"We figured the table legs & couch cushions were stuffed with coke or heroin...."
words: ed markowski
i worked that night with a filipino nurse named teeta.
teeta was mysterious.
teeta had the adrenalin of a poodle.
teeta talked like a machine gun.
teeta was a sleazy question mark but nobody dared to ask her any questions.
teeta called herself "a dragon lady" but everyone called her the iguana just because it fit her like a glove.
teeta claimed her family was living in chicago & running a restaurant called manilla nights.
teeta claimed she lived with a chinese woman named mrs. wing.
teeta claimed she & mrs. wing were running a care home for indigent senior citizens.
teeta claimed three of them died & left their money to her & mrs. wing.
"that's why i pay so well for people to help me."
teeta always needed a ride to or from work, the airport, the grocery store.
even though nobody asked, she explained it this way...
"i canot get around when mrs. wing take car mrs. wing own car mrs. wing very busy woman."
she paid rick the janitor two-hundred dollars for a ride to the airport.
when rick picked her up, she added a hundred dollars & five new london fog rain coats.
he peddled the coats for fifty bucks apiece
he drank stoly on the job for a month.
rick the janitor never asked any questions.
neither did tom or i when she offered to pay us "three-thousand if you rent u-haul truck
in your name with your credit card & get my kitchen table & couch out of
storage in chicago."
we said no.
we figured the table legs & couch cushions were stuffed with coke or heroin.
at eleven o'clock teeta cornered me in the employee lounge.
"can you give me ride to filipino cultural center? we are having big new year's eve party."
"where's it at?"
"six mile road between woodward & hamilton."
"sorry teeta, i'm going to tom's party on the other side of town."
"i will reward you."
"i wouldn't charge you if i was going that way."
"there will be delicious food there, lumpia, pancit, adobo chicken & ginataang pinipig."
"pinipig... it is very very sweet & very delicious filipino dessert."
"i'll try it next year."
"i will give you beautiful twenty year old filipino girl for the whole night.
she will be worth your trouble she too is very very sweet & delicious i win her
by picking lucky tile from flower stack in mrs. wing's mahjong game."
ask brian, his wife left him last week."
at five minutes to 1986, i walked through the door & met her in tom's living room.
our eyes swept across each other like searchlights.
she was sipping bourbon, she was sitting alone, she was dressed in black velour from head to toe.
her auburn hair tinted her milk white skin off white ivory.
"aren't you cold?" she asked, pointing at a narrow rip in the knee of my jeans.
"not really. aren't you hot in all that black velour."
"is that a question?"
"what is it then?"
"it began as an observation & ended as a rock solid conclusion."
"are you sure about that."
she said she was in town to visit her folks over the holidays.
she said she went to college with tom's wife.
she said her folks were in toronto for the new year.
she told me she taught senior english & art classes at a high school
in a small town west of kalamazoo.
she told me she lived in a centennial farmhouse in a vinyard on a lake
just beyond the outskirts of town with her five year old son.
she told me she'd been divorced since 1981 "& that prick & my best
friend had the nerve to get married two months after the divorce. they live
in ohio. he's a lawyer. you're not a lawyer are you?"
"no, i do three things really well & alot of other things because i have to."
"what three things?'
"i work with the mentally ill, i play basketball & i write."
"what do you write?"
"i'll show you. i've got a few things in my car."
"are you good?"
"that depends on how badly i want to impress the audience."
twenty minutes later we were at leigh's parents house.
an eighteen room palace that overlooked lake st. clair.
her brother was passed out at the kitchen table between a
dead fifth of four roses & an unopened vial of valium.
dick clark was introducing tears for fears on the television.
they launched into everybody wants to rule the world.
we went into her father's den.
the shelves were filled with sailing trophies & engineering degrees.
pictures of her & her sister & brother with their folks at a marina.
pictures of her & the family hoisting champagne flutes on a dock in montreal.
pictures of all of them sailing in the port huron to mackinaw race.
pictures of her son smiling, high on his grandpa's shoulders.
big money people.
the old man was an engineering honcho at g.m.
her mother was a history professor.
her sister was an interior decorator & married to a judge.
she said, "oh & my brother mike, he's a drunk, he;s the family cur."
i thought about my basement apartment..
it was the same size as the old man's den.
i had a chair that i had to tell people not to sit in because the legs would break.
i had three-hundred dollars in the bank.
i had eight bucks in my pocket.
i had a stick of pepperoni,
a half pound of hot pepper cheese,
four italian rolls,
a can of anchovies with capers,
and a half gallon of carlo rossi pink chablis in my refrigerator.
my last girlfriend didn't require much more than that.
i read three poems.
i was halfway down the first page of a children's story i was
working on called black bear;s christmas when she stopped me.
"would you be interested in doing a presentation for the students at my school?"
the next day, we met for lunch at a korean joint a block from my apartment.
i borrowed thirty dollars from my landlady & picked up the tab.
then i booked my room at the inn in the vinyards on a lake just beyond the outskirts of town.
three days later leigh called me.
" come out on friday & check out the sound system in the auditorium. jon will be
with his dad in ohio."
when i got to lawton, john mellencamp was screaming from the car radio, "i was
born in a small town, went to school in a small town, gonna die in a small town."
after the sound check, leigh took me over to the school librarian's egg farm to
introduce me. i read two long poems that highlighted the struggles of my immigrant
grandparents once they landed at ellis island.
anne told me i was "magical."
leigh winked at me.
i bought three dozen eggs to take back to the city.
i felt way too comfortable inside leigh's house. but there was
something to be said for a four poster bed, egyptian cotton sheets
& a good box spring.
it was magical.
on the 15th, anne introduced me to the students & faculty of lawton high.
"ed is a truly remarkable urban poet & folk artist."
the kids & the teachers dug the show.
the teachers & the kids dug the guy in red seersucker.
the kids & the teachers dug the sucker from detroit.
the teachers & the kids dug the seer in red pinstripes.
that night leigh said, "i've never fallen in love this fast, how many kids do you want?"
i wondered what universe dave henry & dick moore were travellling through.
the last time i read in public, dave had pretty much arranged the show & dick
was brilliant as a skid row re-make of johnny carson. that was back in 1979.
i didn't want kids in 1979 & i didn't want kids now. then, she kissed me again
& i heard myself say, "two or three."