A Kiss From A Drunken Muslim

I hate it when panhandlers try to shake me down by offering me help with things that I can do fine by myself, so at first I said “I’m good, thanks.” (I hate that locution too, but I catch myself using it. Good at what? To whom?)

He kept standing there at the periphery of my fun-house vision. “Can I ask you something?”

I looked straight at him. “Yes?” His eyeballs were marbled like a moderately fatty slab of bacon and his skin was the velvety supple black that comes straight from Africa. His maroon shirt, neither especially old nor especially new, read FIRE AND RESCUE, with the words MOSUL, IRAQ around a sort of Maltese cross design and Arabic writing below. Something about his body language said not wrapped real tight.

“Can I have two dollars?”

It was intimately, pricklingly hot in the middle of the hectare of tarmac where I was parked. You know something, if you need two dollars enough to stand out in a frying pan like that and ask me for it — especially if you look like you have been on an epical bender — I will give it to you. I keep a few dollar bills in my key wallet. I had three today.

“Can I have all three?”

I paused a moment. “Hell, yeah. Life is a bitch.” There was a jar of pickles in my grocery bag that cost more. I squeezed his hand as I put the bills into the other. Soap is cheap.

“You see what my shirt says here? I work this job. See in Arabic? Same words. I am African, you see?” If I hadn’t seen, I’d have heard; African speakers make of the English language a music second only, I think, to the delicious lilt that is called Bombay Welsh. “I am Muslim. But I am not the extreme kind who do the bad things. I am Muslim but I try to go live in Nigeria, I am afraid they kill me so angry people. I am trying to be American me.” He put the bills in his pocket. “Can I kiss you?” I reflected that we were in the middle of a fairly busy parking lot; he was hardly a a rape artist in the shadows of a strip mall at midnight, and he was leaning to the side, not straight at me. He placed, not exactly a kiss, a buff of sorts at my temple. Oh well, soap is cheap.

“You are kind! You give me three dollars!” he called out as he sloped off across the parking lot with an uncertain gait.

I don’t care if everything was bullshit but his accent, which no one could fake. The world breaks people sometimes. I can’t do much about that standing on one foot, but I can spare a few bills. Maybe he laughed all the way to his car. I doubt it though. Anyway, I’ve spent three bucks more foolishly.

In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate.




The Odor Of Sanctity (Or Something)

Arnoldo seized my Ace bandage when I was about twelve minutes into my bike warmup. He is as dire as ever, though he is probably closer to fifty than forty now: hair still glossy black (there’s a little Jheri Curl or similar involved, I think), shoulders and pecs like polished gourds, grin like a candy skull. People who speak several antipodal dialects of Spanish inform me gravely that they have no feckin’ idea what he is saying half the time, either.

I think he was talking about Christmas and families. I could make out that he has a new pad and his seven brothers and sisters were coming to visit. I explained, more or less, that the Engineer (he always asks after my “friend”) was out of state seeing his family and that I have no family to see.

After I got out on the gym floor he played a cute game of body-blocking my path to the patch of mat where I lay a towel over the germs du jour and do some wrestler’s stretches and Yoga poses before grabbing any serious weights. He wanted to give me a Merry Christmas hug before leaving. I managed to pronounce Feliz Navidad more or less okay. Somehow this all got mixed up with him asking if my hair was really as long as someone had told him (he gestured at his hipbones) and saying it would be beautiful, beautiful if I let it down. I think. I can never really tell with Arnoldo. On any given day he could really be asking if I am up for white slavery or gladatorial combat.

His Merry Christmas seemed heartfelt, so I was not cheap with the return hug. I am pretty sure he killed a few people before getting Jesus, so people tell me, in a Salvadoran jail — there is a picture taken in the jungle, with machetes — and it is the least I can do for any child soldier who can still have the heart of a child, in Godzilla’s body, thirty-some years later.

That slightly asphyxiating perfume that Spanish guys like perplexed my senses at several intervals over the next hour, until I peeled for the shower and whiffed smudges of it all over my gym togs. I guess no one cares to tell him he smells like a cathouse. Would you?


Oh lordy, here I go again.

The mewing started late on Memorial Day — Monday; a sound exactly like my melodious Mr. Ferguson, except that it seemed to be coming from down by the cellar windows, where he emphatically was not, being shut upstairs at the time.

Torvald, he of the fluffy thundercloud-colored coat and rumbustious disposition, was on top of a bookcase, gazing with alacrity out of the cellar windows. I went outside to look at what he was looking at and found this winsome, thick-tailed creature rolling in the grass.

She was still there the next morning. And the next evening. A note circulated to the local mailing list elicited some genius admonitions not to feed “stray cats” and one lost cat notice from about three weeks back, which moved me to go out, snatch the little creature and bring her inside. But I found that the lost cat of the notice had come home.

By now she was already named Agatha, because her tortie coat reminds me of an agate and because the celebrated Agatha Christie once went walkabout in the course of a marital upheaval. I don’t know about marital, exactly, but Agatha’s sustained writhing on the ground (or carpet) and plaintive yowling suggested an attack of early puberty. She seemed convinced my two neutered boys had the stuff for what ailed her, judging from passionate gazes through window glass and porch doors; at the very least, I figured, I was preventing a teenage pregnancy by keeping her in my sun porch.

Thursday morning, as I was about to leave to have her checked at the vet, a call came in from “Angelica,” who spoke the halting Spanish-accented English that is the brow-knuckling, pencil-snapping, napkin-twisting bane of my existence in these parts. I had put out posters with Agatha’s picture and my phone number, and Angelica saw one, and would come right over to get her, it was only across the street… my heart sinks at moments like this. I had to steal, in the end, my immortal bad boy Taffy the Terrible from next-door neighbors who were immigrants from Salvador and seemed to think of cats as warm furniture who needed nothing more than a dish of cheap kibble, water and to be let out to pee. Neutering? Too much trouble and money! We don’t let the gringos tell us to take our cat’s balls off! Bring him in at midnight when it’s twelve degrees out? We’re going to bed! The Abduction Of Taffy, when we finally moved, was a James Bond story for another time. And here I was again with Agatha, and Angelica.

Angelica showed up with about a three year old kid in tow — to be fair, he wasn’t too bratty — and, while she spoke competent simple English, really didn’t want to consider my idea of coming along with me to see the vet. I have to call my husband. (Because god forbid you should make a decision without calling some goddam man.) What will it cost. (Never mind that I said I’d help, or that her story of getting the cat from an uncle whose unspayed female had overrun his house with kittens was a glaring object lesson. These people don’t bother to control their own reproduction, never mind their pets’.) In the end, short of refusing to relinquish the cat, I had no option but to donate a cheap carrier and offer some quickly printed Web pages from the local shelter and the nearest vet. Keep her inside, I said, she wants a boy friend and if she gets out she’ll be right back over here meowing for love.

It only took thirty-six hours. She’s on the porch now.

Did I mention we have a tornado watch and a flash flood warning tonight?

So, do I take her back over in the morning and give them one more chance to do it right, or say Fuck It and bugger off to the vet’s at the first opportunity? Torvald is perishing for a buddy, and unlike my home team, Agatha seems to like him.