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Meme grew a tea garden. With a huge stash of powdery 10-10-10 fertilizer and a hoe she worked like a pastry blender, she planted her sacred herbs near her award-winning blue potatoes and the two rows of marijuana planted atop heaps of chicken droppings along the side of a hen house.

Dad claims the little tea garden saved her from a terrible bout of summer flu. Almost everyone catches this mysterious illness, no matter what time of the year. It is a sudden sickness that hits one hard, out-of-the-blue, and suddenly. “I feel like hell, Barry. I can hardly move,” Meme cried, her red hair matted along the side of her Irish face like the claws of a crow grabbing an ear of corn. “Go outside to my tea garden and clip two pieces from each of the plants and bring them inside. None of your pot, though.”

“We boiled all the little stems—the catnip, mint and everything else she had planted out there. There must have been a dozen or so plants,” Dad explained. “She was up and walking around twenty minutes later. I was scared when I found her insider her trailer looking so sick.”

Meme entered her blue potatoes in the Huntingdon County Fair and always won the blue ribbon, but the tea was for her own consumption. At the time, very few farmers in Huntingdon ever saw blue potatoes and already Lipton had destroyed nearly all tea gardens in Appalachia. She sent away for the potato seed from a garden catalog that also sold her an egg that she incubated in a little plastic contraption with a light bulb that came from the same manufacturer and distributor of the eggs. We watched the chick hatch and grow into a short-tailed hen that Meme called ‘Sally’. Sally laid eggs that were not brown, but rather slightly green on the shell, just as was advertised.

Meme’s cider was the better than her tea, I bet. I don’t remember the tea garden that Dad spoke of this morning nor the rows of marijuana that dad used to make many friends, but I remember making cider with my grandmother, the most beautiful red-head this side of Dublin. There was an entire orchard surrounding her trailer. My grandfather planted it. We used a juicer that required paper filters that Meme sent away for. Jug after jug was filled and every now and then I took another sip in a little glass with yellow flowers painted on it.

Meme was not impressed with marijuana, according to Dad: “I asked her if she wanted to smoke some one summer night. She took a few puffs and said, ‘I don’t feel a damned thing.’ A few minutes later she ate half a cold chicken.”

We grew so many potatoes in Pennsylvania that come April, we had enough left over to cut into pieces and plant next year’s crop. They went six inches under a rather chilly ground in what was, in retrospect, the best damned organic topsoil west of Hershey. Dad always hauled in several loads of cow manure from a local dairy farm.

Skin sides of the tubers went down with the white part sticking up. We planted only according to the “Old Farmer’s Almanac”. One year, my grandmother planted potatoes under a full moon, going against recommendations from that yellow paperback, and an old wives’ tale that warned against planting potatoes in the dark of night and not early in the morning. Meme awoke to find all those little white pieces of potato she had carefully planted six inches apart, had made their way, six inches below ground, to the top of the soil where they slowly spoiled under the warm rays of an early April sun. She must have blamed the incident on some sort of curse and not the realization that gravity from a full moon may have had something to do with it. They still tell that story back there this time of year.

We ate potatoes almost every night. On a blue moon, Mom sometimes made spaghetti. Most nights it was those potatoes we planted in April that lasted all year in a cellar that stuck off from our real cellar—a little hole dug underground from our double-wide, where the potatoes stayed cool all year, despite a woodstove just a few feet away. When Mom sent me downstairs after school in the evenings, I always picked the largest, so come April there were mostly wrinkled little potatoes with all those eyes looking up at you under a thin covering of lime dust.

Larry travels into the city from Newark every Friday morning. It has been weeks since his unemployment ran out. He hits his old co-workers up for money. There are lots of churches in Newark that will feed one like Larry, but cash is better than cold-cuts in a town where the rich got richer and the rest have been left to the hands of long-dead saints and their modern day followers who seem to think everyone who is homeless is also a drug addict and a sinner who let God down, and now they are paying dearly for it.

The church charities will rarely trust the needy with cash of their own – as if it is really possible to survive in this town on bread alone! Larry is not an addict. I know it pains him to have to depend on the church to survive. I wonder if he still has a roof over his head. He appeared somewhat haggard, almost desperate, as he stood outside the warehouse long before the sun started shining down 29th Street Friday morning.

Larry knows better than to ask me for coin, especially for trying to read me that day, years ago. I don’t get involved in those warehouse deals that many others there seem so caught up in anyway—who owes who how much? I don’t know how the ex-cons keep track of it all; between the loans and the football pools they are all in from week to week. If one does not pay they other come payday, then someone else’s loan fails that week. Larry had no job there now and none of my co-workers were dumb enough to give him another loan, except for Mike Day, the ex-heroin addict pulled from the streets by a nun in the East Village. Sometimes I think Mike is a saint. No wonder Larry comes in every Friday. It’s all so complicated and so much easier just to say you are poor and “I have nothing to give you.” Larry recovered from whatever it was he once was strung out on and made that fact very well known to others who worked as New York City messengers, back when Larry still had a job and before he got fired for refusing to deliver a few Amazon boxes that the floor manager wanted to go out that day.

“Good morning, Larry,” I said while exiting the place with a stack of fifty or so paychecks in my backpack and newspaper boy canvas bag strapped over my head and left shoulder.I swung the bundle on my hip like a purse as I said those words.

“Still working like a slave for Steve the slave master, is see,’ he whispered.

I didn’t say a word to the bastard. I just kept walking, swinging that bag like I was the queen of the industry or something

Tyrone lost a tooth today. He showed me the empty space.

“I need to go to the emergency room. I can’t walk around looking like this.”

“Why not? What happened?” I asked.

“It fell out today,” Tyrone shared, displaying a god-awful mouth full of semi-rotted teeth. They were all mostly still there, except to front one to my left, which seemed not all that important at all, because others had already started closing in.

I pulled out my wallet and showed Tyrone my new Obama Care insurance card that was sent to me only because Ameirhealth had updated its pharmacy services. “Look at the effective date closely. It reads ‘March 1, 2014’. I had a wisdom tooth pulled last March and didn’t even realize I had insurance at the time. I walked into that Jersey-Mendez illegal immigrant clinic and demanded that they back bill for the services I paid on a sliding scale. They wouldn’t answer my phone calls, so I had to walk into their offices in person and flash my new Obama Care card at them. It felt as though I just sneaked across a boarder or something.”

“Did they take it?”

“Of course they did. They seemed so shocked that I brought this matter to their attention. Do you have Medicaid like the Mexicans do?” I asked.

“No.. My black ass needs to get it though.”

“I don’t know if Medicaid will fix that, Tyrone. It may be considered cosmetic. I was told Medicaid pays only for preventive services.”

“This is preventive. Without that tooth I’m one ugly mother-fucker. I just want one of those teeth that clamp in. You know, they got those little metal hooks on them and you can take them out and put them in water at night.”

“Just be careful not to put it in your piss jug,” I suggested. Tyrone laughed. He informed me weeks ago that he is so old that he wakes up many times throughout the night having to pee. He keeps a piss jug next to his bed.

“I think I have that old man piss syndrome too,” I told Tyrone. “One time when I was out delivering Barnes and Noble boxes in Chelsea I had to pee so bad that I started pissing down my own leg, I picked up my clipboard and pretended to do some sort of inventory as I pissed on Bed Bath and Beyond. I helps to have a big dick.” I explained.

“You’re fucking crazy,” Tryone admitted, smiling widely and showing me his new gap that in my opinion gives the ex-con, crack dealer a certain charm.

B’s first job in life was at King’s County Psychiatric facility in Brooklyn. He worked there while still in high school. He shared many stories with me regarding what it was like working there. Despite the fact that he is a licensed undertaker, he left the field and now works at an out-patient mental health clinic in midtown Manhattan.

A new client entered the clinic on Monday. B assisted the woman with intake paperwork. They sat alone in the waiting room next to one another. Before the paperwork was complete, a case manger entered the waiting room and introduced herself to the new client whose name we shall call ‘Catrice’ due to HIPPA regulations.

Catrice, while filling-out one of many pages cried, “Ouch!”

“What’s wrong, Catrice?” The case manager asked.

“Someone hit me on the back of my head.”

B looked at the case manager and then at Catrice, whose head he saw from the corner of his eye, nudging slightly forward moments before she cried, “Ouch!”

The case manager looked at B. B, a true professional, didn’t make a face.

Last evening B couldn’t stop laughing after returning home. We sat on the bed and laughed for hours.

“I swear, I heard a slap before her head moved. It sounded just like someone getting hit on the back of the head, but no one was there but me. I’m not sure if the case manager heard it, but I sure did. Catrice was not all that upset. She acted as if she was used to it.”

After delivering 65 paychecks today, I stopped at McDonald’s at St. Mark’s Place and 1st Avenue for a dollar cup of coffee. While waiting in line for a Mexican to take my order, two Latinas from one of the islands cut the line. “This man is harassing me,” one of the young women claimed. “No, they are harassing me,” an older white gentleman who had lost his cool insisted. A Mexican lady with a fat, french-fry ass, obviously some sort of manager, spoke for a moment with the two young girls. Two teenage boys, while waiting for some sort of happy meal, jumped into the argument. One of them shouted, “Don’t worry shorty. He ain’t gonna do nothing while we’s here.”

“Go ahead, pick up that chair and hit me with it,” the  white man with grey hair shouted at the two Latinas with earphone pieces still sticking in their heavily ear- ringed ears. A women with a child were in line in front of me. “Stand over here, hon!” she instructed her bouncy, little boy. She peered over her shoulder at the white man like he had not washed his hands in the restroom with shamrock shit stains covering the toilet seat and white, tiled wall. She too was some sort of Latin.

“May I help someone?” Another Mexican lady with a Big Mac gut asked as the Mexican manager lady pretended to dial 911—“Calm down, mister,” the manager scolded in perfect English, taking sides with the other Latinas without even talking to the trembling, old white man. I thought, my God, after yet another white police officer shooting, they hate us all.

On my way out the door, I saw the fragile white man. His hands were trembling. He was writing something. I didn’t say a word to anyone. I didn’t want to instigate another Al Sharpton riot. They are all ready to hit you, then turn on their cell phone cameras, as if they are trying to set you up, like they did to that police officer dude in South Carolina

I had nothing to say. I got my coffee and ran out of there like my hair was on fire. I headed one block away to view the newly formed craters left on 2nd Avenue from the buildings that blew up last week in that awful gas explosion.

Ernest is a 300 pound foot messenger, perhaps the fattest in all of New York. Too big for a bike and just skinny enough to walk down 5th Avenue without bumping into all the well-dressed skinny white women, he makes his way across city sidewalks like a raccoon I once saw in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. He goes almost unnoticed by the affluent men and women in suits and heavy perfumes that seem to run this town. It is really men like Ernest who run the city though. Their love for White Castle cheeseburgers is the very reason White Castle is open 24 Hours. I saw Ernest inside of White Castle early one morning as I rushed down 8th Avenue just a little after six. “Holy fuck,” I mumbled as I picked up my step, pretending I did not see.

Ernest is notorious for “blowing up the spot” in the basement of the warehouse. Raphael, a tall Dominican with really pretty hair who rarely speaks a word, other than a mere whispered mumble about basketball from time to time, once addressed Ernest in front of our co-workers—

“Take care of that at home,” Raphael suggested. Everyone giggled, waving their hands in front of their faces, trying to clear the stench Ernest and White Castle.

I caught up to Ernest walking East on 29th Street later that morning. “I think this place is going under,” he said. “I had two interviews at this other place—a warehouse—they needed a fork lift operator. I thought for sure they was going to call me in, but they checked my background. Some shit that happened thirty years ago still shows up,” he informed.

“Don’t be afraid to be honest on future applications,” I suggested, “at least then you don’t get your hopes up for nothing. There are people out there that will hire you for your honesty,” I stated, but not meaning a word of it. “Things are still really bad in the job market, Ernest. Don’t believe all that shit they sell you about Wall Street, just because we have a Black president. Things were not always like this. They are either going to get better for people like you and me or the market is going to crash once and for all.”

Ernest was very silent for a few steps. He breathed heavily, as we waited for the crosswalk light to change. He said nothing, as if what I had just said was quite profound and what he had already been thinking, but moments later the light changed and Ernest burped.

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