Gordon Bishop by Naomi Melati Bishop
Naomi Melati Bishop describes the title character, “Gordon Bishop,” in one sharp slice in the opening sentence of this character sketch. What unfolds is a layered individual composed of contrasts—someone who lives in a “one-bedroom apartment in Hell’s Kitchen,” yet he fills it with antiques; someone whose leg “was amputated at the hip,” yet he “dazzles” on the dance floor; someone who has suffered multiple losses, yet he manages to retain his humanity. The prose is unsentimental and precise, describing Gordon at his desk “wearing tighty-whities and Gold Toe socks, pecking at his keyboard with one finger.” At the same time, it is in these details that the narrator’s admiration for Gordon shines through, leaving the reader with the impression of not only a multifaceted character, but also a portrayal of human resilience. What makes this piece even more remarkable is that Gordon is not a fictional character. As Bishop notes, “When you were with him, you knew you were in the presence of someone rare.” —CRAFT
Gordon Bishop, fifty-six, is a one-eyed, one-legged, one-breasted single father. He is a native New Yorker who shares an antique-filled one-bedroom apartment in Hell’s Kitchen with his teenage daughter. Every night, Gordon sits at his desk wearing tighty-whities and Gold Toe socks, pecking at his keyboard with one finger as he types his newsletter, Joyo News, a widely circulated online publication about Indonesia. He started the news service after getting blacklisted by the Indonesian government for orchestrating a plan to help overthrow the dictatorship. The plan worked and Gordon wrote the victory speech for Megawati, the country’s first and only female president.
Captain Black White tobacco wafts, constantly, from Gordon’s wooden pipe. He listens to Bob Dylan, Da Brat, and Cab Calloway as he works. Wire-rimmed reading glasses hang from his neck. Specks of rice and Moo Goo Gai Pan cake his cloudy lenses.
A photo of his late wife, a Javanese court dancer, hangs prominently on the wall across from his bed. They met in 1974 at an Independence Day parade in Yogyakarta after Gordon traveled there on stolen, around-the-world plane tickets gifted to him by a Black Panther who owed him money. They locked eyes and didn’t speak the same language, but instantly fell in love and got married in a traditional Javanese ceremony, which involved curtains of beaded jasmine flower buds, honey scrubs, and traditional dress. They shared their first kiss on the night of their wedding.
Seven years after having their daughter, Gordon’s wife died in a car crash, which he believed was a possible murder plotted by the Suharto regime. The first family claimed that Gordon had owed them money and he received a series of death threats in the days leading up to the accident. He suffered from seven broken ribs, a pelvis snapped in half, and a femur so smashed, the doctors said it was like someone took a sledgehammer to a cracker. He was sustained by a respirator. When he woke up from a twenty-one-day coma and found himself in the new role of a widowed single father, Gordon decided to move with his daughter to America to search for safety, quality medical care, and a new beginning.
But his leg couldn’t be saved. It was amputated at the hip, too high for a prosthetic. His leg had been so dynamic, it once could kick a ball the length of a football field. Now, it floated in some enormous chemical-filled jar for scientists to study.
On Friday nights, Gordon likes to go to concerts. He is the only one-legged dancer on the dance floor. He dazzles everyone with his unstoppable spirit, his unstoppable leg.
He tells strangers that he is a merkin salesman who sells vaginal wigs, a “booming industry!” He zips around the city in his electric wheelchair. “I’m faster now than ever!” Gordon boasts as he speeds past everyone.
A man can be disassembled and scattered like a puzzle but still remain whole.
NAOMI MELATI BISHOP is a writer, editor, and educator from New York City. She received her MFA in fiction from New York University. Naomi was born in Indonesia to odd soul mates: a Javanese countess and royal court dancer mom and a quixotic poet-activist New Yorker dad. Her work has appeared in The Best Women’s Travel Writing, VICE, NYLON, i-D, The Hollywood Reporter, and Billboard. She is the recipient of the Nancy Lynn Schwartz Prize for Fiction, Silver Medal for the Solas Awards for Best Travel Writing, and honorable mention for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award. Naomi runs an editing service and is currently working on her first book, a memoir—a weave of travel narrative, magical realism, and family folklore. She lives in Manhattan with her daughter. Find Naomi on Instagram @NaomiBishop and Twitter @Naomi_Bishop.
Featured image by Guillaume Flandre, courtesy of Unsplash.