For some reason, the majority of my stories are set in the fall, many even at Halloween. Over the years I’ve shared a few.
This year I don’t have time to write a new one – too much going on. So I’m going to share one of my oldest stories. The original title was Sentimental Halvah because eating halvah always takes me back to the lower west side of Manhattan, circa October1968. (apologies to my Wattpad friends who may have already read it as Daniel, Beloved of God)
So Say the Winos, Part One
Out trespasser! Leave this body before you’re trapped, he thought, but it was too late.
“Daniel, what are you doing still here?” Someone yelled.
Was he being yelled at? Was that his name – Daniel?
“Quit standing in the rain like a friggin’ turkey and go home!” He looked at the heavy book in his hands. What was he doing? The book, attached solidly to the phone booth by a thick metal chain, was alien to him. Just names and numbers in a meaningless blur. Then he turned toward the service station. It was coming back. The “it” which so inconveniently accompanied waking hours.
The tiny station was crammed uncomfortably between two vacant brick hotels, like everything in that part of town, squeezed in wherever it would fit. The man standing in the dark doorway yelled again: “Go home Daniel, for Christ’s sake, before it gets too dark!” The man was his boss. He worked at the service station.
“A great God has made known to the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure!” He shouted in return. The man shook his head mumbling something Daniel could not hear but could guess at. He chuckled. The man thought Daniel was crazy, smart but crazy. Ha!
Now all facts pertaining to his useless, godforsaken life flooded his brain. True, the forgetting had been a reprieve, albeit short. Praise God. But now he’d returned and on his horizon the shutdown had begun. The lights, one after the other, killed. The pumps locked. His boss fleeing for the Bronx.
“Go home! Get a beer,” the man yelled once again as he offed the final light, padlocked the door, and hurried to his Chevy. A home. That’s what Daniel had been looking for. Well, not really a home home but a monk’s cell, cheap and anonymous, somewhere he could ponder the next move in his life of dedicated impermanence.
The rain fell in droplets smudging the ink and wilting the paper. There’s something sacred about a book, especially a book filled with the names of the living and the things that gave their life purpose, a home, a profession, something permanent. To let it be damaged by the elements was clearly immoral so he stepped into the phone booth and closed the folding door, triggering a faint bit of light from overhead. It was not enough to read by, especially through lenses coated with axel grease. He removed his glasses and tried to clean them with his tee shirt. This effort brought his world into clearer focus yet triggered another dilemma. Where in Manhattan would he find a monk’s cell other than at a priory? Perhaps the YMCA? And if so, would it be listed under YMCA or Young Men’s Christian Association? A quick investigation proved it was under neither. He moved on to the Yellow Pages. Would YMCA be under Lodgings or Gyms? Nope. Wrong again.
“I’ll just dial directory assistance,” he said aloud as he sorted through his linty pockets for a dime or quarter with which to call the operator. There was no time to figure out the complexities of the phone book. The ghost ships had already begun their nightly prowl, floating up from the Hudson and down the streets of the slowly dying looking for potential crew members. They (the ships) hid in the mist, only revealing themselves to those about to die, or so claimed the winos. So claimed the winos.
He found a quarter —Praise God! — and was about to use it when he heard a voice shouting.
“Hello? Anyone here?” A shadow stood in the mist near the pumps. Spotting the lit booth, the shadow moved toward it like a moth to a flame. Some poor creature looking for shelter, he thought as he turned his back. The phone booths made such a nifty escape from the rain for street people. The shadow rapped gently against the glass wall.
“Don’t worry. When I’m finished you can have this shelter for the night. I’ll not fight you for it,” he said loudly without turning. It wasn’t that he didn’t care but night after night it was the same. No amount of God Loves You or Let Me Take To Shelter ever worked, despite his mother’s edicts. The streets were safer.
The operator came on the line. “I’m looking for the YMCA closest to the East Village,” he explained. The Chinatown Y on Hudson, he was told. “Do they rent rooms? She didn’t know but offered to patch him through. Brring, brring. He could feel the creature on the other side of the glass burning holes into the back of his head. Turn. See me, it pleaded. “Don’t worry, I’ll be gone soon.”
Ten rings and finally someone answered. Yes, they had rooms. “Praise the Lord,” he muttered as he hung up and turned to face whatever waited.
Next, Daniel’s Dilemma.