My dad was in ‘Nam. When I was a kid, I asked him if he ever killed anybody and he said, “No. Of course not. I was an aircraft mechanic.” Later on, though, he told me that from time to time he had to fly in cargo airplanes that were stacked to the ceiling with corpses in body bags.
When his tour of duty was up, he came back to Harris County, Georgia with a few Chinese, Japanese, & Vietnamese phrases on his tongue. Germane stuff that, in English meant “come on, let’s go” “what time is it?” or “thank you.” He also came back with a pachinko game, some cameras, and the paintings pictured here, which, for the longest time, lived in a paperboard courier's scroll. They now hang on the walls of our little sublet, attached with push-pins I bought at the corner store. In six days, they’re coming down. And we’re moving out.
Yesterday, at the library, Eleanor and I found a cool grandma and grandson playing. They were both Chinese and didn’t speak English, which made me feel like I was in a Jim Jarmusch movie. Especially since the little boy was only two months older than Eleanor, so Chinese Grandma and I tried to communicate, more or less successfully while the nippers nipped around the library. She was a sweet-looking woman, seventysomething, with soft eyes and a warm countenance.
At one point, while we rapped, her grandson brought me a toy and I said, “Shay-shay nee” to him, which means “thank you very much” in Chinese. Grandma looked at me, bewildered, and struggled to say, “How…you…speakeh…Chinese?” I tried to explain, but couldn’t. Then she rapid-fired three or four sentences in Chinese and I shrugged my shoulders and smiled like I’d just invented the lightbulb or something. She seemed to get it: “This cat only knows how to say two words in my language. Oh well.” So I sat there, feeling the pain of not being able to speak Chinese…
Anyway, about the same time, the grandson reared back and clocked Eleanor on the nose with his tiny paw, for no apparent reason at all (kids this age are highly unstable, like a molecule that desperately needs an electron or two. To wit: Eleanor has been known to randomly bite faces, dive off beds, and eat non-food items).
So the incorrigible Eleanor was fine with it, and didn’t bat an eye. But Grandma was mortified. She quickly bundled her grandson up in her arms and started lecturing to him in frantic, whispered bursts. He looked confused. Eleanor looked confused. And the whole while I was saying, “It’s okay. She’s fine. Don’t worry,” knowing that my words sounded something to her like, “Blah-blah. Bleh-bleh. Blah-blah-blah.” She whisked the boy away, around the corner while Eleanor followed them, holding out a wooden toy as if to say, “Wait, don’t go. I was having fun with you.” I ran after Eleanor, and saw our Chinese Grandma disappear around the corner, towards the main exit.
”We just lost our friends, Eleanor.” Maybe they’ll be back another day. Until then, all we can do is say, “Shay-shay nee for the good times we had.”