Chloe Caldwell lives in upstate New York. Her first book of essays, Legs Get Led Astray, was released by Future Tense Books in April 2012. Excerpts can be found on the Rumpus, SmallDoggies, and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood. She works at a music store and writes a column called “Love & Music” for the Faster Times. She hosts the Hudson River Loft Reading Series in Hudson, NY. If you are there you should go.
Forfeiting the traditional interview format, I sent Chloe words and asked her to write back. And she did. The pictures are real, too.
HFR: Pad Thai
CC: We were served Pad Thai for dinner at the sleep-away new age camp where I worked as a counselor this past summer. We were served Pad Thai once a week though I don’t remember which day it was. I want to say Wednesday. Always when we were least expecting it. Again? Again! we’d always exclaim to each other. Fucking Pad Thai again? The Pad Thai was a puce mustard color and even though it was over spiced it was underwhelming and gave me an immediate stomachache. Things we were served for dinner at the new age camp: heart-shaped falafel. Barbecue vegan pizza. Veggie balls. Ziti. Vegan macaroni and cheese. The teens were constipated. Teens don’t eat heart-shaped falafel and Pad Thai in the summer. Teens don’t want to be at a new age camp without their cell phones and weed. They want to be home on couch; eating chocolate chip cookies and checking Facebook. That is what they told me. The teens knew I had every other night off from six until nine p.m. On those nights they gave me cash and lists and begged me to go to the grocery store and buy them Ruffles cheddar potato chips and Sour Patch Kids and Oreos and mild salsa and Milky Ways. We weren’t supposed to have food in the cabins because of the black bears, but I snuck it in for them anyway because I wanted them to like me. And because it was the only way that some of them would eat—and poop. “Thank you! You’re the best counselor! Finally, real food!” they’d exclaim and hug me. The teens at the camp started eating sugar toast for dinner because they didn’t like the food. I didn’t start eating sugar toast for dinner because if I started that I would have done it every night. I didn’t trust myself. So, instead, I bitched about the Pad Thai, but I ate it anyway.
CC: There are two different pieces of writing I like that bring up turtles. One is by xTx from her piece, “Climax or Cry.” It’s maybe my favorite xTx piece. It’s about this couple and the guy goes to the East Coast to visit some other girl who is not his girlfriend and the West Coast girl is saying:
Are her kids there? How did she introduce you to them, I wonder? Did they seem too eager to earn your praise? Did they take your hand right away and ask you to come to their room to see their turtle? Did you have to act like you care about their turtle? Do they even have a turtle? Did you feel her watching you from the doorway, her smile burning a hole in your bachelorhood with the scene she liked in a split second playing out before her? Maybe she waited too many minutes longer than she should’ve to tell the kids “Pete’s done looking at the turtle now. Let’s let Pete relax now.” Did they scamper back to the living room and plant themselves on the couch and ask you to sit between them? I bet that was awkward. I hope that didn’t happen.
I love that part about the turtle because it’s fucking funny and also because as a babysitter, my life is pretending to care about a turtle.
The other sentence I like about turtles is by Dear Sugar on the Rumpus. In her column, “The God of Doing it Anyway,” she explains to the Jesus-obsessed woman who is self-conscious about her Jesus-writing: Your Jesus is my mother is someone else’s turtle. Life needs variety. It needs us all. All writers are obsessed with shit. We all repeat ourselves. I think I might get that sentence tattooed around my wrist. Really! Tomato, tomato, potato, potato, Your Jesus is my mother is someone else’s turtle. Brilliant.
CC: Sometimes in Brooklyn all you have to do is show up. That’s what happened to me exactly one year ago on October 15th. This was Brooklyn round #2 and I was 24. (During round #1 I was 20.) My friends—two guys and one girl—moved into an apartment in Bushwick on Suydam Street and said I could come live with them. I was living in Seattle at the time. I would move to Suydam Street. Sue-Damn. The boys would share a bedroom and the girls would share a bedroom and we would save on rent that way. My friend Skye and I were high on life and in our bedroom we declared one of our shelves the positive thinking self-help bookshelf. There was a map in the bathroom and there were raccoons on the roof.
The night I arrived back in Brooklyn I got in at ten and wore all black and the four of us went to do karaoke at a bar called Tandem and I sang “Dreams” by Stevie Nicks. Skye tied a blue ribbon on my wrist that said, I wish I could love and be loved in big cities, and I wore that ribbon around my wrist until I left. Skye’s face was healing from face-planting on the pavement outside the bar Northeast Kingdom. My first night back in Brooklyn I ate my first pastrami sandwich. In the morning I hung up Christmas lights with thumbtacks like I do in all of my apartments.
For the next couple weeks, the four of us drank Four Loko—Forty Loko—actually, where you mix the Four Loko in with a forty of Olde English or some other disgusting beer. We drank and we took turns standing in the living room and reading Black Coffee Blues by Henry Rollins aloud, theatrically, and making movies of ourselves. Skye and I watched Melissa Febos’s trailer for Whip Smart and she says that sometimes having something in your pocket is almost better than having it in your blood, and Skye and I read some ofSpeedology: Speed on Speed In New York by Timothy “Speed” Levitch and we decided that living in New York City is like constantly having coke in your pocket.
Skye owned black and white stickers of the alphabet and the Feng Shui book that my mother mailed me told us to designate certain corners of our bedroom to different things. Skye spelled out the word love by her bed. She put movement by mine. Prosperity was in another corner and so was abundance. Skye and I worked at a cafe together. She was a barista and I was a waitress. We were not so prosperous.
Even though the hot water was gone almost immediately, even though there wasn’t an internet connection, even when there was a mouse in the bodega bag under my bed, even when it was so cold that my face hurt, even when one raccoon turned into an entire family and moved onto our fire escape, even though there were no closets and the door opened the wrong way and our building was trimmed with trash and you had to hold your breath because of the cat-piss smell in the foyer and even though I was almost twenty-five years old yet still sharing a bedroom with a girlfriend, I was in love. I was in love. With the boy who called me Wildflower and with the girl poet that kissed me with tongue at a bar on Avenue A. With my lover that lived in Tennessee and with books and ideas and the subway and strangers and tacos. I took shots of vodka before yoga and on my way to yoga I found clothes on the street and after yoga I walked and walked and fucking walked so fast around Manhattan in my green trench-coat my boy roommate called my “New York costume.” I looked in windows and called people on the phone and stole string cheese from delis and stole a lipstick from Sephora just because the color of it was called “Brooklyn.” I put these things into the pocket of my trench coat and when I eventually took the L train back to Bushwick I went into the bodega on the corner and bought a couple of beers called “Celebration.” At home we listened to music, music, music, and drank beer into the night. I was fucking high; I was so high on New York. I bought an Obama shower curtain on Knickerbocker Avenue and I interviewed with a man to be a model for a figure drawing class. I laid in my bed and read Sugar columns and Anais Nin diaries and texted and wrote about how much I loved New York and when it got too cold to go outside, my friend Noelle and I pretended to have a radio show. We sat in beds across from each other and drank mimosas and gchatted with one another and recorded mp3s of L-I-V-I-N Radio.
I lived in an absolute shithole.
One afternoon the shower wasn’t draining and I told my roommate Frank, to warn him. He sighed, shook his head, and closed the door to the bathroom while quietly, ragefully, saying, “You can find something new to hate about this place every day.”
One night the boys and I watched “Down on Skid Row” from Little Shop of Horrors and laughed and laughed knowing it was on our street—it had to be our street.
One morning I left early for work and I had Henry Miller’s book Crazy Cock in my hand and the sun was out and I was the only one on that disgusting trash- and rat- filled street and I remembered the Henry Miller sentence from The Tropic Of Cancer: I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive. I remembered how once my brother told me that line reminded him of me.
Of course, I had resources in New York. But you get the point.
My bed was a thin, striped mattress given to someone by someone because someone was moving and I folded it in half at night except if my best friend or lover or roommate was sleeping with me. It had a crack in the middle and a dark green sheet I used for the three months I lived there.
One night I sat on it and read “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion outloud to my boy roommates.
On New Year’s Eve, I accidentally drank too much Pork Slap (It looks like such a friendly beer, I explained to Noelle, who laughed in my face and asked, How? It has two pigs slapping bellies on it!) I did not know the beer was all malt; I did not read the can; I was so taken with its orange color—and since I felt invincible last winter I ordered a shot of whiskey with every single beer I drank.
I threw up for quite a while that night when I got back to the Suydam Street bathroom with the map and the Obama shower curtain and then I slept for a couple of hours. It was New Year’s Day and I woke at seven in the morning to go to Clinton Hill and waitress during brunch.
While waitressing, my lover of all lovers called me and invited me to stay with him in a house on Cape Cod for a few days. And even though I had to work the next day and even though I had to pay rent and even though this and even though that—Noelle and I drove to Cape Cod in the morning. In Cape Cod we stayed in a house that we called “the mansion” and I rekindled things with the man I always fight with and we drank tequila and made fires and drank coffee and took cold walks at the ocean and had impromptu dance parties in the kitchen. On the last morning, we high-fived after sex, and actually—actually!—that’s the last time I saw him. After Cape Cod, Noelle and I wanted to keep driving so we drove to Asheville, North Carolina. We went to Denny’s three times in one week. We drove through snowstorms. In the car we listened to “Maneater” over and over by Hall and Oates and we listened to “Don’t Haunt This Place” by the Rural Alberta Advantage and we never stopped talking to each other. Noelle and I have been called an “alternative couple.” We are in love but we don’t have sex but we do go on benders where about thirty days will go by and we realize we’ve slept in the same bed for the past thirty nights. We go on bed benders with one another.
I quit my waitressing job via email when I was in Cape Cod and when Noelle and I finally got back into Brooklyn it was mid-January and late at night. We got drunk enough at Northeast Kingdom that we thought it would be funny to pretend we are on acid. So we went back to Suydam Street apartment and put all of my shit into boxes and bags, pretending to be on LSD and in the morning we drove upstate to my father’s music store and Noelle helped me move my boxes in, and my dad was behind the counter and I said, “Hi, dad.”
Movement. Leaving. The three of them stayed and finished out the leaves. The lease just ended a week ago. While working on this piece (really) I got a text message from Skye. It was a photo of our bedroom, it was the corner of where my bed had been and the text message said, “Your ex-room.”
Then she texted me lyrics from an Alanis Morissette song called “Forgiven” that read: We all had our reasons to be there. We all had a thing or two to learn. We all needed something to cling to. So we did.
I knew that if Skye was at the point that she was texting me Alanis Morissette lyrics then she was more than a couple beers in and I knew exactly where the four of them were sitting in the living room and I knew that Alanis Morissette was right. As usual.
CC: My cousin was eight and since she turned nine she’s morphed into the funniest person I know. My abs ache for her when she’s not around. She is a curious girl like Alice and when she leaves for third grade in the morning I hear her yell, “Bye Samantha! Bye Ray! Bye Chloe! I love you!” to me, her fish, and her dog. Like I told her mother, it’s like she’s on Little House on the Prairie—it’s like she’s a real-life Laura Ingalls-Wilder. She hand writes cards to people and she holds my hand, she yells bye to her fish, she does all of these things that are lost art. She’s a writer. She wrote a book about an animal she invented called “sluggo.” Since my cousin turned nine she never shuts up. She is manic, manic, manic high on life and curiosity and love. She doesn’t sit down at the dinner table. She likes to have a word of the day. The word of yesterday was “belligerent,” which she overheard while I was watching Taxi Cab Confessions. My cousin who was eight and has turned nine has a conscience and an earnest and empathetic heart. Sometimes my heart breaks that she has to live in this world. She is so fragile and kind. A couple of nights she waited up for me while I was out. She wanted to braid my hair. But first she made a sign that said, Bella’s Hair Salon, Copywright. She braided four braids and then we were chatting—normal nine year old stuff: “Do you like olives? What’s your favorite state? Do you like Shel Silverstein? Do you know what melancholy means?” Etcetera, etcetera, and she laid her head on the white pillow and joyously said, “I love doing this.” “Doing what?” I asked, knowing, hoping, thinking that she was thinking what I thought she was thinking. “Lying down and talking with you,” she said. When you are eight and then turn nine, you know what is important.
CC: In the second grade we all stood up for a class spelling bee and I was the last one standing because the word was “agriculture” and that was the first time I felt smart.
CC: My mother’s backyard is for red wine and coffee. It’s for reading and talking on the phone. In my mother’s backyard there was a treehouse. Swings. A rock that I sat on and called my singing rock. I crossed my legs on the rock. My mom says it was sexual. I picked berries. I wanted to be Becky Sawyer. I read in the hammock. I became an adolescent. When we were thirteen, my friend and I thought you could get high off herbs. We went into the cabinet and took down oregano, etcetera, and found rolling papers in my mother’s bedroom and in the backyard rolled joints and smoked oregano. I smoked cloves in the treehouse. I had sex in the grass in the sun. In Brooklyn your fire escape is your backyard. Chelsea Martin says that people that live in Brooklyn always try to get the word Brooklyn into every conversation. Here I am proving her right. Maybe I miss it. Maybe I miss Brooklyn. I miss Brooklyn’s bullshit backyards.
CC: My mother wanted to be Betty Boop. Betty Boop was independent. Betty Boop was sexy. Betty Boop really had her shit together, you know? She vacuumed a lot. She always had earrings on and lipstick. When I was born, my mom’s brother came to the house and threw a vintage Betty Boop doll at my mom where she was sitting with me in her arms on the couch. “Here,” he said. She still keeps it by her bed. Recently I found out that the doll was actually a gift to me but she wanted to keep it so she never told me. Sometimes, when I visit, my mom and I watch old black and white Betty Boop cartoons together in her bed.
My mother always wanted to be a mother. When she drove to the pre-school she worked at in the mornings in her red Toyota she pretended she had a child with her. She would reach out and touch the leg of the invisible child and say: “Whatcha want to do today, honey?”
My mother wanted a daughter that looked like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. My mother expected a daughter that looked like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. That is what she and her sisters had looked like. She thought she’d have her own little Scout.
But my mother got me. A mess. A mob. I popped out early and happy and loud with a maelstrom of thick curly blond hair. Green eyes instead of brown. Thick hair instead of thin. Voluptuous instead of skinny. No chicken legs. Not one straight hair. Never a pixie cut. Breasts by the time I was thirteen. Everyone was always asking how I got that blonde hair and my parents always said the postman, a joke I did not understand for a very long time.
Listen to a voicemail Chloe left Sean about a mouse in a bodega bag here.