fs_gilbreath_deltaco_fi_001
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

We’ll go to Del Taco,
And order something macho.
And when your lips go down to take a bite,
Your face is covered in food but it’s alright,
You know it’s gonna be good, you and me tonight.
─ Hunx and His Punx “Good Kisser”

The day my friend Rich bought a Del Taco T-shirt from an employee was the day I realized that my fixation with the fast food Mexican chain was about more than beans. Back then, in 1993, I was an 18-year-old Arizonan obsessed with California beach culture. I owned a boogie board that I used one week a year. I wore vintage Hang Ten and Hobie surf tees that I found at Phoenix thrift stores. I favored Van’s and cutoffs, and I rode a late ’60s red and white Schwinn beach cruiser whose sleek beauty and tall white walls had strangers yelling “Hey, Pee Wee Herman!” at me on the street. If the southern California coast was the center of my landlocked universe, then Del Taco was a bright star in my sky. What did I know? Fresh out of high school and uncertain about the future, I was searching for an identity. All I knew for certain was that I wanted to live on the beach. More… “Cheddar Suns over Lettuce Mountains”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
SL_AKEY_KALB_FI_001
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

When I was 13 or 14 I spent a certain amount of time in my local record store in suburban Connecticut contemplating the cover of Projections by the Blues Project: five proto-hippies hanging out on the corner looking slick with their polka dot shirts and sideburns. And that guy with the coolly arrogant stare with his finger hooked in his belt loop – who was that? Kooper, the most famous one, I recognized from his association with Bob Dylan, and Katz I knew from the covers of two Blood, Sweat and Tears albums, a band that had even then achieved far more success than the already defunct Blues Project. But the swaggering hipster who caught my eye – that was Danny.

I met Danny Kalb in 1996 at a party in Park Slope, where he had lived for some years after the breakup of the Blues Project and a spell in California that had not been good for his mental health. Danny had founded the band in 1965, making the progression from Greenwich Village folkie and resident guitar virtuoso to plugged-in rock and roller. For a while the Blues Project, with their progressive blending of blues, rock, pop, and jazz, looked like they might be the Next Big Thing, but it never panned out; as Danny once told me, he had been a minor rock star for a couple of years. Most people agree that neither Projections nor its under produced predecessor Live at the Café Au Go Go really did justice to the band. Like many a cult band, they never quite got down their vibe on wax. I prefer their third and last album, Reunion in Central Park (1972), which comes closest to capturing their almost-as-tight-as-a-jazz-band-but-not-obsessed-about-it essence. The boxed set The Blues Project Anthology (1997), in the grab-bag way of the band, contains a rich miscellany of rockers, pop ballads, jazzy instrumentals, blues standards, and throwaways, but I can’t improve on the superb liner notes by John Platt and anyway what I really want to talk about is Danny, the only rock star, minor or otherwise, I’ve ever known.
More… “A Minor Rock Star”

Stephen Akey is the author of two memoirs, College and Library, and of essays in The New Republic, Open Letters Monthly, and The Millions.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

 

I pulled a packaged alfajor that I bought for breakfast at the bus station out of my backpack and got into my new hotel room hide-a-bed. The photo on the foil packet of two sugar cookies held together by a thick layer of dulce de leche and coated in shiny chocolate promised a good time, but what the actual snack delivered, to my amazement, was a sensation that felt like 400 calories of pure, uncritical love. I spent some time in bed smelling the package.

When I offered the wrapper to my Israeli friend Hadar for her to smell, she turned me down from her bed, where she was examining the split ends of her curly blond bangs while she smoked.

“Disgusting,” she said. “Sweets are disgusting.” She pronounced the second syllable in a throaty way, but the amount of time and spit she spent on the… More…

When I lived in Japan I joined a flower arrangement club. I didn’t have any interest in flowers, or tradition, or grace, so it was an odd move.

I did, however, have a friend who was the president of the Ikebana club at our university, who had helped me out a lot in the first months of school. In classes Ryoko made sure I was following along by grabbing my sleeve and whispering, “Understand, Emi?” She blinked a lot and made audible breathing-in noises whenever she was about to explain something difficult or ask me a question she thought I could potentially answer no to. So when she invited me to come watch her Ikebana club, I could only say yes.

The sensei, who was in her late 70s, helped me prune my branches and buds into the appropriate shapes. Then she impaled them at specific angles onto a square… More…

It was around the time I met Victor that he started actively trying to get out of Cuba. He worked in tourism, illegally, and between jobs he fought for the paperwork to move to Spain. We worked together for a summer, then I went back to the States, and he was still where I left him when I came back to Cuba the following summer to work again. I was employed by a program for American high school students that combined educational travel with casual coursework. For me, being in Cuba, though my job occupied me around the clock, was like a holiday.

When I saw Victor again he didn’t look well. His body, as before, was solid: he was shorter than I was, which is to say below the height of the average American woman, and his arms and back were sturdy and masculine and muscled, his trunk square… More…

So ubiquitous.

“Wild night?” my roommate sat down on the corner of my bed and asked.

“What are you talking about?” I had never had a wild night in the year I lived in Boulder, but I was flattered that she thought I was capable of pulling one off, and I wanted to hear more about this wild night of mine. I stretched out in my bed. It came from a dumpster, but it was king sized, and it was a good bed.

“That guy in your car,” she said. “Did you guys have a fight?”

“What?” I thought back on the night before. I remembered watching the dog obedience class in the park across the street from our porch, and then, when the class was over, throwing crackers at the squirrels while they had really loud sex on the porch banister. It was wild, but not the kind of wild I… More…

Boats at the watery border between Thailand and Burma.

Matthew, the small Burmese Kayin man who worked the front desk at the Lotus Guesthouse, was the first one to suggest that Mr. Benny might be dead. “Benny went back to Burma so he could die near his family,” he told me, his eyes fixed on the TV set as flickering Shiites danced in the streets of Iraq. “He was too sick to live in Thailand any more.”

I had just returned to the rainy border town of Ranong, Thailand, after an absence of five months. It was April 9, 2003, the day U.S. tanks rolled into central Baghdad. Matthew had been squatting in the guesthouse lobby, translating BBC commentary for the other hotel workers — all of them illegal migrant workers from Burma. Deciphering the images from Iraq proved to be a difficult process, since even the BBC commentators didn’t seem to know what was going on. Had Baghdad… More…

When I was living and studying in rural Japan, I had a Korean-Chinese friend named Emi. She spoke Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, and English fluently, and she didn’t need much sleep. Once, when she came home to our dorm after studying late at night, she left a cream puff outside my door with a note: “Eat! Eat! Delicious!”

Emi was getting her master’s degree in psychology and taking four classes a term. She was also looking online for a husband, and that, she said, made her feel like she was taking five classes a term.

One night she pulled me into her professor’s office so I could take a look at a collection of men’s photos she had downloaded from the Internet. With a couple of clicks on a folder icon she produced a collection of the most sullen, pasty-looking Korean-Chinese men I had ever seen. Not that I had seen… More…

I came across an article a while ago about an unusual friendship between a monkey and a dog. Apparently there was a terrible flood, somewhere in Africa where terrible things like this happen, and the two animals were trapped. They somehow survived the rivers created by the endless rain, and they have been inseparable ever since. They sleep together, eat together and, perhaps most unusual of all, the monkey rides on the dog’s back. If you can find a photo of this, it leaves you with the feeling that it is both the most unnatural and natural thing you have ever seen. It’s more Disney than Disney.

After I found the article I wanted to write a story about these two friends, but it never came out right. I kept coming back to the image of the two living in an apartment building in New York City after a terrible… More…