JUST THE HIGH POINTS
The letter came yesterday afternoon while I was home for lunch. I was in the kitchen having tomato sandwiches (a childhood/Harriet the Spy fetish), when the mail slot opened with its typical nerve-shattering squeal. I gotta oil that hinge one day.
I trekked to the front of the house to see what had arrived. The letter lay on top of a pile of garish circulars in a simple white envelope, with only a Jackson, Mississippi post office box for a return address. I was excited, but not unduly so. I think I was probably more nervous opening acceptance letters from grad school. I guess I’m still not taking this as seriously as I should.
I took the envelope back to the kitchen and sat down. The letters inside–one from Callie, my birth mother, and one from Tiffany, my half-sister–were kind of amazing. Not just because the two come across as normal, healthy, wacky people, but because of the way I’m an eerily neat genetic fit for the family.
Callie, my mom, is a librarian in Columbus, Georgia. (Yes, JB, this may entail a trip to your neck of the woods soon.) She grew up in Orleans Parish, not far from where I live now. She attended Rhodes College–perennial rival of my alma mater, Millsaps College–and earned a BA in English, with hopes of teaching, not at all unlike yours truly. Eventually she began work on a Masters at UNO (where I myself picked up an MA about 30 years later), and it was during that time that she met my biological father; shortly thereafter she became pregnant, gave up the baby (i.e. me), moved to Georgia, fell in love, got married, and had more kids. All in all, she was leading a pretty normal, middle class life a couple hundred miles due east of me.
Fine so far, right? Nothing surprising or unusual.
But our circles begin to overlap. My half sister, Tiffy, is two years younger than me and is apparently a musician. She’s moved around a lot, bouncing from Columbus to Atlanta to LA to San Francisco. Now she’s living in London, cutting an album or something. I dunno.
At one point in Tiffy’s self-described “crazy” life, she moved to New Orleans and worked at Warlocks Salon. Warlocks, as you might imagine, was the ever-so-wacky salon, one of the first in New Orleans to offer extensions and Manic Panic hair colors–you get the picture, I’m sure. As a fringe member of the hipster crowd, I was familiar with most folks who worked there, and I can just barely remember mention of a gal named Tiffany. New Orleans being as small as it is, she and I invariably crossed paths, maybe shared drinks, bummed smokes, who knows? But we were definitely part of the same peer group. There was no way we could have avoided it.
Things started to get considerably stranger when Callie spoke of my uncle, Stuart, to whom she affectionately referred as “Diggie.” Diggie was, by the sound of it, a theatre guy extraordinaire, with training in playwriting, directing, and acting. He earned a degree in Drama from UNO, then moved on to an MFA program at Columbia. After two months in the city, though, Diggie was lured away from his grad program by none other than Andrei Serban, Ellen Stewart, and La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, with whom he worked over the next several years. As fate would have it, during my own stint in New York, I had a job that required me to speak with Ellen or one of her staff on a weekly basis. If I’d known, I guess I could have asked…
Being a New Orleanian, Diggie couldn’t completely stay away from the city. He’d come back from time to time, hanging out with New Orleans’ only female female impersonator, Becky Allen–the same Becky Allen with whom Jonno and I appeared three years ago in Psycho Beach Party. Yet another person to ask.
I keep using the past tense because Diggie is dead. He died of complications from AIDS in May of 1986, at the same time I was graduating from high school.
Here’s the only missing piece of the puzzle: my father. Apparently, he wasn’t just of Lebanese extraction, he was a citizen of Lebanon. Callie seems to think he moved back to Beirut after college, sometime in the early 1970s. I have no idea where I’d even begin looking for him. Anyone have access to the Beirut white pages? Anyone?
Same brow, same jawline: physically, I’m clearly more his son than hers. She‘s happy to hear from me, she‘s accepted me. What would he think? And do I really want to know?