I woke up and felt the back of my head. The ringworm was still there, so I got up and walked to the mop closet and rubbed fungicide on the raised bump without taking time to look at it. I was feeling impatient and was too hungry to think clearly, so I dodged traffic and crossed Government Boulevard and entered a conveneince store that sold cigarettes, lottery tickets, cheap booze, and sugary snacks.
I felt the urge to steal a snack, one of the fried lemon pies covered in powdered sugar, but I knew that was a sign that my blood sugar was low and that my brain wasn’t right, so I paid for the fried lemon pie and ate it quickly, barely chewing and swallowing it in a few big gulps and licking the powdered sugar off my fingers as I walked back to the wrestling club. As I played Frogger between cars speeding down Government Boulevard, I wondered about my low blood sugar, and my mental health.
Big Daddy had been released from prison early because of his failing health – he had diabetes – and the FBI told us that he also had schizophrenia, the mental disease that caused you to hallucinate and imagine conspiracy theories, and that it was hereditary, so I had begun questioning why I craved sugary snacks and why my mind woke up with thoughts already racing and Dolly Parton songs already playing. And why I was hungry all the time lately, or at least hungrier than usual. Maybe I had diabetes and was crazy, too. He always had the munchies. Maybe that’s why I wanted to steal the lemon pie.
I had gotten my nickname by stealing. As soon as I started attending Scotlandville Magnet in 9th grade, I began stealing lunch snacks from a convenience store in Scotlandville that also sold cigarettes and cheap booze to kids of any age. I don’t remember what prompted me to steal the first time, other than I was skipping school with some older kids who said they were hungry but only had enough money for a pack of cigarettes and a couple of bottles of cheap wine. I stole a few sugary snack cakes and surprised them when we arrived in Zachary to smoke and drink in the closest public parks. They laughed as I poured snacks out of my pockets and backpack, and asked how I did that without anyone knowing.
I told them my dad had taught me when we hitchhiked around, which wasn’t completely true. He’d smirk and look bashful and take a few shrimp from all-you-can-eat buffets and toss them at me and tell me to eat them quickly before we got caught again. He liked it, in a way, and giggled and let me in on the secret and we had fun. But he eschewed stealing, and told me and the restaurant manager that he didn’t think it was right to pay for two all-you-can-eat buffets when I was so small and wouldn’t eat much.
But, my new friends didn’t ask details, thankfully. They just thought it was cool that I spent summers hitchhiking around the country with my dad, because their dad’s were boring or weird, they said.
I felt confident that day, probably because of the liquid courage we were drinking, or because of a sugar high from all the stolen desserts, and I took out a deck of cards and asked if they’d like to see a con game, a supposed game of chance called three-card-monte that I learned on the road, which also wasn’t completely true.
I had learned three card monte from Scarne on Cards, an old book Mr. Samuels had lent me, and from Darwin Ortiz’s “At the Card Table,” which Dr. Z had lent me. But I wasn’t thinking about the books that day. I was just having fun with my new friends and sharing secrets, and I wasn’t thinking at all; although that may have been from the booze.
They enthusiastically said yes, they’d like to see a con game my dad taught me on the road, and I opened the pack of cards and slid off the top three cards, which happened to be the two black Jacks and a red five.
I paused, smiled from ear to ear, and said, “Hey look, it’s a band… It’s the Jackson Five…”
It took them a moment, but as soon as the first guy spit out his mouthful of wine and laughed the others followed. It definitely was the booze.
I relaxed and had fun tossing the three cards around in the park bench and making them always miss finding the red five, no matter how closely they watched my hands or looked at the backs of the cards trying to discern which was the red five.
They demanded to see the cards and I let them. They passed them around and looked for anything special about the cards, and I told them that they weren’t seeing the specially marked cards. They looked more closely, debating with each other what the secret markings could be, but eventually gave up and asked me to show them.
I took the cards and held them chest-height and said that I had marked them with a small crease, a tiny fold only I could see. They looked doubtful as they peered closely, so I said I’d make it more obvious. I squinted my eyes and peered at the packet of three cards as if looking for the exact spot that would work, then I crudely bent the packet in half and pressed the fold into a sharp crease, and asked if they could see it now. More laughs and a few groans.
I said I also made a tiny tear in the cards, and showed them by tearing a semi-circle in the folded cards and opening them to show a round hole the size of a half dollar through the center. More laughter and jokes about having to steal another packet of cards now, and as the laughter died down I said that I had to mark the black five differently than the others, and asked them to watch and not be distracted. When they did, I shook my hands and the black five was suddenly dangling in mid-air, linked through the black Jacks. A few shouted Oh shit! and a few jumped up and rand around us in small circle, laughing. Wait! Wait! I said. It gets better. I tore the black Jacks and allowed the red five to fall onto the ground, then blew on the jacks and dropped them next to the five with the tear restored and showing all three cards with unbroken half-dollar sized holes.
More Oh shits! and laughing, and while they did that I held the deck of cards and secretly folded the top three cards in half and then in half again so that they were an irregularly shaped small packet I could hide in my hand. I had been practicing that secret fold for an entire summer, and had prepared the deck before by placing duplicates of the Jackson Five cards from another deck. After the fold, all I had to do was wait and see if they took the bait, like a fish biting the cricket you had hooked onto your line.
I waited, like I had read to do in the book I brought to my dad’s last year, Magic and Showmanship. I had learned that patience made the best magic, so I waited, and watched the audience with duplicate cards secretly folded in my hands.
I was terrified. A singer can miss a note, a guitarist can play a chord imperfectly, or a dancer may ocassionally slip, and an audience will forgive them. Not so with magic. People want to catch you, and it’s terrifying to be sitting in front of them with a secret palmed in your hand, especially because from your perspective it was obvious.
I was smiling, but my mind was terrified and wanted to hide my hand behind me. Instead, I kept holding my hands “naturally,” as the book said, and tried to not let my eyes fall onto the palmed cards in my hand, and tried not to let my hands shake in fear too much.
The audience’s laughter eventually died down, and my friends grabbed the cards and passed them around and talked about how it could have happened. They never looked at my shaking hands as they inspected the cards. That was called misdirection. And I was acting, pretending to not be nervous about being caught, because the book said that a magician was an actor playing the role of a magician.
I acted as if I were patient and not nervous about getting caught, especially by my first friends, and they finally looked up and asked if I could repair the holes. I said I couldn’t. That was too hard I said as I absent-mindedly folded the cards into an irregularly shaped small packet in front of them, smiling, but shocked that they couldn’t see what the palmed cards that were so obvious from my perspective.
I finished folding and ostensibly tossed the packet onto the park bench, but actually kept the torn cards and tossed the other packet I had palmed in my hand. It was my own version of Bobo’s coin switch, from Bobo’s Coin Magic that I had borrowed from either Mr. Samuels or Dr. Z, and I smiled genuinely when it worked for the first time in front of my friends, not just in front of a mirror all summer.
We smoked and drank and laughed for a few minutes, and I asked if they’d let me try to do what they asked: repair the holes. They said of course, and leaned forward and put their eyes on the ostensibly folded but torn cards. They would catch me this time, they said.
I stared at the packet on the bench and concentrated and mumbled and took a deep breath and held it until they all were staring at the packet on the bench, then I put the torn cards into my pocket and exhaled and said with a tone of relief, “It’s done. I think.”
They grabbed the cards and unfolded them and spent a few minutes shouting obscenities and running around in circles, and one them said I was a Magic Man. Another started humming the lines to Heart’s song, Magic Man, and I had my first nickname not based on my name or feet or flatulence, and it felt good to have a group of friends call me by a nickname, and want to spend time with me.
A few months later they and their friends that they began introducing me to changed my name to Magic Ian – my middle name is Ian, and Magic Ian looked like Magician when written. A few months later, I was Magik.
And I was expelled from Scotlandville Magnet High School for the Engineering Professions after my Halloween costume ignited Joseph Mills’s eyebrows.
It wasn’t intentional. I had been prototyping an invention to shoot fireballs from my sleeve using magicians “flash paper,” a folding spring from a mousetrap, and a flint and steel from a cub scout camping kit; and I wore the prototype globe as part of my costume.
I was a Heavy Metal Magician – this was 1986, two years after Van Halen’s 1984 album, and I had spiked long hair and and ear ring and torn jeans – and I added a shirt that said “Joseph Mills is a Wang” to impress my new friends. He said he’d tell a teacher on me, and I tested my invention on him, to scare him into not telling.
It worked surprisingly well. The invention did, not my plan of scaring him into not telling on me about my shirt. I was as suspended as Joseph was when the crumpled ball of flash paper flew from my globed hand and ignited in the air and landed between Joseph’s thick black glasses and his forehead and singed his eyebrows. Not really – flash paper burns quickly and leaves no trace, but scared him and he ran to the principal’s office and told them I burnt off his eyebrows. There was no evidence of fire except my now-empty glove, but my t-shirt that said Joseph Mills is a Wang was evidence of a motive, and I was suspended instead of expelled.
Eventually I was asked to never return to Scotlandville, because I did a few more foolish things that year, and skipped school at least once a week to go to Zachary or New Orleans and practice magic.
I’d later claim that the school that allowed serial killers to graduate had asked me to never return, and that was 100% true.
It was worth it. I had become hooked on magic the year before, in 1985, the year my dad was arrested, when David Copperfield stole the statue of liberty on live television.
He was the world’s most famous living magician, our generation’s Houdini. Tabloid magazines talked about how he made $33 Million a year as a magician, married a super model, and owned his own island.
He was a big deal, most people thought.
He made the Statue of Liberty disappear in his 1985 television special, and made a jet airplane vanish in 1986, and before each big illusion he did a a lot of sleight-of-hand magic. Ironically, the live audience watched him perform close-up magic on a big screen in their theaters that projected what the television camera showed everyone else in America, a close-up of his hands and face, and in 1985 I watched him performed Paul Harris’s “Immaculate Connection but without Paul’s pun about the Jackson Five, and I realized I was special. I knew how it was done. All of it. Fortunately, I was good at keeping secrets.
And, I also knew what few people knew: that David’s lovely assistant was actually one of two girls, identical twins, and that they were born in Baton Rouge and had gone to Baton Rouge High. David and Paul and the twins all knew Dr. Z, and he had taken me to the live show downtown, and had introduced me to David and the twins. I spent that evening with the producers of his show, close-up magicians most people had never heard of but were the creative minds behind a lot of his magic, Paul Harris and Chris Kenner.
I had learned from the best. Few kids get that lucky, and I knew it at the time, and I embraced every opportunity. And I kept secrets.
When David toured and performed in downtown Baton Rouge’s Centroplex, Dr. Z paid for my ticket and took me with his family and introduced me to them backstage. Chris sat with me and taught me the coin tricks he had performed on national television, but it would be almost a decade before I was confident enough to show that to other people, but Paul’s Immaculate Connection was easier to learn, and I was excited to show it to people as soon as I could. But even though I practiced every night for weeks, I failed the first few times I tried in front of people. Stage fright. It gets the best of us. But the more frequently I failed, the less badly I failed, and eventually I felt comfortable adding my own little inventions, like using Bobo’s coin switch on a small and tightly folded packet of cards.
I had turned 14 a few weeks before I allegedly singed Joseph Mills’s eybrows, and Dr. Z and Mr. Samuels said I was old enough to officially join the International Brotherhood of Magicians and enter magic tournaments, where judges grade you on effectiveness and creativity. I wasn’t very creative, I thought, but I was a diligent worker and reader and I devoured the magic books in Mr. Samuels’s and Dr. Z’s library. I began practicing my routine in friends, now that I had some that were closer to my age and had nothing else to do on school days.
Dr. Z’s library was what had hooked me on magic. He was one of the wealthiest people in Baton Rouge, and had built a home for his family that had a secret room behind their wall-sized bookshelf. Inside was another wall-sized bookshelf of magic books and a wall-sized television – the type in 1985 that looked like a giant box and protruded forward as far as the screen was wide – and stadium seats he had purchased when LSU remodeled their baseball stadium. The ceiling was covered in signed playing cards, and included signatures from famous magicians, celebrities, politicians, and friends. My name was up there from before people started calling me Magik, from when he taught me Michael Ammar’s “Card on the Ceiling.”
I absorbed all magic books I could, and eschewed anything assigned at school, and began piecing together a puzzle with three cards, the Jackson Five, which is the joke Paul used when he performed Immaculate Connection. 30 years later, he mummbled “Hmmm…” and told me he had never thought of combining it with three-card-monte, but that made sense, especially ending by restoring the cards. More importantly, it was a moment of astonishment; as Paul wrote in his book, The Art of Astonishment, Volume 1, you’re doing something that surprises people and lets them be fully present in that moment of astonishment, to forget about anything but being a kid.
I won the Louisiana state magic convention close-up contest for new junior members with that routine. I thought it was a big deal at the time, and when I asked Paul if I could put it in this book, he said of course. He’s a saint, and a really good magician.
In a way, I didn’t tell anyone the truth about David Copperfield and Paul’s Immaculate Connection because of Big Daddy. I had been an honest kid until I began getting bullied in the 5th grade, 1983, the year Blood Feud was released and all of America renewed their fascination with Hoffa. I was already a weird kid, with unusual habits from living with my dad, and the movie put a spotlight on me because teachers thought it was fun to have Edward Partin’s grandson in their class; they only knew what the news and movies told them, and like most people they thought Big Daddy was handsome and charming, and assumed I had a fun life with my family, and put up news clippings about him and told kids to make sure they watched the movie; it was a two-part television special, two hours a night for two nights.
I didn’t know what to do. My family had always been secretive, and told me to not talk about what happened at home, but suddenly everyone knew who I was and was asking questions I wanted to avoid. Instead, I blurted out anything interesting that I knew that was unrelated to Hoffa or my dad’s drug dealing, and I sounded crazy, even though I was trying to say what was allowed and avoid what wasn’t, and some times I didn’t know which was which, and became nervous.
Looking back in 2020, my favoite blurt was in a 1983 “show-and-tell,” where I said that Spiderman was a nigger named Richard, and that my Uncle Keith was bigger than he was.
I was sent to the principal’s office before I could show the photo of Richard Pryor in a Spider Man suit, with his mask in one hand and both of his eyes wide open and looking up at Uncle Kieth in fear, humor, or inebriation.
I had repeated that insensitive and inexcusable word without knowing its meaning – it was a word Richard tossed out regularly in his shows and movies and on Saturday Night Live – but that didn’t change the teacher’s reaction, especially because she was African American and our classroom was mostly white kids, and the kids began laughing before I could explain, and they being calling me unkind nicknames.
And to make it worse, I was going through a growth spurt that only affected my feet and hands and ears, so I was “Bigfoot,” “Dolly,” because of Dolly Parton, or “Fartin’ Partin,” because of a few flatulence incidents.
I sounded crazy, because by then, most people took for granted that Baton Rouge had become a filming location for Hollywood movies because of the Teamsters – Hoffa had financed a lot of movies and influenced producers to film in cities with a lot of Teamsters, and to use Teamsters to drive filming equipment and movie stars – and I didn’t know that they didn’t know that my family was involved in making movies.
I saw a lot of celebrities back then, but learned to keep it a secret. You’d be surprise how many movies were made with teamsters behind the scenes. If you wait for the ending of a lot of American movies, especially from the 70’s and 80’s, you’ll see the Teamster’s logo scroll up and take up the entire final screen of most films, including “The Toy,” staring America’s most famous comedian at the time, Richard Pryor. He plays an African American who’s paid by a rich white Southern gentlemen, Jackie Gleason, to become a living toy for the spoiled rich white kid living in a Southern plantation-style mansion, and the kid makes poor Richard dress like Spider Man, and because my family ran the teamsters, and the teamsters had secretly funded movies for decades, my family coordinated the movie and met the stars. Kieth was kind enough to take me when my dad was in Arkansas during the semesters I was in school.
I had no idea who Richard Pryor was, nor did I know that Jackie Gleason was famous. At the time, because they were acting, Jackie looked and sounded like other southern gentlemen in Baton Rouge, and Richard was high and said nigger a lot.
When Keith took me to the the set of The Toy, and Richard took off his mask for a photo, I remembered that Spiderman was a nigger named Richard, and he was afraid of my big Uncle Keith, and I felt that would make a great story at my 1st grade show and tell.
Poor Richard had looked up at Keith with a face full of terror from the big white man squeezing him, or as a brilliant comedian who helped America to confront racism, or as a man did a lot of drugs. There were a lot of interesting and layered stories to tell about that day, but I chose to say that Spiderman was a nigger named Richard.
This happened a few times, but with other actors. And I became confused about what were actors vs my family, who was on television every week and even in movies.
Big Daddy had been on television and in the news weekly throughout the 70’s, especially after Hoffa disappeared. In Baton Rouge, that continued for a year or so after he was imprisoned in Texas in 1980. And in 1983, the same year that Spiderman was in Baton Rouge, I mistakenly thought Big Daddy was in one of America’s most watched films, Blood Feud, about how the FBI and Big Daddy slyly infiltrated the Teamsters and stopped Hoffa from blowing up Bobby Kennedy’s home, which is how I originally heard that story.
I became confused about what my grandfather looked like because I hadn’t seen him since I was seven, four years before, when he bought me my first spin-casting fishing rod, and I could only remember that he was big and handsome and smiled all the time. And coincidentally, the actor who played Ed Partin in Blood Feud, Brian Denehey, looked a lot like Big Daddy, just as Robert Blake looked like Hoffa, and when I told adults that Brian Denehey was my grandfather they laughed and said I had a vivid imagination, which I felt was a polite way of calling me crazy.
It got worse. When one teacher had a photo John Wayne decorating her wall, I told the class that the big, famous actor was my grandfather, but even kids knew who John Wayne was back then. I didn’t. I just recognized him from a photo of him in the same cowboy suit with my grandmother, Mamma Jean.
She didn’t keep photos of Big Daddy after their divorce in the 60’s, but kept a photo of her with John Wayne from one of his 1960’s movies he filmed in the south when she was still with Big Daddy.
John Wayne was a big, handsome man in a photo next to my grandmother and all of her grandkids except me, so I mistakenly thought that John Wayne must be family, and when I saw the movie poster with John Wayne wearing the same clothes I arrives at the logical conclusion that Big Daddy was John Wayne in the movie poster The Horse Soldiers, about civil war soldiers in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Of course that makes sense now, but I was a confused little kid and not good at keeping secrets yet. Combine that with me stinking from not bathing when I was with my dad, being removed from school because I had spread lice to other kids, and not playing sports because the principal didn’t want the bloody belt welts on the back of my legs being seen, and you can imagine why I felt that my life between 1982 and 1985 was unpleasant, and why I learned to keep my mouth shut in school and to only talk to adults in the magic club; they thought everything I said was part of my act, and even helped me get better at acting.
From 1985 to 1987 I was a delinquent in school and a scholar at home and at Granny’s.
Granny and Uncle Bob were supportive of magic and sympathetic of my situation, so they pooled their money to buy me my own little library of magic books. I studied them and practiced the secrets they revealed in front of them whenever I saw them, and at the monthly magic club meetings, and by myself in my room every night instead of playing sports or games with kids in school or near Wendy’s house. I became pretty good, or at least good enough to win a few contests and get paid to do a few shows at churches and hospitals whenever someone called Mr. Samuels and asked him to recommend a good, free magician for their charity events.
By 9th grade, I avoided true but crazy-sounding stories out of habit, and ironically filled the void with not-completely-true stories that sounded crazier, like hitchhiking across the country with my dad, stealing and gambling and selling drugs. In truth, we only hitchhiked to Kanasas and Texas for him to work, and only stole shrimp, and only gambled in a few poker games with his friends, who would get high and ask me to do more card tricks.
So I transitioned into Magik at Scotlandville, and when I began Belaire the older friends of my friends introduced me as Magik and told anyone who remembered me from before to back off from bullying. But after I met Big Daddy in 1986, after he was released from a Texas federal prison, I became determined to stop stealing and lying and to become a better person.
But, that day in 1990, a few days after Big Daddy’s funeral, I felt an urge to steal and wondered why that could be. Maybe Granny was right; old habits are hard to break.
I was feeling good after the sugar hit my system, so I got on my motorcycle and rode towards New Orleans, past Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, and got off at Oneal Lane and navigated through my old neighborhood to Wendy’s house to get clean clothes.
I stopped my motorcycle a few houses away and turned off the engine and took off my helmet. I kept my jacket on. I liked it, and knew I only had a few more weeks until the Louisiana heat would make anyone wearing a jacket seem crazy.
I paused in Wendy’s driveway and whistled a familiar tune. I paused and listened. I whistled again, and listened until I heard the thump! thump! of our Irish Setters wagging their tails. Wendy’s carport didn’t face the street, so Kelly and Shawn couldn’t see me, so I crept forward and whistled again. The wagging became louder and faster, and Kelly jumped onto the carport gate and wagged her tail fiercely while Shawn rolled over and wiggled and wagged his tail and waited for a belly rub. I rushed to the gate and let myself in and rubbed his belly and scratched her butt and told them I loved them, just like I had almost every night when I lived with Wendy.
Wendy came outside and said she didn’t hear me drive up, and I lied and told her I walked over from Mrs. Abrams’ house. I would have noticed she seemed sad, but I was still processing that she had lied to me about Maw Maw and Paw Paw, and I was focused on getting clean clothes. We chatted for a few minutes, then I went into my room. It hadn’t changed; the magic display was still set up from the reporter who interviewed me and took the color photos that Maw Maw had hung in her hallway.
I had a nice collection going back almost 10 years. Wendy had shown me my first magic trick when I was a little kid living with Paw Paw and visiting her in her apartment. My left arm was in a cast, so I had a hard time dressing myself. One day I tried putting my shirt on by laying it on the bed with the front facing me, and I navigated my cast through one sleeve and then put my right arm into the other sleeve and struggled to pull the rest over my head. When I finally got it on and looked in the mirror, it was backwards, and I got frustrated. Wendy heard me and came into my room and showed me how to put the shirt face-down first. I told her it was backwards, and she said she’d show me a magic trick, and after she showed me how to slide my arms in easily, I looked down and the shirt was facing the correct way on me. Tada! Like magic! she said. I started using the words tada! and magic, and soon after that Wendy and one of her boyfriends took me to a bar where a man heard me and taught me two real magic tricks, and Wendy and her boyfriend must have seen those two tricks a hundred times that weekend, because I was hooked. As Mr. Samuels said when I told him that story, I had caught the magic bug. It’s contagious, he said, and he showed me more, and lent me some of his books.
Wendy helped me perform, too, because one of her childhood friends, Debbie, had been hospitalized in a mental institution that had kids, too. She had schizophrenia, according to doctors but not the FBI, and would forget who everyone was except Wendy and me. I had known her since I was a little kid; she was one of the Kelly Girls that Mr. White hired to deliver telephone books around town, and Debbie and Wendy would drive around Baton Rouge singing and laughing and letting me help them. When Debbie turned 25, she became confused, like her mom and family that I knew and thought were crazy, and she was hospitalized and Wendy took me with her when she visited, which was often.
I grew up loving magic and terrified of becoming schizophrenic.
Wendy had become depressed when Granny and Uncle Bob got cancer, and she and her boyfriend were trying to buy another house and sell it but kept complaining about the housing crash, which was a lot like my sugar crash in that it was predictable but happened quickly and no one felt good about it. They left me with Uncle Bob for a few months to help take care of him, because Auntie Lo was too drunk by 2pm, and again by 4am when she had woken up and drank again. I spent a summer when I was 16 staying up all night with Uncle Bob and talking about life until Auntie Lo would get drunk again and the nurses would ask her to leave and I’d eat the hospital’s breakfast and practice magic with the kids in their common play room. The rest is history.
The walls of my old room were still covered with posters of famous magicians from books I read, like the escape artist Houdini, and a few Heavy Metal posters, like Van Halen and Guns-N-Roses and Metallica, and a few framed photos. But even I didn’t have a copy of full-page color photo of me from the Baton Rouge Advocate, because I was emancipated soon after it was taken and stopped performing magic to focus on wrestling Hillary Clinton. I thought about Maw Maw’s copy in her hallway as I took down a framed photo of the Stately Oak Tree that I had recognized by the convenience store yesterday.
I hadn’t made the connection until then, even though I had kept it ever since Paw Paw gave it to me the last time I saw him 10 years before. Until yesterday, I hadn’t thought much about it in a few years. Paw Paw must have taken the photo, because it showed the branch he used to rock me in, and he had it enlarged and framed. I remembered his cryptic final words to me. It stood out because it hadn’t made sense to me back then. He stood at the door of Wendy’s apartment and told me the funniest thing I had ever told him, and asked me to repeat it because I didn’t remember saying it. He said that when I got in trouble and he reached for his belt, I told him that belts were for holding up your pants, not hitting your Lil’ Buddy. He got excited and laughed and asked me to repeat it a few times, and for years I would joke that belts were for holding up your pants, not hitting your Lil’ Buddy; though I never really understood why he thought that was funny.
I threw the framed photo into my trash can. I still don’t know why.
I emptied my backpack of stinky clothes into my closet dirty clothes hamper and repacked it with clean clothes and added a new deck of cards and the gold magic-hat necklace Granny had made for me. I looked around, satisfied, knowing I could only carry so much on my motorcycle, then walked back to the kitchen.
Wendy’s lip was quivering, but I wasn’t paying attention to anything but the sense of irritation I felt and couldn’t explain. And my body was crashing after the sugar rush from breakfast, so I wasn’t thinking clearly, either. That’s too bad, because Wendy said some things I don’t remember, but wish I did. Maybe I was distracted by the immaculately decorated gift box she had wrapped around a brand new eel skin wallet with six $100 bills in it. Even after being irritated, I changed and became ecstatic; that money would pay for high school prom, and that was worth staying in school for. Wendy said some more things softly and not looking me in my eyes, but I wasn’t listening anyway, because I was becoming agitated again.
As Wendy talked, a lot began to make sense and that overwhelmed my thoughts. Or I my low blood sugar meant I was diabetic. Either way, I wasn’t listening. All I could see was her screaming without restraint or moderation the same year I was bullied after Big Daddy’s movie, when she must have been pestered at work in the way adults inadvertently bully by asking personal questions of private people, and she drank after work and yelled at me how she couldn’t get a job when I was a little kid because of her name, and now she was afraid to lose the one she had because of her name.
She hated that fucking name, and hated my fucking dad, and wished she had the money for an abortion after he got her pregnant. I only heard those words from seven years before, or was reliving the feelings they created, and in my mind I only saw her eyes and mouth clenched in rage and her hand holding her father’s belt that she said he had used on her before she met my dad and he and I ruined her life, and I heard myself screaming until I was too tired to scream, and then I heard the belt hitting me again and again and her screaming until she was too tired to move her arm any more, and I remembered remembering a feeling of familiarity from before Debbie and Wendy would pick me up from Paw Paws and laugh and play. That year had a few more incidents like that, until my growth spurt led to me almost being as big as Wendy and probably just as strong, and since then all I had focused on were magic books and performing whenever Wendy visited Debbie in the mental hospital, until I met Coach Ketelsen at Belaire High School and began wrestling.
I dismissed the gift – Big Daddy had always given gifts instead of love, so I never wanted gifts – and I dismissed Wendy for reasons I couldn’t articulate then, but I was excited about having $600 and I missed my dogs, so I went to the back yard to say goodbye to Shawn and Kelly. They boosted my energy, and I left Wendy’s house happy and listening to the thump! thump! of their tails as I left the carport and turned towards the street and my motorcycle parked a few houses down, and began planning the best prom ever.
I only had to put up with school for another two months, then I’d wrestle in junior olympics, then I’d leave for the army. That was a lot to think about, but on that day, as I rode my motorcycle away from Wendy’s house, I just smiled and imagined how much fun I’d have at prom with my friends. After a lot of funerals that year and becoming an adult and joining the army and wrestling Hillary Clinton, I was happy to be nothing more than a teenager planning their prom, without worrying about health insurance or whether or not FBI agents were following me.
I knew what I’m about to say, but I didn’t feel it. Deep down, I was just a kid, with my own worries. But I knew that windy have been abused by her father, especially after I met him once, when I was four years old, and uncle Bob took me to see him. It was the only time I’ve ever seen uncle Bob upset and yell at someone.
Granny fled Canada with Wendy when Wendy was five years old. Granny was a single mother with an affinity for scotch in good times, but she did what she had to do at the time as a young woman without an education, and she moved to Louisiana to live with her sister, Lois, and Lois’s husband, Robert Desico.
Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo had moved to Louisiana a few years before, And bought a house in a middle-class white suburban in Sherwood Forest, after the famous thief who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, Robin Hood. They never had children. And I enjoyed life as much as they could as single Canadians who had They had room for granny, and granny and Wendy live with them for three or four years until Granny’s job at copolymer, north of the airport, a long chemical alley, allowed her to purchase a home near the airport, it was a modest home. But, granny was happy there. Her daughter safe, she paid her bills on time and lived within her means, and with any money left over she enjoyed her booze and her cigarettes and her books. She was the same person she had always been, but with a daughter, and in Baton Rouge; she never tried to get her U.S. citizenship. Shit! she said. I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me who I am or what I believe.
Wendy was never good in school, academically. But she excelled in art and athletics, and she enjoyed reading the books she chose for herself, and Granny always bought her books before booze.
Wendy kept her self, and only had a few close girlfriends. She shunned people who asked personal questions, and in the Catholic parishes of southern Louisiana, she shunned people who asked the questions that always seem to come first: what’s your name, who’s your momma, where does your daddy work, and what church do you go to.
Granny was atheist.
Then Wendy met my dad. He didn’t ask her anything about herself or her family, and he never discussed his. She admired his courage and strength, and thought his dark eyes and long black hair where rebellious and intelligent and mysterious. He said he’d refuse the draft, and he dared anyone to make him fight an unjust war. He was brave and handsome, and on the eve of New Year’s, 1972, when President Johnson had been escalating the Vietnam conflict and sending American boys overseas, and only a few months after the actor and and war hero Audrey Murphy died, she lost her virginity to my dad.
10 months later, I was born on October 5, 1972. Wendy told me more than once that neither was a pleasant experience.
A few months after I was born, that 17 year old high school dropout found herself married to a man who did not love her, who was in Jamaica or Cuba on his motorcycle, buying drugs wholesale, and she had learned who he was and why he kept his family a secret, and she felt ashamed and alone and scared; and when she saw a handwritten note on a coffee shop wall asking to split gas on road trip to California, she had love in her eyes and flowers in hair and left impulsively, and left that afternoon without picking me up from daycare.
That night, daycare employees didn’t know what to do with me, and they wanted to go home to their children, and the only phone number they had for Wendy was an emergency contact she had given them, her best friend in school, Linda White.
Linda’s dad picked me up at the daycare and did what needed to be done, despite threats from men much bigger than he was. He was like Popeye looking after Sweet Pea, and I was his Lil’ Buddy, and he was my Paw Paw, and the rest is history.