Monday, October 26, 2009

A New Story Submitted by a Reader

Dear friends, I'm so pleased to share the story below, sent to me by a writer I met through that chattering tree we now all know as Twitter. If I needed any convicing how wonderful social media can be for the sharing of short stories . . . well, actually, I didn't need any. Elegant and earthy, "El Papi" comes to ASN from Naples, Florida; if you'd like to contact the author, feel free to leave your comments here, or find him perched on Twitter at @boudreaufreret. And now, let's all feast together, and enjoy!

El Papi, by Boudreau Freret

José's El Papi Taqueria is hidden, tucked away in a corner of the Kwik Pick convenience store. The Kwik Pick has no gas pumps. You can purchase a single cigarette at the cash register from opened packs. You can wire money home. A poster in the front window next to the door advertises bus service to a handful of Texas cities, and several more scattered across northern Mexico. Houston is over a thousand miles away.

My town is a haven for seasonal residents who fall into two categories: those from places that get cold in the winter, and need browning by sun and golf; and those from Mexico and south Texas, browned by birth and labor.

The Kwik Pick exists to serve the latter. To the former, both it and El Papi's Taqueria are all but invisible.

Not to me. I am privy to the Taqueria, and the magic José brings to Florida from home.

Today the lunch crowd hasn't yet arrived. Two men sit at one table; their dark blue shirts have lettering over the front pockets I can't read. I have my pick of the remaining half-dozen tables. It's easy to move to the counter without the perdón that, in half an hour, will be necessary to weave just a few feet across the room.

José smiles and greets me with a hearty, “Hello, my friend!” I am the thing here that is not like the others, yet José seems happy to have me. He greets everyone as if they are his favorite guest – his only guest – and still makes it feel special. “You want what you always have?” he asks as he sets down a pan and takes up his pad. José's English is better than my Spanish, and I'm briefly ashamed.

“I don't think so,” I tell him.

“No?” he looks concerned--then smiles broader than should be possible.

“No. I'm at your mercy. You pick."

“Oh, I know just what you'll like,” he says, scribbling on the pad. “Maíz or flour?”

I scowl a little. “Maíz. You know that.” Always the corn tortillas. He makes them every morning.

You can see the street from every table. I'm sitting at one with less sunlight, so I can both stare out the window and watch the telenovela on the tv, high on the wall in the corner. On the screen, a woman is upset with a man in a doctor's lab coat, while a baby wails from its clear plastic hospital nursery bed.

The lunch crowd starts to arrive. Some sit; most stand and wait to take their orders with them back to work. They stand first at the counter, then spill into the room, finding space where they can until they've backed up to my table. We're all in this together now. I've lost sight of José, but I know he's just a few feet away, back there smiling at his customers and taking orders.

Then the crowd parts, and José appears, bearing a plate. He places his creation in front of me, turned just so, then vanishes into the crowd only to reappear seconds later with a cup of salsa verde picante. He leaves it, grins, then is swallowed again.

The plate, the food. Oh my, the food.

This is not just food, any more than Isaac Stern just made sounds from a violin, or Pavlova just moved, or Michelangelo just made decorations.

On this plate is a celebration of all that is wonderful about being human – all that looks pleasing, smells wonderful.

I savor the moment and the thousands of parts that compose it: the tastes, the colors, the telenovella in the background, the window facing traffic. An endless parade starts and stops outside, land yachts toting golf bags to artificial destinations.

I wonder what all those people will eat for lunch. For a second, I almost pity them. Almost.

By Boudreau Freret
Naples, Florida

Photo credit: Bruce Barone

Monday, October 12, 2009


It's Deli Day at Temple Israel. In the community hall the stage is piled thick and close with white paper bags, each bag containing a wrapped corned-beef sandwich, a container of slaw, a pickle, and some mustard. The corned beef has been flown in from New York City. The bags emerge from offstage--the Temple's kitchen--and are deposited in white clusters like folded swans along the proscenium's edge. Then they make their way down through the plastic-gloved hands of volunteers to waiting customers, like me.

Stage right, iced-tea cups are being noisily filled.

One of the volunteers, Jerry, hobbles toward me, smiling. His service at the Temple is only one of his many responsibilities as a retiree in this small town; he also helps to bring ballet to Columbus, known more for its army base than for Giselle.

Jerry loves everything about the dance, he confides in me, knowing my background--even if he isn't moving so well himself right now. He points at his knees.

"I'm so sorry. What happened?"

"I just had knee surgery."

"Oh no. Too many waltzes?"

"Just an old army injury. Nothing romantic."

He holds himself very still while we talk, balancing. He tells me how, as a young man in Connecticut, he had first seen the great, ground-breaking modern dancers--Límon, Cunningham, Graham--and that he still tends to prefer modern dance to classical.

"Why is that, do you think?" I take a glass of iced tea.

"Because it's so open and free and improvisational. It's just fantastic. But then again . . ."


"You know . . . I could tell you the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my life . . ."

I clutch my bag of corned-beef to my chest, nodding.

"It was a classical ballerina. Makarova. She was . . . extraordinary. She was so ethereal. Mesmerizing." He's squinting up into the the blazing light of the Temple's hall. "I sat there watching her . . . and it was as if I could feel myself rising out of my seat along with her. Floating. I've never experienced anything like that in my life, before or since. That feeling of lightness. Of being lifted. I guess that's one of the things we hope art will do for us."


"So, since you were a dancer once, I hope you can recommend a ballet company we could bring to our town?" he asks, guiding me toward the dessert table, filled with dozens of beautifully skirted cakes and pies, being served, in generous slices, to the gleaming, uniformed men of Fort Benning.


Photo credit: Bruce Barone

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Bill simply got tired of being around the kind of people who weren't exactly happy to see him, and that he didn't want to see. So he quit law enforcement, dead-of-night surveillance, investigations, and watching bad people do bad things--and came to live and work at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Retired, his work is unpaid (his wife, the breadwinner now, directs operations for the Grand Canyon Association). His responsibilities, as he described them to me, were "to do anything asked."

"I build displays," he said as we sat together on the low stone wall lining the rim. "I take people on tours of the Kolb Studio," he pointed to the famous building wedged and clinging to the blunt cliff. I had visited the Studio earlier that day; the Grand Canyon had been a lonely place when it was timbered and mortared, stone by stone, a hundred years ago and more.

Now of course, we were anything but lonely. A crowd from a tour bus passed by us.

But this is what Bill loves most about his new life. He loves being around people who are on vacation, in a good mood. And being around tourists who represent the entire world.

"But don't you ever feel a bit crowded? Overwhelmed?"

No, he shook his Grand Canyon Association-capped head. The rim offered its periods of solitude. During a full moon, in winter, he often didn't sleep. Instead, he bundled up and came out to sit where we were sitting now. For hours.

If it had snowed, the earth around him seemed to glow, before dropping off into phantasmal darkness.

Even more amazing were the mornings when an inversion--he lay his hands flat and tried to describe this for me--filled the Canyon with white cloud. Then, it looked as though you could walk right across, from rim to rim. People, photographers especially, waited their entire lives to see it.

"Of course, the tourists end up complaining. They say they can't see a thing. But they just don't know what they're looking at. That what they're getting to watch is as beautiful as anything you could ask. And now it's one of my jobs," he adds smiling, "to help them understand."


Photo credit: Bruce Barone

Friday, October 2, 2009


"A story is not about a moment in time; a story is about the moment in time."--W.D. Wetherell

Photo credit: Bruce Barone