Chapter 56 – Don’t Fuck With the Family
My first day on tour in Turkmenistan, our group was led around Ashgabat by our local guide Shavkat. Shavkat was twenty-five, the same age as me at the time, and spoke perfect English in an American accent. During the tour through the white marble clad corridors of the capital city, Shavkat told us that the name “Ashgabat” has a Persian origin and translates to English as “city of love.” And then again when we were leaving, he reiterated this tidbit by saying, “Okay, this is it. This is the end of our tour through Ashgabat, the city of love. So if you need to recharge on your love supply, this is your last chance to do it.”
And since I’m such an asshole and can never just keep my thoughts to myself, I said loud enough for everyone to hear, “Usually when I recharge my love supply, I need to plug my cable into some sort of outlet if ya know what I mean.”
One guy from the whole group of people I’d just met that morning laughed at the joke while Shavkat kinda gave me a look like, “Why you gotta say somethin’ like that?”
In spite of the off-color sexualized comment that probably made him think I was a douchebag, Shavkat and I became friends during the time he showed us around his country. And one night while camping out in the Karakum Desert near the hellfire of the Darvaza Gas Crater, Shavkat and I were the only two still awake on the site. At the time, he was just chillin’ and messin’ around with the campfire while I sat there getting trashed on a cheap-ass bottle of local vodka.
“If all goes according to plan,” Shavkat answered my question of what he wanted to do with his life, “by the end of this upcoming summer I should be in America getting ready to start studying for my undergrad.”
“No way, man. Where you gonna be livin’?”
“The school’s in Minneapolis.”
“Sweet. That’s not too far from where I live in Chicago. Ya know, you should come visit me at my house if you end up making it to America. That’d be pretty cool.”
“Hmm, yeah, maybe I will, ” he nodded his head while poking some hot embers with a stick. “Maybe I will.”
Of course, I made that suggestion to hundreds of people while drunk when travelling and since nobody else had ever taken the offer seriously, I figured that Shavkat too would dismiss it as poppycock. But he didn’t. And he eventually came to stay at my parents’ house in the city that blows for about four or five days.
On one of those nights, after having gone to the local grocery store, I hung out with Shavkat in the kitchen and helped him with whatever he needed as he threw together a traditional Central Asian dish known as “plov.” Once all the ingredients had been added to the pot and put over fire on the stovetop, the two of us stood around chatting. One of the topics we ended up discussing quite thoroughly had been that of family.
Shavkat is, by nature, a family man. He comes from a clan consisting of about ten siblings and his father died when he was relatively young. He told me that after he gets his degree in Minneapolis, he will return to his home country because, as one of the youngest of his brothers and sisters, it will be his responsibility – and honor – to take care of his mother as she reaches old age. He urged me to appreciate my parents while I still have them in good health because, as he said, “Once they’re gone, Tim, they’re not coming back.”
In addition to the more serious aspects of familial life, we also discussed the good times. One of my favorite stories that Shavkat told me of his youth had been about the time one of his older brothers stepped in to solve a chronic bullying situation.
“When I used to walk home from school every day, there was this shepherd – an older boy – that used to like to pick on me. I’d say he was about three or four years older than me and he’d be walking along with his animals and I’d be walking along with my books and he’d stop me and make fun of me and then beat me up before I made it home.
“And usually I was ashamed and would try to clean it up before any of my brothers could see because they all knew taekwondo and were always able to defend themselves. But one day one of my brothers saw me and asked what happened. And I told him this older shepherd kid who was much bigger than me had been beating me up every day and all that stuff.”
“Yeah?” I laughed. “And what’d he do?”
“Well, like, I was hesitant to bring my brothers into the picture in the first place because if I complained to them about a bully my own age, what they would do is beat me up again and tell me to quit being such a wimp and fight back when the bully hits me. But because this guy was so much bigger and older than me, this time my brother walked with me after school and when we saw the shepherd, he asked, ‘Is this the guy?’ And I told him, ‘Yeah, that’s the guy.’ And without another word, my brother kicked him in the face and we left him laying there in the field surrounded by his animals. And, after that, he never picked on me again.”
After first seeing The Godfather when I was a little kid and watching James Caan beat the piss outta his fictional brother-in-law with a garbage can lid on a New York City street for abusing his sister, I remember thinking that I’d one day love to kick somebody’s ass to protect the honor and well-being of my family. And hearing that story from Shavkat suddenly reignited that passion.
At the time, as we stood in my kitchen with the plov on the boil, I tried to think of a similar story from my childhood that I could tell to keep the conversation going, but no instances of me going Sonny Corleone on any of my siblings’ abusers had immediately come to mind. It wasn’t until several days later, after Shavkat had already left for New York City, that I was able to recall an instance of familial vengeance.
One summer when we were much, much younger – perhaps I was eleven or twelve and my brother Danny nine or ten – we had this neighborhood fat-ass over for a super-soaker fight. My brother and I are two years apart and this kid had been in the grade between us. I really have no idea why we were even hanging out with this kid. We never liked him. He was such an asshole. Nobody liked him, actually. So, I don’t know how he ended up at our house but, yeah, he was definitely there.
As we pranced and frolicked all around my house, spraying each other with water guns, my sister Teresa – who is seven years younger than me – had been watching us have all sorts of fun from the window inside the house. She wanted to join in on the action but she’d just been getting over chicken pox at the time and my mom was worried about her getting scars if any of her scabs were to get ripped off prematurely. In spite of that sentiment, however, she could only tell my sister “no” for so long before finally giving in and letting her come out and partake in battle.
“Okay guys,” my mom made a big announcement to the three of us, “Teresa’s gonna play with you guys but take it easy on her because of her chicken pox, alright.”
A few minutes after my brother and I had assured my mother that we wouldn’t spray my sister, neighborhood fat fuck took the biggest squirt gun we had – one of those huge “Stream Machine” water bazookas you fill by sticking the barrel into a bucket or some other large water source, pulling back the handle and filling the tube with “ammo” by suction – and absolutely blasted my sister right in the face from pointblank range. She immediately started crying and ran back in the house to our mom. My brother and I followed her in shortly thereafter to make sure she was okay.
During the time that we were in the house, Danny and I really didn’t wanna go back outside and hafta continue hangin’ out with that fat piece-o-shit loser and went up to our bedroom to discuss what we were gonna do about the situation. While up there in our room which just happened to look down over the old sillcock on the side of our house where Tubby had been reloading all his guns, my brother and I came up with an idea.
In the sink of the upstairs bathroom, we took the largest birthday balloon we had in the house, filled it to maximum capacity and tag-team carried it over to the portal looking down over the spigot and slid the screen upwards as silently as possible. We looked down and our target remained right where we wanted him, bent over the hose at a ninety degree angle with the top of his head facing towards my house.
Just in the way Kramer and his intern who’d been testing out Kramerica Industries’ new oil tanker bladder system had dropped an exercise ball full of Texas Tea down onto the head of Jerry’s girlfriend with the talking stomach in that episode of Seinfeld, my brother and I rolled this liquid-filled rubber ball – a ball that’d been as fat and round as the kid we were dropping it on – out the window and watched it fall in slow motion. As the thing made its descent, it cast a foreboding shadow over our target until it struck the back of his fat fuckin’ noggin, exploding on impact and causing his neck to snap downwards to his chest.
I think that, had the rubber not torn when making contact with his thick fuckin’ skull, I’m pretty sure this kid would be dead or, at the very least, be walking around with a limp-hanging spaghetti neck for the rest of his life. And for the sake of my freedom from incarceration for having done such a thing, I’m glad that the balloon busted like the condom around the dick of fatso’s old man had on the day of his conception.
I guess, in the end, I do have a bit of Sonny in me after all. Following the payback given to each of our sister’s malefactors, he and I seemed to have felt the same way.
“You touch my sister again, I’ll kill ya.”