So Say the Winos, Part 11

Daniel ignored him, addressing the girls. “I brought peanut butter and bread. Much healthier for you than halvah.”


From “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” by Edgar Allen Foe, illustration by Harry Clarke

The rumblings of the first evening prayers sounded across the courtyard – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna,  Hare Hare – causing Martin to spin towards the Institute. “Oh my, they’re finished with their supper. That means it’s time for me to head off to work.”

“Are you coming back?” Daniel asked.

“I thought you didn’t live here any more, mate. I thought Marcia got tired of waiting for you to fuck her and kicked you out on your arse.”

The girls gasped. Don’t respond. He’s just trying to bait you.

“You’re such a funny old sod. This isn’t the bloody desert. You’re not the friggin’ savior and I’m not the devil. Although I do appreciate the honor of your, shall we say, compliment.”

“Are you coming back tonight?”

“I don’t think so, Danny Boy. Not because of you but it’s rather crowded with all of us sharing only one loo. I think I’ll crash somewhere else. Perhaps St. Mark’s – I hear they have a tasty breakfast,” he paused, then froze Daniel’s heart with a laugh like fingernails on chalkboard. “Look at Daniel’s face, girls! Hahaha! Oh the humanity – the Demon Martin sodomizing the blessed Virgin as stained glass depictions of the saints melt all around her. Candles emitting icy darkness in the void left by the absence of God – hahahaha! And in the quiet morning, the faithful arriving to find their beloved priests hanging by their wankers in the blood-red chapel.”

“Enough, Martin.”

“Enough, old man? I’d say you started it. Why don’t you pull out your crucifix and order me vanquished to Hell? Oh, that’s right. You’ve had a crisis of faith.” He waited for Daniel to say something then threw his hands into the air. “Well, I couldn’t care less although it’s been – what do you Yanks say? – a gas! Cheerio!”


From “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe, illustration by Harry Clarke

With that Martin slipped through the door and down the staircase. Daniel stepped over to the window but saw nothing in the courtyard but shadows. He unscrewed the cheap bottle of wine he’d brought and took a swig.

Marcia emerged from the bathroom smelling of lavender “I’ve been thinking” she said to the girls, “we should call your parents. I bet they’re worried sick about you.”

“Oh yeah,” Daniel said. “Tell them their daughters are hunky dory. They just spent the night with the Devil.”

“Shit, Daniel! No wonder the girls look so freaked.”

“He killed someone.”

“How do you know that?”

“I just do.”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. He’s not coming back. Girls, eat something and then we’ll call your folks.”

Daniel hadn’t slept the night before. His sole window at the Y was cracked and provided little protection from the rain or the wails of the city, the walls so paper thin he could hear a fellow transient snoring in the next room. Two years he’d spent in New York City practically homeless figuring it would free him. But it hadn’t. And so the wine quickly gained on him until a dizziness – borne of eating little and guzzling cheap wine – soon overwhelmed him. In the distance he could hear the girls on the phone. Yes, we’re Ok. Yes we’re going to Uncle George’s. Further and further away they slipped down the rabbit’s hole until he passed out and dreamt of the Red Queen.

What do you think Readers?  Is Martin gone for good?

So Say the Winos, Part 10


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Victor Vasnetsov, 1887

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done,” Daniel began as he crossed the room and lay his contribution to dinner – a grocery bag containing Wonder bread, Skippy’s peanut butter, and some cheap screw-top wine for him – on the counter.

The girls stopped strumming their guitars and looked up at him bewildered. He continued,“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

“Revelations? Really, Daniel, how unfriendly,” Martin said as he slithered along the wall.

“Where’s Marcia?”

“Oh my. Marcia has had a nasty day dealing with the wretched underbelly of Manhattan. She’s in the shower, cleansing off their filth. And these three young ladies,” he said with a wink towards the girls huddled on the floor, “have been entertaining me with the stories of their travels. Did you know they are from Reno Nevahda? Have you ever met anyone from Nevahda? Quite unusual really, one only thinks of Nevahda as the home to sagebrush and jack rabbits, now doesn’t one? Not three lovely birds — but here they are.”th-1

“What are you doing back here?”

“You mean from Hell?” he chuckled. “Oh don’t be so Hollywood, Danny Boy. I’ve been evading coppers since I was fourteen. They’ll never catch me. They don’t even know my name. Speaking of stories, that was rather funny this morning, wasn’t it girls?”

“It was four in the morning.” The Catholic’s daughter grumbled peevishly.

“Sorry Luv! That’s when me shift at the docks ends. So funny, once they heard my English accent, they weren’t at all afraid of me. It’s those bloody Beatles. Made life ever so easy for us British blokes!”

“You work at the docks?” One of the girls asked.

“Longshoreman, we’re called,” was the reply.

It was a ridiculous lie, so ridiculous that Daniel couldn’t help but utter a loud “Ha!”

“Why do you scoff, Mate?” Martin asked, “I didn’t have the benefits of a seminary education — a mother who thought I was the Second Coming. I’ve been on me own since I was a lad and, aye, I’ve had to do things I’m not proud of but that’s life on the dole.”


From Poe’s “The Black Cat” – illustration by Harry Clarke

“If you’ve been on the streets all your life, how come you recognized the quote from Revelations?” The Catholic’s Daughter asked.

“The one book you can always get in any jail, Luv, is a Bible and I must confess, Revelations is my favorite chapter. Fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, haunted of every foul and hateful bird; for all nations have drunk the wine of impure passion and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness. Lovely, hey? The sight of me evidently inspires Daniel to recite Revelations. Ask him why.”

So Say the Winos, Part 9

The Krishnas were sitting in a circle on the floor in preparation of their evening meal when Daniel arrived. Those assigned to serving carried bowls of rice and vegetables, placing them in the middle of the circle while others lit candles or passed out paper plates.  The crowd wasn’t very large, just four or five families, a couple of novitiates, the elders, and a hippie or two who’d wandered in for the free meal.  They let Daniel pass in silence. 

The week before six o’clock had been twilight with orange haze hanging over the city and just a whiff of decay.  Now six o’clock was dark and funereal.   He could hear the girls singing as he climbed the stairs to Marcia’s. girlguitarist They were off-key.  So off-key that Daniel began to dread having to sit and listen to them politely.  There were so many young people with guitars singing protest songs off-key, each believing they had talent or a gift.  Most ended up on the streets.  He thought of turning around and then a voice – God? – told him he must proceed.

Martin stood with his back to the poster of Che Guevara. The comparison between the two was vivid; Che, so full of passion that even in two dimension and long dead he made Martin look like a bloodless vapor.  Like all good demons, Martin claimed a familiarity:  “Daniel, old man. How splendid to see you.”

Marcia’d met Martin at the coin-operated, all-night laundromat down the street, a Tuesday date she generally shared with Daniel and Daniel alone but he’d been late.  He wasn’t generally late but a darkness had come over him and certain thoughts refused to budge from his head.  So he’d stopped and bought sunflowers, remembering they were Francesca’s favorite flower and hoping the sight of them would make Marcia smile and they would remember younger days and her smile would cast light into his dark soul.
And then he saw Martin through the fogged up plate glass window, one hand on a dryer and the other painting a lie for Marcia with long effeminate fingers.  Lies told in a British accent, lies about a Dickensian childhood, lies so thick they snaked over each other but Daniel was too late.  She’d already invited this Martin person, this devil,  back to her place to share in a post-laundry tea ritual which previously had been theirs and theirs alone. Couldn’t she see that he spoke in an accent reminiscent of Henry Higgins, not Alfred P. Doolittle, and his hands were too unblemished to be a dockworker, as he claimed?

After listening tensely for an hour, knowing every word out of his mouth was a lie, finally Daniel pulled his childhood friend aside and asked. “Where’s his laundry?” 

Of course she’d chided him, “So now demons are trolling for souls in all-night laundromats?” 

He couldn’t leave her and so he’d stayed until dawn when the demon sulked away into the mist. Funny he couldn’t remember much else about that night, other than the relief when Martin disappeared and now, after a year, he was back.

So Say the Winos, Part 8

To recap the story thus far:  Three young girls are rescued from a night on the mean streets of the lower east side of NYC by a troubled ex-Jesuit named Daniel.  He escorts them to a flat belonging to his childhood friend, Marcia, where he assumes they will spend the night before fleeing the city. To read from the beginning click here. 

By the time Daniel arrived at the gas station the next morning the car with the Nevada  plates was gone, retrieved, the boss explained, by three “pea-brained hippies.”

“Praise the Lord,” he sighed. Marcia must have convinced them to flee the city of broken glass and backed up sewers where the only people who seemed to make any sense, whirled and chanted until they fell into a stupor. He imagined them telling their adventures to mortified parents; gutters filled with piss and vomit, buildings where the unspeakable things happened on an hourly basis. It was a vile place, New York City. The girls would never return. He was sure.

th-12His good deed sustained him through a busy morning fixing tires for teamsters (their only customers) and helping the boss keep his ledgers balanced. If he hadn’t taken a lunch break, it would have sustained him for the whole day and beyond. It could have been a deed mentally rehashed for months as he assumed only the best of outcomes had resulted. He’d help save three girls from New York City, sent them back to the safety of their suburban lives. But corned beef called, corned beef stacked on rye bread with sauerkraut and a drizzle of the kind of cheesy mayonnaise found only at certain delis. An indulgence he couldn’t afford every day but would be his reward. Corned beef on rye.

He savored the thought for several blocks, noting the cool October breezes as his stomach growled. Winter had come early and it would be a long one. Long and cold. He pictured the inside of the deli, with white-coated salami and barrels of pickles, the musty smell of an old building as he turned onto Hudson. Maybe he’d just eat half the sandwich and give the rest to a street person, he thought, some poor soul seated on the curb or hunched in one of the alleyways. That would add to the goodness of the day.

th-14Alas like all moments too good to be true, this one wouldn’t last. Exiting the deli were two of the girls he thought he’d saved, Venus and young Eleanor (he couldn’t recall their real names). Big, guileless grins on their faces as they squealed in delight, “Daniel!”

“What are you girls still doing here? I thought you were leaving.”

“Oh Fiona is really sick. She barfed all night long and now she’s sleeping,” Eleanor Roosevelt declared, licking chocolate from her fingers.

“Fiona – she’s the Catholic’s Daughter?”

“Yeah. Marcia said we could stay another night, mostly cause she feels bad that we didn’t get much sleep cause of that guy. But tomorrow we’re definitely going up to Massachusetts. We have to figure out what’s wrong with her. Hey, why don’t you come over tonight since it will positively and absolutely be our last night?”

“What’s in Massachusetts?”

“Oh, my uncle. He’s a doctor. Fiona’s been sick to her stomach for too long that we think something’s wrong with her. Seriously Daniel, why don’t you come for dinner? Look, we’ve got some halvah and some donut holes.”

“For dinner?”

“Yeah, halvah’s a Jewish food so it’s got to be good for you, right? Say, Daniel, how far are we from Greenwich Village. Claire and I thought we’d at least check it out.”

“Oh, it’s about a twenty minute walk I’d say.”

“Darn it. That’s too long. Fiona’s alone with that weird guy. She’d kill us if we were gone that long.”


From Brownie Fright Night, October 2015

“What guy? Did the lawyer come back?”

“No, no. It was another guy.”

“Another guy?”

“Yeah, he said he knew you. He asked about you.” Claire added. “Said that he’d lived with you and Marcia. Bronte thought he was cute but then she thinks every guy with an English accent is cute! But he was creepy.”

“I do not think he was cute!”

“What was his name?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  I think it started with an ‘M.’ Yeah, Martin.”

Now he knew why winter had come early. He knew why frantic birds had begun flying into the windows at the station, why the rain was not refreshing, why the stillness of deserted streets crawled into his blood stream as even the most hoary of winos whispered more and more of the ghost ships. Martin had returned.

“You look really strange, Daniel. my God. Is Fiona in danger?”

“If it’s who I think, he’s a night creature. Harmless during the day.”

“God, Daniel.”

“If it makes you feel any better, Marcia completely disagrees with me about Martin. She thinks he’s just another poor, damaged soul and I’m still brainwashed by my mother to see demons on every corner.”

“So you’ll come tonight?”

“I don’t know. By the way, not all Jewish food is good for you. Just because chicken soup is good for you it doesn’t mean blintzes will cure what ails you.”

So Say the Winos, Part 7

Marcia began grilling the girls in her best professional voice. Where had they come from?  How would they make money?  So on and so forth.  She finally ended with “…and you have to admit, coming to New York City not knowing anyone or having a place to stay is a very bad idea.”

“Thus sayeth the Social Worker!”  Daniel quipped as the bedroom door squeaked tenuously open. What emerged was a lawyer.  Of that fact, Daniel was 99% sure.  Brooks Brothers suit, well-shined shoes, monogrammed shirt, and a smug, superior look on his wishy-washy face.

“This is Bill, a friend from work,” Marcia reported clinically of the man.  “Bill, Daniel is the younger brother of my best friend in high school.  He has a tendency to appear without any warning but he’s harmless.  And these young ladies are in need of a place to crash for the night.  I guess you’d call them, castaways.” th

“Castaways, hey?  Like in Gilligan’s Island, ha!”

His joke fell so flat that not even Marcia attempted a giggle. Across the courtyard the chanting ballooned in intensity as though gallons of orgasmic god juice had been thrown upon the Institute.

“Shit, those Krishnas have gotten loud.” The lawyer continued, “Are they always like that?”

“Only until the moment of a shared cosmic orgasm, which — I’ve been assured in triplicate  — can only be achieved if you chant Hare Krishna and spin in circles for several hours.  After that, they’re quiet.” Daniel replied.

Marcia chuckled as she walked to the kitchenette to make a pot of tea.  Looking for chamomile, Daniel thought as he watched her.  Always chamomile in the evening.

“The noise ordinance specifically prohibits any sound louder than a trumpet at this hour and I’d say they’re getting close.”  Bill the Lawyer reported.

Again no one responded and so he continued to another subject, “So, Daniel, you and Marcia grew up together?  You’ll have to tell me what she was like when she was a little girl.”


My favorite slimy lawyer – Jerry Orbach in Chicago.

Aha! A married lawyer.  A married lawyer, playing around, Daniel assumed.  Did Marcia know?   He clutched the ironing board and, using it as a pulpit, began: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is hidden that will not be known.  Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” 

The lawyer looked to Marcia for explanation. 

“You should have heard him when he was a true believer,” she began.  “My God, all the girls adored him. Once his mother held this overnight retreat for troubled teens and the girls cornered Daniel in the kitchen.  His sister and I had to come save him!  Remember that Daniel?”

Before Daniel could repudiate her story, the lawyer said.  “Well listen, man, I could have never hacked it as a priest either.  All that abstinence BS.”  He stopped to check the time.  “Oh shit!  Is it 8:45 already?”

“Wife and child expecting you?”  Daniel asked.

“No, sorry Daniel.  Not married.” He replied, waving the naked ring-finger of his left hand as he grabbed his overcoat, “Listen, I’ve got to catch the nine o’clock express.  I’ll see you in dependency court, Marcia.  Good luck girls.”  With that, he left.

  “A fellow social worker?” Daniel asked, as he watched the lawyer try to make his way through the throng of Krishna disciples who’d spilled out into the courtyard for air. He stopped to talk to one of them. A mistake. Daniel laughed. “Looks like he’s trying to explain the noise ordinance to the Krishnas.”

He’s a public defender.” She mumbled.

“I knew it. Still going for that house on Long Island. Shall we try to save him from the Krishna’s?”

th-4“No. He can handle them.” Marcia absentmindedly replied and then quickly she changed the subject, “Listen, girls, I have to be at work very early tomorrow morning so, you can crash here on the floor for tonight but tomorrow you have to find another place, okay? I can help you, if you want, but you’ll have to find another place.” Mumbling their thanks, the girls dropped their things to the floor and slumped onto the resulting pile. They looked exhausted but relieved as they removed wet coats and kicked off shoes.

Daniel took a deep breath. His mission was over. “Daniel, are you staying here tonight too?” Marcia asked as she pulled mismatched cups from the cupboard. She was so predictable. Every event ending with a tea ceremony and a heart-to-heart. Something without caffeine, seductive, relaxing and healthy, of course.

“No, I have to go. I have things to do.” He replied, walking to the door.

“What things? Why haven’t I heard from you for over a year?” She snapped, “I was worried you know. What have you been doing?”

“I think this line of questioning falls into the same category as ‘why are you screwing men you hardly know and don’t care about,’ don’t you?” The teakettle began to whistle. Why had he said hurtful words to her? What right did he have to judge anything she did? He walked over to her and muttered an apology “Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips, their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood and in their paths are ruin and misery.”

She smiled. “You bastard.”

“Thank you.” “

You really know the Bible.” The Catholic’s daughter needlessly pointed out.

“If I remember correctly, Romans.”

“Why didn’t you become a priest?” He knew she would ask that question. It was always the first thing out of a girl’s mouth when they’d found out he’d been a seminarian. Particularly a Catholic girl. Before he could say something snide, Marcia intervened: “He didn’t want to be Daniel, Beloved of God.”

And she was right.

th-2Dear Readers – I’ll be back on October 20th to introduce Martin, who for reasons you’ll soon see could well have been the Devil. What do you think?  Does the Devil exist or is it all a fantasy developed by the church to keep worshippers in line?  That’s what I used to think.

Happy October!

So Say the Winos, Part 6

“My God, Daniel. How long has it been?” Marcia’d slipped a flowered house dress hastily over her hair. On any other woman it would look drab and shapeless but not on her. “I thought you’d finally given up on New York City and gone to live on Walden Pond.”andrewwyeth-siri-large

“No. I’ve been here. Well, around.  Here.”

She spotted the girls and turned her questioning eyes on him.

“You remember what it is to be adrift in this city without friends?” he asked. “It hasn’t been that long.”

“My God Daniel. I haven’t seen you in over a year and now you show up with three runaways?”

“A year? No, that’s not possible. It hasn’t been that long, certainly not in meaningful days and you can’t count my useless days – for which I’ve had many – against me. For the angel who talked with me came again, and waked me, like a man that is wakened out of his sleep.”

“Daniel…” She smiled. “Still hiding behind scripture.”

He’d forgotten how petite and fragile she was, especially considering the type of work she did.Venus of the Sewers came to his defense.“Daniel saved our lives! We were completely out of gas —we had no place to go. We would have been killed or worse.”

“He can’t help himself. He’s a Jesuit.”

“Was…was a Jesuit. No longer.”

“That’s right Daniel, I forgot. Now, you’re the Anti-Christ. How old are you girls?”

“I’m eighteen. My name is Bronte and this is Claire and Fiona.” Venus began, referring first to young Eleanor Roosevelt and then to the Catholic’s daughter.

“Bronte? That’s an unusual name. Did you make it up? You don’t look eighteen. Are you runaways?”

“No, we’re not runaways. And I really am eighteen. We’re musicians. Claire and I play the guitars and Fiona sings and she’s got a really good voice, just like Cher. We tried getting jobs in Montreal but the Canadians wouldn’t give us work permits cause there are too many Americans up there trying to avoid the draft. So we came down here.”

“To New York City? Do you know anyone in the city? “

They shook their heads no. “See, even stupider than we were when you came here to save the world and I came here to escape from God.” Daniel perched himself on the extra-wide window casing. In front of him was an ironing board, one that never got put away.

The girls still stood by the door uncertain of whether they’d be asked to stay.

“Escape from God? Is that what you’re calling your mother these days,” Marcia laughed.

th“Heretic!” Daniel returned. Her face, despite years spent in New York City working on hopeless causes, had not changed. It was still springtime and fresh air. Freckles swam across her nose like wandering stars, making her look much younger than she was. Meanwhile his hairline receded, the lens in his glasses thickened each year and the grime of city air had rendered his complexion dull and grey. He remembered the first time he’d met her. She’d come with his family to see him act badly in the annual Passion Play. He loved how happy his sister’d looked. They were Irish twins and as children had been inseparable; able to read each other’s thoughts and feel each other’s pain. When he went away to seminary she suffered. He could feel it. But she’d finally found a friend, a friend who would treat her mother’s direct line to God the same way she did – with a scoff.

But he’d underestimated his mother.


So Say the Winos, Part 5

The shadows came to life as men, women and even children, all ignoring the light rain and oncoming cold as they rattled forearms and ankles overgrown with silver and gold

“This is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,” Daniel said in answer to their unspoken question. “Marcia lives in a carriage house in the back. Why? You might ask. It’s cheap and soon you’ll find out why. By the way, don’t look the Krishnas in the eye or say anything to them. Just follow me closely.”


“They’ll latch onto you sweet young things and before you know it you’ll be shaving your heads and panhandling at the airport.” They laughed. But he wasn’t kidding. They were just the sort of recruits the Krishnas loved.

They plunged into the crowd, riding wave after wave of humanity until being washed inside the institute where the light momentarily blinded Daniel. The chanters inside were even more intense.  Dozens upon dozens spun mindlessly into each other, so absorbed in the coming rapture that they paid little attention to the four strangers elbowing through their midst like salmon swimming upstream. Men sat on the floor slapping bongo drums and rattling tambourines as the stench of burnt cooking oil and sandalwood incense filled the air. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Vishnu, Hare, Hare — chanted again and again until eyes glazed over.

Daniel had to herd the bewitched girls out of the front room and down a long hall where the god-stoned bounced around like billiard balls on a pool table, in and out of the candlelit rooms where they slept. “We were lucky,” he said as finally they exited the back door. “They’re having some sort of celebration. Once they get started, they’ll keep going until they all fall over from sheer exhaustion. Then they wake up, get on their street clothes and go to their day jobs.”

“You’re kidding!”

“I’m really not kidding. I’ve seen people leave that place in the morning in business suits, carrying brief cases. Investment bankers on Wall Street during the day. Krishnas at night.” Daniel joked as they followed him across the cobblestone courtyard separating the Institute from a two-story carriage house. Marcia’s place on the second floor was dark which was worrisome. However, the doors to both the stairwell and to the flat were unlocked. That was a good sign.

“Marcia thinks the Krishnas will protect her,” he chuckled, as they entered the flat. “She never locks her door.”

th-8Looking around he also recognized the sparse furnishings: the two beanbag chairs they’d sewed together over popcorn and beer one night and a wooden coffee table left behind by a previous tenant for obvious reasons. The clincher was good ole Che, still hanging on the wall next to the kitchenette. It was a poster of Guevara that she’d had since college, the dead revolutionary, young, handsome, and dangerous. The only light in the room came through a line of curtain-less windows facing the Krishna Institute. In the distance you could see the lights of the city.

“Marcia?” He called as he flipped on the light over the kitchenette. In response he heard two sets of voices coming from the bedroom. She wasn’t alone. What made him think she would be? She was attractive, young and smart after all. There’d been a brief moment when he thought if she could get past the fact that he was her best friend’s younger brother and that along with him came his mother, well, then maybe. Maybe, they could be more than friends. But who was he kidding. He couldn’t, wouldn’t inflict his mother on someone he cared about.

“It appears we’ve stumbled into something,” he said to the girls who now stood just inside the door dripping on the worn carpet. The Catholic’s daughter caught his meaning. She was the tallest of the three and model-thin. Black hair hung from a perfect widow’s peak to her waist, her skin was milky and her eyes a vivid shade of blue. Compared to her, Venus looked less goddess-like and more like the sturdy tomboy of the neighborhood. The third girl reminded Daniel of a young Eleanor Roosevelt.

The mumbling from the bedroom continued. “Marcia?” He repeated.

“Is that you Daniel?” Was the response.

“No, it’s Che Guevara.”