A Mystical Evening

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The goose hissed at me as I stepped out of my car, turning its head before its body and focusing. It hissed again when I closed the car door, and the other geese behind it turned as well. Then it took tentative steps toward me, spreading its wings out menacingly and sauntering forward, giving off a sound like a clown squeezing the rubber horn on his lapel.

“Whoa, whoa, okay,” I muttered as I stepped quickly away, and the geese slowed their paces, backing off. I remembered a childhood story of a kid getting bit by a goose he’d been taunting at the park, and I certainly didn’t need that experience in my life.

I looked briefly around the property of Mystic Hot Springs, on the edges of tiny Monroe, Utah. I’d never been to this section of the state before, though I have been spending more time in central and southern Utah lately during my work on the documentary. Over in this little corner were towns with names like Elsinore and Koosharem, the very definitions of small-town America, the kinds of places where one has to drive to the “city”, a population center of more than 5000 people, to get groceries and gas.

Mystic was pretty in its way. Driving in, there had been a series of run-down cabins, uninhabitable, followed by a section of RVs, a small campground, then a long row of old busses that had been converted into hotel rooms of a sort. There were several buildings scattered throughout the property and, on one side, pens for goats, alpacas, and chickens, if I remember the signs correctly. Off to the right of my car was a trail heading upward, where different pools had been arranged to collect the hot springs water. To my left was the main office, where I was to register for my room for the night. I entered, after stepping over a few peacocks.

The ad for this place on Airbnb, and in local searches, used the word ‘hippie’ multiple times, a word that the few people who lived here clearly owned. The main room of the office extended off of the owner’s homes, as I could see the kitchen off to the side and doors marking private residence entrances, but the room itself was piled with ‘hippie’ merchandise, like crystals, specially blessed bags of salt, and hand-woven scarves. Signs all over the desk advertised that members of the staff could be secured for hypnotherapy sessions, table massages, couples massages, or chair massages.

A kind woman in a flowy blouse checked me in and described the property. She took payment and told me I’d be sleeping in one of the busses, all of which had been converted to camping rooms, with a community bathroom just feed away with showers and running water. She literally called it “the Grateful Dead Hippie Bus”, and told me “You’ll be staying in the white one. It’s the Ripple Bus but it isn’t labelled. It’s the one next to the blue bus.” Shortly afterward, she offered me a chair massage, and, I mean, how could I turn that down.

For 15 minutes, I sat in a chair while she worked on my shoulders, neck, and upper and lower back. She made casual small talk about growing up as a non-Mormon in Utah and moving around the state before finding a home here. She mentioned some of the quirkier corners of the Utah wilderness, like a pond where many Mormons had died seeking a buried treasure, and the Devil’s Slide rocks near where she grew up. She had surprisingly strong hands and it felt good to let the tension go for a few minutes. January had been a busy month. She informed me that the band, the Free Peoples, would be putting on a private concert that very night in this very room, and invited me to come back at 9 pm. I heartily agreed.

I left the lodge and pulled a protein bar out of my pocket, looking around. Making sure the path was clear of geese, I walked up the short hill to the hot springs, reading the signs warning against public nudity and alcohol. A few collected pools of hot spring water were on the lower edges, and slightly higher up were bathtubs (literally bathtubs) that had been placed to collect the water for a more… unique hot springs experience. There were several different bathtubs in various groupings around the hillside. A couple sat squished together in one while three women occupied three in a row on the other side. I pictured old Western movies, where the cowboy enters the brothel and sits in the hot tub in the middle of the room while the women bustle about. I walked up a bit farther to see the hot springs themselves, trickling down the hill, and I dipped my finger in it, feeling the warmth right from the earth itself. Then one of the three women cackled and began animatedly speaking.

(Warning: graphic language follows)

“Okay, so then, I’m squeezing right, but I’m not sure he’s really into it, and I’m wondering if this guy has ever even had a hand job before, he’s just there in his truck like just looking off in the distance, like he’s, like, watching something boring on TV, but I really like him, so I, like, keep going. I’m squeezing, I’m stroking, I’m pumping, and then all of the sudden, he just, like cums but, like the tiniest bit, like you could barely tell. And he never made a sound! Like not a sound! His facial expression didn’t even change! He just, like, pulls his pants up and we, like, go to the movies. But, you guys, I really, really like him!”

I made my way back down the hillside as the women continued laughing. Still wary of geese, I grabbed my bag and walked over the Hippie Bus I’d be staying in. I entered ‘the white one’ and realized there was no key and no way to lock the door. All of the many windows in the interior of the bus had been covered by hanging blankets and shawls, and I could slide a chain lock on the bus door when I was inside, but I couldn’t lock it from the outside when I left. It was surprisingly quaint in the interior, with a queen size bed against one side piled with blankets and pillows, one the blankets being electric; yellow lights were strewn around the top edges of the room; there were a few chairs, a lamp, and a small table with a game of dominos on it. A hanging side read ‘Take only Memories, Leave only Footprints.” It was cold inside, but I switched on the small space heater and kicked off my shoes, planning on reading my book on Truman Capote for a while.

Hours later, I took myself back out into the cold and walked up the hill to one of the empty pools. It was dark outside now. One pool over, an elderly couple embraced in a shadowy corner, and I could still hear the women giggling up on the hillside. It was too dark to read, so I sat alone with my thoughts. I looked up over the brown mountain ranges to a gorgeous full moon with a wisp of cloud over it, a perfect Halloween moon in January. It was stunning. The water was perfect, not too hot or cold, and I found an edge to lean into, where I could be alone with my thoughts for a time.

I learned a few years ago that I love traveling solo. When I don’t do it, I start to get uncomfortable, itchy in my own skin, and I need short getaways like this to recharge myself. I’ve discovered that I quite like my company and can go most anywhere, trying local food, seeing community theater, sampling live music, and entering storefront museums. But whenever I travel, there is usually at least one evening for a few hours where all of my demons claw their way to the surface. For just a bit, I feel pathetic. Dissatisfied. Frustrated. Furious. I grieve my past, I mourn my lost opportunities, I rage at my hardships. I hone in on unmet goals, inconsistencies in my love life, financial burdens, or family hardships. I’ve honed the ability to feel those feelings, to let them be part of me for a bit, to give voice to them. They are part of me. They are important. I need fear, anger, sadness, guilt, grief, and pain to be part of my ongoing narrative. And then, once I feel them, I release them, into gratitude and happiness. I remember the positive and wonderful things in my life. I looked up at the moon and smiled about the happy moments during my day: the phone call from my 9-year old to tell me he missed me, the morning hug from my boyfriend, the delivery of a copy of my book to an excited friend, singing sings while driving south, and a long sit-down conversation with a sheriff about my documentary. I thought of the good people in my life, the ones who show up and who mean what they say. I swished my hands around in the water and released myself into this moment, on this hillside, and everything was okay.

Another hour later, I entered the main office again, and found a five-man band playing on the stage set up on the side. They were… good. There were drums, guitars, and a saxophone, and two of the men took turns singing. They were incredible, a nice new-age electric bluegrass tone to their music. They finished a song about ‘the best 25 dollars they ever spent’, then turned to the room and said ‘thank you, thank you very much’, and I realized I was the only person there. I looked around and realized they were recording the performance. I sank back into a chair, as I wasn’t sure they had even noticed me there, and kept listening. During a break between songs, one of the band members yelled out, “oh come on, who was that?” and the other laughed back “Sorry man, I held it as long as I could!”

I took a picture of the band and sent it to my friend Meg, explaining the circumstances. She sent back an image of the animatronic band from Chuck E. Cheese, and I realized that the Free Peoples were basically in the same formation, and I laughed out loud. Suddenly, a small Chihuahua in a sweater jumped into my lap and began licking me, and I looked over to see the woman from the chair massage standing off to the side. Shortly after that, the three women from the hot springs, the girls who’d been cackling about the hand job, entered the room, still dripping wet from the hot springs, and they stood right in front of me, dancing. After one more song, a few more Chihuahua licks, and a bit too much of the wet bathing suit bottoms wiggling in front of me, I decided my weirdness level had reached its max, and I retired for the evening.

In my bed in my bus. I texted the boyfriend good night, and he messaged back that he had mentioned the hippie bus to a friend, and she’d responded “ooh, tell Chad to take disinfectant spray. They have so much hippie sex in those things.”

“I have a weird life,” I said out loud as I clicked off the light, then I went to sleep with a smile on my face.

the Garden of Eat’n

 

Bev loomed over the table, hands on hips. “Ready to order?”

I did one last quick scan of the menu. “I’ll take the ‘Paradise Veggie Burger. Can I get it on wheat bread instead of a bun? And is a side of cottage cheese possible?”

She moved her tongue against the inside of her cheek and nodded. “Yup. Lettuce, tomato, pickle okay?”

“Yes, thank you.” I handed her my menu as she took the orders from Jason and Dave, my colleagues there on a work trip for me. Without another word, Bev turned back toward the kitchen to place our orders. She was a large woman, in black pants and a white shirt that was likely supposed to be tucked in. She had on heavy foundation but no blush or lipstick, and her dyed-red hair was slicked back. She was probably 50 years old, and had a wedding ring on her finger.

We made small talk as we waited for our order, and I recounted some of the stranger happenings during the day there in Fillmore, Utah, a small town just off the freeway in the center of the state. Earlier in the day, I’d stopped at a grocery store called Duane’s, one that still had a video check out counter, where the cashier had nearly fallen asleep while ringing up small purchases. After that, needing some electronic supplies, we had entered the local Radio Shack only to find some sort of craft store within. When we’d asked the woman working about it, she’d informed us that “Radio Shack went belly up years ago. We just haven’t taken the sign down yet.” Instead, we’d found our electronic supplies at a little home business that advertised computer repair, except the sign out front called it ‘Computor Repair,” making all of us chuckle.

Bev soon returned our plates of food. I placed my requested vegetables on top of the veggie patty and tucked the slices of bread around it, taking a hearty bite, and it was good if not great. We were at the only sit down, non-fast food restaurant in town, the Garden of Eat’n, and when we entered, Dave made the joke that the owners must be Adam and Eve, to which I responded that Adam and Steve were more likely. The place was nearly empty, except for a few older cowboys, and the four employees we had seen, including Bev, all looked as if they would rather be any place but here.

We continued chatting as we ate, then I took a spoonful of cottage cheese and placed it in my mouth. It… bubbled. It tasted carbonated, almost like it had been soaked in Sprite for a bit. It was odd, a bit sour, and popping. I set my spoon down, disconcerted.

“Oh, something is wrong with this.”

Jason leaned over and took a small bite of the cottage cheese from his fork. “Oh, yeah, that’s bad. That’s expired.”

I’d already swallowed the bite I had taken, which caused me worry as we had hours of work still ahead. I raised my hand into the air, signaling Bev.

“What is it?” she asked without smiling.

“I, um, I think the cottage cheese has gone bad.”

She reached down and plucked the bowl of my plate. “Yeah, I thought that might be the case.” Then she turned toward the kitchen to return it.

Jason and I made eye contact and he immediately started laughing.

“Wait, did she just admit she knew the cottage cheese was bad but she served it to me anyway? What–why would she–did she think I wouldn’t notice?”

Bev returned with a dish of cole slaw, one that was mediocre but I ate it all more out of necessity than hunger at this point. And soon she brought our check, plopping it down on the table without asking how our meal was or if we enjoyed our service.

I took the receipt up to the checkout counter where Rose, a skinny raven-haired 20-something took it from my hands, and asked, without inflection, how everything was.

“Um, it was fine, except I was served expired cottage cheese. Except I think she knew it was expired and served it anyway.”

Rose didn’t look up, processing the transaction. “I’m real sorry about that, want to leave a tip on the card?”

I had nothing to say to that, so I simply walked out, ignoring the jibes of my colleagues, though I was laughing myself. I nodded at them, telling them I was going to grab a cup of coffee before meeting them back at the station.

I walked across from the Garden of Eat’n to a gas station, where I found four pots of coffee inside. I found the attendant unloading boxes in one of the aisles and gave him a smile.

“Hey there, which one of these coffee pots is the freshest?”

The man’s expression shifted from a smile to a look that could only be described as “I-just-ran-over-your-dog-and-I-don’t-know-how-to-tell-you”. I grimaced, and he gave a grimace back, and I decided that maybe i didn’t need coffee after all.

As I walked out of the gas station, a woman walked in, and I heard the man enthusiastically greet her. “Hey, Lorraine, don’t forget Relief Society is tonight!”

And I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, somehow charmed by this bizarre life in a small town. Then I tasted the cottage cheese again and my smile left.

“Yeah, I thought that might be the case.”

Eatn

Making Lemonade in Hollywood

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Let’s say you love making lemonade. I mean, you love it. The whole process. You love blending the ingredients to perfection, and you especially love the huge refreshing and surprised smile people get on their faces when they taste it, cold and delicious. You have tried out several combinations and mixtures, from huckleberry to honey lime to chocolate peanut butter, and the variety is exciting, but it is that homemade original recipe that you love so much.

People ask you how you came up with such a perfect recipe, they wonder why it tastes so good, and you come up with a story about how you got it from your grandmother, but the truth is you made it all by yourself, and you don’t want to share the recipe with anyone else, it’s special and it is just yours.

Soon friends start asking you to make your lemonade for special events, weddings and receptions, company barbecues and family picnics. At first you do it for free, then you charge them just a bit, just enough to cover the ingredients, but then you get busier and you start charging for your time as well. But you charge barely anything. Making lemonade on top of your day job keeps you very busy indeed. But you love it still.

And one day a friend sits you down and says, you know, you could do something with this lemonade thing. You are the best. Just quit your job and open a little store front, or sell it online. Create a YouTube channel about your lemonade, make an Instagram account, create a Facebook fan page, put up a Twitter account, come up with a campaign, people of all ages loving your lemonade. And you are surprised, because even though you make the best lemonade, you have no idea how to run a business, how to market it. You live in a small town. You can’t just make lemonade, can you? But the idea sticks in your mind for a while, and you think, why not give it a shot. But you don’t quit your job, you try to do it smart.

And so you start telling people about your lemonade. You put some money into creating a marketing campaign. You do daily posts on social media. You take pictures and publish them. You offer samples. You tell local companies about it, and put some ads up on the internet. And you stick with it for a few months, but orders don’t increase, and all that time and initiative you are putting into your lemonade promotion is yielding very small results. The people who loved it before still love it, but no one else is really trying it.

You talk to your friend again, and he tells you to keep at it, says the lemonade is the best. And you tell him that you agree, it’s damn good lemonade, but no one else is trying it out. Think bigger, he says. The talent is there, you just have to find it.

And so you save up a bit, and you take yourself to Hollywood, just to see. It’s beautiful there. The streets are lined with amazing buildings full of history and money and success, but also failure and pain and flops. Lemonade is everywhere in Hollywood, in every shape and color and on every corner. There are 50,000 people there making lemonade, and only a few thousand of them are doing well at it, and only a few hundred doing really well at it.

And you spend a few days drinking other people’s lemonade. It’s good, but not as good as yours. But this lemonade, it’s selling like crazy. People are raving about it. It is in shiny cups lined with sugar, in store fronts with air-conditioning and plush seats and soft lighting.

And after a few days of drinking other people’s lemonade, you wonder about your options you really want to keep making lemonade (and you really do), how can you be a success at it? You want to be one of the few thousand (not one of the few hundred), but there are a lot of lemonade stands out there. Do you need pretty packaging? A busy store front on a Hollywood intersection? A new label? Do you need to team with someone who is already making lemonade in order to make yours bigger?

Or do you just keep making lemonade and working the day job, hoping it will take off some day?

Or do you just keep making lemonade for the people in your small town who already like it, and be content with that?

Or do you stop making lemonade all together?

And so a few days later, you are back in your little kitchen and you are swishing your old familiar mixing spoon around and around your old familiar pitcher. Ice is clinking against the sides of the glass as the liquid beneath it swirls round and round. You see the sugar dissolving into the water, and the wedges of lemon bobbing up and down. It turns a careful beautiful bright yellow. And you know it will be delicious, not only because you have made it 1000 times before, but because you love to make it, you love this process, these careful calculations, the mix and stir and clink and swish and pour. You love the process even more than you love the taste of it on your tongue. And people come in and they drink and they say it is delicious.

And you hold a glass of cold lemonade in your hand, and you look out the window at the setting sun, already thinking about the batch of lemonade you will make tomorrow, and you wonder again about ambition, and potential, and doing what you love.