Somewhere out there a nurse is waiting for me. I am thinking male nurse, of course. Like, five-foot-ten, thick black hair, strong arms. Wears white ducks. White t-shirt. White socks. Because that’s their uniform. Nice smile. Nice firm jaw. Not a nurse with a degree or whatever it is nurses have — more like an orderly. Orderlies don’t really have any formal training, do they? I think somebody just shows them the ropes. You’re lucky to get people with any qualifications at all in those places. You’re lucky if they speak English. You’re lucky if they don’t steal your shit while you’re asleep. Or pump you with Stelazine to make their job easier.
Of course it isn’t necessarily going to turn out like that. Who knows what’s in the cards for us? An out-of-control SUV driven by some stoned kid who fished the keys out of his dad’s coat? Or how about a sizable clump of ice falling from the roof of a five-story building? Thump! I can envision this ’cause I was born in Chicago. Nobody around here would. It doesn’t snow. Hardly even freezes and five story buildings are basically non-existent.
A super-mean dose of E coli-12 bacteria cuddling up in the juicy red meat of a hamburger? Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome it’s called. I didn’t have to look that up. I’m a wiz on medical terms. Nothing wrong with this girl’s memory. Anyway I don’t eat red meat anymore. Nobody I know does.
Or — and this is a lot more probable — I can envision ol’ Doctor Schwartzypoopookopf with his eggplant nose and bushyman eyebrows putting on his deeply concerned face and going: Tina, there are some issues with your X-rays. That could happen. For sure. That’s how it went for Sandy. And then how long did it take? Six months? Not a damn thing they could do about it if you don’t count frying away her beautiful hair. Beautiful natural blond hair she had. Wore that awful wig on her death bed. What are you gonna do? Nature is always trumping science. Happens every day.
Could be more theatrical. A bullet or a knife. Improbable? Yes, but . . . Hey, how about Barbara? Ninja Barbara we called her. She takes karate lessons for, like, 15 years, becomes a frigin’ black-belt, and then one day in a parking lot a guy comes up from behind, grabs her by the throat, goes — do what I say or I’ll kill you, and Ninja Barbara just collapses, she just withers to the ground whimpering and begging for her life. Turns out the atacker was her karate teacher testing her defence routines. Fifteen years of training for nothing. Ninja Barbara.
No, I’m focusing in on that home. The little room with the fountain right outside my window. My male nurse.
He would only be a teenager now. His mother works 12-hour days. His father, unemployed, probably doing drugs. He’s been raised by his abuela in the San Ramon district of San Salvador. His name is Jesus — but I will of course call him hey-zus. We don’t call them geez-us. Pretty weird, the hispanics naming their kids after the son of god. What is that? Or maybe I won’t remember his name. Perhaps just remember his face. Big dark brown eyes. His smile as he gets me ready for bed. His gnarled hands as he lifts my head from my pillow. His laugh. His goodnight Tina.
So he gets this job — the late shift at the Golden Bough. I know there’s a place called the Golden Bough ’cause I drive by there on my way to bridge nights. He will have been in California almost a year. Picked up a little Engish and this will be his first legal job. The Golden Bough does not hire illegal immigrants. As if I cared.
Those places are all in the same racket. I shopped around for Mom. They put on a big show when you check ’em out. Give you the royal tour: This is our fully equipped gym . . . say hi to our activities coach, Ernesto . . . Alice over there is 93 and plays a mean game of ping-pong . . . the dining room, did you know our chef used to work at The Four Seasons? . . . this is the activity room, karaoke parties every Tuesday evening . . . is your mother musical? . . . does she like to go on hikes?
Who do they think they’re kidding? Fucking vernichtungslager — that’s what they’re running. Real cash cows for somebody. No doubt about that.
I would like him to know me now. He should see me standing here in Victoria’s Secret’s finest. The girl’s still got it — or what do you say, Jesus? Check out the lines — Check out the curves. Wait! Let me just straighten up. What do you think, Kiddo? It’s OK, you can touch, Jesus. Don’t be shy, kid.
And he should see this house. Don’t get the wrong idea — Frank and I are not flaunters. It’s not about that. We don’t push our wealth in peoples’ faces. I don’t want to intimidate you, Jesus. I would just like you to know where I’m coming from. My background. My style. I want you to know who you are caring for.
If he was here now I could give him a ride in the Hummer. Let him check out the navigation system. Or maybe I would let him drive. Later on we will be alone in my room and he will change my sheets and sponge me down and I will gaze at his strong, brown arms or I will just look out the window at the little fountain while he’s working on me. Perhaps get him to sing something.
The house he grew up in is half the size of my garage. Made out of cardboard or something. A tin roof held down with baling wire. I’ve seen those houses. Like when we got lost looking for some restaurant Frank had heard about — best chiles rellenos in El Salvador. Stupid assholes, us. We’re, like, 20 miles from where we are heading. Supposed to be in San Benito and we are in fucking San Ramon. Scared shitless we were. All those guys standing around staring at us in our rental car.
And when he leaves me on his nights off he will go to clubs that open at one in the morning, cause that’s when all the restaurant workers get off. Clubs where they only speak Spanish and brass bands play that banda music. They sure go for that bouncy umpah banda stuff. You know it comes directly from German immigrants? Just like the Coronas and Dos XX’s. German immigrants to Mexico are behind it all. But he won’t be drinking beer or anything else because he’s religious. Not catholic — pentecostal. Fundamentalists are more honest than Catholics.
Frank won’t be around by then. Frank will have worked himself to death getting us to where we are now — or boozed himself to death cause that’s his privilege after working so hard at getting us here. He’s done good. A true-to-life American success story is what he is and he’s earned every penny that came our way. Plays a lot of golf now. Good for him and he has a decent handicap. Decent man with a decent handicap. Too bad about his gas, though. That Beano crap don’t help at all and he won’t use those carbon filter cushions I bought. Lucky this place is spacious.
Or, how about dad croaking in the middle of a joke at the Rotary? He was always the star of the show — and right up to the end, too. Uncle Bert said dad told a really great joke about a Jew and a Muslim who ran into each other in a brothel staffed with paraplegics, and he had the whole room in stitches. And then he gets up 10 minutes later and starts off — Once there was this Jew named Moshe and a Muslim named Mohammad who meet up in the salon of a paraplegic whorehouse . . . It was the same goddamn joke! What? And nobody has the nerve to interrupt him. Only this time, before he gets to the punch line, dad forgets where he is in the story and he looks around and says he has an important announcement to make and then he falls over, gets caught up in the tablecloth and brings, like, 14 plates of meatloaf with him to the floor, and since some have already started in on dessert, a few tapioca puddings as well. I guess to some people that’s funny. Guy dies in a bed of meatloaf and gravy with tapioca pudding, cherry on top, on his nose. You might laugh if you read that in some newspaper. I didn’t.
Dad was a pretty smart guy and he had his own slant on things. Remember that big stink about planned obsolescence. People were saying that the car manufacturers were deliberately making components that broke down? Like it was a conspiracy? Dad put me straight on that. What is the point of a car radio working fifteen years if the car’s motor is only gonna last for ten? Planned obsolescence is getting all the parts of the car to wear out at the same time. Makes sense.
Planned obsolescence makes sense for people too. I mean really, who needs a sharp mind at eighty if you can’t feed yourself? What good is a sexy body if you don’t even remember your daughter’s first name – or your own for that matter? God could learn a lesson or two from Detroit.
She didn’t know me from Hillary Clinton. Used to talk to the mirror — her only friend. She would ask the mirror who this weird stranger was? This weird stranger who claims she is my daughter? Must run in the family. I’m talking to a mirror now — aren’t I? Hello there mirror-mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all at the Golden Bough?
What will he think of me? Hey, come on — who am I kidding? I ain’t gonna look that great — I ain’t going to have my ass anymore — a woman without an ass ain’t worth her ticket. Face it.
No memory and no ass. Jesus! I mean Jesus Christ, what a finale. And you never know in advance cause it creeps up on you. I tell you what though — the girls at the club — they’ll spot it before anybody does. The bidding — that’s the give-away. Like Margaret, I mean as sharp as a pin, and then she started making those up-the-wall bids. Five hearts. Seven spades. What? No one says anything. But everyone knows. Plaques and tangles. Sad. Margaret, a fantastic competition class bridge player.
Jesus has a girlfriend named Lupe. She packs groceries at Lucky’s market. She is pretty even if she don’t have my breasts. Skinny girl. And she has that really great color – that olive brown tone we burn the shit out of our skin trying to get. Melanoma! Now there’s a humdinger for you. She got nice grades in high school. A lot of good that will do her. Good Luck. White trumps brown, Lupe. Rich trumps poor. But then again you never know. Things change. And what the hell, we all get trumped someday.