Sport in Mogadishu
Tough feeling like the only two back of the house who can keep a yolk intact, or grill a chop without scaring all the juice out, or dice a Vidalia even. State of affairs to like as not steer clear of. That was Sport and me, though, summer before last, at the Ponderosa out Veterans Memorial Way. Rest of staff was the franchisee’s girl Kyleigh and her own personal S Club 7 of layabouts—fellow washouts from hygienist school, constantly pushing Trident on us, fondling their Samsungs all the livelong. Couldn’t tell béchamel from bird crap.
Any rate, some fresh acolyte of D’s spills a slick of Thousand Island and just leaves it lie. Naturally yours truly goes posterior over teakettle, a chafing dish of succotash in the bargain. Straight from the salamander. Care to guess how many degrees Centigrade?
There I writhed: blistered, howling sorrily—I mean Old Dan sorrily. And who should come minister but Sport. Pint-size Sport, of the Magnum Force sneer. “Quit catching flies,” Sport barked at Garnish, “I need butter and ice,” whirling, stooping to mutter in my ear, “Ex-lifeguard.”
She patched me up finer than any Hasselhoff. Picked all those scalding niblets and limas off my hose and out my underwire, discreet as you please. Rinsed what wanted rinsing and commenced to orate: “Huddle up! I got to go get Chef convalesced. Push them five sirloin or Nineteen’s gonna make this look like the spa treatment!”
Looped me an arm, clocked us both out, and off we promenaded. I never been more grateful for an elbow. Waist down I had gone pure soft-boiled with gratitude.
My wheel hand was verging on third degree, so I forked the key over and let her run us out to Rite-Aid. Save for some clutching hijinks I had no cause to trepidate. Sport was downright meek helming my Rabbit.
Handle of Wild Turkey, couple-three hectares of gauze, then it was back to my bachelorette hovel. Got down two Mayor McCheese glasses and fixed us four fingers each. Neat. Meantime Sport wrestled the foil off a tube of cooling gel. “Near done the same with bouillabaisse once,” she said. “Nice thing with beans is they only spread so far.”
“Like to spread whoever’s skull spilled that dressing.” Well, Sport cut up at that, cut up unto snorting, and we were off, cracking wise, reaming deadbeats, making believe we were a couple of Roy Chois, burning rubber from corner to friendly corner. I tipped in a fifth finger, for completeness’s sake, then Sport got that Wild Turkey by the wattle and started doling supernumeraries. Midway through the bourbon restoration we had both given over to sheer friskiness. I pitched in with every move I knew that didn’t take hands. Sport must still have had some of that menthol on hers, though, since when her thumb grazed that certain fold, I like to jumped out of my skin.
Wasn’t before long she’d brought her wardrobe, slapped “S. Strayhorn” on the buzzer, and we were sharing pads, sharing concealer, chewing Grizzly Mint and spitting in the same Coke Zero can.
Not to say it was all Chantilly cream. We had us a way of whipping one another into stiff peaks. Case in point’s the rattail. Three weeks straight Sport kept her Braves cap on, getting cagier about it by the minute. Out furled a prize ten-inch embarrassment when she finally doffed. Pocketed a can of varnish, she told me, down at the Home Depot, and dyed the fool thing Rich Maple.
“Says your scalp’s now guaranteed against termites,” I read off. “Many happy returns.”
Up shot her pointer’s neighbor.
“Looks like you just got turfed out of shop class. Swing by the KB Toys later maybe, pick you up some Pogs.”
She split me lip for me over that. Not to be outdone, I flushed her betas, Jerry Lawler and Also Jerry Lawler. Didn’t neither of us respect noncombatant status.
Scarcely half an hour, though, and we were mending fences and cooking divinity. The thing wasn’t built for grudges. We could fight no problem, we just had to be quick about it.
Sundays we rode up to Sport’s Gram’s for early supper: brisket, smothered quail, hot pickles and soda bread, prune fool. Gram had put in her fifty some-odd at the balloon factory, then bowed out with a lung complaint. In spite of that oxygen can dogging her, the elder Miss Strayhorn shared her grandbaby’s acetylene mien, make no mistake. Tried to pitch in a hand with the yams once and she run me out with a pizza wheel.
In the interest of our hides, we elected to concede the point, and holed up in the study under afghans, streaming Blossom. Not once did that lady look askance at Sport’s and my being oriented in a certain fashion. Only inclined toward orneriness if we should strike her underfed. Remind me I owe her a couple dozen social calls.
Sport creaming my ass in Halo. Sport watering the landlady’s aspidistra. Sport working the maize bag at Academy Street Gym. Sport cussing out the burnt pandowdy. Sport bugging Carrot Top for an autograph. Sport torrenting Homeward Bound. Snapshot of Sport at eight, all decked out in butternut, passing out pinwheels . . .
What kind of idea was a scrapbook in the first place.
It got to us all grease spots and lumps, like some kid with bad skin was trying to hide inside by tucking his knees up. Put the mailbox in need of a truss.
A huge plastic bag of spiced lentils and a letter. Don’t go thinking this was a pry job either. Hand to God, that flap flapped open on its lonesome. You can polygraph. Bosaso to Khartoum to Antwerp to St. Cloud, that thing went, mouth-breathing all the while.
Well they still have got me tooling around in one of those jeeps that are what you called Robins Egg. I look quiet chic out there on the salt pans, Believe you me.
My buddy Rolf tells me we will go for a spin one day in his F-14 Tomcat. You will have to call me the aviator. Ha ha!
I also been teaching the kids from the madrassa Mouse Trap Candy Land and other games the Red Cross sent. Remember when you kept landing on Mr. Mint and got so sore. Remember you called him a perv. Ha.
There is a Burger King in Djibouti City but it is weird.
How has home been. Does Coach Gerber still do his squat thrusts on the gym room. Do you think we will whip Macon in quarter finals again. I hope.
Any ways Sport soon as the peace is kept here I can come home. Please do not go steady with an other boy. Miss you XXX
Imagine I threw one big [sic] around that whole sorry thing. People started thinking I spoke that way I’d probably pack it in for good.
“Wondering when,” I told Sport that night, “you might have saw fit to clue me in on old Boutros Boutros.”
“It’s no need to snipe,” she sniffed.
“Dag dadgum Hammarskjöld.”
Sport spat in the can, a narrow ochre jet. “Hardly expect the likes of you to grasp the exigencies of stabilizing the Horn of Africa.”
“It’s him stabilizing your horn I’m worried about.” She spat again—this time a neat parabola cross my blouse. “And 86 the GRE talk. Sound like you swallowed Sorkin whole.”
“Ain’t but pen pals,” said Sport. “Ambrose is just gone a little soft in the head, on account of the sunstroke. He been over there since UNOSOM II.”
“My stars . . . ”
“Bea. Act civilized! It’s just comforting a friend.”
“Thought the whole notion here was we comfort one another.”
“Supposing I got comforting left over.”
“You oughtn’t to.”
“Yellow fever and typhus,” said Sport, rubbing. The injection site was gone all purplish. “Arm feels like veal cutlet.”
Hard to pinpoint whose idea it was first for her to go over and break things off in person. Enough Concerta floating around that duplex to keep all of Jurassic Park alert and on task. Stuff tends to give you a hankering for schematics and grand gestures.
(Twist my thumb and I’m apt to allow how I cajoled some—okay, browbeat—alright, alright, wheedled, needled, hectored. It was my idea. But scrutiny’s one bitter green, and it’s one I never acquired the taste for, so let’s just keep this between you, me, and the parentheses.)
Original plan was that she’d boat across from Aden, discarded for fear she’d get her timbers shivered somewhere on the Red Sea. “Time you fly into Addis Ababa?” I asked.
“Past your bedtime,” said Sport.
Did I ever get addicted to those spicy lentils for a spell.
Enclosed within please find ½ of rent. If Mr. Washburn gives you any hassle over paying in Kenyan shillings you got my blessing to knock his block off. I’m staying here with Ambrose. Don’t know when till. I won’t pretend it’s not a lousy way to treat you but hopefully you will be understanding.
Of course inside of a month she’d awarded Ambrose his walking papers, and hooked up with that fool warlord, and for a time all of Puntland was their oyster. For the rest you can look up the old Wolf Blitzer clips.
I do hope she got her fill of spicy lentils before they got themselves deposed. And I hope Grandma Strayhorn’s chipping away still at that ransom. I send along what I can. Getting to be quite the familiar face at Western Union.
Truth be told, lunch rush is when I find myself missing her most. “Ten scallop all day!” I’ll call, and all I get back is “Heard!” “Scallops heard!” Not a soul is around to give me any grief. It’s times there’s no worse feeling in the world, being obeyed like that.
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