Brain Worms and White Whales
by Jen Finelli
My name isn’t Spaceman Spiff, and if you call me Ishmael I’ll knock the chewing gum right out of your mouth.
Actually, can I get a piece of that? We don’t get gum up here.
Thanks. I know you’re new here—service droid, right?—so take a look around before I explain why I called you into my office. Heads up, it’s because you did something bad. See this pose? My boots on my desk, arms crossed, limitless backdrop of space out the window behind me as ignored in all its glory as a homemaker whose husband works overtime for secretary kisses? Yeah, this pose, this clean wooden desk, this suitcase full of old Colt firearms behind me, they all mean something.
They mean I’m a man with a past and I like to shoot things.
Let’s back it up from spaceman-with-gun to college-kid-seeking-job. This starts on June 4, 2014. I’m strolling into the parking lot. Sun shining on pavement that can fry eggs, kids screaming that Johnny got the bigger half of the Kit-Kat and it’s just not fair, teens driving Mustangs too fast over speed bumps, soccer moms packing detergent into minivans—you know the scene. I’m parked at the far end of the lot because walking builds character. Not because I’m paranoid the greasy-haired supermarket greeter wants to follow me and collect my fingernails, or because the cute cashier-girl might misinterpret my salmon-colored moped for something less manly than lightish-red.
That greeter’s creepy, though.
I’ve just dropped off my application to work as a cart-pusher, and I’m cursing my sweaty palms, when one of those Mustang-driving teenagers vrooms by, too close. I leap onto the hood of the nearest parked car. It screeches. I screech. I tumble off the car and brush myself off, shushing the honking car alarm in my fright—er, in my fast reflexes. “Sheesh, calm down!” I glance around, hoping to God no one else saw that, and scramble for my moped, hands shaking a bit as I try to force the key into the ignition. “Calm down,” I repeat.
I do feel calmer as I rev up the engine and drive away—it’s okay. It looks like cashier-girl didn’t see me freak out, and greasy-creepster didn’t follow me, and anyway the wind in my thick hair soothes me. That’s the best thing about being Viet-American, this cool hair. The hair, and the Pho. And the patriotic grandparents with tragic war stories that stir your soul and make you wish you weren’t such a wimp. I mean, when Ong noi was my age he was wading wetlands with snakes so poisonous you die two steps after they bite you. And fighting communists. I’m not a Red Scare kinda person, but I have my feelings about what happened to South Vietnam after the Americans pulled out. I don’t actually know what those feelings are. Mostly they’re a wiggling, like I have to go to the bathroom, every time my white friends talk about the sixties.
My white friends talk about the sixties a lot.