Chick Chom Tang and I are very much alike: childless, suburban-bred, TV-culture baby boomers who somehow missed the boat on the Promises of Youth. Neither of us has ever come close to marriage. Both of us have been poor (by American standards) all our adult lives.
The Lebanese village of Magdaluna, where I grew up, had none of the modern conveniences. It was stuck somewhere in the eighteenth century until after the Great War, when my father returned from the army with his beat-up radio. When I was a child, we had no running water in our homes, electricity was unheard of, and our toilets were holes in the ground way out in a field.
The lakes of northern Michigan were mysterious to me when I was growing up. There was always at least one undeveloped side and a few swampy coves on each. I saw the trees on the lake’s edge as the border to an endless forest full of bears and big cats.
My mother, my uncle tells me, has lost her wits. She lets a group of neighborhood kids into her house. They steal from her. Worse yet, she gives them money. Blank checks. She signs the checks, and these kids fill in whatever amounts they want. “They’re robbing her,” he says, “robbing her blind.”
I don’t know why certain faces are magical for me, why a particular set of features should seize me with the conviction that all of love and meaning can be found in the way an eyebrow lifts, or the way the corner of a mouth tucks in to suggest a smile. But Louie’s face always seemed like such a miracle.