My parents subsidized my girlhood with an allowance that they paid me on Fridays. Because I take after my mother, the cash burned a hole through my stretchy pants’ pockets. I wasted it on impulse buys: stickers, pens, Chewels, two-for-one yard sale pairs of shoes (that was two used shoes for the price of one used shoe), and rings that supermarket machines spat at me after swallowing my sweaty quarters. These baubles stank of tetanus and gave my body a gangrenous glow.
Avarice was the eighties’ signature sin, and as a gay child of this decade, I lusted after oodles of kitsch I knew Santa would never stuff in my stocking, every offensive Garbage Pail Kids trading card, platoons of smiling troll dolls, a Ronald Reagan mask, my own set of Ginsu knives…
My fixed income severely limited my ability to become the hoarder I knew I could be.
One night, the world news offered a way of supplementing my salary. Dad was watching it, and a reporter with good hair was detailing a get-rich-Islamically-quick scheme. It seemed that a man whose name spawned upstream, Salman Rushdie, had published a book. It pissed off masses of people who could pass for my south-of-the-border family. These were not Mexicans, though, they were Muslims, many lived in Asia, and in my living room, my empty pockets perked, listening. The reporter described Salman’s novel, a novel whose title, at least for me, evoked wonderful scenes from The Exorcist. The reporter also explained that the Ayatollah Khomeini, a statesman who could pass for Santa’s disgruntled brother, forwarded the following statement to everyone, which must’ve included me:
“[T]he author of the book entitled ‘Satanic Verses’…as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, are hereby sentenced to death! I call on all zealous Moslems to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islamic sanctity! Whoever is killed doing this will be regarded a martyr and will go directly to heaven!”
Hearing the reporter proceed to mangle the Arabic word fatwah, my ears lost their fatwah virginity and absorbed his explanation of it, suckling his Western spin on the Ayatollah’s juicy decree. Fatwah, how plump. Fatwah ended in deliciousness, the wah of wahcamole and wahtermelon. The promise of a direct trip to heaven where I’d encounter Kelly LeBrock rolling buck naked among mountains of Garbage Pail Kids was appealing, but what really made me want to become an assassin for Allah was the multi-million dollar bounty that the reporter stressed would be payable upon delivery of Salman’s head.
His face flashed across the screen, and there bobbed your average ethnic uncle, part devil
part Allen Ginsberg.
I thought, “If I ever see that face around town, I’m gonna chop it off and mail it to Persia.”
My daydreams filled with thoughts of wooing beautiful women with the jellybeans I’d buy using my Rushdie bounty. It seemed chopping off a head would be easy, it would be easier if I had Ginsu knives, but I could use a shaving razor instead. TV puppets had shown me how to do this.
At Grandma’s house, I’d sat on her bed, watching a show that I thought was for kids. It starred a cast of puppets and was called D.C. Follies. One skit involved a Margaret Thatcher puppet who strolls into an Irish barbershop for a trim. Settling into a chair, she warbles something like, “Give me a cut everyone will like!” to an Irishman. This real McCoy grabs a razor and with a sudden flick, sends her head sialing.
I learned from this skit that the English and the Irish had beef, corned beef, and to never trust a Celtic barber.
Salman had to go into hiding to protect his head, and the chances that he might pick my home, Santa Maria, seemed reasonable. We had a nice Mediterranean climate, hardly any traffic, and great tri-tip. Salman could blend in with the Mexicans and pick strawberries. The uniform worn by fieldworkers would enable him to veil most of his face with a bandana.
I, however, would know that this harvester was no Paco. I would identify the author among the berries, and borrowing a real Paco’s machete, I would give him a cut that maybe not everybody, but the Ayatollah, would like.
Of course, Rushdie never came to Santa Maria, and I never got my chance to decapitate him among the berries, but, my Library Foundation of LA events calendar came in the mail and guess who’s swimming into town?
To celebrate the release of Rushdie’s memoir, zealots increased the bounty for his head to $3.5 million, making him so much more attractive to me since I belong to a dangerous profession: public education. The school board could cut my job, again, and if Mittens becomes president, that could mean no food. Unemployed teachers are not entitled to food. Nobody is entitled to food unless they are Republican.
Rushdie’s head represents food, my mortgage, my medical bills, gas, electricity, water, and a nest egg with which to start a small business. Or, screw it, I could go into venture capital.
What do I have to do to get a head? It seems I must go to the library…