Sunday, July 31, 2011
Under Cloudy Skies
The day was overcast, a day like so many I have moved through, bundled beneath layers of wool and cotton. Glancing at my calendar on the way out the door in the morning, I had seen the linguistic indication that it should be sunny and warm. Through years of silent, deliberate encoding, those lines and black curves had come to mean something quite particular meteorologically, I should be leaving the house in my worn and favorite thin tank top and sandals, I should come back from a day outside sun-browned, sweaty, and smelling of sun, but this was not a place of things that were supposed to be. Not just this city of thick clouds and sheets of gray mist, but this house where garages were music studios and living rooms transformed into silent work spaces. This life, the one I had come to walk in a house and city I could never have imagined being part of ten years before was the opposite of what was supposed to be. It was fitting that I should carry a flask of hot milk tea and wrap a scarf around my neck in mid-July.
Hours later, after the tea was gone, I was still outdoors. I had been outdoors since the early morning when I had covered a plastic folding table with a worn maroon tablecloth and loaded it up with fresh baked thick-crusted breads. Through the morning, while the sun made little effort to break through a blanket of uniform, stubborn clouds, I stood mostly in one place, variation coming only as I walked around the table, adjusting baskets of bread as they sold one by one, trying with an artful eye to keep the display looking bountiful.
After my alarm rang, I paused for a moment to let the space come into me, then I took a short break and walked around the outdoor market. I meandered among the artisans selling brightly-glazed pottery, the fruit vendors whose peaches had just started to finally sweeten up after a summer of clouds. I stopped in front of the salami booth, a place I had first stopped after discovering their one vegetarian item for sale, a mustard spread made with whole seed of the plant. It was staffed, as always, by Bill and his sidekick.
Bill, the older of the two, was in his mid-forties. He had a head that appeared to have once been sandy blond but was almost white now. He had a somewhat relaxed air about him. But after talking for just a few minutes, he revealed his insecurities with a mix of wonder, ease and annoyance,
“I wish I could stop waking up in the middle of the night and hearing voices that say, ‘you’re nothing,’ those stupid voices that keep coming back.”
He had a grown daughter, almost my age, and the only way I could imagine her was as a single colored brush stroke against a sky blue canvas. She was a word only, “daughter,” a black pigment against the sky. Bill was thick and tall, his form, without fat that I could see, reminded me of a sturdy tree, the bulk and determination of it alone able to withstand a night of wind. His blue-gray eyes held a spark of mischief and each sentence was a joke, an astute quip or some form of self-deprecation, mixed and jumbled together in sentence after sentence to produce what he called the “Bill experience.”
“So, you forgot about us, huh?” Bill asked with a sideways smile. “I can’t believe you fucking forgot about us!”
I hadn’t visited in several weeks and when I was confronted by Max, the younger of the salami peddlers, in the early morning about my absence (he had come over to my booth) I had simply been honest.
I stammered with a smile, looking down like an ashamed dog finally caught rooting through the garbage. Although I knew that Bill was joking, I found it necessary to lay out the reasons for my long absence, covering over my initial morning honesty with reasons.
“Yeah, you know, the person who used to come watch my booth, well, she’s been coming later and later and then when I finally get a chance I-”
“Boobs, big fake boobs,” Bill interrupted.
His gaze was set several feet behind me. I turned reflexively, looking at chests, searching as though the clue I had been waiting for had finally arrived. “I don’t-”
“The blond,” he hinted.
I scanned the crowd and after several seconds I heard: “you missed her.”
I saw him staring in a direction I had not been eyeing. I turned back toward them, the gauze now gone, seeing them as they were- two men.
“You guys just check out ass and butts and boobs all day, huh?”
For a second I heard those words reverberating in my mind and I started kicking myself internally, ass and butt were same thing.
“Yeah, you finally understand us,” Bill said nodding.
I turned towards the younger of the two, a thick pile of black hair moussed into a formation on his head which vaguely reminded me of frosting on a cupcake. He was handsome in an emaciated heroin-rocker type of way. Olive skin, an easy smile and big white teeth. Dark jeans and t-shirt and black jeans jacket. Four months before Max had invited me to a party he was hosting. A party featuring as its piece de resistance, the barbecue of an entire pig. The flier had indicated there would be homemade beer, loud music, drunkenness, and rabble-rowsing. Maybe if it had been 10 years ago I would have been interested, but I was no longer what I was then.
“I’m mostly over it,” Bill confessed, looking down into his plate of salami samples.
“Over what?” I asked.
“Bill calls it freenis,” Max said, sitting down on a plastic cooler beside their table.
“Yeah. I am not into it as much as I used to be. Boobs, women. I am free from the penis…freenis.”
“Like, you just don’t care anymore?”
“I’m just not as horny as I used to be. I can relax more now. I’m freenis.”
An older man’s voice came from behind me, “you guy’s sellin’ salami?”
I turned to see a man in his late fifties, with a big round tummy and khaki pants and white stretched polo shirt.
“Sure are, try a piece,” Bill said handing the man a thin sample.
I waved goodbye at them and stepped away. I walked back past the vendors selling oils and pasta, past the pie lady and chocolate seller. Back to my booth, back to the fresh-baked thick crusted bread I had yet to sell.