honey and health food : part two

This is the second part of the short story I began to retell

here

, last summer. This is background for the

Bend Project

...there's so much I could write about my perception of that town.

Place, and perception of place plays a huge role in my work. I'm fascinated by places in flux and/or in stasis. I'm fascinated how place is defined - by its inhabitants and by its outsiders. This fascination (not necessarily the content of this story) is the basis of my upcoming work about Bend and Central Oregon.

note: I've removed names of places and people, simply because I don't feel they need to be implicated in my own rendering of the town.

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E

ventually, my family moved to a different part of town, and life sped up. My mom joined the work force, and my brother and I were adolescents with no interest in the slow food philosophy that our small town health food store exemplified. Our family rarely ate together, and grocery shopping became dominated by foraging for frozen foods. By the time I was in high school I had all but forgotten my hippie roots and the days of the health food store; the sunlight coming through handmade curtains, the creak of old hardwood floors, and the smells of bread baking and sprouts sprouting and of yogurt being made.

me in 1996 outside the health food store

Bend, OR. 1996. Population: 55,000

I've just arrived in town in a VW beetle four years older than I am with two large tropical birds, a black cat, and a boyfriend. We've come from a tiny southern Oregon town where I'd been working what had meant to be a simple summer job, but had turned into a fiasco involving the DEA, the INS, and the Montana Militia, and which had lasted until December. Bend has become a mecca for a great number of people. Skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, you can do it all in Bend. You can’t, however, find a job. Especially if your last known work number has been disconnected.

After two months of pursuing the lowliest of jobs: dishwasher, janitor, golf-club assembler, and being turned down left and right, I suddenly remembered the health food store.

The quintessential mom and pop store had evolved with the town. Now simply called by the owner's last name, they catered to the new wealth that had been coming en masse to Bend since the late 1980’s. The little shop's specialty was now wine, a gourmet deli, and organically grown produce hand selected by the humble husband/owner. Gone were the dirt roads and in their place were busy thoroughfares complete with parallel parking and bike lanes. Gone were the juniper trees and volcanic ash of the hill behind the store, gone were the caves and forts and hiding places of children, and gone were the graves of many of their beloved pets. In their place were townhouses, condominiums, and multi-million dollar mansions. The merchandise area of the store had been replaced by a new, high tech produce case, and the ice-cream freezer no longer held yogurt push-ups but a cornucopia of gooey Ben and Jerry’s flavors. I now had to go to the health food store across town to get bulk honey, the little health food store that could was the only place in town where you could get bamboo shoots or pig’s feet from Mexico.

One thing that hadn't changed were the owners, who still lived in the apartment above the store. But now a short, elaborately coiffed and theatrically painted woman managed the store. She apparently liked me when I came in. I was barely interviewed before being hired.

She had worked as an actress in Chicago, and she taught me how to play the part of the retail clerk - how to separate yourself from the role in order to prevent insanity. It wasn’t easy though. A new kind of clientele had been keeping the store alive over the years, and it pained me more and more each day to be pleasant to the horrible, bored housewives who were either lonely and just wanted to talk, or hell-bent to make every service worker’s life miserable by being miserable themselves.

I discovered that I loved working with the produce - arranging it to look the most appealing to customers is an artform!

Old friends of my parents started popping in to the store, too, once they learned that I was working there. People that I remember hanging around our house nearly every day when I was young, but who my parents rarely see anymore. Our store was notorious for having a very liberal wine tasting policy, and many of these old friends would come in on the pretext of getting lunch, but would usually only pour themselves a generous glass from whatever bottle was open, and I would sit on the front porch with them on the hot, slow summer days, getting to know them now that I was an adult. I got to know that they were alot like me, mentally in their early twenties, transient and uncertain.

Summer rolled on, and I rode my bike around a lot, drank beer, got my heart broken and broke a heart, and then one day in September I woke up and it was cold. Bend has no spring or fall - when the wind blows down from the mountains it's time to hunker down and prepare yourself for six months of deep freeze. Summer had been too short for me. I'd planned to save money and move away in the fall, but I hadn't saved, and I didn’t even know where I wanted to go. I wasn't mentally or physically prepared for another winter in Bend. I had no car, which meant I was going to be riding my bike 10 miles a day through slush and ice and snow if I wanted to keep my job.