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Archive for September, 2009

Lucy and the Saint

Rather than abandon my insatiable craving for cigarettes with the psychological assistance of a nicotine patch or the bitter gum, I have slowly weaned myself from the smoldering magic wands that have kept me calm for nearly two decades by limiting myself first to a half a pack a day, then just five, and now I am down to just three within a twenty-four hour period.

I find myself aghast as I walk these sidewalks of Brooklyn and take notice of the many unfinished fags that hurried commuters trample underfoot before descending into New York’s underground railway. This new mind of mine, now free of the clutches of dependence on substances, races like the A train between Columbus Circle and 125th Street– Harlem. I quickly do the math, adding up the cost of all those butts on the sidewalk and conclude that this morning alone, subway commuters entering the G train station on Lafayette and Bedford wasted nearly a grand in chemically infused, unfinished cigarettes.

Occasionally a commuter fails to trample an unfinished Marlboro as he or she rushes with coffee in one hand and briefcase in other down freshly hosed cement subway stairs—but I walk on by with my head held high—no longer looking down to consider a means of fulfilling this addition that was costing me $10 a day. Marlboros are not my brand anyway!

No longer must I scrape and cry over cigarettes I can no longer afford—not now, for outside of Goodwill Industries at 25 Elm Place in Brooklyn, ex-convicts sell what in the eyes of New York City police officers is a Federal offense—the ‘Lucy’ or ‘Loosie’ cigarette. There once was a time when corner delis in Kings County sold loose cigarettes, referred to through local tongues as a “Lucy”, but now, even the most shady of Arab deli owners refuse to take the risk of selling loose cigarettes for it is a major crime in Jewish run—Bloomberg New York—where the tax on cigarettes has proven to be an addiction within itself to this cash strapped city, where only the poor are forced to pay their fair share.

Being a white male smoker amidst a sea of black welfare faces hanging out at the corner of Livingston Street and Elm Place was at first intimidating. We all await the 9 a.m. start of Goodwill Industry’s ‘Back to Work Program’ with our Lucy in hand.

Slowly I approached the dark skinned man with a backpack who puts his life on the line each day for us addicted, poor folk. We appear here every morning in this cruel age of taxation without representation—a row of chimneys outside of Goodwill Industries—smoldering and following the rules so that our food stamp benefits do not get terminated by the City of New York. The black man sells Lucys for a mere fifty cents, but we must be careful where we buy contraband, for the police monitor this city block with suspicion.

“Hi,” I said to the man in Michael Jordon sneakers selling cigarettes, likely bootlegged from South Carolina. “May I ask how much for a pack?”

The obese Barry White look-alike offers a frown of mistrust, so I say, “I’m in the program too. I’ll show you my Medicaid card if ya want.”

The crowd of chain- smokers simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief as I admit this fact, immediately embracing me as one of their own and not some undercover cracker cop. Barry White, this generation’s version of the Kennedy family, places his bear-paw hand upon my shoulder to lift my spirits—

“Five bucks dude,” he shares, chuckling over the new term in the black community to politely refer to a friendly white guy. “You can call me ‘Smooth,” he says.

“It certainly is a pleasure to meet you Smooth. I’ll take four Lucys instead of a pack. I am quitting soon.”

Smooth effortlessly, (on the down-low), picked four fresh Newports from a pack that he had hung like a Christmas tree ornament upon a carpet of Jheri curled chest hair, swiping my five dollar bill with his free hand, slapping me five with his knuckles as not to attract attention from passing police cars—pretending of course that I was one of the brothas.

“Listen,” I said after thanking him, “If I ask for a pack tomorrow, please offer me just two Lucy’s—I really am trying to quit.”

“No problem, dude, but just so you know, I can’t stand to see a man beg. That’s why I do what I do.”

“You’re a saint,” I said with the sweet taste of smoke pouring from my lips.

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Getting Off My Knees

Despite the criticism I unleashed last week regarding the “Back to Work Program” at Goodwill Industries, I have changed my attitude towards this so-called charity and will forevermore write and speak highly of this institution that has rescued me from all my despair.

Just getting up at the crack of dawn and reporting somewhere before the roosters and cackling hens of corporate America perch themselves on ladders and lay more bubble-graphs to prove unnecessary business points has proven to be beneficial to my spirits. I feel that I am part of society again—no longer wasting my time in the heavily wooded sections of Prospect Park—sucking off strangers just to get something warm in my stomach!

Poverty is hell, but there are ways to survive on this $170 in food stamps the state of New York offers to battered queers. One must attend mandated programs, like that at Goodwill Industries if they want food stamps though.
Being fully dressed in pressed work clothing at sharply at nine a.m. – for no pay from the state whatsoever– has strengthened my resolve. I have learned to hate society with a smile across my face now. An air of politeness has overtaken my once battered nine- to- five face.

Four weeks at Goodwill Industries has reinvigorated my will to work hard again—even a job at Starbucks will do. I have decided that I will not become a welfare-supported writer, but rather will take my place in the trenches once again and will work side-by-side by commoners for the sake of the company that is found at a place we all need—a job.

The dark depression that has withered the roots of my soul for the past seven years has finally lifted. Today I am happier than I have been in nearly a decade thanks to Goodwill.
Not since the days prior to my hospitalization for schizophrenia has my sprit been so joyous—it only goes to show what a few good men can do to brighten the day of one so depressed for so long.

For the past seven years I have worked in a clinic on Park Avenue. I was the only male in the clinic—a gay one—a male none the less—and the bitches nearly killed me, or at least almost sent me back to the psychiatric ward! But these handsome men at Goodwill—forgot what they were like—such gentle creatures men are in dress shirts and ties—freshly shaven and on the down and out like myself. Almost want them to kiss me here in my black tie.

I see now after four weeks at Goodwill and the entire summer of 2009 spent on my knees in a public park why I couldn’t snap out of that depression.

Bitches!

In this bright new day before all I see are men—hunky, unkempt, unemployed but handsome as ever—men.

Men to die for.

Men to work alongside.

Men to bring out of closets they never knew they had!

If necessary to earn a living, I may become a layer of bricks just to get my hands dirty next to the men again.

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Off the Cuff

Having just thirty minutes of internet time here at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library; I find myself typing words from a hand-written piece of paper, dictating on this modern version of the typewriter, words that were crafted the ancient way—one letter at a time—some in cursive, others in standard, elementary print—my free-flowing thoughts captured as if by Polaroid—this is the best way for any writer to put thoughts to print. Only so fast can we write by hand—not seventy words per minute—capturing every remote thought—leading ourselves astray from what it was initially we intended to write about with the power of a keyboard.

How rare it is to write with pencil or pen in this new age where cell phones have stolen our hearing and blackberries have killed our taste for effective prose.

The written word is sweet when crushed like grapes under feet for wine, so I write with my hands.

No longer an internet connection at home—just thirty minutes a day here at the library. No longer do I awake at night to hit refresh buttons—waiting for nothing but the written word in a time when words no longer hold true meaning when they are written so thoughtlessly, fast, by computers.

Cannot write from in here—so many other New Yorkers in the library putting on airs of silence. Got to put words down the hard way, and just type them from one of these government machines—for free, or so it seems.

Seek clarity of mind before using Twitter and make your children learn to read before they see their first pop-up! That’s my only advice.

Notice how machines have stolen the ancient art of creating page- long paragraphs where one can go on and on as a poet without boring the reader or using a coma or a semicolon and still somehow manage to keep the attention of on-line readers who typically cannot sit still long enough to keep one thought process lasting without being distracted by some ungodly blinking light in some far reaching corners of the night sky that is to all of us that temptation to click here.

Just get away from it all. That’s what I’ve learned from having my time limited from this world called the internet. Free yourselves of this mess that I call a waste of time—even if it is just thirty minutes a day.

Only paper can capture the true essence of the poet’s soul. When we write, off-the-cuff at these machines, we lose a part of what is ourselves as writers of a true language, and for some reason, it seems that comprehension is more likely when grafted from written words on paper—like within the hardcover books here at the Brooklyn Public Library.

I’ve read so many this summer and there is still so much to catch up on as a writer if ever I wish to write something like:– East of Eden, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dracula, Psychic Pets by Sylvia Browne and St. John of the Cross.

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It’s not easy to milk the public welfare system when over ten percent of New York City’s workforce is unemployed and many more are starving due to the loss of trust funds to the Bernard Madoff scandal.

Lines at the welfare office at 500 DeKalb Avenue extend onto the sidewalks outside, but I marched my lily-white ass through the masses of the poor to stake claim to my share of the food stamp pie, Medicaid insurance, rental supplements and utility support that are available to those strong enough to cut through red tape so sticky that one, if not in a sane state of mind, would hang himself with, just to avoid having to stand in another line and absorb the nasty attitude that is far too commonly tossed by staff who work in such places.

In just one day, I was issued $240 worth of food stamps and had my Con Edison utility bill paid by you, the taxpayer, and I must admit, this may be the perfect lifestyle for a writer, who needs time to sit on his ass with a full stomach in order to write something worth reading.

One simply does not leave the welfare office and wait for benefits to take effect. The state of New York demands that those on public welfare attend a ‘back to work’ program, coordinated through mothball- ridden Goodwill Industries. For the last five days, I have spent time inside what is nothing less than a prison cell—the job center at Goodwill—where staff treat both white and black people like slaves in this new age of You Gets Nothing for Free, nor Forty Acres and a Mule.

 

I became terribly upset yesterday after speaking with my case manager, Clifford Taylor. I learned that I would have to remain in Goodwill’s back to work program until I eventually find a job. Therefore, according to Mr. Taylor, I must put on a dress shirt and tie every day, and continue to report to the sixth floor of Goodwill’s corporate headquarters on Elm Place, if I wish to avoid having my benefits suspended by the “state’s computer’s”.

 

“There must be some sort of glitch in that computer of yours,” I explained, calmly to the black Mr. Taylor, who obviously is not suffering from lack of food like me.

 

“I have no power to exempt you from the program—it’s automatic,” Clifford Taylor explained with a tiresome look in his eyes.

 

“This is horrible. Just being here all day is preventing me from finding a real job. Do you really expect me to work as a cashier at Century Twenty One? That’s the only job offer they announce daily in that hot-ass room. Do you know how many crack heads you have in there? And they all pick me out as the one to talk to. The lone white man in the room. They all vent their frustrations towards the man on me. When they talk to me, they poke me with their finger in my chest and it hurts. I may just have to file some sort of complaint if this action does not stop.”

 

Clifford Taylor just smiled at me and asked, “How are you anyway? How do you feel today?”

 

“I’m on cloud nine,” I said. “I learned yesterday that I’m going to be published in the magazine Time Out New York. You ever heard of that?”

 

“Why yes,” Clifford Taylor remarked while nodding his unconcerned head at me.

 

“That’s it!” I threatened. “You have no idea who I am as a writer. I’m going to make you famous, Mr. Taylor. Just you wait and see.”

 “Your next appointment with me is on September 9th,” he explained. “I’ll see you then, that is, if you haven’t already made a fortune from your writing by then.”

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