Monday, August 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 3 (Lawrence James)

James, Lawrence
The Rise and Fall
of the British Empire

Purchased online. I am not sure I read this, but the little bookmark on page 19 tells me one of two things -- either I read nineteen pages and stopped or I read the whole thing and randomly stuck the bookmark on page 19. Likely the former. The book mark, by the way, is in the form of a white square paint color sample. The color is Ralph Lauren White Wash, River Rapids, WW16.

I moved back home for the last time in the summer of 1990. That summer is a bit of a blur now. I can't recall anything that distinguishes it from other summers. I think I worked for my father. Yes, I did. My father owned a small rental car company in Washington, D.C. and I think I and my AA roommate from school and also another friend from high school worked there that summer.

There was one major event that summer. My father's "righthand man" was a guy named Otis Mallory. He was about forty-five at the time and had started working for my father right out of rehab. He quickly gained my father's trust and moved from working in the garage to working in the office to eventually becoming the general manager of all three locations.

Otis knew how to handle all of my father's bluster with astonishing equanimity. More importantly for me, he knew how to bridge the communication gap between me and my father. We became very close over the two summers that we worked together.

I remember one day we received a phone call. A man with a heavy Asian accent called and asked for "Ota Molloy." I handed the phone to Otis, who got a big grin on his face when he heard the voice.

What? Who? Nah, there ain't no Ota Molloy here, he said. And he hung up.

A minute later, the phone rang again.

I told you there ain't no Ota fuckin' Molloy here. Now stop botherin' me. And he hung up again.

I think we laughed all afternoon until my father showed up and said he got an angry call from the same guy, saying he'd been stranded in one of our cars and needed us to pick him up in Baltimore. I started calling him Ota Molloy after that. It became something of an in-joke for me to answer the phone and when it was for him to say, Ota Molloy, it's for you.

And then one day I got a call from one of the other workers at about six in the morning. She said, Mike is your dad there. I said he'd already left. Otis died, she said. He had a heartache in the bathroom at home and he just died. I told him to stop eating all that McDonald's, she said. I could hear her crying on the other end. It was a real shock.

At his wake, my father and I were the only two white people present and I remember feeling out of place, likely because I'd never been the minority in a room like that before.

I remember going up to the coffin and staring at Otis' corpse. He always wore a Kangol flat cap, but now his hat was off and I could see he was bald, a fact I'd never known. I remember staring at his fingernails and thinking that somehow they looked different than when he was alive. The color had drained out from behind them.

Anyhow, whenever I need a nom de plume, I now use Ota Molloy in his honor.

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