Oxydol Poisoning Part 11

Oxydol Poisoning Part 11

Earl Jackson, Jr.


On the bus downtown I told myself that there was no sense
in placing a „Personals Ad“ if I resented the time required to meet the
people who responded. This guy in particular sounded worth the gamble of
a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. But Sunday was a premium work
day. I was teaching two rather demanding classes, and my play, which was
going up in three weeks, still needed script rewrites. I couldn’t even
think about the book. Arriving at the Java House early, I spread my books
and papers out on a table facing the entrance.

Seeing him in the doorway, my first thought was, „I hate
that shirt.“ It was an Hawaiian shirt of glossy silk that seemed to pick
up the cacophony of the street glare framing him and twist it into floral
truisms. But his smile belied that noise. Once Gilberto sat down, I realized
the garishness of the shirt had been a trick of the light. If his shirt
revealed an elegant simplicity, Gilberto’s apparently easy-going, almost
guileless demeanor invited the closer engagement necessary to appreciate
the gradual efflorescence of a complex and often reticent personality.
He was sizing me up, but I was not aware of this right away. I did notice
that my enjoyment of his company increased as time went by. Two hours passed.
I didn’t look at a bus schedule. He suggested a walk. I thought I’d go
as far as the bookstore, check in there, and head home. It was on the way
to the bus station anyway. Gilberto loved book browsing as much as I did,
and I found my usual pleasure in roaming among the shelves amplified and
refracted through his. He suggested, very shyly, that we have dinner together,
and I was surprised hearing myself agree so enthusiastically. He offered
to cook, and I didn’t even mind shopping with him, something I usually
deplore. It was fun.

Dinner was wonderful. He drove me home, and I invited
him in to meet my cat,
. He stayed quite a while. While we talked, he lay on his stomach
on my futon couch. I sat on the floor across from him, by the TV. I thought
there was something deliberately inviting in the way he was situated and
the quality of his lingering, but it seemed too delicate, too special to
acknowledge or even to attempt to verify at all. The next day, when I told
my friend Benjamin I had spent so much time with a blind date on a Sunday
and I didn’t have a panic attack about not getting work done, Benjamin
asked if the guy performed any other miracles, like rainmaking.

Gilberto’s present and past impressed and moved me. He
was born in Texas, the youngest of nine children. His mother grew up in
a Texas border town and his father had immigrated from northwestern Mexico.
While Gilberto was still a baby, the family moved to a small town outside
of Fresno, California. In his preschool years, Gilberto was his mother’s
constant, effervescent companion. He loved to dance to the radio while
his mother ironed clothes. She tied the toddler to the bed-post with her
apron strings so he could dance and jump on the bed without falling. Like
me, Gilberto learned to fear and dislike traditional masculinity, identifying
more frequently with the women in his family, who seemed more loving, reasonable,
and imaginative than the men. Also like me, Gilberto was the only one of
the children to leave „home“ in order to create a kind of life impossible
to imagine within the world of his upbringing. He studied Art History at
the University of California, Santa Cruz, and then stayed on in Santa Cruz,
beginning a successful career in arts administration.

My identifications with Gilberto in these aspects of his
life were tempered by my awareness of the differences in our respective
histories, an awareness that was the source of my admiration for him. The
tendency of his family to stay together cannot be reduced to the same inertia
and agoraphobia prevalent in mine. The relative stasis of Gilberto’s family
can also be attributed to the restricted opportunities for Mexican Americans,
and to a need for economic and cultural solidarity. Although Gilberto left
home, he took with him a sense of the importance of preserving his heritage
and culture against Anglo-dominant homogenization, a struggle he learned
about in grammar school.

In second grade, the teacher gave the class a special
assignment. Each child was to ask her or his parents from what country
or countries the family had originally come to the U. S. The next day each
child in turn was to go to the map in the front of the class, place the
tiny flag provided in the country of origin, and tell the class a „fact“
about that country. When Gilberto’s turn came, he dutifully placed the
flag in Mexico. Before he could begin his sentence, the teacher interrupted
him, demanding to know why he had placed the flag where he had. Frightened
and confused, he replied, „Because my family is from Mexico.“ The teacher
made a sound of exasperation and waved him away, saying, „Sit Down! You
didn’t understand the assignment. No one is from Mexico. I meant you were
to find out where in Europe your family was from. Next time get
it right.“ He never mentioned Mexico or Mexican customs in school again,
and he never spoke Spanish if any of the other students or the teachers
might hear.

Unlike many children traumatized by such treatment, Gilberto
persevered in speaking Spanish at home and retaining it in his adult and
professional life, even after moving away from home and a Spanish speaking
community. He admitted that while he was proud to be Mexican American and
to have retained his fluency in Spanish, he was shy and uncertain about
using Spanish in front of „native speakers“ of the language. I leant him
a copy of Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands. His response touched me
deeply. He was staggered by her discussion, description, and examples of
the various kinds of „Spanish“ she used in daily life, and her valorization
of the hybridized Spanish typically spoken among Tejanas and Tejanos. He
had never seen his form of Spanish in print before, and this was very important
to him, particularly because much of it was the language of his mother.

On our second date, I invited Gilberto in for tea, even
though I detested tea, and had no idea if I owned any. Remarkably, there
were some tea bags in the cupboard. But I did not manage to do more than
note their existence. Gilberto never got that cup of tea, although that
faculty rental townhouse essentially became „our space“ beginning that
night. But there was little time for a „honeymoon.“ In the first months
of our relationship, I was extraordinarily busy. The following year I was
coming up for tenure review. It was imperative to have at least a book
contract in hand by January. Since coming to UCSC, I had never been awarded
either course relief or a sabbatical, so I needed that summer to write
enough of the book to send it to the press for review by August, to allow
time for readers reports and a decision in time. I also loved my work and
relished the total immersion the summer afforded. I worked from early in
the morning until early evening, when Gilberto arrived. I was usually either
exhausted or still preoccupied with the work I had been doing, but Gilberto
was angelic in his understanding and support.

Oxydol Poisoning ~ Earl Jackson, Jr.















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Another Scene


Earl Jackson, Jr.
Another Scene