Thursday, August 29, 2013

Heart eaters

“I used to know a woman”—Nathan looked at me meaningfully here, because of course he was talking about his ex-wife, and he was talking about her to the bartender, a stranger who neither had nor needed the full context—“from Peru, and when we visited her family there, we'd see vendors selling heart on the street. They didn’t overcook it, so it was nice and tender. But it's fatty, as most organ meats are.”

The bartender—a woman with short hair, in a black dress and hipster glasses, who’d gushed with Nathan over the jazz of Charles Mingus when it was playing in her bar when we first came in—had been talking about eating tongue. She’s from California, she told us, and the Mexican place across the street makes tongue tacos that are just like the ones she liked back home.

I was slowly getting drunk. I fixated on the act of eating hearts; it provided a focal point for the rest of the night to spin around. As Nathan and the bartender exchanged the sorts of cred-establishing bon mots that I’m no good at, I peered at him in quiet horror, thinking, “This is a man who has eaten hearts.” I couldn’t let go of the symbolism, of how a person could talk about eating hearts and have no more to say about it than that it was tender and fatty. But maybe that’s all there is to say about it.

Did he think, as he bit into a heart all those months or years ago on some street in Peru, about how it looked nothing like that red shape we all draw as kids? Did he think about how once you grow up you learn that the seat of love is not in the blood-pumping central organ at all but is actually in the mind? (And did he eat it in a sandwich or on a shishkebab or just plain or what?) 

Nathan and the bartender talked about jazz, about the bar's house-made vermouth, about hip places to eat dinner nearby. I sat silent and got drunker. 

I lived in California, too, and I never once ate a tongue taco.

* * * 

Today at work I Googled it and learned from National Geographic that Peruvians eating hearts goes back to the days of the Spanish conquerors, who kept the "choicest cuts" of beef for themselves and left the organs to the slaves. I imagined some haughty Spaniard of yore glancing disdainfully at a pile of discarded innards and saying, "Hearts are for slaves." These are the kinds of seemingly poignant accidents that happen when a word means too much. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How you are

Two minutes past midnight on the day of his wedding to Heather, Jason got out of bed and headed for a gay bar. He had to drive then take the Metro because there weren't any of those kinds of places in his town. The houses on his street were sleepy. At a stoplight by a shopping center, he could see a tank of goldfish
 shimmering inside a closed-for-the-night barber shop. March snow had turned to gray slush in the Metro parking lot. The trains of the Orange Line wailed in the night. 

At Mr. P's, Jason stood on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets. A short blonde man burst through the door laughing and began to smoke a cigarette. He noticed Jason and gave him a look of recognition. Jason had gotten that look before. The other time was in high school, when a boy named Darrell, whom Jason's father once referred to as the "flaming" variety of gay person, had invited Jason to a party. At the party there had been kids drinking liquor in a treehouse. Jason had bought a striped button-down shirt at Express Men the week before to wear to the party. Darrell had worn a polo shirt with the collar turned up, a braided suede cord around his neck, and his hair was spiky. He had led Jason to a bedroom and kissed him, and had gotten three buttons of Jason's new shirt undone before Jason had begun to weep.
"This is how you are," Darrell had said. The bedspread had been seafoam-green chenille, and Darrell's lips had traveled down Jason's body. 

"First time here?" the man said now. 
"I'm getting married tomorrow."
The man stomped out his cigarette and guided Jason inside. 

When he returned home, Jason found Heather asleep in her car parked in front of his apartment. It was almost dawn. She had arrived sometime after he'd left. She had a lightweight baby-blue blanket pulled over her, the one she kept in the trunk in case she broke down. She was curled uncomfortably on her side with her knees jammed against the gear shift. Jason hesitated before tapping on the window. Jason had met Heather through the church. She knew how hard he had tried to right himself. They had held hands in a pew and prayed over it together. 
Heather had put a coat on over her nightgown before driving to Jason's apartment tonight. Inside, she took off her coat, and took off her nightgown. She was naked. They had never made love. She said, "I need to know this is how you are." 

Before the guests threw handfuls of birdseed at the departing newlyweds, Jason went into a men's-room stall and prayed. People were getting down to one last song before the DJ packed up. Through the men's-room wall, the muffled music throbbed like a heartbeat underwater.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


I can do this because I don't do it.
I am never really here.
My resilience is impressive.
Or maybe I should say 
malleability; I am pliant,
I am beyond anything you could 
pretend to do to me.
This is just a joke.
When I apologize -- it's because I can; 
my pride is not as fragile as yours; I can
take it.
When I self-deprecate -- I can do that, too.
No matter how much I tear myself down
there is always more of me under that.
I go on.
I do this because I can. 

Photo by Gus Troll, manipulated by me.