Tuesday, June 30, 2015
FOURTH OF JULY--EIGHT YEARS AGO
You can feel New York City, on the verge of a holiday, begin to empty. At first, it’s almost imperceptible, like a slow leak in one of your rear tires. Then, after awhile, you began to notice. The car might pull a little to the right or left. Still not enough to get out and look, but slowly it creeps into your consciousness. Traffic patterns are off; pedestrians seem a bit more determined to get somewhere; there’s a slight suggestion that one or two people out of nine million are gone and suddenly a vista opens where before there were forms and flesh. The city becomes lighter; you feel lighter. Hmm, you say, somethins up.
Shit, of course, it’s the 4th. Am I stupid, or what? Get the hell out. Leave, and leave me my city. Mmm, Chinatown, the piers, ships, water, Chinatown, Cafe La Fortuna, espresso, cheesecake, mmm, yes. Life can be so grand. Fuck it, I’ll call in sick, fuckem, fuckit. Yes.
I felt “giddy,” if “giddy” was a word that ever could be applied to me. From the moment of my realization, to the moment of decision to call in sick, I began to cruise the streets of Manhattan without the usual compulsion and pressure that accompanied me. I had no particular destination, my eyes began to decompress and my breathing, aside from the heaviness of a lifetime of smoking, became easier. The passengers I picked up presented not a problem, even while their tipping conjured up images of torture and death of the worst kind, they were bracketed by my own good will and humor. Drivers still made the dumbest of moves, changing lanes without looking--almost as if they thought they were beyond physics and probabilities. (God bless them, I thought). They shot left hand turns from the extreme right hand lane. (Sure, go ahead); stopped in the middle of intersections and tried to creep next to the opposite curb before getting killed by some irate truck driver or greaser, (Good luck, brother); and then there were those whose heads barely came up to the steering wheel who were the most frightening. Am I in Florida? I asked myself. Connecticut, maybe? Death driven missiles going up and down the eastern seaboard and in dense, overpopulated areas-- but maybe not overpopulated for long! Yet nothing, short of a head on collision with death, would have altered the sense of joy I was feeling. Though, beyond the obvious, I couldn’t tell you why. Whatever place offered itself up to me because of this exodus, I knew I would be going and doing without the usual throng of New York City’s humanity.
I had just swerved to avoid a bike messenger who looked back at me like it was my fault. Maybe it was? It pushed me into the extreme left lane on Third Avenue, and into a fare. She was tall, a bit overweight, and fumbling with packages. She barely had her wrist protruding from her bags, but I saw her meaning easy enough. I glided to a stop.
“You want to put those in the trunk?” I asked.
“Yes, that would help,” she replied, a faint whiff of sarcasm in her voice.
I put my emergency flashers on, opened the trunk, got out and helped her unburden herself. The heat of the day had caused her to perspire to such an extent that her face glistened. Her blouse was darkly etched with splotches of sweat, mostly underneath her arms, and in the small of her back. I took one package after the next and put them in the trunk. She took one of her hands and shielded the sun from her eyes as she took me in. “Thank you,” she finally said, “not many drivers do that these days.”
I didn’t say anything as I closed the trunk, stepped around her, and got back into the cab. “Where to?” I asked, after she closed the door.
“Downtown, near Wall Street.”
“You mind if I take the F.D.R., it’s quicker?”
“No, by all means. Once we’re off the Drive I’ll direct you from there.”
“Sure,” I said. Even when I knew the address, I would much prefer them to direct me. This way, if there was traffic, construction, or anything that slowed us down, they couldn’t say shit. I was going crosstown, heading for the entrance to the Drive on 65th Street.
“Usually I have a driver. I mean, my firm does. But I forgot that this is the Fourth of July weekend and by the time my turn came, the big big bosses reserved them all.”
“I know, whatareyagonnado?” I replied. The more she talked, the less I liked her.
“You don’t look like a cab driver...Charles.”
I looked in the rear view mirror and saw her craning her neck to read my name off the license that every cabbie was required to post, facing the passengers.
“Yeah, well, The world is full of shipping clerks who have read The Harvard Classics.
“Mmm. I like that Charles.”
“Me, too, I wish I’d written it.”
“Are you a writer?”
“I’m a writer--when I write. When I don’t write, I’m a cab driver, or whatever it is I’m doing at the moment.”
The streets and buildings whizzed by, dripping pellets of water from the air-conditioners that hit the pavement or bushes from on high. Soon we would be entering the Drive. Almost over, I said to myself.
“Bukowski wrote that, didn’t he?” she asked, but I knew she already knew the answer.
“Yes, Buk wrote it.”
“Which work was it from?” she asked, but I knew she knew that as well.
“It was an epigraph to a book of his poems, Mockingbird Wish Me Luck.”
“Oh yes, of course. I always thought he was a better poet.”
So did I, but I didn’t respond.
“My name is Lilith, by the way.”
“Nice to meetcha, Lilith.” I would have preferred to be quiet on this ride. The water and movement of the car was all I needed to relax for a few minutes. It gave me time to think about nothing in particular, and everything in general.
“Who else do you like?”
Her question brought me back from my brief respite. “Huh?” was all I was able to manage to say.
“Who are some of the other writers you like? Where were you just now?”
“I never know how to answer that--either question. I just like who I like...and been where I was.”
“Me too!” she almost shouted out. “Maybe we’ll get to that other question later. But let me guess, and not only limited to writers alright?”
It was too late; I was trapped. “Fire away,” I said. I was in the left hand lane, doing about fifty, easing my way around the 23rd Street curve.
She was right on the money with most, but some of the painters she mentioned I didn’t know who the hell they were.
I turned off the Drive, below The Brooklyn Bridge.
“Make a left here and then another left on Maiden Lane. I’m a few blocks from there.”
I took a left.
“How old are you?’ she asked.
“Me, of course.”
“Really? Why’s that?”
“I could take real good care of you for awhile, then you’d die and I’d still be young enough to go on, find another, maybe not like you, but find another I would.”
“That’s reassuring.” Her conversation was making me nervous, but I wanted company of the female sort and, from what I could see from my rear view mirror, she was not at all bad looking. Now, if I could somehow stem her flow of words... She directed me to her building, a big apartment complex that fitted in with all the other concrete monstrosities in the area.
“O.K. my dear, that will be fourteen seventy, and I’ll help you with your packages.”
“Have dinner with me tonight? Don’t say, ‘no’ because I know you’re not doing anything.”
“How do you know that?”
“Are you doing anything tonight?”
“No, I’m not.”
“I’ll pick up the check, I promise, and not for any feminine power crap, but just because I’m in a position to, and you’re not. No strings, either.”
“Where and when?” I quickly said.
She gave me the name of the place, address and time, paid the fare with a healthy tip added on, and left the cab. I opened the trunk, but by that time her doorman had come to assist her. I stayed where I was and watched her walk to the entrance of her building. Flat Jewish ass, I said to myself, my mother had one, most of the Jewish babes I knew growing up had one, most of the Jewish girls I knew, period, had one. But she was tall, even if a bit overweight, good-looking in this intense Jewish way, and she was picking up the tab. Hell, what the hell?
I put my OFF DUTY light on, feeling as if I had just resigned--at least for the next four days--from the world, and made it back to my cab company where I told the alternate dispatcher that I wasn’t feeling too well and doubted that I could make it in tomorrow. He mumbled that he was sorry, which was all the commiseration I could expect from him, but he was quick to inform me that he couldn’t give me back my eighty-five bucks for the shift. I asked whether he could apply it towards next weeks payment.
“No can do,” he stated.
“Chinese, huh?” I replied, but didn’t wait for his answer.
From my novel, THE TROUBLE WITH DREAMS
© 2015 Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015