Friday Prose: Susan Walked a Monkey

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 two or 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
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Susan Walked a Monkey
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Like clockwork the old crabby women were out on the sidewalks at 7am, scrubbing the sidewalks, Tony woke up the entire neighborhood starting up his Chevelle at 7:15, and precisely at three o’clock each afternoonn another daily ritual occured.

At 3pm everything stood still, stopped all motion on the streets and sidewalks. Stickball games halted in mid swing, kids forgot who was ‘it’ in tag, mothers didn’t hear babies crying because that girl, that girl was slowly gliding over the bluestone slabs of the sidewalk again, holding as she did every day, a thin leather leash and teathered to that leash was a little, bitty brown monkey.

Nobody moved, everyone went hush.

This mouth agape, daily diversion from our noisy, litter strewn existence happened seven days a week, you could set your watch to it. For us, it was way better than any Mutual of Omaha special on t.v., heck, we had our own, personal National Geographic reality show, right on our street, in real time, every single day. This was Technicolor, before any of us could afford Technicolor, this was appointment t.v. before the term even existed.

It was the highlight of the day for so many people and so many people had so many opinions, that ‘the girl with the monkey’ had become a flashpoint, a neighborhood controversy. People divided into ‘for’ and ‘against’ camps and argued daily for hours, about Susan and her monkey.

I know it certainly marked my day complete when I saw Susan and her little, bitty monkey walk by, I certainly had no objections whatsoever. Most of the manboy salivators slobbered sexual innuendo and crude one liners, I heard their whispers but I had other designs.

Susan was the most beautiful human that two other humans could possibly conceive but despite that indisputable truth, at thirteen, her beauty had far less appeal to me than petting that monkey. I wasn’t in the position to make many promises in those emotionally unstable days, but I swore to myself, I would somehow, someday, pet that little monkey’s head.

I eventually got my wish a few years later.
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Change came stubbornly to my neighborhood. Strangers were noticed and kept at arms length, not easily accepted and so it went with me as I spent those weeks on my stoop, alone. The first tentative introduction to join in a game of stickball, came very soon after my mom had taped our name in blue BIC ink, above our mail slot. Our last name ended in a vowel and that vowel was my ticket of acceptance, the stamp of approval with the 20 or so kids my age who hung out on my block.

Stickball was played in the street, on the sticky asphalt that got so hot, your sneakers would suddenly stop short in melting gum wads as you ran the bases, your fingers would stick together as you frantically crawled under cars to chase ground balls. Home base was a sewer cap, second base the next one 30 feet away, first and second base were mirrors of parked cars, which was never appreciated by the owners of said cars. It took me a few games to get the hang of things but eventually my athletic experience and instincts kicked in, I happened to be the star pitcher and hitter on my Little League team, back in Long Island.

A perfectly placed vowel and a knack for stickball and I was in.

And that’s just how it was.
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It’s just how it was and that’s how people in this poor, working class neighborhood wanted things to stay but this was 1968, upheaval was sweeping the entire country, change was coming whether people wanted it or not. Susan and her monkey was the personification of that change, because Susan was a hippy.
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And at 15, so was I. Even though I was born a little late to ride the initial wave of peace, love and understanding, I was all in and committed. My uniform consisted of 1 pair of tattered and patched bellbottom jeans, impossibly frayed at the hem, an historically faded denim shirt, beat up Frye boots and a peace sign on a leather rope around my neck and hair that reached the middle of my back, standard hippy uniform for a poor kid on Welfare who couldn’t afford anything else.

Now Susan’s hippy was something altogether different. For some reason, she could walk the same route, walk for miles everyday, yet the hem of her exaggerated bellbottoms were always perfect, not a single fray to be seen. She wore a different Indian style, long sleeved, clean white, cotton blouse everyday, despite the heat and each one had beautifully embroidered, colored stitching, opened low to reveal a shining, silver peace sign hung around her neck. She always carried a small brown, suede leather pouch, colored beads attached to the flowing tassles that shimmied as she walked and a thin leather headband that perfectly corralled her hair, parted in the middle.

Her hair was almost a miracle and no one in our neighborhood of dark brown and black hair, had ever seen anything quite like it. To simply call it blond would be to shortchange the truth, her hair was almost white. It’s length reached the top of her low hung, hip hugger jeans and when the afternoon sun, which was always behind her as she walked, would attach it’s rays to the back and forth motion, it looked illuminated. The reflection almost hurt your eyes and even as she started to disappear from view, down the long, straight blocks, you could still see her hair, gently swish back and forth as she walked.

Susan’s face was a very pale white and it never tanned, it could be 95 sweltering degrees and humid but there was never a bead of sweat to be seen. Wide cheekbones, wide mouth, slightly parted, unlipsticked lips and grey eyes behind dark aviater sunglasses, resting on a narrow nose, she was an almost, Nordic princess who had an air of royalty while she walked through the crowds as they galked. Susan was utterly unfazed by the attention, her expression never changed and I never saw her once utter a word or look anyone in the eye.

Susan was otherwordly. She was untouchable, unnattainable and way out of anyone’s league.

Even the hormone choked, macho manboys in our gang knew it and it pissed them off. They ridiculed her clothes but it wasn’t just her clothes, it was how she wore them. Susan would tie her Indian shirts in a knot just at her ribs and her hip hugger pants rode low on her torso, so there was lots of pale white skin including her bellybutton, showing between the shirt and the top of her pants.

None of the girls in our neighborhood dressed like Susan, no one had ever seen a girl dress like that, except me.

Friday Prose: The Brooklyn I Knew

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′ and 70′ 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 two or 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.
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thCA0DQTR5


The Parking Space

I would always listen for the click, the turn of the key and what resulted next, the sound that crashed and echoed for miles off the close canyon walls of this neighborhood every morning was the unique roar of American auto manufacturing in it’s heyday, the 425 cubic inch muscle car horsepower rumble that put me right square in the mouth of a mechanical lion, as it roared from deep within it’s empty belly.

Rhhhhuuuurrrmmmm, rhuuurrmm, rhhhhuuuurrrmmmm!

each time he gently pressured the accelerator to get the oil flowing slowly through all eight cylinders. He would sit in the car for the ten or so minutes it took for the engine to calm itself down. With the hood up and his driver’s door opened wide into the street, one foot planted on the asphalt and his beefy hand cupping the chrome eight ball that topped the shifter, Tony waited. He listened intently with his right ear cocked towards the dashboard glancing occasionaly at the rear view mirror for any sign of white, oil burning exhaust.

Sitting in the vinyl black bucket seat, Tony listened and waited for the engine to start it’s eventual purr as nonchalantly as you and I would blink our eyes, as though starting up a car this way at 7:15 in the morning was the most natural thing in the world.

He was oblivious, or at least it seemed that way.

Tony never looked around as he slowly went through his rehearsed routine, never met anyone’s gaze and he was never, ever in a hurry. The old women with their heads down, their worn faces covered by black kerchiefs busy scrubbing stains off the sidewalks, were equally nonplussed. I couldn’t vouch for the rest of the neighborhood who were woken up this way every single morning, whether they liked it or not.

Work days, Saturdays or Sundays were all the same to Tony.

And that’s just how it was.

It never crossed my mind to cover my ears, though I probably should have, the decibel level was that toxic. And it didn’t take long for this thirteen year old to fall in love with the sight, sound and smell of that black ’67 Chevy Nova, the chromed engine and the smell of the exhaust. I rushed through my bowl of Frosted Flakes every morning just to make sure I was there in my usual spot, when Tony turned the key.

My dad owned a Texaco station and was a master mechanic, so I’d seen my fair share of cars growing up but this car was no ordinary mother go to the marketmobile or dad’s everyday, train station driver.

No, not even close, not by a long shot.

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This car was infinite black and the mirror finish in the triple lacquered paint was so perfect, I could see my pimpled reflection from the top of the stoop where I sat. On the hood were two chrome circles, with small horseshoe clasps for little padlocks that were meticulously unlocked, without leaving even a partial fingerprint on the dustless, black paint finish. In the low morning sun, looking into the engine compartment once the hood was raised, was like stealing a peek of a solar eclipse.

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People might have and very quietly mumbled curses under their breath as Tony carefully let the hood down and drove away, but they didn’t let anyone but trusted family members hear the complaint because the word on the street whispered, that Tony was connected. He knew a guy who knew a guy, who’s brother was a made man. The quiet rumours then morphed into street corner legend, an unverifiable truth that Tony himself was a made man, attached somehow and no one knew exactly how, to the Mob.

And in this tight knit, everyone could see and hear what you were doing when you did it neighborhood, aye fhugettaboutit, that’s all you really needed to know to stay healthy and vertical.

Everyday and all day, that coveted parking space ramained empty, until Tony arrived back home from whatever it was that he did. No one ever parked there, even as you could see every parking space taken as far as your eyes could focus, along the up and down streets that were choked with parked cars.

That spot remained reserved and it was right in front of my stoop.

One hapless visitor from Queens unfamiliar with the rules, made the mistake of waving off all the warnings, arrogantly parking his Pontiac sedan where it should never have been. The informed knew what would happen and word got around the neighborhood pretty quick. It always did. We were all silent witnesses by late afternoon as crowds gathered throughout the day, bunched on stoops and poking out of windows. We waited for the roar to be heard from blocks away, the echoes of that engine that always signaled Tony’s return.

He drove up, stopped and returned a few short minutes later.

He parked his car right in the middle of the street, doors swung open and men piled out in wool knit shirts and shiny black shoes. Out of the trunk came bats, crowbars and sledge hammers and they proceeded to pummel that Pontiac into a shattered steel and glass corpse, as Tony sat waiting in his black bucket seat.

The Pontiac was unrecognizeable, rendered undriveable.

When they were finally finished, they all silently slithered back into Tony’s black ’67 Chevy Nova, rhhhhuuuurrrmmmm, and just very slowly drove away, leaving a message for the neighborhood to consider. That violent display, finally and undeniably verified all the whispered rumours about Tony, and during the next decade that i lived on that block, no one ever dared park there again.

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Written April 2012, edited March 2013

Friday Prose: The Brooklyn I Knew

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. my eyes have difficulty reading prose these days, my own included and i find myself curiously detached from these stories i once felt so invested in. (i’m not sure why that is )

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′ and 70′ 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 two 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.
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thCA0DQTR5
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I Was a Poor, Pimpled, Uncool Sulker.
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My new neighborhood bore no resemblance to the manicured fenceless grassed yards, single family house 2 cars in every driveway, ethnicity free Long Island town where I spent the first 12 years of my life. There were languages here and English spoken thick with Italian and German accents by old, crabby grey haired woman in black mourning dresses and rolled down black stockings who promptly at 7am bent at the hip, were scrubbing their stoops and sidewalks in front of their buildings.

Everyday and all day delivery trucks roared down the narrow one way, steamy asphalt streets blaring their big horns, belching exhaust and rustling litter along the curbs, barely missing kids darting between parked cars chasing balls and playing tag. Young mothers pushed big wheeled baby carriages and old ladies lugged shopping carts, choking the already narrow sidewalks. Heavy doors slammed behind people slithering past other people bunched on stairways listening to songs scratched out on small transistor radios.

Like a gargoyle I watched all the comings and goings, the backwards and forwards of incessant car and human traffic, scared of everything that moved. Unfortunately for me, absolutely nothing stood still on this unfamiliar Brooklyn street, this continuous canyon wall of four story buildings that swallowed whatever thankful breeze there might have been, choking everything but the noise, the noise that never stopped.

This was not a particularly human friendly environment, there were no trees along the straight line of streets that you could view for miles.

Not a single one.

The small concrete ‘yards’ that fronted the four story, continously connected buildings on either side of the stoop were just wide enough for four steel garbage cans, the other side was empty. That empty space was handy when it snowed but not for much else except wind blown leaves and garbage, it was walled off from the sidewalk by thick, foreboding wrought iron black painted fencing. Each building had their own scrolled designs, each topped by tri corner spears that if you accidently rubbed the palm of your hand against a tip you’d get a nasty scrape for your stupidity, as intended. The stoops were lined on either side by wrought iron railings, uncomfortably wide for a kids hand.
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My tomboy sister found this out the hard way, slipping off one the railings monkey climbing, losing her balance she was impaled on one of the spears. Folded and in shocked silence she lay there motionless as adults came to help but the aid proved difficult, the fences were over four feet high and it was impossible to remove her without causing further damage. Some wooden milk crates were found, placed front and back to gain leverage and she was eventually lifted off.

She was lucky, she needed only a few stitches to repair the three inch tear in her belly.

I was a poor pimpled uncool sulker at 13, an emotionally mixed up mess of a kid spending the first weeks after school ended that year in ’68, sitting alone on the top step of the 10 foot high stoop to my building at 232 Jefferson Street scrunched in the shadowed corner of the doorway, day after airless day. I sat in the same spot and in the same position, long arms looped around my legs, acned face resting between my knees just hoping that no one would notice and praying hard to be ignored.

I sat, shaken to the core scared; yeah, divorce does that to a kid.

From my perspective the best place to take all this in was from my third floor window. It felt safe there hidden behind the flimsy white curtains and the view from that vantage point allowed me to eventually recognize daily patterns, things people did each day. I was thankful perched there, thankful that at least something began to make some sense because so much had changed so quickly for this kid.

Divorce is a tragically shared family trauma and my mom, desperate for some privacy of her own in our cramped railroad style apartment filled with cheap mismatched Salvation Army furniture, decided that I needed to be outside, you know to soak up some sun and meet some other nice kids my age.

So of course I sat there on the stoop alone for weeks.
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Written April 2012, edited March 2013