Category: Season three

Fiction: The King of Aloe Vera by Tomas Moniz

The King of Aloe Vera

An Excerpt by Tomas Moniz

 In which we meet the protagonist Reyes Miguel Calderón and learn of his appreciation for libraries, his fight against blindly following the Dewey decimal system and his run in with the cigarette butt bandit

Rey loves the Mission branch of the San Francisco Public Library on 24th and Bartlett and his only remaining weekly obligation: a volunteer shift in the kids section.

He appreciates the building’s architecture with its huge arched windows and art deco chandeliers in each of the four stories, the wood floors and eight foot tall industrial shelving crammed with books, the various community meeting rooms lined with posters of celebrities exhorting people to read, the gilded metal drop slots. Despite the security station hastily installed at the entrance, the library’s a welcoming place for everyone, information free and accessible, books and magazines and technology stations and newspapers from across the country (though he proudly continues to have a home delivery subscription to the SF Chronicle). Outside: grey stone and a massive ficus tree, the leaves from which Rey has a weekly battle sweeping away. Even the encampment of the homeless who crowd the opposite sidewalk, Rey doesn’t mind. He recognizes many of the residents from the numerous other encampments that line so many streets in this neighborhood including his own: Shotwell Street.

In fact, Rey can proudly name all the branches, and begins to: Anza, Bayview, Bernal… as he considers the cart of returned kids books to shelf, but is interrupted from his metal exercise by Alma, the branch manager, an irritatingly upbeat young woman with glasses, the frames thick and chunky and fashionable.

Alma says, Hello Rey. Please remember our conversation. Thank you and I appreciate you so much.

Rey mumbles, Yesyesyes but thinks: Does any kid ever search alphabetically for a book?

He wheels the cart back to the kids room: carpeted with a floor that undulates providing small hills and berms that children can climb on or roll down and lean against as parents read books out loud.

Rey over the past few weeks has been arranging the books by color. The joy that rushes through him when he tells a kid who ventures into the section: want a purple book? A green one? The child almost always laughs. The parents always either look bemused or act irritated.

Of course, Alma has patiently reprimanded him a few times not only for this choice of book organization but for others he’s attempted in the past as well: shelving by size, shelving in piles, shelving randomly to encourage surprise and cultivate acceptance, all ideas soundly rejected by the library establishment.

Rey knows Alma coddles him because he’s in his 70s and a volunteer at the branch for the past decade, and generally Rey would never lean into that coddling, but because it gives him a bit of autonomy he acts surprised and compliant.

I just thought that kids might like to learn their colors while also selecting a book.

That very well may be true, but Rey, they also need the consistency of being able to find a book in its proper location. You remember what that’s like.

I most certainly do, Rey says nodding yes exaggeratedly .

Alma then adds, And Rey, perhaps you can also remember that you have a few books overdue as well.

She pats his shoulder and arches her eyebrows.

Despite the chagrin Rey feels at the library’s lack of imagination, of vision, he cherishes his time here.

***

After begrudgingly shelving them all correctly, he rolls the empty cart back to the elevator, and in front of him is another reason he loves the library: kids. Waiting at the doors, pushing the down button over and over is a child wearing a Batman outfit. He holds a Batman doll. He’s radiant. The kid looks at Rey and whisks his cape around his face.

Rey says. I love your Spiderman outfit.

The kid looks at Rey like he’s foolish, but Rey smiles wide.

Rey struggles with this desire in him to show affection through teasing, to needle for attention, to set up contention as a way to connect. He blames his father. Sometimes his mother. It’s the final reason he loves the library, the countless hours spent in the San Leandro Main Library as a child, a refuge from his father when he was around and from his mother when she was angry.

Which was respectively infrequently and often.

The adult with the child intervenes saying, Are you Spiderman?

The child laughs like some wild thing.

They all enter the elevator.

The adult says to Batman, Can you push the number three for me?

The kid bounces like he’s waiting for more numbers to push, like he’s been told he can only push the numbers people request.

Without missing a beat, Rey says, Can you push the number ten for me.

Even though he’s going to the first floor and despite the fact that there are only four floors in the building.

The kid stops bouncing, staring at the four buttons, and makes this growl, something between frustration and delight.

The adult looks at Rey.

Rey smiles and says, No one else is here, just push them all.

***

Outside on his break, Rey notices once again a handful of cigarette butts lined up in a little design to the left of the entrance, clearly within the 100 foot No Smoking Zone. Every shift he sees that someone creates shapes and lines with discarded filters. He leans down to study the creation because the culprit clearly does it with forethought, even using half smoked cigarettes to create longer sides for the shape of a rectangle or maybe it’s a zero or perhaps an outline of a box. Rey can’t tell. He gets a slight sense of satisfaction at their failure.

He’s noticed similar cigarette butt designs adjacent to his very own stoop. Rey considers if this is a trend: smokers creating images with discarded filters? Regardless, Rey reads them like a taunt. Like who brazenly and cavaliery leaves them so carefully designed. Like obviously the person could have picked them up and removed them. But no: here they are.

He looks around. He eyeballs the sidewalk tents looking for someone with a guilty presence. He wonders if it’s personal.

He decides to take the elevator the four flights up to the staff room to get the so-called broom, with its cheap white plastic handle and green synthetic bristles, to sweep up the butts. The elevator door opens and a person stands ready to exit. Rey’s unsure whether they’re a man or woman because of the SF Giants hoodie pulled up over their head. That should have been the first warning of trouble: the SF Giants, Rey a lifelong Oakland A’s fan. But then he sees the cigarette dangling from the person’s lips.

Rey can’t prevent himself from reacting. In fact, he doesn’t really even try not to.

He says, You have to be kidding me.

The person says, Relax. It’s unlit.

And steps past him but pauses.

I know you. You’re Rey. You live on Shotwell. I do too.

I know everyone who lives there. I’ve never seen you.

The person removes the cigarette and looks directly at Rey and he does recognize her, no longer a sullen teenager sauntering up and down the sidewalks before and after school hours or hiding out on his stairs.

She says, Wow. Why are old men always so arrogant? I’ve basically lived my whole life on that street.

 I’m not arrogant, Rey says.

I hope I never get old. Looks like somebody might be…, and she proceeds to tap the side of her head making her eyes wide and round,…getting a little soft.

She then steps away from the entrance and fake inhales as the elevator door slides shut.

I have a perfectly effective memory, he raises his voice but she’s already gone.

In the staff room, he grips the broom, remembering the multiple requests he’s also filed for the library to acquire an actual broom like the one he once made, one with effective corn fiber bristles and a sturdy wood handle, but this too has been denied without response each time.

Nobody appreciates the wisdom of old men. It’s wisdom not arrogance.

And then it hits him. He puts two and two together. How could he have not immediately seen it: the line of cigarette butts in front of the library as well as right next to his stoop.

The young woman basically admitted her guilt: that she lives on his street.

Coincidence? He thinks not.

However, maybe she’s correct: his ability to deduce conclusions has faltered. The evidence was all right in front of him and he worried more about defending his memory rather than using his intellect.

He pictures his To Do list that he’s been compiling for over a year, aptly titled Loose Ends and Final Wishes, all the necessary things to accomplish before October 1st. Although it disturbs him to add to rather than subtract from the list, the possibility of catching the cigarette butt criminal in the act delights him: catch the bandit.

And just to be safe, Rey, after sweeping up the evidence, approaches Alma like a concerned patron to lodge a complaint about a young hooded woman smoking within the smoke free zone.

Creative Nonfiction: Feeling Trans by Keagan Wheat

A complete transcript is below

Feeling Trans

by Keagan Wheat

  1. I sit at our family table next to Gavin, a trans guy in the thinnest tank top I’ve ever seen. He pushes up his sunglasses.

    I’m going to the pool for sure today.

    It’s been far too long, Jay adds.

    I cave to following the group to the pool.

    I agreed even though swimming had become draining. It was no longer a choice to wear a one-piece suit. It no longer felt like something simple and fun to do. At my age, it was weird to want to retrieve toys from the bottoms of pools. The depth popping my ears and removing most sound. Diving to the bottom with the slight pressure almost hugging me, always appealed more than doing laps or play fighting.

    This pool with exclusively queer and trans people didn’t feel like I needed context to understand. I took my shirt off quickly and awkwardly, as if I were trying to change shirts without anyone seeing much. I didn’t have another shirt though. I stood with my shoulders turned in wearing only powder blue trunks and a tan binder.

    I’ve never played catch like the most stereotypical college-age guys at a beach before. But Oliver brought a nerf ball to the pool. I played catch with two other transmen forming a triangle. Gavin taught someone how to throw a spiral after complimenting mine.

    Later at this pool, I hang on the edge talking to Gill about Halberstam. I complain about the only essay I’ve read from Halberstam, while Gill delves into some of their questionable actions. I’ve never had this long of a discussion about a theorist outside of a class.

     I need to take off my binder though, an awkward safety interruption. I grab my towel walking toward the exit, but I’m held up by Aden. They meet me, with stepping in front of me, grabbing my shoulders in an easy sort of way. They look into my eyes, I can tell even through their sunglasses.

    I’m so glad you ended up getting into the pool, they smile with all the conviction of someone who knows what keeps me from the pool.

    I’ve never smiled so easily without feeling it coming. I’ve never felt like I deserved someone else’s pride or appreciation.

Creative Nonfiction: Behind the Scenes with Keagan Wheat, author of Feeling Trans

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome, listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latin X lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. And today we’re going to be speaking with Keegan Weat, who is the author of ‘Feeling Trans.’ Keagan Wheat writes poetry focused on FTM identity and congenital heart disease. He is Mexican-American. His work appears in Anti-Heroin Chic, Houston Review of Books, The Acentos Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, and more. Living in Houston, Texas, he enjoys collecting odd dinosaur facts and listening to many hours of podcasts. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @KWheat09. Welcome, Keegan.

Keegan Wheat  00:49

Hi, thanks for having me on. I’m so excited to be on.

Teresa Douglas  00:54

I’m excited to have you here too. And before we actually talk about your very important piece, because obviously, this is what this entire podcast episode is about, I have a very important food related question for you. Super important. So we put it first so we get it in. You’re here in my metaphorical house, sitting at my metaphorical table. I would of course, love to feed you something that you enjoy eating. So what is your favorite comfort food?

Keegan Wheat  01:27

Oh, I think I have two really weirdly disparate answers. One of them is Kraft mac and cheese like microwave Kraft mac and cheese.

Teresa Douglas  01:39

Classic. Yeah.

Keegan Wheat  01:42

The other is how like, specifically the way that my grandma makes tortillas, because it is very simple. And it is just the best. They’re so soft. And they’re great. I could eat way too many of them in a row.

Teresa Douglas  02:01

That’s not a thing; too many tortillas isn’t a thing. Sorry to inform you about that. This is breaking news, people. Just so you know, I’m jealous. I live up here in Vancouver, Canada. And there aren’t many of our people here, I have to say. And the tortilla situation reflects this sad reality. So.

Keegan Wheat  02:28

Oh that is sad.

Teresa Douglas  02:30

Yes. So think of me next time you eat a delicious tortilla, and have one for me too. So thank you for sharing. And mac and cheese, let me just say that is like the childhood food a lot of people learn to make first. Like that’s when you felt grown up like I can make my own mac and cheese.

Keegan Wheat  02:50

Right? Like I can feed myself now.

Teresa Douglas  02:53

Exactly. It’s very empowering. You don’t understand that, like all of the stuff in there, is maybe not so good to live on. But you gotta have it for childhood reasons. That’s what I’m saying. Thank you for sharing your your favorite comfort food. So we should probably talk a little bit more about you now. Besides food. I would love to hear how long you’ve been writing?

Keegan Wheat  03:19

Um, well, the answer kind of depends. Because I initially started writing songs. And I started that probably maybe almost 10 years ago at this point. But I didn’t start writing like literary stuff until about five years ago, when I took my first Intro to creative writing class at UNH. And I had a really wonderful professor named Kate, Kate Weiss Orchid. And that’s kind of when I started writing literary and taking it seriously.

Teresa Douglas  04:14

Teachers are the best. I was just speaking with someone else about this. And that idea of people who give you that experience of learning, because there’s learning to write. And then there’s the experience of learning to write. And I am firmly convinced that one’s teachers or mentors or whoever it is that sort of gives you that oomph, that encouragement can can help. I know it did in my case, it made me feel more like a serious writer. Like oh, wait a minute, maybe there’s something to this. So thank you teachers. We’re probably going to say this on every episode, but thank you teachers, for for all that you do. That’s amazing. I have to ask then, if you start writing songs, did you ever write poetry?

Keegan Wheat  05:04

Um, no, actually, I don’t know why. And still, in my mind, they feel very separate. I haven’t written music in such a long time. Because it just feels like two different modes to me.

Teresa Douglas  05:25

Yeah.

Keegan Wheat  05:26

Yeah. I don’t know why I never was like, What about a poem? That was like, no, no. Here’s my guitar. I’m writing a song. Let’s go.

Teresa Douglas  05:35

Yeah and it’s not to say that they’re exactly the same. It’s just I think sometimes people who write songs sometimes go to poetry. And that’s totally unscientific. I have absolutely no background to backup that kneejerk opinion of mine. But there you go. So listeners, I’m not scientific. So you’ve found that out, too. But that’s wonderful. So is nonfiction, then, your first love? Do you write other things? I mean, we love all our children, no matter what we write, but but do you write other things?

Keegan Wheat  06:10

Yeah, nonfiction was sort of my third writing related love. It started with songwriting. And then I went to poetry and wrote a bunch of poetry and love it still. It’s, I think, one of my favorite ways to write. But nonfiction has become a really like, interesting place, I think, for me to put a different spin on the things that I’m trying to say. Because I think poetry can be very wild in a way. And creative nonfiction feels like you can say things a little bit more directly without it feeling cliche or weird, I guess.

Teresa Douglas  07:01

It is a different form of writing. And I mean, big obvious, right? There’s poetry. And there’s fiction, and there’s nonfiction, so we have buckets. And they can cross over each other. But you’re right, there are things that because they’re your lived experience, or if you’re writing something autobiographical, for somebody else, there’s that idea that this happened. So here’s how it happened, which comes out more in nonfiction than it does in any other genre really, because poetry is so lyrical. You’re using image and you’re talking about different things. And then in nonfiction, you can be very understated in some of the best possible ways. And I thought, that’s one of the thing, just sort of to actually talk about your work, which is the entire reason I brought you on here–that was one of the things I saw as a great strength in the piece that you have, because it’s, I say understated, but it feels very spare. In the writing, there’s no, there are no wasted words, but you feel the emotions and see the actions, just so, so well. And before I start gushing about your piece–because that’s coming–before we do that, can you can walk us through how you decided to write about this and just sort of your process for writing it.

Keegan Wheat  08:39

I decided to write about this because I I mean, it’s a very clear experience. In the story, going to this pool, with literally only like queer and trans people was a wild and beautiful experience. I had never felt like so comfortable in a place that had so often been the cause of anxiety for me. So I had this really wonderful experience. And I thought that I could write about it in poetry, but it never felt right to be sort of lyrical about it. It felt like I was almost beating around the bush instead of just actually discussing it.

Keegan Wheat  09:32

So I tried my hand at nonfiction. And I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed how much I could put the people who made this experience wonderful into the piece, and them be themselves not an image or a lyric but like the actual people.

Teresa Douglas  09:55

Yeah. And that comes through so well especially at the end here. But when Aiden–you say “They meet me, with stepping in front of me, grabbing my shoulders in an easy sort of way, they look into my eyes, I can tell even though even through their sunglasses,” and there’s just this moment of absolute connection that comes through that moment. And how it says “They smile with all the conviction of someone who knows what keeps me from the pool.” And there’s so much–I hate to say buried because it’s not buried at all. It’s like, there’s just so much in those sentences, that’s coming through. And it’s a beautiful moment in there. And I love that this happens, especially toward the end of the piece, because we get all along this feeling of coming to the pool. But it’s that moment of connection when, especially toward the beginning. We in listeners, you’re hearing me shuffle pages, because I printed this out. I’m old school like that. And especially the beginning where there’s some some awkwardness, like taking, off your shirt. But you don’t have to be awkward. You’re surrounded by people who just accept you. And it’s just a lovely, lovely piece. And, I was gonna wait to gush, and I didn’t. So there we go. But going back to your process. You had this moment you wanted to write about, were you able to get it out in one go? Did you draft a lot? How did how did that look?

Keegan Wheat  12:06

I’m weirdly the type of person who doesn’t do a lot of drafts. Because I think I’m very interested in I guess overthinking sometimes. So I think about a piece for weeks. And then finally get it out. I think it’s one of the reasons why procrastinating actually works for me sometimes, because if I write it, it seems like I’m only writing this just now in four hours. But really, I’ve spent like two weeks considering my options and putting it together. So I think this was mostly in one go besides a couple tweaks here and there.

Teresa Douglas  12:56

Yeah, I feel like that thinking process is definitely part of the writing process. Because you’re drafting it, you’re thinking things through. That totally counts as writing. It was invisa-writing–I was gonna call it procrasta-writing, but that’s actually not writing, that’s when you clean every piece of your house or do some other thing, when you should be writing. It’s very important. So if I may ask, because, you know, we, we, as writers, we write things down, we send them off into the world. And then people look at them and react to them and have their own opinions about them. But if you could reach out to our listeners who have at this point, and you better listen to this piece people because none of this is going to make sense if you haven’t, but now that they’ve listened to your piece, what impression would you hope that they leave with after listening to your piece?

Keegan Wheat  13:55

I think the biggest impression I really want them to take away is that sometimes the simplest of things can make you feel like a whole person almost. Like you were talking about the ending of Aiden and looking me in the eye, just one single moment without even many words or a hug or anything like that. It’s this moment of like, like you said connection and really sort of opening the community to me and saying like, we are here for you and we are glad you are here. So I think I want people to take that away because it’s a great feeling.

Teresa Douglas  14:43

Yeah, and it’s empowering because you don’t have to be someone who who like prys off the door of a burning car and like rescues people. If you do that, you’re awesome, we’ll lay that out there–but ordinary people being decent in ordinary ways can have a profound impact.

Keegan Wheat  15:07

Yes.

Teresa Douglas  15:07

And that’s incredibly empowering because we all can be decent people. It’s in our choices. And we can do small things like just tell someone that you’re glad they’re there.

Keegan Wheat  15:22

Yeah, definitely.

Teresa Douglas  15:25

Well, this is lovely. I do need to ask because you do your writing things. And you’re getting them seen in other places. Is there somewhere where a listener could follow you if they’re interested in hearing more of your work?

Keegan Wheat  15:41

Yes. At K wheat oh nine is all of the socials like Instagram, Twitter. I really don’t use Facebook as much as I probably should. So Twitter is usually my most up to date place. And I post about all the things I get published or if I’m teaching a workshop or something.

Teresa Douglas  16:10

Well, you heard it listeners. That’s where you go, and I will type it in the show notes if you didn’t get that, but Keegan if you can spell out your handle, that would also help everybody.

Keegan Wheat  16:21

Yes. It’s the at sign. K w h e a t 09. It’s wheat just like the bread.

Teresa Douglas  16:35

Well, thank you so much for for coming to the show. I really enjoyed having you here.

Keegan Wheat  16:40

Thank you so much for having me. I am so glad that this piece found a home because I really love it. And I’m glad that oyu also–

Teresa Douglas  16:50

I love it too. We’re we’re just going to use that word. It’s okay. It’s not awkward. I love it too. Well, thank you so much.