The Romanis parked their home, a twisted bit of rolling metal, garish enough to make a Pakistani taxi look austere, right on the coal mine property. While there were hundreds of acres of land unencumbered with buildings or derelict heavy equipment or the geometric multitudes of conveyors that looked put together by M.C. Escher, they chose to park inside the sharpest part of the angle where one of the coal belts, with a walkway running its length, met the ground. They had gone up the walkway a bit and hung laundry. An antenna of sorts, made of snapped-off aerials from cars, pieces of wire, stripped at the ends and lashed to a length of stick, a fencing foil, pieces of other metal, all taped together, end to end, metal touching metal, rose high above the caravan and attached to the structure above them.
They had a gasoline generator that only ran for one purpose: television. Otherwise, it was cook-fires, candles and washtubs. The little television, whose screen could be completely covered by a Cinnabon, was always watched outside by the fire ring where they had stumps of wood for seats. By night, you could see its blue glow on the congregated faces of the entire family sitting before it. By day, you could hear the faint strains of “Come on down, you’re the next contestant…,” wafting through the air while the family went about the day-consuming chores of sustenance living. Except for Mama Romani: she was always glued to the set when “The Price is Right” came on and it is said that she knew the prices of 83% of the featured items to within pennies. And she could not understand why Bob Barker has not yet ousted “the Bradley Peet” as the sexiest man in the world.
The Romanis were gypsies. They were gypsies in every way but in their hearts. The mistrust of gadje (non-gypsies) was in their DNA, so was the call of the road and the feeling of entitlement to live off the ignorance and naiveté of others. But the Romanis had a secret they could not share with other gypsies, friend or family. To wit: they wanted to own major appliances and vote Republican. I don’t think they knew a whit about the Republican Party but it was just part of the persona of 21st century Americans they wanted to embody.
They wanted to take possession of a refrigerator half the size of their caravan (or non-recreational vehicle) after a Barbie-doll model had whiffed the air around it with the grace of the hands of Michelangelo. They wanted to read the newspaper over bagel schmears and complain about the reception of their cell phones while waiting in line at Starbucks. They wanted to be able to like the watery beer that American men drank to make them attractive to American women.
They wanted it all, everything they saw on the television. And they knew that happiness would be theirs, if only the father, Hanzi, could push himself past the brink and get on the grid.
Oh. Yeah. And they had a bear. A dancing bear.