‘I’m a deal with you later.’
SOUTH SHORE HIGH SCHOOL, FLATLANDS AVENUE, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Buddy sat towards the back of the class along the right side wall. Every day wasn’t bad, wasn’t good. He didn’t hate anyone at school, he didn’t like anyone. He had no real friends. He barely had any acquaintances. He showed up, was anonymous, didn’t talk to anyone. He had no interest in anyone, no-one had any interest in him. It was actually comforting. It was like he was invisible.
He was self-conscious. I suppose everyone is to some degree. He looked out the window. He could just see another interior wall of the school. He took notes almost without thinking about it. He liked number 2 pencils. He never could make writing look readable with a pen. He was a big guy. Not huge, but big enough to stand out. He hated that. He longed for anonymity. He was trapped here. So was everybody, but Buddy knew that he would get out one day and then stay out. He thought his classmates didn’t think the same way. This was their home after all.
Bench 300. It was all he could think about. Everything else was becoming irrelevant. He was allowed to work out in the basement of the store where he worked. They would listen to hard rock, Nugent, Skynnyrd, T-Rex. Twice a week, he and the owner would lift. Buddy was a good spotter. He had a dream of getting an AAU patch. Any AAU patch, even a Class IV, but he just wasn’t strong enough. Oh he could get a patch he totaled 1,000 pounds easy. 365 deadlift, 365 squat and 270 bench. His goal was 405, 405 and 300: 1,110. It was within reach.
He heard the voices rise at the front of the class.
‘Why you gimme a D?’
‘You earned a D!’
It was a student, a very large one, arguing with the teacher. She was a little lady, unattractive, glasses, mousy, but belligerent. Buddy didn’t like her. She was obnoxious and rude. The argument got worse.
‘I’m a deal with you later.’
‘You will go to the office!’
‘I’m a deal with you right now!’
Buddy was big but this guy was bigger. Maybe 6’2′ 240, he had 25 pounds on Buddy. Buddy ran to the front of the class. He clasped his arms around the big kid’s waist. The kid didn’t notice Buddy. He began to drag Buddy across the floor. The teacher kept taunting the big kid. But the big kid was no longer responsive. Buddy wasn’t afraid of black people. He had lived with them all his life. But he knew when to be respectful to avoid trouble.
His mind drifted back to when he was about ten years old, playing basketball on the playground on Pennsylvania Avenue. He was friends with a little girl named Tania since the first grade. Tania loved Buddy. Buddy never realized that he was the only white face. To everyone he was just Buddy. Tania walked up, chewing her gum, adjusting it with her right hand and staring at Buddy.
‘What’s up B?’ She said sidling up to him as he dribbled a basketball.
‘I wanna go to the store Buddy, will you walk with me and my sister?’
He threw the ball to his friend Eric and he walked between the girls. An old black lady, Miss Tizzie came up with an angry face shaking her cane at the three of them.
‘No mixing!’ No mixing with white devils!’
Tania put her hands on her hips.
‘Miss Tizzie, why you gotta jive me out? Buddy’s not white he’s one of us!’
Miss Tizzie raised her cane, too angry to speak. Buddy evaded Miss Tizzie’s cane and they went to the store in search of chips and sodas.
Buddy came back to the present.
Two other kids came up and each grabbed an arm. The three of them could not hold the big kid back. Buddy yelled to a security guard who watched from the hallway. The guard showed a raised fist salute and walked away. A Puerto Rican kid ran and got the football coaches. Buddy yelled at the teacher to shut up. The big kid was now mute being restrained like Godzilla.
Three football coaches came in and tackled the entire pile. They all landed on Buddy. Eventually the police came and took the big kid out on a stretcher. He was catatonic. Angel Dust they said.
Buddy brushed himself off.
‘You’re a moron, never get involved’ A disgusted-looking blond girl said.
‘Man, you stupid.’ A little black girl said.
Buddy stood in the front of the class, all disheveled. He was blonde so his face was all red.
He turned around to the teacher.
‘You are welcome.’
He turned back to the class.
‘Fuck all of you, pussies, you fucking cowards, the hell with all of you. I wasn’t gonna watch the lady get killed. All of you can go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut. What in the hell is the matter with you? Have you all lost your souls?’
Nobody cared. The bell rang. They filed past Buddy, snickering, avoiding eye contact. Buddy went out front. A kid came up to him. A big Irish kid.
‘Hey man are you OK?’
‘No, man I’m fucked up.’
‘You’ve got senioritis.’
That reply was too idiotic. Buddy couldn’t take it anymore. He went down to the nurse. He liked the nurse. She was in her 50s, red hair, but very pretty and well built with tight big breasts under her nurse’s outfit. He liked the older ones. He didn’t have a mother so he didn’t look at older women in a maternal way. He told her he got roughed up a bit and asked if he could be excused for the afternoon. She gave him a note.
He left the school without a hint of remorse. It was cool outside and always gray like the nearby sea. He walked over to the train station at Rockaway Parkway. 98th and Glenwood. 3 Train.
He was headed to the City to work out. Maybe he would see the girl. The girl. He could not stop thinking about her. He had to talk to her. Buddy just realized that he no longer knew how to interact with other white people. He was now an alien of some sort. He could not have looked more Upper East Side, but he thought East New York.
He carried his gym bag over his shoulder. First looking down at the sidewalk, then up at the buildings. He had to get the hell out of here. It was ridiculous.
Then he saw it. Two men dragging a woman. She was well-dressed, a business women. Brown hair, petite but thick. The men looked like they just got out of prison. They dragged her off the street. She was screaming for help. Buddy became enraged. He found a brick and he charged the two men. They never saw him coming. He put his full body weight into the blow smashing the one man on the back of his neck and knocking him out cold. Before the other man could speak Buddy smashed him in the eye socket with the corner of the brick. Buddy dazed him, then he hit him again and again and again. The man went down semi-conscious.
Buddy grabbed the woman’s arm. He picked up her purse.
‘Do you have a car?’
“Let’s go, where the hell is your car!’
She ran arm-in-arm with Buddy. The door was still open and the keys were in. Buddy threw the woman across the seat and jumped in. He started the car, a three-speed column shift and they headed down Rockaway Parkway.
‘You just saved my life. Where the hell did you come from?’
‘Nowhere. I came from nowhere.’
She looked into the drop-down mirror as if really prove to herself that she was OK.
‘Oh my god, you just saved my life.’
‘It’s OK, really, where to?’
‘I live in Manhattan.’
‘OK, I need to go there too.’
‘I’m at 67th Street East.’
‘What’s the cross?’ (The cross is the numbered cross streets running East to West across Manhattans Avenues.
‘OK, I’m going to 71st West. I can jump out at your place. It can get shaky over there by the train station. You should not be down there alone.’
‘I was there to buy things. I was responding to an ad.’
‘You’re like the Lone Ranger, a Legendary Ranger.’
‘I never thought of myself that way. You’re somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, I don’t know. I live down there, I see bad things, but I can’t just let things go.
He called out directions to her like a cabbie. I’m going to go Remsen to Linden to Washington, sneak up to Mid-town. I’m glad you are OK, you look like a sweet lady.’
‘You saved my life.’
‘Just be careful out their Miss, it’s a sick world.’
The traversed the City, dodging traffic, getting frustrated at red lights, avoiding pedestrians and the ever-present box trucks. They were crossing the bridge at Midtown and entering the maze of streets that went up to Second Avenue. Buddy asked if they could stop at a Bodega. He jumped out and went into the store. SHe climbed into the driver’s seat.
He drifted anonymously among the shelves like a great white ghost, conscious that he stood out, amongst the smaller immigrants and delicate Manhattanites. He was thinking about the lady. She looked to be in her 40s, but she was very pretty. He liked the way she was built. Very ladylike, but with a very tight figure. Buddy always seemed to think about women that way. He tried to shake it off and make himself believe that he wasn’t somehow attracted to every woman he ever met, but he was. He liked their company, their smell, the way they talked. He would always subconsciously flirt.
He looked up and down the refrigerated shelves. He liked bottled iced tea and muscle drinks. He picked up a lemon iced tea for the lady. He realized then that he had become a part of the lady’s life and would be legend to her and her family for generations. But he still felt anonymous. He waited on the curb. Rivers of buses, cabs, box trucks and cars raced past. He liked to look North up the Avenue to see as far as he could see across Manhattan as if he could see up the Hudson to the Adirondacks. He liked being the in the lady’s nice car, he liked being in Manhattan.
She pulled up with a big smile on her face. Buddy climbed in and they headed towards 67th street. Buddy thought about what it would be like to be a Manhattan businessman or executive in some office high above the city. He wondered about the nice restaurants, the fancy cars, the exclusive gyms, the high-end stores they shopped in. He would never get there he assumed. He knew his limitations. People just hated Buddy. Even if he tried to be nice. Even if he helped people, they instinctively hated or feared him. Maybe he projected some inner evil or anguish that people picked up on. He didn’t know.
‘I can’t stand it anymore. Every day it gets worse. I had to do something. There is a lot of evil in some people and there’s no-one left to stop it. I know I can’t do it, I’m not a crusader, but I just can’t watch anymore, I have to create some good or stop some evil or something.’
They pulled up in front of the building where there was a valet. The lady seemed lonely, frightened, very shaken up and out of sorts. Here paradigm had just shifted, her false aura of safety was gone. She had barely dodged the bullet. He could see it in her eyes. He felt a great sympathy for her.
‘Please come in and have a drink, I don’t want to be alone right now.’
She was peering into his eyes as she leaned on his forearm.
‘Sure I will, I have about three hours before I have to go to work.’
They got out of the car. Buddy looked her over, he couldn’t guess her age, 40s maybe, but she had a very nice body, small but voluptuous. He hair was in a tight bun. He wondered what she would look like with her hair down. They went into an elevator. Her apartment was very high up. She suddenly leaned back onto Buddy, she closed her eyes and he held her.
‘My name is Carol. Carol Van Horne.’
‘My name is Buddy.’
They went into the apartment. She locked the door and leaned back against it. She pulled Buddy close.
‘Buddy you are a wonderful young man. You actually care about things.’
Buddy couldn’t resist. She was vulnerable, she needed him. He wanted to draw her close…
Pete’s House, East New York August 1975
She was to that point the only girl he had ever loved.
It was Tania. She was very black, not just in skin tone, but in every way Americans think of the word.
She was bigger than ‘thick’, she was loud, she dressed loud, but for some reason she loved Buddy. Since they first met on the playground where Buddy was the only white kid playing ball. Sure he got roughed up a lot early on, slammed into the chain link fence from the typical ghetto cheap shot, or slammed to the ground, but he never complained. He learned how to play. He would never give in, the ball was his, the hoop was his. It was the best place to practice the game in the whole country, on the ugly ball-courts of New York City, with the nasty chain-link nets and the super-fortified rims and blackboards.
They were inseparable. The first time she ever saw him, they were six. Buddy had just been slammed to the ground by an older kid during a B-Ball game. She went onto the court to help him up. The kid that had slammed Buddy to the ground was her older brother.
“Man you stupid.” She said to Jefferson.
“Don’t you mess with my man, I’ll mess you up.”
She stood with her hands on her hips looking right into her brother’s face.
“You know I’ll do it too. I will cut your dumb stuff off in your sleep. You wanna’ try me.”
“No I believe you baby sister. But why you like that white boy.”
“Because he’s our white boy. He’s our only white boy. Ain’t no other block got a white boy.”
“OK little T. I’ll go easy on the little devil.”
They sat on the wall outside Pete’s House when they were 14:
“You know what I like about you? What people down here in the neighborhood like about you? You are totally white, you act white, you stay white, you be white, you dress white. You never try to be black to fit in. Black people respect that. They hate when white people try to be black. You are just you. You fit in just by being you. But you are just a part of the neighborhood being you. Everyone expect Buddy to Buddy. When we want to know what the white man is thinking we all come to you for an opinion. And, you always tell the truth.”
Buddy sat with his arm around Tania.
“You know, I just don’t think about it. Everybody is just obsessed with who is what color, what Island they came from, who is Spanish whatever. I deliberately try not to care. It’s like I think I can fix the world just by trying not to talk about these things and by just being me.”
“I hate these ghetto white chicks that shack up with a brother, trying to talk black and whatnot. They annoy me.”
“They all hate me for some reason, the white people who live down in the projects. They can’t figure me out and I don’t owe them an explanation.”
“You gonna’ leave me one day Buddy. Your soul ain’t down here. You just marking time until you get out of high school and then you gonna’ disappear into the white world and I’ll never see you again.”
“I’ll never leave here without you.”
She was comfortable with Buddy’s arm around her. Buddy was her man. She played with her chewing gum and she stared across the street with a sad, knowing grin like she had figured Buddy out.
“Why you like me?”
“Because I do.”
“You wanna’ get with me don’t you.”
“Yes I do.”
“My Momma’ will kill you, my whole family will kill you…you better wait till we’re seniors, maybe you get me at the prom.”
“I’ll wait, but I don’t like waiting.”
“You better shut your mouth, Buddy.”
They kissed. A quick tender kiss like young people do. Then she had to go home and he went back into Pete’s house.
He never saw her again. Two days later, the Canarsie bus didn’t pull all the way to the curb like it was supposed to and an impatient driver raced around the right side of the bus at high speed and she died in that instant.
Buddy found out from the word on the street. He had even heard the sirens, but paid it no attention. He went to the funeral. Tania’s family knew that Buddy loved her. He kissed her one last time and then he was really alone.
Mother Schnall’s Knishes Bright and Coney Island Avenue
Pete sat with Buddy at the counter drinking a Scrapple iced tea, eating the cabbage knish. He loved Buddy. Buddy was truly a son to him.
He could see that Buddy was despondent, but he didn’t like to show it. In hard times, Buddy would put on an even stronger face. His sense of humor would disappear. He knew that Buddy had lost everyone he had ever loved, his mother, his father, his girl and was even deserted by his blue-blood family.
They ate their knishes. They didn’t talk much. They walked down to Brighton Beach, crossing on the cool sand under the Boardwalk where they met up with the rest of the Davis family.
He liked the ocean. He always wondered what was out there. He wanted to wander around the Boroughs, check out New Jersey, see the region. But he was trapped by the circumstances but he knew that he had just try to wait.
He walked out the water’s edge. The waves lapped up into his feet. He walked out a little further, then he swam. He wondered about sharks, he looked at the big freighters and oil tankers, he looked over to the parachutes of Coney Island. He loved New York.