Friday, June 01, 2007

Integrity (Boston, 1989)

Yossi was number two in karate in Israel, and he was saving money to go to Japan and study Zen meditation. I didn’t let myself really get to know him, so instead he was my spy, my security guard whom I seduced to stop guarding the youth hostel for a few dark moments under the moon, my Jew who looked like an Arab, an Indian with something Eastern European about his eyes, more religious than I was. He showed me karate moves, and his eyes were serious. Every day he went out to the wadi alone to practice.

There was a limit to how much I could tempt him, and I wanted his discipline.

He wanted me to come back to Israel, and because he wanted me to, I said I would.

I went back to Boston.

Near the end of the school year, my fellow students were interviewing at investment banking and accounting firms. I didn’t want that kind of job. I decided I should teach English in Japan, until I was at a party where a woman who had spent the previous summer in Taiwan convinced me I could get a lot of work teaching there, plus learn Chinese. Chinese was totally new to me, and was supposed to be hard, so I decided that was a good idea.

After graduation, I worked in a restaurant at Porter Square where a friend of mine from Tufts was the bartender and he’d sneak me tequila shots. My forearms got strong, and I could hold four plates in one arm. My apron was stuffed with cash.

"Are you an artist?" my customer asked, in front of his wife, as I set down their bill.

"Hmmm?" I asked, acting like I didn't really hear him, pushing my shoulders back as I gathered his plate.

"You’re left-handed," he told me. "You must do something creative."

I smiled in as cute and collegiate a way as I could, hoping he’d leave me a big tip, and I could buy my one-way ticket to the Republic of China by the next week. I was swimming every day and knew my 21-year-old body looked okay. The wife just looked at her plate, though there wasn't much of her buttered cod left.

With four plates stacked on one forearm, I raced up the stairs to where Chris was at the bar. I remembered the night on University Ave. where we had fallen asleep on the sofa with my arm around his chest, but we had done nothing. His family had a house on the Vineyard and he couldn't trust his father. He smiled at me and I thought there was always something about bartenders, and without looking at what he was doing he had poured another shot and slipped it across the bar.

When I went back to the table the couple would be gone.

The signed credit card receipt had a blank tip line and no total was written in, which could have been by accident. The guy had seemed so friendly. My throat tasted of Bushmill's whisky, my forearm throbbed, and all I could think of was getting out of that stuffy Boston summer and on that China Air flight to Taipei, fast.

"Xiexie, xiexie," I whispered, to all those who sent me soaring aloft.


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