Day One

DAY ONE
I wasn’t new to cities, I had learned how to survive in a couple of them, but Manhattan in 1982 would take everything I had learned from a year and a half of traveling and living on the street, chew it up, mix it with some depravation, cum and blood, spit it back at me then lick it’s lips and sneer. New York City was a dragon.
I was nineteen years old, grooming Standard Bred Harness Racing horses along the east coast, in Florida at first, then up to North Carolina and finally to the Meadowlands in New Jersey. I quit the day I arrived because, from the Parking lot looking across the river, I saw the New York City skyline that stretched as far as I could see from north to south. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t even unpack my Korean War ruck sack that I had been traveling with for about a year and a half. I just left.
I found my way to the Lincoln Expressway and started hitchhiking to The City. A passing Yellow Cab pulled over and when I ran up to the passenger side door he shook his head and pointed to the back. I had never been in a cab, but I knew it cost money. I had about seventy dollars on me and I knew it wouldn’t go far.
“Man, you can’t hitch on this road. These Jersey cops don’t play nice. Got any money?”
“About thirty dollars.”
“Oh, man. Do you know anyone in the City?”
“I don’t know anyone here. I just want to see Manhattan. Central Square I think.”
He just looked at me then. He seemed stunned.
“Nah. A kid like you, with practically no money, you gotta go to the Port Authority and find a locker for your shit, then you won’t look like some Midwest new fish.”
“I’m from Minnesota.”
“Jesus. Keep your money, kid, you’re gonna need it. I’m headed to the garage anyway. Out of service. I’ll take you to the Port Authority. Once you stow your gear and go out to the street, don’t look up. All the tourists and new-fish runaways walk around looking up at the big buildings.”
“I’m no runaway, I’m 19.”
“Yeah whatever, kid.”

I put my pack in a locker at the Port Authority, stepped into a Deli that was accessible from inside the station that had a bank of plate-glass windows facing 8th avenue. I got my first bagel and “just a regular coffee.” Turns out some animals have been fucking coffee up for so long that they consider a coffee with cream and sugar not only something that you could put in your mouth but “regular”. They don’t unfuck your order, so I just watched it go cold and untouched, which is the only proper response, and ate my bagel.
I spent the rest of the day finding landmarks that I’d seen from movies – Penn Station, Grand Central, Times Square, Park Ave., Fifth Avenue, and 42nd Street – where in every other doorway was hooker, dealer, cop. The cops didn’t see larceny and sex, they only saw violence- muggers and purse snatchers.
I made my way back to the Port Authority, which is a transportation hub for buses and subways and started thinking about which seat near the departure doors looked the most comfortable spot to nap later. I still hadn’t made it to Central Park and Rockefeller Center yet and was thinking about that, just relaxing from walking around. I had been there for about 10 minutes, sipping a coffee and leaning against a pole, when a young preppie kid stopped and answered a ringing phone from a long bank of payphones about 20 feet from me. He talked, listened and then turned and looked directly at me and motioned for me to come to him. I shook my head and he said,
“It’s for you.”
“Nope can’t be, nobody in this city knows me.”
“It’s a woman, she says she wants to talk to the good-looking boy behind me, that’s you, man.”
I stepped up, took the phone form him, told him thanks as he walked away and then said hello to a stranger.
“Hi there cutie, do you want to party?” She sounded older, sexy, and had a heavy New York accent. I looked around at all the other pay phones, trying to figure how she could see me.
“Yeah, I always wanna party.”
“Oh yay, well listen darling, I saw you there but I had to rush away, but my brother is still there. Do you see him waving by that door on your right?”
I saw him and told her so. He was tall and wore a tight white t-shirt over a lean muscled rock- hard torso. He looked like he threw engine blocks across the yard for fun. He had mean lifeless dark eyes, an olive complexion, and jet- black hair greased up into a James Dean look complete with a pack of smokes rolled up in his shirt sleeve. He saw me nod at him with my chin, stopped waving and stuck his thumbs in his belt loops, waiting.
“I’ll see you soon darling, go by Jimmy’s place and pick up some booze and then he’ll bring you here.” Her voice was dripping with promise.
I followed Jimmy out and he pointed to a crappy cream-colored rust-bucket Volvo and I got in. He reached back over the seat, grabbed a cold beer from a cooler and handed it to me, but stayed stone cold quiet during a quick 15 block drive. He was big in that seat. I started to feel a cold dark thing gnawing at my subconscious, but I followed him up the stairs to the top of the three-story brownstone.
A black and white Quasar was on in the large studio apartment, but the sound was turned down and hard punk rock played low from a stereo under the television. Jimmy motioned for me to sit down, handed me another beer and a blue pill.
“Eat that. My Sis wants you to be on the same level as she is when you get to her.”
I ate it, drank beer and watched as Jimmy started cleaning trash up around the room. Ten minutes later M.A.S.H. was on the T.V. and the Psychedelic Furs were screaming out of the stereo and I couldn’t move. I was completely awake, but I didn’t have any motor control. I couldn’t reach up to scratch my itchy nose. I started slipping off the couch and I couldn’t stop myself. I passed out for a moment and woke up to Jimmy pulling me up to my knees, forcing my mouth open with his fingers, and sticking his cock in my mouth.
“ If you bite down, I will snap your fuckin’ neck.”
He used my mouth until I passed out again. I woke up in agony. Jimmy had me on all fours and was ramming into my ass. There was no lubrication. It was agony, I could feel tissue ripping but my arms and legs were useless. He was holding me under my chest because my arms wouldn’t support me. I passed out again and woke up in the passenger seat of his car. He had carried me down three flights of stairs.
We pulled up to an apartment building on Christopher Street and I was just getting control of my limbs again, but I was shaky as a lamb. He came around, pulled me out of the car and walked me over to a stoop and sat me down. Jimmy just walked away then and drove off. I couldn’t really talk to try to ask him anything and I didn’t try. The demon was gone. Something was leaking through the back of my jeans.

Day Two…

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Eddy Cook

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Up on The Range

Up on The Range is where we everything
Remember when the County Fair was in Hibbing?
Six of us went, the girls on our laps
T.J. Swan and Schnapps for them, we had Southern Comfort, Jack and Jim.
A little Columbian with some of the worst homegrown for backup
More friends met us there in Bubba Pender’s pick-up
We had mini-donuts and elephant ears and we made bad decisions behind the carnival trailers
Those two broke up and that one threw up and it went bad from there

Up on The Range is where we everything
Grandpas, Dads and Uncles working swings at the mine
We had our first time and did our first crime
Got our first cars and lied our way into that one bar
Some of us graduated, some dropped out, some died

Some grew roots, some of us couldn’t be held down
We moved or stayed, found our tribes and lived our lives

But we all have it in us, with us, in our being

Up on The Range is where we everything4a21c4b82b4e0fc151c33ed9f8eea843

The Last Time I Saw Scarface Billy

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I saw Billy at the Bus Stop on Nicolette and Franklin. I hadn’t seen him in eight years, but Scarface Billy looked 20 years older. He was on crutches dragging a bum leg in a brace. His face had been always been a cross-hatch of scars, but it looked worse. One eye was milky, blind, and that side of his face was drooping. His once jet-black thick hair had more salt than pepper and it struck me that I never knew how old Billy was…55? Maybe, but he looked 65. He didn’t have many teeth left, but the old tramp had fire blazing from his eyes and muscles still rippled in his forearms. He looked like what he was – an old wolf that, if pushed, would just kill you because he was too old to last in a fight.
I was embarrassed for him to see me in the condition that I was in; I had just come from my twice monthly hair-cut, I had a well-cut Brooks Brother’s suit flipped over the shoulder of my white light-weight Perry Ellis shirt. I was wearing pleated pants and expensive shoes. Hell, even my socks were expensive. He saw me.
“Hey, Soldier!? Is that you, man?”
“Hey, Billy. Yeah man, it’s me.”
“You look like a mark. Spare any change, mister?”
“Fuck you, old man.”
We stood there grinning at each other for a long ten seconds and then he said,
“Buy me a drink and give me a tailor-made smoke, ‘Citizen.’ “
We made our way to The Speakeasy – where all of the two-in-the-afternoon drinkers were pros. All of the men had decades old tattoos and some of the women had all of their teeth. It was where guys like us felt at home…when we were with guys like us. I was 29 years old, a kid in that bar, but I had lived ten men’s lives.
Billy asked about my clothes and I told him that I was married, separated, had a son and a different life than I once did. I was an account executive for print advertising for a publication that had a circulation of 100,000. I bullshitted my way into a job that had a company car and two-hour client lunches on the expense account. But I blew into town in a stolen car, had a warrant out for my arrest, and my life was coming apart.
“Who do you think you’re bullshitting, Soldier? Guys like us, we’ll never be Citizens.”
He called me Soldier because that was my street name when I met him. I was an 18 year-old street punk looking to get schooled in the art of hopping a freight train from Minneapolis to Eugene, Oregon. I rode the rails for the first time with Scarface Billy, Limpin’ Ed, Curly and Jim Forney. There was a girl in that mix too. I brought her along, but she disappeared with Curly when we hit Spookaloo. Billy took me under his wing and taught me how to roll my own cigarettes, make coffee over a fire in a soup can using a tied off clean-sock-pouch. He showed me how to get fifty cents on the dollar for food stamps, how to dive the best fast food dumpsters, and how to drink White Port, Wild Irish Rose and Thunderbird wine. I discovered Mad Dog 20/20 on my own.
Billy and the other guys knew where all the Salvation Armies, Rescue Missions, soup lines and food banks were in every town that we stopped in along the way. It was their way of life and I was being shown the ropes. I hung with Billy for a couple weeks, saw him open up the forearm of a big Ute with a broken Wild Irish Rose bottle, he was a wolf back then and I hadn’t seen him in the 8 years since.
An hour of drinking draft beer and Bacardi shots and I had stripped down to my wife-beater and threw my Perry Ellis shirt in the trash. We got shitty drunk, played shitty pool, Billy hobbled around the table on crutches, banging peoples shins and pissing off the room. It ain’t easy to get kicked out of the Speakeasy, but we did find ourselves out on the sidewalk in the hot sun of the late afternoon.
I got Billy back to the physical rehab place where he was sleeping, which was supposed to be a sober environment. I left him leaning on a buzzer and telling me not to forget that I would never be a Citizen.
I got arrested a week later and was sent to a work farm for six months.

 

 

My Mother Was a Writer, But I’ve Never Read Her Work.

The Northwoods of Minnesota, in the ’60s and ’70s, was a blue collar enclave of iron mining communities. The women and children worked hard on the home front while the men (and a very few women) worked swing shifts at the mines. With all of the responsibilities of raising four kids and taking care of my Dad’s needs, Mom wrote.

It’s taken me until very recently to realize that therein lies the roots of my writing. One would think that it is a glaringly obvious statement, but her writing was almost never discussed. Ever present, in various locations around the living room, were copies of Redbook, McCalls,  and Ladies Home Journal and Reader’s Digest. There were novels by Leon Uris, Anais Nin, William Peter Blatty, Victoria Holt or Mario Puzzo. And then there was the Writer’s Digest – The Bible of writers.

Mom wrote short stories and submitted them to each of the women’s magazines, and received her rejection letters quietly. In fact, her entire writing experience was done quietly. No one ever discussed it. It wasn’t taboo, it just never came up. I was barely aware of it, being so self-absorbed as kids are I do remember her tap tap tapping on her typewriter on days that I was home sick from school. I’ve never read her work. I can only assume that the subject matter would have been appealing to women – based on the magazines that she was submitting to.

She was repressed by time, place, societal norms and expectations. As more time passes since her death a few years ago, I’ve come to see her in a much different light and along with that comes a much deeper appreciation and respect.

She was an avid reader and always encouraged me to do the same, and I did. When I showed an interest in photography, she subscribed to two photography magazines for me. She was a good singer, and when any of us showed an interest in music, she supported it. She was always trying to expand her world. After my father passed away, she married an artist who worked in the painting and sculpture mediums.

She was bigger than her surroundings, but I didn’t appreciate it. I do now, and I am proud of her.2015-05-10 14.17.33

 

When the Rest of the World Found Me and I Found the Rest of the World.

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1979
I was a sixteen-year-old boy walking down the short main street of a northern Minnesota iron mining town, looking for friends or trouble to get into. I saw a new bone-white Lincoln Continental parked, facing me, on the street just ahead of me. I took a couple steps closer and saw that inside was a woman in the passenger seat. She was alone and looking directly at me with a slight grin. I stopped then, and if anyone had been around to see me, they would have wondered why I stood frozen on the sidewalk for what seemed like…it seemed like…time stopped.
She was a black woman in a land where one could drive a hundred miles and not see another, but that wasn’t it. It was her breath taking, exotic, sensual beauty. I swear her eyes were made of dark chocolate and gold, and her skin was a copper tone that I had never seen in a movie or magazine. She wore a white felt narrow brimmed Fedora with a feather sticking from the hat band. The longer I stood there, the bigger her smile got, but neither of us was uncomfortable. Just in the moment. I took in the whole image of her in this fine chariot and I knew that my life had been changed.
It was at that moment when the rest of the world found me, and I found the rest of the world.

First Memories

My first memory is of a  big man in a white T-shirt named Babe, telling me to pick my own switch for an ass beating. I remember going out into the humid Alabama night, chickens at my feet, to pull a branch off of a bush. My five-foot-two mom was fighting for me, and Babe’s parents jumped in the middle of it. My next memory was of me and Mom sitting on a bench at the Greyhound Bus station in the early morning darkness. Babe was begging her to stay. We didn’t.

We went to the South Side of Chicago from there that summer and Mom got a job making triggers at a Smith and Wesson gun factory. When she worked, the downstairs neighbor family babysat me. There was a little girl my age with her afro tied to look like Minnie Mouse. Her Father grabbed her by those tufts once while we were playing, picked her up, and flung her against the wall over my head. I was three years old

The picture in this piece is of me on a tricycle that I got for my third birthday. It got stolen the same day.

We moved to Mom’s homeland then, Minnesota, and things got better.