Wednesday, December 18, 2013

27- Wounds

Even when we were kids, Kevin was tough.
            Sometimes Kevin would come down from the second story split-level apartment to hang out, and he’d have fresh bruises that nobody’d seen the day before.  Everybody would wait outside for him, because everyone always waited for Kevin, and see the fresh swell of purple underneath one of his eyes or on his shoulders.  He was tall, taller than most of the kids in the neighborhood, and he had a tall, sturdy frame, even as a kid.  Just like his dad.  People looked up to him.  I looked up to him.
            He was six when he started shaking down smaller kids for money at school, and he was getting a rep as a scrapper you didn’t want to mess with by the time he was eleven or twelve.  Still, he’d come down those concrete steps, sometimes with scratches on his arms, or small, circular, bloody wounds that could only have come from cigarettes, and nobody had ever seen him cry.
            One afternoon when we were about thirteen, me and a skinny neighborhood kid named Frankie Fazekas sat around the stoop, bouncing a basketball, and waiting on Kevin, talking about the things kids talked about.  Patrick Ewing was just starting a long span of fruitless playoff runs with the Knicks, the Yankees were in fifth place, Dinkins was leading the polls, which Frankie’s dad said was a lie because there’s no way the whole city’d elect a nigger, and Paula Ramona’s tits were growing in nicely.
            “I think they’re already a B cup,” Frankie said.
            I bounced the Spalding against the sidewalk, and dribbled clumsily between my legs, and I said, “How the fuck would you know the difference between a B cup and an A cup.”
            “It’s easy.  My sister’s an A, and your mom’s a C,” Frankie said, explaining.  “Paula’s somewhere in the middle.”
            “You want to look at my mom, that’s fine, but leave looking at your sister to me.”
            Frankie smiled.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “She’s a nice looking girl.  But I guess your mom’s a little easier to get to.”
            “Fuck yourself.”
            “Fuck your mother.”
            From upstairs there was screaming and yelling, and Kevin busted open the screen door, angry, but calm, and descended the stairs, a T-shirt over his shoulder, but shirtless, with cuts all over his chest and his back, and he said, “Nobody’s fucking Frankie’s sister but me,” he said.  “I’ve got it called.”
            Frankie laughed and I smiled.  Kevin pulled one of his stolen cigarettes from over his ear and he lit it with a Bic and he took a long, deep breath, savoring the tar, the chemicals, and that New York air.  The cuts on his chest and his back were fresh, and they were bleeding.  I tried to swipe the cigarette for a puff, but Kevin rebuffed me with a stiff hand to the chest.
He called me skinny bitch, long-haired punk bitch, faggot, sissy, bitch…and he laughed and so did Frankie, and so did I.  In his eyes, Kevin wasn’t laughing.
            He wasn’t crying.  Kevin didn’t cry, and he didn’t talk about it.  But that afternoon, there was something dark and distant in his eyes, a look I was used to but was rarely seen in the outside world.  A look like every piece of him was breaking in half and trying to stay hidden.
            “Fuck it,” Kevin said as he slipped on a Metallica T-shirt, “Are we going to go play ball, or are we going to stand around giving each other fuckin’ hand jobs?”
            At Kevin’s word, we headed down to P.S. 232, to shoot some hoops and fuck with the elementary kids.  There were a lot of guys down there, some of them older kids, and Kevin was as good as any of them.  I played, and I wasn’t very good, but I watched as Kevin shot threes, drove to the hoop like a madman, and talked shit all day until we were all wringed out with sweat and ready to collapse.
            Kevin, in particular, had his hair matted against his head in a sweaty mop, and sucked down a Gatorade he stole from a fourth grader and rubbed sweat from his face with his sleeve.
            He bled through his shirt, and nobody said a word to him about it.
            Nobody dared.
           Nobody dared ever say a word…not even me.

26- The Routine

            The sky was a blur of black and dark blues, and there were no stars to be seen.  That’s how it was in the city at night.  It was pollution.  It’s crime, it's banner ads with beautiful vapid people hanging in splintered light, it's steam from cracks in the street and the chemicals in the air still lingering from Ground Zero.  Carbon monoxide.  Arsenic.  Cadmium, burned and ground up into a fine dust…it causes pneumonia by filling the lungs with debris.  Asbestos only causes cancer.  Mercury, lead, and hydrogen sulfide from the broken sewer lines. It’s all still in the air, it’ll never dissipate, even as they rebuild, the smell will hang forever in that spot like a dead man perpetually strung to the gallows. The air is thick with gray smog at night. 
            There is no moon.  
            I’m standing at a payphone a few blocks from Prospect Park, pretending to talk on the phone. The receiver is in my hand, but the voice on the other end keeps telling me things like, “Your call cannot go through as dialed.  Please hang up, and try again.”  I push a few numbers, and it tells me things like, “The time is 11:27 PM.”
            I’m in Brooklyn.  I don’t live around here, but I know exactly where to go.  I know where she’d go.  There’s a car parked in between two buildings on my left, and I’m watching the bumper bob lightly up and down in an unsteady rhythm.  The buildings are abandoned, a grocery and a True Value.  The car is a Lincoln, pretty new, with a shiny new paint job, all shined and polished all around.  The guy inside probably has very nice teeth.  He probably has a sixty-dollar haircut, and $180 shoes.  He probably has a job on Wall Street, a house in Connecticut, and has a wife with Botox lips and silicone tits, and two children who don’t know that their father is giving a mouthful of cock to a hooker in Brooklyn.  She has six inch stiletto heels and a green tank top that probably top out at twenty-five bucks total, and a neatly trimmed mound of pink pubic hair.
            “I miss you too,” I say into the phone, acting like a real person.
            After a while, the voice on the other end of the line had faded out into a dull, steadily rising beep-beep-beep-beep, and I barely notice.  The collar of my jacket is turned up, and a Mets hat is crammed down low on my forehead, shading my eyes and my face.  I am tucked deep into the corner of the payphone kiosk, and still responding to the beeping as if it is a person.  “Yes,” I say.
            Pink. Her long legs.
            “Good,” I say
            The slight swell of her stomach, and the tattoo, a black rose, just above her hipbone, just barely visible over the rise of her preferred cut of jeans.  This guy, I say to myself.  This guy probably has a wife.
            “I understand,” I say.
            A wife, four kids, a brand new lawnmower, and a mistress.
            The car starts jumping faster and faster, testing the shock with short, hard hops on brand new tires.
            Four kids and a maid.
            “I know,” I say.
            In the car, in the window, peering over my shoulder…a woman’s shadow.  She’s all shoulders and shoulder-length hair, flying around…a head…thrashing around like mad.  My fingernails…dirty, dull, and ragged from biting, dig into the composite plastic on the side of the payphone box.  My cock an uncomfortable steel rod.
            “A maid and a two car garage, and a basketball hoop,” I tell myself.
            I start to hear her, and I’ve heard this one before.  This is her Gold Membership, Preferred Customer orgasm.  All panting and moaning like she’s been shot…like she’s been stabbed….that’s the standard package.
            “I miss you too,” I say.  But she’s mixing in the ‘Fuck me,’ and the invocations of God, and of Jesus and Mary and Joseph, and Magic Johnson and the Magi, and someone named David.
            “David,” she screams, and this time, I hear her distinctly…that voice…deep and throaty like Kathleen Turner before she was a drunk.  “Fuck me, David!”
            I grip the receiver like it’s about to fly away and she’s screaming like mad and,
            my fingernails grind into the rough, black plastic, and I shrink against the wall, and I’m on fire inside, and I want a drink, and I want to pump a line of coke.
            “I love you too,” I say into the phone.
            Her screams begin to rise in pitch and volume, and my body starts to shake, and I’m laying on the ground, pulsing and throbbing all over with the phone in my hand going beep-beep-beep as the car comes to a slow, bouncy stop, and a man’s voice cries out in orgasm, and I feel a brutal shutter run through my system, and a warm wet spreading in my jeans.
            I lay, near crumpled on the ground for a minute, panting, breathing, thinking, talking into the phone, which has a voice again now.
            If you’d like to make a call…hang up, and try again.
            “I will,” I say.  “Just…give me a few minutes.”
            “This guy...”
            The car door opens.
            “…has a house in Connecticut and a lawn and a son named Bobby and...”
            …and Pink steps out of the car.  She has a small fistful of cash in her hands.  She’s wearing a tight-fitting green top, and a black skirt, that she’s smoothing down her thighs with one hand, while she stuffs the cash into a small arm bag with the other.  She crosses the street and nearly walks past me.  On the ground, the front of my pants wet and sticky from a convulsive sympathy orgasm, I stir when she walks past, but I sink into the corner, away from her.  She doesn’t stop.  She doesn’t look.
            The Lincoln pulls out of the alley, and drives off in the other direction.  I watch it turn around its corner, and then I watch pink…that rubber-band hip, exaggerated woman walk that only models and hookers have.  Her legs are long, trim, firm, but fluid poles that, even in the dark, and under the sick yellow of the street lights, glimmer…pale.  There’s something pure about that, and it makes me stand up as she turns her corner, and I start to follow her. Even though I know she’s headed nowhere under a sky without a moon.

25- The Phantom Zone

There’s a club on the south side of Brooklyn, near Brighton Beach, and it’s called The Phantom Zone.  It’s in the basement of an old, closed-down costume shop, the kind of place with a gaudy red and black sign with purple neon lights, and a long, poorly lit staircase descending below street-level.
I walk in, and it’s all dance music and black lighting.  I walk in, and it’s all beautiful girls with narrow hips, and huge pupils.  A tall, thin Puerto Rican kid, who couldn’t be old enough to buy a drink in the place, is in the D.J. booth, and dressed head to toe in Ecko Unlimited, and he’s playing all these short, fast beats of techno hip hop, and it’s giving me a headache already.
I drift in farther, and I get a look at the crowd.  It’s all high school football players with fake IDs from Long Island, black princesses from Bed Stuy, and trust fund cuties from Park Avenue with dad’s credit card and mom’s driver’s license.  It’s all Park Slope party heads with trust funds and designer jeans.  Past that, a lot of the crowd is very…Jersey.  Big hair, big pecs and big tits and men wearing a lot of jewelry- and all ego.  I’m looking at the crowd, and I’m okay with the fact that I hate every fucking one of them.
I had two Secenol for breakfast, and a valium for brunch.  I had, somewhere in between, five shots of Vladimir’s Vodka because my hands have been shaking.  It’s helping.
Purple and green lights are waving around in the corners of the club like spotlights, Prada-clad feet shuffle along a parquet floor, and I think that the song is a club fag cover of “Love Her Madly,” only the guy kept saying “Him” and “His” instead of “Her” and “Hers,” but I’m getting the feeling that he was singing about God anyway, so it doesn’t matter very much.
I’m flying on an afternoon deuce of weak smack I scored from Tim Tim.  I’m flying on a couple of diet pills and a couple of lines of stomped-on, Arm & Hammer coke.  I’m trying to keep my happy thought.
            This place isn’t helping.
            This place is making me feel like shit.
This place is making me low.
            There are beautiful women in every direction- beautiful women dancing with beautiful men.  Prada, Louis Vitton, and Gucci- they’re all here.  They’re all rich, the Park Slope types, and it makes my skin itch.  They read Chaucer, and they listen to Emmy Lou Harris, and they’ve all had abortions.
            There’s a girl drinking an appletini with diamond studded earrings, and a red Yankees cap, and I think she’s giving me hives.
            I reach into my jacket pocket and, blessedly, I find something.  It’s a little, round, orange pill.  It could be Tylenol with codeine.  It could be Sudafed.  Follow the red pill down the rabbit hole.  I dry-swallow it, and the crowd seems to part on command, a pathway to a corner table, where I start to see some familiar faces.
            Vermin is sitting at that table, wearing a gray cashmere sweater and that old pink bathrobe of his.  He’s got a cig between his fingers, and another one in his mouth.  I see Getch- hair all slicked back, a smile on his face when he sees mine.
            My feet get numb, and it is definitely codeine.  My heart beats faster and I am fucking certain that it was codeine.
            I try to find my happy thought, and believe me, the codeine is helping.  I start to weave through moving bodies, young boys and girls in designer clothes and smelling of pricy, acrid perfumes, and sweat.  Their eyes are red and puffy, and their pupils are open like canyons.
            A guy asks me if I want to buy some extasy, and I tell him yes…yes I do, but I keep making my way to Getch, who has this big, white smile.  I wind up at their table, and under Getch’s arm is tucked this girl, 16 at the most, and looking higher than I wish I was.
            She smiles at me, and so does Getch.
            “Laird, baby,” he says.  “How are you?”
            “I’m getting by,” I say.
            He looks me over.  There are holes in my jeans, and I know it.  Stains on my old fatigue jacket, and I know I haven’t showered in a few days.
            “You don’t look much like you’ve been getting by,” he says.  “Have a seat, man,” he says.  “People are going to start thinking you’re taking a cocktail order, man.”
           I sit down on the outside of the booth, and Getch is really close to me.  I’m not really feeling okay about that.
            Vermin isn’t even looking at me.  He’s making eyes with a blonde girl at the bar in a slinky black dress, but he waves his hand at me in what passes for a greeting.
            “Looks can be deceiving,” I say, which he smiles at.
            “Don’t I know it,” he says, and that makes me nervous.
            “Getch, I really don’t want to interrupt.  I was just about to…”
            “Nah,” he says.  “You’re like family, man.”  There’s a bottle of Maker’s Mark on the table, and four glasses.  One of them is turned over onto the table, and Getch turns it back over and he pours me a double.
            “Strength in a bottle,” he tells me.  “It’ll even you out.  You look a little rough.”
            I take a few sips, and my eyes start to water.  Getch pours himself a drink, and he guzzles it like Pepsi, and he whispers something into the girl’s ear, and she smiles at me, and at Verm, extremely polite, and she excuses herself.
            Getch gives her a smack on the ass as she gets up, and he shoots a “you get out of here too” look at Verm, who is all too happy to head over to the bar, bathrobe trailing behind him, to talk to the blonde in the black dress.
            “Well,” he says, “Alone at last.”
            “Listen, Getch…”
            He waves a hand in my face.  “I’m gonna stop you right there.  Laird, how long have I known you?  Are you afraid of me?”
            I say nothing, because I don’t really know what to say to that.
            “Verm tells me you don’t really come around anymore.  That you’re copping from some spic crew in East Harlem.  Them, or that White Mike guy in Jamaica?”  He pours himself another drink, and again, downs it in a single gulp.  “Are you afraid of me?”
            “Getch, man, it’s not that…”
            “This about Kevin?” he asks.  “Is this about what happened last year?”  The question hangs in the air for a minute, and then he says, “Do you think that I think that you were involved?”
            I grab the bottle and I pour myself a drink this time.  A double, and maybe a little more.  I drink it, and my head swims, and my feet go numb.  Happy thought, I tell myself.  Keep your happy fucking thought. 
            He sees me about to pour another drink, and he stops me.  “Do you?”
            “Getch,” I say, “Man, I don’t know what to think.”
            He laughs, and he slaps my cheek lightly.  “You know that I like you, Laird,” he says.  “You know how much I fucking like you.  So what I’m about to say, well…”
           I notice that my fingernails, what of them I haven’t bitten down to nubby dullness, are scratching at the table, and that my left hand is shaking.  I can feel sweat all over my body.
            “You’re fucked up,” he says to me.  “And I don’t mean that you’ve had too much shit today, or that you’ve had too much whiskey.  I’m not cutting you off.  That shit don’t mean shit.  Your whole fucking system is all fucked up.  You’re barely here half the time.  I think that Kevin, smart guy that he is, as much as he liked you, even more so than I do, if he was going to rip me off, would not be dumb enough to let you in on it.”
“Kevin had to like me. It was predetermined,” I say, low and under my breath and it’s lost in the fray of conversation. Poof and gone.
           He lets go of my hand, and I pour another drink.  It goes down my throat like fire, and my brain is swimming, and I almost fall out of my seat.
            “He took me for thirty grand,” Getch says.  “That’s the number.”  My eyes grow wide.  “And that hurts.  That hurts me in the pocket, and that’s a bad kind of hurt.”  I tell him that I know what he means, and I’m wondering if he’s going to hit me, and I take another drink.  “But what hurts more, more than the money, because 30 large really isn’t shit to me, I can make it on the streets in a week…is the fracture of friendship; that hurts.  I liked Kevin.  I trusted Kevin.  I like you.  I trust you.  Seems like a problem, doesn’t it?”
            “A bit,” I say.  I look over at the bar, and Verm is doing a line of coke off the bar, while the blonde looks on, licking her lips, eager to take the next hit.  I think to myself that his girlfriend would appreciate the extra body in bed tonight, but not that the girl was getting free hits of the merchandise.
            Getch smiles.  “Baby, I don’t want to think that you could do the same thing.  I also don’t want you to think that I would ever think of doing something to you just because your boy Kevin fucked my tight little metaphorical asshole six months ago.”  He leans in…real close.  “I want you back in the fold.”
            “What about Verm?” I ask.
            “I’ve already told him that from now on, you get your shit from him, and you get it clean, quality and below market value.”
            I feel like kissing him, and he grabs me by my ear.
            “Laird, baby, this is you and me making a pact.  Because I don’t give away fucking shit without getting some shit back.  You dig?”
            At the bar, the blonde slaps Vermin hard enough to be audible in a crowded, music-engulfed bar room, and the DJ is playing a fag hop version of “Take the Money and Run,” and Vermin keeps up with his rap like nothing happened.  I can feel Getch’s forefinger nail digging into my skin, and I’m thinking: Does Codeine thin out the blood?
            I say that I do.  That I understand him.  Even though…I don’t.  Happy fucking thought.  My ear is ripping off.
            “All you have to do,” he says, “All you have to do…is be my eyes and ears. I know that you see things and I want to put that to good use.”
Oh boy, this motherfucker has no clue the things I see, but I humor him because he is who he is, and I am who I am, and I don’t want to say the wrong thing and end up in an iron maiden bleeding out all over his marble floors.
“Are we making a connection here?” he says.
            My head is swimming, and my hand finds another pill in my pocket, and I wonder, just a little, if I can pop it without Getch seeing me.  “So you want me to…do what?”
            Verm has a little vile of coke in his hand, and he’s showing it to the blonde, and that’s supposed to make everything better.
            “I want you to listen for him.  I want you to look for him.  If someone says Kevin’s name- I don’t care if they mean Kevin, Kevin Bacon or Kevin fucking Kline- I want to know about it.  If he calls, if he writes a letter, if he writes a fucking email…”
            “I don’t have a com…”
            “…a fucking postcard from Bora Bora, Bali, or fucking Baltimore.  Not only do I want to know about it, but I want to know about it three fucking days ago.”
            He leans in real close, and I see Verm and the blonde heading for the door.  He leans in real close, and I can smell garlic and pussy on his breath, and liquor on the rest of him.  His eyes are bloodshot.  “I think you could have been in on this with him.  I’m not going to lie to you.  You’re  a fucked-up weirdo, but you’re not dumb.  I know that.  This is you proving your loyalty.  Loyalty to me.”
            Getch lets go of my ear, and he leans back, relaxed in the tender grip of the booth.  He pours himself another glass of Maker’s Mark, and he shovels it down his throat.  He wipes his mouth with his hand, his cologne stinking body guards sidle up to the booth and he says to me, “Trade his life for yours.”
            He says this, dead serious.
“How hard can that be?”
And there’s the devil smiling, right in my fucking face, as devils will do.