as told to Jadis
Do you remember what it was that your parents told you when you were growing up? Not the stuff that all parents tell their kids, but the stuff that made your parents unique. You know, the weird stuff? The stuff that wouldn't make sense to anyone else? Well, given the way that I call my ma every Friday, you'd probably figure that it was somethin' like, 'Make sure you call your ma'-but that wasn't the special thing. You know, it wasn't the thing that was her . . . you know . . . her special lesson for me.
Ma's lesson had to do with cotton candy. It was pretty straightforward. You see, every single time ma'd take me and Nicky to the boardwalk in Coney Island, I'd always ask for cotton candy. I'd walk by those stands and I'd watch as the cotton candy man would stick those paper wands—I always sort of thought they looked like paper towel holders myself—but that's beside the point. Anyway, I'd watch as he stuck those things in and swirled them around in those big copper pots until he had this huge wads of pink, blue, and, on the rare occasion, purple. I always begged ma to get me some, but she always refused. She'd tell me it was nothing but sugared air and that it would make me sick, but I knew the real reason. It was too expensive. Why spend a dime on something that would melt in your mouth after ten seconds when you could spend a dime on something that would last in your stomach for two or three hours, like a hotdog?
I never did get that cotton candy, but I never stopped thinking about it, wondering if it tasted as good as it looked, as good as it smelled, wondering what it felt like at the moment before it disappeared off the tip of my tongue.
You'd think that as soon as I got an allowance or a job that I would have gone out and bought my own damn cotton candy, but somehow ma's lesson had sunk in. Cotton candy was not for me. But it didn't stop me from thinkin' about it, from wanting it.
Pa's lesson was a little more complicated. "Davey," he used to say. "You're like that little dog on 5th street that's always chasin' the bus."
The first time he said that I didn't have a clue what he was talking about and it must have shown in my face because he laughed and then added, "You wouldn't know what to do with it if you caught it."
Though I'm pretty sure that at the time he was talking about me moaning around after Margaret O'Connor, this cute little red haired Catholic girl in my English class whose mother had no time for dark, curly haired Jewish boys—and, by the way, I feel fairly confident that I could have figured out what to do with it if I'd been given half the chance—I can sort of see the connection between what he was sayin' about the bus and what Ma was tryin' to say about the cotton candy.
Basically, I was one of those kids who was always cryin' for the moon: new skates, new bike, new set of choppers for the one I had, pretty little girls with light colored hair, and little bits of flavored air that I was absolutely certain was the closet thing this kid from Brooklyn was ever gonna get to tasting heaven.
By the time my pa was killed and I was shipped out to California to live with ma's sister, I had learned these lessons well. I kept my head and my aspirations down. I had given up chasing little red haired girls and buried my craving for high-dollar fluff that looked better for me than it really was.
And those lessons served me well, too. Hell, they probably kept me from getting beaten up too badly in high school and I'm positive that they kept me alive in the jungle. Well, if not those exact lessons, at least some variation on the theme . . .
In 1968, I joined the police academy. Believe me, after two tours of duty in 'Nam, the police academy seemed like child's play. So there I was, bad attitude and all sprawled out over three desks, wearing that "don't fuck with me" look that had kept me alive for the last ten years, when the door opened and in walked the most beautiful blond I'd ever laid eyes on.
Now, keep in mind that growing up in Brooklyn, I didn't really know all that many blonds and even in L.A. the kids I hung out with were mainly black or Mexican. But even though I really hadn't been around all that many blonds, this one...well, he was one for the books. I thought for
sure he had to be lost or that maybe he worked there or somethin', but the next thing I knew he was walking down the aisle towards me and all my stuff.
"Is this seat taken?"
Are you kidding me?
I yanked my old beat up book bag off the desk in front of me, feeling for all intents and purposes like that punk kid who used to pray that Maggie would sit next to me even though I knew she'd be grounded for a week if she did. But there I was, Mr. G.I. Joe, sweating like a pre-teen and while all I should have smelled was my deodorant kicking in to overdrive, I swear to God (sorry, Ma), all I could smell was the tantalizing scent of cotton candy.
Well, five years have passed since then and these days I eat cotton candy to my heart's content. I love the stuff . . . can't get enough. There's just something about the way that it gets all over my fingers and my hair, but still manages to melt in my mouth. But what still gets me, every single time, is the way that that warm honey-like substance coats the back of the my throat and the taste lingers on my tongue long after I've swallowed it down.
Last night, while I was laying all cuddled up next to Hutch, I had the strangest dream. Hutch would say that Freud would have a field day, so I'm not gonna tell him. But in the dream was that little dog that used to live down on 5th. You remember the one that was always chasing the bus? Well, this time he wasn't chasing the bus, he was driving it! And, better yet, he was up to his ears in the most beautiful cloud of yellow cotton candy you've ever seen.
And the wheels on the bus went round and round.