On the Train 15 – El Paso (Part 2)

El Paso, TX
2/21/2011

Stranded in the Parking Lot

My uncle was well enough to work while I drove around El Paso. He suggested the main strip by UTEP, the University of Texas, El Paso. I took the CR-V (he bought two identical models, one for him, one for his ex-wife) on a brief jaunt through back roads that all looked the same. When I reached the UTEP district on North Mesa Drive, the advertising orgy was well underway. Franchise after franchise blocked my view of scenic panoramas. It jaded my experience because nobody seemed to care. The roads and parking lots were full of trucks and sport-utility vehicles and customized muscle cars and hot-wheels. The sidewalks had an occasional young professional or student couple visually swearing off consumer trends. Everything was Spanish; the shops, the colors, the street names, the murals, the music, the food, the fashion.

Obscure Likeness

Kids here adopt a cultural vibe from Mexico, and while their families try to inherit the American Dream, they rebel with tattoos and piercings in tattered clothes and vibrant tributes to gang mentality. In this way, they are breaking the barriers, much like the physical barriers a few miles away. No matter where you go, people will talk about the battles against normalcy while drinking coffee from Starbucks. The great battle of El Paso is advertising your oasis in the desert. If it weren’t for that beautiful Thunderbird mountain with its beautiful colors watching over the valley below, I would lose myself in the expansive pavement terrain of suburban sprawl.

Gang Graffiti

On the Train 11 – New Orleans (Part 1)

New Orleans, LA
2/17/2011

The French Quarter of New Orleans is a wild place. It’s certainly not safe for young, solitary explorers like me. The lure of exotic, sensual pleasure does little to mask the danger that really exists out here. Despite all that, people are friendly and good-natured. Bourbon Street during the day has a wholesome attraction, much like the food you can find out there. I was warned not to venture far, so my miles walked were in circles, around the various Rues, each with their own handful of galleries, shops, and locals. Street performers entertain and artists create art in Jackson Square, in the midst of loud music and people, and everything is bubbling with activity.

Eventually I went to the riverfront, where a man was playing a famous blues song I’ve heard so many times before. A full moon was rising behind him, and casting a line of light across the rippling river. It was a perfect moment. I took a picture of it and gave the man a couple dollars, thanking him. A drifter sitting behind him stood up as we began talking about the little beauties of this town, and he said “I’ve lived and grown up here all my life” as he held out his hand to shake mine.

He took my hand and held it with a strong grip, preventing me from letting go. There was a moment when we locked eyes, and his friendly smile took on a more serious tension. I tried to let go. He had my hand and pulled me towards him. My heart was fluttering and I knew I was in danger. The guitar player simply sat there, looking up at me with a sad sort of look on his face that said, “What the hell are you doing, kid?” He didn’t interfere, even when the man exposed a broken glass bottle in his other hand. Things were in slow motion. I aggressively shook my hand free before he had the chance to try anything. Without making a scene, I left the riverfront, making sure I wasn’t followed, and returned to all the tourist attractions.

Gravesend Bay

Finally the first warm Saturday of the year! Time to get up out of my small hard empty bed, throw on some gym clothes and hit the jogging path. Before I left I choked down a cold pork and leek dumpling with some orange juice and grabbed my iPod and keys. I hit play. Com Truise, the band Zucker and I saw last week in Greenwich Village, made for some great running music. I took off down 18th Avenue towards Gravesend Bay and lost my self in the pure electronic soundscape. Fifteen minutes into the run I was at the water. Thirsty, I longed for a Red Fish Ale, water from the bubbler I spied at the park across the street would suffice though. I paused the music to listen to the waves hit the barrier rocks below me. I saw seagulls pick at the garbage floating amid the otherwise clear water. There were huge ships further out into the bay. I couldn’t let the moment linger much longer though, I had to keep going. Running faster and faster on the asphalt, passing families of Hassidic Jews pushing strollers, dressed head to toe in black traditional wear and Chinese families with their packs of rambunctious little kids running circles around them made for some difficult maneuvering and interesting company.

The jogging path goes for miles, I ran two of them at the most. Along it are rather unremarkable sights; running west I had the bay to my left and the Shore Parkway to my right. The occasional grassy hill gave way to unobstructed views of the highway and the surrounding neighborhood of Bay Ridge. Along the wall separating the path from the water are numerous highly detailed signs explaining how, during a severe storm, the massive pipes below said signs connect the New York City sewer system to the bay where it can dump any overflow from the system in to the water. Lovely. Just think, Coney Island beaches are all but a few miles down stream from the drains. Looks like I won’t be swimming in those I thought.

At a corner of the path there were a few benches where people were sitting. One notable character was sitting directly in the sun, wearing a black suit, reading and sweating profusely. I took a seat not too from him and looked out onto the bay. The view was calming. I could see New Jersey in the distance and the Verrazzano bridge towering above me. Taking a moment to reflect, thoughts of spending summer afternoons on the Newport cliffs gazing out onto the Atlantic filled my mind. I wished I could relive those moments now.

It was getting late and I was hungry. I jogged my way back to the foot bridge that went over the highway and made my way back up 18th Avenue. People were getting out of church, there were cars everywhere, even parked fully on the sidewalks. Further up the avenue the crowds of people got more dense. I saw an ambulance up ahead one block from me. There was a group of people standing around an old lady who had apparently fallen. I felt bad for her and wondered what happened. Closer to my apartment I saw the police pull a lady over for no apparent reason. There was no way she could have been speeding as I was easily keeping up with the traffic on foot. I figured he was probably just trying to get his quota for the day.

Back at the apartment I had some lunch and thought about going to Central Park the next day. This is a good way to start my summer in New York.

Central Park South & 5th – Chapter 4

Central Park South & 5th
Chapter Four – Respect Reflected
11:17pm
12-26-2009

My cab ride to Bowery Bar on 40 East 4th Street would have been a lot faster if the cab driver knew where he was going, but thankfully for me, I was the first to arrive. I thought I was late since we shot for 11:00pm; the bar did not have a lot of patrons because it was raining outside. I walked in, bought a drink, and sat down in the lounge area past the bar to dry off.

He must have been drinking with his friends, because when Petar walked through the door, he was extremely festive. He was also very wet.

“Zucker, so good to see you!” He had the biggest smile I had ever seen. He walked with his fiancé alongside, followed by three guys speaking another language, possibly Croatian, laughing at something while another was upset. “Were you waiting long?”

“No, only a couple of minutes. I got a whiskey sour and was checking out the scene.” I was also checking out the more provocative side of Bowery Bar’s ‘Naked’ New Year party promo. A nice lined halftone pattern filtered through the image on recycled cardboard paper. It acted double as a coaster.

“Ah, yes, my kind of drink,” said one of his friends in broken English.

“Zucker, these are my friends…”

“Nice to meet you guys.” Their looks were welcoming and friendly, and yet their names escape me upon hearing them.

“And this is Irena, my fiancé.”

“It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Hi, I’m sorry we’re late,” she said it with a cool and casual voice. I expected her to have an accent, but she didn’t.

“Oh, you’re not late, it’s cool. It’s great to meet you at last. Petar’s told me a lot about you.”

She shoots Petar a look, but he cuts her off. “Not bad things, Honey. I told him you worked in Publishing.”

“I’m so glad I can finally put a face to the name.” She smiled and gave Petar and a look. He smiled back and said, “I’ve told her about you too – your writing and your magazine.” I give her an interested look.

“Yeah, I think what you’re doing is really great. Have you been writing for long time?”

“Yeah, since I was a kid.”

“What do you write about?” A lot of this was lost in the drunken happenings of the night. At this point in time, however, I felt accepted in the group. For the next hour or so, we really made the most of an empty rained-out bar garden.

Everything was great, but then the Bowery Bar closed. It was 12:45am, and I called “shenanigans” on the joint for not living up to New York’s “all night” nightlife. They didn’t understand, but agreed that we should move on. I didn’t feel as drunk as everyone else, maybe; there was no stumbling into the cab and no head-hanging on the windowsill.

Seven bucks took us to La Esquina, a reclusive hot spot on 106 Kenmare Street in Soho.

La Esquina is a taqueria that runs all night, offering up delicious tacos and tasty beers and spirits for parties to go the extra step. Doubling as a pick-up food stop for late-nighters on the front, patrons can also walk inside, downstairs past the ‘employees only’ sign, and through the kitchen to a cozy bistro lounge, aptly filled with hipsters and couples who know about the “other part” of La Esquina.

When we got there, there was a group of people waiting for them. They all spoke in accents, and picked out friends immediately upon our arrival, talking in Italian, French, and Croatian amidst English, the language of choice for international translation. I felt like an mono-lingual jackass half-following the English parts to conversations around me, drinking extremely good beer offerings, trying to collect my thoughts in a strange new place and time.

“Let’s take a picture!” Petar had the camera in his hand, standing with Irena at his side. “Zucker, can you take this?”

“Yeah buddy.” I was standing back about five feet at this point. Aiming the camera at them, drunk, I move around to crop the picture. Click! And I capture the two of them. It was like capturing a special moment for them, together, when they were so young and happy. It may be a picture they come back to years from now and smile at in reflection.

“Yeah, that’s a great shot. Check it out.” And I hand them back the camera. They look at it and smile together.

“Thank you,” she said. Petar and I exchange a look of respect and appreciation.

“You’re welcome.” I smiled at them both, happy and relieved that they saw what I saw. I kept on drinking, and I half-connected with the other group we joined.

“I’m a graphic designer,” said this Italian guy who wore big designer glasses next to me, and we started talking about art design. I thought about how difficult it must be for him to see right now with those glasses on. I mentioned my magazine idea, and he liked it. He talked about the work he put up at his college’s gallery recently. I think he went to Pratt, but I wasn’t sure. I talked about the Picasso exhibit I saw in Chelsea a few months back, and how that exhibit was the first of its kind in over fifteen years. We talked about the thought of living in New York, the costs, and the benefits. He was not interested in it.

It was 3:00am, and the group decided to leave for another bar. Some of the new group came with us.

After deliberation and twelve bucks, the group decided on some random bar in Little Italy, and it was just about to call the last round. We walked in and ordered a quick double order of drinks and had introspective conversations with one another as we downed our drinks. At this point, the Croatians were buying me drinks. Neno, one of Petar’s friends, had left his luggage in the taxi he took to the Bowery Bar. Things did not go over well for him; talking to his friends and me about the things he lost, calling the taxi company for lost and found updates, cancelling his cards and such. We bought him drinks that night too since he didn’t have his wallet. He had his passport, thankfully, safely tucked in his back pocket, along with around $200 bucks. Who keeps that kind of cash in their pocket?

“Neno, there is some good to all this situation,” I actually tried consoling him when we were in this last bar, “you’ll get to go shopping!” By that point, nobody cared about anything, and yet he smiled and lifted his spirits. The Italian and his friend listened to us talk, and two of Petar’s friends were chatting up the female bartender, who apparently was from Boston. Petar and Irena were outside with another friend who was smoking a cigarette.

It was raining outside. I joined them to see what was going on.

“I think we’re going to get out of here soon,” said Irena. She was holding Petar, who seemed too drunk to stand. He was still smiling, like a child enjoying the party, and he was getting wet in the rain.

“It was so good to see you Zucker, I’m glad we got to hang out.”

“Yeah man, me too, and in New York of all places!”

“This would make a good story, right?”

“Yeah man, this would make a great story.”

“Yeah,” he looked away with satisfaction. Irena was holding him up as they looked for approaching cabs, and I smiled at her holding him around the waist with his arm around her shoulders. He was bigger than her, but she could handle him. They looked like a great couple.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, and I go back inside, telling the others that people were leaving. I chug my beers and say my goodbyes. They all followed me out though, so everyone began hailing cabs. People in the bar get the message, and in no time, the street was mobbed with people looking to get a ride home. Watching them drift into the night, people dispersed on foot and wheel , and I watched as my friends from the night got in cab after cab.

“Where are you heading to?”

“Central Park South and 5th.”

“Cool, what’s there?”

“The Plaza.”

“Wow, you’re staying the Plaza?

“Yeah, it’s pretty great.” I left it at that. I felt like I mentioned it earlier in the night, but I can’t remember. It’s really hard to explain the extravagance of it all at 4:00am.

“Unfortunately, it’s in the opposite direction to where we’re heading. Are you cool with taking a separate cab?”

“Yeah, I’ll be alright.” They were relieved I had a way home.

“It was great to meet you again.”

“You too.” The doors closed and they sped off into the night; their fluorescent tail lights streaming distance in the darkened streets. The rain was still coming down, and no more cabs were in the area. I found myself alone on the end of a sidewalk between a closed bar and a pizza parlor packed with late night drunks. I couldn’t help but go in and buy some pizza.

“One slice of pepperoni and one slice of bacon chicken, please.”

“You got it.” It was like a factory line, always moving, slowly and surely, looking at all the colorful slices they had. While they had ten offerings on display, I chose my two favorite. I didn’t think when I bought them. They were huge slices, and I was in no shape to eat them both. They had Kiss on the radio, and people slurped away at their soda cups, talking and laughing about things they talked and laughed about in the bars. It was a quiet moment for me, observing the people, trying not to draw attention to my solitary silence.

The pizza was hot and ready and by fortune the cabs were around and vacant. It was a twenty dollar cab ride back to the Plaza, a blurry tour of Times Square and Central Park. I looked out the window with pizza in my mouth as people tried to open my cab thinking it was vacant. Some people were really pissed off that I was relishing the experience so much.

I ended up finishing the slices in the hotel, in one of the comfy lounge chairs that sat at the foot of the bed, next to a small nightstand that had the New York Times and my brother’s Nikon D700 camera laying on it. My brother was sleeping, but woke up when I got back. Our vibrations nearing 5:00am were faint, and yet it did not stop the sky from changing its color from black to blue. I closed the blinds and hopped into bed, falling into a deep, drunken sleep within minutes of the rising sun.

Waking up five or six hours later, I had a light breakfast with my family and packed up my things. I had a train to catch at 1:15pm, and that left me mere hours to clean up and enjoy the remaining time there with my family. They drove me to Penn Station and gave me some money for the Acela Express ticket ($100), wishing me the best on my way back home. I spent the remaining free time I had in the waiting area with a copy of the Sunday New York Times, reading the Book Review, brushing up on styles of writing that were capturing people’s attention. Twenty minutes would go by before I made my way down to the train, back to my everyday life in Boston.

Rock Thunder

His lips were covered with frothy mescaline. His lips bled, punctured by his teeth. “Why do you see me as a savage?” There were several thousand in the newly arrived crowd, yet none of the faces revealed the slightest expression. They all wished him wrong.

This was Little Johnny’s first fourth grade play. “Frankenstein.” I’m not longer sure if it’s Frankenstein. I should be down the alley between 47th and Lexington behind the jazz club, Reggie’s, with a pipe in my mouth. What the fuck am I doing in front of these people? Why am I the monster? Why do they see me as a savage?”

30 years later…

Johnny listened to jazz records in his body-length cardboard box that existed in a local homeless community called “rock thunder,” where everyone plays it cool and the homeless community thrives in its collective cooperation. The homeless legislature was comprised of two chambers, the homeless House and the homeless Senate. Silly Bobby had been a senator for the last 15 booze binges. He advocated the free distribution of used syringes to all addicts.

Silly Bobby was homeless. He was also domeless. He hadn’t gotten dome in approximately 1.3 eons. He found ways to turn his shame into his fame, becoming one of the most respected senators to show up for meetings. Little Johnny looked up to him like an uncle, or some kind of nice social services worker.

They first met at the new year’s bash. Since they had no desire to kiss, they realized the mistletoe hanging above was not essential. Silly Bob removed it and fed it to Moe, the kid with the hangover. They originally discussed only politics, issues regarding the Homeless House and Homeless Senate’s incapacity to adequately represent the interests of the broader bum community. There were Dem Bums, Republican Bums, Bums for Peace In Darfur, and Beach Bums. So many constituencies the senators had to represent!

Their second meeting occurred while they were both surfing. Little Johnny had make-shifted a surf board out of a long cabinet door he had kicked down from the old abandoned syringe factory.

“I like the way you handle that board, Johnny!” Bobby murmured over his left shoulder as they float through the lukewarm river water. He wanted to kill Johnny because of a recent guffaw among the two chambers about women that have been visiting the township conjugally. Johnny, being that pride and joy of the Dem Bums, had many affairs on the premises, and Silly Bobby, being homeless, had absolutely shit but the Beach Bums and Bums for Peace in Darfur. But they never truly enjoyed his company, as he was homeless, and ragged, and had nothing to show for it. What a stud. What a bachelor. What a man without restraint.

Johnny was concerned. His was in danger of being drowned by his arch nemesis, Silly Bobby. What a fucking bitch! His long cabinet door was no match for Silly Bobby’s hefty chunk of urine stained Styrofoam.

Silly Bobby’s political affiliations lay with the Republican Bums, a better funded, and more slickly oiled political machine. They had recently garnered support from BADD, Bums Against Drunk Driving, and BETRA , Bums for the Ethical Treatment of Rock Algae. With the combined financial support of those two fundraising behemoths, Silly Bobby would surely achieve his goals and ambitions.

The last time he felt this sensation was when he was wearing tinted sunglasses on a very long, and very intense acid trip. Boris Ergnine, the investment concierge of his soul, had taken him to Tax Village, where they discussed the meaning of life and the meaning of money, and the meaninglessness of money in life. Johnny was walking among the space candy in Central Park with a strut and a slow pace.

It was at that moment that Silly Bobby opportunistically shoved him into the river with a jolt, sending Johnny into a million different kinds of pain, a million different kinds of woe, and an infinite gradient of colors flashed through his mind in waves of unspeakable beauty and horror.

There were never any bubbles… there was a door under Johnny’s right arm, and under his left arm was a branch he nabbed from the undertow. Silly Bobby’s urine stained Styrofoam surf contraption was in the lead as they approached a massive waterfall. This is what they needed to do. The Homeless Congress outlawed voting in favor of seeing the two candidates try to survive nearly suicidal stunts. The winner of the death mission would earn the seat, and rule the Bum community in an authoritarian fashion. Little Johnny hoped to be that one!

“You chose a really bad fucking time to fuck with me, Silly!” Johnny yelled.

“I don’t choose to make things right this way, you damn fucking scallywag!” There was no reasoning with Silly Bobby.

The Bobby showed the same mescal ferocity as Johnny had on that lonely day in fourth grade. The exploitation. The burning message to do the right thing for the greater good. ‘Don’t fuck up,’ was the mantra of that uber-embarassing display of shit acting. The fire of this memory burning strong inside of him, Johnny takes the stick out of the water and jabs Bobby in the eye, sending Silly Bobby into a Silly fit of agony, making Silly motions in the water as he clawed as his eyeball, to free the stick from his own head.

However, Little Johnny realizes his victory is short lived as they both plummet to their deaths down the waterfall onto cold jagged rocks, splitting their skulls.

The End.

Zucker/Slez
August, 2008