Monday, June 23, 2014

in an alley in Bisbee, Arizona

This was written on 14 June 2013.

In an alley in Bisbee, there’s a coffee stand, a woman who sells hand-painted silk scarves, and a metalsmith who sells the most amazing jewelry of precious metals and stones. This is Peddler’s Alley. Seth runs the coffee stand, giving out free espressos and selling bags of coffee beans. June sells her scarves. Autumn is the metalsmith. Trez, the hotel manager from across the street, likes to hang out and drink coffee in the alley. When the guests are all settled in for the night, she joins us for a beer or some of Seth’s whiskey. Sometimes Belle and Patty come over from the cafe next to the hotel. The Honey Man, Reed – he makes our local honey – comes to get some free espresso from Seth and chat with the rest of the alley. I’m there, too, but I’m not usually a productive member of our little alley-family. Sometimes I do oracle readings, which are like tarot readings but less complicated, for whoever wants one. That’s my contribution.
Today, we had dinner together. The cafe was getting ready to close for the day. It had been a slow day, so they had an entire quiche left over. Seth bought the quiche and a pitcher of ice tea. Belle, Seth, and I handed out the ice teas in the alley. Patty heated up the quiche and brought it across the street to the alley. I cut and served the quiche, while Patty and Belle went back to clean up the cafe.

The conversation went like this –
June: Cut small pieces, Katy. We just ate a bunch of this (gesturing to a lidded pot).
Katy: Sure thing.
Seth: Oh you need – (reaches for a roll of paper towels) – something to put that on.
Katy: Nope, Patty brought us wax paper.
Seth (not hearing, handing over a paper towel): Here –
Katy: No need hon, I got this covered. (Winks.)
June: Yeah Seth, she’s got this covered.
Katy (to Seth): Thank you sweetheart. You’re awesome. (Takes the offered paper towel; passes the first piece of quiche to June.)
June: No, give that to her. (Pointing to a tourist who was looking forlornly at the nearby, but closed, restaurant.)
Katy (to the tourist): Would you like some quiche?
Tourist: Oh, no thanks, we have to eat dinner in an hour, so...
Katy: (Shrugs.) Ok, your loss. Here Trez, this is for you. (Handing quiche slice to Trez.)
Random local person who happened to stop by right then: Haha!
Trez: Thanks!
Reed: Hey, lemme try some of that quiche. That looks good... Oh man, that’s rich. Who made that?
Katy: Patty.
Reed: That’s delicious. I have to take home some of that for the old lady. Can I take some home?
Seth: Sure – that’s what it’s there for.

Customers came and went; some joined our conversations, some shrugged us off. Most of them got espresso from Seth.
Trez: Maybe that’s my guests – (runs across the street, just ahead of a couple tourists carrying luggage; she disappears into the hotel).
(June nods sagely.)

Seth: I’m thinking about going to upstate New York.
Katy: Really? What part?
Seth: Upstate.
Katy: Where in upstate? I’m from there.
Seth: Finger Lakes.
Katy: I’m from the Finger Lakes! Where are you going?
Seth: Lake Chitaqua. My dad turned me on to it. There’s this place he goes in the summer, and he lives for it.
Katy: Cool! It’s so beautiful there, especially in the summer.
Seth: I might do an event there.
Katy: Need a helper?
Seth: Maybe –
Katy: Ooo, pick me!
Seth: Yeah!
Katy: So when are we going?
Seth: This summer. I don’t know.
Katy: Well, I have til the end of July.
Seth: Sweet, that’s my time frame.
Katy: So what’s going on at Lake Chitaqua?

Seth told me the story, then, of how he and his father came to terms with each other, just a few years ago. He didn’t like his dad much, growing up, he said, and he moved out quite young. After he moved out, he’d call his dad once in a while, but hated doing so because the conversations were never pleasant. They didn’t argue, or anything like that, but his dad was something of a hypochondriac and would tell Seth that, someday, Seth would have the same health complications he believed himself to be plagued by. Seth felt his dad was trying to bequeath those illnesses to him, and he found himself reluctant to call his dad. He’s say, “Hi Dad, how are you?” Then he’d kick himself for asking, because he dad would respond with a listing of medical misfortunes.

Seth: And I never wanted to go home unless I could do it on my own terms. I pay for everything. If I want to go somewhere with him – last year, I wanted to go to Santa Fe. I called my dad and said, “hey, let’s go to Santa Fe. I’ll send you a plane ticket, you just get on the plane and meet me there. I’ll rent a car at the airport.” And I did. I flew us both in to Albuquerque, rented a car there, and drove us to Santa Fe. And it was great. But I never wanted to make him provide the vacation. I provide the vacation. He just comes along. I like it that way.

A few years ago, his dad called him. While they spoke, Seth realized that the neediness usually so present in his dad’s voice was – gone. His dad told him about going to this retreat at Lake Chitaqua, and how it was a life-changing event. Seth’s dad learned, at the retreat, that in all his life, he had never learned to say “I love you.” Further, he learned that all his life, he had been going to doctors when he needed to feel cared for. Seth’s dad said, “my biggest regret, is that I didn’t do this sooner in my life,” and he wanted very much to share the experience with Seth. After some resistance, Seth agreed to go spend a week with his dad at the retreat at Lake Chitaqua. He stayed an extra week; when it was time to leave, he let his dad go and booked the extra week for himself. This year, he wants to go back.

Seth described the retreat location: hundreds of acres of gated land where no cars were allowed. People would drop off their luggage, then park their cars by the entrance for the week – or weeks – they were staying. They’d walk everywhere – around the lake, to the opera, the theater, the symphony, the lectures. Speakers come from all over the world for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to speak at Lake Chitaqua, and there is a different theme every week. The second week Seth stayed there, the theme was National Geographic: Oceans. They would talk about science all morning, and theology all afternoon, then go to the opera in the evening.

I wondered what the theme was the week Seth’s dad discovered how to say “I love you,” but I didn’t ask. He was telling his story and we were sipping Irish whiskey from his flask. It wasn’t a good time to get interrogative.

At the end of the evening, Autumn has packed up and gone to dinner with her husband, Logan, who came to visit toward the end of the day. June has gone, too, with her rainbow of scarves, and Nicole and Kirsten have parted ways. I tell Seth about the paper I have to write, and how I’m not sure that I’ll be able to, since I’m not around many families at the moment.

Then Kirsten stopped by to see Seth; she and I introduced ourselves to each other. The three of us talked about road trips and motorcycles and cars. Seth pondered how he would drive to New York. Not a direct trip, he said – he wanted to be in each place. He wanted to enjoy every stop on the journey, to have lunch with people who knew his coffee. He has at least 200 customers in every state. Every place he goes, if he gives enough warning, he can meet someone who drinks his coffee and have lunch with them. He wants to meet as many people as he can. He loves people, he says with a smile, and people love coffee. I think he’s right.

Nicole stops by next. I’ve never met her before, either, but she’s familiar, like we’ve seen each other somewhere, somehow. It’s a small town; that’s not surprising. Nicole is full of life, a flower about to burst in a pink velvet dress and brown boots. Nicole and Kirsten talk animatedly about Santa Cruz and Nicole’s latest gig, managing the creation of an art installation at the MOCA, the Museumof Contemporary Art, in Tucson. Her friend Chico had asked her to be part of the team. The piece her team created is called “Chrysalis,” and she talked about all the changes in her life and how the project was so appropriate for this period of her life. She talked about being the only woman, in charge of a group of men, and how that made her want to “do fist pumps every day.” She felt like the butterfly emergent and powerful.

On a whim, I decided to do an oracle reading for Seth. While he entertained customers and Nicole and Kirsten caught up with each other, I shuffled and drew my oracle cards. When the customers departed, I nodded Seth over to my cards and explained the reading to him. The reading helped him make a decision: he’s going on a road trip this summer, north to Colorado, then east to New York. He’s going to sell his coffee at Lake Chitaqua. I’m so proud of him.

Then I notice, for the first time, the beautiful stained glass windows on the second floor of the building across the street. I mention it to Seth. He agrees. We stare at the glass for a moment, slightly inebriated and almost out of whiskey.
"I feel like I'm going to cry," he says.
I ask, "Good cry or bad cry?"
"Good cry."
"Oh, good then."
"I can just feel it. You know, life is so beautiful. It's like how old people's eyes always have that sheen of wetness. Their eyes have seen so much, and it's all there, all that beauty, and there's so much that they're about to burst. They've seen so much beauty. The tears are always just about to fall because life is so beautiful. It's like that."
"That's going in my paper," I say.
"That's cool. It should," he replies.

Normanstops by, seeing Seth and I still there. Norm is one of Seth’s employees. We chat. A kid stops by with a young sparrow on his finger. It can’t fly because some of its flight feathers have been damaged. A cat, maybe, from the looks of the sparrow’s matted downy and torn tail. The kid thinks the bird is “part finch and part sparrow” but the rest of us doubt that very much. He’s looking for food for the little bird, and I recall that I have chia seeds in my kitchen. So I say good night and leave the alley, kid and bird in tow, hoping to write a paper after I feed the bird.

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