Sep 1997

New York City Like Drinking Too Much Jack When What You're Really Looking for is On Tap

by Stanley Jenkins

Spent the afternoon in the city—got my hair cut up on 103rd and Broadway at a Super Cuts—neatly coiffed Puerto Rican woman wielding red clippers. Her two daughters spoke to her in Spanish the whole time and with the smell of takeout from the Cuban Chinese place on 100th—and tinny Madonna songs coming through invisible speakers—and the feel of such compassionate red-laquered fingers in my hair and a child somewhere behind me in the mirror with a blue balloon (he had wanted the red)—and that muy dolorosa rhythm of speech—and me thinking of various Tom Waits songs—and "how even Jesus wanted just a little more time when he was walking Spanish down the hall"—with it all coalescing in my own eyes looking at my own eyes in the mirror—I smiled and was quite happy to be here.

Headed out to walk the city—got pulled down to Times Square feeling the whole time like I had forgotten something—and on the way there sat and listened to three mega-phoned and placarded extras from Cecille B. Demille's Ten Commandments in TECHNICOLOR—listened to the prophesies of the imminent demise of the white man based on ingenious interpretations of isolated verses from the book of Job—and one from half a verse of Genesis—and these three black men wonderously and inexplicably dressed like taking a break from a P-Funk show—and these three black men, one older and two young—and they would not look in my eye and they kept shouting that the white man was dirty and filthy and nothing but a beast who lived in caves and ate with his fingers—and I stood transfixed like looking in a mirror when you're getting your hair cut and it wasn't so much that what they said was not true—and it was not even that I was stupid white boy mad—but so suddenly so very sad.

They could not look me in the eye and that was the gravity of the sadness—no real sharing of deep cuts—no real telling to me of them and their real true flesh—and I was trying to be invisible—because I did not want to tell them of me, either—but still, nonetheless, could not move—transfixed like staring at an old photograph of my over-alled great-grandfather who I never knew but was still living when I was born—and it seemed that if I could only make contact we could all stop and go shoot pool somewhere and they could tell me stories that would rip me like dented hacksaw blades left in the rain—and I would bleed for flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone and perhaps we would bleed together for all God's sad children and then we would drink beer and watch for Desolation Angels in the back room and cry together over Patsy Cline and Marvin Gaye songs like true sons of Walt Whitman's America—true sons of W.E.B Dubois' America—and it seemed to me that if they would only look me in the eye we would never ever have to say anything ever at all because we would know and understand, but instead unhook car-battery-powered-home-made-amplifier-and-speaker-sound-system and the sun would not go down on 50th and Broadway without the New Jerusalem revealed and the exiled called home and gathered at table in the Kingdom of God.

But the three last members of the last of the twelve lost tribes of Israel dressed so perfectly absurdly in wacked out space age Bible story gear would not look and would not make contact and a middle aged white woman broke free from the grip of her very worried husband (and a program from some Broadway show fell out of her purse) and she shouted in their faces and screamed that Jesus didn't preach hate and her veins were all swollen and throbbing in her neck and spit was in the corner of her mouth and the dread-locked woman next to me turned away with a look of disgust so pronounced and undisguised that my spell was broken and when I turned to face my three prophets in Christmas pageant shepherd robes my eyes were gone and there was only light, a pale, a sad,an unredeemed light—and Columbus had landed again.

Did not so much flee as reel—headed down to Times Square—looked for Elijah in whore-lit bars and was haunted by the ghost of the pregnant date girl who asked me if I wanted a blow job when I was in Rochester once visiting my parents and sitting in the Welfare Hotel bar on blessed stool of ripped red Naugahyde—the stuffing coming out—and the juke box playing "What's Going On"—and the undentured bar fly at the end laughing at my choir boy embarassment—and me seeing Francis of Assisi on the cheap brown panelling and a squashed fly—and it was Christmas Time and I had pocket change and lint for only one beer (Genny Cream Ale) and it was warm now—and I could think of nothing to say to this gold-toothed mother-to-be who wanted to put me warm and hard in her mouth—and I was ashamed of my silence

And did not flee so much as reel—in this New York City—looking for St. Rimbaud and Genet-Amitabha-Buddha and Albert Camus and my Mom—and was haunted by ghosts I did not know and who perhaps did not even realize that they did not know me but kept gesturing gesturing so desperate to be recognized—so stupid and ephemeral—maybe not even knowing they were dead and stupid stupid mute and could go now—go now—go now—no longer enfleshed here—old men in tweed jackets and women with hair styles from the fifties and bright yellow button ear-rings—and old race track forms and a turnstyle from the turn of the century and the hat of an old time policeman—and a cardboard carton of chinese food thrown away—

And did not know which way to turn so just went home to Queens and fed the cat and looked at myself in the mirror and thought I have just had my hair cut and my beard trimmed and finally finally had to admit to myself that I do not love this ugliness anymore. It scares me. It frightens me. Look in the mirror see the face of love—don't have enough—