Friday, January 22, 2010

New York City Night

Good morning, everybody. I was thinking about New York today, about when I was growing up there. I was born in Queens, but with my father a Broadway actor, Manhattan was part of our back yard, and I started going there on the train when I was maybe 12-13, and then moved there just as I was turning 19.
In any event, I remembered this story I wrote a long time ago and thought I'd share it with you. If I've printed it before I don't remember, so forgive me if you've seen it.

The first time I ever smoked pot and hash was at Woodstock. It was an event that I mostly remember as a blur. It was the summer of 1969 and I was 19-years old. But something had happened there and when I returned from the festival I was different. I hadn’t had the greatest time in the world there, hadn’t done acid yet, but I had gotten high from the hash and pot, and I had changed. I suppose it started a year earlier, when I’d hitchhiked to Kentucky and worked on a tobacco farm for a couple of months. But Woodstock had cemented it: I was a long-hair at heart and in spirit.
Shortly after I returned I started college in New York and in the first semester still lived at home. My friend Bruno and I used to go into the city on Friday nights all through high school and drink Benedictine and Brandy, and we still did, only now while he still drank his B & B, I smoked marijuana. We’d take his car to Flushing, park on the upper level of the open air public parking lot and take the subway in. Most nights we headed to the Village, where we walked around, him drunk, me stoned, Alphabet City or the St. Mark’s Street area. He’d usually start drinking on the train; I’d wait until we arrived at the Bleeker Street station to light my joint. In those days I’d get so high and start laughing, and he’d be laughing and we’d just be two kids from Queens walking down the street laughing at everything. Street signs were funny; the people on the street were a scream; trying to walk up and down parked cars was hilarious.
The village throbbed in those days. It was 1969 and hippies were everywhere. Art was a way of life and psychedelic posters announcing shows at the Fillmore East jumped out at you from every inch of building wall space.
One of our favorite things to do was wait until about midnight then go up to the bookstore/poster gallery on the second floor of the old Dom, a hall for live music. We didn’t really have the nerve to go into that place—everyone seemed so grownup, probably 21-years old or so—so we’d go upstairs to the poster store and listen to the The Fugs play Kill Kill Kill for Peace! or the Mothers of Invention wailing away downstairs. You could hear it pretty good from upstairs.
One night we’d finished with the concert and were back out on the street and for some reason we bumped into a couple of other fellows. They had something to drink and some smoke, so we teamed up and walked around Alphabet City for a while. In those days, before gentrification, anything east of Avenue A was pretty dicey. So what we were doing there stoned way over on Avenue B and C is a good question.
In an effort to ward off what we supposed to be the muggers and the thieves, Bruno, who’d done some karate, began to ki-ay! as we walked. That’s the karate focus-shout you hear people make just as they lower their hand onto a stack of bricks. Bruno was just doing it in the air. And the two guys we were with thought that was cool so they began doing it as well. I did a few, but since I was stoned and not drunk, I thought it was rude and uncool, considering the hour—maybe 2AM—and that people were sleeping. Too, everyone on our side of the street was running for cover, thinking we were the bad guys.
Except this one group of about five guys way in front of us. We were headed out of Alphabet City, back to where the avenues had names when we first saw them. They were walking in the same direction. We noticed them because when Bruno would ki-ay! we could hear them respond with a similar ear-splitting cry. Bruno and our new friends thought it was the funniest thing, and I thought it pretty funny as well, like a human echo. They kept walking in front of us and we kept following them, slowly catching up, until we weren’t 50-feet behind them by the time we got to Bowery. Then Bruno really laid it on them. He reached down into his brandied guts and began to put on a ki-ay show. Six, eight in a row, each louder and more menacing than the last, and by his last we were no more than three-feet behind them.
At that moment, the biggest guy in the group turned and hit me in face as hard as he could, absolutely flooring me. My nose split and blood began spurting out wildly. I got back up just as the new group got their belts off, all of which had those heavy, knife-like pointed buckles, and began belting me with them. I went down again. I had no idea what was wrong, but within seconds I was back up, this time on the attack. It wasn’t much of an attack, but the best I could muster considering my nose was broken, my teeth ached and I had a couple of pretty good belt cuts across my face.
To his credit, Bruno was jumping into the melee as well, as were our new friends. But the thing that caught my eye was that the fellow who’d hit me was covered in dried blood. I mean covered. His nose was broken as well, but he had also been bleeding from his mouth and swollen eyes.
Something had obviously happened and I tried to get everyone to calm down. It didn’t work, and we ended up in a free-for-all that was partly running after each other, and partly catching each other and beating each other up. It wasn’t pretty, but nobody got killed, and by the time we were all too beat up to fight anymore and had fallen into something of a heap on the street, we were semi-friends—or at least too tired to be enemies.
"Why did you hit me, man?" I asked the guy who’d broken my nose.
"I thought you were them."
"We were out tonight and got jumped. They got me good. When you guys came up on us I thought you were them and I wasn’t gonna let it happen again."
"You look awful."
"I was pissed off, man. Sorry if I blindsided you."
"Laid me out."
"You got in some licks."
Bruno suddenly interrupted. "What are you talking to him for? He’s the mother who broke your nose!"
"He didn’t mean it."
"Well I’m not talking to him. Fuck him. Let’s go."
I got up reluctantly and headed off with Bruno. In that instant I had a real insight: pot forgives, drinking stays pissed off. And all that night on the ride home Bruno couldn’t let go of the fight. I relived it with him and thought it funny, even though I still hurt, but he stayed angry and maybe even got angrier. He wished he’d have killed those guys.
After that we didn’t hang out too much together.

1 comment:

The Grudge said...

Great story! Too true regarding the high person and the drunk.