America, September 1960
Friends of my parents came to get me at New York’s Idlewild airport (afterwards, renamed JFK) with their car. I had flown directly from Milan, to which Mamica and my sisters had moved in 1959. Actually, they lived in Monza, a quaint town, just a few kilometers away from the capital of Lombardy.
It was already 8 pm and New York’s skyline shone with a million lights. I was bleary-eyed, a little feverish, shocked and at once fascinated by this apparition.
The man was driving carefully, while his wife kept speaking to me in a piercing voice that only made my headache worse.
«Look here … look there … isn’t this city fabulous? You have never seen a place like this in your life … this is America, the greatest country in the world …»
And she went on and on, forcing me to turn my face every two seconds, left and right, and to stretch my neck, so that I could admire, among other monuments built to the glory of mankind, the Empire State Building, which, she insisted, was the tallest skyscraper in the world. What do you say?
Indeed, I was spellbound, but she didn’t leave me a moment to catch my breath, that she was already pointing at another illuminated sight.
They dropped me at a hotel in midtown Manhattan, and the lady told her husband to wait in the car so that she could accompany me to the reception desk. The lobby was rather dark and old-looking, which surprised me, since I had come to the most modern country in the world. After checking in, we took a cranky elevator to the twenty-second floor. There too, the corridor looked as if it hadn’t been renovated in years. My room was small, but had a bathroom in the style of the 1930’s, with chipped glazed losange tiles. But what struck me most of all was the wall-to-wall carpeting, which was of an undefinable color: neither blue nor green, and it was interspersed with seemingly oil stains. And to make me shudder even more, the room, whose tiny window was closed, smelled of rancid butter mixed with cigarette butts.
«I think you’ll be ok here,» the lady said, «Try and recuperate, for tomorrow will be a very busy day. We’ll come and fetch you around 9 in the morning. Bye bye now.»
Once she left, I broke down and began to sob. This was not the America I had dreamed of in Usumbura. Definitely not. What was going to happen to me?
America, All Burp’s ‘girlfriend’ in Montgomery, as recounted by me, Zapinette
Where were we? Oh yes, the McNoshes. They convinced Uncle Luke to let his nephew take the train to Montgomery; they even sent him a return ticket that included a first-class compartment all to himself, as well as hot deluxe meals in the restaurant-car, so Unky Berky couldn’t possibly refuse.
Apparently the McNoshes’ mansion was so posh, it looked like a small version of Versailles, complete with marble fountains, crystal chandeliers, gilt moldings around the ceilings, acanthus leaves and lil’ angels throwing love arrows at no one in particular, among other expensive knick knacks, but it also had the atmosphere of a Turkish bazaar, there were so many rugs and carpets of every size, shape and variety, as well as an uncushy number of baubles made of ivory, porcelain, stone, pewter and whatnot, including wooden decoys. You’d have thought it was an antique shop.
Mrs. McNosh would describe every piece of her bric-a-brac in detail, insisting on how precious and expensive they were. She wanted to impress him and introduced her young guest to her friends and acquaintances as Alberico, Duke of Binetti, which, of course, is boulderdashy. And whenever Unky Berky wanted to correct her, she’d cover his attempts with her croaking voice, adding: “Honey, don’t be so modest, anyone here would be proud to have a tenth of your aristocratic background.”
Unlike our loft here in Soho, where we live like bums, the rooms in that mansion were overheated, in spite of the fact that the outside temperature never got below 65° fair’n heart, even in the dead of winter. But the biggest surprise of all was their daughter, Drusilla, who, at sixteen, already had the looks of a witch. A beanpole, slightly hunched, like she was still growing, but crookedly, with tousled red hair that stood up like she’d just been electrocuted, she would have scared even Norwegian trolls – and there’s nothing droll about them, they give you the willies. Besides her mastodonic schnozzle which cast a permanent shadow on her left cheek and gave the impreshun that she had not one but two noses, her face seemed to have been ploughed by ten nano tractors, it was so pockmarked, and to cover all those bumps and holes, she’d smother it with Clearasil, on top of which, as if that wasn’t enough, she spread a yellowish powder, the color of dried snot. With the right garment, she’d have passed for a Kabuki actor who’d just had a coloscopy. How do I know all this? From my uncle’s photo album, and I’m not being harsh, believe me. You should see the close-ups of Drusilla!
Talking of coloscopy, poor Unky Berky had to go through two of them already, and don’t ask in what state I find him when he’s just come back from the clinic. Apparently the night before, he has to swallow four bottles of a disgusting mixture that has the taste of stale porridge. In the beginning, he felt so nauseous, he thought he was going to retch, but before he could burp, the gates of his rear end opened in a mega purge. The first time, without saying a word to the nurse, my uncle stuffed himself with sleeping pills, which made him waddle like a zombie from his hospital bed to the bathroom and backwards for the best part of the night, trying to fight against his drowsiness on account that he didn’t want to shit on his bedsheets and appear like a slob. As a consequence this was his worst living nightmare: bed to pot, pot to bed, and as the Brits say, he almost went potty. The second time, having learned his lesson, instead of sleeping pills, he brought along with him a blockbuster so that when he sat on the stool, he would try and concentrate on his novel, all the while his bowels would whistle to the tune of the Marseillaise – that’s the French national anthem, you ninny.
It was in Montgomery too that Unky Berky learnt to bowl, thanks to Drusilla and to Peggy Sue, her best pal. That name suited the ladder to a tee on account that she was fat and pink like a pig, and she thrashed and jumped about so much, convinced that all this energy would make her lose weight, that she looked like one of them fountains at the Central Park zoo. She was as round, short-legged and sweaty as Drusilla was tall, wiry and dry-skinned. The pair they made: Laurel and Hardy, of the mutant film era, in drag. Drusilla appreciated her friend even more since she’d earned her driver’s license and Peggy Lee took her everywhere with her Chevy Corsair, so’s to impress the boys and make the girls seethe with jealousy. Never mind that they had the sex appeal of Bongo the giraffe and Tumba the hippo, they had a sports car, and a sports car in America is worth as much as Boobsy Boob, if not more. Peggy Sue apparently spent more time polishing her nails and trying on new shades of lipstick than cramming her head with the Consitution of the United States or the basics of French grammar, coz in the olden days if you didn’t want to pass for a hillbilly, you’d learn Molière’s language and pretend you were a distant relative of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, even if you didn’t know the difference between foie gras and Mardi Gras.
When my poor uncle wasn’t dragged to the Country Club by Mr. and Mrs. McNosh to be introduced to bedecked, bejewelled and bepowdered la-di-ladies who all wanted to look like the dignified clones of Mae West or Tallulah Bankhead – the grannies of today’s movie stars -, while chomping on butter cookies or petits-fours, still warm from the caterer’s, or shake hands with their huffing golfer husbands, he was requested to attend brunch parties organized by Drusilla’s basketball team who played against … the boys of her school. They would cackle and cackle, like in a chicken coop fitted with stetoscopic loudspeakers, then in the middle of the conversation, they’d yell “rah, rah, rah” and scare the daylights of my uncle who wondered why he had been invited there in the first place, especially since nobody seemed to pay any attention to him. Once in a blue din – enough already with the moon -, Drusilla would remember his existence and ask him whether he cared for some root beer, which seemed to be her favorite drink, yuck, or why he hadn’t finished his triple-decker sandwich. He didn’t say it, but my uncle was afraid to dislocate his jaws, trying to bite into that mountain of bread, lettuce and bologna, so he just nodded bashfully that he wasn’t hungry any more. Drusilla would then turn to her pal and whisper some remark like, “He’s from the old country, they’re not used to all our sophisticated food.” And he would feel even more like an extra in a third-rate movie.
When Drusilla and he would go back home in the evening, her mother would ask him, “What did you do today? How do you like Montgomery, Alberico? I’m sure you don’t have half as many activities back in Italy.” And Mr. McNosh would conclude, very proudly, “God bless America! You’re damn lucky to be studying here, son, this is the greatest country in the world, don’t ever forget that.”
Being their guest, Unky Berky didn’t want to contradict them, but before his trip to the South, he’d done some research at the college library in Brooklyn and learnt things about Alabama that nobody would dare brag about. That, for instance, the black folk of Montgomery had boycotted the city’s main bus company on account that a Negro woman refused to give up her seat to a white man – talk of male gallantry, that’s chimp manners, is what I say. And since they were barred from all public places such as restaurants, theaters, casinos and rest rooms, when they were the ones to keep them places spic and span by the sweat of their butts – coz when it’s hot down there, it sizzles -, Martin Luther King decided to end all that segregation stuff and lead the civil rights movement. Now, will someone explain to me why sweet revolutionaries like Jesus Christ, Gandhi and King get murdered, when most of the horrible dictators get away scot free or continue to thrive, like the two goons I’ve already mentioned.
The McNoshes had three black servants working for them. In those days, they were called ‘Colored’, it sounded less offending than ‘Negro’ and especially ‘Nigger’, which the white masters would often use when they wished to complain about their employees. Think of it, we’re all colored, some are just lighter than others, is all.
Unky Berky remembers well Nelly, the maid Drusilla loved to tell off, kindly, she thought, with remarks like: “Hey, Fatso, you forgot to return the change for the bubbIe gum I asked you to buy me. You little thief, you!” And she’d laugh in front of my uncle, like she was being magnanimous by not reporting it to her parents. I would have twisted the beanpole’s schnozzle there and then. Or: “What did you put in that fudge you cooked yesterday, rat poison? You’re a real nitwit sometimes.” And she would smack poor Nelly on the buttocks, to show that, in spite of the maid’s ‘defects’, she could still be fond of her. There was also Jason, the driver, a bit stiff and impeccably attired, with his white gloves and his moustache, so neatly trimmed, it looked like a charcoal drawing. He would open his mouth only to udder: “Right, Ma’am”, “Count on me, Ma’am” or “Do you need anything else, Ma’am?” And he would stress every syllable like he was preaching the word of God, coz Jason took his function very seriously. Who knows he may have had the ambition one day of chauffeuring some bigwig to the White House in a stretched Lincoln Continental. Meanwhile, between errands, he would polish and repolish his masters’ impressive Mercury Stratocruiser, inside as well as out, treating every knob, light, chrome fitting and hubcap like they were gems or made of massive gold. He was so fastidious with every detail and spread so much leather cream on the seats, that whenever Unky Berky got into the car, he would have a sneezing fit. Jason never allowed the rain bugs to stain the windscreen with their blood and their shit, and neither could any human being, black or white, come too close to his ‘baby’, lest he be chastised by a ferocious look.
There was such a contrast between Nelly and the family driver that you wondered whether they really were of the same race. Unky Berky couldn’t understand why he snubbed her or what she meant when she spoke to him, using the first person plural, as if she’d be addressing the house cat.
“Have we spent a nice day, Jason?” she would say, or “We didn’t fancy much Mama Nelly’s pork chops this evening, did we?” And she would go about her business without expecting an answer.
In this bizarre atmosphere, my uncle felt like a ghost, on account that no one seemed to be interested in him or in his opinions. He was just a pretext which the McNoshes used to show off. It wasn’t every day that you had such a composed and cultured young guest from Europe and they would stress that in all possible ways. If they only knew, poor Unky Berky was so shy then that he was scared even to go buy something in a drugstore, and I ain’t talking of condoms.
What he recalls with a lot of fun though, was Nelly’s lilting Southern accent. She spoke in a singsong that made her sound perennially happy, yet, that same Southern accent in the mouth of the McNoshes, especially that of Drusilla, with her mega nostrils, playing the accordion, made him grit his teeth. And for the first time since he set foot in the United States, he started missing New York, never mind that it was terribly crowded and smelly – the subway had that permanent odor of greasy donuts he found so unpalatable -, or that he had to hoist himself up those high stools at coffeshops and almost sprain a knee whenever he wanted to eat a hero sandwich, or a plate of so-called bolognese meatballs which didn’t even exist in Italy. Because of the McNoshes, he suddenly discovered that his general distaste for Brooklyn hid something that resembled a sense of freedom, a feeling he’d taken for granted until now. This, according to my uncle, proves that even the most boring people can reveal something about you that was unsuspected.
Drusilla and Piggy Sue – did I misspell her name? – could have run to the other end of the world, with or without their toes painted, sfar as I’m concerned, wisdom is for the elephants, not for me, I don’t have the patience. And so, my uncle couldn’t wait to get back to the Big Apple, even if it was to hear its inhabitants complain about it from morning to night, coz that’s a kind of sport with New Yorkers, but don’t ask them to live elsewhere, it’s called B.A. maze-o-kissin’.
How funny Unky Berky was when he started imitating the Southern accent, saying things like, “Huh, huh, honey chil’ baby”, or “Whea djjjowl come from?”, stretching the words for an uncushy length of time in a high-pitched voice, like them unics – them castrated singers of the Middle Ages, you ninny, eunuchs sounds too much like a German disease.
After his stay in Alabama, Mrs. McNosh would call him at least once a month at his uncle Luke’s to extend him another invitation, telling him how thrilled Drusilla had been to meet “such a nice aristocratic boy”, and without transition, she’d put her daughter on the phone. “Hi, Al,” the beanpole would udder, “everything ok? Here too, everything’s ok. When you coming back?” And each time, he’d hear the same exact phrases, interrupted with silences that made his feet terribly itchy on account that he never knew what to reply, coz he didn’t feel like going back there. And on top of it, he hated to be called Al, it made him think of Capone, the famous gangster, who was also Italian
America, 1961, All Burp was studying at NYU when he got this letter from the Congo. This is out of one of his African novels; his friend’s real name was Freddy.
Elisabethville, Noël 1961
PS: It’s about Freddy, the son of your parents’ friends, the A., he used to bring us presents at Christmas, dressed as Santa Claus, remember?
Something awful has happened. The other day I was sick with fever and couldn’t swallow anything. Freddy called the doctor, but didn’t get any answer.
There have been quite a few people wounded lately in the street fighting between UN troops and gendarmes.
Most probably the doctor was at the hospital. So, Freddy decided to drive to the Cophaco pharmacy.
On his way to the Cophaco, Freddy was stopped by those foreign UN devils. They ordered him to get out. He told them he had to buy medicine for a sick person. He spoke English with them but they didn’t want to listen. They called him a traitor. Freddy, a traitor! What mazimus (madcaps)! And then they just shot him. Ta ta ta ta ta! Without any reason. It wasn’t even the curfew.
I’m sorry to end this letter with such sad news, but I had to tell you.
Your friend Ishaya.
A Zapinesque account (me again) of an evening I spent in Manhattan in the 1960’s
At 7 pm sharp, we were announced by Lulubelle McNoodle’s doorman, an incredibly cute young portorican with longish black hair and a smile even bastards couldn’t resist, and I don’t consider my uncle a bastard at all – only perhaps when I’m very, very mad at him. Actually, if it were left to me, I would have brought the guy along, whether he was invited or not. But this isn’t supposed to be proper berhavior.
Lulubelle’s apartment was on the 28th floor of a high-rise, overlooking the Hudson river. The view was breathtaking, and with the snow still jostling about furiously, which made the other skyscrapers look quite unreal, flickering their lights on and off like the sinking Titanic, I almost expected Leonardo di Caprio to appear at one of the bay windows – you repeat this and it’s over between us, ok.
Our hostess received us in a salmon dress made of lamé, with frills at the hems, like in them pre-war movies. I must admit that, pudgy as she was, it suited her, and lassie but not goofy – only the dinosaurs say ‘last but not least’ -, it matched the red, gold and silver streamers hanging from the ceiling. But you should have seen the paintings on her walls, you got dizzy just to watch them and maybe colitis too if you kept staring. When I asked Unky Berky who those baboonish masterpieces were from, he pinched me. As a consequence, I let out muffled little shrieks. Poor Lulubelle, she thought I was starving and immediately brought me a plate of snacks. I went for the colorful Japanese crunchies – the bean-shaped ones were so hard I had the impreshun I was cracking some of my own teeth, brrr… When I have a tummy ache before going to sleep, I get these strange nightmares, like my mouth is suddenly filled with burnt grains of corn, then they start falling off one after the other. I don’t tell anyone about such dreams, not even Unky Berky, they’d think I’m really losing a few screws and would call me a maze-o-kiss on account that I still looove grilled corn on the cob. What a double dilemma, coz supposedly anything that’s slightly overburnt causes cancer when that’s what I find the tastiest. On the other hand I go crazy for tartar steak, which has everything raw in it, onions, eggs and all. I’ve heard this can give you tapeworm, a disgusting vermicello that takes your stomach for a five-star restaurant and becomes a permanent patron. For a while, my mom wanted to convert us all to veggies – yuck, especially boiled peas, carrots and string beans, not to mention pumpkin – coz first there was English mad cow disease then poisoned Belgian pigs, chickens and eggs then French Camembert struck with listeria – enough to make every consumer in the EU (that’s not the loo, you ninny, but the European Union) go berserkia. We even were deprived of Coca Cola, for crying out loud! Thank Goddess, here in the US I can gorge myself with thick juicy cheeseburgers, medium-rear T-bone steaks, Idaho potatoes smothered with sour cream … yum-yum, and Southern fried chicken, so full of delicious cholesterol. I’d forgotten how huge American portions could be, so we often ask for doggy bags and have the leftovers for dinner or the following breakfast at the loft. I also can’t resist the kosher hot dogs sold on the street carts served with mustard and delicious sauerkraut, and when my uncle starts frowning, repeating how unhealthy it is to nibble at food the way Americans do, I threaten him about the doggy bags, coz he’s warned me not to mention them when we go back to France on account that people might accuse him of being a miser and a child malnutritionist. The French who claim to be the world’s finest gourmets – they are, except at some of the Brasseries and other tourist traps on the Champs Elysées, where they serve you three day-old veal cutlets and reheated fried mackerel, for which you pay an eye – wouldn’t lower themselves to even offer their pets such second-hand morsels, it would look vulgar. Vulgar doesn’t seem to apply to all the dogshit that covers the Parisian streets, coz when they go into a posh restaurant, even if they walk on it, the French pretend it’s invisible – save for the poor old grannies who break an arm or something else, which apparently happens quite often. The Authorities did try to apply a law similar to the one in New York City, especially after the mayor’s wife had slipped on a fresh turd and sprained her ankle. All of a sudden, the pavements of Paris were buzzing with brand new environmental green pooper scooters. But a few months later everything returned to your normal shit on account that the dog owners threatened to vote against the mayor. In case you had some misapprehension, it’s not the doggies I’m against, but their dimwitted masters. If I were a sigh-kayak-tryst, I’d say that these people, usually gagagenarians, want to replay their marsupial stage and since they can’t poop any old how, they encourage their pets to do it for them, and plop, another turd in the middle of the pavement!
Poor animals, when I think of all the humiliation they have to suffer to satisfy the whims of humans and of the awful experiments they go through for the socalled benefit of science, I lower my hat – and my two braids – to Brigitte Bardot. The Pope oughta add her to his beatification list and name her Saint Animalia.
To refresh your memory – I can digress as much as I want, who’s the writer anyway? -, we were sitting in Lulubelle McNoodle’s living-room and I had almost finished the plate of Japanese snacks when suddenly a man with olive skin and very oily black hair parted in the middle joined us. He wore maroon pants with brown stripes and a beige double-breasted jacket, like in them ancient Dracula movies, plus a red bow tie, shiny shoes with goose pimple and two Baluba rings, set with huge stones, on his left hand. He looked pretty awesome, in spite of the fact that he had short legs and big knuckles.
“Olà, I’m Juan Martinez from Puerto Rico. Lulubelle has told me all about you. Comment ça va? Le français, I think, is the most beautiful language in the world, after Espanich, of course.”
Goddess, I immediately understood how we’d be stuck with this guy during the whole evening, having to listen to his Frañol gibberish, on top of which he insisted on being called Jean-Jacques, which he pronounced ‘Zon-Zac’. Lulubelle kept nicknaming him ‘Juanito’, with the doe-eyedest pout on her face. I don’t know why, but ‘Juanito’ always made me think of a sweet bunny rabbit, this John, however, looked more like a rabid gorilla dwarf and I could see how he terrified his poor wife, coz she wouldn’t stop doting on him, no matter how busy she was. To also call someone like that ‘darling’ is more than baffling, especially since every once in a while I’d catch him glaring then frowning at her, for apparently no reason at all. It must have been a tic he enjoyed stressing. Even though I couldn’t care less about their marital nonsense, I wondered why Lulubelle had kept her maiden name and asked Unky Berky in a teeny weeny whispereeny tone. But the bozo, who had elephant ears, heard me and retorted, baring his banana republic teeth:
“Very pertinente question, my little Zapinetta” – the nerve to call me like that, it’s my uncle’s fault, I’ve told him already never to use this nickname in front of strangers, but he forgets and thinks he’s being cute – “I’m an American citizen and I rrrespect very mucho the Constitution of the United States. This is a free country. And if the ladies don’t want to change their names when they get married, it’s ok with me. Mujeres americanas … ha ha ha!” he guffawed like a nincompoop.
Poor Lulubelle, this remark caused her triple chin to wobble like there was a sudden earth tremor. I wouldn’t be surprised if he smacked her regularly. As a mat-o-fact, I have an inkling she had the remnants of a black eye, coz the blush around it was mucho exaggerated.
I was relieved to know that they expected other guests, coz these two were giving me a bloomin’ headache, what with him, buzzing and swishing like a fat bumblebee and she, lisping pussy mousey fashion not to irritate him.
After about an hour, the other guests called, saying they would be a bit late. Now, if I had invited people and I had to wait so long, I’d tell them to go have fun elsewhere, coz that ain’t no manners, especially since I was getting real hungry. I was tired of munching celery sticks and crackers with cheese dip. I hardly left any and ignored my uncle’s repeated hints – he has a way of goggling at you like a pregnant seal that’s also very constipated -, inasmuch as the delicious smell of roast turkey and warm chestnuts wafted from the kitchen, right into my flaring nostrils, giving me famine pangs. In the meantime, Lulubelle was complaining that the meat would be overcooked, that the stuffing would taste mushy, and so fork and so gong. To make her feel even worse, the bozo would go and check every five minutes, muttering “Madre de Dios, que tonteria!”, between huffs and puffs. So that he wouldn’t overblow his top, she prepared three new dressings, macho pig that he is! Neither my mother nor myself would take one tenth of what Lulubelle bears with him. Hard and true felinists like us would chuck this kind of male relic to the museum of natural history, with the stuffed hyenas and the warthogs. Maybe if I felt a little humane, I would let him stay at the zoo, just next to the cage of a ferocious grizzly bear.
It was 9.06 pm when the latecomers arrived. The hostess did the presentations and I had to grit my teeth so that my fists would keep still, coz what I really felt like doing was punch those three in the nose.
“Hi, hi, hi!” I shot at each one of them like a machine gun, having no time for all that introductory bullshit. I surprised myself sounding all of a sudden very Oriental and wished I had learned karate or jujitsu – there’s nothing juicy in here, you ninny, it’s an art of self-defense.
According to my uncle, the new millenium will be Asian and it will take China just a few years to flatten the West like a mega pancake. It boggles my mind just to imagine all those millions of eggs it will have to break to achieve this.
“Right now, it’s acting low-keyed,” he adds, “but that shouldn’t fool anyone, time and population are on their side.” He mentions Hong Kong and Macau and how they slipped back into the nest with not so much as a rabbit fart and how it will soon be the turn of poor Taiwan, which they will gobble up like a boa constrictor swallows little marsupilamis. Now, since you anglos haven’t a clue what marsupilamis are – no, they’re not a kind of salami and they have nothing to do either with Mars chocolate bars -, they’re a Belgian comic strip character born ages before the fubbies and which I find much cuter, on account of their smart-ass attitude, their leopard fur and their tail all rolled up. Talking about things Belgian and stuff reminds me of Marieke Van Klatter, a Flemish classmate, who’s as dark as a gypsy. When I asked her if she had Indian relatives, she retorted, quite shocked: “There aren’t only blonds in my country. Since you’re so ignorant about history, let me fill you in a bit. The Spaniards have ruled over our area for over four centuries and mixed with the locals.” I didn’t want to irritate her more by telling her that I was sure they did like the Serbs with the Albanians, i.e., that they raped all the women they could get their dirty paws on. Then she went on, very hoity toity, “and if you want to know, Flamenco is a dance they invented to honor the Flemish noblemen who visited Spain.” In any case, we’re all supposed to descend from Lucy who lived in Kenya more than ten thousand years ago – the Adam and Eve legend is for the birds and the snakes -, consequently our blood is pretty mixed up. The proof of the pudding is in the names; a lot of Flemish and Dutch people are called Van this and Van that, like poor Vincent Van Gogh who became stone rich years after he died, and like beefy Jean Claude Van Damme who could give me one tenth of his fortune, and so too are many Vietnamese. Maybe some of the ladder have been reincarnated into Belgian waffles, on account that they couldn’t stand being so miserable any more, having to fight first against the French colonialists then against the American GIs.
Sfar as I’m concerned, the Asian tigers – I’m refurring to countries, you ninny, not the big cats – can roar from dawn to dusk, as long as they let me savor in peace their crispy nems, their crab soup with rice noodle, their delicious sukiyaki, preferably without any mad cow in it, or their divine tempura – here they oughta be less stingy, coz 3 fried prawns and two carrots, with maybe one slice of eggplant doth not a dinner constitute (that’s shake’em pears talk).
All these thoughts increased my hunger pangs, in spite of the fact that I was sweating profusely – my armpits suddenly remembered how overheated the apartments here in the US were. Finally, the turkey arrived and I sank my teeth in the piece Lulubelle served me without waiting for the others, now they could yickety yack as much as they wanted, I couldn’t give a fig.
In the beginning I didn’t quite understand whose boyfriend Zac was, as he seemed to appreciate both girls equally.
“They’re a punk triangle,” I then decided. Mel had a carrot-colored mane which fell almost to her waist, with two purple braids like a Lubavitcher, dangling along her temples. She wore a long saffron skirt and heavy Eskimo boots, but what struck me the most were her freckles. It looked like a skin disease.
Kate, on the other hand, was petite and clad in leather pants that were so tight, you were afraid she’d knock off her knee or something else. Her hair which was short cropped had the murky tint of eggnog and the consistence of a toilet brush, her complexion was somewhat like capuccino – if you think I’m being nasty, I love both eggnog and capuccino. She looked like the stranded sister of E.T., the poor dudess. But what made her look even more pathetical was the ring which pierced her left nostril.
As for Zac, he vaguely resembled Brad Pitt, with the difference that he was ten years older and had spiky hair so gelled you’d have sworn he’d just come out of a mud bath. He wore an off-white flannel suit like that swanky old bozo who throws bonfires in his novels, only here it was three sizes too large – baggy clothes are supposed to lend you an attitude – and a pair of high-heeled suede boots to match. It’s only when he turned his face the other way that I noticed the lil diamond pinned to his earlobe. He must have exercised his jaws quite regularly, coz every once in a while and for no reason at all, he would bare his teeth and flash you a Colgate smile.
Like Lulubelle, Zac designed women’s clothes. He probably would have preferred to be a model, tall, swarthy and all knuckles that he was, but it’s probably because he squinted so quizzically – is that why his nicknamme is Zac? – that he flunked the test, though that’s what I found most sexy about him; in fact, those big, squinting, honey-flecked eyes of his made you think of a wolf on the prowl. He must have gotten them – the wolfish eyes, you ninny, not the squint – from his Iroquois grandfather, as well as the golden complexion, and he seemed very proud of that Native American heritage.
Zac and Lulubelle had met at a fashion show. At first I thought that hobnobbing with Zac would have made Juanito seethe with jealousy, especially since the guy could have been their son. Everything became clear to me when the Puerto Rican turned toward Mel and Kate, ogling at them like they had stolen the piece of turkey on their plate and said:
“From a lesbian point of view, what do you think of maternity? I consider myself to be pretty liberal – after all, what you do in your bedroom is your business – but I believe homos shouldn’t rear children, it would encourage ped-o-phi-lia.” And as he stretched those syllables, he guffawed, so much so that he got a fit and almost swallowed a bone.
Poor Lulubelle turned crimson, yet in spite of it, she got up and poured her bozo a glass of water, all the while she patted his back with her other hand. There was a long silence after he came back to his senses, eyes bloodshot and cheeks puffed up like a bullfrog’s.
I was double flabbysghosted: 1) to learn that Mel and Kate lived as husband and wife or the other way round, and 2) when I realized the monkey business that was going on between Zac and my uncle. The designer would wink at him with a grin that was too lewd-i-crass for words while my uncle, who thought he was being so discreet, was preening himself, stretching his neck like a bloomin’ startled giraffe.
All of a sudden I began to mutter, between clenched teeth: “Mel, Kate, Zac … Mel, Kate, Zac … Mel, Kate …”, huffing like I was a friggin’ choo choo train, and the faster I’d repeat the phrase, the more it sounded like “Cut’em balls … cut’em balls.” If you think that’s obscene, go back and read shake’em pears or the guy who raped Lady Chatterbox. I had to will myself to stop, biting hard on my teeth, lest I’d fall over the haywire and people would think I was a setchual raver.
It was Kate who responded first to the Puerto Rican’s remark and you could notice how she was trying to refrain from punching him between his bushy eyebrows.
“Did I ask you what you used to do in the jungle at night with a warthog? There’s nothing I hate more than preachers of your ilk, who behind their do-gooder facade are women’s worst enemies. But don’t worry, it will be my business and that of millions of sisters around the world to wipe out that male chauvinist pig scourge which has plagued us since Adam and Eve.”
In America, according to the feminists, one out of three men is still considered an MCP (or is it one out of two?). MCP is a cuss word that’s ten times worse than ‘phallocrate’, on account that the French have a knack for turning words around to make even swines sound like intelletuces.
Seconds later Mel butt in, shaking her mane. She looked at her partner and said in a cold, bass voice, “Don’t get sore, love, Juanito had no intention of offending us,” then, facing him, she went on, “Isn’t that right, Mr. Martinez? By the way, do you have any children of your own?”
“Indeed,” the bozo croaked, proudly, “three, one young man of 25 who already owns a car repair shop in San Juan and two darling little girls of 12 and 6. But I don’t get the connection?” he added, a bit miffed, reverting to Spanglish. He wanted so much to sound like a Yank that he regularly interspersed his phrases with expressions like ‘okey dokey’, ‘you get wadda mean?’ or his favorite ‘no sweat!’ – this one, he’d use at the end of every second sentence.
“Are your two little girls with you?” asked Kate.
“Huh, no,” he stuttered, “they live with my first wife and her boyfriend.” Then, trying to gain their sympathy, he frowned like them wrinkled gaga-looking chinese dogs, and said, “she left me for that … that good-for-nothing bum who’s incapable of holding a job for more than one month at a time. She fell for a parasite, ha!” Noticing that neither Mel nor Kate had reacted, he raised his voice and shot, “What is this anyway, a cross-examination or something? No sweat!”
“Aren’t you afraid of leaving your daughters with that guy around?” asked Kate, in the same cool tone, “especially since you don’t seem to think much of him. He might do … things to them while your ex-wife is at work … you know, pedophile stuff.”
Juanito became pale as an albino rat, which made his already very oily skin glint like he’d worked out for 10 hours. That may be why he uddered ‘No sweat!’ so often, thinking that people wouldn’t notice. And when he wiped his face he looked like he’d crouched straight out of The Night of the Living Dead. But where did the poor Lulubelle fish that jerk?
When the time came for dessert, I blurted out, with my rabbitiest don’t-disappoint-me pout, “Oh I do hope there’ll be pancakes, with maple syrup, they’re my most favorite … sorry, my favoritest are with peanut butter.”
I ignored the baboon glances my uncle was giving me, coz there was no way I would gobble that gooey stuff Lulubelle served her guests. And I hate custard too, so they could have it all. Lulu must have noticed how I puckered my mouth and said,“Don’t worry Zaperooney, I’ll cook some for you.” If she weren’t doing me such a nice favor I would have boxed her flabby ears for using that stoopid nickname, so I just smirked. In any case, with her big protruding myopic eyes, she probably thought I was smiling at her, especially since I thththanked her so profffusely.
Yum yum, this was my fourth pancake, so fluffy and golden and so round-the-bend, which I smothered with layers upon layers of peanut butter. Lulubelle was shuttling in and out of the kitchen just for me. I was certainly not going to pity her, coz I had space for at least another three pancakes, and in any case, she often complained about her weight, so this was a damn good favor I was doing her: she was exercising.
Unky Berky was dying to taste my pancake, but he didn’t dare stoop so low in front of his apples and pears. Yet, without realizing it, he was peering at my plate while lolling his tongue out like a hungry pup and, on purpose, I savored my cholesterol-loaded dessert most leisurly. I was chewing every morsel like they were my last supper. Letting them melt in my mouth was sooo sinful, but Goddess did it feel goood, it was like biting into the eucharist – that’s Jesus’s flesh, you ninny, and when you drink wine in church, it’s supposed to be his blood, so Catholics are vampires. Don’t go repeat this to my parish priest, coz he’ll excommunicate me on the spot. It served him right, this was my way of punishing that uncle of mine for continuing to make such cushy eyes at Zac like a demented precock.
As Lulubelle was serving coffee in the living room, Zac handed his calling card to my uncle with the flourish of a clown and told him he’d love for us to come around and visit him at his loft, which by the way he shares with Mel and Kate, on account that he absolutely wanted Unky Berky whose flair and acumen he’d detected the minute he set eyes on him – jeez the bullshit you gotta hear – to have a look at his new collages and give his appreciation.
Pity he didn’t ask my opinion, coz I’m a real expert, for in my art class, I too do collages, using oil paint, bits of cardboard and swatches of cloth, and sometimes, for the fun of it, I also stick in a couple of matches or a nail. Between you and me this is the easiest kind of art trash there is, coz you don’t have to rack your brains or perform any acrobatics. You just stare at your canvas and slosh something over it. The amazing part here is that my teacher thinks I’m a genius, sfar as space and depth of field are concerned, adding that I have a keen sense of color, and she goes on and on, using them hoity toyty sophisticle terms you hear in art galleries. Listening to her, I have to pinch myself not to get the giggles, coz it’s too lewd-i-crass for words. But I better keep my mouth shut on account that she gives me top grades.
But I didn’t tell you how the evening at Lulubelle’s ended. After having drunk champagne then mixing all kinds of New York State and Californian wines, Junanito offered his guests half a dozen of liqueurs, he, of course, downing most of it. What astonished me was that, having swallowed so much booze, he didn’t seem at all tipsy, except that he’d grumble in Spanish and would nod at his guests every now and then, pretending he was following their conversation. At a certain point, he came up to Unky Berky and whispered to his ear – his bad breath almost knocked me off and I still wonder how my uncle didn’t get assfixed on the spot.
“I don’t know where Lulubelle fishes all these fags and dykes from. Thank goodness there’s still some normal people around, like you, me and your little niece. Soon we’ll be led to believe we are the oddballs.” And he added, somewhat louder, to cover a noisy fart he’d just let out, thinking we hadn’t heard it “putas de maricones !”
Unky Berky straightened up, while his face turned red as a beetroot. In spite of the fact that she was taking part in a heated discussion with the others, Kate had heard these last words, and with a flash of thunder in her eyes, she snapped back:
“I know enough Spanish to have understood your insult, Mr. Martinez. If I hadn’t been invited at a friend’s house, I would have twisted your arms and kicked you right in the cojones, because the puta of a dyke facing you is a jiu jitsu expert.” Then, addressing Mel and Zac, she said, “Let’s get the hell out of here, guys, we’ve overstayed our welcome.”
I was savoring a most luscious piece of chocolate fudge which our hostess had just brought out of the oven, when my uncle, on cue to Kate’s remark, croaked,“Sorry, Lulubelle, but we are also going to leave.” He then cleared his voice and hollered, locking eyes with Juanito, “It’s because of insensitive and intolerant people like you that we have wars. When will minorities be respected, for God’s sake?” He didn’t dare add the word ‘setchual’ on account that it would sound like the rallying call of the Gay Crusade or something, coz as if you hadn’t already noticed, my uncle is more of a lamb than a wolf, when he bares his fangs, it’s accidental.
In less than five minutes, we were all out in the street, half frozen, since we hadn’t even had the time to button up our coats. The three bozos were lucky to find a cab immediately. I won’t forget Kate, she could have told Juanito off without pushing us out like thieves, and because of her I left a big piece of fudge on the plate. Grownups … grrrowlups … schmucks!
This scene gave Unky Berky a rippling stomach ache and when this happens, he gets overly spastic and believes he has to exercise without delay. So, instead of hailing a cab, we jogged, running three times around Lulubelle’s apartment block, jogging in the middle of winter, for crying out loud. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore, let alone my feet that became as stiff as ice cubes. I thought I was going die of apoplexy, especially since I had to change sides with him on account of the revolutions going on in his bowels, worse than a car exhaust. Talk of a lousy evening!
What had irritated my uncle in particular was the fact that Juanito confided in him to insult homeys and lesbies, putting him in a most uncomfortable situation and making him feel somewhat like a pre-cannibal. Talking of cannibals reminds me of that plane crash in the Andes, eons ago. The passengers had nothing to eat and after a few days, the weaker began to die. Not giving a hoot about the Ten Commandments – strangely enough, Jesus wasn’t there to perform his miracles, like multiplying bread and fish and all that hogwash -, the survivors, who were freezing and starving at the same time, started nibbling at their dead buddies’ flesh, yuck, yuck, yuck!
«Okay Zapinette – move over. I want to tell the readers something. Sheesh! Sometimes I cannot get a word in edgewise!»
I have lived in New York City twice for periods of four years, attending NYU in the early 1960’s, then working in the Big Apple in the late 1970’s as a translator, language teacher and writer. I have visited the USA from coast to coast, from the Midwest to the South, as well as Hawaii, and after having moved to Paris, I traveled to America regularly, to see my friends and my numerous family in NYC, Chicago, Montgomery, Atlanta, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.
ELISABETHVILLE / LUBUMBASHI, (Congo) early 1970’s:
A STRANGER AT HOME
The car stops in front of a porch
Alphonse comes to me,
Hair turned gray, eyes bloodshot
Grabbing my shoulders with both hands,
hands carved from the bark of a kapok-tree,
Speaking in a raucous voice.
Pangs of a nation in those old limbs
My room, voluptuous moistness
Stucco slabs missing
from the distempered walls
Erratic ants lift their antennas
Out of tiny crevices,
maze in the waxed floors
Walking in the avenues of the Past,
among coated trees,
Façades riddled with bullets
Elisabethville still fuming,
Katanga in ashes,
For the birth of a new town,
Capital of Shaba.
Poor All Burp, he went bonkers for a while.
Israel, Tel Aviv, 1970
We’ve reached the top of the Shalom Tower, which is the observation deck. Symphonies in blues and whites: the sea, the city and the sky, the air is crystalline, while the wind blows, mighty as the breath of a dragon. I want to scream, so overwhelming is the spectacle; my heart races at a maddening pace and, all at once, I wish the world would halt. Is it the beauty of what lies before me, its immensity, the frustration of not being a bird at this very instant, that I’m suddenly hyperventilating and feel so terribly constricted, a prisoner behind the fence that separates me from the precipice?
Leaving Peter to his momentary contemplation, I whisper “Wait for me here, I’ll go all around the building.”
I walk away from him, brush past several other tourists and locate a narrow space entrenched between two metallic columns. It is small but wide enough for a person of my build to climb over the guardrail and wedge himself sideways in it. I make sure no one comes near me, at least during the few seconds I need in order to hurl myself into the void. With a little effort, I am able to reach the guardrail, but as I am about to climb over it, the left side of my shorts gets hooked onto a sharp edge. Rage mixed with a growing sense of panic takes hold of me, and the more I try to wrench myself out of the nail-like object, the fiercer my shorts cling to it, in spite of its widening tear.
A woman’s voice suddenly booms out: “Somebody, quick! There’s a guy who wants to jump off.”
Eyes half-closed, with fear now replaced by shame, I feel two strong arms clasp around my waist, forcing me to get down. It’s the security guard I saw a little earlier. A revolver tucked in the holster clutched onto his belt, he looks at me with daggers in his eyes and, then, all the while he is tightening his grip around my fists, and hurting me with intent, he lets out a couple of Hebrew swear words:
“Balagan (damn it!) … Meshugga (nuts)”. In a louder and hoarser voice he adds, this time in English and rolling his r’s in the guttural Israeli fashion: “Who do you think you are, James Bond? I have no time for such stupid games, ok!”
I’m red as a beet, for I sense that my Saviour despises me and is ready to spill out more abuse, but, alerted by the commotion caused by my failed suicide attempt, Peter rejoins me. He looks aghast and his hands begin to tremble.
The security guard beckons to him and asks: “Do you know him?”
“Yes … yes!” utters my companion.
“Do you want me to call Emergencies?” the guard bawls, “’cause this guy ought to be locked up.”
Peter glances at me in search of some guidance. I stare back with imploring eyes, shaking my head like a mechanical puppet, at the end of its tether.
“We won’t need it, thank you. I shall take care of him.” he says. Then, recovering his composure, he takes me away energetically and asks in an improvised and scolding tone, aware that we are still very much the focus of attention, so as to put an end to the affair and clear the way: “Of course, you’ve forgotten to take your medicine again, huh. Worse than a child. Come on, let’s go home.”
When we reach the ground floor, stepping further down the street, Peter says, now almost in a whisper, midway between pity and sternness:
“In front of that security guard, I had to appear furious and patronizing, otherwise we would never have seen the end of it. Sorry about that.”
Now that we’re far from the scene, he pursues in a normal tone of voice,
“I don’t want to be inquisitive, but there must be a long history of pain and frustration behind that desperate gesture of yours. Feel free to open up, but only if you wish to. In the meantime, we both need to refresh ourselves, don’t you agree?”
Israel 2013: I, Zapinette with my Bonka of an uncle in the Holy Land.
If I had known the kind of questions they would ask us, three bloomin hours before our departure, I would have told my uncle that he could go alone to the Holy Land, coz it ain’t human to burden a poor lil girl like me with such inquiries.
«And why do you want to go to Israel? Who packed your suitcase? Did anyone give you something to take with you?» As if I was carrying any firearms, bombs or even a sword, ferchirsssakes. At a certain point I really wanted to burst out crying, on account that they didn’t stop looking at me like I was some sort of criminal, inasmuch as I was separated from Bonka during all that questioning. And why wasn’t I traveling with my parents? Did I have brothers and sisters? Who was that man accompanying me? And so fork and ding dong.
When I finally rejoined my uncle, I wanted to wring his bloomin neck, even if he looked like an old turkey that had spent an hour in a pressure-cooker, he was sweating so much.
«Zapy darling,» he told me with his chameleon eyes half-closed, «we still have a whole hour before taking off, let’s go to the mall upstairs and have a nice cool drink, or an ice cream if you prefer, then we’ll go visit some nifty shops.»
I was still so mad that I pretended he was talking to someone else. When he insisted, I turned towards him and growled:
«Why didn’t you warn me about those customs shenanigans, and that I had to be on my own in front of those guys who asked me washmore to take my belt and my shoes off? Then as if this wasn’t enough, they forced me to open my suitcase like I had a submachine gun hidden between my two bathing towels. This is outrrrageous, it’s a totally indecent exposure.»
«Don’t get sore, my Zapy.» he pussy mousied, «They do this to protect us against terrorists. You wouldn’t want our plane to explode, would you? The Islamists are extremely dangerous people, for they aim to kill as many people as they can, specially infidels – that’s us, Jews and Christians -, but they don’t spare the poor Muslim folk either, who don’t think like them, look how many get murdered every day in the Near East, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and elsewhere in Asia, but now also in Africa.»
Instead of calming me down, his remark made me feel even angrier.
«Then why didn’t we go to a safer place on vacation?» I shot, really miffed.
«It would have been just the same if we had to fly to America or, for that matter, to Australia.» he replied with a twisted smile. «You loved New York so much, remember, and I promised you that one day we would go to the West Coast, visit Hollywood, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and all the beautiful sites like the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. Unfortunately that’s the way we have to travel nowadays.»
A fat lot his explanation soothed me, so, pulling my tongue, I added – I can do both at the same time -, that to treat young tourists in this fashion ze lo beseder (‘not at all ok’ in Hebrew), ze anticonstitutional. And, do you know what? Instead of commiserating with me, feeling so miserrrbabble, he started clapping his hands like some demented precock in front of a circus seal – he’s the seal, not me!
«That a girl» he exclaimed, « speaking Hebrew like a real little Sabra – this ain’t a sword, ninny, but someone born in Israel.»
«Brat … Sabrette!» I retorted, which made him laugh even more, the nincanpoop. Coz you don’t know the whole story: my uncle is a language freak and he forces me to learn bits and pieces of every tongue, official or not, spoken in the countries we have to visit. In this case, apart from Hebrew, I have to have a smattering schmottering of Arabic, Yiddish and Ladino – that’s Judeo-Spanish. From now on I’ll call him Nudnik Hamor (a donkey that’s a pain in the ass) whenever he bugs me. Cuss words sound so much cushier in a foreign language and you can say them as casually as if you asked a waiter for a glass of root beer with crushed ice.
Once we got hold of our two suitcases, my uncle and I left the cool round terminal – «When we come back here the day of our departure, I want to spend a couple of hours to visit all these incredible boutiques» I said – and hailed a sherut – that’s a collective taxi.
Goshette, what went on in this closed space, was nobody’s business. The driver began to shout like he wanted to kill somebody. Two couples tried to enter the van at the same time and he was pulling the two men away from the door. Then one of the wives started screaming: «Hey, I can’t go without my husband.»
How do I know? I don’t, I’m assuming that’s what she was saying, looking as she did, like a lioness growling for her mate to get in. This rigmarole took an unconscious stretch of time, and my ears were hurting too terrible, on top of the lingering echo of the jet engines.
After a couple of minutes, I started hollering:
«Cut out the ballagan, you bunch of blabbering savages!»
And low and bee hold, a split second later, you couldn’t hear the buzz of a bloomin fly, nor the fart of a mosquito.
They had probably never faced a little girl getting so angry. And you know what I did, in spite of the fact that my uncle was pushing his face against the window, hoping he would disappear on the other side of the looking glass, he was so ashamed: I shoved the uglier of the two women outside of the van and ordered the husband of the other one to join his lovey dovey and to sit next to us. Oh, they thanked me ever so much, Toda raba, and so fork and ding dong, adding, «We would love to have a daughter like you, so smart and so prettty too!»
Yeah, well, thanks for the compliment, I thought, giving them my sexiest Colgate smile, but I had enough on my hands with one uncle to take care of, that I should add an Israeli couple who would honk like a fire alarm every time someone bothered them. I have an inkling that the people here are a bit … loud.
We landed at Mrs. Yaloni Ezer’s house on Yafo road, which links Jaffa to Tel Aviv – the former has been absorbed into Israel’s Mediterranean metropolis.
Her place is one of them ole dusty and maroon-colored cottages built on top of four concrete stilt columns, near the juncture with rehov Allenby (‘street’ in Hebrew – you’d better get used to that word from now on, I won’t keep translating it for you, ok). I expected a horde of cats or maybe chickens to come frolicking on the ground floor – such a waste of space, but it’s supposed to have a purpose: to create room for a green garden, while at the same time, allowing for a greater airflow! Only here there was nothing but sand and a few clumps of weed. Mrs. Ezer must have cared for it like I care for the fate of the zillion rabbits that have invaded Australia.
Our hostess is a healthy-looking lady, with one green eye and the other dark brown; she’s tall and big, on the fleshy side, sfars b&b are concerned – that’s a polite term for the bazooms and the backside – and has a thick chestnut-colored mane that flows down to her shoulders. As I was staring at one of her eyes then at the other – we were being introduced to each other -, she barked a loud laugh and said:
«You’re asking yourself why, hey! Well, my mother, bless her, came from Poland and still has beautiful blond hair – I’m sure they’re bleached, but she wouldn’t admit it -, while my father, may his soul rest in peace, was a Yemeni Jew. Imagine, they were like coal and flour, and here I am, that strange mixture which you have in front of you». Pointing at two framed pictures standing on the sideboard of the living-room, she then told us she had one son in the army and a daughter studying at Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheva – a city which lies smack in the middle of the Negev desert – and that we would meet them one weekend, during their break from duty. The son, a swashbuckling hunk dressed in his army fatigues didn’t look at all like his elongated blue-eyed sister, whom you could call fairly pretty if you fancy them anorexic models that perform on the catwalk like they’re ready to jump into the ocean.
«Where is your husband?» I asked, then yelled «ouch», as my uncle shoved an elbow into my ribs.
«Don’t worry,» she replied, looking at Bonka, «your little niece is entitled to know, since you will both be staying with me for the next three weeks. «Well, deary,» she went on, addressing me this time, «that good for nothing mamzer of a husband went flying through the backdoor, the moment I learnt he was cheating on me with three of his secretaries. I don’t know and don’t care to know whether he was doing it separately or with the three together. Consequently, I now live alone and feel free to see whoever I want and whenever I want. And quite frankly, I’m enjoying this situation.»
«Wow, this is a big place for one single person!» my uncle exclaimed, his earlobes turning wishy washy white – that’s when he gets jealous on account that he lives in a tiny apartment in Paris that has two and a half rooms. You think I’m joking, that’s how space is still measured by real estate agents there so that they can hike their prices. Let me explain to you ninnies: when you buy a kilo of granny smith apples at the supermarket, with the label saying €2.99, people are convinced it costs just a little over €2 – that’s sublimanimal advertising – whereas when you’re talking about an apartment, two and a half means more like three than two. Get it? No? Donkey be, donkey stay!
I was sweating like a polar beara, and probably stinking to high heaven, low and bee-hold. How do I know? From Bonka’s armpits came a reek that could have knocked out a whole family of skunks, and I, having traveled by his side, must have been contaminated not just a wee bit. My tongue suddenly twisted as I asked my hostess:
«I need a shower real bad, air-conditioning in this joint?»
She squinted something scary before replying – just picture this: two different colored eyes creating a diplomatic incident after bumping into each other unintentionally, which is called a collateral damage in war parlance:
«Of course, dear Zapa rrr ooo ny, you’rrre welcome to the bath rrroom, I’ve put out clean towels for you and your uncle.» Uncle shkunkle carbuncle. She must have heard him call me Zapi-wise, the knadel – that refers to both Bonka and Ezer the wheezer -, but got it all wrong, coz not only did she roll her r’s Izzz rrraeli-style – they probably eat sand with their food in this here lil country of theirs, on account of it being built in the desert – but made it sound as if Viva Zapata got married to Miss Macaroni.
Did I feeel goood, going into my bedroom, with my bathrobe on and smelling of Yves Rocher talcum powder – in the US I use Johnson & Johnson’s toiletry, my favorite, but the French too have nice-smelling stuff, don’t forget they more or less invented perfume, coz as late as the times of King Louis Grand Pipi and Marie la Toilette – them who got guillotined during the French Revolution (beheaded, you, ninny) -, even the royalty had lice skittering all over their bodies and inside their wigs, they always carried a bug scratcher with them, that was considered a piece of fine jewelry, for it was usually covered in gold or in silver, the queen having lil diamonds surrounding its pommel – yuk yuk and triple yuk! And the stench, the fetor, the mephitis – yeah yeah yeah, I love them words, yeah yeah, haven’t you noticed already? It wasn’t only the sewers of Paris that stank to high heaven and low hell, in which the populace used to walk, with their bare feet in the mud, full of human and dog shit, rotten vegetables, swimming cockroaches, dead rats and so fork and ding dong, the marble steps of the palaces of the Louvre and of Versailles, shining like a thousand lil suns, were blessed with royal piss and aristocratic turds. Then too, having a bath once a month was the most the highfalutin’s of the time took, on account that they believed they could catch their death just by dipping their precious limbs into hot water, and most of the time they went in, wearing long pajamas, not naked. Hey hey, who’s the disgusting one here, me or hisss to rrry?
As my uncle approached me, I panicked and screamed: «Vade retro Satanas! Don’t dare touch me, go first wash yourself!»
Coz Bonka likes my squeaky clean fragrance and my freshly shampooed hair, with which he loves to play, twirling my curls then sniffing them like it’s a rose garden. He just forgot that he was still filthy from our journey. And he shot out of the room like a missile had been fired into his behind.
That first evening, we acquainted ourselves with the nicest parts of Tel Aviiiv, like the mile-long boardwalk and its immaculately white beach, inhaling the warm breeze that swept in from the sea, mixed with the strong coffee aroma, the smell of roasted nuts and of grilled fish, which floated around every time we passed by a restaurant or a snack bar. There were still people lying on the beach, some of them were even frolicking in the tall waves of the Mediterranean. It was so inviting, I would have gladly joined them, but we were tired, pooped, totally poo poo poo poo pee doo, like Marilyn Monroe used to sing, and my poor lil eyes – actually I’m supposed to have big inquisitive round eyes (so claims Bonka), but here they must have shrunk to the size of teeny peanuts – were burning like two hot red pin pricks – hey, don’t become vulgar, ok! -, to the point where I saw everything in a haze and doubted whether we were really strolling along the seaside promenade. At some point I even thought I saw a young guy wearing a jockstrap with just a string tuck between his buttocks. I must have been hallucinating, in spite of the fact that Bonka got a sudden coughing fit.
«We should go back to our vrrroom!» my uncle growled after clearing his throat, «we really need to rest and recuperate.» He too must have been hallucinating, coz he was all shook up and I had to grab the waist of his pants on account that he was lurching like a drunkard – it happens to him whenever he gets over emotional.
Jeezette did I sleep that first night! So fitfully that I never even heard my uncle’s snores which sometimes sound like the rumbling of a choo choo train. It was past 11 when I woke up and I had to blink like a bloomin clowness, so bright was the light entering the room; the pale green curtain was flapping over the open window something too terrible. To stop the hullabaloo I caught it by the ends and made a knot so it wouldn’t bang anymore against the wall. It looked like a faceless martian lassie with a braided horsetail.
As I was pulling up my bermuda, I heard a loud knock on the door.
«Come in, damn it!» I shouted, on account that the knocking grew louder. «Damn damn damn! I repeated like an echo, for my zip got jammed.
«Helllo Zaperrotta!» hailed our landlady, waving both hands at me as if I was visually impaired. Now she’s calling me by another name, I thought, half grinning, like it was supposed to be funny. «I can see that you slept like a baby log.»
«Yo Yahoo!» I shot back, even though I hadn’t forgotten that her real name was Yaloni, but doesn’t the bible say: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, to which I would add a tush for a tush. «Gaga log to you.» I added in a lower voice.
«Your brrreakfast is rrready, dearrrie. You must be rrravenous.» she chanted. «Your uncle has already eaten his. What an appetite he has, and our Israeli breakfasts are known to be even heartier than the Brits’. He’s drrrinking his coffee now. So, come join us as soon as you’re drrressed, ok.»
«Okay shiiit!» I exclaimed as my fookin zipper remained stuck. A good thing Yahoo’s English is a bit rough on the edges, for she gave me a big smile and left the room.
Maybe she understood ‘shift‘, or such like, thinking it was some slang word used by teeny boppers from the Bronx. They get people from all over the States, and the world, for that matter, in this here lil hole of a country. What a mishmash of accents they must hear! In a way it’s an advantage, coz you can mutter the most awful things and pretend the other person didn’t hear right.
Oh I forgot to tell you something important which at first I thought pretty unsettling: our bedroom is bombproof, coz in this holy lil nation, every house or apartment is supposed to have a bunker, in case you get a rocket from the Hamas in Gaza, or from that ratty president of Iran who promises to destroy Israel every time something goes wrong in his country.
I didn’t see any difference with Yaloni’s other two rooms, but she assured me that we were superrr-prrro tected and that she would join us in case of emerrr gency.
Yo Yahoo! She should have shut up already, on account that I will now have nightmares, like dreaming that an army of bumblebees will be swooping down on me. I’m dead scared of them big fat flying bugs with very yellow underbellies which sometimes come and visit me during my sleep, totally uninvited, specially after a nice hearty dinner.
Strange how good food and ugly critters become bed fellows once you close your eyes! It’s like your innards call for revenge, jealous that you have relished a nice piece of roastbeef or a grilled chicken leg, accompanied by a cob of corn, drenched in butter, and maybe a plate of French fries, before serving yourself a (huge) slice of Black Forest cake smothered in thick gooey chocolate … mmm finger lickin dee li cious. Bunch of sss adists!