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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Originally Published 11/03/2011

Photo Source: Ida Wyman

“Madame, for your patronage and your exQUIsite beauty, in consideration of ten cents on top of the fifteen for your key, that I may purchase a cup of coffee, I will sing you on your way this fine morning! Two bits only! An exceptional value!”

They called him The Tudor, an’ the reason why varied dependin’ on who you talked to, an’ what time day it was, see? Some say it was ‘cause he was secretly rich an’ lived in Tudor City, o’er by the Chrysler Buildin’. An’ some say it was ‘cause he got hit by a Ford Tudor a time or two, or even three, again dependin’ on who you talked to, an’ what time day it was. The likely story was the car story, since The Tudor been known to Ride the White Horse, an’ bein’ old and frail, his reflexes wasn’t any hot even when we wasn’t on a White Horse bender. But who knows about these things?

Anyway, they called him The Tudor, an’ he was out e’ry morn’, come rain or come shine, makin’ keys, shinin’ shoes an’ singin’ for tips. He had a high talkin’ voice, almost like a girl. But son of a buck if that old guy couldn’t sing in the most beeUTEEful bass you ever heard! An’ he knew all them old songs, like Oh Danny Boy an’ The Sidewalks of New York an’ all. The Tudor could sing like nobody’s bidness, an’ he could charm your pants off an’ then sell ‘em back to you!

If you only believed half of what you heard, you could say he was full’a it. He was married forty some years, or so they said. ‘Course ain’t nobody seen his wife, jus’ like ain’t nobody knows where The Tudor REALLY come from. He jus’ showed up with his key makin’ tools an’ his shine kit an’ his hat an’ a song. An’ that’s how I like to think of him.

I worked the north corner of 44th an’ Lex, sellin’ my papers, an’ The Tudor worked the south side. It was a logical arrangement for those commuters heading south to Gran’ Central, see? First you get a paper, then you sit down to read it while you’re gettin’ a shine, or a key made. Perfect, right? Anyways, we had that unspoken arrangement for years.

Come to think of it, I don’ know as we ever did really speak. But we had a certain unspoken bond, you might say. Just a nod ‘cross the street e’ry day. An’ I heard that voice’a his echo all up an’ down Lex, an’ somehow the day just seemed a little better with a song from The Tudor.

Last I saw The Tudor, he was snowin’ the pants off’a that woman he was tryin’ to get coffee money from. She gave him the two bits, an’ he started singin’ “Will You Love Me in December (as You Do in May)?” Which, you’ll ‘member, was written by our former mayor Jimmy Walker. Anyway, he started singin’ that crazy old song, beauteeful as a phonograph, an’ that woman jus’ beamed. 100 watts, at least. Then she was off, headed west on 44th toward Park, an’ I had run outta papers, so’s I went home for the day.

Never saw The Tudor after that, an’ I got no idear what became of him. Some say he went home sick himself an’ never got out of bed. Some say he retired to Miami an’ was livin’ the good life with some dame half his age. Who knows about these things? Dependin’ on who you talked to, an’ what time day it was, anything could’a happened to The Tudor. But I’m glad I was there for his gran’ finale.

Originally Published 10/31/2011

Photo Source: Alissa Dinneen

“Christ, you remember those old one-piece mask and pajama costumes?” Alton asked Rachel, breaking into a giggle. “The ones our parents used to get at…”

“K-MART!!!” Rachel and Alton said at the same time, breaking into hysterics. “Yeah,” Rachel continued, patting Alton on the forearm,“what were they thinking with those?”

“I’m amazed none of us burned alive in those goddamn things! They were as much of a fire hazard as the Pinto was!”

Alton and Rachel were taking advantage of the open bar at the reception. He had gone to high school up north with Brad Collins, the new groom, and she worked with Beth Dunn, the new Mrs. Collins. They both snuck glances at each other during the ceremony, squinting as the Halloween sun went down over the lake, and they ended up seated at the same table.

It was supposed to be a costume wedding, celebrating Brad and Beth’s love of Halloween, but they figured most of their guests would lame out, so it ended up being business casual. The wedding and reception were at the Sedaguncook Lodge on Lake Dirigo, the dinner was steak and salmon and the specialty of the house was the 10-31 Pumpkin Martini. After a few beers and wine with dinner, tongues loosened, Alton and Rachel slid over next to each other and started talking about Halloween past.

Alton pulled out his iPhone and pulled up a picture of himself, age 5, in 1979, wearing a Spider Man costume. “I remember cutting my face on the damn plastic, and I almost choked on the rubber band! Can you imagine?”

Rachel, holding her martini at an alarming angle, put an arm around Alton’s shoulder, laughing hysterically at the photo on the screen and the story. “Oh my God! That happened to me too! I was Snow White that year!”

The evening went on, the drinks flowed and Alton and Rachel talked well into the small hours, walking down to the lake in the icy chill, holding hands, laughing. They met again for breakfast, exchanged e-mails and agreed to meet again later that week. And they both drove home thinking “greatest wedding ever” and loving Halloween more than ever…

Originally Published 10/27/2011

Photo Source: Vivian Maier

There it was, there in the window. Joe McGillicuddy passed by the display in the department store window daily, and had for years, always dreaming of what it would be like to walk in someday and walk out with such a wonderful gift. Something to have, hold and treasure. Something that meant everything and would be his forever.

He dreamed the dream every day for all those years. He even tried to put a little aside, but it seemed like something always came along and screwed the deal. And Joe always was left just standing outside the window, staring, dreaming and wishing, like a kid outside the ice cream parlor watching all the other kids who got dough for ice cream from their parents. None for him.

Joe knew that things weren’t important, and that love and being loved were the real treasures in life. But gee whiz, when you’re all alone sometimes things are all you’ve got. And the treasure in the window was all he had, all he wanted, and always just out of reach.

He lived in a room, worked odd jobs, didn’t have any callers, didn’t really trust that anyone could care about an old, broken down fella like him. All he had was his dreams and that window display. And the all-consuming want, not just of the treasure, but of the comfort and security everyone else seemed to have and he didn’t know how to get.

All Joe knew was alone. Alone and wanting. Somehow that was comforting, knowing that want was his, the suit he wore alone. But he would trade it in a heartbeat for belonging, and having treasures belong to him.

Joe McGillicuddy took a last look at the window display, feeling the ache of unfulfilled desires and the weight of his life. He had managed to scrounge up enough for a bottle of skull-pop, which he purchased on the way back to his room. He crawled into his bed, sensing the mid-day sun behind the blinds and ended another unfulfilled day.

Originally Published 10/24/2011

Photo Source: William Gottlieb

It was eight blocks and a gorgeous night, so what the hell? Tommy and Frankie left the car at their apartment on 44th and started walking north up to 52nd. They were looking sharp and looking to have some kicks on The Street. It was summer in the city, and anything could happen.

What a great day. They had already seen Don Newcomb toss a four-hit shutout for Brooklyn at Ebbets Field, and now they were off to The Street. 52nd between 5th and 6th: jazz alley. There was The Onyx and The Famous Door and The 3 Deuces and Leon & Eddie’s and Club Samoa and The Yacht Club and The Downbeat and Jimmy Ryan’s. There was Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday and Count Basie and Errol Garner and Billy Eckstein and Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach and Kenny Clark Mary Lou Williams and Coleman Hawkins. There was hot jazz and hot girls and small rickety tables full of drinks and cigarettes and matchbooks and cocktail napkins with telephone numbers and the basement clubs were hot and the air full of smoke and nobody could move and nobody wanted to go home. And it was all there on one block, there for the taking.

“Man, I can’t WAIT to see Bird & Diz!” Tommy yelped, lighting a Camel and taking a pull from his flask as they crossed over 47th. “They’re playin’ at the Deuce. An’ Hawk is at the Onyx. I say we catch some of his set after seein’ Parker.”

“That’s a plan, Stan!” Frankie replied. “I heard that Prez might be sitting in with Hawk. Imagine that jam session?!?”

They stopped in a drug store on 49th for more cigarettes. Three blocks away! It was going to be one boss night on The Street. Frankie continued, momentarily distracted from thoughts of seeing Lester Young jamming with Coleman Hawkins. “I have further heard, according to good authority, that the apple of your eye Wanda may be among those hopping from club to club tonight. Not that you have a chance, or anything…”

Tommy gave Frankie a sock on the arm. “Ya fuckin’ ball buster! What you talkin’ about? You couldn’t get laid in a morgue!”

Frankie grinned over at his pal and said, “anyone who doesn’t get laid tonight is a feeb!”

Tommy and Frankie howled their approval, tousled each other’s perfectly combed pompadours and picked up their pace north. The night was just beginning. No time to waste…

Originally Published 10/16/2011

Photo Source: William Gedney

…damn…damn, Damn, DAMN! GodDAMNit, why didn’t I do it sooner?

Harold paced up and down the block, through the shadows of the el, smoking like a fiend, replaying the evening and lamenting the fact that it took so long to play out. It was so easy! It was just like any night with Doris at her place.

Just like any night with Doris when she wasn’t out whoring around, making a fool out of me…

Easiest thing in the world, 1-2-3, like falling off a log. What was all that worry about? Harold kept thinking about how silly all his fretting seemed in retrospect. In comparison to the worry, it was like…like taking candy from a baby.

Or a kid in a candy store…

A train screamed overhead: express. Where the hell was a local when you needed one? Anyway, yeah…it was so easy. Just like any night with that cheap whore…up to her apartment, play some records, smoke a little reefer…only Doris wasn’t entertaining Harold. No, not this night.

Harold thought of all those evenings he waited, lurking behind the stanchions of the el, watching, observing, waiting. He would call Doris on the telephone to make a date, but she had a headache or was going out with her girl friends. Yeah, that’s how it was.

It’s so easy for a girl like her to lie. Easiest thing in the world, 1-2-3, like falling off a log, RIGHT?

So finally his night had arrived. Just like any night with Doris at her place, only she’s got company she ain’t supposed to have. So Harold walks in, and for the last time he walks out. Just…BAM!…walks out.

No more Doris, no more third wheel…sorry, what was your name again? Oh never mind, it don’t matter, HAH!…no MORE! Harold felt great. Better than he had in weeks. It was all over, and the relief washed over him like the shadows of the tracks above. What a great feeling! And all that worry over nothing!

Easiest thing in the world…

An IND train pulled in, pushing the sound of approaching sirens into the background. Harold stood for a second, feeling the piece in his pocket. Cold steel never felt so warm. It felt like…happiness. He ran up the stairs, jumped the turnstile and got on the train just as the doors were closing.

The train pulled out and Harold headed away, replaying the evening and looking forward to doing it all over again…

Originally Published 10/13/2011

October: grey sky, silver and black clouds, the smell of the lawn, freshly mowed for the last time of the year and brilliant green against the red and gold of the foliage, wood smoke hanging low over the scrub. I walk through the chill, along the rock wall, to the wooden cross that marks your grave. On the other side of the wall is the old hay mower you used to chase when you were young and your life was never going to end. And the apple tree you used to scratch, now the place where you rest. I miss you so much. You left too soon! Left me alone, gasping against the pain and lost, without bearing. And I think of you hourly, desperately wishing I could pet you again, feel your fur, warm from the summer sun, again and play with you in the fresh grass of summer.

And now I’m alone as the killing frost spreads, and the long bitter winter approaches without you. You left too soon…

Originally Published: 10/10/2011

Photo Source: Library of Congress

The day was warm for fair season, but the breeze carried a heady mix of fried dough, cotton candy and the last swirls of the morning wood smoke. The speakers played “The Anniversary Waltz” and “(I’ll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Time”, mixing with the sounds of bells clanging, cows snorting and auctioneers calling. Roland Heath and his grandson Jack were taking it all in from the top of the Ferris wheel.

“See all them trees turning all them pretty colors out there, boy?” Roland said to Jack, spreading his hands in an arc. “A lot of them was just saplings when Ethan Allen and his boys was protecting this area from New York and the British. But they was there in the ground, a hundred and fifty years ago, just like they are now. What do you think about that?”

Jack, awed at being so high off the ground with such a view of the world, and as always awed by the strong presence of his grandfather, just smiled and stared out at the faraway hills. He had learned about Ethan Allen and his battles for the Vermont Republic in school. Jack imagined battles between the Green Mountain Boys and the British with their red coats on the hills, with big guns and cannons going off. And to think that they may have fought on those same hills by the same trees! Gee!

“Tell me more about Ethan Allen, Grandpa!” Jack yelped, unable to contain his excitement.

“Well, ain’t you a curious fella!” Roland exclaimed, patting his grandson on the knee and lighting a cigar as the Ferris wheel spun. “It all started when New York thought they owned some Vermont land and Ethan Allan thought they didn’t. He and his boys showed them New Yorkers a little what for! They also captured Fort Ticonderoga, so he want just a Vermont hero, he was an American hero.”

“What’s Fort…Ticonoga?” Jack asked.

Roland chuckled. “Ticonderoga! It’s in New York, just over the lake over there. The British ran it, and it was an important fort for them. But they lost it to Ethan Allan!”

The Ferris wheel was at the top again. Jack just kept staring out at the far hills and the rolling farmland, imagining long ago wars and the Green Mountain Boys fighting for Vermont, and wishing his grandfather would keep telling tales all day. He thought about being a soldier when he grew up, and he thought about being someone who knew about trees and how they turned color and all. Mostly he thought about growing up to be like his grandfather; strong and smart and gentle.

They got off the wheel, got bottles of Coca-Cola and cones of vanilla Fro-Joy and wandered over to the grandstand where the cows were being auctioned off. They sat on a bench, feet in the sawdust, and made the most of their day at the fair, in their own time.

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