Raul Benjamin Moreno
Raul Benjamin Moreno hails from a river town on the Washington-Oregon border, where his parents and grandparents settled after quitting North Dakota—and later, Guatemala City. Raul’s essays and stories have been published by outlets such as The Normal School, Hobart, and NPR, and this work has taken him to the other Washington, the former Soviet Union, and back to the Dakotas. He regularly teaches writing at the University of South Dakota and currently edits nonfiction for South Dakota Review.
Festival events: 2012 AWP Chicago; 2013 AWP Boston; 2014 AWP Seattle
Trouble in the Metro Area
For the record, I'm just a flicker of the driver's imagination. Naturally, I can tell you his backstory, too. There's not always enough time, especially if the driver is staring down from a big cab and just wants his refill and maybe some dirty talk. But this driver is different, much lower in the saddle. He’s driving a Subaru with a canoe rack, and he looks uncomfortable. I know this type. He didn't read the sign closely, and you know what's worse? He's got his wife in the passenger seat. She's not into it either. She looks upset, won't look my way. That's okay. I don't see many women at the window, but when they do show up, they're usually right where she's sitting, and maintaining eye contact sometimes helps with the tip. Anyway, back to our driver. He's okay looking. About 30, maybe a bit older. White as rice and not balding exactly, but that forehead's beginning to stretch. This is where things get interesting. Where I start inventing things, I mean. This guy can't look through the window without squinting—doing that college thing with his eyes, the pinched look that says, “I think you know I know you know you're being fucked by culture, and not very nicely, standing there in a neon bikini in November, but you can handle it, right? And this conversation is going to be short and polite and maybe kind of sexy for me, okay?” Anyway, that's the look this white-ass driver sends up, as he's handing me the debit card and asking about one percent for his passenger. The woman still won't look my way, so I'm not going to try to describe her. That would be impolite. I'm just trying for the right kind of eye contact, and this driver's sort of into me, so that's awkward, but not for the usual reasons.
I think he thinks I’m something exotic. The last Chinookan princess, maybe. Let's imagine he imagines I'm working out here on Halsey in a shack painted to look like clouds floating over windmills so I can be close to my ancestors. That's it. Let him stare at the feather in my hair. Let him drop $5 in the salmon tin to mourn the men with spears who followed the seasons up and down the Wimahl, the big river, until the government banned our nets, dressed our men in stiff collars, and made our women work half-naked: under fake tipis, on stages, in little shacks with space heaters marked PROPERTY OF TWIN PERKS.
Let’s not pretend we can pretend this is normal. You said it was the last place we’d find decent coffee west of The Dalles. I’m not driving that far for a day hike, but this is too much. You’re going to ask me, later, what I think of the woman in the window. I want to forget we ever took the Halsey exit, but you’ve got questions coming, I know this much. You’re tucking the damn sleeve from the Americano into your notebook, to bookmark our little interview. You’d probably circle back for some pictures if I wasn’t sitting here.
You want to know what I think? It’s not her fault. I’m not upset about the bikini, but with the culture that thinks this is just fine, move along, nothing to look at here but a half-naked teenager hawking caffeine. Why does it matter where she’s from? She’s no Indian. She’s probably poor and white and bound to get skin cancer worse than your dad, end of story. The owner? Twin Perks? Come on. Some kind of pervert in sweatpants, for sure. Cruises around in his Crown Victoria, checking on them, smiles and whispers, small talk that makes her skin crawl. He’s probably got a thing for David Lynch. He probably drives up to Snoqualmie and North Bend every summer, hunting for doppelgängers. I can picture him right now, sweats around his ankles, jacking off to Sheryl Lee on a featherbed at the Salish Lodge and everything.
In fact, the woman in the window has a lot of doppelgängers. It might be Tayla, the camouflaged blonde gripping the magazine of an M-16 and resting her brassiere against the fuselage of a twin-engine Chinook, in the profile I find online. Or perhaps Vanessa, the starry-eyed woman reclining on the trunk of an old cedar and avoiding our gaze—one of the chain’s original baristas, always part of the Twin Perks family but now living in Spokane, still modeling and somehow managing the family business. (“We love you Nessa!”) Or maybe it’s actually Miss November we meet at the window on Halsey. Miss November is named Fallon, and in her portrait for the owner’s pinup calendar, she’s doing the princess thing: arching the small of her back over fur coats made to look like buffalo hides, straining against the beadwork, the leather straps, the crown of plumage.
In the clip from Channel 2 that thousands of people have watched online, the anchor arches his eyebrows at the viewer, trying to maintain composure as he introduces a field report on those bikini-clad baristas causing trouble in the metro area. The reporter, Joe English, can’t get the owner to talk, but he does get a live shot in front of Fallon’s stand, wearing a blue rain coat and wagging his finger at the camera. Folks, if you don’t see it on Miss America, then you’re not going to see it in here. The owner is a woman, by the way, and she makes her girls cover up completely, just to take out the garbage.
Just so there’s no confusion, adds Joe: “They’re here to sell coffee.”
Customer Kirk Johnson, driving a red Cherokee, couldn’t agree more: “I don’t really think it’s an inappropriate thing,” says Kirk, who moves to the passenger seat and props open the door for his close-up. “You can go to a pool and see bikinis. Pretty scantily-clad stuff, but you’re still covering up the major parts.”
Across the parking lot at the barbershop, owner Melody Cook is adjusting her swivel chairs. “Now the chairs are facing out,” says Melody, who’s own complexion has begun to change. “So they get a lot more looks over there.”