanced at her, reflexively, quickly, and went back to the novel I was reading: Faulkner’s Light in August. She settled into the seat, opened a magazine, started reading.
Two stops later, as the train pulled away from the station, I said — neither loudly nor quietly, and without looking up from my reading — “Tell me a secret, Aubrey.”
I waited a beat, and then another, and then turned to look at her. She was staring at me, a look of puzzlement and something that was not quite, or not quite yet, anger — and something else flitting around behind her eyes that I could not identify.
We looked at each other for a moment, and then another, and then she said: “What did you say?”
I said: “I said: ‘Tell me a secret, Aubrey.’ ”
She said: “My name isn’t Aubrey.”
“I’m not sure that matters,” I replied.
She paused, and looked away, and then looked back.
“There are no secrets left,” she said, “no secrets that can be told, anyway, because the telling makes the secret public. It used to be that you could tell a secret to someone, and it would go no further, or go further so slowly that by the time it became what we might public knowledge it didn’t matter anymore, the reasons for keeping it secret had passed or no longer obtained. Now, though, there is no grey area between secret and something everyone knows — once told, the secret takes on a life of its own, contagious, viral, an incorporeal zombie that bites and infects and spreads so fast that one wakes up the morning after telling to find oneself in a wasteland, a world wrecked and forever ruined. And so what secrets I have I will keep to myself, and anyway my name isn’t Aubrey.”
After some amount of time had passed, or maybe as soon as she stopped, I said: “I’m sorry; I’ve had a few drinks too many today.”
“…but it’s 9:30 in the morning,” she said blankly.
“I know,” I said, and went back to my reading.
Originally scheduled for Saturday, July 23.
I am always serious. I am, as they say, all business.
Once upon a time, children, I went on a road trip, from north Texas to Idaho. I went with two friends — whose names won’t be mentioned — and we drove straight through, without stopping, in three-hour shifts. It was a good time, after a certain fashion.
Somewhere in western Montana or southeastern Idaho, we stopped at a gas station. Inside the gas station, there was a casino — a small one, obviously. My friends wanted to play the slots; I said no, and not just no but hell no. It was, for the record, sometime after midnight.
That was the first strike, as it were. Our stay in Idaho — we were there to check out Diedrich Manufacturing, makers of fine coffee roasters, because we were in our early twenties and going through our let’s open a coffeeshop phase — I say, our stay was uneventful. Enjoyable, even.
On the way home, though, somewhere in the middle of the country — it all looks the same after you’ve driven through it enough — we pulled off the highway and into some field for some reason that is still unknown to me. I was asleep at the time, in the backseat, and woke up to find us in the middle of a goddamn field, with a goddamn horse nibbling on the hood of the car.
Apparently, I said Why are we in a field, and why are there horses?!
Since then, well, everyone has known that I’m all business. Always.
Originally scheduled for Friday, July 15.
I actually did this, sort of, on the day it was scheduled.
Friday was the last day of our seminar, and we needed to unwind. So five of us — myself, Bethany, Julianne, Kristina, and Charles (minus the dux clamores) — the Team of the White Moose of the People —— the five of us drove down to Santa Fe.
We went to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which is usually full of O’Keeffes (paintings, not relatives), but which currently has instead a fascinating exhibit on American Modernist painting and photography, and specifically the relationship between the two, and the use of photographs as sketches. I have a new respect for Norman Rockwell, having seen what went in to The Soda Jerk.
We wandered around the plaza, downtown Santa Fe. We walked the labyrinth in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis (we couldn’t go inside the church, unfortunately, because it was being used for a marathon of wedding rehearsals). We went to Rooftop Pizza — we had a pizza with smoked duck on it — to eat and drink and be merry. It was a good day.
Anyway, on the drive into Santa Fe, Bethany asked me what the day’s task was. I told her, and then my colleagues started identifying my mannerisms. The big one is the sigh — a sort of exasperated sigh preceded by a short pause, which is my response to anyone asking me anything. My wife knows the sigh well, and it has sparked more than one argument between us. Apparently there’s also a sigh/grunt variation, but I can’t reproduce that one on demand like I can the original. I also make a specific hand gesture — not this one — when I’m talking, especially when I’m trying to explain or talk my way through something. The gesture is the one you’d make when saying “it’s about three inches long” — and I’ll leave it to your imagination what is about three inches long.
Those were the only of my mannerisms that were enumerated, either because those are the only ones I have, or (much more probably) because my friends got bored pointing them out and started talking about something else. Because I do have a few others: I stroke my beard; I rub the place on my finger where my wedding ring used to be, before I lost it, because I constantly took it off to fiddle with it; I scowl — but maybe that’s not a mannerism? —; I speak in incomplete sentences.
My mannerisms aren’t interesting — obviously, because less than half of this post was about them. Sorry. I’m just not an interesting guy.
Just west of Amarillo on Interstate 40, there’s a place called Cadillac Ranch.
It’s not, as I half-convinced one of my colleagues, the place where they grow the baby Cadillacs. It’s an art installation, consisting of Cadillacs half-buried in a field in the middle of the Texas panhandle.
It’s also a great place to
bury deposit treasure.
…except I didn’t actually deposit the treasure. There are several reasons for this failure on my part, none of which are acceptable. First of all, the Ranch was crawling with people, and hiding a treasure in front of a crowd of strangers isn’t the best idea. Then, the place we stopped for lunch wasn’t where the map said it was — and the map said it was right down the road from the Ranch, which would have been quite convenient — it was, instead, five miles back the way we’d come, so we had to turn around. Also, we were in — not a hurry, exactly, but we weren’t making unnecessary stops on the trip out, and are planning on stopping when we drive back through next Sunday.
…I’m not sure that all made sense, but I don’t care. Why should I bother making unacceptable excuses when they’re prima facie unacceptable?
Next Sunday, crowds or no crowds, I will deposit the treasure. I won’t reveal what it is until then, but I will say that it’s something small and plastic and from my childhood, and it’s not — I hope, anyway — going to track me down and kill me.
Some number of years ago, when I was unattached and foolhardier than I am now, I took a break from my life and went on a cross-country backpacking trip. I had a big frame-pack, a one-person tent, an all-seasons sleeping bag, et cetera. I meandered across the countryside, without any sort of agenda, camping out in fields when I couldn’t find a campground, doing an occasional bit of day labor when I pass through a town.
Passing through one of those towns, I met a… let’s call her a traveling companion. We got to talking over drinks; turned out she was doing the same sort of thing I was, wandering the country aimlessly. We decided to wander together for a while.
I had some cash, so we got a room at a cheap motel – partly because it was getting late to find a place to pitch the tent, but mostly because I hadn’t showered in several weeks. (I would ‘have a bathe’ when I found a decent creek or cow pond, but that’s not the same as hot running water.) The next morning, we set off: I’d wandered in from the south-east, and she’d come from the north-east, so it seemed only right – though hopelessly cliché at the same time – that we went west.
Things were good for a few weeks: it was nice having someone to travel with, someone to talk to – someone funny and kind and incredibly attractive. We hiked through some beautiful country, too; sparsely populated, but we kept running across farmers and their salt-of-the-earth farmer’s wives, and they all insisted on putting us up for the night and feeding us – and holy shit, the eggs and the bacon and the steaks, best food I’ve ever eaten – and sending us off the next day laden down with food.
At some point we passed through a town: it had a bar, we had some cash, so we had a few drinks – by which I mean ‘a few too many’. We stumbled back to the tent, which we’d had the foresight to pitch in a wooded area on the outskirts of town. Crawled into our sleeping bags, fumbled around drunkenly for a bit, passed out.
It was still dark out when she woke me up, shaking me none too gently. She had a bottle of tequila; no idea where it came from.
“Drink this,” she said, pouring tequila into my mouth.
I was still half-asleep, and more than half-drunk, and so the only thing that came out of my mouth (aside from a fair amount of the tequila) was incoherent noise.
“I have to circumcise you,” she said.
That didn’t really register, and so I didn’t struggle when she started removing my pants. When she dumped tequila on my penis, though, I started to wonder what was going on – and when she pulled the knife out, well, I started to flip the fuck out.
She was kneeling on my legs, which made it hard to move, and she worked fast – I’m not sure I want to know where she learned to do what she did – but she sliced my foreskin off before I had time to put up a fight. She poured some more tequila on it – which burned like lemon juice in a paper cut, except a lot fucking worse – threw a towel on my bloody, boozy junk, and walked away from the tent quickly and purposefully, a bloody knife in her right hand, my bloody foreskin in her left.
I’m not sure why – or how, really – I followed her, but I did, naked from the waist down, barefoot, bloody towel clutched to my crotch. She stopped a few hundred yards from the tent, and I stopped maybe a dozen yards behind her. There was a man there, a big dude, lots of hair, beard so massive it looked like a bear cub attached to his face. I nearly shit myself, which would have been fine at that point, since I had no pants on.
She threw the foreskin – my foreskin – at the dude’s feet, turned around, and walked silently back to the tent. If she saw me, and she must have, she didn’t acknowledge me. Dude and I stared at each other for a long moment, then he gave the slightest of smiles, turned, and walked off into the night. Away from the town, not toward it. I stood there a while longer, then went back to the tent. The bleeding had stopped – it hadn’t bled much, actually, she did a good job – so I put clothes back on, finished off the tequila, and went back to sleep.
We didn’t talk about what had happened, the next morning or any time after. About a week after that, uh, incident, I decided to head home. Our parting was unceremonious, and I never saw her again.
I miss my foreskin to this day, and I still have no idea what the fuck actually happened that night.