|Bruce Lee and Me
BRUCIE IS TRYING to save me from yet another rotten American boyfriend. He is in his
shower and I am in his bed eating frosted Blueberry PopTarts, and drinking strong coffee.
Brucie (or Bruce Lee as I call him behind his back) is a Chinese chef at Hong Kong House
where I occasionally wait tables. I like Brucie. He is a nice guy. But I will never fall
in love with him. I wish that I could, but he is too easy for me. And too old.
Brucie has a slim, soft, practically hairless body. In
winter his skin is the color of bleached yellow mums. He will brown up like dark toast in
the summer. His eyes are sharp, knowing slits, carved into a round, still face. Brucie is
exotic, the maraschino cherry at the bottom of a fruit cup. I have never met anyone like
this man. He has lived in America for over ten years, not once going home to China to see
his parents, brothers or sisters. I used to visit my Mom every single day, dropping in to
eat a meal or wash a load of laundry. I can't believe Brucie doesn't even send Christmas
or birthday cards. I guess he doesn't know if his family is alive or rotting in some
musty, Communist jail. I am his first, real American girlfriend--one he doesn't have to
pay in cash. He is a sad man. I feel sorry for Brucie. He has a truly good heart and most
people are lacking that way.
Brucie is quite different from my latest ex-boyfriend.
Jackson has layers to him just like a garden compost. The surface is fresh and clean, a
thin layer of leafy, sweet-smelling mulch. The core is steamy, fermented, and spoiled.
These are all things a girl cannot tell from just scratching the surface. By the time she
has reached the bottom, it is much too late to turn back. Jackson is a big boy, well over
six-foot, with a pink, healthy glow to his cheeks, and he is about the hairiest boy I have
ever seen. That thick curly hair is everywhere. His forearms, covered with a blanket of
hair unruly as alfalfa sprouts, were the first thing that turned me on.
Poor Brucie. He has two long, feeble hairs on his
arms. I find them revolting. I told him he should go ahead and shave them right off. He
stared at me like I was asking him to eat glue. He doesn't speak English too well and I
thought maybe, possibly, I was talking too fast. As it turns out, he was simply ignoring
me. I am finding out that Chinese boys are good at that. There are some things about boys
that are the same all over the world.
"What you doing?" Brucie asked, slipping
into his starched, white chef coat. He was preparing to leave for work, wearing purple
flip flops and the Mickey Mouse boxer shorts that I bought him at Disney World.
"Having breakfast," I said.
"You call this breakfast?"
"PopTarts and coffee! Breakfast of Champions!
Fortified with 11 vitamins and minerals." I flipped my hair out of my eyes.
"Bah. American food no good for your body. I hate
"Brucie, I am not eating a cheeseburger. Besides,
you had one yesterday. And large fries. And you're still kicking."
"I don't care."
He has a hangover this morning. If you don't count
jiggly, fat-bottomed girls, Budweiser, and the almighty dollar, Brucie claims to detest
all things American. Especially my ex-boyfriends. They are a constant source of
"You go to work?" he asked.
"Nope. Not today, dear. I need my beauty
"Don't be lazy, spoiled American girl."
"The name is Sean. Miss Daly, to you."
"Why don't you work?"
"It's image, baby. How would it look if your girl
had to work?"
"Where you going?"
"It's really none of your business, Brucie.
That's the way I see it."
"You go to see him?"
"Him. American guy. What's his name?
"I don't know what you're talking about," I
said, looking away from him.
"I'm not lying. You don't own me."
"Sean!" His yellow face clouded over.
"That's my name. Don't wear it out."
"I don't have to take shit! Don't be fucking
"I said, `I am not going.'"
"Okay, fine. Clean house then. You have to
"I don't think so."
Brucie rattles off something in Chinese. I detect a
coarse vulgarity as he stomps off as noisily as his worn flip flops will allow. He slams
the cheap, plywood apartment door with a hollow bang. I munch another PopTart. I like the
frosted ones best.
With Jackson, there is always an element of surprise.
He is no pushover. And unlike Brucie, he is never tender. Brucie will rub my stomach when
it's time for my monthly, when my girl parts are beating out a message louder than talking
drums. That's the kind of boy Brucie is. I don't know why I can't like him any better than
I hooked up with Jackson late one afternoon outside
the Circle K. I didn't have a telephone yet. In my neighborhood, where they have metal
bars over every plate glass window, a telephone is a necessity. I was plugging one ear
against the noise and shouting into the pay phone receiver when I saw him.
Jackson winked at me on his way into the store where
he joined a growing queue of tired, muddy construction workers waiting impatiently to buy
three-for-a-dollar chili dogs, Miller tall boys, Goody's powders and Tums. He popped in
and picked me up just like he was stopping in for a six-pack. That's the nature of the
I watched him as I pretended to dial another number.
When I caught him looking at me, I immediately glanced away. I acted all interested in a
small girl, barefoot, with a dirty face and stringy, tangled black hair. She picked her
way deliberately across the parking lot, careful to avoid the juicy blobs of chewing
tobacco spit hastily on the pavement. Her inexperienced foot landed on the butt of an
unfinished cigarette. She leapt howling in a painful hopscotch to the curb.
"It helps if you drop a dime," the voice
said from behind my left shoulder.
"Excuse me," I said, abruptly.
"How can I make it clearer?" he said.
"If you don't put a coin in the slot, you can't make your call."
I slammed the receiver to its cradle.
Jackson stood there rubbing his hand across the top of
short, red spiky hair. Cut military-style, it looked
like velcro. His eyes were a weak blue, punctuated by hard, startlingly black pupils. His
blue chino uniform was ill-fitting, the way most uniforms tend to be, too tight in the
thighs and across the biceps. He probably wore it that way for effect. It bore the
customary iron-on name tag.
"Listen, I don't know who you are. Obviously, you
think you are somebody, interrupting me in this particularly rude manner," I said.
"Well, then you can't read any better than you
can operate a pay phone."
"Very clever, Einstein." I began walking
away briskly, head thrown back, in the direction of my apartment.
"I could give you a lift," he said. I
paused. He came up behind me so closely I could feel his flat waist rub against my back. I
could smell the scent of gasoline and body odor on him. His breath was hot, but not
My first time with Jackson was scary. Like I said,
he's a giant, a great big boy. He bit my
lip that night. I really don't know if it was an
accident or not. My lip got fat and I could taste my own blood, salty and tangy, on his
tongue. Then it happened. Right behind my bellybutton. That's where I felt it. Like a
pearly soap bubble rising in my stomach, it was a queer sensation. Jackson didn't even ask
me if he hurt me. He did, but it felt good too.
I am painting my toenails the only color any
self-respecting glamour girl would ever use -- red. Naturally, it is my signature color. I
only use Estee Lauder Classic Red on my perfectly pedicured feet. If I didn't bite my
fingernails to the very quick, I would do my hands the same luscious shade. Even
sculptured nails are no match for my anxiety attacks. I pluck the fake suckers off just
like they are those dime store press-ons. My Mom always said I was flighty, high strung.
Brucie got on my delicate nerves this morning. I do
hope he doesn't really think I am going to stoop to clean this miserable wreck of an
apartment. I have never seen such a place. It is a living, breathing mass of boy funk.
Dirty pots and pans have been stashed out of sight in the linen closet. At least twenty
take-out pizza boxes are stacked in a futile attempt at order next to the lumpy, plaid
sofa. Ashtrays spill cigarette butts onto the top of the coffee table that is cluttered
with empty Budweiser cans, used napkins and spent plastic forks. You get the picture. I
never should have washed his clothes that one time. Boys.
I pick up the telephone and punch in the familiar
"Public Service. How may I help you?"
It sounds like the new receptionist who thinks she is
the next best thing since Velveeta started making boxed macaroni and cheese. I think she
looks like a man.
"May I speak with Mr. Black, please?"
I can hear my breath, shallow, waiting.
"This is Jackson Black."
"Hey, baby. It's me.
"Hi, Sean. Do you miss Daddy?"
"If I did, I wouldn't be calling this number
"Smart ass. Want to get together?"
"No, I just couldn't get anybody else to spank my
spoiled butt. Lunch good?"
"You're not working?"
"Not that my employment status is any of your
business, but no."
"Well, I do have to work for a living. And I
don't have time to listen to you mouth off."
"Jackson, baby, don't be that way. Circle K?
"I can get away a little earlier."
"It's eleven now. Say half an hour."
"Don't be late. You know how I hate
I say Jackson is my ex-boyfriend and he is. We still
fool around though. It is a sickness. I swear it is. Such an unappealing character flaw.
But, I know I will tumble. I will call him or bump into him outside the Circle K while I'm
pumping high test into Brucie's shiny black Camaro.
I am Brucie's naughty girl. He is always trying to
make me happy. Of course, it is never enough. I don't know why he bothers with me.
Actually, we are a lot alike. We are both weak. There is that appalling lack of discipline
that we share. I keep hoping that someday I will wake up changed.
Jackson is driving the company truck when he pulls up
in front of the Circle K. He is early. I am sitting on the curb outside the convenience
store drinking an A&W root beer and eating a plain hot dog. It is muggy and a little
lip of flesh is hanging over the waist of my jeans, unbuttoned one snap. Skinny as I am, I
seem to be gaining. Not in the right places, unfortunately. I am barely filling this
halter top. Sweat clings to my flat chest.
"Mama, you sure look tasty," a gangly
construction worker calls out to me from behind the safety of his mirrored aviator
sunglasses. He trudges slowly by, leering, and disappears into the artificially perky
light of the store.
"Oh, darling. You are going to make me
blush," I reply smoothly, smiling coyly. Jackson pulls up in time to witness this
sordid exchange. His pale face flushes.
"Get in the truck," he said. "You look
like some kind of slut, sitting there half naked."
"You get what you pay for," I said.
"Good God. Fasten your britches."
Tossing out the rest of my lunch, I climb into the
"Where are we going?" Jackson asked.
"A friend's place. Not far."
"Give me a kiss," he ordered.
"No. Not till we get there."
Jackson reaches his beefy hand over and pinches me.
He twists a good chunk of me between his thumb and index finger.
"Ow. Shit." Now there is a red welt below my
ribcage. I slap at his hand and feel the familiar bubble burst.
"C'mon. Give me a kiss."
"I said, `No,' didn't I?"
He grabs a clump of my hair, never taking his eyes off
the road, and demands directions. He gives my hair a smart snatch and I tell him quickly
how to get to Brucie's. We will be finished long
before Brucie has closed the kitchen at Hong Kong
Jackson pushes me up the stairs and into Brucie's
apartment. No visible bruises. That's the rule. Any body part that can be covered by
clothing is fair game. We have been playing this game since year before last when I came
home from college. Jackson isn't the first boy to hurt me. There have been plenty, but
Jackson taught me to enjoy it.
"This is some guy's place, isn't it? I don't know
what I see in a whore like you." He punches me in my stomach. I can see the stiffness
rising in his blue work pants. Gasping, I don't dare whimper. Jackson likes to see if he
can make me cry.
I am not ready when his large, flat hand snakes out
and cracks me across the face. I feel blood, warm as snot, in my mouth.
"God damn it, Jackson," I sputtered.
"The rules! The fucking rules!"
"You play my way," he said, smacking me hard
again. "You've been a very bad girl." He sinks into me over and over, rough and
mean. I sob and taste sweet blood on my lips.
Jackson is gone, about an hour ago. I am wearing
Brucie's cotton kimono, the one I bought for him, and I am cleaning Brucie's filthy
apartment. "Silly American girl," he'd said the day I presented it to him.
"I'm not Japanese."
I drag the Hokey over the same tired patch of orange
carpet in the living room, cleaning up the same dirt that keeps getting regurgitated by
the overflowing carpet sweeper. I do the Hokey-Pokey.
(Put your left foot out, put your left foot in, do
the Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself about. That's what it's all about!)
Finally, I dump the carpet sweeper. I cross the
hall into the bathroom and plunder under the sink for the Bon Ami.
(The little yellow chick never scratches).
I don't recognize that girl in the mirror although
I feel like I should. Her hair is thick and straight, a mess. Her complexion, fine and
pink, is splotched from crying. I marvel that her one good eye is such a lovely seagreen
shade. A very unusual color. A grotesque plum flower blossoms across the right side of her
puffy face. In tiny, circular motions, I scrub the face bowl over and over until it is
perfectly spotless. Not a stray hair, not a single soap spot, not a fleck of dried
toothpaste mars the surface. Brucie will be so happy. "I'm so hoppy," he will
say, in his singsong voice. "I can't believe! Are you American?"
Exhausted, I sit down and light up a cigarette, a
Marlboro. Brucie's brand. Cowboy killers. Half-smoked, I crush it out in the gleaming
ashtray I cleaned only minutes ago. I sip on my bourbon and Sundrop, mostly bourbon. The
liquor burns going down. I like the smoky, woody taste. I am sitting here in this same
spot when Brucie, smelling like fried rice, comes home from the Hong Kong House.
"What's wrong? What happened?" Brucie hovers
over me, gently touching my battered face with his long, slender fingers. I love his
light, smooth hands, the nails cut short and buffed to a high gloss. His boy hands are
more beautiful than my girl hands. I try to take his elegant fingers into my cut lips.
"What you doing, crazy American girl?" He
snatched his hands away from my bruised mouth.
"Nothing," I said.
"Don't lie, bad American girl."
"I fell, Brucie. I'm sorry."
"Sorry! You always sorry!" he yelled.
"Don't shout at me," I mumbled.
A lonely tear slides from the corner of my bad eye,
"I'm sorry, every time, you say. No good, your
"I know. I can't help it."
"You have to."
Brucie raises my empty glass to his nose, his
extraordinarily European nose. He is so proud of this nose. He is certain it makes him
look like a Chinese Paul Newman. Extremely sexy in a rugged way. Brucie sniffs the glass
with this long, thin nose.
"Are you drunk?" he asked.
"I think so." I burped.
"How am I going to do? I can't believe." He
sighed deeply. "Go
to bed. Go now. I take care."
Brucie cleans my face with a warm, wet cloth and mild
soap. I am sorry that I can never love him the way he loves me. I stretch my arms up to
him like a child. He smooths my untidy hair back from my face. His lips, small like a
wondrous gift, press against my forehead. Hydrogen peroxide bubbles in the cracks of my
cuts. It stings, but feels cool, soothing.