UNITED STATES—During one of the breaks at the Census Office, I’d go around the corner of Manchester and read the National Enquirer. One week it broke the news that Tony Perkins was dying of AIDS and the story mentioned that he had turned very devout, conspicuously attending church in Beverly Hills with his family.
Part of what struck a chord with me was turning devout. Even as I was estranged from my family, I was devoted to the self-reliance they instilled in me. I came back from my first sojourn in Mexico with 10,000 pesos tucked in a book of Neruda poems (value 10 cent) and landed on my feet, managing a house on Estrella Avenue and now had “sold out,” working for the census bureau. I had rounded that bend of autumn penury and was flourishing with the office talk, paychecks and a parade of bigwigs like Maxine Waters.
Absence made me devout to my parents although I hadn’t spoken to them on the phone for over a year, and they were unaware of the mighty achievement of landing on me feet and deeply troubled in a way that I can only now fathom from the vantage of fatherhood. Devout not in the church sense; Club Bohemia was my church.
Yet, I thought of my people nightly. The pictures flickered through my mind: Mom gunning her blue Cutlass fearlessly down Beach Street, dad working away behind the pharmacy counter filling prescriptions. I always hoped he would make it to seventy because his work was his life; no way he was goin’ fishing. (He made it to 77).
My point is: if you are shut out inexplicably from a loved one, and bewildered and resentful, just know this, maybe they are suffering in a way you’ll never know, whilst thinking of you each and every living day.
Things were going good with the census and I got some swagger. Still, I stewed about how the census was taking time from my great work. At night I got home to the wood-paneled room, too tired to write.
I was making phone calls to people who answered the ads for rooms for rent. Mostly uptight cubicle fodder, and I just got stressed out trying to put an upscale spin on menagerie by the freeway. Then there were people who would have been candidates, but they told me too much: they’d just got paroled and were in A.A. for sex addicts.
Pretty much none of the people who made appointments with me were coming to see the rooms. In addition to the tower room available, another was coming up. The Arabian man who made his room a perfect replica of a sedate parlor in Islamabad, and never left it, except to get water for his jasmine tea from the upstairs bathroom; he who seemed impervious to the war zone that was creeping up on us, both inside and out, gave notice. Half the house would be vacant and I was getting scared about keeping my job.
After the phone calls, I lay down on my bed, its sheets washed who knows when, masking a mattress nobody wanted to see.
One night the copters were buzzing over us, fixed in the sky. They wouldn’t go away. It was driving everybody in the house nuts, and we holed up in our rooms. The cops were looking for someone on the run; the beams were pointed down on a fugitive. My room was right over the basement. There, on my bed, I heard the hinges groan outside; the wooden slant doors opened and clopped down. Though the roar of the whirring helicopter blades above, I could hear scuffling below. It sounded like two people had scrambled down into the basement and were cowering, winded after running scared.
I beelined to the front door of the house, the kitchen and halls eerily empty. I opened the front door and in the black night a hot blinding light poured in on me.
“Get back inside,” a cop bellowed prepotente.
The Spanish word alone describes that smug, bossy, loud tone. Arrogant doesn’t come close.
It was a slap, and all the other cops were spread out, crouched beside the prepotente with their weapons drawn at me. I didn’t even have a chance to shout, “Hey, the people you’re looking for are in the basement.”
I went back inside the house, sighed and said, “Well, be that way if you want to.”
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon. He has been compared to Woody Allen and Joseph Conrad.