Salsa Verde


He needs something to send to Kathy O’Leary.  A gift.  A very special gift.  Having suffered through a stifling hot, mid-July open-air bus tour of Hollywood celebrity houses just for her sake, he needs to follow through.  He needs to express his gratitude.  Not gratitude for anything specific she had done specifically for him, specifically on that tour—he had seen nothing of her on the tour—but for just owning a home that could be included on such a tour and thus available for him to observe.  But, really, when you get down to it, what he feels is gratitude to her for just being who she is.  That’s what he needs to thank her for.  For being alive.  For being Kathy O’Leary.

He thinks about what would make an appropriate gift for Kathy O’Leary.  He thinks quite hard.  You see, he has a lot of gifts to choose from.   This man likes to collect things.  Not always, or even mostly, sets of things, as most collectors do, but just unique and rare items.  Memorabilia, sort of.  Even if the memorabilia has nothing to do with his own personal memories.  He is the owner of a decade-old plumbing operation, one that has, in last couple of years, expanded past the borders of his home city and into three others in the south-central region.  Due to a host of factors he understands—his own instinctual marketing acumen, an improving economy, his encyclopedia knowledge of the industry—as well as others he knows he has no clue about, and maybe plain dumb luck, the business is doing well.  Well enough that he can pay himself a handsome yearly salary.   Best of all, since he is no longer the one who stoops beneath leaky kitchen pipes or clears shit-stopped toilets or digs into mud to resolve a cracked water line—now that he is the person who tells other people to do that kind of work for him—he has plenty of time, on any given day, to stop at any antiques store that catches his eye.

The city he lives in, indeed, the whole south-central region, is sick with antique stores.  Really, there is never not an antiques store to visit, no matter where he is.  And he does.  Several times a week.  Some of them are trash.  Some of them are glorious.  Just like the pieces of memorabilia he hoards.   At these stores he buys what he likes, without any conscious theme:  a key to a hotel room in a now bomb-blasted hotel in Israel; shot glasses from the 1990s featuring images of Pinky and the Brain; a darning pattern from England in the 1930s; Roman coins so old they have been rubbed to a simple copper-black color, the image of the emperor disappeared; a long-since-discontinued Chia Bull from 1984; a yellowed and maniacal Jack of Spades from 1867.  He loves these things, and he loves Kathy O’Leary.  But, right now, as he thinks about it, he isn’t convinced that any of the things—anything he currently owns—will make a proper gift for her.

The irony is that he actually doesn’t like celebrity homes tours.  He used to scorn people who went on them.  When he was younger, he used to say to his friends that they should throw him in a river if he ever condescended to spend his hard-earned money for a few seconds’ glimpse at the closed-up domiciles of those who just happened to be in the entertainment industry, as if that made them better or wiser or more important than people whose talents happened to take them to a different industry.  Like plumbing.  If anything, he used to say, it makes them less important.  After all, in an emergency, who do you call: a plumber or an actor?  Well, truth is, Kathy Learn is better and wiser and more important than most humans.  Even plumbers.  She just is.  From the time he first heard that voice on the radio belt out “Fire n Ice” while he drove home from the Kroger with his Friskies cat food and a collection of chili peppers, he’d been snared.  He proceeded home, sat down at his computer and bought her CD Out With The Girls from Amazon before he even thought to bring in the Friskies and peppers.  After he’d listened to Girls roughly fifty-nine times, he went back and purchased her first album Kathy Caldwell—okay, so it was Christian music, which confused him, but it was still her voice—and then forward again to more of her disco-urgent pop: Any Boy’s Dream, Prosecutor, Diffraction.  At this point, he doesn’t care what category you put the music in.  He would listen to Kathy O’Leary even if she sang about breakfast cereal.

Either in the theatre or on DVD, or both, he has watched every feature film in which she has ever made a cameo, and written letters to the directors of those movies thanking them for their good sense in casting her.   He was one of four people in the United States of America to attend Zoot Troupe 2 when it appeared in theatres in April 2016.  He proceeded to return to the movie eleven times across the span of nine days, paying $8.50 every time.  He has caught her in concert four times: twice in Memphis, once in Little Rock, once in Atlanta.  He witnessed her Super Bowl halftime performance in stunned silence. When she was done, he could not move for twenty-three seconds.  He watched her 2012 concert movie Kathy O’Leary: Live Masks within months of buying Out With The Girls, and then re-watched it each Friday evening, as a sacred ritual, for a year.  He read, in one sitting, Norman Lake’s biography of her, and then the next day Brittany Alison Sumpter’s.  And he has re-read each book no less than six times.

Ironically, when he decided to take that celebrity homes tour, he was not in Hollywood for the sake of Kathy O’Leary.  In fact, he wasn’t in Hollywood at all, but West Hollywood, for a plumbing trade show, organized by a national body well beyond his ken or influence.  But in West Hollywood it was.  One morning, with the trade show winding down, and out of idle curiosity, he booted up his laptop in his hotel room and scanned the web for celebrity homes tours.  He had expected to scoff.  Then, in an ad for First Class Star Home Bus Tours, there was her name.  Along with Danny Devito, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Larry King, Luke Wilson, and Madonna.  He didn’t care about those other names—they were arguably not even stars anymore, at least none that anyone really cared about (Luke Wilson? Madonna?)—but he kept staring and staring at Kathy O’Leary there on his laptop screen.  Kathy O’Leary.  The only truly A+, height-of-her-fame, top-of-her-game player on that list.   Kathy.  Who lived not actually that far from where he happened to be sitting just then, at that moment.  Who lived—as much as any celebrity lived in the homes they supposedly owned—not far away at all.  Theoretically, with a whole day to kill, he could walk to Kathy O’Leary’s house.  Kathy O’Leary’s own house!

On the bus tour, he didn’t care or even notice what other homes they looked at.  He’d have been perfectly happy if they’d only seen Kathy’s and then gone to Sears for two hours of shopping.  Thankfully, when the bus had stopped outside of her home, he’d had the presence of mind to turn away, hard as that was, and spy the street signs at the nearest intersection.  He made a fierce mental note.  And as soon as the bus drove off, he scratched the street names onto the pamphlet the guide had passed out.  He didn’t have a house number—he’d looked, but it was hidden—but that was all right.  He would merely address his gift to Kathy O’Leary at the intersection of those two streets in Beverly Hills, CA.   It would get to her.  It had to.