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Archive for March, 2008

Blackened

 

This apartment with thin, wooden floors is haunted by a spirit of pessimism. The place is painted in a shade of gloom. In winter, cold air in the basement offers a frozen pond ambiance in the livingroom. The exposed brink walls were painted red at one time. Be careful. Do not lean against them. A powdery pink substance comes off those walls. My breakdown happened here. My psychosis started right there, within the hearth of that fireplace. No, it’s not a functional fireplace, but that is where I imagined the voices.

Shawn preferred that we stay here on nights before going to the beach. I knew this place was haunted before moving in here. I would have rather slept in my own bed than stay here in the heart of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, but in order to prove to him that I was not a typical white person, I’d travel all the way from Harlem on the A train at night, walk fearlessly through the ghetto like a white shadow, and crawl in bed with my man. The Long Island Railroad is within walking distance. The Atlantic Avenue station stop is seven blocks down Nostrand Avenue. This was his place at the time. I was living in Harlem in a newly renovated brownstone. At least at my place we didn’t have to listen to thumping house music all night long. I had control of the stereo in my house. I had lots of hot water too. There was only a small hot water heater under the kitchen sink at the time. The tiny hot water heater was like the one in my family’s R.V. While taking a shower, the hot water expired in less than three minutes.

Thankfully, the landlord installed a real hot water heater three years ago, long after Shawn passed away. I told Shawn that I wouldn’t move in with him because he didn’t have enough hot water at his place. He must have laughed from the otherside as I suffered through manic depression without adequate hot water, trapped here in his old place which remains his haunting ground. On those nights before going to the beach, I complained about the inconvenience of not being able to take a soothing, hot morning shower.

“We’re going to the beach, you do not need a shower, Sexy.”

“Yes I do. I smell like raunchy sex.”

The floors never clean to a condition where one can walk barefoot in here. The floors and the short hot water supply go on my nerves. Shawn had an inflatable mattress in his room. It must have had holes in it. Nights were like sleeping upon the sea. The hydro. My head. The sex. My knees. Just get off me so I can go to sleep, I kept thinking. Shawn kept scolding me for not wearing a pair of his sandals while at his place. I love walking around barefooted. So what he had a foot fetish?

No matter how much scrubbing is done upon the uneven footing in here, this place remains filthy. Perhaps a mechanic lived here before. A worker from the garage down the block never took off his boots when he came home at night. Caked on grime and grease from the California Auto Supply Center is likely what makes these floors so filthy. They are polyurethaned plywood, yet made from what appears to be shavings of chipped wood. They are not typical plywood as is used for boarding up windows during hurricane threats. The wood shavings used to create this floor are approximately five inches and create an image of a patchwork quilt under the slight glisten of what remains of the varnished surface. The place appears unfinished, as if a real hardwood floor will be added one day. The floors in Harlem were parquet. Still when I walk, the floor bounces.

Shawn had a roommate, Ray who seemed nice to me, but they didn’t get along. Shawn complained because Ray stole his food. At least at my place in Harlem there was cable television and I didn’t have to feel as though I were in the way of a stranger in his own home. My roommate Anthony Owens adored Shawn. They were two gay pot heads in a pod. Shawn wanted to get up early and arrive at Robert Moses State Park so we had to spend the night here. He wanted to be there in time to watch the sun rise over the easterly Atlantic and the first train out of Brooklyn was at 5:30 a.m.

I felt more comfortable at my place but agreed to stay here for convenience sake. He was becoming a little obsessive. It seemed as though after each night we shared a bed together, no matter if upon a real mattress in Harlem or one blown-up here in Brooklyn, he was falling deeper and deeper into uncontrollable love. He nearly smothered me when he snuggled– wrapping his legs around me as a mantis does to prey.

I liked him a lot but the relationship was strange and raging out of control, at least as far as he was concerned. One night in Harlem when I thought he was at his own place, I awoke at 3 a.m. only to realize that I was out of cigarettes. I swear I heard his voice shouting to me in a dream. I couldn’t go back to sleep without a smoke. Dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of loose fitting sweat pants with no underwear, I headed into the quiet of the summer night for a pack of Newport cigarettes. He was standing across 121st Street under a pole light and was shocked when I came stepping outside at such a wee hour. He stared at me like an alley cat.

“What are you doing here?”

“Just watching over you. What are you doing outside so late?”

“I need a pack of cigarettes. I suppose you want to come inside?”

“Please! I got some weed.”

Eventually, we started spending every night together. It was useless for me to try keeping him at bay. He was like these floors with dirt that never seems to wash clean. I felt sorry for his obsession for me.

The beach was beautiful the morning after I spent my first night in this apartment. I didn’t mind walking with unwashed feet, blackened by the floors of Shawn’s place, upon the crystal sands of Robert Moses State Park. We took a cab to the light house. The waters of Long Island had warmed considerably by mid-August. A hurricane churned far off-shore. We took off our clothing and got in. We were the first to enter the waters that day. The waves carried us as if we were one in his bed in Brooklyn.

The waves were more than seven feet high that day. One caught us both, and tossed us down upon wet sand that had appeared after the water of the sea had been sucked by the tide to create the crest upon which we surfed.

I brush- burned my ass that day. Blood poured from above my hip bone. The salty sea water stung my bruise all afternoon as we swam together at the nude beach. We came back here after a day on Long Island. No hot water. The gloom of this place. The tiredness in his eyes– his last dip in the ocean. This dirty floor needs swept again. After all these years, I still find dustpans of sand from the beach that day. It’s hard to throw it all away.

 

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My new spring wardrobe is complete. For under $50, I have stocked my closet with blue, yellow and green pastels from Banana Republic. One does not have to be wealthy to dress fashionable in New York City. The possibilities are endless at places like the Housing Works Thrift shop.

Keith Kyler and Charles King came up with the idea to open a high-end thrift shop where well-to-do New York homosexuals (and their admirers) could donate their “lightly worn” clothing for tax write- offs. Unlike places like the Salvation Army where clothing smells like stale mothballs, Housing Works thrift shops are gloriously decorated establishments with front windows that rival Macy’s. Clothing there is not musty, and most apparel appears to have been worn only to church. Money collected through the sale of donated clothing at Housing Works is used to provide housing to homeless individuals with HIV and AIDS.

There are several Housing Works thrift shops in New York City now. My favorite is on 17th Street. That’s where I found the Banana Republic shirts today. Hats off to the queen with a size 33 inseam.

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A Dominican lady from Bravo Supermarket helped me with my laundry cart this evening. The chick who packs my bags when I’m checking out with dinner groceries noticed me heading inside with my bag lady-like white cart. Up I was heaving five cement stairs, when suddenly she dropped everything to give the old queen a hand. She works just two doors away at Bravo Supermarket. She was carrying armfuls of corrugated cardboard to the dump that separates my redstone apartment from the superchain.

“Let me help you with that.”

“Thank you,” I said.

I know why she did it. I tip her every evening. Whatever change there is from the dollars I hand to the nice girl at the cash register, I toss into a Tupperware bowl for the girl in a pony tail and a nice smile. She’s short; about five-five, one would estimate. Each evening as I toss change her way after shopping for dinner groceries, she smiles and thanks me. I’ve always been a big tipper to people who do the little things for us in life. It’s no big deal. It’s small change. But to some women just trying to make it, the gesture means the world. Everyone should do it. It’s like tithing. The world would be a better place if people would not mind that loose change totaled eighty-four cents, and just toss what is left to the side, like leftovers. Isn’t that what Jesus taught?

I’m in no condition to tip like I do, but I just do. It’s not even legal to give to the homeless on the subway. I do what I can.

Laundry carts are a pain. So much to drag in here.

There was no need to tip her today. Helping me up those stairs was an act of kindness she did for me, In return.

What a strong, little lady she is.

Almost turned me on.

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Moonshine Girls

 

Esther Staub had a green thumb and hair tinted red like the skin on a tomato. The annual seeds that she planted in her garden came back like perennials in the Spring. The heads of her zinnia flowers were larger than a child’s face. Her marigolds towered above the sunflowers. She gave the thumbs-up to trees too. Apples, peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, walnuts, chestnuts and pears grew on her property. She pruned them all. Long before the widespread popularity of organically grown vegetables, the Irish farm girl planted eyes of blue potatoes in her plot that she special ordered from a Gurnee’s seed catalog. Gardening was her life. More than a simple share cropper, she loved the tranquility of the country air and working outside. She preferred the company of crops to arrogant people. She cultivated fake plastic flowers from the five and ten cent store in her garden too. She told me she put plastic roses outside as a reminder that man will never outgrow the simple beauty of nature. The artificial flowers were a solution for confronting possible droughts and served as “boobie traps” to unsuspecting eyes . Most never knew how Esther managed to have roses bloom in March. Friends came from all over to buy fresh produce and eggs and to take a look around her lush estate. Most assumed she simply had a green thumb. They never noticed that many of the roses on her bushes were plastic.

Highways were far away. The road that led to Esther’s farm was dirt paved. She drank from a well. The closest neighbors lived acres away. She owned the miles of fertile mountain ridge land separating her farm from the rest of stuck-up society.

Her best friend was Eva Bumgardner. Eva was the only one besides me who was allowed to walk around inside my grandmother’s garden. Others, including animals, were kept on the outskirts by a wire mesh fence. Esther planted fake flowers in her garden not only to fool business associates, but to pull the wool over Eva’s eyes. She fooled me too when I first saw them.

“Yes, Meme. It’s pretty.”

“Look again! See that? It’s fake. You never would have known, would ya? Look how I put it in there right next to the real ones.”

Eva was a short, robust, country girl with curly hair and thick glasses that darkened automatically when the sun came out. It wasn’t her real hair. It was a wig. Even I knew it was fake hair. I was only four years old and spotted that wig like a Japanese beetle on the rhubarb. My grandma, didn’t know that Eva was as bald as an eagle underneath that hair mat or at least she pretended as though she didn’t know that what was swirling above Eva’s ladybug eyes wasn’t real hair. I asked grandma about Eva’s wig, not to be offensive, but wanting one of my own. Meme told me not to say anything about it to Eva. It would hurt her feelings. She promised if I kept quiet about Eva’s hair, she’d give me one of her old wigs. I obeyed and later that evening when we were inside husking corn and watching Lawrence Welk, she le me put the wig on like a fake flower. I did a jig around the trailer while she tapped her foot, propped up in a reclining chair.

Grandma liked to see her friend Eva laugh. She fooled Eva with the fake plastic flowers that grew in her garden next to the real plants. Eva visited Esther’s farm every day. My grandmother lived in a pink mobile home on land that was once a family farm. There were so many thorny rose buses around her home that she didn’t have to worry about anyone breaking in. My mom and dad took over the big farm house, just yards away. The land was handed down through several generations by affluent English men, one of which she married and obtained the Taylor name from before taking on the role of a Staub. There were very few animals remaining on what had become Esther’s farm in 1972– a few chickens clucked around and a goat named Roger kept Meme company while I was at school or when Eva wasn’t there to cheer her up.

“Jesus Christ, look at this garden, Esther! I ain’t ever seen an ear of corn grow as large as a foot,” Eva yapped. It was a sunny Sunday morning. Esther was on her way to church, dressed in her best polyester skirt and matching purple blouse. Typically, Esther ignored the Sabbath and worked in her garden, despite what the good book had to say regarding the matter of rest. She was worried that day. She was running out of money. She needed to go pray to either get on the Price Is Right game show, find a rich man, or sell off more property just to pay the property taxes.

I was happy that Eva showed up. I didn’t feel like going to Sunday School.

Eva took her sweet time and smelled every open bloom in the garden as Meme bent over in her pink polyester skirt and commenced to pulling out weeds from between the rows of crops growing in near- perfect parallel lines. Smelling all the pretty flowers was a habit of Eva’s. She knew that taking the time to sniff every flower and comment on the aroma would keep Esther from going to church. Eva wouldn’t step her foot into “one of those God forsaken places” even if someone paid her a million to sit in a pew, she explained to Meme, trying to convince her not to waste a beautiful, sunny summer morning singing hymns inside an old, stuffy country church.

Esther stood with her hoe propped under her arm pit and listened to Eva run her mouth in the bright morning sun while she sniffed all the flowers, even the blossoms on the cucumber plants.

“Does she ever shut up?” Meme whispered to me as Eva rattled on about her son, Jim, the game warden whose job it was to protect and preserve wildlife on Stone Creek Mountain. Eva liked to brag about a how darn smart her son supposedly was.

“He should’ve gone to college, Esther. He’s a bright boy and a hell of a lot smarter than his daddy ever was!”

“I guess I will not be going to church today,” Meme replied, taking off her good white shoes so that they wouldn’t get dirty. She walked a little further into the garden, permitting Eva to bend her ear a bit more. Eva talked on and on as bumble bees fluttered around in the warm August air, pollinating the flowers, just as Eva was busy doing. She looked just like a bumble bee in my view. The constant humming from her lips was very similar to that of an insect, and the way she had to poke her nose against every bloom was almost obscene.

“You look like a wasp in those glasses, Eva. Why are you smelling that? I told you that pumpkin blossoms don’t have a smell. Stop that. Watch out! You’re stepping on the vine.”

Eva bent down and placed her nose on a plastic pink rose and flat out lied to grandma– “Oh, this one smells real good, Esther!”

“Eva, you are going to go to hell if you don’t stop fibbin’. That’s a plastic flower. Look at it closely,” grandma chuckled while rolling her eyes and smiling at me.

“Oh Esther, you are so clever. It only goes to show how beautiful your flower garden is. It sure as shit looks real,” sniffed Eva.

“Eva, you talk too much. Has anyone ever told you that?”

“No! I talk so much when I’m here because you are my only real friend and I have no one else to talk to. I keep it all inside. I can’t help it, Esther. I’m sorry! I should have came dressed- up today and gone to church with you, but I don’t feel like it. I’m going home now. Pray for me while you’re at it! I know I can be too much sometimes,” Eva said sadly while scratching her wig and swatting a swarm of gnats that didn’t seem to bother Meme or me the same way.

“Besides Charlie, You are the only friend who comes to see my flowers. Talk all you want. I don’t care. Charlie don’t want to go to church either. You make my garden grow,” insisted Esther as she plucked a dandelion and threw it from her garden.

Esther and Eva were a pair who could upset the tranquility of a library simply by reading in the same room together. Other women their age called them trouble makers and shit-stirrers. They valued their time alone together away from those hags– working in the garden away from the rest of the world which seemed to embrace the convenience of modern supermarkets and fast foods. They remembered a time when life was simple when almost everyone grew their own food, milked their own cows and collected eggs from chickens that lived the good life– not from hens that were cooped up all day in chicken factories.

When not working in the garden, the farm girls spent their time chasing rich old men together. They were both widows and had lots of cash in the bank. They did not spend their golden years trying to raise the dead or in church. Life was too short and they were offered a new lease on it when their husbands died in the same year and they found each other in a cemetery one May afternoon while there placing flowers from the five and ten cent store on the tombstones of their husbands that were planted in close proximity.

“Was that your husband?”

“Yes– old selfish bastard,” Eva said to the stranger Esther who seemed to be talking to herself over a piece of marble.

“This is my husband here, or it was my husband,” Esther said. “I think I have finally learned how to love him.”

They became best friends that instant.

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Obama Mamma

My white laundry cart was jammed packed with three weeks of dirty clothing last Sunday. Fortunately for me, the kids were spending the weekend with B. and me and they fought over whose turn it was to push the cart down Bedford Avenue to Metrosuds Laundromat.

“Can we help, Chals,” is what they always ask, whether I’m in the kitchen making a fresh pie pastry from scratch or running the vacuum cleaner—they are always so eager to be of assistance.

“Watch for traffic,” I shout as they round the corner of DeKalb Avenue, pushing the cart fast, like bag ladies high on crack.

Lucky, the older of B.’s little brothers is sixteen now. He has started to piece together the dynamics of the six year relationship I have maintained with their older brother. After all these years, I believed they knew we were more than just “roommates”. I always do laundry for both myself and B. Roommates don’t wash each other’s clothing. Even kids know that. Besides, we took down the futon in “B.’s Room” and replaced it with a pool table years ago. Surely they do not believe that B. sleeps on the sofa every night. Perhaps they do. “Hey Charles. That blonde girl is checking you out,” Lucky informed as I was busy shoving a ton of dirty dark clothes into the Triple Queen washer.

“What blonde?”

“The girl reading the book.”

“That’s not blonde hair,” I explain to Lucky. “She’s a red head.”

Then Arden spoke up—“Yeah Chals. You better go talk to her or people might think you is gay or something.”

I quickly started placing Tide detergent into the compartment at the top of the machine, pretending I did not hear what Arden had just said.

“You must be joking,” I said to lucky. “I could be that girl’s father.”

“But she’s checkin’ you out, Chals. I’m tellin’ you man, she likes you.”

“She’s not my type.”

“Ask her if you can have some of her sheets,” Lucky suggested, referring to the Bounce dryer sheets that were sitting on a table near the girl.

I was furious. Where do children learn such hatred at such a young age?

Then Arden pushed the subject further—“She’s still checkin’ you out, Chals.”

“You wanna know something? Girls check me out like that all the time. I can’t help it I’m so good looking. Now go away. I’m too old for that girl. She probably thinks I’m your father or something.”

They knew I was right. They are light-skinned black kids with a touch of Cuban blood in their veins. They are like Barrack Obama—not full fledged blacks, but touches of Caucasian and latino taint their genes.

After I placed the wet clothes into five dryers, I suggested that we head to the deli. Lucky wanted a hero sandwich and Arden a beef patty. As has been the case for the last six years, I always pay for whatever they want from the deli. They have no father. No figure. He died recently.

As we waited for Arden’s beef patty to come out of the microwave, a Dominican girl squeezed past me and the deli counter. I accidentally looked at her ass. Lucky started laughing—“Hey, I saw that Chals.”

I hoped they wouldn’t tell their brother B.

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The Discovery Channel is worth the $9.99 premium surcharge that I pay each month as part of my Direct TV package. I upgraded to gold status because I wanted the VH-1 Classics channel. I find myself more in tune with Discovery Channel documentaries and have very little time left to watch reruns of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” video. The most recent gem in the Discovery Channel’s line up includes a documentary on Noah’s Ark. The special aired this past Sunday.

Thanks to clay tablets found in the ruins of what is believed to be a library from the ancient city of Babylon, archeologist have found evidence that our ancient scriptures have been flooded with erroneous re-writes over the years. The Discovery Channel goes beyond the assumption that the word of God has been tampered with, and reveals a more realistic tale of Noah—the Shuruppak merchant who survived the great flood.

Discovery reveals it is impossible to build a boat as large as the Titanic from pitch and wood that would not collapse under its own weight. In all likelihood, Noah used smaller rafts tied together that were stacked three levels high. The Ark was merely a barge.

Noah was a wealthy merchant and trader. The book of Leviticus notes the names of the animals that Noah had on his rafts. They were animals that were considered “clean” and worthy of being sacrificed—not every animal on the planet. Noah transported and sold animals that were used in sacrifice to God in addition to other goods, including wine, beer and grains and fruits. It is also noted that due to Biblical translations over the years, the flood was a local flood and the entire land in which Noah lived upon was flooded, not the entire world. The clay tablets reveal that the flood lasted for 7 days and 7 nights, not 40 as is referenced in the Bibles we have in our homes today. The Discovery Channel attributes the flood to a tropical storm, which according to modern meteorological records, is rare, but can happen in Mesopotamia.

In all likelihood, Noah was washed out to sea during the flood. His family and the god worthy animals on board drank the beer and wine in order to survive. They washed ashore on a new land—the promised land and the family of Noah had everything they needed to start life new—including a good buzz.

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