I might be uncharmed by the word family, but I liked kids fine. Nadia
was a hoot.
Rachel had inherited her from an ex-boyfriend, though she said it
was wrong to say “inherit,” since Nick, the ex, was still very much alive.
“Nadia doesn’t want people thinking her father is dead,” Rachel said.
“She’s still attached to him, you know.”
One thing I loved to do with Rachel was take her to neighborhoods where
I could show her stuff from the parts of the world I loved. In Queens,
we went to the Filipino neighborhood in Woodside and the Malaysian
food stores in Flushing and the Thai places in Elmhurst. She’d been to
Thailand in her youth. The Thai had this amazing Buddhist temple—a
plain New York brick building with a fabulous gold-and-blue Thai pagoda roof set on the top and more gold arched over the doorway. We saw
monks slipping in and out, with winter wear under their saffron robes
in January. “A mirage,” Rachel said.
Were the monks happy? Probably a question outside their categories. Their customs didn’t allow for showing much expression, but they
looked as if they were going about their business just fine. In Thailand
I’d seen young novices in the street smoking cigarettes, but not here.
Here the monks seemed privately intent, walking around Queens on
their two meals a day, their ancient schedules.
“I hope they’re warm enough,” Rachel said.
People did without a lot of things, that was for sure. My band of the once
incarcerated had all gone for years without privacy or safety or a number
of civil rights. They’d contrived their own substitutions, same way they
made pruno booze out of fruit and sugar in a garbage bag.
I got along with them, my clients, but sometimes I didn’t. They got
mad at me for getting them jobs they hated or for not getting them jobs
at all. I couldn’t do everything. “I’m not a magician,” I said one night to
Rachel, when I was complaining about my day.
“I hope you don’t say that to them,” Rachel said. “Defeatism isn’t what
What a churchy thing for her to say. What did she know about what I
dealt with? We fell into a fight, with serious words back and forth about
the defects of each other’s characters. I really did not want to hear from
her what I heard.