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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Four Days, Sam Shepard

Best thing I've read in a long time. From Shepard's 2010 collection of short narratives, Day out of Days. 

Majesty: (Highway 101 South)

We stop in a place called Smith’s in Paso Robles and order turkey-gumbo soup and lemon-meringue pie with black coffee. This ensemble somehow fits together although it sounds as though the tastes might clash. The theme from The Godfatheris playing on the jukebox; very dreary and always reminds me of that shocking scene with the decapitated horse head. What goes on in Coppola’s mind? How could a guy come up with that? You must have to be Italian. The skinny waitress here has the worst skin I’ve seen in a long, long time. She seems to be drowning in Clearasil, poor thing. Already suffering and she’s barely sixteen. The decor in here is very weird: old-time meat hooks hanging from the ceiling, unless maybe they’re ice hooks. Either way it’s incongruous for a roadside café, it seems to me. After blowing laboriously on his gumbo soup, Dennis, out of the blue, starts telling me how his aunt had a stroke recently and can’t remember the names of things. Some sort of aphasia or something. She seems to recognize the object itself but can’t remember the correct name for it. Like “door” might become “key” in her mind or “dog” might turn into “bug.” Close but way off. I remember that happened to me once when I was a kid—not a stroke but the confusion about naming a thing. My mother became very alarmed about it and marched me over to the icebox. She threw the door open and began hauling out things like a cube of margarine, for instance, holding it up close to my face and demanding that I pronounce the name of it. I knew it wasn’t butter because we never had butter but I couldn’t remember the other name so I called it “majesty.” I remember the panic on her face, as though she suddenly thought she had a cabbage head for a son on top of everything else she was worried about like the old man and taxes and the price of milk. I think it may have also been the extreme heat back then. We were having one of those desert heat waves that summer where it would sit and swelter around a hundred and twelve at midnight for days on end. No rain. And this was in the time before air-conditioning was even thought of. The hills were all black and smoky from wildfires and when you breathed in you could taste the ash on the back of your tongue. At night I would have dreams where the clouds would just ignite into flames. Anyway, I don’t know why it was that I suddenly had this little spell of not knowing what to call things. It didn’t last long but it was as strange to me as it must have been for my mother. I absolutely could not remember the name for margarine. That’s all there was to it.

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