So Say the Winos, Part 12

th-4Daniel awoke in the grey of early morning to find the girls sleeping on piles of clothes and pillows on the floor next to him, breathing their innocence in and out. Through the undraped windows was the silhouette of a city skyline preparing to greet the sun.

Slowly standing he tiptoed to the sink, stuck his mouth under the tap and sucked in the frigid water until his mouth no longer felt dry and salty. Then he grabbed the bread left out on the counter and ate until his empty stomach no longer retched.

The Catholic’s daughter slept with her face turned towards the setting moon, her head resting on a bundled up coat. She reminded him of his sister. She didn’t look like Francesca but she had the same sensuality, the same fiery contempt for all things Catholic and yet, like Fran, she slipped back on familiar symbols – like the crucifix – in times of distress. His sister, whose decline so young never touched his mother directly, entering through a secret crevice and exiting as a renewed calling. Her salvation became his mother’s calling.

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But Fran did not want to be saved. She wanted a pagan life, owing only to pagan gods and opium. She swathed herself in bright robes and painted violent scenes of pagan sacrifice, had abortions, and prayed to rocks.

He slumped into one of the bean bag chairs and considered going back to sleep as it was still dark outside, then he heard the clack, clack, clack of someone with taps on their shoes crossing the courtyard below.

It couldn’t be the Krishnas, he thought. It’s too early besides they don’t wear shoes. Then he heard the clacking in the staircase, too late to reach and lock the door. So he groped his way back into the kitchenette and searched for a knife.

The door opened, sending a slice of yellow light across the sleeping girls. Two people stood silhouetted in the doorway. One tall, the other short. The short man twitched like a marionette on the strings of an incompetent puppeteer. “What the fuck is that?” he asked, his voice annoyingly high pitched and nasal.

“Oh, those are the girls I told you about, mate. They ran away from Reno Nevahda and all those cowboys. Out to see the big world; meet the Beatles. The standard rot.”

“How fucking cute. Are they virgins cause I can’t stand balling virgins, man.”

Martin laughed, “Probably, old man, but this isn’t what I had in mind for you.”

Daniel ran his hand along the greasy wall until he found the light switch. The resulting burst of light caused the short man to jump. “Fuck!” He shrieked as he tried to shield his eyes from the light. He had Beatle-cut platinum hair and a face completely devoid of color. An albino. Perhaps to compensate, he was dressed in limes and lemony yellows as though he’d stolen the luggage of a middle-aged golfer from Tampa. “Shut off that fucking light!” he ordered.

“I thought you weren’t coming back, Martin.”

“A knife? Aren’t we just like a mother hen with our little chicks, Daniel?” Martin sneered, “How domestic, really, I think you’re ready for the suburbs, old chap.”

“Why did you bring a junkie back here?”

“SHUT OFF THE FUCKING LIGHT!!!” screamed the albino, stamping his foot. “I’m not a fucking junkie! But I am horny as fucking hell and this British asshole told me he could get me some prime tail… ”

“I think you should shut off the light Daniel. Our friend has very sensitive eyes, if you know what I mean.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

“Who is this shit head?” The albino demanded.

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“Oh, don’t pay any attention to him, Jamie, he’s an ex-priest. You know the type. One minute he’s sweating because he’s not doing God’s work and the next he’s trying to convince himself that he doesn’t believe in anything.”

Jamie snorted, “What did you get defrocked for, Father Holier than thou? Screwing the choirboys?”

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.”

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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 4

Part 4 of my October offering to you. Read from the beginning here.


A creature, once  human as it possessed massive arms and legs and a head to go along, had one of the girls tucked under his arm like a long, lost teddy bear and was dragging her back into the alley.

“. . . in the shape of a man, moves beyond the pale, bigger than any man, an unnatural birth, called Grendel by the country people.” Daniel mumbled under his breath, of which he suddenly had little.

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Illustration of Grendel by J.R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf.

“Oh baby, baby,” the creature moaned, eyes half closed, “Come with Daddy.” He was dressed head to toe in rags, his face too smeared with dirt and soot to tell his race, his bloodshot eyes empty.

Daniel looked around for something to swing at him. There was nothing. They were cut off from the civilized world, up against a man whose senses were lost to reason. Negotiation was futile. He had nothing to offer that would tempt the man from his prey nor was there anything nearby with which to distract him.

“Let me go! “ The girl screamed, swinging a guitar case into the chest of her captor. The blow did nothing. He twisted the case from her hand and threw it to the ground.

“Now come on, honey bunches, be good to your man.”

The girl reached into her coat and withdrew a crucifix. “Holy Mary, Mother of God! Pray for us sinners now and at the moment of our death.” The man’s eyes widened. What was his pet dangling in front of his face? Then recognizing the symbol, he threw his head back and began to roar with laughter.

th-1By now the other two girls had joined in the melee, bombarding the behemoth with guitar cases and bags of clothes, only adding to his merriment. To a man of his size, they were nothing more than a trio of puppies yapping, nipping and spinning in frenzied circles. When they failed to amuse, he knew he could easily smack them against a brick wall or kick them angrily to the gutter but he had time to play with them, or so he thought. The laughter had shaken loose phlegm trapped in his lungs. He began to choke. Then hack. The hacking increased in intensity until he had no choice but to release the girl and lean into a nearby wall for support.

She stood motionless, glaring at the evil her priest had warned her about, a demon up from the pits of Hell who could be dispensed to the nether regions by symbols of Christianity.

“A crucifix isn’t going to save you, Catholic!” Daniel snarled, pulling the girl away, “It just distracted him for a minute.”

“I’m not a Catholic!”

“If you’re not a Catholic then why are you waving a bloody crucifix around?”

“Her mother’s a Catholic.” Venus of the Sewers explained. “She’s what they call a “charismatic” and does the laying on of hands and talking in tongues and all that stuff. ”

“I’m not a Catholic!”

“Okay, okay – you’re not a Catholic. Now kindly get a move on it before Grendel here catches his breath.”

th-2Quickly they grabbed their bundles and shuffled off down the street, glancing back every now and then to make sure they weren’t being followed. Finally they reached a neighborhood that had not been completely abandoned to night creatures. Here and there were pockets of light; storefronts that were only gated for the night and not boarded up forever, apartments appeared to be occupied on the upper floors and every now and then a car rolled past.

As they neared Marcia’s block he heard what sounded like a hundred wind chimes. Well, at least they haven’t moved, he thought. He watched the girl’s faces in amusement as rounding the corner they saw a cloud of light, spilling forth from one of the storefronts into the misty street. Into and out of the cloud, shadows fluttered like moths.

So Say the Winos, Part 3

Dear Readers – this month I’m posting one of my oldest stories in celebration of Halloween (my favorite season and holiday).  It’s a long piece so I’m breaking it up in parts. To recap, three young girls run out of gas in NYC and are taken under the wing of a troubled man named Daniel. You can read from the beginning here.


“I have a friend you can crash with for the night. It’s not too far and it’ll be safe for you.” Daniel said.  The girls stared at him blankly, their eyes like shiny pennies.

“She’s a social worker.” His sock was wet. The next time his mother came to town he decided that he’d show her the hole in his shoe, then she’d insist on buying him at least two pairs of shoes, one of which he would give to the first shoeless street person he met, of course. That would make her happy. She wanted Jesus as a son but a well dressed Jesus, not a scruffy one.

“Look,” he added, “What choice do you have? You can’t sleep in the car. Not in this neighborhood. And the hotels are filled with … well, you don’t want to stay in the hotels.”

“But are you sure she won’t mind a bunch of strange people staying with her?”

“She won’t mind. Strange people are her business.” The sewers were backing up. Ah, the smell of Manhattan, Daniel thought, motor oil and garbage rotting, thick, moist human goo. In the country, the first rain cleanses. In New York City, it backs up the sewers and washes pigeon poop off the high rises down onto the pedestrians.

img_2158“Hurry up and make up your mind,” Daniel ordered. He knew what happened after dark in that part of town. The needy and vague-eyed — from drink or drug or mental illness — materialized from crevices of abandoned buildings, crying and moaning and demanding money while in the distance sirens wailed, but always in the distance. A loud crack echoed in the alley across the street, probably just a trashcan being emptied for use as shelter from the rain, but it sounded like gunfire.

“Okay,” they muttered. “But what shall we do with the car?”

“Drive it around back where it might have a chance of surviving the night in tact,” he replied, “but I doubt it.” He followed the car and then helped to remove anything of value. Bags of clothes, guitars, and pillows. One of the girls handed him a terra cotta sculpture of a young man’s head.

“This is Aragorn. He goes everywhere with us.” She explained.

“Aragorn?” Daniel asked. The thing weighed a ton.

“You know, from the Lord of the Rings.”

“Oh yeah?” said Daniel, “Leave him here. No one is going to steal him. I know what. He can be Aragorn, Defender of the Volvo.” Giggling they set the sculpture down on the driver’s seat where in the dim light it looked like a severed head. “That’ll scare the crap out some poor wino just trying to find a place out of the rain.”

They followed him on a zig-zag path down broken sidewalks, passing boarded up storefronts covered in obscenities, always careful not to step on glass or into gutter streams of piss and worse. Every now and then they heard a scream or a car screeching on rain-slicked streets, normal sounds for that part of the city but he could tell from the gasps behind him, they would not last long in the city. Soon they would be begging to leave, to return home to a safe suburb where the lights are out by ten and the police have little more to do than investigate mailbox crime. Some place like his parent’s house on the river, idyllic but sometimes too peaceful for his mother. Periodically she had to suffer for Christ.

Then it dawned on him. Marcia might have moved. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her. One summer had passed, at least. Maybe two. During that time, he’d moved many times. Maybe she had too. Maybe she’d married and moved to the suburbs. Maybe she’d died. No that wasn’t possible. His mother would have told him. Maybe he’d be stuck with the girls and forced to walk them all the way to Father Frank’s. Maybe that was a better plan in the first place. Maybe, maybe, maybe. He couldn’t decide.

They were halfway to Marcia’s when one of the girls screamed “Let me go!” Daniel froze then turned.

So Say the Winos

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.

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From Brownie Fright Night, October 2015

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.

th-7The 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.images

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.

Brownie Fright Night

Hello!  Did you miss me?  This has been a very busy October for me and shows no sign of letting up soon.  So I’ve decided in honor of the season, to repost a Halloween story from a few years back.  This story was inspired by a trip we made to Roosevelt Island in October 2015.

Over 13,000 men, women and children died between 1856 and 1875 at this place now known as Renwick Ruin.  For a vast majority of the dead, this would be their only home in America, having been quarantined there for small pox just after their arrival in New York City.  What a welcome. 

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View from Roosevelt Island, which has been known through the years as Blackwell’s Island and Welfare Island.

The island Renwick Ruin sits upon once belonged to the Blackwells, a prominent NYC family in the 1800s. Apparently they fell on hard times and had to sell the land to the state which then proceeded to build, in this order, a prison, a lunatic asylum and Renwick Small Pox Hospital. They built the hospital using convicts and lunatics for manual labor and, legend has it, later employed these same convicts and lunatics to watch after the small pox patients. In 1875 it became a “maternity and charity training” hospital and the island became known as Welfare Island. Click here for more information about this ghostly island. 

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Renwick Small Pox Hospital, named for the architect, James Renwick.

Today a four acre memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits just beyond Renwick Ruin which seems oddly appropriate.  He was probably the one president who would have understood their suffering.

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Four Freedoms Park – memorial to FDR from the air. You can see Renwick Ruin on the far lower left.

Although the Ruin and nearby lunatic asylum (the Octagon) are said to be amongst the most haunted places in the world, many young professionals are anxious to make the island their home.

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Heading towards Roosevelt island on the gondola from Lexington Street.  Not a bad commute!

Can you imagine taking a group of overly imaginative Brownies to an abandoned asylum  for a weekend retreat?  Especially in late October?   Well, in my younger and dumber days, that’s exactly what I did.  Below is my story. 

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Another shot of Renwick Ruin.

 

Part One

One dark and stormy night long ago I was behind the wheel of my husband’s brand new Saab turbo with three giddy girls fidgeting in the back and one in the front when the song “Sympathy for the Devil” came on the radio.  Quickly I turned the damn thing off. 

“Quiet girls!  I’ve got to concentrate.  Christy, is that your mom’s car? ”  The fogged over windshield looked like cracked glass and all I could see were brake lights melting in the heavy rain. Unfortunately we’d gotten a late start which, considering none of us had been to this particular girl scout retreat, was an bad plan indeed.   We only had the sketchiest of directions. (Folks, this was in the olden days before GPS and cell phones.)    

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Last known picture of Brownie Troop 93!

The plan had been to leave right after school when it was still light but one little girl had piano lessons and another forgot crucial-to-her-survival allergy medicine and since both were the daughters of women who signed up to chaperone, the Brownie Leader and I (her assistant) were forced to grin and bear it.  As you all probably know,  getting parents to sign up for a weekend camping trip with their girls requires an act of God.  Especially for us.  Our campouts were known disasters. 


Episode Two, Two by Two

Episode Three, Day is Done, Gone the Sun (and the power)

Episode Four, Make New Friends 

Many thanks to the Boweryboyshistory.com for their fascinating behind the scenes stories about NYC and its environs.