Ghosts of Covid 19

I looked across the street and there was Kirk sitting alone on a bench at a bus stop. I was surprised to see him because I had only moments before deleted him from my WhatsApp. I had deleted Kirk because he was dead. 

Empty bench at bus stop.

I had spent several moments debating his deletion. It’s an act of frightening finality like scratching a dead friend from an address book or a family member from your Christmas card list. Now, I felt slightly affronted that, after causing me the upset of eliminating him from my social circle going forward, Kirk was back. Uninvited.  

It was Kirk alright. Over there on the bench. Waiting for a bus. No play of the light. No doppelganger. No undigested bit of cheese. No. It was Kirk in full fleshy form. Dead but somehow alive. I considered hailing him, “Kirk, what the fuck?” But, decided that might frighten him. So, I used the nearby zebra crossing to get over to him. I checked for cars to my right but when I checked to my left, Kirk had vanished. He hadn’t boarded a bus because none had passed. The street was empty. No crowd to get lost in. No place to hide. No. Kirk had vanished. 

I was sure that Kirk had died earlier that day of Covid 19. At least, that’s what they told me. Covid 19. That’s what they’d been telling everyone about anyone who had died. Covid 19. But, in Kirk’s case it made sense. He was a burly type but pushing seventy and deceptively weak inside. He’d been dealt a bad genetic hand. They turned Kirk’s respirator off on the eight day. But, I knew he was a goner when he stayed in the London hospital for more than two days.

Dead man's feet in morgue with toe tags.

English hospitals are lethally dirty places at the best of times. Kirk would have been safer in a men’s room stall in a tube station. But, Britain’s National Health Service is the state religion and otherwise intelligent folk are afraid to criticize it. They prefer to die. To take one for the team. (This misplaced stoicism is the only remnant of “stiff upper lip” still on display on this island.) The NHS manages to kill 40,000 a year with malpractice. And, that’s in normal years. How many of Britain’s Corona dead were foolishly trusting souls who fell not to the virus but to the inept ministrations of socialized medicine? 

memento more of skull with wings.
Mustn’t grumble, mate.

The only other person I knew who died of Covid 19 was a New York actor of some note. I’d never met him. Yet, our lives were inextricably linked. Forty years ago, he inherited a girlfriend of mine who had just dumped me. He didn’t do this to hurt me. We’d never met. But, I never forgave him for poaching my quail.

Then, in a coincidence of startling cruelty, he starred in an off-Broadway play as a character that was based on me. And, he got the biggest laugh of the night with a monologue in which he recounted one of the most painful romantic disasters of my life.  The play had been written by an old roommate of mine. I didn’t mind that he used my life as comic fodder. But, I never forgave the actor for playing me. And, worse, for getting such big laughs. 

Pierrot stabbed daed on stage with other Commedia dell Arte characters.
Laugh clown, laugh.

So, when he died, I was glad. Not elated. But definitely a “gotcha” moment. It wasn’t schadenfreude – that’s the sweet pleasure one feels due to the failure and misfortunes of friends. This actor was never a friend. But, his death from Covid 19 gave me an undeniable twinge of sweet pleasure none the less. I am not completely without compassion. I hoped his death had been as painless as possible but I was glad the son of a bitch was dead. And, of course, I felt a hint of sorrow for his widow. A hint. I hadn’t thought of either of them for decades and then they burst into my life uninvited and haunted my Corona lockdown dreams. 

Ghostly image of a cat on stairs.

As I sat typing this post, my cat walked between my legs as she often does, rubbing against them demanding attention and food. She’s been doing this more than ever in the lockdown. And, she’s taken to sitting on the stairs that lead up to my flat. She’s always waiting there for me when I come back from my daily sleepwalk through the local parks. And, many times during the day, I see her in her favorite spot in the back garden stretching her neck to see up to my third-floor windows and begging entrance. None of this would be unusual aside from the fact that my cat died two years ago.  

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Available as an ebook and paperback
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
and as an eBook
here

Greek (Diner) Tragedy

Greek restaurant take-away coffee cup
A New York City icon!

I lived in New York City at a time when every intersection had a Greek diner. I don’t mean diners that sold only Greek food but corner joints run by Greeks. Their sticky, multi-paged, plastic-coated menus offered everything from sushi and spaghetti to souvlaki. And, all of it was on tap 24/7.

I was addicted to their toasted blueberry muffins that were the size of coconuts. A cup of coffee with a “toasted blue” was my snack of choice and, in hard times, my one meal of the day. So, I was saddened on a recent trip back home to discover that most of the Greek joints had gone. Some of the owners had made their money and happily returned to Greece but most had been priced out by the big coffee chains. (Another good reason to hate Starbucks though the brown piss they call coffee is reason enough!)    

Toasted blueberry muffin
Toasted ambrosia!

One blah night in the 1980s, I was sitting at the counter of my favorite Greek diner in the Village, reading the NY Post and cursing George Steinbrenner when I became aware that the man on the stool next to me was acting strangely. He was making little grunts and moving in a herky-jerky manner. I figured he was a junkie who’d missed his shot. So, I signaled to Nicos that I’d take my toasted blue further down the counter. Just then my counter colleague jerked into my arms in a way that forced me to hold him. As we fell backwards off our stools, he went into full spasm and I somehow knew I had an epileptic seizure on my hands. Literally!  

Classic NYC diner counter
Picture us wrestling in the middle of the floor.

I laid him out on the floor and looked up for help but the entire restaurant (customer and staff alike) had gone into catatonic shock. Those at the counter stared down at me like I was an annoying cockroach scurrying about their feet. Those in booths slowly leaned out until they were at a 90-degree angle with the floor and there they remained. Silent. Staring. Slightly inquisitive. Imagine the RCA Victor dog.  

Meanwhile, the epileptic was flopping around on the floor like a tuna that had been hauled on-board a Sheepshead Bay trawler. I knew less than nothing about the care and feeding of epileptics aside from the fact that you should never get your fingers in an epileptic’s mouth lest your fingers be chomped off. But, silly me, as I looked to my fellow diners for help and began to say something to the effect of, “Hey, does anybody wanna give me a fuckin’ hand here?” My fuckin’ hand got into the epileptic’s mouth.

Bloody hand dangling from alligator's mouth.
I had to act and fast!

As you can imagine, this dilemma increased the fervor of my calls for help. But, to no avail. I considered making like a coyote and chewing my hand off to escape the trap. I considered choking the epileptic to death to gain my freedom. I knew what I did next was risky but I was running out of time and about to be running out of fingers. I managed to get my other hand into the poor bastard’s mouth and pry his jaws apart before they snapped shut fracturing several bicuspids. 

Then, out of nowhere, a typically obese ambulance crew waddled in. I’m not sure if they’d been alerted and were waddling in to answer the call of “diner down” or if they were coincidentally waddling in for their moussaka with fries. I returned to the counter and Nicos gave me some ice for my fingers but the prick still charged me for my toasted blue! 

Fast forward maybe two years.

I’m watching an off-Broadway play in which one character delivers a show-stopping speech about the time he was in a Greek diner and a schmuck got his fingers stuck in an epileptic’s mouth. The actor brought the house down with his mime of the booth-sitters leaning out at a 90-degree angle and staring at the schmuck. That would be me. You guessed it. This playwright had been one of the selfish, frozen assholes who made not a move to help the epileptic or, more importantly, your reporter. Worse. This creep who had plagiarized my pain hadn’t given me an audition for his play.

As the quintessential Brooklyn boy, Ralph Kramden would say, “Bang! Zoom!”

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as an eBook and paperback
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn