Madhuri remembers a visit to the Ranch of two representatives of the telephone company
My job as liaison between the Ranch and the County telephone company did not suit me; I am not by nature any sort of gregarious diplomat. But we were not there to find what suited us; we were there to be disarranged, disturbed, and upended.
I present the following scene as a tableau, to be gazed at in, perhaps, some awe; but to be neither judged nor analyzed – unless it is your joy to do that. I see it rather in a painterly way – this figure here, that there; each doing their thing, however strange.
Sheela was giving a luncheon party for two representatives of the telephone company; a number of Ranchites were invited as well. I, as liaison, had to be there, though what good I could have done I cannot tell you even now.
Some sort of smiley arbiter was needed in the relationship, because nearly every day since I had gone to work at Edison two years before, some sweet red-jeaned cowboy on a backhoe had dug up the only phone cable between the Ranch and the rest of the world. The phone company then had to send someone to repair it. This happened fully as often as border incidents in the Middle East – truly, it was daily. And now that we were to have many more phone lines installed, more PR was needed. Why me? If someone had invited me to recite Walt Whitman to them, about the Body Electric, that I could have done with alacrity and aplomb. Instead I hung about Jesus Grove like an ocelot in a stiff blazer, with a bubble of permed hair and lots of makeup on, itching to get out of there.
Sheela had recruited an extremely tall and lanky Russian named Veeren, who had a marvellous gloom about him and a guttural, accusatory wit, to act as some sort of barking dog to the hapless phone fellows. I am still not sure why she did this, except that Veeren and the sidekick she brought in for him were tech geniuses, so that the nastiness could claim that cachet? The cohort was German Bodhi Garbha – known, inevitably, as Bodhi Garbage. He was a stocky little badger of a guy, obnoxious in best Teutonic tradition. These two then, in their unpierceable accents, advanced like earth-moving equipment to surround and verbally bludgeon the two skinny dudes who dodged about Sheela’s suburban-style living room, still trying to be polite. Thick, sneering insults were lobbed like grenades, one after another. Perhaps Sheela thought that the warlike histories of Veeren’s and Bodhi Garbage’s collective conditionings would make them amenable to such an assignment. Whatever grudges they had against anybody since time began they could now turn into punishment. Who knows what Sheela thought?
The poor duo from Outside were outnumbered, flanked, bitten – and they tried so hard to be cheerful and friendly! The whole weird afternoon! I felt so sorry for them that I could barely stand it. I was so embarrassed I could hardly move. (It’s true that I am a disempowered female, unable to bitch, a scrawny coyote who cannot fight back even when confronted by someone’s flouncing bossiness – so perhaps my allergy to what I witnessed has roots in my own dispossessed awfulness. It’s worth considering.)
Lunch was announced and we all went into the dining room. There must have been twenty of us. Sheela had gone back into her room for a bit and she now appeared at her door wearing a long white lace wedding dress. The middle finger of her right hand was elaborately bandaged in white as well; and, of course, it stuck straight up whenever she raised the hand. Which she did immediately, to show everyone and explain: “I was cleaning out a cupboard,” she said, “and a spider bit me. My finger got so big –.“ Her huge round eyes blinked – the heavy flat voice seeming to come from a glossy, cynical brown toad. “So it had to be bandaged.” She sat down at the long table, we all sat, and soup was placed before each diner. Sheela went on, “I’m wearing this dress because Jayananda and I are going to get married again. Last time we got married it was on an airplane. So we wanted to get married on the ground, too.” Jayananda, as ever giving nothing away, sat near her; he neither spoke nor nodded nor shook his head. His eyes held…what? Not nothing. But what sort of something was it? I could not fathom him at all.
You know that Filipina nurse Sheela kept near her? The one who dispensed pills from a sort of plastic lunchbox she always carried? Round face, pocked skin, always beaming? Disappeared without a trace when it was all over? Well, whatever pills she had given her patient to cope with the pain caused by the mighty spider’s mandibles, their effect was accelerating as we watched. Sheela went on discoursing, blinking those san-paku orbs, her small mouth in her broad face slackening, her fuck-you finger on the table, pointing at whoever. She was, quite frankly, maundering, with sentimental slurrings coming in amongst the matter-of-fact words. Then she toppled forward into her soup.
The table held its breath and scraped its chairs back. The phone company guys, I saw with a quick glance, were in shock, and still trying to put a brave face on it. Someone helped Sheela sit upright and mopped her off. As I remember it, another pill was administered – presumably to wake her up. It worked; some dreadful eternity later we were all gathered in her bedroom, phone guys included, and many more Moms arrived to crowd in and watch the ceremony. Sheela and Jay stood near their bed while someone – I don’t remember who – married them again. The bandage really did look fetching with the dress, in lieu of a posy. Many gifts were given and unwrapped – they all seemed to be large enameled or pottery plates – and then the bride subsided again. I seem to remember that she found some energy to nag at the poor wretched innocents first though, before turning them back over to the Growling Garglers. None of it made any sense to me.
At last the afternoon was over and it was time to get ready for the evening; the Oregonians were allowed to escape, and they drove off in their jeep. I do not know what tales they told their wives that night. Whatever it was, I had no part in it, despite my title – in my coral PR suit, there was nothing I knew to say to them of business, nothing I could say to explain to them what had happened to them; no way to comfort them, or myself.