Mary-Louise Parker: I Want to Apologize to the Man in the Loincloth

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This week, the Cut reflects on self-reflection with a series of stories devoted to the art of memoir. 

Dear Blue,

Did you sew it? I’m just trying to imagine where you got it. There was no such thing as Amazon yet and I’d never seen one, except on Tarzan.

Your loincloth. Did you use fabric from an old couch? You didn’t have a couch. Maybe you liberated a square of fabric from your tepee or stitched together some burlap bags that once held hydroponic fertilizer.

You wore that cloth on your loins every day so maybe there was even a spare? You were a fruitarian, eating nothing but fruit and nuts (though apparently beer was also a fruit?); a van illegally parked on the beach (not beside it, on it) was your home; and you needed no shirt, shoes, nothing. You and your friend Gary drove to the border at dawn to get avocados and figs for the co‑op where I worked also and then you went to the beach if you had no one to rolf. You were a rolfer, too, massaging those lucky people while wearing nothing or your loincloth. Okay, maybe a piece of jewelry was also on your body. A conch-shell necklace, but that was it.

You and Gary both had gorgeous, ocean-soaked hair that was longer than mine. Gary had a mane of chestnut that might have made him rich if he’d opened a Seven Stations of the Cross theme park, but your hair was its own Disneyland. It glowed in the dark from saltwater and sun. That hair gave you the vibe of being both switched on and overcooked at the same time. You were the only men I’ve ever seen who could wear your hair in a bun with a flower and not seem sissy. You had soul patches and tans, period. Diving in the surf might happen five times a day, and how could you lie down at the tide and feel sand rushing everywhere if you were wearing clothes? When you took me to that nude beach up the coast, taking off your loincloth seemed brazen. A dog could walk away with your entire wardrobe in its mouth. Ripping it off was a breeze though, and you threw yourself in the water leaving me in awe of how little there was between you and the world. It took hardly anything to be not just happy, but filled with a kind of alien joy.

You took anyone’s idea of modern life and set it on fire decades before anyone dreamed up Burning Man. You didn’t need to rent an RV with Wi‑Fi and stock up at Whole Foods to drive somewhere and let the madman into your third eye. You’d found it and let it all in and out again and had it going on. Even your name, which you said had become you after you’d dropped acid and were sitting on a massive rock by the cliffs. When you opened your eyes, everything including you was blue. Everything except your loincloth, which, for the summer I knew you, was a light brown man wrap that made you and Gary look like Malibu Jesus dolls and kept you from being arrested for indecent exposure by more or less covering your genitalia. You and Gary would come into the co‑op first thing in the morning with Minnie Riperton pouring out of your van. The two of you would pelt me with flowers while I sat in the back of the stockroom bagging and weighing organic nuts, rennet-free cheese, and bizarre dried sea vegetables. Back then only the hard-core who came to our store even knew about dried kelp. In the eighties only true hippies bought spirulina in a bag and snorted it, or however they took it once I’d bagged and labeled it probably incorrectly, and priced it, most definitely incorrectly. Some days, joining me at the scale was a sweet and sullen transgender boy named Luxe who wasn’t much better than I was. We got in trouble for throwing a block of Gouda up at the ceiling fan to see if it would come down in chunks, so they separated us. They had one of us bag while the other stocked dairy, which meant standing in the refrigerator and replenishing all the yogurt and kefir and freezing our asses off.

I found the scale confusing and was never good at math, so I’d spend hours getting yelled at by that girl named Jacque who was a higher-up. I heard you used to date her, which I had a hard time picturing. Jacque dressed in those macramé tops that she made and tie-dyed, and she sewed her own maxi pads with inspiring words inked on in beet juice to make her connect to her yoni. I don’t know if you were into this also but Jacque drank her pee, which (once she blew in my face lightly then asked me, hey does my breath smell like urine?) was brave in a way, but she was hard to admire because she admonished me daily for being inept. She said my mistakes made her feel confused and out of touch. Freshly punished, I’d go back to my station and try to get the plankton or ground matcha out from under my fingernails, wishing I didn’t have to work two jobs, or that one of them didn’t have to be this one, which sometimes paid me in avocados. She clearly still had a thing for you because she hated me not only for my mistakes but also for your chilling with me while I unwittingly butchered all the price tags. You came over one day when she’d been particularly harsh and said:

Hey, come on, she can’t fire you. If you were fired all the men who work here would protest.

At first I didn’t know how to talk to you because you were so calm and genuine. Your voice was deep and slow. When I talked you would sometimes just stare at my mouth. After I’d been there a while you said:

When I met you I thought, God, this girl must spend hours in front of the mirror watching her mouth.

To make enough money to live, I took a bus away from beach life and worked at a coffee shop. The first morning that I was entrusted with opening the shop, I locked all the customers out on the street. I’d somehow barricaded myself inside the shop and couldn’t open the door. The undercaffeinated patrons were outside knocking on the glass while I kept trying the key and combination over and over. I put my face in my hands when the customers began to get twitchy. “I’m so sorry,” I mouthed to them through the glass, “I’m open to suggestions from any of you?” One woman cupped her hands around her mouth and pressed them on the glass, shouting, “SECOND LOCK. THERE IS A SECOND LATCH. LOOK UP,” but after turning it several times with no clicking sound I told them through tears to please just go away. To my horror the manager showed up and shouted commands at me until the door finally opened and then she banished me behind the counter to grind beans, which I enjoyed because the sound of the grinder disallowed conversation. While my beans were grinding that morning I leaned on the machine and felt the vibrations through my arm like a little massage. Staring into the parking lot, I squinted when I saw a familiar broken-down van barreling around with windows open and loud music leaking out. I started to pace, not knowing where to hide as the van pulled into a spot and the doors flew open. A cloud of smoke rolled forth followed by you and Gary walking toward my fancy coffee shop in your loincloths. You had no shoes on and even though none of us wore shoes at the health food store (earth to health department) I was wearing shoes then and I had on a sensible sundress. Seeing you outside the context of the health food store I was struck by the fact that you were essentially nude. I could not have you in the coffee shop where I was barely still working. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings or make you not like me but I was pretty sure that my boss would not want you near the pastry counter with your pubes visible and flying free. I froze. I couldn’t move for a moment because there was and still is something I was not and remain not skilled at voicing and that is the phrase NOW IS NOT THE TIME CAN WE DO THIS LATER. PLEASE.

I hid. From you and Gary. Under the bean bins, or actually in front of them because a customer was in the bathroom and there was nowhere else to go. This is where I become confused. The bizarre thing is that now, decades later, despite remembering that day and that whole summer distinctly, I don’t remember what happened next. I can recall the manager seeing me and I remember gesturing wildly to her that two humans were walking in who shouldn’t, but I don’t know what happened after that. Did I block out that part because I regret being such a coward? It feels shameful that I hid from you two, who were so sweet and didn’t even drink coffee. I remember thinking I would be in trouble with the manager if two nude men with better hair than her came into her shop. I have a hazy memory of speaking to you at the counter, but that could be a rendition I created where I acted like a rational person who stood up and said hey. What did I do, would you remember?

I would run into you as I walked the neighborhood with that enormous black dog named Bear, a Chow who was mysteriously waiting for me every time I left my house. Bear would sit outside the Laundromat when I went in with my friend Natalie on Friday nights. Natalie and I would combine all our wash to save money and we’d dance on top of the machines with some mild flashing of body parts to passersby if we’d drunk a few beers. Bear would stand outside and bark at men who saw us through the windows and tried to enter with no laundry. He’d sit there and when I left, he left. Natalie said he belonged to a family on the block and wasn’t neglected, but maybe he needed someone to protect. One night Luxe and I were walking to the beach with Bear and I heard a honk. It was you and Gary smoking a joint and waving for us to get in. Bear growled and bared his teeth and Luxe said:

No, please, those guys freak me out with their Jungle Book cock hankies.

I said we were on the way to see Luxe’s mom and you drove off singing and blowing me a kiss. When I saw you in the store the next day I was pricing walnuts and only half listening to Marshall, the guy who worked in the book section. Marshall was nice and highly intelligent. He could recite half-hour polemics about Irish politics that he thought I was deeply interested in because I listened to U2. He’d bring me graphic photos of children disfigured by plastic bullets and literature about Northern Ireland that I pretended to read. You stood behind him eating a fig. I was scooping my walnuts when Marshall abruptly leaned in and said something I never saw coming on the heels of him having just handed me a picture of a little girl whose nose was blown off:

So, ma chere, would you like to come over and spend the night on Friday?

A. He was not French. He was from Humboldt County.

B. He’d never even flirted with me unless you count him giving me an underground “death index” listing all the people killed by plastic bullets. Admittedly, he said I could keep it and it was his only copy.

C. I’d never flirted with him. Maybe he took my gazing into his eyes bored as my gazing into his eyes wanting him?

D. There was the chance that he wanted quality time to go more in‑depth about politics?

“D” was blown when I said, “Okay, sure,” and he did a tiny thumbs-up and smiled.

I said okay. Not just okay, but “okay, sure,” a double affirmative.

We’d gone from “Good morning. I have more detail to share re: suffering in the North of Ireland” to “I will thrust a chubby inside of you Friday night. Let me know if you are allergic to cats.” Why didn’t I ask, hey, do you mean so we can listen to Under a Blood Red Sky and order Burger King? Or are you thinking the other kind of special sauce? And how unfair of me to say yes when no way was I going to his leprechaun cottage to eat boiled potatoes and listen to bootlegs of Crass.

So Marshall sauntered off, certain I was coming over to suck his rubber bullet, and why wouldn’t he? I’d said okay, sure. I didn’t look up when you slid over to my scale and said:

Hey, sunshine.

You’d heard the whole thing. You asked if I was going to spend the night with Marshall and I said, no, looking over at that Nordic Percussionist sitting in the office. He was pretending to work on the books while reading the Tao Te Ching. You said you’re not seeing that guy, are you, rolling your eyes, and I said kind of, and you said are you or aren’t you? I said maybe. You said why didn’t you just say no thanks to Marshall. I said I don’t know how to say no, I only know how to yell it. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. You said, what does he care, just say no and move on, and I was like, yeah, let me work on communicating like a grown-up. You smiled at me, leaning on my table and not speaking. I smiled back, my scooper still stuck in a bag of health powder. We were interrupted by Saturn Johnnie, the LSD casualty who worked in produce. He popped over and said, “Blue, hi, I want a second with her, or really, just stay, that’s also fine, I wanted to mention that it’s retrograde Mercury time and some of us will be dropping acid in my yard tonight and gentle body painting is involved? If you’d care to join?”

I stared at him. No one moved. I started to say “Maybe I will come later,” but I got out “May—” and Blue put his hand over mine, and said:

Sorry, man, she’s hanging with me tonight, we’ve planned it since forever.

Saturn Johnnie said, “Oh, sure. Well, come together if you want to share. It’s BYOB.” Blue said some other time and Johnnie left and I said, you see, I am not good with no.

Blue said:

Don’t get introverted. The sun is shining. You are your usual outerplanetary self. We’re all just trying to laugh and get home safe.

You were all right with yourself and knew how to say no. There was no one for you to impress and no one for you to offend. You were right there and I was afraid of how real you were, which made me question my own level of authenticity. I’d take off my clothes on the beach or spill my guts to a girl I’d never met on the bus, thinking I was uncensored and open, but I wasn’t always real if I wanted someone to like me. I gravitated to those who withheld or told me who they thought I was. What would have happened if I’d shown up at your van to hang out? If it weren’t for my friend Natalie digging you I might have but I’m sure your silence would have scared me. There was no game to play. The games wore me out in the end but back then I was weak for anyone with an excess of charisma. I kept saying I wanted sweetness and someone truthful but I was fussy about the form that sweetness might take. I wonder where you are out there. I hope your goodness is intact and you still feel blue all over. Really I want to say I’m sorry for hiding from you behind the coffee bins and whatever else I put in front of me, attempting to keep genuine kindness away.

Excerpted from Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker. Copyright © 2015 by Loon, Inc.  Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Mary-Louise Parker: Apology to the Loincloth Man