When I first received the email warning me that a breasteraunt wanted to open in the middle of town, I snorted it off. “Yeah, right,” I thought. “Like they’re going to let them do that here.” The almighty They—those who are not me. The bucolic Here—Evanston, Illinois, which boasts not only Northwestern University and some Lake Michigan shoreline but also, I’d wager, the most Whole Foods square footage per capita of any town in a thousand mile radius and a population that yes, by and large does think it’s pretty special, what with our diversity and community and well-preserved Victorian architecture. It’s the type of place where you have to have three hearings just to put up a fence in your yard, where you’ll get a visit from the city if your neighbors don’t like the placement of your garbage can. It’s a nuclear free zone. These alarmists leaning on the horn about the Tilted Kilt, sort of a Celtic-themed Hooters, and calling me out as a “Parent of Evanston” who should be concerned weren’t going to get me parading downtown with a bull horn: “What do we want? Tits covered! When do we want it? Now!”

The restaurant sounded tacky, but complaining about skimpy uniforms wasn’t my style—especially when the whole thing seemed hypothetical.

It wasn’t until last month, when the developer had applied for a liquor license and it seemed like an approval might actually come to pass, that I decided to pay attention. I looked at the Tilted Kilt’s web site and read about the controversy in news outlets, and it was the comments following the articles and editorials, as much as “The Kilt Calendar Girls” video that I clicked on, that actually got my ire up.

“Quit the elitist attutude because you are a woman and wake up and realize what century you are in!”

“If you have three kids and dont want to go there, DON’T GO….This is the US of A. You are a socialist and need to live in Old Russia, and keep your kids inside….”

“Grow up and smell the deficit.”

Being told I was stupid for questioning a business venture made me question it all the more. And what I found upon examination was a perfect circle of capitalist fucktitude→ The overdevelopment of Evanston’s downtown during the boom years, the evacuation of the older buildings and the bust’s resultant under-occupation of the new ones, the scorn and disgust for those who don’t see the vacancies as reason to do whatever it takes to attract new businesses and bow down to the almighty revenue, the call for personal responsibility in the face of any resulting issue or problem, and the fact that if the restaurant was a success, it’d be the male developers and investors who’d rake in the big bucks, while the young women who worked there would receive the same relatively shitty pay as any other service drone while having to continually invest in a high-maintenance look and run the risk, should the context change slightly, of being told that they flaunted themselves like sluts and so deserved what they got at the after-party or in the parking garage.

Even six months ago I might have believed, or wanted to, that last worry to be over-stated or far-fetched, but victim-bashing has been high-profile this spring. When the New York Times ran a story on the gang rape of an 11 year old girl, they famously included quotations describing her sexy, mature attire (which I had something to say about), and, more recently, a Toronto police chief told a group of women that if they didn’t want to get raped, they shouldn’t dress like sluts. Somewhat relatedly, a commentator on CNN gave a long diatribe about how parents shouldn’t let their kids dress like tramps, and the opinion went viral, appearing in countless blogs and being recommended by over four hundred thousand people on Facebook, including several of my friends.

Oh, yes, I decided. In this climate, I have every right to have an opinion about a sexual themed eatery where the “entertainers”—so-called to avoid sex discrimination suits—dress as naughty school girls. I have a responsibility to have an opinion about it. I know that according to the CNN commentator and the indignant righteous everywhere, I shouldn’t blame society for my parenting weakness, that it’s all on me, but come on, I need some help here. My three-year old is tripping over shoes that are a size too big for her as I type this because I could not convince her to wear anything else before we had to get out the door this morning, so I better take some preemptive action before I have a middle school principal reprimanding me for “letting” my offspring wear a plaid bustier to band rehearsal.

I clicked on the petition to deny a liquor license to the Tilted Kilt, and I signed it.

But when I scrolled through the dozens of the anti-Tilted Kilt comments on the petition site—well, I have a contrarian streak, and they gave me pause, too.

“Our children should never be exposed to this kind of establishment!”

“I do not want to dread walking downtown with my dauthers.”

“Please spare our daughters from this damaging model of sexual objectification.”

“There are too many diseases in the world already that have no cure! All because of SEX! Temptation creates sex, sex. Please do not allow this Tilted Kilt to take place!”

Hmmmm. What do we mean by never? By damaging? By temptation?

True, when pro-breasterant commenters suggested that instead of banning a tax-paying business from town parents should instead use the presence of the Tilted Kilt as a teaching moment, I didn’t relish having the conversation that quickly popped to mind. My son’s the oldest, so I’d have to deal with him first.

“Mom, I want to have my fourteenth birthday party at the Twisted Kilt.”

“No, son.”

“Ah, man. Why not? Miles had his party there. You never let me do anything. Everyone has a bigger TV than us. I hate this family!”

“I don’t approve of businesses that train scantily clad young women of a very specific aesthetic type to offer sexual innuendo as they serve burgers. I believe this contributes to a climate of sexism—even to a culture of sexual violence. And although I know sexuality has been part of the marketplace since forever, I really think, as a young person, you should develop your own sexuality and discover that of others in a more organic, more egalitarian, less pre-packaged fashion.”

“Does that mean I should hide my search history when I look at porn on the computer?”

“I would appreciate that.”

“What about dad’s photography books?”

“Those are art.”

“Really? Even Tokyo Lucky Hole? Cool. Whatever. Paintball then.”

But would it really be that bad to have a masquerading tittie bar in town?

During my own adolescence, no one put blinders on me, and I don’t think I’m the worse for it. As a teenager, I worked in a diner for a guy who also owned the only strip bar in town, which was located in an alley a couple blocks away from the restaurant. (My friend and I were hired by him when he came through the car wash we were working as part of a school fundraiser—five bucks and you’d get your car washed by a gaggle of high schoolers in bathing suits.) Most of the bar’s dancers were imported to our small, rust-belt town; they came in on the Greyhound for week or two stints. When things were slow on my shift, as they often were, I’d sometimes be asked to use my parent’s Ford Fairmont station wagon to ferry the ladies between the restaurant and the seedy hotel where they stayed. Some of them were drugged and scuzzy. Some of them were nice, confiding or conspiratorial with me as I sat on the bed and watched them get ready. What stands out now is how pale most of them were; this was before tanning booths were ubiquitous, but just. Perhaps my own sense of self emerged intact because the women who came through on the Pittsburgh to Buffalo stripper circuit were not necessarily representing an ideal or upholding any rigid notions of beauty. I mean, for one thing, lots of them were getting around by Greyhound, OK? And reliable cars and tans weren’t the only things they were missing. There was no fake anything, to the discernible eye—the dancers had flopping boobs of various density; teeth that probably hadn’t been subject to orthodontia, let alone bleach; muscle tone that more often bespoke a penchant for cocaine or for chicken wings than a regimen of Pilates (or Jane Fonda’s workout, as would have been the case at the time). I saw that the men buzzed brighter around some of the dancers than others—I remember in particular a woman who looked like Crystal Gayle, with a tent of long brown hair and a Mona Lisa smile—but there was no one exact model. The quality of the most desired women was ineffable. Sometimes, running back and forth with coffee refills to a booth where some regulars were sniggering about something that had gone down at the club, I felt alienated by the presence of commoditized sex, and I was probably subject to a few more objectifying remarks than I would have been elsewhere, which could make me uncomfortable. Perhaps the environment did contribute to the feminist rage I’d be feeling a couple years later. But mostly I was curious. And generally I had a healthy body image, a healthy sense of my sexual self. I didn’t obsess about my imperfections, was vain but not encumbered by vanity. My feelings of sexiness didn’t lodge in the eye of the beholder or what I believed was seen there, and I was having a great time rolling around with my very nice boyfriend. If more than less, I basically wish the same for my own daughter.

But it does seem to be a different era. And yes, I do worry about how the image-onslaught of literally or figuratively photoshopped sexuality will affect my girl child. I do see the ways in which narrow standards of desirability can be warping to girls (and boys). For example, from what I gather, the ubiquity of internet porn has created, among other things, an expectation of what the ideal vulva looks like, a market for plastic surgery of the pussy. At my diner job, I had to wait outside the strip club when I was assigned to pick up one of the dancers there; I was never allowed in the door. But even if I had spent every shift with a front row seat at the rowdy bar, I’m pretty sure I still wouldn’t have thought to criticize the appearance of my labial lips. Clicking through the girls competing to be in next year’s Tilted Kilt calendar, it’s amazing how differences are canceled. White girls, Asian girls, African American girls, they all start to look like a mass—the same shape, the same expression, the same presentation. It’s depressing to me. Deadening. I can hope that my daughter acquires punk rock sensibilities and purposefully chooses an opposite track—and my son too—but I’ll tell you what, I notice that even the counter-culture girls I see these days have brilliant white teeth and smooth armpits. I’d place a bet that they don’t have much pubic hair, either.

So, although I couldn’t heartily join in some of the most dramatic hand wringing about the Tilted Kilt, I left my name on the petition. And when the day of the hearing for the liquor license came, I watched it closely.

By this time, more than 2000 people had signed their opposition to the restaurant’s opening in downtown Evanston, and critics packed the hearing. Defenders also came out, representatives from the chain and the businessman and his wife who wanted to open the local branch. In the face of accusations that revealing costumes and the serving of alcohol increased the risk of sexual violence, the company argued that they do everything they can to protect their employees from being disrespected; that there’s no sexual innuendo in the menu or marketing. They essentially said that the web site is misleading, that the Tilted Kilt is a high-end establishment that draws people in with pretty women, yes, but that keeps them with a big beer selection and a plethora of even bigger TVs that all have the game on.

“And let me make it clear, the entertainment is not the young ladies and women that are working there as wait staff. The entertainment is that it’s a sports bar,” Carol Mengel, the businessman’s wife stated at the hearing, according to the Chicago Tribune.

A-ha! Reading that quote helped me put my finger on what was bothering me most. I was more offended by the boosters’ denial that the carefully casted boobilitious staff was not offering sexual entertainment than I would have been if reps had said, yeah, we’re selling sexiness—whoo boy, have you taken a look at those ladies?—and that’s just fine.

Because look, I myself like to be waited on by beautiful servers. Especially as I get older, I like it inordinately. And when I used to go to clubs, I was happiest when foxy dancers-for-hire were shaking it on a platform in full view, the less clothing they had on the better. Who knows where I’d be putting my dollar bills if I were a guy, and actively enticed. I’m not saying I don’t have reservations about sex work; I do, along with a lot of interest. But about the concept of pushed up, spray tanned boobs as functional wallpaper, I’m finding I don’t feel too ambivalent.

It’s not too far afield from the reaction I had when I first learned there was a service that hired out bikini clad-women as house cleaners. Strippers, prostitutes, masseuses, dominatrixes—I get why someone would do and pay someone to do all those jobs. But stripper/toilet-cleaner? That gets my judgment going: Ewwwwwww.

While still in college, I had a friend who started stripping at a little dive bar. After a short time, she wanted to see what else was out there in the world of adult entertainment, and I made the rounds with her. The only place I remember going into was a joint with the TVs behind the bar and the stripper stage to the patrons’ backs. In the afternoon, when we walked in, one tired woman in a fishnet body stocking with a couple of dollars folded suggestively against her belly whirled desultorily around the pole while two of the three patrons at the bar looked the other way, at the game. This made such a depressing impression on me that I can recall the image as if I’d just turned away from it. If you’re taking off your clothes and dancing, whatever else there is to say about the dynamic, attention should be paid. Tits-out waitresses running back into the greasy-floored kitchen to get another ramekin of mayonnaise while recreating men let out a uniform cheer at a ref’s call—I call that a poor use of youth’s voluptuous blossoms.

After hearing testimonials from both sides on the day of the hearing, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl delayed her decision about the Tilted Kilt, and the town had another week to question our views, comment on them, and berate the opposition. My own opinion was crystallizing, and, finally, I was putting both my feet down on one side of the fence and honing my battle cry: “What do we want? Reverence for the sexy! When do we want it? Well, it’s a goal!”

A week later, on May 2, the final verdict came in. Mayor Tisdale voted against the liquor license.

“We are proud of (our) diversity and are sensitive to anything that would stereotype or demean us,” The Chicago Tribune quotes her as saying. “The final straw was at the end of the liquor commission hearing,” she said. “I was given a business card from the owner that shows a picture of one of the entertainers — that is what the waitresses are called. She had no head — it was just breasts, a shrug shirt, a bare midriff and the kilt, that little skirt.”

Ah, Evanston. I knew They would never let that tacky shit open up in our town square. Good call.

A Gemini Interviews Her Other Mouth

 

Gemini: I suppose you remember what your mother told you about Geminis…

Lidia: Yup. She said, in a thick southern drawl, “Well, you know, being with a Gemini is like being in a room with 50 people.”

 

Gemini: So which you are you today?

Lidia: The Lidia that just picked her kid up from school on her way to the grocery store before she washes clothes.

 

Gemini: Ah. The domestic Lidia.

Lidia: Correct.

 

Gemini: She’s fucking boring.

Lidia: Gee, thanks. But you are dead wrong.

 

Gemini: What’s not dull about domesticity?

Lidia: Gee Gemini, lemme make a list. There’s the fact that our bodies generate, oh, I don’t know, ALL OF HUMAN LIFE, we are the other side of masculine action in terms of reflection, repetition, cyclical experience and generative practices, we make a place of comfort and grace for a body to come home to—

 

Gemini: Busted. You are the worst housecleaner I’ve ever met and you know it. Forget dust bunnies. You’ve got dust godzillas…and I know for a fact there are year old underwear and socks under your bed.

Lidia: I’m not talking about housekeeping. I’m talking about how a woman makes a compassion home of not only her body, but any environment she comes into contact with. Even you do with your bitchy, fierce, chaotic, electric body.

 

Gemini: Oh Jeeeeeeez…..I was wondering how long it was going to take you to get to talking about bodies. That took like 15 seconds. What is your DEAL with bodies? COW is crawling with them.

Lidia: Well, you already know my DEAL with bodies…I love them. All of them. I think they are pretty much the coolest thing in ever. I wish more of us could love them with abandon. The book is a bodystory, and I told it in the hopes that other people might think about their own body stories. I think the body is a metaphor for experience and an epistemological site. And having carried life and death there, I feel like I am in a good position to speak about the body.

 

Gemini: Man. Talk about a buzz kill. But since we’re on the topic – why didn’t you tell in your book what your daughter’s name was?

Lidia: Lily. I couldn’t make a sentence big enough to hold her.

 

Gemini: What’s the one sentence in COW that matters to you the most?

Lidia: “Love is a small tender.”

 

Gemini: That’s not even a grammatically correct sentence.

Lidia: Fuck grammar. It’s fascist in its need to shape experience away from bodies.

 

Gemini: WHATEVER. Again with the bodies.

Lidia: And language. What sentence matters the most to you?

 

Gemini: I think it’s a cross between “This is your daughter leaving, motherfucker,” and “Even angry girls can be moved to tears.”

Lidia: I can understand that. Your you and my me have a lot in common—two sides of a girlbody.

 

Gemini: Why does the body matter? I’ve been throwing this body at life forever and it’s a wonder it’s still functioning…isn’t it the brain that saved us? Isn’t it the brain that makes pretty much everything matter?

Lidia: Well I don’t buy that old Cartesian Dualism thing. There is no mind body split. But the mind is more culturally valued and sanctioned than the body, and the body is more objectified, abjectified, and commodofied in this culture. Like Whitman, I am interested in the mindbody that is closer to energy and matter and the whole DNA spacedust universe shebang.

 

Gemini: Oh I see how you are. Now you are trying to be grad school mouth Lidia. OK smarty girl, how would you define “edgy?” Isn’t that what you are trying to be?

Lidia: Actually, to be honest with you, I think I’m just trying as hard as I can to be precise. Not edgy. I guess I’d define edgy as twitchy and confused. Tweakers and Republicans come to mind. I think when people call certain kinds of writing “edgy” they probably mean it made their brains itchy or something…but in COW I tried to be exact is all. Emotionally, linguistically, physically, lyrically, exact.

 

Gemini: By the way. I know why you refer to The Chronology of Water as COW. And it ain’t bovine.

Lidia: True.

 

Gemini: You wanna tell em, or should I?

Lidia: Go for it.

 

Gemini: “COW” is the euphamism Gertrude Stein used to refer to …

Lidia: Spanking twinkies.

 

Gemini: Which is your favorite bodily fluid?

Lidia: That’s easy. Cum and tears. Because they are salty like the ocean. Although Andy and I did have a good run with breast milk.

 

Gemini: Speaking of bodies and women and language, rumor has it on the cyber streets that you like to sometimes give readings wearing a special outfit.

Lidia: Occasionally.

 

Gemini: Did you ever worry that the “outfit” might embarrass your husband and son?

Lidia: I don’t know…hold on a minute and I’ll go ask them…

 

Gemini: HEY! While she’s out of the room lemme tell you some secrets about her…she likes to wear wigs, in her thirties sometimes on airplanes she’d adopt a foreign accent and invent a name, she plays clarinet, she once peed on the steps of the Capitol, and she once broke into someone’s home and stole all their stuff so they could collect the insurance. Luckily it was a long long time ago. Oh. Crap. She’s back…

Lidia: So I asked Andy and Miles if my reading outfit embarrasses them. Andy said, “Well, sort of it must, because I kind of get a stomach ache when you do it and I think to myself, oh Lidia…” And Miles said, “No, you just look more like you.” Why do you have that shit eating grin on your face? Have you been telling stories about me?

 

Gemini: Absolutely not. So here’s a question that’s been bugging me.

Lidia: Shoot.

 

Gemini: Why is your COW book all …. You know, choppyish?

Lidia: You mean why is it written in fragments and out of order?

 

Gemini: Yeah. Like I said. Choppy.

Lidia: Because I was trying to mimic the way memory works in biochemistry and neuroscience terms. Pieces of things brought together in a resolving system.

 

Gemini: Look at the big brain on the lid. Gimme a break.

Lidia: Seriously.

 

Gemini: Yeah I KNOW. Isn’t this partly why no agents will touch you? Because you have to “do things” to your stories? Every thought of telling them like a normal human being?

Lidia: I am telling them as precisely as I know how…I am telling them the way they feel to me, as true as I can get the language to go strange.

 

Gemini: Yeah yeah yeah. Tell the truth but tell it slant. Dickinson.

Lidia: Yup.

 

Gemini: Look how much action that got her. No offense, but she was kind of an isolate. Definite bummer at parties. Not a very snappy dresser either, I might add.

Lidia: Well, I am quite fond of isolates. And I used to have to breathe into a brown paper bag at parties in the bathroom. And my fashion sense is questionable.

 

Gemini: I’ll say. Ever heard of this thing called a “haircut?”

Lidia: I think you got all the social genes…and I’m guessing I have you to thank for all the unusual undergarments?

 

Gemini: Bingo.

Lidia: And rule breaking? And un-ladylike behavior? And anger? And propensity to fuck up? And a wide variety of boots? And potty mouth? And sexual excess? And drugs and alcohol and…

 

Gemini: Do you have a point, oh miss big breasted faux mother goddess?

Lidia: Yeah. I have a point. Let’s throw a lip over it and drink to it. My friend Karen Karbo gave me a bottle of Ardbeg, and my friend Chelsea Cain gave me a bottle of Glen Livet. Choose your poison.

 

Gemini: Sure you wouldn’t rather brew a nice pot of Jasmine hippie tea?

Lidia: I’m sure. I’m the one who let you into my lifehouse, my bodyhouse, my wordhouse…we are only me together. Cheers.

 

 

Jellyfish

By Gayle Brandeis

Poem

It was a big year for jellyfish,
La Niña pulling them
like magnets to the shore.
A fresh translucent mass
was heaped every few feet
along the beach—
edges scalloped
like flamenco skirts,
some hemmed
with thready purple—
the poison ones,
we learned from Chris,
who used to have jellyfish fights
with her friends in Massachusetts.
Didn’t they sting you? I asked,
remembering horror stories
of foot stings, leg stings,
vinegar poultices,
but she said no, they knew
which were safe to lob
at each other,
the creatures smacking
against their bodies
in brief wet flashes
like living artificial breasts.

The beached jellyfish
did look like saline implants—
a vast exodus of implants
on the lam from Tinseltown,
panting their freedom
into the great bosom of sand.
I could almost hear chests deflate
up and down the Sunset Strip,
could almost hear
a chorus of nipples
sigh in soft relief
as one buoyant sack
after another slid
out of its mammary cave
and flopped its way back
to the sea.

Later I saw jellyfish
swimming in the harbor,
their flounces
billowing in and out
like valves of a blowsy heart.
Jellyfish have no heart, no gills,
no brain—they are all undulation,
all open mouth. I wanted to scoop
them out of the water,
plaster them over my breasts,
let them harpoon my areolas
with their stinging cells
the way my nursing children
would clamp their jaws
around my nipples
when they first began to teethe—
La Niña, El Niño, returned to me
as babies, their suckling skulls
all fontanel, bells of milky light.

A trained corsetiere,
my aunt measured
large breasts
small breasts
just blooming breasts
over the hill breasts
randy breasts
shy breasts
well used breasts
never been touched breasts.

At least once a week
she spoke of her dreams.
Balloons. Always about balloons.
Red ones blue ones white ones
all set adrift and rising until,
peak reached and deflating,
they fell to the earth in soft plops.
Like a late summer rain.
Like the sound of a boy’s gasp
as he jerks off to a photo
bought for a buck.



When two staggering drunk ladies are mad because you’re not as drunk as them and they ask you to catch up, so you drink more…..that probably means you were already too drunk. (Things they don’t teach you in elementary school, lesson #1.)

So I drink from my flask and the staggering Jasmine intrigues me. I’m her honorable man, the man of chivalry, walking the drunken girl home. She drops her purse and wallet. I pick them up and give them back to her, while salivating junkies stare at the wallet on the sidewalk and wonder if I’m a fast runner. We are in the Tenderloin. It’s my duty to protect this girl, this flower, this woman of intrigue.

I met Jasmine at last call and I scooted to the stool next to her and we talked. She ordered three drinks for her friends, but her friends were already outside. Don’t drink those, I said as she picked up the first one. It was like a junkie telling another junkie they need to cut down on their smack use.

She told me that she got her masters degree in history.

History and philosophy degrees are my favorite degrees. They turn me on. Breasts work as well, but tell me you’re in human resources or business management, and my penis shrinks back into my scrotum. History degree? Can you rub that degree on my ass while we kiss?

Jasmine needs pizza and her friend walks with us. I’m just dropping you off and going home, I say. I like this drunken lady, she’s going to law school. She’s smart and sexy and I want to spend time with her. When we’re both sober. I will come for you and tomorrow you’ll remember me: the gentleman, and the author who kissed your hand at your apartment door. I give my mustache a twist and wonder to myself about the chance of the relationship progressing to the point where I might acknowledge her in my next novel.

Her friend Camille walks with us and seems like a decent lady….I don’t mind that she’s with us because I could seem a bit menacing. I’m okay with it. Girls have to help girls and they don’t know that I’m the last person on earth who is threatening or will take advantage.

I’m still trying to figure it out. This single stuff. The dating stuff. There are some girls I date and there’s no romantic connection and I feel guilty about it. Like I have to break up an engagement.

That’s baggage from my religious past and I’m finding out that it’s okay to hang out and be friends if the dating doesn’t work. I suck at this stuff, but I plunge into the deep end and feel the rush of the ice-cold waters without regard for rejection. Getting phone numbers. Having fun.

It’s like I hit a homerun out of the ballpark. Yet I can only run to second base, and then drift into centerfield somewhere. I lay down on the lawn and dream of meeting a girl who will stick around for a while. Someone where the chemistry just clicks and I know exactly how much milk to put in her coffee. Then, she tells me where I left my pin stripe pants.

Camille is with us and I know that in order to woo Jasmine I should make an effort to be friends with her friends.

Jasmine and Camille tell me to drink more. And I pull out my flask and drink more and they are satisfied. I always bring a flask when I go out. It’s a great way to save a little money while walking to another bar, or an after party….pull out the flask and take a big swig. [Look out for police, they don’t like that.]

I drank and try to catch up with the honorable Jasmine and her drunkenness. My Dulcinea. Later I realize I was already caught up and drunk, I just had a better handle on it. We stumble and I love her hair. And her glasses. And I love our potential.

We get to her apartment.

I start to drop to one knee and go to kiss her delicate hand good night but she pushes me through the door.

I tell Jasmine and Camille that I host a radio show. (Drinks with Tony). Camille asks me to interview her. She insists. And Jasmine plops down on my lap. She has runs in her leggings and all of a sudden Camille’s continued pleading for an interview does not irritate me when Jasmine puts her arms around my neck.

How would you interview me? Camille insists.

Jasmine sits on my lap and it’s like going to first base. I make it to first and the ball continues to sail out of the ballpark, so I appease Camille’s need to be interviewed.

What are you into? What am I interviewing you for? I ask.

Camille responds by asking me to ask her to take her shirt off.

Ask me to take my shirt off….Camille gets adamant, she insists and I’m role playing my real radio show so I tell her, well, I’m more of a Craig Ferguson than a Howard Stern on the radio.

What was I thinking? I love breasts.

It continues and Jasmine rubs my inner thigh, then grabs my crotch and we kiss and kiss while my fake radio show guest waits for me to ask her to take her shirt off.

Camille finally gives up and stumbles onto one of the loft beds in the apartment. Jasmine’s tongue finds my tongue and my hand finds her nipple. The other nipple makes its way out of her shirt and my hand rubs up her thigh until I put light pressure on her vagina, under her skirt and over her underwear. She moans and I pull down her shirt. In a moment of modesty I ask if we can retreat to the bathroom where Camille won’t see us.

We kiss and kiss and clothes come off. She has a bush of hair between her legs. Another reason to really get to know Jasmine. She doesn’t trim the lawn, and I love the running my fingers through the grass.

After about an hour of exploring each others’ areas that don’t see too much of the sun, I give her my information….everything, phone number, email, Facebook, shit, I would have given her my social security number if she asked for it.

I want a tomorrow with you. I want an outdoor kiss across a table at a cafe with you.

Are you staying, she asks. But there’s only one room in her studio apartment and Camille who only wants an excuse to undress for me was on the bed. I decide to go home.

Jasmine walks me to the door. Naked. Her milky white skin in all of its glory.

What was great was she wasn’t planning to get lucky that night. Her legs were stubbled. That made me more excited. Sometimes women are out to get laid and all they have to do is point.

You.

If the man she points to says no, then…

You.

If she has to point to more than three men, the earth will tilt off its axis and we’ll all float to Mars.

It’s been more than a week and she still hasn’t called me. Maybe she blacks out when she drinks and woke up wondering why she smelled like sex. Maybe she found the paper with my information on it and went, oh, his name was Tony, and tossed it in the trash.

I slutted up. My Don Quioxite turned into Eros. Into a Johnny Drama situation from Entourage.

I still want to meet her again. Fully clothed and we can talk.

Bask in the humor and the embarrassment and fun of our drunken oopsie.

I’m just trying out this sex thing like the animals we are.

My post apocalyptic religious cult belief system is finally squashed. A messy divorce after 13 years of marriage, forgiven. And still, I look for the one.

A one.

When two staggering drunk ladies are mad because you’re not as drunk as them and they ask you to catch up, so you drink more…..that probably means you were already too drunk. (Things they don’t teach you in elementary school, lesson #1.)

I just found my old maternity bras in our garage.  I’d been down there before scouring for them, but between furniture, Benjamin’s old clothes, toys and books and who knows what else, it seemed they were gone for good.  Until, like a parting of the sea, Jay headed down to make a little space so we could maneuver through the chaos.  And while bringing down my suitcase after our recent babymoon trip to Hawaii, there they were, resting in perfect view, as if they were asking, “Where ya been?”

This may not seem monumental, but when you are growing a human person in your body and that said body is growing in every sort of direction on a daily basis, the bosoms need a little extra care.  It’s not just the boobies that are growing, but they are one of the first indicators of when my body is getting uncomfortable.  Well actually it’s my back that’s trying to hold them up that is feeling the pain.

I know they have an important job to do.  They are growing so that they can eventually feed our child.  I know this rationally and intellectually.  In fact, I know this about the whole experience of being pregnant.  I know that my body is growing and changing and getting bigger (even though I am eating relatively well) because it is not only housing our future child but growing and nurturing it. 

It’s beautiful actually. 

But it is hard to feel beautiful when your back hurts or your breasts are falling out on all sides or your thighs rub together chafing or when someone says in passing after seeing your belly, “No more doughnuts for you.”

It’s especially hard because not to toot my horn or anything, but I used to be rather adorable.  It’s been awhile since I have been incredibly adorable.  But I have turned a few heads in my day.  In fact, these very same breasts that are causing me such agita used to provide me with ample attention.  When I was about 22 and they were young and perky, I went to theater school.  I had this one teacher who used to say, “Lead with your tits!!”  He didn’t mean just me.  He meant everyone.  Own what you’ve got.  Enjoy it.  Make them stare.

But it is hard when they are staring and you don’t want such a constant gaze.  I don’t know why pregnancy invites people to feel comfortable to comment on your body.  And negatively at that.  I am already having a hard time of it.  I don’t need the little old lady at the bagel store asking me when I am due, and after I tell her she cocks her head funny taking in the size of my belly, and now knowing I have more than two months to go, says, “Sometimes doctors are wrong.”

So I’m big.

My husband keeps telling me he doesn’t think that I am so big.  And I actually believe him.  I believe he believes that.  This is why I married this man.  But regardless of other people’s responses, good or bad, sometimes I just feel a little displaced in my own body.  I am no longer completely in control, which I guess is a perfect allegory for motherhood.  I admit I am ready for it to be done. 

Except for one part.

I love to feel the baby move.  I love the kicks.  I love laying on our couch and Jay leans into my belly and says, ”Hi, this is your Daddy” and then my belly dances.  I love playing with Benjamin with his Elmo and Big Bird finger puppets.  He places one of them on my belly to see if the baby moves enough to knock it down.  Benjamin usually makes me laugh and the toy goes falling to the ground way before our experiment is complete.

This most likely will be my last pregnancy, so moments like those, I treasure.  But chafing thighs, not so much.

It is not just vanity, though admittedly that plays a part.  (I have been pregnant before and I know it will not just all fall off with great ease as it does for some women.)  It is about being comfortable, about having to move differently in your own body than you have always been used to.  It is a shift in how you know how to be.  That is why finding those specialty bras (and not having to buy new ones) in my garage was such a coup.

I am trying to own it, to show off my belly, to lead with my tits, as they say.  So I will hold my chin (or at this point chins) up high.  For those who want to know how much weight I’ve gained or look at me with judgment, just remember, I am a walking science experiment.  I am growing an actual person inside of me and then these ever growing bosoms will be able to feed that person.  That’s pretty cool.  So even though I haven’t actually had one doughnut through this entire pregnancy, maybe I’ll go reward myself with one now. 

 

ri·dic·u·lous
adj.
Deserving or inspiring ridicule; absurd, preposterous, or silly. See Synonyms at foolish.


I love a good comedy. Some of my favorites are White Men Can’t Jump, Death at a Funeral (the original British version), and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And Slade Ham is pretty effin funny too.

But some things you just can’t write in a script.

I’m on my way to work this morning, listening as nerds do, to NPR. On comes “The Tale of the Covered Teat;” or, at least that’s what I’m going to call it. In my ears came the voice of University of Virginia political scientist, Larry Sabato.

Sabato said, and I’ll summarize, that a politician only has but so much political capital to spend and that spending it on something trivial like what Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did is devastating to a politician’s career. Look at John Ashcroft when he spent a few thousand dollars draping blue sheets over partially nude statues at the Justice Department eight years ago. He became an instant target of criticism because of something absolutely silly to most Americans.

“When you asked to be ridiculed, it usually happens. And it will happen here, nationally,” Sabato said. “This is classical art for goodness’ sake.”

So what did Cuccinelli do?

Cuccinelli had the State of Virginia seal altered, a breast plate added.

The actual seal (as shown above) depicts the Roman goddess Virtus, the goddess of virtue, standing over a defeated opponent. That opponent, Tyranny. Virtus wears a blue tunic with her left breast bare to the wind.

Not on Cuccinelli’s lapel pins he ordered using PAC money for his campaign.

Oh no, an exposed titty?!

Cover your children’s eyes!

Breasts!

I mean, breast!

A supple, supple breast!

An areola!

And all this time, all my life living in this state, I always thought that Virtus was a guy and he just had moobs.

When the media got word of the issue, Cuccinelli tried to laugh it off and say he was trying to turn a “risque image into a PG one.”

Heck, who knows — maybe tomorrow Cuccinelli will alter his name, deducting “Cucci-” and just be “Nelli.”

After all, the connotations of “Cucci” to young children in our Commonwealth could be horrifying.

Nelli.

I like it.

Has a certain ring to it.

Brings to mind the rapper Nelly and his bandaid look, which, speaking of, Cuccinelli may need to cover up this ridicule sure to be featured on tonight’s episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

I’m sure a conservative friend of mine will think I’m blowing this way out of proportion, which would be inaccurate. I’m not outraged or furious this happened. I get a kick out of it because this adds to the ever growing cartoon of the current Republican state of Virginia politics. Hell, if you can’t laugh at this then what can you laugh at?

First, Bob McDonnell, a man who received his law degree at Christian Broadcasting Network University (yes, you read that right correctly. A school Pat Robertson formed. Name later changed to Regent University) was elected our governor and his sideshow in conservatism, Ken Cuccinelli, came along for the ride and has since tried to take the words gay and lesbian out of our state’s discrimination laws and filed a lawsuit against the federal government challenging global warming. I can’t wait for his next speech at a local tea party rally.

It should be an interesting four years. I’ve got my material. Slade, you should move to Virginia. Your star will be on the rise for sure. It worked for William & Mary graduate, Jon Stewart.

Author’s Note: The American Camp Association created a video in which actors and musicians share how their lives were changed for the better “because of camp.” After watching their video, I realized that I’d had a very different summer camp experience…


Because of camp I developed my first severe case of poison oak.


Because of camp I discovered that rock climbing didn’t build confidence, just bruises.


Because of camp my very first French kiss was with a circus arts girl whose tongue moved around in my mouth like a rabid skunk on roller skates.


Because of camp I thought that all girls French kissed that way, so I began kissing the same way too.


Because of camp hardly any girl ever wanted to kiss me. Only the crazy circus arts girl.


Because of camp I developed my first severe case of pink eye.


Because of camp I learned that I could lip-synch the hell outta “Stairway to Heaven.”


Because of camp I discovered that I enjoyed lanyard making far more than instructional swimming and horseback riding combined.


Because of camp I learned that the foxy girls rarely went for the lanyard-making guys—especially the ones with pink eye, poison oak, and couldn’t kiss for shit—no matter how good they were at lip-synching “Stairway to Heaven.”


Because of camp I discovered the true beauty of bouncing breasts during a volleyball game.


Because of camp I realized that I totally hated at volleyball, but kept playing because of the breasts.


Because of camp I discovered that the girls in the dance program were far hotter, and far better kissers than the girls in the circus arts program, but that on first hook-up the circus arts girls would easily go to third base, while the dance girls would only go to first.


Because of camp I discovered that most kids, without any hesitation or sense of remorse, would gladly torture and kill any insect or woodland creature they could get their hands on.


Because of camp I learned that I sucked ass in both carpentry and martial arts.


Because of camp I never got a chance to score with any girls I found remotely interesting because they were either getting scammed on by the male counselors or the guys that excelled in carpentry and martial arts.


Because of camp I learned to see backwards and forwards at once because no one could be trusted; especially the animal killers, the male counselors, and the guys that excelled in carpentry and martial arts.


Because of camp I took numerous enrichment classes—drama, SAT prep, photography—and realized that I only excelled in one: crime science forensics.


Because of camp I learned that, yes, I could still be severely depressed, even in the great outdoors.


Because of camp I discovered that there was actually a class for learning how to make your bed, and I sucked at it.


Because of camp I discovered that when you flip over in a canoe, once you hit that cold, dick-shrinking water and your balls go up into your throat, even your closest of friends suddenly adopt the mentality: Every man for himself.


Because of camp I learned to truly despise tie-dyeing. And balloon animals. And yo-yo tricks.


Because of camp I learned that I was prone to sleepwalking and snoring, but could make one hell of a Smores.


Because of camp I discovered that both golf and ceramics were a hell of a lot more tolerable after smoking a joint.


Because of camp I learned that the whole camp experience had very little to do with my parents wanting me to have an enjoyable summer, and more to do with them just wanting to get me the hell out of their lives for a month.


Because of camp I learned in religious studies class that if my parents didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior they’d go to hell, but that I wouldn’t.


Because of camp I learned that that maybe wasn’t such a bad idea: having my parents in hell while I kicked back in heaven.


Because of camp I discovered that the apocalypse didn’t necessarily have to be all war, famine, and death. It could simply be having to attend golf or ceramics class without a sufficient buzz.


Because of camp I learned that the girl with Bells Palsy—which made half of her face go numb and uncontrollable—would actually turn out to be the prettiest girl there after a week’s worth of antibiotics.


Because of camp I discovered beer pong. And consequently learned that what I lacked in ping-pong skills, I sufficiently made up for in drinking and barfing abilities.


Because of camp I learned that the kids on crutches always got the most attention. So during the night, when no one was around, I’d jump off the Smokey the Bear statue, trying to break my legs by landing on my knees. But it never worked.


I always landed on my feet.

________________________________________________________________

 

Final Note: A special thanks to the following people for sharing with me their inspirational (and traumatic) camp experiences: Jessica, Marlene, Desiree, Tony, Tammy, Meghan, Khadija, Jean, Tracy, and MJ.

And now, dear readers, if you’d like to share your own comments and/or summer camp stories, I’d love to hear them…


Of course, it took more than Robbi’s job offers to bring Johanna and me out here to the marijuana farm. Should I write about this part in any sort of detail? Will I be defying my own vow to keep such things relegated to the realm of “backdrop?” Should I discuss how, in 2006, I found myself living in my parents’ house in suburban Chicago for the first time since I was seventeen, this time with Johanna in tow, due to my mom’s diagnosis? How, after having lived in Alaska, Italy, Key West, New Mexico, Arizona, and a failed attempt in Vermont, that reentering Buffalo Grove, Illinois gave me the alcoholic shakes, the soothing drink to quell them being the swallowed desire to flee to some distant mountaintop, some beach bungalow, some bomb shelter in which I could grow, with impunity, a wizard’s beard beneath which to hide? Oh shit, oh shit. This is one of those stories, isn’t it? No. No. It’s just the establishment of context, right? I can’t say “backdrop,” and not give the stage-curtain a color, right? Right?

Also: I did not change the names of the places I lived. Those are accurate, as is the Buffalo Grove admission, which I’m still a little leery about. I’ve tried for most of my life to shuck that place, for better or for worse. But, hell, I played enough Four Square and Running Bases, and chased enough fieldmice, and ate enough bad food in that town that I shouldn’t fear claiming a small ownership.

Of course, this descent (for Johanna) and re-descent (for me) into B.G. crept into us like nausea with a remarkable intensity, and then, for the most part, kept quiet. We were Haleakalā, Mount Edgecumbe, Chato Volcano, and Paulet Island: dormant. (Keeping this list short was a labor—the desire to include Mount Bachelor, Mount Elephant, and Pelican Butte, was fierce, but I didn’t necessarily want you picturing bachelors, elephants, or pelicans, but, well, it seems I’ve now fucked this up. Oh well. As the gay rabbi who bar mitzvah’d me used to say to his congregation in times of Judaic woe, …and let us all say: Son of a bitch).

At the crest of my mother’s therapy, when she was (as she was so often then) sleeping, my father, never one for overt emotion, called me into his bathroom—the chamber in which he sat for hours staunching the… No. I’m gonna spare you that. I will tell you though that it was in that bathroom, after a shower, that I discovered on the blue padded laundry hamper, centrally-located in my father’s stack of subscribed-to Playboy magazines, the December 1984 issue that featured Karen Velez, who was single-handedly responsible for my later shunning of breast implants, and who forever changed the way I used and reacted to the word pendulous.

Walking quickly, I passed the walls lined with his Howdy Doody and Hopalong Cassidy memorabilia, what my mother would call, “his childhood cemetery.” He was standing next to the toilet, hair less curly than it used to be, new totem pole tattoo clinging bright to his left shoulder, staring into the blue wastebasket, shaking his head. Few sights are more pathetic than one’s father, nervous beyond reason, standing next to a toilet. Karen Velez, and the flightiness by which I defined myself up to that point, were long gone, hopefully commingling in the bottom of the same mid-Eighties dumpster. I had to slow down. I had to look. Like at a car accident on the highway. Inside, I saw a mound of her brown hair, enough it seemed to cover the floor of a barber shop, one that over-compensated by including a (misleading) superlative in its title: Supercuts. Fantastic Sam’s. Like I’m one to talk about over-compensation. I can’t seem to keep my damn mouth shut about this, breaking promises, contracts. I might as well commit here, include some remembered dialogue, milk the cow.

“Why do you want to show me this?” I asked him, my throat reacting as it would have to a sliver of black peppercorn.

He snorted softly. He looked confused.

“I think you should share in this,” he said.

****

Many times, Johanna and I delved into understandable selfishness, lamenting our loss of sanctuary, our rhythms, this wet cloak clinging to our skins, stirring our hearts to a perpetual flutter. Let me rephrase: we were pissed off. Distraught, sure, but pissed. We were solitude fetishists. A quiet evening at home, just the two of us, was our autoerotic asphyxiation, a bad late night action movie (see: Tier One: anything by Lorenzo Lamas, Brian Bosworth, or Dolph Lundgren (save for “Rocky IV”); Tier Two: anything by Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, or Eric Roberts; Tier Three: anything by Schwarzenegger, 1970-1988; Tier Four: anything by Schwarzenegger, 1989-2003 (with the exception of the—heavy on the quotation marks—“comedies,” “Junior,” for example); Tier Five: “Rocky IV”), our silk stocking. For you aficionados: This list is heavily abridged. And the logician in me wants to qualify: Order of tiers inversely proportional to alcoholic drinks consumed. The realist in me wants to counter: Order of tiers, interchangeable. These were films that Johanna initially dismissed as “a load of shit,” but by month two, she was just as addicted as I.

Many times we would go for midnight walks to the neighborhood park—the site of my first tornado slide, little league baseball games, after-school fights, the place where I lost my third tooth, falling from the tire swing, the place where I tried, and succeeded at, eating a woodchip—and sit on the swing-set, sometimes silent, sometimes raging with the urge to flee. Part of me wants to say something about the stars here—a specific constellation even (Andromeda, my favorite—it has something to do with the sea monster)—but I’m gonna pull back.

We would complain about the way the city lights dampened the night sky, about the ever-listening ears of the neighbors, likely descendants of the Original Yenta. We would talk about how my mother would surely heal, overusing the words strong and pull through, and about the many options that lie ahead for us, which looked then, when I closed my eyes, like an endless chain of yellow center highway lines, the lane separators, some even-more-scary version of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” trailer. On that swing-set, in that park, we approached each option with equal disinterest. Then, we would go back to the house, undress in my old bedroom, and listen to my parents cough half the night. Am I really going to write about this shit in any sort of detail? Hell, no.

****

About eight months later, when it looked as if all may turn out well with my mom, my wife and I, lost and insane with the thirst for solitude and a measure of cleansing, received Robbi’s phone call and decided to take these seasonal jobs. Then, we had no idea about the Residents’ Camp and communal meals, and tent livin’, and strange showers in which we felt compelled to wear our rubber shoes for fear of contracting all things fungal… No, at the time, after a stint in Midwestern realism and all of its spiritual bratwurst, California seemed to us the physical manifestation of a cosmic high-colonic. And Robbi had worked for Lady Wanda before, so we were welcomed with hefty open arms, without much interrogation.

****

Johanna and I often talk of Chicago during our pre-dinner walks, but we don’t tonight. We’re too hungry. For the season, Lady Wanda has set up a white canvas carnival tent on the east side of her substantial house, under which three meals a day are served. From the fields, Johanna looks longingly toward the tent’s three white peaks as if they were as snow-covered and as insurmountable at the Himalayas. Sometimes, when we’re craving meat, they are. After a day of massage, when she’s hungry, Johanna can get irrationally poetic about food.

“I hope they shoe-horn some lamb into that vegetable mass tonight,” she growls.

Meals on Weckman Farm are typically vegetarian, but, I must admit, wonderfully prepared. Alex, Emily, and Antonio are the three full-time chefs under Lady Wanda’s employ, and just so you don’t invest too much in them, they will not be major players in this tale. That doesn’t mean I can’t try to describe them, though. And later on, I may even tell a story or two about them. It depends on how I’m feeling, benevolent or smart-ass; both moods likely disingenuous and forced for the sake of the narrative. (Insert your favorite proper noun that includes the word, liar, here. I’ll choose, “Fellini: I’m a Born Liar”). But for now, consider Alex and Emily pseudo-hippie wallpaper, and Antonio a bookshelf-bound and balloon-cheeked bust of Buddha. Sorry for all the B-word there. I get lost sometimes…

Alex and Emily, a married couple in their upper-twenties, are culinary school graduates who cut their teeth at a pair of well-known Napa Valley restaurants (he as a sous chef, she as a pastry chef), before finding their way to Weckman Farm. They both wear cat’s-eye glasses and beads in their hair and have a flair for breakfasts. This morning we had sea-palm (a local seaweed) quiche with caramelized onion and feta cheese. I tried to like it, and eventually did. Johanna, not the world’s biggest fan of ocean-born green stuff, bitched. She decorated the edges of her plate with these lovely little blobs of rejected magnesium.

Antonio, a fifty-year old man from Veracruz, Mexico with a robust fifty-year-old paunch, is theirsous chef, trained in his mother’s restaurant, perfecting such dishes as last night’s dinner ofenchiladas suizas stuffed with roasted mushroom and topped with a tomatillo cream sauce. Though meatless, we both adored it, and, if I remember correctly, Johanna may have clapped once.

Their kitchen is housed in a large blue-roofed shed in Lady Wanda’s backyard and includes four ranges, an indoor grill, a chest freezer, a commercial mixer and a walk-in refrigerator. Johanna speculates that not a single piece of this equipment has ever had the luxury of housing so much as a sliver of lamb.

“I think they fear real protein,” she whines, enumerating the oft-repeated list of the exotic meats she enjoyed as a girl growing up in Northern Sweden. As always, as if for emphasis, or to subvert the cute and the Christmas-y, she ends her rant with, “…reindeer!” (Not true, but it was a similar beast, and I couldn’t resist the holiday reference).

I reach for her hand again as we watch Alex, Emily, and Antonio carry plastic-wrapped aluminum food bins from the rear of the house to the picnic benches under the tent. We can hear Antonio grumbling to his chefs de cuisine, “If you two don’t stop French-kissing when you’re supposed to be shucking corn, we’re going to be here all night.” He rockets a string of what must be the most marvelously obscene Spanish I’ve ever heard, yanking the plastic wrap from the food. This, it must be admitted, happened nightly, though I confess I was occasionally turned-on by their public displays of affection. I’m a voyeur. Johanna’s fully aware of this. Sue me.

Johanna’s hand, which hasn’t lost any of its oil from a day of rubbing people, squeezes mine. The aromas of something entirely vegetal float from the tent, infiltrate the breeze, and strike my wife with a leafy disappointment. She sighs the sigh of a woman who is having something green (again!) for dinner; who is living outside for a season in a Coleman Cimarron tent—a Coleman Cimarron amid sixty others in the Residents’ Camp. This is not necessarily what we had in mind when chanting the word “sanctuary!” on that swing-set back in Chicago.

The Residents’ Camp sits like a shantytown village on the opposite end of the property from Lady Wanda’s house. Unless the weather turns to rain, or becomes the California version of cold, it’s uncommon to see a male crewmember wearing a shirt in the Residents’ Camp. The few women who make up Lady Wanda’s crew have been known to forgo the occasional shirt as well. Johanna and I are probably the Camp’s most clothed crewmembers, though we do feast our eyes on the only meat—some more well-done than others—served here at Weckman.

For a shantytown, amenities abound. Or, if not amenities, an amenity. Lady Wanda has constructed a pair of shower sheds in the Camp, replete with hot water. They are a pot farm version of clean, which is to say, dirty, and, as I said, Johanna and I don our rubber sandals with enthusiasm. When we first arrived at Weckman Farm, one shed was for the boys, the other for the girls. As the season progressed, things became a bit more co-ed. The curtains are mercifully (again: depending on who you ask) opaque. I’m thinking of Charlie the Mechanic here.

“The world’s goin’ to shit,” Lady Wanda says to the crew after the workday, “but I run my generator on vegetable oil. Enjoy your showers!”

Lady Wanda is a self-proclaimed permaculturalist. I’m not sure that word exists east of the Continental Divide. Oh: Well. Pardon my presumptuousness—I just found out that the permaculture movement began in the 1970s in Australia. I mean, like, literally ten seconds ago. The word, in print, tends to keep company with the word synergy, and who am I to deprive it of its life partner? Anyhow: praise Wikipedia.

As such a permaculturist, she has, in Weckman Farm, attempted to create a self-sufficient mini-society that avoids dependence on the many amenities of industry. She sings the financial praises of her role as ecologically- inclined businesswoman. Her vegetable oil powered generator costs her forty cents per gallon.

For a first-time Picker, this self-sufficiency can carry with it the side-effects of claustrophobia and stench. Every crewmember who arrives by car is instructed to park in an open grassy lot on a spur road off the main gravel drag that leads to Weckman Farm. We have access to our vehicles only in cases of emergency. Often, I picture our reddish Kia Spectra, lying dormant, collecting the spoiled smells of our abandoned road snacks. I think we may have ditched a half-turkey salad sandwich beneath the front passenger seat, due to Johanna’s distaste for the celery brunoise suspended in it. At night, in the tent, I would often think of this sandwich, and bugs, and become anxious and unable to sleep. Look, I’m a suburban Chicago Jew at base. What can I tell you?

Lady Wanda collects lists of her crew’s favorite products. She then sends a team of faceless shoppers into the nearest small town (not very near) to gather these items. She labels the resulting paper bags with our names in black magic marker, so we can have access to our Vidal Sassoons, our AquaFreshes, and our SpeedSticks without ever having to leave the premises. If we must send out mail, Lady Wanda collects it and has another faceless messenger truck it to the local (not very local) post office every three days. She even pays our postage. This way, a Picker has very little to do but work; this contained, sustainable world a constant fluctuation between field, food tent, and the Residents’ Camp.

The Residents’ Camp faces Lady Wanda’s mansion as if at the opposing heads of a medieval table, we workers constantly facing the nighttime queenly stare of her lit upstairs windows—a royal and intimidating job interview. The atmosphere in the Camp is surprisingly courteous, many of the workers putting away their acoustic guitars, jimbe drums, and laptop stereos early into the night. After all, many of us are working longer hours than an investment banker.

Johanna and I walk from the pungent crops to the warm mouth of the food tent. The sun has nearly dipped out of sight, only its red scalp hanging on the horizon above the rows. The air is heavy and without definitive season. It can be January or June. It can only be California.