The Neighborhood

But it was all starting to get too much for me. Without the visits uptown to work with Dan and get my hands in the dirt and work with a shovel I don’t know how I would have managed. My nerves were shot and the city itself seemed to be falling apart. The elevated Westside Highway downtown in Manhattan collapsed and a bunch of cars and panel trucks fell into the hole. The pollution in the city was terrible and a yellow haze blocked the view of Manhattan from Brooklyn. The whole thing seemed like shit. On the way up to Riverdale I saw where a raccoon had gotten smashed on the highway and over a couple of more trips I watched the carcass get beat into dust. It seemed so unnatural that the animal could not even disintegrate into the soil but only get pulverized into the concrete and asphalt.

My mood, which had been fair to poor, declined to poor to desperate. There was a store downtown on the lower east side of Manhattan, a good place to buy Levis and tee shirts, work clothes basically, socks and so forth. I bought all my clothes there, a place called Hudson’s run by two giant Jewish twin brothers. One day I was down there driving around doing errands. I dropped off some photographs at my agency, hoping for a sale, and came out to find another ticket on my old Renault. I had acquired quite a few tickets and even had the car towed away a couple of times. It was expensive and stressful. That was bothering me as I found a meter to park at for my Hudson’s shopping chore.

For men, shopping is like hunting. You know what you are looking for. You spot it and put it in the bag! And that’s what I did with a few pairs of pants, some shirts and socks, tallying up to a fair amount of money despite the discount nature of the store. I paid for it all and threw the receipt in the bag and then kept looking for something I had thought to buy but didn’t. While I was doing that, I put the bag down and then, somehow, left the store without the bag, got in the car and drove away. Just as I turned the corner I remembered that I didn’t have my package and made another swing, found a place to park, and went back to the store.

I told a grease ball sales guy in there what happened and he just looked at me. I said it was the big giant guy who sold me the stuff and he would remember. At that time I didn’t realize there were two of the giant kike mother fuckers. I was getting a little crazy talking to the numb nuts flunky with the shiny greased black hair just as the two giant kike mother fuckers showed up and got in my face.

“Ok, what’s the problem” they said in unison while I gulped and stuttered. The one giant closest to me had a stomach about the size of one of the olive barrels at Sahadi’s on Atlantic. My face came to about where his tits were located. It had only been about twenty minutes since I had been in there buying the stuff but they acted like they had never seen me before. My behavior was starting to get slightly hysterical and getting me nowhere except maybe hurt. So, I took a step back, a deep breath, and appealed to whatever decency they had, mentioning that I was a frequent customer and so forth. It finally worked and I got my stuff back but between that and the ticket on my car earlier and the whole buildup of my unsatisfying, purposeless life, well, my nerves were shot. And I wasn’t even twenty five years old yet!

I got into my Renault; a car beat up enough to win any argument in the city, and rolled downtown to the Brooklyn Bridge to go home. The ramp onto the bridge is a merge where one car enters and then another in some kind of orderly fashion. In my condition I might not have had the patience for that. I can’t remember really who was in the right but the guy in back of me got very pissed off and started honking his horn at me, annoyingly, persistently. Not only that but he kept at it once we were on the bridge, tailgating and honking his fucking horn.

I stepped on my brakes a couple of times to scare him but it just made him madder and, of course, my mood was very dark to begin with. I could see it was a big young guy in that car and that he had a girl with him, not a good situation since maybe he wanted to take a scalp for his lady.

My exit to Brooklyn Heights was the first one off the bridge and the young dick head took it too, honking all the time and cursing with fire in his eyes as I could see in my rear view mirror. I had had enough by then; there does come a time. I pulled over and he pulled over. I was out of my car and hit him square in the face before he could open his mouth and start with any bullshit. In New York we know that’s the best way. He must have been from New Jersey. He was down on the ground with me pounding on him before he knew what hit him while his girlfriend was watching and thinking maybe she needed to look for a guy with a stiffer dick. He was a big kid but a wimp and I was getting sick of hitting him when a Jewish intellectual with a book under his arm and walking his dog, came over and said, like he was talking to kids on a playground. “Get up out of the gutter. What are you, animals?” Even in the middle of the fray I thought that was great, that he would do that, say that in that situation. The Jews are the best; another proof.

The kid got up and we mumbled something and went our separate ways. He wasn’t hurt bad other than his pride and knowing he would have problems with his reputation and maybe have to find another girlfriend, maybe a peacenik!

My condition was strung out emotionally and physically and I was feeling desperate to get into a new life. My time working with plants with Dan had been the one bright light of my New York life and I wanted more of that. Caroline and I had made a photographic trip down south and spent time with her relatives in southeast Arkansas. They were great despite hating niggers. Their way of life, a rural life of fishing, hunting, gardening and time to be together, seemed perfect.

I had a connection up in New Hampshire, someone I had met on assignment for one of the magazines, a guy who was living that type of life and had experience building things and knowing how to go about it all. We had visited him and his wife and talked more and more about the possibility of life beyond New York City and more and more it seemed possible. By this time, I was ready and Caroline too although more on a part time basis so it seemed. I think she understood a couple of things by now; that life in New York City was not possible for me at this stage of my development and also that she had made a mistake marrying somebody six years younger who had not even started growing up.

We had asked our friend up in New Hampshire, Joe, to look for a house in the area where they lived, the upper valley of Vermont and New Hampshire in the little town of Lyme, New Hampshire near Dartmouth College. And Joe found a house for $11,000 right off the town common in the middle of the village. We liked that it was in the town and not in the boondocks. Coming from the big city a move into the forest did not make any sense. But still, this house was almost falling down and the barn in back had fallen down. There was only one light bulb, no bathroom, and pump in the larder and a couple of wood stoves. The place was a wreck but affordable and I needed something to do with my young energy other than what I had been doing.

Brooklyn Sunny Day / image copyright Ricker Winsor
Brooklyn Sunny Day / image copyright Ricker Winsor
It was winter now and Joe knew the owner of the old house and had put down a deposit for us of five hundred dollars. The plan was that I would go up in the spring and start the demolition which included taking all the plaster off the walls and stripping the structure down to bare bones so it could be fitted with wiring, plumbing and insulation. Meantime, we kept going with our Brooklyn life which continued to spiral down. I was still playing chess and visiting Dan up at the Delafield place and now with more purpose since I was going to be growing vegetables in New Hampshire.

Back on the block I heard bad news from the white knight who rode up to the curb on his Harley one afternoon. Albert had been killed. We were all in shock, although Tom looked less surprised, like he might have known something about it. Albert’s apartment was just down the hall from his.

“It’s true, amigos” said the white knight. “He’s dead. They found him a few days ago in his apartment. His mother got worried about him and they got Johnny the cop to get a warrant to break in the door. He was in there on his bed with two shots to the head. They whacked him.”

“How could they whack him?” I said, still hardly believing it. “He was a great kid. There wasn’t anybody who didn’t like him. What could he have done so that somebody would want to kill him?” I really couldn’t believe it.

“Listen man,” said the white knight, “I know what you are saying. I liked the kid too. Everybody did but if you get involved with certain people you are taking a chance. You have to know that.”

Well, we knew who he was talkin about, that weird mean bastard Moses who came through once in a while tossing around amyl nitrate and acting like a big shot. And maybe Anthony was involved, that fat manic lunatic. He hadn’t been around for quite a while I remembered thinking. Nobody even mentioned about the funeral. I guess his mother and sister kept it to the immediate family. What a waste! Albert wanted more than the regular working life. He got it for a while, a very short while.

I had noticed that Tom never got involved with any serious pot dealing beyond his own needs and a little for his friends. He didn’t want to get involved with the people you have to get involved with if you want to make any kind of serious money. He was too smart for that. But he was deeper into the pills and the escape into sleep.

Jimmy Aboud and his girlfriend had moved away, I can only hope to a better world somewhere, a better neighborhood, and Harold, the defeated seeker, had moved into Tom’s building and had taken over Jimmy’s store. After the debacle of his spiritual journey to India which lasted about twenty four hours he just sat in the little candy store drinking beer at ten o’clock in the morning and anesthetizing himself that way, watching the world go by from a condition of suspended animation.

Jean Silverstein had moved out of the upstairs loft and Maddy was exploring the singles scene on weekends in Manhattan, places like Fridays and Shenanigans, places like that, getting some action and a feel for the single life. Jean was shacked up with a very nubile French lady and when I visited they were living in a little apartment a few streets away in Cobble Hill. It had nothing in it but a bed and maybe a chair but they seemed in love and happy. It looked like his depression had cleared up and then, a couple of months later, I found out from Caroline that he had killed himself. This was another serious blow to my understanding of things, something else that made no sense whatsoever. He was a great guy with looks and talent and everything going for him and he killed himself. How is a person supposed to understand that?

Despite it all, I had hope and a new direction out of the neighborhood and into a new life. When March came I felt it was spring even though New York was still cold and up where I was going it was still winter. But I was ready, and so sometime about the ides of March I got into the old blue Renault and headed out. The pollution was so bad that day you couldn’t see across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan.

I thought ‘This is the day when a hundred thousand people will die of air pollution’.

By the time I got over to the Westside Highway above where it had fallen down on twelvth avenue at around twentieth street, I was feeling liberated, heading out to a new life like a pioneer. My Renault was my covered wagon and I was the all American hero boy in my own mind. It felt so good and positive I lit up one of my last joints of that strong red pot and stretched my lungs once again. I was flying high by the time I got to the Cross Bronx Expressway and then I heard sirens coming from behind me, coming fast.

In those days you could get in real trouble for marijuana, even a little bit of it, and smoking it makes you, or could make you, paranoid. I knew they were after me! They were coming on strong. I threw the nickel bag I had out the window and kept driving .The sirens got closer. One patrol car passed me on the left and another on the right and there were still more behind. They zoomed right past me, up a quarter of a mile ahead and cut across traffic, stopping six lanes of trucks and cars. Everything stopped. Another cop car was right behind me and had slid across sideways ninety degrees to the traffic. Two cops were out of that car with guns pulled, using their vehicle as a shield. I was frozen with fear right in the middle of it and started to get out of the car to give up when I realized they were after the guy in front of me who at this point had about six guns aimed at him, a Puerto Rican guy with a beat up big Chevy.

Now I was afraid of being in the cross fire of a gun fight that seemed to be happening or about to happen. Everything was kind of in slow motion. I got back in my car. No shots were fired. They grabbed the guy who had decided to give up rather than die. Traffic started again and so did my journey into a new life up north.

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