The Chinatown Speakeasy

Somewhere in Neo Tokyo, there is a Chinatown speakeasy with orange lampshades and pink curtains, bartenders dressed in cheongsams and bobbed hairstyles, in an alternate history where Trans-Pacific travel is done by airship and Polynesia is a world superpower.

Behind the bar of the speakeasy, a girl in a turquoise cheongsam mixes Vilnius gin into a coconut.  The Del-O-Vision above the bar announces that the rain will continue tomorrow in Neo Tokyo, and then plays some Hawaiian steel guitar, the blurry images of distant palm trees and an island sunset like a distant memory in the mist-filled concrete night.

She serves the coconut cocktail to a woman at the end of the bar, a rather disheveled woman wearing a tuxedo.  Her elbows are on the bar, a messy head of flame red hair hanging over her hair.  The door opens, admitting throbbing light from the neon dragon sign across the street.  A woman walks in, a thin face and a tall, thin body wearing a brown leather bomber jacket.  Korean, Taiwanese, and Australian service patches cover the shoulders and back of the jacket.  Her green eyes roam to and fro over the speakeasy.  She strides through the bar in a confident click of flight boots.  She sits next to the redhead in the tuxedo, looking over at her with a half-smile, looking down at the gin tiki cocktail in the coconut sitting untouched on the lacquered bar.

I miss you, the redhead says, stirring her coconut cocktail.

The tall, thin woman in the bomber jacket puts a hand on her shoulder, her half-smile replaced with an expression of chagrin.  The Hawaiian steel guitar music stops, the fighting betta in the aquarium set into the side wall turns in a slow flourish of indigo fins.

The redhead though about the last time they had been together, in the hospital in Manila fifteen months ago.  Her heart had been aching ever since in her absence, and no visit to the pagoda, no meditation before a jade statue could calm the anguish.  She would leave the Del-O-Vision on all night in her small apartment, hoping to hear some news about the battles in Tonga and Kamchatka, the news chatter and music mixing in with the sound of the monsoon rain on the roof.

The feelings of longing hung like an airship over her, distracting her fingers as she picked through rambutan and loquat at the corner market, making her forget her steps as she walked from her skinny tenement building to the Emerald Club every night to work the early shift.

She missed her yesterday.  She would miss her tomorrow.  And she missed her right now, even as she was sitting next to her.

Nino

Antonin Scalia died as he lived: raising a political shitstorm.

But let us imagine for a moment that he is still with us.

When the respected yet controversial jurist had his near-fatal heart attack in Marfa, the one thing that he could think of was Millie, kissing his cheek and telling him “You’ve got dandelion eyes, Nino”.

Millie was a hippie girl that Antonin Scalia courted many years ago in his youth.  He almost found a conscience then, in a tent in the woods where they ensconced themselves night after night.

After the heart attack in Marfa, Antonin Scalia renounced his regressive ways, and disappeared to grow alfalfa and quinoa on a small farm in rural South Carolina.  We are his neighbors and our children love to go to “Uncle Nino’s” for organic fruit roll-ups or fossilized shark’s teeth.

As the children play in the yard, we sit and sip on chicory tea on the porch, Antonin in his serape or in a beat-up Hawaiian shirt.  He talks about the Constitution and how to stake tomato plants.

His property is only about a klick away from the beach, just down a path through the kudzu and bean plants; walking from the farmhouse to the ocean, you can listen as the sound of the cicadas give way to the roar of the waves.

Antonin has a Rhino side-by-side, all splattered and greasy-hot, that he uses to take us down to the seaside bar, where occasionally Bruce Springsteen shows up to sip beer.  The bar has sweet potato fries and cold, cold Fat Tyre. Sometimes a Filipino guy from San Diego, named Raoul, shows up and plays gentle Hawaiian songs on his Fender Telecaster, and we get up to slow-dance at Antonin’s encouragement.  Antonin smiles and gets a far-away look in his eye as I put an arm around your waist, breathe in your seafoam hair.

The high notes of the guitar twang in and out of the sound of the waves, punctuated by the sound of bottles being set down on the bar.  Antonin tells a joke to Maria the bartender, she laughs like an elephant with a head cold.

I kiss your neck a little bit as Raoul croons, “kiss me each morning, for a million years…”

One night, when we come back to our farmhouse from the beach, we hear some strange music coming from next door.  We sneak over to check up on Uncle Nino, and he is in the yard, the porchlight on, dancing a paso doble with a beautiful older woman in a sundress.  It’s Millie, her once-golden hair streaked with gray.  But, she still has those cornflower blue eyes and mischievous smile.

Antonin and Millie dance with their eyes closed; they don’t notice us watching them from underneath the pine tree.

“Nino,” she whispers into his old, withered ear, “You’ve still got dandelion eyes.”