This is a modal window. This modal can be closed by pressing the Escape key or activating the close button. Close Modal Dialog. This is a modal window.
This is a modal window. On the night before Thanksgiving, four wings of the McAuley family gathered at their eight-bedroom cabin in the mountains to make merry. Discreet black sedans rumbled slowly up the long poplar-lined driveway toward the cabin with its distant bright windows, gold-capped acorns and brilliant yellow leaves crunching beneath the tires, and then children tumbled out of back seats gloveless and hatless and scarfless and coatless, laughing at the pure joy of the cold, their newly visible breath dispersing into the strange opacity of this country night. Elsewhere, perhaps, and at another time of year, their parents would have hustled them inside, but at the cabin it didn’t matter—at the cabin Grandma McAuley stood waiting in the foyer with a festive apron and hot toddy fixings close at hand, and the adults had no compunctions about letting the cousins play tag in the dark beneath the stars. Liza, almost three, rode on her uncle Paul’s shoulders as he told her about the constellations: that one, that’s the celestial hot tub! There’s the Saint Bernard, there’s the giant coffee mug, next to the cosmic mini-fridge, and that’s the Golden Gate Bridge. No, Liza said, giggling, hanging on tight as she’d been told, no it’s not.
Uncle Paul was broke. He had been broke many times over the course of the last sixteen years and he had never asked his parents for help. He was an accountant, and so his financial circumstances might have made him the butt of some of the family jokes if he hadn’t been in debt because he was gay, because he had fallen in love with someone who loved him even more deeply, because his partner had died after several long stints in the hospital, several ambulance rides, more than a few surgeries. Uncle Paul never used to come to Thanksgiving at the cabin in the mountains because his husband had never been invited, but look, the tide has turned! The McAuleys usually go to Stanford and usually pass the bar (and if they don’t you’d better believe it’s a choice)—the McAuleys own property in Palo Alto and San Francisco and Big Sur and up near Tahoe in the Sierra Nevadas—the McAuleys are prominent, pragmatic Irish-Catholic Democrats and these days the McAuleys are cognizant of the political and social value of a gay son. They’d love to square up Paulie’s debts—after all, it’s been so long, after all, back then it was a different time, after all it’s not like they’ll have to see Paulie kissing any man over the hickory ham and so what’s the harm of it really?—after all, bygones. Uncle Paul knows his father is waiting in an armchair by the hearth, readying a firm handshake and an earnest laugh and a kindly-stern let’s get this straightened out now shall we it’s been long enough no I don’t want to hear another word about it, and so Uncle Paul is outside with the children, broke.
Later, the children will gather in the long loft with its many bunks and sleeping bags to play Monopoly and make pillow forts and shine flashlights through the webbing of their fingers. The children will take turns sneaking down to the kitchen (on principle rather than out of hunger) and getting caught by Aunt Lane, who tickles without mercy while threatening to string up miscreants by their toenails. Aunt Lane always stays up late to make the pies with a rotating cast of helpers, and tonight Uncle Paul is, with determined constancy, never not up to his elbows in flour and butter and brown sugar. In the living room the other parents and grandparents and in-laws and friends will be catching up, swapping stories, laughing in cashmere, listening to Uncle Royal play the same jazzy old carols he plays every year, and someone, without irony, will roast a few chestnuts, purchased at a farmers’ market back in Colorado. Lauren and Blair and Mikey and Gavin—all between thirteen and fifteen—will figure out how to open the old window on the landing, and they’ll slip out onto the roof. The roof, as cabin-territory goes, is not unconquered or undiscovered generally speaking but it is new to these four, and press Escape or activate the close button.
This is a modal window. In Las Vegas, New Mexico, a heavy snowfall damages three historic buildings, including the only remaining Carnegie library in the state. It does something to you, sharing a name with a much more famous version of whatever you are, at least in my opinion. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? Almost 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and so of course this is almost completely true. Press Escape or activate the close button.
This is a modal window. Have you read the Terms & Conditions and do you agree?
This is a modal window. You’ve used up your five free articles for the month! But here’s the good news: a yearlong subscription is only $19.99*!
This is a modal window. Eugenia cannot afford to fix or replace her car. Someone stole the catalytic converter from its guts at some point during a slow Sunday night, and although the parking lot in Eugenia’s apartment complex features several slick black security cameras, the manager admits to Eugenia that nothing has actually been recorded. So now Eugenia takes two buses to work, and a commute that used to cost her sixteen minutes twice a day runs her fifty-two minutes twice a day if the drivers are on time.
Here is a secret: Eugenia can afford to fix her car or even perhaps replace it. Her grandmother out in Montana died six months ago, and Eugenia hadn’t been expecting anything—she’d never met the woman, after all—but a check has just arrived from the executor, $4,500. Immediately Eugenia used $844 to pay off her credit cards and $300to square up a loan from a friend, and she has reserved another $450 to put toward next month’s rent, and she did buy a $15 bottle of merlot and a little wheel of fancy cheese ($7), but that’s it. To waste almost two hours of every workday on a commute too crowded and unsettled even for texting cannot be borne, right? But at the same time Eugenia feels as though the universe itself was the one to steal her catalytic converter and damage the exhaust manifold and surrounding machinery, as if someone, while toting up the columns in a cosmic accounting book, had noticed a discrepancy and moved to correct it with hands of clockwork. And Eugenia refuses. She has drawn a line. No, this windfall does not belong to you—no, having a secret stockpile makes all of this bearable, even the way in which two men have groped her through her weary knee-length pencil skirt on crowded mornings—no, she gets to say, no, I refuse, you cannot make me.
But if Eugenia were able to text anyone on her commute, she’d write to her sister, who lives down in Albuquerque now.
How have you been? she’d say. I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch.
GOOD! How are YOU? So busy I’m sure here too!
Things are good at the dealership. I messed up my nails this morning! How’s Modesto?
You should see him he comes home with another one of the pieces yesterday and I asked him! Haha he is going in for a touchup tomorrow and You should come visit!
Yes, this is what Eugenia would wait for her sister to say. Eugenia has no desire to head down to Albuquerque but getting the invitation would be nice. It would be easier to continue here if continuation felt like a choice.
And so because Eugenia does not text her sister, and so because one day her first bus is running twelve minutes late, which is just exactly enough to make her miss her second, Eugenia arrives at the dealership where she works as an administrative assistant a full sixty-one minutes after she’s supposed to—and because of several other factors, including the fact that Eugenia is about to turn thirty-six and her accent has been thickening with age (among other things), her boss, Stanford Loughery AKA Stan the Man, whose visage graces thousands of screens in the tri-county area during off-peak hours, calls her into his glass-walled office and press Escape or activate the close button.
This is a modal window. Malik tries to convince his mother to take a picture of his wound for him, but she refuses. She won’t give Malik her phone and he’s too weak to sit up anyway—he can’t even look for himself. When the nurses come in to change the dressings—most of the time his mother is there, but sometimes she’s not—Malik asks them, too, but they only laugh. Malik’s appendix ruptured in class four days ago, though he didn’t know what was happening at the time—he only knew that unlike with other bouts of stomach flu, this time the pain in his abdomen was spidery and somehow ancient, like threads of an old gray wedding dress pulling taut within the muscles of his stomach and then snapping.
The doctor tells Malik the scar will be very small, and that the ladies will love it. The doctor is the first white person to touch Malik’s bare stomach, at least in his memory (and hopefully the last? hopefully he’ll never get this sick again). Malik’s mother tells him that his classmates are making him get-well-soon cards, that everyone has to make him a card. Malik knows how he feels about all of these things, and at the same time he knows how he is supposed to feel, and this is the first time he realizes that he has come out of sync.
A month and a half later he is walking home alone, after school. He is supposed to stay in the after-school program—that is where his mother will be expecting to find him when she gets off of work, and this is a thing she takes seriously—but Malik couldn’t stay there another minute, not after the way Ty sprayed him with a whole can of Axe after PE while Robby held him still against the lockers, not after the gym teacher made him take a shower (as if a shower would get the scent out of his clothes) and let Ty and Robby get off without even a write-up. Ty was Malik’s friend, a few months ago.
Anyway, as Malik walks home alone he notices there is a line running down the middle of the street. (Not just the paint dividing the lanes, obviously, he’s twelve, he knows it’s not that.) When a pigeon flies from the west side of Lexington over to the east side, about three stories up judging by the windows, there’s a moment when it crosses over the center that’s like the skipping of a record—its wings were down and now suddenly they’re up, its head was low and now suddenly it’s higher. Malik tosses a pebble across the invisible line and the pebble changes course in the air, just slightly, before rattling against the window of an SUV parked on the far side.
Better cut that shit out, a man says, gripping Malik by the shoulder.
Yes sir, Malik says. Sorry.
The man seems mollified by Malik’s obvious youth, obvious sincerity, obvious willingness to be submissive. And go easy on the cologne, there, player, he adds, letting go.
The man walks away, chuckling.
Malik lingers at the crosswalk, hesitant to cross Lexington himself, but after ten minutes of watching other pedestrians twitch across the line he decides he needs to be brave. The first time he takes the line at a run. He doesn’t feel it—he reaches the other side elated, out of breath, a little sore but less so than he’d expected. He’s still not supposed to play sports during PE, so he just has to walk laps around the track while the others play. He pinches one arm, then the other, and interrogates himself mentally. Everything seems to be in order. Nothing seems to have changed. As far as he can tell, the sky is the same color. He turns back to cross Lexington again at the next opportunity.
This time he walks slowly and holds his right hand out in front of him. It flickers when he crosses the line and because there are fourteen seconds left on the crosswalk timer he decides he can afford to stop. He waves his hand through the line and his outlines become jagged, uneasy. More importantly, when he moves slowly, he can feel it—just a hint of a seeping coldness, like around the edges of the window in the bedroom he used to share with his older brother, especially in wintertime, especially when there’s frost on the glass. It was a surprise to realize that the apartment was not airtight, that doors and windows pretend to be barriers but nothing can stop the outside world from coming in.
An armored truck honks at him—four seconds left on the crosswalk timer, but the truck wants to take advantage of a left-turn-yield, and Malik scrambles out of the way and almost trips on the curb. He rubs his right arm as he waits for the lights to cycle back through again. He notices a blond woman in a suit and dark sunglasses watching him from the other side of Lexington. She’s got one black earbud and there’s something dark pinned to her immaculate collar. She raises an arm, blocking her mouth, and speaks into the device. For a moment Malik thinks he can see a holster.
Abruptly, Malik is afraid. He turns around, starts walking up Seventeenth. He thinks about ducking into a magazine stand but he knows the clerk would hassle him. The dull pain in his side is getting worse, and he realizes he’s gasping. When he pulls his shirt up to look, he isn’t bleeding, but he knows he’s pushing it. He’s closer to school than he is to his apartment and so he takes the next right.
And he gets yelled at three times that day—once by the after-school program’s monitor, once by his mother upon her arrival at school, and again after they get home. His mother makes dinner louder even than usual, slamming the pot of water onto the burner to heat. Usually Malik would help—it’s his job to fill the pitcher from the water filter and mix them up some vitamin water—but he senses that it’s best to sit at the little round table with his head down and pretend to make progress on his homework.
Now that I know you won’t leave school again, his mother says, glaring over the cutting board at him as she slices the greens, let’s talk about why you did.
I wanted to go home, Malik says, drawing a spiral in the margin of the worksheet.
I didn’t feel good.
Yeah? You feeling any better now?
Malik doesn’t answer. He curls his toes into the carpet and then lets go—curls, lets go—imagines that if he didn’t hang on he’d fly up into the ceiling, get stuck on the fan, maybe.
Does this have anything to do with what happened in PE?
Malik looks up, forgetting to hang on.
Your teacher gave me a call this afternoon, his mother says. She’s not so unseasoned as to allow her tone to become gentle, but Malik can tell by the way she keeps her eyes on her knife that she knows the whole story.
Malik has to look away.
His mother sighs. She sets the greens aside and turns down the burner. Babyboy, listen. Press Escape or activate the close button.
This is a modal window. There is a courtyard in the middle of a campus—a public university, University of ________ in ________, home of the ________—and owing to this courtyard’s position in relation to two of the most convenient guest parking lots, a freshmen dorm, the food court, and several of the largest lecture halls, the benches in this courtyard are always full. Postures make statements: I’m looking at my laptop, my tablet, my phone, or a book; I’m talking to a professor whom I do not trust; I’m talking to a professor whom I want to impress; I’m talking to a classmate whom I do not trust; I’m talking to a classmate whom I want to impress; I’m talking to a financially supportive relative or benefactor on the phone; I’m talking on the phone to someone whom I love and trust more than anyone I’ve met here so far and talking to them is such a relief that my whole neck moves when I shake my head and I gesture with the whole of my free arm and I laugh with all the air in my chest. Press Escape, or activate the close button, if you want. No?
Leading north from this courtyard there is a walkway that passes between narrow orange trees, with dark, spindly trunks winding haphazardly up to boldly horizontal greenery that forms a kind of ceiling. Conveniently, the bark on these dark little trees is thin, and when scraped by a pocketknife or a house key displays a bright white mark. Consequently, these are the trees on which relationships get marked, P+B, J+O, wobbly hearts surrounding the kind of hopes that need to be made explicit and tangible—why? Which qualities, in participating persons, produce this effect, this desire to commemorate a connection in this way? Which ’80s movies, which ’90s movies, which movies from the aughts, which books and which Facebook albums and which posts to Instagram and with what ratio of irony to sincerity? To be fair, people also scratch dates into the bark, and drunken admonitions—________ sucks ass!—and invitations—for a good time, call ________—and in some ways, but not all the ways, these trees are a bulletin board for another kind of priority.
I mention this because knowing what lies to the north of the courtyard is significant. It may also be significant to know that one of the freshmen stores small baggies of cocaine beneath one of the bricks in the courtyard—of course the wisdom of this choice, on several axes, is debatable—and it may also be useful to know that the courtyard features exactly eight concrete benches, and that the concrete benches were installed to replace aging wooden ones, whose structural integrity had been compromised by two decades of graffiti. That’s not true, actually—it wasn’t the graffiti that compromised the wooden benches, but rather their age, the nature of their nature. The groundskeepers were in agreement: the graffiti was unsightly. Press Escape or activate the close button.
This is a modal window. You’ve been inactive for fifteen minutes. You’ll be signed out unless you reenter your username and password.
This is a modal window. The train tracks wind through Gold Run and arc several hundred feet above Dutch Flat, rising steadily through the long bend to Alta, slipping beneath Interstate 80and kissing the base of Moody Ridge before trailing off into the wilder parts of Tahoe National Forest on the way to Donner Summit. The land around these old mining towns bears deep wounds, even now, more than one hundred and fifty years after the Gold Rush.
Railroad ties aren’t made for explorers. Most kids end up walking down on the service road that runs alongside, even strewn as it is with fist-size rocks that make progress slow and unsteady and unpleasant. It’s possible to ride a bike on the tracks, but you wouldn’t want to. It’s possible to walk on the ties, though the spacing doesn’t match any comfortable paces. It’s possible to balance on the rail itself, and that’s what some kids do, developing their skills as on a balance beam, and there’s an art to it, certainly—it’s easy enough to keep a backpack on but often the kids with a more developed sense of flair will hold the backpack by a strap in one hand (especially if it’s a light homework day) to demonstrate their ability to adapt and to compensate, their ability to take destabilization and make a show of their triumph, ponytails bobbing rhythmically as they balance.
In summertime, cars passing on the back roads near the tracks—mostly unpaved—stir up broad clouds of red dust which settle on the heavy sap-laden greenery of the oaks and the maples and the blackberries, dulling everything. In summertime, pockets of hot pitch form on the railroad tracks, a dark sludge that cannot be efficiently scrubbed from tennis shoes or blue jeans. In summertime, the tracks are the quickest way for a kid on foot to get from Moody Ridge to the little convenience store in Alta (whose Sikh proprietors may be the only people of color in town), or from Alta to the public pool above Dutch Flat (a rarity in this thickly forested, steep terrain), and although adults and parents tell the children to stay off the tracks it’s these same adults and parents who taught the children how to leave pennies on the rails, how to watch a rigid convention flatten into an unconquerable shine. Press Escape or activate the close button.
This is a modal window. It must be dealt with before you can return to whatever you were trying to do.
This is a modal window. Aki sits cross-legged on her patio in Alameda, watching the moon rise. A woman on bart gave her a coupon for a two-dollar pack of American Spirits and so she is having her first smoke in six and a half years. Inside, through the cracked sliding glass door, B pulls one of Aki’s T-shirts over her head, putting on a bit of a show—the studied slowness, the flat stomach pearly in the low light, the shaking out of the long black hair. B comes up to the door, slides it open, joins Aki cross-legged behind the spare black bars, amid the succulents in their little blue-glazed clay pots, and Aki passes her the cigarette.
What a night, B says lazily. She draws, then exhales toward a dimness that could be a constellation.
Is that a supermoon?
Probably, Aki says, tapping out the ash.
What are you thinking about? B asks finally, tone measured, well behaved. Down the street, a little less than a block away, the bay laps at the sand of the shore—a shoreline constructed, a shoreline brought in by the truckload from elsewhere—and in the distance, if it were a clearer night, the lights of San Francisco would be reflected in the water.
Aki, knowing how much it costs to ask the question so baldly, says, I’ve been feeling out of sync with things lately. Not you, necessarily. Everything.
A car alarm goes off in the distance. Inside, Aki’s phone vibrates on the nightstand, casting a tiny glow upwards into the darkness of the bedroom. These things happen at the same time but cannot be described at the same time—and so the failure lies not in the facts but in their presentation.
I’m sorry, B says, and this too is studied, which makes the breath hurt in Aki’s chest. Has she ever asked B to be the idea of a girlfriend? Has she ever implied that the archetype is more appealing than the failure or the deviation?
Don’t be, Aki says. It’s good for me, I think, she adds, which is a lie but which will make B feel better, and this seems fitting and fair, for both of them to have to worry about who they’re supposed to be.
Aki feels the nicotine settling into the flesh of her arms, into the muscles that line her spine, feels her body take on a new rightness and a new weight, like the silk sandbag reptiles she used to collect when she was a girl, complete in themselves and pleasing in both the efficacy and the fragility of their construction. Press Escape or activate the close button.
This is a modal window. The sun rises late on the moor in winter, and all the people in all the scattered cabins wake to darkness and a damp chill. One woman, wrapped in a tartan shawl, walks carefully into the colorless pre-dawn heather, stepping over mounds of winter grass and brambles, taking care not to roll an ankle on patches of soft peat. Before her, distant sheep crest a gentle rise and stand silhouetted against a sky that must now be lightening, and then the sheep amble downslope, and their wool, dampened by the gusty breeze, seems almost to weigh upon them, but we know better than to assume they can’t bear their own selves. The woman pauses to fill her pockets with likely-looking sprigs. She cannot work anymore, not the way she used to—nor can she think along the old pathways, and it is as if she can see the routes her reasoning used to take, like peering between the bars of an old iron gate. She is different now—not useless but changed—and so she fills her pockets with sprigs of heather and knotty segments of spindly little wood, trinkets she will polish with sandpaper for hours beside the fire, trinkets she will sell at the market for incredible sums. It’s a rare eye that can see the potentials in a form, the shape poised within a shape not its own.
At the market, a man and a woman come to her separately but simultaneously, and she unrolls her wares, which tap together softly like branches against glass. Brooches, or pendants—fasteners, these arcs of wood, these almost Celtic tangles—keepsakes to pocket and to roll between one’s fingers as one contemplates a change, as one calls upon the weight of centuries, the accumulated power of a moor—rimed with purple beneath a rare sunbeam, winds sweetened by fennel and the dark soil, clouds bundling darkly in the distance, the smoke and distant glow of a fire, hands clutching to hats and skirts and jackets and the first onslaught of the rain. Sometimes they ask her whether she lives alone and how she supports herself—the cast of her new face somehow serving as permission to ask these questions, as though she has surrendered the right to unsupervised autonomy and she supposes she has—and she doesn’t answer because the details have nothing to do with what they want to know. Activate the close button.
This is a modal window, inescapably.
This is a modal window. We went out to the desert, the three of us. We camped in the shadows cast by three boulders larger than our houses, which we climbed to watch the sunset. Once, someone died by falling into the gap between—they found the skeleton three years ago. The wind picked up after dark and by rights we should have had the fire going already but we were all a little stoned and a little burnt out and a little off our game and so we built the fire after dark, slowly, with pages ripped from a phone book some other camper had left behind and twigs of mesquite. We used part of an ocotillo, too—it was standing there, colorless, splayed dry against the sky—and it was only later that we realized the ocotillo had still been alive. We roasted hot dogs over the flames and none of us were so young as to burn the outsides and leave the center uncooked but all of us were young enough to remember the last time we had. We laid the buns open on a shallow tray of foil and they cooked less evenly, and the wind dusted the buns with ash, but this only improved their taste. Coyotes howled in the distance and so we were extra vigilant about stowing away all our scraps and remnants until, apart from our selves and our sleeping bags and our car, there was nothing left of us at all, and then we brought the bags up to the top of the broadest boulder to sleep beneath the constellations—a tradition which remains time-honored because the stars always glow and are always fading and yet have always been there.
Did you hear, one of us asked, that if you add just a little bit of seaweed to a cow’s diet, it won’t produce methane anymore?
We pondered this. How do chemical reactions work and can the answers to our problems ever be so simple and why have we been endowed with just enough understanding to recognize the ways in which our species will inevitably fall short.
Don’t start that again.
I’m not going to apologize. That was an uplifting thing.
I swear to God.
It was a gift, I meant it as a gift.
The moon rose slowly, narrow, darkling. We could not put our tiredness into action.
I can’t do this, but I came prepared, one of us says, pulling a dollar-store twist of rope from a backpack.
We tied our sleeping bags together, so that none of us could roll off into the crack between the boulders.
Our houses needed new gutters and we were in debt. We didn’t know what to say about partnership, though certainly communal living can be a convenience. Our children had asthma and their schools were built on sites with materials known by the state of California to cause cancer. To cause cancer? We combed our hair away from our necks and our scalps with our fingers and swiveled our wedding rings and wondered how we had all become so animal.
One of us thought about how it would feel to be tied more securely and more frivolously, to be trapped inside the bag. One of us thought about cheap rope. One of us thought about how many hours were left between the desert and the next day, the boulders and the houses, the coyotes and the dogs waiting by the door for our keys in the lock.
I’ve missed you guys, one of us said.
One of us said, We should do this more often.
And this was like asking for a password and receiving the correct answer—the kind of query posed at a threshold and the kind of response that, although correct, holds no intrinsic meaning.
One of us was getting married in three weeks.
One of us fell asleep, and then another.
One of us knew that this would be the last time. One of us had been looking back on life with a newfound clarity, over the course of the last three months—had realized that though the losses and transitions had always been painful and difficult to anticipate, they were part of the pattern in the way all connections were and thus it would have been a mistake to grip too hard or to mourn—one of us knew better than to grip so hard, anymore. People leave, generally speaking, but if the fade is as constant as the fade of the stars then the continued presence is equally inarguable. We knew we would never be here again and we knew we had been here. Press Escape or activate the close button.
This is a modal window. The beaches in Tahoe—the ones that have never been artificially enhanced—feature rocky expanses and sand with grains too large to be comfortable on bare feet, pebbles of granite and high-elevation breezes that chap the surface of the water on gentler days and stir up waves strong enough to capsize the hardy young people who have been trying, despite the course sand and the boulders and the tang of the icy water, to swim. It’s difficult to swim in Tahoe and that’s if you make it to the water. Much of the shore is too steep to be accessible and much of the shore is private property, and there are weeds and docks and kayak rental facilities and there are restaurants with tables on quays and candles that seem to float above the waves, and for much of the year most of the houses and restaurants stand empty. Tahoe’s immune system is strong. Press Escape or activate the close button.
This is a modal window. Two people sat on the beach. They had just finished smoking a blunt. They had just finished fucking, upright, in a little cave along the shoreline. The cave often filled with seawater at high tide, and consequently its floor was deep with sand and the graffiti that had been scribbled on its innards by legions of people as virtuous as these two was prone to quick disappearances. One of them wandered south along the shore collecting sand dollars—who knew? so perfect! they actually exist!—and one of them reclined even without a towel, even though the sand was damp, and thought about how unsatisfying the interlude had been for her, even though the sand (which had been her perception re: the perils of beach sex) had never gotten anywhere undesirable. The sex had been quick and almost perfunctory—affectionate but characterized by a coldness of their hands—and recently, when she wasn’t wet enough, he’d apply some spit (affectionately but perfunctorily) and carry on, a steady first thrust followed by an increase in tempo, a grabbing at her hips and her tits, a whispering in her ear or a patterning of breath on her neck, and then, in short order (five to ten minutes) he would be done. She could have said she wasn’t in the mood (the advantage of a cliché: unassailable opacity) and she could have said, hey, can we slow this down, but she’d tried both a few times and neither gambit seemed like an adequate long-term solution. What could she say? I don’t want to have sex anymore. You’re a good person but I don’t think of you that way, you my partner of six years and counting, you whose name is also on the lease to our apartment. I haven’t been satisfied lately. I haven’t been attracted to you lately. Could you ask me, before getting into it? Or could you try to warm me up? Or am I supposed to be made warm by your mere presence—is something wrong with me—why, upon learning that it’s hard for me to come, did you give up? Why and when did you stop trying, and while you’re right that sex isn’t all about some kind of finish line, how much of your jizz will you smear across my ass before you feel as though the balance has been tipped too far in your favor? Or did you forget that I like to feel good too?
And then she figured he’d ask: well, why didn’t you tell me? Why haven’t we been talking about this for six years? How can I fix problems if I don’t know about them? How can you sabotage this relationship like that? What good did you think lying to me was going to do? Don’t you dare say you haven’t been lying to me.
It was just after dawn and the trail down through the cliffs had been lined with morning glories. Fog clung to the rocks but the mist had begun to glow. Press Escape.
This is a modal window. Your donation makes a difference. Mosquito nets, water purification tablets, hand-cranked radios, shoes and socks.
This is a modal window. We see you are using an adblocker. The quality of our publication depends on our advertising revenue. Please, if you enjoy our content, consider whitelisting our site.
This is a modal window. Near San Francisco’s Pier 39, a woman stands very still, having covered herself—down to her eyelids, down to the laces of her boots—in metallic copper paint. She doesn’t disrupt the flow of the pedestrians around her. The foot traffic in Pier 39has evolved to accommodate street performers over time, despite the fact that the component humans are ever changing, conscious individuals, hardly ever the same from day to day—somehow the knowledge and the behaviors necessary to perpetuate motion and to allow for frequent pausing have been passed down. The woman in copper paint strikes a series of poses she has chosen because these particular combinations of posture and angle and gesture have been traditionally associated with masculinity. She is (with the help of a nondescript stool) at the head of a table of investors. She is the quarterback before the game, after the game, she is giving an interview after having been chewed out by her coach and the team’s lawyers, she is giving an interview after having been exposed as the kind of male athlete who beats his wife. She is a politician. She is riding in a crowded subway car. She is leaning against a wall. She is taking a picture of the sunset. She is her own father, standing staunch on a busy sidewalk, forcing the crowd to part around him as he explains to his eight-year-old daughter, hands tight on her shoulders and collarbone: you will never do that in public again, you hear me?
The close button can be found at the top of the frame. The Escape key is elsewhere entirely.
The woman in copper has a nondescript stool, a trench coat for the journey home, a large thermos, and two straw hats for collecting change. The woman in copper appreciates the way the paint obscures features of her self. The woman in copper did not have to bring tampons because she has begun to use a silicone cup to catch her blood. How many dollars per hour? The woman in copper stands as straight as you can stand when you have never been insecure about your looks. Reactions to her act are varied, but she does not tend to do as well as the man in silver paint down by the shrimp shop, partially because everyone can sense her aggression, both the aggression of the poses and of the choice to develop a catalogue of poses that feel aggressive. A well-connected critic, in a recent fit of world-weary semi-humorous self-aggrandizement, observed that nothing bores him more (and of course he is white) than didactic art which “tries” to provide commentary on sociopolitical issues.
On some days, even though this is San Francisco, someone probably tells the woman in copper to smile, and while that probably feels like a step too far—a detail that oughtn’t to be included because it begins to essentialize the opposition, it begins to make the truth of things feel like a straw man—many onlookers would agree that the copper woman comes off as pretty strident, and just in terms of common sense, a spoonful of sugar—
Pigeons, overhead, at irregular intervals. Pigeons at the periphery all the time.
Depending on the wind: seaweed, salt, damp wood, trash, piss, clam chowder, shrimp.
Hard not to imagine the fog curling from one’s respiratory system into the chest and the throat and the brain like cotton.
Bells, brass bells.
I ♥ SAN FRANCISCO.
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
Mounds of sea lions, lying on barges, shining gently in a brief burst of light.
Displays full of keychains, trolley cars, Coit Towers, and common first names—common among which populations? Who is the audience, who is welcome?
Boardwalks, old wood.
Buy a new pair of jeans in San Francisco—buy some Levi’s—since, after all, San Francisco is the home of the 49ers and the 49ers loved blue jeans.
SITTING BY THE DOCK OF THE BAY.
Racks and racks of sweatshirts and jackets; it’s always colder than the tourists expect.
Dark chocolate truffles, bars of chocolate imprinted with the silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ice plant; invasive, omnipresent, choker of native greenery; numbs the tongue. Ice plant was brought to California to stabilize the graded earth beside railroad tracks.
Hey, thank you.
A statue of a giant crab, looming, claws upraised.
Have a great day!
Flags snapping in wind that salts the skin of one’s lips, wind that cuts right through denim.
The woman in jeans that were once blue strikes another pose, and while she is moving she smiles at the children who scamper forward to toss quarters and Sacagawea dollars into the straw hats at her feet, and one of them poses with her for a moment, a boy, and for a moment her pose is that of a proud father, hand hovering just above the boy’s head so believably, with such imminent intent to scruff up his hair, but after the boy’s parents take the picture he runs away and the woman in copper stays perfectly still, hand outstretched, and this, her frozen affection, the abrupt focus on her loneliness, brings a huge laugh—the crowd likes it when the woman in copper is the butt of the joke—and she makes more dollars that hour than any of the other hours that month, and there are so many hours left in the month.