FIFTY-EIGHT, APRIL 1, 2001
(Copyright © 2001 Al Aronowitz)
In the pantheon of the
sad life I constructed for myself after Lionheart left me for Yolanda, Minerva
the Goddess of Justice was Queen. Drugged and huddled deep under the blanket of
sleep, I called her up into my ganja dreams, then I sent her down East Fifth
Street into the window of the apartment I used to share with Lionheart. Swinging
her golden scales over her head like a lariat, she lassoed Yolanda, who was
doing her nails at the kitchen table, carried her away, and drowned her in the
River Styx. All Yolanda’s voodoo gods could not save her. Then Minerva went
after Lionheart, found him drinking at Stanley’s on Avenue B. In front of all
his cronies she changed him into a dog, a shaggy street mutt with an ugly snout.
She then kicked him out the door to spend his life foraging for scraps of
rancid food in the garbage.
What really happened was
that Vera Vulva, who danced with me at the Whiskey a Go-Go,
told me Yolanda was pregnant. She ran into Yolanda in the gynocologists
waiting room. Yolanda was
crocheting an orange baby blanket. “We’re hoping for twins,” she told
Vera, “We want to name them Buddha and Jesus.” This news filled me with such
pain that I fell off the stage twice during my act. Eddie, the boss, after
telling me he would deduct it from my pay, sent me home in a taxi because he
thought I was having a nervous breakdown. I ran out of the taxi and into the
hall of my apartment building so blinded by tears that I nearly knocked down my
upstairs neighbor Mr. Brady. He was coming in from his nightly stint at the
corner Blarney Stone.
Nina…..,” he called after me as I ran past him up the stairs, but for once I
did not stop to chat with him. I threw my backpack down on the table next to my
typewriter and my precious little folder of poems. What could my silly poetic
creations be worth compared with the real miracle of
creating a child? I got out
the Band-Aid box that held my stash and rolled a joint thick as a cigarette. I
smoked it right down which only fueled my terrible rage. I pictured Yolanda
birthing twin monsters, two hairy bats or pig headed snakes.
To drive such visions
from my mind I drank the full bottle of tequila I had in the pantry.
I woke the next morning flat on my back in the loo with my ankles hooked
over the bowl still so filled with fury, I was about to explode. Then, from my
prone position, my eyes fell on the little cactus on the windowsill that
Mountjoy had given me; I realized that what I had to do to help myself was to go
He answered the door in
the purple kimono he always wore. Mountjoy never went out.
“Darling, you look
like shit,” he said, then he kissed me on the cheek. “Come right in,” he
added, “ I have just the thing.”
Of course he knew
Yolanda was pregnant, Lionheart was one of his runners. He opened his
refrigerator and took out a bottle
of Beyer Asprin. He unscrewed the
cap, poured an aspirin out onto his palm. “Ousley 225,” he said, “one of
the few left from the batch he made to mourn the assassination of
Martin Luther King.” He took my hand, placed the tab in my palm and
closed my fingers around it.
“May the light of
cosmic truth find you,” he said. Then he asked for five dollars and I fished
it out of my jeans pocket. The five dollars was a token since the Ousley was
priceless, but by making our exchange a business transaction, I absolved him
from responsibility for my trip. He gave me a little cardboard pill box. I put
the pill inside and put the box in my pocket where the five dollars had been.
Mountjoy walked me to the door and opened it. He put his
palms together and bowed low at the waist. His kimono fell open to reveal
his long, yellow, uncut cock with a big, green gem; most likely an emerald, set
into the foreskin. He straightened up slowly, giving me a chance to get a good
look. He smiled slightly, then he gently pushed me out the door.
I had the night off and
went straight up to Central Park. I bought a coke from a hot dog vendor and
followed a path to a secluded bench deep inside the park. I took the acid out,
swallowed it and washed it down with the coke. I sat quietly while the birds
sang in the fresh June trees and an occasional, bored nanny passed with a kid in
Suddenly my eyes rose
ten feet up from my head and the sky became a vast screen on which flickered a
panorama of ancient history, the Babylonians clashed with the Chaldeans on the
deserts of Mespotamia, a huge Minerva fluttered over the battlefields on eagle
wings. She looked down and winked at me. I saw Christ dead on the cross,
vultures picking at his eyes. Then the cross was consumed in fire and as the
flames twisted up into the darkening sky they became gigantic, purple orchids,
huge swollen flowers exploding out into the heavens. Pairs of lovers, young and old, wearing fancy party clothes, all happy
and laughing, were skipping through the twilight down the path. In the meadow in
front of me an old oriental man was flying a dragon kite.
Gray smoke rings were coming out of the mouth of the dragon but as they
ascended into the sky the smoke rings turned into peace signs. I did not feel
enraged anymore but astounded and amazed at the unfolding beauty of my
existence. The sky darkened into night, the old oriental man let the dragon kite
fly away into the stars. The stars changed into the street lamps that lit the
dark park path. I realized I was very hungry and walked the forty blocks home on
streets that glittered with diamonds.
As soon as I got inside
my apartment, I ate the leftover Chinese take-out that was in the refrigerator
and three unripe bananas. Then I went into the bathroom where I pissed gallons
of rainbow piss and after that I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror.
Daisies sprouted from my ears and my hair was all curls of yellow roses. My face
was lovely, pink, glowing like a baby’s. How did I get to be so beautiful? I
must have been reborn. Then I got an idea. I went into the kitchen and filled my
stockpot with hot, soapy water. I sat down in the shower with the pot and my
Gilette razor and, carefully, meticulously, shaved my legs, then I shaved away
the hairs that grew down the tops of my thighs and the hairs growing around my
butthole. As I worked the motions of my hands were swift, my fingers slim and
graceful as birds. Then I shaved
all the black, thick hair off my vulva. It was tough going since I had a heavy
growth. I had to get up and change the blade. Finally my vulva was smooth,
hairless. It looked brand new, clean, innocent as a girls. Then I took a shower,
toweled dry, laid down in bed on top of the covers and fell asleep.
I woke up the next
morning, jumped out of bed and quickly dressed. I had things to do, my idea had
blossomed during the night. On my way out, I ran into Mr. Brady slowly
descending the stairs.
“So you’re feeling
better, Miss Nina?” he asked with real concern. I answered him with a big
smile, “Much better, Mr. Brady, I have a mission.” “Go to it then,
girl,“ the dear man said.
I went to Luv -a -
Donut, gulped down coffee and two lemon-cream donuts because the reborn need a
lot of energy. Mercury, God of Luck, put wings on my heels and I flew down to
Woolworth’s on Fourteenth Street and got pink ribbon and a pair of white girl's
gym socks. Then I brought a clear plastic baby bottle with a big, pink rubber
nipple. I went down the block to a shoemakers and brought white shoe dye. Then I
went to a record store and got a single of the song I had in mind. On my winged
heels I chased the warm sun down Seventh Avenue to the Pleasure Chest where I
got a white satin "G" string that was even more skimpy than the red
one I usually wore.
Before I went to work I
painted my black dancing pumps white. I did my long red hair up in two high
pig-tails and secured each one with a
Bruno the bartender
told her he would give her $50
to sit on his lap
big pink bow. I put the
white gym socks on with my newly whitened pumps. I wanted to look like a sweet
little baby in her first pair of shoes.
When I got to work I
went into the bathroom and made up. Instead of the red lipstick I usually wore,
I applied pale pink. As I brushed
pink blush generously over my cheekbones, I promised Mercury that if my new act was a success
I would send Mountjoy his
favorite flowers, tiger lilies. Then I changed from my street clothes into my
G-String. When I came out of the bathroom Vera said I looked ridiculous but
Bruno the bartender said, “Baby doll, I’ll give you fifty dollars to sit on
my lap.” I told him even if he offered me fifty thousand dollars, I would say
no.He stuck his tongue out at me as I gave him my new record to play while I was
I came out on the stage slowly, sucking on the baby bottle as
Bob Dylan sang, “I’ll be your baby
tonight.” I shimmied around, still keeping the bottle in my mouth. The men
went wild, clapping and whistling. One wag called out, “ I have some milk for
you baby, enough to fill your bottle.”
The pale faces I could see beyond the stage lights looked all oily and
porcine. I was a born again Circe dancing before a pen of yammering pigs. I
blinked and then they were men again, men I was exciting with my cock teasing
little dance. I mimed doing myself with the bottle. As they threw bills onto the
stage I pretended to come and then I tossed the bottle out into the audience
just as Bob Dylan was singing close your
eyes, shut the door, you
won’t be lonely anymore. I
gathered up the bills and left the stage to applause so loud my head hurt. I
tucked the money into my G - string as I made my way back to the bar.
“You’re O. K.,
Nina,” Eddie said. “Champagne on the house for the Baby doll,” he called
out to Bruno.
I sat at the bar
drinking and kidding with the other dancers and then I watched Cowgirl do her
Annie Oakley routine. I went back into the bathroom to dress and hid the wad of
bills in my sock. I felt so good I even kissed Eddie good-night. I floated out
of there and took a taxi home.
Right outside my door, I
met Mr. Brady, “Top of the
evening, Miss Nina,” he said. I almost kissed him, but realized it would upset
him, he was so shy. He held the door open and stood aside to let me pass,
chivalrous and wizened, a tiny failed wizard in the old black fedora and the
creased brown suit he always wore.
Upstairs I counted my
take, two hundred and twenty dollars! I put the money away in my underwear
drawer. What a brilliant baby I was, and soon I’d be a rich. I was so excited
I had to finger myself until I was relaxed enough to sleep. I woke up at eleven
the next morning when the smell of Mr. Brady’s breakfast bacon frying came
drifting down through the floor boards. Every day he fried his bacon at
precisely this time. He was a creature of habit. If I was home at four in the
afternoon I would hear him go down the stairs to the Blarney Stone. After they
closed at two a.m., I’d hear him come up the steps outside my door. He once
asked me why I didn’t have a young gentleman. I told him that my young
gentleman had left me for another woman although I didn’t tell him she was a
voodoo witch named Yolanda.
“Time heals all
wounds,” Mr. Brady said.
My new act was a big
success and I was the toast of the Whiskey a Go-Go. Soon I had enough money to
have a phone installed. I brought a case of baby bottles, a pair of green
snakeskin cowboy boots and most important, a new Smith Corona typewriter. I
named the typewriter the Great Colette in honor of my favorite writer. When I
was working with the Great Colette the melody of the striking keys was the music
of the spheres. I would come home
from work, toke up with Mountjoy's best, then
I’d sit down with the
Great Colette and let her inspire me. I wrote poems about mystical marriages
consummated on acid and perfidious lovers like Lionheart, about the quest for
the holy mojo and men walking on the moon. I was often so deep into my work
I’d write through the night and fall out in my chair.
I began to socialize.
After my shift. I might go to Googies because Fatso Charlie, the bartender,
often stopped for a quick one at the Au Go-Go. He loved my baby act. He'd ply me
with gin while telling the patrons of Googies that I was the next Martha Graham.
I'd go to St. Adrian’s on lower Broadway, where a reproduction of
Rembrandt's St. Adrian’s Hunting Company
hung over the long bar, or I'd visit the Boondock,
The Boondock was a cool
jazz club on 10th avenue. After the regular sets, Calvin, the owner would lock
the door. Soon the resiny smell of reefer would mix with the cigarette smoke
that filled the room and the musicians would pick their instruments up again and
serenade the angels.
Once in a while I found
myself talking to a man I liked enough to let him buy me a drink but then I'd
get invited back to his place to smoke chiba chiba or do some blow and I would
say no. I was still broken hearted and cock shy. One night I was talking to a
base player named Albert Wright at the bar. He
was telling me to read Naked Lunch
because it was all about the truth at the end of the fork. Someone tapped me on
the shoulder. I swiveled on the barstool and there was Silky in his usual
coal-black suit, his black eyes glittering like jet, his long black hair pulled
back into a pony tail.
“You’re a vision of
beauty, Nina,” he said, as he pulled his lips back over his teeth which was
his way of smiling.
Silky had a harelip and
the way his upper lip was stitched together made his sharp face look smooth and
young like the mask of a child, but he was not a kid. He was a powerful, much
admired and feared desperado with a warehouse arsenal in Astoria, two cigarette
boats docked in Freeport and a Mack truck. Everyone said he had a line so smooth
and a voice so soft he could talk the bloomers off Lady Bird. Lionheart worked
for him sometimes. He had told me that Silky always slept with an Uzi between
“You look so good, you
look like Ruby Tuesday, you look like music.” Silky crooned. It was the most
he’d ever said to me. When Lionheart used to take me to his parties, Silky just nodded and shook my hand.
“What are you doing
here?” I said.
“Cupping till the
world goes round,” he said aimiably and downed his glass of amber liquor.
Shakespeare,“ I said, startled.
Then Albert jostled my
elbow, leaned over and started to whisper in my ear, “Is this guy…” but
then he saw who I was talking to and turned right back to his drink.
“Let’s get out of
here, Tuesday, go someplace else. I’ll buy you late dinner or early breakfast,
I want to watch your mouth move while I look into your eyes,” Silky said. He
put his hand under my arm as if to lift me from the barstool.
“No thanks, “ I
told him, “I just want to finish my drink and go home, I’m beat.” I
pulled my arm away.
“Don’t you like me
pretty Ruby?” he asked, “I thought we were friends.”
“I don’t know you
well enough to be friends,” I answered. “We never even talked.”
He threw back his head
and laughed. “Now I am learning how smart you are, smart and quick,” he
said. “It takes a long time to make a friend, and,” he added, “the only
way to make a friend is to be one.“
“Why,” I gasped,
Silky was full of
“Right again,” he
said, “if you don’t want to eat with me, at least let me drive you home.”
“O.K.,” I heard
myself saying. We left just as Wilber who had climbed back on stage picked up
his base and played the first notes of Well,
His black Cadillac was
parked in front of the club. He opened the door for me, got in and put the key
in the ignition. On his key ring was a little skull made of silver. He asked me
where I lived and then we headed uptown through the steamy, summer night. I
looked out the window. On every stoop I saw naked figures; lovers copulating,
heaving breasts, moving rumps that faded into the shadows as we drove by.
I did not know whether to interpet these visions as a blessing or a
warning. Silky was rumored to have a wife and five kids, a harem of twenty year
old mistresses and an African housekeeper with a bone in her nose. At a
stoplight he turned his head and smiled at me. With his gleaming teeth and
foreshortened upper lip he looked like a shark, maybe he was king of the sharks
and wanted to devour me.
“I’d like to see you
again,” he said. I felt myself move back, inch away from him. His harelip made
his face look exotic and mysterious but I didn’t want his sharky mouth
nibbling between my legs. The light turned green and we drove a couple of blocks
Lionheart?” he asked.
“Maybe,” I said as
we pulled up in front of my building.
“O.k.,” he said, “I’m a patient man,” then his face changed, hardened,
“ but I know what I want.”
“ Is that a compliment
or a threat?” I asked him.
“You keep showing
me,” he said, “ how you are as precious as a ruby.” He leaned over me,
pulled the door handle and pushed the door open.
His black hair smelled
like the ocean. “Good night, Ruby Tuesday,” he said.
The next evening when I
got to work there was a long white florists boxes waiting for me on the bar.
“Little baby’s got a big sugar daddy,” Vera said.
She and Cowgirl made loud kissing,sucking noises as I opened the box but
I ignored them. Inside was a dozen, ruby-red roses and a card that said, You
get more beautiful with every new day. Tonight? Silky.
He called during my
break. “How about it?” Silky said. “
“I still don’t
know,” I answered him.”
“Are you scared of
me?,” he asked, “you think I’m some kind of dumb hood who doesn’t know
how to treat a lady? I respect you and you excite me.”
“I don’t know what I
think,” I told him, “maybe I’m just not ready.”
“Ah, if we had world
enough and time,” he quoted, “thy coyness lady, would be no crime.” I
wondered how he knew I had studied poetry.
“Listen,” I said,
“stop trying to impress me” I heard him laugh.
“Catch you later,
Ruby,” he said and hung up.
When I got home I put
the roses in a mayonnaise jar which was the only vase I had. I cut about six
inches off the long stems so the flowers would stay balanced in the jar and not
tip it over. I knew Silky meant
business just as I knew his desire for me was not enough to make me wet for him.
The time on the clock read two A.M. I rolled
a J. and took it to my lonely bed. I found myself listening for the
familiar sound of Mr. Brady’s halting steps but I did not hear them. When I
finally slept, I dreamed of Lionheart. In the dream we were making love as we
did the first time. I was the new waitress at Max’s and he had invited me down
to the basement after closing for a smoke. We stood behind some stacked up
chairs next to the mett locker and smoked a joint wrapped in chocolate paper
that he extracted from the pack of Marlboros that he had in his shirt pocket.
“Anymore?” he asked
to me when the spliff was about half gone.
“No,” I said,
‘Yes, you are, you
sure are, “ he said as he put the j. back in his cigarette pack. Then he took
a step closer and just jumped right on me, gathering me up into his arms,
grabbing me tight to his chest and kissing me hard on the mouth. My lips opened
to him like an unfolding flower and when he put his tongue into my mouth I felt
my other mouth moisten for him. He pulled up my skirt and pushed down my tights
and panties, he unzipped his fly and had me right there, my back against a stack
of folding chairs. He speared me good and we came together after maybe twenty
powerful thrusts. I woke up just as he was pulling out of me. I could not fall
back to sleep so I finished the quarter bottle of Couvoisier that was in the
cupboard then I dozed fitfully until past twelve.
I dragged myself out of
bed morose and filled with self pity. The room was cold and I could not find the
smell of Mr. Brady’s bacon in the air to warm me. I went to work on
a poem about a witch being burned at the stake. Her long frizzy, black
hair, just like Yolanda’s, sizzled and melted into the flames.
I finished the first draft then I counted my poems, thirty one, time to
send them away, to submit them for publication. Tomorrow
I would buy a writers guide and envelopes. Just before I left for work,
Silky called. He wanted to know if I could get off work and go with him to some
music festival upstate called Woodstock near a town named White Lake. I told him
I could probably get off work but I didn’t know if I wanted to go with him,
besides I wanted to work on my poems.
“You’re a hard woman
,” he said, “Are you saving it for the Messiah?” He gave me his phone
number in case I changed my mind.
That night at work the
Gods toyed with me. A dead mouse was floating in the toilet when I went into the
bathroom to change and it would not flush down. During my act I slipped on what
seemed to be come on the stage. I treated myself to a taxi home. I was too
bummed out to do anything but fall into bed. I wanted to stay awake until I
heard Mr. Brady come in but I fell asleep. I woke up at 11:30 the next morning
and sniffed the air, no trace of Mr. Brady's bacon, all I could smell were the
stale odors of my own body.
Something was very
wrong. I hopped into the shower and quickly rinsed off. I went upstairs and
pounded on Mr. Brady’s door.
“Mr. Brady, Mr. Brady,
it’s me, Nina from downstairs,” I called out, “please answer, open up”
but there was no response. I went down to the first floor and knocked on the
door of the super, Moustapha. He
came to the door wearing the red fez he always wore. His long black mustache
covered his mouth so he looked like a walrus in a Christmas hat.
When I told him about Mr. Brady, he said, “Yes, yes, Miss, I will check,
good girl, thank you.”
I headed out to buy the
writers guide and envelopes. The streets were crowded with people smiling in the
sunshine. Pedestrians strolled by ignorant of the fact that they were on the
same block as the future poet laureate. I was just thinking that after I became
a rich, famous writer I’d shop at Bendel’s but give twenty-five percent of
my income to the poor then I saw them.. Lionheart had one arm over Yolanda’s
shoulder. With the other hand he was feeding her an ice cream cone, pistachio,
my favorite flavor. He grinned down into her face like an idiot, obviously
bewitched, as he guided them across the street. Her belly had already popped and
she was wearing the vintage, silk Hawaiian shirt I got him last year for his
birthday. A flock of tiny little Cupids danced in the air above their heads.
Just as they were passing me, she turned her head and looked directly
into my face. Silently she mouthed the words loser,
loser, loser then she licked her lips with her forked tongue and
I staggered across the
street and fell against a garbage can. The air had gone out of me, I was
collapsed like a broken balloon, going down, falling, into a great, black abyss
that had just opened at my feet. Suddenly, a skinny, young guy stood before me
and put out a hand to steady me. His other hand was holding the handle of a
guitar case. On the guitar case was lettered in white adhesive tape, This machine kills fascists.
“Don’t fall,” he
said, “you better sit down.” Still holding the guitar, he pulled a blue and
white bandana from his pocket with his other hand and spread it out on the curb.
Gently he helped me sit.
“He’s not worth your
tears, sweet Nina,” he said and vanished before my eyes.
After a while I got up,
I wanted to take the bandana with me but when I looked down it was gone. I went
to the bookstore, to the stationers, moving slowly like an automaton. Then I
walked my stiff robot walk home. When I got in, I was shocked to see it was
already six. I should have been at work a half hour ago but I was in no shape to
dance and smile and shake my body. I called in and told Eddie I couldn’t come
in, I said I had my monthlies and terrible cramps.
“You girls, always
bleeding. o.k, o.k,” Eddie said. “but you better stop that bleeding by
tomorrow,” he added. He hung up the phone.
My room was somber as a
tomb. Even the little wooden Buddha on
the table was downcast. He kept smiling his wooden smile but crystal tears were
streaming down from his eyes to form a puddle on the table. I was trying to
summon the energy to get up and get the Band-Aid box that held my stash when
there was a knocking on the door. It was Moustapha, gripping his fez in his
hands, twisting it. It was the first time I had seen him without it. He was
“Miss, miss,” he
said, “the landlord told me to thank you. I go open the door with my key. Mr.
Brady, he dead in his bed, curled like a baby.”
Moustapha brought his
hands up under his chin, put his head down and closed his eyes. With his bald
head, he did indeed look like a baby.
“I call landlord, he
comes, he say Mr. Brady has no family, he calls city morgue, they come and take
him. Tomorrow I clean out the apartment. I leave the door open in case you want
something.” He peered over my shoulder into the room that held my table and
chair and the narrow cot that was my bed. “Some furniture maybe?” he
suggested My stomach was
churning and I would have thrown up but there was no food in me.
“I don’t know,
Moustapha,” I managed to sputter
out, “but thanks, poor Mr. Brady.”
I closed the door. I saw
Mr. Brady lying on the floor above me, a silver skull on top of a shabby suit. I
went straight to the medicine chest to get my Band-Aid box, but when I looked
inside it was empty! Could this be just another terrible dream? The empty box
was real enough yet I could not remember smoking the last of the weed. Maybe
Yolanda made it vanish with a voodoo spell.
As if bewitched and
drawn by a magnet I found myself going out into the hall, ascending the stairs.
Mr. Brady’s door was ajar. I pushed it open and stepped inside. The last rays
of daylight filtered through the dirty venetian blinds and the room was striped
with gray and ghostly light. There was dust everywhere, on the rickety bridge
table, on the wooden deco style wardrobe and bureau. Even the messy snarl of
sheets on the narrow bed was gray, a curtain of dust had fallen over the remains
of Mr. Brady’s life. On the table
there was a white cardboard box holding a single slice of Entemann’s blackout
cake, in the sink; three empty bottles of Jack Daniels and a greasy frying pan. His black hat stood on
top of the bureau. I opened the drawers only to find some ratty undershirts and
socks. The only hint of Mr. Brady’s inner life was a yellowed photograph
tucked into the frame of the mirror. It showed a pretty young woman in a
twenties flapper dress standing in front of a tree. I tried to conjure up
her name, Bridget? Maureen? Viola? Was she his sister, his lost love, his wife?
With Mr. Brady dead was there anyone to remember her? Who besides me, would
remember Mr. Brady? And who would remember
me? I might end up crazy and alone like Emily Dickinson, her
great poems did not save her. In the mirror, behind the photograph, I saw my own
face, all pale and sweaty. As I watched in horror, my nose grew longer and
longer, elongated into a trumpet. The
shiny brass bell of the trumpet opened into yet another mirror in which I saw
reflected a terrible vision of my face as it grew old and shriveled up like a
prune. Yolanda appeared behind my shoulder. Loser,
loser, loser, she whispered in my
ear , who will love you now?
I turned, ran out of the room onto the landing and slammed the door.
I sunk down on the
steps. Loser, loser, loser, the
silent hall said. Mr. Brady looked for magic in a bottle but found dust instead.
Yolanda’s evil face flickered in front of me. Despite all Mountjoy’s
psychedelic potions and herbal remedies, Yolanda’s voodoo was still inside me.
I had to make my own magic or I would be dead. I went down the stairs and
back into my apartment. The windows sparkled as though they had just been washed
but I had never cleaned them. The small patches of night sky visible to me
though the gleaming windows were filled with fireworks; rockets, roman candles,
pinwheels, shooting stars. Silky’s number stared up at me from the pad on the
table. My hand was shaking as I made myself reach out for the phone.
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