In new places, certain things become oddly, weirdly precious just because of sheer context. Three things that have recently increased their value dramatically:
`1) Drugstores. Specifically, the drugstore on street 178 near the river. It’s like Tiffany’s was to Holly Golightly. Calms me down right away. No bigger than the convenience store of an average gas station but with the clean, white modern interior of the ship on 2001: A Space Odyssey. So many neat, orderly products with readable labels. Hair bands and Milano cookies, mosquito repellant and shampoo. Air-conditioned and cool in there; white floors and walls, and the cashiers dress in starched high-collared dresses like flight attendants. They greet you with hands pressed together in a traditional welcome. Sunscreen costs ten dollars, but I don’t even care. If I am nearby, I just go in to walk around and fondle the deodorants.
2) Pringles. Never ate them in the U.S. … but they are the best food ever, here. First of all, they come in indestructible cardboard tubes. Second, no crumbs. Eat them anywhere without fear of getting grease crumbles on your only t-shirt. Third? Salty. In hot places it’s good to drink water, but you’ll still pass out unless you’ve also got some salt. A big stack of Pringles is also so neutral-tasting, it can be breakfast, lunch or dinner.
3) American coins. A handful of loose change made its way into my messenger bag before I left, and this week I found it and dumped it on my desk. I do this all the time at home, periodically leave squirrely piles of change around, along with candy wrappers and old receipts. But here there are no coins, all currency is paper. And Sarina saw the little pile of pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters this morning. “Lindsay, you can use these to buy some things in the U.S.?” Yes, I said, but only very small things. “Can I have one?” Sure, I said. I displayed one of each coin in my palm and she looked each over before choosing the dime. She inspected it carefully and stumbled a bit as she read it. “Lie-berty?” Liberty, I said. “What this mean?” Freedom, I said. “One … deem?” Dime, I said, and explained it was the type of coin. She held it in her palm and smiled in admiration, the way I’d regard a sweet ladybug. “I will put this on my bag,” she said. “I will keep it forever and it make me think of you.” So… I started wishing I’d brought more change with me.
It’s been a hard week. One of those weeks when (think, think back to summer, people!) everything feels too hot, you are always far from water, there is no shady side of the street. But here, in no particular order, is a list of what helped:
1) Your voice. You? You, all of you, the one who answered my phone call, and your voice sounded like jam on new bread and your laugh reminded me of pennies dropping into a fountain. I’ve become a great lover of voices, being so far away from faces.
2) An elephant. I’m on the back of a motorbike — black night, sleepy and distracted, knowing not to really fall asleep because I’d fall right off… and then, calm-as-you-please, I see an elephant just walkin’ in the middle of traffic, led by a man with a rope and a long stick. (For reference: Elephants and a one-bedroom U-Haul box truck are similar in size.)
3) A quick swim. When things got quite stressful, I walked with all speed to the Blue Lime hotel, through the hushed, fancy lobby and out into the tropical garden that surrounds a clear blue pool. I shed my dress onto a deck chair and jumped in, in my underwear.
4) Teaching English. We learned the phrase “easy as pie”. First I had to explain what a pie was. And then I had to actually chomp my teeth onto my tongue to keep from smiling while my student practiced with big, serious eyes. “Easy ass pie? Is it asssss pie? Or azzzz?” I explained: definitely more of a “z” sound. And then I learned this. In Khmer there’s a similar expression, but it’s “easy as eating a banana.”
5) Learning French. I have a couple of French-speaking pals here who are teaching me French bit by bit, revitalizing what I learned in high school. We talked about the earthquake in Japan, and I learned that, speaking of pies and bananas, in France you don’t say the earth’s crust, you say “the peel”.
I used to write poems. I don’t so much anymore, but I used to write juicy, angsty poems to the beats in my head. Now, sometimes, I write tiny ones, or silly ones. But here’s one I just found from an old blog post that I wrote right after studying in Denmark, and I feel it still, ten years later.
there’s a word i can’t
like creeley said: “god shed his grace on thee–
how abstract is that fucking fact.”
how do you say,
in any language,
may i never forget
what i hated to learn.
thank you for this pain,
thank you for this day.
He was one of those men with a gamey taste in excitement. For such fellows the quieter social pleasures are not enough. Neither do the ordinary problems of living suffice to meet their gluttony for drama. Only a way of life which gives them a continual sense of action can keep them in good running order. If they can’t find it, they degenerate into great lovers or some other form of artificially compensated nonsense.
(Dear Mr. Myers Myers: This condition happens to women, too, apparently. I’m not interested in packing a six-shooter and playing crooked card games. I just want to be a storybook pirate like Pippi Longstocking.)