When we registered The Arkansas Society as an official undergraduate organization at Yale, Eli insisted we choose someone — a “Chief Porcellian” — to start each meeting by yelling “WOOOOOO PIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGGGG SOOIIEEEEEEE!!!!!”
On Saturdays, when the seven-eight-nine of us gather to watch the Arkansas Razorbacks (the college football team), Eli steps up as our entertainer. And I mean “entertainer” in the Southern sense of the word. His sort of Southern hospitality is some combination of sweet tea from Popeyes, the kind that tastes like leftover Halloween candy you split with your sister, and an open seat on his couch any day of the week. In his mind, he’s memorized a Top Ten Sweet Teas in Hot Springs, Arkansas list, just like I’ve memorized a Top Ten Shittiest Sweet Teas in Little Rock, Arkansas list.
“I don’t know how the heck they make it so sweet,” Eli often says about Popeyes’ glorious nectar (which it is, if you’ve been deprived in the Northeast like us). He says “heck,” not “hell;” “dagnabit,” not “dammit;” “I’m temperate,” not “I don’t drink.”
Once, at the Purple Cow,
I scraped the ice cream from my lips
then wondered, “Why is my mouth purple?
What kind of restaurant would dare
sell purple milkshakes with free refills?
I know I’m not in heaven, only in the small
white building Abrar called the McDonald’s for
rich white people who want french fries
with sea salt.
Up Hinson road, we sat in empty-churched
parking lots & wondered why
people were hungry all the time.
When the lights shut off on the asphalt,
I swore September would wait
as we spoke of forgetting
and that time, & that time,
as we crushed our cups and wondered
what the hell kind of town we were leaving.
I think humans get hungry all the time
the way that people forget about the world when they laugh;
Abrar once told me the funniest thing he
saw that day was an Unexpected Jihad video on Youtube,
where Wake Me Up When September Ends plays
before interrupted by an explosion;
I think it reminded him of an Allah he had forgotten,
and how they might’ve been friends over
purple milkshakes in a dinky white restaurant
like we were.
I imagine that if Odysseus had known about dental hygiene, he would have returned home much sooner so he could brush his teeth. On the voyage back, he would have thought, “Wow, I can’t wait to brush my teeth … and to see my wife.” Maybe that’s the best kind of romantic you can hope to be, the kind who loves a person and a place so much the only thing left to think about is taking care of yourself.
In Connecticut, I keep a box of floss at my desk but only open it when my mother calls and tells me to take care of my teeth. On plane rides back, I inspect myself the way dentists rattle off words like “four occlusal” and “we have a buccal on thirty-three.” Here is number 13, I tell myself, 13 is when your palms first held another girl’s cheek. And look here at M-1, I’ll say, you haven’t called him in two months — we’ll need to fill him in sometime next week. Or, this is all futile, I’ll think, everyone needs dentures by the age of 80 anyway.
The Arkansas Society has a sweet tooth for certain ideas: college football, sweet tea, Bill Clinton, sometimes home, and always Arkansas. At gatherings, when I think of home, my mouth starts to numb like it knows that home is why I love all of my cavities. There is a purple milkshake sitting somewhere in a dinky white restaurant waiting for me, and maybe an empty church parking lot with the lights still shining. I hope there is a toothbrush too.