Autumn 2011
this is your opportunity to inhabit another's mind

My uncle had the best cowboy boots and also emphysema. I asked him for his boots and he said no. I said look here old man you are not long for this world and he told me to fuck myself. I said you can’t take it with you and he said the hell I can’t and he put a codicil in his will that he was to be buried in those boots. I tried to bribe the kid at the funeral home but no dice. We buried him last Sunday and tonight I am going to Wal-Mart to buy a flashlight and a shovel and some of that hand sanitizer.

Inheritance - Amelia Spinney

windshield wipers slappin’ time

freedom’s just another word


The last time I tried to bury a bicycle it wasn’t so hard. But it wasn’t so hot and I was only seventeen, my first time out of these mountains, living in a busted up old San Francisco house where I got my name, Can Eyed Carl, nice to meet ya.

We were planting the bike up to its top tube in leeks going to seed. It was my second morning in that pad, and I’d already lost account of my cousin Henry who I’d convinced to run away with me. We’d shot for the border on his daddy’s horse, with my brother Abe’s hounds barking at the backs of our imaginations. We felt safe enough by Grant’s Pass to sell the horse for some bus tickets out and down the coast to San Francisco - the only city we knew of. I don’t feel so bad about losing track of Henry, that house got busted up the next week on grounds that no one in particular owned it, which was true. So I lit out for Portland with a couple of folks.

A couple of years later Henry passes through the strip club where I’m bouncing and tells me of his feed business in Eugene, which is where the VW bus he got on in San Fran lost an axle and died. Now I’ve worked about every imaginable job in Oregon ‘cept governor and I can tell you that none’s more embarrassing when family shows up at your strip club. Not even knowin’ that Uncle Bill musta’ had a hard night ‘caus I got a whole dollar worth of empties from his back porch this morning.

After all a name’s a name and I try to live up to mine. I ain’t lived outside a refundables state in twenty-five years and I don’t plan to anytime soon. Well, I done lived up to my name, whenever times got tough, anyways, until I got pulled back into these mountains. Oh I’d feel the pull of home plenty strong plenty of times, but Pa lived longer than anyone would’ve bet. It turns out he gave up drinkin’ for a bit after I left and one of his dredges, now that he had the money to run it, hit a seam. A dredge? Ya take a lawnmower engine and some vacuum cleaner hose and put it together on top of an old pontoon boat and let her suck the bottom.

A rich seam, well, rich enough to win the general store in town from his old drinking buddy Perry Wright in a game of poker, retire from mining, and start drinkin’ store bought whiskey in place of the white mountain lightning he had been so partial to.

So well after I got word of the funeral (one has to be sure about these things) and the next time I hit a broke spell, I headed back with the idea of fixing up the old shack, growin’ a patch of garden, and livin’ quiet and peaceful for a while. But I got down there and found that Abe had gotten the fire men to burn the homeplace down for practice. So I go down to Perry’s store and find Abe managing away.

“Now brother it wouldn’t do to have you living up there. I just got Jeanne - fine woman you need to meet her. An’ I got the Wright family breathin’ down my neck - Johnny’s runnin’ for mayor against me this year, and you remember Tim - that SOB is trying to open up  a motel just across the street from mine, and listen to this - Jeb walked in here and flat out offered to buy the car wash from me, seein’ as how I was short on cash. Now maybe that’s true and maybe it ain’t - the point being brother - how about I set you up with a job. Would you help your brother stay on top in this town?”

Which is how I came to be on top of this hill. This is my eighth summer back in these mountains, prospecting some of Daddy’s old claims (and a few that ain’t in the family too). Mostly I’m lookin’ for selenium, some for moly, and, sure, gold, if I see it. I take soil samples, put a mark on my maps, and keep movin’. Abe drives me up here with a summer’s worth of canned food which I bury the bulk of and come back to, from time to time. This is the first time I’ve taken a bike, doesn’t seem like such a good idea of Abe’s now, I think I’ll just hide it in these bushes. Abe picks me up in September, same place, and he sends off the tubes to a lab in Fresno or someplace like that. And I live on the rebuilt homeplace for the winter. Abe doesn’t visit much. He’s busy with bein’ mayor, and his family, and the store, and all them goose egg soil results, and keepin’ an eye on the Wrights.

The littlest Wrights have been growin’ dope just outside of town, and he goes back and forth worryin’ about the money they’re bringin’ in and schemin’ on how to run them out of town for good. The older Wrights and Abe are still fightin’ over control of the town’s business and spendin’ each other into debt, to boot. Naw I ain’t embarrassed or worried by Abe. He’s embarrassed of me, to be sure, his older hobo brother, livin’ up in the shack he tried to forget he came from. (He doesn’t even know how I fixed up the old still.) That’s why he shuffles me off to the mountains before the tourists arrive for the summer, and see me collectin’ their cans each mornin’. But like I said, I’ve met relatives’ eyes with worse shame. At least I’m home now. And Abe? I feel sorry for him sometimes. He ain’t seen the world, or missed these mountains. He don’t know any better, only enough to try and control that little town down there.

Well, I’ve yammered on enough and it’s only getting hotter. If you don’t mind, an old hobo gets right squirrely when stashin’ his bread. Maybe I’ll see you on up the trail.


On weekdays I would return home from teaching at a local school to my apartment complex, a short motorbike ride, and find my landlord perched on a bench beside a cement table, cigarette balanced between his wiry fingers, outside his modest first floor apartment.  More often than not, the table was covered with small dishes of food and his glass filled with beer and ice, sweating with condensation in the Thai humidity.


He kept company with neighbors and family, gossiping about the comings and goings of particular tenants, the chatter punctuated by the grating reprimands he dealt out to his 4-year-old nephew as he ran through the adjacent parking lot, hiding behind cars and picking off unsuspecting tenants with an imaginary pistol.


I would seat myself beside him, and we would pick up where we left off, continuing an interview that I anticipated to last only a few minutes.


The interview ran through days, weeks and months. It ran through the seasons: the stiflingly hot, the hardly cold and the torrential monsoon. It ran through the holidays, mine: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas and his: The King’s Birthday, Loy Kratong, Wan Awk Pansa. It ran through school semesters and the summer holiday. It ran through countless bottles of Sangsom Whiskey and Leo beer, ashtrays overflowing with acidic Falling Rain menthol cigarettes. It ran through a political uprising, from the festive beginning to tension-filled standoff to the violent end of a Red and Yellow color war played out in the streets of Bangkok and media outlets worldwide.  


The subject of the interview was my landlord, one of the first people to speak to me, the farang - foreigner - who had conspicuously taken up residence in the building he looked after for his brother-in-law on the outskirts of Phitsanulok, a city in the central plains of Thailand.  


Tourism in Thailand exists mostly on the fringes of the country. Cacophonous Bangkok is the entry point to the popular islands that pepper the deep south and to Chiang Mai and Pai in the north. The center of the country is only seen by most foreigners through the windows of trains, planes and buses.  My presence in this central province attracted attention, but mostly from a cautious distance. But this awkward buffer zone was non-existent to him and, only a few days after settling in, the enthusiastic “Mr. Tim!” became his favorite greeting and a segue into the next segment of our interview.


He was a small man, standing a little over 5 feet, his linen fisherman pants tied tightly around his thin waste, watery eyes distorted behind circular tortoise shell eye glasses he cleaned with an obsessive fervor on his shirt. Although 65 he appeared much older, the product of the unrelenting Southeast Asian sun and a life lived for a long time day to day, trying to get by. I referred to him as pee chi, older brother, a term of respect and one that was always met with a laugh from visitors.


I peppered him with questions. Food, Buddhism, Thai politics, sports, language, movies, customs, the Vietnam War, surrounding countries, superstitions, music, at times, I imagine, I was as bothersome as his nephew tugging at his shirt. But in particularly un-Thai fashion, he answered my questions unguarded and openly, practicing the English skills he had learned while a physics teacher at the Christian Boys’ School in Bangkok.


The cadence of his speech reflected a general pace of life adopted by those who were fortunate enough to successfully move out of the exhaustive and meager paying agrarian routine still so common in that part of the country.  It was a sense of ease and enjoyment, making up for time lost.


He spoke slowly, his sentences filled with long pauses that originally made me uncomfortable, but from this came three pieces of wisdom that I wrote down, repeated to others and wrote again.





“When you are old, you don’t leave. People come to see you.”


 Relatives and friends cycled in and out through the day, bringing with them food and bits of news. Even an occasional police officer and the postman took time chat, but he never left, always receiving with smile, but rarely even rising from his bench.


In many ways this wasn’t much different from my own grandfather. Sure the scenery was different, a porch on Long Island not a table in Phitsanulok, but the principles were the same. See enough yourself, do enough and people will come to see you.


The principles, unfortunately, have faded in the United States. Older generations are being stowed away in retirement communities, looked upon as family embarrassments. In Thailand, there has been a slow and gradual erosion of respect for elders as Western views encroach on the once staunchly held traditions.




“Don’t marry a woman like your mother. Bad idea.”  


He shouted this to me, shaking his head and laughing as his oldest niece and boyfriend bickered in the parking lot late one night, their fight dissolving into a depressing affair of sobs and slaps.  


“Always fighting. No good,” he went on, telling me of his tumultuous first marriage and reiterating his first line with an obsessive fervor, until I agreed with a smile, never, ever to be romantically involved with any woman who reminded me of my mother.


We had talked about women before. He had jokingly tried to set me up with a local 7-11 manager who lived on my floor, insisting that she was going to do big things, but this advice had seriousness to it, a tinge of personal regret in his in his delivery that made darkened his constantly light tone ever so slightly.





“Don’t eat durian and drink whiskey.”


“Excuse me?” I asked, puzzled.


“You eat durian and then drink whiskey and then you die,” he said it just like that, a simple matter of fact statement that everyone already knew or should know, common sense.


I found durian to be offensive to all of my senses: a festering stinky blob of a fruit that tasted like a stagnant air in a public bathroom stall. My chances of perishing from this supposedly lethal combination were quite limited. The statement, however, fascinated me. I asked my other people about it and they all told me it was true with conviction, describing something to do with the heat of the durian and the heat of whiskey making a fatal cocktail.


In many ways this line summed up much of what our best conversations had been about: a mix of personal knowledge and local lore passed on to me with a sense of paternal protection.


There are facts and there are experiences and somewhere in between, where the two meld, there is wisdom. To create your own takes time, and there is perhaps nothing as ignorant as failing to borrow other’s along the way towards your own.


(Laughter) End of Interview in the Bar, & Bulimia, Borderline, Bras


I’ve been very poignantly aware

of every person that’s walked in,

every person that’s sat down,

if they were male or female,

if they were grown or if they were a child,

what was coming out of my mouth at the moment that they sat down.

You know there’s just a lot of things that are just inescapable about the emotional aspect of what

we’re talking about. But, um,

I feel free.

& that’s - I’ve continued to feel that way the whole time.

& so when I’d have a little moment of discomfort, I’d ask myself,

“So do you wanna stop?”

You know, while we’re talking. & I, I thought, you know,

“Hell no. Do I really care if someone is listening? Not really.”

(The clicking noise one makes like a click chirp to the side of the mouth, as in, Nope.)


& a lot of thoughts were going back to my mom, is she gonna ever hear this, & that’s the biggest

thing for this whole, like, over an hour now, that I’ve come back to every -

I’d love to know if there was a rhythmic


place in my mind

that was recurring

because there probably is somewhat of a rhythm to it!


but um, that’s been the loudest thing in my ear, is she gonna hear this one day?

&, you know I can say that though my heart quakes a little, if she does,

I can immediately think right after that:

Oh God I hope she finds some kind of freedom in it if she does.

& it’s OK that I’m a grown woman now,

& it’s good that I can be free.

So I don’t, I don’t -

I can move away from that discomfort quickly & that feels really good.

Because I don’t actually care what anybody here thinks.

But I care an awful lot what she thinks!


Still, still at 33! Um.

& it’s good to own my own freedom as a grown woman because that’s when I start to really find

my love for her, my ow- my mother, as her own grown woman.

Instead of this perpetual identity that she’s just my mother

‘cause she is also her own grown woman.

She is someone who also needs love & freedom as much as I do.


(light laughter)



(Oh that’s amazing)

(that’s, that’s incredible)

(I love that)



Yeah, I just want to say one more thing because as you said that I kind of like became aware of

something I did, right before we started,

& I don’t know what you were doing I think you were looking at your papers or something,

& you may’ve noticed,

but I didn’t realize until just now, really, how truly symbolic it was.

I was sitting here,

& I was thinking how hot I was,

& I was thinking how much I did not want

to have on my bra,

& so I took it off!


Before you even asked me any questions, I stuffed it in my purse.

& I thought, you know what, that feels good, I’ve never done that in public before,

(laughing delight)

and maybe next time, I’ll just leave without it even on


because it’s really a pain in my butt.

That was what led into the whole, questions & I think that that’s a really good, just, easy way

to say how I was feeling, like, I’m ready, I’m ready to take it off, I’m ready to say it. So.


And I’ve been so envious!


Thank you! I really really appreciate it. It was cool.

I can’t wait. It’s special no matter what it is.

Yeah. What are there two, like two takes, because one lasted about like thirty?

It’s midday. Nobody goes to sleep each day. Maybe he drank too much haha. No eating, no drinking. Lazy like lions.

The professor tapped his computer with pink fingers, webbed with dark veins. A room of white blank-faces crowded his vision. He looked down.

Yes. 1:57 AM in Kenya right now. Yes, people are busy asleep.

Let me just give a story about what happened in Kenya while my computer wakes haha. It was 1990. I was traveling back to the Nairobi, no the Mombasa. It was one of those jitney-vehicles. You know, those container vehicles. It takes you way out where the plane was parked. The airline remain unnamed. Yes, the plane was not ready. We stayed in the container. It was hot. Then came the prespit— Presbyterians hahaha presplit—precipitation? That one haha. We waited for an hour and the plane was overbooked. People were sitting on the floor. We started going but the road, the tire on the road makes that roar. Rrrr haha, yes. People were sitting on the floor. They’ll survive haha. But it was like one of those race cars. The runway was of concern. This is Kenya. Whatever population is there let it be there. The moment you put there the road in these communities, settlements will adjust to these networks.

Talk about the devil.

His laptop blinked on, low battery. He turns to adjust the adapter.

 It becomes much difficult. I don’t know; it depends on how long it goes. Ah yes, you see this adapter I bought for $5 in Kenya. Here they charge $20. Maybe there’s a reason. Haha. As more you increase the price.

The first time, oblivious to the world.

Dabbling in academics, developing social prowess -

we were freshmen in high school.

The next time, entering the world.

Completed mandated coursework, matured considerably -

we were graduating.

Our paths never crossed.

Two years later,

and here we are.


The sun peeks into the window, revealing the carnage of the night before. A mutual friend's party. We sit on the couch, still inebriated, exchanging hellos. You tell me superficial details about your summer, about the time spent working in Chicago. I recount my days spent in Nashville, sharing meaningless stories.

The next thing either of us know, it's two hours later. And you've told me about your family, your school, so far away, and, well, your imminent death. You have cystic fibrosis. You aren't supposed to live past thirty-five.

We're twenty.

You didn't want to tell me, the whiskey thought otherwise. You almost died in high school. Twice. You notice the tears welling in my eyes, I'm an open book, you tell me not to worry. You didn't die, you run cross country at your university. Your lungs are fully functioning despite all of the odds and historical data and doctors' predictions. You're happy, you're unafraid. Is your death inevitable? Whose isn't? You're ready to go to sleep. My school mailing address is entered into your phone.

You're gone when I wake up.


The daylight faded to black hours ago and I'm swept away in a friend's car to a wedding reception.  We know nobody. We dance beneath paper globes and Christmas lights, taking advantage of the waning crowd and the open bar.

It's two in the morning and I'm driving your car as you play DJ, we're on an adventure, you are the navigator. Through winding roads and open fields we reach our destination; I've never been here. The banks of the Missouri River, the route to the island is flooded, raging, dangerous. Toes in the water, lit by a full moon, you apologize for the other night. You insist it was selfish and weird, too open, too personal. You suggest we'll make it even if I spill my life story.

I talk and you listen. Attentively. I trivialize my fears, downplay my ambitions. It's quiet for few minutes, the water's uneven rushing is enough.

This isn't fair. You told me everything, I have nothing to tell, my accomplishments are minimal.

Then I talk, say things I have never even verbalized to myself. I admit my true goals in life, my true feelings toward the mundane, linear path that seems to have been set for me. I let slip secrets, feelings of inadequacy. I feel light.

I taper off and you digest for a minute, shades of embarrassment color my face. But then you tell me with such conviction that I have potential and owe it to myself to go for whatever it is that I want to do, and that I think too much, and that I deserve better than what I have. I'm floating.

Then you say let's go for a drive, there's a meteor shower tonight.

At four in the morning, we're trespassing on an old farm through lightless, expansive fields. The night sky is our own. We laugh, we sing, we count stars and wince at unidentifiable noises in the distance. Police? Coyotes?

It doesn't matter, it couldn't matter.

I think of living with a set date of death, I think of disregarding the words of doctors, parents, government and all other authority. You're entirely free, untethered. Deliberately living and only taking interest in what you can directly control.

As your car flies from my driveway I envision you as a mystical bird flying into the early morning.

I am, and have always been, terrified of birds.


The fragrant smoke flows out of the hookah in a dingy basement as you bound down the stairs.

It's been forever since we've seen a clock, but it must be three in the morning. You're leaving for school in two and a half hours, for school and then Europe - you're leaving home for at least a year. You felt compelled to come over.

The group awkwardly reminisces of high school days, the only shared memories and common ground we have anymore. You're oddly quiet. The time comes for me to leave and you realize you're due at the airport in thirty minutes.

Car-side, you give me a mix CD and a firm hug, a promise of a letter to my college box soon. You don't have a set address yet, your phone doesn't work at school, you've evacuated the trappings of social media. You take off, we turn in the opposite direction at the main road.

The four lines of my address in your phone is all that connects us.

That, and a cardinal landed on the table next to me -

usually I'd move, but I just watched. 

But software, what light through yonder chat window breaks?

I thought we were just talking. The way all couples do, the chatter that begins and ends without much effort. A thought floats by: grab it, bend it slightly, angle it towards the light, arrange it well, present it to your partner, “Hon, I was thinking about how otters have to give birth at sea and I had a question...”

Then she presents an answer, he snorts happily, they amuse each other's sensibilities. Or do they amuse each other's conceits? Either way they tolerate the earnestness of the other and go back to their puttered apartment. I thought we were just talking.

We have, she and I, talked about talking a good number of times. We could leave a restaurant and say, “Oh the discourse during the soup was just amazing, but when the large plates came, well, I can't stand that kind of meaty, down-home talk.”

Regardless, we never talked about sea otters. We had busy things to talk about, very urban things. 

The whole point of the story is this, I wanted to know what an interview was so I asked her, being the smartest person I know, and she was inclined to answer. I knew she recorded everything that happened, as it was still the Season of the Liveblog. “Documentation,” she said, “was the difference between an interview and a conversation.”

I saw a vision clearly. I saw the buckled thread of our friendship come into focus. For years we had chatted on gmail, then facebook, now skype. The missing bit of information missing from the facebook -> skype trajectory is that she would mute the microphone.

Our postures transmitted on the screen we could fidget and fart in private silence, the only words that passed between us were written. It was carefully curated poetry, a theology of instant messaging. We had lived in more cities than you can count on one hand and not in that many years. Never together, but with enough words between us that we were both the closest and the farthest away, until this summer.

It was summer and she had left New York for time to breathe in Oakland and then was back home, here in Seattle, ready to start something. We connected like we had always meant to. We’d been too pained by adolescent mental illness before. Language flowed like candy, lube, sunshine, break up. It's always sudden isn’t it? Better to admit it soon, or that's what I'd say.

Before the end, in the tender summer within summer, was when she'd said it, “documentation.” I always knew something about history, something about “to the victor go the spoils,” something about who it is that gets to write the book. What I didn't know was that I had been on record the whole time. Tic-tak-tik-tak.