Issue 62, Summer 1975
The old man inserted the green betelnut between the molars of his good side, and bit it in half. He thoughtfully removed the nut. He planed away a little of the inner pulp, carefully, with a battered, broad-nailed thumb. This old man was one of the sixteen chiefs of Belau, but he had a laborer’s hands. The hands had suffered accidents, and the arms were patterned with blue tattoos in the old style. He shook powdered lime onto the nut—a good deal of lime, more than most Belauans used—and he wrapped the halves together in a fragment of pepper leaf. He pushed the package into his cheek, and after a moment began to chew. When he was ready to spit, he fished in his betelnut bag, woven of pandanus, and brought out an empty plastic Breck bottle, his spittoon. The shampoo bottle saved him trips to the window. He spat in a bright red stream, then placed the bottle on the floor.
The anthropologist made a small note of the “Breck” bottle in his margin. He noted also that the old man’s great grandson was working nearby, to the music of a transistor radio. The song was “Hey jude,” and the anthropologist noted the title in his margin. He lifted his pencil from the notepad and waited for the old man to answer.