Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It's Only Me- Chapter 12- The Lost Year

Work wise things were going well for me in 1975 through 1976. But personally this was a very lonely and depressing time. I was 21 years old and it was beginning to look like I would be working in a grocery store 6 blocks from where I had been born for the rest of my life.

I was drinking less and taking Tuinols and Qualudes in increasing quantities. I was smoking during the day and I was always at work- and doing my job well, but the nights were a different story altogether.

I spent most of my evenings walking alone, smoking the pocketful of joints that I always carried. I would take a Qualude or a Tuinol to even things out. Walking and singing in the streets became my nightly ritual. There was something comforting in the darkness that hid the pain I was feeling. I was lonely, wondering why my parents had given up on me.

My relationships at this time were either women from the grocery store who craved the attention they were not getting from their spouses- or else just someone that I would run into and get high with. The only love I got at the time was in the treatment I received at the store and the tolerance shown me concerning my drug use.

After 2132 was sold I began a migration from apartment to apartment. On the eve of my 21st birthday I was faced with eviction from an apartment on Ocean Avenue I had been sharing with Michael Held. This was the only argument I ever had with Michael. The apartment was in my name and I got half the rent from Michael each month. When the eviction notice came he stopped paying. I had not been using his share of the money for rent- buying pot and pills instead, so he felt that the last month should be free for him. I countered that since I was going to be evicted under my name alone and he was going across the street to his Mom’s house, he should pay me. Of course I was wrong. But words flew and Michael, in a move very uncharacteristic of him- took a pan of boiling water from the stove and threw it on my bare stomach! To my credit I did not shoot him. And he was so surprised at what he had done that we both ended up laughing hysterically. We then went to the roof with our big wooden TV and threw it down into the middle of Ocean Avenue. Call it male bonding….

The next night found me wandering the streets until after midnight. I went to a friends house and threw stones at his window. Creeping around the alley to the front door I went in quietly and spent the night there. In the morning my friends’ parents asked a few questions, fed me breakfast and I was on my way to work.

I really needed a place to stay and that day I had no idea what I was going to do. Harry and Al both offered the hospitality of their homes but I declined- out of shame I think.

But that very afternoon Donna came walking into Met Foods, leaving Duke tied up at the meter in front. She listened and then offered me the living room of her apartment on Avenue O and 19th Street. I quickly accepted and moved in that evening.

Donna was 31, I was 19. She was a hairdresser. I wanted to be roommates, and at first that is the way it went. But things began to change and I was not comfortable in the way things were turning out. One day I came home from work and Donna’s ex was there. I remember coming to on the couch with a knot on my head from being knocked out. Time to move.

I had become friends with Mia Mamoor, who worked at the Rainbow dress shop on Kings Highway and East 16th Street. He had been introduced to me through Osman and Cumin Raji, two brothers from Malaysia who were janitors in my parents’ apartment building. I used to go to their room on the ground floor and smoke the best opiated hash on the planet.

Mia had an apartment on Ocean Avenue and Avenue L and that is where I moved next. We would meet after work and go back to his place where he would cook swordfish and curry. It stunk up the whole building and the neighbors were complaining about it. One night we made so much fish that we invited the neighbors in to eat. Only a few accepted- but when they saw and tasted the food they never complained again.

Mia was dating a Chinese American girl named Karen. Her parents owned some restaurants in New York as well as Virginia. Her Dad spoke a little English and I think he told me the stories about Mao and the final days of the Revolution in the late 40’s. Although they did not really care for Mia they never interfered with her seeing Mia and they eventually married.

A funny story about Mia, Osman, and Cumin concerns John DiStefano. One night we all got together and went to Chinatown for dinner. With Osman and Cumin doing the ordering we were in for some rare treats. John was a bit more drunk than the rest of us. The food began arriving at the table and we all began to eat. Then the fish came out on a platter – whole- and with the eyes still in. Osman- ever the gracious host- took his chopsticks and expertly plunked the eye out of the fish, offering it to John. This was actually a sign of honor and respect. John puked and Osman, unfazed, plopped the eye in his mouth, savoring this delicacy.

Another funny thing about this period of my life is that although we were always talking politics, religion, God etc. it never once came up that I and many of our mutual friends were Jewish. You see they were Islamic. Mia actually did the foot washing etc at night. But it was never a point of discussion. We were all friends and that was the most important thing. It really wasn’t until years later that I thought of it!

After Mia’s place I had a rented room in a nearby apartment for a couple of months. Then I moved into Sheldon Wassermans mom’s home on East 22nd Street- across from PS 197 where I had gone to Kindergarten. She was elderly and alone so Sheldon thought it would work out for us both. It did- kind of, sort of.

Sheldon was married to the cutest little Italian woman, her name was Rochelle, everyone called her Shelley. So they were Shelley and Sheldon. We had a little arrangement between us- I gave then pot- they gave me pills. They were in their early 30’s and I was 21. Things got bad for Sheldon with the pills and so Shelley sent him over to live with his mom for a bit. There was plenty of room so it was not bad. And soon we were joined by his nephew Stevie and started to call the place “The Clinic.” Sheldon’s mom was not so amused but soldiered on anyway- playing host to this band of mis-fits. Secretly I think she was glad for the company.

My evenings were now spent on the corner of Avenue O and East 12th Street. There was an open air drug scene outside of St Brendan’s Church and most of the dealers were the kid brothers of various friends. Sometimes I would fall asleep on the corner, only to be awakened at about 1 in the morning by Judy Lannigan or Denise Woods and they would point me towards home. But at 9:05 AM I was back at Met Foods with my Italian bread and milk, ready for another day.

One night, as I was standing in the schoolyard of PS 197 watching Phillip Held play softball, I noticed some objects in the sky- very bright and larger than stars. I immediately identified them as Venus and Mars. Later in the year I pointed out Jupiter. Now no one had ever shown me these before- and I don’t know how I knew what they were- but they were.

I could see that a change was in order- I had traveled from Bedford Avenue and Kings Highway, where I was born in 1954 to East 22nd Street and Kings Highway- a distance of 3 streets in 21 years! And I was working on East 19th Street and Kings Highway. My whole life was becoming defined by these 6 city blocks! I could see that it was time to move on- and so I began to make plans.

I would join the Navy. And Harry and Al would have to change that old sign in the window- the one that had read “Part Time Bag Boy Wanted” would now read “2 Full Time Men Needed.”

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