Wednesday, September 1, 2010

#155 – DEATH ON 25th STREET

One night I came back and found bright lights – like lights you see when a feature film is being made on location – such lights now playing on the four story building with the concrete Venetian-like facade where I lived at this time. On the steps leading up to the entrance there was a small man whom I had seen on the local evening news, and he is in the bright light holding a microphone and reporting something that has him excited, something about someone being stabbed. I make my way past the TV guy, wondering if I am on television, then enter to a downstairs partially roped off with those yellow police lines tapes. And there is a strange odor, this being the time that I identified the smell of blood so clearly that I knew I had smelled it before. This killing right her in my amusing building.

From TV in my apartment I learn the killing was done by a young male hustler who slashed up the elderly, and apparently kindly, retired teacher in the downstairs front apartment, this man who had tended the building’s back garden up to the point where he had to spent most of his life in a wheelchair. This man, the journalists quickly discovered, was in an organization called NAMBLA, actually one of it founding members, NAMBLA standing for North American Man/Boy Love, in other words an organization for men who prey on young males, which seems to explain the murder.

Already on TV the story is getting bigger and more awful, for the young guy who slashed up the old man is on the run, heading down the East Coast, pausing to phone in reports to the TV stations, telling whoever answers he is glad he did the killing, that all his life he had been molested, and now that he has killed once he feels so good that he will kill again. He called in from Pennsylvania, and Delaware, and they finally picked him up when his bus got to Baltimore.

And I flash quickly on a scene in a drawing room of an old Pullman car going up the single track to the White Mountains when I am not quite two years old. The drawing room, a big corner compartment, is in chaos. Moaning and screaming. My Southern grandmother is talking away, and my mother is sunk in despair, her head in her hands, and my brother the good twin is red-faced and horse from screaming. I am sitting on an upper bunk that was pulled down from the ceiling earlier. It feels very high up. My legs are dangling over the side. And on the wall behind me is a button that I somehow know will summon help if I push it, though I can’t, I am that paralyzed. And I smell what I now know was fresh blood before darkness closes over the memory.

And it does not feel particularly strange that there should be a horrible murder here in this gentle-seeming place where I now have a bright apartment with a view from above the back garden almost all the way down the Battery. This amusing apartment: lots of sun coming in from the south; you enter through a small kitchen and go down a step to the living room that, since it is virtually the same room as the kitchen, seems quite spacious. And I have this view to the south past the trunk of the tree growing up from the garden. This place that seems to perfectly fit the new life I am in that has come from questioning everything, this place where I made love to Gillian – it had felt like love – in the final hours of our time. The building’s front has what can only be a Venetian façade, small balconies on each floor. Seem from the street each balcony has what could be a Byzantine pattern in concrete that resembles iron or lattice work – the sort of stone or concrete simulated lattice work that you might see in Italy on balconies that get the intense southern sun, but the front of my building gets the far less bright light that comes form the north. The makeup of the building is a little like the makeup of my old Aqua Mustang, a car designed to simulate a sports car but though it convertible top can never come down since is a hard top, and though I have a gauge on the dashboard that shows me how fast the engine is turning over, a gauge essential for high speed shifting of gears, the Mustang has an automatic gear shift, meaning I could not shift gears to match changing speeds in a race even if I wanted to.

The TV correspondent that I recognize I remember well from four years back in life when my stepson’s public school middle school graduation was held for some reason in the awe-inspiring Riverside Church – which till then I had known only as a center for anti-war agitation in Vietnam days. This little TV guy was up there in what I took to be a pulpit giving the most mundane motivational advice that kids should be good kids and study hard and stay out of trouble. And that silliness seemed to fit with the murder and also the Venetian façade, and the Aqua Mustang too. And there was more.

I had wound up on this block at a time I was sleeping on people’s couches right after the end of a marriage that not only went wrong but in retrospect seemed to have been doomed for its entire seven-year duration. A very old friend of mine from many years back, who had been with me on a high school age summer exchange program in Holland, had a friend living on this block of 25th Street between 8th and 7th – a part of town I knew before now only from quite a few years ago when there was a big dark place on the corner called the Egyptian Garden and I had had one of those intense affairs – this time with a girl named Barbara who by day was a nice Jewish graduate student at Hunter and by night a super-sinewy belly dancer under the name Princess Aisha in a time still before the time that belly dancing was brought into the daylight as something entailing health and enlightenment. It was very near where I was living now, A stone's throw away was where there had been an upstairs after-hours place, where they looked at you through a small panel in the door before letting you in. I got in because I as with a locally well known belly dancer, and then you could spend the rest of the night drinking ouzo fast from tea cups.

The day after the killing I cross the street to speak with Lois’s friend Horace, the person who had sent out word that there was a room to rent in his building, a room that put me in the right place when the rent stabilized apartment I was now in became available. Horace worked all the time at home some sort of educational writing with which he and Lois were involved. Working all the time while his quite pretty wife Constance stood by, often with a glass in her hand. He had heard about the murder and the NAMBLA thing, he said. He said there was a lot to be said for North American Man/Boy Love, that these relationships were often good for the young guys.

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