I stopped on my way out of Chicago in January to buy one last thing: a bottle of Lagavulin 18. It slowly disappeared over the next few months until I realized I only had one glass left. I decided I needed to save it for a special occasion.
I bought a new pair of jeans on Friday. It was well past time. The jeans I brought down with me were starting to fall down and even at their best they made me look like I was doing my best white boy gangsta impression, an odd idea, since I’ve always been pretty clean cut.
My new jeans are Levi’s 560s with a 36” waist, 34” inseam. They created a mystery.
When I was out at college I had a few pairs of Levi’s that had a 34” waist. I currently weigh less than ten pounds more than I did in college. Yet there’s no way I can possibly wear a 34” waist pair of jeans.
My new Levi’s and I boarded a plane on Saturday morning. The row behind me, up against the opposite wall of the plane was a woman.
She was gorgeous. I imagined talking to her, finding out that she, too, was a traveler, headed back to her native Chicago for a weekend’s respite from life in Dallas. Perhaps she’ll give me her phone number, tell me to call her when we’re both back in Dallas.
Instead I said nothing. I can’t imagine what someone like her would see in someone like me. Apparently my waist size and my impression of my attractiveness are not in any sort of sync. My impression of my attractiveness and value to women is also apparently not particularly high.
Coyote, we’re told, was walking aimlessly through the desert one day. This, after all, is what Coyote does. He travels, looking for adventure, looking for someone to trick.
On this particular day, though, Coyote happened upon a man. Now, this man was doing something peculiar. He was pulling his eyes out of his head and throwing them up to the top of a tree, then summoning them back with a word.
Coyote asked him why he was doing that. The man told Coyote that it allowed him to see the land all around him and know what was coming up next.
Coyote begged the man to tell him how to throw his eyes to the tops of the trees. The man agreed, but told Coyote that he absolutely had to make sure he only did it four times in the day. Any more times than that and he would not like the results.
“There’s a box of your old jeans in the middle bedroom,” my mother says to me. “Are they too big or too small?”
I tell her I’ll go look. The box comes out of the closet and there are my old college Levi’s. It’s been five years since I was able to fit in to them and they’ve probably been languishing in that box in the closet for that long. I pull them out, smell the musk of cardboard and age.
I pull them on. They fit perfectly.
It’s strange, being back in the house I grew up in. And not just because I haven’t stepped foot inside for nearly nine months.
Everything seems smaller.
Perhaps I just have better posture. Perhaps it’s a trick of the memory or perception. But I swear I’ve grown taller since I was last here.
Somewhere in that house is a picture of me from Christmas of 2004. I was down at what I like to call my “college weight,” that time before I started gaining back the weight I’d lost. I was wearing those Levi’s. Some time during the semester after I would stop being able to wear them.
She saw that picture once. Looking at it she said, “You were so thin then.”
I heard, “You’re so disgustingly fat now.” I heard, “You’re not good enough.”
Of course, I heard that second one all that time, even if those words were never used.
Coyote threw his eyes up in to the tree and found he could see for miles. Then he called them back down. Soon he wanted to look again, so he threw his eyes up again.
Then a third time.
Then a fourth.
He heeded the man’s warning and walked on without doing it a fifth. A little way down the road, though, he decided he wanted to see what was around the next bend. “Those are just the man’s rules,” he said to himself, “From the man’s country. I am not now in the man’s country, so I can do what I want.”
He threw his eyes up in to a tree. Then he called them back.
They did not return.
Coyote wept, for he could not see.
I came back to Chicago for a specific purpose: The Fox Valley Folk and Storytelling Festival. It’s my Fox Valley Guild people, plus Megan Wells and Oba William King. Lollapalooza and the return of Soundgarden couldn’t convince me to come back to Chicago. The Fox Valley Folk and Storytelling Festival could.
I had one story to tell. First set of the first day. After that I was on my own.
I pulled on those old college Levi’s, musty smell and all, along with a shirt from roughly the same vintage that somehow traveled with me to Brookfield and then Irving.
I told my story. It’s a new one, about a boy who waits for his dreams to come through a door in the back of a garden, but finds his dreams only after he leaves.
Afterwards I spend some time with my parents, grab some lunch from a vendor at the festival. Then I watch more stories.
After a while I decide I need a break, so I head back to grab my book. Rounding the pavilion I found myself face-to-face with her.
She didn’t notice me, or did a damn good job of pretending it was so. I suppose it’s the former, as she was deep in conversation, I don’t look quite like I did the last time I saw her, and I just kept walking.
What do you say to someone you have nothing to say to, after all?
Not long after everything ended I got a new job. I moved out of my parents’ house. I then proceeded to hide in my cups for reasons that I didn’t understand.
The magic number I call “my college weight” was 227. The BMI charts say I should weigh between 180 and 195, but there’s no way I could look or be healthy at that weight. I should probably have gotten down to about 210 or 215 before I stopped last time around. But I didn’t. I stopped losing at 227, stabilized at 230-235 for a while.
When I met her I was around 275. When we stopped talking I was around 285.
At the 2009 Fox Valley Folk and Storytelling Festival I was at 320, just 20 pounds below the weight I was when I started losing in 2004 and 20 pounds above a threshold I’d sworn I’d never again cross.
In the middle of September of last year I decided I needed to fix it again. But this time for good. I’d probably lost fifteen or twenty pounds by the Illinois Storytelling Festival, which was also the last time I’d seen her.
I don’t know why any of this matters.
Coyote called out to his eyes to return again and again, but he called out in vain.
Mouse came to investigate the sound. “Why are you crying and calling out?” he asked.
“My eyes are in the tree,” Coyote replied, “And I cannot get them back.”
“I can climb up the tree and fetch them for you,” Mouse offered.
“No,” Coyote replied, “Just give me one of your eyes and I’ll be on my way.”
So Mouse gave Coyote one of his eyes. The tiny eye did not fit well in Coyote’s socket and he could barely see. So Coyote stumble off, running in to things as he went.
The mind plays tricks.
She’s never been at the Fox Valley Folk and Storytelling Festival before, so maybe it was just someone that looked like her. This other girl…woman…whatever…had longer hair than she’d had last I saw her, looked younger.
But, no. I’d have recognized that round face, pert nose, and those slightly reddish cheeks anywhere.
It’s ironic, I suppose. Her hair is longer, mine shorter. She looks younger and everyone says I do, too. Perhaps being together aged us.
Later on I see her again and know it’s her. I’m in conversation and she’s off in the distance. She keeps looking over at me.
A tiny, petty, part of me hopes that it depresses her that I’m not in her life any more, now that I’m wearing my old college jeans.
Another part of me considers walking up, saying hello. But I still do not know what to say to someone that I have nothing to say to.
In his stumbling, Coyote runs in to Buffalo. Buffalo takes pity on Coyote and give Coyote one of his eyes.
Buffalo’s eye is too big for Coyote, but Coyote smashes it in to his socket as best he can.
Coyote then continues on, able to see but unable to gain the proper perspective.
I practice Otherness. It’s easy enough, I suppose, to announce that you’re different in major ways. It’s much harder to do subtly, however.
For day two of the Fox Valley Folk and Storytelling Festival I don a Lost Immigrants shirt. “I am no longer of Chicago,” I say. “I am one with Coyote,” I also announce.
The lost immigrant, after all, is one who wanders aimlessly in a land that is not his own, a characteristic of Coyote.
All day I do not see her. But I still wonder what would happen if I did. I still wonder what you say to the person you have nothing to say to.
At the end of the day, though, she walks past the storytelling tent.
I turn, see her. She sees me. Our eyes lock.
I turn back to the storytelling.
It’s a sort of benediction, the answer to my question.
I don my new Levi’s 560s and a Local H shirt for my return to Dallas.
Just before I board the plane I see the woman from the flight up. At least, I see someone who looks an awful lot like her.
But she’s just a shimmering mirage.
In a moment she’s gone.
I throw my musty smelling college jeans in the wash when I get back to my apartment.
They’re still warm when I pull them out of the dryer and pull them on.
I head out in to the muggy Dallas night.
When I return I pour my last glass of Lagavulin 18.
I offer up a toast to her, then dedicate the glass to Coyote, Raven, Eshu, Anansi, Loki, and all the other Trickster gods.
I’ve decided that my life needs more mischief.
For in mischief there is opportunity.