Land in the Sky: The Slough of Questions


The other day I was in Albany, New York, for a little business at the State Library. After a while I got hungry and took a walk around the neighborhood. Nearby was a Mexican restaurant called El Mariachi. It’s right next to Empire State Plaza. The quaint redbrick of the restaurant stands in comfy contrast to the mausoleum-inspired architecture of the government buildings across the street. Since my appetite was with me, I went into the restaurant for lunch.

Mariachi music was being piped into every corner of the establishment. I didn’t mind. I ordered the cheese flautas and waited. I killed the time—and my appetite—by eating chips & salsa and letting my mind wander. It wound up in a murky place called the Slough of Questions, where it was too dark to see anything. All I heard was voices, questioning whispery voices. They were probably disembodied, so it’s just as well I couldn’t see anything. In any case, the voices were polite. Each waited its turn to speak. Here’s what I heard:

“When in Mexico and you want to eat at a Mexican restaurant, do you just ask for a ‘restaurant’?” “Does everybody in Mexico listen to mariachi music all the time, or only when eating in a restaurant?” “Do people in Mexico ever go out for ‘American food’?” “Do they say things like, ‘Oh, let’s go to an American restaurant for lunch!’?” “What kind of food is served in an American restaurant in Mexico?” “Is John Cage’s 4’33” really the best choice for music in an American restaurant in Mexico, and how many times can that record be played before it wears out?” “What is ‘fusion cuisine’, and can the Department of Energy properly regulate it?”

Many other questions were posed, but only these registered on my memory.

I—or my mind—was finally rescued from the Slough of Questions by the arrival of the cheese flautas. Too late for my appetite, though: It lay on the floor beside me in a chips-&-salsa induced coma. I just pushed the flautas around the plate with my fork, then got up and paid the bill. Call me ruthless, but I left my appetite for dead on the floor of the restaurant and went back to my business at the library. Time passed without any further help from me.

It was dark by the time I got home for dinner. I was feeling bad about what happened earlier in the restaurant. But there, waiting by the front door, freshly revived from the dead and happy to see me, was my appetite. All was forgiven.