Dinners With Dead Gangsters — A Class War Notebook
The following, inspired in part by E. Wilson’s column American Shithole, is an attempt at investigating, through literary memoir, the concept of neo-confessionalism. An intersection of feminist and marxist philosophies which, at root, have the potential to provide a more liberated lens by which a woman may stand to reclaim her life and labor.
"I don’t want to make money. I just want to be wonderful.”
Days and weeks and months ago, there she is, shining on with her magnificent golden voice. The late Whitney Houston, angelic and true, with a love that burns/hot enough to last over the speakers in the coffee shop. Because of nothing but my own perceptions of the space time continuum as relates to marketed entertainment here on Earth, America, Whitney reminds me that I have also heard the theme to the 1983 film Flashdance bleed across into other public spaces two times in the past week alone.
My parents have the soundtrack on vinyl. Around the time I get into grooving on it, I’ve entered middle school. Mother’s Day is approaching. I come across some cash and ask my best friend Tracy, who lives near a general store on the far side of the tracks, to buy something. When I present the well-chosen chipped shell bracelet to mother, the conversation quickly turns to where I got it and for how much. Too much, according to mother. Mother is angry that I did not ask for change. Neve rmind the fact that Tracy, along with her twin sister Trina, are the eldest of five or six children living in a low income household and perhaps, just this once, my spare change may be better utilized in her care.
It’s the sort of thing that goes a long way toward subversive structuring of value in the mind of a young person. (Points at self.) I remain continually astonished at how all these sorts of shambling ironies grow, plastered like ivy along the walls of existential deafness (aka ‘daily living’) while the past goes on haunting us, fragrant as a fetor on the air.
In the gym sometime before all that, I pretend to work out a little. Mostly I’m dreaming while my dull gaze is catching a glimpse of an overweight woman pumping an elliptical while watching a cooking show. Her messy ponytail bounces, fine egg vermicelli, and I wonder what kind of food she’s thinking about, or if she’s trying not to. Does she actually cook? How often does she go out to eat? Will she go out tonight? Has she ever been a waitress and become annoyed when a customer used a coupon because it might affect the tip? I never seemed to feel that way when I tried being a waitress, and I’ve tried a couple times.
One morning before a commute when starving but super broke I got coffee and an oatmeal at a crusty diner and I could see the expression on the young lady servers’ face grow tired as I handed her the cheque back. A whiff of despondence seemed to pass over her that indicated utter joylessness and dread in confrontation with that bleakest question: “I’m trading my time for this money?”
My appetite left me for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile in another house that capitalism built, the low-ceilinged “49er Bar” at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, local native dark-eyed women from the reservation gossip over sips of massive drinks at tables next to back-lit stained glass. The juke spins saccharine country in a loamy whisper while a stage, tidy and too well-lit for the rest of the place, bears a sign indicating that karaoke was just last evening. Absolutely nothing to do here but drink and be.
I rent a seat for the cost of the time it takes to order and navigate patrons and waitstaff while fondling again the dusty jackpot that is my brain’s museum.
Inventory selections for the evening bring me the dirt poor girl and her younger sister from way back at YMCA camp. ‘Dirt’ being as equally an operative word as ‘poor’. She was like a sunbeaten doll. Sandblasted skin and translucent cornsilk hair. An opaque-to-white patina fried-in along with impacted brown riverbeds deep in her palms and a fast growing embitterment over being ostracized for looking like the female version of Pig Pen.
One afternoon at the baseball diamond she reached down under the dugout bench and picked up a wadded piece of gum. She knew it would repulse me to watch her put it in her mouth and chew. The attention in horror I gave her was a kind of power she extracted from me. Transfixed with wide-eyed awe brought on by initial observations of a death-wish in action.
On another day camp day, slung full with outdoor activities, I come back into the building to find out there’s been controversy. I had some make up in my bag. Kid-friendly waxy lipstick, a crusty mascara and a blush sampler. Total crap stuff all brought in so I could play at being “one of the girls”. I didn’t care about any of it really. And dirty blond had been caught stealing it.
It leaves me sad and angry to think that this happened at all. If only she’d gotten away with it. Was that day the last time I saw her? Before she became the earth and completely disappeared. Did she get kicked out of camp? If only I could have brought over more things she might have liked and said “Here, take them, use them, they’re yours. Share with your sister. You have a right to feel good just like anybody else. If they’ll mean more to you, then they’ll mean much more to me too.”
I wake up at a corner table in a suburban eatery fit for the Chinese godmother, whomever she is, the gangster queen. The completely bland exterior and heavy blinds make it appear from the street as if no one is inside. Isn’t it true how so much depends on space? What is pleasing to, and leaves room for, the imagination? Past the bell on the door, delicate authenticity is piped in- sweeping and epic, without vocals- at an acceptable dining volume. The lunch special lotus unfolding with peach orange walls and heavy carpet in a bronzed maroon.
When the cheque comes, there is a ginger snap and a fortune cookie right next to it on a porcelain tray. And as I pull the message steeped in pleasure and meant for me from the confection, I know no matter where I go, there I am. Me and my wallet’s green permission slips and my overactive wishing. All our collected patterns, dimensions, deceptions, obsessions and dreams. Of the flesh, on the grid and also sailing over them. Chasing that day wage to find clear night. One hemorrhaging electric star to greet millions more.