Friday, January 8, 2016

remembering an old friend

Rangoon Bumblefuck -- what sort of a name is that? It sounds like a name that an author like Roald Dahl might have conceived and then dismissed as too tinny, too insistent, too over-the-top in a teenager-ish imagination. It is a name that might pass for "imaginative" but really is straining-at-stool and mediocre and coercive.

Names are odd. What sort of a person or people would have named a daughter "Jinx?" Were they angry at the intrusion? Were they kidding around? Were they drunk? And yet, whatever the circumstances, that is prcisely what at least one and possibly two parents in Tennessee did. Maybe Rangoon Bumblefuck conceived the name as a sort of retaliation against a universe that had burdened him so unfairly.

My once-friend Joe Rader fell desperately in love with Jinx, a woman more than twice his age. When Joe and Bill and I -- all 20-ish -- would be out getting drunk as a respite from Army Language School in Monterey, Calif., Joe would invariably get to a distilled point where he simply had to call Jinx back in Tennessee.

We would know that the extravagance of the long-distance call would upend whatever budget he had as a private first class, but Joe had grown up dirt poor and would not be denied the luxuries he imagined would keep that poverty receding in his rearview mirror. Joe got drunk on Jack Daniels scotch, a top-shelf whiskey; then he would call Jinx; and then Joe and Bill and I would squeeze into Joe's red MG sports car and drive back up the hill to the language school where we lived. If I was drunk enough, I would recite French poetry I had been forced to memorize in my truncated college education ...  at the top of my lungs .... to the stars ...  "Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage...." Bill thought it was a hoot and later in life could repeat it back, though he never learned French.

Snippets of Joe's life always tasted-touched-smelled like William Faulkner in my mind -- laced with grinding, grueling southern white poverty; overlain with an almost feminine politesse that could, when rubbed to the quick, explode in homicidal rage. Joe really had meant to kill his stepfather when, one day, he had had enough and took a tire iron to a stepfather who may have adored Joe's mother in odd moments, but could never be as adoring as Joe figured his mother deserved. Maybe the stepfather was a drunk or maybe I am making that up, but sure enough Joe meant to kill him when he swing that tire iron. As I envisioned it in my mind, the failed assault took place in a back yard where where was a vat in which to boil water over an open fire and stir in the laundry.

At language school, Bill and Joe and I all learned German. There would be days when I would drop into Joe's room and find him with tears coursing down the freckles on his face ... below the flaming red hair ... as he listened or melted to the strains of "Madame Butterfly." His soft effeminacy would be on full display, somehow, together with the death-row anger of that tire-iron attack.

I never could remember Jinx' last name, if I ever knew it, but I guess it didn't matter. Jinx was not so much a person as she was an adjunct to my friend, a facet twinkling in whatever universe he was willing to share with the world. "Jinx" -- who the hell does that to their kid?

Joe and Bill and I all ended up in Berlin for a couple of years. After we got back to the States, Joe ended up marrying Jinx. He and I fell out of touch: I was in New York and he was in Tennessee. And then one day, I got word that Jinx had been killed in a car accident. I felt as if a member of my family had been struck down.

Time passed, Joe came out of the closet as a homosexual and then got mixed up with taking heroin. He told me all this on a visit to New York. The old days were just that -- the old days. Messing with addictive and illegal drugs was not something I was willing to make space for in my mind. In my mind, a defensive perimeter went up. And then Joe went back to Tennessee and has job as a college librarian.

It was better than stirring laundry in a vat, I imagine.

And still I wonder, "'Jinx' -- who does that to their kid?"

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