Hero Apomixis was written during C.A. Seller’s internment in N.Y. state’s notorious maximum security Attica Correctional Facility. A callous often brutal and humorous combination of reality and madness, this novel is an examination of one man’s decent into insanity. READ CHAPTER ONE
by Charlie Seller
art by Dan reece
“Whats’a matta’ wit’ choo? You get up on da’ wrong side o’ da cell or sumpthin’?”
Sunday 7:00 A.M. The count buzzer buzzed Hero awake to remind him of his mandatory invitation to participation in the first of the two standing counts held everyday in Attica and every other penitentiary in the State of New York. Before he’d made it out of his rack he started thinking about how mind numbingly repetitive each morning was getting even though he’d only been in Attica six months that week. First the buzzer. Then get up, piss, gargle, spit, brush, spit, gargle, spit, splash the face, blow the nose, turn on the light, face the gate, “thirty-three cell, chow and yard,” except Hero was on keep lock so he wouldn’t be going anywhere but to the front of the gallery to get his morning meds and then back to his cell.
The porter would bring hot water to the cells and fill the buckets. Hero would wash his face and hands maybe wash a pair of his dirty state-boxers in the leftover hot water.
He’d brush his hair and inspected his weather beaten pockmarked face in a plastic mirror the size of a postcard that was held on to the wall by a rubberized magnet glued to its back by little yellow people far, far away. Between the stress, and a diet that gave him enough gas to burn down the as yet unburnt half of the Bronx, Hero’s face was constantly oily and always breaking out with blackheads and pimples. He didn’t think his liver was helping either. Diagnosed a year earlier with Hep C, he was doing ok, lately, but last winter he’d gotten really sick and then even sicker at what he’d discovered in his own medical records (at .25¢a page).
A gastroenterologist he’d seen had ordered a liver biopsy eight months earlier. NYSDOCS, who’d sent him to the specialist in the first place, decided he didn’t need one. Hero began to do a little research and wrote to the NIH. The info he received said that a biopsy was one of the first things most doctors did to assess a patient’s liver damage with Hep C or any number of other liver ailments. In cases where the patient had both Hep C and B, it was strongly recommended that a biopsy be performed. When he read the blood test results Hero got scared. It seemed that he had Hep B in his blood, too, except no one in either Groveland or Attica had ever bothered to tell him.
Anytime a prisoner became ill the medical staff treated them as in inconvenience and with the thinnest veneer of tolerance. The majority of the nurses were blatantly negligent and rude – especially in cases like Hero’s where the problem involved an incurable infectious disease associated with IV drug use.
There were plenty of nightmare stories about prisoners with AIDS, too many. Derision was the only word that rose from an anchor of hard hearted hate caught somewhere in his soul. The current treatment for Hep C cost somewhere around $10,000 a year and was effective only twenty percent of the time. NYSDOCS issued a protocol for the use of the drug which was called “Interferon.”
Hero read it and realized, without any effort at all, that it had less to do with the health of the inmate
than with the state’s own insane, and par for the course, twisted ideas about what constituted “adequate medical
The state’s doctors in Albany had allegedly written the NYSDOCS protocol (all five pages) from the very same NIH policy statement Hero had read. Only they didn’t match. Corrections displayed an incredible capacity for always interpreting even the most remotely ambiguous language, no matter how absurd and resultantly wrong, to their own advantage. For instance if the NIH said that a patient,
“ … may need a biopsy,” NYSDOCS transliterated this portion of the sentence or paragraph as a policy statement eliminating the need for all biopsies based upon the use of the single word “may” regardless of any of the other available information presented within the report indicating the use of contextual guidelines for any interpretations.
Hero wrote a grievance which, after seven weeks, reached its third and final incarnation as an appeal in the NYSDOCS Central Office Review Committee (CORC) in Albany where the same scumbags who’d written the protocol were drinking beer after work with the scumbags from grievance. He laughed bitterly at a vision: a gigantic circle of state offices filled with smarmy low caste bureaucrats who spent the entire day sending memos back and forth to each other so that in the end – although nothing of any substantial importance was ever accomplished – they sure looked busy and spent a lot less money than their Democratic predecessors had.
To take an issue to court required that the inmate first
exhaust all administrative remedies. Between the DOCSPEAK
(official ambiguous double talk and sometimes less than
even that) and the grievance protocol. Just getting the
issue into court would, hell, by then he’d be ready for
a liver transplant – which created yet another troublesome
and time consuming bevy of unanswerable questions and arguments.
Getting to court usually took about a year and even
then medical negligence cases were very difficult to prove
requiring solid evidence that NYSDOCS had exhibited what
the court called, “arbitrary and capricious behavior.” The
inmate had to prove that the medical staff knew he was sick
or injured and did nothing about it. That was the beauty
of DOCSPEAK, it blamed everything on the inmate, no ifs
ands or buts about it, whatever it was, it was his fault.
Hero realized that he was trapped in an early morning nightmare of mean half-truths composed by shitty men in cheap suits with cruel, barely tolerant grins for their victims who they considered subhuman; of less value than farm animals. He knew the lies used to keep the prison budget down were perverse and that they began with DOCSPEAK: NYSDOCS ability to reinterpret any single word of a sentence so far out of its intended context that the original meaning wasn’t merely diluted, it was changed in the way the numbers of an elevator in tall buildings go from 12 to 14 only NYSDOCS never admitted there was a 13 to begin with. In the end, faces set in stone over expressions of abject indifference shared freely with the prisoners, by the gallons: urine.
“Here, drink this, asshole.” That’s what Hero thought he heard them say each time before he’d even begun to give voice to any complaint. He was distracted by two other thoughts; the first of which was that he felt the room moving and was afraid he might fall if it got any worse. The second was: who would know? This drove home the fact that he was as alone as he could be, even worse than alone.
Once a person went to prison they were never the same
again. Like seeing a bad car wreck with all its blood
torn flesh and mangled limbs the occasion changed a person
and that change took its time manifesting a new perception
of reality as it assimilated into that person’s total being;
just one more direction to be followed.
Breakfast was three small cold waffles and eight ounces
of cold cereal – that is – eight fluid ounces. Hero had
measured the cereal compartment in a feed-up tray and quickly
learned why the menu read “8 oz. ladle” when it described
the cereal portions. Eight ounces – eight fluid ounces.
Not very much cereal. But it sure sounded like a lot.
That was the beauty of DOCSPEAK in motion. The only accurate analogy he could think of was if you went to go buy a horse and the man you went to see sold you a donkey instead but told you it was a horse even though everybody knew it was a fucking donkey. But you still bought it ’cause he was the only guy around with a horse for sale.
The rest of breakfast was some singed soggy bread the
menu called, “toast,” one-third of a styrofoam coffee cup
of orange juice; a lousy cup’a state-coffee; six packets
of sugar of which he saved three for a cup of tea he’d have
later on and a spork.
Hero ate everything and made himself that cup of tea to
drink while he smoked his second roIly of the morning. Glancing
up he saw that the fly was still up there on the patch of frayed cardboard and hopping around so much that he supposed there must be something awfully tasty up there, well,
to the fly anyway. He speculated on how long the fly could
stay up there, upside down like that, and that it might
die and fall into the plastic food bowl sitting on his locker
or maybe into one of the empty plastic peanut butter jars
he used to keep his pens and pencils in. He could’ve killed
the fly dead but figured, “Why bother?” And besides, that
fly wasn’t bothering anyone. He decided that he would take
a nap and wished the fly, “good day,” before he did.
When he woke up lunch had just come·
Chicken ribs, boiled potatoes (still in the skin) and
(cold) split string beans. Dessert was Jello and the beverage
a styrofoam cup of yellow bug juice that everyone
erroneously called “Cool-Aid” as a result of DOCSPEAK.
“And just what the fuck is a ‘chicken rib?’ Anyone around
here ever see a chicken’s ribs?” And then he waited for
a moment before crying out,
“I rest my case!”
Someone in the governor’s cost efficient Cook/Chill program,
not Cook/Freeze but Cook/Chill; some idiot who stayed up
way too late at night with nothing better to do had decided
that if he took some chicken by products and ground them
up real good so you couldn’t tell what they were, added some
funky, chunky chemical emulsifiers and lots of starch to
make it all stick together (sort of), molded it so that
it looked exactly like weathered old railroad ties
and then cut it into six inch lengths before spraying on
some horrible tasting artificial BBQ flavoring, singed it
with a blow torch just a little bit for color – and – voila’!
CHICKEN RIBS a la NYSDOCS!!
Hero wished that the brilliant fellow who’d invented this
most detestable of canine culinary treats would one day
be force fed a five gallon bucket of it through a feeding
tube shoved down his throat connected to a hand pump. If he puked they could always pull the tube out and re-install it on the other end. The shit really assaulted Hero in that the smell reminded him of a house fire the fire department has just left: burnt, wet, nasty and useless.
Instead he ate the boiled potatoes with butter and salt,
followed by a small cup of tasty red Jello and washed it
all down with yellow bug juice. The H-man smacked his lips,
let out a half-a-burp of satisfaction because he felt, very
honestly, that he was only half satisfied with this messy
snack that someone else’d had the nerve to call a lunch.
“Scummmbaaag,” Hero intoned like a mantra .. He tried to
nap again but only nipped and was soon disturbed by Jughead’s
booming voice anyway. He was standing right in front of
Hero’s cell bellowing, “Yo! HUNTA’! Thirty-four, Hunta’!
The sound filled Hero’s cell and rattled around in his
head like a handful of rocks in a hubcap. He laid
motionless on his rack looking at the ugly fucking bastard
who, after yelling, he could’ve sworn had turned and looked
directly into his cage and smirked. Hero had come to
believe that Jughead was no more than a spiteful ball breaking
creep. He had some good qualities but Hero could never remember what they were because they were always so overshadowed by all the bad ones. Whenever he so much as heard him, Hero would see a very big, homely, bad mannered, balding, thirty-six (going on nine) year old kid badly in need of a shave.
Hunter, the 8 company steady, cracked Jug’s cell and in
he went to undress for the quick shower Hunter let him have
to get some of the football dirt off. His loser’s aura was another story. That was a question of genetically bad karma.
Depressed and lazy, Hero figured it was about time to
get up and take the piss that had been keeping him from
napping in the first place. He waited for Jughead to go
to the shower but even after he did Hero still didn’t feel
like moving. Sadly, he considered how depressed he was;
the fucking toilet bowl was less than two feet from his rack.
Jughead bitched about the game from the shower all the
way back to his cell. “Yeah! Right! Blame it ALL on the
white boyl” He really was such a pathetic crybaby.
“You’re a sore fucking loser,” Hero had told him once.
A big, ugly, screaming, crying, tantrum throwing brat. Jughead
was so retardedly prejudiced that Hero came to believe he
sincerely did not have a clue. Just another jailhouse racist
who was certain – certain – that the Black Panthers required
new members to pick up white hitchhikers and murder them
in order to join.
When he got back to his cell, Jughead slammed his
gate closed behind him and Hero couldn’t help but think
that this hadn’t been the first time that week the lumbering
moron had done it – at least today he had a half-assed excuse.
Attica allowed full contact football during the regular
pro season. The Buffalo Bills had donated their old practice
equipment: helmets, pads, cleats – the works – and the prison
games got pretty seriousl. Every block had it s own team. Forget The Longest Yard.” Burt Reynolds would have ended up in a body cast if he’d taken the field with these animals.
Bruno (5’8” 3251bs. with .8% body fat) Batz played. Mel (225 to Life)
Murder played. Paddy (Wire to Wire) McGuire played. It was
an ugly team, the C-block team. (Jug was in A-block.) Nothing
but violent criminal misfits. All the biggest guys played –
many just to have the chance to hurt someone without having
to do the usual two weeks keep lock for it. A lot of the
lesser skilled players talked mad shit but once they were
out there on that field it was a whole n’other story altogether:
Jughead quieted down quickly as losers usually do. Hero
rolled off his rack and took the leak he’d been holding
for so long. Standing there, pissing, he got the impression
that the floor was moving ever so slightly beneath his feet.
Shaking his dick he thought about what an annoying piece
of shit Jughead was. It just seemed like such a natural relationship.
When he I d first moved to the company, Hero was
disturbed at how loose Jughead was with his mouth: it was
always, “niggers,” this, and, “tootsoons,” that, and, “Ya’ms,”
he would say whenever he was referring to anyone who was
black: “Yeah, like sand-niggers, them, too.” This last one,
“Yam:” was his own version of “Yom,” which was derogatory
slang derived from the Italian word for eggplant.
It didn’t take a week of that shit for General to begin
an all out offensive of nocturnal assaults with the loudest,
most obnoxious dub tapes he had or could borrow. Hero saw
a match made in heaven and prayed that the two scumbags
would annihilate each other. Then, on second thought, he
just wished they’d both go away because as their beef would
invariably escalate so would the number of participants
of which he would be obligated to become one. (It was a
Miraculously, and after a lot of careful fat-mouthing
on their gates, Jughead and General hammered out a poor
man’s version of a compromise. This was done via a silent
negotiation process Hero’d seen a lot of in prison where
the actual offenses aren’t discussed – they merely sort
of fade away. General eased up on the music but no farther
back than where his original levels had been and Jughead
stopped talking like he was the Imperial Grand Dragon of
the Ku-Klux-Klan. It was during this episode that Hero had seen in Jughead a very real capacity to stir up shit to the point of rioting for no better reason than his own ill inspired amusement. He really found the guy terribly creepy. Contemptible even. Jughead was a con’s con and, Hero believed, destined to spend most of his life in prison. Besides, Jughead liked it there. He finally fit in someplace. Finally. State-raised is what they called it and he had the greatest excuse a whining crybaby and consummate sore loser could ask for: he was locked-up.
A few months earlier Hero had made the mistake of getting
into what he thought would be some “light” intellectual
conversation with Jughead. (They locked right next door to
each other with the silent Q locking on Hero’s other side.)
He discovered, quite rudely, too, that not only was Jughead
never wrong but he also took great personal exception to
being told so. Even when he knew it. He wouldn’t let up
either. When someone reversed their position and agreed
with his twisted logic they were still bombarded with “Jugfacts”
supporting whatever particular brand of foolish nonsense
he was currently espousing.
“When it comes to academics – I don’t really think there’s
anyone who can fuck with me.”
Hero came to believe the man was a basket case – a certifiable
psychopath. He believed everything he read and often
used words incorrectly. His favorite was “capitulate.”
People were always, “capitulating,” against his wishes,.
One night he told Hero, “I’m not prejudiced! You don’t want
to face the fact!”
Whatever the “facts,” were, Hero. never bothered. to find
out. According to Jughead, “You,” were always in denial.
“You,” could present him with solid, irrefutable evidence
that he was wrong and he would always find a way to knock
at least one hole in it with which to hang one of his insane
versionary theories on the ill fitting wooden peg he’d force
into it. Every fucking ,time – Hero just had to remind himself
– every fucking time he’d started any kind of intelligent
conversation with Jughead he’d become so insulted
and so frustrated that he’d end up wanting to push the son of
a bitch in front of a subway train. Hero guessed that
he had some kind of combative personality disorder because
Jughead thought it was so hilarious to wind him up – but
he wasn’t choosy – anyone would do. He took genuine pleasure
in yanking someone’s chain with his bullshit. Hero saw this
in his face just once and decided that the man was toast.
Burnt fucking toast.
“You just don’t wanna’ face the facts !America’ s entire
foreign policy is being dictated by your people – The Jews!”
“Yup, cheap, blood-sucking, penny-pinching misers, that’s
us alright. “
Hero had seen this before, it was some sort of anti-semetic
gene, or possibly atavistic behavior, a lot of working class
Irish developed right from the moment they were conceived.
Their parents, going ballistic at the thought of having
yet another mouth to feed – God Bless The Pope – believed
that surely someone must be to blame for all their woes began,
and ended with money and booze – in that order – so naturally
they blamed the Jews.
“For Christ’s sake! They killed Jesus! Or didn’t yew know?!”
Hero hoped that someone would do a study about it someday.
He also thought that Jughead might have a smattering of
cocker spaniel in his DNA, too, and then retracted his theory
on the basis that not only were cocker spaniels much, much
easier to look at they were also smarter and tended to
argue a whole lot less. Jughead was that evil little kid
from that weird family that lived over the funeral parlor
a few blocks away, in the wrong direction, who set someone’s
house on fire and got caught pissing on the smoldering
embers while grinning demonically at everyone. His face
was a series of chiseled angles only the angles were in
all the wrong places and went in all the wrong directions.
His name fit though: Jughead. His ‘noggin was shaped like
a large, rough-hewn wooden pitcher. The kind that eventually
goes all mushy inside the longer it stayed wet; a mushy
container for a mushy brain. His eyes were dirty dry ice
blue and once Hero had seen them turn into snakes eyes
when Jughead had punched this guy in the back of the head
as a favor to Paddy McGuire. Jughead’s nose was pretty unremarkable but his mouth, his mouth was this narrow, thin-lipped, lizard-like affair. In an instant of reflection, Hero saw Jughead for exactly what he was in the way the Chinese equate a person’s looks and personality with a particular animal: Jughead was a reptile.
A walking, talking, troublemaking
snake-lizard with a sticky forked tongue all curled
up in a mouth full of sour lies and negative comments.
Lately, Hero had heard Jughead and General betting with.
each other on football. They were a couple of real rocket
scientists. Neither one of them collected more than the $2.75 idle pay that Uncle George was giving all of the unassigned prisoners every two weeks. He thought it was funny the way these two slimy snakes had been gearing up to kill
each other one day – and then kicking the willy-bo-bo like
homeys the next. Slithering and sliding all over each other
like lovers. It really defied logic and even pushed the
envelope of believable bullshit. Truly, it did.
They weren’t much more socially evolved than any two dogs
who’d sniffed each other’s assholes and then went off
to frolic in the grass. Again, Hero didn’t think that was
very fair to dogs because dogs didn’t lie to you or flip
on an i.o.u. and then try to cut your face open so that your
teeth had a picture window to peek out of whenever you ate.
Sort of like personalized open air dining, sort of.
And Hero knew the program could change real fast between
Jughead and General and then all that lovey dovey shit would
go right out the window in less time than it took to say,
“One love, Mon.
Then it would be,
“I never liked that nigger, I told you that. I was just
tryin’ to be nice but their kind don’t understand that.
Just look’it how they live?!”
Hero felt a zit coming up right where the frame of his
state glasses rubbed against the skin below his left eyebrow.
One had recently come and gone there. He hadn’t been capable
of mustering the self-control required to keep his dirty
fingers from finding their way to the spot and instead
he’d tried to squeeze the offending particle of dirt, and
its concomitant little off white noodle of congealed oil,
to the surface. Sometimes this worked and he would avoid
a pimple. Other times, when it hadn’t, the pimple might
bust a ways down under his skin creating a boil or he might
squeeze so hard that his skin would let loose a few clear
droplets of fluid that, he supposed, were originally intended
to help lubricate the way for the dirt and its noodle.
This time it was: D. none of the above and he only managed
to aggravate the area with his now extra oily squeezing
fingers leaving a slightly swollen mark on his face
that hurt like a motherfucker.
Dinner sucked worse than lunch. It was Turkey a la King
that looked and smelled exactly like some fancy-shmancy
cat food he’d once seen. The rest was white rice and some
unidentifiable slimy white vegetables; some greens that
did not look right at all – their color was way too dark
and they stank like a pair of dirty sweat socks that someone’d
left inside a locked car on a hot day; a small piece
of watermelon (colloquially referred to as “Alabama Weddin’
Pie) which he ate first; the usual four slices of state-bread
with two pats of state-butter and a spork:
Hero was grateful to Q for letting him trade some
tobacco for a jar of peanut butter. (His commissary privileges
had been suspended for the duration of his keep lock.)
If he wound up in the box he’d be in some real shit because
ever since getting sick his appetite had become so
finicky particular. It was so bad that when he did his last
keeplock, 90 days worth, he’d lost almost 15lbs starving
rather than try to put any state-food in his mouth, never mind
swallowing any of it.
Hero had been running his fingers over the top of his
new pimple, teasing himself with the pain, little wisps
of pain not too unlike the sensation he got whenever he
put a Q-Tip in his ear. He rolled a cigarette while listening
to Tom waits on the college station and drifted off
to New Jersey and into JoJo’s house where he’d tried to
kick his first real mondo dope habit in what would become
a series of dope habits he’d have over a ten year period.
Maybe it was just one big one with a few interruptions?
It was still too early to tell.
Fat Anthony had been keeping an eye on him, just in case,
and it wasn’t for Hero’s safety either. JoJo wanted Hero
to work with him and his crew except he wasn’t too keen
on the idea; the boys weren’t very receptive to outsiders
joining the family. It was heard of, but he would have to
fight an uphill battle all the way to where? He’d never
be anything but a very loyal, trusted and expendable errand boy.
Albeit, a very well paid errand-boy, but an errand boy
nonetheless. It was no wonder then that he never finished
kicking at JoJo’s and they’d lost respect for him as a result.
He was already halfway down to standing in front of the
bank on Second Avenue and St. Mark’s Place with a paper
coffee cup in his hand, bumming change while The Great Iraqi
Turkey Shoot was going on.
Hero felt dirty like he had with that thin layer of
exhaust he used to get all over his body when he was
a bike messenger in Manhattan. “Fucking gross,” he’d say,
and spit trying to clear his mouth, nose and throat but
it always took hours and even then he could still taste
- Hero’d heard about dirt that people said you could never
wash off. No matter how clean you looked you still felt
all dirty. Now the grown man saw how the drama of someone
else’s suffering mattered because one day it might happen
to you, too, Hero. You too.
“You pay now or you pay later – either way, you pay.”
He didn’t care to delude himself the way he had when he
was younger always banking on a brighter future that lay
somewhere right around the next corner and just out of sight because, quite naturally, he hadn’t come to that particular bend in the road yet surely it was there like the phantoms he used to chase in and out of the separate entrances of his ex-girlfriend’s kitchen back when he was shooting cocaine and “collecting” the change from “Meals On Wheels” cans to support his habit.
Hope is a fear of? ”The fucking truth,” he said aloud.
Older now – and faced with some rather uncomfortable and,
to a greater extent, irreversible circumstances – Hero saw
reality in the shape of a brand spanking new, dark red brick
with very sharp edges and perfectly pointed corners. Not
one of those worn and faded bricks like the ones he and
his friends used to throw at each other when they were
kids. No, this brick meant fucking business, Jack.
“Fuck it,” he whispered to the cool humid air – it was
time to: POLKA! Every Sunday night he always enjoyed listening to an hour of polka music which was, he thought, a lot like ice-cream: a little was nice but a lot sucked because you got so sick but it was always better than the brick.
Way better. Hero couldn’t think of too many kinds of music he didn’t like. Polka was corny and fun and had a great beat and fabulous horns. He wondered about the pogroms the Pole’s had and how a peoples music – their culture – was like their language, their flavor in the same way dance from a particular part of the world told if its people came from a mountainous terrain or a flat one; by the length of the steps: mountain people danced in short steps and plains people in long ones.
Those Holy Christian Pollocks spearing
Jewish babies. He tried very hard to hear any of that in
the polkas he heard that evening but it just wasn’t there.
“Dey Kill Christ! Da?!”
Hero saw it all on the inside of his head: the poor hungry
Poles on their murderous mission endorsed by God and the
politically fascist hate mongers who published the Hate Sheets:
one page propaganda sold like newspapers before the
turn of the last century; they detailed all the devious
doings of those pesky Jews who were, without a doubt, surely
to blame for Everything.
“Dey Kill Christ, Da!”
The Hate Sheets delivered invaluable, informative and enlightening facts and warnings such as those advising Poles to guard small children – and especially babies – well around the full moon because this was when the Jews liked to steal them, drink their blood and then eat them. Hero’d once
heard a joke about a very poor old Jew living in a Shtetl
in Poland who buys a Hate Sheet. His wife says,
“Oy gevalt! Hyman! How can you waste the little bit of
money we have on such a thing?!”
And the man answered his wife as if it were no big deal
even though he knew they were practically starving,
“Oh, I just wanted to see how we were doing.”
The Hate Sheets were notorious for blaming the Jews for
the country’s economic problems, poor crops, bad weather,
sick cows, lost cats – you name it. It was even reported
in them that the Jews were hoarding Polish gold and only
living and dressing so poorly so as to deceive everyone
else. The problem with that great theory is that there was
no Polish gold.
Hero liked being Jewish. He wasn’t at all religious but
appreciated the culture and a bit of the philosophy. His parents had been atheists which, he’d decided, just meant they were Jews who were angry at God for losing the argument. They’d celebrated Hanukah and Passover confusing the then eleven year old Hero who asked many, too many, questions. Hero Sr. spoke Hebrew and Yiddish but much more Yiddish than Hebrew. He was American
born and his father, Hero’s grandfather, had worked for
Meyer Lansky, “way back when.”
“Way back when,’ when, Dad?”
“Nevermind when. When, that’s all you need to know.”
“Grandma, who was Meyer Lansky?”
“Just a business man!” his grandmother had snapped at
him just like the turtle of the same name that she resembled
When Hero heard the, “Just a business man,” line
in other places, he felt he’d missed out on the humor of
the exchange all those years ago.
“No wonder my mother laughed at the old woman so hard.”
Hero’s mother would regularly put him up to asking such
questions designed expressly to drive her mother-in-law
crazier with denture gnashing rage than she already was.
By the time he’d turned twelve, Hero thought they were all
fucking crazy. He’d been a little slow on the pick up but
eventually he caught the drift.
His Grandma Mildred and her two sons, Hero’s father and
his brother, Hero’s uncle, had been invited to Mr. Lansky’s
funeral. They didn’t go. Mildred’s husband, Benny, was long
gone over twenty something years by then, otherwise they
would’ve gone. Hero had heard enough of his father’s horror
stories about Benny and Mildred that over time he came to
be haunted by them, too, the way his father had been for
over fifty years. Truly, in the words of Grandma Mildred,
During one of his ibogaine visions, Hero saw his grandmother,
her downy white (yellowing) hair, all silken with
a flat curl pressed against the side of her head and then
she became a small river otter or aquatic cat because he
remembered that she’d had whiskers. She was swimming in
a dark green river of fast moving cold water between banks
covered with thick long leaning grasses almost
the same color but with a tint of aqua blue. She struggled
to keep a sack with two tiny babies like herself in it
above the waterline.
In another version of the same vision (they repeated themselves
with subtle differences although always on one
theme ) he saw two miniscule babies, skinny little golden
embryos with skullcaps and believed they were his father
and uncle as yet unborn and the river the persecution and
turmoil of Europe. Hero wished he could’ve learned more
about these people. He knew his mother’s grandfather had
been a farmer in Connecticut somewhere near New Canaan and
that was about it. Hero Sr. hardly ever spoke about his
own father and when he did it was with the uneasy air of
someone who had barely escaped being drowned – not once
– but several times. Of his mother he’d always said, “My
mother? She’s crazy.”
As for his father he said practically nothing, less than
nothing. When Hero saw his parents’ wedding picture, he
thought his Grandma Mildred looked more like Bella Lugosi’s
bride than the mother of the groom. Twenty-five years later
she still looked the same: old, pale, short, white-haired,
mean and ugly. She never smiled either. He thought it
was against her religion or something. She was always white
as a sheet, too. His mother often reminded him that her
in-laws had never bought her a wedding present. That was
the Polish side of the family even though the Jews weren’t
allowed to go to the state run Polish schools back then.
That’s what his mother told him, and that’s why she said
that he wasn’t Polish. And her parents? Not too much was
said of them either. Hero figured his sister, also known
as, “that fucking witch,” having been so christened at the
tender age of sixteen by their father, might know something
as she had appropriated all of the family photo albums after
their mother had been unplugged.
Hero’s sister looked a lot like Grandma Mildred: old,
pale, short, mean and ugly. When their mother had, “died “
she left his sister a bank account containing the bulk of
the joint savings that she and their father kept together:
$44,000; Hero’s brother got $5,000 and he got $1,200. Hero Sr.
flipped the fuck out. He told Hero that, “ … a few days
after I put your mother in the hospital, I checked her room
(they were legally separated by one floor and 1,600 gallons
of bilious spite) for the bank books .. because .. you know ..
your mother always took care of all that crap like the mortgage
and all the bills – I couldn’t believe it, I thought
there was some kind of mistake, I mean, oh my God – what
did she do?! Well, Hero, I took the bank books with me to
the hospital and I asked her, ‘Alice, what’s this?’ and
she didn’t say a word, Hero. Not one word. Can you believe
it? I just can’t get over it. She left all of my money to
your sister, that fucking witch. I told John Miller, that
excellent lawyer I found in Winstead – if you ever have
trouble getting hold of me you call him – and he tried to
find a way to straighten this whole thing out – but he says
there’s nothing he can do .. so your sister, that fucking
witch, god almighty she looks so much like my mother … “
and he had spoken the last word with such hatred that for the first time in his life, Hero had honestly felt sorry for the man.
A day later, Hero’s mother was unplugged from the machines
that had been breathing for her. His father told him that
the doctors had given her a mixture of Fentanyl and Morphine
and that she had cried and been afraid to die but that
she hadn’t felt any pain. At the time, Hero was locked up
doing six months on Rikers Island. His sister, that fucking
witch, made their father’s lawyer send her a copy of anything
related to their mother’s estate that she was entitled to
ask for and he had to pay for all of the office time
copies and mailings that resulted. It wasn’t a one shot
deal either, the witch had recently begun taking courses
to become a paralegal; so what better opportunity to exercise
her new skills? Every time she discovered something new
that she could request – she did. One-item-at-a-time. Years
later Hero wondered about what else she’d been left and
then began wondering what else he’d been left? Starting
with his grandmother, and the succeeding two generations
thereafter, the entire fucking family was a greedy pack
of inveterate thieves and liars. It just blew him away because
they only stole from each other. His mother had stolen
stocks (and who knew what else?) that her mother had left
him when he was just a boy. Hero thought that to disrespect
her mother’s dying wishes, and worse, to rip-off
her own nine year old son, was perverse. More than perverse.
It presented a clear and utterly unobstructed view into
the woman’s heart. It was hollow. A thirsty, wet black hole
quietly sucking in everything of value around it without
any consideration for anyone but herself.
Hero got sick from thinking about her. He had recently decided, after a short but very thorough review, that his mother was no good. Bad. In the red on his books and a definite risk.
Hero Sr. had his wife cremated and used her ashes to cleanup
oil stains in the driveway. Hero had seen the short, fat,
clear plastic bag full of fine dark ash sitting just inside
the garage on the right hand side between some rat poison
and a gallon container of Ortho Weed-Be-Gone. He wasn’t
at all surprised. There had been no funeral and that was
appropriate, too, since she didn’t appear to have much in
the way of a soul (or any friends) and no one had anything
good to say about her anyway – except that fucking witch,
her daughter. Hero wished she’d had a regular burial and
that he could’ve went just to push his sister, that fucking
witch, right into the hole with her.
“That fucking witch.”
“Take your pick,” and then he’d spit.
Hero got out of jail about four months after his mother’s
murder; that really was much more apropos when one considered
that had the woman survived whatever deadly lung ailment
she’d had there was absolutely no way in hell she could
have returned to the same house after he’d
found those bank books. Then again he wasn’t so sure. The
woman had been frail and quiet but with a set of balls
one made of lead and the other of brass. She was a veritable
dynamo of silent psychotic motherhood. A real piece of work. Once he was out of jail, Hero called his sister, that fucking witch, to ask her for some help. He was broker than a broke-dick-dog and eating in soup kitchens. At night he
slept on a friend’s couch in Astoria.
“It’s me, Hero.”
“Hero? Oh, hi, Hero,” her voice would drop full of patronizing
sarcasm as she’d say his name – and he heard it,
“What are you doing?”
“I just got out of jail. I want to go to Mommy’s bank
up in Connecticut as soon as everyone signs the signature
cards they sent and get this money.” A telling silence passed,
“I was hoping you could give me some help in the mean
time .. “
“What kind of help?”
“I need money to eat .. and look for a job, I’m eating in
soup kitchens and staying with friends but.” And he let
his sentence fade, the question asked.
“What do you want? Money?”
And the “No” had been stamped on the words themselves. The
witch was so sarcastic that she could never be accused of
being merely ironic ever again.
“Yeah, just a small loan till I can go get this money
Mommy left me.”
“What do you need money for?”
“To look for a job, [witch].”
“Why do you need money to look for a job?”
“That’s it,” Hero said to himself, “listen, I’ll talk
to you later,” and then he hung up the phone and mumbled,
“That fuckin’ witch .. “
Eventually Hero did get the money his mother left him, bought himself a beeper and started delivering heroin until he’d parlayed a $100 investment into a $22,000 a month net profit.
That first summer, after his mother died, Hero’s brother
committed suicide. He killed himself. He was a tortured
schizophrenic and consciously chose to take a header out
off the roof of his eighth floor government subsidized
Boston apartment. He’d lived there for almost seven years
because it allowed him to be close to Boston General, the
hospital where doctors had helped him to finally leave the
psych ward – after 2 years – and live on his own. With
SSI to pay the bills he’d spent most of his time working
as a volunteer at the hospital. Hero hadn’t seen him in
almost fifteen years. He’d been doing his thing about
four months when one day his beeper went off, it was an old
friend, Chris, and his was the only number that witch had to get
hold of him. Hero called him on his brand new celly
and found out it that fucking witch trying to get in
touch with him.
“She said it was an, ‘Emergency.’“
Hero’s mind went into hyper-drive remembering how she’d
played him for a real sucker when he’d asked her for help.
“Ugly-crab-bitch,” he spat in the middle of thick afternoon
traffic on 14th Street and Third Avenue. The heat,
the exhaust and the heroin were all combining in him and
turning Hero into a real nasty motherfucker; throw in that
fucking witch and the day was ruined. Shot. Fucked and without
any possibility of salvage. Turned-to-shit. Someone must
have died – which presented no emergency to him because
if they were dead, well, there wasn’t a fucking thing he,
or anyone else for that matter, could do about it even if
they wanted to. Hero guessed it was his father who he thought
was overdue to checkout anyway. On his deathbed maybe?
“Fuck’em,” Hero said out loud, and then,
“FUCK – HIM,” nice and long like the tall bottle of cold
store bought water he would’ve liked right there on his
bicycle in the, fuckin’ heat.
He stopped for the bottle of water and then rode to his
next delivery: a lawyer – eleven bags for $100, C.O.D.
The words, “Emergency for who?” came out of his mouth, again,
and somewhere along Park Avenue South near 22nd Street, he
decided to, “Let that fucking witch wait a few days.”
He fantasized that maybe she’d gotten one of her fat little
fingers stuck up her nose. All the way into her mid twenties,
he disgustedly recalled that fucking witch always picking
her nose and eating it in front of him like it was perfectly
normal and he didn’t think she’d stopped now well into
He waited two days before his curiosity – and a very
alien sense of familial obligation – got the better of him;
it was either that, “or plain boredom,” as he would say
later. He called her on the celly.
“So, what’s the emergency?”
“Yeah, it’s me – what’s the emergency?”
“Peter killed himself.”
Just like I said, Hero thought: emergency for who?
“How’d he do that?”
He jumped off the roof of his apartment building.
“How many stories?”
“Boy, I’ll bet he changed his mind on the way down,” he
said without missing a beat. Fuckin’ witch, he thought:
Hero listened to his sister tell the story of how their
brother had left a note, a de facto will, in which he’d
outlined who got what. Most of it was personal, for his
friends. Then “Daddy” arrived and totally disregarded Peter’s
final wishes even going so far as to throw all his grieving ends out of the apartment in a hostile rage. She fabricated the entire story. Hero thought it was too bad. A sad story indeed, and had he not been so ripped out of his gourd on heroin and Xanax he might have felt something else. But he was and he didn’t. He’d enjoyed talking to his sister like the piece of shit she was but he felt bad for his brother and surprisingly his father also in the midst of so much pain.
“Compassion,” he’d said. What had happened didn’t
make any sense and after Peter’s suicide their father never
spoke to either Hero or his sister ever again. His father’s
pain, he could only imagine, must have been immeasurable.
Three days later Hero broke down in the middle of traffic.
He hadn’t been at all close with his brother or even seen
him in almost seventeen years but Peter was his brother
and Hero was sorry he’d suffered so much and hurt himself
The next time Hero and that fucking witch spoke was in October of the same year. He’d flown down to Key West in a futile effort to bring his habit under control,check out the island and think.
(At the time, Hero’s habit
was $325 a day or five bundles @ $65 wholesale.- One third
of his average net take – daily.) He only called to rub
her face in it.
“Fuckin’ witch,” he said before and after he’d used the
pay-phone. Then, the trip turned into a disaster, no doubt
the curse of that fucking witch.
Hero had run out of methadone too quickly and as a result
did no real sightseeing save walking around a lot. He saw
the plaque on Ernest Hemingway’s home, looked up at the
shuttered business there now (genuine shark’s oil scented
bee’s wax candles decorated with faux pearls) and imagined
the famous author adventurer gazing out at the oceans from his second floor balcony through a big pair of binoculars;
a bottle of booze and a highball glass on his desk right
next to his latest unfinished novel tentatively entitled,
“ A Farewell To Brains”
He wasn’t so sure if ol’ Ernie would’ve appreciated his
ribald humor, but so what? Hemingway was dead, and a long
time, too. Hero knew being dope sick will do that to you,
your idea of “funny” could become quite maudlin.
Upset that he had enjoyed no sea food or glass bottom
boat rides, Hero wired a few hundred dollars to this chick
he knew in the East Village whose apartment he’d dealt ..
out of while he was “The Man.” She, in turn, was to have
sent him two bundles (20 bags) of dope taped inside a magazine
via FedEx except, “the skank,” so christened by Hero
right about that time, flaked.
“Fuckin’ skank,” he hissed having wasted over twenty-four
hours fucking around with, “[that] fucking skank.”
And she was pretty skanky: much too skinny and with the
wailing lament of all chicks who got strung out: no tits.
They’d just up and disappeared while her flesh was turning
an ethereally, eerie, cold cadaverous gray that
enveloped her entire body so that it very much resembled
an old wet vacuum cleaner bag someone had turned inside-out
and then draped over a skeleton of rapidly softening
bones. She had dull flat hair that was extra oily and eyes
that shined like a couple of dirty 30 watt light bulbs. Very
used goods indeed, he’d thought, and never fucked her for
fear of maybe catching pneumonia should he have ever slid
his dick up inside of her cold clammy pussy.
Hero decided not to fuck around. It had gotten too late
in the day to arrange another FedEx for the morrow – so
he went on a mission.
He was a firm believer of ancient junkie folk lore.
which in this case stated: “If there is dope you will find
- In the middle of the Amazon Fucking Rain Forest or Rock
Hill, South Carolina. If there is dope you will find it.”
Sick as a dog, Hero hooked-up with 6’3”, balding,
Mustachioed hippy crack head in his too late thirties who’d
just been released from the Key West Jail that morning.
He took them into Bahama Village – the area of the island
tourists were warned to stay out of – in search of the elusive
Key West doojie. Together they looked for Dilaudids, Valium,
pills of almost any kind – just on spec – and dope, of which
there was rumored to be some around but mostly what they
found was lots of crack. When they finally did track some
down, 3 hours after starting out on their tour of Key West’s
Worst, it turned out that it had been only one block away
from Hero’s hotel room (just past the Key West Police Department) the entire time. He copped five bags: $250 worth of some really weak tan shit someone had done The Tango onand then very sloppily packaged in tinfoil (a major no-no);
$50 for the busted old ‘ho the crack head had found who showed
them where the dope was and about $50 for him – not including
the fancy lunch Hero’d bought them. All that and the
shit was garbage. Hero booked a flight back to NYC on the
next thing smokin’ – he left at six o’clock that evening:
Key West to Miami and then Miami to JFK.
As soon as he was back in town he took a cab to 21st and Lexington where he paid a visit on one of his customers whose family owned the hotel at that address. The Gramercy Towers East. They’d given the guy a $300 a day stipend and a one-bedroom suite rent free.
Within an hour of his arrival, Hero had twenty bundles of
dope waiting for him downstairs in his connect’s Explorer.
He climbed in to pick up the package and told his man from
the Bronx that Key West was, “Beautiful, just gorgeous,”
which is what it was – so long as you weren’t dope sick
the entire time you were there.
Back upstairs, he shot six bags of his own product just
to get straight, and then another four of some new shit
they wanted him to check out, smoked a joint and ate a del-
icious dinner of room service lamb chops. He loved the fucking
room service there and if it wasn’t for the middle-aged
neurotic lunatic junkie whose suite it was he might have
thought he’d died and gone to junkie heaven.
The next day, Hero went and collected his money from the
Skank. Boy, was she ever surprised to see him.
Hero stared out the window through two sets of bars at
the passing sunset. Above the long tree covered hills that
were the horizon, the sky was dark with gradient purples
and deep blues over a few shiny clouds spinning shapes like
whirlpools reflecting the warm nuclear orange of the
great sinking disc and all of the other colors of the autumn
twilight as well. The sun was way behind the hill, but
the sun did that when she dropped out of his sight before
popping up in another prison window somewhere on the other
side. It gave him a strange sort of hope and even if it
wasn’t always so realistic hope could carry you a long,
long way – sometimes too far. Hero knew that like a guy
who walked over hot coals with his bare feet, or people
who beat cancer, or lifted an automobile off a trapped kid
all by themselves – hope was a motherfucker.
The sky was getting very dark now. He saw the bars on
the window much more clearly without the sun behind them,
although without enough light they were darker on the inside,
too, and there were little lumps in them just like his thoughts:
older, tireder, brittler and more fearful with hot
tears to spare. The coming years towered over him the way
it felt when you stood with your belly against a tall building
and looked straight up at the passing clouds and sky;
it made you very dizzy is what it did, and it made you think
the building was going to fall over right on top of you.
Low blood sugar. Maybe it was low blood sugar. But he
knew that feeling and this wasn’t it. This was like you
were sitting in a boat that was moving ever so gently up
and down on very, very small waves. There hadn’t been any
sick call slips down in the A-block lobby the night before.
(The C.O.s didn’t put any out – it only created more work.)
At meds, he’d refused the Wellbutrin, a mild antidepressant
a psychiatrist friend had recommended the previous year
for anxiety. As for the lithium, Hero figured that if he
started eliminating the most obvious causes for whatever
was making him feel so strange then maybe he could discover
the reason and put a stop to it. Unceasingly he examined
the exact nature of the disturbance and best likened it
to how it felt when he’d stepped onto the moving floor of
the spinning tunnel inside the Fun House at the carnival.
Only this time the feeling wasn’t so strong, so consistent.
He was lost in the hot half-a-minute he’d spent as a carny
right after finishing that eight month parole violation
5 years earlier.
Hero’d collected a $7,000 settlement for a fractured heel
he’d suffered in a motorcycle accident in late August of
’91. He was riding back from the methadone clinic and on
his way to cop a twenty of coke that he intended to shoot
in an apartment he’d sublet – illegally – in the East Village.
Alone and p-noid, he’d do two or three shots and then, if
he didn’t flush the rest down the toilet afraid the police
were coming in up through the floorboards, he might hide
the shit so well that his cocaine addled brain usually wasn’t
able to find it again.
As it all turned out he never did get to cop any coke because while riding his 1978 750cc Yamaha XSF, he was hit by a van driven by some straight off the boat, Italian marble guy.
Hero’d had the right-of-way, travelling straight through
a green light as he headed south on Avenue A at Eleventh
Street. He clearly remembered slowing down a little just
to play it safe, but halfway through the intersection the
van was right on top of him anyway. He tried twisting the
throttle to get out of the van’s way; at best he thought
he might only get clipped. All the way down he worried that
his left leg was surely going to be broken. The van lurched
to a stop when it hit the bike, the driver’s attention back
where it should have been in the first place – in front of
the fucking vehicle. He knew
a part of him had been directly between the bike and the
van and the only question he had now was how badly was
that part hurt? Dazed, he sat up and stared at the accident
scene: the van in mid-turn, his bike on its side, him on
his ass and pedestrians recommending that he scoot back
away from it for safety’s sake.
The Italian guy got out of the van and slammed the door.
His name was Geussepi, and everyone he knew called him Pepi.”
He was short and thick and had a mustache and a flannel shirt.
He looked as if he sprinkled tile grout on everything he
ate or wore. He looked pissed, too. As soon as he opened
his mouth, Hero knew he was a graduate of the “Yell If You’re
Right (and especially if you’re wrong) School of Driving.”
Hero told him, “If I could stand up, I’d bust your shit!
SHUT THE FUCK UP! .. You hit ME!! I had the light! ! Who
the fuck are YOU yelling at?! I had the fuckin’ light and
you know it!!”
Hero knew his left foot was hurt, and possibly his ankle,
too, so he pulled off his mc boot to save it from being
cut off at the hospital as the limb would be swelling up
presently. (He’d always attested to the wearing of those
biker boots as the only reason he avoided having a transmission
bolt imbedded deep inside his heel that day.) The
bike’s frame had a 2 inch “U” shaped indentation in it
at the van’s point of impact on the rear left side. Later,
Hero realized that this had been accomplished with the exact
same amount of force as that which had fractured his heel.
The police arrived and pushed his bike across Avenue A
where they chained it to a No Parking sign. Then they walked
back to where Hero was sitting on the ground with a huge
bag of ice on his foot and proceeded to write him one ticket
after another for everything except blocking traffic and
loitering and that was only because one of the cops remembered
that he was waiting for an ambulance. They even wrote
him a ticket for running a red light
Now, Hero hadn’t looked too good on paper before the accident,
what with the riding around and ticket collecting
he’d been doing: no license, no insurance, not even a current
registration – but – three years, forty-eight dozen phone
calls, twenty-one months in prison followed by a seven month
coke and dope binge, an eight month parole violation and
one very nasty letter later – he received a check for seven-thousand dollars: compensation for the fractured heal he’d suffered.
He’d hired a biker lawyer he saw in a Sleazy Rider
magazine advertisement. By the time things got rolling,
slowly, very .. slowly, he’d had to go to the hospital for
them to get the medical reports – and the same thing went
for the accident report; all the way downtown to the DMV
because the lawyer’s office was in Connecticut. At one point, he called from Riker’s Island to notify them of his new address. All the young attorney assigned to Hero’s obviously pooh-putt case had to say was,
“Good luck,” and then he’d hung up. He recalled bitterly
how frustrated he’d become after asking his parents to please
follow up with the lawyer for him. He’d signed a contingency
agreement they’d mailed him earlier that summer.
His mother, “Oh Hero’ed” him and – with her trademark
incredulousness – told him, “They aren’t going to give you
any money!” without ever having been told what was happening.
No amount of pleading would move her to help him. He did
manage to get his father to call twice, but after realizing
the degree of involvement that would be required he suddenly
employed the feigned befuddled distancing that was the signature of his shtick, commonly referred to as the “Absentminded Professor” routine. Hesitatingly, his father told him over the phone, “Oh, the lawyer? Yeah .. I called him,
Hero, [pause] no one ever called me back,” and then, “I,
I don’t know …” and then dead silence. His words had been
the plaintive, practically whining demand of his sincere
desire that Hero shouldn’t ask him to call the lawyer again.
Hero thought the absent minded professor routine was pretty
lame – as opposed to what one short flat “NO” would have
accomplished in a fraction of the time especially when
he considered that his father not only fed and dressed himself
each morning but then drove either the late model
Buick sedan or Subaru wagon he owned from the parking garage
under the building his three-bedroom co-op apartment was
in to his tenured teaching position at a large university so
nearby that in the warm weather he’d ride his bicycle there.
When Hero finally did get his $7,000 settlement, he was
in Riverview Correctional Facility: “No river and no view
– so fuck you – welcome to Riverview,” two months short
of maxing-out on the eight month parole violation. And who
do you think was the first person with their hot little
hand out asking for money? Why, (close), it was Mrs. “You’re
not going to get any money!” herself. Hero’s mother said
he owed her $360, and although he couldn’t for the life of him
figure out for what – he paid her anyway.
His father was even crazier. He told Hero, after having
said no more than, “hello,” and, “here’s your mother,” over
the phone for the entire eight months, “Hero, do you remember
the $4,000 I gave you last time you got out of jail?”
The key operative word in that sentence being “gave.”
“Yeah, Dad, why?”
“Well, I need $2,000 of it back.”
“Nevermind, ‘what for,’ I just need it .”
Hero decided to twist the greedy old bastard’s balls six
ways to Sunday and then back again.
“Ok, Dad, I’ll send out a disbursement on Monday morning.”
“Ok, Hero, g’bye.”
That old fucker’s tone hadn’t changed a bit. He was all
keyed up and subtly attempting to intimidate Hero by raising
the pitch of his voice ever so slightly shortening
all his words into monotones of three four-four syl1aba11istic
time; “Hero” was then pronounced “Heee-Rowww” in a nasally
Jewish New Yorkese only practiced and ready flowing, dripping with the short tempered distaste that only prison guards, welfare case workers and South American Death Squad interrogators had towards their too many victims at the height of busy season.
“Verk! Verk! Verk! Nut’ting but verk!”
Hero saw his father in the baggy, il1 fitting, gray wool
uniform of a shysty Nazi Noodnik; the swastika armband tight
against his bicep, a smudged, patent leather officer’s hat
pushed snugly down on his brow. Sweat ran down his back
under his shirt and into the crack of his ass making the
lips of his anus itch ferociously. Hero was strapped to
a wooden restraining chair not unlike the ones at Bellevue
only this one had a hole in the bottom of the seat with
fresh blood on it over older darker blood that had dried
and was now chipping off like so many layers of paint. His
fingers and toes hung freely over the ends of grooved channels
disfigured by the deep chopping block wedges that were
missing. He looked up and spit in the older man’s eye causing
his geriatric sphincter to clench, which made it itch
even worse. The old man scratched his asshole through his
pants by rising up slightly on the balls of his poorly polished
jackboots, leaning backwards so as to bow his body
for a greater degree of unimpeded access.
Hero couldn’t tell if the expression on his father’s face
was a snarling rage directed at him or just the frustrated
look of someone with very bad hemorrhoids who didn’t have
the good sense to keep his fingers out of his ass.
“Ah!” the old bastard cried in sighing relief as he dug
up inside his filthy stinging butt-hole through his underwear.
When he stopped, he looked at his fingers and sniffed
at them, seemingly enjoying the aroma immensely.
“Done mit von ahsshole – und now .. on-to-anudder! he yelled
with urgent finality to Hero. He took out a short pair of
pruning shears, tipped his son’s chair way back and, after
cutting all of Hero’s fingers and toes off one at a time,
talking mad shit throughout the quick crude surgery – he
snipped his testicles off.
“Shnip, Shnip, Hero!”
And then: SNIP! SNIP!
“Daht’s von teshticlei und .. daht’s,”
“two teshticles. Vaht’s der matter? Did zat hurt? Funny,
I didn’t feel a t’ing! How about a nice, cold, popshicle,
eh, Hero? Rhymes mit ‘teshticle,’ jah? I make a funny! ha,
ha; but, you, you are not laffing, Hero. Vaht is wrong?”
And then Hero’s father stepped on his bloody scrotum lying
there on the floor, smiled at him, and said,
“SShh, Hero, listen, shush – vill you? You big cries-baby,
and listen, list-en!”
SQUISH-POP! !POP! !
Then, pointing down with an expression of mock surprise –
“Look’ Hero’ I break your balls! Ha, Ha, Ha I make anudder
funny, yes?! Of course I do!”
Hero hung up the telephone dizzy from all of
the malodorous bullshit he’d just listened to thinking,
“There is no way in fucking hell I’m sending that greedy
old bastard two G’s or even two dollars out of my paltry
little 7G settlement.” Especially when his father was sitting
in a $250,000 custom built second home while asking for it.
“Never-mind what it’s for – I just need it,” Hero would
parrot him for years to come for nothing more than his own
During the eight month parole violation, Hero’d literally
had to fight for a Suicide Prevention Aid (SPA) job in
C-95, on Rikers that paid $20 a week. Twenty-bucks he sorely
needed – and got. Anything could have happened he could’ve
been cut or killed it wasn’t as if there were any rules
to how these things went down.
A group of young Puerto Rican boys, members of a organization,
had monopolized all the SPA and house-gang jobs and,
although the C.O., a guy named Nick Niglaccio, had approached
Hero for the job. The kids told him, “You know you can’t
take that spot?” more as a statement of fact than any question.
Seeing as how the kid who was up for the spot
technically next in line (not that it really had very much
to do with anything) Hero said, “No problem, I’d just expect
the same respect when my turn comes up,” which was bull-
Hero spoke to Nick about the fact that someone else’d said
they were up for the job next. Nick told him, “I decide
who’s up next and if anybody has a problem with that they
can pack their shit and leave [to another dorm].”
By the time everything got sorted out, Hero’d had to step
into the bathroom with the kid. He poked him in his left eye after the suave stick and move, two fingers dead in his socket. Scram’s hands went straight to his face and that’s when Hero knocked him out cold with the proper uppercut to the chin. Just as he connected, the word, “chill,” was coming out of the asshole’s mouth, except it sounded more like, “chrill.”
After that, Hero did something very few white boys had:
he ran the dorm. The phones, the chow, all of it. They used
to call him the HHIC. It was different.
From C-95 he went to C-73, from C-73 he went to Ulster,
and from Ulster he went to Riverview and from Riverview
he went home.
When Hero hit the bricks he had about $6,000 left and
promptly proceeded to sniff up a good portion of it in the
form of heroin he was buying from the Puerto Rican kids
who were dealing out of his building on 7th Street and Avenue
C where he was staying with an under-age lap dancer from
New Mexico named Rosie.
He’d put the moves on her the first night he crashed at
her apartment after being invited over by her boyfriend,
a Skinhead bike messenger who Hero used to hang out with
before he went up north to do his second bid.
Rosie was too cute-sexy-sweet like the shiny, red patent
leather Mary Jane’s she loved to wear. She was seventeen.
“She lied, OK?!” he’d said shortly afterwards to someone
who teased him about it.
“Sure, Hero, sure,” his man, Bags, told him in knowing
collusion as he was after her and would get her, too.
“Your body,” Rosie told Hero, touching his right nipple
with the tip of her cool beautiful forefinger, pushing
it in and then waiting for it to pop out and grow erect
so that she could suck on it.
“You know Michelangelo’s ‘David?’ You know? The statue?”
Hero nodded yes.
“Well, your body looks exactly like his, like David’s ..
you are, like, buff – I can’t believe it! My God, you’re
SO HOT!! “
And Hero did look good after twenty-one months of working
out and then eight more months of non-stop calisthenics
running and working the heavy-bag he’d developed a great
build. He was cut-up real nice. He felt good. Confident.
He liked the way he looked. Girls went ga-ga right in front
of him. He loved it.
Rosie dropped to her knees after some really sensual kissing,
soul kissing, sucking and gentle biting telling Hero,
“I wanna suck you bad.”
She whined-he’d told her, “no,” and but for the fickle
finger of fate, Hero might have had a wonderful evening;
this girl’s pussy was so sweet and soft – like the dew
of a tulip’s petals.
“No,” Hero’d said.
Later he would tell a friend who’d met her, “Rosie’s pussy
is hot 17 year old pussy. Pussy that hasn’t been all abused
and stretched out, all thick and leathery, like, by a harsh
fucked up lifestyle. She’s got a soft, young, delectable
body and a pretty face, too. A very intelligent young woman.
Did you know she was one of GG Allin’s Murderettes? That’s
Rosie and her fine, soft, cushion-pillow ass. “.
Alas, a blow-job was not to be had that evening because
two days previous, the day before Hero had been discharged
from prison, he’d had minor surgery to remove a small line
of genital warts from underneath the skin on the head of
his previously perfect penis. He’d bitched about them for
the entire three months he was in Riverview. The doctor
there was either an Indian from India or a Pakistani from
Pakistan, Hero wasn’t sure which, who he showed his penis
to and, after a very quick glance and the attending nurse’s
fit because the doctor hadn’t warned her to leave the examination
room before he had Hero pull his pants down – he
told him that, “You half verricoze veins frrom bahk prressurre.”
Hero looked at him and said, “Bahk prressurre? I half
neverr hearrd off ver”cose veins on the tip of a man’s
penis frrom bahk prressurre, orr any otherr kind off prressurre.
What bahk prressurre? I rrelease the prressurre at
everry available opportunity I get.”
Hero wrote a grievance and the doctor took more English
lessons. (The doctor got the better deal.) The grievance
pointed out the fact that the doctor had never bothered
to turn on the examination room lights, instead telling
Hero to, “Pull yourr pahnts down and step closerr to the
window wherre therre is morre light,,”
Hero did it – almost breaking his neck in the process.
The doctor’s diagnosis was not only based on a purely visual
inspection, it was also wrong. Dead-ass wrong. A request
for a resolution resulted in an appointment with a specialist,
preferably a dermatologist. The prison administration sent
him to a urologist instead.
“Close enough,” he said.
This particular Indian from India told him that he had
genital warts, and that they would have to be, “surgically
Having no other criteria with which to judge the man’s
competence – save his ability to pronounce words in English
without grossly rolling his R’s – Hero decided to trust
Sixty-five days later, and two days before his release
date, Hero was called to the prison clinic to meet a young
doctor, with fingers like sausages, who only identified
himself as, “the surgeon.”
“I’m the surgeon,” he said very matter-of-factly. Hero
didn’t care for his, cavalier? no, condescending my shit never
stank attitude, and the fact that he wore an un-kept
red beard that he was using to try and hide his second and
third chins. Hero thought it would have looked more appropriate
on a plumber. Then again, he could see how surgery
and plumbing weren’t too distantly related, give or take
a little sewing and smaller fittings and decided to let
young red beard have his way with him.
“We can schedule you for .. two .. maybe three weeks from
“I go home the day after tomorrow,” Hero said nervously.
“Oh, in that case, I guess you won’t want it done, right?”
That warden was one cheap sum’a bitch and now he knew
why they’d waited so long.
“No, I want it done,” he said as the first step towards
what would turn out to be a very poor judgement call.
The next day the tiny pen dots that were the warts on
Hero’s pecker were “surgically removed” by an instrument
– probably a fucking soldering iron that left him with
something that looked a lot like a lump of coal or a charred
cinder hanging from the top most left hand side of his
previously beautiful and perfect penis.
Years later Hero wondered if he wouldn’t have scarred
so badly had he not insisted on trying to fuck Rosie, frustrating
her, torturing himself and opening his wound up
more than once.
“Well, it still works,” he’d said to his friend, Harry,
on their way to Wigstock. That afternoon, as providence
would dictate, Hero was approached by a cute guy with a few
cameras hanging around his neck who wanted to know if he
could take a picture of his cock. It was a sweet pick-up
line and Hero figured he was looking for just the right
one. Ever the showoff, he opened his pants willingly and
gave that oh so less than subtle little offbeat pervert
voyeur the photograph of his fucking lifetime. He imagined
the shot would end up hanging in some art gallery in San Francisco or Soho, who knew? Who cared?
Promising himself to see a better doctor next time (next
time?!) anything like that should ever happen from then
on Hero tried to be a little more particular about
where he dipped his wick. Personally, he believed – even
if no one ever asked him – that he’d caught the warts from
a toilet bowl seat. No shit. One day he’d noticed that whenever
he took a crap, his johnson hung slightly to the left
and that the affected area of his Fig Newton’s helmet always
rested ever so delicately against the inside rim of the
seat. Not too farfetched (for a theory) considering how
many different toilet bowls he’d sat on in so many different
By the time Hero’s willy had healed up enough to let him
fuck Rosie ragged, they were both totally strung-out and
at each other’s throats. She threw him out of the apartment
– her ex-boyfriend was long gone, Hero having brokered a
reconciliation between the Skinhead and his wife who was
losing her mind trying to raise the jerk’s three young daughters
all by herself.
That was right about the time he ran into Baldheaded
Scott. Scott used to come to the Aztec, a seedy bar
on East Ninth Street, when Hero was dealing coke there in
the late 80’s. Scott told him, “I just finished kicking,
“Oh, yeah? What are you doing?”
. . “Trying to cop, do you know what’s open? What’s good?
and then he sneezed twice. No ordinary sneezes either, Hero
knew them all too well; these were some really serious dope sick
sneezes and they made you think you’d either swallowed
a jar of bee pollen or sniffed a gram of quicklime.
He laughed at Scott and said, “c’mon, I’ll get you straight.”
To see the expression on Scott’s face, someone might have
thought he’d experienced a spiritual revelation, the way
he said, “Well, a1right!”
After they’d copped and got off Hero asked Scott what
he’d been up to? It had been five years since the Aztec
“The carnival, man, the carnival. I was importing exotic
animals for a little while but things started to get a
little hot if you know what I mean. You know, if you’re
not doing anything, you should check out the carnival, you’d
fit right in.”
“Oh, yeah? There’s money there?”
“Heck yeah! Sure, are you kidding?”
They kicked it around for a few more hours and from what
Scott had told Hero, he figured he could sell dope from
NYC to all of Scott’s carny pals up and down the East coast.
In theory, the idea was great, that’s if you were anybody
but Hero and not strung out from the get go. Once he got
selling it had been a fucking miracle he wasn’t pulled
off a Greyhound somewhere below the Mason Dixon and hauled
off to jail for transporting anywhere from ten to twenty
bundles of heroin at a time; the drivers were always on
the lookout, they got a reward or something, and nodding
in the back of the bus wasn’t one of the swiftest moves.
He’d been extremely lucky – riding with the Patron Saint
of Fools n’ Drunks (and drools n’ funks) and seeing as how
Hero never drank very much that only left him the other
Scotty, who came from what the folks back home in Minnesota
would have described as, “ good stock,” hailed from
an upper middle-class family the matriarch of which was
his mother. Old money. She’d cut him off years ago and the
old crone told Scott if he came home
he could even have money. But he either had to be squeaky
clean or on methadone. He once said that dead he wouldn’t
go back there.
Scott showed Hero the G to all the different games. The
G was the trick, the way the mark was played: how he “lost”
his money. Usually, Scott worked the alibis, games so called
because they offered the agent an excuse to serve up to
the mark when he lost. Alibis were their carny name but
almost any “game of skill and chance” that the mark couldn’t
win without the carny letting him was called an alibi.
There were so many different kinds of joints with G’s it
was insane. Scott worked a joint called the Flukey Ball
but the sucker name for it was Over The Rail Bank-A-Ball.
The game consisted of a board with a rail like a towel rack
on it that had just barely enough room for a hollow, white
plastic ball about the size of a Spaulding to fit behind
it and then it would fall into a shallow laundry bucket
(just the right size for washing your feet in) and then
through a hole in the bottom of that and down into a trough
made of a long piece of dark heavy cloth hung end to end
the width of the joint. Normally, two units were set up
this way, both sharing the same trough. The boards, 6 ft
like tall sandwich affairs, were placed about 2 to 3 feet
from where the marks stood outside the joint with their
knees against the front rail. The agents always let them
lean way over the front rail because it gave them the impression
that the game would be easier than they’d originally thought.
The real money to the Flukey Ball was that the mark had
to make ten balls -though not one after another. This was
what was known in “carny” as “ten pointing” and it described
how an agent was operating his or her joint; to ten point
a mark was applicable to a lot of different joints but
the Flukey Ball was by far one of the best.
The first serious G of the Flukey Ball where an agent
was ten pointing the marks kept them constantly chasing
their own money. The first ball was only two dollars. If
the mark made it, he kept on throwing balls without charge
until he made ten. But, if he missed, he had to, “match
your bet,” which meant he had to give the agent another
two dollars to throw again. That made the bet four dollars.
The progression went as follows: two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two,
sixty-four, one-twenty-eight, two-fifty-six, five twelve
– which was usually rounded off to five-hundred.
Hero had seen marks go higher though. A thousand dollars, even, and although friends back in NYC told him that only an idiot would play and pay a game like that he just shook his head and stuck to his story ’cause he’d seen it up close and personal.
The second serious G to the Flukey Ball, was so serious
Hero saw agents go to jail for it, get assaulted because
of it, and even get murdered as a result of it. Every agent
had three of the white plastic balls except one of them
had been carefully stuffed with cotton; this was called
the “cop ball” because it always went behind the rail without
a hitch, the cotton deadened the ball’s bounce against the
board. Hero discovered that if he listened very closely
to the board as the balls bounced off it, he could literally
hear the difference. But, with the noise of the midway,
the marks never could.
The third serious G of the Flukey Ball were the agents
themselves: only the smoothest and most seasoned carnies
worked this type of joint. It looked easy but required
years of experience in the business to really know your shit.
“Hey thar, fella! Win one fer the little lady! What’s
a’ matter? Ya’ angry at’er?” they’d shout out in what was
referred to as, duking in the suckers.” A “sucker” was
anyone who wasn’t a carny. Hero supposed that had come
from the Gypsy’s who were very big in the carnivals and
maintained as a matter of law that anyone who wasn’t a Gypsy
was fair game to rob, cheat, burglarize – you name it. They
were the masters of the G and had more game than Milton
To properly duke a mark into a joint required a little
more finesse than you might think and it was a living if
the agent was any good at it usually paying on average
ten percent of the take for each mark duked.
“Hey there, buddy, how ’bout it? Only takes a throw and the
first one’s on me, hey! Mr. Heart, give this man a free
game on me, will you, please? Here you go, sir.”
As he steps forward, you put the ball in his hand and
gently guide him right up to the rail for the agent to take
over. He isn’t given time to think.
“Here you go win one for the lady?” the agent says
pointing at the dozens of large stuffed animals strung over
and around the entire joint as close together as possible
for a mesmerizing effect that Hero guessed played on the
mark’s sub-conscious childhood memories.
The mark looks at his girl, who’s hanging off his arm
and jumping and down, pointing at a gigantic fucking panda
bear inside a huge, clear plastic bag hung way up high on
one of the inside walls of the joint.
“ Ok, what do I have to do?” he says and the agent shows him
how to lean over the front rail and throw the ball just
right. He makes one. The average mark is not dumb though,
he’s just stupid for the period of time he’s in front of
the joint from all the noise and the distraction of his desire
to believe. He has been duked in and now he will be suckered.
“Oh! You made it! You made it! What’d we win?!” his girl
screams in his ear moronically. The mark looks at the agent
who says to him,
“Nine more like that and you can have any prize you like,
and your money back, now what’d I say?” and the mark repeats
it, “I win any prize and my money back, right?”
“Right, and remember, you don’t have to make ten in a
row, just make ten, got it?”
“Yeah, how much?”
“Well, you already made one and that one was on the house,
give me two dollars and we’ll just keep that first one between
you and me, ok? (Just buy me a beer when you win, only don’t
tell the boss) [wink].”
Now the mark thinks the agent is his friend and that he’s
got a slight advantage so he antes up the two bucks; he
makes it, he’s got two now and he only needs eight more
– it really doesn’t seem to be that difficult. He throws
and misses then it’s four dollars; and then he makes one,
then he misses again and it’s eight dollars, sixteen, thirty-two,
sixty-four, one-twenty-eight, and on and on it went
because, “Remember, when you win you get any prize you like
and all your money back.”
The closer the mark got to ten the easier it was for
him to keep on playing, to keep chasing after his own money.
The din of the midway, the stress of the Flukey Ball, it
all combined to dull the senses and at some point the mark
always looked at his girl and said, “Should I do it?” on
a $256 throw of a little plastic ball and then be torn
over whether to leave without their money or not because
by now he’s had to borrow $52 bucks from his girl just to
stay in the game. The prize? Fuck the prize, they had to
get the car insurance back! In fact, the giant panda now
looks very much like some kind of evil come-to-life stuffed
animal from that show, Tales From The Fucking Crypt, as
it was now leering at them with the most sinister expression
$256 could conjure.
If the mark beefed the real skill of the agent was in
knowing how much, if any, of his money to give him back.
Usually, whether the mark beefed or not, the agent gave him
the prize he’d been after before he started losing his
shirt: a $256 stuffed fucking panda.
Hero never heard any of those chicks screaming, “We won!
No, they just moped away with their boyfriends who had
to carry the fucking panda, an oversized reminder of their
“fun” night at the carnival.
The first time Hero watched the Flukey Ball he’d had
to walk away because he was laughing so damn hard. He simply
could not believe anyone would actually continue to
give someone their money like that. But, he learned, they
wanted to believe. To believe.
He hung around the different joints and fit in quickly
just like Scott told him he would. The carnival was the
last stop for a lot of ex-cons, people on the run and social
rejects. The rules were a lot like those in prison, too.
Even so, the more he saw of the carnival, the funnier he
thought the whole thing was. Especially the old slang and
middle-aged joint owners. They all dressed like it was still
- Fat lapels, bell bottoms, polyester sport suits with
silk shirts worn open to show off their chest hair and gold chains.
Always lots of gold. Gold chains, gold pinky rings and gold
watches. Just so long as it was gold. And they all wore
different variations of Elvis sunglasses, too. They called
the cops “the fuzz” and it made it very hard for Hero to
talk to them and still take them serious1y sometimes. Almost
all of his own slang was a combination of the latest NYC
vernaculars used by the assorted subcultures including –
but not limited to – junkies, Blacks, Hispanics (in Spanish,
English and Spang1ish), homeboys, wise-guys, and the indefatigable prison slang. Every state had its own prison
slang and words overlapped in the same way they did within
different dialects of the same language. The carnies spoke
a lingo stuck somewhere in between the late nineteenth
century and the mid 1970’s. They used a lame-ass
pig latin they called “Carny” to speak in front
of the marks. Hero guessed that a lot of the slang was accumulative but that the styles of dress changed by jumps in
an odd game of leap-frog with every generation as the carnies
who grew older established themselves on the lots sporting
whatever style of dress that had survived along with them.
Hero met entire families of carnies, generations of them.
It was haunting to see. He learned about the big shows and
listened to stories about fortunes made and lost in the
carnival. Stories about freaks like Lobster Boy, whose hands
were deformed from birth and resembled lobster claws exactly,
though not so much that they kept him from freebasing like
a wild Banshee and pulling the trigger of the pistol he
used to shoot his own father, Lobster Man, with – killing him for making time with Lobster Boy’s girl. Scott speculated that it was
no wonder their hands were deformed. Both father and son
were similarly affected and quite well off as a result.
Hero met “The World’s Smallest Woman.” And she was small,
too, standing not even a whole two feet. He’d just had to
ask Scott what he thought her pussy looked like.
“I don’t know, small, I guess. Really small!” and then
they laughed, stoned out of their gourds until Hero felt
kind of sorry for the little woman who was too small for
even midget dick. Her face was so tiny that when she stood
still it was easy to mistake her for an expensive doll.
Scott said her trailer had been built to scale and that
she was flush with scratch, wealthy even. She owned and
ran her own sideshow and had a guy running a couple of
joints out on the lot for her and the carnival didn’t get
much better that.
Scott told Hero about a friend of his named Cheech, a
carny who used to work the Flukey Ball with him who was
last seen on “America’s Most Wanted” for rape and murder.
Cheech had met a couple of very mature fourteen year old
girls on the midway and they made a date to get together after
the lot closed to go drink some beer and party in a nearby
corn field. Only the girls weren’t as mature as Cheech thought
and it wasn’t long before the party got out of hand and
he raped and tried to murder both girls with a claw hammer except one of them survived.
With carnies, there were as many weird stories as there
were ways of making money on or off the lot. “Creeping”
was one of the seedier methods that was very popular in
the off season or any other time some quick scratch was
needed. A group of carnies, no less than two ,but one could
get away with it in a pinch, would rent a room in a motel
near an interstate. Once they got settled in one played
chicky at the window while another strolled outside smoking
a cigarette. Meanwhile the third disassembled the
knob lock on the door of the room. Next, he took apart
the cylinder and with a small file and a blank key and made
a master-key for all of the rooms in the motel. Afterwards,
he’d put everything back together and everyone would come
inside and stay well out of sight while taking turns watching
from behind the curtains to see who was staying in which
room, whether they had expensive luggage or not, and what
kind of car they were driving. When a potentially good mark
went out for dinner, preferably taking their car, two of
the carnies would let themselves into the room and search
it thoroughly for any valuables while the third looked out.
Jewelry, cash, traveler’s checks, cameras, suits, electronics
and anything else that happened to catch their eye they
took. Hero met a carny named Airhead Joe who, it was rumored, had eaten a piece of a wedding cake he’d found in a room.
He also stole a gift wrapped toaster-oven, a wedding gift,
and four of those little bars of complimentary motel soaps.
(Scott said it was all true ’cause he was there and saw Joe do it).
Another scam consisted of setting up a joint so hot with
the fuzz that the carnies usually had to do it in a flea-market,
although Hero had seen joints go up anywhere they
could get away with it: out of a trailer at roadside , in gas
station parking lots and in NYC he saw a “flat store”
go up in the back of a plexiglass shop on Canal Street.
Flat stores normally involved a fast G and a game that
could be set up on a flat table hence the name flat store.
The most popular one Hero saw was called “The Razzle.” The
marks called it “Trade Bank” ’cause that’s what the sign
in front of the joint said, but Razzle was a much better
description. Primarily, it consisted of a box with a board
chart on the table. In the box version, a hand-full of marbles
was thrown into the box and the mark’s score was then “added”
up by the agent. In another version, a multi-sided die covered
with numbers was rolled instead. The numbers were added at
breakneck speed and compared to a
chart which had boxes with numbers one through one hundred
on it. Each box also had instructions in it such as, “Win
$50.00 Go Forward 3 Boxes,” or, “Pay $50.00 Go Back 3 Boxes,” and then a few that paid ridiculously large amounts of money and sent the mark as many as 50 boxes ahead, and vice versa.
The G of The Razzle wasn’t just in the counting, it was
in the agent’s familiarity with the board and his sense
for what he could push the mark to do as he lead him along
like a horse after a carrot chasing his own money
in a futile attempt to get to one hundred. Large stacks
of “cash” kept in a bag or briefcase were in reality
nothing more than bundles of currency sized colored paper
with fifties and hundreds on top. This was the “Bank”
in “Trade Bank” and when the mark won he would then take
possession of the bank. There were stuffed animals, sometimes
as few as one, hanging over the joint or even in front of it and sometimes there would be cheap household appliances like a new vacuum cleaner (or maybe just a vacuum cleaner box).
There were true stories of very stupid marks who’d went
home, dug up their life’s savings, and came back to keep
playing the game. One agent was said to have caught a mark
for ten-thousand dollars and, after what Hero’d seen on the
lots, he was inclined to believe it.
In the long run he didn’t have the stomach for any of
- The looks on the mark’s faces when they lost, they were
like a character right out of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon
who’d suddenly been transformed into a giant Tootsie Pop
with a sign hanging on it that read: “SUCKER!”
Hero didn’t like losing and had a bad childhood memory
from when he was about eleven or twelve and had played some
game of “skill and chance” and lost the three dollars his
father had given him for treats and goodies in two throws
of a little plastic ball at a washtub or some other equally
rude device of deception. He’d felt like crying when the
lost if he wasn’t going to play anymore.
“Go on, beat it!” the man growled. It had ruined his whole
afternoon at the carnival.
“Scumbag,” Hero called back to the creep nearly twenty-five
years later and,
“Scumbag,” once more just for good measure ..
Every time he saw a mark lose all those emotions welled
up in his eyes like so many little hidden tears because
he knew how awful they felt, how stupid – and as adults
– how embarrassed. Hero believed that even if you gave the
mark back all his scratch and a free panda, it could never
erase the pain, that selfsame knowledge that he’d been
had. Suckered like a real chump. And that wasn’t good for
his heart, his soul or his spirit.
Hero learned that the carnival was a dying animal that
was on its way to becoming extinct, a suicide killed off
by its own greed and honest theme parks. A relic.
Breakfast arrived and he popped the cover off the feed up
to find a veritable potpourri of cereals in the
second smallest compartment of the dirty, beige plastic
tray; a mix of rice-crispies, cornflakes and bran. He added
milk and dug his spork in. With the very first bite he
realized the reason for the mish-mosh of grains at the bottom
of the cereals was a fine dust that he guessed had once
been branflakes. The texture of all these once enjoyable
breakfast staples was now a strange tasting crunchy-wet-
cold mush. Exercising a long ago learned talent essential
to doing time he ate without thinking and tried as best
he could to avoid the bottom of the tray. Instead, he thought
about the trip he and Scott had made from NYC to Virginia,
but he couldn’t for the life of him remember where in Virginia.
He could see a large paper “Oliver North For U.S. Senate”
sign with big, blocked white letters on a navy blue background
that had a very bad picture of Ollie on it.
They’d rode the bus down and Hero’d brought six bundles
of dope to sell on the lot. Scotty got himself a spot working
the Flukey while Hero hooked up with a One Ball joint run by
a coked crazed couple in their thirties who tried to beat
him out of his money and ended up trying to pay him in
loose change until they realized who the losers were in that one!
The One Ball was a fairly straight up joint where to win,
the mark had to knock down a pyramid of three milk bottles
from about twelve feet away with a softball. The G was that
the bottles were made of cast iron and weighed about 2 lbs.
a piece. It was possible, provided the mark didn’t mind
spending $30 throwing his arm out to get it right. The
softballs were pretty shot, too. At two bucks a ball or three for five dollars it was what it was: a crappy carnival game.
Hero was high the entire time he worked the joint, it made
duking the marks that much easier. He skimmed about twenty
percent off the gross take, in effect stealing from himself, too, but it all worked out in the end and stealing was an accepted part of the business, just so’s long as you weren’t caught.
“Hey there, Dad! Let the kids try one time!” he yelled
to a tired, work-worn, middle-aged fellow with three almost
half-grown kids and Hero thought that even in better clothes
they still would have looked dirt poor. They had that tired
aching look that some poor people get from always being
hungry no matter how much they ate; there was something
forever gaunt and hollow about them, something unmistakable
and Hero wondered if it wasn’t the knowledge that they’d
be hungry again later. He saw all of them standing there
looking at the game. Their father, who’d taken them to the
carnival as a treat (and a break for the Mrs.), stood a few
minutes examining the bottles from a distance and thinking.
Hero saw how hard the guy had to think about it and how
he must’ve been weighing his chances of winning against
the hour of work it had taken to earn the five dollars it
was going to cost him to find out. The kids, somewhere’s
around seven, nine and thirteen: a boy and two girls, were
all standing practically one on top of the other while they
patiently waited for their Dad to make a decision.
Hero set the bottles so that if he’d farted too close
they would have fallen right over. He gave the guy a conspiratorial wink that made it a little easier for the old
boy to make up his mind and, when he still hesitated, Hero
said,”C’mon, Dad, somebody’s got to win,” and then handed
him the first ball. Dad gave him the fin and let’er rip.
Hero almost cried for real when he saw how happy those
kid s were, so proud of their old man who’d won them a large
stuffed lizard, or whatever it was, but it didn’t matter,
no, sir, because that night – they were winners.
Dad thanked Hero with a humble smile and a firm handshake.
“Thanks a lot,” he said, and he meant it, too. Hero figured
they’d take that old stuffed lizard-ma-call-it home to Mom
and she’d get infected, too, and the kids wouldn’t talk
about nothin’ else – nonstop – for at least the next two
weeks and for years to come they’d reminisce because that
night, that lone fucking sweaty night on a dirty midway
in some miserable carnival, they had won. Hero was so high,
he started imagining that the vibe might take one of those
kids to college or who knew where? It was right then and
there that he knew that the carnival wasn’t for him.
In the carnival, someone would always ask him,” You with it?”
To which he was supposed to reply, “with it and for it.”
But he did not feel as though he were “with it” or “for
it” because “it” was not too cool at all. The whole thing
was nothing but at dirty, rotten, time intensive cheat.
Just setting up and tearing down the joints took countless
hours. Stocking them, helping with the other joints, it
sucked. A lot of the older joints were called “stick joints”
because of their hinged and painted two-by-four lumber,
over seventy-five pieces to each joint that were then covered
with a 200 lb. canvas tarp (when dry). Hero discovered that
whenever he worked there would be very few hours for himself.
The entire thing was a racket. Food on the lot was expensive.
“Grab Joints,” so called because the marks “grabbed” their
food after paying and then more grabbed their food after
them and the joints stayed busy so naturally the name
fit. Corndogs, hotdogs, soda-pop, fries, specialty items
like chili, elephant ears and tacos; all of it over-priced,
unhealthy and more often than not – dirty.
“Finger food, man. That’s what killed Elvis, here – want
some onion-rings?” Scotty practically lived on the shit.
Hero worked his way through a few different joints: One
Ball; Free Throw (basketball); Dime Toss; and Ballon Store,
and he hated every last one of them before the season was
even halfway over. The Balloon Store was by far the most
crooked of the four. He shared one with a carny who went
by the name Steve The Jag, which translated from carny was Steve The Asshole. The man was a menace. A drunk menace
from Boston who’d seen the last of his glory days sometime
during the 1980’s. An Irishman and asshole bar none, The
Jag showed Hero how a balloon store really worked: the agent
fed the mark darts at two dollars each or three for five,
then he had to bust a number of balloons that were tacked
to a board with either a letter or star underneath them.
There were myriad variations, but basically they were all
alike in that the mark had to either spell a word by hitting
balloons with a letter under each one or accumulate certain
colored stars and so on, and then he won a prize: a stuffed
animal literally the size of a mouse.
“The first one’s the worst one,” the agent always told
the mark. To win bigger prizes, the mark could play again
and “trade up.” The agent’s job was to keep feeding him
darts until he got him up to about sixteen just to
trade up to a stuffed toy hippo the size of a roll of toilet
paper. (Well, actually, a little smaller than a roll of
toilet paper.) That was thirty-two bucks. They threw the
dart and heard that – POP! – and the more they heard it,
the more they wanted to throw them. Every now and then,
one of the marks would flip out when the agent stopped handing
them darts and with a fan of two dozen of them between his
fingers and say, “That’s thirty-two dollars, sir.”
Almost all the marks Hero’d played – paid. He thought
it was simply amazing how they would do practically
anything he told them to, denying any semblance of common
sense that would have otherwise said, “This guy is here to make money, there’s no way he wants to help me win that big prize.”
But they wanted to believe. And the sound of those balloons
popping drowned out everything else.
Hero tried to get in on the alibis and flat stores and
even though he was being “promoted” by Scott and some other
Flukey Ball agents, it required more experience than he
had just then. He’d hang around and watch but agents he
wasn’t so cool with would chase him away; the less agents
that knew the joint the better – more work for those who did.
Hero met agents with names like Baldheaded Scott, FBI
Steve, Airhead Joe, New York Nicky, Junky John, Carny Bill,
Coney Island Sue, Basketball Joe and the father and son
team of Riverboat and Paddleboat.
Paddleboat was a good friend of Scott’s and when they
were all at Military Circle in Virginia, Hero met him and
they took an immediate liking to one another. Not long after
they were both part of a crew of seven carnies who headed
up to Atlantic City (AC) after J.D. Firona’s Flukey Ball was shut down as the result of a family dispute between J.D. and his brother John, both sons of Four Firona Brothers Carnival.
The famous Four Firona Brothers ran the largest carnival outfit
in North America. They had four separate units that all
ran out of New England, each one of them a full sized carnival.
They worked from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi,
from Florida all the way up to Canada and then across Canada
from Toronto to Winnipeg. They’d started out forty years
earlier in Providence with one ride and now boasted owning
over a hundred. They were as crooked as the edges of a broken
plate and tough as nails, big long nails.
In AC the agents shared one tiny third floor hotel room that was cheap, dingy and very, very dirty. Hero remembered
that the entire room was covered with a dark, brownish yellow
film of sticky grime and accumulated tar and nicotine.
Even the light switches were gooey with it all up inside
of them. The bed was a double, a fold-out from an old ratty
couch and nothing more than a cheap piece of dry foam rubber.
After they’d opened it, one of them sat on it at the corner and it broke, almost catching the unlucky carny’s foot and ankle underneath it when it collapsed. This was remedied with a few New Jersey Bell phone books. The bathroom was, let’s just say the room was bad enough and the bulb was blown in the toilet.
Two days after they arrived, everyone was dope sick. Monkey,
the lease holder of a covered pier on the Boardwalk,
hadn’t put the joints up yet. This was what Paddleboat and·
a few of the others referred to as “The Monkey Trap.”
The Monkey Trap was very simple: every year Monkey told
a few agents that if they came to AC he would let them
open a flat store and or an alibi in the arcade on his pier.
Only once they were there he usually had two-dozen reasons
why he wasn’t ready that he hadn’t mentioned over the phone
to agents who had traveled there from places as far
away as Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky.
Desperate for scratch or, as in this case, dope sick,
the agents often ended up working with Monkey’s low I.Q.
flunkies to get the arcade and the joints in it all cleaned
- Ostensibly in late preparation for the season which
was about to open in only a matter of days.
The G to The Monkey Trap was that since the agents were
supposed to build their own joints in Monkey’s arcade, then
it wasn’t unusual for Monkey to ask them to lend a hand
getting the rest of the place together, too. There was a
Machine Gun, a couple of coin operated video games, a Ring
Toss and a psychic chicken who would answer YES or NO by pecking at a light. In the evening she played Tick Tack-
Toe and odds were a sure 7 to 1 that she couldn’t be beat.
Now, if any of the agents told Monkey, “no,” that he couldn’t
give him a hand, well, then he risked pissing Monkey off
and although he wouldn’t say anything then – or ever for
that matter – once the joints went up, you could be sure
that agent found he wasn’t only getting the least amount
of time in them but also the worst. With six agents and
two games they’d jump in and out by the hour when the marks
were hot enabling all of them to see some of the best money.
Of course the biggest question was how long before Monkey
would get the joints up?
He was never called Monkey to his face but was by everyone
– behind his back – because of his physical appearance.
He looked exactly like a short, pudgy, white skinned chimpanzee
with a wide squat torso, high shoulders, and arms
that hung almost to his knees that hinged spindly ape-like
legs; and all of this was covered with a coarse mat of stiff,
curly black hair. When he walked he resembled a monkey
trying very desperately to imitate a man. A drunk agent
once suggested that Monkey, and he addressed him by
this name could maybe open up a Geek pit and make himself
the main attraction. No doubt, there had been some degree
of unmeasured tension between this agent and the fifty-two
year old Monkey. (Even Paddleboat couldn’t recall his
real name.) The agent was just about to go fetch Clara Del
Poyo to show Monkey how he could use her in his new pit
act when he was shot with one of the machine guns
loaded with greased BB’s. The mouthy agent only lost
an eye but they also had to throw him a life-preserver
as the force of the BB entering his head sent him right over
the rail of the pier and down into the Atlantic. Monkey
quietly tuned away and went to sit with Clara Del Poyo,
the psychic chicken who’s honor he had sworn he would not
abide to be slandered.
Dope sick and broke, Hero had learned why this dilemma
was known as the infamous and dreaded Monkey Trap. It wasn’t
always this way but it only took one time to really fuckup
a carny’s program whether he was strung out or not.
Getting high one afternoon, Paddleboat told Hero his story
about having been born into the carnival and how not even
a year before his father was shot and killed one night
by an angry mark who’d followed him back to his motel room
after the lot closed. They sat on the Boardwalk in the
warm summer breeze and the ocean rolled in like a familiar
ache in Paddleboat for his father who had taught
him everything he knew. Hero learned from the careful behavior
of the agents who worked the alibis and flat stores that
it was not uncommon for marks to confront them off the lot,
on the lot, in the joint or anywhere else they happened
to be when they began to lose it; when they saw that giant
neon sign blinking brightly inside their head that read:
“ SUCKER! SUCKER! SUCKER! SUCKER! SUCKER! SUCKER! SUCKER! SUCKER!SUCKER!”
In Rock Hill, South Carolina, Hero watched a mark go right
over the rail and into the joint trying to get at the balls
in the trough. The “SUCKER!” light in this particular mark’s
pea sized brain must have illuminated the obvious fact that
any “game”in which one could lose one’s entire $250
check (and another $32 of his wife’s) in less pay time
than it took to say, “Damn, Yankees!,” had to be rigged!
“I know yew bin ginin’ me! Yew Yankee motherfucka’s! Lemme’
back thar! Goddammit! Out’a mah way, I say!”
Scotty pushed him back with his left forearm while raising
a short bat embedded with nails in his right in an effort
to back the mark down until they could get the “Fixer” over
to help straighten it all out.
The Fixer was normally one of the lot men, they worked
for the owners and wore a few different hats. They were
also older men, easily in their fifties, and once they said
something it was respected like law by agents and owners
alike. To disobey the Fixer was like asking to be run off
the lot. If an agent could help it, he was never supposed
to let a beef leave from under his joint’s awning. Sometimes,
even the Fixer couldn’t fix it and the mark went for the
fuzz. Hero watched as this exchange took place somewhere
“Now hold yer horses there and let me get this straight,
You gave the man $600 and then you threw the ball, is
“Yeah, that’s right, but they was ginin’ me, officer,
and every time I missed I had to give’m more money just to
keep playin’ and git back what I already got in! My wife
had to go to the ATM, dammit! Now …. “
“OK, OK, now, settle down there. So what your tellin’
me is that you gave the man your money, and then you threw
the ball. Is that right?”
“Well, sure that’s right, I already told you that, what
I want to know is … “
“Listen here, fella’, you say you gave the man your money and
then you threw the ball, you admit that yerfself. Ain’t
no crime been committed here, you paid and then you played.
What do you want me to do? Lock the man up because you lost!?”
The cops picked up about a hundred a piece for every night
the Flukey Ball was up. As of late, it couldn’t go
up in a lot of places, everyone knew about it from the nightmare
stories their friends told them. You could always tell
a mark who’d been had because he walked around the lot with
the $256 panda under his arm wearing a donkey face. They
could be seen pointing to the joint as they warned their
friends. It was pretty sick alright.
Out of sight under the counters the agents kept axe handles,
cut down baseball bats, tire irons, golf clubs, broken pool
cues and other various personalized versions of all types
of sporting goods equipment. Scotty explained,” Well, sometimes the Fixer is a little slow getting here, ya’ know what
I mean?” The signal for trouble was, “Hey, Rube!” and carnies came out of the woodwork ready to kick ass. Oft times the agent
was holding hundreds of dollars of the mark’s scratch right
in front of his face – money he’d been chasing for the last
thirty minutes, sweating like a pig as he watched it
suddenly grow wings and fly south as the result of his own
stupidity without even waving, “Bye, bye, SUCKER!”
The morning moved on uneventfully. Nothing out of the
The early autumn sky was white and hazy with dirty
clouds, the air cool and a little damp so that Hero’s feet
felt cold inside his boots from not moving them enough.
Contemplating. “Wash my dirty socks?” he asked quizzically,
knowing full well he wouldn’t. Shave with the leftover luke
warm water he’d washed up with earlier? “No,” he told himself, I’ll do that this evening when the next porter brings
more hot water around on the cart but he never did.
Hero didn’t talk too much from his cell. It was better
that way because prisoners had a tendency to scrutinize
each other’s conversations a bit too closely sometimes. Prison
was a lot of time and time unoccupied left men to their
own devices which usually weren’t too benevolent to begin
with. And so they watched each other very closely, and listened
even closer, looking more for doors to the offense than
the defense and it became second nature in the joint. Hero
saw this as a terrible waste of everyone’s – time – but
there wasn’t anything he could do to change it. To have
ever divulged to anyone what he truly thought inside of
this dogs-eat-dog kennel would have been ten times more
dangerous here behind the wall than it would have been anywhere on the other side of it. Out in the world people
had either added his name to their pay-me-no-mind list or
said he was crazy. A very select few said he was a genius
but it never accounted for very much to him; maternal abandonment he’d said. That very small percentage who liked what he said and listened saw Hero a brilliant fool and only wanted to share his shimmering glances of what freedom really looked like – without ever having to make any commitment to support its validity. Hero always wanted to ask where he could
take the freedom he’d been given as a “gift” so that he
might bring it back and exchange it or maybe get a Gift
Certificate instead that he could hold onto until he found
something else he wanted. He’d hypothesized a long time
ago that if you could imagine a world full of fun, salads
and sun, did it mean that only a fool would say that? Later
on he’d discover that they weren’t always so desirable.
He found wisdom hidden inside silence and music. It was
very rare inside people, only there, and it’s residue was
poetry, art and literature, just to name a few. Great constructs
of thought, ideas, good design – and bad – all waved
their flags so that a lot of serious sifting was necessary.
To Hero it was like the difference between a Mack Bolan
adventure novel and the Bagadavagita; both were written
accounts of men in life and death battles with themselves
and the worlds around them, only Mack Bolan hadn’t inspired
any great spiritual following that Hero was aware of. He
amused himself, thinking, what if he read the entire Mack
Bolan series, could he then examine the man and catalog
his strengths and weakness to arrive at some legitimate
spiritual evaluation of him? A conclusion to inclusion
amongst the greatest prophets? What kind of religious icon
would Mack Bolan create?
In The Steel Cage Match Of All Eternity
! !TONIGHT: KRISHNA VS. MACK BOLAN!!
The Man. The Myth. The Legends.
Main Event: 11:00P.M. Only on Pay Per View.
Joseph Campbell had spoken about the recurring themes of stories and myth down through the ages.The victims were all too easily accessed – all we have to do
is turn on our television, or go to the video
rental store and we can see them anytime we like. Legends
in your face. These new fairy tales told Hero to be like
Mike, to drive the same car and wear the same sneakers he
wore – even though he knew it was bullshit; he wanted to
Hero thought that we bought a God greater than our previously lame God: the one who played golf in plaid knickers and didn’t
sweat the divot. Hero heard a voice, no, a revelation of
his own from within, from without: “We were talking .. about
the space between ourselves and” .. icons, temples and idols
are now the videos, the wrestling arenas, the World Wide
Web and action figures for the likes of Madonna, The Terminator,
Presidential Barbie and The Artist Formerly Known
Hero liked Campbell immensely. He too had seen these things
as a cause for alarm: a virus of thought and easy answers
to selfish questions that would all be wrong anyway. He’d
talked about the void that included no rites of passage
or maybe new ones? A driver’s license, a credit card
and they were off and running. As for the poor: their first
baby and or arrest, what else? Campbell warned of a coming
breakdown of American society and Hero’d said, “What?!
Another one?!” to his t.v. and laughed at the man’s perceptions
of something Hero saw as having already taken place.
He agreed with the apocolyptic sense and missed Campbell’s
point which may have been about a new method of living,
of civilization, of interaction, rapidly changing values,
the whole shebang. Change too quick to even bother recording
because life was happening to us faster and faster and faster.
Hero had first heard the interviews when he was in
his mid-twenties. At first it looked like nothing more than
a couple of old dudes sitting around talking. It was a revelation
that came right about the time he had a strange
spiritual enlightenment on his way to a full blown coke
and dope habit that finally landed him in front of the bank
on Second Avenue and St. Mark’s Place.
It began when he was released from prison after doing
eighteen months for attempted robbery. He’d rented a room
from a girl he knew downtown who’d moved to East Harlem.
She played guitar in a band called King Missile and years
later, in Attica, Hero would hear them on the radio. They
had a very popular song called “Detachable Penis” which
was getting a great deal of air-play on the Alternative
and College radio stations. Besides playing guitar she
also sang the chorus which was the same over and over:
“ .. detachable penis … detachable penis … “
The song told the story of the lead singer’s detachable
penis and how he lost it while out partying one night in
the East Village only to find it the next day being sold
alongside a bunch of other worthless crap – on a blanket
right around the corner from the bank Hero would panhandle at.
As for Rebecca, she was no slouch on the guitar, the girl
had chops and talent. She was driven to make it and it sounded
as if she had.
A week into his stay Hero met the landlord on the third floor
landing of the staircase. He was thirty-one and an NYU grad
with an MBA originally from Providence. He wasn’t the stereotypical version of any Yuppie that Hero’d ever seen, no.
And, after about a month of working for Mark Scarpelli,
he’d decided the man was a guerrilla yuppie. The kind who
would evict an old blind widow with one leg if he thought
he could get away with it. Hero once joked that if NYU’s
Business School was teaching what Scarpelli was practicing
then it was no wonder the country was so fucked up. His
paper games were notorious for resembling Dick Dastardly
type affairs, real robber baron type shit.
Scarpelli hired Hero right there on the staircase after
talking to him a whole hot six minutes (if it was that long).
Starting the following Monday he would assume management
of four 5 story tenement buildings on 133rd Street between
Broadway and Amsterdam in an area of West Harlem Scarpelli
called “Santo Domingo” because of its large Dominican population.
Other colonized territories were “Africa” or 145th
Street between Convent and St. Nicholas and “Puerto Rico”
or East Harlem where Hero lived with Rebecca and Scarpelli
kept his office. East Harlem was also known as “EI Barrio”
and “Spanish Harlem” but mostly everyone called it “El Barrio.”
As part of his deal, Scarpelli gave Hero a large two-bedroom
apartment in the same building as his office on top of the
$400 a week cash he paid himself out of the rents he
collected. He fixed the place up, he felt good about everything;
it was like a reward for all the shit he’d had to
eat while he was in prison those last eighteen months.
His first day on the job one of his crack head tenants
set a severe fire in his apartment and later that afternoon
the stock market crashed in what was to be forever after
known as “Black Monday.”
Hero was worried about how the crash would effect his
new job. Scarpelli stopped by to see how he’d handled the
balance. For the younger man, financially dependent on the
older, it was unnerving. He was equally as perplexed at
Carcerine, Scarpelli’s sister, instant and aggressive desire to marry him.
She’d told Mark and her older sister, Kay, about it before
they were even seeing each other. Things got stickier as
time went on. Hero got extremely stressed out as he began
to learn the full extent of Mark’s business practices which
included – but were never limited to – screwing tenants,
employees, partners, banks and even his own lawyer and
to Hero, anyone who could screw his own lawyer was a bad
One day someone came into Hero’s office and served him
papers which indicated that the names on it were to cease
and desist from all activities pertaining to the management
of his four buildings: first and foremost being the collection
of any and all rents. The papers also said that the buildings
had been in receivership for almost five months – and that
meant that they were legally the bank’s “property” two months
before Hero took them over. On parole, and not very familiar
with real estate law, he got scared.
Mark said, “Ignore it, I’ll take care of it, here – gimme
those,” and took the papers. Hero knew he was full of shit
but he really wanted to believe.
“How could everything go so wrong?” he asked himself.
“It was all just starting to fall into place!”
(This was a compensated delusion. Actually, things were
a fucking mess.)
A few days later Hero got really worried when another
set of papers arrived this time with his own name added to
the list of Mark’s various partners and a plumbing company
who owned shares in exchange for work they’d done.
In another two days the court appointed receiver showed
- Hero could tell right away that the guy was a real duck.
A foreign exchange duck from Guyana or someplace. The duck
stirred up the dumber more easily manipulated tenants by
beefing about broken mailboxes in buildings that hadn’t
had heat or hot water before he’d got there. Buildings that
Hero’d had to use an aluminum baseball bat just to clear
the crack heads off the staircases at least three times a
week. The drug dealers, who made up close to forty percent
of his paying tenants fell back to watch in silent trepidation.
Hero had negotiated with each one of them until
they’d accepted the idea of paying rent each month and for drug dealers making a quick buck, he thought they were just about the cheapest motherfuckers he’d ever met.
The dealers were finally getting used to
him, they trusted him because he got things done in the
buildings and, since it was by then well known that he’d
recently gotten out of prison, they’d all relaxed and got
with the program.
Mark came over and told Hero to give the duck all the keys
the next day. There was a method to his madness. Mark knew
that before Hero had come on the scene those buildings
had been managed by three different dudes and over a ten month
period none of them had lasted more than three weeks. Usually
the dealers paid the neighborhood guapos to run them off
or the dudes collected all the rent they could before either
the guapos or Mark got hold of them and then split. Hero
had faced down the guapos, the dealers, the junkies, the
crack heads, every lunatic on the block and probably a few
from the surrounding blocks. When he’d arrived there were
no lights in the staircases or halls, leaks, broken windows,
no heat or hot water and crack heads everywhere. They smoked anywhere they could get away with it: on the stairs, in the empty
apartments, the basements and on the roofs. After two weeks
of the duck the buildings looked exactly as they had when
Hero’d seen them for the first time a little over three
months before. The tenants and dealers put together a delegation
to go over to the east side and ask him if he would,
“Please, please come back, Hero . We need you – everything’s
all fucked up, there’s no hot water or nothing. This African
guy, he don’t know what he’s doing … “
They’d even brought their rent money with them but Mark
said he couldn’t go.
“My hands are tied,” he told them.
The duck collected a month’s rent and then he split back
to his office on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
It wasn’t too long after this that Hero fell ill and
he and Mark had an intense argument that ended in a minor
scuffle over a deposit for an apartment Hero’d accepted
two days before the duck had rolled in. Mark wanted to fuck
her out of it: three-hundred dollars. He told Hero he could
pay her if it really bothered him so much otherwise,
“Fuck you and her!”
After a two hour verbal assault and an attempt by the
sick as a dog Hero to slam Mark into a chain link fence,
he finally relented and gave up the woman’s money.
Hero got sicker within days. Carcerine took him to the
emergency room at Bellvue. He’d developed a wet festering
sore on the right side of his face the size of a silver
dollar that was all yellow, green and crusty around the
edges. He had night sweats, diarrhea, oral thrush and
had experienced a sudden and dramatic loss of weight.
A male nurse, who looked to Hero like an easier on the
eyes version of A1 Franken (with black hair), told him that
he should get a blood test; he just never sad for what though.
Hero called his parents who referred him to his mother’s
internist who gave him an appointment to come see him early
that week. He drew Hero’s blood, bottled it, put a numbered
sticker on it, and then had him deliver it to the Department
Of Health on First Avenue and 29th Street where it was tested
for the HIV antibody. Before he left the doctor told him
that he thought Hero had AIDS Related Complex (ARC), which
was a short preview of full blown AIDS; very short. Very,
very short indeed.
Hero told Carcerine to break-out. He sulked and moped
for a couple of days and then headed downtown to Save The
Robots, an after-hours club whose owners were old
Acquaintances, and got fucked-up. Really good and fucked up,
and stayed that way for almost three days.
The next time he saw the doctor, three weeks had passed,
Hero was starting to put on a little weight and
looked much healthier in general. The test came back negative
but the doctor never bothered to find out why he’d gotten
sick in the first place figuring, since Hero was looking
and feeling so much better, that whatever it was had passed.
Looking back now he understood why his mother had only
lived to sixty-eight. He wished he could kick that doctor
square in his bony little ass; Hero believed he’d contracted
either hepatitis B or C because now he had them both. Had
he known, he might have made some kind of an effort to have
avoided drugs and alcohol in earnest. It was the only really
serious illness he’d ever had. Some of his friends from downtown
came to visit him up in Harlem. They told him later,
after he’d recovered, that he looked like he were dead
and just didn’t know enough to lay down …
“You were on your deathbed, man! You look better now though,” Thumper had told him. They were all scared for Hero – who appeared brave – but was probably just too stupid to be afraid and was secretly enjoying all the attention and pity he was
getting so that when he did get well he even missed it a little.
“Plumbing,” he said, “was probably most likely to blame,”
but there had also been a needle stick accident while cleaning
up a backyard, so either way. Hero’d done a fair amount
of waste related plumbing without gloves and was cut at
least once on almost every job. At the time he speculated
that it was the stress of trying too hard to believe. His
buildings were gone. He’d been pocketing an extra one-thousand
dollars a month in fees and side jobs like the cement filled
steel frame doors he’d been installing for all the drug
dealers and now that was gone. He’d also been arguing with
Carcerine about some of Mark’s business practices and she
defended her brother vehemently proclaiming as a matter
of fact, “Yeah, but whose got the money?”
And Hero got sick to his stomach because he just wasn’t
that way, he couldn’t screw people in the place they slept.
Dealers? Sure, but regular folks – never. No way.
Mark wanted Carcerine to stay away from Hero and his
illness was all it had taken to do just that.
One day, while he was still sick, he approached Mark and
before he had a chance to speak Mark told him,
“I don’t want to talk to you, you’re gonna die,” just as he
was walking out of the plumber’s offices. Everyone heard
- That Mark was wrong didn’t matter. Hero felt everyone’s
pity for him, their compassion wasted because he had discovered
that it didn’t mean a fucking thing – it was worthless.
It couldn’t change Mark or Carcerine or make Mark respect
him enough not to say something so cruel and coarse in front
of all those people that Hero now had to work with everyday.
(He was dispatching for the plumbing company until he regained his health.) Hero wondered about how it felt when he was looking at someone‘s intended back – the way Mark had walked by swiveling his shoulders to pass him on his way to the carpeted stairs before Eli’s office. This was a place of business,
Hero reminded himself and Mark was a valued business associate of Eli’s and anybody upsetting that order was the
problem. Right or wrong it didn’t mean jackshit. Hero stood
for a moment soaking up all the wasted pity he could absorb
trying to exploit everyone’s feelings, trying to convince
himself to believe; believe the improbable unlikelihood
that someone, the bookkeeper – anyone – that someone would
come and comfort him with kindness and soft purring pity
as they led him to a big comfy chair where they would wrap
him in a warm fuzzy blanket and serve him hot cocoa with
marshmallows and a tray of graham crackers that he could
dunk in the chocolate while they cooed to him that Mark
was wrong and not to worry because they had all seen it
and no one was angry at Hero for dying.
“But it’s not my fault,”
“We know, Hero, we know, dear. Fuck mean old Mark, he’s
an asshole anyway. Warm enough, darling? Relax. Here, smoke
some of this black Nepalese hash and take a nap. Take a
nap, Hero, and we’ll wake you for dinner; go on and close
your tired eyes, baby, that’s it, there now, sshhh, sshhh,
sleep, baby, sleep,” and then the bookkeeper might kiss
his forehead and hold his hand and gently stroke it until
he fell asleep.
But that’s not what happened. The pity and compassion
quickly turned to revulsion at the sight of Hero’s exposed
and scabbed facial flesh; upset at his disruptive skeletal
presence and silently hostile that he hadn’t left yet;
this was a place of business and not a psychotherapist’s office.
Hero left, ashamed and embarrassed, and got very drunk
back in the apartment Mark had given him and then drove himself downtown with one eye open ’cause he was too drunk to drive with two.
When things settled down a bit, Mark gave Hero an apartment
in a building downtown that he’d been asking about for some
time. He guessed that Mark’s relief at the fact that he
hadn’t given his sister AIDS, combined with their recent
break-up, hadn’t hurt the negotiation process either. Hero
was to take over as the live-in super in what had only up
until recently been a Section 8 building on Fifth Street
near Avenue C – only he thought the deal was a bit too steep
and agreed solely on the secret premise that once he was
in Mark could kiss his ass in Macy’s window because Hero
could quit and legally retain possession of the apartment
after thirty days just like a regular tenant. He checked
the files in Mark’s office and discovered the deal he’d
given Hero, which consisted of a two year lease at $500
a month, minus the $100 Mark would knock off for super’s
duties, was not such a good deal after all. When Hero read
the file he learned that the last tenant had paid no more
than $254 a month. In what could only be described as
one of his more brilliant moves at this tumultuous juncture
in his life Hero kept his mouth shut, moved in, and then
told Mark that since he’d read the file the new deal would
consist of Hero paying no rent and he’d think about supering
the building so long as Mark stayed the fuck out of his
hair. Hero told him,
“I don’t want to talk to you, you’re losing all your buildings,”
but he wasn’t so sure if Mark had caught the reference.
Strangely enough Hero began to see Mark as torn between
doing the right thing and making a quick easy buck. A few
years earlier he’d designed and executed a deal in East
Harlem that permitted the tenants in two of his buildings
to buy their own apartments with long term mortgages
that also provided them with incredibly low rates of interest
and he still came out smelling like a rose. Their “rents”
went up only slightly and their mortgages were with the
same bank that had held Mark’s original note on the buildings.
Hero suspected that Mark had actually avoided some very
serious trouble with the bank but he wasn’t sure of its exact
nature. He made the cover of The New York Times Metro Section for it though Hero’s suspicions lingered and he couldn’t
help but suspect that Mark had an ulterior motive far
beyond that of helping poor little old Puerto Rican ladies
to buy their own apartments for cheap.
Mark’s not so secret plan was to gentrify Harlem by co-oping
all the buildings he could which in turn would auto-
matically increase the value of the surrounding properties
and attract money from downtown and beyond. The Russians
were already doing it with rental properties in West Harlem.
Mark had intended to do it by creating an artificial buying
panic exploiting the greed of the city’s wealthiest real
estate speculators: Wall Street. It would have probably
taken at least five years to see any real significant neighborhood
impact, but as Mayor Koch had told the gentrifucked
residents of the Lower East Side during the early 80’s,
“The poor will just have to find another place to live.”
And Mark’s scheme would have worked but for his autogreed
always tying his left and right shoelaces together.
Hero sat on his rack still amazed by the shear genius of it some twelve years later. When he’d figured it out and asked him about it, Mark behaved as though he were speaking backwards in ancient Greek and quickly changed the subject.
Hero would have surfed those waves with Mark because
despite the intrinsic moral wrong of RENT he saw himself
as being dwarfed by the system, unable to attack it from
any realistic angle – and that’s why he’d always bent over
backwards for his tenants. With this, if nothing else, the
tenants could make some money or keep their “new” secure
apartments as an investment and a piece of Harlem would
be a cleaner, better place to live in: pride through ownership
is what Hero saw. White folks were already living on
116th Street and way up in Washington Heights. Mark always
told him that Central Harlem would stay black forever. Hero didn’t think it would matter because the idea would’ve caught on there just the same, only later. If there were people paying rent,
then there was money – it only needed to be directed back
into the banks and the entire outlook on Harlem would change.
Mark’s angle was simple: his properties would go up in value
and he’d be in on the ground floor of the whole thing. It
Hard feelings between the two men persisted. Hero was
one up on Mark right about then. To Carcerine’s credit, she
stuck with him, berating her brother for his ill treatment
of Hero – and she’d done this after they’d broken up. Hero
thought she was very noble. He missed the sex but not much
else. Carcerine’s capacity to carry on an argument over
the course of several days was legendary. Even when it was
over – it wasn’t over. Thus began Hero’s new usual method
for this type of trouble and he smoothly grew right into
it, always cognizant of its existence up to that very day:
when a chick started “getting shitty” with him he would
try desperately to hang on but by doing so he would develop
an intense resentment until the very thought of her disgusted
him unto genuine nausea. Then he’d break-out.
A few years later, Mark opened a restaurant in what was
to become the first in a series of three restaurants all
of which failed. While visiting one of them for a free meal
and some wine with Mark’s older sister, Kay, she’d told
Hero that Carcerine often remarked that of all the men
she’d ever slept with he was by far the greatest lover
she had ever known – notwithstanding Hero’s unasked question
of just how many men had she slept with, he felt secure
in his alpha-male prowess and even a little flattered. He
missed Carcerine, a little. Had she missed him? Yes and
No, he said to himself. Yes and No.
Hero stayed in the apartment downtown and supered until
Mark lost that building to another court appointed receiver.
There were times when Hero saw him in retrospect as a tiny car with a very high RPM engine with only two speeds: stop-and-go.
His wheels turned so fast that he could never get any decent traction with which to grip the road. Mark would just spin his little wheels spitting dangerously stinging gravel behind him everywhere while going practically nowhere but in circles and
making a great deal of smoke – and a terrible racket – while
he burned lots of gas doing it. And yet some of Mark’s deals
must have worked because he lived quite well, drove a late
model Porsche he’d gotten as part of a deal with Eli, and
took frequent vacations to Europe and L.A.
Hero settled in to 715 – the downtown building’s address
– finished regaining his health and spent the summer laying
around Tompkins Square Park in a zoned funk. He was so depressed that had the idea of suicide even crossed his bunkered
mind it would have been dismissed as requiring too great
an investment of energy for something that would have undoubtedly panned out to result in an entirely overrated return.
He was, as they said in The Joint: shot to the socks.
Laying on a bench under the great green canopy the trees
created on either side of the band shell, Hero absorbed the
heat and humidity screaming inside his head the way he’d
done throughout puberty – and later on in prison – or whenever
he was unable to come to any viable conclusion as to what
was happening to him. Never mind why. At this point, it
didn’t appear as though there was any good in anything.
Blankly, he assimilated all the experiences, thoughts and
feelings from before he’d went to prison and then all the
way up until he was there – with only himself – on that
park bench, all stretched out under the curved black iron
armrests. There were no visible answers for any of it.
“Shit,” he’d said with a groaning.
“Shit, Shit, Shit,” and this was the cue that he was getting
ready to get up out of all the dust and dirt and shit he’d
been pulled down into over the last two years.
“I don’t understand,” Bob told him when Hero’d said, “I’m
depressed,” and his drunk friend, The Murderer, countered:
“The world is your oyster!”
Hero got a job as bike messenger, something he’d done
on and off since the first time he’d moved to Manhattan when
he was eighteen. And he was good at it too. He kept two
bicycles: a 12 speed Raleigh Grand Prix with a racing cluster
and tires no wider than his thumb and an early Schwinn
mountain bike. He put toe clips (without their straps)on both
of them and then wrapped their forks and frames with
heavy, black bike tape which served not only to protect
them but also to deter the numerous bike thieves who ran
rampant in Midtown. He worked for a small company owned
by a Hardcore surfer named Johnny One Eye. In no time Hero became John’s ace rider and was pulling down almost $500
a week riding like a fucking madman in the empty August
heat of angry Midtown traffic. After work he’d hang around
the park eating his pint of Chinese beef and broccoli takeout
to fuel up for the next day. He watched the Punks and
Skins who were still using the park as a social battleground
the same as they’d been when Hero’d first started hanging
out there six years earlier in ’83. A lot of them were new,
and Hero met one he found real new – and attractive, too.
Her name was Killjoy and she was about the same age as
Hero, twenty-four, and he thought she was so sexy. She was
no more than 5’4” and a tad on the chunky side but it suited
her. She had one of those thick bodies all the painters
used to paint way back when in Europe. She was Jewish by
birth, which really wasn’t something Hero thought went into
her pro column, but she was bi-sexual, which was cool and
she sported three mohawks, all of them black and the sex
was phenomenal for both of them. Her personality was something Hero could only compare to his first cigarette:
it was an acquired taste – very much like cow’s tongue.
Sexually, he saw Kiljoy like candy-apple-cum. She was
extremely feminine and yet strangely butch? or do they
call girls like that lipstick dykes? No matter, her open
bi-sexuality and androgynous nature excited Hero to a literally
jizzmatic frenzy and he pursued her relentlessly until she
gave in. He was juvenile, she was horny.
A cold flirt and hot tease who promised nothing and usually
delivered even less after torturing her suitors by nuance
and manipulation, Killjoy’s sexual aura was so alluring
to certain men that many of them felt aggressively provoked
by her very subtle – and self-professed ignorant – teasing.
Hero loved her? Lusted her? Her clitoris looked just like
a small penis no bigger than the last joint of his pinky
and when she came she would drown him so that he would drink
her. Overnight the two of them became entirely too sexually
charged – an accident looking for a place to happen. She
rejected his requests that she should come live with him,
she claimed to want an open relationship but couldn’t stand
the idea of Hero fucking other women to the point where
she became spitefully jealous of him doing so; going so
far as to take a verbally abusive and diminutive inventory
of all his new girlfriends under the guise of friendly “girltalk”
In other words – she was nutz.
Killjoy wanted to travel. Hero was on parole. Hero wanted
a monogamous relationship. Killjoy thought she wanted an open one. Hero gave her what she wanted and only asked that when she came back, that she would come back to him. He loved her. She hated him. When things got good and crazy Hero broke every piece of glass and plastic on Killjoy’s car: the windows,
lights, dashboard – everything. She called his parole officer
who was very fond of him and, after crying for justice,
the P.O. explained to Killjoy that if she had a complaint,
she should call the police – there was nothing she could do.
“Hero, where do you find all these crazy girls?” she’d
asked him, having already met Carcerine the year before.
“She had to know you were a Player when she hooked up
Hero was sitting in one of the two old wooden chairs across
from her desk. He examined the deep gouges and irregular
scratch marks in the armrest where how many poor bastards
had been handcuffed to it after their paroles were violated?
He ran his fingers over the grooves while his P.O. waited.
He tried to cooly cook up some kind of reasonably plausible
bullshit story that he thought she might go for because
he believed that she wanted to fuck him while she thought
that he wasn’t really a bad-guy, maybe just a little too
horny. She’d watched him go to Harlem and run those buildings
full of lunatics, dealers and crack heads. Watched him get
sick, get well and then move downtown and ride a bicycle
until he was in the best shape he’d ever be. Maybe she did
want to fuck him. Hero thought she was a nice lady and,
horny as he was, he thought how he’d have fucked her after
sucking her fat black pussy like an Olympic athlete. If
only she’d asked him to. She was no spring chicken but
Hero knew the pleasures of older women starting from when
he was sixteen and fucking the switchboard operator in Hawthorne.
Wisely, he’d elected to stay shut in the awkward silence
between them, the unspoken being the lesser of two evils,
figuring it was safer that way. And besides, he was going
to get away with it.
Towards the end of all that he began to spend his evenings
staying up late reading books like The Torah; The Koran;
The New Testament: The Bagadvagita; The Tibetan Book Of
The Dead; The Cabala; and anything and everything esoteric,
all while smoking lots of hashish. He mellowed in the reason
they delivered – all these different paths to God. Exploring
various states of awareness through meditation and
sleep deprivation, staring with his eyes wide open at the
grassy lot across the street from his apartment; he zoned
enlightened. While visiting a Buddhist crafts store he
became infatuated with Tibetan skullbeads: small skulls
carved out of yak bone into two faced beads no bigger than
a pencil eraser. He began making jewelry with them. Chokers,
earrings, necklaces and bracelets. He began having strange
dreams and also an out of body experience that scared the
living shit out of him when he met the ghost of an old
Jewish woman in his kitchen.
Hero had noticed a bit of cool air and a mild – although
not bad – vibe whenever he’d passed through the kitchen on
his way to the bathroom. Not too big on cooking, he hadn’t
cleaned or painted that part of the house since moving in
five months earlier. One day as he tried to nap in his loft bed,
Hero noticed he wasn’t asleep but he wasn’t laying on his
futon either. He was floating in the air just above his
bed. The sensation was so real that until he began to move
forward, he’d literally thought his physical body had been
floating in the air. Like an accepting sponge, the wall
slowly allowed him to pass through it. In the kitchen, he
was standing upright, trying to walk into the bathroom where
his girlfriend was taking a shower. The sound of the water
was a deafening roar, a cascade of sound. When he tried
to speak, this too was different and traveled as if
it were passing through something much thicker than air.
As he made to pass through the kitchen, he saw on his left
an old white haired woman no taller than 5′ standing before
the refrigerator. He asked her for some Hawaiian Punch
and she gestured to the big white box and looked at him
as if to intimate that she couldn’t open the door. He
explained to his girlfriend later, between sobs of fright,
that it was as if he were a child again so much of him
had been stripped away in this other place.
After the old woman, he’d felt compelled and even obligated
to bring the kitchen up to snuff. It felt right and made
him feel good. Over the next few days, Hero reasoned that
the _ woman was surely the ghost of someone who had either
lived in the apartment and was still there, attracted to the activities she’d enjoyed in the quick, like cooking, or it was his Grandma Mildred. Hero opted for the former but wanted to be
as open minded about the whole thing as possible.
“Grandma,” as Hero liked to call her, hung out in the
kitchen ready to cook up a storm of kosher chicken livers,
potato lotka’s and borscht (hold the sour cream). Using
visitors as a control group, Grandma’s presence was verified
statistically. Hero always made it a point to say, “hello,”
or, “goodbye,” whatever the occasioned called for, and instructed everyone who came over to greet by her name and say, “Excuse me, Grandma!” whenever they passed through the kitchen as loudly as they could because he was quite sure that sound traveled very differently in, and especially in between,
the worlds of the living and the dead.
Hero continued with his studies and meditation but lacked
a teacher to guide him, to help him balance all his new
impressions. Soon, he was meeting every nut in the East Village,
it was as though he’d become some kind of magnet for all
of them. He met Daniel Rakowitz in this way.
Rakowitz was a drifter who murdered his girlfriend/roommate
over possession of an apartment. (Talk about your housing
shortage.) It was originally Daniel’s place and he was letting
her, a Swiss dancer, stay there with him. Except that
when the opportunity presented itself she signed a lease
for the space and told old Danny Boy to hit the bricks.
Furious, Daniel murdered her, dismembered her, and then
proceeded to cook her in a stew that he fed to a number
of unsuspecting homeless people in Tompkins Square Park.
Hero saw him deliver the “free lunch” but didn’t care for
Rakowitz and as such kept his distance. When he found out
all the details from friends of his who were supering the
building where Rakowitz had lived, Hero thanked Goddess
for his initial vibes about the creep. It made him begin
to look at everyone differently. He wanted to understand
why one man would chop up his girlfriend and feed her to
people and why another would want to stand on a filthy
corner in Times Square screaming through a bull horn that,
“THE END IS NEAR!!” with an old worn bible wrapped in dirty rubber bands open to Revelations in his hand? He had apocalyptic visions that inspired him to construct a set of steel shutters for his ground floor apartment out of discarded plywood and street lamp access covers because he was convinced that the residents of the housing projects along Avenue D would come westward to go “shopping” one day and destroy everything in their path.
Hero looked back with clarity and still believed in the
truth, the origin, and the genuine nature of those visions.
Now older and more discerning he examined their messages
within the references of time where he’d “traveled” into
the past. Not at all a concept that was easy to grasp, but
one that was correct nonetheless regardless of any suspicious
accusations of delusion or esoteric mumbo jumbo.
The future wasn’t something solid – solid was only a concept
guided by thought – an anticipated occurrence developed to
explain the creation of a continuing and seemingly endless
present. The past, on the other hand, was only half as ambiguous
as the future because having already been the present,
in what could only be described for Hero’s particular purposes
as its 15 nanoseconds of universal fame, was now
presently part of the past. So really, he philosophized
on brown hash and Benedictine & Brandy, the present may
be representative of the past – but the past will never
be present again.
And he would go on like this all night, warily skirting
the fringes of a dozen different schools of thought, twisting
Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity to fit the Sepheroth
of The Cabala with one hand – while busily smoking hash-underglass with the other. And he came close, too. But like any really good trip, he couldn’t bring back any of the amorphous answers that he’d found in any intelligible form – so he settled
for the blind babbling and false sense of comfort that God
did not play dice or have a personality.
Hero liked to sit at his window during the day and listen
to the roar of the city. One day, he made Killjoy do it
and asked her, “Do you know what that is? It’s progress.”
Killjoy, in turn, began writing graffiti all over the
East Village that read:
“WE LIVE IN DIN”
Hero often thought about Killjoy and even ten years later
in that filthy cell in Attica he believed that the girl
had, quite possibly, never had an original idea in her life.
For someone who’d wanted to be recognized as an artist –
or something – she didn’t possess the natural talent so
he’d taught her the electric bass and introduced her to
his old band, Missing Foundation, who he’d had to quit because
he couldn’t tour while he was on parole. He taught her good
mental and technical practice habits, too: to simply let
go and just play. And when she did get the spot Hero had
held, she fucked it up by asking one of the founding members,
Chris – the drummer, about a contract.
“A contract? Uh, ok. No problem, lemme’ talk to Pete,”
and they never called her again.
Hero liked to think, even if he were wrong (which he probably
was), that if Killjoy had listened to him and done her thing
traveling but just come back that his life would have
turned out radically different “Yeah, right!”
Over time he saw that what he’d later learn was called
“co-dependency” was ok by him. All those fancy fucking ways
of saying that he should be totally self-contained, emotionally
self-sufficient, never needing nobody or nothing and with all
his desires in check, “Yeah, right!” before he could get
with someone else, was bullshit.
“Physician, heal thyself!” he’d howled in a prison drug
group on relationships. Everyone, including the counselor,
thought he was crazy.
“Way back when,” he continued, “people stayed together
as a consequence of economic necessity – you know, when
life really sucked!”
Hero was a lonely bastard back then, always feeling duped,
tricked by what he’d thought was in front of him. His big
love affair with heroin began after Killjoy left and
sometimes he had to wonder if she’d ever been there at all?
Fucking off in the street, buzzed and looking for trouble,
he found it and caught the beating of a lifetime while
hanging out on the corner of St Mark’s Place and Avenue A.
Some prick accused Hero of spitting at him. Hero argued
that he hadn’t. In fact no one had spit at the guy at all.
The bastard sucker punched him with a left, real soft like,
so that when Hero would hit the scumbag back he could then
break him up in a “fair fight.” Hero didn’t do anything,
seeing the man’s size and obvious bully brains tactics.
He’d learned a long time ago that when a dude this big hit
him easy like that it was nothing but a set-up. The scumbag
laughed at him and headed up the block towards First Avenue.
Hero got hot and broke an empty quart bottle of beer against
“Don’t do it, Hero, it ain’t worth it!” someone shouted
after him as he started running full speed up the middle
of the street – and when he saw the bastard he began to
scream at him, certain he would punk and run – only he didn’t.
Hero leapt through the air aiming straight for the scumbag’s
face with the broken bottle held high at shoulder height.
But, when the scumbag saw him so close, he stepped to his
left and caught Hero with the first of what must have been
at least two dozen very serious blows to the left side of
his face and head while he was laid out on the sidewalk
from that first monster blow which had contained the combined
power of the scumbag’s punch and Hero’s running leap.
Hero suffered a broken nose, a fractured cheekbone, and
a dislocated jaw. His head looked like a great big purple
football with one bright red eye in it that looked like someone had kicked it too hard. Fearful of an attempted murder charge,
he avoided the hospital; who knew what this scumbag might
do? Friends watching from down the block never saw it but
Hero had let go of the bottle at the top of his leap – it
wasn’t worth it – but it had been too late. Almost ten years
to the fucking day he could still feel that beating in
the form of some kind of fluid that sometimes sloshed around
in a cavity that was created when his cheekbone was fractured.
When he was healing, he could press on the bone and hear it
click; his gums were receding on that side of his face and
his teeth felt “funny”, too. His jaw was fine
having popped back into place while he was gnawing on a
spare rib in The Pyramid Club one night a few weeks later.
Hero didn’t like to admit to it too tough, not out loud
anyway, but it wasn’t worth it.
He called Killjoy for help: she’d said they were friends
and he didn’t consider anyone a friend unless they’d go
seriously out of their way for him – which was probably
why he didn’t have too many; he was truly institutionalized
in some of the worst ways. Hero asked her if she would get
some things from the store for him. He was in a lot of pain
and felt uncomfortable walking around looking like he should
be in a hospital – which he probably should have.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“I can’t,” as in, ‘I won’t,’ Hero heard – so she didn’t
and he’d cried after he hung up the telephone. He suspected
her of some lies after that. She’d never believed he was
as open and easy going as he was. Or maybe Hero was finally
realizing, so painfully slow – like a slug trying to cross
a salt lick, that Killjoy wasn’t as open and easy going
as she’d said she was. Killjoy was a fucking hypocrite,
Hero thought all alone. A mind-fuck is what they used to
call chicks like that when he was growing up. And bitchy,
too. Hero still wanted her knowing full well that she was
poison to him. He wanted to believe. The feeling of being
naked next to her, her mannerisms, her way and the touch
of his face against hers. Kissing, sucking and sitting between
her legs watching videos. They used to really rock
together. She’d complained to him after she split that when
she was in bed with someone else all she could think of
was him. “Then why couldn’t she .. ?” It wasn’t something
he couldn’t have. “I would’ve taken her the way she was!”
he cried out in disbelief. So pretty, so sexy, and he
couldn’t have her. Not to possess, not to own, just to lay
next to and nuzzle his face so close in the crypt of her
shoulder and breast; cool and taught with areole and nipples
red and brown and soft skin flesh. Hero dreamt awake and
recalled lonely times when he’d imagined that he lay next
to her again and it was a comfort to his spirit in all the
different prison beds he would have to sleep in.
He got to thinking about how Killjoy never walked with
him, she always rushed the pace, arguing, “This is how I
get my exercise, I always walk fast!” but he knew she didn’t.
It was her provocative .. ? Maybe he gave her too much credit
after all. “Fuck.” This was the only word he could clearly
see in his head whenever he went over The Bill of Particulars
that was Hero and Killjoy. He struggled to remove all the
hidden angles in all the secret alcoves he thought he’d
missed; possibly winding down to, “Honestly? Honestly? I
would have married that bitch.”
And such was their part of the N.Y. Hardcore scene, “what
scene?” during the roughest year Punks N’ Skins had ever
seen until they saw the one that came after it. Killjoy:
Art Punk cum concrete, post-anarcho-[capitalist]- industrial-
“Yo, Hero, wasn’t she a FemiNazi, too?”
“Sort of, nah, know what? She was just plain evil, ya’
know what I mean?”
Hero didn’t know a woman that had lived in NYC who wasn’t
at least a little bit evil; they had to be in order to survive,
but that was only an opinion formulated over beers.
Thinking about Killjoy made him tired. He hoped that the
latest rumors of his “Death” had reached her wherever she
was so that one day, like all the other fat-mouthing, scared
to death, bitch-ass motherfuckers without a clue out there,
he could shake her up so bad that she’d piss herself at the
very sight of him. (Hero had “Died” of everything from an
o.d. to being shot by the cops, Swine Flu, the list went on
and on and on – four times in just the last five years and
it was always bullshit. Totally baseless. The latest rumor
purported that he’d bit it in a knife fight in prison.)
“Funny, how much baggage you carry,” he said to himself,
and came to from his phased out funtasy.
“Ya’ know, Hero, the heroin probably didn’t help.”
“No,” he bled in his most whining, exasperated and
conciliatory voice, “it probably didn’t.”
The whole episode, all the way up to the bank door at
2nd Avenue and St. Mark’s and beyond, all the way into his
cold cell in Attica and even his cold feet; the whole thing
looked, felt and smelled a lot like a cold damp closet.
Like the wet winter jackets in elementary school hanging
all day in the cloakroom quiet behind sliding wooden doors
that hid the puddles on the floor. The cadence of words
in his head caused Hero to wince and fight back tears while
blurring eyes missed their mark; sniffling, shuffling fine
– someotherwhere – in a paper hospital gown left untied
at the rear with smileyface foam slippers on his feet. Worse
than naked, halls dominated by the fear and pain of never
knowing – and not pointing an accusing finger out – because
now he thought, “I know better.”
But it still hurt and that was ok, too, and as it should be.
“I know, I know,” the murmur of his own dreams answered