Tea tree oil to treat infection in impacted wisdom teeth until a dentist can be seen- a fable

Today was busy, and devoid of nature, and I ate several random, stupid things, and now as I sit at the end of it with my healthy, well-balanced dinner, I have a cautionary tale for you.

Allopathic doctors do not have your best interests in mind.

They are a product of the pharmaceutical industry and they do not care about you. They think you are stupid, and that you have no original thoughts, and that you are incapable of critical thinking. They do not trust you to take care of your own body. I do not trust them, and so it is a mutual trustlessness. We circle each other, the doctor with her big red dusty book, and me in my paper dress. I want to claw them like a feral, cornered cat, when they will not give me the exact drug that my naturopath recommended (but cannot prescribe), when they tell me that something new and abnormal “Is just part of my anatomy”, when they constantly interrupt me and roll their eyes and then charge me hundreds of dollars. I want to yowl and claw them and tear their eyes out and then run away and hide in the woods where I am safe and no-one can ever find me. I’ll start a militia with the Barefoot bandit and we’ll live off huckleberries and make clothes out of cedar. We’ll grow our own herbs and stage raids on hospitals for medical supplies and set up clandestine clinics where treatment is free. We’ll write catchy songs with anti-pharmaceutical industry lyrics and spread our propaganda on the internet until everyone is free, and then we’ll break the internet.

I saw the dentist today. My left bottom wisdom tooth has been impacted for about a hundred years, and yesterday it finally decided to become infected. This is amazing because as of three weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I have health insurance, on account of starting school. So today I called the dental clinic and they gave me an appointment right away, so that I could be seen before the infection spread to my neck and suffocated me. So I rushed through breakfast (fried eggs and corn tortillas rolled into tacos, dripping yolk all over my fingers) and biked to school as fast as I could. In the dentist’s office the assistant put a lead apron on me and x-rayed my head and made me bite on pieces of sharp plastic and then left me in the chair, looking out the nice window at the nice tree with its nice leaves turning orange-ish. The dentist came clacking in her heels and smiled gently at me while she washed her hands. She had a soft thin face and her jewelry glimmered modestly. She stuck her metal scraper in my mouth and tapped at each one of my precious, steadfast teeth.

“There are so many cavities.” She said. “You have cavities all around your fillings and bigger cavities on the other side where you don’t have fillings. We can go ahead and set up a treatment plan to get all of these cavities filled.”

There was a picture of a tree on the ceiling. This is why my university is called “the greenest university”, I thought. Because, in the dentist’s office, there is a picture of a tree on the ceiling.

“No,” I said. “I just want to get the wisdom tooth out.” Then I told her that in January, when I have money, I plan on paying someone almost all of it to remove the amalgam fillings that I already have.

Her dainty metal pick stopped in mid-air.

“Why would you want to do that?” she asked.

“Because,” I said, “exposure to mercury, even in small amounts, contributes to long-term chronic digestive problems, and I have long-term chronic digestive problems, and the number one source of mercury exposure is amalgam fillings, which begin to wear slightly as they age.”

Her mouth scrunched up, wrinkling her pale lipstick, as if she had smelled something bad. Fear crept through me as I realized that I had broken one of the most ancient taboos of western medicine- Thou shalt not challenge thy medical professional.

“Then, after that, I’m going to get composite fillings,” I said. “the white ones. That don’t have metal.”

“Well,” she said, as she set down her pick. “as long as you’re well informed of the drawbacks to those fillings…”

“I know that they don’t last as long,” I said. “I know that having your mercury fillings removed can expose you to more mercury than if you just left them in, if you don’t go to a dentist who specializes in that sort of thing. I’ve done lots of research.”

The dentist grimaced, but just barely. I was obviously insane, ranting about nothing. Another lunatic who thinks they know something, just because they read it on the internet, or heard it from lots of other people who had the same experience, when everyone knows that all fact about the human body comes shooting people full of chemicals in giant, pharmaceutical-backed clinical studies. The dentist frowned absurdly and returned the pick to my mouth. She was no longer cheerily ushering me into the land of oral health. She was enduring.

After confirming that my mouth was riddled with cavities, the dentist handed me an antibiotic prescription for the inflammation in my wisdom tooth.

“This will help with the pain until your extraction.” she said.

“I don’t think I’ll take that.” I said. “The extraction is on Saturday, I think I can make it three days without needing an antibiotic.”

The dentist set her jaw and looked at me strangely.

“Infection in lower wisdom teeth can spread very rapidly.” She said gently. “Infection can enlarge the glands and interfere with swallowing and, ultimately, breathing.” The dentist swung the tray away and removed my paper bib. I thought of the time, two and half years ago, when my other lower wisdom tooth had become infected. At the time I was living in a yurt on the Olympic peninsula and I had no money. The tooth was swollen and painful, I could barely chew, and when I squeezed the gum, yellow puss came out. I mixed a few drops of tea tree oil in a glass of water, on advice from Allie, my land-mate, who’d done it once on a bike trip, and gargled with the mixture twice a day. The puss disappeared, and then the swelling and the pain. I kept the infection entirely at bay for six months, until I finally had the money to see a dentist.

I didn’t tell the dentist this.

The rest of the day was unremarkable. I hadn’t packed a lunch and so ate underwhelming, expensive foods from around my school- a weird food bar that was made from oats and raisins mashed up, bland sushi, beans and rice with an anti-climactic scoop of guacamole. When I finally got home at eight I made dinner, green beans sautéed in bacon fat (YUM) and pinto beans and risotto rice, and I made up a tea-tree mixture, and I swished it around in my mouth. Now it is night and cold and I am going to make a fire in my woodstove, again, from the pile of scrap wood outside my cottage, and then I am going to sit next to it, and listen to it crackle. And while I sit there I am going to think of people, of humans, of how wonderful and smart and clever and good we are. And I am going to think about all of the knowledge that we have, knowledge that goes back thousands and thousands of years. And it is knowledge that is written down and passed down from one person to the next but it is also knowledge that is inside of us, that we have with us always, that is stronger than anything. And if there is one thing that we can trust, it should be that.

My child army vs. all the soggy vomit cartons of the world

It’s eleven at night and the sun is just setting. Some nameless forest bird is chirping, and the newly born insects are batting at the window-screen. It was seventy-five degrees today, like instant summer, no time for foreplay when you’ve only got twelve frost-free weeks. I wanted to do so many things when I got off work today- I wanted to feel alive and present and go for a walk down by the river where I haven’t been. But instead I just sank onto the couch and watched Clueless and missed my portland friends, pulling the gauzy curtains closed against the warm yellow sun. I may be in the land of plenty, in a village so small there aren’t even any cops, just one state tropper that services fifty miles of highway, and the air may be so clear it’s like breathing the brightest morning of your life, all day long, but that doesn’t mean I can’t sink into a self-destructive downward-spiral of processed foods and mass media. This is america, after all. And I’m not even going into nature on the weekends, these days. It’s the land of ice-cream and cable for me, seven days a week until this month is over, flourescent lighting and small children with freckled noses and learning disabilities who like to hold my hand and tell me about the bible.

I work in the little school here, k-12. I’m the special ed aide. Well, technically the SUB aide, since the principal is too much of a dick to hire me for real, even though I’m there till the end of the year and I’m not subbing for anyone but myself. If you looked up DOUCHE-BAG in the encyclopedia brittanica, there would be a picture of this principal. I had no idea principals could be such soggy vomit-cartons. (I’m trying to think of alternatives to “douche bag”, my favorite insult.) I mean, I knew they were shitty when you were a little kid, but that was their job. I had no idea they were like that to adults, too! I mean, can’t they contain that shit, and just use it on command? It’s like having a rooster to protect the hen house and then having it beat up all the hens. I mean, what is even the point?

Anyway, this guy is a real winner. We’ll call him Mr. Doink, which is actually really close to his real name. In fact, his real name is even stupider. Mr. Doink wears a stupid wool hat with a leather band around it like he’s always going on safari. And he looks like this real nice, avuncular sort of fellow, like if he were your grandpa he’d show you cool rocks and then pretend to turn your nose into his thumb. But he’s NOT. It’s hard to explain his evilness, because it’s such a subtle, sinister sort of evil.

First thing you notice, is that he’ll never give you a straight answer for anything. If you were to ask him where the gym was, he’d tell you it was in the library. If you asked him for the code for the copier, he’d give you the wrong one. And he’d do these things when you were in a hurry, when you really needed the code for the copier, or when you were brand new and really needed to know where the gym was. And then he’d just walk away.

And he does these pranks ALL THE TIME. In fact, he never does ANYTHING ELSE. He’s absolutely USELESS. You can’t ask him for anything. And if he’s around when you’re doing something, he’ll MEDDLE and find some way to MAKE IT HARDER.

But not only that, he’s also an incompentant prick.

He has a math class that he doesn’t teach. He just sits at the desk with his legs propped up and plays internet solitaire, or something. He assigns a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, and the students are all expected to learn FROM THE FUCKING BOOK. MATH. FROM THE FUCKING BOOK.

Even I couldn’t do that in highschool, and I was really good at math!

Oh, but that’s not all. He also gets mad and yells at students when they aren’t able to just figure it all out themselves. One of the special needs kids, this heartbreakingly wonderful teenage boy named Micky who I work with sometimes, was asking Mr. Doink one day, IN HIS CLASS, for clarification on a chapter in the book. Mr. Doink kept interrupting Micky (that’s his other favorite thing to do, interrupt) and wouldn’t let him get his question out. It went like this-

Micky- I have a question about the-

Mr. Doink- Did you read the chapter?

Mickey- Yeah but I have a question about the-

Mr. Doink- DID you READ the CHAPTER??!

Mickey- Yeah but-

Mr. Doink, slamming finger into book- I said, DID you READ THE CHAPTER?

Mickey- But-

(and this next part is absolutely 100% true-)

Mr. Doink- What, are you some kind of RETARD?!

That’s right. He said, no SHOUTED, the word retard. In front of not only Micky, who gets help from the special ed teacher for his math, but the special ed teacher herself, my coworker Debbie.

What a rotten plastic baggie of forgotten dogshit.

He also likes to miss meetings, and then blame the other teachers for not reminding him, or reminding him too early or too late, or reminding him the way he wanted to be reminded the week before. I get to hear all about it from Debbie, while we’re in the special ed room, she goes on and on and on about it because she has no other way to deal but vent, she’s got only two more years left till retirement and he picks on her in particular, knows she’s got a lot to lose and is terrified of confrontation.

That’s the way it always works.

So I’m a total dick to him so far. I walk away when he talks to me, refuse to laugh at his “jokes”, and so he’s courteous to me, in that insincere overboard flattery way. But it might also be because he knows I hate his guts and hope he trips over a blackboard eraser and impales himself on a newly sharpened pencil. I want to beat him over the head with an outdated set of encyclopedias. And the worst part is, there’s nothing you can DO. It’s your word against his, and he’s the principal, so I guess he’s more believable. One of the teachers has even gone so far as to carry a tape recorder to record every conversation she has with him, so she can send it to her lawyer later, when Mr. Doink denies her tenure for no good reason.

I dare him to fuck with me. I DARE him. God I wish he would! If you’ve worked in a school before, dear reader, and have any advice for me on how to deal with situations like this, I would very much appreciate it. What can I do?! What?

But the good! There is so much good in working in this school. Mr. Doink is the very worst of it, everything else is shiny red apples and little girls with ADD who tell you they love you and hold your hand, and dimple-faced brothers with freckles on their noses who wear military fatigues to school and although you’ve heard that they’ve gotten in trouble for stockpiling guns in the woods and driving their ATVs in front of the school bus, respectively, you can’t help but love they way they look so earnestly into your eyes and tell you , fumblingly, about the dinosaurs, even if they are just trying to convince you of the creationist theory. They may have dark circles under their eyes and they may only ever eat top ramen for lunch, but they aren’t monsters, not yet. They’re percect little children with factory-new parts who live in a tiny alaskan village and push each other off the playground equipment, at least the ones who can focus long enough to get up on the playground equipment at all.

And then there’s Kendra, who’s like a normal teenage girl trapped in the body of a teenage girl who was beaten by her dad as a baby, giving her brain damage that makes her monosyllabic and painfully shy, and nearly incapable of learning even the most basic of math. She loves basketball tho, and she’s way better than I am. And she likes animals, and she can read, and we read young adult novels together about runaway bears and hotels for dogs, even though it’s hard for her to understand past and future tense or very many of the social situations in the books. And she had a pug but her mom took it away to go live with her dad, and at some point she might go too, to live with her dad in Oklahoma, even though he’s the reason for everything, because the world is just that fucked up. And right now she lives with her mom and her sister and brother in the apartment of the elementary teacher, Miss Slappy, all of them crammed together, because in a village like this everyone takes in stray children and kids go round and round until they find somebody that’s willing to be responsible for their care and feeding.

I want to take them all. I want to take them to the woods and raise them there. And they would never have to eat ramen noodles from the microwave, not ever ever again. And if their brain was broken and they couldn’t do math, so be it. And if their brain was broken and they couldn’t follow things with their eyes or catch a ball you threw at them, so be it. Who the fuck cares? They are precious little people and I would give them wooden toys that were mimics of everything they would need to live, and they could play on the dirt floor of our cabin, and I would read them stories by the light of the oil-lamp until they believed in magic, because that is all that matters. And we would all eat salmon and caribou and live off the royalties of my first book.

Or something.

It’s midnight now. Earlier, when I was slouched on the couch in my TV coma watching some bullshit about why Heidi Klum has such nice skin, the kids of the village were ripping around on their four-wheelers in the manic spring sunshine, leaving paper cups of tootsie rolls on everyone’s doorstep and shouting “Happy mayday!”. I’m not sure what they think mayday means, or if their parents just got drunk and thought it was a good way to use up leftover economy size bags of tootsie-rolls from walmart. One of them rang the doorbell, a little brown girl in a pink shirt who might be going to a foster home because her mother’s a crack addict and there might not be a crevice in the village left to hold her. I wanted to run out after her but I was wearing my flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt without a bra with all my crazy artsy tattoos hanging out that no-one at the school even knows I have. So I stayed there slumped, and then when she left I went and fished a straberry tootsie roll out of the paper cup of candy and sat down o the couch, and swear to got it tasted like the first ten years of my life.

Oh and remind me to tell you why this village even exists. It’s basically because there’s a military base here. And… that’s pretty much it. The town is so small, it doesn’t even have a store. The library is the school library, and the post office is in a trailer. There are like two streets, not that I walk down them. The sky is a big beautiful dome, and the forest is mucky spruce-bog. And right now the snow just melted, like four days ago, so even though it’s really warm everything is brown and dead, like it’s been smothered under cardboard for nine months.

I love Alaska.

Blogs about my job last summer that I deleted after my boss found them

Last summer, when I first started this blog, I was working as a cook in the woods. I used my new blog as a way to vent my frustration about work and to rip on my “manager”, who then found my blog, which at that time was maybe read by four people, but that’s just the way this universe works in this day and age. So I left my job (I had already given notice) and deleted those posts, but now I’m putting them back up- enough time has passed, I think, and plus I need to feed you readers something while I work on my manuscript/stare out the window/read A Cartoon History of the Modern World.

August second. Dear diary…

I can’t hardly write

-because I work too goddam much. Working full time for minimum wage is like bailing water out of a leaky ship. Work, work, work- but for what? It’s not just work, either. It’s really, REALLY stressful work. So stressful, I can’t remember the last time I dreamed about something other than work- being at work or going to work or needing to be at work. So stressful, a 40 hour week feels like an 80 hour week. And I am SICK of this non-profit self-sacrifice bullshit. I am NOT going to make anymore gluten-free birthday cakes for ungrateful, self-centered backpackers on yoga retreats. Do you know how much it fucking costs in the city to buy a giant gluten free chocolate cake that was hand-made for you? Enjoy your $12 dinner. I make $7 an hour. It makes me want to punch you in the face.

And then there is my “manager”, of course. But we won’t even go there. I’ve gone there and gone there, and now I want to be anywhere but there.

So today I gave my notice. And I’m so excited to leave, I’m wondering how I will make it through another 2 weeks of this drudgery. I am so excited to find a caretaking gig, and do what I finally want to do- write. All I want to do is write. Dear god.

And if any of you wants my job, let me know. You’ll be cooking dinners for 40 to 70 people all by your lonesome, interrupted only by the occasional presence of your mumbling, senile “manager” who will passive-aggressively try and find some way to sneak white flour or heavy cream into whatever you are cooking, and then “help you” by reorganizing the fridge or baking a cake, making as big a mess as POSSIBLE for you to clean up later.

It will make you want to shoot yourself in the face, but not for at least a few weeks.

At least you get to live in the woods, but really you live in the kitchen, which is actually pretty nice for a kitchen.

And don’t think that you can plan your own menu, oh no, no matter how “hip” and “allergy friendly” the things you know how to cook might be. Any menu suggestions you make will be met with suspicion and resentment, especially if they include “out there” foods like “beans” and “whole wheat flour” (I’m not joking.) But it’s ok, because to level the playing field you react to your manager’s “white flour and dairy” meal suggestions with the same resentment and suspicion, and it creates a stimulating and hostile work environment, which can keep you awake and going just like a nice punk-rock album turned up loud.

After work, work will still be there, inside your head, running round and round and round.

Oh, it’s not that bad. Even with all of that, AND the fact that I keep eating sugar because I spend all day in the kitchen with it, which gives me hella moodswings, I’ve actually been pretty happy. I sleep great and I wander around in the woods and my life is simple. And conflict can be invigorating, especially if you are up for the challenge. Today we had a meeting and I told my “manager” all of the reasons that I was leaving, straight up and in a long list, which I had been repeating over and over to myself in my head, every day while I worked. She got defensive and we argued for a while, and then she told me that there was no use arguing with me once I set my mind to something and that I was the most straight-forward and self-confident person she had ever met. It felt good, to hear that from her, it was like the best validation anyone could possibly give me.

So that’s what I’m taking from this. Nothing makes me feel better than saying NO to something, to shaking off something and moving on to something better. I’m getting there, I swear. I’m on my way.

August eighth. Dear diary…

She was talking to Christian, who we call “Mr. Clean”. The man she had brought up. It’s strange to bring people into the woods, onto the ship. We’re like a ship in the middle of the sea- a few buildings and nothing but forest all around. You can swim out a little ways but it’s just forest, forest, forest, as far as the eye can see. But really it’s more like a big lake. One of those big lakes in the Midwest, where I’ve never been. A lake so big it seems like the ocean. An inland sea.

Unless you look at a map. Then it’s just the tiniest splat of green, somewhat randomly defined, standing tall against the crush of civilization. The crush from all sides. We’re so small, and so big, all at the same time.

They were sitting at one of the wooden tables in the lodge and I walked up and said

“Hey, R., is there a reason you don’t buy organic carrots?” I had some in my hand. They looked like I’d just pulled them from a dumpster. That’s what happens to produce when you get stuck in traffic on a hot day.

“Well, um…” R. gave me some garbled sentence in her language, which consists of various combinations of the phrases “I don’t know”, “well you see”, “the thing is”, and “you know”. It’s like her baking. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Alchemy. Powder and convection. Do refined foods lead to bad communication?

“Because,” I said, “organic carrots cost a dollar a pound. There’s no reason not to buy organic carrots. I know we can afford that.”

“You’d be surprised,” she said. “There are a lot of things we get that are organic, from Costco.”

“Like what?” I said.

“Well, I’m pretty sure they have organic things there. Like zuchinni!”

“They carry those things? Or you actually buy them?”

“They definitely carry them. You’d be surprised.”

“But do you get any produce that’s organic?”

“Well, not at Winco. They don’t have much there.”

“Ok, but can you get organic carrots from now on? They cost one dollar a pound.”

“That’s why I do. I mean I did.”

“These carrots are organic?” I held up the carrots. “The ones in the paper bag?”

“Well, not from winco. But there are more that I got, I’m pretty sure they’re organic.”

“Ok, uh, can you get organic carrots from now on?”

“I did! I mean I do!”

I walked away. It was a good effort on my part. She’d be so embarrassed now, that I made her talk in front of her man-friend that was visiting. She’d never buy conventional carrots again. Until she forgot entirely.
The day before she’d come back from shopping, and I had seen a paper trader joe’s bag on the front seat of the land cruiser. It was full of gluten-free brownie mixes, each one in it’s own understated brown paper package. I looked at the label. One mix, twelve brownies.

R. and Sarah were talking on the back porch, in the sun.

I walked up from the store-room. “Hey R.,” I said. “How much did those brownie mixes cost?”

She shrugged. “Two-fifty, three dollars each. Cheap!”

“You know,” I said, “It’s really, really easy to make gluten-free brownies. You just take any brownie recipe, and you replace the wheat flour with a gluten-free flour, like rice flour.”

“I LIKE having those around!” she cried, offended. “I LIKE having them! I’m GLAD I bought them!”

“The way you shop doesn’t make any sense!” I shouted. Sarah watched us both, shocked. “NONE of our staples are even organic! You buy the shittiest staples you can POSSIBLY find! And then you spend thirty dollars on packages of brownie mix at trader joe’s! This is a RESTAURANT! You can’t shop like that!”

“I like those mixes!” she cried, in her high-pitched, child-like voice. “I LIKE having them around! Those are good brownies!”

I held up the liquid-measure of rice-flour I had been carrying for effect. Eight cups.

“See this?!” I shouted. “Rice flour. I’m going to make brownies for dessert tonight, but I’m going to make them GLUTEN FREE. It’s THAT EASY.”

“I LIKE the brownie mixes!” said R. “Your brownies are good, but these are chewier!”

“Your shopping doesn’t make sense!” I shouted. We’d never fought quite like this before. Gloves off. “We could have organic staples! I don’t understand the way you shop! We could have organic flour, at least!”

It had reached a line. And then it crossed the line.

“THERE IS NO WE.” shouted R., furious. “I don’t care what you think. It DOESN’T MATTER. YOU’RE LEAVING US.”

“WHAT?” I shouted, stunned. “You talk about not being condescending, but you just invalidated any contribution I’ve made to this place!”

“No,” Said R, stumbling. “No- um, no I did not!”

“Yes you did! You just said ‘there’s no we’! You want me to leave? I can leave today! I still work here, you know! You don’t think I contribute? I CAN LEAVE TODAY!”

It was a lie. I had nowhere to go. I’d have to pack first, anyway. Load my books into my thirty-year-old dinghy and paddle out into the ocean. Until I could see the horizon again, where I didn’t even have a home. This was like a bad relationship. This was like the dysfunctional family I never had.

I left the porch for the kitchen, sliding the door shut behind me. Rebecca and Sarah went back to their meeting. The kitchen meeting they were having, without me. Because I had given my two weeks’ notice. Not that I could talk to Rebecca anyway, about anything, without getting angry. There was no point in us even talking to each other.

I was so upset I couldn’t stand it. I’d never been this upset at a job before, at least not for as long as I could remember. Then again, I don’t work very much. Maybe that’s my problem.

R. told me once that I had a “problem with authority”. My problem was that I thought she was a fucking idiot. It made me want to punch myself in the face, because she was also old. But then I realized that she’d probably been an idiot even before she was old, and hating her guts didn’t make me an asshole. But it was still kind of fucked up, since she was old. You’re supposed to be respectful to old people, because they have wisdom. Even if they’re kind of senile. You’re supposed to listen hard and try to meet them halfway. But I wanted to scream at R. and tell her that I hated her. I wanted to tell her that she was a horrible manager and that I hoped they didn’t find anyone to replace me, because only people with bad boundaries and low self-esteem would put up with her shit. I wanted to tell her all of those things, while waving a wooden spoon and shaking her “make a mix” cookbook, which she made me use and which called for crisco in every single recipe. That was why I was quitting.

I started mixing the cocoa in the bowl. Mix, mix, mix. Big steel bowl, wooden spoon. Cocoa dust on the front of my teal apron. “You look so beautiful,” Sarah had said earlier, on the back deck. “You match the roof”. The roof of the lodge was teal. Sarah was always saying nice things like that. She gave away her emotions so freely, like pieces of chocolate. It made everyone happier. She was always telling people that they were beautiful and that she loved them. It made me feel really great, to work with her in the kitchen. Sometimes we conspired.

“What if…”

“It was just me and you…”

“Running this kitchen…”

“And two other people like us…”

But I knew it would never be like that. She didn’t really want mutiny like I did. She and R. actually got along pretty well. They had a sort of weird mother-daughter relationship that had started in the spring when it was just the two of them working long hours and not getting paid, and it worked well enough alright for them. Plus, Sarah had something that I didn’t, which was Respect For R.’s Cooking. Or respect in general, for R. She’d watch patiently as R. wagged her fingers in the air and sucked her cheeks like she was eating a jolly-rancher, conjuring up some French dish she would mis-pronounce and have her way with, ending up with a stock-pot of tomato soup from a number-ten can of tomato paste, in the bottom of which rested some orzo pasta. Plenty of seasonings, of course. Garlic and onions. A symbolic cube of eggplant. She’d call it “ratatouille” and serve it with breadsticks made from the pizza dough recipe- a complete meal! Orzo was like an exotic grain for her. Like people who think cous-cous is a grain. An exotic grain.

“It’s not a grain!” I want to scream at those people. “It’s just pasta! It’s just wheat flour, in cous-cous shapes! IT’S BREAD, PEOPLE! IT’S FUCKING BREAD! ALL YOU’RE EATING IS BREAD!”

That was the way I felt about the “vegetarian” cooking at the lodge. “PIZZA, PASTA, LASAGNA, SPINACH PIE, ALL YOU’RE EATING IS FUCKING BREAD!”

I stirred the cocoa madly. I was so upset I couldn’t even stand it. I threw in the saucepan of melted butter and the baking soda. How could R. tell me that I wasn’t part of the kitchen anymore? I hadn’t left yet! And I had put my heart and soul into this place just as much as anyone else! And why the fuck was I working at all, if I wasn’t even part of the team? Why was I even making these fucking brownies?

R. came in and asked if there were any boiled eggs. Sarah said no.

“Carrot, boil some eggs.” she said.

“I don’t know why you’re talking to me,” I shouted, walking into the dishroom. “I don’t work here.”

“Huh? You quitting today?”

“It’s funny that you would ask me to boil some eggs. You said I don’t contribute anything. You said I’m not part of the team.”

“Just boil some eggs, Carrot!”

“There’s no WE, REMEMBER?”

“Alright! You contribute a lot! You do great work! You make excellent food!”

“Ok,” I said. “I’ll boil some eggs.” R. wandered out again. We couldn’t stand to be in the kitchen at the same time anymore. I boiled the eggs and put the brownies in the oven, eating some batter off a spoon. A big helping of sugar, as if my mood wasn’t bad enough already.

In a while I took the brownies out of the oven. I cut out a brownie. It wouldn’t hold together.

“Well,” I said, “I guess rice flour doesn’t work for these brownies.” I put down the knife. Sarah was chopping onions. I went into the dishroom to do dishes. The hot soapy water began to calm me. The rhythmic wiping pushed back the storm clouds in my head. R. faded away, and it was only me. There I was, on a stage. My life. A play that made me grimace. Why, I wondered, was I always quitting? Quitting everything? Why wasn’t anything ever good enough? Why was there always some reason to leave, to quit? What was wrong with me? Was there something wrong with me? Why couldn’t I stick with something for just six months? One job for six months? It could be so easy! Would I always be this restless? Would I always fail at everything? Would I always give up before I got someplace? Would I always be a scumbag loser failure with nothing to show for myself? Why was I the biggest fuckup in the world? Why couldn’t I just deal with one mean, senile old lady? Am I so pathetic that I can’t even deal with one mean old lady?

“You just want things to be right,” Sarah had said. “You want things to be right.”

I started crying into the dishes. I didn’t even care anymore. It’s so hard to live where you work. I had tried so hard to keep my work and personal life separate. I just wanted to leave work and go “home” and not talk or think about work. But “home” was work and it was like R. was my mom and I was trying to reason with her but she was crazy, and nothing she said made any sense and I had to keep reminding myself that she was the one that was crazy. And then she had gone and told me that I wasn’t part of the “team”, even though I worked all the time and everyone loved my food, because she was not only senile but nasty and spiteful too, and felt threatened by me because I hated her cooking and thought she was stupid. And why was I always the one who had the biggest problems with these sorts of people? Why was I always the one who rocked the boat, and then quit? Why was I such a quitter? What the fuck was wrong with me?

I cried into the dishes for a while. It felt nice, like crying in the shower. Or peeing in the ocean. Later, after dinner, I sat on the front steps, watching the light in the trees. Megan talked about getting out, how good it was to get out. She was going to a wedding.

“Do you ever feel like you want to quit?” I asked her. “Like you won’t make it to November?”

“No,” she said. “Maybe, sometimes.”

The kids inside where shitting themselves over my brownies. One of the kids came outside and asked me for the recipe.

“Those are the best brownies I’ve ever had,” he said, clutching and unclutching his little fists, amped up on sugar.

“They’re gluten free,” I said. He didn’t know what that meant. I dug up a piece of paper to make a copy from the dirty binder where we kept the recipes.

“I have a mechanical pencil,” he said, “if you need something to write with.” I took the pencil from him. “See, I already pushed it out for you.”

He stood patiently while I copied the recipe. I wondered if he was going to give it to his mom, or what. Who would make these brownies for him? Would they let him eat the whole pan? Maybe his parents didn’t cook at all. Then again, he was here on Audubon summer camp. His parents must be loaded. Did anyone cook anymore? I looked at him waiting, with his name-tag necklace made from a slice of alder. The kids had all built debris shelters in the woods today, across the creek. They were learning wilderness survival. They were going to sleep in the shelters tonight. Sounds good, I thought, except for the mosquitoes. I gave him the recipe and went back to the front steps. Everyone had left, to work or whatever. All the jobs in camp were more fun than being a cook. But that’s what you get when you’re a flake, and don’t apply till may. The only job that’s left. But so what if I’m a quitter, I thought, as I watched the shadows grow under the hemlocks- so fucking what. And suddenly I was so happy to be me, and not R, or Sarah, or one of the kids. Because wherever it was I was going, I knew that that place was exciting. And maybe I wasn’t there yet, and maybe I would never get there, and maybe I would die in a car accident or get some chronic illness or something. But at least my train was moving, and I was the one doing the driving. And that, I realized, was more important to me than anything.

Handsome Homosexual Needs a Ride West

On a random day in December, this ad somehow found its way onto the craigslist rideshare board of a major city-

Handsome Homosexual Needs a Ride West

Hey- I’m an attractive gay man in my thirties and I’m looking for a ride west, preferably with another gay man. I like to have fun when I travel, and I’m hoping that you’re into that too. What sorts of things do you like? Send me an email with a description of yourself and what you’re into, and let’s see if it clicks. 😉

Oh, and truckers- I’ll sleep on the top bunk, but I prefer the bottom 😉


And then this one popped up soon after, on the man-for-man “casual encounters” part of the site-

I got your milk and cookies, Santa!

Hey fellas- I’m an attractive gay man, mid-thirties, in town for the week (family, Christmas, you know!) I’ve been sitting here in my lush hotel room, thinking about how much I’d like to take it from a group of guys tonight. Are you that group of guys? And if there’s only one of you, can you bang me so hard I see double?
I like to be topped. If nothing else, please send a photo and tell me just how you’d like to top me. It’ll make my day so much brighter.
I miss sunny Arizona! It’s so dreary here!

Ho ho ho,

And then many more popped up, on craigslist boards coast to coast, seemingly independent of each other. Some were a little wilder than others, but they all carried the same message and had the same, charming photo- a tanned man in his late thirties, reclining on the railing of a sun-drenched speedboat, a bit of land in the distance. And an email address, of course.

In the end, it was actually a lot of fun to make up ads posing as poor Bryan. And for all I know, he actually is into guys, and I was doing him a huge favor. At worst, he’d get a dose of his own medicine, and back off on trying to pick up girls on the rideshare board- which seems to me like asking for blowjobs at the supermarket just because someone made a movie about it once, when the adult video store is right next door. At best, maybe he’d meet the man of his dreams, and they could drive off into the sunset together, hand in hand. What a great story they’d have, someday, to tell their dogs! The time I tried to get unsuspecting strangers to have sex with me in my car but ended up meeting the man of my dreams instead. How romantic!

My Christmas gift to him. Tis the season.

I finished my library time and left the library in Casa Grande feeling peaceful and satisfied. I was now twelve miles from the highway, in the middle of the Arizona desert, with no way to get home, but it didn’t phase me in the least. I was, it seemed, acquiring a sort of super-human power on this trip- the ability to just not give a fuck. Enlightenment? I thought, as I tossed my pack behind the toolshed of a vacant house up for sale, and spread my bivy sack over it. I was thinking of the hippie man I’d ridden with into Arizona, and his meditation retreats. Who needed that? All it takes is a good bit of hitch-hiking and train-riding before you give up on trying to force the universe into some sort of order, and just admit to yourself that you really have no control whatsoever over your life, or the things that take place within it. Once you wrap your brain around that idea, all of the worry falls away and you just sort of become one with everything. Who cares if you’re homeless and you sleep in the dappled shade of a clump of trees? Who cares if you live in a house with houseplants and pay your car insurance on time? Who cares if you sell drugs for a living and spin fire in Guatemala? Our routines do not make us who we are. And routine itself, it seems, is just an illusion. Each day is new. We never do the same thing twice.


Leaving my pack behind the vacant building (it was small, stucco, and filled with bright light), I wandered through the small downtown and onto the long commercial strip beyond, where cars jammed the busy road and big-box stores marched away to the horizon. I’ll walk to the grocery store, I thought, and buy some vegetables and a can of beans. Then maybe I’ll find a bookstore somewhere that has the second vampire book, and I can finally resolve this awful cliffhanger and move on with my life.

It felt good to walk down the strip, stretching my legs and seeing all the people out and about, eating fast food tacos and obsessively washing and re-washing their cars. I ducked into a big grocery store and bought some bulk baby greens, some salad dressing, and an avocado. Then I sat outside in the sun and ate them, avoiding the stares of the teenagers in slipper boots who came out of the mall. I finished the meal with a little citrus of some sort, the kind who’s peel comes off easily in one piece, and there are lots of them in the dumpster around Christmas. Having eaten a good number of non-meat items, I continued on my quest, rejuvenated.

The story was the same in every store. Everyone had the first book in the series- the little five-dollar trade paperback- EVERYONE. Some stores had the fourth book, which had just come out a few weeks ago, and a few stores even had the third. But no-one, NO-ONE, had the second book. I’d walked all over town, and searched the crowded, messy, day-after-black-Friday aisles of half a dozen big-box stores, and some smaller ones, but my drug of choice was nowhere to be found. God. Dammit.

I was starting to project more feeling than was called for onto this little paperback. It was starting to feel as though me not having a resolution to my vampire story was just a complex metaphor for my being stuck in Arizona, and if I could just find out what happened to the girl at her birthday party, if she got eaten or not, or turned into a vampire or whatever, then maybe I would finally be free from this desert vortex.

Just then my friend Lark called.

“I just remembered, I have a friend in Phoenix.” She said. “Do you want me to call him?”

Did I ever! Lark called her friend, who called me, who said that not only would he come pick me up in Casa Grande, but that I could crash on his couch for the night, do my laundry, whatever. We’d actually met once before, long, long ago, in Lark’s kitchen in Virginia when I was 19 years old. L was here in Phoenix visiting a friend, he said, in the refinished barn she lived in on the edge of town. They were both web designers and his friend was here while her boyfriend went to naturopathy school. L would pick me up, take me home, and they would make me some dinner. In the morning I could hitch-hike on my way, or whatever I wanted to do.

Thank god.

I retrieved my pack from behind the empty house and carried it over to the mall to wait for L. He pulled up after an hour and I tossed my pack into the back of the car, ducking down to sit in the front. Although I didn’t know it, as I pulled shut the car door, I was also closing the door on a sort of portal- it was the end of my time trapped in Arizona, the end of my time of endless moments ticking away to nowhere, of directionless wanderings in an empty desert, of a sort of voyeuristic non-existence. I was a leaf, come unstuck from an eddy. From now on all would be movement again, and life’s waterways would once again bear me forward, an object hurtled through space. The question was no longer would I arrive, but, in the end, would I arrive someplace that felt like home.