Dear DJ,

My grandpa had brought us back gifts from a garage sale. I got a wooden sword and you got this old puppet. Also made of wood, the puppet was painted black with these big red lips, twenty or thirty-years-old easy. We knew something was off about it, but weren't intimate enough with the complexities of racism, so we basically just giggled whenever it was around.

My grandpa drank all day. All night too. He never seemed to get drunk though. Except for one night, when he sat in his tightywhities and a t-shirt in his La-Z-Boy watching Shaft. We were a few feet away on the couch, watching his expressions, which were more entertaining and lively than the TV. My grandpa was hoottin' and hollerin', occasionally saying things like, "Look at that jungle bunny run!"

We had no idea what a jungle bunny was, but we knew it wasn't something we could ever get away with saying. Something only old, drunk men could say, and by the time we were old, drunk men, it wouldn't be acceptable anymore. We just kind of looked at each other, grimaced and waited for the episode to end.

At night, we'd fight over the third pillow. I didn't even like to have two pillows, I just didn't want you to have the third. We had to share an air mattress in his office, a room that smelled like moldy paper and cigarettes where my grandpa repaired watches on this big wooden desk. One night, while fighting over the pillow, I stood up and grabbed that wooden sword he'd gotten me. I leapt heroically toward you on the bed, stabbed down and missed you. The wooden point, surprisingly, punctured the mattress. We covered the hole with duct tape, but that didn’t really work, and even though we'd go to bed with the mattress full of air every night, it'd be empty by the time we woke up.

Your Mohawk was dyed red and hung limp to the right side of your head then. When we walked down the street, a lot of people would stare, and old people would sneer. My grandpa never said a thing about it. It was like he never even noticed it. One time, his head submerged inside the front of a tractor, he asked for a flathead screwdriver. You placed a phillips in his hand. He said, "Goddammit," and then lifted his top half out of the tractor, looking at you like he might yell.

"Thanks," he said. His expression eased up, he smiled, then placed a grease-smeared hand on the top of your head and rubbed.

We laughed. From our bellies and out our mouths. It felt good.

Sometimes he called me Ronnie, which was my dad's name, and you Mikey, which was my uncle's name. We never corrected him and he never seemed to notice.

- MJ


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