Saturday, September 5, 2015
JUST A LITTLE LOVE...
Charlie woke up with the sun in his face, and his pillow scrunched up and held by both his hands. It looked like he had beaten the hell out of it last night. His mouth felt thick. His body felt every bit of the sixty he was about to be. Smacking his lips and moving around his tongue, he remembered the tail end of the dream: every time he tried to close the blinds another slat broke off. Talk about wish fulfillment, he muttered to himself.
He let that thought roll around his head a little, proud that he still retained that stuff from the time he went to college--junior high school, really. Charlie was what they called, a precocious child. He was a little crazy, but overall a very good student in subjects he liked; the others could go take a flying fuck.
Even this early in the morning the sun was blistering hot. The weather had been 95 degrees, with 85 to 90 percent humidity for the last week now. And today promised to be no different. Without moving, Charlie could feel the sweat in the small of his back, bead up and run down the crack of his ass. Wonderful, Charlie said out loud, another day to enjoy the woodsy outdoors. Another day to be grateful that the gods shown down thy grace on me, he finished, then looked around for the men with butterfly nets to swoop down and take him to the scientific playground of shock therapy, insulin therapy, “ping-pong, and amnesia.”
An ant touched the circumference of Charlie’s ear. He knew it was time to get up. He jumped up and swatted at the ant; the last thing he needed was for it to go traipsing into one of his canals, taking a free ride inside the inner circle. Next, he picked up a pretty hefty duffle bag and went into the mens bathroom. Each park that Charlie slept in had its very own level of care and comfort, even at different places in the same park. He preferred to stay, when he could, in Central Park, near 59th Street and Central Park South. There he was in high cotton. Pretty swank shit. Even the bathrooms were better equipped, taken care of, cleaner and, most importantly, safer. Sure, once in awhile one of their transient brothers had some kind of fit, went bonkers for a few minutes, lost it, but those incidences were few and far between.
If you were lucky enough to make it through the night without being chased from your spot, you could enjoy a pretty good wake up: take a shave, a whore’s bath, shit, a change of clothes, and come back later to wash your dirty garments, all without being disturbed. Of course, the cops and park rangers tried to discourage those smarter folks from doing just that, lest the Duke and Duchess of my asshole get the wrong idea seeing a naked man in a public toilet grooming himself. But even some of those folks who guarded other folks knew they were only a step or two away from joining those former folks, and so they often looked away. Hey, give it a name.
Charlie was glad there was no law forbidding him to smoke in the bathroom while taking a crap. It was one of the few pleasures in life he had left, he thought. Then, while thinking of nothing in particular, a feeling came over him so pronounced it got him excited: A cup of coffee. Acupacoffee, in a real restaurant! With air-conditioning! A spoon, a cup and saucer, sugar, milk, (maybe half and half), a glass of water. Ice water! And a refill; he could always get at least one refill. God damn! He knew he had about two dollars and change from his extended mitt and cup soft shoe from the night before. Charlie began to rummage in the bag, while sitting on the toilet. Reaching the bottom, he felt something cold and round and silver, (not real silver of course), and brought all the loot up to his eyes. A quick check, and two dollars and three cents were lying in his palm. Hell, yes. I’m going to live like a gentleman and get myself a cup of java. That’s right!
Out came a white shirt from the duffle. You can never go wrong with white, he thought. Next, out of the stall and over to the sink where he took off the striped shirt he was wearing and decided to throw it in the basin. Shit, it’s so hot, he said to himself, that shirt will dry real quick. He tried to regulate the water, but because the sink had two separate faucets it was hard to get the right temperature between his cupped hands. Luckily, one soap dispenser still had some of that gooey pink shit, but not at his sink, however, and so he ran back and forth soaping his hands and washing his body.
Wearing just his skivvies, and dripping water, he tiptoed his way back to the entrance, held the door frame with two hands, and leaned his head outside. Nobody there; nobody coming. Quickly he went back to the sink, lowered his shorts, and washed his genitals as thoroughly as he could. You never know, he reasoned, what lurked in that nether world and when you’d get a chance to clean that dank and dense all but piss forgotten region again. After he was satisfied that most, if not all, of the creatures there were dispelled, he took his towel and dried his body.
Charlie decided to use some of that soap on his scalp as well. He couldn’t remember when was the last time he washed his hair. Out came his black pocket comb. Charlie needed two hands to rake it through his hair, purposely pushing down a little harder than necessary to satisfy the itch he felt. Soon, one side of his head had his dandruff, twigs, dead grass blades, piled up; it all looked like dead autumn leaves on one side of his skull, waiting to be set on fire. With one slap of his hand he brushed it all off. He then went about soaping his head and washing it out. Purposely, he left the hair as wet as he could, knowing it would be easier to groom. This time the comb went through easily. After trying a number of styles, he settled on combing it straight back until he looked a little like Pat Riley, only his hair was much longer, and he wasn’t dressed in an Armani suit. Still, goddamn, he looked good.
Hey Andy, Charlie nearly whispered, coming up to the Sabrett vendor.
Charlie, Andy said, almost glad to see him.
Andy, can I leave this shirt here on that rock there, and could you just keep an eye on it til I get back?
Yes, sure, Charlie, but if I get busy...
Of course, of course. I understand; I mean that’s understood, of course.
Where are you going, Charlie.
Gonna get acupacoffee. Charlie’s face beamed as he said those words.
Coffee, well...high time, Charlie. In that case, for a special occasion like this, here, here, take this frankfurter bun. Have you a coffee, but maybe ask for some butter and break off the pieces and eat.
Hey, Andy, man, thanks a million, man. Thanks.
Charlie took the bun and carefully tried to put it in the breast pocket of his shirt. But after Andy just looked at it and laughed, he took it from that place and gently guided it into a pocket of his khakis. In there, only one end of the bun was slightly visible.
Good, that’s good, Andy said. Maybe I give you frankfurter, too. Both he and Charlie laughed until their sides hurt imagining the limp looking frank dangling from Charlie’s pocket.
That’s all I need, Charlie said, between breaths, someone telling me that my dick was on wrong. Again they held their sides. I could piss outa there--talk about paying outa pocket! I’m pissing outa pocket!
When they finally got to themselves, Andy asked Charlie whether he wanted a container of the fake orange juice he had. Charlie shook his head, no. He wanted nothing to diminish his first taste of real coffee.
Charlie took his shirt and laid it upon a rock near Andy’s cart. Perfectly within eyesight. The rock sizzled. Shouldn’t take long, he said. He took care in smoothing out as many wrinkles as he could and was tempted to ask Andy to watch his duffle as well, but didn’t do it. Besides, he reasoned, walking in with a duffle indicated that either he was coming from someplace or going someplace, and those some places had the chance of being important.
It was early enough so that the park was infested with joggers. Bugs of different sizes and shapes were displaying their commitment to life by running around the circumference of the park. A tune from Fiddler On the Roof began to insinuate itself and Harry concentrated hard on something else to get it out of there, quick. What miserable and confused and conflicted days those were. Jesus. These days are tough, but not as tough as those were--house or not. Each day that Charlie came home from school, or playing with his friends, he never knew, as he was putting his key in the front door, what awaited him behind it. Sometimes he shook so bad that he’d throw-up before he went inside.
His mother, schized as she was, was either lying in bed with the covers over her head, or had her head in the oven, or came to embrace him like a long lost child just returned. His father took to having a few belts before he came home. The amount, though it varied from day to day, was no insurance against his wrath one way or the other. Charlie was no stranger to the hospital’s ER, and even knew a few of its doctors and nurses by their first names. He was at that age when broken bones could have come from contact sports, bruises and welts from school yard fights, and the occasional lost tooth from being on the loosing end. A resident and nurse suspected, but nothing much came of it, except the hurricane forced winds inside his body telling him to get the fuck outa there.
And get out he did. By seventeen he had punched his father in the face and blew out of the house like the hounds of hell were chasing him--and they were. He had not seen, spoken with, nor heard from them in forty-three years. In that time he had disproved a psychiatrist and the psychiatric literature that he was shown which said that Jewish people usually don’t end up as drunks, drug addicts, or serve time in prison. Charlie had hit the trifecta, stopping off and staying for awhile at each particular place or circumstance. All in all, it wasn’t a bad trip. Some of it was hideous, but not bad. What they did was open up these secretive places in and outside of himself that were consciously unsuspected. And all Charlie did was play the cards dealt him.
Charlie shook when the blast of cold air hit him. He shivered and wiggled his arms and shoulders. Whoa, Moma, he said. He went over to the counter and took a stool where there was nobody on either side of him. He laid his duffle across his foot so that if anyone was going to try and snatch it he could not only see them, but feel it as well. You never can be too careful, he knew.
A waitress, Shirley, ambled over to him.
Need a menu, sweetie.
No, no, just coffee please.
As she bent down to get a cup and saucer, Charlie saw her cleavage and smelled her soap, Ivory, he was sure. She was good looking in a matronly kind of way; had an easy manner about her; seemed like she’d been doing this gig forever. When she walked to where the coffee pots were, he had occasion to see her legs; they were heavy waitress legs. Shirley returned, set the coffee in front of him, with a silver pitcher of milk.
Would you have half and half, Charlie asked.
Sure, honey, comin right up. Anything else.
Nah, that should do it.
He watched her, noticed the way she walked, bent over, and came back with two tiny containers holding the rich cream. She laid them on the rim of his saucer and then went back down the line giving refills of coffee to awaiting cups. Charlie knew a refill was not going to be a problem.
Oh, yes, Shirley, Charlie said, I did forget something: a large glass of water with a lot of ice, please. And butter.
No, forget butter, I don’t know what I was thinking, he said, and pushed the frankfurter roll deep in his pocket.
The glass put in front of him already glistened with beaded water droplets and was used, Charlie knew, for malteds. Damn, what I would give for a chocolate or vanilla malted. Hell, one of each, and then one mixed for good measure. I’d have to sell one of the kids to get that, he chuckled to himself. He remembered when he was a child drinking a chocolate malted and eating one of those big, pencil like pretzels with all the salt on them. For some reason the salt mixed with the malted was heaven itself.
But now heaven was inhaling that wonderful brew that sat below him. He put his hands around the cup that in this cold felt good hot. After making it just right for himself, he brought it up to his lips and sipped a little off the top. Marvelous. He wished he could light a cigarette to make this a complete experience, but Bloomberg fucked that up. Isn’t it a kinda free will type of deal, Charlie thought. What’s with choice nowadays. Government, this government, has to protect us from ourselves? What a crock of horseshit that is. Somewhere in the dim recesses of his mind he remembered Weblan and Marx and their take on government. Marcuse. Sartre and all of those counter lunatics.
Charlie was pleased with thinking this way. It wasn’t often when he let his mind run around and focus on things besides life’s basics.
Could I have a refill, Charlie asked, when Shirley came his way.
Sure, sweetie, no problem.
And it wasn’t. Smooth as silk she took his cup, refilled it, and brought it back to him with two more creamers on the saucer’s edge.
Thank you, Charlie said. Shirley smiled at him and walked away. Who knows, Charlie said to himself, in another time, place, circumstance, whatever, he had a shot with her. He could tell by her smile. It was inviting, warm, had some meaning behind it.
The restaurant was getting full of breakfast regulars and Shirley was busy attending to the rush. A man sat beside Charlie and made a big deal out of his duffle being in his way. Charlie looked unimpassionedly at him and inched his bag away from him. Another guy sat to his right, and Charlie then had to rearrange the whole goddamn thing vertically in-between his legs. It stuck out in the aisle so he had to put it on an angle until no one could trip over it. For a second, Charlie remembered why he left this world behind.
One of the men left behind the newspaper he had been reading, a New York Post. Charlie grimaced at the paper, but took it anyway. He began reading the Sports section, but had trouble with his vision. Shirley must have noticed, for soon she was at his seat offering her reading glasses which hung around her neck. Charlie smiled and tried them on. Surprised that they cleared up his eyesight, he asked her for his third refill and Shirley readily obliged.
You’ll be up all night, she said, as she turned from him.
Coffee doesn’t keep me up, this life does, he answered, and laughed. Shirley turned back toward him and laughed as well. Once you get them to laugh, Charlie thought, you’re in.
When she returned with the coffee Charlie said to her that perhaps she’d like to go out with him sometime. Shirley studied him and said he seemed like a nice enough fella and Charlie quickly concurred.
What’s your name, anyway, she asked.
Charlie, he replied.
Charlie, I like that name; a good honest name.
For a good honest person.
She smiled wider and went back to her other customers. Charlie took a deep breath and began looking through the paper. He now owned the world.
But when Charlie asked for his fourth cup of coffee, Shirley, a bit, begrudgingly, went to fetch it. Charlie saw the expression on her face and knew that he had better make this his last cup before leaving. He kept debating whether or not to ask for her number. One never knows what good fortune, like bad fortune, might be in store for them.
Finally, his brain caffeine charged, and body racing, he asked Shirley for the check. When she placed the check in front of him, Charlie smiled nonchalantly and handed her back her glasses. Shirley returned the smile. The check read a dollar ninety-eight. Charlie had two dollars and three cents, which meant that all in all he had a nickel left. The question to him was: should he leave the nickel or not. If he just leaves the nickel she’ll think that he was somewhat in a hurry and just casually left it, or perhaps just forgot about it; or maybe with all the credit cards he has doesn’t carry much, if any money, in New York City on him. If, after he asks for her number, he scoops up the two cents she’ll just think that he doesn’t believe in tipping no matter what the circumstance. Charlie knew he could sure use that nickel. Ah, hell, don’t ask for her number now, get some more money then come back again and ask for her number making believe that the other day he had just remembered an important appointment and had to dash out of there...blah...blah...blah...but now, well, he’s back.
Even in the air-conditioning, Charlie felt himself starting to sweat. He had a drink of his ice water; automatically he wiped his mouth and thought for a second. He reached into his pocket wanting to grab his change. He forgot that the frankfurter bun laid on top of it. His hand came out with not only the change, but with pieces of the bun mixed with it as well. He took the three pennies and stuffed them back in his pocket. Then he piled the quarters, dimes and nickels in separate columns. Nervous, and without thinking of change, he grabbed his duffle and moved toward the door. Shirley saw him do that from the corner of her eye and went down to where she laid the check. It was then that she saw the six quarters, four dimes and two nickels waiting for her amidst the bread crumbs. Hesitantly, she poked around his saucer, as her heart sank.
Charlie, she hollered, don’t forget your change.
Charlie tried to make his head disappear into his neck and shoulders, as he pushed upon the door leading out. When he got back to the park he quietly went over to where his shirt was still spread out on the rock, trying in some way to avoid Andy’s eyesight. The shirt, when he touched it, was still damp.
Greenwich Village, 2005-2015