personal histories
10

You Are Not a Descendant

“You don’t have to know what you’re looking for. You just have to start looking."

I'd been hearing this siren song from an attractive soccer mom from an Ancestry.com commercial throughout months of late-night TV, and anyway, I needed a reason to hole up in the local library: it was an unreasonably hot summer, and we didn’t have air conditioning. I gave in and charged the $299.40 “World Explorer Membership” to my VISA card. I would give up my couch potato habits to “meet my ancestors, learn their stories, and journey into the past.”

Like many recent grads, I was jobless and had a lot of time and energy on [...]

8

What It's Like to Live in Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach moves in waves, like purple against the sea, airbrushed angels and what looks like Marilyn Monroe done up in Bedazzled cotton with denim tassels, as if to say Welcome, I’m some type of mermaid, nothing matters.

A bunch of guys with UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA shirts pound their chasers back. A volleyball hits the deck. I’ve got sand in my teeth. Something is thumping somewhere, but gets silenced the farther you get from the beachside bar, silenced by the boom of waves and the deep of the ocean horizon, a guttural clurng that you can imagine would eat steel and oar right up.

*

Bus route [...]

22

It Was Really Lovely Meeting You

I slid into my assigned window seat and closed my eyes. Dear airplane gods, I silently prayed, please, please, please leave the middle seat empty for the next 15 hours. I was still begging the universe for this travel favor when I felt someone settle in beside me. Too bad, I thought. Then I opened my eyes on my dreamy new neighbor.

“Hey there,” he said. He had an Australian accent. His blue eyes and unkempt blond curls were coupled with the kind of three-day old scruff that makes me want to move somewhere mountainous populated by men who chop their own kindling.

“Hi,” I said.

While two flight attendants [...]

6

Villa Tunari

A man in hiking boots was setting up a tent in the courtyard of the hostel when I came back. Hola, I said. Are you sleeping here?

He was. The hostel owner told him that there weren’t open rooms, so he asked to camp. Where are you from? He asked. He was from Colombia and finishing his trip through Bolivia on his motorcycle. Was he handsome? I couldn't tell in the dim light.

I had been lonely in Cochabamba, a city that reminded me of California, with wide streets and shiny malls. Earlier I stood waiting for the traffic light to change, and someone had thrown an orange at me. [...]

8

Fantasy On Wheels: My Roller Rink Sexual Awakening

When I was thirteen, I participated in an after-school activity ambiguously—and generously—named “Lifetime Sports.” At my North Carolina private school, a place particularly dedicated to social hierarchy, your position on a team was determined as much by popularity as athletic ability, and as I was fundamentally lacking in both coolness and hand-eye coordination, I thought I might as well try life-sporting. Participation would involve periodic trips to a local roller rink.

This was 1998, when roller rinks were just becoming passé. My friends no longer held their birthday parties at the local rinks, and, generally, they smelled kind of funny (the roller rinks, that is). But the activity seemed [...]

7

Ballerina Gets the Ball

Growing up in rural Maine our school was so small we didn’t have a gym. Twice a week we were bussed over to the town’s maritime academy to use the facilities. Our gym teachers were marines in training, and I was a skinny only child, far more adept at the barre in ballet rehearsals than I was at hand-eye coordination on the field.

Basketball is the only sport I ever learned to play. I spent games on the bench, my stomach cramping with anxiety. I dreaded the moment our coach would call me over to sub in, forcing me out onto the court. I didn’t kid myself about scoring; I [...]

15

Bill Murray and Me

The first time I met Bill Murray, I was 18 years old and wearing a miserable brown ensemble.

The garments belonged to my mother, and for unknown reasons I had filched them to add to my own wardrobe in New York: a chocolate, polyester blouse, light-washed jeans, and mahogany, backless loafers in the style of re-imagined Mary Janes. I had just moved to the city for college and the independent film I interned for consisted of a tidy editorial crew (Editor, Assistant Editor, and me.) Rather than cool clothes, I outfitted myself with that spirited, blind alacrity only youth affords. I was thrilled to work on a real film—in the [...]

11

Leftover Woman

I am supine in a plush recliner. A woman is kneeling before me, pressing her thumbs into my feet. My friend Jon, a Chinese-American Tsinghua professor, is next to me in an identical chair. The TV in front of us is switched on a nature channel. The leopard pouncing on an unsuspecting gazelle makes sense in any language.

A man is rubbing Jon’s feet. “Is that your girlfriend?” the masseur asks him in Mandarin, nodding to me. “No,” Jon says, “she’s an old friend.”

“How old is she?” the masseur asks. Jon asks me and I answer 29 in English although I understand the Chinese. Jon translates and the masseur [...]

12

Costumes

When I was nine, I knew exactly what I wanted to be for Halloween. I wanted to be Cleopatra. At the grocery store, there was a rack of costumes-in-a-bag you could buy for $9.99, and while my mother insisted on spending her time at the grocery store doing boring things, like buying milk so we could all survive, I’d beeline directly to the costumes-in-a-bag rack as soon as we walked in. My mother told me that I shouldn’t do that, because I’d get lost and she’d be considered a bad mother for abandoning me, but I felt she was being irrational. I would obviously be by the costumes-in-a-bag rack. The [...]

17

I Was Wrong About the Grateful Dead

On August 9th, 1995, Jerry Garcia died, and I was on vacation with my new stepfamily in Provincetown, Cape Cod. It was the summer before eighth grade, probably the apex of my awkward period: oversize t-shirts, assorted yin-yang jewelry, a relentlessly troublesome T-zone.

The mourning Deadhead vibes were surely low-key in P-Town that August when compared to, say, San Francisco or Burlington, VT, but I nonetheless found the avalanche of dead-Jerry merch overwhelming. His lion’s mane silhouette was everywhere, along with the drugged-out anthropomorphic rainbow animals and threadbare lyrics about the long strange trip. I had only the vaguest notion of the music itself, but I was certain, thanks to [...]