A stack of notebooks. Those tiny spiral-bound memo pads that fit into one's pocket. I used to carry one with me everywhere, used to use them to draft all sorts of obscene poetry and prose.
Most of what I've ever written in life is, like most human creations, only fit for the recycling bin after a few years. And most notebooks I started were never filled, never had a chance. I'd jot things down one minute, then shove the damned things in glove boxes and desk drawers.
I've had more poetry notebooks swiped by women than a lot of men, including a notebook that led to the successful publication of six different poems in five literary journals in the span of a month. I'm fairly certain, wherever that woman is here in Oxford Fucking Ohio, she's either plagiarized it, pitched it a trash can, or, most likely, used it to roll joints of whatever drug she's on these days.
And these notebooks somehow ended up in a box in my office. The box was returned, unceremoniously, by a fling who found them in her apartment as she was leaving town. If I remember correctly, she had one of her roommates drop the box off at my office door... last February.
Besides the notebooks, I unearthed a pair of lucky underwear, a couple of mixtapes I'd loaned her for an "Old School" party, a box of condoms, and exactly 15 spent nine-millimeter ammo casings.
Fun girl. I'm glad her roommate left them at my door overnight, and not with any of my staff members last winter. Or at my Big Boss's administrative staff.
Flipping through the pages, I was instantly taken back to times in my life I'd forgotten to remember, stories and experiences that almost slipped into the custodian's bucket. Still not sure how they ended up in her apartment. Not sure I want to know...
* * * *
BUTTE, Mont., c. 2004 (ZP) -- Her grandmother worked in the brothels and her grandfather was probably one of three men, she explained, all favorite regulars who'd agreed to father the woman's child, on the condition of anonymity.
Granny was a legal brothel worker, probably one of the last Annie Oakley types, one of the last frontier women of the once liberated American West - a woman who took money from men for sex, lived openly with a lesbian partner, and packed two Colt pistols to deal with anyone who had a problem with how she lived.
But her mother, who'd converted to some fly-by-night nondenominational Protestant doctrine, had up and moved to Boise, Idaho, married something called a faith-based counselor, and had bailed on her no good sinner daughters - in 1989, two preteen girls were put on a plane in Helena and shipped away like a prayer. The kids were sent to live with dear old Dad, a drunken bastard of an oil rigger down in Texas.
And now, she explained, she was free and eighteen. She'd come up north to find out about her mother's side of the family. She'd found her mother living with her new churchy brood in Boise - like Judas Iscariot, the woman denied the progeny of her former life, for not accepting the born again bullshit. Rejected, she'd hitched out to Montana's badlands to find old Granny - the whoring, gun-toting dyke.
And Granny welcomed her with open arms. Granny, in fact, had just retired from working brothels in the last bastion of sexual vice and liberation in North America, Nevada, had moved back to her home state, bought land a few hours north of Butte. She and her partner - the girl's other Granny - had an extra room, cooked the girl breakfast, and taught their granddaughter how to shoot guns and hunt game for food.
She was free and eighteen. Her Texas drunk of a father and Idaho Judas of a mother were probably ashamed.
While she was off in the restroom, doing whatever women do when they suddenly jump up and excuse themselves, I asked the bartender why he'd been letting this underage girl drink alcohol - a clear violation of those puritanical drinking laws passed at the urging of soccer moms and suburban trash.
He told me that, well, she was _______'s kin and, well, (he pointed to a .44 pistol hidden in plain view by a cash register) he'd take care of the first goddamn person who wanted to complain about it. He'd IDed her, sure, but, at his age, maybe his eyes misread and had seen 21...
My drinking companion returned to the bar, found another free Dewar's waiting for her. Drinks were cheap in Butte, conversation was not. She dug through her purse and pulled out a deck of cards - she wanted to read my fortune. Since I read tarot, and she read tarot, she'd told me that she'd wanted to read my cards and for me to judge her divination skills.
The bartender scrunched up his big, red, Irish-American nose. Another one of those stupid laws - he didn't have a card-room license, so we'd have to go elsewhere. Her eyes got big. She squeezed my leg - I was a Taurus-Gemini cusp, a genuine lucky 13th sign!
She suggested that we just go back to one of our motel rooms. Hell, it was almost two in the morning and it was about 20 degrees below zero outside. A regular fucking winter wonderland. Her room, of course, was across the goddamn street. My room was just upstairs, I suggested, and, well, my client had sprung for the double-occupancy room...
The bartender laughed. I asked him what was so funny. He shook his head. I asked if he thought her room would be better. He laughed again.
Was it illegal to get your tarot read in a damned motel room in the Big Sky Country?
Well, I'm dense. Really Dense.
For the first twenty minutes, I thought it was just a Texas thing to give a guy a back massage while reading fortunes. The next morning, she told me that, well, she really didn't have a room at that other motel across the street, that I seemed like a nice enough guy, and, well, I'd asked her to explain how a future Vegas showgirl had ended up living in the wilderness as a grizzled teenager.
There's just something sneaky about being free and eighteen.
* * * *
NORTHERN NEW MEXICO, c. 1998 (ZP) -- He showed me the pictures of his American family and of his Vietnamese family, of his vile-sounding Kansas ex and of the girl he'd left unknowingly pregnant in Saigon back in 1967.
Once he delivered his payload to Calgary, he was heading to the airport and flying into Japan, to reunite with a son he'd never met and a woman he hadn't seen in three decades.
The son's mother, who'd admitted in a letter that she'd secretly been a V.C. Communist, was middle-aged in the photograph, wearing her badges and medals for spying on the Americans and South Vietnamese during the war. She herself was just getting to know the son she'd hidden away, hidden to allow herself to become a woman of power and rank in the Communist Party.
The trucker told me he knew she'd go far in life, but never expected that little girl to grow up to be Comrade Lenin's cousin in Southeast Asia. But, well, he didn't care if she'd really been a Martian, she was his first love, and he was hers.
And, well, compared to his bitch of an American ex...
Huevos Rancheros. Scrambled up with real, honest-to-God chorizo. Cup of coffee, toast, and blackberry preserves. A feast for less than three friggin' dollars. Company was good, too - just me and that truck driver.
And while I ate at the counter with a bona fide veteran, a lifelong Republican ready to fly off to Tokyo, to reunite with his lost Viet Cong girlfriend and kid, my own girlfriend fumed in the car for a whopping 30 minutes.
She sat alone and ate an old candy bar for breakfast. She and I had argued for 30 miles over where to eat. Tired of arguing, I just pulled into a truck stop, she said she wouldn't eat in a place like that, so I'd just left her in the car. Took the keys with me, so she wouldn't be tempted to do anything rash.
I figured she'd, well, give into hunger and come on in after she calmed down...
She didn't. So I ate.
I made it the next 100 miles, in silence, before I made the mistake of telling her what she'd missed in that nasty ol' truckstop, the beautiful love story I'd just heard, of the amazing chorizo...
You do not know hell, my friends, unless you've had to drive 600 miles with an angry, half-starved Chicana in the passenger seat.
* * * *
CAIRO, c. 1958 (ZP) -- My grandmother loves telling the story of the last time my father lost his temper. When she tells it, she forgets that the angry boy of her memory is now a grown man eligible for Social Security living in California.
And she, forgets, too, that she is an elderly Virginia woman with a bum knee, a woman so beautiful that General Nasser once said her beauty rivaled that of Grace Kelly. She forgets, too, that she earned that bum knee in her mid 80s by surviving the same sort of automobile accident that ended the life of the Monaco's American princess.
It was in their ex-pat neighborhood in suburban Cairo that my own dear old Dad held a classmate up over his head and threatened to smash a spine across his knee like an egg against the Great Pyramid.
The kid, from what G'maw remembers, had been picking on my father's brother, had teased him for having red hair and acne. The house servants, including a Bedouin so loyal to my grandfather he once risked being tortured by secret police rather than reveal something as silly as the time of day the children walked to school, stood by, ready to chase off police in the event that my peace-loving father crippled one of his best friends.
Those servants knew something that my father, his brother, and even my grandparents didn't. They had been shown, in their daily prayers, that Allah, through the will of his great Prophet, watches over everyone, even the doubting children of the United States.
According to my grandmother, who heard about the whole incident from the servants later, Dad held the kid in the air and, like that, calmed himself, put the classmate down, and apologized for threatening to kill him over something as stupid as an insult.
The servants, all good Muslims, stood by and watched for the police.
Apparently, they believed that my father, his brother, and the nearly broken classmate had been touched by the spirit of the Prophet, that he'd shone his wisdom in the face of my father's anger, that he'd taught my uncle the value of tough skin, that even the classmate had been taught about the meanness of words at the tip of the Great Prophet's chosen sword.
They loved my father and his brother. One even wrote my grandparents, in probably the only letter he ever wrote to anyone in the United States, when he and his wife learned of my uncle's death in 1970.
Praise be to Allah and the children he calls Home from some foreign land called Bethesda, Maryland...
Once, I asked my father for his version of events. In my lifetime, I've witnessed only Dad's peaceful nature. I find it hard to believe, to this day, that he could've ever have lost his temper to the point of hurting another human being.
He claims that he doesn't remember much, but he was sure that those servants weren't there. He forgets that, when he was a child he thought as a child, saw only what his perception allowed him to see.
He's now a carpenter in his corner of the United States, far removed from childhood romps to Memphis and Giza and Alexandria, far removed from a life where my Christian grandfather hired Muslim servants to watch over his agnostic children in a turbulent corner of the Middle East.
He does remember that one of those servants was named Muhammad.
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