When I found out I was sick I was happy. I mean, I was depressed for a couple of weeks, but then I started to look on the bright side. I thought sickness would turn out to be a really great opportunity for me. Really put me on a path to successful living. I've always wanted to be a vegetarian, get into yoga, stuff like that. I figured sickness would enable the hatching of a goal-oriented plan to improve my life quality. Sickness would be the motivational factor that put me over the top.
I took this workshop once. A Life Fulfillment Seminar provided by J_ Mutual Funds. That was the kind of thing the guy talked about: Motivational Factors putting you Over the Top. I remember sitting in the seminar and I remember all I could think about was that Sly Stallone flick. You know, the one where he's a long-haul trucker and he's got this estranged son. He goes to Vegas for this arm-wrestling competition and in the big moment when all the chips are stacked against him and his son's about to be taken away by this evil heartless-type dude, Sly summons up all his inner fortitude and everyone in the crowd starts chanting, "Over the Top! Over the Top!" I remember thinking that part just reached out and grabbed you.
I wondered if the guy running the workshop—what was his name? Buck something I think—I wondered if Buck Something had seen that movie. I was going to ask him during the post-session Q&A but felt weird about it. Raising my hand and having all the people look at me while I asked him what was kind of a personal question: his feelings about that scene. I wanted to but I didn't want to. I was nonplussed. Then afterwards, while taking advantage of the complimentary refreshments, I was going to ask him, you know, in more of a low-key interpersonal situation, but he was surrounded by all these women and grinning really big and I didn't want to ruin his chances of getting laid. I bet Buck got a lot of pussy. Traveling around like that, speaking motivationally and all.
Tiffany, my ex-fiancée, and I met in a seminar. Seems like a lot of the crucial events in my life were rooted in seminars provided by the Employee Gratification Division of J_ Mutual Funds. They always said seminars were, "Opportunities to Cultivate a Fresh Perspective." I appreciate the implication that I did just that.
Tiffany and I met in New Recruit Orientation: 401K Planning and Other Client Retirement Concerns. She looked beautiful in her navy blue suit. The way the climate control tossed her hair. Our parents were keen for us to settle down. She was keen for us to settle down. We got engaged. We bought a condo. The Plan (a tax bracket later): Sell the condo at a hundred and forty percent. Get married. Move to Connecticut. Reinvest dividends.
Aside from the informative seminars, there were lots of other perks at J_ Mutual Funds. The best perk, as far as I'm concerned, was the free soda machine. You didn't have to put money in it; you just pressed the button and the soda you selected came out without putting in quarters. It had Ocean Spray too. One time, while getting an Ocean Spray, I came up with an idea to write a poem about the soda machine. I thought it was a pretty clever idea, so I did it. It was a Japanese poem, a haiku:
Free Soda Machine
Just Push the Button
It was a big hit.
I was a half-ass junkie. Worthless really. I wasn't cut out for The Lifestyle, The Drama. What I liked about it was The Ritual. I had a box. It was a great looking box. Expensive. I made decent money at J_ Mutual Funds and could afford a nice box. I bought the box at a fancy boutique in Soho. It was Syrian, they said. It had this beautiful mother-of-pearl inlay. I kept all my supplies in it: antiseptic swabs, syringes, bottle caps, etc.
I became a junkie half on a dare. To see if I could pull it off. Being an Acquisitions Enhancement Professional Associate at J_ Mutual Funds can really wear on you. I figured it might spice things up. And I'll admit it, I was depressed. I didn't really realize it at the time, but yeah, I can see it now, I was depressed. I was flying right, had everything going for me, was engaged to be married. My head was "Squared with Success," as Buck would have put it. But something was just … off. I didn't understand it then, but I've read up on the condition since. It's what they call an Existential Dilemma. I broke up with Tiffany and started up on the junkie thing. I found freedom.
Tiffany took it okay. She was married to Jim in Default Reparations within six months. It was my parents that were the worst. My dad refused to speak to me. Blamed me for Mom's fingernails falling out. Apparently, she suffered some kind of hysterical calcium deficiency as a result of my liberation. I tried to explain. It was of no avail.
Tiffany and I sold the condo. Not at a hundred and forty percent, but for a Non-Matured Capital Reimbursement we didn't do so bad. With the brokerage fees, selling the condo was pretty much a wash. I think Tiffany was unhappy with our Profit Margin though, because whenever saw me in the hallway she gave me this really nasty look. I think it was meant to communicate disdain. She'd whisper "Druggie" to her coworkers when I walked by. If I had business in her department, which I sometimes did, she made a big show of being happy, having fun, like Corporate-Client Liaison was just this side of Disney World. She'd talk in a loud voice about Jim, her new beau, his place in the Hamptons, his fully automated espresso machine. She started to engage in office hijinks, like photocopying her chest and attaching the Xeroxed female representation to the front of a male coworker's shirt, or making paper airplanes and throwing them over her cubical wall. One time, she hit me in the face as I waited for the elevator, leafing through my dog-eared volume of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
J_ Mutual Funds let me go when my secretary found me nodding off and bleeding on my desk. My secretary decided to report to my supervisors that she felt my behavior was inappropriate for the workplace. "This ain't part of the fucking deal," she told them.
My supervisors called me in. They suggested I "get back on the horse, or kick-off, or whatever." They subsequently decided they were "hip to the jive" and made hand gestures signifying that they were "down." They regained their composure and said to get the hell out of the office, citing philosophical incompatibility. I took an Ocean Spray on the way out.
Of all the fortune-tellers I went to, Rosa was the best. I believe this clairvoyant gift was the result of her lazy eye. Like Teiresias, Rosa's visual impairment was a clear indication of her second sight.
Rosa and I first met the week of the World Cup soccer tournament. The soccer games were on Telemundo and I liked to listen to the announcers. I thought the announcers on Telemundo were muy fabuloso. I especially liked the way the one guy screamed whenever a team scored. He would scream, "¡Goal! ¡Goal! ¡Goal! ¡Goal! ¡Goal!" over and over again.
The soccer tournament was in Japan so with the time change the games played all night. I wasn't sleeping much so it was nice; it gave me something to do. In the morning, after the games, I'd walk down to the deli for a bacon egg and cheese. One morning I went down a little early. In retrospect, I consider it fate. While I was waiting for my sandwich a woman walked in. That woman was Rosa. Rosa was destiny.
Rosa keyed on me pretty good. Could tell I was strung out. Could tell I was sick. I didn't tell her; she figured it out quickly enough. I guess it probably wouldn't have been so hard to do. I looked like shit, I didn't sleep, my face kept breaking out with these red splotches.
At least my hair still looked good. I was really into my hair. I had like seven different kinds of pomade. Redken and American Crew and Nutrisse and Bed Head and Aveda and Frederic Fekkai. I was into Product. Funny thing is, the best stuff was cheapest. I was in the dollar store one day and on a whim I bought some. It came in an orange tin. Had a picture of some dude with a moustache on the lid, I think. Tiffany had laughed when I brought it home.
Rosa never commented on my shiny hair. Guess it would have been out of place. Contacting the spirits and then all of a sudden, "Hey, your hair sure looks great today." I'm okay with that. I appreciate professionalism. As an idea at least. Conceptually.
Rosa probably would have enjoyed owning the Special Collector's Edition DVD of the Sly Stallone film Over the Top. I wish I'd bought it for her. If she hadn't liked it, her husband Jorge would have at least. Seems like the kind of thing he would have gotten a kick out of. Not that I ever really met him, except for this one time. Being the kind of guy I imagine him to be, he would have. My dad told me once, "Son, it's all in the cut of a man's jib." He wasn't a sailor, so I didn't really know what he meant. But I've figured it out since. He meant that Jorge was a helluva guy.
I remember the night I got sick. Tiffany and I got in a fight over Couch. Who got Couch. I said I didn't give a rat's ass about Couch. She said fine, she'd take it, she picked it out anyway. I said fine. She said fine. But it was the way she said it.
I was mad. I was at Starbucks. I was penning torrid verse in the margins of an old newspaper. I got bored and made conversation with the barista. I told the barista about my dad; how my dad said that homeownership was the true mark of a man. The barista agreed, said my dad sounded like a wise fellow. I told the barista that my mom couldn't leave the house without scotch taping the ends of her fingers because of a calcium deficiency; how it was my fault. The barista admitted I should be ashamed. I told the barista Condo. The barista nodded. I told the barista Dividend. The barista nodded again.
The night I got sick Starbucks closed and my Syrian box was far, far away. I was desperate. I was In Need of Implementation. I saw Larry. "Hey," I said.
"Yo," Larry said.
Larry and I walked together for a while. Larry took me places. Larry and I became pals. "Where'd you get this stuff?" I said.
"Oh, it's cool man," Larry said. I looked at him askance. "Don't sweat it, baby," he reiterated. I shrugged. I took Larry for his word. I figured, Larry and I, we're one in the same. I figured, Larry and I, we're cut from the same cloth. We had Camaraderie. Chips off the same block. Sitting in the same boat. Me and Lar. Lar and me. Friends-4-Ever.
I got sick.
When Rosa mentioned Larry, I freaked out. That's when I knew she was legit. She called him my "Instrument of Transformation." I told her that was a pretty accurate description. I was sick. I was nauseous. I was damned interested.
"So what's up with Larry?" I said.
Rosa told me he was a key. "To which door it is yours to decide," she said.
I said, "Okay, so you mean like the vegetarian yoga thing right?" She was non-committal. I pestered her for a while and then we moved on.
We shot the breeze about Julio, her son. I felt a little better. Tiffany, The Ex. I felt a little worse. Roscoe, my dog from when I was a kid. Better again. My sessions were like that. Roller coasters zooming along. Creep up the top of the hill, fly down, twist and turn, more hills, up one side, down the other. It was exciting. The most fun I'd had in years. She made me special herbal compresses for my skin condition. Taught me a little about the Tarot. I recommended a solid fund for an IRA. Made a couple of suggestions about taxable income. Old habits die hard. The point is it moved beyond strictly commerce. I mean, I paid her for her time of course, but there was a real relationship developing. It was great.
With Rosa's assistance, I even managed to kick my drug habit. It came up one night via her interpretation of XII in the Major Arcana, The Hanged Man, and Rosa decided she'd had it up to here with my dilly-dallying on the issue. She started chanting and reached into one of her jars for some ointment that she rubbed on my arms and neck and forehead. She chanted some more and lit a candle. She paused for a moment, looking especially pensive for Rosa, I thought, then grabbed her bag and me by the hand. She proceeded to march me home, calling behind her to Julio that she'd be back in an hour. Rosa's feet churned the sidewalk, her short strides pulling me along. When we got up the stairs and to my door, she kneeled down and took off her backpack, digging out a bunch of candles and what looked like a bloody wad of paper towels. She said, not even looking at me and in the brusquest voice I'd ever heard her use, "Your drogas to me, todo."
A few minutes later I came back out into the hallway with my Syrian box and a handful of loose folds of wax paper. Rosa said nothing, just took my stash and smiled, her gold tooth glowing in the halogen of the hallway. When I turned around and saw the goat's heart nailed to the center of a black wax pentagram on my door, I fell to my knees and wept.
Rosa sent her son Julio with tea three times a day for a week straight. When Rosa decided I could eat again, Julio brought sopón de pollo con arróz one day, and sopón de pescado the next. Julio brought tostones, a tasty snack made from plátanos, which I especially enjoyed and asked for more.
When I was able to walk down the block again without vomiting or passing out, we even watched Telemundo together. And not just the soccer games. Rosa and I liked to watch Telemundo's version of Wheel of Fortune, Rueda de Fortuna, together. We felt the host, Rodrigo Garcia-Lopez, was much more into the possibilities of his role than his counterpart on American television. We decided Rodrigo had rimbombante, or camp. We appreciated the contestants' sincerity. They often promised to donate half their winnings to a charity of their choice—usually an orphanage, Rosa translated. We agreed the contrast between host and contestant provided an engaging balance to the tone of the program.
We made regular practice of "movie night." I would pick up soda and popcorn, and Rosa, Julio, and I would sit back to enjoy Telemundo's Saturday Night Cinema and each other's company. Julio and I found commonality in our all-time-favorite Saturday Night Cinema, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I found it interesting that they didn't have to dub "Hasta la vista, baby," because it was in Spanish already, except for "baby." Julio expressed his admiration for Edward Furlong's character in the film. I asked Rosa if the guys at Telemundo figured people would pick up "baby" in context. Julio chattered about Ed. I voiced wonder about how the process worked, as did Rosa. We all three engaged in heated discussions over what was considered modern Spanish vernacular and what wasn't, and, most perplexingly, why. I bought a Spanish-English dictionary. I investigated taking an Adult Education Spanish class at the local community college. I mentioned the idea to Rosa. She said, "¡Gran idea!" which meant she thought it was a good one. I blushed.
Weeks passed in similarly blissful engagement. I spoke with a multitude of health professionals, weighing options, developing a plan-of-attack for my beginning engagement with Cocktail; I volunteered at the rec-center, painting ethnically diverse murals with the neighborhood school children; unemployment kicked in and I made dalliances into foreign language verse, challenging my preconceptions of form; my pen alive with the song of the world.
For the first time, living the J_ Mutual Funds credo, I made an investment in my community. When I was out of the woods with my varied ailments insofar as Rosa was concerned, she suggested a roast pig in celebration, a tradition in her native Puerto Rico. I was suffering no symptoms, aside from a generalized splotchiness, and heartily agreed. It was to be a celebration of my new birthday. Feliz Cumpleaños wishes were in order, Rosa said. Streamers were bought, a piñata ordered, invitations sent to Julio's classmates, Rosa's fortune-telling colleagues, Jorge's construction buddies. I even invited Tiffany—it was to be a truly grand fiesta after all.
Jorge nixed the party, and any future involvement with his family on my part, when he discovered the foundational nature of Sickness. I don't know how he did. I guess Rosa let it slip. All hell broke loose. Jorge wasn't hip to the fact that Infection was no longer strictly the purvey of Faggots & Reprobates, and if even so, it wasn't considered appropriate, in an enlightened society such as ours, to discriminate or otherwise foster ill will on such a basis anyhow. Not to mention his misconceptions about Contagion. Let me just say I understand his feelings completely. For one, his son and I had developed quite a kinship, Julio going so far as to refer to me as tio, or uncle. Jorge's visceral feelings of jealousy were perfectly understandable. I don't blame him in the least. No more than I blame Larry. Or myself for that matter. We are products of our environment. Jorge, Larry, Me. Each one of us. We are given limited resources. We're going to come up against these walls of understanding from time to time. It's just the way things are.
Jorge came in during one of our party-planning sessions—I was sharing some thoughts I had on a centerpiece with Rosa—and started screaming in Spanish. He was drinking from a twenty-two-ounce bottle of El Presidente and slurring his words and I couldn't understand anything he said. He was using advanced vocabulary and complex sentence structure and I couldn't understand anything he said. When I noticed he was wearing gloves, I cringed. Jorge punched me in the face and threw me out the door. The El Presidente bottle followed close behind. I could hear Rosa and Julio screaming and crying while he kicked me down the street. Jorge paid no heed to their lamentations. Jorge had huevos.
Notes from the Author
I did go to fortune teller on the Lower East Side of Manhattan a few times. And there were great bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches at the bodega next door. We never watched any actions films together, sadly.