This is final installation of a four-part series. Read the last letter here.
A little over three years ago, Rania and I went to Marfa over a long weekend to celebrate her birthday.
On the way back from Marfa was when Rania first told me it was her dream to quit science and move into fashion. Now, she is just a few weeks away from leaving the field she’s been in for nearly 20 years to focus on the next chapter of her life. With it comes a move to more affordable housing (pursuing your passion comes at a cost, of course), meaning I have been sifting through old items as I pack and reminiscing on how far I’ve come in these last 3 years, myself.
While in Marfa, we met a guy named Carl who was getting his master’s through UNT and spending the year teaching middle school English in the small West Texas town. We became pen pals for a few short months, and I vaguely remember where I was at in my life when I was writing him: unhappy with my job, unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, and still sour over past events that were completely out of my control. I don’t exactly remember what I wrote to him, but I’ve enjoyed re-reading the letters he’s sent to me (if only because of his Salinger-esque prose):
I hope this Tuesday finds you well. Last night I went to my first Passover Seder, which contained roughly twelve guests. Sounded about right statistically for Marfa, I thought, but many of these were of dubious Jewish authenticity. They didn’t know the Dayenu song, they laughed when The Haggadah said, “And why, mountains, why do you skip like rams?” Since I’m not Jewish either I really started to doubt if we were going to get any real work done.
But my housemate Sam, definitely Jewish. He repeated our assigned readings from The Haggadah in Hebrew; he chastised a small child for eating matzoh during a recitation; and when only blackberry Manischewitz was on my side of the table, but I wanted the good grape kind near him, he said, “Just drink blackberry, it won’t kill you.” A blonde, obvious Christian passed me the wine I wanted. And I drank it all before his very eyes. Really now, it brought out my inner Jew. I wanted to say, “Am I a child at this table? Give me the table item I asked for!”
“Just drink blackberry, it won’t kill you…” You Jew bastard! I am never going to forget this. What would it have been like to take the blackberry Manischewitz and drink it under the circumstance of being denied the drink I want. I shudder to think about it, sitting in candlelight at that table of many six people (there were two tables), drinking a cup of submissive defeat. Although I never even tried the blackberry. Now I kind of wonder if it was good. If it was good, what a shame that would be.
Before the Seder, Sam had told me blackberry Manischewitz is crap. And then at the table, he orders me to drink it! Demented offspring of Moses that hath befallen me, why does the Lord test me at his own ceremony?
The food was absolutely delicious though. Parsley dipped in saltwater, some kind of apple stuffing. Brisket – I usually avoid red meat, beef especially since I wonder if that and perhaps buffalo are the only red meats – BUT, I never reject a sacrificial offering, in the name of your God or someone else’s…and truly, I had to say, “What’s not to like?” I got so full, and quite drunk enough, that that blackberry fiasco became an unexpected sore upon my loins. And I HATE unexpected things upon my LOINS!
So I go outside to the smoker’s circle and what are they talking about? “You can’t even find decent rentals here for a going rate” blahhhhh blah-blah. When I am drinking, I do not enjoy being exposed to chatter, bland chatter, which sounds like the cheese they just can’t sell. I can’t stand these brands of bland chatter:
A) Housing costs and specific numbers thereof.
B) Insurance, and why you should go ahead and get it
C) Work: What you do, why you can’t stand your boss, and why you can’t tell that this subject makes me somber.
So! They were talking about rental costs. In the Jewish tradition, I puckered my face and prepared to complain about how they were carrying on. My good friend calls me “Carl the Shamer,” this because I simply prefer to be honest and tell people what’s what! Just then that blackberry swindler came up beside me, and I told him I had better get going. He said “OK,” and then, you know, I just decided to throw in my coin. Maybe it would HELP these people so they might enjoy getting drunk instead of squandering God’s gift, the downfall of the Indian as it is otherwise known. “Why get drunk and talk about paying rent?” I groused.
“Well why don’t you get a place and pay $1,000 a month, and internet hookup, and water hookup.” And then he went on, “and electricity.” I didn’t have to say anything. I just kept looking at him. He hung his head and shook it a little. Oh, indeed. Oh, indeed. I almost thought he had realized how easy it is, how people fuck up their minds and arouse their bodies with drink because society compels them to. And then, sad fact, as soon as they have pushed off from the shore, they sometimes struggle fiercely to get back. Can’t be helped. The more immediate gaze of society equally compels them to seem shrewd, sharp, coherent, informed. But you’re wet, deal with it. Trying to look smart wet: to me, that is a shame. Also a shame that my needling will never be heeded by the ones who need it most. I just say, get drunk and speak good words.
Today I woke up with wine teeth and went to the dentist. American dentist, could not put together an appointment in Mexico. But I was thinking about that. A tycoon outsources work to Mexico, and we make blogs about hanging tycoons from lampposts. Then I went to Mexico for cheap bike parts and dental work. All classes have to scrape something off someone else’s back. But hey, the tycoon doesn’t have to worry about getting a mouth infection from being worked on with unsterilized tools.
No, the story I heard was, “Sterilized with a Bic lighter.”
Today I paid $200 for American standards in practices. Yes…I went for pain. They took X-rays, probed with forks and pins, and said they saw no problems.
They fawned on me, in fact.
“Your teeth are really great! I can see you take good care of them”
“There’s nothing wrong with them?”
“Nope! All great!”
“But they hurt.”
“Maybe(1) it’s (2) neurological (3).”
Divide $201.00 by three to get the cost-per-word of my dental verdict. Oh well. Peace of mind vendors know their worth. But what if I traded filthy Mexico for brain-dead hick Texas? The dentist office was in fact a double-wide trailerhouse. There was hardly any partition between patients, more like a barbershop. I heard:
“So I think these two front teeth need to go.”
“How long,” old drunk Apache voice, “Til I get ’em back in?”
“Three weeks. Maybe three.”
“I don’t want you to think I’m railroading you into something you don’t want to do.”
“No, no, ok.” Drill sounds. Squirting sounds. My hands CLENCHING the armrests. I really don’t like the dentist.
Now, onto your letter ~ zip, that’s fast transition.
I think it is interesting you and your sister have these adventures, conversations, and disillusionments. Are you two the same age? My brother is 2 years older and our creative symmetry and intense partnership ended when he “made it” to high school and I was still in middle school. Then I was like, I don’t know you anymore!…and he fell in with the marching band crowd, I was a fierce individualist. Then he met the single woman of his romantic life, and I started girling it up, getting heartbroken and grounded ad nauseam. Then in college he found golf and I found drugs! We have the same mind, identical humor, but we are like China and Italian food, or…photos of those side by side.
If you get pulled from your sister by fate, take my story to heart. I don’t even know what it means, but you seem of the kind to analyze. Please figure it out for me. And in the end you will know what to do.
I always loved my family but I had to leave. Like our personal freedom, they weren’t lost to me all at once, but at a near-imperceptible piece by piece. That’s a long godamn story and I am really out of paper.
I’m at the bar where we met, Lost Horse. The owner just said, “Goddamn,” at this letter, and I told him it’s for an Egyptian lady I met on this very spot. He winked at me – although he wears an eyepatch. Maybe he just blinked coincidentally!