The Only Truth that Mattered

The hose stretched just long enough to insert one end over the tailpipe and the other end into the driver’s window.

We were living in Los Angeles then, in an apartment complex a few blocks from the barrio. My twin brother and I were nine, and hadn’t yet adopted the code of behavior that governed kids’ conduct in the building: Eat a pickle to hide the cigarette stench on your breath, use a Bic lighter instead of matches to set off the fire alarm at school, run like hell after you shoplift. The city government subsidized the stuffy, cramped apartments we all inhabited — we were Section 8 kids, the local lingua franca for poor kids, bad kids, although Erich and I were different from our friends in many respects. We weren’t born here; we’d moved from Virginia. We didn’t steal, or swear, or smoke. We had piles of books in our apartment, a piano, too. And, most exotic — we didn’t go to church. In the eyes of our friends, we were sinners, damned to burn for eternity.

Our father meditated regularly, and on any given morning could be found in the living room performing some acrobatic yoga stance, face beet-red, veins pulsing at his temples, legs stretched high above his head. UCLA had offered him a professorship in their East Asian Studies department, but he’d had a breakdown, and now we were living here, on welfare, our apartment suffused with the pungent smells of sandalwood incense and marijuana, which he smoked in a corncob pipe throughout the day. As a Zen Buddhist, he embraced the principle of the Middle Way, and sought to avoid the extremes of both self-indulgence and asceticism. He told our mother he’d worked out a system to ensure that he only got stoned in moderation: He’d lock his baggie of marijuana in a metal box, enclose the key in a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and drop the envelope in the corner mailbox. This way, he couldn’t have access to his stash for at least three days, which was about as long as it took for the post office to deliver the key back to him.

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