tisdag, februari 21, 2006

My 8th Avenue Kings" Part 3

Across the street from the Estoril Sol is Walter’s Pub. There you go to see Walter, to drink, listen to the juke box, play pool and possibly do drugs. Bars like Walter’s are all over Manhattan. A long wooden bar and stools in dark wood, stone floor, mirror walls, streamers and knickknacks. Spring is here and Walter himself is standing out front on the sidewalk, his arms crossed. He’s a good-natured man, seventy-two years old, from Czechoslovakia. He has run Walter’s Pub for twenty years. Entering from the sunny street you find it even murkier than at the Estoril. Heavy drinkers and cocaine users shun the light. It illuminates your life. And one of the basic services provided by this pub is for the customers not to have to see. But at three o’clock the bar is empty. The patrons come later on and then they often stay all night. Walter closes at four in the morning, sometimes later. One of the regulars both here and at the Penn Bar was Big Mike. Big Mike reminded me of Obelix, the sidekick of Asterix in the French comic. He was a very tall, very fat, red-haired jovial American who dealt coke and tipped the cocktail waitresses royally. A very popular guest, in other words. But he’s disappeared from the neighborhood. “George told me Big Mike’s in jail and has aids, is that true?” Walter launches into a rant when I mention George. “That George is a liar and a moron! All he can ever say about people is bad stuff. Big Mike owes George 4000 dollars’ worth of rent, and that’s why he never comes here. And he hasn’t got aids, that’s baloney! George stinks! Can’t get one true word out of him. He thinks he’s the goddamn king of 8th Avenue. All Greeks have delusions of grandeur, they think they’re the sons of Zeus! Pah! Did you see the deli George opened? What a name, huh: Alexander the Great! George is out of his mind!” When I tell George that Walter thinks he’s suffering from delusions of grandeur, George seems very pleased. “Did he say that? That I’m the son of Zeus?” “Well, no, he said you think you’re the son of Zeus.” “Oh really. Well, if you talk to Walter again, would you please tell him for me that he SMELLS?” “Why?” “’Because he’s an idiot and a bastard.” “But why are you two so mad at each other? You must have known each other for twenty years!” “I never knew him! I’ve never even talked to the guy. Well, OK, once twenty years ago, and then I told him that he SMELLS!” George is in a great mood. “Son of Zeus, that’s me all right”, he croons to himself on the way over to his newly opened deli. Linda McCartney died today but Mickey Dooley is still alive: he’s a seventy-two year old who’s been living on this block for years and who used to frequent all the bars in the area. He’d always drink red wine and coca-cola and he would call it “poor man’s sangria”. One day I run into him in the street. He barely wants to say hello. He has become thin, old and shamefaced. “Hey, Mickey, good to see you! How are you?” “I’m OK.” “How about a drink or some coffee?” “Nah, I’m kind of in a hurry…” “Well, nice to see you Mickey. How are you doing anyway?” “Well, you know, I’m OK. Gotta go, people waiting…” I hardly recognized him. Five years ago he used to be a cheerful old guy who knew everything that happened in the neighborhood. He’d come around Walter’s Pub quite a lot. But not anymore. “Mickey?” says Walter when I ask him. “Oh yeah, he’s slowly killing himself. Doesn’t come around here anymore, just sits at home, snorting coke and watching TV. I’ve tried to get him to come down here a few times, even told him he didn’t have to pay. Buy ONE drink and I’ll give you three on the house, I said, but he doesn’t want to. Says I only want to get him drunk.” According to Walter, Mickey has a 1000 dollar pension and 300 dollars from social security. He could have a good life. “Where did he say he was going when you met him? To the airport?” “He said he was meeting someone.” “Oh yeah, sure. He hasn’t got any friends and nowhere to go. A few years back he bought a car. Think he ever went anywhere? All he ever did was move the car from one side of the street to the other for cleaning nights. What a sad life. No kids, no grandkids. Just him, the dope and the TV set.” A few days later I catch a glimpse of Mickey through his window behind the plastic streamers above the Alexander the Great deli. “Hey Mickey! Come on down!” “Nah.” He shakes his head. “Please! Let’s just have some coffee.” “Nah.” “Can I come in for a few minutes?” “No, can’t…” “Well, can I at least take your picture?” “OK, go ahead.” Mickey waves and smiles briefly. Rick the dealer doesn’t arrive at Walter’s until evening. He shows up in a white shirt with a black dog-bone printed pattern, gold rings and thick glass pilot shades. He puts his arm around me and then zips away straight to the bathroom at the back. “Be right back. Give her whatever she wants”, he tells Michelle behind the bar before he goes. Rick’s Puerto Rican, a bit past 40, came here as a kid, sold ice cream from a stand to start with. He’s lived in the neighborhood for fifteen years. He has an apartment in the building across the street. Rick hasn’t exactly worked to get rid of his accent. And it takes a while to learn his language with all the lost consonants. Back from the men’s room he says: “You OK Jenny?” RU OK? U nee’ mony?” “Everything’s fine.” “I te’ u, I’m yo frien’, u havva proble’, you comma to me.” “Thats nice, Rick.” “Need anything?” “I’m fine, thanks.” “Goo’, goo’.” I ask him about his clearly new pair of shades and Rick tells me he’s had to change his lifestyle completely. “I got diabetes a few years ago. Woke up one morning and felt like I had a thousand knives in my leg. Saw a doctor right away and it turned out I had a blood sugar of 420. So they gave me medicine. It’s better now, but my eyesight sucks. And I can’t do as much as used to. But now I work out at a gym.” “How’s your sugar now, Rick? You taking care of yourself?” “Sure I do, sure I do.” “But you still drink, don’t you?” “Yeah, but not too much.” At the moment he’s having a glass of tequila with a vodka chaser in a special cooling glass provided by Michelle. “What about coke?” “Yeah, a bit, not too much. I’m good now, I go to the gym.” “How’s business?” “It’s OK. The 80s were better, but I’ve got my customers. It’s OK.” Rick is paranoid, constantly looking over his shoulder. Threats may be anywhere. And he’s probably right, the threat isn’t just something he’s made up. “You can’t trust people anymore. It used to be easier.” But not anymore. He glances towards the door, here comes a strange face. Rick jogs off to the bathroom again with the guy who came into the bar. An acquaintance tells me that Rick’s smart and only deals to people he knows, that’s the way to do it. Big Mike on the other hand would deal to strangers, and look at him now. If Rick didn’t deal coke he might get a job washing dishes. Now he makes an OK living, he doesn’t cash in big, but he survives. Rick returns to the bar. “I’m waiting for my son.” “Aha, how old is he?” “Twenty-one. He’s a smart kid.” “What’s he doing?” “Studying psychology and law at college.” “You got a good relationship?” “Yeah, I love him.” “What would you say if he took up your kind of business?” “You mean work in the street?” “Yeah.” “I’d talk to him. Tell him it’s not a good life, but then, you know, he has to make his own choices. I can’t force him.” “So how’s his mom?” “She’s good. We got divorced a long time ago, but she’s good, a good mother. I’ve always given her money. You know what I do for a living but I’m still a good man. I want respect. I support my child, I help people, I want people to be happy. I don’ want to hurt nobody.” “I know, Rick.” “Yeah. Listen, do you need anything? Need money?” “No, thanks, I’m fine.” A well dressed, handsome twenty-one year old shows up. It is Rick’s son. Rick introduces him to me and we shake hands. Rick passes him a wad of bills, and then the kid vanishes out the door, fast. “Isn’t he handsome?” to be continued... translation by Martin Rundkvist Andra bloggar om: ,

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