Praestigiare

Iteration III

Potatoes Fried in Olive Oil

October 22, 2009

When I was fourteen years old I lived for a time in a small house with my mom and my three brothers, a crazy martial artist, a pipe smoker with heart trouble, an old man we had picked up by the side of the road on the drive across country, and our Danish au pair.

It was a bit of a squeeze finding room for everyone to sleep in a two bedroom house. Grandpa, which is what we called the hitchhiker, camped in the living room with me and my brothers on the first night, but after that he made an arrangement with the martial artist and they shared one of the bedrooms. He told me that they were both military men, with trained reflexes, and he was afraid of hurting one of us in a semiconscious state. Something about how he said it made it seem a little less ridiculous than it sounds, though still not entirely credible as he was in his late 80s. As for the martial artist, he had no qualms about hurting people, though you could tell he preferred to be fully conscious while doing it so that he could really savor the experience.

The other bedroom was for the pipe smoker, though eventually he would move in with his girlfriend and leave that room free for squatters to move in. I think he may have actually owned the house. That was never clear to me. It must not have been very clear to him either.

In the second week we were there I decided that I no longer wanted to sleep on the WalMart futon chair in the living room, and so I rearranged the boxes in the garage to form a small cave into which I could climb at night and have some space of my own. This was an old habit of mine – I had once created a reading nook in an old washing machine box, and when very young I would climb out of bed and sleep in the bottom drawer of my dresser.

It was only a semi-private cave, as the greater garage area was shared with our au pair, Ronnie. This worked out mostly to my advantage, because he had pictures of topless girls from Denmark, and would let me look at them. He would also relate his plans to hack into bank computers and steal enough money to buy a very fast motorcycle, on which he could commit suicide on his 30th birthday. This was a key part of his life plan, and I found it fascinating.

When you gather such a strange group of people together into a small space, it is important to find common ground. Especially when it is an El Niño year in southern California and you are stuck inside the house together for days on end. For us, the common ground was breakfast, which consisted of five pounds of potatoes fried in a liter of olive oil, and as many eggs as each person felt capable of. Somehow, over fried potatoes and eggs, it did not seem so strange to speak one day about grandpa’s gold claim in Alaska and the next about how many ways the martial artist could kill all of us without getting out of his chair.