Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tropical exile

I don't like being rushed and I don't like being late, which puts me in the category of being up late nights or very early mornings or rushing when I need to slow down and take my time. That's the way it is these days. Just when I think I have things under control and have a little time for reading, I end up falling asleep -- even with really good books. Not good when I am reading a book that begs to be savored slowly and rolled around the senses and mind to get every bit of literary juice. Oh, well, now that the rush is over and I have a few minutes . . .

For some reason, John has been on my mind the past few days. John was a strange man with horn-rimmed glasses, a crew cut, loose bowling shirts (without the team name) and a penchant for decimating chicken bones for cartilage and marrow. He lived in Colon in a palatial apartment filled with neat stacks of newspapers and magazines that lined narrow aisles down which he scuttled. Although his hair and eyes were dark, his skin was almost colorless, pasty white like a cockroach deprived of sun and light. He reminded me of a cockroach, all dry rustling and skittering feet between his stacks of newspapers and magazines. He was also quite smart, although there was some talk that he had been exiled to Panama because his mother, a high-powered executive at Revlon Cosmetics, was embarrassed by him.

As a child he fascinated me even as he repulsed my mother and he fascinates me still. I've imagined all kinds of stories with him as villain and hero, an unlikely hero to be sure, with his dry cockroach rustlings and quiet encyclopedic intelligence, and I've imagined all kinds of reasons for his exile, things that never occurred to me as a child in 1963. He was unusual and very different from the rest of the crowd of adults that converged on our fourplex on stilts at the edge of the jungle.

Although he's been on my mind, and I'm not certain why, I couldn't remember his last name. His face and mannerism and presence are indelibly etched deeply in my memories, but not his last name, so I called Mom to ask her. She said she didn't remember and then, miraculously, "John Kane. Kane was his last name. I don't know how I remembered his name." She remembered because he gave her the creeps and even now she shudders when she says his name and evokes his memory like a hideous demon from the depths of some infernal hell. The moment I said, "chicken bones," she knew who I meant.

John Kane. Or maybe it's John Cain. I wonder if there was an Abel he slew back in the States and that's why he was exiled from high society and his mother's fashionable digs. She certainly wouldn't have tolerated his newspapers or magazines or his dry rustling skitter across the expensive carpets and important Italian tiles of her New York apartment or her estate in the country surrounded by wrought iron gates and guarded by men in blue collared uniforms hiding like Jacks in the box in their guard shacks outside the spiked gates. In the South, an embarrassing or eccentric relative is a sign of old money and interest, but in the North, such a relative was exiled to some poor South or Central American country where they could live in some luxury at very little expense to the family, an aberration consigned to tropical oblivion.

I've often wondered if John Kane still lives in the palatial apartment down the street from the Molotov cocktail singed Masonic Temple where my father went once a week to practice arcane rituals. That's where he met John Kane, the only man among their friends who wasn't in the Army and didn't live on base. And I wonder where John's mark of Kane would be found.

It wasn't on the high pale escarpment of his forehead or on the dark brushy plateau of his crew cut. The precipice of his nose was jutted out between the black horn-rimmed frame of his glasses in sharp relief to his smooth white cheeks where not even the shadow of a beard lurked beneath the skin of his cheeks or chin and his eyes, although stark black balls that hid the wide abyss of the pupils, were arresting, but not marked in any unusual way. Beneath the loose cotton shirts of sober color, hints of once hard muscle brushed briefly against the smooth, ironed cloth in sharp contrast to the mystery his sharply creased charcoal trousers concealed. Pasty white arms devoid of hair and thin in comparison to the solid bulk of his chest and shoulders ended in decisive and strong hands used with delicacy and grace, perhaps the hands of a one-time dancer, the nails buffed to a high gloss and his cuticles immaculate. His clothes were of good quality, but I never understood his fondness for canvas mesh shoes with gum soles, unless they gave him purchase on the marble tiles that comprised the floor of his apartment as he scurried from one towering pile of information to the next.

I imagine that when computers became household items his newspaper and magazine edifices were exchanged for desks and serried rows of computers, cursors blinking heartbeats of information waiting to be consumed the way John Kane consumed chicken bones, until even the inside of the bones were sucked clean of marrow.

It's funny, but I can't remember how John Kane smelled or if he had a smell. His apartment smelled of dust and paper and tropical breezes that fingered through the shuttered windows. Even now, he fascinates me and probably always will, the strangely intelligent and quiet albino cockroach rustling dryly among his stacks of words and pictures and ideas far from the glittering social whirl of New York and Chicago and the wealth compound of his mother's cosmetics empire, a tropical exile.

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