Thanks for visiting my blog. It is a sampler of my murder-memoir Boy Outa Brooklyn. The best way to enjoy it is to start at the first post and read chronologically. I hope you’ll find it both hilarious and horrifying.
I will also be posting about the best books, movies and songs about Brooklyn. And, sharing my practical and off-beat travel tips. If you enjoy my blog, please follow me. Hover your mouse in the lower right corner of the screen and a pop-up box will appear. Enter your email address and you’ll never miss one of my posts. Your address will not be sold or shared and you won’t be pestered with any sales cons.
Get this straight – George Floyd died of a fentanyl overdose while resisting arrest. Get over it . . . The ugliest thing on two legs is any dame with tattoos on those legs . . . Take this to the bank – Roosevelt and Churchill knew Pearl Harbor was coming and let it happen. Brave souls dared to say it was a set-up as the ships were still smouldering . . . One foreign spy even sent the US military his secret photos of the Japs’ table top model of their attack. Those pix were deliberately buried . . .
FDR was such an invalid that his doctors let him work only four hours a day . . . His own party wanted to dump him . . . The slimy Roosevelt clung on to power and spent most of his presidency convalescing on boat and train trips that were disguised as government business . . . Jimmy Byrnes of South Carolina was the real president . . .
The memoirs and diaries of reporters and diplomats reveal how shocked they were when they first met FDR and saw how sick and weak he was . . . The press protected FDR as it later protected JFK – another very sick man who was presented to America as an athlete full of vigor . . .
Had JFK survived his assassination in Dallas, his underlying health problems would have killed him during his second term . . . JFK was a notorious “Wham, bam, thank ya mam” Romeo. The amphetemine shots he got from a notorious “Dr. Feelgood” made him super horny and super fast . . .
Speaking of speed – Fast One by Paul Cain is one of the all-time great hard-boiled crime novels . . . It was written in 1932 but makes tough-guy tomes written decades later read like sissy-stuff . . .
Take this to the bank – Prohibition worked. It vastly reduced alcoholism and deaths from drunk driving . . . The movies and documentaries you’ve seen mocking Prohibition were made by people who had skin in the liquor racket . . . Algonquin Roundtable wits Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley shared a subscription to a funeral industry magazine . . .
As long as we’re on the subject of soap – the holocaust mongers no longer claim the Germans turned Jews into soap. They’ve dropped that hooey about Jews being made into lampshades, too . . . It was a braver man than I who ate the first oyster . . .
Blacks, Asians and Orientals still punish their bodies in a hopeless attempt to look White. Don’t believe me? Check out the ads in the back of their magazines . . . Your reporter thinks they should stop this mutilation . . . Attila the Hun was very short but Napoleon was of average height . . . Sigmund Freud was a complete and conscious fraud . . . Siggie was also a dreadful GP and a lethal surgeon . . . He dredged his toxic theories up out of his personal sexual sewer and simply stole and invented the rest . . . Freud, who was Jewish, wrote to friends that he needed neurotic middle-class Jewish women as patients since they were not really ill and would never get well . . .
These days no self-respecting shrink uses Freudianism which is now considered the phrenology of the 20th century . . .
Today’s savvy shrinks look at the family photos of their patients coz all the pain and problems are on full display . . . Sound wacky? Visit the Freud Museum in London and cast your eyes over the Freud family album. It’s bleedin’ obvious that Freud was a sadistic creep . . .
Shortly before his assassination in 1844, Smith spoke as one who knew he was about to die. He gazed into eternity and preached profound and terrifying truths about the nature of God and man . . .
Sorry to go against the grain but I’ve never joined the cheerleading for The Great Gatsby . . . Give me Fitzgerald’s essays about the Roaring ’20s. They are masterpieces . . . Even better is Appointment in Samarra written by Fitzgeralds’s close friend John O’Hara . . .
After Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat to Johnson in 1964 and when the Republican Party was at its lowest point in history, John O’Hara boldly predicted a Republican victory in 1968 . . . This newshound knows that when the mainstream media ridicules someone that someone is worth a second look . . . Take another gander at Silvio Berlusconi. He was the only leader to oppose the removal of Gaddafi and predicted that the fall of Libya would produce a flood of migrants from Africa into Europe . . .
I’ve never made it all the way through Some Like It Hot . . . Say, don’t call me daffy – if Boris Johnson wanted to, he could stop the invasion of rapeugees into England via the Channel in a heartbeat . . . Wes Montgomery was a great jazz guitarist but I’ll take Kenny Burrell . . .
If it weren’t for White fans both jazz and blues would have died decades ago . . . On the last day of his presidency Bill Clinton (acting against the advice of his aides) pardoned the Jewish criminal Mark Rich and the Jewish terrorist Susan Rosenberg . . .
Meanwhile – the more things change the more they remain the same . . .
Legend has it that L. Ron Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology on a bet with other sci-fi writers . . . Sssshhh, it’s an open secret that one of the top sci-fi writers lived for years on his own tropical island where he indulged his taste for young boys . . . The African country of Liberia was founded in 1822 under President James Monroe . . .
Liberia was to be a haven and fresh start for freed American slaves . . . The first thing those freed slaves did when they got back home to Africa was get slaves . . . Meanwhile, on the other side of Africa . . .
Try this on for size – Minnesota has more Somalis than anywhere on earth aside from Somalia.
Waaaiiittt a minute – first they told us to buy expensive masks with breathing valves coz simple masks wouldn’t stop Covid. Now they tell us to not buy masks with valves coz they spread the disease. Who’s in charge here? . . .
From its earliest days television was described as “chewing gum for the eyes” and “the idiot box” and “a vast wasteland.” All correct . . . My favorite description of TV is – “an electronic sewer-pipe in the corner of your living room.” Even the genteel NPR in the states and BBC in Britain are pumping genteel sewage into your brain. Turn ’em off . . .
Hey, if masculinity is so “toxic” why do so many lesbians pretend to be male and dress like traditional grooms . . .
And why do they pretend to be super-butch males? Doesn’t that make them super-toxic? . . .
Hey, If masculinity is so “toxic” why would any woman want to “transition” to male? Answers on a postcard . . . Another question – If male to female transsexuals are returning their bodies to a “natural” state then why do they have to insert a dildo-like plastic tube into their manufactured vaginas for several hours a day to prevent their bodies from closing up and healing what it detects as an open bleeding wound? . . .
When bluegrass bands play heavy metal and Motown music, it’s better than the originals . . . Southern, White Christian males are the only group in the world that we are allowed and even encouraged to mock . . . When people wearing Corona-masks flinch away from me, I want to beat them to a bloody pulp . . . In the 1960s, U.S. police departments came under massive Marxist attack over supposed police brutality against Blacks. The anti-Communist John Birch Society ran the counter-campaign: “Support Your Local Police and Keep Them Independent.” It made them a laughing stock . . .
Please explain this to me – The US & UK built many massive “Covid emergency centers” to handle the predicted overflow from hospitals. These facilities, boasting many thousands of beds, were unneeded and unused. They’ve been dismantled. But, hold up, from the beginning of the Covid-hoax we were warned of even deadlier second and third waves of the virus. If the powers-that-be actually believed this disaster was coming then why did they dismantle essential facilities mere months before Covid would return with a vengeance? . . . The big band leader Stan Kenton had an incestuous relationship with his daughter that lasted from her pre-teen years to young womanhood . . .
Is it me or are more female teachers banging their students these days? . . . British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is such a racial mongrel even he doesn’t know what he is . . . BoJo wants to import 3.5 million Chinese from Hong Kong at a time of unprecedented UK unemployment and economic crisis . . . Maybe our boy is Chinese, too? . . . How do the Chinese pay him off? . . .
The Empire State Building was a flop for decades and was dubbed The Empty State Building . . . Even before Corona and the riots, I knew that Trumpowitz was gonna lose the election coz the demographics were against him in Florida, Arizona and Georgia. He had the right impulse about Corona i.e. let it burn through and develop herd immunity but then he listened to President Kushner and surrendered to the hysteria. Then he listened again to President Kushner and didn’t crack down on the riots immediately. He’s making a few tough tweets now but it’s too late. He’s gonna have no convention, no rallies and no second term . . .
The spectacularly corrupt and stupid Biden will win but he will be a figurehead and so will his incompetent female Black VP whoever she is . . . America will be ruled by a cabal of Marxists with Obama pulling the strings . . . Bader-Ginsburg will resign with much fanfare and spike the football on her way out. The Marxists will get to appoint at least two other justices. Then they will abolish the electoral college, open the borders, open the prisons, pass amnesty and bankrupt the country . . . When Trumpstein appeared, I said that he wasn’t important but what he represented and who came after him were. I also said that he would fail but that his failure would be useful. It would set the stage for a genuine White Nationalist leader to emerge. This coming leader who is yet unknown will operate outside of electoral politics. He will be a strongman in the mold of Caesar or Franco . . .
During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s more Communists were killed by other Communists than by Franco’s forces . . . Stalin saw that war as a chance to finally clean out the Trotskyites . . . The Gospel Quartets and Quintets of the 1940s and 50s were pure rock & roll, doo-wop and soul. Listen to the Swan Silvertones and the Soul Stirrers and you’ll hear it . . .
I’ve never bought any music by The Beatles or Bob Dylan . . . Cardinal Spellman of New York was called the American Pope. He was also a predatory homosexual who cruised gay bars in Gotham accompanied by famous homos of the theater. These lavender lads all favored young Black meat . . . The Cardinal was also a rabid hawk. It’s said he spent more time on his knees in Viet Nam servicing GIs than praying . . .
Tony Blair’s Labour Party promoted 24/7 drinking in pubs and widespread gambling so I guess it really did care about the health and welfare of the White working class; or was it that Blair took money from scumbags who made their fortunes by selling gambling, alcohol and tobacco to the White working class? . . . Hookers will tell you that often their johns just want to talk about their wives and children . . . The Arabic word for African is “slave” . . . Millions more Africans were enslaved by Muslim countries than by the Christian world . . .
Saudi Arabia didn’t outlaw slavery until 1962 . . . Millions more Africans were enslaved by Brazil than by the USA . . . Brazil didn’t outlaw slavery until decades after the USA did . . . Most of the slave ships and slave markets were owned and run by Jews . . . How come Black Lives Matter isn’t protesting outside Brazilian, Israeli and Islamic embassies? . . . My favorite true-crime cases are Lizzie Borden, Sam Sheppard and Jeffrey MacDonald . . .
The father of singer Harry Connick, Jr. was a New Orleans D.A. accused of covering up the JFK assassination . . . The father of actor Woody Harrelson was a Texas hitman who many believe was one of the mysterious “Three Tramps” arrested behind the Grassy Knoll on the day JFK was hit . . .
Abraham Lincoln opposed expanding slavery into the West not because he was opposed to slavery but because he was opposed to spreading Blacks further into America . . .
Lincoln’s last meeting in The White House was with Black leaders to decide how and where to repatriate or resettle the freed slaves – Africa, South America and part of Texas were considered . . .
The late Thomas Boyle was a Pennsylvania kid who spent part of his childhood in Brooklyn. (That makes him an Honorary Brooklyn Boy in my opinion.) He graduated from Cornell, earned his doctorate at NYU and taught at Brooklyn College for many years. Some book review sites confuse him with the more famous T.C. Boyle the author of many brilliant novels including The Road to Wellville – set in a 19th century health-spa and Drop City – set in an Alaskan hippie commune.
Our Thomas Boyle’s last book (published in 1990 in the midst of his crime trilogy) was Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead – a study of Victorian crime fiction. It sounds like the Sherlock Holmes mystery Conan Doyle forgot to write! I’ve added it to my “must read” list.
Any fan of gumshoe fiction will enjoy Boyle’s modern yet faithful reworking of the much-loved archetypes and plot devices of that often hackneyed genre.
Anyone who knows the geography of Brooklyn will get an extra kick out of Boyle’s locales. His hard-boiled tales follow Detective Frank DeSales as he chases bad guys down hidden alleys in Red Hook, across garbage strewn vacant lots in Williamsburgh and even onto the hallowed ground of Green-Wood Cemetery.
If you like Lawrence Block’s ex-cop now “private dick” Matt Scudder, you’ll feel right at home with Thomas Boyle’s active duty detective Frank DeSales. They are brothers from another mother.
I can’t find any movies or TV shows based on this trilogy which is a shame and surprising. For decades now, “All things Brooklyn” have been all the rage. Go know!
Any list of famous writers from Brooklyn would fill a decent sized phone book. And any list of books set in Brooklyn would be almost as large. I’ve read plenty of both but there are many more I’ve missed. So, the posts I’ll be making about Brooklyn books will be far from a definitive list. Think of them as tips from your friendly Brooklyn librarian.
It would be remiss of me not to begin with the very first “Brooklyn” book I ever read. (Hell, it was the very first book I ever read cover-to-cover!) And, I’ve reread it many times since – most recently last Tuesday. In fact, it’s the overdue book mentioned above – overdue for over 60 years! If you haven’t read it then all I can say is, “I pity you!”
“Psssst, hey kid, ya wanna read a really doity book?”
As you drive into Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge a large sign looms up at you. It screams, “Last Exit to Brooklyn.” If a driver doesn’t take that exit they are taken onto the Gowanus Expressway and thence over the neighborhood of Sunset Park where the spectacularly downbeat novel Last Exit to Brooklyn is set. In the 1950s, the period of the novel, that sign should have screamed, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
In the 50s, the waterfront of Sunset Park was a land of perpetual night – a slum rotting in fetid shadow beneath the elevated Gowanus Expressway. The Mafia had killed the docks, Robert Moses had killed Sunset Park by cutting it in two with his hideous highway and the Dodgers had killed Brooklyn by moving to L.A.
Hubert Selby Jr. knew this coz he was a Brooklyn boy born right next door to Sunset Park in Bay Ridge.
Selby’s book consists of inter-locking tales of losers, junkies, sadists, pimps, hookers and trannies who fight for scraps in a nightmare world of gangs and gang-bangs.
I was raised in the 1950s just a few blocks away from this world. I even swam in the public pool there. But, I knew better than to venture into the Terra Incognita below the highway. Many years later, I met a Yorkshireman who had lived in a sleaze-bag hotel in Sunset Park during WW2. He was outfitting ships to British standards that had been built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He told me that the whole area was full of crap games, gyp-joints and whorehouses all making a fortune from the servicemen and dock workers.
In the 1980s, I would spend pointless, penniless weekends meandering around Brooklyn by bike. I was drawn to the derelict and rotting factories of Industry City that lined the waterfront in Sunset Park. I thought, “Damn, this would make a great film set.” And, that’s exactly where, a few years later, much of the movie of Last Exit to Brooklyn was filmed.
That film is good but doesn’t capture the daring style and outrageous vitality of Selby’s prose. Plus, by 1989, much of the shock value of his book’s subject matter had been lost. But, when it was first published in 1964, Last Exit to Brooklyn was an outrage and banned in several countries. I haven’t been impressed by Selby’s other work but anyone interested in the lower depths of Brooklyn life and the heights of “outsider” American literature should read Last Exit to Brooklyn.
In 1965, I read it as a 15-year-old while working as a messenger in Times Square. The guy who sold it to me could have been arrested. I made sure that its instantly recognizable cover was always visible sticking out of my back pocket as I made deliveries. And, I made sure that same cover was visible as I read Last Exit to Brooklyn on the subway. I didn’t live in a artist’s garret in Greenwich Village but it was fun to pretend that I did.
The Christmas blues of 1970 morphed into the January blues of 1971. I and my fellow “cultural casualties” of the 1960s having dropped out of college and dropped far too many psychedelics were facing the prospect of a lifetime of blue-collar work in the Post Office.
Yeah, yeah, it was a job-for-life with uniform and pension but not quite what we had envisioned for ourselves just a few years before. Back in college we were going to be actors, writers, musicians, poets, painters, philosophers even. But, the luster had faded from our Age of Aquarius fantasies as it had from the few sorry strands of Christmas tinsel that hung from atop the mail sorting coops.
We were a motley crew but not without our talents and charms. Alex was a half-assed genius and chess master. Mark was a poet and fluent in Latin. Murray was a killer wit and killer blues guitarist. Sandy was trying to decipher the hidden codes in Dylan’s lyrics. And, Charles, our only Black member, was trying to convert everyone at the Post Office to 7th Day Adventism and vegetarianism. We were all from working class families and had discovered to our shock and horror that unless something miraculous happened we would not escape the gravitational pull of our caste. So, we embraced our fate.
As if on cue and without any spoken agreement, we took to wearing plaid, flannel work shirts, tattered jeans, garrison belts and battered work boots. We cut our freakish hair back to a moderately radical length. Less Woodstock. More Workers of the World. We trimmed our facial hair to Lenin length. And, we embraced the Grateful Dead’s album Workingman’s Dead as if it were written only for us. After all, we were nothing if not workingmen.
One of the worst aspects of being a trainee mail-sorter was that we weren’t guaranteed hours. If the mail dried up we were sent home. And, this often happened shortly after we had clocked on for our graveyard shift. There we’d be in midtown Manhattan at Midnight having planned to be up all night and having ingested amphetamines to help us be up all night but suddenly with no reason to be up all night. Luckily, Alex lived in a nearby East Side tenement so we’d pick up some munchies and beer and head over to his pad, there to smoke hash and listen to Workingman’s Dead till dawn’s early light. Or, at least, till Alex’s neighbors banged on the walls. We named ourselves the Dead Workingmen. (Okay, not that clever but we needed all the help we could get.)
Suddenly, it became embarrassingly clear that Tony, one of our Supervisors, was madly in love with Sandy. I don’t think this burly Italian knew he was gay and he certainly wasn’t swishy in any way. But, goddamn, he was as queer as a three-dollar bill for Sandy. Lovesick Tony was eager to demonstrate to Sandy how powerful he was by how many favors he could do for him. One big problem. If he gave Sandy a break he had to give it to all of the Dead Workingmen or his cover would be blown. We teased Sandy mercilessly about his conquest but he still generously connived to use his charm over Tony to the group’s advantage i.e. without “coming across” for the Italian Stallion, Sandy kept him sweet on our behalf.
Some nights Sandy would persuade Tony to let us get lost for a few hours. We’d head over to Alex’s while still on the clock and then sneak back in at 8AM to punch out. Some nights at Sandy’s behest Tony would let us hide and sleep on the filthy mailbags piled out on the loading dock. Other nights he’d put us on parcel sorting duty – a welcome break from the din and dementia of the sorting coops.
We’d stand before rows of open mailbags and practice our basketball jump shots tossing boxes into the bags. Sometimes we even read the addresses and aimed for the right mail bag. Sometimes we even made a basket. But, truth to tell, we didn’t give a shit. We had come to hate the mail itself. Mark once tickled his throat until he vomited into the tray of mail he was sorting. (I know, I know, disgusting. But, you gotta understand that 99.999999% of the mail we were sorting was junk mail. And, the rest was going to Reverend Ike!)
Time Clock Confidential
I don’t know if anyone actually punches a time clock anymore. But when I first joined the world-of-work as a teenager, I was angered by the demeaning nature of this act. I was even more angered by the grown-ups who loitered by the time clock waiting for it to tick to a specific second so they could get a few paltry shekels more in their meagre pay envelopes. I was embarrassed for them and hated how they compared stories of time clock victories and defeats and of famous “time clock jockeys” of yesteryear. ThePost Office was full of these lifers who stared in amazement and clucked with disdain as I strode past them and punched out without even looking at the hour hand. Wage slaves. Not me.
Meanwhile back at the Tony-Sandy love affair things became waaaay too strange and sad for this trainee mail-sorter. It happened one night when members of the Dead Workingmen were surreptitiously tapped on the shoulder and told to report to Tony’s office. There we discovered the other invited guests were the usually unfriendly Supervisors. Tony had set up a movie projector and hung a sheet on the wall. He greeted us conspiratorially then locked the door, turned off the lights and showed us a stag movie i.e. the type of fuck-film that was usually confiscated if sent in the U.S Mail. I wondered if this film had been caught by an eagle-eyed postal dick and turned over to Tony.
As the silent, grainy, 8MM black and white film unspooled on the stained sheet, the air in the room became noxious with nervous laughter, unfunny quips and cigar smoke. We’d been invited to a classic “smoker.” The film showed a singularly unattractive couple reclining on a singularly uncomfortable table and fucking in a singularly unenthusiastic manner. Watching their coitus was as erotic as watching the piston action on a Ford V8. But, I sensed that a bizarre male-bonding ritual was at play. The Supers wanted to show us that they weren’t such bad guys after all. Hey, they were like our fathers and uncles – just a bunch of older working-class fellas who liked watching fuck-films with a bunch of younger working-class fellas. This secret screening was an olive branch extended across the generations and a sort of test.
Would we make the grade and join their ranks of Merry (albeit horny) Mailmen?
Also, except for Charles, we were all White as were the Supers. I sensed they wanted to find racial solidarity with us since they spent so much time with obese Black women with whom they shared little cultural interest. Least of all watching fuck-films.
I’m sure that shrinks would highlight what they’d claim was clear homo-eroticism in this sweat-lodge soiree. But, I don’t think that was what was going on with the Supers. Except for Tony. He turned on the projector, pushed me aside and sat next to Sandy. As the couple built to their inevitable climax we all watched in silence. Except for Tony. He giggled and elbowed Sandy while peppering him with questions in hushed rabid whisper.
“You believe the size of the cock on that guy?”
“Wait. Wait. She swallows the whole thing.”
“Look at that bush. You like hairy twat, Sandy?”
“Hey, Sandy, you ever put it in a girl’s ass?”
Then, after the “money shot” in which the on-screen stud splashed his semen all over his fair maiden’s belly Tony gushed – “Yeah, that’s the good part, right, Sandy?”
The Supers must have overheard Tony’s pillow talk but they didn’t react. Meanwhile, the Dead Workingmen shared looks of amused horror. Mainly horror. Then the lunch horn barked, the lights came on and with eyes cast downward we bolted out of there muttering, “Holy shit, what the fuck was that?!”
Shortly after that night I was fired for telling an especially sadistic Supervisor to go fuck himself. The union jumped to my defense assuming that I wanted to keep my job. At the mediation meeting the union rep was dumbstruck when I told all present that the United States Postal Service could sort my job where the sun don’t shine. I thought about throwing the porn party in their faces but didn’t coz I knew that would make big trouble for Tony and the Dead Workingmen I was leaving behind.
Ten years later while walking in the middle of nowhere on Staten Island, I ran into Murray. (What are the odds?) We recognized each other even though he was now as obese as his female Black co-workers. Yes, he was still at the Grand Central P.O. but he was now a Junior Supervisor. No, he wasn’t playing guitar anymore.
It was an awkward encounter and a painful one for him. Murray and I had come from similar working-class backgrounds, two Brooklyn boys who had arrived at the same point via similar paths. Then our paths diverged. I had followed my dream of being an actor. He had buried his of being a musician. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together. We never did.
When I was a little shaver, my mother told my siblings and me the heartwarming story of a mother with many children who had killed herself on Christmas Eve. She put her brood to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads then turned on the gas oven and laid down under the Christmas tree among the presents. That’s the way her children found her on Christmas morn. As a child, I wondered how she could bear to kill herself before opening her presents. But, with every passing Yuletide, I understood more and more why that mother had checked out in such ghoulishly festive style.
Christmas is a burden. A time of testing. A time of taking stock. And, woe betide anyone who comes up short. The pressure to be happy is overwhelming. Everywhere there are the iconic images of Santa, sleigh bells and snow; everywhere the glowing fireplaces, twinkling trees; everywhere the perfectly wrapped presents and perfectly formed snowmen.
And, the U.S. Post Office is one of the major purveyors of this Christmas myth via its nostalgic stamps and “mail early” missives. So, imagine my chagrin when December of 1970 found me working at the “Christmas coal-face” aka Grand Central Station Post Office – one of the largest Christmas card sorting offices in the world.
This was a time before emails, texting and twitter when people mailed each other Christmas cards to such an extent that the P.O. had to hire seasonal workers to handle the Xmas deluge. We sorters were buried under red and green envelopes for weeks and had to work tons of over time to make a dent in the never-ending flow.
I was then living in a dreary studio apartment in a dreary Brooklyn neighborhood without even a dreary girlfriend. Sadly, I couldn’t afford a Christmas tree to commit suicide under. (Hell, I could barely afford to pay my gas bill.) I needed the O.T. so I worked all the hours the P.O. threw at me. And, even though the Post Office closed for Christmas Day, I did have a shift on Christmas Eve.
That magical, candy cane night brought a heady party atmosphere to the usually grim sorting floor. The shift bosses cast off their usual Scrooge demeanours and donned elf hats and light-up reindeer horns. Most terrifying of all were the ancient workers (male and female) who stalked the sorting aisles brandishing sprigs of Mistletoe. These creeps had never smiled or spoken to me all year but were suddenly wagging their egg-nog-coated tongues in my direction.
The obese Black women who were “union-job-for-lifers” had years before commandeered certain sorting aisles as their private turf and held “INVITATION ONLY” office parties in them. They jealously guarded their paper plates covered with baloney and their Ritz crackers covered with aerosol cheese while they quaffed bottle after bottle of Colt 45 and Night Train.
Meanwhile, an oldies radio station blasted the usual rock & roll “Christmas classics” on heavy rotation. It also played Air Force radar reports of a mysterious, manned flying object that was tracked leaving the North Pole and headed for New York.
Just shoot me.
When our 4AM lunch break came, we were called to an open area where many of us climbed atop the towering mail machinery and dangled from it like Marxists seizing the means of production.
The sadistic fat-fuck who ran this P.O. suddenly appeared in a cheap Santa suit and arm-twisted a few of the obese Black women to sit on his lap. This much racial fraternization was a rare thing in 1970s America. Cue: A rash of awkward jokes about negroes and Noel.
Mercifully, several other obese Black females appeared in full Gospel choir drag to serenade us with their screeched renditions of Silent Night and We Three Kings. They finished their set with a sing-a-long of White Christmas. Cue: more forced racial jokes.
Then the back to work bell sounded putting an end to this Happy Holidays horror. At the end of my shift, I headed for the subway through a deserted Grand Central Station and wondered where I could buy a Christmas tree with gas jet attached.
Hallelujah! I passed the Post Office test with a gold star and was told to report to the massive Grand Central Station sorting office hidden behind the even more massive Grand Central Station. I quickly learned that working there was noisy, numbing, mindless, repetitive, soul-destroying drudgery. A shift was eight endless hours in a sweatshop under the blare of metal machinery, the glare of fluorescent lights and the stares of angry bosses and suspicious Black women who weren’t best pleased that a White-boy was on their patch. A White-boy who had passed the Post Office test first time. And, without special tutoring!
I was shown to my letter sorting station where I sat perched on a scoliosis-inducing high stool facing pigeon coops labeled with Zip Codes – 11213, 10751, 10001 etc. Like a touch typist, I was expected to know the Zip Code coop positions by heart, grab letters from the mail trays before me and deftly flick them into the correct coops without looking. Meanwhile, the slave drivers… er, I mean… shift-bosses strode up and down the aisle shouting at me to work faster. I noticed that they never shouted at the obese Black women perched precariously on their high stools with one hand in a mail tray and the other in a bag of potato chips gossiping with the obese Black women on either side. These union-job-for-lifers occasionally tossed a piece of mail in the general direction of the coops.
Trainees had to raise their hands and request permission to pee and then had to sign in and out of the toilet room. After a few weeks on the job, I was threatened with unpaid suspension for taking too many pee breaks. But, I wasn’t going to pee or to do a line of coke. I was going to splash water on my face to stay awake. I was working the “graveyard shift” – Midnight to 8AM. And, it was pure hell.
I would finish acting in a play downtown at 10PM then have two hours to kill before punching in at Midnight uptown. So, I’d join the other actors for a few beers and then head to work. I was never drunk but the hour and the alcohol conspired to make staying awake until 8AM a muthafucka. Round about 3AM, I would start fading and start my regular treks to the toilet.
Meanwhile back at the pigeon coops… one coop didn’t have a Zip Code. It had a name. That name was Reverend Ike – a Black televangelist who had become very popular in the early 1970s. And, no foolin’, the Good Reverend got so much mail he needed his own Zip Code!
Ike sported the processed hair and wardrobe of a pimp. And, like a pimp, he was all about money. But, he was also intelligent, articulate, witty and (I still believe) genuine. (As an actor, I admire all good public speakers and Ike was one of the best. You can catch his act and his suits on Youtube. Forget Creflo Dollar and all of today’s exponents of the “Gospel of Greed” coz Ike had ’em beat.)
Ike’s God wasn’t no welfare God. Ike’s God was a Maserati, mink coat and motorboat God. Ike’s God was The God of Bling.
I liked Ike.
I liked him coz he wasn’t a hypocrite. He wasn’t preaching sack cloth and ashes while wearing Armani. He wanted his congregation to wear Armani, too. (Jim and Tammy Bakker later practiced and preached this same holy excess. And, Joel Osteen has become America’s top televangelist with a white bread version of Ike’s message.) But, Ike’s theology wasn’t original. It was a mish-mash of Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale and Napoleon Hill with a dash of the uber-pimp Iceberg Slim thrown in for good measure!
Ike had his congregation hold up and wave dollar bills while intoning, “I want money. I love money. Money is my friend.” He closed his broadcasts with a call for Love Gifts. Those were to be sent in an envelope simply addressed to –
Grand Central Station
New York , New York
The envelopes that I sorted into Ike’s coop (and I sorted lots every night!) were written in pencil, in shaky little-old-lady handwriting with many words misspelled and with backward letters. We mail sorters passed around the funnier versions. I envisioned Black little-old-ladies all over America waving their dollar bills at their TVs while intoning “I love money” then sticking the bills in an envelope addressed to “that nice young man” – Rev. Ike.
Some envelopes held nothing but coins but others held very large bills. (We held the envelopes up to the light and called out the denominations.) The bigger the bill you gave, the bigger the boat you got. Or, at least, that’s the way it was supposed to work. If your ship never came in then maybe you just weren’t gifting enough. (Okay, so Ike was a conman but he was a genuine conman – a very common character in American social, religious and political history.)
One night I was being lectured about Aesthetic Realism by the paunchy, prematurely balding Jewish guy to my right. He was working on a masters in Philosophy at Columbia. (There were a surprising number of screwy-scholars working at the P.O. and they all had theories about everything from Bauhaus to blintzes.) This particular genius was also a homosexual and he wasn’t happy about it. He explained to me how Aesthetic Realism would cure him of his compulsion to fist anonymous members of the public in public restrooms.
Aesthetic Realism was a psychobabble micro-cult founded by the Jewish poet Eli Siegel, who claimed that he could cure queerness. Aesthetic Realism enjoyed a Nano-second of popularity in the pretentious arty-academic circles of Manhattan in the early 1970s. But, I don’t think it ever made it across the Hudson. And, it was soon surpassed by the psychobabble sensation called est which was concocted by another Jew – John Rosenberg… er, I mean… Werner Erhard. He was a conman and not a genuine one. (What is it with these Jewish conmen and their psycho-cults already? But, enough about Sigmund Freud.)
So… anyway… I was half-listening to my conflicted colleague while planning my next trip to the toilet and praying he didn’t follow me in when… WHAM! Mr. Aesthetic Realism was pulled off his perch, handcuffed and dragged away kicking and screaming by a pair of plain-clothes postal cops. They’d been watching him for some time and caught him sorting mail meant for Rev. Ike into his own pocket.
There was no loudspeaker announcement acknowledging what had just happened. The guy was simply disappeared like a Soviet dissident. At the next coffee break the Post Office grapevine passed the news that not only were we being watched from above like gamblers in a casino but there were spies working among us posing as trainees and lifers. We were slaving in the Grand Central Gulag.
As the psychedelic sixties deflated into the sinister seventies, America was suddenly full of draft-dodgers, drug-burnouts and college-dropouts. They had few prospects and fewer skills. I was among their number. We “cultural casualties” wore the facial expression seen on the faces of people whose home has just been sucked away by a cyclone. It asked, “What the fuck just happened?” It asked the more terrifying question, “What am I gonna do now?”
The answer for many of was, “Take the Post Office test.”
I was among their number.
The Post Office was a union job, a job for life, a job with a uniform and a good pension and… and… “Jesus Christ,” I thought, “how the fuck did I get here? I’m an actor. I’m supposed to be a Broadway star. I supposed to play a mailman not be one.”
And, in fact, I was then starring off-off-off Broadway in a roach-infested basement in Manhattan. But, I figured I could get a graveyard shift at the P.O. that would pay my rent and leave my days free for auditions, lunches at the Four Seasons with movie stars and eight shows a week on the Great White Way. I might need this back-up job for a month or two. Tops.
Plus, like all baby-boomers I’d grown up watching The Merry Mailman on TV so I had a special affection for all things postal.
The test was held in a grubby room in an even grubbier West Side mail sorting office. As we applicants milled around outside the building waiting for the start time, I couldn’t help noticing that I was the only person there who was not Black, female and the size of a sumo wrestler.
While these large ladies nervously ate and smoked, I nervously scanned the crowd for a friendly freaky face. Finding none, I assumed this intake of recruits was a demographic anomaly.
Remember the first tests you ever took in school? The tests that used pictures rather than words? Brightly colored pictures? And, the few words on the page were in big size type? That’s what the test was like to gain a life-long union job with uniform and pension in the United States Postal Service.
Which of these three things does not belong with the other two?
Picture of Horse
Picture of Cow
Picture of Banana
John Q. Public plans to sail to Bermuda. Which of these will he use to make the trip?
Picture of Horse
Picture of Cow
Picture of Sail Boat
I am not now and was not then a brain box. Honest. I possess very modest IQ and SAT scores. But, I aced this no-brainer test in no-time and sat there twiddling my thumbs. Suddenly, the not-so Merry Mailman running the test banged his gavel and ordered us to put our pencils down immediately. This African-American gentleman then explained in grave tones that if any of us found this test too difficult we could choose to re-take it. In fact, the Post Office had specially trained tutors who would work with worried applicants to help them pass this stringent test in a month’s time.
Unison sigh of relief. Laughter. Test papers tossed into air. And, Whoosh! I was almost sucked out of the room in the wake of the departing Black multitude.
Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment of Blog Outa Brooklyn – POSTAL REALISM. You’ll thrill as this reporter goes undercover as a mail-sorter trainee in the Grand Central Station Post Office. New York, N.Y. 10017
I told the cop who was interrogating me that a few days after seeing Carrie walk through Needle Park in a trance, I learned that she and her roommate’s possessions had been stolen. They had packed their car for the move from tenement, roach-infested Hell’s Kitchen to toney, roach-infested Brooklyn Heights. But, they’d committed a cardinal sin. They had loaded their car full of their stuff. I imagined a portable TV with a mouse-ear aerial wrapped in aluminum foil sitting on the back seat next to a hair dryer with the cord wound around it. I saw a bag of hair curlers. I saw Earth Shoes, sandals, magazines. I saw hangers. Everything they owned safely stowed and ready for transit, the girls laughed up the stoop, through the vestibule and up the five tenement flights to check they’d left nothing behind.
I’ll bet they felt like they were in one of those “kooky girls come to New York” movies – My Sister Eileen or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But, when they came back downstairs, their car was empty, the trunk wide-open like the maw of a hippopotamus. When I learned of this theft a dizzying dread crept up my spine. Did my hair stand on end? It may have. I know that I felt helpless against some deadly force, some irresistible undertow, some relentless riptide pulling Carrie under.