Monday, November 27, 2006

Jersey City Soul

I know Jersey City by its putrid smell. The elevator at the Ninth Street Light Rail station stinks of rotten eggs. That—and something worse. Maybe paint thinner. Or puke. Or both. Nobody seems offended but me.

Like capitalist worker ants, in single file, we march out of the elevator and pace up Congress Street to our respective homes. Most of us anyway. The others, downtrodden like me, take a detour to any number of corner pubs for a few cold ones before dinner.

I stop at The Corkscrew, my usual pit stop (WE HAVE BEER + YOU SHOULD DRINK IT!). Just the jukebox, bartender, and me. “What’ll it be, brother?” Enough with the small talk. Gimme the $2 Oktoberfest. I inhale the beer, but the throat keeps wantin’ some damn air.

“How’s dat city job treatin’ you, brother?” says Luke, the Tender of Bar, once my ass settles on the stool. “Still vertical,” says I. “I keep sucking those taxicab fumes and drinking this beer, but I’m still vertical.” Says he: “You know, at the enda day—dat’s wha’ counts.”

Amen to that. I get up and slip a quarter in the jukebox. Ray Charles, soul man, rewards me with his hoarse, sweeter-than-Jesus voice.

“You seen Pédro yet?” “Shit, brother,” Luke says. “Nobody’s seen Pédro. You know dat.” What the hell? Two whole days now the guy’s been MIA. Shit. Don’t tell me Pédro is trying to lay off the sauce. Jersey City ain’t for quitters.

Outside, at long last, night is falling. Somewhere else a dog barks, as a despondent me trudges home.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sick Inside

A white suburban kid in a black Suburban is keepin’ it real on wheels. Yankees hat on sideways, chains a-rattlin’, leaning out the window on Central Ave. Wearing a black shirt with gold lettering: THUG 4 LIFE. Yelling obscenities to the chicas.

Oh, yes. Welcome to Jersey City, baby. This ain’t boring, pale, gentrified Suburbialand. No, this is the place where we’re keepin’ it real for the betterment of (hu)mankind. This is where yo’ shit smells too!

Where I’m walking, the street is littered with litter. We got the debris of human consumption, like art, on display for the general public. You won’t see this at the NYC Met: McDonaldland burger wrappers carried by the wind. Oven Fresh Pizza!™ boxes trampled by pedestrians. DJ fliers for The Corkscrew (61 Congress Street; $3 house margaritas on Wed nights!). Payless and/or Target coupons. Used and abused condoms. A dirty syringe. More broken glass from 40 oz. bottles of malt heaven.

I can hear the Ninth Street Light Rail. Clouds above me start spilling their rain. Brrr. Feels more like sleet to me. Must be close to 30 degrees on this restless night. I hope it snows.

I take a detour to Fisk Park on the way home. From here, you get the view of lower Manhattan. I been there once. But this is home now. Jersey City, baby! For better or for worse.

Build yourself up, J.C. Make your boy proud. Gimme a happy ending.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Last Call

Let this be the drink of the damned! Pédro says, grabs the last tequila bottle from behind the counter, dumps its guts into an oversized shot glass. Swallows hard. Passing out eight seconds later, his left cheek hits the table. Probably chipping a tooth. Definitely bloodying a lip. A tough drink this bandito brew.

I, of course, have long since resigned from these vomit-enducing, soul-depriving beverages. Bad for the liver, costly on the pocket book. But, alas, no Man is a Perfect Beast. Flawed, I do give in to these indiscretions every now and then.

“Your friend,” queries the barwoman, “he’ll sleep here tonight, no?” “Sure,” comes my reply. “This bar is like a second home.”

I pat Pédro good night, pay for his drinking, then stagger to the room we've rented down the street. We all could use a good night’s sleep.

Too early, the cursed sun is blinding. I have a quick breakfast (runny eggs and weak coffee). Then I check on Pédro. Snoring loudly, he’s still hunched over the table. But as a seasoned journeyman, I know: Let a drunken traveler sleep it off, lest he become a burden on the voyage.

I’ll give him ’til noon.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Danny Romeo’s Last Night Out

But first the chores of the evening. I do my laundry at the Launderette, 166 Avenue B, two loads, mixing the whites and the coloreds (no discrimination here) before lugging everything back to my cramped but overpriced East Village studio/loft. Then: a quick shower. Clean socks, shirt, and jeans. Gel and after shave, the cheap kind. Check me out in the mirror and out the door we go.

I drop in at the Ale House on MacDougal Street, unannounced, and grab a seat in the back. Seat with a view of the restroom.

“How’s it going, Danny?” says another regular, the Tender of Bar. “Good,” says I. That’s I, as in Danny Romeo. “What’ll it be, man?” Jack and Coke (heavy on the Jack) and Seven and Seven. Then to chase it down, a Corona with lime. Yes. Just the usual, thank you.

We, the less fortunate ones, live and work (work and live) here in Manhattan. By we, I mean the whites, blacks, browns, rednecks, dogs, cats, parrots, pigeons, hot-dog vendors, taxicab drivers, bums, men in business suits, men who can’t even think straight, lesbians, trannies, Jewish people, Catholics, Muslims, the Irish, the Italians, the Koreans, the Chinese. I even hear there is a Finn who answers to the name A-ho. These are just a few.

I swallow my first drink in honor of my literary hero, Edward Abbey. A good writer and an even better drinker. Dead now. Poor, poor Abbey. As a great defender of the even greater American West, he died of Excessive Consumption of Alcohol (ECA) in the Year of Our Lord 1989. I guess it’s true that bad beer kills. As it so happens, I too suffer from this incapacitating disease. We’re kindred spirits, Abbey and I, in life and, hopefully, in death.

“What you been up to, Danny?” Not much. Doing some living. Staying away from reality TV. You? “Well,” she says, takes a deep breath, and goes into a pointless diatribe that involves her ex-boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend’s dog and something about his favorite CD she never returned (Revolver, The Beatles, 1966).

And so the night goes on. Another drink—or drinks. “Hey, Danny! Wuz happenin’?” “Nice haircut, man,” says I. “Where’d you get it—the Eighties?” More people to communicate with, were there any good communicating to be done. The best part about drinking is waiting to see what shit will spew out of one’s mouth.

But mostly, more internal monologue. Like: I hear a rumor that across the river the rent is affordable, the trash gets picked up on Thursdays, the women are the marrying kind, and the buses and trains run on time. Where in the hell are these gentrified, yuppiefied streets that don’t smell? These must be rumors! More lies for fools who believe in such things.

Now, let me tell you something: I don’t claim to be organized, but I do have a plan. It’s a good one, too. One that doesn’t involve marriage(s), mortgages, car payments, tennis lessons, health club fees, (cry-)babies, or baby food—any of that yuck that passes for life nowadays. My plan is simple, not entirely pain free, but with guaranteed results. Um, and what the hell IS your plan, Danny? you ask. Well. If you have to ask, then—forget it.

I finish my last drink of the night. Head out the door. A little after 3 a.m.

A final thought, as I find me a suitable subway station: Death is inevitable. No doubt it will come a-knockin’. And when it does, I’ll be ready. I already have a plot picked out for me, of course. Well, maybe TWO plots. Yes, sir. I say, bury me in the wilderness of Montana. That—or the Australian outback. Fewer people in those places mucking about, putting their ugly noses in my business.

But, please note: Put me in a cheap wooden box. This is good for later, when I have to claw my way out.

Skyscrapers, Like Fjords

It’s midday in the jungle. On the corner I get stared down by New York City’s finest scum, an intimidating sonofabitch, probably looking for a down payment on his first house. This in a town where real estate averages a thousand bucks per square feet.

“Now listen, man, I know you got some change,” he says, gritting his teeth, clenching his fists. I keep walking, stepping up the pace, eyes glued to the pavement. “Don’t ignore me, asshole!” He is hollering behind me now, hung up on his lot in life. “I’m part of this shit, too!”

Yessirree, folks. The operative word here is: SHIT.

The Big Apple, of course, has excelled in shit, shitt-o! and scheiße ever since its inception nearly four-hundred years ago. Case in point: In 1609, one Mr. Peter Minuit, then director of the Dutch West India Trading Co., traded about 24 dollars worth of worthless beads to local Injuns for this here entire island of Manhattan. A very shitty thing to do. This, consequently, put Manhattan on its current path of crapdom.

Being harassed on the streets in the middle of the day—on a Tuesday!—is an extension of the same old shit that has continued for almost half a millennium. Have the Injuns, who were screwed over so long ago, now reincarnated themselves as bums on the city streets to fuck with decent law-abiding citizens, who are just trying to make decent law-abiding lives for themselves? I don’t blame the Indians, of course. Or the bums. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a pickle for a pickle—that sorta thing.

I DO blame Mr. Minuit for buying this damned island in the first place, on which I now find myself working five, six, seven days a week, 50 weeks a year, in a dead-end job with dead-end pay, the ever-inevitable Death as my only happy release. Why couldn’t the fucker have bought one of the islands in the Caribbean? At least there I’d have the beach.

Mention beach and I bring you the topic of sun. Whopper of a fireball in the sky right now. 98 degrees of pure Fahrenheit. To be continued at 104 degrees by mid-afternoon. There aren’t enough fire hydrants to go around for the kids trapped on this island, boiled alive in this melting pot.

Too many days like this and the ice caps are bound to thaw out. To which I say, let the floodwaters rise and Manhattan be swallowed by a monster of a wave in one big gulp of antifreeze-green saltwater.

Thus, as our famous last scene, the perfect ending to the day: Me in a dingy, revving up the motor, coasting down Sixth Avenue in a sea of genuine Gotham City sewage—and the tall skyscrapers, like fjords of concrete and steel.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Raining now. It’s very likely that I left my umbrella in newbie immigrant Fathey Abdullah’s taxi cab, where he dropped me off at Sixth and 59th. (Abdullah, formerly of Iran, is now a tax-paying resident of Brooklyn, U.S.A.) Oh well. I don’t dwell on it. I’ve missed the rain these last few days. We need some respite in this brick oven that is New York City.

I cross the street and buy a copy of the New York Post. I'm a newspaper junkie. The corner newsstand stays in business because of me. I then duck inside a coffee shop, order an espresso, and flip through the paper. I have some time to kill.

The rain stops on cue twenty minutes later. I discard the empty coffee cup, straw, crinkled napkin and newspaper in the trash bin. A short walk from here to E. 63rd, where I arrive five minutes early. Already, the Man stands in the doorway, squarely, with a brandy in his right hand and a cheap cigar in his left. He greets me with open arms, like we’re old Army buddies.

Once inside, I meet the Wife, who is on her first glass of Bordeaux. She is very beautiful, but also visibly nervous. The Man beckons me to the living room where we sit down on expensive leather sofas. Then we drink, steadily, for almost a half an hour, talking about nothing very important. I try, but I can’t put my finger on the Man. A nebulous character.

Soon he excuses himself politely, kisses the Wife, shakes my hand, and exits out the front door. The Wife and I are left alone. “Shall we?” I ask. Yes. Yes, of course, she says, and then escorts me to the upstairs bedroom, locking the door behind us.

The evening passes quickly. More rain. I walk out into the night and hail another taxi cab. As luck would have it, it’s Abdullah’s. I get my umbrella back.

Monday, July 31, 2006

In Spain

The buses had stopped running for the night. Pédro, my trusted friend and fellow world traveler, joyously exclaimed that the only recourse was to get drunk. Dutifully, I agreed. I even offered to buy the first drink.

“Tequila? Beer?” I said.
“Tequila! Cerveza!” Pédro echoed.

The proprietor of the first bar was an attractive lady, forty, big chested but slim, with long and beautiful legs, specifically designed to be explored by ardent travelers such as ourselves. We told her as much, only to be countered by a weak and ordinary smile. She was not a very happy or willing person. I ordered our drinks and, half-starved from our excursion to the white cliffs of Gibraltar that very morning, a plate of fritura malagueña, or fried fish. Much like Gibraltar, I felt detached, even removed from my home. In fact, I had no home. Not counting the beach, the streets, the alleyways. The hotel bar. What the hell was it that I was doing in Spain again?

We thanked our host for food and drink, then ventured to El Calvario, a quieter area north of the main road. The sun, long since tucked away behind the Cordillera Bética Mountains, had given way to the cool blanket of evening. The second bar we found was less refined, a few angry Anglo-Saxon tourists as its main occupants. More beer, more tequila, a game of darts. Courtesy of Pédro.

Moving on. Our goal was to escape the average tourist. We, as Pédro explained, weren’t average tourists—we were travelers, explorers, wanderers. My great uncle from Germany would have been proud. Wanderlust, he called it. The desire to wander, to explore. To live life for a change! Oh, yes, a bunch of bull, if you ask me. Great in theory, much like capitalism, socialism, pacifism, Mormonism, and a host of other isms too numerous to mention. But not a lot of fun when you’re near penniless, in a strange country, with odd customs, and a barely decipherable language. Where was I during Spanish class? Thank goodness for good friends, like Pédro, part-time translator, full-time inhabitant of Earth.

We came to a dead-end street, with an available bar in need of a few thirsty men. Our third stop of the night.

“Tequila? Cerveza?” Pédro said.
“Tequila! Beer!” I echoed.

I learned to drink from this man. Let it be known that these conquistadores know how to drink. I checked my pockets but my wallet wasn’t where I had left it. Not much IN it, per se, but enough to feed a man’s thirst. Here, in Torremolinos, where I had felt warm, happy and loved, I had now been stung by greed, another casualty of capitalism. The poor fellow who stole my wallet was its first victim of the night.

“Bastards!” as Pédro exclaimed. Yes. Poor bastards.

An abrupt end to the night, to be sure, as we thumbed our way back to the hotel. A kind of anti-climactic boxing match, where the young hopeful goes down for the count in the first round.

River Rats

Old Man George, a senior river rat, got up first, as always, to light the campfire and boil the water. A product of an older (wiser?) generation—age unknown—he had a big belly, scraggy beard, and warm eyes. The sort of fellow you’d like to have as grandfather. He poured himself a cup of coffee and stood there for a good six or seven minutes, alone in the morning stillness.

In his younger days, he must have been very popular and had many friends. These days, most people found him apprehensive, hesitant of friendship. Who could blame him? The world had changed in a hurry; George had refused. It was only a handful of us river rats who knew him well enough to call him pal, buddy, mate, or friends. That’s FRIENDS, always in the plural form. I was lucky to have him as mine. George was a river man, and so by trade—and choice—a loner.

The thing about George that earned one’s immediate respect was that he was a good listener. Friends who know when to shut up and listen come by far too seldom. When they do, hold onto them for dear life—and thank yourself later. Instinctively, George knew how to listen and listen well. And when he did, you knew his ear was tuned to your every word, receptive to the beat of your soul. Too poetic? Perhaps. True? Absolutely.

He yawned quietly now. Being barefoot, he strolled carefully down the snaking path—so as not to step on pointed rocks or pine cones—to the rushing river below. To brush his teeth. It was a morning ritual for him, brushing his teeth by the cool water before the rest of the world woke up.

Second to rise that morning was Cooper, a black-bearded Ohio car salesman, who yawned as he crawled out of the tent, under a gray sky, then poured himself a strong cup. (Of sludge). He stood there for a few—shivering a little, then warming up as the coffee made its way through his bloodstream—before making his way down to the river where George stood diligently, still brushing away.

“Morning,” Cooper says. “Morning,” George replies. Future Speakers of the House.

“Goddamned owl kept me up most of the night,” Cooper says, minutes later, scratching his head. No response from George. Done brushing but still busy. Busy listening to the bugs, the birds, the fishes, the wind in the trees, to the rushing water. Even to the flowers.

Good friends know when to shut up.

I was the last to awaken. The sun was damn near halfway up the sky. Coffee, grits, bacon. A man’s breakfast. Then I, too, found myself down by the river, the third musketeer of this here expedition.

“Morning,” says I.

Grunts, mumbling. Farting.

I had to crap, and so excused myself from my compatriots. Soon to return. As I did, the three of us stood there in silence, rugged outdoorsmen that we were, one listening, the other sipping suds, and yours truly feeling a lot lighter, having returned in kind to Nature what Nature had so graciously given to me before, in form of food, drink, nourishment.