The Bard and Jester

Welcome Readers! Here you will find some real life experiences and musings that I'd like to share with you. So, come on in, if you have the time and I'll do my best to be entertaining... Please click on my sponsors' links!!! Established March 12, 2005.

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Location: New York, United States

I can be a clown, a poet, a fool, a romantic, a diplomat, a all depends upon the timing and circumstance.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dad, Nuns and the Knife

Originally uploaded by vraven.
I went to Catholic grammar school back in the '70's, when it was still "okay" for nuns and priests to beat kids...and being the mischievous soul that I am, I had more than my fair share of beatings.

I mean, if it had been today, where even shaking a kid could result in criminal charges, my parents would've have a massive lawsuit to launch against the school. In third grade, I had been yanked out of my chair by the hair and shaken by a frustrated teacher because I had difficulty understanding some lesson she was attempting to impart to me. Other times, I got smacked across the face (and some of those nuns wore heavy gold rings) or across my head so that my skull would ring like a bell. I was kept in the coat closet to impress upon me the "dark horrors of hell".

Every Friday, the nuns would distribute Mass slips and what you were required to do was go to one of the Sunday Masses, then fill in the fields on the slip regarding the time, who the celebrant was and a brief summary of the priest's sermon. Failure to hand in that slip on Monday resulted in detention.

Problem was, I was a devout Catholic back then and I always went to Mass--while hospitalized in the 7th grade I even watched televised Mass on Sunday--but I would often lose or forget to bring in the Mass slip and I would get detention.

And nuns were very scary people to me; scowling hags in black and white habits who, while towering over my little form, with the flourescent lighting gleaming off their eye glasses, their gold crosses swaying from their necks and their spittle-flecked lips curled in a snarl, would tell me things like, if on wintry, Sunday morning, I didn't want to leave the snuggness of my warm bed to go to Mass, that I should remember that "the fires of hell are hotter".

To this day, the sight of a nun in habit causes me to tense up.

In 4th grade, I had the scariest and meanest nun of all, Sister Carita (pronounced CARRY-TA), a crazy hag from South America. She taught us penmanship and if you didn't form those scripted letters just right then--CRACK!--a hard rap on your knuckles from the ever present ruler in her hand.

I personally think it's why I have such awful handwriting today.

During bathroom breaks, while we lined up on the before and after lines in the hall outside the rest rooms, waiting for everyone to take their turn, I would often misbehave and would be pulled off the line to stand beside Sister Carita.

One time, as I stood beside her, with the other kids waiting on line and staring at the both of us, I said, "Welcome to Fantasy Island."

Sister Carita, without looking at me, reached back her arm and--WHACK!--smacked me across the head.

On a May afternoon, as the summer--and it's promise of fun and freedom--loomed closer, while we all sat quiet in the classroom reading something (can't recall what now), the sound of a bugle came from the street below. Now, being the spontaneous and wild spirit that I am, I leapt up from my desk and cried, "CHARGE!", to much laughter.

But, in being the class clown, I had incurred the terrible wrath of Sister Carita. Her white-whiskered face darkened and she stormed over to me. She yanked me from my desk by my arm and shoved me hard to the back of the classroom. I hit the wall and cracked my head against it.

She made me stand there even after school was dismissed and the classroom emptied while she went to fetch my mom, who was waiting downstairs.

My mother was in the midst of a conversation with her friends when Sister Carita fell upon her. The nun yanked her--much in the same violent manner as she had just done to me--and said, "I have your misbehaving son upstairs."

My mother didn't appreciate this treatment and the two got into a heated confrontation. This lead to my father--who some may say is a tad overprotective of his family--to chase Sister Carita back into the school building, where she escaped him by taking refuge in the convent that perched atop the school.

Now, my family was well-connected to the diocese and my uncles called the priests and the priests called the convent. My father wanted to see Sister Carita face to face and give him a piece of his mind. What followed was a phone negotiation not unlike a hostage situation.

In 5th grade, I had Sister Patrick (yeah, my namesake...go figure). Very strict. Very insane. But then, I think a lifetime of no sex would probably drive me crazy and make me mean as well...especially since they taught that even masturbation was a sin. Thus, having no outlet for the build up of natural impulses, us unfortunate kids had to suffer for the nuns and priests not gettin' any.

We were taking some exam and it was flu season. I had a terrible cough and I hacked all through half the test. At one point, Sister Patrick slammed the freckled ham of her fist down upon her desk and said, "Master Patrick, if you cough one more time you'll get detention." So I spent the rest of the exam trying to choke back my coughs.

Another time, my dad had gave me a folding knife he had purchased through an ad in TV Guide...the kind where you could have your initials engraved on the little gold plate on the wood handle. It certainly wasn't anything big--and something that both Rambo and Crocodile Dundee would sneer at--but I brought it to school one day and got caught showing it to one of my friends. The nun, Sister Theresa, took it away from me. I protested, saying how I was allowed to have the knife. Sister Theresa then demanded a note from my parents before she would return it.

My father was more than happy to oblige, but my mother wouldn't let me take his sarcastic version of the permission note and so just gave me hers.

I got the knife back, of course, and never took it to school again, but I would've love to have taken my dad's permission note. It read:

"Patrick is allowed to carry a knife because a gun is too heavy."

Monday, October 31, 2005

Things A NYC Bike Messenger Can See: Beatings & Acts of Kindness

Alamy Images Stock Photo
Originally uploaded by vraven.
One wintry afternoon in 1993, I waited near the corner of Broadway and Houston Street for my dispatcher to call me for my next run.

I heard a commotion and saw the river of pedestrians suddenly part before a taxi driver who had fled his double-parked cab with two angry men in pursuit.

The two had caught up to the driver at a hot dog stand and attacked him. The driver tried to fight them off as the pair beat him with fists, feet and whatever they could yank off the top of the hot dog stand: soda cans, bottles and even boxes full of straws (many of them flew out with each blow) and plastic bags bulging with buns.

Meanwhile, the owner of the stand leaned back and away against a parked car and silently watched the violence with a remarkable look of tolerance.

A crowd of onlookers gathered to watch the fight. The taxi-driver got more than he gave. One of the onlookers, a man in a fine suit and briefcase, called for anyone but himself to summon the police. But no one did.

I took my heavy chain off my bicycle and moved to assist the taxi driver, but the fight was over as quickly as it had began. The two assiliants fled down Broadway and disappeared into the crowd. The driver, sporting a bloody nose and lip, stumbled back to his taxi and drove away, leaving the owner of the hot dog stand to clean up a mess of scattered straws, crumbled and crushed hot dog buns, broken glass and cans bubbling and spraying soda.

It wasn't the only violence I had seen toward taxi cab drivers.

Another time, as I pedaled along Broadway, I spied a taxi cab stopped just around the corner, with another car right behind it.

As I raced past, I saw the driver lying bunched up on the front seat, and kicking through the open door at a man who threatened him with a crook lock.

But I also saw random acts of kindness. For instance, I was on Madison Avenue, in mid-town, waiting for my dispatcher to page me. An older woman, dressed in a burly white fur coat and leading a poodle by a gem-studded leash, passed by. She lost her footing in a dip in the curb made by a driveway and fell half into the gutter, letting go of the leash. The little poodle stood up on its hind legs in a frightened, trembling dance.

But in an instant, a half dozen good smaritans came out of the press of passing pedestrians and helped the woman to her feet, while others scooped up the leash and soothed the scared little dog. They even brushed the street dirt from the woman's white fur coat.

Then everyone involved simply went on their way, back to their respective lives, their faces donning the stony masks of indifference once more.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Things A NYC Bike Messenger Can See: The Nickel Trick, YES! and Celebrities

Alamy Images Stock Photo
Originally uploaded by vraven.
During the fall and winter of 1993, I worked as a bicycle courier--or Bike Messenger, as they were more commonly called.

I lived in Brooklyn and, each weekday morning, I would get up, shower, dress, climb aboard my bike and ride across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Then I would find the nearest payphone and call into my dispatcher for my first pickup and delivery of the day. This was before cellphones of course--and oh, how they would've made the job alot easier...and cheaper, too.

When your dispatcher paged you, where ever you were at that moment, you had to find the nearest availble, working payphone as fast as you could. If you took too long you’d catch hell or worse: the call would be passed to another messenger. We got a commission based on how many runs we did that day, so every one was money in our pockets.

25 cents a call added up after a 9 hour shift, 5 days a week. But as I got to know other bike messengers, I began to hear about an esoteric method called the "Nickel Trick". This was around the time of those old Bell Atlantic payphones.

I finally asked a messenger to teach me the Nickel Trick. What you did was--and this if I remember all the steps correctly, it's been 12 years--take a quarter and a nickel, deposit the quarter into the coin slot first. Then you'd ever so gently lower the lever to right exactly where the dial tone is cut off. Then you released the lever, and, as fast as you could, drop the nickel into the coin slot and dial the call. If you did it just right, your quarter would be returned, the call would go through and all the call would cost you was a nickel.

That saved me alot of quarters.

On my very first day as a messenger, as I rode through downtown Brooklyn, on my way to the bridge, I was hit by car. I had foolishly ran a red light and, thinking it was a one-way street, I was only watching for traffic in one direction. It was actually a two-way street and my front tire crashed into the driver’s side door of a passing car. I was sent flying but was otherwise unhurt…but I only worked half a day because the accident had loosened the handlebars so that, by midday, I couldn’t steer; the handlebars spun around in place like a propeller.

The second day, my bike was nearly stolen. I had almost learned the hard way that, as a messenger, you should only use an industrial strength chain and padlock--the kind that stores use when they lock up at night. I had returned from a delivery only to find the bite marks from some metal cutting tool on both the standard bicycle chain and thin padlock that I had used. I figured that while they were working on the chain and lock, they must’ve seen me returning and fled. I heard from other bikers that there were guys who would go around in vans, watching for messengers whose bikes they could cut free and drive away with. So, the next day, I went to the hardware store and bought the heaviest chain and padlock they had. No worries after that, but it was a lot of extra weight I had to carry around all day.

You rode hard up and down and across Manhattan Island for 9 hours, dodging between taxis and buses, around cars and speeding through the herds of pedestrians that crossed against the green. But there was also alot of downtime as you waited for your dispatcher to page you.

One downtime in particular, I was sitting on the curb between two parked cars outside the New York Times Building. I had just finished making a delivery to the Times. My bike was still chained to the lamppost. One of the building’s security guards was outside walking a mini-beat between the front doors and the truck garages.

"YES!" someone shouted.

In the manner of a New York native, I barely noticed, lost in my own troubles and dreams.

The security guard strolled by.

"YES!" That same voice again, but this time I heard a loud clap precede the shout.

A few cars went by. The security guard finished another short, lazy circuit.

Another single clap and another "YES!"

Okay, I thought, what the hell is that?

I stood up and saw only the occassional pedestrian (it was only a side street), the security guard and a homeless man across the street. The homeless man wore a soiled old baseball cap and a bandanna over the lower half of his face like bandits of the old West.

Suddenly, he dashed across the street to the side that I was on, spun around and looked up above the roof opposite. He lowered the bandanna, did a jazzy, snaking dance move, clapped his hands together and shouted, "YES!"

There was such joy in his voice…no…more than joy…rapture, as if he were having some holy vision.

The homeless man periodically repeated this.

The security guard regarded this with the cool indifference only native New Yorkers have.

But I was fascinated. I love talking with crazies and I wanted to ask the homeless guy what he was seeing that made him celebrate so. But my beeper finally went off and I had to get my bike and begin the frenzy search for a payphone.

I never saw him again. But I did see a couple of celebrities. Or one and half…if TV weathermen count. I saw Al Roker as he went into a deli. People called out greetings and he smiled at them. He seemed like a nice guy. The other celebrity I saw as I made a delivery to the ABC Theatre Company on Broadway…near Union Square Park, I think. They had the old fashioned elevators operated by an elderly man—possibly as old as the lift itself. He was dressed like a cross between a bellhop and doorman. It was the only elevator in the building and if you didn’t want to take the stairs then you had to wait in line. And as I did, one guy behind me kept making a racket, singing or loudly muttering in a musical voice things like, "I hope I get the part'. He wore sunglasses and as I stared at him, thinking I knew him from somewhere, he stared back, waiting to see if the recogition would kick in. It did. It was Jim Belushi. I nodded and grinned at him and eventually went about my business.

In another installment, I'll tell about things I saw like the beating of a taxi driver at a hotdog stand in broad daylight.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Dancing Naked With the Witch Covens of NYC part 2

A campground in the western part of New York state plays hosts to a huge annual Pagan festival called fact, it's the Woodstock of the Pagan world. People from all over come for this week long camping experience in a virtual city of tents and pavilions. Clothing is optional and many prominent nudists attend. By day, you shop at the booths of Pagan vendors or attend mystical seminars and workshops hosted by Pagan celebrities. You can have piercings done, or maybe get a nice massage. You can have your body painted or even tattooed. By night, you party to live music--contemporary and medieval--in the band hall or dance primeval around the campfire to a gathering of drummers. And if you stroll along the shadowed fields, further out from the partying and music making, you're very likely to chance across lovers making love beneath the moon. And on your way back to your tent, you can hear erotic sounds coming from the tents of your neighbors.

This was a Pagan gathering and, to these folks, sexual pleasure is a beautiful thing to give into, not a dirty sin to be condemned and leashed.

"All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals," says the Goddess, according to Wiccan lore.

I went to Starwood with my girlfriend, who, like myself, was a Wiccan at that time. This was the summer of 1996.

That first day, we attended a workshop--I can't really remember what it was all about now--and, for some reason, I chose to do the workshop skyclad. And I wasn't the only one; there was also a short, skinny, naked man there and what nature had denied him in height, it made it up to him in penis size. My girlfriend and I privately laughed and nicknamed him "Tripod".

At one point, towards the end of the workshop, we were asked to find someone in our little group and hug them...real New Agey stuff. As fate would have it, my girlfriend had found someone else to embrace, in fact EVERYONE had found someone...except for myself and Tripod. I can see the memory of that moment now in slow motion: people starting to embrace; me standing behind Tripod; he slowly turns as my head whips around looking in vain to find anyone--ANYONE--but him to wrap my arms around; Tripod completes his turn, a big friendly smile on his face; he sees me...I'm trapped! I stick a false smile on my face, open my arms and I hug a naked man for the first time.

And you know what? It wasn't so bad. I was a sheltered fool for making such a big deal about it. I learned since then that if you're confident in who you are as a person, then it doesn't matter who you hug in whatever state of dress or undress.

My girlfriend and I had a wonderful time. She had scored some magic mushrooms and we tripped beneath the moon as it did a slow dance in and out of the velvet veils of clouds.

At one point, as we tripped, we wandered along a trail through high weeds. I was in the lead and ahead of us, I saw an approaching glow. A figure came around a turn in the path then, a tall, thin, elfish man in white robes with a serene smile and a crown of battery-operated lights cresting his head. Seeing this, in my drugged state, I had a Lord of the Rings experience; I blinked in awe at what seemed to be Elrond visiting from Rivendell or the Gray Havens. The elfish man nodded to me and then passed us by.

Starwood culiminates with a Saturday night bonfire. Everyone gathers at one end of the campground to form a procession that marches to the beat of drums, the pluck of harps, the chirping of flutes and the chanting of voices toward a towering pile of wood.

Being a city-boy, this was my first bon-fire. We offered some prayers to the gods of old and then the fires were lit. Such heat! I could feel the air in my lungs burn! The final party then commenced. We sang and danced in a circle round the great fire, beneath the full moon. We seemed to be transported to another age, another place and we were all linked in a very spiritual way...something I can't really explain...again, spiritual experiences lose much in the translation. Suffice to say that it was a bonding, a sense of unity that I never found in any church.

Though I've long since moved beyond Wicca (and parted with my girlfriend), I've taken alot of it with me as I walk through life, building my own belief system.

I'm glad for the memories, glad to have experienced a wilder and lesser known side to the world.

And they do make for interesting tales.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Dancing Naked With the Witch Covens of NYC part 1

When I first got on the internet, back in 1994, I found my way to the religion of Wicca through Prodigy ISP...which is funny because the ISP's symbol was a pentagram.

I won't go into how Wicca has nothing to do with Satan and evil and I won't go into much detail on Wicca itself...there are a multitude of books that already explain that and if you're curious, go check them out.

I met a Wiccan priestess local to NYC on Prodigy's New Age BB who was willing to teach me the Wiccan Mysteries. During the course of my initial education, she introduced me to a witchy store in NYC's East Village called ENCHANTMENTS. Last I heard, the store was still there.

ENCHANTMENTS held classes on late Saturday mornings in a lovely backyard garden called "The Grove". It was fenced in and tall buildings loomed over it on all sides, but the way the garden was set up, with trees, shrubbery, trickling fountains, a camp fire and statues of Pagan spirits, you could forget that you were in a crowded city of millions...especially since the buildings effectively blocked most of the city's ever-present din.

It was a place made for chanting, dancing and calling up the gods of the ancient religions. I had a great time there and I met some interesting and a wacky folks. Sure a few were real kooks and others space cadets, but that didn't matter, each and everyone of them, regardless of the state of their respective sanity, was open-minded and questing for the spiritual truths that elude us all...I love those kinds of people best...especially after a life time growing up among people stagnated and sheltered in the security blankets of beliefs that were programmed into them since a very early age and, thus, not come by honestly.

I even met Pagan celebrities like Laurie Cabot--Salem's most famous witch--and I was eventually initiated into the coven of a well-known witch-author named Silver Ravenwolf.

I loved those times. After the Grove session ended, I would often lead a bunch of us to Thompkins Square Park, which was just down the block. There we'd sit in the grass and listen to or dance along with the drums of the Mediterranean people who jammed there.

Oddly, though I belonged to Silver Ravenwolf's Black Forest Coven--which was located in Pennsylvania--my teacher, an aspiring theatre actress living in NYC, had us study and socialize a lot with another coven, that of a Saxon magickal tradition. They held their sabbats and esbats in the basement of a large Queens apartment building. The superintendent was a witch of that Saxon coven.

It was this Queens coven's tradition to perform all their rites skyclad--the Pagan term for nude--and the first time I was invited to participate in one of their Sabbat rites, I was told that if I agreed to attend, I'd have to do so skyclad. The basement, like those of many of the larger NYC apartment buildings, was extensive, with many warrens and usually only the super could get access to it we were assured of privacy.

I said, "What the hell, why not." I thought it would make an interesting tale to tell someday and it was a real test of my step out naked before people both familiar and somewhat unfamiliar. I wanted to see if I had that courage...of course, it helped that I was physically fit.

The only concern I had was getting an erection during the ritual...I mean there were married couples there and without pants, anyone can tell what a man is thinking and I didn't want to offend anyone.

So, I went. The building looked like your average city tenement, which I'd seen about hundred or so of and, prior to that day, I had never once given a thought as to what secret events may be occuring within their bowels.

So, I went in, undressed and then stood naked with about 15 other equally skyclad people. It was summer, but the concrete was cold to my feet, the air comfortably cool on my bare skin.

The ritual began. We chanted, we invoked, we danced. Fortunately, I didn't have an erection and the general awkwardness melted away. There was something about chanting and dancing in the buff that stirred some primeval memory in my blood. I actually enjoyed it and, after that, nudity--whether it was another's or my own--no longer made me uncomfortable.

But the real test for a heretosexual male like myself is hugging another man while the both of us are naked. That takes alot of confidence in who you are as a person.

But I'll tell that tale in part 2, and all about the big, week-long, Pagan festival in Western New York State.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Strange Neighbors & Events Of Our First Apartment PART 4: The Final Straw

For Rent
Originally uploaded by vraven.
(continued from Part 3)

The night before Halloween, the driver side window of my wife's car was smashed in by vandals. Though the complex had a parking lot, our private entrance faced the street and so it was convenient to park at the curb...until the vandalism started, that is.

It was the surburbs and street lamps were few and far between. Our section was particulary dark, unless we left our outside light on (the super never replaced the bulb of the security lights after it burned out)...and even then, the street was draped in heavy shadow.

The October of that year, gangs of punks went around Long Island, smashing windows. That Halloween night, after the trick-or-treaters ceased their rounds, I kept a lone vigil near our vehicles, hidden in the shadows behind a tree close to the curb, with a thin metal pipe hidden up the sleeves of my black duster.

Remembering that night, I think of John Travolta's character, Vincent Vega, from PULP FICTION, who, angry about his car having been keyed up by vandals, said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "I wish I could've caught would've been worth him doing it just so I could've caught him." That's pretty much how I felt that Halloween night.

Though I frightened a crowd of teenagers going about egging and shaving creaming each other (I thought they may be the vandals I waited for and peeked around the tree--which spooked them and they ran away), I never caught the vandals. I'm glad I didn't; who knows what sort of legal trouble I would've accrued.

After that, my wife and I parked our cars in the lot, which was behind our building and a bit of a walk, but we never had trouble again.

A couple of months passed and in that time we had a new neighbor move into the Crachit apartment. The old saying, "Three's the charm" was true about the third person to occupy the apartment. His name was Randy, a man of perhaps 50, with long white hair and a flamboyant character. In the cold weather, he wore a fur coat colored like a lion's mane and looked like something from the 60's. In fact, it reminded me of a coat I once saw Jim Morrison wear in a photo. Each apartment used to have its own mailbox, but that changed and all mailboxes were moved to a centralized location in the complex. Randy ranted on and on about this, "The Post Office...screwing us again!"

Though he was certainly colorful, he wasn't a bother like the Crachits or the Putana and her pimp. When you walked past Randy's apartment on the way to the parking lot, you often heard video game sound effects and music blasting from his open windows.

Another new neighbor occupied Alan's old apartment...well, occupied isn't really the right word. I don't believe he actually lived there, but simply used it. His name was Ernie, a man in his 40's with a brand new BMW. Ernie, I noticed was only there in the daytime--be it a weekday or the weekend--and only for a brief time in which a freckled, reddish-blonde woman, in her late 30's, would arrive in a little, mid-90's sport car a few minutes after him. They'd come out of the apartment some 40 minutes or so later, kiss goodbye and then leave in their separate cars.

It seemed to my wife and I that they were having a secret affair and that Ernie maintained the apartment simply for that purpose. I remember that, when Ernie first "moved in" and I had warned him about parking on the street here, he asked, "What about in the it okay then?"

Yeah, I'd say his apartment was defintely a love nest for his tryst with the reddish-blonde woman.

But the final straw for my wife and I came when a new neighbor moved in below us, in the apartment vacated by Dad and his muslim family.

It was a single mom and her young child. Her nickname became The Bitch and I'll tell why shortly. She was one of those inconsiderate people who, when moving into a new place, begin the actual unloading of furniture and boxes after 9 pm. She had a guy on a Harley helping her move who had parked on the sidewalk just outside her door and below our bedroom windows. They must've finished sometime after 11 pm, because my wife and I were awoken by the sounds of the Harley's engine exploding into life.

That first week after her arrival, we began to hear a mysterious rapid banging sound from the apartment below. It was erratic and went on all night, past 10 pm, every night.

I finally went down and knocked on our new neighbor's door to complain. She was a nasty woman with a scowl not unlike Mrs. Crachit's and adversarial eyes. I made my complaint and asked her to be more courteous to her neighbors.

She snapped back that she had an autistic child and that she can't help his fits. I sympathized but asked that she take away from him whatever he uses to bang on the wooden floors with all night long.

The Bitch said that he didn't have anything to bang with. I then said, "Well, please take off his shoes then."

She said he wasn't wearing any.

I frowned. If you had heard the racket going on below us--which sounded like a carpenter's shop--you wouldn't believe that a 5 year old autistic child could make that heavy banging with merely bare fists or feet.

The racket went on every night, all night long...sometimes waking us from our slumber. I got into shouting matches with the Bitch...I mean, I sympathized with the woman's plight, but autistic child or not, we couldn't sleep!

I put in a formal compaint to the landlord, who was reluctant to get involved...probably because it concerned an autistic he did nothing.

That was it.

My wife and I decided to spend about $600 a month more on rent to move into a nice gated complex a few miles from here. I wrote the landlord a professional letter, outlying all the problems past and present and asking him to find the kindness in his heart to release us from our lease.

He did...I guess it was easier for him to do that then deal with any potential legal issues regarding the autistic child.

We moved out and it was for best. We're now in a very nice place...a large two bedroom aparment with a terrace, a pool, a gym, tennis and basketball courts, grounds keepers, reserved parking spots and security patrols.

We can laugh now as we think back upon the strange neighbors and events of our first apartment.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Strange Neighbors & Events Of Our First Apartment PART 3: The New Neighbors

For Rent
Originally uploaded by vraven.
(continued from Part 2)

For a short time afterwards, my wife and I had some peace. And the complex was such a tranquil place without the Crachits.

Sometimes, as I passed beneath Lillian's 2nd floor window on my way to the parking lot, she'd call down to me, sometimes just to say hello, sometimes to ask for a favor.

One time in particular, she leaned out her window and said, "Peter! You have some packages on top of the mailboxes. They've been there for days, Love."

I had eventually given up trying to convince her that my name wasn't Peter. So, to Lillian, I would always be Peter.

Anyway, I frowned as I looked up at her. Packages? For days? But I checked the mail every day.

"Uh, okay," I said, "I'll go get 'em."

"Yeah. They've been there for days."


But there were no packages waiting for me...but then I remembered: about a few days ago, I did receive some packages, but I had picked them up right away.

Ah, well, there was a reason Lillian always wore a lunatic's grin.

My wife and I came back from a weekend trip to find that someone finally moved into the one bedroom apartment beneath us: a Muslim family, a husband and wife and their teenage daughter. We mostly saw the husband and we nicknamed him "Dad". On winter mornings, Dad would have his wife go out and warm up his car. And on snowy days, his wife and daughter would clean the accumulation off his car. They were the nicest and quietest of our neighbors.

Sadly, right after Septemember 11th, they moved out because Dad's wife claimed that their neighbors hated and harrassed them because they were Muslims. Which was nonsense as we were the only neighbors close by at the time and I had made sure to be extra nice to Dad whenever I saw him. They had probably used that as an excuse to break the lease without consequence. Either that or other people in the complex, beyond our immediate area, had given them the evil eye. God knows, there was a lot of xenophobic violence happening across the island during that terrible time.

Then came the day the Putana moved into the apartment vacated by the Crachits. Putana is an Italian word for whore/prostitute and the nickname my wife and I gave the young woman who was our newest neighbor.

She had inspired that name one afternoon when I was home and my wife was out and about. The Putana was outside, walking around in the shortest leather mini-skirt and patent leather thigh-high boots that glistened in the sunlight. Her tight shirt hugged the sleek contours of her body and was low cut, offering a view of cleavage that was difficult to miss.

Every so often this guy in a huge white pickup would visit the Putana and stay over for a few days. He had very short salt and peppered hair and one of those tiny, thin ponytails that went out of style back in the 80's. My impression was that he was a wannabe wiseguy, because he would always talk loudly on his cell phone as he paced back and forth outside the Putana's apartment, speaking like a caricature of a movie gangster. He had this odd way of walking, too, quick steps with his toes pointing out to the left and right, respectively, arms swinging widly...all with an attitude that said, "Hey, look! I'm a big shot. Can't you see what a big shot I am?"

One day, as I left work early and arrived at our apartment’s private entrance, a man called out to me. He was a big fellow, at least 6’5, with a crew cut and built like a linebacker.

"Excuse me," he said, as he came toward me. "I’d like to speak with you."

I shifted into a subtle defensive stance, one that, while looked casual, would put me in a better position to meet an attack…a habit learned from many years of martial arts training and Dad’s (my father, not the Muslim neighbor downstairs) lessons.

The big guy saw this and said, "Relax...I’m a police officer." He gestured to the shield clipped to his belt.

I relaxed.

The officer was looking for information about the Putana and any visitors. I told him that I really didn’t know her and then described the wannabe wiseguy with the white pickup truck. The police officer thanked me and left.

One night, a drunken older woman knocked on our door. She was looking for "John".

I frowned. "John? You've got the wrong apartment."

"Well, I'm his mother," the drunken woman said. "He stays with that girl, sometimes. I know he does. Is she up there?" The woman pointed past me, to the stairs leading up to my apartment.

"No, I'm sorry you've got the wrong apartment. My wife and I live here."

"Let me see your wife."

"Look, you've got the wrong apartment. Try over there." I pointed to the Putana's apartment and, thankfully, the drunken woman stumbled off and passed out of this tale.

Sometime after that, on a Saturday, as we waited for my sister and brother-in-law to arrive for a visit, I went to the parking lot to run an errand. The wannabe wiseguy was outside with a woman and child I had not seen before. As I passed them by, I heard him say, "Yo!"

Though I knew he was calling me, I ignored him and kept walking; I had no interest in speaking with him.

But the wannabe wiseguy came running after me, saying, "Yo! Yo!"

So, I stopped and put on a most unfriendly face. I shifted into that sublte defensive stance. "What?"

"Yo," he said again, "You know my old lady…Brooke?" He pointed to the Putana's apartment.

"No," I said.

"Yeah, well, the reason I asked was because I noticed that you look in our windows a lot."

This stunned me. What the heck was this about? I was no Peeping Tom.

I put on my meanest war face--my
"Eye of the Tiger" as my mom used to call it--and glared at the wannabe wiseguy.

Then I leaned a little toward him and asked, in a rough voice, "Why would I want to look in your windows?"

A sudden placating smile broke upon his face and he said, "Just thought I’d ask."

And then he actually turned and ran away, back toward the woman and child.

I breathed easy, relieved that there was to be no fight--I hate fights. So, I ran my errand and returned. I told my wife about the odd encounter with the wannabe wiseguy. My sister and her husband soon arrived and I told them about it as well. We all gave puzzled smiles and shook our heads, then forgot about it and commenced having our fun.

At about midnight, as my sister and brother-in-law headed out to their car, I went with them. I saw the wannabe wiseguy hurriedly moving stuff out of the Putana’s apartment.

A couple of days later, the Putana moved out.

We never saw her again, but we saw the wannabe wiseguy--her pimp, I now suspect--once more.

A day after the Putana vacated the apartment (we still thought of it as the Crachits’ place), my wife and I were watching TV when we heard the rumble of a suped-up engine slowly pass by. Then a moment later, we heard it again. The next time we heard the engine, we went to look out the window--being the nosey folks that we are. We saw the wannabe wiseguy roll slowly by in a shiny, restored 50’s Cadillac. He drove by one more time and then past out of our lives forever.

We would have two new neighbors, one of which would prove to be the final straw for us...and also, there was the Halloween night of broken glass.

(continued in Part 4 to come)