The rock I throw misses the boy’s head and hits the wooden fence behind him with such force that all the tenement mothers thrust their bobby-pinned heads out of their windows. Tenement mothers instinctively know the sound of one child trying to murder another with a rock. I don’t even know who he is. I am seven. I know this because my mother has sent me into the backyard to check on my infant sister who is sleeping in her carriage. I’m seven years older than she so…
I am seven and it is a sunny day in 1957 and I am walking into our tenement’s backyard when I spot a strange little boy sitting next to my sister’s carriage. I can’t tell if he is talking to her or reading to her. But, I know he isn’t harming her. I know it. But, a twisted, heroic, righteous rage rises in me. No Red Devil whispers in my ear. This is all my doing. This is me. Evil Me. This is the first time the Red Mist engulfs me. I know the story of David and Goliath so I know all about smiting someone with a stone. I decide that I will be a tough guy like David or, even better, the local gang leader, Tony Unbatz. Man, will he and his gang be proud of me? They’ll throw me into the air and buy me a frozen Coke. These are my thoughts as I pick up the largest rock I can throw and hurl it at the boy. Rock in the eye – I blind him. Rock in the temple – I kill him. No Guardian Angel stays my hand. But, maybe his Angel is watching because the rock misses his head. Just. He looks at me with shocked, innocent eyes and runs away.
Many nights, as my not-so-innocent eyes close, I see that boy. I hear the rock. I sit up. I shudder. What if? I am too ashamed and ascared to raise this sin at my First Confession or my last or any in between. But, I do seek forgiveness from that boy. I hope he has enjoyed the life that could so easily have been ruined by me. I hope that, like me, he survived Vietnam and AIDS and 9/11. I hope he accepts my apology.
One day in 1958, I’m looking at the tenement across the street when I see a vision – a creature so out of place, so ethereal, so “other” that I have to go out and speak to it. Its name is Andy and it’s from Glasgow, Scotland. I am eight and have a vague idea of where Scotland is but no idea of what Glasgow is like. I imagine something with lots of cozy cottages. The wallpaper in my childhood bedroom has a reproduction of the painting The Hay Wain by Constable in an endlessly repeating pattern all over it. It forms my image of Britain – a land of endlessly repeated cozy cottages beside winding streams. When I first hear of Greenwich Village, I picture the Manhattan skyline with an English village of cozy cottages nestled inside it. As a teenager, when I hear “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” I imagine a narrow winding stream that’s lined by cozy cottages. Weeping willows grow aside the cottages, their branches gently brushing the punts as they pass. (My imagined Mersey was as wrong as my imagined Lake Michigan!)
I now know that Glasgow in the 1950s was every bit as rough as Brooklyn – a pair of blue-collar towns with bits of gentility around the edges. Brooklyn’s brownstones even originated in Glasgow. So, it isn’t that Andy had moved into a completely alien environment. But, the Andy I met in 1958 was not a tough kid. And, acting tough doesn’t make you tough. It’s a cover. What do you think tattoos are all about? I wonder if Andy is haunted by the memory of that day in the cemetery as much as I am. Maybe not. Maybe not. But, I am haunted by him as I am haunted by Carrie.
The New York summer of 1973, the summer of Carrie’s murder, simmered like every other New York summer – over-heated cabs, over-heated buses, over-heated subways, over-heated apartments, over-heated offices, over-heated people. Olga, the least talented of the untalented avant-garde actresses in our building, got very over-heated about a White hooker and her Black pimp who lived across the street. They looked like a super-hero team that had fallen on threadbare times. He squeezed his fat ass into gold-lamé hand-me-downs from Superfly while she favored silver-latex unitards. Unfortunately, the unitards did not favor her full-figured frame. This girl had been around the block several times. And, I don’t mean St. Mark’s Place. (I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick!) But, why/how this dumpy duo got on Olga’s untalented tits escaped me.
“Safety” is an over-heated, fifth-floor walk-up with hot-and-cold running cockroaches. They are everywhere. When I turn on the lights, the entire room moves. I often can’t face the scurrying brown multitude and leave the room in darkness. Then in a demonstration of the Darwinian principle of adaptation, the brown multitude mutates to albino making it easier for the roaches to conceal themselves on the white porcelain of our sink and tub. Their white camouflage is most effective in the bristles of our toothbrushes. The only give away is the barely detectable movement of the tiny, black, roach eyes. I want to believe that I always spot these albino interlopers before sticking my toothbrush into my mouth. I desperately want to believe that.
The Italian Grandmas and Grandpas live on the ground floors of the fire-escape-covered tenements while the families of their married sons are stacked on the floors above. The Polish and Irish families in the neighborhood prefer to live near but not on top of each other. Polish and Irish life revolves around the bars found on every corner. The Polish bars are all named The White Eagle and the Irish ones are all named The Shamrock.The men who drink in the former are all named Stosh and the men who drink in the latter are all named Mick. The Italians drink Guinea Red at home, so it is the Polish and Irish kids who have to stand outside those bars yelling to their drunken fathers that it’s time to come home. And, it is those Polish and Irish fathers (and often mothers) who stagger home and throw pennies to us kids sitting on the stoop or fall down as they try to jump rope with the girls or play stickball with the boys.