Or What Happened on February 4, 2012
I can’t find a Starbucks open at 6 a.m., so I sit in my car and think. I can’t go back to my apartment. Paco is there, all white teeth and ready to sink them into me.
I know, I’ll take Lucas for the longest walk of his life.
So I go back to the apartment building, park my car, and start walking Lucas in Parque Luis Muñoz Rivera, which is right across the building and it’s absolutely beautiful, and you should visit, ok? The first female governor of Puerto Rico, Sila Calderón, did a damn good job of revamping it.
So I walk and walk and walk. Lucas is at first, dumbfounded. But then he is schnauzer elated.
He can chase iguanas to his heart’s content. He can mark every single tree he can see. He can fart to his heart’s delight. He can sit down and look up at the sky (something he does periodically) to watch a helicopter or an airplane go by.
I swear my dog is a freaking genius, but I’m getting tired though, so I decide to go back to my prison of harassment.
When I get back to the building lobby, I bump into a guy that is bearded and wearing a blue bow-tie. He looks familiar, he’s in his 70s, but I can’t quite place him. I know I’ve seen him before though.
He starts asking about my dog: “Is that a schnauzer? He’s too big to be a miniature, so is he a standard? What kind of dog is that? Does he bark a lot?”
I answer his questions and keep examining him: he looks like someone I know (or knew). He also looks like a professor from Oxford…but Puerto Rican style: shorter, hairier, darker skin. All he’s missing is some kind of ceremonial academic robes.
Next thing I know, he asks: “Do you want to buy my apartment?”
“Well…um, right now, I have no money, and actually, the apartment I’m staying at is also for sale, and I’m looking for buyers for THAT apartment.” [this is all true since this was part of the deal with Lisa]
But he goes, “Excellent! Then you should see my apartment and look for a buyer too! You get the commission if you find me a buyer!”
And I think, Well, what the hell? Might as well, right? It’s a buyer’s market, no one’s buying, but what the hell, right?
Then again, this is a total stranger. My mother warned me of these.
Suddenly, Paco appears in the lobby and mouths at me: “¡Tu café está listo!” [“Your coffee is ready!” I never asked him to make me coffee]
Paco is now gyrating his pelvis at me in an obscene manner, and my decision is final: I’ll go with the bow-tie.
The bearded bow-tie shows me his apartment. It’s huge: it’s a four-bedroom. He’s all self-effacing, saying things like, “Pardon the mess, it’s a bachelor pad….” and “You know how we men are, very messy.”
It’s not that messy, but there are stacks and stacks and stacks of papers in a few places. Fine, it’s a bit messy.
The place though is decorated with a trillion crosses: crosses made out of wood; crosses made out of sterling silver; crosses made out of Travertine marble; crosses made out of palm leaves; crosses made out of cardboard; crosses made out of plastic made in China, and crosses made out of dried pineapple and coconut fruit chunks.
There are also images of every kind of Jesus imaginable: Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes; Jesus with brown hair and brown eyes; Jesus with a beard; Jesus without a beard; Jesus as a baby; Jesus chastising people in a temple (his mouth is open, he’s pointing at something, and he’s screaming); Jesus in the manger; Jesus with a flock of sheep; Jesus sitting on a rock reading science fiction stories to children; Jesus being kissed by Judas on the cheek; Jesus walking on water; Jesus alone in the desert with a serpent, looking defeated, following him; Jesus on the cross with his ribs showing and looking quite upset with his situation.
And then there are rosaries hanging every where else: from nails, from hooks, from red tacks, from doorknobs, from furniture, from the toaster, from the Krups coffee machine, and from a Saint Jude candle.
Most of the population in Puerto Rico is Catholic (I grew up in an extremely conservative Catholic household myself), but I’ve never seen anything like this. Not even my mother, who was educated by the nuns of Sacre Coeur and expressed a desire to become a nun right before I left for college, would go this far.
Bowtie shows me all the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the balcony, and even the Puerto Rican furniture (“This was made two years before the Spanish-American War. It was made in 1896.” I join him in his moment of silence) that he owns [“It’s made of caoba; this is worth thousands of dollars!”].
I notice though, that one room remains closed. It is also sporting what looks like a security key from Matlock.
“I assume this is the fourth bedroom, correct?” I say nodding toward the closed door.
“Ah!” he says reverently. “Let me show you this room. This is a very special room.”
He opens the door, and I see a beautiful wooden desk with a decrepit Tiffany lamp. There are more crucifixes on the walls and what appears to be an autographed picture of Pope Benedict XVI himself. (He who is infamous for wearing cherry red Prada shoes in Rome.)
Next to the desk is a kneeling bench. He had the windows replaced with stained glass, and there’s window with a South Rose motif from the Notre Dame Church in Paris. Quite beautiful really. The sun is coming in and casting sun squares and squiggles of all colors on the desk.
“Don’t be shy! Come in come in!”
I come in and make the sign of the cross.
“No no,” he chides. “Look look!”
He points toward the wall behind me. I’m waiting to see the sarcophagus of some saint that he stole from Rome.
But no. All I see are guns on pristine white shelves.
There are revolvers, rifles, shotguns, Falconets, Howitzers, AK-47s, M16s, M4s, a FAMAS, and personal handguns. There are no Nerf guns, but there are bullets of all shapes and sizes lined up according to size on every single shelf.
He takes a rifle delicately, with the fingers of a pianist, and opens its breech. Then, he moves the lever upwards and pulls the bolt as back as he can. He does this several times.
I take two steps back.
“Oh don’t be afraid,” he says kindly. “It’s not loaded.”
“Well, that’s good, but can you stop doing that?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. But I love guns. Here, hold it.”
“HOLD IT,” he commands.
So I hold the rifle. It’s actually heavier than I thought it would be. I quickly give it back to him.
“Now isn’t that grand?” he asks to no one in particular. He places the rifle back on the shelf. “Now, I want to show you something special. Oh wait, before I do.” He pulls out a gigantic thing, and I know I have seen this gigantic thing before. He places it at my feet in front of me.
I saw it on Terminator 2.
“This baby here, this is an MM1 Grenade Launcher.” He pulls out some body armor. “You never know, you want to be prepared. And these,” he takes out a string of grenades and places them around his chest, Arnold style, “go here because they’re easier to lock and load, you know?”
“Excellent!” I hear myself say. “Now, um…” I want to get out of here as soon as possible.
Too late: he has gone over to a safety deposit box and is entering a code. He takes out something wrapped in black velvet.
“Do you know what this is?” he asks, his eyes shining.
“Yes, but not just ‘another gun,’” he says smiling. He removes the black velvet wrapping just like Daniel Day-Lewis removed Michelle Pfeiffer’s glove in The Age of Innocence: slowly, sensually.
“This,” he says. “Guess what this is.”
I shake my head.
“This is a Colt Paterson No. 2. It was designed in the 1800s. It has the name of its former owner engraved here,” he says pointing to some illegible calligraphy on the shiny silver barrel.
“Touch it,” he urges.
“No, thank you.”
“Fine,” I touch it with my index finger, he closes his eyes, and exhales slowly.
“Now didn’t that feel good?”
He ignores me, but I am now back at the door. “Well, a good thing about this room is that I can sell it as a panic room.”
“Exactly what I was thinking!” he trills. He puts the relic back in the safe and leads me to the kitchen. “Here,” he says taking out a notepad. “Here’s my phone number, let me know if you get a buyer.”
I take the paper, fold it quickly, and place it in my jeans’ back pocket.
“Oh, and one more thing,” he says. Who is he, Steve Jobs?
He opens a drawer in the kitchen and pulls out a petite gun, the kind of gun a prostitute would use “just in case.” “This one’s loaded, you know.”
He points it at me.
I knew it. All my life has been building up to this: being shot by a 70-year-old man. All my triumphs and failures, my successes and heartbreaks have been preparing me for this very moment.
“Good for you!” I hear myself say. “Did you know that Stephen Colbert calls his gun Precious?”
He frowns. “Who’s Stephen Colbert?” The gun is still pointed right at me.
“It’s this guy that’s like super funny, and he pretends to love guns, and get this. He had ear cancer.” I keep looking back and forth between the gun’s barrel and the man’s eyes. I decide I need to keep contact with the eyes.
“Yeah, how odd is that, right? It turns out that you can get cancer anywhere, including inside your tympanum.”
He keeps pointing the gun at me.
“You can ever get cancer, get this, on your eyeball. Or worse, inside your cornea.”
“Really?” He takes out handkerchief and wipes his brow, and yet the gun keeps pointed at me.
“Yeah, and there’s this place in Boston called the Schepens Eye Research Institute where they research just that: eyeball cancer. In fact, I worked there. They made me give eye cancer to mice.”
“And did you give eye cancer to mice?”
“No, sir. I said, I can’t give eye cancer or any kind of cancer to a mouse. They’re just so cute, you know?”
“Good girl,” he says, and the gun wavers. “But who the fuck is Stephen Colbert?”
Shit, he just used the “f” word. This could now go either way.
“He’s on Comedy Central, and he fantasizes about Jane Fonda every night.”
The old man drops his gun. “Jane Fonda, huh? She’s hot.”
“Yes, she is. Have you seen Barbarella?”
“Of course I have seen it. I own it. Barbarella keeps me company at night.”
“Right, Barbarella is like your guardian angel, right?”
He lets out a laugh and says: “Something like that.”
He suddenly drops the gun and places it back in the drawer. He doesn’t close the drawer though.
I am an unstoppable word salad. “When Stephen was a kid, he got a tumor somewhere inside his ear, ok? A very very rare condition. He got an operation, and now he can only hear out of one ear.”
He’s looking at me pensively. “Interesting.”
“And get this,” I say trying to sound excited. “He had Jane Fonda on his show, and guess what she did to him?”
His eyes open in curiosity.
“She kissed him on the mouth, ok? And she told him that he has the softest lips she’s ever kissed.”
He closes his eyes for a moment and murmurs: “If only we could all be so lucky.” He closes the drawer. Perhaps I will live.
“What’s his name again?”
“Yeah, that’s how he pronounces it, but it’s spelled C-O-L-B-E-R-T. He’s on Comedy Central. I highly suggest you watch him. I think you’ll like him. He talks about Jane Fonda all the time now.”
Then, I hear myself say, “I would like to know how to shoot a gun.” [What is wrong with me?]
“Great! You should, especially since you’re a woman. Every woman should know how to shoot, just in case. I can take you to the shooting range whenever you like.”
“Awesome,” I hear myself say. “Well, I’m going to go walk Lucas now.” I hurry towards the door, open it myself, and start running to my prison of harassment.
Finally, it hits me. The guy was my father’s lawyer during my parents’ divorce.
*Thank you to K. Genelin for suggesting such a wonderful title.