These are ski towns and it’s not yet ski season. I drive through two Main Streets and everything’s closed. I’m looking for a place to sit down and have lunch and take a conference call which is in twenty minutes, and I see a sign for Phoenicia fifteen miles that-a-way. Into the mountains. I place a bet on the ambition of town planners and early settlers, that they wouldn’t name their river town after an ancient seafaring outpost if it were not for some sizable ambition. Then I think: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! It could go either way.
I get to Phoenicia and there’s no signal. But the Tex-Mex bar I walk into is open and has wi-fi. I order a burger and curly fries and we do a Google Hangout, which lasts an hour as blue collar locals file in and I have to put myself on mute. Finish the call, put my laptop back in the car, then walk up and down the two-block Main Street strip. I see the old pharmacy you see above, and the canvas in the second pane to the left of the entrance says:
When I was a little girl, visiting my father’s pharmacy was one of my favorite pastimes. I was dazzled by all the branded wares that neatly lined the mahogany shelves, and I would spend hours ogling the packaging. As I examined the illustrations, designs and photographs, my imagination took over: I invented stories about the babies on the Gerber products; I’d pretend to apply the CoverGirl make-up; I’d endlessly analyze the girl on the beach shown in the Stayfree sanitary napkin packaging.
The crown jewel in my father’s store was the barrette display. This was a shrine of
It ends there. I go in the pharmacy to see what’s on the back and it’s just the bones of the canvas, no words. I ask the clerk if they sell bottled water—I’m going on a hike later. She says try the deli across the street and I do and the woman who runs it is German in everything including the way she counts off the change for my twenty and hands me the bills in a neat little stack.
I walk to the other end of the street and see Homer and Langley’s Mystery Spot, a thrift store and “World Famous Odditorium” that’s closed because it’s not Thursday through Sunday. On the porch there are boxes of vinyl for a dollar a piece and clothes on a rack for five, and the chalkboard by the door says, “If we’re not open, please use our money drop here. Thanks!”
I buy records of easy-listening music to add to the collection at the friend’s yurt where I’m staying, including a Barry Manilow that just says Barry on the cover and has a picture of him leaning cowboy-like against a wall with only the bottom snap of his denim shirt snapped. I put two bucks into the drop, walk around the store see what’s in back, and almost slip and fall because the ground is covered in pears.
This place! A shrine of