Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Yesterday I had my fingerprints taken.
Human Resources will call me
sometime after the first
to give me a start date.
I don't know why
the gods have been so good to me:
jobs, women &, at times
Tennessee's strangers.
Most jobs & women I fucked up
while some fucked me up; why
the brass ring has come round
again--I don't know.

In fact, "why?" anything
I don't know.

But come January
I'll be going
to the Bronx
where I've only been
a few times before:
the old stadium
when the NY Giants
played in NY
& The Yanks
who built it;
the other times
I snuck in & out
to some south Bronx shit hole
to cop heroin when Fox
& Simpson Streets where known
as Ft. Apache.

I'll try to do
what I've done well before:
help some poor sonofabitch
and their family cope
with a bad hand
they were dealt
way before they knew
they were even in
a poker game.
I feel good
about that.
I think I can
do it
without trampling
on their ego
or succumbing
to my own.
Humility happened
grudgingly: my life
got ugly. No longer
was I a catch;
I was the caught.

But I got lucky:
some went to bat
for me. I owe it
to them to get up
to the plate
& not try
to hit it
out of the park,
but only try
to make

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


This town has no juice.
There isn't a buzz, not
a hum; it's leaden like
death. A pallor of gray
ash. Broadway is dim;
a yellow wattage darkens
the streets. Children
are dragged into toy stores.
The Salvation Army plays
Wagner on their bells.

Perhaps, it's Paris
or San Bernardino,
Chicago or The West
Bank or The Congress
or The President
who looks like
he hasn't gotten pussy
in years; tired
from the prom
from the promise
from what is
not? Perhaps,
it's constantly looking
for sales and bargains
because there are no
sales or bargains--
everything costs more
than what they're worth?
A collective reckoning.
A hundred and forty characters...
and you're dead.
An attention span of fleas.

I've gotten emails,
but no Christmas cards;
I've sent out emails,
but haven't licked a stamp.
It is company without flesh;
sentiment without breath.

I'm sure many people feel differently.
There will be champagne flutes aplenty
aloft in The Hamptons & Fifth Avenue
& Sutton Place come the thirty-first.
Some men will suckle an enormous breast
while thousands more are jailed
like a household pet through endless nights.
Those are not the ones I mean.
It's the fat middle that keeps getting fatter
that feasts on the offal that spins
off the techno butcher house of synthetics
that pawns itself off as real meat
that plays with me.
More people
have less;
more people
have less;
more people
have less;
and less people
have more
and more
and more.
"Will the machine gunners
please step forward."

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Two years ago
I had "a date
with the executioner."
She winged her way
from the north
& settled in my crib
for a week
of mad love
& madder hopes.
For me
it was a gift
I didn't want
to question
I only wanted
to enjoy.
In less than two months
it was over: I went up
to her crib; she handed
me my balls
in a box & sent
me packing--
without a
compass or
much of a reason
to go on...
but of course,
we have to
go on,
and do.

I still love her
and love women;
I love
their skin,
their perfume,
their way
of doing,
& their way
of being done;
I love their
bodies, their
nuanced way
of seeing
while ignoring;
their special
angers & regrets.
But this year
has not been kind
to me: a job
that does not pay
my rent; hours of
waiting for assistance:
food stamps, arrears,
interviews, paperwork.
Days mangled. Yet
I've never felt
more accomplished.
The words
have never
betrayed me; the writing
has never stopped.
"The blood-jet of poetry"
has splashed on the page:
my blood, your blood, her blood.
I can see our bodies splayed
waiting on the word's knife.

In January I start
a new gig. I'm happy
to be able to afford
my pad. Debts
will be repaid
over time; I'll look
at women and not
feel guilty--I can afford
another mistake.
And her
in her own hell
I'll flirt with.
I know it will do me no good,
but there's now less of me
to kill.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Five niggers
to play
nigger music
in a non-nigger house
in New Jersey.
They were cool
with that.
The rest of the world
was still white:
Brown Vs. Board
was a colored victory;
Jackie & Willie
were great colored ballplayers,
a credit to their race,
but were harbingers
(and still "colored.")
Cigarettes were twenty-five cents a pack.
A drink a buck.
Cap of heroin was fifty cents.
Brown band leaders
sick from a night
of no pay
& bad food
in a cheap
Chinese fish shack,
leaned into blondes
with bad skin.
Crew-cuts & skinny ties
told the tale
of a country heated
by recent wealth
and power. Ike smiled.
Yet underneath
the green golf carpet
mischief brewed.

In this Van Gelder home
St. Nick
had to,
if he had a mind,
jimmy his way in;
crazy voodoo artists,
brought their own gift,
were at work
while their drunken painter friends
lapped at the bowls in the bowels
of The Cedar Bar & San Remo's.

Percy plucked & walked rhythm's spine;
Cluck brushed a high hat;
Miles, precise & dark, played with blackness;
Bags danced;
and Monk, beautifully unhinged, splashed color through his fingers.

These times
are terribly light.
And still white.
Crazy art
is bought & paid for
before it can do anything
like breathe.

I was seven then,
almost seventy now.
I celebrate the birth
of something.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


for keepin my baby
all to himself
tucked away
& toasty
a Hot
Next thing you know
he'll be taking
a dump
down my chimney
this Christmas Eve.
I'll have a pail out
& shovel
just in case...
and a shotgun
for his pale
white ass.

Jewish Alzheimer's
my diagnoses:
I forget everything,
except grudges.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015


cannot be
It vanishes
& shape shifts
into an easy
old shoe
of lies.

I loved
that woman.
But can't
be sure
that woman
who she was

a refrain
Who wrote it
or sung it
I can't be sure.

have turned
while the wind
its dead
from branches.

Soon it will be dry.
And then moist.
A jack-o-lantern smile
will beckon.
And then jingles.
And I'll be me
and you, you.
What could be
never was.
empty, allowing
a metronome
of sorrow
to play
& over
& over

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Sunday, December 13, 2015


to its artists.
Never has.
But being kind
to artists
is not necessarily
a good thing--
just ask Americans
who get killed
by the fawning over
fame that this country
spits up.
had I born born
on the vodka tundra,
I would have been
in a gulag
or two
by now
--if I'd stayed alive.
And while that might
have been good
for my art
& the folks
I've fucked-over,
there were a few girls
& women who would have
grown old & died
without my charms
& many good graces
a laugh can provide.

I've gotten emails
from all over the world,
but not from The Red Square--
where a lot of my readers live.
For the sake of the gods
don't write me,
keep breathing,
keep reading,
keep writing,
keep painting,
keep dancing,
keep singing,
& most of all:
keep fucking
(only a little bit),
And that,
my comrades,
will make me,

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015


Is true
for all
of us,
in our
but only
with that

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


My age now,
Misha is,
nearer than further,
astride the grave,
a Beckett waltz
on his breath
he dances
in Brodsky's shadow.
How the old dowagers flock
toward the memory
of his beautiful body
and find only
decrepitude instead.

Almost forty-five years ago
in a loft on Chambers Street
I sat like a schoolchild
watching the clash of egos.
Cecil and Misha
(and poor little Heather
in a corner) cornered
by their art
trying to birth a marriage.

Our beginnings are our ends.
We know this,
but don't really know this,
until we see the flesh
hanging from the bone.

Twenty years ago
I saw Cecil at The Vanguard.
A solo performance.
It sounded like a late Beethoven sonata,
a summing up. Now Misha.
And now the dowagers
who no longer smile
at their memories.
"Art" never was
supposed to be

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015


I've been trying
for years now
to get away
from her
gravitational field;
I do not have
the propulsion
or, perhaps,
I lack
the will?
No matter
why; it is
what it is.
Everything I do
or don't do
I do
or don't do
with her
in mind.
It's madness
most beatific
in a wood dark
and winding.

There has been
of different planets,
different bodies,
different climates,
different names.
I've been indifferent
to their danger if,
indeed, they presented
danger at all.
Somewhere in my core
I must have known
that her madness
would arouse and inspire
my own and give rise
to a poetry of fevers.

It is the mirror
of adolescence
that I stare into.
A demon stares back:
young, heedless,
reckless (but alive!)
Pain has never felt
this good.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015


If you don't talk to me
right now, I'm going to
slit my wrists.

I cradled
the phone
and left.

Love dies
hard. Just
ask me.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015


to my mama:
I'm going to stay in school
without cutting classes; I'm going
to graduate
with a degree
in something
beside bullshit;
I'm going to take
the Civil Service test
and cheat
if I have to,
or get a job
in a bank or write
corporate mush
about picnics
and new employees
and their families
and the boss' best
and biggest hardon;
I'll take tickets
in a movie theater
or hand out tickets
in traffic court
and I'll marry
a Jewish girl
and have Jewish kids
with names like Harvey
or Irene or Norman
or Beth or Joel
and I'll talk talk talk
about silverware patterns,
or wallpaper or indoor plumbing,
and I'll listen listen listen
to slights & betrayals & rotten kids
and I'll work overtime
every chance I get and get saving bonds
and insurance policies and a practical car that seats six with room for a dog, a small dog, a dog that yaps,
and I'll see her family and their teachers and do anything anything anything not to hear her voice and their voices and I'll go to the bathroom and I'll close the door and I'll look and see if my testicles are still attached and wonder who they belong to and how long they'll dangle there without dropping any further down into the bowl.

You'll see,
I can do it.
I'll listen,
I promise,
I'll listen.
You believe me

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


sucking out
the rest of their lives
as they stood in line
at the Bowery Mission.
Their gums swollen & red
& receding into the back
of their skulls;
their teeth broken
looking like rusted serrated knives
of benign tastes
and neutered utility.
The drool
flowed from their black holes
and pooled on their chests.
They huddled and waited
for blood: sixty nine cents
worth of Port. Aged. Wise.
Indifferent to the crosses
hung for the holiday season.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015


My head has been emptied
of its dance,
of its music,
of its magic.
It feels
no longer
the dog,
& mangy,
no longer

There's mysteries
aplenty under
the clothes;
whispers between
the folds
of a skirt.

The silence
unnerves me.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015


A genius in the blood
both vile and rabid,
bit the country's
flesh and inflicted
a pure poison that runs
through arteries and veins
pulsating coast to coast.

The car is driven
by hunger. Beauty
is in marriage,
alchemy is fertile
& febrile &

It's Peggy Lee
aching. While
Captain Smith
& Pocahontas nutty
as kittens,
discover other,
more sacred lands
to explore.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


turkeys. A month
from now, reindeer
& clowns
in red suits.
It's come to that.
I believe
in America &
the American way:
you eat
what you kill--
first you
then me--
and always make time
for commercials.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I'm a loner
by nature,
no matter
how much
I secretly
(I think)

I've been asked
what I'm doing
To each
I've replied:
I'm busy.
I'm not
I'm busy
to be busy:
take myself
to a movie;
cook lamb stew;
stay alive
for a bit longer.
How I do that
is how I've done it
for sixty eight years:
bob & weave, avoid
being hit
too hard,
& playing
with my typer's keys.

So far
so good.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015


I come out
of a long
& proud
of addiction.
My mother
was the first
to have her mouth
to greet
a five milligram
valium rolling
off the conveyer belt
back in the fifties
before the word "generic"
was coined.
My father
was pretty good
with the codeine
& scotch;
he was also quick
with the belt
whistling through
his pant loops
& whipping me
& my brother. He
was so good
at hiding his shit,
he was voted dad
of the year
by those Jews
of appearances.

The blood of cowards
runs through our veins.
we treat each day
as a stranger
to be feared: Like you,
today, arriving
on my doorstep
weary & beaten-up
from your long long journey,
wanting to believe
you've found
a more forgiving home
only to find another
searching heart

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015


that most of the people
you see out there
have ever enjoyed
sexual intimacies
of any kind.
Who the fuck
would ever want
to be with them,
you think
to yourself,
let alone kiss
their lips
or hold
their hands?
There's no way,
you go on,
that his dick
was ever sucked
or her pussy
ever licked. No way.

But you'd be wrong.
There is someone.
Maybe you?
Maybe me?

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


has gotten
too old
for my brain;
it fucks
with my
of what
can be done
& who
it can be done
If you want
to understand
with yourself.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015


For E.H.


Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015


500 people last night
thought they were about
to enjoy themselves.
They were about to eat,
have a cocktail, smoke
a little weed
or a Gauloises & listen
to some twisty music.
They were ready to move
their bodies or minds or
both; have a taste of
some hip Cambodian fare,
enjoy the evening air
and savor a few days
of not working.
Little did they know
there's a caliphate
that frowns on such
hedonism, such frivolous
displays of sin. That
couldn't give a fuck
about iPhone51S (X or Y or Z)
or Facebook Likes
or Dislikes or fools
who are loving
the wrong god.
Paris prided itself
at being
at the vanguard
of thought & now
must think
& think again
about what they
think about...
& where they go,
& who they go with,
& who goes with them.
There is a hunger
for something pure:
something without
the fucked-up footprint
of man:
pure heroin;
pure pleasure;
pure food;
pure devotion.
I say this:
all interpretations
of god
needs to be

can I get
a drink?

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015


Failing to remember
to remember
to forget
is punishable
by remembering
things forgotten.
But how else
do we
go on?

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015


upon the alter
of sacrifice
while his bride
bandages his side.
It's my period
of paranoia,
he muses,
as he watches
the priest work
the crowd
in the most holy
three-card monte game
this side of Times Square.

It comes but once
a month this roundtable
of sin: knaves & knights,
poker playing miscreants
wielding anvils
of despair.
"Marry for life!"
cries the villagers,
as effective as pigeons
ground in an engine's turbines.

There are women
who enjoy the hunt
every bit as much as men.
And there are men
who are better chefs
once the meat is cured.
It is not our business
who is fleeced
& slaughtered;
our only concern
is how we are led
into the pen.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I felt pain,
but not how
that pain
felt. I felt love
but can't remember
that either.
I know they bled
together, but that,
too, escapes me.
Same thing with lust,
& joy, & misery, & fear.
I cannot conjure
their presence
except that their presence
was as real
as breath.
It's like that
with everything
spaces taken
that remain

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015


He'd come
to the end
of meaning.
on his cardboard valise
busted-up from some hard miles,
at another crossroads.
There were no ladies
who rested comfortably
in their beds
who expected him; no
discourse on youth
or their expectations
or promises. Here
there were no rails
to ride on or cars
to thumb down.
was naked
& left to chance.
was nowhere.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Saturday, November 7, 2015


It was a time,
and it was an attitude.
It was New Orleans
raw & dangerous, when evenings
were leaned in to
& junk was still a black thing
& young white boys wanted
to be in the know
thought they knew
how to be black.
Dive clubs & hip kitties.
Poses & jazz
& simple lives
turned impossibly
It was a time
when musicians could play
for a week & work ideas
into riffs & people listened
& nodded
their heads
in sympathy
& agreement.
Men knew
the impossibility
of women
& women knew
the impossibility
of men
ever hoping
to come out
of childhood.

We were young
& beat-up;
seeing too much
before we were able
to see our place.
Oysters were a quarter;
a beer and a shot
was seventy-five cents;
and last call
was never.
We'd thought
we'd gotten beyond the haze
into the meaning; we'd thought
that we could escape
our lives
by pissing on them.
The only thing we caught
was our own hair
in the zipper...& boy
did that smart.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Friday, November 6, 2015


She had painted
her cunt hairs
& gold.
I entertain
only royalty,
she whispered.
They are
the only ones
who are allowed
to enter
and exit
my secret
My cock
grew crimson
with serf-like

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015


open themselves
for you
has always
to love
to kill
or to do
is nature's
How subtle,
how nuanced,
how the wetness
on cherry-pink lips
with flavor
of a million bees
gone mad with fruition.
How unlike men
they are,
tank-like men,
men coming
at them
with their steel treads
& beetle-like opinions.
Huffing & puffing
yet providing
the smell of domination
upon a fertile
but heretofore

How mismatched
they are,
and perfect.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


my agent
will call
with news
that's good;
and my brother
will show-up
with magic numbers
on a lotto ticket;
& my heart
would not fail;
& my toes would grow
back & someone
would fall in love
with my words
and have to
take me
with them;
& my nose
would not get longer,
but my dick would,
& cigarettes
would rejuvenate,
not decimate;
and I'd be generous
with my own
stinginess &
those who doubt miracles
will marvel at what
their lies reveal...

and I would tell you more
but today
is very demanding
on my time:
it feels,
a lot like
but, graciously,
has nothing to do,
with tomorrow.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Her hands
were fat
with fears.
She dripped
I licked
her droppings.
What else
was I
to do?

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015


Courvoisier & coffee, black,
she said to the waiter.
I'll have the same,
I said without looking at him.
She was older than me
& more schooled
in all the ways
of the night.

We were waiting,
as all new lovers do,
for our molecules
of passion to run
head long into
each other.

The Vanguard
was low lit,
& lazy,
allowing people
to pray
to a god
of their own
choosing; I choose
& placed my hand
inside her skirt's fold:
Nylon shivered
against my fingers.

She poured her cognac
into her coffee & took
my cigarette from me.
Smoke swirled into the lights.

Sonny stood before us, alone,
his huge gold tenor hanging
from his neck.
"Where or When" braced
the room
and I,
& everyone else,

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, October 29, 2015


The sunset is cold.
Evenings are cruel
reminders of mercies
once tendered by stick-up men
now behind the cage
mortgaged by age & small print.

I carry my limbs
like remembrances,
thick logs held as offerings
to burn in my night's furnace.
This is not penance.
This is an old Wurlitzer
in a 42nd Street dive.
This is speed rack Scotch.

She spread herself.
And I did the same.

I'm attracted
to the way poppies ooze.
How, when they're sliced
the jism slides
down their face.
It was a wise culture
who saw their mouths
around the bulbs easing
the cuts of a failing

How women know
how to touch
the way they do
sits at the crossroads
of silence
& mercy.
Adam's curse,
nightly, plays
across her lips.
Her tongue licks
a wound deeper
than the world.

I would wake,
if I could,
to a life
like mine.
I would shake
my oily fur,
matted & soiled
from a mongrel's
& find
my ear
in your
& your whispers
on my breath.

Let me love you,
it said,
and I awoke
for the voice
& a gun.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015


with a centipede
like apparatus;
little white rubber nubs
juts from the
two foot shaft
penetrating her
unlatched body.
In & out,
in & out,
the head
the heart
the cock
while her mind
a mysterious
& delicious brew
of desires.

She wants
to be taken
I think.
Her life
has not
been charitable.
She needs pain,
more than most,
& responds
to pain
more than most.
A pain
that was there
for her,
long before
made meaning
has sustained her;
measured her;
doled her out
in units;
she lives in a world
brokered by
She trusts
no one;
Her center
carries a grief
that rides
a deep & abiding
wind; it shakes
the branches
that gives her

She had thought
she knew
she met

She is ready
to love. And
so am I.
We know how
at the edge
of a ripple
lies a wake.

Both of us
will dine alone
It's why
we're so, so

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015


to wake-up
and alone
and south
of sixty.
Your chest
from an impossible
the phlegm
so thick
it sticks
to the side
of the drain;
your throat
& raw;
hot eyes
& hotter
Your bones
you're cold
& hot
& cold
No one
of you
no one's
no one
an aspirin,
hot tea,
a kind
is long
your wife
has long
have been
The cow
but kicks.
Your ass
is exposed.
The doctor
is out
or busy
or needs
a doctor.
His nurse
with the
& he
his own

You've arrived
at Coney Island's
the Stillwell Avenue
of the soul.
The train
stalls, the conductor
is a madman.
You take
a deep breath
& leap.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2015


are our jailor's key:
they lock you up,
they lock you down,
and they let you out
just long enough
to crave the relief
they offer: a dance
on the head of a pin
called death.
They simplify
They ease
They give rise
to fantasies
only fantasy
can provide.

Work, gambling,
eating, sex,
drinking, drugging,
& forever
is surely
to the dull
that dog's
our days.
To be caught
is to be
Where are they?
Who are they with?
When will I be with them?
How will I be with them?
When will they call?
Should I answer?
Will I answer?
Should I call?
How will they come back?
Will they come back?
When will they come back?
Are they fucking?
How are they fucking?
What position are they in?
How big is the cock?
the breast? the wallet?
Do they think of me?
When do they think of me?
How much to bet?
The next meal?
Draw to a straight?
Twenty minutes to three, twenty five minutes to a drink, the taste, the smell, the first sip, the going down, the settling of nerves, the feeling right, normal, OK, seventeen minutes to three...or five, or midnight, or three a.m?

Writers write and painters paint
to make vibrant the dullness of time.
The great Karl Wallanda said:
"Walking the wire is living,
the rest is waiting."

And now,
my waiting,

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


She rang my bell
& I met her downstairs.
It was a beautiful night
in Greenwich Village:
cool, a slight breeze & dry.
I left most of my week
& brought what I hoped
was my best game
with me.
We danced
toward each other:
respectful, wary,
cautious, feeling
each other out.

Round one
was called

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


the spongy
I miss the white
Converse sneakers
that walked it.
I miss the taste
of warm gin
drunk on the moist sand
holding the hand
of a young girl
the first kiss.
I miss double features
on a wet Saturday
afternoon for a quarter
and hot buttered popcorn
and bonbons
and Milk Duds
sticking between teeth.
I miss my top teeth.
I miss my four toes.
I miss her titties
so soft and powdered
by Johnson&Johnson
and I miss being scared
I'd break them.
I miss the first time
I punched my father
& frightened him.
I miss the absence
of memory.
I miss all the bookmarks,
in all the pages,
and all the expectation
that welcomed me
and disinvited the world.
I miss the stupidity
of youth--your youth,
my youth, our youth.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015


its Monday morning mercy
through the slats.
I've taken off
to parts unknown.
one word
will follow
is formed
that resembles
that came
before it.
It's a poor excuse,
I know,
for living
it's the only one
that continues
to make

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015


were all
too good
for me.
if they were smart,
& giving.
that combo
spelled doom--
for me
not them.

captivated me:
pill heads,
head strong
of the senses.
were bipolar,
strung out
& senseless
to the needs
of others--
like me.
They were tipsy
& tortured,
believing they
had it worst
of all
while I knew
no one
could have it worse
than me
with them.

We were locked
in a dance
of death.
Usually doing a tango
inside the coffin
of our own despair.
It was not without
laughs and its own
& beauty
which held me fast
to my original
breast of

I most want
a good woman,
a kind woman,
a woman who knows
her strengths
& my weakness:
the self

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Saturday, October 17, 2015


You put out shit
to hide shit.
You let yourself
be known
only to lower
the curtain.
You say what you mean
only because you know
how the self is fooled
by honesty.
It's almost
like finding
what felt like love
instead of
the fear
that was there

How will I know
who it is I am,
when the me
who finds me
is not the me
who went looking
in the first place?

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015


you gotta let em
come out
all at once
when they want to.
you gotta clean em up
only because
you don't wanna stink
too much.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


"Name me someone who's not a parasite and I'll go out and say a prayer for him."
--Visions of Johanna
--Bob Dylan

are the worst:
sucking your blood
or sucking your cock;
there's Dante's circles
and your family
and closest friends;
then there's Nature
sucking up
your carbon.
We are each other's ticks,
and gnats and mosquitoes,
bedbugs and crabs and bacteria
alive on the skin,
grabbing on to mucous
membranes, intestinal linings and tissue,
picking the pockets
of students and clients,
husbands and wives,
children and grandchildren.
It's the daisy chain
of moves and countermoves.

Prostitutes sell themselves
short. They never factor in
the cost of putting a cost
on their time and time
really is
our most precious

One day
the title
of this poem
will be a course
at The New School's
Adult Division.
Folks will pay
hundreds of dollars
to suck the wisdom
out of text & totem
and philosophize
meaning. They might
get together
after class
to discuss
the discussion
they had
a minute ago
and suck
some more.
They'll go home
with a little less
blood and a little more
illusion. It's our own
soap opera, our only station.
And I'll be back
same time
next week.

Stay tuned.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I seem to be
getting a lot of hits
on this blog
from old mother Russia.

I like that.

People of the earth;
people of history;
people who are nuts
in all the ways
I can understand:
literature nuts;
music nuts,
art nuts,
nut nuts.

My eighth grade english teacher,
Miss Edelman, my first crush
on an older woman, showed me
Dostoyevsky's C&P; Rasknolikov
dropped his ax
and cleaved my head
in two.
He was followed by Gogol,
& that old bedbug himself,
Mayakovsky. They're all
the soil's blood.

And I'd like to think
I am, too.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, October 12, 2015


She'd come over,
she told me,
and make me
feel good
for a hundred;
for two hundred
she'd make me
feel great;
and for five hundred
she'd offer
up in whatever
way I liked.

"Over easy,"
I teased,
the yolk unbroken
and nestled
within white folds.
"You're the chef,"
she whispered,
showcasing one
of her ingredients.

I now needed
to remember
where the hell
I'd put
my utensils.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Were you gonna do it?
Were you?
Or you?
Or you?
you weren't.
It was up to me
to draw
to an inside straight
& get my parents
& get their crazy lineage
& language & cultivate their
sperm & eggs & zygote & shit
& get waylaid, side swiped
with a naive but monstrous
sentimental emotional stupidity
nurturing a sugar fear,
a people fear a crowd fear, a fear
of self & sustainability
in a home of sickness & sustenance.

Raise your hand
if you want diabetes & dope,
institutions & dangling
from the puppet strings
of failure.

I didn't think so.

But how about
if I threw in Bird
& Billie
& Bach
& Beethoven
& Bukowski?
And I'm not even
out of the"B's" yet.
How about Beckett
& bowling
& black beauties,
& Brahms?

How about Coeds
from Harvard
& Bennington
who play
the piano
& know your
secrets better
than you do?
How about Coney Island
when it was Coney Island?

Nobody becomes
who they are
until they live
who they are.
And if they
don't do it
who the fuck

Like you
reading this
now. What
will you do?
Stand pat
or make
a move?

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015


had he lived
would be 96
today. But
he was crazy:
he drank,
he smoked,
he ran around
with chicks
all night
in places
like The It Club
playing piano
eating ribs
hanging with addicts
and owners and madmen
into the early morning hours.
He never got enough sleep,
he never got enough anything
except messages
from the gods:
Bluemonk, Bemsha Swing, Ruby,
My Dear, Straight, No Chaser,
Well You Needn't, Round Midnight.
He wore heavy woolen coats
in Texas heat, bamboo shades,
and skimmers, hats, hundreds
and hundreds of hats.

I was always jealous
of him: we share a date,
we hear voices, make of them
what we can, but he talked back.
I'm more or less mute.
Tickling my typer keys
is about as much
as I can do.
Let me get on
with my day
while a NYC radio station
his birth...and my

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Friday, October 9, 2015


my fourth grade teacher
scared the shit outta me.
She was a tall, Irish
#2 pencil, dressed
in black, from her tight
neck button to her black
buffed leather shoes
showing heel wear. Her hair
was as severe as she was,
tied tight
in a bun streaked with gray.
Her lips thin, mirthless.
She'd stand in front of us
with a ruler,
not to measure anything,
but to whack
the scared wooden desks
as she drove home
Multiplication Table tomorrow
she'd spit into the first row.
We knew
she meant it.
Nothing short
of a nuclear war drill
would prevent her
from marching to each desk,
to stand in front of each asshole
wet with fear and demand: 3x7,
9x6, 1x0, and wait for our eyes
to stop like a deranged slot machine
as we arrived at the numbers.

The year was 1955,
and I was in PS 222.
The Brooklyn Dodgers won The World Series,
Sugar Ray Robinson still ruled,
factories and jobs and families were healthy,
Chinese food was consumed by Jewish clans
on Sunday, Johnny-On-the-Pony & Ringolevio
were games of choice, girls weren't discussed,
but Mrs. Ormond had us
by the balls.

It wasn't easy
back then,
it was never easy,
back then
or now
it sure was

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


For MCM: "Go on with your terrible self."

There is such a thing
as suffering
each bite,
each scrape,
each twist
of the razor
like wind.
You stare
into a black skull
who it is
that wishes
to punish
& perfectly
and wonder
how you
know yourself
so well
& can do
about it.
And manage
a grin
while kicking
to the
There is much
beauty in feeling
but neutral.
The car moves
through hills
that sing
& the moans
are only
sung in the sweet key
by street choirs
of mercy.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015


is the suck
of interpretation;
a nurturing
a milky voice
in a wilderness
of motives;
the cost of bliss
in an urban world
built by snowmen.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Memory is a motherfucker;
It can't be trusted.
Especially your memory.
Your memory was always
suspect. You know it
and I know it.
we get on board.
You never know,
do you,
where it's going
or how
it's gonna get there?
It always surprises you--
thinking you're taking the express
& discovering, after the doors close,
it's running on local tracks.
And it ain't being sung
by Curtis Mayfield or Al Green
or The Persuasions; in fact,
nothing's being sung
yet everything is heard
in this melodic atonal cacophony
above the grinding of the wheels.
It's an unreliable train
ferrying an unreliable narrator
whose perfect sense
is unimpeachable.
All those stops
stopped at
and stopped up
and stopped still:
I look for Milk Tit Avenue, but round
Daddy's Bend; try to lower my eyes at
Agony Way; try a detour to Women's Wonder Wheel,
but fall into Judy's Triangle;
jump off Heroin Cliff; get back at Hope Lookout,
and avoid Church Street completely
except in fact while Masturbation Circle
appears again and again but less and less
as the brakes grind down.

has played a part,
and an absent minded conductor
has not yet punched
my ticket.
Your trip, of course,
is different.
And the seat
next to me
is always

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015


would jerk-off
a few of us
in jr. high school.
She'd sit there,
sipping hot cocoa,
a mountain
of whipped cream
mustaching her lip.
Her big brown eyes
mascara thick
watching us
loiter in our Mermaid Ave
Huba-Huba sanctuary.
She was part French
part Jewish and all firecracker hot,
though she chose her times
to ignite us. Mostly she sat,
reading and laughing at what she read
or what we said or what we did--
which was nothing much.
Sometimes she came over to one of us,
sat down and pushed her face into
one of our necks. Our breaths froze.
She would look into our eyes
& without warning,
kiss us,
sticking her tongue into our mouths,
& just as suddenly get up & leave.
Hardly any words were exchanged.
Other times she'd grab hold of a hand
and take one of us into a back booth.
She'd rub the outside of our jeans
until we came--it didn't take long.
Steve once asked if
he could touch her tit
for luck?
What's luck? she asked.
You know, he stumbled, good luck.
What is this good luck? she pressed.
Stickball, he said, we have a stickball game after school.
I don't know this stickball, she said, but here touch it.
We all watched as Steve stuck his hand down her blouse
and grinned the adolescent grin.

She never came back after that.
Bad luck for us: We lost her
& the game that day.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


was a gentle man
& a gentle soul.
He was my father's father
and lived to ninety-seven
dying in his sleep
unlike his wife, thirty years
his junior, who died
in her late sixties
fat & cancer ridden,
angry & manipulative
until her last breath.

He taught me to whittle
& play Pinochle, as I watched
him smoke Camels, sip whiskey
& shadow box to the fights on TV.
It was whispered
that he didn't care
who his wife was fucking--
as long as it was not him.

I've been in
a sentimental mood of late,
as if Ellington & Coltrane
looped around my brain
continuously. Maybe
it means
the end
of things
or maybe
another turn?
I don't care
to reason
with that;
I only care
to travel.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015


I'm an old
heap, stinking
& staining
& straining
to burn
but the fire
is all but
My bones
are ash,
my smell
is wet
& thick
with disgust.
I'm stuck
with memories,
& no discount
seduces others
to take them
off my hands.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015


I sold
little pieces
of my soul--
Selby, Crews,
Bukowski, Joyce,
Celine, Ginsberg,
Morrison, Roth,
Poe & Jones,
& more
before I had
to get to work
& sell a little more.

By selling them,
I've killed
a little more
of this.

come home
after work
and look,
and look
again: holes
& scars.

The addition now
is by subtraction;
I'm nearer
than further
& somewhere
there's a

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Nothing more.

Nothing less.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Saturday, September 26, 2015


in the crust
around my soul.
Every once in awhile
hope escapes.
It has a voice.
It is steady
amid the red rivers
of chaos & convictions.
It tells me
I've been wrong
about so many things.
I light a cigarette
to tamp it down,
suck it in;
I read the news;
I watch TV; I read;
I do anything
other than risk falling
through my own lies.
It's taken a lot
of energy
to keep
my cruelty
for myself

A Catholic
has eased
the traffic
& restored
the flow.
for some
is informed
by faith
& belief.
I've had neither
faith nor belief
but believe
that others
& sometimes
that's enough.

Some will know
what this is about
& linger; others
will know
& leave.
And still others,
will want to believe
but just can't.
Your heart
is your heart;
your voice,
your voice.

Your call.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015


For an old guy
he sure does get around:
He's gonna do Vespers
at St. Pats, kick some ass
at The UN, graze in Central Park,
pray at Ground Zero, & say Mass
at MSG--who does he think he is?
Diana Ross? Elvis? Sinatra?
Stevie Wonder?
Simon & Garfunkel!?
He ain't even
The Grateful Dead
or Joe Louis
or the god-awful Knicks!
So what he's sincere?
So what he's "authentic?"
So what it's him that's the real radical
of our times?
preaching mercy?
He's fucked-up the buses, messed-up
the trains, made going to
and coming from work
fucking miserable, a nightmare,
a day of futility.

Let us

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


she said,
is your strong suit;
you should stick with it,
play it; it's what you do
You think?
I replied, fishing
for compliments.
I do,
she said,
in her judgement.
I should know,
she continued,
being a gambler
myself, I know
suits...of all kinds, but
I also know
that you think
because it's you
who does it well,
can do

I had to go,
I said, eager
to get off
the phone-
she was getting
too close
to the

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015


I see them
the morning after
the night before,
settling in to
a Sunday ritual
for NYC couples:
brunch, laced
with Mimosas or
Bloody Mary's,
Eggs Benedict
or Florentine.
Only now
their cell phones
sit with them
on table tops,
and every few moments
they glance at them
almost pleading
they provide

I wonder
how their evening went;
how was the sex
if they had sex;
if they fought
over family
& friends,
if they intended
to break it off,
& how they would go about it,
after another meal?

For every handsome man
& drop-dead gorgeous beautiful woman
there's always someone dying
to get rid of them.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015


I had some ideas
for a few poems--
The Pope coming
to NYC, a heart
mad with love, cheap
Chinese food--
you know,
the usual.
I ogled fifteen
or twenty
young, old,
& older women,
watched the traffic
on Hudson Street
inch forward, noticed
the unloading of cases
of Coke & Bud & Americana,
clocked the maniacal owners
of dogs & cats & parakeets
& one lizard
as they went
into the vets
with worried expressions
talking to their better companions,
while sweet green saplings
held the hands of parents
taking them to the river
or dentists or ballet classes.

There was heat
but the city's air
had lightened
slightly. I stood
in the shade & waited
& waited & waited.
I had to get to work,
and the train presented problems.
For some reason
the Eighth Ave. bus
knew no schedule
ever; it paid no attention to
the poor or crippled or deranged
who had to ride her.
By the time she showed,
forty minutes from when I arrived,
I had worked out the few poems
in my head &
had written this one.
I'll never get back
that forty minutes &
wouldn't want to.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015


"To be is to be perceived"

There is much
in the gaze.
Yet sight
is always
How can
a river
be still
& still
It is hard
to love
& harder
to let love
love what
it loves.
You must
each time
you look
at my
you are

and so
am I.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015


In the sometime
sentient evening,
tentacles weave
themselves from urns;
while Trane blows
a Latin Mass
through golden horns,
and my love
of gods
is second
to the blue smoke
from his horn.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015


I was on the phone
pushing Nutcracker tickets
to Philadelphia mothers
& fathers & grandmothers
grandfathers & uncles,
aunts, nieces, & those
who remember
or want
to remember
what it was
to be five
& frivolous
& wondrous
&, most importantly,
by adults
& their

I can remember
once asking my ol' man
to take me to see
The Nutcracker.
He took me by my little hand
and led me into his bedroom
where my mom
was in one of her darker moods.
There she is, he said.
Little did I know,
I got a front row

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Better to simmer
than to sit
& stew.

I walk slower,
but go quicker.

would call that wisdom.
let them.
That's wisdom,

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015


There's this woman,
Shirley, at work
who puts down
one of those toilet seat covers
on her stained aqua clothed swivel chair
before she sits her ancient ass
on there and calls for donations
for the Democrats
to God knows where
on the evening shift.
Shirley has straw for hair,
windshield wipers for eyelashes,
and a mouth that has said her share of prayers
for a few lifetimes.
And she's polite,
both on the phone
and before she leaves.
Shirley always asks
if the person has a moment
to talk
or to live,
and is thoughtful enough
to remove the toilet seat cover
when she's about to go home
for the evening.
What she does,
and with whom she does it,
after she leaves
is anybody's

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015


More than whispers
through the circuits;
more than melancholia
or madness or horror
or pining or pinging
or longing or traveling
those dark highways
between dreams.
It no longer matters
to me
if love,
is crippled
or mangled
or mixed up
and fused
or inter
with roses
or red.
it's not
my poetry
that causes
you to return
over & over
& over
what you might call:
It can't be me
either, or the love
of self.
You've proved that
over & over & over
again. And...
I don't care
what it is.
Some crazy switch
was turned. I'm a
mirror for your own
life; a neuron
that tells you
how to act, how to move,
how to proceed.

Freud doesn't work
for me anymore, nor
does Sartre or Picasso,
Keats or Bukowski.
We're all driven
by love or lack.
If we're lucky
we still have illusion
and a certain faith
in getting it all wrong
over & over & over

If you're home
you're watching
60 Minutes.
I don't blame you;
I could use some
new information
to misinterpret
or amuse. The bus
& trains will run
tomorrow & there's a hint
of autumn tonight.
I made some chicken,
rice & black beans with
hot sauce for dinner.
I've saved
a Milky Way for desert.
And I hope
you're smiling.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Saturday, September 12, 2015


There was The Baldies,
who were Irish,
and The Avenue X Boys,
who were Italian.
One from Coney Island;
the other from Avenue X
in Brooklyn.
Then there was The Bishops,
a Black bunch from the Bronx.
The Baldies & The Avenue X Boys
hated Blacks & the Blacks
hated the Irish & Italians.
Each hated the faggy Jews
and would sometimes beat the shit out of them
because they were Jews, more privileged
then they were
in smarts
& money.
Sometimes The Bishops took a train to Coney Island,
forty, fifty of them, and brought thick bicycle chains,
switchblades, bats, sometimes a zip gun,
and fought one or both of The Brooklyn gangs,
who brought much the same to the party.
They even made appointments to do this.
Their girls were like women
in the Civil War:
they stayed home
waiting to stitch-up their men,
speaking in hushed tones,
carrying bail money.
The Jewish boys were usually in school,
becoming smarter
& safer &
guilt ridden.

Sometimes the cops got wind of this,
and marshaled their forces
on The Stillwell Avenue train station,
not letting The Bishops off the horse.
But more times then not
they missed
& the battle would begin.
Most would go home afterward,
some to the hospital,
and some into the arms
of de facto moms.
The Jewish boys would go home, too,
but very carefully, making sure
to maneuver around the skirmish,
taking as much time as necessary.
This was the mid 1950's
and early 60's,
when clearer lines
were force fed
to avoid
too much
about any
one thing.

The Irish became janitors, firemen, cops.
The Italians worked in sanitation, police, barbers.
The Blacks went to jail.
The Jews went on to own the buildings and the penitentiaries.
Drama & great art are gleamed from the poor & beleaguered.
They know
how to live,
if life would let them and
they know how to die
because they're closer
to the exhaust system.

I'm going to be 68
in a month, and my body hurts.
It took an hour for the bus
to show up in a light rain.
The bus driver sang an apology
to us as we boarded. There were four wheelchairs aboard
a packed bus. A fat woman got on on 34 Street, near
Madison Square Garden. She offered a useless transfer.
No goddamn crosstown buses, she screamed. I need a fuckin drink.
The driver laughed. Get on board, baby, I'll take you anywhere.
Fuck it, she said, I could use a hard ride. She boarded.
A stop later some passengers started to sing, Volare, in Italian.
They sounded pretty good.
The driver then sang, White Cliffs of Dover.
A pretty black chick sang Unforgettable.
New York ain't such a tough town--
only to those
who don't know
any better--
and the worst death
is the one without
any fun.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Friday, September 11, 2015


is an art.
Don't let
tell ya different.
So's making love,
laying brick
or cable;
or just plain
making beds
or making-up
after wishing
the other person
cutting tulips
or slitting throats.
It's the grace
of the thing
within the thing
that brings the divine
to the mundane.

Train your inner eye
on yourself.
Teach it
to notice.
Do it
the next time
you step
from the shower.


Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015


that's ours
You know
that space.
The space
that allows
to breathe.
It's there
in the space
& conspiracy,
& shadow,
& conviction.
that space.
Make love
in that space,
that space.
Be eternally grateful
for that space--
it's all
you have
& all

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015


we know so little.
We like to think
we're so expansive,
so all inclusive,
so all encompassing
and not so
full of shit.
Our nature
is to defy
not because we can
but because we must--
not as smart as the slug,
the worm the simple
solitary unit.
We are not the end
but the end product
of this evolutionary
mambo. Less equipped
than our bettors
to groove with a music
of being
& being done to
by laws
we dance to, not with.

The Dolphin
should be the God
we worship
instead of eating--
a crime that will--
little do we know--
be punishable
by death...which
is coming
to a theater
near you.

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


is make it
back home.
It could be
bleak there, too,
but you're alone,
there are fewer dreams
resting on a razor's
bubble, perhaps
they're holding on
for dear life
which is no longer
so dear,
but all of the other signposts
telling you
of how insignificant
you are
are out
the eyes
of others;
there's only death
outside that door
& you can dance
with yourself,
the way
it always
as you let
the music take hold,
and give yourself
a twirl--
for a few hours

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015


I shouldn't have to be doing
this shit,
I was famous, man,
I was happening, I was smoking,
I wrote, man, compared to Kerouac,
published, sang my song
to pretty coeds,
I did shit, I fucked a million women,
man, drove fast cars, spent money
like nobody's business,
shot junk, poured booze
over the fires, palled around
with movie stars, famous poets,
musicians, models, bankers & brokers
of power & peasants & jail birds & Jews
& jealous husbands & prima donnas & politicians
& stray cats & mistresses & madams & wanna be
killers & cops & trauma surgeons.
This, this, this, this, is so
not me, so not what my hand
calls for would be a joke if
it was a joke but it's no joke,
it's a yoke, a weighty stifling soul murdering
conceit around an aging diamond.

Aw, fuckit,
lemme make
the next

Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


For Joey Diliberto, my brother in arms

The year John F. Kennedy was assassinated was the same year I first got high. There is probably no connection between those two incidents, though each, in its own particular way, left the country and the people close to the center of each event, altered forever.
I’d been cutting school pretty regularly by then, intuiting that the education I was getting outside the traditional classroom was much more exciting, not to mention pragmatic, than the rigors and requirements of subjects like math or foreign languages had and demanded inside the jail. I liked daydreaming. I was good at it. I’d watch the specks of dust float in the light in front of the grimed window of Duke’s, while occasionally savoring that most delicious of truths: friends, at this very minute, were in school listening to some boring shit coming out the mouths of teachers with dandruff, bad breath, and few alternatives. Also, more importantly, lurking in those dancing specks, lived the smooth soft shoe of danger and violence that Duke’s encouraged, yet protected.
My father was rich-- at least that’s what everyone believed, including me--and I was smart, male, first born and Jewish...therefore exempt from any requirement that I felt superior to, which was most any requirement there was.
In Dukes there were Jew bastards or kikes. Also, wops, micks, one spic, and a few niggers, though they, while not “officially barred,” kept to themselves.
Me? I was tough only in regard to friends my own age, but not to the greaseballs and mick cocksuckers who punched the shit out of my arms. But they liked me well enough; I could just tell. I stood up for myself a few times on the basketball court by standing up to this insane motherfucker, Joey One-Eye. He thought I’d fouled him but that was bullshit--he just missed an easy shot and didn’t want to look bad--and I told him so. He stepped back and looked at me with that one ice-cold blue eye of his, crossed one arm over the other and began rubbing it with this up and down motion. It sort of lulled me until, fast as lightening, he cracked me good across the face with the back of his hand. “C’mon bitch,” he said, “Do somethin.” “Fuck-you,” I replied, and began to walk away. Big mistake. He ran up behind me, grabbed me by the throat, and threw me down on the cement court where, I’m sure, he would have stomped the shit out of me had Johnny, who lived a few blocks from me, not taken hold of him and told him to, “Cool it. I like him and his ol’ man.” “Who gives a shit,” came the response. Then Barry came over. Barry, though a few years older than us, was rumored to be in line to control Coney Island and that section of Brooklyn when the time came. He said he was on Johnnie’s side, and that was that. Yet that was not that for me; my insides belied a foundation that was all but mixed, let alone settled. I still tried not to back down from anybody, and I always kept my mouth shut. This was not something I planned out exactly, but it was something I thought about from time to time.
For at least two years I’d stir in my bed at night not able to sleep, uneasy with the thoughts that spun in my head. I’d been real sick and knew that that sickness would never go away but would stay with me forever--however long that was. And so I began to construct scenarios to right the ship. I began to mythologize my own fears.

“You’re a little cocksucker, you know that? You know that don’t you, you little cocksucker,” Duke said to me one day. Duke was sitting behind his desk, a slab of thick wood sitting on top of four piano legged poles the same color that his dark mahogany Brunswick pool tables, some with drop pockets, were. Sprawled across his desk were ashtrays filled with jaundiced butts of filtered Marlboros and Winstons and the pinched stubs of non-filtered smokes. The Racing Form and The Daily News laid on top of each other, packs of Pall Malls, Camels, and Kools in various states were scattered as well; some contained a few cigarettes and others were crumpled and empty. Coffee mugs and containers, etched with the markings of dried caffeine were like a literature of symbols if one were inclined to probe further, laid in no particular order on top of his desk as well. Duke himself was fastidious: clean shaven, groomed, spruced, and dressed all in black--black shirt with black snaps, black trousers, socks and boots-- except for the silver belt buckle with crossed pool cues. He held a Pall Mall between his fore and middle fingers as if he had just made a shot into the corner pocket and was considering his next. He took a pint bottle of Martel and poured a pinch into his coffee; it was nearly eleven in the morning and both of us were trying to ease our way into the day.
“Duke, I ain’t got no money, lemme run a couple racks.”
“’I don’t have any money’; and the answer is go fuck yerself.”
“C’mon, willya, there ain’t no one here; whatthefuck, c’mon.”
“You know how to speak correctly; who the hell are you pretending to be?”
“’Who am I pretending to be?’ I don’t know, who am I pretending to be, I give up.”
“You wanna get funny, you can play with your own balls, now.”
“Ah, c’mon, Duke. I ain’t getting funny, that’s a complicated fuckin’ question.”
“Yeah, maybe.”
The door opened and we swung our eyes around. Bones, with his mountainous mass of flesh stood outside while his face “wedged” it’s way into the doorway. He was about six foot five and weighed nearly three hundred. I heard some of the others marveling that Bones was the fattest junky anyone had ever seen. One time he was boosting a crib and stopped to see what was in the ice-box. Discovering some thick rib-eyes, he couldn’t resist, so stayed to fry up two of them before departing with his score. Before he was able to enter, Duke called out, “The answers are: No, and not yet.” I looked quizzically at Duke who looked at me and shook his head to tell me it was none of my business and I was better off that way--though I didn’t think so. I was dying to get in.
Duke got up from his chair but before he did he flicked a switch that lit the lamp above table three, grabbed a tray of balls and handed them to me. “Go ahead you hooky playin’ sonofabitch, run a few.”
“Thanks, man, I’m gonna grab a smoke, too, if you don’t mind?” and reached for his pack of Pall Malls on the desk, tapped one out and quickly, before he could see, grabbed a second one which I quickly tucked behind my ear. I lit the first from the old Zippo Duke had nearby. It was the first smoke I had had since I copped one of my father’s Chesterfield regulars before I took up my aborted attempt at reaching Lincoln, my high school. Chesterfields always tasted a little stale to me, but Pall Malls were delicious. Not as good as Luckys, but good none the less; they were almost a longer Lucky, same Indian, too.
I watched Duke walk over to where Bones waited and tried to discern what was going on as I made my way over to the pool table. I was looking for an exchange of money...or merchandise...or whispers. But I didn’t see or hear anything, much to my disappointment. The only thing I saw was Bones turning and walking back to the curb where he lowered his bulk into a beat-up Chevy Corvair which sagged from his girth, it’s door frame digging into the curb. He tried to force it closed, but all it did was scrape more metal from the door’s lip forcing him to lift his bulk from the car. He was surprisingly fluid as he, in one motion, grabbed the window’s edge and hoisted himself up and out. The Chevy’s right side rose a few inches, lifting the door off the cement. Bones closed it and motioned to the driver, a slight, beak-faced accomplice, to move from the space. Once sufficiently away from the curb, he stopped. Bones opened the door and, in the same clean, almost ballet like motion, positioned his hands on the roof and the door and slid into the seat. Duke watched it go lopsidedly down the block, turned and walked back to his desk where he poured a little more Martel into his coffee cup and took a sip. “That’s fuckin’ cold! Jesus. Watch the store, I’m goin’ out for a second. If the phone rings, take a message.” I watched him go out and across the street where a pay-phone stood. I looked at the phone on his desk and the phone booth in the corner of the store, next to the bathroom. I watched as he returned. “Any calls?” I shook my head. I went back to my table and tried to turn my attention to what was in front of me.
I flipped over the tray containing the balls and watched as they emptied onto the table. I dug the way they rolled, the sound they made when they kissed one another, how they caromed off the rails and how I, or especially a good shooter, could make the ivory cue ball do what we wanted. How, when the heavens were aligned, the stick was an extension of your arm, and the cue ball had all the colored balls obey the shooter’s touch, dropping them into the mouths of the six pockets. In this world, where most recently little of what I experienced was ever ordered, ordained, or sanctioned by me, this was a god send.
I went to the racks of sticks, selected one that felt good and was as straight as possible, and then looked at the beautiful emptiness of Dukes. Fourteen other tables were silent in the darkness, the covers on them like sheets over the dead. Duke was back at his desk deep in concentration scoping out the ponies for the card at Belmont and I was getting ready to try and figure out what to shoot and try to run the table.
I positioned the cue ball, chalked the head of the cue and leaned over the table. I was about to bring the cue forward to make my first shot when I heard Duke’s voice, a voice tinged with sarcasm, authority and foreboding. It fell in the space between the tip of the cue and the skin of the ball. “I told you to practice first. Practice. I keep tellin’ you that. Practice.”
“I’m practicin’ while I’m playin’,” I replied without looking up, my back still perfectly parallel to the floor, my eyes staring down the shaft of the cue.
“Bullshit. You’re takin’ a fuckin’ shortcut. And there ain’t no shortcuts, not if you want to play good.”
I straightened up and turned to face him. His eyes were still buried in the form. I couldn’t understand how he could know I was ready to shoot. “Man, that shit is boring.”
“So’ fuckin’ life. Unfortunately, you can’t practice that. But I’m tellin’ ya now: if you wanna be good, you gotta get your ass to practice. No gettin’ around it. You line up the balls and you practice shootin’ them in the corner and side pockets; you practice your English, you practice your draw, you practice your stroke; you just practice.”
“I practice while I’m playin’, same thing,” I said, with a little too much plead in my voice for my own liking.
“Who do you think you’re talking to, asshole? I’m not your father. I’m not trying to punish you.”
“Nah, of course not,” I said a little too quickly, “it’s just it’s so fuckin’ boring doing that shit.”
“Boring!? What ain’t? Even fucking can get boring if it ain’t done right. But if you practice...become a student in a way, then it can, maybe, just maybe, become like an art or somethin.”
“Art? What the fuck...”
“Hey, man, I see your nose in those books; the kind of books that nobody else reads. I know you know--or think you know-- what good shit is---you just don’t know that all shit, all shit, can be good, maybe even great. Ya haveta practice and haveta be blessed. Not many have both but everyone can practice...but few do. Your choice, baby.”
I turned back to the table and didn’t know what to do: shoot or practice. The shots were there just waiting for me to make them; a blessed forgetful rhythm was begging to be established; life was in the “doing” wasn’t it, providing the heady sensation of accomplishment? That feeling lay beckoning me from all six pockets. “Duke, I’m gonna practice by “doin” I’m tellin ya.”
“Yeah, yeah, you and everybody’s mother gonna rewrite the books. Go ahead, get back to me in twenty years and tell me which way was quicker...or better.”
“Pool ain’t my real game anyway, it’s bowlin.”
“Why don’t you go over there and bust their balls?”
“They ain’t opened yet, that’s why.”
“My luck.”
“Lemme have another smoke,” I said, walking over to where he continued to dope out the races, but first I took the one I had in the behind my ear and laid it on the table, out of sight.
“Jesus Christ, some of you guys in here cost me more money than the ponies...not to mention my x-wives.”
“How many of em you got?”
“Three and one soon to be; it’s just a matter of time.” He paused. “But God knows I love her...hell I loved them all.”
“None of them worked, huh?”
“My man, I have many talents, but living with a woman is evidently not one of them. You know somethin? You always get people to talk when they don’t wanna, don’tcha? I see you around here in that quiet way of yours. Don’t think I don’t see you. You think you’re invisible, but you’re not; at least not to me you’re not...and stop takin’ my cigarettes. Here’s some money, buy yourself a pack and one for me and bring me a cup of coffee, black...”
“No sugar.”
“Yeah, black no sugar and one for yourself...and whatever else you want, case you’re hungry...just what I need another prodigal son.”
Duke reached into his slacks and produced a roll of bills that had a rubber band to hold them in place. He snapped off the band, peeled off a fifty and handed it to me. “They gonna have change, this early?” I said.
“Hey, if not not. Just tell em it’s for me and I’ll catch-up to them later,” he replied without looking up.
I grabbed the fifty and, without bothering to get my jacket, went out the door to get what for me was a little bit of contraband. My pop knew I was smoking, but didn’t like it. He didn’t make too much of a stink about it, but would never give me money to buy my own pack and wouldn’t like me to be showing them around the house either. But now I had a half a buck to get a pack of Luckys and sip a cup of coffee with besides. What a score! I was thinking about that when I nearly ran over Jimmy coming in.
Jimmy was a mopey looking kid, a few years older than me who, as far as I knew, just hung out either at Duke’s, Surf Lanes or the basketball courts adjacent to the boardwalk around back. He’d never, to my recollection, played any of the games offered there, just watched others play. His brother, Mel, was another story. “Mad Mel” was what he was called, but you had to know him real good to call him his face, or be tougher than him... or have earned his respect. On more than one occasion, when Mel didn’t like an umpire’s call during a softball or basketball game, or when he just didn’t like a person, or when there was retribution to be claimed for this or that infraction of family or turf, he’d take the knife he’d always carried with him, sequestered in his pocket or sock, bury it up to the hilt in the offender’s thigh and then, looking at the person’s expression, break the handle off, leaving the blade in the person’s leg. He’d then place the handle in that person’s hand before moving off. Because of Mad Mel you kind of danced around Jimmy.
“Hey Jimmy,” I said to him.
“Hey,” he replied.
He reminded me of something young, but nevertheless decaying--all the more peculiar because he was so obviously still in the process of maturing--as I passed him and headed for Norm’s Candy Store, on the corner.
It seemed like Norm was either chained behind the cash register or afraid to leave it, his ass growing out of the cushion that sat on a stool on the other side of the counter. His wife, Flo, ran the place it seemed, though she made these ridiculous sounding deferments to her husband: “I’d like to eat now, but if you’re hungry you eat first.” “Eat, go ahead, eat; you want to eat, eat.” “No, I don’t have to; you eat--if you’re hungry; I could eat but you eat first.” “Eat for Christsakes, eat!”
“Norm, what’s up?” I asked.
“What could be up? I wish my dick was up,” he said, and looked at Flo who, I could have sworn, blushed and looked twenty years younger.”
“I’ll go out and getcha some splints.”
“Whatdayathink, Flo? One for ol’ times sake? I still remember where to put...”
“Stop with that funny talk.”
“I’ll leave and let you lovebirds work it out, but first lemme have two coffees: one black, no sugar and one regular with--do you have Sweet n’ Low?”
“Sweeten what? What’s Sweeten?...”
“Like saccharine, but it’s a powder; it’s new--we don’t have any sweetie, we have saccharine.”
“Yeah, that’s all right,” I said quickly, “put two of em in there for me, would you; and a pack of Pall Malls and Luckys.”
They both looked at me, Norm one way and Flo another. She went to make the coffees and Norm reached to the side of the register where the cigarettes were and produced the two packs, placed them on the counter in front of him with books of matches. I reached for the Luckys and without looking at Norm quickly and deftly peeled the red ribbon off the circumference of the pack and removed the clear cellophane. I opened up one corner of the tin foil, leaving the Indian’s face intact, and, tapping the pack against my left forefinger, removed the first of twenty fresh smokes. I placed the opposite end in my mouth leaving the insignia to burn--just like I seen a tough guy friend of my father’s do to his Camel’s--smelled the raw tobacco, felt the softness of the cigarette against my lips, and lit it. The sweet smoke swirled around my head as I drew in the delicious first drag and, as I exhaled through my nose, I drew in the second wave--as I’d seen my ol’ man do thousands of times. Then I let go what remained of both and looked around. The coffees were there in a bag on the counter and I handed Norm Duke’s fifty.
“What am I supposed to do with this?”
“He said if you couldn’t break it he’d catch up with you later.”
“He’ll never catch up with me, I’m way ahead of him. Tell that shicker--is he drunk already?-- gonif bastard to make sure he sees me later; I don’t want to have to look for him.”
“I’ll tell him,” I said, eager to get out of there and back to the pool room where a table, coffee, cigarettes and solitude were offered to me; where I could observe without being seen or questioned.
Jimmy was with Duke by his desk when I entered. Duke, who towered over Jimmy, was telling him something and Jimmy, his head lowered, eyes averted, was listening. It was something about their postures that made me unsure whether or not to approach, but I was curious--I also had his coffee and smokes--and so I cautiously walked closer.
“I wisht you wouldn’t have done that,” Duke said, “should keep that kinda stuff outa the store. Shit.”
“Sorry, Duke.”
“What time do you think?”
“Around one, somethin like that.”
I looked at the black bordered clock whose facial dirt danced around it’s face, eleven forty-seven it read. I went over, as unobtrusively as I could, and placed his coffee and Pall Malls on his desk with his fifty, and walked back to my table. Whatever was going to happen I was determined to nurse the time, table, cigarettes and the day until it did. I pulled another smoke from the pack and lit it while I eyed Jimmy lazily walking with Duke’s Daily News to a high-backed chair near the window. He boosted himself up in the seat, took a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it as he opened up the back of The News to the sports section. His eyes caught mine and I quickly took the Lucky from my mouth and put it on the edge of one of the wooden rails. “Wanna shoot?” He shook his head and went back to reading the paper and I was relieved. The burning tip of the cigarette had left a nicotined wet scar which would later settle into the grain of the table. I picked up the cigarette, reached for the tray holding the balls, placed them back in and, wanting to start fresh, casually flipped it over again, releasing the colored numbers onto the green felt of the table. I took the ivory cue ball and placed it in a position where I thought I’d do the most damage. I chalked the tip of the cue, the blue dust of the chalk settling on the fingers of my left hand and began to shoot. Five balls found pockets before I had to make a decision on what to do next.

From time to time I checked on Jimmy. He had positioned himself to where he could look out the window and down the corners of both sides of Surf Avenue. On the floor, directly beneath his feet which rested on a rung of the stool he was sitting on, were the butts from the cigarettes he’d smoked down to the filter.
When the phone inside the booth rang we all braced ourselves. Our heads swiveled, Jimmy’s hands gripped the arms of the stool and Duke seemed to stiffen, his posture straightening. I began to go over to pick it up. Duke stopped me short, “That’s all right, I’ll get it,” he said. He moved quickly into the booth and I followed him with my eyes and ears. “Duke’, he ain’t here...yeah, if I see him I’ll tell him. Yeah, I’ll tell him.” He cradled the phone and got out of the booth. He turned to Jimmy. “That was your brother; he’s lookin’ for you.”
“Fuckim; he can look all he wants,” he said in a flat, affectless tone. He turned his attention back to the window.
“Do me a favor, willya? Don’t play it off like it’s nothin and why don’t ya get out of that seat and take one in the back? There’s nobody in the joint, he’ll find ya, don’t worry.”
“You’re worried about my brother?” he said, as he moved his feet to the floor and lifted himself off the stool.
“Shit yeah, I’m worried about your brother...and you should be, too.”
“Maybe I should, but I’m not,” he said, as he made his way into the dark and dingy recess of the room. The yellow light from the street mixed with the specks of dust in the air of the room and danced around his head and back as he walked slowly to another stool and mounted it. “Better? Happy now?”
“Fuckin’ thrilled. Listen Jimmy, I didn’t have to let ya stay here, but I did; I didn’t have to say to your brother I didn’t see ya, but I did. I never did, and don’t now, give a good goddamn who’s dick anybody’s suckin. I’m not a fag, but I never thought anything less about anybody who was. But what I don’t want is anyone’s blood, especially mine, on my floor--and conscience--because of some stupid fuckin shit that has nothin to do with me. You know what I mean?”
Jimmy didn’t say anything but my heart was racing. It was lodged at the intersection of confusion and fear where ambivalence and doubt reigned, rendering it vulnerable to all sorts of whimsy, violence included. The word sat uncomfortably in my mouth waiting to explode. I couldn’t imagine what it was to actually be one--what was that all about!?--but I wondered.
My eyes, having nowhere to hide, ping-ponged from one to the other but quickly, embarrassedly, returned to the ivory cue ball, with the red centered dot. I tried concentrating on that dot but the more I tried the harder my ears strained, trying to compensate for my visual disadvantage. I looked up at the time and saw that whatever it was, was a half-hour closer.

There was no real telling what time of the day Duke would open the place and definitely no telling what time he’d close--that would depend upon the business and the business would depend on the “action.” A few times I’d stop by early, either by myself or with some friends and if the door was locked, I’d peer in the window. I’d see, on the last table in the back by the corner, a shape that resembled something human asleep atop a pool table. His back would be to the door and his head would rest on top a jacket or sweater or coat that would be bunched up on the wooden triangle that you’d rack the balls with. “Yeah, I know, I know, I’ve been sleepin on a pool table too long: I’m all balled up,” he’d say to anyone who’d listen. He’d also say that after he bet the wrong horse, or backed the wrong player, or loaned the wrong person money.
People, some of whom I knew enough to say hello to, started to drift in. Alone or in pairs they began shooting on tables that Duke made sure was a good distance from one another. Imperceptibly, the room began filling with sound and cigarette smoke as the overhead lights above each table were switched on in turn. I noted each as I shot, and watched Duke and Jimmy. Jimmy hadn’t moved and Duke, except for a few conversations that took no longer than a minute or two, remained the same; he stuck with his racing form, Pall Malls, coffee and some surreptitious pouring of Martel into his container. “I guess you didn’t make it either,” the voice said behind me as I was getting ready to shoot the five in the side. “You’re better off with the deuce, but this ain’t really your game,” another voice chimed in.
The Heart’s real name was Ira but he had a bad ticker; it had something to do with a valve or murmur or something. All I know is that he had to go to a hospital in Baltimore twice a year to get himself checked. Tommy was just Tommy. But Tommy was really rich, lived in a big house in Seagate right on the beach looking out over the Atlantic. He had the first color T.V. of any of us. I watched Bonanza over there one night; the first time I saw a show in color. Best of all was Tommy’s mom. Theresa was beautiful...and sexy...and she knew I not only knew it, but felt it. She’d walk around in these flimsy nightgowns and I tried to catch the right angle with the sun back lighting her and once in awhile saw her triangle of fur, black and silky looking under a sheer gauze of lace. She’d see me and look back at me in a way no one had ever done. It froze and heated me at the same time.
“C’mon, let’s get outa here.” The Heart said. “The alley’s open, let’s throw a few lines.”
I leaned my pool cue on the side of the table and leaned over to where the two of them stood, lowering myself just enough to be in the middle of their chest’. “Something’s gonna go down here in a little while and I want to be here.” Tommy’s eyes popped open like bread coming out of a toaster. The yellow filter of his cigarette got clenched between his upper and lower front teeth. “Don’t ask me what. All I know is that somethin’s gonna go down with Jimmy and his brother, that’s all I know; that’s all I have to know.”
“Mad Mel? Man, I’m stayin.”
“I’m gonna grab a cue, the three of us can play rotation,” The Heart said, and made his way to the racks.
“Not me, I can’t shoot for shit. I’ll watch.”
“Hey Tommy, you got a couple of bucks you can front me? I ain’t got a dime.”
“Yeah, sure, no problem.”
“Hey Duke, Off and On,” I yelled over to him.
“About fuckin time,” he said, and turned off the light and then back on. It acted as a timer so he could calculate how much to charge once you finished playing.
The Heart, only a few inches above five feet, returned with a cue that was nearly up to his eyes. He was an above average pool shooter and bowler but a below average gambler. He was indiscriminate in who he’d gamble against; it would depend upon what he had in his pocket and how bored he or we were. He was a little better than good which meant that things had to break just right for him to win. Most of the time they didn’t. But even when they did, the money burned a hole in his pocket and he’d find some way to give it back quickly, or lose it later. “We’ll play for a quarter a way...just gimme the break and the eight ball.”
“I ain’t given ya nothin. We should really play straight pool; rotation is just a game of luck anyway.”
“Bullshit, man. Rotation ain’t luck--ya gotta really know how to shoot; know how to play position; know how to play safe...Besides, I can’t beat ya in a game of straight. I got a chance playin rotation: hit it hard and pray to God.”
“Heart, you have two chances: slim and none.”
“Make it fifty cents.”
I felt guilty. “I’ll give ya the break. Break.”
Usually any kind of action was enough to occupy my mind. But not today. If I didn’t naturally drift to where Jimmy was still sitting, I’d peek at him from a variety of angles as I was shooting, or while waiting for The Heart to miss. I’d imagine Jimmy in the throes of passion. But instead of holding a girl in his arms there’d be a man who’d be doing these sexually bizarre things to him or even worse, Jimmy doing those things to him. My ideas of love, or romance, and hot stirrings of desire and lust were images all born from the Hollywood dream factory, which, unbeknownst to me, conspired with The League of Decency, and other watchdogs of Christian morals and Western ethics, to forever subvert and crucify those whose lives were different, which, of course, was us all.

Carlos, a spic’s answer to Sammy Davis, Jr.’ Rat Pack Step ‘n Fechit’s two-step, breezed through the door and went directly over to where Duke was sitting, put his two skinny arms down on the desk, while his hands gripped the edge, and leaned in close. Unlike Sammy, Carlos did his dance not on a Vegas stage, nor his act on a movie studio lot in Burbank, or sang amid the Copacabana showgirls, but in the ass-end of Brooklyn. Nor did he perform while lining up a piece of ass for Frank, but instead he cleaned up the mess left in his mother’s apartment by the somewhat demented and testosterone driven toughs who Carlos desperately wanted to be part of. Carlos, in other words, “ran errands.”
Duke motioned with his head left and Carlos looked right, to where Jimmy was sitting. He pushed himself upright and went over to him and placed his two hands on the arms of the stool and leaned into him. Jimmy, at first listened, then moved his head slowly to the right, until Carlos stared directly into the wall behind him. Carlos, without loosening his grip on the arms of the stool, swung his head to where Jimmy’s eyes now faced. Jimmy swung back the other way. Carlos countered and when Jimmy tried to climb off the chair I saw Carlos’ arms stiffen. The veins on his forearms rose to where you could see the blue highways from elbow to wrist. Jimmy raised himself up on the stool and Carlos eyeballed him back down.
“And what are you supposed to do? Jimmy said.
“Keep you here.”
“Yeah?...and how the fuck are you gonna do that?”
“Don’t test me, Jimmy.”
By this time I had put my cue down and looked on. Jimmy, unlike his brother Mel, was not one to fight, but you never knew what might happen when a person’s pressed. I was concentrating so hard on the space between their faces that when a black hand gripped Carlos’ shoulder I hardly noticed. It looked cut off and placed there with no special association. Except this hand looked solid and confident about the contact it made. My eyes ran up the wrist to the arm then shoulder and finally the face, in profile, hid by the hood of a sweatshirt. But even in profile and even though he was black, I knew who he was.
The first time I saw him was in the old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue and Forty-ninth Street a few years ago. When he took off his robe that night it was hard to take your eyes off him; he was all muscle and sinew and sweat and shaped like a V. He fought Dick Tiger, another powerful welterweight, in a ten round bout; war was more like it. My father knew one of the boxing commissioners and we sat ringside, two or three rows from the apron. By the seventh round Tiger’s face was cut pretty bad and each time he got hit blood flew from those cuts to where we were sitting and a few rows beyond. It repulsed, but excited me. Tiger was a good boxer, too, and could also hit and so dished out some good punishment as well. By the end of the fight they both knew they’d earned their money. Tiger lost a unanimous decision and the other fighter a few months later fought for and won the Welterweight Championship.
The last time I saw him was a few weeks ago, on television. He was defending his title fighting a guy called, Benny Kid Peret. I was alone in my downstairs basement mesmerized, watching on a big black and white TV set The Friday Night Fights, watching Emile Griffith beat Benny Kid Peret to death in front of a cheering crowd, a referee, and me. After dominating him for the first ten or eleven rounds and softening him up, he rocked Peret with a straight right hand flush against his jaw. Peret reeled backwards into the corner ring post, ready to fall. Instead, Griffith did not let him fall, but bored into his chest with his shoulder straightening him up. Griffith used his left forearm to keep Peret’s head up by placing it under chin, firmly embedded into the throat, almost lifting Peret’s feet off the canvas. He proceeded to hit Peret with ferocious right hands on top of his head, to the face, the body, the kidneys and the arms; but mostly shots to the head, vicious shots, shots meant to punish and destroy. I looked around in my empty basement hoping that somebody was there, somebody to tell me what I was witnessing wasn’t really real, someone to stop the fight.
But there wasn’t. Finally, after he hit him with a punch that made Peret’s eyes roll to the back of his head, did the referee step between them. Even that would not stop Griffith. He tried to lunge over the ref who finally hugged him around his stomach in order to drag him away from the slumping Paret. It took less than five seconds for Paret’s body to hit the canvas though it seemed I was watching slow-moving chocolate lava endlessly flowing from the ring stanchion. A doctor, always present at ringside, went into the ring to attend to Paret; a few minutes later men entered the ring and put Paret, who remained unconscious, on a stretcher. They awkwardly maneuvered his body through the ropes and brought him to an awaiting ambulance.
The next day the back page of The New York Post had a big picture of his slumped body with one word, DEAD, in bold black letters.
Inside the paper an article said Paret had called Griffith a “maricon,” a faggot. He called him this before the fight, at the weigh-in. Griffith proved to him and the world that night that he might be many other things, but “maricon” wasn’t one of them. Yet here he was in Coney Island, in Duke’s, moving Carlos out of the way to get closer to Jimmy.
The sight of black fingers on his shoulder made Carlos jump back. The sight of who those fingers were attached to unnerved him even more.
“Hiya, Champ,” Carlos said, looking and turning the color of lint.
Griffith looked from Carlos to Jimmy and back again. “Why don’t you just get on with yourself?” he asked Carlos, except it didn’t sound like a question. His tone, while being measured and low, had weight and danger.
He wedged himself between Carlos and Jimmy and looked Jimmy in the eye. Except his look had more warmth than inquisition. “You all right?” he said. Jimmy nodded. “C’mon, let’s go.” Jimmy pushed himself off the chair and the two of them began to move towards the door. Jimmy seemed to lean into him as they went. I looked over at Carlos as they made their way out of the door. He’d been told to do a cheap and thankless errand by a madman. They didn’t hang around for what would have been trouble with a capital T. He looked relieved. In fact, everyone looked relieved except for the two old guys shooting pool two tables over. If they noticed what was happening, they didn’t care. They were concentrating on beating each other. They had probably been doing that for the last fifty years, maybe more.
Carlos looked over at me and smiled. I smiled back. He shook his head indicating what a crazy scene that was and could have gotten crazier. He took out a cigarette and I turned back to the table and my game when I saw a blur of a figure cross the room. It was Mad Mel. I turned back in time to see him slap Carlos’ face making the cigarette fly from his lips. “I told you, you cocksucker.”
“No, wait, wait a minute,” Carlos sputtered. But Mad Mel had hit him again, this time on the side of his head, also with an open fist. “You don’t understand, Mel, wait a fuckin minute.”
One of the older men came over to the table. “What are you doing to him?”
“Mind your fuckin business, old man.”
“What are you crazy, leave him alone.”
He hardly got that last sentence out when Mad Mel reached into his jacket pocket, took out a knife and, with one hand, opened the blade while keeping it against his right leg. Without any warning he stuck it into the old man’s thigh and snapped off the handle. The old man let out a cry and looked down at the source of his pain. Mad Mel took a step backward. “Crazy? Yeah, I’m crazy.” He took the handle and placed it in the old man’s hand and then to Carlos, “I’ll see you later,” and jabbed him in the chest with his finger.
Mad Mel, without looking back, walked unhurriedly out the door while the old man’s friend, his face drained of color, helped his friend onto the floor where he lay flat. Duke called for an ambulance. Carlos walked over to me and asked for a cigarette. I took one out and lit one for him, and one for myself. His hand and lips trembled and I felt, for a moment, bad for him. “I’m gettin out of here. You wanna go ridin around for a little while?” he asked me.
For a second I was a little confused and didn’t know what to say, not ever being too friendly with him. But I nodded my head and went to put the cue stick back in the rack. Tommy and The Hearts’ eyes were just watching me as all of this was transpiring. “Take it easy,” I said to them, as we were leaving. We walked around the figure on the floor. I passed Duke as we made our way to the door. Duke looked up and into my eyes and just shook his head. I tried to see the broken blade in the leg of the man on the floor, but I couldn’t. All I saw was a dark stain on his pants and a look of unintelligible fear on his face.
Carlos had a cream colored nineteen-sixty Pontiac Catalina, it’s body dented around the right rear door and left tail; it’s neglect slightly rusting the areas around the damage. I wondered if he purchased it like this or let this disrepair accumulate. My father, who, since I remembered, always owned Cadillacs, would never allow something like that to happen. But I would. I liked the casual recklessness it projected.
He reached over and pulled the knob up and I slid into the cushioned seat; inside, the leather was brown, but creases of dark dirt from years of neglect ran through them making me feel slightly uncomfortable. The ashtray was overflowing and the interior had this peculiar yellow film to it, especially on the beige-colored vinyl that covered the top. Carlos put the key into the ignition. When the motor caught he asked for another smoke. He put it into drive and pulled out, made a quick U-turn and headed south, toward Seagate.
The day had become overcast but I was happy to be in a car going anywhere. There was something about motion and smoking a Lucky that made sense. “You mind if I put on the radio?”
“Nah, go ahead.”
I turned the knob and heard the opening notes to The Drifter’s, Up On the Roof. “Yeah, that’s nice,” Carlos said. I leaned back and inwardly sang along.
“That was sure something back there, wasn’t it?” I kept quiet. I didn’t think he was looking for a response. “He’s sure a crazy motherfucker, ain’t he?” Again, I remained silent. “I did what the sonofabitch asked me to. ‘Keep him there,’ he said. ‘Keep him there ‘til I get there.’ Well you know what, that creep fuck was there but he was too fuckin scared himself to come in there. No fuckin way he missed those two on his way in; no fuckin way.”
He made a left and pulled down one of the beach blocks that Mary’s, a sandwich shop during the summer, sat guard over. All the way down the block we went, and stopped to the right of the ramp leading to the boardwalk; a boardwalk that ran all the way from Seagate to the end of Brighton Beach, past the housing projects, and Coney Island proper: The Parachute Jump, Nathan’s, SteepleChase, The Mid-Way, The Wonder Wheel, arcades, The Thunderbolt, The Cyclone and The Aquarium. He shut off the engine and we just sat there looking at the sand, and ocean beyond that.
“I’m gonna get high,” he announced suddenly. I didn’t know what he meant. But I felt something rearrange itself in my stomach. “You ever get high before?”
It was difficult to answer him; I didn’t feel I could talk. “No,” I said. He reached across me, unlocked the glove compartment and put his hand inside, coming out with a small yellow envelope. Again, he reached inside and came out with a small square looking package that was twice the size of a book of matches with the name, “Bambu,” written on the front. From this he extracted two sheets of paper, licked one of the edges and placed one on top of the licked edge and folded, ever so gently, the end of one of the papers.
“You wanna get high?”
I couldn’t take my eyes off Carlos’ hands. He was tapping the yellowed manila envelope until a thin stream of a grass-like looking substance was thinly placed in the fold of the crease. My heart was beating rapidly. The words, not quite catching in my throat said, “Yeah, sure.”
Deftly, he placed both his hands near the ends of the papers and rolled them up in one motion. He licked the top edge, the tip of his pink tongue darting out like a snake, and sealed it. It looked like a thick toothpick. “Watch me,” he said, “watch how I do it; I take in small tokes--drags, you know--hold it in for awhile then let it out. Watch.” He lit it and I heard the pop of something then a sweet and pungent smell filled the air that I didn’t know what to make of. He held this cigarette between his thumb and forefinger and took these quick drags off it, keeping it in like he said, then letting it out and quickly doing it again. He passed me this cigarette and I did the same. By the time I passed it back to Carlos and he passed it to me again I was high.
I felt weird, disoriented. Things at first slowed then speeded up with no discernible reason. My mouth felt thick and coated. When I looked down at my hands they didn’t seem to be mine and what they touched had no memory that I knew of. I looked over at Carlos who was looking at me. He began to laugh. “You high, man. You high, no shit, man, you fuckin high.” I looked at him with what seemed like these monstrous looking eyeballs that must have held all the confusion, fear and awkwardness I felt. “Well, man, I don’t know what you want to do, but I gotta go.”
“Go?” I said.
“Yeah, go. I gotta go, man, can’t stay here with that motherfucker loose man, gotta go try to take care of this shit. I’ll drop you someplace. Where?”
“Where? Shit, I can’t go home man, fuck that. Take me to The Heart’s house in Seagate. I’ll tell you where.”
“Cool.” He started the car, made a broken U, went to the corner, hung a left and went into Seagate. How the hell was he able to talk, much less drive? Heart’s parents were deaf and dumb and never looked too close at anything. I got out of the car where I wanted and closed the door. Carlos sped off without saying a word.
I went and rang the bell praying that he’d answer. He opened the door and looked at me. “What the fuck happened to you? Your eyes are all red.”
“Just let me in, man; I’ll explain later. Could I eat over your place?”
“Yeah, sure. How come?”
“You see the shape I’m in, man. I can’t go fuckin’ home now. I’m on the lam for a few hours, shit maybe days.”
The Heart ushered me into his home, past his parents who were at the dinner table. They smiled to me and I tried to smile back, but I don’t really know what the hell I did. I walked into his living room and to the phone. Fear began to insinuate itself back into my chest. I knew I had to make the phone call, but I’d be goddamned if I knew what I’d say.


Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2000-2015