Nicole Matos can be examined in her corporeal form as the skater Nicomatose #D0A with the Chicago Outfit Roller Derby. In textual form, she has appeared in such journals as Callaloo, Small Axe, La Torre, and Rhizomes.
So it all started with the Robin Hood proposition — was there any way, if you were a dedicated citizen who really, truly wanted to be a good person, you could take from the rich and give to the poor?
Our first initiative, wholly self-styled, was to purchase several $1 pair of “gold” earrings from the Dollar Store, then take those earrings to the jewelry counter at Macy’s, where I would then try on real gold earrings, Noah admiring and distracting the salesclerk, and in the process return the cheap ones to the salesclerk and the real ones to the rack at the Dollar Store. A poor person would unwittingly triumph, a rich person would be cheated. It worked perfectly, though I sweat bullets the entire time.
Next we decided we’d be cookout fairies — like tooth fairies, or fairy godmothers — which meant that Noah stole some nice cuts of meat from the market, something people did all the time, frozen steaks stuffed in their jackets and down their pants. We’d drive around looking for poor people, offering to trade them our better meat in exchange for hot dogs and hamburgers. Neither of us yet had our learner’s permits, but we did have the Datsun Noah’s brother left us when he went to Colorado, when he went to jail, and anyway we knew how to drive just fine, so we drove around carefully until we came to a ratty apartment building with people grilling outside, a child’s birthday party. We couldn’t see very clearly from the road, and only once we were fully committed and walking up through the yard did we realize everyone at the party was black. From the way the group was watching us I had the sense it wasn’t going to work, but Noah decided to sing out a great big confident, “Hello!” like we’d all been friends for ages, and strode forward, buffeted by purpose. He promptly launched into his explanation, his voice too loud in detailing the whole theory behind the meat exchange.
“Sorry, we must be lost!” I interrupted. “We’re looking for his cousin!” Almost too quickly the tension broke, like they were all so glad for a reasonable explanation as to what we were doing at their party with gifts of meat, and furthermore they laughed. Meanwhile, I’ve got Noah by the arm, dragging him backward to the car, pissing him off for aborting Mission No. 2 prematurely.
Our final mission unfolded like this: we’re rummaging through stuff Noah’s sister got in a charity basket from the church. We come across a meal voucher for the country club in our blasted-out unscenic shell of a city. Noah starts to rail against the institution, and the more he talks the more it seems possible that this country club, our very own, could in fact be a locus of evil. So our plan is this: we’ll dress up as poor people, take the gift certificate to the country club, and see how they treat us. If they treat us OK, we’ll eat and leave without further action. If they don’t, we’ll become continue our activism, reveal our true identities and launch a counteroffensive.
Dressing up as poor people is surprisingly easy — we can pretty much do it with the things we already have. The trick seems to be just to try too hard, too earnestly — overapply that eyeliner, that hairspray, do it like you really mean it, shine your cheap shoes. So we hop in the Datsun to find the country club, a lodge-looking building wedged in between the landfill and the industrial park. There’s a golf course and everything, but we walk through a mirrored hallway into the restaurant proper, and it’s a huge disappointment — the place is dark and nondescript and the only other people are the one waitress and a cook watching TV. Of course, everything goes wrong. Noah talks too loud, making too big a deal about our ignorance and our poverty and our charity certificate, and the waitress is rolling her eyes and nodding, but it’s also clear she isn’t really listening and doesn’t really care. She’s probably poor herself — oldish and grey-toned with brown teeth. Noah radically mispronounces soup du jour and finally that brings a kind of smirk — a look of, yes, superiority. And I can just feel Noah click into gear, he got it, it’s starting to work, we’re going to get to turn the tables and have our battle. Have our war.
I get up abruptly and go into the bathroom. I look in the mirror and I don’t know what I’m doing. I take a long piece of toilet paper and I spit on it and stick it to my sharp-heeled cheap shiny shoe, and I walk gingerly back to the table. Noah is convinced he’s heard the waitress and the cook in the back laughing at us, the soup du jow-er, and now he wants to give them a piece of our minds, right now, right away. There’s no way he’s leaving, a man on fire. The plan has unsprung some secret and terrible latch in him — and here comes the waitress, right on time with the food, and Noah carefully stands up, and it’s for all the world like he’s President Lincoln — he’s got that quiet, serious, deserving dignity, ready to speak — and the waitress halts where she is, ready to listen, and I turn and reel, in that wavery trailing-toilet-paper way, back into the hall.
At the very end, just stepping through the doorway, is a woman followed by a man in suit and tie. And I’m picking up speed and the woman is half-turned in conversation and hasn’t seen me yet, and then she does see me, and she looks, in that second I come swimming toward her face, so nice. She looks like she might be an architect, or a doctor, or a kindergarten teacher at one of those expensive Italian kindergartens. And it strikes me that she could be a grown-up me, my twin, the woman I’m going to be, after the college I’ll go to, and the professional school, the career — and she looks so kind and concerned and so possible that I just want to throw myself into her arms and beg for her to help me, to save me, to tell her I’m so sorry, so confused, so very sorry. The clothes she’s wearing are the filmy kind that come in layers, and I can see now, as I’m almost on her, that that’s the way you do it. A haircut with chunks laying different ways on purpose, and clothes that close with clasps in shapes instead of buttons.
But then I’m past her, actually running into her, partly, and her companion who gives a sharp suck of breath, and I’m hearing belatedly the commotion, Noah waving the gift certificate around and pronouncing that he won’t give the waitress a tip, but he will leave a tip, a life-tip, a tip for living — a long speech, something like that.
* * *
And years later, long after I’d gone off to college thinking we’d completely lost touch, Noah called me late one night from the Army to tell me they were kicking him out, that he started wetting the bed, or that he did something crazy with his unloaded gun — actually both, I can’t remember exactly, it was a confusing story — that he was falling apart, they called it some kind of break, they were kicking him out. And he kept crying and telling me it didn’t work, he was sorry, I’m so sorry, sorry, and I held the phone so hard it left a dent in my head and repeated that maybe I was sorry, or that maybe, if we were lucky, we could hope, there was nothing, nothing, nothing to be sorry for.