- Attraction Next Exit
On a warm Saturday in late June 2010, I am driving home from Gambier, Ohio, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The route I’ve chosen will take me through Amish country, over the Ohio River to West Virginia, into the Alleghenies, and across western Pennsylvania.
A black motorcycle cruises the center of the road in front of me, preceded by a red coupe, and leading the way, a milk truck, a silver canister on wheels, a thing that reminds me that I used to drink milk out of a frozen glass, something I no longer do because dairy congests me and my allergies have worsened since I moved to south-central Pennsylvania in 2004. Milk. Lait. Leche. Latte. Milche. Maloku. The words for milk sound good to me in any language. Perhaps water is the only liquid that outdoes milk in the human imagination. Who, I wonder, was the audacious herder who first thought to pull on the teats of another mammal? Who dared drink the stuff? And what animal was the first to be conscripted into this experiment, this theft and sacrifice of the inoculating fluid that nourishes the next generation?
The Canaanites understood that to consume the milk of another species, the relationship between human and goat had to be severe, that the [End Page 13] kid had to be separated from the nanny (how odd that we use the word nanny to designate a woman who fills in for a mother and the word kid to indicate a child). Of course, the ancient peoples of the land of milk and honey took this severance one step further, boiling the baby in its mother’s milk, which probably caused, at least in the back of the collective mind, and certainly for the authors of Leviticus, the first emotional lactose intolerance.
The gleaming milk truck leads this small, unintentional caravan. Milk: it does a body good. Milkweed, milquetoast, milk chocolate. Milkmaid. Milkman. Milk thistle, ice milk, Milky Way, milky white. My mother did not breastfeed me; is that what I am invoking here? Or is it the separation that she and I experienced as parent and child—imposed at first because she neglected me, then because of court orders that relieved her of my care, then because she killed herself—that is rising to the surface when milk preoccupies my thoughts?
The truck turns. The motorcycle passes the red coupe. On the left just ahead is an establishment called the Fox Hole, with a sign on its door inviting passersby to Come On In & Have A Good Time. A man I met in Gambier told me a one-armed stripper works here and now I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to see her dance. I admit to being as curious as anyone else, wanting to know, for example, which arm she is missing, if she wears a prosthesis, or if she uses the pole (and if she does, what her signature maneuvers are). But it’s her chutzpah that interests me most, the fuck-you-I’m-still-sexy declaration in the face of our insistence on symmetry.
We won’t meet on this trip, so instead I entertain my preoccupation with odd juxtapositions, such as the one created by the Fox Hole and the sign a little further down the road that admonishes passersby to PRAY, though something tells me the sign maker may not have wanted to bestow blessings on the one-armed stripper (or her colleagues) when writing that four-letter instruction, rendering it in all caps, as if shouting.
The words fox and hole conjure such disparate images, from subterranean canine dens to soldiers in combat trenches (and the explosions that render them shell-shocked or take their limbs) to the more vulgar term for female genitalia. The expression stone-cold fox summons for me [End Page 14] the face of a young man with whom I enjoy an epistolary relationship. I wonder if he has ever been to a strip club, and before I know it, I am contemplating the various men and women whom I have loved and even those I came to dislike...