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Fiction

Bill Mushnick walked out to the kitchen, grabbed a Rheingold from the ice box, punched a hole in the top with a can opener, stopped and got cigarettes from the box in the living room and returned to the bedroom. Pop would never notice a few of his beers or smokes missing. He pulled up a chair next to the window, opened the turntable and set up a stack of 45s. He had picked out a collection of heartbreak singles for this hooky day.

The Shirelles: “Foolish Little Girl”
The Guess Who: “These Eyes”
Classics IV: “Traces”
Baby Washington: “That’s How Heartaches Are Made”
Gary Puckett And The Union Gap: “Over You”
The Buckinghams: “Kind Of A Drag”
Little Anthony & The Imperials: “Goin’ Out Of My Head”
Little Anthony & The Imperials: “Hurt So Bad”
The Association: “Cherish”
Dionne Warwick: “Walk On By”

Sometimes it felt like all he had was rock ‘n roll. Bill found salvation in the sound, comfort in the message. He would snap on his transistor after lights-out and devour his favorite deejays: Murray the K on WINS and Cousin Brucie on WABC. The jockeys and the bands all became his friends, and he wasn’t so lonely anymore. It meant everything to Bill to hear a song like “Cherish” and to know that he wasn’t the only one aching for a girl, or to hear a song like “Nowhere Man” and to know that he wasn’t the only one who didn’t fit in. He collected 45s and LPs like other kids collected comic books, and he listened to the radio like other kids breathed.

From his sixth-floor window in the endless brick monolith of Peter Cooper Village, Bill could see 1st Ave, Gramercy Park and Kips Bay and, looming above it all, the old Met Life tower and the Empire State Building. And he could see his classmates heading for another day at M475, Stuyvesant High, on 15th.

And there was Annie, the girl who destroyed him, talking and laughing at the corner of 1st and 22nd with Mark Ingram, his greatest tormentor.

Bill was tall and awkward, with greasy hair and bad skin. Mark called him “Geoffrey Giraffe” after the Toys “R” Us mascot, and “Lava Face.” Mark’s favorite tricks included shoving Bill into his locker, slapping his books out of his hands and holding a lighter under Bill’s chair to make him jump in class. It was relentless torment, and after holding it in all day, Bill cried himself to sleep every weeknight.

And there was Mark, right below his window, with the girl that broke his heart.

Bill thought of yesterday, when he finally worked up the nerve to approach Annie and ask if she wanted to go out with him for a Coke and a movie. He thought of how nervous he was, and how he mispronounced “my treat” as “my sheet.” He thought of her expression and saw it change from confusion to hysterics in slow motion all over again. He thought of her laughing, loud enough for traffic to stop in the hall, and yelling, “with YOU?!? And your sheet?!? Shall I bring my pillow?!?”

Bill thought of his face, blazing red with embarrassment. He thought of how he went through the rest of the day with the eyes of all his classmates boring in on him and the whispered “…did you hear about…” following him from class to class like a snake. He thought of the life he dreamed of having with her crumbling and how he would have to start over.

Sixteen and he already had to start all over again.

He got another beer, pulled the needle off the turntable and snapped on the radio to see what was playing. Dion & The Belmonts: “Teenager In Love.” Perfect.

Then Simon & Garfunkle: “I Am A Rock.”

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.

“Yeah, except for Annie,” Bill thought.

If I never loved I never would have cried…

“Hmmm…”

Then Gerry & The Pacemakers: “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying.”

But don’t forget that love’s a game, and it will always come again…

Then The Byrds: “My Back Pages.”

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…

And then The Beatles: “Getting Better.”

Getting so much better all the time…

Bill Mushnick rested his chin on the air conditioner unit in the window and stared at the spot where Mark and Annie had been before they headed south on 1st together. The morning was young, the day was new. He was sixteen and starting over, and he had a stack of 45s and a transistor and his best friends with him on the dial. And with that he wasn’t the only one. And he wasn’t alone.

Getting so much better all the time…

Image Sources
Turntable: Retro Wonders http://www.retrowonders.com/45_record_players.htm
Murray the K: Bruce Morrow (a.k.a. Cousin Brucie!) https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bruce-Morrow/109739985719925
Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town: Wired New York http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=20403

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Congress
Image Source: Maine Street Photography

She passes by every morning, dragging my heart with her. Always between 8:15 and 8:17, always crossing Congress a block down so that she disappears until she gets to my corner. And when she crosses I always move to the front window so I can see her disappear down the block. Always…always.

Shadows fall and she passes in and out of the sun. In and out, like the 90 seconds she’s in my life every morning, before she’s gone again. I’m the shadow above her, always watching and hoping, maybe this will be the day she looks up and notices and gives me the courage to come down and introduce myself. Maybe today. Maybe…

I want to sleep with her every night for the rest of my life, but I can’t stand the thought of saying hello. Maybe today she’ll look up and give me the courage. Maybe today…maybe…

But she won’t and I won’t.

Unless today is the day that I do. Unless…maybe…

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The Awakening (Part I)
Image Source: JoseMa Orsini

Dawn broke gently, casting charcoal blocks of light against the ink-black ceiling and walls. It was early May, the world in half-bloom, the semester nearly over. An overcast Sunday morning, with spits of rain and fog and birds and lilacs in the air. A beautiful morning to be alive.

Tom Moody lay in bed watching the gray light creep further and further into the room. He had been awake for hours, replaying a night that seemed to start an eternity ago and inhaling the pillow next to him to try to hold on to Corey.

Tom thought of the Galaxy Effect and the time when he coined the phrase. He and his brother Rick, five and eight respectively, awoke at 4:45 AM one Labor Day weekend morning for a flight back home from their grandparent’s and summer vacation. Rick said in the driveway, “Look, there’s Venus!” And Tom thought of that moment at 8:00 PM, 2,000 miles later, and he couldn’t possibly fathom that it had happened on the same day. It seemed like a galaxy ago. Thus, the Galaxy Effect, and he was feeling it thinking of the mere hours it had been since Corey was in this same bed with him.

As he lay in bed in the advancing dawn, Tom thought of Saturday night and how Corey’s boyfriend, his best friend Hank, had been short with her, and how he had left the club early after threatening to smack her one. He thought of Corey at the bar, alone and vulnerable, and how crazy he had been for her for so long. And he thought of how he had found enough of a pair to tell her, and how she had reciprocated in kind and how they had ended up at his off-campus apartment.

He thought of their time together, mutual lust overflowing in…not reckless, but contained…abandon, both of them knowing that this was just an interlude: a break in routine…and that all was fleeting but perfect.

He thought of Corey lying next to him, recovering, radio playing low, and her retreat back to Hank. He thought of her final kiss: firm, on closed lips, a definitive “if I weren’t with this guy, then…” statement.

He thought of her closing the bedroom door and slinking out of his off-campus apartment, back to her man, while he lay there sleepless and restless, the night and the past barreling through his mind like a film montage.

He thought of the gray blocks of light on the ceiling. The Gray Hour. Gray in the middle of everything. Black and White, Night and Day, Good and Evil. A world with a best friend and his girlfriend, and a world of recrimination and acrimony after the truth inevitably comes out.

But right now was the gray middle. The past was the night, and the inevitable future was the morning yet to come. Tom Moody laid back in bed, inhaling the pillow next to him like it was the night before and relishing a moment of consummation that he had been craving for years. The radio played low, and it all became the soundtrack to a magical evening in a spring of rebirth.

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Michigan Ave
Image Source: Old Chicago

Jes US, I’m gonna be stuck in this shit all NIGHT! Ace Bennett pounded the steering wheel in frustration and junk-sickness as traffic slowed to nothing and Michigan Ave turned into a parking lot. He was supposed to meet Gumbo’s runner Two-Bit at the corner of Division and Milwaukee to pick up the goods. But right now it looked like he wasn’t going anywhere soon.

God DAMNit! It goddamn figures! It was a blistering hot Chicago night, with storm clouds threatening to blow in off the lake. Ace had all the windows rolled down, and a thick fog of heat and humidity, exhaust fumes and static electricity settled into the car like a sopping blanket. Those storms were coming soon, and they would be fierce. He lit a Merit and turned on the radio, which was tuned to WGN 720. Paul Harvey, blathering on with the Rest of the Story.

Something felt off about this entire trip. Sometimes there is an intangible feeling of something being wrong, a vague feeling that the cosmos aren’t quite aligned and bad things will result. Ace had had this feeling before, and it always meant something unpleasant, like the sudden death of a relative or friend. And here it was again.

Two-Bit had a reputation around Division and Milwaukee as a tough enforcer with a hair-trigger temper. He did the grunt work for Gumbo: shaking down Loop bankers who were behind on the vig, breaking up the local tavern if the owner didn’t agree to pay protection, that kind of thing. Two-Bit’s boss Gumbo was known as The King of Division Street, and nothing moved in or out of Cabrini-Green, the most notorious housing project in Chicago, without his say-so. Drugs, guns, sex…Gumbo owned it all. And Ace had just ripped him off.

Or so they said. After the last time Ace bought, Two-Bit tracked him down and said that he was ten bucks short on the deal. Ace didn’t think that was the case: why would he short-change a crazy street hood like Two-Bit? Besides, Two-Bit counted out the money rather quickly, and he didn’t say anything at the time. But knowing Two-Bit’s reputation, and having bought from him a few times, and having seen Gumbo himself once, he didn’t feel like making a federal case over ten bucks. Ace agreed to bring the missing ten-spot to the buy today. No big deal.

The sky overhead grew black with the coming storm and the tops of the Wrigley Building, Marina City and the Tribune Tower took on a silver glow as the light faded and the lightning picked up. Ace felt crazy paranoid, partly because he was coming down and partly because of the situation. He thought he saw Two-Bit at a phone booth way further up Michigan Ave, but it could have been anybody. He thought he saw Gumbo himself in a coffee shop on the Near North side of the river, but why would Gumbo be this far off his turf? Ace worked like crazy to bring back rational thought to his addled brain. He lit another Merit, rolled up the windows against the first drips of rain and turned up the radio. Paul Harvey gave way to highlights of the Cubs win over Philly that afternoon at Wrigley, with Jack Brickhouse’s call from WGN-TV.

Strike from Hooton, and the inning is over!…Whew, boy!…A drive by Bill Madlock!…What a catch by Rick Monday!…Hey-hey!

The first deafening clap of thunder hit.

“Hell of a game today, my man!”

Ace let out a yelp as he saw Gumbo sitting in the passenger seat. He felt something cold and hard under his right ear and realized it was a pistol held by Two-Bit in the back seat.

The rain pelted the roof of the car like thousands of marbles thrown full-blast on a concrete floor. The storm was almost directly overhead: less than a second between blinding bolts of lightning and the deafening claps of thunder.

Ace breathed deep through the greatest terror he had ever known. “H..hu..hi, guys” he said. “Fancy m-meeting you here.”

Gumbo did not look amused.

“My man Two-Bit say you rip him off,” he said. “That true?”

“N-n-no, Gumbo, I wouldn’t do t-th-thaa…”

“White boy lyin’, boss!” Two-Bit said, shoving the barrel harder against Ace’s ear.

“I sw—swe-swear, I didn’t mean to,” Ace said. “Swear! H-h-here, take all m-my money, here’s my wallet.”

Gumbo grabbed his wallet and shoved it in his pocket. Thunder cracked as the deluge continued and time slowed to an agonizing eternity.

“You didn’t mean to?” Gumbo said. “The fuck you mean you didn’t mean to? Two-Bit say you rip him off, you rip the man off! Don’t make a shit bit of diff’rence you didn’t mean to.”

Ace shook his head and started crying, the tears shimmering as the lightning flashed in the cloudburst. “I s-swe-swear, I wouldn’t. It was a mistake…”

“Ain’t no mistake, white motherfucker!” Two-Bit said. His rage was a palpable entity, like a bull waiting for the gate to open to start bucking.

“I s-s-SWEAR TO GOD!”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Gumbo said, shaking his head sadly. “Sheeeeiiiiitttttt, now look what we have here. Fine, high class honky like yo’self reduced to this? Yo life ain’t nothin’ but Cubs games, spendin’ Daddy’s money at the mall an’ swimmin’ in all that fine Oak Park pussy, an’ you gotta come into the big city an’ rip off my poor oppressed man Two-Bit here? You ain’t got enough in life, you gotta take a hard-workin’ Neeegro like Two-Bit for ten motherfuckin’ dollar? That what you think of us?”

“G-gu-gumbo, I SWEAR I wouldn’t have…”

“Man, you jus’ ain’ got no respect, do you, white boy?” Two-Bit grabbed Ace around the neck and shoved the barrel in even harder against Ace’s ear. “Ought to show you a thing or two ‘bout what it mean when you mean to do something.”

“That it?” Gumbo said. “We need to teach you a thing or two about respect, white boy? We need to teach you what it mean when you mean to do something?”

Ace, paralyzed by fear, just shook his head sideways. Gumbo looked back at Two-Bit.

“Only way he learn, boss.” Two-Bit said.

Gumbo nodded. “Do it.”

Ace let out a blood-curdling scream as Two-Bit aimed the .44 at his lower body. As the last intense clap of thunder rolled, Two-Bit pulled off two shots. Ace slumped forward against the steering wheel as Gumbo and Two-Bit got out of the car, while the rain slacked off, and the deal was over.

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Footbridge
Image Source: Panoramio

Again. Again, again, AGAIN. Jesus, why?!?

Dwight Fisk stopped by the footbridge over the pond in the Boston Public Garden and stared back at the behemoth John Hancock tower, where, up until an hour ago, he worked. The winter night was sharp, the kind of cold that caused exposed ears and cheeks to burn and noses to run. Low clouds hung in gauzy puffs, catching and refracting streetlights and the lights of Back Bay. The sound of traffic was muted, the park peaceful and silent save for the excited shouts of the gainfully employed heading for Friday night dinners, drinks and merriment. Even 24 hours earlier, it would have been a beautiful night. But not now.

He played the words over and over in his head: “We don’t tell our ‘employment specialists’ when the last day of an assignment is, because we don’t want our clients to see a drop in productivity.” That’s what Kaitlyn, Dwight’s rep at Office Pros Staffing, had said when he went in after work to pick up his check. Translation: “Oh by the way your temp job is over, tough shit and our client thanks you for not screwing off today.”

She was probably 24, probably grew up in Concord or Lexington, probably straight out of the theater or broadcasting program at Emerson and definitely rising on her career arc. Dwight hated when Kaitlyn was in the office, hated being at least five years older and still temping, hated always feeling like a piss-ant seeing her Talbot’s wardrobe and pictures of her and her boyfriend on the Cape all over her desk. And now she, of all people, was telling him that his assignment was suddenly done and to check back in on Monday for another assignment. Thanks for the memories, and MAYbe we’ll have another crap temp job that may end unexpectedly for you next week.

Dwight was doing data entry for a chain of retirement homes for a stinking nine bucks an hour. His supervisor, Rocco De Nizo, was a total rock-head: pudgy, mostly bald in his late ‘30s with a permanent ring of Doritos and fruit punch Gatorade around his lips like an adolescent on steroids. And the son of a bitch knew all day that the assignment was ending.

Yet THESE two are going back to work on Monday. Why? What the hell do THEY have that I don’t?

And WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!?

This had been Dwight’s third job this year, and who knew if he’d have anything for Christmas in three weeks. Who knew if he’d ever get anywhere? He climbed to the top of the footbridge, stared back at the towers, stared ahead to the illuminated spire of Park Street Church and the glimmer of the Financial District. He looked at all the footprints in the snow and thought of how they all separated and spread out away from him. Ahead of him. All ahead of him…

Kaitlyn was probably meeting her boyfriend and heading over to Legal Sea Foods or Skipjack’s for dinner. Rocco was probably heading for a good gorging at The Hilltop Steakhouse on Rt. 1. Two more footprints heading away from him, just like all the rest. Dwight continued on, the idea of dipping slightly into his final paycheck for a few books, CDs and Tex-Mex and many drinks at Quincy Market suddenly driving him on against the cold and bitter night. He found a pair of footprints on the path and followed them for
a bit, hoping they led somewhere good, away and ahead. Just in case…

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motel11-e1335127272402
Image Source: Pulsamerica

Soundtrack: Panama City Motel by Sugar

She lies on her side, panting gently in sleep, flower in her jet-black hair, which spreads out and pools across the pillow. Her unadorned chest heaves slightly, her legs porcelain lines. Satori in garters. In sleep she floats on lotus petals, bas-relief on the filthy linen of this borrowed Valhalla.

Ten balboa for the room, which is tropical oppressive. Crumbling white plaster and spackling chunks; one wicker chair; a crucifix on every wall…a fresco of the Virgin Mary in failed vigilance against sin…a nightstand with rosary beads, two liter bottles of water, two liter bottles of Coca Cola, overflowing ashtray, radio on low. An excited voice from Caracas…something about the revolution…or the glorious regime… The ceiling fan spins a languid wall of hot air, while the smell of kerosene and burning petrol and the sound of overworked mid-50s Chevrolets wafts in.

He stares at her in repose. She is too beautiful, too untouchable on terrestrial plains. The only way to reach her is with the ten balboa left behind on the nightstand. He gazes at her for a long moment while holding the doorknob, watching the pitch of her bare chest, dreaming of her welcoming clench, breathing in her perfection on his hands…

She is just a dream. She is unobtainable. You know this.

He stares at her immaculate beauty, blows a kiss, turns the doorknob and walks out into a world of vulgar uncertainty…

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Chop Suey
Image Source: The Daily

“I am FINISHED with this! Do NOT call on me again!”

Hilda Beauregard’s words exploded through the slop house as she stormed away from the table, leaving Harvey Navin alone and mortified. He could feel her words clench and pierce his heart, like a vice grip with talons. He could feel every damn eye in the joint boring in on him, and he could hear the snickers and titters, and the fumbling of silverware and plates as some diners relished the scene like a bullfight and others wished they could be somewhere – ANYwhere – else, away from such an embarrassing moment.

Harvey felt himself turn a blazing red, desperate to say something – ANYthing – to defend himself and deflect the bore of a room full of eyes penetrating his broken soul. But all he could do was sputter, “she had to catch a jet airplane!” and cackle like a witch. He knew that this awful line just made it worse, so he immediately clapped his hands and yelled, “Waiter! A menu, please!” Never mind that there were two plates of half-eaten Chop Suey on the table. A waiter brought a menu over, and Harvey buried his face in it.

So this is it. Dumped like a hot anvil in a lousy dime-store Chinatown slop house. Nice going, chump!

Harvey stirred the noodles around on his plate. He fought like hell to hold back, but a tear escaped his welled-up eye and ran slowly down his cheek, like a rivulet of rain through a sand dune.

Well, old pal, you haven’t amounted to much, have you? You weren’t much of a student. You weren’t much of a soldier. You aren’t much of a salesman. And now you’ve gone and spooked off your best gal. A fine job you’ve done! And look at you, sobbing in front of the world like a coward! No wonder you’re such a bum!”

Harvey made a mountain of Chop Suey with the fork in his right hand while he fingered the bead in his left hand.

He was an average student at best in high school, always shy and awkward, and he welcomed the chance to drop out. At 17, in May, 1943, Harvey lied about his age and enlisted. He was shipped off to boot camp, and soon found out that his new world wasn’t much better than his old world.

Harvey Navin was never going to be an All-American at anything. He played no sports in school, and he often struggled in boot camp, wilting under the barking commands of his drill sergeant. His fellow enlistees never let him forget it when his clumsiness cost them extra laps. Harvey was part of a battalion that helped capture the Reichstag, but that glory paled in comparison to all the death and dismemberment he had seen. He was never able to put the carnage of war behind him.

After he came home from the war, Harvey flopped around for a bit, finally landing a job as a salesman for an appliance company. But the war stayed with him, and he never really got his confidence back, not that he had any confidence anyway. Harvey tried to be positive in every meeting, but he often found himself distracted, suddenly remembering a past embarrassment: the time he mispronounced a word in class; the time he tripped on a log while running an obstacle course; the time he almost fell off the deck of his ship halfway across the Atlantic. Sometimes he remembered the war: the stench of death; the shrapnel-mangled bodies lying in the mud; the spray of blood as a battalion-mate’s head exploded from artillery fire right before his eyes.

Once the embarrassing memory came, Harvey felt all the eyes in the world pierce his broken soul and heard the snickers and titters all over again. Once the war memory came, he felt his heartbeat race and his breathing get heavy. Once the memory came, it was all over: Harvey started stammering and sweating, and his sales pitch fell apart. He felt the pressure and half expected every day at the office to be his last. His boss, Mr. Greenberg, gave as many chances as he could, but Harvey could feel his time running out.

Harvey was surprised to find that he was fingering the bead as he sat at the table, and even more surprised that it was out of its ampoule. The bead. That’s what his battalion called the cyanide pills given to German soldiers in case of capture and torture. One bite and it was all over. Himmler and Göring both went out on a one-course cyanide dinner, in fact. Harvey’s battalion killed several high-level German soldiers, all of whom had the pills on their person, and they all pocketed the beads. It was their little souvenir from the Fall of the Third Reich.

Harvey sat at the table, fingering the bead in his trembling left hand, thinking of all he had been through in his short life and thinking of the way Hilda had just destroyed him.

Gee-whiz, I was just trying to be sweet. Who knew she would get so sore like that? Boy, a fella gets a little nervous and says a few things not quite right and…

“Daddy, you MISSED it! She said she was FINISHED with this an’ told him not to call on her again! An’ then she WALKED OUT!”

The boy was pointing right at Harvey, and the father swatted his hand down. “Son, it’s not polite to point and say things like that” he said.

But it was too late. Once again, every damn eye in that stinking slop house was boring in on the broken soul of Harvey Navin. Once again, he heard all the snickers and titters. Once again he felt every embarrassment he ever felt in his whole goddamn short life, and once again he felt all the horrors of the war, fresh and vivid like a never-ending nightmare.

Jesus…JESUS! GodDAMNit all, you lousy BUM!

Harvey sat at the table, feeling the tears pour, feeling his heartbeat race, struggling to breathe. Trembling and sweating, he tried to take sip of ice water, but the water spilled all over his chin and shirtfront and lap.

GodDAMNit!

He scanned the restaurant and caught a woman look at him, then quickly turn away.

She thinks you’re a bum too!

He heard someone say, “gee, glad I’m not him.”

Yeah, and he thinks you’re a bum too!

The father of the boy who called him out quickly gathered his family and rushed them out.

And THEY all think you’re a bum! ALL OF THEM!!!

Harvey Navin sat alone at a corner table of a Chinatown slop house, crying, trembling uncontrollably, covered in ice water, broken. He thought of all he had been through in his short life: all the horror and death and humiliation; all the snickers and titters, like the soundtrack of his life; all the eyes of the world boring in on his broken soul. He saw it all play before his eyes, like a newsreel before the pictures.

And suddenly there was calm.

Suddenly Harvey felt calm and content. Suddenly a wave of tranquility washed over his soul and he went with it. For the first time in his whole goddamn short life Harvey felt confident. Finally happy. Just for a moment, but it was just enough. He managed to place the bead on his mountain of Chop Suey and took a bite, finally at peace now that the war was, at long last, over.

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eagle
Image Source: The Bowery Boys

First Movement

Arrival

On her first night in town Sunny Holiday set out to find the eagle. On her second night in town, she set up and started working in front of the eagle.

Sunny Holiday was the perfect name for her New Self in New York. It was partly a tongue-in-cheek nod to what her clients had in store, of course, but mostly it was homage to Billie. Oh, Billie! Tough as nails, yet ladylike and fragile enough to sing

My life a wreck you’re making
My heart is yours for just the taking

and make you cry like a baby. Billie Holiday took no shit, but she was always a lady. And she came from nothing and made it. Besides, Sunny Holiday, Queen of Manhattan sounded so much better than Cedric Dupree, Nobody from Daphne, Alabama.

Cedric never felt like he fit in anywhere growing up. Part of it was having big city dreams in small town Alabama, but most of all it was just that feeling of being so damn different from everyone else. He preferred his grandparents’ records – Billie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore – to any rock ‘n roll. He preferred reading about the construction of the Empire State Building to Alabama football. And he preferred to look at boys instead of girls.

Cedric graduated high school and enrolled in night school architecture classes, but he dropped out mid-way through the first semester. Eventually he caught on a trawler working the gulf and worked construction.

Sunny Holiday was born on days when Cedric was home and his parents were at work. Eventually she became a prime mover, subsuming and easing the pain.

Eventually she started to work a little bit in Mobile. Longshoremen mostly. A few turns here and there, just enough to make her feel ready for the big city. For Sunny it wasn’t the money so much as it was the thrill of the chase and a lust for reclamation. As Sunny, she held all the power, and she didn’t have to try to fit in anydamnwhere. She could pull a few turns, make some damn money and call all the shots, just like Billie. She wouldn’t have to take being called a faggot and getting tripped on the playground and having the entire class laughing at her. Sunny Holiday wouldn’t take that shit, no sir.

Thirty hours on Greyhound and she arrived at the Port Authority. Sunny had packed light: just a duffel bag with the stuffed eagle Cedric got when he was eight, five pairs of panties and socks, two bras, three white dresses, a slip, two wigs and a white flower for her hair, just like Billie. Tough as nails, but always a lady. She also packed a 007 blade in her boot. Tough as nails, so don’t fuck with me. She headed out the 8th Ave side at 40th Street and headed for 7th Ave.

And suddenly there it was, right where she read it would be: 7th Ave on the 31st St. side, right next to the entrance to Madison Square Garden. Sunny stood in front of the eagle, in awe and lost in nostalgia.

This very eagle once guarded the most beautiful train station…hell, the most beautiful building, that was ever destroyed for nothing. An actual 1910 relic that survived the destruction of Penn Station from 1962 – 1965. Sunny felt eight-year-old Cedric jumping out of her body with excitement, and she felt like she had finally arrived in her own life.

She remembered seeing a photo of the eagles on the façade of the original Penn Station when she was a little boy. When he learned that they tore down the station and threw all the rubble into the swamps of New Jersey, Cedric cried. He became obsessed with architecture and preservation, drawing and coloring eagles and Corinthian columns and Grand Central Station and the Brooklyn Bridge, building skyscrapers and bridges with Legos and reading everything he could about the great buildings of the world. He vowed to move to New York, become an architect and build and save great landmarks. And when he read that a few of the original Penn Station eagles were preserved and that one was in front of the new Penn Station, he vowed to pass by it every day.

And here it was… Now at last Sunny Holiday had found her guardian eagle.

That eagle in that moment was everything: preservation, perseverance, protection. It was symbol and metaphor and dream. Mostly it was rebirth and reinvention. It was Sunny Holiday, and it was beautiful.

It was almost 1:00 AM, and Sunny had nowhere to go. She figured she’d get a copy of the Village Voice, find an all-night coffee shop and scan the listings for a room for rent, then call around first thing in the morning. “Work” would take care of itself once she returned later that night to visit her guardian eagle.

She had finally arrived. Her life was unfolding rapidly, and it was finally hers. Sunny Holiday was about to take Manhattan. Little did she know what was to come…

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Image Source: Lonely Planet

“Oh, here we go!” Ray said. “Friggin’ Black Friday again!”

Ray and Clem were looking through the flyers that were spilling out of the New York Times as they sat at their window table at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Their band, The Dickweeds, was playing the night after Thanksgiving, and they were killing time after sound check with a few PBRs and some snark.

Clem flipped the Macy’s flyer open and laid it on the table for their mutual perusal.

“I take it you didn’t partake in any Black Friday action?” Clem said.

Ray was distracted scanning the incoming crowd and hoping for adulation, or at least recognition. He turned a sideways glance to the flyer and threw out his best sneer.

“Bah!” Ray said. “No way I’m going in for that shit.”

“It is cheesy,” Clem said. “I guess if you’re in to that kind of thing, you can get some deals, depending on how much the stores mark stuff down after jacking up the regular retails.”

“Yeah, and then I’d be the type of mouth-breather that actually goes to the Garden State Plaza,” Ray said. “I wouldn’t do that at noon on a Saturday, let alone midnight on a Friday.”

With those words Clem connected a pair of dots that had been hovering in his head.

“Woah!” he said. “Didn’t I see that PBR t-shirt you’re wearing on sale for $50 in a Garden State Plaza store window, ya hipster doofus?!?”

“Yeah,” Ray said. “But I didn’t go there myself. I got dragged out with my sister, fachrissakes. “

“Ah, yeah,” Clem said. “That makes a huge difference.”

“Damn straight!” Ray said.

They ordered another round as the beautiful people filled in for the first act on the bill and, eventually, them.

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Image Source: Sugar Pie Express

It was a brilliantly cold, brilliantly clear and sunny morning, and Chris Wightman wanted to experience it all. First Thanksgiving in New York, finally! Chris opened the window in the kitchen to let in the glorious New York morning. The air carried a fragrant lilt: the rush of fresh, brisk New York air; a good bit of Thanksgiving cooking from all over the building; a hint of garbage from the sidewalks; coffee and burnt toast and donuts from the Chock Full ‘o Nuts around the corner…perfect. And all the roommates out of town for the holiday! Could it get any better?

Well, of course, it would be better being with family. But this was the next best thing. A turkey sandwich from the delicatessen two blocks over and an empty apartment was as good as it gets for the first Thanksgiving in the big city. Besides, the family would call on the telephone. For now, it was all about enjoying this amazing holiday in New York.

Chris sat at the open window, inhaling the chill, fragrant breeze like it was life itself and thinking about the steps that led here: summer; driving down from Vermont to walk around the neighborhood and scope out “For Rent” signs; having just enough in the bank to be able to sign the papers; being just young enough to be able to do it… You can’t move to New York when you’re middle-aged, Chris thought. You have to do it when you’re young and ballsy enough to believe you can handle anything.

Just like I did…

The faint strains of the Thanksgiving Day parade wafted in from 8th Ave. Chris had never had any desire to have anything to do with the parade, but now, in the empty apartment, with the most introspective holiday of the year and the rest of the day in glorious New York ahead, it was the most beautiful sound ever. The sound of a marching band became the first of a long list of reasons to be thankful in a small New York kitchen with nobody around.

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