Monthly Archives: July 2014
Two Parties for Tootsie
Sunday, June 13, 1982
On Tuesday, I walked the Little Kids to their day camp at the Little Red School House, then went to the Bar to talk to Mama.
The Soap Opera crowd was drifting in. Mama always laughs because the Bikers watch the Soap Operas with the Shopping Bag Ladies. Some of these Ladies live at Maison Blanche and some at DH Holmes on Canal Street. They are Homeless, but you wouldn’t know it. They are middle aged and older, always clean and polite, wearing neat flowered dresses and pretty hats. They hang around in the department store restrooms which have fancy areas with comfy chairs. They also hang around the Holmes cafeteria. When someone gives them money, they come into the Bar to drink coffee and catch their stories.
Mama winked at me and fixed me a cherry coke. She seemed to be in a good mood.
“Listen, I’ve been tryin to tell you something all week, and you never settle down and listen to me.”
She came to the end of the Bar and leaned in close. Her huge brown eyes looked like a child’s freshly woken from a dream. “Honey, Honey. . . Don’t tell me. It’s a Boy. Oh Honey, believe me, the first time your Heart is Broken, that’s the hardest, but it gets better. There’ll be other Boys.”
“What? What-are-ya talkin about?”
“Well, that’s what you want to tell me, isn’t it? I mean, you ARE at that age, so I figured, well, what’s that song, Everybody Plays the Fool? We all been there, Honey, been there and done that, believe me. Look what I’ve been through with your father. You know what I do when my heart is hurtin? I play me some Irma Thomas on the Jukebox. Irma always makes me feel better.”
“Mama, my heart’s not hurtin. That’s not it at all. I mean, I do sort of like this Boy. But, no Big Deal. I have more Important Things on my mind.”
“Like what?” She puffed on her More cigarette.
The Weasel sat down next to us and pointed a scraggly skinny finger at a newspaper headline.
“Here’s a guy, a sumbitch, shoots his Wife and Kids and then Kills Himself, in a Jealous Fucking Rage. Now, I ask you, whynta bastid just Shoot his Own Self in the First Place, an leave the Wife an Kids Alone?” The Weasel kept tapping at the paper, as if his tapping could make sense of such a tragedy. Mama grabbed the newspaper.
“Oh, those babies, those precious babies.” Accompanying the story was a Sears studio portrait of the couple and their two smiling curly haired boys in happier times.
“Mama, we’ve gotta talk, come here, please,” I dragged her out from behind the bar. We stood outside on Toulouse Street. “I’ve got, I’ve got the money. From Papa’s duffle bag.”
“Honey, that’s wonderful, I knew you could do it.” She hugged me. “But where is it, is it Safe?”
“It’s Safe, it’s locked up, Mr. Carlo locked it up for me.”
“But how did you get it?” She lowered her voice. “and how much is it?”
“I need a BEER here,” yelled the Weasel. “This might be a good place to open up a BAR OVER HERE.”
Crazy Dave zoomed up in his Harley and parked in front of the bar. “What are you Two Lovely Ladies up to?”
“Honey,” Mama kissed me on top of my head. “I’ve gotta get back to work. We’ll talk later.”
The next night at the Bar we had a party for Tootsie. Mr. Carlo rented her old apartment to someone new, so Tootsie moved in with us and Dakota. The party was to celebrate her Quitting Heroin, and Mr. Carlo Getting her a Job dancing at a club down the street. Everyone was glad she was back, and Dakota hung on her all night like a four year old. I was glad for the Party, which kept Mama busy and kept her from bugging me too much about the Money. She still thought we could use the Money to make a deal with Mr. Beauregard.
“Mama, it’s not enough, he wants five thousand bucks. Besides, it’s too late, the deadline’s over with.”
“But I could talk to him, give him what we have, maybe make payments on the rest. Then Papa would only have to do one year in Angola. That’s not so bad. Then he’ll be back home, out on Parole. Back with Us, where he belongs.”
She busied herself making a cake for Tootsie. That night we let the Little Kids sleep upstairs by themselves and went to the Party. Ole Red Headed Tootsie was dancing on the bar, downing shots of Cuervo.
“Love ya, Dani,” she grabbed me and made me dance with her, even though I can’t dance too good. Mama says I “got no rhythm.”
Tootsie let me go, then grabbed Blue, our Willie Nelson look-alike. They twirled each other around, bumping into people in the dark, narrow, jam-packed bar.
I sat on a bar stool next to Dakota. “Guess what? My mom and me are gonna get a new apartment, maybe Uptown, Magazine Street or something.”
“That’ll be good. I like having you guys with us though.”
“Yeah, but it’s so Crowded.” Dakota smiled. “She looks good, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah, she does. She’s not so pale, an she’s eating. She looks better.”
Dakota was happier than I’d seen her in a Long Time. Tootsie danced and danced and danced all night long. I think every guy who came in noticed her. They noticed Mama too. One guy even asked Mama to dance. She turned him down.
“Thank you for asking, but I’m Married, and he is Fine.” Mama laughed. “He is some Fine.”
“Girl, you Crazy,” Tootsie said. “Your Man can’t do nothin now. Have some fun.”
“I am havin fun. This is how I have fun, watchin you be a Crazy Bitch.”
Then Tootsie and Mama sat their butts on the Bar, slid up and down knocking people’s drinks over, shrieking with laughter. Earl the Bartender yelled at them to stop. “NO! We won’t stop! We’re having fun!”
Earl imitated their high voices. “We’re having fun!”
I wondered if me and Dakota would be just like Mama and Tootsie in ten years. With Our Men in Prison and no money or help to raise our kids, drinking and drugging and dancing to forget our troubles. I shrugged the thought away. I know what Mama would say to that. “Girl, you’re Young, you need to Party and have some fun, quit Worrying so much.”
Tootsie took off with some guy she met at the Party that Night. She was eating a piece of the chocolate cake Mama made, some guy said Let’s go for a ride to the Lakefront, and she’s out the door. Dakota was Mad, but Mama said, “Let her go pass a good time.”
She didn’t come home for Two Days and Two Nights. Dakota just stayed home, slept and pouted. We don’t have a phone, but we all knew she’d call the Bar or Mr. Carlo if she got into any trouble.
I stood out in front of the bar and looked down Bourbon Street, hoping Tootsie would show up. Jesse the Hombre, owner of the Steak Pit, came out to talk to me. He’s this little short Mexican guy with shiny silver curly hair who used to go with Tootsie. He likes to boast that the Mob guys like him because he looks Italian.
“That Red Headed Broad, she’s cute but crazy,” the Hombre said. “She got nice shape.” He used his hands to draw an outline of a curvy figure in the air. “So Senorita, you workin for Mr. Carlo now?”
“On Saturdays, I help Mr. Melvin clean up, go to the A & P and stuff.”
“That’s good. Bueno. Kids nowadays, they don’t know how to work. How old’re you?”
“Gonna make thirteen in July.”
“Then when you’re Fifteen, you come work for me. Bus Girl. You wanta do that?”
“Yeah, sure. Sounds good.”
It was daytime and Bourbon was still open to cars. Sonny the Cab Driver slowed down in front of us. “Did’ya all hear about Tootsie?”
The Hombre shook his head.
“OD’d. Rooms over by the Hummingbird.” Sonny’s scarred face looked serious. “She’s gone. So Young. Ain’t it a shame?” He drove off. The Hombre put his arm around me.
“Senorita, so sorry. Her poor little girl.”
“I’ve gotta go, I’ve gotta tell Mama. I don’t know how we’re gonna tell Dakota.”
Tootsie. I still can’t believe she’s gone. Tootsie with the wild crazy red hair and freckles. Tootsie dancing on the bar. Tootsie dragging me around the room. Tootsie who all the men fell in love with. Tootsie with her laugh. Tootsie: Dakota’s mom and Mama’s Best Friend and my Friend too. How could a person be there with you one minute, and be gone the next?
Mr. Carlo and Jesse the Hombre paid for the funeral at Jacob Schoen’s funeral parlor. Mama dressed me and the Little Kids up in our Church Clothes. Gino and Antonietta cried and cried. Dakota wore a nice lavender dress with a white flower pinned to it. She stayed very quiet. I couldn’t look at her, couldn’t stand to see those large dark eyes in pain. Everyone from the Bastille came. Everyone from the Steak Pit came. It seemed like the whole French Quarter was there. After the funeral, they had another party at the Bar. Dakota didn’t go to the party, she went upstairs to our apartment with the Little Kids.
Clayton, the skinny bald headed waiter from the Steak Pit, rapped me on the head, hard with his bony white knuckles. “Whatsa matter, Kid?” He wore the same white shirt and black pants and black bow tie he always wore to work.
“Tootsie. I can’t believe she died. I still can’t believe she’s gone. I miss her so much.”
“Kid. What-are-ya gonna do? It’s part of Life. Losing people we love. I been to three funerals this year.”
“Really? This is the first one I’ve ever been to.”
“Kid. Hold the Phone. Hold the Phone.” He downed his drink. “I wish it could be your last. But it won’t be. All I ken tell ya is, keep on going. Take care of your loved ones. Just keep on going Kid.”
“I mean. Lead the best life you ken, keep on keepin on. Ya hear me?”
“I hear ya, Mr. Clayton.” He went to get another vodka.
The whole Steak Pit crew was there: the waiters Cookie and Kenny, the dishwashers Rufus and Clarence, Hershey the Cook. Melvin came up to me and hugged me real tight. Jeanie and Dumptruck came, and Angie and her kids Damien and Darius. The Weasel. All the Bastille bartenders: Earl, Buffalo, Gonzo the Wild Aussie, Cricket who I couldn’t stand. Tinkerbell the Fairy from Molly’s Irish Pub. Crazy Dave and all the Bikers. The Mobsters. The Shopping Bag Ladies. The Racetrack Guys. Mikey O’Hara, the gay Irish Catholic high school drama teacher who everyone loved, with a cigarette in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. The three black hookers: Chocolate, Sugar and Honey, who liked Tootsie and Mama because they’d let them bring their tricks in, as long as they didn’t rip anyone off.
Everyone told stories about Tootsie. Remember when she brought that live, crowing Rooster into the Bar? Remember when she drank 29 shots of Jagermeister, on a bet? Remember when she did a strip tease right up on the bar, and some friend of Mr. Carlo’s jumped up and started taking his clothes off too, and Carmela started screaming because he was so tall she thought the ceiling fan was gonna chop his head off, and the fan blades broke, right on his shoulder? If I’m lyin I’m dyin. They got louder and louder and louder and drunker and drunker and drunker. They smoked joints and snorted lines of Coke off the bar. They toasted Tootsie with bottomless shots of Jose Cuervo and shots of Jagermeister and Kamikazes. They blasted Tootsie’s favorite songs on the Jukebox. Some of the stories were funny and made me laugh. Then I would get sad again. Mama looked so lost without Tootsie. And I wondered. What would happen to Dakota?
Photo Credit: “Jose Cuervo Gold.” http://www.totalwine.com
The Motel Family
© Copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli
The Reporter and the Movie Star
Sunday, June 6, 1982
I have so much to tell you I don’t know where to begin. First I want to say don’t worry too much about Papa, he’s Going to be OK. He’s a tough guy and he’ll make it. I hope he doesn’t get sent to prison, but right now he’s still in jail. It’s nice to have a break from him and Mama fighting all the time. I know that might be a terrible thing to say, him being your Son and all. It might even be a Sin. But sometimes they fought all night long and the Little Kids would cry and we never got any sleep. They’d scream at each other and throw things and he’d hit Mama and we would be so scared that he might kill her. It was like a bad Scary Movie on TV that you couldn’t turn off, even though it gives you Nightmares. The next day I’d be so tired, I’d fall asleep in class and the teachers would get Mad at me and Write Me Up.
So, this week Mama got to see Papa and he told her: Don’t Worry about Finding the Key. Just go straight down to the Bus Station and tell the guy there that you need to get the duffel bag. Mama said Papa was mad at her for not doing this sooner. “Cazzo! Quanto stupido!” he said. “Somebody mighta already stolen the money by now. Stupid woman!”
Mama was so mad. When she came home, she was bitching about Papa and crying at the same time. She leaned back on the couch and put her feet up on the Coffee Table Jeanie and Dumptruck gave us. “Honey, make me some tea, come sit by me. Wait, rub my neck first.”
We sat on the couch drinking tea while Mama hatched Plans. “We’ll go to the Bus Station and we’ll bring the Little Kids, so maybe the man’ll feel sorry for us. I hope it’s a man, men are easier to deal with. Hmmm, maybe we could borrow a baby. A crying baby would be good.”
“Mama, you can’t act!”
“I’ll get a baby from that girl, what’s her name, Crystal? No, Cricket. Candy? The little dancer who used to go with Angelo. For a coupla dollars she’ll let me borrow her baby.”
“That’s a Dumb Idea. And you can’t act.”
“Yes, I can, Miss Know-it-All. I was even in a School Play once, in high school, Young Lady. I played Emily Webb in Our Town. I was the Star. You’d be surprised at what I can do.”
“But you dropped out.”
“I dropped out because of you. I got pregnant with you when I was fifteen, my own Mama kicked me outta the house and I moved right in with Papa, right into his little weekly room on Rampart Street. He worked down at the docks, unloading trucks. We saved for an apartment, took us months, but we got one. I felt so grown up. When I cooked for him, he said I made the best Red Gravy. “
“You do Mama.”
“And once you were born, my Mama got over it and came around to see you. She never liked Papa much.”
“Fifteen? That’s too Young. How old was Papa?”
She put her arm around me and leaned in close. I touched her hair, whiffed the smell of her Herbal Essence shampoo. She closed her eyes. I knew I had to tell Mama about the Duffel Bag before she made a Big Scene at the Bus Station. I pictured poor Mr. Sandy standing there, Dumbfounded, while Mama screamed like a Banshee, whatever a Banshee was, and the Little Kids ran around getting into everything, and Mama held some crying baby she rented from some Drug Addict.
“It is Honey. It is too young.” She opened her eyes, touched my face. “But I thought he was cute.”
“How old was he?”
“I don’t know, twenty three, twenty four.”
“That’s crazy. He was too old for you.”
“Dani.” She drifted, lost in another world. “Sometimes I think you’re the parent and I’m the child, it’s like we’re all mixed up around here.”
“Mama, I’ve got to, I’ve to tell you something.”
She sat up, sipped her tea. “You got me thinkin, girl. You know before I got pregnant, I wanted to be an Actress. Can you imagine, me, a Movie Star?” She jumped up, swirled around the room.
I grabbed her hairbrush and pretended it was a microphone. “Mrs. Riccio, tell me what it feels like to win the Oscar.”
“No, not Mrs. Riccio, before I was married I was Carmela DelVecchio.”
“Carmela DelVecchio? Carmela DelVecchio? That IS a good name for a Movie Star. OK, Miss. DelVecchio, how does it feel to win the Oscar for your latest movie?”
Mama spoke carefully into the hairbrush. “It feels wonderful. All my Hard Work has paid off. This is everything I ever wanted.”
“And what will your Next Movie be, Miss DelVecchio?”
“Well, I plan to take some time to Relax. I’m going to take a cruise to Europe, and go to the Riviera to visit friends and sip Mimosas and just Relax for awhile.”
“People say you are the next Sofia Loren, what do you think of that?”
Mama blushed, looked down at the hairbrush. “I’m not as beautiful as her, but I do admire her Grace.”
The door opened and Gino and Antonietta ran in followed by a tired looking Jeanie. “Mama, Mama, we went to City Park!” They jumped up and down and clambered all over her.
We ignored them. “And Mama, I mean Miss DelVecchio, are you dating any Big Famous Movie Stars right now?”
Jeanie and the Little Kids sat on the couch and looked at us like we were crazy.
“No, no one. I just need some time alone. Robert DeNiro and I just broke up, and it’s been hard.” She took a tissue and dabbed at her eyes. “Dudley Moore asked me out, but he’s not my type. We’re just friends. And I do like Al Pacino, but. . . I’m not ready for anything serious.”
“Well, Miss DelVeccio, just one more thing before you go. I see your limousine is waiting for you. Will you give me your autograph?”
“Does anyone have a pen and paper?”
Jeanie flipped through some bills on the kitchen counter and came back with a NOPSI bill and a pen. “Here.”
Mama grabbed the pen. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Daniella Riccio, Famous Reporter, and you are My Favorite Movie Star.”
Jeanie sat on the couch, and her and the Little Kids’ Eyes went back and forth between me and Mama like they were watching a tennis match.
Mama wrote on the back of the bill:
To Daniela the Famous Reporter: May you Travel the World and have Many Big Adventures, Love, Miss Carmela DelVecchio, Famous Movie Star. PS: Always Follow Your Dreams.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, Miss DelVecchio!”
She hugged me, and I dropped the hairbrush/microphone and the autograph on the floor. Jeanie and the Little Kids clapped. Mama frowned and picked up the bill she autographed. “Shit.”
“We’re two months behind on the light bill. They’re gonna turn off our electricity.”
Picture Credit: “abustany_Movie_reel.svg.” free movie clip art.
© Copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli
1970s Bridgeport, CT East Side
The electricity got cut off cause the bill wasn’t paid and it was 101 degrees with no AC so me and Tammy sat on the front stoop, the babies sleeping in cribs in the room we shared, her bratty little sister Tara asleep on the couch, her mom working the late shift at GE, her father drunk and passed out somewhere since he got laid off from Remington Arms, and we listened to Roberta Flack singing Killing me Softly with his Song on the portable radio while smoking a skinny project joint and watching two tattooed guys wearing jeans and tank tops smash the window of the convenience store across the street with a brick.
We high-fived each other, the alarm didn’t go off and the guys grabbed several six packs, cartons of cigarettes, dumped their goods in the trunk, waved at us, and drove off in a sputtering old Buick. The weed wasn’t too good but it still made us laugh at everything.
“Punks. Those cops ain’t even comin.”
“We should grab some diapers and food and stuff. The cops take forever to get to the East Side.”
“Yeah.” Tammy stubbed out her cigarette. “Yeah. I say Let’s do it.” She stood up, tall and pale and skinny, with such watery sad blue eyes you’d think she cared about the whole wide world. But the funny thing is, she don’t care. She just has those eyes.
“If they come, we can tell em that we heard the window get smashed and were just checking on the place. To make sure everything’s OK.”
“They ain’t gonna believe that shit.”
“My ole man says you gotta have a story.”
“He don’t say nothin now. That crazy bastard’s dead, he’s probably in the East River wearing cement shoes.”
“Yeah, I know he could be dead. Shot or some shit. Or he could be, he could’ve run off. Maybe Vegas or Chicago or Miami, you know, on the run. He could be hiding in Sicily like Michael Corleone.”
“Girl, that’s some Santa Claus shit. Your godfather’s in the East River, you always said.”
“Yeah. Sonny the Wheel.”
“Your ole man’s probably there too, keepin him company. They probably havin a better time partyin at the bottom of the East River than we are here on East Main. Sometimes bein alive ain’t no kinda party.”
We laughed. We ran across East Main. The cash register was open with a few ones and some quarters left in it, which we grabbed. We ran back and forth across the street about five times, still laughing, dodging the occasional beeping car and grabbing stuff from the store. No sign of the cops. The neighbors all stayed inside staring at TVs. That store was always being robbed, either a bored cashier held up at gunpoint while they were open, or when they closed at midnight, someone would do a smash and grab, bust in the windows and take what they could. We piled up boxes of disposable diapers for Tammy’s baby, my baby, and Tammy’s older sister Tiffany’s kid. We got cases of Cokes, a couple six packs a beer, bags of barbecue chips, boxes of Slim Jims, cartons of cigarettes, jammed our pockets full of candy bars.
We stashed everything in the front room so we didn’t wake the babies. Then we went back to the stoop to listen to the radio, waited for the cops to show up.
“We shouldna gone barefoot,” Tammy stuck out her foot. She cut her toes on the glass.
“Hide your stinking feet. Here come the cops. That’s evidence.”
Two cops pulled up in front of the store, didn’t even bother to get out of the car. They called in something on the radio, made an illegal U-Turn and pulled up in front of Tammy’s building.
The cop sitting in the passenger’s seat spoke first. “You two young ladies rob the Cumberland Farms Con-veen-yence store cross the street there?”
Tammy said, “Two Puerto Rican guys busted the window, they took a whole lotta shit, they ran off.”
That made me laugh again. I couldn’t look at her.
The other cop, the driver, got out of the car. He wasn’t real tall, but he had a beefy mean look to him. “You think this here’s funny? Don’t see how’s they could take all that shit with no car. You sure you didn’t see no car?” His voice was lower and had a sneer to it. He chewed gum while he talked.
My ole man always said about cops. Don’t talk to em and Don’t trust em.
“You can’t talk? All you do is laugh?” the gum chewer asked. He had dark brown hair and beady little dark eyes, a dark mustache, muscles too big for his body bulging out of his blue uniformed arms. “Mom” was tattooed in a heart on one beefy arm.
“I didn’t see nothin.” My high was fading.
“Joe. Come on. Joe, let’s go. They don’t know nothin here.” The other guy was a little older, maybe a little nicer, maybe not. He stayed in the car. He had touches of gray around his light curly brown hair, the edges of his lips held a slight smile. The type my mom would call a Flirt. I thought of the good cops/bad cops they always had on TV.
The babies woke up and started screaming. It startled me. I almost forgot we had babies in there. I thought of the feedings, the diaper changes, the long lines at the welfare office, the long complicated food stamp application, the long waits at the Well Baby clinic with a feverish crying sick baby, the bus rides to the grocery store, the hours in the smelly hot crowded Laundromat, everyone fighting at Tammy’s house because it was so crowded. I almost wanted to ask the gray haired cop to drop me off downtown at the train station. So I could just go— go to New York or Boston or something. Just get outta there.
“We gotta go feed our kids, man.” Tammy was pissed.
The mean cop scrunched up his nose. “You girls smokin dope?”
“We gotta feed em.” Tammy sounded a little less sure of herself.
“You got kids already?” The mean cop asked. “An how the fuck old are you?”
“Seventeen.” I looked at the sad watery blueness of her eyes again.
“Joe, we gotta go.” We could hear the robotic drone of the dispatcher over the radio.
I laughed. “You guys are like Car-54 Where are you.”
The gray haired cop sitting in the car laughed too, but the mean beady eyed one grabbed me roughly and slapped my face. Hard. I never had a man slap me who wasn’t my father before. Somehow he had a right to it, but not this bastard. The world shook. My head spun, and my hands and feet jumped to self defense.
“CC no!” Tammy pulled me back from the cop. “They got fuckin guns! Girl, you crazy?”
The mean one grabbed me, opened the car door and threw me in the back seat. “You already gotta kid, so you’re already fucking somebody.”
The gray haired cop leaned over the seat and touched my arm. “Don’t say nothin. Kid. I got this.”
“When you’re in a back seat of a cop car, you can’t get out.”
“You been in a patrol car before.”
The mean one grabbed Tammy and threw her in next to me.
“Our kids, we can’t just leave em there, they’re screamin.”
“Shoulda thoughta that before you went and made some babies. Shoulda thoughta that. You girls don’t cooperate, we’ll bustin to your house, and you know what we’ll find? All that beer an smokes an shit you just stole. Drugs, we’ll find drugs. Your boyfriends are probably dealers. You wanna go to Juvie?” He started up the car. The dispatcher kept calling out on the radio. “Let’s go take a little ride to Seaside Park. You in, Mike? You wanna have some fun with these here girls?”
Mike shook his head. “No, no way. Got kids a my own. No way I want some grown married guy messin with my daughters. Just stop the car and let em go.” He lit a cigarette, took his time taking a deep puff.
The mean cop, Joe, drove slowly down the street. Tammy looked at me, rolled her eyes. What will they do to us? I pushed on the door, feeling trapped. I fantasized grabbing their guns and shooting them, an action movie with background music.
“I don’t care, go ahead an arrest me. I been to Juvie. I don’t give a fuck.” I looked out the window at East Main Street as if seeing it for the first time. The street looked grey, rundown, poor. We passed The Tropicana, a junkie hangout. When I was a little kid riding by in the backseat of my father’s old Cadillac convertible I would jump up and down, point at the sign and say, “Ricky Ricardo! Ricky Ricardo!” I thought it was a fancy nightclub, and a tuxedo-clad Ricky crooned love songs to Lucy while twirling her around on the dance floor, backed up by a big band. I would wave at the hollow eyed scratching junkies slouched against the wall and they would wave back, baffled by the attention.
“Which one? Which Juv-a-nile Hall?” Mike asked.
“Spofford. In the Bronx.”
Mike turned around and winked. “You ain’t been to no fuckin Spofford.” He turned back to Joe.
“Drop these girls off an let’s go back to work, fer Chrissakes.”
“Fine. Fuck you. You wanna be such a fuckin saint.” Joe drove a few more blocks, then circled around at Boston Avenue and headed back down East Main. He dropped us off in front of Tammy’s railroad flat. Her sister Tara was standing on the front porch in a faded pink bathrobe and purple bunny slippers. Something about the little-girlness of the bunny slippers made me sad. The gray haired cop let us out of the car. Tammy ran up the stairs. The mean cop grabbed my arm. “You went to Harding?”
“You drop out?”
“You gotta job?”
“What’s your boyfriend’s name?”
“Carlos.” Stupid. As soon as I said it I wished I could take it back.
“This spic gotta a job?”
“Don’t be callin him no spic. He’s gotta job, he’s workin at the Coca Cola plant.” I lied. Carlos did day labor out of Manpower downtown and sold weed. He lived in the Father Panik Village projects with his mom and a gaggle of little brothers and sisters. Sometimes he talked about applying to the Coca Cola factory when he turned eighteen.
“You know what you are?” The mean cop smacked his gum.
“You gonna tell me?”
“She calls you CC?”
“I gotta new nickname for you. Miss Welfare and Food Stamps. That’s what you are.”
“Enough, Joe, let’s go.” Mike tapped his fingers restlessly on the dashboard.
“Bye, Welfare and Food Stamps.” He gunned the car and they sped off.
“Fuck you!” I yelled to the cops in the disappearing car. “Fuck all of you too!” I yelled to the street, the passing cars, the sleeping buildings, the broken windowed convenience store, the dead eyed East Side hopeless night, the clanging red brick walled-in factories, the smell of the city at low tide, the mother who OD’d on pills, the father who ran out on his gambling debts, the big brothers and cousins and uncles in prison, the friends who said they’d never shoot up nodding out in neighborhood shooting galleries, the jobless boyfriend, the crowded household, the turned off electricity, the pushy landlord, the gossiping neighbors, the stuck-up caseworkers, the high school teachers who said they were just there for the paycheck and counting the days til retirement and didn’t even notice that I skipped school for weeks that turned into months before dropping out.
“Where’d all that shit come from in the front room?” Tara asked, sleepy eyed. She had the babies propped up with pillows, sucking on bottles. Their eyes clear and eager and greedy with hunger, their faces damp with sweat. The windows were open and the air was still. “No fair you guys makin me feed em. You owe me. I gotta go to school tomorrow.”
“Then take some smokes an barbecue potato chips an Cokes an Slim Jims an shut-the-fuck-up, that’s your babysittin pay,” Tammy said. “No beer, that’s for us.”
“Really? Cool!” She tore through the goodies. “This is like winning the fucking lottery!”
Photo Credit: “East Main Street Liquor Store” by sj.
“Killing Me Softly With His Song,” recorded by Roberta Flack. Released in 1973. Written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel.