The difficulty with a great number of books that attempt to catalog or illuminate a given industry or segment of our society is that they often end up opening more threads than they close, so we read to learn or uncover and yet end up with a bigger reading list of equally interesting secondary sources. But Dave Madden’s The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy avoids this pitfall by selecting the subject of taxidermy, a practice with enough of a lifespan to tell an engaging story and yet such a tight cultural focus that it can be sutured completely (and entertainingly) in a single, well-written book.

“As a growing number of discerning young Americans opt out of gambling on fads and fashion, the currency of ‘authenticity’–and the connotations of history and experience that word carries–rises in value. Companies like Red Wing and Pendleton Woolen Mills have survived two world wars and the Great Depression, which speaks volumes about the quality and reliability of their products. There’s also some magical thinking afoot here: we want to believe not only that Carhartt knows what it’s doing after 120 years of of manufacturing work clothes, but also that by wearing their product we connect with some of that accrued wisdom and experience.”–Kurt B. Reighley, United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties & Handmade Bitters; A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement, p. 5

Inked

By Robin Antalek

Essay

Eighteen years ago on the way to the delivery room the feeling of not being able to stop what was about to happen suddenly overwhelmed me.  This baby that had been making me miserable for twenty-four hours had to come out and the passage of egress was not going to be a gentle one.  When my first daughter eventually emerged from her day long battle waged in the birth canal, cone shaped head and bruises on her face the size and shape of peach pits from the last ditch effort emergency forceps, a smudge of pink between the delicate fuzz of her brow that one of the nurses deemed an “angel’s kiss”, I was assured in a week, maybe less, her face would be healed and the trauma of her birth would leave no visible scars, only memories, where I would be able to chart the ghost marks on her face, badges of what she and I had endured in the moments before her birth.

Some people choose to write postcards primarily to their friends or family or significant others. Not me. I did the cursory correspondences to loved ones, but really, the person I was most keen to write to on my recent trip across the country was my general practitioner.

She’s looked after my health for my entire life.

When I was thrown into unfamiliar territory, it dawned on me that she probably knows me better than anyone else. She certainly, at any rate, knows more about my body than anyone else. The only other person that approximates that level of intimacy is my shrink, but, really, she just knows more than anyone else about what I think of myself.

Why not hang out that intimacy to air, I thought. And what better a place than here, with its meandering, awkward intimacies.

I admire insects; theyre always at it.

Dear Maura,

Here I am in L.A. There are oil rigs and palm trees and finally some relief from the rain.

I don’t think it’s probably worth the effort to adjust my sleeping patterns to Pacific Time, do you? I’ll just get up obscenely early and read my book. And remind myself every couple minutes not to eat this grapefruit.

I shouldn’t eat the grapefruit, should I?

Okay. I need to concentrate. More soon.

Meghan

 

Nothing like a road trip to accustom you to views of the road, the sky, and sundry parts of your body reflected in glass.

Dear Maura,

We’re off!

It takes some adjusting to, this total lack of overwhelming, verdant overgrowth to which one becomes accustomed in Connecticut. A friend of mine from the Pacific Northwest once said that it felt as if the Connecticut forests would consume you if you stayed still too long.

I, of course, pointed out that Rip Van Winkel was just fine. Sure, he was in the Catskills and not the Berkshires. And, sure, he spent the end of his days running around like a crazy man on the edge of civilization. But he was fine, right? Never consumed wholly by the woods.

So, the lack of green things has been a good reminder to stay well hydrated. I don’t think I’ve ever drank so much water in my life. You’d be so proud!

Meghan

 

The Brooklyn Bridge, now with Zumanity billboard!

Dear Maura,

It seems to me that when doing travel of this scope (being in the changing landscape for 3,000 miles and days on end), you get stuck in cycles, making comparisons to home.

This behavior was perhaps at its most silly today in Las Vegas.

Look! Here’s an obvious simulation of the Brooklyn Bridge. On a sidewalk.

Well – you’ll be happy to know that we showed Sin City a little of the Land of Steady Habits. We drank our water, we had six-inch Subway sandwiches, and we applied our 70 spf sunscreen. And then we hit the road (at the speed limit, of course).

Take that, LV!

Hope this finds you well,

Meghan

 

Possibly the best store security camera system ever.

Dear Maura,

We’ve been trying to eat healthfully on the road. It’s not always easy, particularly in the middle of Utah, as it turns out. But we’ve found that Subway has done a good job franchising out into the most remote nooks of the country. And they have more vegetables than any of our other options.

We came across this place, where the employees were keen to talk about what a hazard deer are to truckers. I felt a complicated mix of feelings here. First of all, you know how aesthetically stimulating I find taxidermy to be. (Remember that time I tried to get you to speculate about it during my yearly? – always orchestrating situations that I imagine will make good poems…) Then, there was the nervousness I suddenly felt about potentially hitting a deer in Michelle’s car. And also, I felt slightly queasy – I blame all the clashing fonts and fluorescent lights.

It can’t be good to eat under that much agitation, can it?

Digesting,

Meghan

 

Time stretches out in the shade of an arch.

Dear Maura,

Utah is gorgeous. We made good time yesterday and so we stopped today in Arches National Park. It was unrelentingly hot – the kind of hot that makes you lose track of your sense of time.

Lying with my back against the red rock in the shadow of one of the Window Arches, I started thinking about boredom. In German it’s langeweile – long time. I think it has kinder connotations than boredom. I can’t be sure about this, as I don’t speak German and no one knows the etymology of the English word, but it seems to me that the German has a way of accepting those instances when time slips into subjective experience.

As I was walking back to the car, I heard a couple from Florida (RV drivers) say, “It just makes you feel so small.” It could be that just as too much poetry can be dangerous (or at least Austen novels would have us believe), indulging too much in thoughts of scale can be too.

And so we’re off,

Meghan

 

I get itchy just looking at it.

Dear Maura,

We stopped off at the Sod House Museum somewhere in the Nebraska.

I’m concerned about chiggers.

That’s all,

Meghan

 

I want more information about Wedding Breakfast mustard.

Dear Maura,

I’m writing to you from the World Famous Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.

I’ve been thinking a lot of stories Aaron would tell me of his childhood in Kansas as we’ve traveled through the middle of the country. Here, I’m thinking of the mustard rubs he said his nurse grandmother would give him. Now, I can see the potential use of a mustard poultice being similar to Vicks VapoRub or something, but a mustard rub? Into the skin?

Surely that would hurt.

I wonder about the use of pain. Would the mustard burns distract you from your chest cold?

My chest is blushing just thinking about it.

Best,

Meghan

 

What you get for attempting symmetry.

Dear Maura,

I’m writing to you this morning from a hotel in Youngstown, Ohio, on what is, I hope, the last day of our cross country journey.

Could you please explain to me the phenomenon that occurs when the bedbugs you imagine you feel crawling on you outweighs your desire for sleep?

I promise I haven’t been using crack.

It’s just hotels – I can’t believe they’re clean and so my mind runs away with me and suddenly I’m covered in unstoppable bugs, my eyes saucer-wide and staring at the ceiling.

It will be good to be back. If, in fact, there were bedbugs, I will be seeing you soon.

All my best,

Meghan

Dad

By Zoe Brock

Memoir

Death.

It’s a curious thing.

I don’t mean to sound macabre but I’m feeling a bit philosophical and whimsical.

If it’s possible to feel whimsical about things of such a heavy nature.

I’ve had a fair bit of death in my life, and as time passes I’m able to look back on some of it and even giggle.

Of course, most of the time there isn’t very much that’s funny about death at all. Unless you’re reading the Darwin Awards.

Most of the time death is a vicious, sad, horrible and frighteningly inevitable part of life. which means, that on the odd occasion when something is funny about death, I have to seize it and run like a cheetah for all I’m worth.

Laughing in the face of fear is often the only weapon we have to combat it.

Sometimes I wonder if I have a sensitivity chip missing, or if I’m trying to protect myself with humor.

And I think, no, perhaps I’m just a little more twisted than even I give myself credit for.

And I think it’s genetic.

Brocky2


Throughout my life, and his, my old man would joke about how he wanted to be preserved upon his death, a death that occurred in a most untimely fashion a few short years ago in 2001.

He wanted to be stuffed.

Naked.

With an erection.

And used as a coat rack.

I could probably end this story right here but unfortunately there’s much, much more.

Obviously we, his devastated survivors, failed to comply with his wishes. Nor did we bother honoring his alternative desire, cremation, either. I’m not sure why we ended up burying him, but in retrospect I figure that once he was dead we thought he kind of gave up the right to having any involvement in the decision making process.

“Screw him!” We probably thought. “If he’s going to bugger off and die then he doesn’t bloody deserve to get cremated!” or something along those lines.

Revenge of the Living.

And so he’s buried in a beautiful little cemetery in a forest, surrounded by old gold miners and towering trees, with a bottle of Scottish malt and about seventeen joints to keep him occupied.

Seventeen is not nearly enough.

Brocky1

When my father died I needed to say goodbye in my own way.

I spent time with his body and held his cold hands. I stroked his beard and cried a lot. I spoke to him in whispers and wails. I begged and pleaded and asked him questions he’d never have answered in life, let alone death.

And then I painted his nails.

Silver glitter, if you must know.

For old times sake.

It was an overdue apology for asking him to refrain from decorating himself in this manner when I was small.

At the funeral I gave everybody a jar of gold stars to throw down upon him in lieu of Aotearoa’s cold and wintry earth.

We sent him off in a shower of golden rain from above. It was beautiful. And a bit kitsch. And I think he’d have hated it. But that wasn’t his prerogative either anymore, was it?

Dad left behind many a legacy, the least of which was a collection of plastic yogurt pots containing the cremated remains of our family pets.

All of them.

Three dogs and countless cats.

That’s right.

My dead pets are still lurking on a shelf in south central New Zealand.

Waiting for me.

When he was alive my Dad always wanted to find a good use for them, something artistic, something natural. He’d been mulling over the idea of breaking out the old kiln and firing up some pots so he could use the ashes to make glazes, but I was mortified at this suggestion and used my only-daughter routine to shut it down.

And so they sit there still.

And I have no idea what to do about it at all.

My somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards death comes from both sides of my family.

Several Christmases ago I was appalled to open a gift in front of my entire family and discover it was a beautifully wrapped box containing the ashes of my recently deceased companion of twenty years, Baby, my cat who had died while I was overseas traveling.

“Gee. Thanks Mum.” NOT.

For some reason every single family member had also decided to give me a token to memorialize her- a photo, a card, a bit of her hair.

It was quite possibly the most inappropriate and awful Christmas of my life, and I behaved accordingly. It sucked. The intentions were pure, the reaction… nyeh.

Baby’s around here somewhere too.

And I have no bloody idea what to do with her either.

When my grandmother Ainslee died several years ago her funeral service and it’s rather earnest, morose vibe was ruined completely when my cousin Guy took matters into his own hands with regards to the coffin.

As the pallbearers were sliding Ainslee’s boxed remains onto the rollers that gently glide coffins into waiting hearses, young Guy put his hands on the end of the box, yelled “Bye bye Nana!” and gave an almighty shove.

There was quite a racket.

It wasn’t pretty.

Guy proudly smacked his hands together, as if to clean them, and looked mighty pleased with himself. It was a job well done.

It’s hard to get back to concentrated mourning after a scene like that.

I think about death a lot, I guess.

For a few years I was depressed and wanted very much to die.
But not anymore.
Now I’m glad to be alive, and thankful.
But I still think about it and what it means and where we go and if I even care.
I don’t have any answers, and I barely have questions, but I do know this- it’s something I want to experience without fear.
I’d like to be cognizant through my own death, to accept it, to be at peace.

But I suppose that’s a lot to ask for.

I’d also like to be remembered with humor and honesty, much as my old man was at his wake.

“Jeez the old bugger was a bloody bastard.” Someone muttered into his tenth pint of beer. The very same someone who’d traveled halfway across the world to be present at that funny, forlorn little service in a pine forest in the middle of nowhere.

I smiled and sipped my own beer, nodding my head in agreement. It was true. He was a bloody bastard sometimes. But he was a bloody funny, honest, human, loving bastard too, and he was mine.

Wbandzb

Here’s to you daddy. I’m awfully sorry about the damn coat rack not panning out for you, but the neighbors would’ve had a fit, and honestly? I’d’ve had to have kept a blanket over your head to preserve my own sanity.

See you on the other side, and save a joint for me, if you can bear it?

Z


25 Comments »

Comment by Howard |Edit This
2006-09-20 03:42:06

Wow…I’m not sure why, but your image of you with your deceased father really moved me. I suppose in lieu of the no-relationship I had with mine. Somehow, seeing those so full of life, like yourself, stopping and having to deal is a hard image to watch.

And for the record…I’m glad you’re alive. I’m glad you’re here…bringing a bit of color to a world of gray walls.

Comment by st0ker |Edit This
2006-09-20 03:59:13

philosophical – check
whimsical – check

You forgot to mention humourous – Revenge of the Living is a nice one.

And also extremely touching

xoS

Comment by Jon Mahoney |Edit This
2006-09-20 04:14:38

Zoe,
Wow, you are quite the writer. I enjoy reading
what you write very much…striking.
I am 10minutes from DFW airport if you ever fly through

Comment by MTHIOTVOSB |Edit This
2006-09-20 04:29:30

I think Jon Mahoney wants to propose. – You know he’s right about the writer part but even more you are quite the daughter. Cheers! Oh wait! Scratch that!!! I’m sober and I’m out!

Comment by Goddess |Edit This
2006-09-20 06:29:02

Beautiful… found myself thinking a lot of my own dad when I read your piece… trying to imagine how I will deal, and how you did deal… very moving piece.

Loves.
kj

Comment by beau |Edit This
2006-09-20 07:03:34

Rip Dad.

Comment by Glenn |Edit This
2006-09-20 08:54:15

You are an amazing writer.

Comment by Trip |Edit This
2006-09-20 09:25:14

What a beautifully written memorial. Thank you very much for this. Your dad sounds like he was quite the character, I can see where you get your strength and humor! Thank you so much for sharing this, Zoe. Say hi to Owlie for me. -) Kudos!

Comment by Spencer |Edit This
2006-09-20 13:28:08

he didnt want to donate his penis for use in a penis transfer to some poor asian guy who had his cut off?

Comment by Todd Darling |Edit This
2006-09-20 13:33:59

Hey Zoe.

You know – I never met your father – but I’d bet my life he’d be proud of the beautiful person you are.

Todd

Comment by deborah jones |Edit This
2006-09-20 17:09:50

Yes, Todd, I was thinking that too

thankyou Zoe… your story gave me

a whiff of Warwick
welcoming to his home
Hey Deb he’d say,
swiveling on a stool
warm and brotherly

so much love between the two of you

Comment by Joshua |Edit This
2006-09-20 17:39:03

Well done, Zoe. I also lost my father in 2001, June 12 to be exact… right before Father’s Day. It’s a struggle at times. And it’s always the little things, like when I have trouble remembering what his voice sounds like, that make it particularly tough. Anyway, this piece really hits close to home for me. Thank you.

Comment by Becky |Edit This
2006-09-21 09:40:49

Shucks, Zoe.

I wish my dad wanted to be a stuffed-cock coatrack.

I think I’d just like to have my left hand stuffed…holding a cigarette…giving the finger.

It could be a door-knocker.

Big kiss for ya.

2006-09-21 09:43:18

Zoe:

Great work, once again. Also, in regards to the Darwin Awards, a friend of mine, Finn Taylor, just finished a film entitled the Darwin Awards. He took some of those death ideas, melded them together, and came up with an interesting story line.

Hope all’s well…

Comment by 1159 |Edit This
2006-09-21 10:11:46

Dangit Zoe, I wanted to be the first to write about death and existential longing and you went and did it all good too.
Snif.
Your best yet.

Comment by solar |Edit This
2006-09-21 10:12:36

zoita, what would i give to see the two of you in action as your ridiculous selves? well…i’ll wait patiently. and like you, enter into my own death, fearless, with my eyes wide open.

i’m so glad you’re still here.
my love.

2006-09-21 11:17:20

Nicely done. I agree–that picture of the two of you is very touching.

Comment by meg |Edit This
2006-09-21 11:59:15

Crying at work? Not a good idea…

You know how sometimes you worry that no one will ever know how you feel, ever know what the point is?

I don’t even know you and you got it. You pinned it down in an armload of sentences and…thanks.

Comment by Ernie |Edit This
2006-09-21 15:52:17

Wow, Zoe. Very impressive. You always make me laugh or at the very least; feel “something” and you out did yourself with this one.
Best wishes as always.
Speechless, again.

Comment by Anonymous |Edit This
2006-09-21 16:47:39

Baby girl, this was breathtaking. I adore you.

Comment by Lara |Edit This
2006-09-22 09:16:40

Hi Zoe – I gasped at the photograph of your father in the woods. I can’t explain why, but there is something hauntingly beautiful about it within the context of this lovely written remembrance of him.

2006-09-22 16:01:47

You painted your dad’s nails? You are awesome.

Comment by Maureen |Edit This
2006-09-25 13:32:23

Zoe,

First of all I LOVE your name, and I used to use the name Zoe as a moniker when I did a job where anonymity was important.

Yours is the first post I read on this website, and I loved it. I too have had quite an “obsession” with death, feelings ranging from fearing death, wanting death, glamorizing death, accepting death, then realizing I hadn’t accepted the idea of death. But mostly I think death can be really really funny. I love your dad’s idea of a coatrack )

Comment by Angie |Edit This
2006-10-30 07:45:46

This was very beautiful.