The Bathroom in Thai Son

Lit by a fluorescent bulb, and so the small room (roughly 4x5ft) has that slimy mystical glow which is the type of glow that fluorescents glow.

Upon entering the door, one should see:

  • A large square sink to the immediate left.
    • —Bleach clean porcelain.
    • —A molded surface with a thin ledge of trim (surely there’s a name for the type of design) between the edge and the ovular basin.
    • —Small clings and slightly larger holds of water dribbled from still wet hands or splashed from the impact of a high pressure stream from the faucet.
    • —A fixture with rectangular taps and a swancurved faucet.
  • A couple of steps in, to the right, a trashcan with a chrome body and a red and white flip-lid top set askew—not quite attached to the body.
    • —The red and white flip-top is the sort that would be outside of a Circle-K in Austin, but smaller. The flip-lid itself is stuck open by the amount of trash (mostly paper towels) in the body, some have spilled out to the floor.
    • —The chrome body has the milky dip-streaked reflection of a cylindrical mirror that wouldn’t consider fidelity as a task of its functionality
    • A toilet just to the right of the sink, likely bought as a set with the sink as it has the same uncomfortably large proportions in the small room, and the same thin ledge of trim on the tank’s lid.
    • —The toiletseat is ample and not too close to the wall for a human of average size to sit in comfort.
    • —A chrome rail is mounted to the far wall, parallel with the practical direction of the toilet, to assist persons with physical disabilities, to grab onto for support during painful bowel movements, to scratch with graffiti if one has remembered to bring a scribe, to rest one’s poisonball head against the cool metal being when one is that variety of hungover.
  • The last fixture on the tile walls (of which I will say more shortly) is a paper towel dispenser.
    • —The mechanism is, at first, hard to discern. As it turns out, the entire face of the machine is a lever which one pulls down after washing their hands (and so is slightly wet) to dispense paper towels.
    • —A person with foresight might choose to dispense the towels before washing their hands to avoid wetting the machine, but do people care enough for that?
    • —The paper towels dispensed are stiff brittle and thin like in elementary school, but when wetted and pliant are unexpectedly cool and they leave your hands with that sharp pulpy brown smell (aside from the smell of soap, which one should use to combat germs, of course).

The tiles in the bathroom at Thai Son are darkish. At once they appear to be marble, but if one should look closely the marbling is a printed design. A close and steady eye would see even the pixilation of the digital print.

Perhaps this micropointillism adds to the sicklyreal effect of the fluorescents, striking from all angles the eyes with a pattern that is, in reality, only dots and space under this glow that blinks in and out in a binary affect. The effect being similar to the magiclamp picture boxes that predated motionpictures, but in such constant series that the eyes have no gravity of focus—no practical point on which to rest.

Finally, as one is leaving the restroom, notice will fall on the door which is thickpainted in a latexgreen leaning more towards Forest than Kelly.

At last, one might note the graffiti in heavy scrawl on the door that reads:



PenTales Reading.

I’ll be reading a short piece on the theme of travel at the PenTales event on June 8th, more information below. On June 9th I’ll put the piece up here.

PenTales NYC – Travel and Migration

Inside by Fernanda Uribe

PenTales, The Institute of Public Knowlege and Yoda invite you to a night of tales on travel and migration.

Day June 8, 2011

Time Doors and wine bottles open at 7:30, Tales begin at 8:30

Where Institute for Public Knowledge, 20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor (at Astor Place)

Cool Featuring the return of the PenTales Traveling Books

Yum Appetizers generously served by L’Orange Bleue

Tunes Mike Phillips, Sam Carter, and Robert Magnusen of the Peter Pinguid Society

Our Line-Up of Storytellers

Charles Hobson (Emmy Award-winning doc filmmaker, Founder of Vanguard Documentary )
Carib Guerra (“Deferential, glad to be of use”)
Sadie Stein (Editor at Paris Review)
Darrell Hartman (Vanity Fair / Wall Street Journal writer, former Travel + Leisure editor)
Harel Shapira (Sociologist)
Lola Adesioye (writer/musician/activist/entrepreneur – The Guardian, Huffington Post, CNN)
Rachel Syme (writer, former Culture Editor at Daily Beast, NPR Books)
Matt Levy (The Levys’ Unique New York! tour guide business owner)
Noah Wunsch (Editor at Large Jacques Magazine, contributor to Richardson, Nylon)
Rachel Sklar (Editor-at-large for and founding media editor at the Huffington Post)


Cars Parked Across From Me

Starting midblock at the open lot. An Econoline colored burgundy like church camp t-shirts. Has large tinted windows that one could lean against on a long roadtrip watching America spread out like a movie whose end is a destination. A spoiler front and center above the windshield winks at aerodynamism but looks slow like the horns of a steer bowed to drink from a muddy puddle on a hot day. It’s the kind of van that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles turned awesome with tricked out doors and pizza shooters. When I was a kid in Mexico I bought the bootleg and loved it despite its thin brittle plastic and none of my action figures could fit right like they should.

Next is a brown Suburban landboat who has the polite nod of a hard working man wiping sweat from his tired glass brow. The whistle blows soon but for now he’s a function. A good cell. The truck is clean and well maintained, but the rear left tire is worn and smaller than the others. Maybe there was a blowout but the money for a good fit just isn’t here yet. The man at the Sears AutoCenter said that $200 now could save a thousand in balancing, or god forbid the axle should break, but $200 now could save a lot of things, couldn’t it? $200 now could save the electric bill from becoming delinquent and could save a kid with strep who needs penicillin. Could save a marriage that just needs a date, or a family dog from heartworm. Could save an addict from withdrawal or the latest insurance payment on the truck with one small tire cause that’s better than no truck at all.

The Oldsmobile sedan is a pale sickly beige, but it’s had a good run. Snooty features speak of distinction in the easy curve of the hood. When cars like this used to be made to seem as though they were hauling themselves forward across the Earth. Nowadays, as seen in the late-model Toyota Camry parked next in line, the design of the body is built as though the car were pushing itself from powerful hindquarters, or as is the case with cars like the Scion or neutral-bodied wonders like the Prius, the momentum seems to come from nowhere at all—a levitation, some magnetic anomaly.

Not so with the small green pickup directly in front of me. It’s from the 90’s—the midpoint between. Where the geometrical utility of a future envisioned by the 80’s was eschewed in favor of economic ergonomic pragmatism. We hadn’t yet moved away from the idea that vehicles could be more than pods to pull us through space, subservient beasts. This truck looks like a deer caught in mid-run, about to grab the soil with its forelegs, but having just pushed off with its hind. We hadn’t yet realized, fully, that fiberglass frames meant aesthetic luxury at any pricepoint. A clever designer is all a company needs to keep you riding in style. In a few years though the plastic started coming off and the bumpers cracked on a light rearending. The engine went into the driver’s lap and the airbags suffocated our children and we realized the trap of easy style and no payments till November ’96. By then it was too late.

Nobody wants to take a lemon off of our hands and the hand-me-down carriage was junked because no selfconscious teen can be seen in a piece of shit like that.


Vivaldi-Four Violin Concertos

It begins abruptly. The dynamic of the violins trading blows like a choppy sea; a creature scrambling in the waves barely alive. There’s pleading in the frenzied pull of the bows. A greensick hunger for air—chin just above the break—salty water slapping against cheeks and filling the basin of a gasping mouth. The arms are tired in the night and the eyes forget to see and then the creature forgets itself in sleep; resigns its need.

We wake on the shore. A morning is waking her eyes beside ours at the horizon and she whispers, or we whisper:

“Thank God.”

With our hand we feel the moss growing across the rocks and we crawl with them, reaching for the sun, for water to cure the bile and burn in our lips chest throat. On the fog can be heard—if listened to closely—the sighs of a long day arriving home at last. We grow fast and run through a forest of years. We tear our skin on the low branches. Dots of blood to be lapped up as needed by grabby roots and searching fingers with tongues for nails.

In the garden everything seems in dull order. A lazy stroll. She’s wearing white and holding her arm out, brushes the softferns—flicks a playful bang of dew into the airs behind her and she turns, only just, to laugh and call out your name. The sound falls like the mist of dew to your ears; like the grass where your toes are cooled and held by welcoming blades.


Wooden Armrest On Bench Outside of Athom Cafe, Brooklyn.

The armrest is attached to the chair by two bolts on either side of the cut 2×4, causing it to swivel on this axis. It doesn’t work. No arms rest here. Effectively it’s more of an arm labor. The wood is stained unevenly. In parts, it’s a deep brass; in others, the color of fresh scab. The bench itself toes the line between functionality and mere decoration. As a piece seen from the distance of even a few feet, it appears to have been constructed with care, by a creator with a vision. Materials were chosen. Not just wood, the frame is metal tubing, curled and designed with aesthetics in mind.

The wood is obviously hand cut and the asymmetrical stain isn’t apparent until one takes the time to look at it, which nobody would do until they chose to use the bench functionally. At which point they might realize that the metal frame lacks supporting bars and so bends forward uncomfortably, and refuses to sit back even under the weight of a body. If one were to try and pin it back, the other side of the bench would twist forward, acting as a counter force, and one would find a tube of metal–attached to the other side and not secured to theirs–would stick into their back. The trick might be to share the bench, but as an object it has an innately forward momentum and the couple in question would find themselves always on the brink of dismounting.

As with any thing, there’s so much to say about the armrest as a thing that it seems ridiculous: That once it was a living thing, carried miles after slaughter and dispersed in sections to be useless until used. That it serves as the home for countless bacterial colonies, warring for supremacy in a microscopic world of particular dimensions, filling the canyons in the grain only to be blighted by the micro-seasonal bleach floods which come without warning and render once hospitable splinter fields uninhabitable for bacterial generations. That the stories of arms that have labored to rest against it are numerous: Flirting and falling in love with attractive others in the summer, or counting the objects in servility as just another pain in the ass a smoker must reconcile through the bitter winters.

In the end, this is the bench we have. Sure, somebody could attach some simple supports to the armrests, but do we care enough? We’re more concerned, it seems, with temporarily alleviating the strain on our legs.


Alexandra Grant

She was there when I was born. Much younger than I ever remember her. A beautiful woman, small and alive. She moved to Austin to be close to us. I think she was very happy to have me in her life.

She lived in the Oak Run apartments, where I would live later when I was an older kid with a car and problems like a cloud. I loved her apartment. It smelled dear and just so, like her clothes and listerine and kitty litter (but that only faintly, like no one with cats can help). A tall tree outside the window and the nylon fiber carpet. I thik hte cat’s name was Luke, but I can’t be sure. There were many cats in my life.

She fed me tuna sandwiches and I hated the smell but she urged me to try and I loved the taste though I forgot that I loved it until much later when I would realize frugality. Also she loved beer. Heineken. She was so upset when she was made to stop drinking it after the Hepatitis C and cirrhosis set in.

One private time I was in that apartment and I became scared, but I can’t remember of what, and she wasn’t home but I held her dog, a Shih-Tzu named Sasha, and I cried and said over and over to the dog, It’ll be okay It’ll be okay.

Xan, as everybody called her because of a confusion over the name of a character in a book that she had read while young. Xan and I would play Scrabble. She would always win and it made me so mad that she wouldn’t let me win, but she was right. I accused her of cheating because she would read the Scrabble dictionary nightly and use impossible words that I couldn’t help but challenge, but she would tell me, That’s life, kid. Meaning just that winners know the game.

My favorite mornings were when she would drive me to a rock ledge overlooking Town Lake with Apple Fritters and we would talk and become friends even as I got older.

She grew up in Alabama and remembers having a black housewoman and wondering at the difference between herself and the woman and because the woman raised her she learned early a great deal about the sort of magic humans cast on their eyes to see what isn’t there. Later she moved to New York and she dated Steve McQueen when he was 19 and pretty. She said that the most exciting sex she ever had was a time when she was walking home and saw a man who sparked a wild desire and she could see it in his eyes as well. They approached each other and took hands held walked to her room and never said a word and never met again.

She had her four children but only three survived. Her youngest found something wrong in life and she couldn’t figure it out (Xan once had me organize her collection of letters and memories and Cheri Pilar’s diaries were included). Finally she decided that she was what was wrong and ended her life. Cheri’s last diary entry is from May in 1980 or 81 and is a picture of a moon with a man’s face and she wrote: “I wonder what I’ll be like when I grow up.”

When I thought that I was what was right with life (I was oblivious), I made a joke to Xan and she began to cry and I couldn’t say anything right and she took a knife and pointed it at her chest and screamed words at me. It had been Cheri’s birthday. I don’t remember the joke or the words. Only yelling and crying at each other and then holding one another without speaking because in times like that, words are silly.

Xan loved to create. She was resentful of not having accomplished all of the dreams she had when she was young. She had been a dancer and an actor, and later, once she retired, she put all of her time into creating. She would knit all the time and she bought a keyboard to relearn the piano and she drew and practiced rock sculpture and wrote poetry about changing lives. Always she had loved to garden. She was the first family member I smoked weed with. I got so stoned I couldn’t move, but she jumped up like a spur and started drawing and singing. Eventually she felt uncomfortable smoking weed with me. It was when my cloud started to break and the problems soaked me and people around me had to step away to keep dry.

She was my favorite person. She still is. When she was dying she appreciated our open honesty together. She said she wasn’t ready, but that she knew she should be. She wanted to go to Mexico to die, but instead she stayed alive waiting for a new liver and getting it, but what good did it do? Only kept her alive for another year in pain to die with gurgling tubes and family who she was sad would miss her. We all miss her.

I held her body and cried. My cross broke in a bar because I was pushing people and Adam had to hit me to stop me to remind me that this wasn’t about me.

A few years after she died I was missing her and so I searched on Google to see if the Internet had ever taken her in. I found a book on knitting in which she was credited as being a writer, artist, sculptor, and musician  as well as an accomplished knitter.

I read the quotes and cried. Because I missed her, but also because I had found this thing. The person she felt that she should be. How she imagined herself. Who she wanted people to see her as. Accomplished and prolific. A wise woman who people turn to for expert advice. I found her fantasy and I fell in love with her again. I cried because then I realized how young and hopeful like a kid, like me, she had always been.



How does one even set about describing peace?

I could tell of my own most peaceful moments:

  • During a Texas summer electrical storm I laid my head in my mother’s lap (I was four) and the warm living smell of her skirt was like sleep in early October.
  • In the chill early fall Santa Fe, NM, I rode my bike to the Children’s Museum. On the way, a wind picked up and all the tall dried grasses flailed in a wave across the field and swiped at my jeans and hit my spokes with a mechanical succession of thin whisper: thup, thip, thup, thp thp thp…
  • In Acapulco, when I was nine, I was swept by the undertow and the waves kept on coming, beating my face into the sand. I would try to stand up and run to shore, but my body was too light to escape and I nearly drowned. Two strangers pulled me out and my father held me on the sand.
  • In Austin, when I was twelve, my friends and I stayed up late and went to walk on the railroad tracks. When a train came we stood a few feet from the rails and held hands against the strong gust of the passing machine.
  • At fifteen, in Idaho, I was sent to a wilderness rehab called SUWS. We were made to spend the third week alone (we were watched from an unknown distance). Instead of reading the provided book, I sat for days watching time pass; the movements of plants in the wind, animals fulfilling necessities, the sky that I imagined would be my escape. At night the moon would spend a few minutes cradled in a hole eroded through a large rock near my camp.
  • When I was small my mom would sing James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James to me at bedtime. When I was older she sent me a tape of her singing and I listen to it when I’m sick.
  • Walking with my grandfather outside of Ocotitlan, Mexico, we found a waterfall.
  • My grandmother would buy apple fritters from Dunkin Donuts and take me to a place near the 360 Bridge. We walked up a trail through the scrappy Texas woods and there was a rock ledge sticking out over town lake. We would talk and she would tell me stories.
  • The cool side of the pillow.
  • Walking in the middle of the street at night.
  • After I got my first car, a Dodge Caravan, I would drive far out into the NM desert outside of Santa Fe. I would park on the side of the road and climb up and lay down on the roof and look at the stars.
  • Waking up next to Aubri and reaching my hand out to touch her pale skin.
  • Each time I realize what a great thing it is to have developed and nurtured a tight friendship with Joel.
  • When smoking Fentanyl.
  • Sitting on the roof of Alex and Maria’s house in Playa del Carmen, watching the thick patches of clouds roll by like a sheet of broken promises.
  • In Guatemala, the morning that I woke up with Rebecka Gullberg and we talked in the hammock looking over a city about how beautiful moss looks growing on rebar.
  • Swimming in the ocean with Tess.
  • Flying into New York for the first time at sunset through clouds and expectations.
  • Speaking with Amanda and realizing that intellectual, emotional, and sexual fulfillment were a realistic goal.
  • The good time I smoked salvia and was able to re-experience any memory I chose.
  • Accepting, for the first time, that experiencing somebody briefly can be enough, after Amanda bailed.
  • Hitchhiking in Arizona being picked up by the nice couple in the red pick-up and feeling freedom whip around me in the truck bed at 80mph through the desert in December.