It Sucks to be Buddy: Chapter 4 – “People”

West 73rd Street, Manhattan, Friday October 13th 1978 8:00 PM

The City was occupied with the Yankees. Maybe not anywhere on Long Island. True Yankees fans were from the Bronx and upstate. Buddy was from the Bronx. No amount of time spent on Long Island could ever change that. They were playing tonight. Buddy had never been to a Yankees game. He never got a ticket. It was not cool or warm. There was a bit of buzz in the air. Everyone was probably tuned to their radio or TV.

Buddy had just finished work. Just four hours on Fridays. He walked outside. He looked up the street to the right. There was almost no traffic. All the parking spaces were full as always, but Buddy didn’t drive, so it struck him as odd that he even thought about it. A car would be good. It would be a little taste of freedom, maybe escape from The City. He looked across the street. It was the girl. She was standing across the street with her arms folded like she was waiting for a ride.

Buddy was scared to death to talk to her. He was a big guy. Sometimes people were afraid of him. The Frankenstein effect. Fight or flight. He had decided to be bold. Buddy closed his eyes, looked down and then he walked over to her. The pavement was uneven, cracked and filthy. The street smelled like Manhattan always smells.

“Hi.” He said, trying to assume a cool stance, or at least a stance that was normal, not otherwise awkward.

“Hi.” She answered with a smile.

Buddy felt awkward and self-conscious as usual. Under the streetlight, he could see that she was sophisticated and beautiful. She was very well -dressed, with a short tweed jacket over her blouse.

“You get stuck here?”

“Apparently. Someone was supposed to pick me up. I think they forgot. It’s been like an hour, now I don’t know what to do.”

Her accent was sophisticated in tone, but strongly New York.

“Where do you want to get to?” He asked, as if he could miracle a solution out of nowhere.

“South Salem. That weird little corner of New York by Connecticut. My friends are gone, I’m locked out, I’ve never gotten home by myself. There’s no way I’m going to try to take the train or the bus and no-one is answering at home. By the way, I’m Florence.”

“I’m Buddy, please come with me a minute, I’ll get you a ride. My boss at the barbell store, he lives in Connecticut. We’ll all ride up if that’s OK. I’ll try to talk him into it.”

“It’s a godsend. I hate to impose.”

They walked over to the shop.

“Boss.”

The boss looked up. He was totaling numbers at the register with an ancient leather-bound accounting ledger. “Oh my god Buddy, it’s your dream girl you’ve been moaning about the last few months.”

Buddy went red in the face, the girl laughed.

“She’s stranded, she needs a ride to New Salem. I’ll ride up with you.”

“Of course Buddy, of course. But how the hell do you plan to get back? Oh never mind, sleep in the guest house.”

Buddy tried to imagine the guest house. He could see the boss having some big, wooded Connecticut Estate like in the movies. In Hollywood films everyone in New York was rich and had some massive Estate somewhere north of The City.

The girl wrapped her arm around Buddy’s elbow as they walked to the bosses’ gaudy Cadillac. Buddy felt sophisticated with the girl. He liked the feeling. It would probably never go anywhere, but it was a gesture. He almost always failed with women until very recently.

The headed to the West Side Highway for the trip North. The girl looked through her purse and backpack, putting things in order, making little notes.

SAN FRANCISCO, EMBARCADERO 1967

Monroe walked alone around the Embarcadero. Pier 39, the seals. The Golden Gate Bridge. He felt guilty about leaving his little boy alone. He would have to get out of the Army mane go into the National Guard when he finished his tour in Vietnam. He stopped in front of Alioto’s and there was the hippie.

“Monroe! Good to see you old dude! What’s up with the dashiki and headband man, you look like a biker, dude.”

He gave Monroe a big hug. There were two women with him.

“So Monroe, meet the ladies, man. This is my old lady Shelley and her Aunt Mona. Mona’s still hot ain’t she?”

Mona gave Monroe a big earthy hug. Mona looked like and old commune hippie chick. She was wearing buckskins with a mini skirt and boots.

“So we’ve heard all about you. Dev’ said for sure you would be here and here you are, man. Wow you are a hot dude. Are you really 45? I’m 45. I’m a Sagittarius. December 21, 1922.”

“No way, we have the same birthday! 12/21/22!”

She held up the four tickets. She liked Monroe. She held onto him tightly as they walked across the city to the concert.

“I lost my first husband in Korea. I don’t want to see that happen to you. I hate this war trip man. I hope you don’t believe in it.”

They grabbed a cable car. They held onto the outside.

“I don’t believe in it anymore. I just can’t stop doing it. It’s like ritual.”

She stared deep into his eyes as they held onto the cable car as it jerked its way up the hill. She was blonde and blue-eyed like him. Same birthday. Why did he have to meet her under these fleeting circumstances?

‘It sucks to be Monroe’, he thought.

“So Winterland, Sutter and Steiner. I was at the Presidio years ago. I’m old, but I listen to all the new music because the young guys in the Army do.” He whispered to her as they clung to the cable car.

“He was a good young guy. I was 29, he was 23 when he died, December 21, 1951. I met him at the University in Santa Fe. He was doing the ROTC (pronounced row-tuh-see). I didn’t think I’d get married at that point. It made no sense. He was in the National Guard, he got called up. He tried to contact me by mail when he could. Then he just disappeared. I knew what happened. It’s going to happen to you too if you go back. I believe fate sent you to me.”

They climbed off the car and they walked. She held his hand like they had known each other forever. He stopped and looked at her.

“You know, you’re absolutely beautiful.”

“Are you married? You’re wearing a ring.”

“I was married, my wife died. She had a congenital defect in her aorta. No-one knew about it. I never took the ring off.”

“I don’t think you should. I bet you never got rid of her things. You’re a romantic, a wanderer.”

“It’s all in the house somewhere… Her things. All in boxes. I gave most of her things away to her sisters.”

“You don’t have to do it. You don’t have to go back. Everything you think you believe in is imaginary. It really is, it’s a dream, a fantasy of something that isn’t real.”

“Mona, I could have quit, I already have 20 years. I have a little boy back in New York.”

Hippie had the tickets. Monroe wondered if the ticket taker thought that Hippie had brought his parents. They took their seats. Everyone was roaking the schmiee. The card was: Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Freedom Highway…

They started with “Martha”. Mona leaned on his shoulder.

“I can’t have kids. I was sterilized by an infection when I was in a concentration camp. I was born on the Isle of Guernsey. We had like one family of Jews on the island and they wanted me to point them out. I told them to burn in hell and I was sent to Bergen-Belsen.

bergen_belsen_liberation_03

Bergen-Belsen April 19, 1945 after Liberation by the British Army

I was a human being. Just a nineteen-year old English girl from Pleinmont. We were so mighty, the British. I couldn’t imagine we could be brought so low. I guess that’s why I stand up to authority. I thought the world was gardens and poems. I would never sell my British soul. It’s not for sale. From the day I was born through the day that we were liberated by our countrymen, I believed that Britain was everything right and good and we had stood up to Fascism all around the world. The one soldier I hugged couldn’t believe that I was an English girl taken from Guernsey. I’ll die before I sell my soul. I’ll always speak truth to power.”

crowds_of_people_gathered_ouside_the_general_assurance_corporation_building_in_st_peter_port_guernsey_to_welcome_the_british_task_force_sent_to_liberate_the_island_from_german_occupation_10_may_1945

Liberation Day – Guernsey

By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//44/media-44854/large.jpgThis is photograph D 24590 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24364460

They were playing “Today.” Schmiee was passed down the aisle for everyone to take a roak.

“I’m sorry Mona. You’re mystical and sincere. I can’t believe that something that awful can happen to someone, but I was in Italy. I saw what they did there. It was awful. They murdered a group of little Italian boys. I heard the shooting. I saw the bodies before they could burn them. I hate the world sometimes. You make me want to quit and stay with you. I just met you and I think I’m in love with you.”

South Salem, New York Friday October 13th 1978 10:00 PM

They arrived at the gate of the Estate. They had an elaborate automatic Security System like in James Bond. They were met at the portico of a Victorian mansion by a butler of some sort.

The boss drove off unexpectedly leaving Buddy and Florence behind.

“We will get you a ride in the morning Buddy. I can’t thank you enough.”

A couple pulled up just as the boss exited the gate. It was Florence’s parents. They introduced themselves. They thanked Buddy profusely and they prepared him a room in the guest house.

He felt self-conscious of his appearance. He felt at home at the estate. The wealth and splendor, the fancy card, the valuable paintings, coin and stamp collections, they even had an extra giant garage for cars they collected.

Pleinmont, Guernsey, British Empire, 1 October 1945 De Rozier House

“This is the first time we’ve all been together in four years.” Madame De Rozier said. She was overjoyed but filled with terrible anguish for her eldest daughter. Major De Rozier was keeping a stiff upper lip, but he kept sneaking glances at his emaciated eldest child. She had been one of the prettiest girls on the Island. Now she was a black eyed little ghost.

She was his first baby. Now she was ruined.

They took a long walk the week before like they did when she was a little girl. She told him about years of torture and beatings, that she risked death rather than give up her honor. How she suffered to help other inmates. How she was kicked and beaten into unconsciousness for refusing to be a propaganda tool and then illness followed by near death.

He was away with the Army when she had been arrested. He blamed himself for not getting them out. His torment was a physical gut wrenching pain. He had never showed strong emotion until that walk.

“They’ve recommended you for the George Medal, Mona. I’m terribly proud, yet I wish it had never happened. You’ve missed University, marriage, children. I failed you terribly I’m afraid and I can’t ever forgive myself.”

“It’s just a trinket daddy. The medal that is. It should go to a fireman from the blitz, not me. And you never ever failed me and you never ever let me down. I’ll not hear that nonsense again. I did what I did for King and Country and I’d bloody well do it again tomorrow if needs be. You’ve got three other children to make you a grandfather. Were all alive and back together. I was certain I’d never see you again, yet here we are.” They stopped to sit on a stone wall. He had to put his arm around her, as she teetered precariously like Humpty Dumpty at the edge of the wall.

“You are very special to me, Mona. You were the only one with whom I ever had real rapport. I couldn’t live one day in a world without my sweet child. They hurt you. I let them hurt you.” He burst into tears with uncontrollable sobs.

“Daddy, you’ll stop that at once or I’ll cry too and what would anyone think of us? Were you supposed to stop the entire German Army yourself? At any rate, I’m rather afraid I can’t walk right now. Could you possibly carry me like a princess, like when I was a little girl? I think I should like that very much.”

He carried her down the lane a long ways in the mist until she could walk again. She was very light in his arms. All he could feel was skin and bones. They returned to the house after a while.

He slept at the foot of her bed every night like a loyal dog since she had returned. He would listen late at night to make sure she was still breathing like when she was a baby.

Demolished Projects near Flatlands and Pennsylvania Avenues, East New York, October 30th, 1978

“You hate n!993r5, don’t you Buddy?”

It was getting darker early. It was 4:55 PM and the sun was setting over the City to the West. Buddy and Curtis were sitting on top of a huge pile of rubble. Curtis must have spotted him walking and then followed him to this remote location.

Curtis was a very important and very dangerous man down in the ‘Slaughterhouse’, this was the nickname for East New York.

“It’s the goddamned garbage Curtis.”

view_from_under_elevated_train_tracks_at_bushwick_avenue_in_brooklyn_new_york_city-_the_inner_city_today_is_an-_-_nara_-_555890

Brooklyn 1978, courtesy Danny Lyon, EPA

“What the fuck are you talking about Buddy?”

“Who lives like this? Who doesn’t take care of their own house? Their own street? Their own neighborhood? Don’t you think there’s something wrong with that? How do I look at this and not think something is wrong. No, I’m not allowed to say it because I’ll get shot. But look at it. Do you like this? Do you take pride in this? Do you think it doesn’t matter?”

Curtis took a long roak on his filter-less Camel.

“That’s the difference about you Buddy. I’ve known you since the day you came into this neighborhood man. You know how to get by, but deep down inside, you are civilized. From the civilized tribe. And you know not to say nothing. Kind of like the old black man in the South, like my gramps. He may have hated the way this was, but you wouldn’t know it, because he never said so. He was too smart. He saw the world as it was, didn’t ever talk about how it should be. You the same. White man in a black man’s world down here. I know you  hate n1993r5. Hell, I’m a n1993r and I hate n1993r5. I know you don’t hate all n1993r5, but just n1993r5 in general. You gonna leave here in a New York minute the day you graduate High School. Your godfather Pete knows you gonna skip. He a good man too. He a black man, but he ain’t nobody’s n1993r. You won’t ever look back.”

Buddy accepted a roak from Curtis.

“You are kind of like a Duke or Earl of East New York Curtis. I admire you. You have a certain kind of smart. You know people’s weaknesses. And you are fearless. I stay out of your business, always have.”

There were crazy people, dangerous people wandering around the rubble like zombies, but they knew Curtis’ car a Yellow Mark IV Lincoln and they stayed away. Even the craziest and most violent feared Curtis, they also knew that Curtis watched over Buddy and they knew that Buddy never snitched.

“See Buddy, you the only connections that these n1993r5 down here have to the white man. The white people who work down here, they don’t count, because they have to be here. But when people come to you and ask what whitey thinks about this or that, you tell them the truth.”

“I don’t use that word. You have to be careful about the words you use. I don’t get on race or any of that mess. And no, I don’t hate anybody. Just bad luck is all I suppose. So Curtis, I met this girl…”

Curtis looked up at Buddy.

“Yeah, it’s been a while since the last one. That little sister, man. Bad business. So this new girl, I hear things. She’s rich, real rich. You like that don’t you. All them rich people up in there, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. I love rich people, they the real gangsters man. I want to be rich, you know what I’m saying. That’s why I put my money into real estate. When they turn this place around, I’ll own all the buildings and all the land. People who hate the rich are just jealous.”

Curtis and Buddy climbed down off the rubble.

“Buddy, I’ll give you a ride back to Pete’s. It’s always good to talk to you… for my sanity. I get tired of all these jive melon-farmers leeching off me.”

 

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