Clarence Harlan Orsi

The Incorruptibles

There was a time in my life, coinciding with my college years, when I didn’t know anyone with kids and I didn’t think a single thought about them. If I hadn’t met Jenny I would have extended this period another decade like the rest of Brown University, Class of 1993. But I did meet her, outside a Jewelry District fag bar on dyke night, and she was just two years older than I but had a son who was already eight. I fell in love with her instantly, and when we went back to her car to kiss I leaned over the gearshift for better purchase and my foot slid and activated something plastic that played a song, Old McDonald, which filled the spaces in the car where moments before only our hushed yearning breath had been.

 

She said, “Don’t mind that, it’s just some of my son’s old stuff I’m taking to Goodwill.”

And then she added, before I could get over the implications, “My rule is new girlfriends have to wait a month to meet him. If we’re still together then, fine.”

And then she added, before I could process this turn, “It’s just that he’s still getting used to me being a lesbian. Kids need consistency, you know?”

Maybe I did know, but it was all happening so fast. “We can just see where things go,” I said, so awfully reasonable, a reasonable dummy. But of course this was a lie, because I already knew I was in love with her and I wasn’t about to sit around and wait.As it turned out I met the son circa two weeks later, outside of the preapproved time frame. This was due to the job I had, which was in public relations for the Rhode Island State Landfill. There had been some bad press in the last couple of years and they needed someone to front questions. Things like water contamination, methane leaks, questions about organized crime involvement in the recycling program, some pointed letters to the editor. I certainly wasn’t qualified but there I was. The reality was that at that time it was very easy to get a job in Providence. It was the beginning of Mayor Buddy Cianci’s Renaissance that would later make the city famous for starting little fires along the river downtown every Saturday night, but when I graduated they didn’t have the fires yet and if you were a graduate of Brown University and a Caucasian at that you’d practically get paid just to stay in the city. Every morning Providence yawned and showed its dirty teeth, exhaled its morning breath, and you had the privilege of being there to experience it. The sky was always one color: the color of dishwater, yesterday’s newspaper, the tender under-wing of a plaza pigeon scouting for lunchtime crumbs.

Due to some kind of mandated environmental curriculum all the public school third grade classes in the state had to visit the landfill. Robert Corniglia, he with the last name of Jenny’s ex-husband, was one of those third graders. His class, like all the others, was there to ogle the landfill and then dig up the ground to bury their Memory Boxes. I’ll tell you about those soon, but consider first the setting. It was verdant, unexpectedly so. On the good side, which was the side we showed everyone, all you could see were stately hills formed by years of compacted trash, seeded over and left to sprout, now all plush and green and rolling. There were valleys of soil laid out in neat grids, spread with chopped waste and mixed with compost to form something greater than the sum of its parts, a mincemeat of lives lived elsewhere.

It’s a metaphor, ok? That it was so easy to forget, below that lush surface, all the trash buried underneath. Forgive me but it has some use here.

I had a shtick which I gave then, looking out all the while to see if I could recognize the kid. “What kind of animals do you think we have at the landfill?” And some milk-faced girl with a dumpling chin would always shout, a