Fourth in a series of installments documenting my failed political ambitions, my warped sensibilities, and my Portland Trail Blazers.
The following Sunday, I invited KP and Gerald Wallace over to my house for breakfast, mainly to get some input on the strange recent happenings that have been surrounding my life.
Listen: KP is my dear friend.
We go Way Back – back before my dad got hung up in that nasty business in Venezuela, back before we got sidetracked by women and expanding our realms of influence, not to mention our cash flow… and lately we had spent some time reminiscing about our reckless youth, all those years ago.
I remember those days quite clearly. KP’s reputation as a spitfire preceded him, and very often led him towards violent confrontations with upperclassmen. I lived only four houses down from KP, and I spent many nights drinking tequila with him on his back porch, waiting for the sound of screeching tires – an indication that trouble was coming. I was deathly afraid of weapons, but he would convince me to find him the most intimidating-looking gun from his dad’s military-grade arsenal. Holding such a weapon would fill KP with braggadocio and brio, and often filled him with a sense of the dramatic. “Our futures hang in the balance!” he would whisper as he sprinted along the side of the house towards the back alley that abutted his backyard, stopping just as the streetlight illuminated his body perfectly against the barren street, waiting for the truck to slowly take the turn into the alley, then quickly reverse track and speed off. KP scared off the vandals every time, and word slowly spread: this was somebody you wanted on your side.
We sat with our guns and our booze, blissfully aware of the possible transgressions we were committing, until the threats subsided. We walked down to the train tracks, as we so often did in our youth, in a neighborhood where we had run out of ideas, and a culture that constantly screamed, You shouldn’t be drinking, and you shouldn’t be spending time at the train tracks. Without saying it, we knew it would be different after we turned 18; not only were there severe penalties for behaving badly after that age, but people seemingly weren’t that concerned with rebelling against any type of authority. At that point, we assumed that we would want to step in line; not that we wanted to – in fact, we were deathly afraid of it. But it happened to everybody. Participating in society meant cutting your hair in an acceptable fashion, and wearing appropriate clothes – clothes that people who had more money in their bank accounts deemed responsible and respectful. This meant more than the unspoken social agreement, hinged upon things like “loving thy neighbor” and other antiquated notions. It wasn’t enough that we genuinely cared for people – that went hand in hand with appearing respectful in the eyes of 50-year-old strangers and not saying anything too outlandish at parties and keeping the drugs at home – or at least not brazenly displayed on the coffee table.
Because we did care for people. That was the whole point. We terrorized the people who terrorized those who couldn’t react, whether it be because they didn’t have the proper social connections, or didn’t want to stir the pot. Maybe they wanted to let sleeping dogs lie, as the maxim goes, although in many cases the dog wasn’t sleeping, but ripping flesh from bone.
And we enjoyed it, goddammit!
As very young boys, we used to play a game where we would follow the train tracks on our bicycles, and see how far we could make it. KP would stop by my house and knock on my bedroom window in the early hours (he loved my parents and didn’t want to wake them) and we’d eat pop-tarts in the kitchen and load up our backpacks with graham crackers and sandwiches and water, and we’d set out on our mission. Full of pomp and circumstance, with such purpose evident in our pedaling, our legs strong and sinewy, like this meant something, like we were accomplishing a serious task, you dig? We’d stop at the river and take a dip – but not for long, for that would take us away from the task at hand – moving forward.
We’d make it farther than we’d ever made it before, eat our sandwiches, bask in the glory of success, think of how everybody else were wasting their summer vacations (sleeping in and playing video games all day), and we’re out here living, experiencing life… a poignant affair for the thick skinned, yes? We’d turn back, take our time exploring the nooks and crannies out in the foothills, sneaking treacherously close to the farms with the electric fences to keep riff-raff like us away, and finally get back home at the gloaming to find my dad relaxing in the backyard, taking advantage of the precious few hot summer nights before basketball season started back up… and he would ask us, with all seriousness, how far we made it this time? We would brag about our day and embellish the adventure to make it seem even more exciting, just to get his approval of our exploits, which was about as important to us as the exploits themselves. “Great work, boys,” he would say. “But do you still think you can go even further next time? Aren’t you worried you’ve gone as far as you can go?”
“Not a chance,” we’d reply in unison, and we’d grab the basketball and rush to the driveway, dragging my dad along, the three of us, shooting hoops in the pacific northwest dusk.
I rode out to Gun Bay on my scooter, still pissed off at Mckeeva and his machinations. Why was he always giving me so much shit? I wondered. He treated me like some sort of imposter, like I wasn’t qualified for the position… which was painfully obvious, although I never shied away from that fact. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing in my post, and I made that clear to everybody I had any interactions with on the island – Mckeeva included. My days consisted of hanging out by the beach and the palace pool, with breaks for meals and the occasional photo op. That’s essentially it. I got calls every week from Washington, asking how things were going, and I told them what they wanted to hear: “It’s going great – nothing to worry about here, no sir!”
Yang had texted me the previous day to say that he was going to spend the next few weeks in Cuba, and so I decided that I was going to take up semi-permanent residence in the bungalow. I stopped at the East End Public Library to stock up on reading material for my extended stay.
By the time I arrived, I was pleased to see Ruth had already started cooking my favorite Caribbean dish: Crespoline Cosimo, a wonderful lobster and shrimp dish she had introduced to me during my first night on Grand Cayman. We had bonded from the start. I was drawn to her cynicism, wit, and incredibly foul mouth, and I suppose she took a liking to my fervent disinterest in the bureaucratic mess that was her and her family’s life. After all, she was the Premier’s daughter, and it was not until I came along that she started to feel confident in her boiling dissent. I afforded her a sympathetic ear and pulled no punches, and soon we found ourselves hanging around with Yang and his Cuban friends, losing ourselves in discussions of idealistic utopian fantasies and passionate rants against the status quo.
“More garlic!” I yelled to Ruth as I carefully laid my guitar case down on its side atop the slats of the wooden patio. A pair of gorgeous green parrots were relaxing on the wooden railing that surrounded the patio.
“How do you know it needs more? You haven’t tasted it yet!”
“You can never have too much garlic,” I said, putting my toiletry bag in the tiny bathroom. “Never. A wise man once told me that. My old friend KP. Have I mentioned him before?”
“Like 50 times!” she exclaimed. “You don’t ever remember anything you tell me!”
“Oh, please.” I rubbed her shoulders. “Anyways, he’s a great guy – you’ll meet him someday!”
I opened up Yang’s liquor cabinet and took out one of the bottles of rum. I helped Ruth finish cooking and we took our meals outside, carrying a rickety old table out towards the white sandy beach. I told her some stories about growing up in the States, the strange circumstances of my father’s disappearance, and my desire to one day leave this slimy world of politics behind. I had always felt an affinity towards sportswriting, and I told her I might give it a shot whenever I returned home.
The sun was setting on our little corner of the island, and as we finished the bottle of rum we headed back inside and made love in the afterglow of the delicate evening. I woke up with a serious headache at just before 3am, and I stumbled into the kitchen to pour myself a large glass of water. I turned on a small lamp in the main living room and sat down in the barcalounger, setting my glass down on the end table. I picked up one of my library books and started to read, only to notice the drawer of the end table was slightly ajar. I opened the drawer and took out a worn manila folder labeled “Bellybuster”.
The parrots were still nestled together on the patio as I listened to the waves gently lapping up against the sand outside my window.
My curiosity piqued, I started to read.