pieces of taxi
email@example.com © 1/2010
Woman gets in back. Oriental. Chinese probably. Slender. Pretty. Nice biz suit.
She tosses the briefcase on the seat ahead of herself as she slides in.
The Richmond, she sighs.
Have a nice day?
It was OK.
So, what did you learn today?
[I’m always asking questions of the day. Political usually, sometimes philosophical, you might say. Anything to stir the pot. I can’t drive all night to various nowheres without some connection to somethin’. I already feel we are the most alienated society of all time. I think what we need now is a giant national Woodstock the size of Iowa.]
I learned, she said, that there is no such thing as constructive criticism.
2. Three suits.
Three business types hop in at the Regency–two men, one woman. All in wool business suits. Headed for a restaurant in North Beach for dinner.
They ride in Silence. I’m thinkin’ like this was gonna be a hard one.
I sort through my repertoire of conversation starters. Brain-files marked politics, economics, religion, or sports. I disqualify sex since the woman is out-numbered. I only bring up sex when I’m out-numbered. Or it’s even, of course. That doesn’t mean the roles are the same: I get to risk and they to decide. Equal but different. Funny, how life emulates computer science. Antogeny recapitulating philogeny, I guess. Man is like a river of electrons. Woman the switch.
Since they’re business people, I go ahead and ask, How’s biz?
Not bad, answers the man from the right rear.
So, I go, what do you guys think about the bailout?
Messy. They’re lost. The two men go. It’s gonna be a long time coming...he trails off.
Trying to figure out what that meant I toss out a feeler: Might it be the end of capitalism? I go. A bit cocky, but at the same time, tentative.
Well...uhh, goes one. Uhmmm, uhh..., goes the other.
You know, I continue. Communism–our other economic religion–is blown away.
Right? Since they tore down that wall in '89. Now us. (I say us). Won’t happen tomorrow, I suppose. But the unbridled laissez faire-style robber baron stuff is probably over. Don’t cha think?
I’m driving thru Chinatown as I say this.
Right rear goes, you might be right.
It’s a huge waste, says the Middle guy.
But then, the Middle guy goes, I think it’s the only way to go.
Not referrin’ to nothin’.
We need to keep free enterprise, I answer. I mean people need to start something they like. Something something they can depend on…with maybe a life expectancy less than the immortality of corporations. Maybe they should all have one function only, and not be able to buy other companies...? End of the Big C’s, I go. Chattering a bit. No commies, no robber barons, no...I dunno....
Then the lady speaks, as if from a self-imposed dormancy–ok, she sounds tired.
The next economic system, she says, will be Chocolate.
3. The artiste:
She slipped in the back-right in no hurry. Somehow we both managed to recognize and say we were writers. So I asked her the stupid question I always get. But she said she didn't want to get published.
What's up wit dat? I asked.
She loved the process...of writing, she said. The choices, the constant cuts, with the bright surprises, but that, she said, wasn’t it as much as:
A. I don't wanna be the court jester, she said. The joker who makes 'em laugh and forget Truth.
B. I don't wanna be the messenger who'll tell 'em the Truth either. Cuz they'd kill me. Things only go smoothly when you're not getting anything done. When you truly create, all hell breaks loose.
Sister, you're an artist. You just earned a free ride
At her destination, as she slides out of the taxi, with one foot on the street, she turns to smile at me.
An artist, she says, never gives ‘em what they want.
4. something about afghanistan: Trip 2010-233. old vet, new vet
...what you whinin’ for?
Yer terrifyin’ chemwar and yer 150s and yer turtle-bots in VC redux? Sheesh
We fought back in the day where they had mosquitos! Fer cry-eye!
We din’t even had no war. They called it a “police action.” One that cost 50,000 ‘Merikin boys dead and buried. See what I’m sayin?
All they names on a big black rock a half mile long in DC.
So yer stupid winless “war” on terror cost us 5,000 boys [and some grrrls] dead and buried.
Desert wars are EeeeZee. Yur mechanized. We’re crawlin' fer cry-eye! Though mud paddies. To nowhere.
I hear tell we both killed 'bout the same # of non-combatants–you call 'laterals. Geez-sheets!
What kinda word is that?
2 million each. Non-com or 'laterals.
Ours took longer, they’re still dyin’.
Course, gotta admit yours’ll die for centuries, y’know, that DU stuff. Un-depleted you ask me. UDU. What you do is Voodoo Militaristics.
Uhmmm, what do you mean by that, exactly?
I mean your mess is so big that if you win you gonna bankrupt yerself tryin’ to clean it. Sheesh! We used white phosphorous on kids! Y’know, you saw the photos. No photos on your war!
Or you can drop a fire bomb: true hell: you go an’ toss some fine spray napalm from a plane --blow it fore it settles--kill ever’body ever damn thing that lives or breathes in a big circle. From six inches deep to twenty stories high. A dome of death. You call that war?
What is that you’re talkin’ about?
Don’t know the name...wanna call it a Daisy Cutter...that ain’t war...war is bayonets in guts and sliced arteries squirtin’ blood up ‘n da nite. Hand grenades bouncing into your hole...not no video game you drive to work 8 hours and weekends off.
You punks blow people up all the way from Vegas.?!
With weekends off...!
This where you live?
Free ride, Buddie. That’s what I think.
5. Trip 56-2010. whippersnappers.
Young guy gets in my taxi at the airport with his wife and a little girl. He’s got a big black halo ‘round his head on stiff little poles attached to his shoulders. After a better look I can see the “halo” got some sticks stuck right into the skull. Same for the shoulders. When he turns to talk, which ain’t often, he has to turn his whole body so his neck won’t swivel.
He’s got the Marine cut so I ask him. He says yeah. Get that apparatus from the Afghanis?
Wife blurts up first, Yes, he did. IED. It killed his best friend and nearly killed him!
Did not expect that outburst.
Shrapnel just missed my spinal cord. He explains. By a quarter inch.
I look the situation over as we pull out of the airport. Pretty hectic behind us tonite. Pretty wife to die for. I pause to check out with the mag card press it to the reader screen. Look back at the little girl about 4 hugging her dolly. Boy! I go. Sort of losing it. . But I say, Prettiest little girl…what’s your name, angel? I fergit what she said. I flash one more glance at the wife–I swear. By this time, 10 seconds, the A-hole driver behind me is honking. I flip ‘m off high out the window so the young wife don’t think I’m a jerk. We head out.
Spent five and one fucking half hours waiting for planes here, snaps the Marine. If they don’t get their shit together...I dunno...tomorrow we gotta be in Fresno.
Why you gotta be in Fresno?
Relax. I tells 'im. One, you’re a national hero. The airline company is heartsick about your inconvenience, and I’m as sure as hell [on this planet that'd be where you just came from] 'bout that. They are probably sick about disappointing you. But they do not want to kill you by puttin' y'all in a plane with mechanical difficulties or some other kind o’ danger when you are about two days away from paradise. You hear me, Marine?
He looked at me all stem and stalk and full of macho indignation at me telling him any shit at all. Any kinda shit. Especially true shit.
Nobody has a better shot at happiness than you right now, I go ahead and blurt. Just look at that back seat! I was not lying and they knew it. A woman knows how good looking she is...and, how good she wants to be as a person. She spoke:
He got hit on the road. Just driving along. We are so happy to have him back with us....
And she trailed off.
I didn’t want this to get saccharine, nor worse, theoretical. For all I knew the wife was a lazy, ego-maniacal heroin addict who’s swinging with the crack heads. All I’m sayin’ is she did not look tha part...and dammit, I wanted them to have a chance as if some dumb cabbie’s tough love is gonna add to their game...and not detract.
So I asked him, What’s goin’ on over there? What’s it really like? They never tell us anything.
It’s fucked, he said.
In what way?
The people are fucked. The government is fucked. It’ll never work. I think we oughta nuke the entire country and bring everyone home. Nuke the whole place.
I felt like a tipping point of some kind like I was in the tilt position to be able to have some positive input–as a random source of some sort of coincidology. Just one American speakin’ to another.
I felt, if not pressure, then the seriousness of my imagined responsibility. Under the gun so to speak.
I asked him. You ever hear of Malaya Joya? No, he hadn't. Remember that name, I told him. (Although i hadn't. I found out later it’s Malalai.)
She agrees with you. About gettin’ out anyway. Don’t imagine she’d go for the nuke‘m part, tho. When she was just 18 she taught little girls to read in secret schools. She’s 25 or 6 now. She’s the youngest woman, of the few ever elected, in the Loya Jirga. She rocks, man. She wants us out. She says you cannot bring democracy to a people. It has to grow up from within. And she would work to teach girls to read and vote and work and go to school like they never could before.
I went on a little roll: teachin’ girls. That’s what you want, I bet. And let girls become all they can. Let ‘em learn physics. Become doctors, scientists, architects, politicians. I can’t believe women would have got us into this mess...
He said yeah. I’ll look her up.
He said the hotel name they were goin’ Snarled a bit. I said, Paradise. You got one night of paradise looming. Don't blow it, i mumbled. I had loved these guys at first sight. Man, I said, enjoy every breath of free air you get with these two angels. Take that hotel to heart. It’s free, huh?
Oh yeah, he goes.
Get smart, says I. It’s a holiday. Now tell me what’s it like.
You wanna know what it’s like?
OK. We get a report from a farm. The farmer had been having trouble with the Taliban. Stealing his food and shit. Now and then a goat…
So we convoy up an’ head out there. It’s good intel. We get into a fire fight, and we chase them away. So it’s over quickly.
Yeah. Several. But I didn’t see the count. Don’t matter. We didn’t get ‘em all. They always fade into the hills. So we return to the farm. The owner is an ass-hole.
He’s pissed we upset his schedule. Says his goats and cows are upset. Gotta milk ‘em and the chickens are over the place. His wife is crying. The Captain is trying to pacify this idiot. Then, in the middle of him complainin,’ he spits in the Captain’s face.
I look back at the wife. She is nodding at me. Positive. About the constabulary idea or what? The whole interrogation? This is de-briefing taxi style. I’m into it.
What did the Captain do?
Do? He did what he had to do?
He shot the guy!?
No. He ordered the house cleared. Then he had a tank run over it. Back and forth a couple times.
That shuts ‘im up.
I bet. Then what?
There was a bit of silence there. The little girl was looking out the window when I took a glance in the mirror. She was hugging her dolly and looking out her window at the night. At Millbrae. From on the bay side of the freeway a big expanse of darkness looms off to our left. Salty water, calm and flat.
I said, if you got time. You get up early. You go for a walk here ‘cross this street. Big, long park. Goes for miles along the bay. (I didn’t know that for sure.) You can see the birds flyin’ in under the jets. See the jets flying in to come and get you outa here. And I hope you come back.
Then it came to me.
The farmer. The captain. Had they talked before?
I suppose. Some way we had to know. Or someone else might’ve carried the message in. There would have been some questions. From Intel. How many insurgents? Maybe some directions. I guess. Stuff like that.
And it was friendly?
I didn’t see that.
Y’know, I said.
The genius of those two, I thought as we pulled into the driveway of a very nice-looking hotel.
I ask the girl if she ever stayed at a hotel before. Unt-huh, she says.
[I’m going bananas inside.]
But I tell the girl, You gotta try room service and free movies and order a hot chocolate and try blueberry pancakes for breakfast...that’s what you do in hotels. Use everything. Use all the shampoo…
Mom was sliding over to the girl’s side to get out. Daddy was pulling an airline voucher out of his shirt for the ride. I’d seen those before. Heck, happened to me one time. I’d had an angel with me too.
Gettin’ them together like that, almost out of the taxi, I said to the Marine, They did it so he wouldn’t get killed.
I mean, you guys couldn’t be there all the time. You had to return to base. Or maybe the Intel was from a neighbor who coveted the farm. The Taliban might’ve killed this farmer if you hadn’t knocked his house down. It was for his survival. Your Captain only had to wipe some spit off his face and knock down a crappy house. He saves the whole family.
You got the same choice here. Only you won’t get spit on. You get loved on. You’re the luckiest man in the world. If I were you, I’d wear that halo 'round your head for as long as it takes to never go back.
His wife touched my arm.
Thanks. She said.
Peace, I said.
Driving back to the airport and the short line, I almost cried like a baby.
Joya. I kept saying it. Thinkin’ how I forgot her first name in the tears...and the mess of it all.