As I said, Alisa Cooper had no idea what I had meant when I told her that my folks were “a little different.” As I mentioned, with a name like America, and no last name, most people thought that my parents were either super hippies or super patriots or something like that. I couldn’t be so lucky.
How Leon and Roberta, my parents, ever got together in the first place was always a mystery to me. Probably to everyone else that knew them, too, but I didn’t discuss it with them, so I don’t know. Then again, most couples I meet seem to defy explanation. Or, is it just me? Do you ever see two people together, like at a restaurant or something and just say to yourself, “What does she see in him?” Or, “How did he hook up with her?” Anyway, Leon and Bobby were just more so, I guess. I mean, you’d of thought, if you knew them, that they’d be the kind of people that would never get married to anyone, either of them, let alone to each other. And, here they were, married to each other. And not some quick, flash in the pan marriage either. We just celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary last year. I got them these matching Personalized Lithophane Photo Carved Night Lights. It was a stupid gift really, but as you can imagine, they’re not exactly the simplest couple in the world to buy for. It was from a picture of the three us from when I was little. We were at some water park or something. I had always gotten a kick out of that picture, because we were all wet and smiley. You could tell we were having a really good time, even if the picture was a little out of focus, and there were a few of these water droplets in the picture that must have splashed onto the lens. They said they loved it. Especially Leon, who kept saying how it was the perfect gift and all, but he does that a lot. The truth is, I could have given him a rock, and Leon would tell me it was the most beautiful gift in the world. Anyway, to tell you the truth, I’ve been home a few times since, and I have seen those lights anywhere. Not that I did a major search or anything, but they weren’t gracing the dining room table. Maybe they were in their bedroom or something. I haven’t gone into their bedroom since I was nine. I have some issues with that room actually.
They rarely ever talked with me about their early years together, or even their childhood. All I did know was that when they first met, Leon wasn’t wearing dresses in public and Roberta, Bobby to everyone who knew her, was simply referred to as a “tom boy.” I eventually came to understand that, except for those four minutes and eight seconds that brought me into existence, Bobby never surrendered her body to anyone, including my dad. And, even that one time was probably a guerrilla maneuver, like a nursery spider playing dead to attract a mate, a tactical surrender in order to gain an advantage. I learned all about nursery spiders from some nature show on television. Anyway, my Mom would’ve made those women in my “Language and Women” class really happy. She always wore the pants in the family, Leon, the dress, figuratively, if not always literally. The only thing that was strange, I mean aside from the whole setup itself, was that Leon, the transvestite, was always referred to as my Dad, and Bobby, the bull dyke, as my Mom. Even they gave that little nod to biology and nature. Which is funny, if you think about it. In any case, from a very young age, I started calling them by their first names, anyway. I don’t remember too much about it, really.
Of course, up until seven or eight, I didn’t even realize anything was different about my family. To me, they were normal. You know, when you grow up, that’s just what you know. Bobby was a great mom, playing “father,” taking me hiking and fishing and all that stuff that boys do with their dads. And Leon was a loving and doting dad, playing “mother,” spoiling me sometimes, fretting over everything I did, and stuff like that. In fact, sometimes I had the feeling that they typecast themselves into each other’s role as model parents, even if it was maybe a little forced. If they had chosen a last name, it probably would have been ‘Brady.’
Of course, Freud would have had a field day with all this, I’m sure. Speaking of Freud, when I was nine, I wandered into my parent’s room and found a huge rubber penis strapped to a belt on their bed. It looked very real and very large. It sure ended any castration fantasies I may have entertained about my father; I don’t think even Sigmund would have disagreed. Its size probably had a lot to do with my feelings of inadequacy growing up, too. That’s probably why I was never successful with girls or anything. As I’ve mentioned, I have some issues with that experience. I’ve never set foot in their bedroom again. I don’t want to find anything else lying around, if you know what I mean. You see it’s probably because of that phallus that I became a terrorist.
Well, okay, maybe not.
However, none of this, of course, was I ready to share with Alisa Cooper, five minutes into our first conversation. As I said, she had no idea what I had meant when I told her that my folks were “a little different.” I was wiling to leave it at that for now. Besides, I figure it was a good thing that she thought we had common ground.
She even volunteered her name. “I’m Alisa,” she said. “Alisa Cooper.” Like I said, her name reminds you of someone you think you should know, an image of a cute, sweet, little girl hiding a hatchet behind her back. In case you were wondering, she isn’t related to that seventeenth century witch with a similar name, nor any of her reincarnations. She caught my expression, and smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, well, like I said,” her smile broadened. “I kind of know what you mean. They didn’t think about their last name when the picked my first.”
“That happens a lot, really, you’d be surprised. I once had a girl in my third grade, named Robin. Her last name was Hood.” We both laughed. It was really cool. I was having a spectacular time. For a moment, we were solid. We were as tight as a ball of string.
Then, of course, it all started to unravel. I stood there reveling in the moment. I imagined our upcoming date; how I would pick her up, and we would stand there listening to the speaker, becoming inspired and excited against the oppression. Our passions for justice would become enflamed, and it would fan the fire we shared for each other. It would be a romance born of activism, of a pursuit of social cause. Then I imagined our upcoming wedding, and then our marriage. I know your thinking I was getting carried away, but you never know where these things could lead. We sure couldn’t mess up our children’s names any worse than our parents did. Really, you never know. Whole nations were formed on less substance, actually. It happens on television all the time. There’s an old TV show where the married couple started out the exact same way - Family Ties, I think it’s called, and they all seemed perfectly happy. You can look it up, if you don’t believe me.
While I was living all this, she stood there waiting. I imagined she was playing out her version of the same fantasy. But then she started shifting her feet, then her head. I guess I was reveling a bit too long. The moment had passed, and I forgot to hitch a ride. “I really got to go back to passing these flyers out,” she said.
I panicked. I needed to do something. So, failing to come up with anything brilliant and suave, I asked a stupid question. The tactic of the desperate, but it works every once in a while. “So, when is this rally?” I was still holding the pamphlet in my hand. The date and time were shouting off the page. Only a former president, or the guy that came up with their organization’s stupid name, would have been so blind as to ask such a question. As soon as it left my lips, I started making plans to become one of those suicide bombers. I’m pretty sure that most of them sign up, only after they were talking with some girl and their mouth started acting solo, ignoring signals from their brain. It’s a good thing there weren’t any recruiting stations in my neighborhood, or I’d be signing up three times a day.
The truth is she saved me. She was really a compassionate woman. I could tell. She grabbed my arm and pointed to the brochure, not critical or anything, but just to point out where the place, date and time was printed. The best part was she touched my arm. Did I mention that, already? Oh, sorry, but it was really fantastic. The only problem was I didn’t really know how to handle it so well. I kind of froze. I mean, I had just been making plans to build a future with this woman, which, I got to tell you, was hopefully going to involve a lot of touching, but I never really expected it. And, then when it did happen, my whole system nearly shut down. What was even worse was I caught a whiff of her, and I don’t think I’ve ever smelled anything so terrific. It was probably just a clean soap smell, but it shot straight to my brain, and the thing overloaded, or at least it nearly did.
Smell has got to be one of the most enigmatic things around, you know. Isn’t that a cool word? I don’t get to use it too much, but anytime I get the chance, I throw it in. And, it really works in this case, because nothing is more enigmatic that the sense of smell. When you catch a particular smell it can evoke a million memories, right. But, think about it, can you ever actually remember a smell like you can an image or a sound. You know, where you actually see it or hear it in your mind. I once read that if someone doesn’t have a sense of smell, he’ll eventually go crazy. I can believe it. Most people have the sense, and they’re already halfway there.
I once knew this guy that was crazy, and he smelled, but I don’t know if he could smell, if you know what I mean. In fact, I think if he could smell, then he might have done something about his smell, you know? Of course, I’ve noticed that a lot of people never seem to be able to smell themselves. What’s that all about? It’s probably some kind of giant cosmic joke to embarrass guys going through puberty. Does that make sense to anybody?
But, then again, some smells make me go crazy, you know what I mean? The truth is it’s the coolest sense around. I’m digressing again. Aren’t I? Sorry about that. I did mention the A.D.D. thing, right?
So anyway, she bit her lower lip. Now, normally, things like that bother the hell out of me. I mean, on most people, it’s a clear signal that they’re about to take advantage of you. Trust me. I’ve seen it before. But on Alisa Cooper, it was kind of cute. And, the truth is, I really wanted her to take advantage of me. I mean despite all I said, it’s really hard to build a relationship on the fact that we were both embarrassed by our names, right?
“Can I ask a favor?” she asked.
“Sure. What is it?”
So, she’s standing there, holding my bicep, biting her lip, and wondering how to ask me this favor. I’m just waiting for her to ask so I can say yes. I’m sure you realize that there wasn’t much chance of me refusing. At the same time I was wondering if my bicep was big enough. Maybe I should have done a few push-ups that morning, so she’d have something a little more solid to hold on to. I was also trying to remember if I had used deodorant that morning. I know that’s a pretty weird thought, but considering how great she smelled, I was terrified that I might spoil the atmosphere. It was hot that day. Not as hot as it was in the hotel room, where I started this story, but it was still pretty hot. I hoped I wasn’t sweating too much. I take after my mom in that area. Of course, the situation itself was helping to increase the activity of my sweat glands, to tell you the truth. So, the most important thing for me at that point was whether I had put on deodorant that morning, and I couldn’t remember doing it. That happens a lot really. I do things automatically every day, and then don’t actually remember doing them. I tried to retrace my steps. I know I showered. There was a problem with the hot water and I nearly burned the skin off my back. But other than that, I couldn’t remember. I know I got dressed, because, well, I was wearing clothes at the moment. Boy, I wished she’d ask her favor quickly, so I could stop worrying about the stupid deodorant.
She already knew I had what she wanted. It all goes back to that sense of smell, really. I’ve noticed that woman have a particularly attuned sense of smell. They even smell stuff that shouldn’t have a scent at all, like money, cars and a pair of really good tickets to their favorite performer. It really boggles my mind sometimes, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know how Alisa Cooper knew, but she did. The way she asked, I knew that she already knew the answer. She was just confirming her suspicions. How do girls – I’m sorry, women - do that?
“Do you have a car?” she asked, with expectant eyes.
Of course, even if I didn’t have a car, you know, I would have bought one in about thirty seconds. As it turned out though, I already owned one. “You need a lift somewhere?” I asked, already fantasizing about a long car ride through the country, or maybe a road trip to Vegas, or …
“Well, sort of,” she started. “You see, Mustafa’s car is in the shop …”
“Who’s Mustafa?” I asked, already getting jealous. I suddenly had this image of one of those suave, dark and devilishly handsome Arab gentlemen, oozing with desert masculinity. “Ah, my dear Alisa,” his voice would sing, as he kissed her hand, “come back with me to my palace in Arabia, and I will make you queen of my harem.”
Alisa Cooper though, kept his secret charms to herself. She simply said, “Oh, he’s kind of the leader of our organization. He’s a grad student. He was supposed to pick up the speaker at the airport, but now he can’t. I’m kind of responsible for finding a replacement.”
So here was my opportunity. I’m usually good at blowing these types of sure-fire situations. It was really handed to me on a silver platter. An opportunity to drive Alisa Cooper to the airport to meet her speaker; we’d have a ton of time to get to know each other, without any pressure, just casual conversation. And no one would be able to cut in. She’d kind of be a captured audience. I mean, not like really captured, but I’d have to be the worst conversationalist in the world if she asked me to stop and let her out somewhere along the highway or something. I mean, that kind of things doesn’t happen - even to me.
Well, it doesn’t usually happen anyway. And even then, that one time, with Susan Freeds, it had nothing to do with me really. She had gotten food poisoning from the restaurant. How was I suppose to know that the Chinese place had been condemned by the Health Department? I mean there were a lot of other people there, too. Well, a few, anyway. By the way, did you notice that Americans seem to have a fascination with everything Chinese? How many “American” restaurants do you think there are in China? Maybe one. Right? And that’s just for all those American tourists that get homesick for the restaurants that they don’t go to when they’re home. I’m mean, when they’re in America, they’re always ordering Chinese, but in Hong Kong, they want “American” food. Which I don’t even know what that is, really. If you think about it, Chinese food is American food, and, I guess, so is Indian and Italian and stuff. Though, even this can get pretty weird, you know. I once bought this package labeled “Traditional American Hot Dogs.” When I got them home, guess what was stamped in small print on the label. Yep, “Made in China,” in tiny blue lettering. So, I’m wondering. Would that be considered Chinese food or American?
In any event, I think the reason Susan Freed made me pull over and let her out of the car had more to do with the food poisoning, than with my company. The funny thing is, though, I didn’t even feel queasy.
Anyway, as I’m reliving Susan Freed’s meal recycling, hoping this car date with Alisa Cooper would go a whole lot better, Alisa started filling in the details of her favor. “So, like I hardly even know you, but could you maybe?” She started asking.
“No problem,” I said, the hero charging in to save the damsel in distress. “I’d love to.”
“Wow, that’s great. Thanks. I really appreciate it.” Her smile was fantastic. “Let me write down the information for you.” She took the flyer that was in my hand and started writing things down. “She’s coming in this evening. We’re having a reception for her at the Commons. I’ll write down her flight information for you. You’ll need a sign, so she can find you when she comes out of the terminal.”
“You’re not coming?” I asked, suddenly watching my plans swirl down the drain.
“No, I need to set up the reception.” She offered me a curious look. “Why would I need to go?”
She had to set up the reception? What? Was she the only person that did anything in this organization? Why couldn’t this Mustafa set up the reception? He was probably going to be there. They were probably going to be setting it up together. He probably arranged for his car to be in the shop so he could use the opportunity to get close to Alisa. I was beginning to hate this Mustafa guy, to tell you the truth. He was probably the one who came up with the organization’s stupid name. I’d put money on it.
I began to stutter. “I don’t know. I mean. I thought.” Finally, I allowed the centrifugal force suck me into its depths. What could I tell her, that I was hoping to use the drive out to the airport as a prelude for romance?
Alisa Cooper, though, like most women, knew how to keep me in the game. Is it something innate, or do they learn it at some special school for women? “I’ll see you at the reception,” she said as I was leaving, catapulting my hopes into the stratosphere.