Blow Job Lips

 

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It was the late 70’s in Lower Manhattan.

We hadn’t been going out very long when one of my friends invited me to a party in a fifth floor walk-up in Tribeca. 

I wanted to show her a good time.

She took her time getting ready and we left my place about ten that night and walked downtown a block, crossed Canal Street, walked another block and we were there.

I was wearing black pants and a raw silk shirt with a red leather tie and a vintage 40’s dark blue jacket with silver threads running all through it. She had on tan bell-bottom pants, a white shirt, a dark green jacket gathered at the waist and black high-heel boots.

And red lipstick.

I don’t think I ever saw her without her lipstick.

We found the address on Walker Street easily enough, and I rang the bell and someone buzzed us up. You could hear the music playing from down on the street. I bounded up the stairs and she followed me as best she could in those boots. I think it was one of our first dates.

 

We got to the party, the door was open and we went in. There were eight or ten people there. I didn’t recognize anyone. The couch was empty except for one woman sitting alone so we sat down. I got up to go get us a drink. I was thinking she could talk to the woman while I was gone. Make friends. Then we would know someone. I was next in line for drinks when this guy  walked over to me and said, “Hey, Man–you had better go out there–something’s going on with your date. She’s getting into it with the host’s wife.”

 

I walked back over to where I had left my date on the couch and asked , “What’s the matter?”

The other woman was still seated on the couch casually sipping her drink.

 

“She said I had ‘blow job lips’” my date told me.

 

Just then, some guy I assumed was the host walked over to me and said, “I think you two had better leave.”  

Several people I did not know were now walking toward us to see what was going on. I quickly sized up the situation and said, “Come on,  I think we’d better go.”

 

“I’m not going anywhere, till I’ve slapped that bitch’s face,” said my date.

 

“Excuse me?” I said, while I tried to figure out how to handle the situation.

 

“I’m not going anywhere until I’ve slapped that bitch’s face,” she repeated.

That’s what I thought she had said.

 

“All right”, I said. Whereupon she took a step over to the couch where the woman was still sitting sipping her drink and slapped her across the face so hard that the woman’s head turned all the way to the right and the woman’s glass of white wine went flying.

Before the woman knew what hit her, my date then slapped her face back the other way.

Then I knew exactly what to do.

I grabbed my date by the hand and we made a beeline for the door. As we went through it and I pulled her down the first flight of stairs, someone threw a folding metal chair at us. It missed. Then another.  I held on tightly to her hand and the two of us jumped down eight or ten steps to the fourth floor landing and scrambled to our feet. A couple of half-full bottles of beer crashed to the floor next to us.

 

Just then, another couple coming up the stairs encountered us hurrying down the stairs. The man looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face. “Great Party!!” I told him as we passed by them and continued down the steps and out the front door.

 

When we reached the street I looked at her and she looked at me. Neither one of us said a word, we didn’t have to. At that moment,  at least, I knew she was thinking the same thing I was.

 

“This relationship has potential.

A Small Fortune

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 4.28.49 PMAround 1981, when I was living in New York City, I was sitting on the steps in front of my apartment building one day when I was approached by a disheveled-looking stranger.

To be honest, I probably looked a little dishevelled myself.

The man asked me, “Hey, Buddy–do you know anything about art?’

“Yeah,” I said. “Art is a bunch of shit.”

He chuckled and nodded in agreement.

I saw that he was carrying a large drawing under his arm. It was about 18 X 24 and in a wooden frame. It was rather dirty-looking.

He held it out for me to look at and asked me, “Do you think this is worth anything?’ It was behind glass and very dirty and he explained that he had just pulled it out of a dumpster at the end of the street. Apparently an old building was being renovated and the workmen had tossed it out. The drawing was non-representational and resembled a large fishing net. It was in reddish-brown ink on a faded yellow paper or board. I looked down into the corner and it was signed. “Bourgeois.

Having the benefit of an art education, I recognized the name.

“Yes!” I told him. “I think that it could be quite valuable. Louise Bourgeois is a famous artist. “

I invited him inside with the crazy idea of calling up Ms. Bourgeois on the telephone. She was actually listed in the directory so I dialed the number. A woman answered the phone after a few rings.

Hello, Ms. Bourgeois….you don’t know me, but I am an artist and a man just approached me with a drawing of yours that he found on the street.”

I guess I was expecting her to thank me or invite me up to her studio– or something.

No such luck.

In fact she seemed suspicious of me and was like, “Why are you bothering me—call my dealer!!.

And then she hung up.

Rather rudely, too, I might add.

I told the man what she had said and suggested that he try and find out who her dealer was. He looked at me and for a second or two I thought he was going to offer the drawing to me for fifty dollars. But he didn’t. He just turned and walked slowly out the door with the dusty drawing under his arm.  I sat back down on the steps and watched as he rounded the corner of Thompson and Grand.

I’ll bet he sold it to the next person he met for twenty bucks.

The Washeteria®

WASHETERIA

The Second World War was finally over and all the young men came flooding back into Savannah and all the cities and towns all across America– and you could buy meat again and new tires for the old jalopy–or a brand new car, if you had the money –and there was a feeling in the air of unbridled optimism mixed with great relief.

 

Well, maybe not all of the young men came back.

 

She was 29 then, and beautiful, and smart, and she painted her nails red to match her lipstick and she ran the family’s new business with only one employee. She went to work there every day of the week except Sunday from 7 o’clock in the morning until 6 o’clock in the evening.

 

She and my father and the baby had left Florida the year before and moved in with her mother into the little red brick house she had lived in as a teenager.

 

The Washeteria® as the place came to be known, was open half-a-day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Dirty clothes were washed, dried and folded for a total of nine cents a pound. Plus tax. The same price as bananas.

 

Each of the twenty Bendix washing machines had a number behind it on the wall. The numbers weren’t painted on the wall, but were made of brass. The kind people would put on their houses.

 

“There’s something wrong with Number Twenty, “ I remember my mother telling my father one day after he got off work and stopped by to see how she was doing.

 

The washing machines themselves were small and white and reminded me of big rolls of toilet paper turned on their side. Each machine had a round convex glass door which swung open by turning a grooved, black crescent-shaped plastic handle,  so that you could put the dirty clothes in, and take the clean clothes out. There was a little chute, or opening at the top of each machine through which water softener and soap powder could be added at the proper time, which was after the water came in and the clothes were tumbling. Then, if the clothes were white, a cup of bleach would be poured in. White clothes and light-colored clothes were washed separately from darks. My Mother would go through all the pockets in case there was a crayon or a ball-point pen, which, if allowed to go through the cycle, would ruin the clothes as well as mess up the machine. When the machines were running, the wet clothes made a very pleasant gentle sloshing sound and you could watch them through the glass door of the washing machine tumbling in the warm soapy water.

 

In the very beginning, when they first took over the place from the previous owner, the customers came in and put their dirty clothes in one of the twenty Bendix eight-pound washing machines and said they’d be, “right back”.

 

But, very often they didn’t come “right back”, so my mother, or her assistant, Rudolph, the friendly, outgoing young black man she hired to help her, would take their dripping clothes out of the machine and place them in the metal washtub on wheels and roll it to the back of the place to the big stainless steel and black extractor. I liked Rudolph, but I never quite understood his connection to Santa Claus and how a young black man folding clothes and talking cheerfully to everyone could also be a “red-nosed reindeer”. I guess I just assumed when I got older, it would sort itself out. So I let it go.

 

The extractor, which operated on the principle of centrifugal force, and reminded me of the high-pitched noise of  a jet airplane, would get most all of the water out, leaving the clothes only slightly damp to the touch, and then, when the customer still hadn’t come “right back” their clothes were placed back in their laundry basket. At first, many of the women (almost all of the customers were women)  took their clothes home to dry on the line, but increasingly, they just brought their laundry in and my mother and Rudolph did it all. After washing and extracting, their clean clothes were now tossed into one of two big green dryers instead of taken back home and hung out to dry.

 

When the clothes were hot and dry, my mother and Rudolph would stand at a big wooden table in the back and fold the warm dry clothes before they had a chance to wrinkle (the warm clothes felt good in your hands on a cold Winter day) and then wrap them up in light-weight brown paper and tie them up with string. The tidy bundle was then carried to the front, weighed on a scale, then placed on a shelf to await its owners when they came “right back”. Each customer’s clothes had to be washed, dried and folded separately, for obvious reasons.

If someone came in to pick up their clean clothes when my mother was helping fold, Rudolph stayed in the back folding clothes and my mother sashayed up to the horseshoe-shaped counter in the front to greet them.

 

On the counter was a grey cash register and a black metal adding machine with a handle like a slot machine. Later on, after the vending machine company moved in next door there was a big clear glass bell jar with cheese crackers and peanut butter crackers in it, in neat little packages for sale for five cents a package. Six crackers for a nickel. Later on, after I learned to ride a bicycle and when I visited The Washeteria®, I was allowed take a pack without paying. I liked the orange crackers with the peanut butter filling best. My mother liked the orange ones with the cheese filling.

 

Sometimes, I sat at the counter and drew pictures of deep-sea divers and sharks and chests full of treasure. 

 

Clean laundry cost nine cents a pound, washed, dried and folded in the Spring of 1948 when my mother left me at age 18 months, in the care of my grandmother, to drive off to work there. If my mother and Rudolph were caught up and there was no folding to be done, my mother would sit at the counter on a high grey metal stool and do the crossword puzzle or read a book. My mother always liked to read. She read Pearl S. Buck and James Thurber and Bennett Cerf. And W. Somerset Maugham. I wasn’t old enough to read, but I was old enough to ask who the pictures were on the backs of her books.

 

Most of the time, though, she just let Rudolph fold the clothes and sometimes he’d take them out for the customers and put them in their cars. Sometimes the customers didn’t want to have to tip Rudolph or perhaps wanted to carry their own clothes out to the curb to their cars and those who did not, would sometimes tip Rudolph a nickel or a dime. The nickels had Indians and buffalos on them in those days and the dimes were all silver.

 

When the Korean War broke out, Rudolph got drafted. Business was good, so my mother hired two young women to help her in the laundry. Their names were Lila and Jean. Lila  was short and stout, the more outgoing of the two. Jean was younger and thin with a heavily-freckled face. Jean kept her arms folded across her chest and seldom looked at you when she spoke, which was not very often. I liked them and they liked me.

 

One day, Rudolph came back to The Washeteria unexpectedly, following basic training. He looked very handsome in his uniform. He was about 20 then. Everyone, even the customers who never came “right back” were glad to see him. But he never came back to see us or to ask for his old job back.  My father was not even allowed to mention his name. I’m afraid Rudolph may have gotten killed in the war, because I never heard anything more about him. My mother didn’t like to talk about things that upset her or made her sad. Her father had died unexpectedly when she was ten and she didn’t want to talk about that and she didn’t want to talk about Rudolph.

 

By age six, when I was old enough to ride a bike, and if I was at loose ends, which being an only child with no responsibilities and two parents who both worked and a grandmother in a wheelchair, I often was, I’d ride my bike up Paulsen Street, without bothering to call or even tell my grandmother, to visit my mother at The Washeteria. It was only a couple of miles away and in fifteen or twenty minutes at the most I was there.

 

My mother always acted surprised and happy to see me. So did Lila and Jean. And occasionally even one of the customers who never came “right back”. My Mother would let me go through the lint trap. Sometimes small items, like coins would get caught in there. It didn’t happen very often, but, if I found any, I got to keep them. More often I would get my fingers pricked by an open safety pin.

 

Before long, an area in the front by the window was cleared and a porch glider was brought in. There was a table in front of it with a glass top containing my mother’s shell collection. Mr. Cory,  an old man from the neighborhood in a faded grey suit and fedora came in most afternoons to sit and pass the time after his retirement reading her Savannah Morning News which she had delivered and was waiting in front of the door each morning except Sunday.

 

Up front, on the other side was a Coca-Cola machine with red door on top . When I was tall enough to open the door, I could reach in and get either a heavy green bottle of Coca-Cola or Canada Dry which were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in ice cold water. Customers could buy them for a nickel. The water was so cold it hurt my hand.

 

One Monday morning after Easter Sunday, somebody gave my mother a baby chick and a baby duck. The little yellow chick grew up to be a big white rooster and the duck followed him all around the place. My mother said the duck thought he was a chicken. They both sat in my mother’s lap, no doubt to the consternation of some of the customers, who probably decided to take their business elsewhere. Business continued to be good in spite of the chicken and duck poop which, it goes without saying, was cleaned up as soon as someone had stepped in it.

 

In the center of the space sat a glittering Wurlitzer jukebox supplied by the vending machine company next door with over a hundred of the latest hits. Anyone could push the red plastic buttons and watch as the device selected the record they chose, placed it on the turntable and played it for free. Elvis and Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis and Connie Francis never sounded better. The music blended in nicely with the sloshing and the folding and the crowing and the quacking.

 

The years passed.

 

My father still had his job at the Union Station, but gradually,  over time, most people either had washing machines in their homes or used coin-operated laundries which were scattered all over town and open 24 hours a day.  My father got in on the ground floor of the coin-op business in Savannah and opened five other laundries over the decades which he serviced and kept operational even after he retired from his job after 49 years with the railroad.

 

We never had a pair of dirty socks or a dirty towel or even a laundry basket in our house as my mother did our clothes daily.

 

When I graduated from high school in 1964, she offered to give the business to Lila and Jean. They didn’t want it.  

 

So she closed the place.  

 

Though the price of bananas went up steadily after 1948, the cost of clean clothes always remained at 9 cents a pound.

 

The Disappearing Stairway

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It was in the Summer.

When I was a child and my parents were both at work and my grandmother was an invalid and I was tall enough to reach the chain hanging from the ceiling in the hallway and pull it and lower the door and catch hold of the ladder leading up to the attic and draw it down then climb up it and pull the string to illuminate the naked light bulb at the top of the stairs and snoop around, I came upon an Ouija Board.Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 8.34.43 AM

As I kneeled down and looked at it, suddenly I felt the little blonde hairs on my arms stand on end and I stood back up and, leaving the light on, held onto the hand rail and quickly went back down the stairs and went straight into the room with my grandmother who by now was sitting in her wheelchair crocheting.

She looked up at me.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“Nowhere.” I lied.

Just a Scrap of Paper

phone.numberAfter my father died, my mother lived alone in that same old red-brick house she had lived in since she was 11. Although he was almost 13 years older than she was she only outlived him by about 5 years.

My wife and I (and the kids) would make a point of seeing her at least twice a year. And for at least ten days each time.

She was never a bother or a burden. I was busy with work or busy with the kids and I’ll confess, I didn’t call her as much as I should have. And she only called me if she had a good reason to call–never to chat.

She wasn’t a “chatter”.

She called me early in the evening of the day she died to tell me she was dying and to ask if I could get down there to be with her. (I was an only child). I told her I’d get there as soon as I could, but she died in the middle of the night.

Today, as I was packing up some of my things in preparation for a move, I came across a crumbled-up piece of paper with her handwriting on it. She had always had a beautful handwriting, but the handwriting on the little slip of paper was shaky now. It had obviously been written after my father died and she was well into her 80’s.

At the top she had written “Tel” and then she wrote her sister’s address and telephone number and that of her two nephews followed my my name and number.

I always thought mine was a confusing phone number. Two many 6’s and 3’s. Even I couldn’t remember the number for the first three weeks I had it.

As I looked at the paper I realized she had transposed two of the last numbers in my phone number.

Now I wonder how many times she might have tried to call me with that wrong number.

She’s been gone for 12 years– and can no longer be reached by telephone.

Friends–if you are fortunate enough to still have a mother or a father, call them up, even if you don’t have anything important to say.

Trust me, they’ll be very happy to hear from you.

Promises Unbroken / Words Unspoken

Rick.Mask.italyI promised the dead man’s grand-daughter before I married her that I would take her to Italy if she would but marry me.

I just didn’t say when.

But after twenty-five years of waiting  it was she who finally took me there.

Indeed,  something of the old man remained in the little hilltop village to which we ventured.

Or rather something of the boy.

Something in the green tops of the tall pine trees or in the dark grey of the cobblestone streets or in the pale orange of the little town’s buildings in the late afternoon sunlight. There was something of him in each of the big wooden doors along the streets–the ones with the big polished brass lion-headed knobs on them–or in between the louvers of the ancient wooden shutters through which old ladies with pale grey eyes peered at their world from darkened rooms which bore the scent of candles.

His two cousins, two little brothers who were a few years younger than he was, had already died–first one, and then the other. No doubt he worried he would be next.

He was just fourteen when he awakened before dawn one morning in the little house next to the castle. He packed his small suitcase and had a little something to eat and a little more to take with him wrapped in white paper. It was from his mother. His father may have given him a little money for his pocket that day in case he needed it on his long journey to America.

No doubt he hurried down to the town square where now old people, the ones who were not yet born, but whose grandparents may very well have seen the boy hop onto the back of a wagon for the long winding ride down the mountain to the town where he would catch the train to the big boat which would take him to the even bigger boat that would take him to America.

He was never to see either of his parents again, except in his dreams.

But they would write to him– and he to them and in time, they would come to lie side-by-side in that same little town with its steep, cobblestoned streets and their sad, worn faces still gaze out at those same mountain vistas through porcelain eyes on small oval plaques attached to white marble slabs in the little cemetery, their final resting place.

He made his way to Maine and grew up lean and strong and tanned. He set big explosions with dynamite and sold the Feldspar and other minerals he mined to the government.

He married a woman from this new land they called Maine. On Summer evenings he would sit on his porch by the side of the main road and play his banjo and his mandolin and drink home-made wine and sing with his friends until it was time for bed and sometimes until after it was time for bed.

His wife, a dark-haired beauty bore him three fine children. His eldest son worked with him in the mine and the younger one went off to Maine’s biggest city to find work while his daughter, with her beautiful eyes and long black hair married a young man from the merchant marine academy and had children of her own.

They said that the boy who became a man came back to his little town only once many years later, long after his children had children of their own, no one is sure exactly when. What is certain is that he was greeted with kisses on both cheeks by the men and women of that town as is their custom to this very day.

Afterward, he went back to Maine and worked in his mine and sold his Feldspar and sat on his porch and played his music and laughed and sang with his friends, just as he always had and in time his children grew up and would bring their children to see him.

They would look at his dark hair, which was unusual for an old man and sometimes they would fall asleep in the bedroom next to the porch listening to his singing . And then he would lay down his banjo and he would lie down next to the woman with the long black hair from Maine.

And he would dream of a land far away where mountains hid behind other mountains and where cows wandered back home for miles each evening through thick forests and where the laughter of children and the voices of the townspeople greeted one another like music echoing down the winding streets and fell softly on the pink ears of the old men sitting on benches in the late afternoon sun.

“Take a RIGHT!”

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 3.19.50 PMI once got into a fight outside the Tin Palace in 1975 when I was a cab driver.

But he hit me first.

It was about four o’clock on a hot summer afternoon and I was headed up the east side of Sixth Avenue when a young man came dashing toward the street waving his arms frantically. Usually, when someone is too anxious to hail a cab, it can be trouble. Heedless of trouble, I pulled over. He got in the back seat. I pulled away from the curb.

Where to?” I asked.

“TAKE A RIGHT–TAKE A RIGHT!!”

I had been driving a cab in New York City long enough to know that there was no right turn for a few blocks and continued driving casually up the avenue.

“Really….where would you like to go?”, I asked again.

He said the Tin Palace.

I knew where that was and in about eight minutes we were there. I looked at the meter. It was $1.65. He got out without paying and started for the door. I threw it in park and got right out and went after him.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”, I asked him.

“What are you talking about?” he said.

“We had a bet coming across town and YOU lost….”

We stepped out of the doorway onto the sidewalk and I asked his name.

“Bruce”, he said.

“Look Bruce,” I said, “….it’s going to be a long night. Why don’t you just pay the fare and let me go on my way?”

He handed me a dollar.

“It’s $1.65,” I said.

He took out another dollar and said, “I’ll match you for it.”

I just looked at him in exasperation. He threw the dollar bill onto the ground and then he said, “Pick it up.”

I was beginning to lose patience. “No….YOU pick it up”, I told him.

“No, YOU!” he insisted.

I reached out and grasped his sleeve with my right hand and gently but firmly tugged his arm in the direction of the money. Then, with his left arm, he swung and hit me in the face with his fist. I backed away from him and assumed a fighting pose.

He did the same.

He was standing there with his fists clenched and holding them in front of his chest.

“I could kick this guy in the balls and it would all be over”, I thought.

But being a nice guy, I decided to kick him in the stomach instead. ( I wore combat boots in those days). He grasped his stomach and doubled over. I rushed toward him and grabbed him with both hands and slammed him into the side of the cab.

He went down.

I took a couple of steps back and then rushed forward and kicked him as hard as I could in the side. That’s when I noticed all the faces in the window. They had been watching. I always liked having an audience.

I decided to get back into my cab and drive away when I noticed his wallet lying on the ground.

I picked it up and threw it as hard as I could.

It landed in the middle of the street about fifty feet in front of my cab. The engine was still running. He got up and stumbled toward his wallet. Just as he was about to pick it up, I jumped back in my cab and stomped on the accelerator.

Then I screeched to a halt, my bumper and headllight just a foot from his face. He was on his knees.

Before driving off, I spoke to him through the open window. “Don’t EVER mess with a cab driver.

 

 

I still have that last dollar which is stretched and ripped in half.

Photo: Carin Dreschler-Marx, 1981.