At the Starbucks drive-thru Joffrey sat in his ’65 Falcon (he loved the bench seats, the dash ashtray, dash clock, dash AM radio) waiting to place his order. He was about eight cars back and he observed a very black, very graceful arm handling customer coffee cups and money from within the service window. It was a female arm, he could tell, and its dark motions stood out tremendously from the world around it. A white arm would not, he believed, set off the same visual ambush. Surely the other waiting drivers had also been struck by this black, sensual, folding-unfolding arm. From shoulder to elbow to fingers, the whole assembly was nimble and sure, with the hand confidently accepting coins and passing hot drinks, spilling neither. Was she one armed? Who cares? Joffrey had to meet her, the whole her. The shapely arm and expressive fingers suggested an ample sensuality—like a Japanese watercolor of a single cherry sprig hinting at a tree under full blossom.
For the next three mornings Joffrey waited in his Falcon at the Starbucks drive-thru, entranced by the motions of the lithe and fluid black arm. But when he pulled up to the drive-thru window with his chip-toothed smile, ready to offer his beams of adoration, the arm, and its somatic owner, would be gone. Was she real? Was he just imagining her?
He refused to enter the shop and ask some white barista hey where is the black barista? You know, the one with skin so dark, so black. Black really is beautiful. Tacky. No, you don’t talk about color like that in big-city America.
The next morning Joffrey broke routine and parked his car in the Starbucks parking lot and walked into the coffee shop. The loaded smell of fresh ground coffee made him pause for a moment; it carried a hint of jungle green. The walls, abstract beige, textured, were understated; the customers, sitting or waiting, newspaper ensnared, were understated. The black arm barista would stand out bewitchingly here but, as with his previous luck, she was nowhere to be seen.
Back in his car Joffrey swerved around to the drive-through line. Six cars idled in front of him. Then he saw the black arm. In the Falcon rearview mirror he watched a car angle up behind him, he swiveled and begged the car, hand signaling, to let him back out and leave the line. Free of the drive-thru he surged into a parking space and ran back into the coffee shop.
He saw her. The open counter of Starbucks let you observe the baristas at work. She was busy tending to her customers at the drive thru window and, yes, as her single arm indicated, she was dark and beautiful, possessed of the flammable sexuality he had imagined: small forehead, regal nose, syrup-brown eyes, commanding cheek bones, fluorescent smile—even under her headscarf you could tell.
Note to self: Tell Allah it’s not working.
She was a declared Muslim but whatever male attentions her headscarf warded off were diverted to her butt which was spectacularly rounded and perfection itself. Outlined, three-dimensional in super-tight black waitress slacks, it offered itself as object of blissful contemplation. A miracle butt as round as twin Jupiter moons but never fear: she’s got her headscarf on. Faithful daughter of Allah. A butt like that probably served as Allah’s inspiration for the creation of universal orbs: suns, moons, planets. Never mind that her butt was so sensational that men forgot what they were going to order standing in line. Never mind that her butt made men recalibrate their entire sexual histories and present married lives: should I throw it all away? Would I if I could? Wife, kids, barbeque, Lexus? To clasp a butt like that every night? She induced thought-guilt infarctions in men. Arranging or rearranging their soul’s furniture. Many, many must have contemplated converting to Islam.
Alas…alas…big brothers…strict Muslim…mom, living with…strict Muslim, too…have you dated any non-Muslim guys? No, not yet? Oh. Like a Coyote slinking away from a meal of newborn porcupines after getting a wiff of the fighting mom and thinking there must be easier meals under God’s heaven, Joffrey slinked away.
Fontina was a checkout girl at the local Safeway off Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Joffrey noticed the pack of cigarettes in the pocket of her work apron. That means she will take a smoke break, at some point. She was always so friendly and so lively. Joffrey did have a project. He was looking for a black girlfriend; he knew that the city opened itself and was there to offer certain delights and they were not always the delights of culture, even though he did like museums, galleries, the symphony and coffee houses. He wanted the presentation of humanity in the swarmy variety that the city offered. Character stories and the human types widely arrayed. He wanted a black woman girlfriend, a real dark, real black woman and he thought he found her. Later he learned the black term for this was “color struck.” He wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass him by. He was going to get a black girlfriend. God or Allah, the Great Spirit, was just sharpening his pencils before he created black women. Then, with black women, He really got down to it.
(You could see that beauty was available to the race and if men climbed up out of animal brutality how did you account for the delicacy of Asian women? Women so designed for the pleasure of the eye. The pencil sketch of Asian women so pretty and exquisite. But then, like a beginning novelist, you see Him, God, getting better at his craft. The blond is OK but she shines only for a season, intense flash-flowering but short-lived beauty and then you have to look carefully for the call to blondness, that the human eye finds so kinetic, so inviting, deceives. Many blondes are fakes and the eye is so easily taken in. Then you come to black women and you see her ass and you see that God modeled the planets and spheres of space on the black woman’s ass.)
She was a cashier at Safeway. Her name was Fontina Blanchet. She had a beautiful line under one eye, a charming age wrinkle. Only dumbshits thought women reached their peaks at age 19. Her fingers so black and textured, had so much character. They seemed to talk to him as they handed him his change (in bills, the coins spun down around a machine and settled into a metal cup. Joffrey often forgot—accidentally on purpose—to pick up this change so he could go back and flirt with Fontina. “Almost forgot my tip for stopping at your register,” or some other asininity.) Her arms were super black and encircling; they were sculptures of sensuality. Because of her blackness, perhaps, her teeth were a white beacon; her ears—all black ears—were beautiful. The saying from the 1960s “Black is Beautiful” would have been more true to life if it were amended to “Black Ears are Beautiful.” Try to find a pair of ugly black ears: you can’t. Fontina had come hither ears. And more: her breasts held the promise of Edenic Paradise. They were big enough so that her smock could not fully contain them both; one of them, the bigger, kept slipping out from behind the smock which she had to adjust every minute or so. When it came time for Joffrey to stand across from her to pay he noticed a pack of cigarettes in her pocket. This was good, thought Joffrey, very good. That meant that she would take a smoke break outside. She would be standing and smoking, chained by her habit to one place and Joffrey would be able to approach her. Gays had it so easy. They could cry out to politicians that their love (for male ass) was legitimate and they could found hiking groups and bowling teams and male choirs and even Christian fellowship based on this love. But what about the Joffrey Simpson O’Days of the world? What reporter or women’s club would sympathize with his love for Black Women? Heavily upholstered, bountifully put together Black Women. “You’re a fetishist!” they would cry. “A pervert! Fie fie!”
Could he start a club or a movement based on his worshipful adoration of black women? No. Joffrey couldn’t come out of the closet and say, “I belong to that minority of men who worship black women.” The whole concept of coming out of the closet bothered him. Why does a declaration of preference give way to identity? Is identity only preference? Is identity always present or does it come and go? Always amazed that men in positions of being able to do anything they wanted, rock stars, rich men, passed over marrying black women. They settled, these free and powerful men, for the Parent Pleaser: Cindy or Becky or Cathy. The worlds’ secret, the warmth and tenderness of black women. Fontina with a few but very interesting lines, no wrinkles yet. This is where glamour and media fell down flat about men and interpreting male desire. They didn’t understand that men like individuality and quirks in a woman. Women strive for perfection but men don’t care all that much for perfection in women. They don’t mind the gap tooth or funny teeth if a woman has warmth and character; if she thinks for herself.
Sunbreak City, so marinated in water, both salt and fresh; rivers, streams, creeks, bays, tides, big lakes, small lakes, puddles inevery dent. How many times had he found himself, sitting in his Falcon, waiting at a stoplight while the top center mast of some boat floats across the otherwise still picture?
“Having a man die on top of me in orgasm did wonders for my self-esteem,” said Fontina one pillow-talk afternoon. “But it was time to come home.”
Clothed Fontina was an eyeball fastener, bikinied an instant parking lot maker, naked a messenger from the fateful castle of Beauty, that venomous castle.
In Asia she never felt like a ho’.
Japan is what changed her. The misoshobai, the water trade. Occasionally a customer would just look pay and leave. Men crying over her body. The crying men. At first she was stunned. Then moved and finally bored with it all. And that’s when she decided to leave. I have drained this cup, O Lord. After a certain point you have to decide if you can live without psychic amenities, the physical amenities exist in Japan. The amenities of your home country—do they count for anything or not?
“In Japan,” Fontina began, “you are weightless. The entire country perceives you three feet off the ground and will not give you the ground you needed to pass through the same human cauldrons, sifters, colanders, pain racks that everyone else passes through. Do you want to spend your whole life being amazed at? You are a few degrees beyond the talking monkey. Amazement and impressiveness are shields Japanese used to keep you away. A hyper amazement is a kind of arrogance playing on your vanity. If their constant praise can keep you stranded on the island of your vanity then maybe you won’t come over here, over to my island and bother me goes their reasoning. I’m as vain as the next gal but I could see where this was all heading.
In Asia a way is always made for appetite. Asia, right now, is appetite. And I offered myself as a morsel. The greed for life in Asia is boundless. It’s just that you have to travel far to find that the world is a big place. People that go around saying that the world is a small place! are wrong.
Asia changed me and I will be forever grateful to it. And they did it all without Jesus. That thought kept coming back to me: they did it without Jesus.
The patch of Rainier Ave between Graham and Henderson was not far from Dayfresh House. Joffrey incorporated it into his neighborhood walks. The bars go up on the windows of small shops and basement apartment windows. The bars on the windows are monuments to the stupidity of thieves who crap in their own front yard. You have gas stations that turn to Plexiglas coffins at midnight, you’ve got drug sellers and apprentice pimps, young guys with the sagging pants, wide-billed baseball caps and icepick threads of disconfidence in their eyes. You’ve got the official whores, glowy when young and freezer-burned when old. Joffrey walked here to educate himself. This would be Sunbreak City’s poor neighborhood. It didn’t feel poor to Joffrey. I know poverty. This feels too rich in strut and assertion. Rich in rub and bristle. But it was poor, Joffrey knew. There was just more stuff. Did that make sense? The gravitational pull was heavy. Everything sucked back into the neighborhood. This he recognized. The bars-on-the-windows neighborhood. (Big City scene #4 he noticed as he walked by a young black man pressed into the hood of a police cruiser his shirt up and cops gingerly tapping him all over his lower body.) He passed the mini-Muslim mall selling halal food and phone cards and where Somali men with dyed beards sat and hung out. They chewed khat but always gave him closed-mouth nods when he walked by. A Buddhist temple with wrought iron flames atop the property fence. A black church, The Rose of Sharon. More drug dudes hanging out. If you’re not buying then don’t hang out, their eyes said, we’re not here to chat, muthafukah. Kids swarming apartment buildings, crack hos with chalk lips and shock hair and solar-flare eyes. Nightmareville. Cars speed by, lots of cars have shiny spinning hubcap rims, they look like show cars and they try to tell me something, what, I don’t know. Shiny wheels and chicks, there’s got to be a link. This is not a delay-gratification neighborhood. The pants are tight and goods are displayed; it is a grab market. Some survive on cheap rent and prayers. The oxy pills of welfare moms scatter to provide supplemental income from the street. All you have to do is ask. The cops are represented by their fictitious stand-ins—the fake ho’s, women too good to be true; regular paycheck women with bright dentition and epidermal warmth. Real ho’s have the thousand yard stare (so sez the Commander) and some kind of marking—tattoos or scars or burns. Your immersion is full and complete. You are and are not scared. But what are you doing here if even simple observation may have its price?
While here you can’t imagine another world. You are in the Rainier Valley. Is this God’s creation? Yes, but all the human gravitation falls inward. Jesus’ neighborhood.
Joffrey turns off Rainier Avenue and walks eastward to the top of the hill. Wealth breaks out. Splendor and views of the immense lake draw you down to the lake. The outcroppings of money strike him as odd. Like strange geological formations until your eyes get used to them. As you descend to Lake Washington wealth and tidiness return and at the lake you are overwhelmed, especially on a late summer day like today.
Coming upon south Lake Washington for the first time astounded Joffrey. His eyes, in spite of himself or rather against his will, sought out those savage places of no human development—large clumps of trees along the shoreline that would reveal what the lake was like before the white man came. If he squinted he could imagine that time: wild flowers, bramble, berries and unmanaged rough for large swaths on the opposite lake shore. The young braves would have marked out favorite berry patches, fishing bends and perches from which to contemplate the soaring Mount Rainier. There would have been lots of outdoor fucking.
The south shore of Lake Washington goes on and beautifully on and then you come to the cove of Seward Park, an exquisite frame of tranquil beauty like few places on earth. Some sections of the lakeside seem as raw as the day they were made, cut by giant glaciers. All was softened by the planted poplar rows and the cement walking path along the shoreline. Across the narrow road rough embankment and tall stands alternate with magazine cover homes and their broad sloping lawns. The unambiguous primary colors startle in their outsized simplicity: pale sky, dark blue lake, green grass. Joffrey thought everything held a slightly fluorescent tinge with a musical note coming off the lake. The joggers and walkers and bicyclists of every shape and color seemed endowed with riches by just being here. Joffrey could only gather his unbounded feelings by imagining himself God, the Creator. He was happy with his creation including the men, women and kids roiling in the lazy, cement-truck twirling sun of this blissful trust. He pronounced it Good. As far as he could tell, Man had not yet eaten from the tree or slain his brother; all was blessing and bounty in the Garden.
No, the original inhabitants were gone.