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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Construction and Deconstruction
by Joe Camhi
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I was talkin wid the nurse.
     "What does your father do, sir?"
     "Construction. He's in construction."
     "What do you do?"
     "Who's his insurance carrier."
     "He don't have no insurance."
     "How are you going to pay, sir?"

     Family Values

The old man was in the waitin room wid about twenty a the boys. Suits and dark glasses. As I passed em, they said, "Sorry about your father, Angelo."
     Whenever I see the old man it surprises me how old he got. Growin up, he was always the old man, but he was big, not like now, all shriveled like a prune. Like a pale deadly prune.
     He cleared his troat. "We just found out. The Rodriguez brothers did it. Sons a bitches."
     "They're Geno's boys, ain't they? I aksed.
     "I'm gonna slit their fuckin troats."
     "No! . . . don't worry, Angelo. We'll whack em, but not yet. First I convince Geno we're still all friends. Everything's beautiful. It's just a misunderstandin. We straighten it out. Get our money. Then we whack everyone a them dirty bastards."
     "Whata you want me to do?"
     "Take care a your own."
     "Whata you sayin?"
     "Take care a your father."
     "You sayin I gotta take care a my father?"
     "Yeah. What's a matter?"
     "You sayin I gotta live wid him?"
     "How the hell you gonna take care a him if you don't live wid him?"
     "I can't live wid him."
     "Whata you mean you can't live wid him?"
     "I can't live wid him."
     "He's your father."
     "He drives me crazy."
     The old man turned red. I never seen him so mad. He pointed his finger and yelled, wheezing, "You take care a your father. When you was too young to do anything, he wiped the cheese off your mouth. He fed you, he clothed you, he wiped your ass." The old man was shakin his fist. "He brung you into the world. He brung you into the business!" Then he dropped his arm and relaxed. "I'm ashamed a you, Angelo."
     "I don't mean no disrespect, sir, but he really really drives me crazy. I can't help it."
     "Take care a him."
     "He treats me like a kid."
     "Take care a him."
     "He's a Republican for Christ's sake."
     "I thought he liked workin wid the unions."

     Domestic Violence

That night I told my wife Deborah I had to move in wid my dad for a few months, and she trows a pot at me. I told her, "I gotta do what I gotta do." Two weeks later dad gets home and I move in wid him. He showed me the bag attached to the side a his body wid a tube. "It ain't that bad," he said, "It comes off in a few months. Another operation. I ain't lookin forward to it. But it ain't so bad. It's like I'm shittin all the time. I can't control it. I'm talkin to some broad, I'm shittin. I'm talkin to some guys, I'm shittin. I'm talkin to you right here, I'm shittin. Fuckin unbelievable. When I'm sittin at the table eatin, I'm shittin right into the bag. I ain't gotta use the toilet. It ain't natural, but it's convenient. Like, lets say you gotta kill some guy and you really gotta go to the batroom. That ain't gonna happen to me."


That night dad made dinner. Chicken Cacciatore wid Fettucchini Alfredo on the side and garlic bread.
     Dad stopped eatin, looked at my plate. "Have some more chicken, boy."
     "I can't eat another bite, dad."
     He started eatin again. Two minutes later. "You sure you don't want no more chicken?"
     "I'm full."
     A half a minute later he looked back at my plate. "You want more chicken, son?"
     "No, dad." I tapped my stomach. "I'm tryin to lose some weight."
     "You look fine, boy. Tomorrow you diet. Today we eat. Have another piece."
     "I had five pieces. I don't want no more."
     "Don't be ashamed, son. You know me. There's plenty a chicken. Have some more."
     "I ain't ashamed, dad. I'd eat more if I wanted more--I don't want no more."
     "But it's delicious."
     "I know it's delicious. I had five fuckin pieces."
     "Then have another piece. I don't mind."
     "Look, dad. Get this trough your thick head: I don't give a shit how delicious it is. I don't want no more."
     "Listen, son. When your grandmother and grandfather was alive, they had food on the table all the time. Everybody in the neighborhood was over, eatin. Your grandfather worked hard drivin his truck. I was never hungry. They fed me. I knew that they loved me."
     "Dad, I know you love me. I just don't wanna eat no more."
     "What? You're tryin to loose weight?"
     "It's chicken. It can't hurt you."
     "But I don't want no more fuckin chicken."
     "One more piece ain't gonna hurt you."
     I trew the fuckin table over. Pasta and that fuckin chicken was all over the place. I pulled out my gun, opened the safety, and pointed it at his stupid brains. "I don't want no more a that chicken. You understand what I'm sayin?"
     Dad looked at me. Smiled. "My boy's a man," he said.


A few days later the old man called wid the order to whack the Rodriguez brothers.
     Dad smiled. "I'm comin wid you. I'm gonna kill those fuckin Mexicans myself."
     "You ain't comin, dad."
     "You're damn right I'm comin."
     "You ain't comin. That bag on your side. You'll slow me down."
     Dad hit the kitchen table wid his fist, yelled, "You're my son! A punk kid! Don't tell me what to do. I'm gonna whack them fuckin Mexicans. Who the hell they think they are? They run around Mexico wid out no shoes, then they come here, to my country, buy a pair, and all a the sudden they think they can muscle in on my business."
     "That ain't right, dad."
     "Damn right it ain't right."
     "I mean it ain't right talkin about em like that."
     "They stabbed me in my fuckin stomach!"
     "That's why I'm gonna kill em."
     "No! That's why I'm gonna kill em."
     "Well . . . you don't gotta say those things."
     "What the hell are you talkin about? I should talk nice about em? I raised you better than that, boy."
     "We'll kill em. But leave their culture outta this."
     "It ain't right to say they ain't got no shoes just cause they're Mexicans."
     "You ever been to Mexico, boy?"
     "No. You been to Me-he-co?"
     "How'd you know I been to there? Who told you?"
     "I don't know. I was just aksin. Based on . . . you know . . . the conversation."
     "The old man finds out someone's been talkin about the Mexico deal, he ain't gonna be happy. I'll tell you that."
     "I don't know nothin. You aksed me--I aksed you."
     "Well, I ain't gonna tell you. I ain't gonna say yes, I ain't gonna say no. But I'll tell you one thing: there's lots a people runnin around there widout no shoes on their feet! The Mexican government is better crooks than we are."
     "Yeah, but the way you said it, it was like . . . all Mexicans ain't got no shoes. Just cause a guy lives in Me-he-co it don't mean he ain't got no shoes. Don't they got straw shoes or somethin there?"
     "So some Mexicans got shoes. Who the hell cares?"
     "See, Deborah says . . . "
     "Deborah! I knew it!"
     "Deborah says . . . "
     "I told you not to marry a Jew doctor. Especially an English professor."
     "Deborah says. . . "
     "And what the hell did she marry you for? You can't even speak English."
     "She said she likes tough guys, says she wants to tame me."
     "Well, I hope she does. Cause you talk like a fuckin gorilla, you know that?"
     "If you shut up and listen, dad, maybe you might learn somethin. What I'm tryin to tell you is that Deborah says that you shouldn't make fun a people just cause they come from different cultures. She says we should celebrate their cultures. And she knows: she teaches college."
     "What the hell are you talkin about?"
     "America is made up a all these different cultures. Deborah calls it . . . uh . . . Megaculturalism."
     "Huh? What the hell is Megaculturalism."
     "Well . . . lets say you get in the elevator wid a bunch a African-Americans, right? You know how you get that sick kind a feelin, like you wanna trow up?"
     "That's cause they come from a different culture. They ain't like us. See?"
     "Is that why they got that black skin?"
     "Yeah, its parta their culture. Deborah calls it diversity."
     "Their black skin?"
     "No. Diversity means they're different from us."
     "Sorta like diversifyin your business?"
     "No, it ain't the same thing, dad. Diversity means guys who look different . . . and women."
     "Yeah. They're a different culture too. You see . . . what Deborah says is this: if you could understand the African-American culture, you wouldn't get sick in the elevator."
     "I see what you're sayin."
     "Only trouble is, is that we can't understand their culture cause a diversity, and cause we're white guys."
     "You don't say."
     "You ready to kill the Rodriguez brothers, dad?"
     "Yeah. Just let me get my gun. And Angelo . . . "
     "Sorry about what I said before. I didn't mean nothin."
     We left the house.


When we got back home, dad walked over to me. He smiled, looked me up and down, and spoke soft, "My boy, I'm proud a you."
     I moved away, but he put his arm on my shoulder, said, "Here, you got some a Rodriguez's blood on your face."
     He put his thumb in his mouth. Before I could get the hell outta the way, he was rubbin my cheek wid his wet thumb. I slapped his hand away. "I hate when you do that shit," I said.
     "What's a matter. I was just cleanin your face. I'm your father. I used to clean your face all the time."
     "Yeah, and I always hated that shit. Your spit dries up and gets all crusty feelin. And it smells all sour, cause your breath stinks."
     "Okay I won't do it no more. Walk around wid blood all over your face if you wanna. You're a man. But remember one thing: that ain't how I raised you."
     "Dad, try to understand what I'm sayin. I ain't a kid no more. When I kill a guy, I like to wash my own face. Understand?"
     "I understand."
     "I take care a myself. I'm a man."
     "Good boy."
     I almost pulled my gun on him.
     But I went to the batroom and washed. When I finished dad was sittin at the kitchen table drinkin espresso wid anisette. He looked sad. I felt guilty.
     "Dad, I didn't mean to hurt your feelins. I always get like that after a good kill. The adrenalin, you know?"
     "Nah, it ain't that, son. I ain't mad--I'm your father, talk is bullshit."
     "So what's the matter. We whacked the Rodriguez brothers. You should be happy."
     "Yeah but his daughter. Why'd she have to be there? I hate killin women."
     "You hate killin women?"
     "You're a sexist. You know that?"
     "What the hell's a sexist?"
     "Someone who don't like women."
     "I thought that was a chauvinist."
     "No, chauvinists play tennis."
     "But wait a minute . . . if I didn't like women, wouldn't I wanna kill em?"
     "It's the same thing. Deborah calls it the Feminine Misspeak."
     "What the hell are you talkin about."
     "You'd kill a guy widout even thinkin about it, right?"
     "I'd kill two guy's widout even thinkin about it."
     "That's the thing."
     "What's the thing? What the hell are you talkin about? Deborah's drivin you crazy. I told you not to marry a Jew. You shoulda married a nice Italian girl who knows how keep her mouth shut."
     "That's the thing."
     "There he goes again. That's the thing. That's the thing. That's the thing. What the hell are you talkin about?"
     "It's the '90's, dad. You gotta treat em the same as men. You whack one, you whack the other. I'll whack anybody. I'm an equal opportunity killer."
     "You're sayin broads is the same as men? What are you, a fag?"
     "No, they ain't the same, but you gotta treat em the same. It's all part a the Feminine Misspeak."
     "What the hell are you talkin about, Angelo."
     "Deborah told me all about it . . . and she knows: she teaches college."
     "So what the hell is it?"
     "See, dad . . . when men speak, our words mean things, but women speak in simpleisms."
     "What the hell's a simpleism?"
     "Women ain't comfortable wid words, so when they speak, their words mean somethin else. Their words are simples for other things."
     "I think I see what you're sayin."
     "Yeah, some guy named Fraud figured this out."
     "Fraud? I think I know him. Name sounds familiar."
     "Nah, you don't know him, he's dead."
     "Oh yeah? Who whacked him out?"
     "No one whacked him out. He's been dead millions a years."
     "So this Fraud guy said women talk in simples?"     
     "That's right. It's like Deborah. One a her student's got fresh wid her."
     "What'd he do?"
     "She said he tried to deconstruct her derriere. Now, nobody, I mean nobody, deconstructs my wife's derriere but me."
     "I'd break his fuckin legs."
     "That's what I said I was gonna do . . ."
     "My boy."
     "So she tells me not to do nothin. So I don't. Then you know what? She gets mad at me! She says she can't believe I didn't do nothin. Can you believe it, dad? You see what I'm sayin here? She told me not to do nothin, but she meant I should do somethin. So you know what I do? I visit the kid. I take my mallet. I break his fuckin legs. Now, you would think Deborah would be happy, right?"
     "She smacks me in the fucken head. Said she didn't mean for me to break his legs. She just wanted me to tell him I'd break his legs. She said it woulda been the same thing but less messy. She said, since guys don't talk in simples, sayin you're gonna break someone's legs is the same as breakin his legs. Then she called me a fuckin guinea. You understand, dad? Guys words mean things, and women don't know what the fuck they're talkin about. They don't know what they're sayin. Unless a course they want somethin. Then they know exactly what they're sayin. Buy me that fuckin gold chain. Buy me that fuckin fur coat. Buy me that fuckin dress. Buy those fucken ear rings. . . . Ah, women! . . . You can't live wid em. But who the fuck else is gonna bake the pasta."

     The Media

Later, we was watchin TV. The news.
     "Oh my God!" said dad.
     They was chasin Joey Ratigliano down Sixty-Seventh Street. My father looked stunned.
     "Poor bastard," he said.
     "Didn't they used to call him the Deadly Meat Grinder?" I aksed.
     "Yeah, back in the old days. I remember when Lupo sent two boys to Brooklyn to take care a the Deadly Meat Grinder. The Great Grinder took out his ax and that was that. He was a great man." Dad shook his head sadly.
     The Deadly Meat Grinder was sprintin up Broadway now, and there was twenty reporters chasin him. There was tears in the great Grinders eyes.
     "It ain't fair," said dad. "They hate us."
     The Deadly Meat Grinder turned up Sixty-Ninth Street wid the press right behind him, callin after him: "Mr. Ratigliano, could we speak to you?" The Grinder was wheezin as he ran.
     "It's fuckin media bias," dad said. "It ain't no fair. Why don't they bother other people? We gotta work for a livin too. What do they want us to do? Live on the streets? Why don't they bother the politicians? Them politicians is worse than we are, cause we're supposed to be crooks. That's our job. What do they expect?"
     Dad's face was red. He was shakin. "Just look at the Great Grinder," he said. "Runnin like a broad!" He was lookin at the TV. "Go Grinder, go." He looked at me, shook his head, said, "It ain't like the old days, Angelo. I'll tell you that. Back then if they was gonna do a story on you, you could call em up and treaten their wife and kids. But now, wid this technology they got, your face is everywhere. Look at that poor bastard run. I'd hate to have them mad at me. They hate us. The Deadly Meat Grinder never had a chance. And he's such a nice guy. Poor bastard."

     Hate Crime

Two days later the old man called again. Wanted us to whack two more a Geno's boys. African-Americans.
     "Here, dad. Wear this."
     "What the hell is this?"
     "It's an X-hat. Wear it.
     "What the hell for?"
     "This way if we get caught after we slit their troats, we can prove it ain't a hate crime. Knock at least five years off the life sentence."
     We loaded our guns, put on our hats, and left.

     We got back. Dad took a shower. I washed my face. Walked in the livin room. Dad put the news on.
     "Why'd you let him pray before you slit his troat?"
     "He aksed me."
     "So it don't cost nothin. So what?"
     "So you believe in God?"
     "Yeah. Course I believe in God."
     "Is there anybody you wouldn't kill for the old man?"
     "Forget about me. I'm family. Anybody else?"
     "Let me think a second. . . . I'll kill anybody."
     "What if he aksed you to kill the Pope? Would you do it?"
     "That's ridiculous. He ain't gonna aks me to kill the Pope."
     "But what if he did?"
     "He ain't."
     "I know that. But what if he did?"
     "What if the old man aksed me to kill the Pope?"
     "That's the stupidest question I ever heard. What if the old man aksed me to kill the Pope."
     "Would you do it?"
     "Would I do it?"
     "Yeah, would you do it?"
     "Don't be stupid. You should be ashamed a yourself--aksin stupid questions like that."
     "Well, would you?"
     "Would I?"
     "Yeah. Would you?"
     "No. I wouldn't. I'd go straight to hell. . . . Would you?"
     "Yeah, I would . . . I don't believe in mixin religion and murder."

     Gun Control

Late that night, dad was watchin the news, shakin. "I can't believe they wanna ban our guns!"
     "I think it's a good thing," I said.
     "You crazy? Whata you gonna do, use a stiletto?"
     "No. It's just that--whata other people need guns for? You. Me. We need guns. It's a tool we use for work. But whata other people need guns for?"
     "It's our right. It's in the constitution. We got a right to bear guns."
     Health Insurance

     A few nights later dad was in the batroom for a half hour. I knocked on the door. "Hey dad. You alright in there?"
     I heard him groan. I kicked open the door. Broke the lock. He was on his knees grabbin the bag at his side. He whispered, "Nothins comin out. It's blocked. Call the doctor."
     The doctor said he needed a fleece enema. One, two, six, I'm out the door and down the block. When I got to the drug store I was outta breath. The glass door was locked. I banged.
     An old man came outta the back, showed me his watch, and mouthed the words, "We're closed."
     I yelled, "It's an emergency."
     Again he pointed at his watch.
     I pulled out my gun and pointed it at the glass door. The old man dove behind his counter. The glass shattered. I came inside. "You got insurance for that door?" I aksed him.
     "No," he said.
     I trew four five-hundred dollar bills on the floor and spit on em. "Where the hell's the fleece enimas?" I said.
     The old man got up from behind the counter and pointed. I grabbed a couple and ran home.
     I gave em to dad, and he stuffed the little bottle in the hole in his side. A second later there was an explosion and the batroom walls was brown.
     "Thank God," I said.


Two weeks later the old man called. I put it on the speaker phone. "I want you guys to whack the Pope," he said.
     Dad looked at me confused. Then scared. "Say that again." he said.
     "What's a matter? You deaf?" said the old man, "I want you to whack the Pope, for me."
     Dad looked at me. I started laughin. The old man started laughin.
     "You told him what I said? I can't believe you told him," dad said.
     "Hey don't worry about it," said the old man, "I wouldn't kill the Pope either. The man's a saint. You gotta draw the line somewheres." Then he told us they found out where Geno was hidin. An old burnt out buildin in the Bronx.
     "That's a bad neighborhood," dad said.
     "Yeah. Very poor area," I said.
     "Lots a crime in that area. Anybody bothers us we shoot em. Okay, boy?"
     "The only reason they'd bother us is cause they're so poor. It ain't no fair."
     "What ain't no fair?"
     "We got so many poor people in the most richest country in the world."
     "So, who cares. Long as it ain't us? Those people are scum. Fuck em."
     "It ain't those people."
     "What are you talkin about?"
     "It's class. They're lower class."
     "Lower class? They ain't got no class."
     "No. I mean class."
     "That's what I thought you said."
     "Deborah says we can make things better."
     "What the hell are you talkin about?"
     "Deborah calls it Marxism."
     "Marxism! That's like Russia, ain't it? Are you a commie?"
     "Deborah says Russia made mistakes. She says they screwed it up. And she knows: she teaches college."
     "You're a commie. My son's a commie. This is the saddest day a my life."
     "Think about it, dad. Deborah says in a Marxist Society production is the base. And everything else is the stupid structure. And the government owns all a that shit."
     "So what's so good about that?"
     "Think about it. There's plenty to go around."
     "How's that?"
     "Everything's illegal. Say you wanna sell anything. We're not talkin drugs, gamblin, and prostitution--we're talkin anything. We're talkin hamburgers, basketballs, even toilet paper, for Christ's sake. Sell anything--you're in the mob. Everybody'd be in the mob. And there'd be room for everybody. We wouldn't have to kill Geno and his boys--cause there'd be room for em. The Rodriguez brothers wouldn't a stabbed you in the gut. They'd be sellin something else. Everybody would be nice to each other. What's wrong wid that?"
     "Nothin. I never knew communism was so nice."
     "Everybody'd be rich. We'd have Ethiopia on earth."
     "Sounds great. You got any more a them bullets? The hollow points."
     "Yeah. Here you go. You know, dad. Sometimes when I think about this stuff it brings tears to my eyes."


We got back. I washed my face. Dad was mad, said, "I can't believe you never told me you shot out Mr. Rissoti's glass door."
     "I just told you in the car."
     "That ain't the point. I gotta live in this neighborhood. I keep everything calm here. They respect me. And you go ahead and shoot out Mr. Rizzoti's front door."
     "Dad. You was on your knees, on the floor in the batroom. I thought you was gonna die."
     "I wish I did, I'm so embarrassed."
     "I gave him two grand for the door. He should be happy."
     "You gave him two grand? Are you crazy! The door ain't worth two grand."
     "Look. I don't wanna discuss this no more."
     "All you had to do was tell him who I was. He woulda let you in."
     "I said I don't wanna discuss this no more."
     "Well I do. Look at me when I talk to you. Don't turn around. Look at me, boy. Just cause I'm an old man, it don't mean I can't kick your ass!"
     "Wid that bag on your side? I don't think so!"


Two weeks later I took dad back to the hospital to get the bag removed. I was talkin wid the nurse.
     "What does your father do, sir?"
     "Construction. He's in construction."
     "Construction. He's in construction."
     "Did you say construction, sir?"
     "Did you say construction?"
     "I can't understand what you're sayin."
     "Did. You. Say. Construction."
     "Construction. Did you say it?"
     "Did you say deconstruction? I don't know what the word means."
     "I don't know what the word means."
     "I'm sorry, sir. It's hard to hear you with that construction going on outside. What did you say?"
     "I can't understand a word you're sayin."
     "I don't understand."

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