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 beast...it all depends upon the timing and circumstance.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Strange Neighbors & Events Of Our First Apartment PART 2: Meet the Cratchits


For Rent
Originally uploaded by vraven.
(continued from Part 1)

The door of the apartment next to Alan's--two away from us--opened and I heard my father say, "Oh God...get a load of this guy."

Standing behind a dented storm door was a short, balding, shirtless man of indeterminate age and covered in tattoos...the kind of guy you might see on an episode of COPS as the officers respond to a domestic dispute in a trailer park.

Then he closed the door and was gone.

That was Mike...or Mr. Cratchit as my wife and I would come to call him...and his family would become the Cratchits to us. It was our private nickname we had for them because they were poor like the Cratchits of the Dickens tale; he, his wife, their little girl, their infant son and a menagerie of pets all squeezed into a filthy one bedroom apartment. Only, they weren't good-hearted poverty victims like in A Christmas Carol.

Our Mr. Cratchit was a crack head--literally--and probably did heroin as well. Mrs. Cratchit was the loud, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking woman who loved him. She went about with a rough scowl that only a hard life of more sadness than joy can grant, her hair perpetually bunched up and held in place by a clip. The paved walkway and grassy area around their little stoop was littered with hundreds of cigarette butts. They had three cars and only one of them actually ran--Mrs. Cratchit's, which she used to shuttle their little daughter to and from school and to run errands. The other two vehicles sat as rusted eyesores taking up space along the curb. Mr. Cratchit was a plumber and drove one of the company trucks lent to him by his employer.

We first really came to know the Cratchits and their business when, on the Friday night of our first week in the new place, we heard the sound of a woman's angry shouts.

Being the nosey people that we are, my wife and I crept to the window and opened it. We had a top floor apartment. Below us and to the side, Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit were outside having a heated argument and airing their dirty laundry for all to hear.

"Where's the fucking money for the baby's medicine, Michael?" Mrs. Cratchit said, screaming and crying.

Mr. Cratchit made some muttered reply that we couldn't hear.

"And I can't believe you sold my mother's camera!" Mrs. Cratchit said, her quivering voice thick with phlegm. "You used the money to buy fucking drugs! You don't even care about your family, Michael!"

Little did we know that this would become a regular event (and "You don't even care about your family, Michael!" would become a slogan). They would have these fights at all hours, too, usually anywhere between 11 pm and 3 am, and it was always about the same damn thing: his drug problem. Often, they'd reach the point in their argument where Mrs. Cratchit would storm out of their apartment, taking the children with her and get into her car.

"I'm leaving you, Michael!" she would shout, "I fucking mean it this time!" That too, would become a familiar slogan.

And then Mrs. Cratchit would speed off into the night. But, within an hour or two, she would return and the cycle would repeat.

On warm weekday mornings, as my wife and I slept with our windows open, we were often awoken early by Mr. Cratchit's hacking smoker's cough and disgusting throat clearing. He may have been a crack head, but the man got up every weekday morning at 5 am and drove all the way to Brooklyn to work.

At night, under the guise of fixing the engine of one of their cars, he would smoke his crack or do his heroin while keeping an eye out for his wife.

One night, I happened to be looking out our living room windows and I saw Mr. Cratchit sneak out to his truck. He started it up, threw it in gear, but never hit the gas pedal. Instead, lights off, he coasted into a u-turn and rolled away down the street, casting wary glances toward his apartment.

Moments later, Mrs. Cratchit emerged, looked around, and then lit up a cigarette.

"I don't fucking believe it," she said, loud and to herself, as she puffed angrily on the cigarette. "He fucking left." She kept her glowering vigil, until two cigarettes had burned down and then went back inside.

When Mr. Cratchit eventually returned, their next public screaming match started up--these people never seemed to argue indoors--with Mrs. Cratchit accusing him of sneaking off to buy drugs ("You don't care about your family, Michael!") and him offering muttered replies.

Sometimes, when his wife wasn't home, Mr. Cratchit would knock on Alan's door or mine and actually beg to borrow money, using the feeble excuses that I had become familiar with from the junkies that crawled the streets of New York City. I never gave him any. The second time he knocked on my door to ask for money, I closed the door in his face before he could finish giving me his latest excuse for the loan.

Alan, bless his kind if naive heart, had made the mistake, once, of giving Mr. Cratchit money. Of course, the crack head never paid him back and, like a stray fed once, kept returning for more.

Another time, I heard him knock on Alan's door and then Mr. Cratchit's scratchy voice drifted up to my window. "Alan, You got any salt? I was cooking fries and I realized we had no salt! Can't have fries without salt!"

And yet another time, he knocked on my door (I guess Alan hadn't been at home), asking to borrow a tiny square of aluminum foil--probably drug-related, some friends and I later speculated.

Alan soon moved out; he had had enough. He told my wife and I where he was moving to and begged us not to tell the Cratchits.

My wife and I had had enough as well. We contacted the landlord and explained all the problems we had with the Cratchits, including the crack smoking. The landlord kicked them out and, for a time, we had peace.

Then the new neighbors moved in and brought new and bizarre events into our lives.

(continued in Part 3 to come)

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Strange Neighbors & Events Of Our First Apartment -PART 1


For Rent
Originally uploaded by vraven.
In the summer of 2000, My wife and I moved into our first apartment together. Right at the start, on moving day, we realized something wasn't quite right about the place. The skeleton of a bird that had died, prior to our arrival, somehow stuck between the screen and the glass in one of the bedroom windows sure seemed like an ill portent.

The apartment complex was out on Long Island and because I had grown up in Brooklyn, I assumed that this was a nice, normal place simply because it had a courtyard, grass and trees and looked nothing like the apartment buildings in Brooklyn. Actually, the signs that it was anything but normal were there even before we moved in.

The leasing agent, Lillian, lived in the complex and she interviewed all perspective tenants inside her apartment. She was an energetic 70 year old lady with dyed black hair and eyebrows and an ever present lunatic's grin. She was a Born Again Christian and seemed to insert Jesus into every sentence. And she couldn't get it out of her head that my name wasn't Peter. She had pictures of Christ and huge printings of biblical scripture in gaudy frames hanging on the walls...Mark, Luke, John, all the boys were there. Lillian always wore baggy white slacks and Fuck-Me pumps of alternating colors as she went about the complex pushing a rattling shopping cart. She used this cart, she said, to carry the meals she cooked for the local homeless shelter. But the cart was always empty whenever I saw her either coming or going.

My wife and I signed the lease and then came moving day. My friends, my sister and her husband all were there to help along with my father, who supervised--he couldn't do heavy lifting anymore ever since his heart surgery.

The apartment below us was empty, but the next door neighbor, Alan, came out to greet us--each apartment had a private entrance. He was a pudgy, thirty-something recovering alcoholic and drug addict. He was also on permanent disability due to a serious car accident some years ago--ironically, because of a drunk driver. Therefore, Alan no longer had to work and, thus, often suffered from long hours of boredom. So he'd come outside whenever he saw you coming or going, whether he knew you or not, just to have someone to talk and pass the time with. And he was the kind of person who could just talk and talk and was difficult to extract yourself from once he engaged you in conversation. One side of his round face had a peculiar way of screwing up whenever he talked and he habitually had his finger digging in his ear.

So far, all of this was really nothing compared to what was to come.

Then the door of the apartment next to Alan's--two away from us--opened and I heard my father say, "Oh God...get a load of this guy."

(Continued in Part 2 to come)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hendrix, the Blues Clown


Clown
Originally uploaded by vraven.
Once upon a Saturday afternoon, at the W4th Street subway station in New York City, my friend Joe and I stepped off the F-train and encountered a man dressed as a clown. And I mean a full-blown costume; looking like any professional clown you might see at a child's birthday party, twisting balloons into animal shapes before a crowd of small, smiling faces.

Only this clown had an electric guitar and portable amplifier. A guitar case lay open at his feet, showing a few dollar bills and some coins--starter money.

"Hey fellas," he said to us, "I'm Hendrix, the Blues Clown. Whattaya wanna hear?"

"Do you know, HEY JOE?" Joe asked.

The Blues Clown didn't reply but started to play the opening notes of the Jimi Hendrix classic.

And the clown was good! He could play!

As he stood there, wailing on his electric guitar, the gaudy colors of his clown suit, face paint, wig and putty nose all stood in bright contrast to the grimy white-tiled walls and the stained and trash-littered platform.

Trains roared in and rolled out, but this maestro in make-up didn't seem to notice, lost in the music.

And when he started to sing, my friend Joe and I joined in, jamming with the Blues Clown. We even attracted an appreciative little crowd.

And when the song was over, the spell of the music lifted and, after adding our dollars to those of the grateful crowd, we went about our way.

We never saw Hendrix the Blues Clown again. But I like to think that he's still jamming somewhere out there...