Can Mexican gray wolves coexist with people, cattle? Ranchers, conservationists test the idea –


As wild Mexican gray wolves are rounded up at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, both sides of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Project sound off on the concerns of ranchers and environmentalists. Tom Tingle and Alex Devoid/

Todd Swinney was tending cattle in the high country near Eagar last spring when he spotted them, a pack of Mexican gray wolves known as the Diamond Pack.

He had been walking for hours in the cold through a pine forest, straining to see through the thickets of trees. He breathed in the smell of soggy pine needles as wind gusts nipped at his face. 

The wolves stood and stared at him. They seemed to be stirring from a nap, as Swinney remembers it. The animals had let Swinney get close, within about 40 feet, closer than he cared to be.

Sometimes he could scare wolves away on Call, the horse he named after Captain Woodrow Call, the retired Texas Ranger and fellow cattleman from “Lonesome Dove.” But this time he was on foot.

He jumped up and down, hollered and waved. They weren’t scared. They didn’t understand how dangerous he could be.

Cattlemen and wolves have been at odds for decades, almost from the time they began to share the land. Settlers to the West nearly drove Mexican gray wolves extinct in government-sponsored eradication campaigns intended to benefit livestock herds.

RELATED: Endangered Mexican gray wolf population remained flat in new count

Even now that the wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the old conflict weighs on their fitful recovery. 

Authorities may still kill them or remove them from the wild under the law if they prey on livestock because the wolves are deemed a “nonessential experimental population.” Illegal shootings happen every year and those human-caused deaths contribute to wolf advocates’ fear that Mexican gray wolves may never recover.  

Cattle guardian, wolf savior

Todd Swinney is a range rider, a person who tries to

Todd Swinney is a range rider, a person who tries to protect grazing cattle herds from wolf attacks by scaring off the wolves with noise and other techniques. He talks about his job while sitting atop his horse, Cal, at a ranch near Springerville, Tuesday, November 7, 2017. (Photo: Tom Tingle/The Republic)

In the woods that day, Swinney lifted his shotgun, a 12-gauge “beater-upper.”

Researchers from several universities estimated in 2006 that cattle only make up a small fraction of Mexican gray wolves’ diet, but Swinney couldn’t have these wolves near the herd.

Luckily for the Diamond pack, he wasn’t out to kill.

Swinney believes cattleman and wolves can coexist. He uses ranching techniques to reduce conflicts between livestock and wolves, countering two competing undercurrents that wolves are bad for cattle and cattle are bad for wolves.  

Swinneymonitors wolves with the help of federal and state authorities, while strategizing with wolf advocates to steer them away from cattle.  

His role is both the cattle’s guardian and the wolves’ savior, working under a partnership with the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. It’s one of a growing number of partnerships in the organization’s coexistence program.

Coexistence programs propose to solve a tug of war that has complicated efforts to recover the Mexican gray wolf population and remove it from the endangered species list.

Recovery plan stokes new debate

Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a long-awaited revised recovery plan that walked a tightrope between many interests.

It considers human-caused deaths a leading threat to Mexican gray wolves. Many of these deaths stem from conflicts between wolves and livestock.

The recovery plan compels states and tribes in the U.S. to implement “regulatory mechanisms” to reduce the number of wolf deaths caused by humans. And it calls on Mexico to do the same.

The plan would delist the wolf when its population in the wild averages 320 in the U.S. and 200 in Mexico when counted over eight years. At least 114 Mexican gray wolves roamed parts of Arizona and New Mexico in 2017, while Mexico had about 31. The U.S. population had grown slightly in recent years, but fewer pups survived in 2017, leaving the overall count almost unchanged from 2016.

A key element of the plan is releasing captive wolves from a binational breeding program into the wild to diversify this species’ genetic makeup. Authorities may also translocate wild wolves to other designated corners of Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico to disperse genetic diversity.

After these wolves are moved or released, the plan requires 22 in the U.S. and 36 in Mexico to survive until breeding age or for a year, depending on their age.

MORE: Federal government releases long-awaited recovery plan for endangered Mexican wolf
Mexican gray wolf recovery plan criticized for doing too much, too little

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may also capture wolves from the wild to place in captivity, according to the recovery plan. Many of these removals from the wild are due to conflicts with cattle andthey chip away at population numbers just like deaths. 

Environmentalists say the plan imperils the wolves, while many cattlemen say it allows too many.

Environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the plan falls dangerously short of safe population numbers and fails to protect wolves from inbreeding and illegal killings.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., introduced legislation that would effectively circumvent the plan by lowering the population numbers needed to remove the wolf from the endangered species list.

While politics and lawsuits play out, those who believe in coexistence see it as a way forward on the ground.

MORE: Jeff Flake wants to remove federal protections for Mexican gray wolves


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Tools to live side by side

With the wolves so close to Swinney that cold day, he loaded rubber buckshot into his shotgun’s chamber. It was a less than lethal way to drive the wolves away, a method the Arizona Game and Fish Department had trained him to use.

For a moment, Swinney was afraid to shoot the wolves.

“It’s a large predator and I know these animals are supposed to move away from me,” he said. “But what if I piss ’em off when I shoot ’em with this stuff.”

Rubber buckshot is one of the strategies he uses to coexist with Mexican gray wolves. He switches strategies often and assesses which ones work best from year to year, he said

“There’s no silver bullet,” he said.

Human presence helps by just being out with the cattle.

Swinney tracks wolf movements with telemetry equipment, tapping into the radio collars authorities attached to many wolves. He has an arrangement with the state wildlife agency to keep tabs on these wolves.

He keeps their locations close to his vest, mindful of what poachers could do with the data.

Additionally, he picks cows for the herd that have been able to stand their ground against domestic dogs, so if a wolf attacks they might not flee and abandon their calves.

“I want these cows to know that they can beat them dogs if they have to,” Swinney said.

He also doesn’t let them scatter off because he wants them to help each other chase away a wolf if one approaches. A lonely cow makes for easier prey.

A fellow cattleman told Swinney he saw a group of three or four cows run off a pack of wolves by Crosby Crossing, south of Eagar.

Sharing experiences and strategies like these among cattlemen is an important element to coexisting with wolves, if each party is willing to listen, Swinney said.

Swinney visited Montana to learn about management strategies cattleman use there to avoid bear and wolf attacks on cattle.

Defenders of Wildlife, the conservation organization, helps pay Swinney to protect the cattle from conflicts with wolves at the ranch he works for. And the organization has written a guide on how livestock producers can coexist with wolves.

The group suggests clearing out cow carcasses that could attract wolves, building fences, using guardian dogs and an array of scare tactics, among other methods to keep wolves a safe distance away.


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‘No such thing as coexistence’

Coexistence methods can make a difference, said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.

But grazing is an inherent problem in wolf habitat, he said. The federal government could improve it on public land by placing more regulations on public-land grazers to protect native flora and fauna.

Robinson points out that the U.S. Supreme Court has called grazing a privilege, not a right. 

Although, the law specifies that grazing privileges “shall be adequately safeguarded,” according to court documents.

Many cattleman feel coexistence isn’t the solution it’s cracked up to be and that wolf advocates aim to banish cattle grazers from public land. 

“There is no such thing as coexistence between an apex predator and domestic animals,” said Woody Cline, the president of the Gila County Cattle Growers Association.

Cattleman can receive compensation for cows preyed upon by wolves through a couple of avenues. The federal Livestock Indemnity Program, for example, pays 75 percent of market value.

MORE: Arizona ranchers can be compensated for cattle killed by wolves

When Laura Schneberger lost several calves in 2003, the compensation didn’t make her whole, she said. She is the president of the Gila National Forest Permittees Association and grazes cattle in New Mexico amid high elevations and rough terrain.  

For those who don’t raise livestock, it’s hard to understand the value of a cow beyond its market value, like the time and sweat it takes to raise that animal, Swinney said. Losing one cow can also affect overall livestock production.

Schneberger lost more cattle to wolves last summer, she said, but it’s a cumbersome process to file for compensation and she is still gathering the necessary paperwork.

Many methods to coexist, or scare wolves away, don’t have a lasting affect, she said.

“To pretend that that’s the solution and we’re all doing it wrong, that’s basically just discrediting ranching,” she said. 

Her husband shot a Mexican gray wolf as it attacked their cattle in 2013. 

They received numerous death threats after that, she said, although investigators ruled it a legal shooting.

Conflict off the range

Schneberger oversees a Facebook group called “wolves, cattle, and the people who live between them,” where members share photos of livestock eaten by wolves, among other images.

Schneberger shared one of a protester with a sign that read, “cows on the Gila are a (failed) experiment.”

Most wolf advocates want to rid public lands of ranching, she said, “but I’m not going anywhere. My grandparents are buried in this place. This is where we make our living.”

Mexican gray wolves are “under grave threat,” not the livestock industry, Robinson said. Many ranchers refuse to coexist with wolves.

He is a well-known wolf advocate, who one commenter in Schenberger’s Facebook group mocked in his absence.

Arguments over coexistence and wolf recovery are found in other corners of social media too. While far more Facebook pages are dedicated to wolf recovery, the page “Wolf Hunters of the World Unite” has over 800 likes and tugs at the lowest common denominator on both sides of the wolf debate.

Pro-wolf and anti-wolf commenters trade insults that highlight a cultural divide between rural and urban communities.

The page is passionately against Mexican gray wolf recovery in Arizona and New Mexico as well as recovery of other wolves in Idaho, where Defenders of Wildlife has also promoted coexistence.

The page touts photos of many dead wolves. Among them is one of a mangled pup and another of a bloodied wolf in the snow wearing a radio collar.

One meme says, “‘Defenders of Wildlife’ makes me want to … VOMIT!” and another shows a photo of a wolf skin rug, with the words, “The only way to ‘coexist with wolves.'”

Benefits to the ecosystem

Craig Miller, senior southwest representative for Defenders

Craig Miller, senior southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, is trying to help reach a middle ground with environmentalists and ranchers who have strong opinions on opposite sides of the attempt to recover Mexican wolf populations in Arizona. He stands near the wolf recovery area near Springerville on November 7, 2017. (Photo: Tom Tingle/The Republic)

Craig Miller works with Defenders to promote coexistence and watches the arguments build from both sides. Fellow conservationists have called him a “grazing apologist” for his work.

In his world, relationships are a currency. He guards them as he builds more. And he hesitates to make public the ranchers who work with Defenders of Wildlife.

A path forward to restore “vibrancy and the fertility and the productivity of nature” lies in resolving differences over wolves, he said. It’s important to humans’ own ability to survive.    

Wolf advocates often praise a cascade of benefits the reintroduction of wolves had on the ecosystem at Yellowstone National Park.

While Swinney hopes wolves will similarly benefit Arizona’s ecosystem, he believes the measures he takes to coexist with wolves have kept more cows alive. That’s the ranch’s bottom line.

A difficult year for the Diamond Pack

On that cold day in the pines, Swinney fired his shotgun into the branches of a big pine tree above the Diamond Pack. It got their attention. They knew he was serious.

As they trotted away he fired another shot behind them. “I doubt that I hit ’em with that rubber buckshot.”

These wolves didn’t have older animals around anymore to model appropriate fear of humans, Swinney said. Most wolves he’s seen distance themselves from him.

“It’s kinda like leaving a bunch of 16-year-olds without adult supervision,” he said. “They’re gonna get into trouble.”

Finding a way for humans and wolves to share the landscape will never be easy.

Wildlife managers wanted to remove wolves to disrupt the Diamond Pack from preying on cows. But Miller said removing wolves from the wild can throw off pack social dynamics and worsen conflicts with cattle. 

In 2017, the pack had a hard time staying together.

After a series of cows fell prey to wolves, authorities captured an adult male and a younger male from the pack in January. They began an investigation into a young female wolf’s death in May. And after more cattle fell prey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services killed an additional adult female in August.

MORE: Mexican gray wolf pup found dead; wildlife officials investigating
Feds: 14 endangered Mexican wolves found dead in 2016

As of January this year, the Diamond Pack had disbanded for three months and authorities consider them single wolves.

Proximity to livestock is dangerous for Mexican gray wolves, wrote wolf advocates, including Defenders and the Center for Biological Diversity, in the lawsuit they brought against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It can lead to death at the hands of humans, they said, which greatly threatens these wolves’ survival.

Cline, the head of the cattle growers association, agrees with that assessment, but wouldn’t mind seeing these wolves buried in the past with the dinosaurs.

“They are not doing the Mexican gray wolf any favors by putting him out there in the middle of people,” he said.

Environmental coverage on and in the Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow the azcentral and Arizona Republic environmental reporting team at OurGrandAZ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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Ax Throwing and Beer, a Fun New Combo in Brooklyn – New York Times


“Everyone always says, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’” said Ginger Flesher-Sonnier, 49, the owner of Kick Axe, a new bar where guests toss shiny silver axes at big wooden targets. This sporting club has 10 metal-caged ax ranges in which groups of up to 10 are assigned an “ax-pert” who, in addition to providing basic throwing lessons, goes through safety guidelines that separate axes from alcohol (no drinks on the range) and people from targets (all ax retrieval happens at the same time, so no one is throwing).

However, once you hold that little ax, which is a bit heavier than it looks, fears of errant blades dissipate and it becomes all about the thrill of “sticking it” — that is, getting the ax to hit the target with a deeply satisfying wood-splintering thwack. “When they get that first one to sink in, it’s great,” said Ryan Lynch, 24, one of the aptly bearded “ax-perts.” “It’s such a gratifying experience.”

At Kick Axe, there are big leather couches and tartan chairs, taxidermy and cow skin throw rugs, but also some sparkling satellite chandeliers to remind you that you’re still in Brooklyn.CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times

The Place Kick Axe is just off Fourth Avenue, down a semi-industrial street lined with graffiti-covered warehouses. Look for the big plastic bull out front. Inside, there’s a lounge resembling a midcentury-modern mountain lodge. There are big leather couches and tartan chairs, taxidermy and cow skin throw rugs, but also some sparkling satellite chandeliers to remind you that you’re still in Brooklyn.

The Crowd Mostly 20-somethings out in packs for a night of group fun in the Gowanus Industrial Playground; archery, rock climbing and shuffleboard are nearby. There are also some braver, slightly more timid 30-somethings paired up on adventurous date nights. (No ax-murderer jokes, please.) There seems to be an unofficial dress code of country-casual, with the majority wearing plaid or flannel shirts and grungy jeans.

The Playlist The constant thump and clang of axes hitting and missing the targets provide the beat of the night, complemented by the high-pitched squeals and guttural screams of boisterous team competition. Though no one is actually getting hit with an ax, it can sure sound like it.

Getting In Anyone can walk in and sign up for time on a range, if it’s available. But reservations are recommended, especially on weekend nights, which book up quickly with birthday parties or big groups. The rate is $35 per person for 75 minutes. It’s a minimum of eight people to book your own range, otherwise you’ll have to share with strangers. But making new friends is part of the fun here, too.

Drinks Beer and wine only, for obvious reasons: a dozen canned beers (starting at $3) and a small selection of reds and whites ($7.50). Bar snacks include Pop-Tarts and microwave soups (from $4).

Kick Axe, 622 Degraw Street, Gowanus; 833-542-5293; Open Monday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, noon to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 12:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.


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Harry Styles puts $8 million LA bachelor pad up for sale and reveals secret love for cow print and home spin classes –

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Harry Styles puts $8 million LA bachelor pad up for sale and reveals secret love for cow print and home spin classes
The gated three-bedroom, five-bathroom home boasts "epic" views of downtown and the ocean, through floor-to-ceiling windows. Littered throughout the 14-room house are tell-tale signs of 24-year-old Harry's quirky style. The master bedroom offers

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Is Yoga Good For Your Skin? Here's How A Regular Practice Keeps Your Complexion Healthy – Elite Daily

Whether you’re a self-proclaimed yogi, or you just dabble in the practice from time to time, chances are you didn’t just wake up one day and hit the mat (unless that’s exactly what happened, and if so, right on). Everyone has their reasons for why they began their yoga journey. For me, child’s pose relieved stress, while downward dog helped me become more flexible, but aside from the physical benefits, did you know yoga is good for your skin, as well? Mind you, this isn’t a green light to toss your favorite moisturizer in the trash, but it is a bonus incentive to join a class, or stretch it out on your living room rug.

Personally, I’ve never thought too much about how exercising affects my skin, aside from raising an eyebrow at the occasional rumors about how working up a sweat could cause breakouts. BTW, for the most part, this is a total myth: Interestingly enough, NYC dermatologist and creator of BeautyRx Dr. Neal Schultz, M.D., told Refinery29 that sweat can actually benefit the skin by acting as a natural moisturizer that cleanses the pores, cools down the skin, and kills bacteria.

However, unless your vinyasa is taking place in a heated studio, or the sequence you’re performing requires one challenging pose after another, yoga doesn’t always generate that dripping perspiration that, say, sprints on the treadmill would achieve. So how, then, does yoga keep your skin healthy?


Yoga is so much more than a gentle workout (side note: Sometimes it’s really not all that gentle, and anyone who’s attempted crow pose can vouch here); it’s a full-body experience that targets the mind, body, and soul. Physically, you’re flowing on the mat, but your mind is soaking in the mantras of your instructor, or a soft instrumental melody to bring awareness to your mental state and work through any emotional tension.

Now, here’s the link between stress and hormonal acne: When anxiety levels spike, your body responds by producing an excessive amount of the hormone androgen, which stimulates the oil glands. Combine this sebum with lingering dead skin cells and bacteria, the mixture clogs up pores, and bam, you’ve got yourself a monstrous breakout. (This kind of acne isn’t exclusive to your complexion either, friends. Hormonal breakouts come in the form of back acne, they can pop up on your chest, etc.)

In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, Lycored yoga ambassador Kristin McGee explains that yoga can ultimately reduce stress levels through “deep diaphragmatic breathing” exercises, while the meditative aspect and slow, mindful flows of the practice can “ease any inflammation.” Relax the mind, relax the body, relax all the hormones floating around just waiting to wreak havoc on your skin. Sounds easy enough, right?

The physical effects yoga poses have on the body also contribute to healthy, glowing skin.


In addition to becoming much more flexible (seriously, you should see my bridge pose) and less anxious, I’ve noticed that when I regularly practice yoga, my digestive system is on point. This is because certain poses like bound lotus, forward fold, and spinal twists massage your digestive organs and stimulate a healthy flow.

According to the UK company BIOEFFECT, when you’re all clogged up, your body is unable to process the skin-loving nutrients that come from things like veggies and fruit, and this can cause dull skin and acne. So the more you practice yoga, the more *regular* you’ll be, if you know what I mean, which means less pollution to muddle up your complexion.

Additionally, yoga poses that focus on the legs and on grounding through your feet and hands for balance stimulate your immune system and blood flow to keep your internal organs in prime condition. “Dynamic postures,” McGee tells Elite Daily, like downward dog, cat-cow (one my personal favorites), and sun salutations, which “build heat and keep the body moving” are all great for your skin.

Because yoga postures require you to “use your own body” to balance and mold into these taxing positions, she continues, things like deep, low lunges, plank variations, and inversions “force the muscles, bones, and joints to work,” therefore improving “muscle tone” and “elasticity.” What’s more, when you work to improve your flexibility through these sorts of poses, McGee adds, they “librate the joints,” which keeps skin soft and supple.

Of course, practicing yoga is just one of many natural treatments to keeping skin healthy. Products like moisturizers and daily cleansers, as well as staying hydrated and eating a well-balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals, will all help you sustain a clear complexion and healthy skin throughout your entire body. What you put in, you’ll get out, so show your body some love, and it will do the same.

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Animal Crossing is a dystopian hellscape – The Verge

One of Nintendo’s greatest, weirdest strengths has always been its ability to create something that absolutely no one asked for — and make us want it anyway. Animal Crossing, its long-running video game franchise about a human player living, working, and camping in various forests populated by anthropomorphic animals, is perhaps the quintessential expression of this off-beat creative mission. The game’s objectives, insofar as they exist, are to wander around in the woods, make friends, and decorate your domicile in whatever manner you see fit. This has led, inevitably, to some unsettling creations, but by and large, Animal Crossing is an all-ages community simulator designed to feel gentle, playful, and kind.

But does something darker lie beneath its cheerful exterior? Animal Crossing has always been a game that is as strange as it is cute, full of odd tics and design choices that raise probing questions about what, exactly, is going on in the larger world of this woodland hamlet. Some might suggest that Animal Crossing is its own answer, an adorable, absurdist experience that exists purely to delight. If you prefer this reading, feel free to exit now.

But for those willing to go down the rabbit hole, a closer examination of the series — and, particularly, the recent Pocket Camp mobile game — reveals something much more unsettling: a dark mirror that inadvertently reflects some of the most ruthless and dehumanizing elements of modern society, and how they can degrade our social and ethical bonds.

So here’s what we know — or at least, what we can infer from a careful examination of the universe of Animal Crossing.

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

If you think about anthropomorphic worlds for any sustained length of time, chances are, things are going to get weird. That’s because animals occupy a fraught and complex space in real-life human culture where they can be categorized, sometimes interchangeably, as both friends and food. Intelligent and sensitive animals like pigs are alternately treated as beloved pets and delicious snacks, doted on with parental affection by some and slaughtered by the millions in factory farms by others. A world that imagines animals as beings who walk, talk, and form complex interpersonal relationships inevitably brings this dichotomy to the fore, either by addressing it directly or ignoring it entirely.

As an explicitly family-friendly game, Animal Crossing chooses to do the latter — and the moral consequences are considerable.

For starters, there’s the question of food itself. While many of the villagers, like the cat and wolf characters, are traditional predators, we see them living harmoniously with prey animals like birds and rabbits. But all of the animal characters in Animal Crossing do eat certain animals, including shrimp and a wide variety of fish, which are depicted as smaller — and mercifully, not anthropomorphized.

One might assume that these creatures are considered fair game for consumption because of their low intelligence, but this theory doesn’t hold up for long: Squid, which in the real world are cognitively sophisticated enough to use tools and commit acts of deception, are routinely caught, sold, and eaten in Animal Crossing; cows, pigs, and chickens routinely host gleeful barbecues where skewers of meat roast over the flames. Angus, a bull character, is happy to sip coffee and recline on a cowskin rug, with no apparent inner turmoil about the fact that it was flayed from the body of a fellow cow.

And then there’s Goose, who is inexplicably not a goose at all but rather a large chicken. Like all of the characters, he won’t come visit your campsite until you possess a certain series of items that he desires. Usually, this means crafting decorations or pieces of furniture in line with their preferred aesthetics. But Goose has something darker in mind, a request that he characterizes as a “little favor.” Here is what’s on his shopping list:

To be clear, Goose is not only asking you to put a hit out on a fellow bird, but to prepare the corpse for a sumptuous repast. Is the turkey in question a hated foe, or is this just some cannibalistic fetish he likes to indulge? As his killer-for-hire, it would appear it is not your place to ask.

Despite the wide variety of avian characters in the game, including penguins, chickens, ducks, and owls, you can also own a bird that lives inside a cage — an item that the game specifically says inspires “no reaction” from the other characters. How can characters like Jay and Goose be so nonchalant about the imprisonment and enslavement of a fellow bird? Either they lack empathy to a degree that borders on sociopathy, or they do not see themselves when they look inside the cage, but rather a sub-human creature undeserving of liberty and free will.

Similarly, a cat character named Punchy will eventually ask you to craft a cat tower, which is classified in the game’s catalogue as a “pet item.” Since Punchy and the other cat campers are clearly not pets, that means this particular piece of furniture is intended for a cat who is — and that a cat can own another cat, a revelation with some Goofy and Pluto-esque moral implications.

There are, then, two classes of animals in this world: those who are regarded as people, and those who are treated the way human beings typically treat animals, as commodities to be bought and sold. By mapping animals into human society while maintaining its conflicted and contradictory relationship with animals, Animal Crossing essentially codifies that dichotomy into an animal caste system that allows socially superior members to freely enslave and consume their own kind without any sort of internal conflict. This is, needless to say, pretty grim and an unintentionally scathing critique of humanity’s inconsistent attitudes toward animals, particularly when viewed through the cheerful, breezy lens of an all-ages game.

We need to talk about Stitches

Several characters in Animal Crossing pose disturbing existential questions by their mere presence, particularly Hopkins, who appears to be an inflatable toy rabbit. There have been numerous debates among Animal Crossing fans about whether or not Hopkins, who has a blow-up nozzle on the back of his head, is “real.” It would seem that the fleshier animals in the game have similar concerns — and an innate, borderline prejudiced distrust of counterfeit animals. Although he is seemingly afforded the same rights to life and liberty as the others, the character profile for Hopkins includes a sinister warning: “Just a heads-up: Hopkins is not to be trusted. He’s always full of hot air.”

But most disturbing of all is Stitches, a teddy bear whose body has been Frankensteined together from seemingly haphazard scraps of fabric — or, possibly, the bodies of other bears. This alarming animal Pinocchio has Xs instead of eyes, and seems to be a spirit of some kind, trapped in the body of a nightmare doll that looks like it’s about to pull out a knife and demand that you play with him… forever. He also reflexively refers to you as “stuffin,’” which sounds like a threat in a way that I do not wish to investigate.

As with Hopkins, it is uncomfortable to contemplate precisely when his consciousness came into being. Was it summoned into his tiny cloth body through some arcane ritual, or did it emerge gradually as his ersatz-bearness took form in the hands of some Geppetto-like craftsperson? Does he experience pain? Could he feel his own anatomy being stitched together by the needles of the thread-god who gave him life?

Whatever else they are, Hopkins and Stitches are inescapably tragic creatures, constructed in the image of animals they will never fully become, whose very bodies aspire toward a state of existence that their fundamental nature will always betray. This then forces us to ask: who created them, and why were they conjured into the world? As experiments, as substitute children, or as toys to be played with by other animals? If these thoughts haunt them, they give no sign, but the question of their second-class citizenship — and the very nature of their souls —perpetually hangs in the air.

Some Dogs Go to Heaven

So what are we to make of the notion of the soul in the Animal Crossing universe, or at least how the characters regard it? One clue lies within the seasonal holidays in the game, which include religious celebrations like Christmas. We can assume, then, that God exists in this world — or at least, that many animals acknowledge a higher being and practice some form of Christianity. Whether Jesus and his disciples were human in this alternate universe, or a colorful assortment of woodland creatures, I will leave to the imagination of the reader. But one can reasonably assume that this iteration of Christian faith regards anthropomorphic animals as fully fledged members of humanity with souls and access to the afterlife, and that the lesser animals of Animal Crossing are necessarily excluded from spiritual personhood and the promise of eternal life.

But wait! The rabbit hole goes even deeper!

Most Animal Crossing games include dancing clay figurines called gyroids, which appear to be sentient but are classified as “furniture items.” The exception to this is Lloid, the only gyroid who speaks and has a name. Lloid appears variously as a gardening assistant, a construction foreman, and the proprietor of an auction house, where you can buy and sell other gyroids. Whether this makes Lloid a traitor to his kind is unclear.

Gyroids are inspired by Japanese funereal objects called haniwa, which can be shaped as both people and animals, and are sometimes thought to be containers for souls. Lloid speaks in an antiquated, formal dialect that suggests he lived in an earlier era, and thus is the spirit of a long-dead person or person-animal residing in a figurine. Other gyroids, which instinctively dance and ululate but cannot communicate, are more likely empty vessels waiting to receive souls, or perhaps once contained a spirit that left a trace of its humanity behind.

This means that the characters of Animal Crossing could be functionally immortal, as their consciousness can be transferred into gyroids after death — and, in a Black Mirror twist, into life-sized toys like Stitches and possibly even sofas. Given that this is a world where nearly everything can be bought and sold, it’s also likely immortality is granted solely to those who can pay for it, a dystopian notion that raises profound moral concerns. This could also explain why Stitches is so poorly constructed: it’s the only body he could afford.

Friendship is just another in-app purchase

This brings us to the financial system of Animal Crossing, the fundamental mechanism that shapes the experience of the game. It has long been observed that Animal Crossing is something of a capitalist fantasy, a world where everyone — even poor people and avocado toast-eating millennials — can become homeowners through sheer diligence and hard work.

The moment you arrive in town, a tanuki robber baron named Tom Nook informs you that you’ve just taken out an enormous loan from him to buy your home, and it’s now your job to pay it off. (In some games, you’re conscripted into a form of indentured servitude at Nook’s company store). Pocket Camp flips the script on this conceit, turning your character into a transient who lives out of a van in the woods, a grim vision of what awaits less affluent renters in gentrifying neighborhoods. OK Motors takes on the lender role here, as you repeatedly go into debt with the repair shop to spruce up your vehicle.

You have no home in Pocket Camp, per se, nor any consistent community; the animal characters who set up camp only stick around for a few hours at a time before they are rotated out. It’s possible to get them to camp with you on a more permanent basis — but of course, this comes with a price. Your animal “friends” will adamantly refuse to come stay with you unless you decorate your camp with furniture they consider stylish (and/or commit bird murder for them). You must live, henceforth, with the knowledge that all of your relationships are conditional and based on status and money, rather than true affection and respect.

Your interactions with everyone you meet are fundamentally transactional; your friendship level with a given animal in Pocket Camp only increases when you bring them whatever gifts they demand, items that can only be attained through physical labor. In return, they give you money and resources, a relationship that more closely resembles a boss and an employee than two mutually caring pals. At times, your “friends” will literally hand you sacks of money to express their appreciation — a friendship “bonus,” if you will. By design, this is what friendship boils down in Animal Crossing: the regular exchange of money and goods. Like the lesser animals consigned to their cages, your relationship is just another commodity to be bought and sold.

If that isn’t depressing enough, Pocket Camp breaks the fourth wall of its virtual capitalism with in-app purchases, allowing you to purchase the friends and status you desire with real money via “leaf tickets”, rather than just the in-game currency of “bells.” Technically, you don’t have to buy leaf tickets — it’s possible to earn them in the game — but things go a lot faster and easier if you just shell out the cash. Leaf tickets give you access to special items and also accelerate the crafting process, allowing you install your luxurious new pool instantly, rather than waiting 72 hours like a plebe.

Naturally, Tom Nook is running the microtransactions. And in Pocket Camp, his commitment to capitalism is so extreme that even he can be bought, for a price. If you’re willing to pay the rather exorbitant fee of 250 leaf tickets — which you purchase in an online store that literally has a picture of Tom Nook reclining in a bathtub of money — you can craft a chair that will impels him to visit your camp like a paid celebrity showing up at a kid’s birthday party, so that rabble like you can touch the hem of his terrible sweater vest.

All of this makes Pocket Camp feel less like a capitalist fantasy and more like a capitalist reality, where people with money can jump the line and instantly buy their way to a better and more convenient (virtual) life, while everyone else has to grind out a living in Shovelstrike Quarry.

So yes, Animal Crossing is a charming and delightful game about making friends — one that happens to take place in a world where social inequality, murder, and cannibalism are a normal part of the social order, where the rich can buy and sell those they consider sub-human on a whim, and even spend their way into eternal life, making wealth a power akin to religious salvation.

All of which is to say that you should absolutely play Pocket Camp. It is not only a highly entertaining game, but one that inadvertently doubles as a candy-colored indictment of some of the deepest flaws of modern society. And again, it’s free to play — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to cost you.

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Stanville – The New Yorker

Audio: Rachel Kushner reads.

If his students could learn to think well, to enjoy reading books, some part of them would be uncaged. That was what Gordon Hauser told himself, and what he told them, too. But there were days, like when a woman walked into the prison classroom and flung boiling sugar water into the face of another woman, when he did not believe it. There were days when it seemed as though the real purpose of the work he was doing was to destroy his own life by trying to teach people who wanted to burn each other’s faces off. The guards made everything more difficult, with their contempt for the women and their hostility toward free-world staff like Gordon. The guards had been forced to undergo sensitivity training and were furious about it. “It’s because you cunts cry and demand explanations,” they said. “Everything with you bitches is why, why, why.” They all reminisced about better times, when they had worked in men’s facilities, where they’d observed high-blood-volume stabbings on closed-circuit monitors from the safety of the watch office, and dealt with prisoners who lived by strictly self-enforced convict codes. Female prisoners bickered with the guards and contested everything, and the guards seemed to find this more treacherous than having to subdue riots. No guard wanted to work in a women’s prison. Gordon had not understood this until he got to Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, which he’d chosen because working with women prisoners seemed less threatening to him than working with men.

His first placement had been with juveniles in San Francisco. He’d done that for six months, but it was too depressing. Kids in cages telling him stories about their foster homes, about sexual abuse, all kinds of abuse. Most didn’t have parents but some did. Gordon saw them in the court’s waiting area, before he passed through a sally port to get to his classroom: people with holes in their sweatpants, T-shirts emblazoned with random logos, inadequate shoes—poor people with chaotic lives. Couldn’t the juvenile judges understand, from looking at the guardians, that the kids didn’t stand any kind of fair chance?

There were notices instructing juveniles to pull up their pants, because to wear them low was disrespectful. One of Gordon’s students was always getting into trouble for wearing his pants too low, a big white boy whose eyes were set close together in the center of his face. “You talk like you’re black,” a black kid had said to him, “but you look like you’re retarded.” “No Bare Feet,” a sign at the building entrance warned. As if someone would try to walk into a detention center and court, a municipal building on a bleak, windy corner, far from the beach, without shoes. Another sign: “No Tank Tops.” Under it, typically, an entire three-generation family, all in tank tops, flesh spilling out. What was it about shoulders? Why did law enforcement fear them?

When you Google the town of Stanville, faces pop up: mug shots. After the mug shots, an article that cites Stanville as having the highest percentage of minimum-wage workers in the state. Stanville’s water is poisoned. The air is bad. Most of the old businesses are boarded up. There are dollar stores, gas stations that serve as liquor outlets, and coin-op laundromats. People without cars walk the main boulevard in the hottest part of the day, when it’s a hundred and thirteen degrees outside. There are no sidewalks, so they amble along in the gutters, scooting empty shopping carts, piercing the dead zone of late afternoon with a loose metallic rattle.

Gordon found a place to rent sight unseen, a cabin up the mountain from Stanville proper, in the western Sierra foothills. The cabin was a single room with a woodstove. It would be his Thoreau year, he wrote to his friend Alex, sending him the realty link.

“Your Kaczynski year,” Alex wrote back, after looking at the photos of the cabin.

“True, both lived in one-room huts,” Gordon responded. “But I don’t see much connection between them.”

“Reverence of nature, self-reliance. K was even a reader of Walden,” Alex wrote. “It’s on the list of books from his cabin. Also R. W. B. Lewis, your idol.”

“Aren’t you kind of oversimplifying?”

“Yes. But also: both died virgins.”

“Kaczynski’s not dead, Alex,” Gordon wrote back.

“You know what I mean.”

Over goodbye beers at their bar on Shattuck Avenue, Alex gave Gordon, as a kind of joke, a Ted Kaczynski reader. Gordon had looked at the manifesto. Everyone had. The guy had once been an assistant professor at Berkeley.

They toasted Gordon’s departure. “To my rustication,” Gordon said.

“Isn’t that when they boot you from Oxford?”

“They just send you down to the country for a while.”

His mountain place also had a poisoned water supply, but not from agriculture. There was naturally occurring uranium, so you had to bring in bottled water. He liked the cabin. It smelled of fresh-planed pine. It was logical in its compactness. Cozy, even. It was up on stilts, on a steep hill with few neighbors, and had an expansive view of the valley.

He spent the week before the new job started unpacking his meagre belongings and chopping wood. Went for walks. Nights, he fed logs to his stove and read.

Ted Kaczynski, Gordon learned, ate mostly rabbits. Squirrels, Ted reported, didn’t seem to like bad weather. His diaries were mostly concerned with how he lived and what he saw happening in the wilderness around him, and Gordon acknowledged that comparing him to Thoreau was not as crude as he’d first thought. But Kaczynski would never have written this: “Through our own recovered innocence we discern the innocence of our neighbors.”

Gordon’s new neighbors were all white, Christian, and conservative. People who tinkered with trucks and dirt bikes and made assumptions about Gordon that he did nothing to dispel, because he knew that those assumptions would work in his favor if he needed their help. It snowed up there. Roads closed, cutting off access to supplies. Trees fell and knocked down power lines. Gordon did not enjoy the grinding zing of dirt bikes’ two-stroke motors, which echoed down the valley on weekends, but that was the country: not a pure and untrammelled world of native wildlife and songbird calls but people who cleared the trees off their property with chainsaws and cut paths through the woods for motocross courses and snowmobiling. Gordon withheld judgment. These people knew much more than he did about how to live in the mountains. How to survive winter and forest fires and mud flows from spring rains. How to properly stack wood, something Gordon’s neighbor from down the hill had patiently showed him, after his two cords of chunk wood were dumped in the driveway by a guy named Beaver, who was missing most of his fingers. Gordon learned to split logs. Part 1 of his rustication.

One morning, Sergeant McKinnley yelled through the door that my G.E.D. prep session was that afternoon.

“When staff come back here after lunch I want no monkey business, Hall.”

I had not signed up for the G.E.D., which was the only form of education offered at Stanville. I had graduated from high school. I was not a bad student when I made the effort. But after he walked away my cellmate, Sammy, said, “Don’t correct, because you never know. Their wrong might be your right.”

That afternoon, I was taken from the cell. It felt like freedom to be chained and hustled down a hallway after weeks of confinement in administrative segregation. I was placed in a birdcage in the program office and left to wait, listening to the stutter and clank from the sewing machines on death row.

“You study real good, Hall. You prove everybody wrong. Show the world you ain’t all bad.”

McKinnley clomped down the hall in his huge boots.

If I’d understood, then, how much guards hated civilian staff, I might have been nicer to G. Hauser, which was the name on the I.D. pinned to the G.E.D. instructor’s shirt. The guy sat down in a chair next to my birdcage with a stack of worksheets. He was about my age or a little older, with a non-ironic mustache and ugly running shoes.

“Let’s start with something simple.” He read the first question on the math worksheet. “Four plus three equals (a) eight, (b) seven, (c) none of the above.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

“Is that (a) eight, (b) seven, or (c) none of the above? It sometimes helps to use your fingers, if you need to count it out.”

“It’s seven,” I said. “I think we can move to something more challenging.”

He flipped pages. “All right, how about a word problem? If there are five children and two mothers and one cousin going to the movies, how many tickets do they need? (a) seven, (b) eight, (c) none of the above.”

“What movie are they going to?”

“That’s the wonderful thing about math: it doesn’t matter. You can count without knowing the details.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine these people without seeing who they are, and knowing what movie they’re going to.”

He nodded, like my response was reasonable, not at all a problem.

“Maybe we got a little ahead of ourselves. How about we make up a question?” he said. “Or, rather, we take the question and simplify it.”

This guy had the patience of a genuine idiot.

“There are three adults and five children: how many tickets do they need?”

There was no sarcasm in his voice. G. Hauser was so determined to work with whoever he thought I was that I could not play along.

“You didn’t say if they let kids in free, so how can I know how many tickets they need? And, depending on what kind of people they are, what theatre this is—are they ghetto or are they squares like you? Because maybe they let one of the adults, like that cousin, in through an emergency side door, after they pay for two tickets.”

I saw the plush stained carpet of the multiplex out by the Oakland airport, the one where a cousin would sneak in through the emergency exit instead of paying. It’s probably gone, like all the other theatres I used to know. The Strand on Market, where, as kids, Eva and I drank Ripple wine with grownups. The Serra, which showed “Rocky Horror.” The Surf, out by the beach, where I went with my mother when I was young.

“They’re squares,” G. Hauser said. “Like me.”

“The kids all have to have tickets?”

He nodded.

“The answer is eight.”

“Excellent,” he said.

“You just congratulated a twenty-nine-year-old woman for adding three and five.”

“I have to start somewhere.”

“What makes you think I can’t count?”

“There are women here with innumeracy. Who have trouble with basic addition. I can give you a G.E.D. practice test, and, if you’re confident you’ll pass, I’ll schedule you to take it.”

“I don’t need a G.E.D.,” I said. “I’m here because I was called out here by mistake.”

“You might think you don’t need a degree, but in the future, when you are facing your release, you’ll be glad to have it.”

“I’m not getting out,” I said.

He went into a calm and semi-robotic spiel about people with life sentences and the numerous long-termer programs for which I’d be eligible with a G.E.D. I said I’d think about it and was taken back to the cell.

When he was my boyfriend, Jimmy Darling used to do math with my son, Jackson, for fun. It started with a lesson about the history of counting. Jimmy drew a circle on a piece of paper. “This is a stable where a farmer keeps his animals,” Jimmy said. He drew three circles for the animals. “What kind of animals?” Jackson asked. I guess we both liked to know the irrelevant information. “Sheep, how about?” Jimmy said. “The farmer has three sheep, and they each have a name: Sally, Tim, and Joe. Every morning, the farmer lets the sheep out to graze. In the evening, he herds them back into the pen. Since there are only three, he can easily go over the list of their names and confirm that Sally, Tim, and Joe are all safely back in their enclosure for the night, where they won’t be eaten by wolves. But let’s say the farmer has ten sheep, instead of three. If he names each one, he has to remember ten names when they return. He has to recognize ten sheep. Each name goes with a specific sheep. If Sally is the pregnant sheep, then he can recognize her by her broad belly and check her name off when she comes back from grazing. But let’s say the farmer has thirty sheep. Too many to name, right? So he gets a basket of rocks, exactly enough so that he has one rock for each sheep. He takes a rock out of the basket for every animal that leaves the enclosure in the morning. As each one returns in the evening, he puts a rock in the basket. When all the rocks have been put back into the basket, he knows that all his sheep are safely home. The sheep don’t need names anymore. The farmer just has to know how many there are.” He explained to Jackson that numbers started with counting and counting started with names. It was like prison—from a name to a number. Except my number was more like a name than the rock that went with the sheep, because the rock could go with any sheep, and my number went only with me.

When they escorted us out for the weekly yard time, we could see down into the caged area of death row. Sammy hollered from the catwalk, “Candy Peña, I love you! Betty LaFrance, I love you!”

Candy looked up. Her face dimpled into a sad smile. They were down there on their sewing machines, stitching a seam on burlap, then moving the fabric ninety degrees, another seam, turning the material again to run a third seam. Each piece was then tossed on a pile. I didn’t see Betty, who often refused to work and lost her privileges. They sewed sandbags on death row. Nothing else. If you see a pile of sandbags along the side of a California road, know that they have been touched by the hands of our celebrities.

Payment is five cents an hour, minus fifty-five per cent in restitution. The work is repetitive and doesn’t offer even the satisfaction of making a single finished thing. The bags still have to be filled. Who completes the bags? My guess is men. Men fill them with sand and close up the tops.

I spotted the G.E.D. teacher through the razor wire around our concrete ad-seg yard. He was on a path going into the ad-seg housing block. I waved. He called through the barbed coils. “Have you given any more thought to whether you want to work toward the G.E.D.?”

I said I had not.

“Let the administration know if you want to take the test. The questions were easy for you, and that’s a good indicator. Though I didn’t give you a reading assessment.”

“I know how to read,” I told him. “And I graduated from high school.”

He nodded. “I didn’t realize. I’d be happy to get you some reading material, if you’d like.”

Months later, when I was finally out of ad seg and mainlined to general population, I saw him again. I had got into a scuffle in work exchange, where they said I was setting off the metal detector and went through all my stuff. They even tore apart the baloney sandwich in the sack lunch they gave us outside chow hall, to take to work. I had to strip out in the little curtained area, and I was boiling with anger by the time I left. But, when I saw G. Hauser, something flipped in me, a switch. I called out a friendly hello. “Hey,” I said, “I was wondering if I’d run into you.”

I had forgotten all about him. I had not thought of him once.

“I’m on C yard,” I said, “and I’ve been thinking about your offer to get me some reading material. That would be great.”

He was excited, like I was doing him a favor by asking for one myself. We chatted, and, in his growing excitement, he said, “Why don’t you take my class?”

“All they teach here is G.E.D. prep. Which is the education level of our guards.”

“Yeah.” He laughed quickly, covertly. “But, since it’s the only thing offered, I structure it around reading. We read and talk about books. Try it out. I’d love to have you join us.” He told me how to sign up.

In the early morning, on his way down the mountain toward Stanville, Gordon sometimes glimpsed gray foxes, their lustrous tails trailing after them, as he followed the curves of the winding road, passing huge drought-desiccated live oaks, their jagged little leaves coated in dust, and banks of rust-red buckeye and smoke-green manzanita. On the straightaway toward the brown basin, the scenery changed to oil pipeline and derricks, whose axles wound and wound. After the derricks was a shaggy orange grove, and one farmhouse with two palm trees in front, where the road split. On the valley floor, the temperature was twenty degrees hotter and the air heavy with the smell of fertilizer. There were no more oranges, no oil derricks, just power lines and almond groves in huge geometric parcels all the way to the prison.

Gordon went through three electronic sally ports to get to his classroom, which was in a windowless trailer near the vocational workshops and the central kitchen. From the kitchen pumped a constant smell of rancid grease, overpowered only by the drift of solvents from the auto-body shop, where trucks—guards’ private vehicles—were lined up for super-discounted paint jobs by prisoners.

He had clearance to enter this part of the grounds, but the housing units and the yards were off limits to him, with the exception of one cell block on A yard, 504, where he worked with people from death row and administrative segregation. Gordon had dreaded death row but found that it didn’t quite conform to his nightmares. It was automated and modern, each tiny cell with a white-painted steel door and a small safety-glass window. There were twelve women, one to a cell, and a cramped alley with tables and sewing machines surrounded by meshed cage. A guard led Gordon in to meet with students one-on-one, while others knitted or made hook rugs at nearby tables. Betty LaFrance, who was not one of Gordon’s students but always insisted on speaking to him, brought a radio from her cell and played elevator music as she crafted. The women were allowed to come and go from their cells, which smelled of Renuzit air freshener and were blanketed in handmade afghans, for privacy and probably so as to make use of these afghans, which they churned out on the oily axle of time.

Administrative segregation, on the floor above death row, had no common area, and there was no interaction among the women except yelling. Gordon waited in a small office as a student clink-jangled down the hall in her restraints and was put in a cage for the lesson with him. That was where he’d first met Romy Hall, who was in his class now. What he had noticed about her was that she looked him in the eye. Many of the women had a way of looking at his shoulder or past him. Their eyes rolled every which way to avoid his. Also, she was attractive, despite the conditions. Wide-set greenish eyes. A mouth with a Cupid’s bow—was that what it was called?—an upper lip that swoop-de-swooped. A pretty mouth that said, Trust this face. She spelled well, read with good comprehension. He wasn’t looking for a good speller. He wasn’t looking for anything among the women in Stanville.

Gordon passed out photocopied sections of books—“Julie of the Wolves,” Laura Ingalls Wilder. He didn’t say they were children’s books; he kept it simple, since many of the women had only an elementary-school education. They wrote in bubble letters, like adolescent girls. Even London—whose nickname was Conan and who looked like a man—wrote in bubble letters. London was clever, it was obvious. Never did the reading but made the others laugh, which was something.

“Is ‘bosom’ plural?” London asked.

“Depends on whose, maybe,” someone said.

“The bosom of Jones. Sounds like an adventure film. Lieutenant Jones and the Bosom of Doom.”

Geronima Campos, an old Native American woman, drew in her sketchbook all through class time. Gordon wondered if maybe she couldn’t read or write. He asked her what she drew.

Portraits, she told him. She opened her sketchbook to show him. Each page had an image and, under it, a name. She could write. But the images were not faces. They were wild streaks of color. “This is you,” she said, and showed him a scribble of black lines with a staining splotch of blue ink.

When the class discussed a chapter of “The Red Pony,” by John Steinbeck—the third chapter, “The Promise,” about Nellie the pregnant mare—one woman raised her hand and said that, when she’d delivered, her womb was heart-shaped, “in two parts,” she said, “just like a horse’s, and even the doctor confirmed it.”

They read from the chapter out loud. At the mention of pigs, a student interjected that her cousin had written to her from lockup in Arizona, where they put a pig in the gas chamber one Sunday a month, to test the machine.

Gordon tried to steer the discussion back to the book. What was the promise that Billy Buck had made?

Romy Hall raised her hand. She said that Billy Buck had promised the boy, Jody, a healthy foal. Earlier, Billy Buck had said that he would look after the red pony, and the pony had died. This new promise was Billy Buck’s chance to be a man of his word, by delivering the foal safely.

“Did he keep it?” Gordon asked.

She said that that was the trick of the story. Technically, yes, but in order to deliver the foal he had to kill the mare. He smashed its skull with a hammer, and that was a bullshit way to keep a promise. The mare could have had other foals that weren’t breach, but she had to die because some cowboy was hung up on himself as a man of his word.

“It’s O.K. to make a promise,” London said to Gordon, as if summarizing for the teacher how life actually worked, “but it’s not always a good idea to keep one.”

Like one of the lucky women who have family or outside help, I got called to receiving and release to pick up a package. G. Hauser had got me two books: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“That’s what he got you?” Sammy said, stifling a laugh. “Even I read those already.” I felt sad and a little protective of the teacher for not knowing better. I planned on keeping them, even if I didn’t especially want to read them. They were a link to the outside world. But a woman in my unit offered me shampoo and conditioner in exchange for both. The state gives us indigents only gritty powdered soap for body and hair. Being able to properly wash and condition my hair made me feel happy, at least for an evening, in a way I hadn’t since I was arrested, three years before.

I had been in Hauser’s class for a couple of weeks when he stopped me afterward and asked if I’d enjoyed the books.

“I enjoyed reading them,” I said, “when I was fourteen.”

“God, I’m sorry. That’s embarrassing.”

“It’s O.K. You just don’t know me.”

He got me more books. One, called “Pick-Up,” was about two drunks in San Francisco in the nineteen-fifties. I started reading it and could not stop. When I finished it, I read it again. Scenes came into view for me, even though the character in the book doesn’t name many locations besides Civic Center, and Powell and Market, where the cable car turns around. When I was a kid, there was a large Woolworth’s at Powell and Market that had a wig department. Eva and I would go in and pretend we were wig shopping. The old ladies who worked there helped us pin our hair up in special nets and fitted us with grand and curly hairdos. We laughed and played around in the mirrors, sneaked makeup and hair products into our purses, and took pictures in the photo booth inside the store. Sometimes we went to Zim’s on Van Ness afterward, ordered a lot of food, and left without paying. It was different from dining and dashing at the more familiar Zim’s, on Taraval. We felt sophisticated downtown. The whole long era of my childhood I ran around like a street urchin, no more rooted than the teen-agers on the posters in the Greyhound station on Sixth Street. Tall figures in silhouette, like long shadows, and the words “Runaways, Call for Help.” A hotline number. My childhood was the era of the hotline. But we never called any, except as a prank.

I told Hauser I’d read “Pick-Up.” He asked what I thought.

“That it was good and bad at the same time.”

“I know what you mean. The end is a shock, right? But it makes you want to reread the book, to see if there were earlier clues.”

I told him I’d done that. And that it was good to read a book about San Francisco, that I was from there.

“Oh, me, too,” he said.

He didn’t seem like it to me, and I said so.

“I mean, near there. Just across the Bay, Contra Costa County.” He named the town, but I hadn’t heard of it.

“It’s an armpit behind an oil refinery. It’s not glamorous, like the city.”

I said that I hated San Francisco, that there was evil coming out of the ground there, but that I liked “Pick-Up” because it reminded me of things about the city that I missed.

He had got me two other books, “Factotum” and “Jesus’ Son.” I would read those next, I told him.

I said that I knew about the Jesus book because I’d seen the movie. Which was good, except that the people in it were supposed to be living in the seventies. “The girl in it—she’s got her midriff showing, and she wears a leather jacket with a fur collar like it’s San Francisco in the nineties.”

“But those people you’re describing—they’re all borrowing from the seventies to begin with.”

It was true. I told him how Jimmy Darling used to go to this bookstore in the Tenderloin to buy seventies-era copies of Playboy, which they had in stacks on the floor in the back. An old man once tapped Jimmy on the shoulder and whispered, “Sonny, they have the new ones up here,” nodding in the direction of the plastic-sleeved monthlies Busty and Barely Legal, which were on display at the front of the store.

“And Jimmy is—”

“My fiancé. And a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute.”

“Are you . . . still engaged?”

“He’s dead,” I said.

One evening, as class ended, Romy Hall hovered. Gordon started collecting papers from an awkward position, on the far side of his own desk, in order to create more distance between them.

She told him many things about herself in the span of about five minutes. She spoke them in a controlled voice. It seemed to Gordon that she had been saving it up. He kept stepping back, to be farther from her, and she kept stepping toward him, and he was not going to be manipulated. One woman had tried to bribe him to smuggle in cell phones for her, another tobacco. Staff and guards alike were involved in these schemes. Gordon wanted no part.

She was a lifer, she told him, and the mother of a young boy. She apologized for troubling him. Said she woke up depressed. Could feel the fog in her cell, even without a window, and said the dampness of it reminded her of home.

She wanted him to call a telephone number to find out where her kid was. She had it written down and this was exactly the kind of thing he’d been backing away from, as she moved toward him. Just because he had bought her books or found her pretty, just because he thought about her sometimes, that didn’t mean he was looking for family dramas.

The assistance he gave on his own, and against the rules, had all started with Candy Peña on death row, where they were knitting baby blankets that would go to a Christian charity in Stanville. Candy had cried like a child because she had no more yarn and no money and so she couldn’t help the babies.

He knew that he could bring in yarn. They almost never looked in his bag, and it would set off no alarm. When he delivered it to Candy, she melted in gratitude, which made him feel obscene. Not because it was against the rules but because it had been almost no trouble and yet she cried and said that no one had ever done anything so nice for her, not once in her whole life.

The only remedy seemed to be to do favors for others, so that he wasn’t Candy’s saint—to neutralize the act of giving by giving more.

He bought seeds for a student in his class who gardened. She had given Gordon fresh mint as a present, and when he asked her where she’d got it, she said it had ridden into the prison on reclaimed lumber, four-by-twelves they were using for construction. She’d replanted it, watered it. She told him she watched the sky and waited for birds to excrete seeds, and germinated them secretly in wet paper towels. The rules were that no plants were to be grown in the yards. But the captain on D yard, where the gardener lived, let her have her plants. She was a lifer. Gordon gave her a seed packet of California poppies. She put her hands to her face to hide her tears. “This is a God shot,” she said. “Thank you for this God shot.” Which started the cycle over again, the discomfort, the outsized gratitude. The packet of seeds had cost him eighty-nine cents.

And so he had been sending books to Romy Hall. You go on Amazon. Click a button. What was twenty bucks to him, if spending it meant several weeks of freedom of thought for someone in prison? But looking into her personal life in the outside world, calling a number on her behalf: that was different. It was honest-to-God meddling, not just in her life but in his own, too.

He put the paper she had given him on his coffee table. A phone number and the name of her child. He did not call and, to his relief, or his mixed relief, she did not ask him about it.

Candy Peña made baby blankets with the yarn Gordon had brought her. The blankets were collected by a unit officer and placed in the office of receiving and release. Whenever Gordon passed the office he saw them there, in a giant leaf bag, the colors of the yarn that he had chosen peeking out, garish and sad. One day, he asked the officer in R. and R. about their status. The officer was a scalded blonde with a tight ponytail, brusque, ex-military. She snorted. “These? Nobody wants ’em. I keep forgetting to tell the porters to take them out to the trash.”

That same officer supervised family visits, when inmates got thirty-six hours in the prison’s version of an apartment, with blood relatives.

Blood relatives. It sounded so violent. Or was Gordon losing perspective, everything warped by what was around him?

Was it difficult to watch them say goodbye? Gordon had asked the R. and R. officer, before he knew better. He had seen, on his way past, small children clinging to their mothers and crying hysterically. Someone had painted a lavender hopscotch pattern on the walkway outside the family units.

“You grow a thick skin,” the officer said, her mouth pulled into a frown, as if to demonstrate: this is thick skin. “Especially when you know it’s the mother’s own fault.”

It would have been better if the baby blankets had gone into the trash. Instead, one of the unit cops redistributed them to the women on death row who had made them. The next time Gordon was there, Candy Peña showed him how she’d patched together two baby blankets into a large vest, a sort of poncho, in soft, gauzy blue and yellow. She held it up. “I hope it fits?”

“Knit” was the past tense of “knit.” And no one wanted what Candy Peña knit, not even Gordon, who put the vest in a paper bag deep in the trunk of his car and tried to forget about it.

Hauser had made it pretty obvious that he liked me. Everyone in class knew. It became a joke, Conan humming “Here Comes the Bride” as I walked into the classroom trailer, sweaty and coated in wood-shop dust.

Sammy went into overdrive about Hauser’s crush on me when I told her I had given him a number to call. Sammy was a walking historian of every person who had faced every adversity in prison, and could produce examples of all the cases where staff, or even guards, had stepped in and raised the children of imprisoned women. Hauser was going to adopt Jackson, she decided. She went on about it, and she meant well, but it didn’t comfort me. I didn’t think she was reading things right. This was a normal and nice college-educated guy who probably separated bottles and cans from the rest of his trash. He wasn’t going to adopt my kid. He’d marry a nice girl like him who also recycled, and they’d have children together, their own.

But, in truth, I had begun to live for his G.E.D. class, even if I didn’t admit it. I was determined to work on him for Jackson’s sake, but I also worked on him for a less delusional reason. He knew places I knew. When I talked to him, I became a person from a place. I could roam neighborhoods, visit my apartment in the Tenderloin with the Murphy bed, my happy yellow Formica table, and above it, the movie poster of Steve McQueen in “Bullitt.”

Hauser, too, knew the mechanical museum at Ocean Beach. “ ‘See Susie Dance the Can-Can,’ ” he said, as proof. The Camera Obscura, where a large dish showed the froth of the waves. A huge sign that announced “Playland,” but no Playland around. Only the sun-bleached sign next to a fake cliff, man-made, which people said had been put there to trick the Japanese during the war.

“There’s a pizza place up Irving,” Hauser said. “They spin the dough in the windows.”

I saw everything. The stretching floury disks that collapsed on the hands of the dough-makers in their chef’s hats, fists working the disks around, dough growing in girth, orbit, then back up in the air. I saw the huge wreath of flowers that hung from the closed entrance one morning, announcing the death of the old man, the pizza patriarch. I’d never seen a wreath that large. I was eight or nine. Not yet into trouble.

I saw the shining lid of the ocean from Irving Street, the way it rose, on a clear day, like something that breathed, that was alive, down at the end of the avenues.

“You’ve got something with that teacher,” Sammy said. “Most of them don’t get involved with prisoners. Too jaded. But he is open.”

Hauser had a lost quality. He didn’t seem to have much happening outside work. Not that he discussed his life with us. At Stanville, he was an oddball to the rest of the staff. The guards made fun of him, mostly as a way to make fun of us. Go teach those dumb bitches to read, Mr. Hauser. Teach those cows two plus two. They thought what he spent his life doing was pointless, not a worthy endeavor like watching us on security monitors or masturbating in a guard tower.

Candy Peña bragged to whoever was on her air vent that Hauser was her boyfriend, that he got her “a whole grip” of knitting supplies. Anything she wanted, she said. She should have known you don’t brag about something like that. You keep it to yourself and you cultivate it.

In his essay celebrating the wonder of wild apples, Thoreau concedes that they taste good only out-of-doors. Even a saunterer, Thoreau says, would not tolerate a saunterer’s apple at a kitchen table. Their bitter flavor was best rationalized in the context of a beautiful autumn walk. Gordon walked whenever he could, up logging paths, through grazing meadows that were federal land and went on for miles. On a cow trail above his cabin, he found a paper-wasp nest. It looked like a half-crushed helmet lying on the path. Gordon carried it inside and placed it on his table, this grand and mysterious, half-deflated, torn-open thing.

After walking, he’d fix dinner, a can of soup, the staple of his one-room life, and then he’d go online, where he had developed a bad habit. He had started running their names, as the women would call it. To run someone’s name was to have a contact on the outside who could Google the person or ask around. What the women needed to confirm, most often, was: Had their cellmate, unit mate, work partner, prayer-group associate, friend, fuck-friend, or enemy, had that person hurt a child or turned state’s evidence? Those were the two types that needed to be verified, baby killers and snitches.

Gordon’s search was more open-ended. He didn’t know what he was searching for. He hoped that some equilibrium could be established from the process of obtaining facts. He also sensed that this thing about facts and equilibrium was a lie he told himself to justify going after squalid details that were none of his business.

You were not supposed to ask what people had been convicted of. Asking was met with an opprobrium so deep it seemed also to bar speculating, even privately. You weren’t supposed to wonder about the facts that had determined people’s lives. He had in his mind something that Nietzsche had said about truth. That each man is entitled to as much of it as he can bear. Maybe Gordon was not seeking truth but trying to learn his own limits for tolerating it. There were some names he did not type.

The first prisoner he looked up was Sanchez—Flora Martina Sanchez—whom the others called Button. Her case was all over the Internet. Sanchez and two other teen-agers had assaulted a Chinese college student near the U.S.C. campus, in an attempted robbery. All three kids mentioned in their confessions that the victim had cried in a foreign language as they hit him with a baseball bat.

When they tried to rob the student, they did not know what they were doing—Gordon was sure of this as he read. When they killed the student, they knew even less. When they were picked up separately, the morning after, and brought in for questioning, and spoke freely, but each in self-interest, to homicide detectives, with no parents present and no lawyers, they did not know what they were doing. They all got life without parole. Button was in prison and would die there, a lost little girl who looked twelve years old. Once, when Sanchez smiled as Gordon praised her in class, he’d seen her young essence. It was so wanting and bright that he’d had to look away.

Reading about Sanchez’s case, Gordon felt as if he were trying to cross an eight-lane freeway on foot. He had his argument almost worked out, about why she was a victim, when he found an article that quoted a Youth Authority counsellor, who testified that he’d overheard Sanchez talking about the crime. “We didn’t even get anything off the Nip,” Sanchez had said.

Those were the worst nights. In the light of day, his mood improved. As he drove the roads that wound down to Stanville, the hillside grasses green-tipped and mohair soft, heart-shaped clots of mistletoe clustered in the branches of the oak trees, he knew that he could not judge. I cannot judge, because I do not know.

Gordon was familiar, from his time at college and in graduate school, with rich kids. If you grew up rich, you played a musical instrument—violin or piano. You were on the debate team. Preferred a certain brand of jeans cuffed just so. Maybe you puffed a ciggie or smoked bowls with your friends in your dad’s Lexus, then were late to your SAT tutorial. But if you were from Richmond, or East Oakland, or, like Sanchez, South L.A., you were probably trained practically from birth to represent your neighborhood, your gang, to have pride, to be hard. Maybe you had a lot of siblings to watch and possibly you knew almost nobody who had finished school or worked a stable job. People from your family were in prison, whole swaths of your community, and it was part of life to eventually go there. So you were born fucked. But, like the rich kids, you, too, wanted to have fun on Saturday night.

“No Tank Tops,” the sign at Youth Guidance had said. Because it was presumed the parents didn’t know better than to show up to court looking like hell. The sign might as well have said “Your Poverty Reeks.”

He kept looking, searched other names.

He knew, at a certain point, that he was doing it to forestall searching for the person he was most curious about, and most hesitant to betray.

“Did you ever see the green flash,” she asked him after class, “down at Ocean Beach?”

He had not, he told her. She explained that it was an optical effect at sunset, when rays from the top of the sinking sun turned green. She had never seen it, either, she said.

“Are you sure it isn’t a story cooked up by the Irish drunks who live out there?”

She laughed. They were standing outside the school trailer. It was a June evening when the sun set late. The light was gold, from haze, and slanting into her eyes.

Looking at someone who is looking at you is a drug as strong as any other.

“Move it, Hall!” an officer yelled. It was time for evening count. “Move your ass now!

He researched the green flash of a setting sun. It existed. There were Web sites with lengthy explanations of the physics of light. But he did not type the three words of her name. Instead, he kept on with the others.

Of Candy Peña, Gordon learned that her mother had worked concessions at Disneyland in Anaheim. Candy Peña had worked at a McDonald’s. Her manager testified for the defense that she had never given him any problems. The mother of Candy’s murder victim, a little girl, had cheered in the courtroom when the death-penalty verdict was announced. And then Gordon found another quote from the same woman, who said that she felt for Candy Peña’s mother, knowing herself what it was like to lose a child.

He found Betty LaFrance on a prison pen-pal site.

“Single and ready to mingle, an old-fashioned gal who likes champagne, yachts, gambling, fast cars, VERY expensive thrills. Can you afford me? Write to find out.”

There was a list of standard questions that Betty LaFrance was obliged to answer on the site, for its users.

“Do you mind relocating?” (No).

“Are you serving a life sentence?” (No).

But at the bottom, under “On death row?,” she’d had to check (Yes).

This gallery of people. Every name he could think of, to avoid typing her name.

Geronima Campos, who had sketched Gordon’s portrait, had apparently dropped her husband’s torso off a bridge somewhere in the Inland Empire.

Geronima was now involved with a peer-counselling group and taught human-rights law to any prisoner who wanted to learn it. She had a flawless disciplinary record. She had gone up for parole eight times and been denied every time, despite her record of service and her support from people on the outside. There was an Internet campaign page, to advocate for Geronima’s parole. Those who signed the petition included their reasons for doing so:

Geronima has done her time.

She is no longer a threat to society.

Free Geronima.

She is a survivor of spousal abuse.

Geronima is an indigenous elder lesbian who is being unjustly held at Stanville Correctional Facility.

She is needed in her community.

She has served her time.

She had indeed served her time. She had done the time the court had given her. It was time for Geronima to go home. But every time she went before the parole board—which Gordon pictured as a row of Phyllis Schlaflys, all frowning, with stiff hair, industrial panty hose, and little rippling American-flag pins like the ones Republican candidates wore for political debates—Geronima told them that she was innocent. Her supporters said she’d done her time and was no longer a threat. But when she faced the parole board she said, “I’m innocent.” It made no sense. But Gordon understood why she said it.

Whatever space Geronima might have needed to find a way to face what she had done was not provided in prison. Prison was a place where you had to be strong to get through each day. If you thought about some awful act you’d committed, every day, in graphic detail, enough to prove to a parole board that you had insight, the proverbial insight they wanted, needed, in order to let you go home, you might lose your mind. To stay sane, that was the thing. To stay sane, you formed a version of yourself that you could believe in.

And if she did show insight, told them what was on her mind the day she killed her husband, why and how she did it and what she felt afterward—excitement, guilt, denial, fear, revulsion—if she showed the board how honest and precise she could be in her knowledge of her crime and why she’d committed it, if she spoke openly about the impact it had had on her victim and on others, on society, if she trotted out the whole horror of it, she would, at the same time, freshly reactivate for the parole board all the reasons she’d been locked up in the first place.

“I’m sorry about your fiancé,” he said one night as Romy Hall lingered after class. He was stacking photocopies in an unnecessarily fastidious way, to draw out their few minutes together, before a guard oversaw the students’ transfer through work exchange. “What happened?”

It was easy, he found, to affect the concerned tone of an adviser, when really he was fishing for information.

“He wasn’t my fiancé. And he’s not dead. He moved on.”

She said that there were women on her unit who got married to men they met through the mail. “Jimmy wasn’t a loser like that,” she said. “He had a life. I’m sure he’s out there living it.”

Gordon’s cabin was mostly packed. He would be leaving Stanville soon. He was going back to school, to get a master’s in social work. It was probably an improvident time to quit a job, with the economy tanking, but the rhythms of the world did not always coördinate with the rhythm of the person. Two cartons of books, some cook pots, a Melitta thing you place over a cup, clothes in garbage bags. He put a log in his stove, watched the gold-blue liquid updraft, to be sure it caught, and then he typed her name. He had made rules, and this was one, to look only now.

Romy Leslie Hall.

Nothing. No entries found.

Romy L Hall. Hall prison Stanville. San Francisco life sentence Hall.

He looked and looked, as the wood burned down, shifted softly, embers making their mealy tick.

Jimmy San Francisco teach Art Institute. Nothing. He spent hours looking through the faculty lists. There was a James Darling in the film department. Googled James Darling. Film festivals. Artist’s statement. But he wasn’t even sure this was the guy.

He listened to a dog bark, somewhere down the mountain.

People in the area made nature domestic, and also hostile, with their guard dogs, their beware-of dogs. German shepherds. Dobermans.

The dog barked and barked, down the mountain, echoing up it. An excavating 3 A.M. bark, digging and digging at nothing. ♦

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Western through & through – American Press


life at home: western

Comfortable seating, a cowhide rug and western-themed décor help give this living area a western flair. A few Mardi Gras decorations are sprinkled in to celebrate the season and the upcoming Hargrove Community celebration. 

Rita LeBleu / American Press

Linda “Shub” Treme knows her way around a horse and a firearm. Her home is a genuine reflection of her life experiences and the taste of her late husband, Willard Treme.

“Willard loved horses and anything western,” Shub said. “Now that he’s gone I sleep with two men, Smith and Wesson. ‘Course I’m always packin.” 

The couple built their 2,400 square foot home in 2005. The open concept’s focal point is a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace with mantle from a large cypress log. The wall is rough-cut cedar, hung on the diagonal. 

The house gets plenty of natural light. The Tremes made sure the view of the land, including pastured horses, could be seen from the living area as well as from the large master suite. Currently, the pasture is home to three horses and four llamas. The 60 acres on which the house is built once belonged to Shub’s dad, Thomas R. Rigmaiden. However, Shub did not grow up on the property.

She did enjoy herding, cutting out and branding cows and hunting with her father as a child. She also inherited a resiliency and fierce independence from her mother, Noba Gearen Rigmaiden.


life at home: western

Each chair at the dining table has a different western motif. The light overhead is created of genuine deer horns. The flower arrangement rests on a pair of Texas long horns. 

Rita LeBleu / American Press

“Daddy always liked to tell about how before him and mama married, she’d beat a feller on the race track one day and make a date with him the next,” Shub said.

Her mother liked to tell about how Shub broke her first horse at age seven.

“When I was little, I remember wondering what my friends who didn’t ride did for fun,” Shub said. “I put a couple of ‘em on horses and ummph,” she shakes her head,  “the horses would run away with them. It’s a wonder somebody didn’t get hurt.”

Shub managed to make the old-fashioned skill of cutting out another brand from her dad’s herd pay off for her. As an adult, she won about $400,000 with her cutting horses. 


life at home: western

Shub Treme had the bedspread custom made, perfect with the old-time western movie star posters and Indian-themed wall decor. She remembers seeing the stars at the “picture show.” The cost to get in was 12 cents. 

Rita LeBleu / American Press

Cutting is a western-style equestrian sport, according to Wikipedia. Horse and rider work as a team before a panel of judges during a two-and-a-half minute performance, called a “run.” Cutting cattle are typically young steers and heifers. One cow must be a cut from deep inside the herd and the other is from the edges. Once the selected cow has been driven clear of the herd, the contestant commits the horse by dropping the rein hand to feed slack and give the horse its head. At that point, it is almost entirely up to the horse except for allowable leg cues from the rider to prevent the cow from returning to the herd. 

After Shub learned the ropes, she began training the horses herself rather than paying a trainer.

“I built me two pens and got started,” she said.  

After a divorce, Shub started competing in Single Action Shooting Society Events to keep herself busy and because she’s always enjoyed shooting and hunting. Her enthusiasm for hunting has never waned. 


life at home: western

In the living area, all the lighting has a western motif. Shown here is the living room’s custom wrought iron and wooden chandelier fashioned around a genuine wagon wheel spoke and above a custom-designed sconce. 

Rita LeBleu / American Press

When she married her first husband, the late Edward Richard, the couple lived with their in-laws for a few months. 

“I didn’t even know how to make a pot of coffee, much less cook,” Shub said. “But I’d get up at the crack of dawn and kill a couple of squirrels and skin ‘em,” she said. “Edward’s mamma would cook ‘em up.”

She pulls up a photo of her latest deer on her I-phone. It was taken during the week of Thanksgiving.

There is no other house like this, because there are few people like Shub. While some people may own saddles or possibly even collect Nelson Silvia rodeo champion belt buckles, few can say they actually won the buckles in their collection. Shub has beautiful paintings of horses in her home, horses that she’s owned or her late husband owned.

What makes her house a home?

“I guess ‘cause I’m here,” she said, chuckling and crossing her legs. She’s got on a pair of wild-looking black and white cowboy boots. Her pant legs are tucked in. “And I like seeing my things around me. It took a while to get this stuff. It doesn’t happen overnight.”


life at home: western

Shub Treme in one of her 22 western hats. 

Rita LeBleu / American Press

Shub remembers seeing Roy Rogers, Lash Larue and Hop Along Cassidy at the downtown picture show for 12 cents. She has a twinkle in her eye and spring in her step. And even though she describes herself as a fair weather rider these days — avoiding the recent freezing temperatures – this 79-year-old is far from being ready to be put out to pasture. She continues to ride. 

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Shopping – Free Times

Columbia has a lot of interesting and eclectic locally owned shops, and they deserve your attention — and your cash. Plus, we’re attracting new national retailers all the time. We’ve prioritized the former here. Here are some highlights to get you started.

Gifts & Galleries

Be Beep a Toy Shop | Forest Acres: 4525 Forest Dr., 803-787-5772, Legos, action figures, arts and crafts, puppets and stuffed animals: Be Beep has it all, including stylish school supplies and of-the-moment toys on your child’s wish list.

Bella Vista Art & Framing | West Columbia: 324 State St., 803-791-6060, Custom framing with an emphasis on artistic design. And reasonable prices.

Blush Boutique and Home | Lexington: 5175 Sunset Blvd., 803-520-0643. Jewelry, gifts, home goods, custom gift boxes and more. Also offers wedding director services.

Carol Saunders Gallery | Vista: 922 Gervais St., 803-256-3046. From fine jewelry to holiday ornaments and unique glassware, Carol Saunders is an excellent spot for gifts and art viewing. In the gallery space there’s always an interesting artist’s work hanging.

City Art | Vista: 1224 Lincoln St., 803-252-3613, With two floors full of art hung in a beautiful open space, the inspirational City Art sets itself apart from other Vista galleries not only with its size but also with its wide selection of art supplies.

Classy Cruet Olive Oils and Vinegars | Lexington: 5175 Sunset Blvd. Ste. 10, 803-785-7887, Carries more than 50 varieties of premium olive oils and balsamic vinegars, as well as pastas, sauces, gourmet chocolates and more. Also has a Chapin location.

CMA Shop | Downtown: 1515 Main St., 803-343-2159, From coffee-table-worthy tomes to jewelry, stationery, toys and puzzles, the shop at the Columbia Museum of Art has some of the most unique gifts in the city. Curated with a stylish eye.

Cotton Mill Exchange at the S.C. State Museum | Vista: 301 Gervais St., 803-898-4967, Features a huge selection of South Carolina-themed items in a 4,000-square-foot space. From ties to holiday ornaments to gourmet food and jewelry, it’s one of the best places in town to find South Carolina-themed gifts.

The Crescent Olive | Devine Street: 2901-C Devine St., 803-771-7774, Who knew olive oil could be so interesting? The Crescent Olive, obviously. Offers premium olive oils and aged vinegars, as well as honey, premium pastas and more.

Elite Framing | Five Points: 2119 College St., 803-951-4600, Need a painting or print framed? Leave it to the experts.

if ART Gallery | Vista: 1223 Lincoln St., 803-238-2351, If ART has its finger on the pulse of contemporary art, showing work by artists from South Carolina and beyond.

Lewis + Clark| Vista: 1001 Huger St., 803-765-2405, A true Columbia original, Lewis + Clark makes postmodern art lamps made of paper, steel, glass and wood. If you want a truly unique lamp, this is the place to go.

Luna Lola | Shandon/Rosewood: 3000 Rosewood Dr. Suite C, 803-500-0485, Fine yarns, needles, books, kits and other supplies for knitting and other fiber arts — plus a diverse selection of gifts, notes and teas. Hosts knitting classes, too.

Mad Platter | Shandon/Rosewood: 3101 Millwood Ave., 803-771-8080, Creative arts studio offers pottery glazing, glass fusing and wood-plaque painting projects. Hang out and make art at themed weekly events, including College and Date Night and Military Night.

The Market Tea Room and Country Store | West Columbia: 322 Little Brooke Ln., 803-212-9248. This State Farmers Market shop-inside-a-restaurant offers South Carolina foods — honey, barbecue sauce, etc. You’ll also find books, handmade soaps, jewelry and more. Plus, a tea shop!

One-Eared Cow Glass | Vista: 1001 Huger St., 803-254-2444, Since 1991, One-Eared Cow has been Columbia’s hand-blown glass studio and gallery. Offers colorful vases, bowls, birdfeeders, chandeliers and even sinks — all made by the artists who own the shop.

Portfolio Art Gallery | Five Points: 2007 Devine St., 803-256-2434, A Five Points landmark, Portfolio offers handmade jewelry and crafts, and art by local artists at a variety of price points, which makes it great for gift shopping.

Something Special | Downtown: 1546 Main St., 803-407-7123, It’s a florist, yes, but Something Special also offers a slew of seasonally rotating little gifts, from quirky ornaments to trinkets to candles to silk arrangements. An unusual place.

Southern Pottery | Devine Street: 3105 Devine St., 803-251-3001, Southern Pottery displays pottery from artists throughout the region in a quirky Devine Street house, where owner Donna Green is always willing to give you a piece’s backstory. Also offers classes inside a converted carriage house.

Sunrise Artisan Bath and Body | Five Points: 730 Santee Ave., 803-828-4755. Specializes in handmade artisan soaps, bath bombs, bubble bath and more.

Uptown on Main | Downtown: 1204 Main St., 803-661-7651, Whether you’re looking for a custom gift basket, embroidered clothing, locally themed books, greeting cards, baby gifts or something for that hard-to-shop-for man, Uptown on Main has it covered.

Clothing & Accessories

2G’s Clothing | Five Points: 723 Saluda Ave., 803-254-2016, Carries quality women’s vintage and overstock clothes and accessories. If you want to make over your tired wardrobe, the price is right.

Bohemian | Five Points: 707 Saluda Ave., 803-256-0629, Whether you want to dress up or dress down (i.e., cool), Bohemian specializes in contemporary tastes. Stocks stylish women’s clothing, shoes and jewelry.

BP Skinner Clothiers | Vista: 1003 Gervais St., Suite A, 803-661-7665, Custom menswear shop offers clothing and accessories from brands like Oxxford, Castangia and H. Freeman. Also offers wardrobe consulting and wedding services.

Brittons | Devine Street: 2818 Devine St., 803-771-2700, A fine clothing store for men and women, Brittons gets to know its customers. Shop there enough, and they’ll do the shopping for you. Really: You’ll get a call when something is perfect for you.

Cho on Main Salon & Boutique | Lexington: 127 E. Main St., 803-356-1111, Style tips extend beyond hair and nail color. With a small boutique offering trendy clothing and shoes, Cho on Main stocks brands like Velvet, Wildfox, Chaser and Michael Stars.

Coplon’s | Forest Acres: 4825 Forest Dr., 803-790-0015, From the stunning dresses of Jason Wu, Oscar de la Renta and Miu Miu to the coveted shoes of Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo, Coplon’s is Columbia’s high-end women’s clothing shop that also sells handbags, jewelry and cosmetics.

Copper Penny | Five Points: 610 Harden St., 803-376-4411, Charleston had it first, but this stylish Southern boutique has a place in Columbia. Perhaps best known for its shoes, also carries a variety of designer women’s wear, jewelry and accessories.

Craig Reagin Clothiers | Lexington: 103 E. Main St., 803-785-7848, Men’s and women’s boutique features clothing and accessories, with Southern brands from Vineyard Vines to Brackish Bowties. Also sells Yeti gear and tuxedos.

Dems Fine Jewelers | Harbison/Irmo: 1068 Lake Murray Blvd., 803-407-5290, Founded in 1969, Dems Fine Jewelers relocated to the Irmo area in 2004. Prides itself on having a casual, friendly atmosphere and offering quality, fashionable jewelry, watches and gifts.

Ever Row | Five Points: 619 Harden St., 803-939-6876, Sorority gear, clothing, gameday gear and more women’s clothing and accessories.

Frame of Mind | West Columbia: 140 State St., 803-988-1065, Stocks unique, high-end glasses and sunglasses. Known for his role in the arts scene, owner Mark Plessinger created the First Thursday on Main Street art-crawl series and continues to organize arts events in his West Columbia location.

Gentleman’s Closet | Five Points: 717 Saluda Ave., 803-256-3868. Need a vintage suit, a cool shirt or some dress shoes, but you don’t have a fortune to spend on it? Dig around in this place; you’ll likely leave happy.

Good for the Sole | Five Points: 728 Saluda Ave., 803-254-9488, You need shoes, but you don’t want to drive to a mall. So don’t. Just go here and step into a pair of shoes from top contemporary designers.

Granger Owings | Downtown: 1333 Main St., 803-252-6714, Caters to the Main Street business crowd with fine clothing and top-notch customer service. With brands like Agave, Barbour, Cole Haan and Southern Proper, Granger Owings offers both business attire and casual clothing for men and women. And on-site tailoring. Also runs Bespoke across Main Street in the Arcade Mall.

HandPicked | Devine Street: 2822 Devine St., 803-251-2946, Need something for a graduate, family member or significant other? Or yourself? With four locations in the Midlands — including the Northeast, Irmo and Lexington — HandPicked sells jewelry, handbags, wallets and scarves, plus a great selection of sterling silver (which can be engraved). Additional locations in Irmo, Lexington and the Village at Sandhill.

Heathcliff’s Jewelers | Vista: 1000 Gervais St., 803-256-8362. No website, no advertising. It’s simple: “We just sell jewelry.”

Just the Thing | Devine Street: 2732 Devine St., 803-771-9969, Add drama and flair to your outfit. From jewelry and handbags to accessories and clothing, Just the Thing has plenty of fashion-savvy pieces to complete outfits at several price points.

Loose Lucy’s | Five Points: 709 Saluda Ave., 252-1390, Loose Lucy’s got its start in 1990 selling tie-dye shirts in the parking lot at Grateful Dead shows. Almost a quarter-century later, it’s Columbia’s established venue for hippie and bohemian clothing and merchandise of all kinds.  

M Boutique | Cross Hill Market: 702 Cross Hill Rd., Suite 400A, 803-765-2243, M Boutique sells contemporary women’s clothing from brands like Joe’s Jeans, Charlie Jade, French Connection and BCBG Generation. The personalized customer service makes it easy to work on individual style.

Men’s Wearhouse | Five Points: 701 Harden St., 803-799-6254, It’s a one-stop shop for suits, dress shirts, ties, shoes and tuxedos — but offers plenty of casual clothing, too. If you need to look presentable for a wedding, this place will hook you up.

Miss Cocky | Downtown: 1450 Main St., 803-748-4771, Gamecock fashion and accessories mostly for her — but you can find something for him, too.

Monkee’s of Columbia | Devine Street: 3211 Devine St., 803-764-2890, Mother-daughter-owned boutique carries vintage designer duds and modern brands (Shoshanna, Badgley Mischka, Kate Spade and more), with a hip selection of shoes.  

The OOPS! Co. | Five Points: 601 Harden St., 803-252-8734, You don’t have to drive to outlet malls for reduced-price, name-brand clothing.

Pelliclaude | Downtown: 1332 Main St., Suite 105, 803-447-3966. Quirky boutique inside the Arcade Mall sells locally made clothing, handmade jewelry, art and home goods and more. Named for an adorable rabbit whom you might meet as well.

Petal | Five Points: 743 Saluda Ave., 803-252-7100, From dresses, blouses and sweaters to jewelry, handbags and shoes, Petal knows that a great outfit can make you bloom. And hey, it’s almost spring.

Pout | Devine Street: 2738 Devine St., 803-254-5051, Located in the upscale Devine Street area, Pout stocks the latest luxury beauty products and offers a wide array of skin services.

Revente | Five Points: 737 Saluda Ave., 803-256-3076, Revente is Columbia’s designer consignment shop for the knockout look. And with labels like Chanel, Christian Dior, Tory Burch, Louis Vuitton, Prada and much more, regulars know that visiting frequently is key to scoring big at Revente.

Savoy Menswear | Vista: 721-C Lady St., 803-765-0313. Are you a man with contemporary and discerning tastes — or do you shop for one? Start here.

Sid & Nancy | Five Points: 733 Saluda Ave., 803-779-6454, A buy-trade-sell store, Sid & Nancy carries affordable clothes, jewelry, accessories and more. Recycle vintage clothing for cash, and buy something to make it new again. Also your source for Columbi-YEAH! gear.

SugarBelle | Downtown: 1625 Main St. Beaufort-based clothing boutique has a new downtown Columbia location. Denim, jewelry, dresses and more.

Sunday & Co. | Downtown: 1520 Main St., Suite 1-D, 803-602-5909. Upcycled denim, handmade jewelry and accessories for discerning downtown shoppers.

Sylvan’s | Downtown: 1500 Main St., 803-779-2250, Sylvan’s is a Columbia institution for special-occasion jewelry gifts, diamonds, estate pieces, watches and more. Sells the likes of Rolex, John Hardy, Mikimoto, Sweet Charleston Designs and more. Though it carries all the high-end brands, Sylvan’s offers some more accessible options, too.

Unforgettable Jewelry | Devine Street: 2511 Devine St., 803-779-3636, From diamonds and pearls to semi-precious jewelry, Unforgettable Jewelry is a young, hip jewelry store that offers classes each month on selecting diamonds.

Urban Outfitters | Vista: 912 Gervais St., 803-254-5381, Known for its hip, on-trend clothing for women and men, Urban Outfitters also keeps it fresh with music and tech products and accessories.

Vestique | Five Points: 631 Harden St., 803-764-0654, With stores in Charleston and Greenville, as well as North Carolina locations, this women’s clothing and accessory boutique knows how to dress a fashionable Southern woman.

Wildflower Boutique | Five Points: 721 Saluda Ave., 803-799-1616, Women’s clothing with an emphasis on boho chic.

Home & Garden

Birdhouse Rooms & Garden | Shandon/Rosewood: 3019 Millwood Ave., 803-351-6075, Sells an eclectic array of furniture, lighting fixtures, gardening supplies, antiques and various home-related consignment items.

Bohemian Home | Devine Street: 2720 Devine St., 803-779-4966, If you want your couch to look like Homer Simpson’s, don’t shop here. But if you have taste, Bohemian Home carries an impressive selection of contemporary home furnishings and accessories, including stylish contemporary lines. Also carries gifts and jewelry.

Bricker and Beam | West Columbia: 130-B Sunset Blvd., 803-369-3570, Custom furniture maker combining contemporary, clean-lined design with traditional craftsmanship.

Capital Kitchen and Bath | Downtown: 1801 Gervais St., 803-254-5889, Offers design and installation services on cabinets, countertops, hardware, tile, wood trim, flooring and more. Also offers interior design, construction management and general contracting services.

Carl Thomas Lamps | Vista: 724 Lady St., 803-256-3713. This gallery of lighting also sells custom lamps and chandeliers and does lamp repairs.

Carolina Imports | North Columbia: 2965 N. Main St., 803-748-9889, From traditional heavy wood tables and accent pieces to on-trend chairs and bedroom furniture, Carolina Imports is known for both its selection and its good prices.

Columbia Flag & Sign Company | West Columbia: 633 Meeting St., 803-748-8524, No matter where your loyalties lie — among sports teams, businesses or countries — Columbia Flag can help you out.

Ellen Taylor Interiors + Design | Vista: 807 Gervais St., Ste. 100, 803-758-1007, Interior designer Ellen Taylor’s Gervais Street retail shop and gallery has fine original art, a selection of furniture and accessories.

Gardener’s Outpost | Shandon/Rosewood: 709 Woodrow St., 803-252-0041, Sustainable, organic and local gardening products and plants, along with landscape design and more.

Gourmet Shop | Five Points: 724 Saluda Ave., 803-799-3705, If it has to do with food, wine or your kitchen, it’s at Gourmet Shop. Stocks a variety of cookware, fine linens, cigars, kitchen accessories, prepared foods and wine. Also a popular café; eat outside if you can find an open table.

Hay Hill Garden Market | Southeast: 1625 Bluff Rd., 803-834-6652, Offers an extensive and thoughtful variety of plants, ranging from native flowering plants and shrubs to the odd and unusual. Also carries English-forged garden tools, outdoor furniture, top-of-the-line grills and accessories and select gifts.

MACK Home | Forest Acres: 4840 Forest Dr., 803-790-9911, Handcrafted furniture, lighting, art and home accessories are all available at MACK. The interior designer-owned shop’s neutral, relaxing palette offers a welcome shopping experience in Forest Acres.

Nadeau Furniture | Cross Hill Market: 702 Cross Hill Rd., 803-790-2400, Nadeau offers handcrafted, well-designed contemporary furniture at reasonable prices whether you’re shopping for something indoors or outdoors.

Non(e)such | Devine Street: 2754 Devine St., 803-254-0772, A favorite of brides forming their gift registries, Non(e)such also stocks antiques, jewelry, home accessories, linens and baby gifts.

Southern Vistas | Shandon/Rosewood: 2825 Commerce Dr., 803-256-0559, Southern Vistas has done landscape architecture for Riverbanks Zoo and Asheville’s Grove Park Inn. Offers a full range of flourishing plants, shrubbery, perennials and ground cover.

Strobler | Forest Acres: 4721 Forest Dr., 803-790-6300, From furniture to lighting and drapery, Strobler has a 15,000-square-foot showroom in Forest Acres showcasing an excellent selection of well-priced home furnishings.

The Urban Garden Hydroponics | Northeast: 9557 Two Notch Rd., Ste. E, 803-788-9313, Sells everything you need to get started with hydroponics, a method of growing plants without using soil.

Westend | West Columbia: 830 Meeting St., 803-794-5010, Specializes in timeless, classic and tasteful interiors for your home or business.

Whit-Ash Furnishings | Vista: 919 Gervais St., 803-779-5123, A mecca for affordable furniture in Columbia. The huge Vista warehouse also offers oriental rugs, mattresses and accessories.

Outdoors & Sports

Adventure Carolina | Cayce: 1107 State St., 803-796-4505. Specializing in canoeing and kayaking gear, Adventure Carolina also carries equipment and clothing for backpacking, rock climbing, camping and bicycling. Also schedules regular trips down the Congaree and more.

The Backpacker | Vista: 1215 Wayne St., 803-799-7571, Established in 1973, The Backpacker carries all your favorites from Patagonia, The North Face and other top brands, including anything you could possibly need to go camping, hiking or climbing.

Bluetile Skateshop | Five Points: 621-23 Harden St., 803-376-1880, A skater-owned skate shop, Bluetile carries a variety of skateboards, equipment, shoe and clothing brands. Also puts on skate-related events.

Cycle Center | Five Points: 1001 Harden St., 803-256-0557,, Maybe you know brand names like Specialized, Cannondale, Pinarello, Fuji, Haro and Masi. Maybe you don’t. Either way, Cycle Center can help you out.

Half-Moon Outfitters | Devine Street: 2912 Devine St., 803-929-0771, Established in 1993, Half-Moon Outfitters offers a full range of gear for stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, rock climbing, backpacking, hiking, trail running, surfing and more. If you’re going on an outdoor adventure, Half Moon has what you need.


Mast General shirt shopping

Mast General Store

John A. Carlos II

Mast General | Downtown: 1601 Main St., 803-771-2300, A key player in Columbia’s ongoing Main Street revitalization, Mast General stocks everything from outdoor gear to candy by the pound, clothing, kitchen tools and vintage children’s toys.

Outspokin’ Bicycles | Devine Street: 3223 Devine St., 803-254-9797. Irmo: 7601 St. Andrews Rd., 803-254-9797, Ever seem like your bike just doesn’t feel right? This place prides itself on its fittings, and has done them for thousands of riders. Wide selection of bicycles and accessories.

Palmetto Outdoor Center | West Columbia: 131 Alexander Rd., 803-404-8254, Sells used kayaks, canoes, tubes, life jackets and paddles. Also rents full line of gear.

River Runner | Vista: 905 Gervais St., 803-771-0353, With three rivers in the Midlands, River Runner has everything you need to tackle them, from kayaks and canoes to gear and car-top racks. River Runner also rents canoes and kayaks daily.

Salty’s Board Shop | Devine Street: 2712 Devine St., 803-748-9946. Whether you’re surfing, snowboarding or skating, Salty’s has it covered — along with all the gear, clothing and accessories you’ll need. Also carries a full line of eyewear and flip-flops.

Summit Cycles | Northeast: 10171 Two Notch Rd., 803-462-0380, Whether you’re a hardcore cyclist or just someone looking to have a lot of fun, Summit Cycles has you covered. Website features a bike-finder tool to help you narrow down what you need.

Todd & Moore Sporting Goods | Vista: 620 Huger St., 803-765-0150, Founded in 1944, the locally owned Todd & Moore is conveniently located downtown and offers a full range of athletic wear and equipment for baseball, football, soccer, tennis, lacrosse and more. Here at Free Times, we appreciate Todd & Moore’s selection of ping pong equipment.

Party Time

Bet-Mar Liquid Hobby Shop | St. Andrews: 736-F St. Andrews Rd., 803-798-2033, Do you have what it takes to try your hand at making your own beer or wine? Bet-Mar can get you started.

Bottles | Shandon/Rosewood: 4410 Fort Jackson Blvd., 803-728-0737, Did someone say “15,000 square feet of wine, beer and spirits”? Why yes, they did.

Cromer’s | Vista: 1700 Huger St., 803-779-2290, Popcorn! Boiled peanuts! Cotton candy! Caramel apples! Yes, it’s like having the fair in town every day. Also sells a variety of tailgating party supplies and has an in-house coffee shop. Serving Columbia since 1935.

Green’s Beverages | Downtown: 400 Assembly St., 803-799-9499. St. Andrews: 4012 Fernandina Rd., 803-744-0570. Whether you’re frantically scurrying for the right wine to serve with dinner or heading to a tailgate, Green’s is one of the city’s go-to sources for all types of alcoholic beverages. Also hosts tastings and has a growler station.

If It’s Paper | Downtown: 1810 Gervais St., 803-252-3636, Need wrapping paper, cake-decorating supplies or an envelope of a particular shade? This place is chock-full of difficult-to-find paper supplies.

Morganelli’s Party Store | Forest Acres: 3155 Forest Dr., 803-738-2337. Ice, mixers, kegs, liquor, wine, beer — everything you need for a party. Morganelli’s has a staff that’s particularly knowledgeable and helpful with wine selections. Well-stocked growler station, too.

The Peanut Man | Vista: 1215 Lincoln St., 803-799-9988, It’s called The Peanut Man, and sure, it sells boiled, raw, roasted and gourmet peanuts. But you’ll also find candy apples, cotton candy, fudge, popcorn and more here. Also has locations in the Village at Sandhill, in Ballentine and at Lake Murray.

Total Wine | Harbison/Irmo: 275 Harbison Blvd., 803-407-3737, There’s a reason why Total Wine calls itself America’s Wine Superstore: Each location carries approximately 8,000 different types of wine, 3,000 types of spirits and 2,500 different beers.  

The Vino Garage | Downtown: 2327 Main St., 803-834-3392, Want to discover new, hard-to-find wines and beers? The Vino Garage is a great place to do it. Hosts frequent tastings and events. Curiosity Coffee Bar is nestled within.


8 Sins Tattoo | St. Andrews: 2301 Bush River Rd., 803-750-2485, Strives to provide an excellent experience for each customer and make each tattoo a work of art. Past winner of several Best of Columbia awards.

Animated Canvas | Vista: 1209 Park St., 758-6002. Lexington: 4325 Augusta Rd., 359-3241, What do you want — a butterfly? Flower? Skull? Celtic cross? Dragon? Marilyn Monroe? The artists here have just about seen — and done — it all.

Devine Street Tattoo | Devine Street: 4451 Devine St., 803-782-0753. The experienced ink artists at Devine Street Tattoo can create just about anything you want, with attention paid to detail, color and shading.

The Glo Room | Lexington: 4325 Augusta Rd., 803-996-9353. Vaporizers, glass and other smoking accessories — plus costumes, lingerie and novelties.

High Life Smoke Shop | Five Points: 631-A Harden St., 803-255-3485, E-liquid, e-cigarettes and vaporizers are pretty popular these days, and High Life is on top of it. Also carries a wide variety of hand pipes, water pipes, hookah supplies, T-shirts and jewelry.

Hip Wa Zee | Five Points: 940 Harden St., 803-376-1500, Founded in 1999, this eclectic shop rents costumes of all kinds year-round. Also offers vintage clothing, jewelry and accessories.

Immaculate Body Piercing | Five Points: 2009 Greene St., 803-799-2877, Immaculate Body Piercing’s employees are trained to exceed South Carolina requirements, and after your piercing has healed, Immaculate also offers a wide variety of jewelry, including custom settings and jeweler-quality pieces.

Indigo Rose Tattoo | Five Points: 2009 Greene St., Ste. 112, 803-799-2844, Owner Shannon Purvis-Barron and her shop are perennial Best of Columbia winners, and Indigo Rose does top-quality, beautiful work.

Knotty Headz | Dentsville: 1608 Decker Blvd., 803-603-0641. St. Andrews: 1221 Broad River Rd., 803-603-9030, Tattoo and body piercing studios owned by a husband-and-wife team with years of experience and a dedication to reasonable prices.

KURE Vaporium & Lounge | Vista: 620-B Gervais St., 803-845-1099. Upscale vape lounge offers custom-blended liquids and more.

Lucky 7’s Tattoo | West Columbia: 3937 Platt Springs Rd., 877-756-7868, Custom tattoo studio and art gallery.

Madvapes | Five Points: 701 Santee Ave., Ste. B, 803-708-5611. Harbison: 285 Columbiana Dr., 803-888-6028, Sells e-cigarettes, e-liquid and all the vaping accessories you could need.

Nancy’s Nook | St. Andrews: 3311 Broad River Rd., 803-798-1010, From lotions, lubes, leather and lingerie to all the “toys” you could possibly want, Nancy’s Nook is not called “the store for couples” for nothing. Open 24 hours.

Natural Vibrations | Five Points: 719 Harden St., 803-771-4144. Founded in 1997, Natural Vibrations is a classic college-town alternative shop. Carries hand-blown glass pipes, vapes, fair-trade clothing, incense and more. And if you’re looking for all things Rasta, this is your place.

Planet Vapor | Vista: 300 Huger St., 803-851-1418, Specializes in electronic cigarettes and high-quality e-juice. Also has locations on Two Notch and Garners Ferry roads, and in Lexington.

Sickle and Moon Tattoo | Five Points: 2009 Greene St., 803-931-0007. Award-winning tattoo artists and quality ink.

Taboo Adult Superstore | Devine Street: 4716 Devine St., 803-738-8307. Despite the City of Columbia’s neverending efforts to close it — and despite its frequent Going Out of Business sales — Taboo is still open.

Vision Quest Body Art & Gallery | Downtown: 2620 Main St., 803-542-7115, Founded by Steve Phipps, Vision Quest is the first tattoo parlor on Main Street. Phipps got his start as an apprentice under Troy Schlegel in 1998 and keeps connected to the tattoo industry, often traveling for guest appearances and conventions.

Whit E. Octopus Vapors | Vista: 404 Pendleton St., 803-800-2094, Locally made vape juice, hardware and a chill atmosphere.

Music, Books, Comics & ‘Zines

2nd & Charles | Harbison: 275 Harbison Blvd., 803-749-9378, Large store stuffed with used books, Blu-Ray and DVD movies, albums on CD and vinyl, toys, and comic books.

Addams University Bookstore | Downtown: 152 Assembly St., 803-256-6666, Student-textbook store also offers computer and smartphone accessories and Gamecock apparel.

Barnes & Noble | USC campus: 1400 Greene St. (Russell House University Union), 803-777-4160. Forest Acres: 3400 Forest Dr., 803-787-5600, Aisles and aisles of books, plus a Starbucks on site.

Bill’s Music Shop & Pickin’ Parlor | West Columbia: 710 Meeting St., 803-796-6477, The place to go in Columbia if you’re looking for a dobro, banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar or any other old-timey instrument. Offers lessons and books, and presents concerts.

The Book Dispensary | St. Andrews/Broad River: 710-C Gracern Rd., 798-4739, Maybe you want to browse aisle upon aisle of used romance novels. Maybe you want to dig through books on South Carolina history. Maybe you have a hankering for a gardening book or a classic novel. Have at it: It’s all here. Also offers book repair and rebinding.

Comic Nirvana | West Columbia: 3935 Sunset Blvd., 800-356-0605, With comics, graphic novels, Marvel action figures, T-shirts, and new and back-issue comic books, it’s a comic lover’s paradise.

Cosmic Rays | Devine Street: 4427 Devine St., 803-661-8504, Carries comics, games, collectibles and DVDs.

Drip Coffee | Five Points: 729 Saluda Ave., 803-661-9545, Come for the coffee — which is amazing — and stay for the vinyl. Great selection of classic indie and punk.

Ed’s Editions | West Columbia: 406 Meeting St., 803-791-8002, If you’re the kind of person who can’t resist browsing the shelves of a used bookstore, then this is your place. Don’t miss the Rare Book room, which houses books ranging in value from $100 to $1,000.

Heroes and Dragons | St. Andrews/Broad River: 1621 Broad River Road, 803-731-4376. Comics, graphic novels, games and toys — including lots of collectibles.  

Manifest | St. Andrews/Broad River: 1563-A Broad River Rd., 803-798-2606, Features a massive selection of music, both new and used, as well as movies, games and clothing. Also buys and trades.

Papa Jazz Record Shoppe | Five Points: 2014 Greene St., 803-256-0095, It might be small, but its racks are full not only with jazz, but also plenty of new and used R&B, hip-hop, indie rock, progressive rock, classic rock, reggae and more. A rite of passage for any self-respecting local music fan.

Pecknel Music Company | Five Points: 732 Saluda Ave., 803-799-6860, From guitars to keyboards to DJ and club gear, Pecknel has it. Also carries sheet music and rents band and orchestra instruments.

Scratch N Spin | West Columbia: 513 12th St., 803-794-8888. This Triangle City shop carries music, movies, comic books, video games and more — in just about every format past and present, too.

Sims Music | St. Andrews: 1110 St Andrews Rd., 803-772-1185, It’s worth the trek to St. Andrews to get to Sims — it’s a huge store full of guitars, amps, keyboards, sheet music, accessories and more. Also offers repairs and lessons.

South Carolina Bookstore | Downtown: 801 Main St., 803-799-7406. Textbooks, supplies and much more.  

Star Music | Downtown: 1322 Assembly St., 803-252-8133. Northeast: 9810 Two Notch Rd., 803-699-5200. Irmo: 6169 St. Andrews Rd., 803-750-0990. Carries guitars, band and orchestra instruments, sheet music and accessories. String players take note: This is the place to get the old violin set up.

Turntable City | Lexington: 202 West Main St. Suite A, 803-546-2319. Vinyl from a variety of genres, including some rare finds.

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Third-graders learn agriculture's benefits from "Farmer Kevin" –

Corn, soybeans, cows and pork got the wheels turning inside the minds of TCU Lonsdale third-graders Friday thanks to “Farmer Kevin.”

Nerstrand Farmer Kevin Estrem visits TCU Lonsdale Elementary on a yearly basis to educate kids about agriculture. He’s offered his presentation for the past 15 years to 23 different schools, but he recently cut down to 18. However, Estrem made sure to keep TCU Lonsdale on his list.

“I’m not a teacher, I’m a farmer,” Estrem told the third-graders. “And I love to farm because farmers do good things for you.”

An assortment of foods and other items assisted in Estrem’s lesson on the role of agriculture in the production industry. From corn to soy to meats, he explained a wide range of benefits consumers acquire from farmers’ work.

Estrem invited the third-graders to name as many “corn” products as possible. The kids listed cornmeal, cornflower, corn syrup, cornstarch, and popcorn, and Estrem informed them of a few unlikely non-edible corn products. He told the students bubble wrap is made with cornstarch so it deteriorates over time, and the same concept is applied to plastic water bottles, which come with an expiration date due to the cornstarch mixed in the plastic. Corn also produces the ethanol in car gas, so Estrem encouraged the kids to share that information with their parents the next time they go to a gas station.

To harvest the corn, Estrem explained the process of planting rows of corn and combining them.

Soy is another topic Estrem covered in his presentation. Like corn, Estrem explained the ways soy benefits consumers. Students knew soybeans produce tofu, soy milk and soy sauce. Estrem said protein bars contain about 86 percent soybeans, and cooking spray also comes from soybean oil. Soy candles, even the wicks, come from soybeans. Because peanut allergies affect a number of people, Estrem said he’s a fan of using soybeans as an alternative.

Estrem showed the kids a bottle of mayonnaise he left in his car during the warmer months. The soybean oil and egg white heated up and separated, so the kids easily viewed the high content of soybean oil in the product. Estrem explained that the high content of soybean oil doesn’t make mayonnaise harmful because people typically only consume it in small amounts.

“What type of meat do we get out of a cow?” and “What do we eat from a pig?” were questions Estrem asked the third-graders when he shifted the discussion to meats.

Beef and steak come from a cow and make their way from the farm to to the kitchen table, but Estrem said even the non-edible parts of a cow don’t go to waste. He said the skin of the cow produces rugs and carpets and also creates leather for notebooks, wallets, and coats. The bones might become silverware, flutes, drums or pet food. He said cow bones contain calcium for pets.

As a member of the Minnesota Pork Board, Estrem told the students his favorite animal is a pig. In addition to providing consumers with pork chops, bacon, ham, ribs, sausage and pepperoni, he said pigs help produce cosmetics. Estrem listed hand lotions, lip balm, moisturizers and vaseline as some of the products derived from pig fat.

A story from Estrem’s youth illustrated a way pig skin saves lives. At age 15, Estrem said he was severely burned from the waist to the top of his head and lost skin. He spent 45 days in intensive care and two and a half years in the hospital afterward. While he said the “stop, drop, and roll,” technique saved him, he’s also here today because the doctors used pig skin for his skin grafting surgery.

To wrap up his presentation, Estrem gave each student a gift bag containing a pencil made from soybeans and another made from pork, a coloring book and crayons produced from soybeans, erasers and pamphlets containing additional information about agriculture. The students shouted a hearty “thank you” to their guest speaker before returning to their classrooms.

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