dear friends, i thought i might use Friday to revive some of the stories i wrote in prose, before embarking on this poetic journey of mine.
i wrote these to to be read concurrently, each story informs the next, and the events seem unrelated until the end. it’s how it unfolded, as i lived it back in the 60′s and 70′s in Bushwick, Brooklyn. two of these are very early reposts, the last story was never posted and is quite long so it will be posted in three parts.
please don’t feel compelled to read these on your busy Friday morning, feel free to if you want to read them at all to take them into the weekend. thank you and i hope you enjoy them.
if you need to catch up….
I Was a Poor, Pimpled, Uncool Sulker.
The Parking Space
Susan Walked a Monkey.
Boy Pets a Monkey.
I was absorbed into this gang of ours but there was always a tension, an uneasiness between the macho manboys and me. Most of them were violent, I wasn’t, many if not all of them were bigoted, I wasn’t, most of them were doing heroin by then, I wasn’t and they all had the same, steady girlfriends and I didn’t.
Oh, I kissed a few girls and had some secret, makeout sessions in the top floor of stairways like everyone else, the only place that offered any of us some privacy in our, see everything when you did it neighborhood. Despite being the low man in the heirarchy and generally held in very low regard with the manboys, I remained popular with the girls. I was sensitive, quiet, I listened and though I was considered a close friend and confidant to all the girls in our gang, none of them especially lit a spark for me or I for them.
Being poor, walking was my mode of transportation and Queens, whose official borderline was only a few miles away, was always my favored direction. It was easy to tell without a map that I was in Queens, the tree lined streets were cleaner and wider, there were brick, bungalow style single, family houses with small grass yards and planted flowers. I was also guaranteed to find some hippies, partying on a corner or in a park, this borough was hippy central.
It was on one of these aimless walks one night, that I happened to turn a corner and there it was, right at my feet and so close in fact, I stumbled as I almost stepped on the little, bitty monkey.
Without even looking up, intuitively I kneeled and offered the monkey my hand, with the widest grin my face could muster and before my fingers reached it’s head, the little bitty monkey scampered up my arm, perched on my shoulder and proceedede to investigate my hair with its little hands.
I let out a great big laugh, Susan stood there, stunned.
Apparently, the monkey was never this friendly to strangers, it just didn’t happen and she composed herself a little and began to apologize. To put her at ease, I told her of the promise I made years ago and we both had a little giggle, hers didn’t last long though.
Her face was different than I’d remembered, I wondered if it was the shadows from the dim street lamps, since I had never seen Susan at night before. All these years I’d watched her walk away from her apartment on the next block, but had never seen her actually come home, nobody in our gang had. It was also the first time I’d heard her voice, it was soft as summer, but very tentative, halting and not at all what I’d imagined.
Susan tried extricating the monkey from my now tangled hair but it wouldn’t let go, it started screeching right in my ear. She sheepishly asked if I would walk her home, and so walk home we did.
Although we were quite a few miles from home, the time went quckly. I let Susan dictate the pace, she seemed in a hurry and we didn’t talk very much. Keeping the monkey balanced on my shoulder wasn’t all that easy, she appeared preoccupied, kept looking over her shoulder every few blocks and when we finally got to her building, I fully expected to hear her just say thank you.
I mean this was Susan, untouchable, unnattainable, otherwordly Susan. Heck, I was happy enough just finally getting the chance to fulfill a silly promise about petting a monkey.
But then she asked me upstairs, to talk awhile in the hallway and my head started swimming. By the time we climbed the stairs to the top floor, walking behind her, being that close and seeing that hair, that beautiful hair move as she moved up the stairs, it was all I could do to not reach out and touch it. But I didn’t.
She took the monkey off my shoulder and went inside for a few minutes, when the door opened she was followed by her mom, who had 2 cups of herbal tea for us in her hands.
Now please understand, this was not the way events usually turned out when a girl’s mother found you in the hallway with their daughter, us boys were usually on the wrong end of a broom, being chased down the stairs.
Her mom handed me the tea and looked me right in the eye, her soft brown eyes said exactly what she did, ‘Thank you’, and closed the door behind her. I sat down first, close to the door on my right, Susan sat down and she sat close enough that our knees were touching, close enough that her hair would spill over my arm when we sipped our tea.
She started talking about wanting to move, that she hated our neighborhood, that she had a friend in California who was begging her in daily phone calls to leave. We certainly had that in common, but I was only 15, my time would have to wait. Susan, as I could see now being so close, was much older, maybe in her mid twenties and seemed to look a little older that night, she seemed weary. So I asked her why she didn’t just move, just pack up some things and move to California, people did that all the time.
‘Johnny. Johnny won’t let me, he won’t let me do anything.’
And as she said this, we both put our tea on the stairtread and I felt her body shift a little closer, we were shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh, her hair was mixing with mine as she began to tell me about her boyfriend Johnny.
They met in high school, he had a rock band and he wanted to be a star, it’s all he ever thought about. He wrote songs, played lead guitar and was the singer and of course that all sounded exciting and romantic and very cool in high school, but he was nearing 30 and this dream, just wasn’t happening. He was also insanely jealous, would routinely beat up guys who showed the slightest bit of innocent interest in Susan, then he would turn his anger on her. He controlled everything she did, told her exactly what to wear and it was his demand that had her walk everyday, walk the miles to his house in Queens, instead of picking her up in his car, as any decent boyfriend would.
That walk was a test, a loyalty test.
She was not allowed to talk to anyone and she had to be at his house at exactly the right time, otherwise he suspected she was flirting, or maybe worse. Her clothes were expected to be perfect, her hair, face, nails and every detail was inspected before they went out and especially the night of a gig. She was his prop, eye candy for interest and for votes when he competed in Battle of the Band contests, which he routinely lost. He was an alchoholic, he was a heavy drug user and as time went on, as his dreams were fading faster and as hard as she tried, she could never do anything right.
Susan always payed the price for his failures.
Susan hung her head as she told me all this, I sat there stunned, paralyzed and really not sure what to say or what to do. I wanted to hold her, console her, protect her and just as I started to put my arm around her shoulder, she moved into me, her head was in my chest, her hair completely covered her face and she rolled up the long sleeve of her white cotton blouse and began to cry.
I could feel her warm tears fall onto my jeans, one by one by one, as I looked at the bruises that covered her arm. My other hand then instinctively cupped her head, I gently stroked her hair, that miraculous hair that went slippery through my fingers, like water slow through a stream. I always imagined it would feel that way.
I held her a little tighter in my arms, kept thinking how much better she deserved.
Then, we both heard it,
Rhhhhuuuurrrmmmm, rhuuurrmm, rhuuuuurrrrmmm,
the screech of car tires and they sounded really close. I wondered why Tony was coming home so late, it was well past midnight and why he was stopping outside this building. Susan bolted to a standing position with terror in her wet eyes, put her hands on my shoulders and yelled,
‘Oh my God, it’s Johnny, it’s Johnny! He’ll kill you, he has a gun!’