Copyright ©1996, 1997 A.D. Sullivan
You always were persistent,
your step sure in the shiftless sand,
inches behind my heal,
refusing to fade the way mine do,
the wavering water washing up,
sinking in at the toes,
the deep impression of your life,
always remarked upon,
leaving that satisfied taste
of completeness behind, while I,
in constant struggle within myself,
looking for ways to make my name,
a Wall Street broker,
a notorious book peddler,
a hustling, rustling bandit of the street,
almost ready to wash your feet
or windshield for your secret, me,
the invisible foot on the sand,
my suit, tie and shimmering shoes
meaningless here among the pixies
and gypsies of your imagination,
like a gull's bloated body
in the low hung clouds, grey upon grey,
while you, a stark, white gull
with black head laughing,
even at the waves that crush you....
July 23, 1980
How do you tell people bad news?
I'm certainly no master at it. Harold called this morning -- at his usual time of 4 a.m. I woke, spoke, then listened as the phone fell out of his hands. Maybe I should have waited for him to sober up, but who knew when that was or if I could get hold of him again in time. We couldn't find Richi to tell him about Aunt Florence—his drinking took him from one street corner to another, a regular wino whose route through the local ghetto I didn't know.
But Harold called often enough in the early morning for me to deliver my news, and all I could hear through the fallen receiver was the repeated word "Christ!"
Harold and Richi were both close to the woman, going there often in the years before and after Grandpa's death, fishing from her dock on the bay, or helping to fix her store. Richi's name had been one of the last words on her lips.
"When did this happen?" Harold asked later, after he had managed to regain the phone, then changed the "when" to "why" and I had no answer.
"I don't know, but the wake's today."
I remember Alice saying she had dreamed of Grandpa calling her the night before she died. Had Florence dreamed that, too?
Billy took the phone and told me Harold didn't need to hear such news just then. "He's got problems of his own."
"But how's he going to feel if he misses her being buried?" I asked.
Billy said nothing. Harold took back the phone, telling me they had to go now, wishing me a gentle "Good night" with a softer "Thank you" hidden behind the words, as he was glad I'd been the one to tell him.
I wasn't. I hated being the messenger of death.
Trick or Treat?
We'd heard about the old lady's stash for years.
Every dumb mother and his son talked about it, their eyes glowing, mouths slavering, minds calculating the numbers better than a think head or cybercrazy calculator.
"She's a near dead bitch, man," Queer Kid tells me, his shriveled head ranting in that high pitched voice of his from my other shoulder, the ugliest son of Satan you'd ever seen right there attached to me, always talking schemes as if a germ of an idea had an ice cube's chance in hell of growing in that peanut brain of his. "And she' rich, man, loaded to the teeth with greenbacks."
I wanted to shake the fool to his senses, like I'd tried a hundred thousand times since we were kids, wanted to try and jar something in him loose so as it might go back together with a little old-fashioned sense. He was always coming up with schemes, always pretending like he'd thought them up for himself, when he hadn't, as if I hadn't been standing right there in his shoes listening to this fellah or that chick telling us all about things.
I knew as much about the old lady as he did, maybe more. I didn't need to New Age guru or Potato Eye to picture the senile bitch pacing around in that uptown mansion just waiting for someone, anyone to come and lift her lid for her.
"It's got no Spy Guy either, nothing more than the wall, man," Queer Kid went on. "Just those lazy lobs on the wall and you know how bad those fools are. We could take them with spit, man. You know we could."
"Just shut your crap," I told him, trying to sort out the thoughts in my own head. When Queer Kid went on like this, I got kind of dizzy, too, as if his thinking drained my thinking by thinning our blood.
Lot's of people in the zone talked about going after the bitch, all talk, no guts, or at least not enough guts to take on the Lazy Lobs, who liked to hurt any street freak they could catch. Even the Potato Eyes didn't like those gigs, spinning out the future doesn't make a dude bullet proof. I had guts enough, but didn't trust rumors to tell me the truth about anything. Maybe I could have hired a New Age to check the webs to see what her credit looked like, though rumors said her stash was in old fashioned, one hundred percent green stuff, the kind of stuff nobody bothered to print these days, not with ATMs and ITRs and all that kind of thing. Who needed a wallet when a store could scan you? I'd heard talk of people slicing ITR's off people's foreheads, but never known one to work in a scanner afterwards.
Who even remembered back that far? God knows I'd seen a wrinkled fiver from time to time, changing hands among the zoners like a holy relic. Store keeps even took them, selling them off to the collectors downtown. The old Soviets, they say, still relish all that cold war stuff. If she had it and had it in quantity, then maybe it was worth a trip inside, for a look and lift. Maybe we'd be sitting pink when we got back, and we could even afford to hire one of those Laser-fakers to cut me and Queer Kid free, giving him or me our own set of limbs.
Yet I worried over the lack of a stash, wasting our tick tocks on a goddamn ghost dance, not to mention the chance we'd take getting heat. I didn't want to get blasted over no false alarm, if you dig my thinking.
"And what if there ain't any money?" I asked. "What happens if we take the tube up there, get passed the lazy lobs and all we find is a house and a rotting old bitch?"
"There's money there," Queer Kid said in such a way as I almost believed him, that scratchy voice of his speaking the way the gurus do when got the sight.
"How do you know?"
"You think the lazy lob people would let her live like that if she didn't?"
I had to look at Queer Kid twice, just to make sure it was him speaking this drift, it sounding too sane to come out of his mouth no matter in what voice.
Everybody knew how little the Lazy Lobs liked drift, how anybody who didn't have a load to spend didn't stay on the wall side like that, let alone in the kind of house people said she had, all crumbly and dank, like something haunted. Maybe the Lazy Lobs wanted her to die, too, without a blood to pass her bucks to, Lazy Lobs legal-eagles drafting up their swift kits to take what was left over once the old chick cashed in. Legal Eagles and Lazy Lobs tearing that old house down stick by stick.
"Well we can dream all we like," I said. "You and me won't get our hands on that stash."
"Why not?" Queer kid asked.
"Look at us," I said, waving our hands in his face. "Even if we get in past the Lazy Lobs on the wall, how would we walk around in that neighborhood looking like this?"
"We could," Queer Kid said. "This is Halloween."
Again, I stared at him. You just didn't get two sane things out of that head in one day without wondering how. His plan spread through my head as if transmitted via blood, I saw the whole naked thing, us walking out of the zone in a street full of screamers -- all of them scaring themselves by dressing like us.
"You're crazy," I said, and spat, but let the idea drift over me. The door jams and spy guys we could skim through, and maybe we could do the street, if nobody looked too close.
"I'm not and you know it," Queer Kid said, losing a little of the clarity from his eyes, a rush of hormones coming over us as he thought his dirt.
"All right," I said, infected by his desire, it clouding my thinking like it did his. I was floating by the time we stepped off the uptown tube and scared we'd catch sight of a street sweep, though none made a pass. No one saw our fingers flash over the pad or us slip in the wall door when it opened.
Now we'd been inside a time or two, but never just standing there. It was always grab and run. You don't site-see when you're snatching a screamer. Sure, a few lazy lobs stared at us, panic flashing into their eyes the moment me and Queer Kid started down the street, but with all the screamers rushing around, the lazy lobs got over it.
"They're falling for it," I said, as if I didn't believe it myself, or didn't believe even a lazy lob could be so stupid. Only then did I catch the manic look in Queer Kid's eyes, and saw how his pale pink tongue slid across his shriveled lips as he stared back at the screamers.
"Don't you go and do anything we'll be sorry for," I told him.
"I don’t know what you mean?" Queer Kid said in a distant voice.
"We're here to get the loot not as tourists," I said. "You leave all the sweet meat alone."
A woman with her child came near us. The woman looked shocked, but the little screamer giggled, wiggling its little fingers at us. We wiggled back. Queer Kid said: "Trick or Treat?"
The woman glanced sharply at Queer Kid’s shriveled head, her eye widening into dark coins. Maybe she figured it was a trick, one of those TV ventriloquists, making that head speak instead of the proper one. She hurried away.
"That was stupid," I told him and then pushed on. He seemed to know the way, over the lazy lob cobble stone streets and unwired store front windows. This place was a picnic for any zoner. And everywhere we saw screamers, screamers prancing down the street singing out their "trick or treats," all of them dressed as if they'd come from the zone, looking just like rads like us, some wearing four arms, others with three eyes, but none with two heads which made them look at us. They asked if we'd sewed our heads one and how we got the shriveled one to speak, nodding I told them "a chip." Queer Kid's hormone swirled in me and only by keeping the rich bitch vision in my head did I lure Queer Kid away. Sweat poured down our sleeves by the time we got we got to the house and stood on the sidewalk out side its gate. Queer Kid sniffed.
"It's sort of creepy," he said.
He shrugged and didn't stop me when I pushed open the gate and walked in, its hinges wailing like a house jack, drawing stares from passing lazy lobs, all of them wondering why anyone would pay a visit on a place like this.
"What do we do now?" Queer kid asked when we reached the porch.
"Ring the bell," I said, and lifted our hand to punch at the illuminated orange button that was straight out of a history book, no peep jeep announcing us, no spy guy winking at us through the glass. Just that button.
Deep inside, a shrill bell rang, like a frail voice yelling for help, then quiet with only the stumble of footsteps sounding beyond the door. The dark curtain parted. A face squinted at us from the other side, so wrinkled and pale, it looked as if it had already died. It looked puzzled and opened the door.
"Yes?" she asked, brushing back her stringy hair, a ragged at a witch-bitch though with no evil look in her eyes.
"Trick or treat," me and Queer Kid said, holding out our bag, though a minute later, Queer Kid dragged me into the house with him as our hand covered over the old lady's mouth. She tried to cry out but the Queer kid hit her with our other hand.
"Shush now, lady," he said in so sweet a voice it scared me.
Her eyes bulged. She muttered a protest through our fist. Queer Kid hit her again. She calmed down. Then Queer Kid tore off her shirt.
"Stop that," I said. "All we want is her money."
"That's all you want," Queer Kid said, drooling over her as he tore everything, her gray flesh like a dead fish's, and she screamed and screamed as our hand tightened.
"She's a virgin," Queer Kid said. "I can smell it."
"Don't be disgusting," I said. "She has to be ninety years old."
"I don't care I want it," Q" Queer Kid said, as I jerked our hand away from the old lady's mouth, releasing her scream. It stopped Queer Kid and brought a puzzle look to his face. The screaming went on and on, and he looked more and more confused.
"Stop it," he told her.
She just screamed.
Then he hit her. Hit her hard with the back of our hand. Hit her so he head rolled back and we both heard the snap of her neck. The screaming stopped. Her eyes opened with surprised, and then she sagged.
"Ah, damn, now look what you've done," I said. "You went and killed her."
But even that didn't change his expression and a moment later, Queer Kid was yanking open our pants and pulling out our instrument, and pushing it at the old lady's mouth, my screams replacing her screams as Queer Kid humped and humped and humped, pumping every orifice until the body grew stiff and we grew limp.
"You're an ass!" I said when he was finally done. "Here you go and have to ruin everything. Now how are we supposed to find the money?"
Queer Kid shrugged, sagging a little after expending himself. He looked like he wanted to go to sleep, and then, woke only at the sound of sirens. We looked at each other, somehow knowing the lazy lobs were coming here, some sensor in the house announcing us, that we never figured on.
"We got to get out," I said.
"What about the money?"
"Forget the money," I said. "You don't know what these people will do to us if they find us here -- especially after what you did."
Already someone pounded on the door, and we could see the faces pressing in at the glass.
"Out the back, quick," I said and started towards the rear of the house, stumbling over whole rooms of antiques the woman didn't know were antique, finding a way through the maze to the kitchen and the door out into the back. We plunged through and found ourselves confronted with a yard of brambles and weeds, a rusted push-type lawn mower standing among them. Behind this, a ten foot spiked fence made escape that way impossible.
"Around the house," I said, and turned and followed the path along the house, back towards the front, hearing the sounds of people inside the house, lights flashing on and off as the lazy lobs rushed through the rooms with their night beams. By this time, they'd found the body and seen what Queer Kid had done.
I didn't hear the shots at first, or mistook them for some other sound. But I saw Queer Kid's head explode and felt his warm brains splatter on my face. The wave of pain came next, and I must have passed out. I woke here, with tubes in my arms, and wires on my fingers and toes, and the grinning man at the lever tells me to expect a real jolt.
"Oh it won't kill you friend," he said. "It'll just hurt. And keep on hurting. In fact, friend, we're going to keep you alive, a long, long time."
Then, the grinning Lazy Lob hit the switch.
It’s the end of the world as we know it
"You should have seen all the films," Pauly tells me, his voice crackling with horror and delight. "The glaziers are melting into the ocean."
Thus my friend engaged once more in his favorite pastime, predicting the end of the world.
This is June, 1983. With Reagan as president and the Soviets grumbling and the rise in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean, Pauly's having a field day and I'm scared shit.
"It may be over at any moment," Pauly says so gleefully you’d think he owned a funeral home or got a percentage on each natural disaster, rubbing the ink off his hands over this morning’s New York Times.
He, of course, believes we can survive the world’s end and has set up plans for us to meet at his Towacco home, to sit on a hill and watch the fire works. He pooh-poohs any attempt at reason, or at the suggestion we might be caught up in the thermonuclear ball of fire.
His kind proliferate in California, taking weekend trips to the San Andreas fault for fun or picnicking on the lawn beside the Freeway in hopes of catching sight of a traffic accident. Pauly lives and breathes the Weather Channel, Discovery Channel, and writes his cable company with hopes of acquiring a channel tuned to natural disasters. Others call him a survivalist, but the term fails to capture his anticipation. More typical survivalists prepare for the worst, Pauly prays for it. For twenty years, he’s pushed for us to pool our money and buy some land. We almost did. Ironically, our friend Hank broke his neck in a car crash, sued, and collected some cash. Pauly brow beat Hank into trips north for a possible land purchase, then exploded with rage when he found Hank had spent the money -- spent it, because he thought the world was going to end and figured he’d best enjoy what he had.
Since then, Pauly has left Hank out of his plans, saying that he didn't deserve to survive. But at least Hank now gets a full night's sleep, while the rest of us put up with Pauly’s midnight calls.
"Did you hear about the Earthquake in China?" he asks. Or Peru. Or the Soviet Union.
Pauly recently came down with a serious case of eye strain. He apparently heard about the potential for an asteroid strike and spent most of the next seventy two hours staring through a telescope in anticipation. While every generation has its preachers of doom: Nostradamus, St. John the Mystic, Isaiah, none of them have my telephone number or give me a blow-by-blow of disaster every night. I should change my number, but Pauly would put me out of his plans, the way he did Hank.
Then what would I do when the time comes?
Who Ruined Hoboken?
April 3, 1995
Over the next few years, as the old style stores vanish and the big name chain stores come in, inevitably the question people will ask is: Who ruined Hoboken?
You won't find an answer in city hall, where the mayor and council who sit with their hands up their butts, will largely have the same question, wondering how such a thing could happen while under their very noses. The answer -- past, present and future – remains hidden in the fat bank accounts of the town's real estate industry, who have come into town over the last two decades the way gold speculators came into the mining towns of Alaska and California, lying, cheating, greedy sons of bitches who have no conscience over the destruction they reek, or the lives they've ruined.
While the waterfront activities blame big developers like Joe Barry, the real culprit stalks through the streets like ambulance-chasing lawyers, looking for the moving vans or going out of business signs. Since the mid-1970s, these vultures have preyed on the dead and dying, leaving little more than the bones of people's lives with neither business person or home-owner immune to their sickening touch.
In the 1970s, the real estate brokers inspired burnings, enticing building owners to set fires in an effort to drive out poor and working people and clear the properties as to take advantage of the prices the real estate pimps had to offer. People died in those fires. But whole rows of brownstones changed hands. In moved the yuppies, whose own addiction to New York City wages and Wall Street, made them perfect suckers to the shell game offered by the real estate industry.
Did you ever wonder how so many real estate offices could exist side-by-side in a city little more than one mile square? How could such people make money when the population of Hoboken shrank from a high of 70,000 in 1970 to a low of 30,000 in 1994? The answer is easy: These bums sell the same properties over and over again. The average yuppie stays a little over two years in Hoboken. This means that every two years, real estate vultures get the same percentage off the sale of the same house. In my building, these perverts actually knock on my door every time a condo gets sold, telling me how much they sold the place for and how they could do the very same thing for me.
In the business sector, real estate agents make promises to dreamy-eyed entrepreneurs, promising them all sorts of special deals -- few of which they ever live up to. Most often, when a small business owner gets a place -- let's say on Washington Street -- it isn't one he or she can afford, but one that brought the biggest commission to the real estate agent, who in selling the benefits of the place did everything but forge the person's signature on the contract to assure the sale. For a person with his or her life savings on the line, business has to boom immediately.
Often it does not. January of this year saw eight going out of business sales. As of April, 16 businesses failed over the first three months of 1995.
In Hoboken, real estate moguls have no interest in seeing business succeed. Like with the condos, rapid turn over means more commissions and fees, and with the limited number of stores available, reselling someone's failed dreams is just another way keeping the gold rush going. Only corporations have the bucks to battle back, investing so much in the location that they can afford to stay in one place. Over time, desperate landlords who find that they can't keep tenants more than a year, will turn to corporations like Boston Chicken, Barnes & Noble and Sam Goody's just to guarantee themselves a monthly rent. Maybe when Washington Street is wall-to-wall national chains the real estate people will give up their greedy habits. By then, even the real estate agents will be asking: Who ruined Hoboken?
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307