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West Side Story: ‘If the shoe fits’

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WEST SIDE STORIES

This true story by Jessica Morrell was recorded live on February 7, at Sonoma Portworks, as part of West Side Stories, Petaluma’s monthly showcase of spoken word performance, hosted by Dave Pokorny. Each month, storytellers are randomly selected to tell a story based on a theme – this month’s was “If the Show Fits” – and the audience selects their favorite at the end of the show. Morrell is February’s winner. The theme for the next live show, to be held Wednesday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m., will be “One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure.” For details and tickets visit DavePokornyPresents.com.

In 1977 when I was 9 years old, my hair-brained, drug-addled twenty-something parents decided we should move to Alaska to live off the land. At the time, we were living in Astoria, Oregon, in a small apartment above a bakery. For weeks after my parents decided they were going to live off the land, they walked around in a daze, saying, [in a spaced-out whisper] “Live off the land! Live off the land!”

My parents were surviving by growing indoor pot plants in this apartment. Which is why it smelled like skunk, and why I could never have any friends over. Given that Astoria, Oregon, is tied with Lake Charles, Louisiana and Port Arthur, Texas for being the most humid city in the contiguous United States, it makes sense that they couldn’t survive in Astoria, Oregon.

So, my stepdad cobbled together a camper on the back of the Ford pickup truck that was our family car, and my dad, and my mom, and my 5-year-old brother and my 2-year-old sister all got to sit up front in the cab, while I was relegated to the back of the pickup truck. The camper was made of plywood doors, that would randomly swing open, revealing my startled face to anyone driving behind us.

I used to pray that I would fall out of the pickup truck, and that a nice family would pick me up and keep me.

We drove from Astoria, Oregon to Bellingham, Washington, where we caught the ferry up the inside passage between Vancouver Island and Mainland Canada. It’s a three day trip, and we couldn’t afford a sleeping berth, and we weren’t allowed back to our truck, so we had to stay on the deck, where we survived on dry peanut butter sandwiches, which all had the rank taste of marijuana, because my mother had taken a large baggie of pot, and stuffed it inside the industrial-sized jar of peanut butter, for safe keeping.

At one point, taking pity on us, she said we could go to the cafeteria and share a cup of hot chocolate. So, the three Rasta-headed kids and my step-dad, looking like Rasputin, we all went into the cafeteria and my mom bought the Holy Grail of hot chocolate, and brought it to us. We all squabbled and slurped, and then we saw a man coming towards us, and heading to the sandwich vending machine. We all watched as he went over, and took his time, and he finally picked 63A, which was and egg salad sandwich, and we watched as it dropped, and he took it, and put it on a red plastic tray. He came up, close to us and he set the tray down near us, and walked away.

And my mother took about thirty seconds to say, “He left it!”

She went and got it and opened the package. She tore the sandwich into pieces, and handed them out to us, and we all … [Makes the sound of five hungry people gobbling pieces of a sandwich] … and then my mom said, “He’s coming back!” So she took back whatever we hadn’t eaten yet, and quickly shoved it back into the package, and put it back on the tray.

And put the tray back where he’d left it.

WEST SIDE STORIES

This true story by Jessica Morrell was recorded live on February 7, at Sonoma Portworks, as part of West Side Stories, Petaluma’s monthly showcase of spoken word performance, hosted by Dave Pokorny. Each month, storytellers are randomly selected to tell a story based on a theme – this month’s was “If the Show Fits” – and the audience selects their favorite at the end of the show. Morrell is February’s winner. The theme for the next live show, to be held Wednesday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m., will be “One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure.” For details and tickets visit DavePokornyPresents.com.

And then we all watched as he came back, and looked at what remained of his sandwich, and a strange, contorted look of astonishment came over his face. And as a single flock, we all rose, and exited the cafeteria.

The next day, the man approached me on the deck.

He handed me a large Cadbury chocolate bar.

And a twenty-dollar bill.

The Cadbury chocolate bar, I took and presented to my family, as if I had hunted it and skinned it.

[Here, Morrell’s voice takes on a conspiratorial, highly-practical nine-year-old tone of resilience and fierce survival at all costs]

But the twenty dollar bill ... I kept, hidden in my shoe, for a really long time … as a hedge against future dry peanut butter sandwiches.