The Legend

It all started before the fire.

For months, the man had kicked his spouse awake with the same recurring nightmare. In the dream, he arrives at Times Square in New York City on the Number 2 train he had boarded at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn. He is the first violinist and founding member of the respected Arch String Quartet. He maintains a blossoming parallel career as a soloist and chamber musician. He is at the peak of his profession. His violin is a 1735 Guarneri del Gesù violin, a long-term loan from the Gothamburg Family Trust for the Arts. The Strad magazine judged his instrument one of the finest examples of the Golden Age of Cremonese violin-making. It is insured for eight million dollars.

In the nightmare, the man is wearing a suit and carrying his violin case. He changes to the 42nd Street Shuttle to Grand Central Station; but when he arrives at the end of the Shuttle tunnel, there are no stairwells, only a gaping hole in the floor thirty feet above the Lexington Avenue IRT tracks. He can see a train in the station on the express tracks. Wherever he looks, there are shattered walls, twisted girders, and piles of broken concrete. On the other side of a pile of rubble, he sees a column of people, six-deep, walking in orderly lock-step fashion. They look odd, but secure, as if there is a destination in their step.

Standing in the wreckage-strewn subway concourse, he weighs whether to join the line. He notices that all the travelers’ heads are covered with brown paper bags. Their other accouterments are typical of urban commuters—backpacks, folded newspapers, books, cell phones, purses, shoulder bags, rolling luggage, umbrellas. But unlike New Yorkers, this file of sojourners walks with military precision up a steep temporary wooden ramp. Their footsteps kick up a fine white dust.

Ah, the dust must be why they are wearing paper bags on their heads. It’s also why they are marching in step: they can’t see. That’s it. They can’t see where they’re going. Blind mice.

In the dream, he pulls a white handkerchief from his suit jacket and ties it over his mouth and nose. It’s then that he becomes aware of a droning sound. The marchers are humming. The enveloping paper bags give the sound a buzzing quality. He can discern no tune, only a continuous monotone buzz—maddening in its sameness.

No one in the moving line seems to notice that the station has been bombed or suffered a catastrophic structural failure. If they do, they give no indication of anything unusual. They ignore the collapsed walls and piles of rubble. They march on.

Just like blasé, thick-skinned New Yorkers. Or maybe some authority has forced them to don the paper bags so they wouldn’t see the extent of whatever happened here.

Just then, in the dream, he loses his New York cool. Suddenly, a panic attack. There is no place to run. No escape. His heart pounds erratically.  His mouth is dry, his throat parched, his shirt soaked with sweat.

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Streets of Gold

I was beyond broke. I kept staring at the dime and the nickel, my total worth: net, gross and real. Fifteen cents, the cost of one 1967 New York City subway token. As the Wall Street types say, that was my liquid.

I had fifteen hours until I would be evicted from my SRO flop on West 71st Street. I lay on my bed, stomach growling, as I heard the night clerk shove the eviction notice under my door. I would have until noon tomorrow to pay. No pay, no room.  I was already a week behind in my $12.50 a week rent. I’d let management hold my passport against my past-due rent. I’d hocked all my musical instruments except my soprano clarinets. If I did get a show gig, I would have to borrow some saxophones and flutes or rent them. I knew that if I were homeless, someone would steal my clarinets and then I was doomed. When I came to the Big Apple seeking my fortune in the concert music business, homelessness in Mayor John Lindsay’s crumbling New York City was not on my agenda. My family refused to loan me money: “You could have been a doctor.” The intake worker at unemployment said I hadn’t worked enough freelance gigs to qualify for benefits. She told me that the day after I spent six hours playing in the subway, which netted a mere twenty-two dollars and eighty-two cents.

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A Brooklyn Tale

Mine was a humble arrival in the most famous of America’s boroughs. I entered Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York in a rental car. I had been offered the car free if I would drive it to JFK from Chicago.  My liquidity was $600 cash, a backpack of tattered clothes, art supplies, and the promise of an apartment to sit while its occupants were on honeymoon. I would have ten days to find a place to live. It was 1982, the depths of the Reagan recession and eight months shy of my fortieth birthday.

Park Slope was still home to working class Irish and Puerto Ricans, but it was undergoing rapid gentrification. Every week, another real estate company opened on Seventh Avenue, Park Slope’s commercial hub. Mostly the neighborhood consisted of chopped up Gilded Age brownstones, rent-controlled tenements, and abandoned homes repurposed as hangouts for desperadoes and drug addicts.  It was a neighborhood in transition, still mostly working class and poor, but the inexpensive housing and proximity to Manhattan were an irresistible magnet for all manner of wannabe twenty-somethings: musicians, artists, illustrators, writers, playwrights, dancers, painters, sculptors, directors, actors, models…. There were a few well-known writers, musicians, and film people living on the Slope, but most incoming residents were ambitious career entrants.

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Darcy Eastland

He was the oldest person attending the wedding and reception. His brother Nick, the groom’s father, was only ten months younger than himself. His youngest brother Jack, five years his junior, was still the third oldest person there. Except for the groom’s extended family, the majority of the attendees were equally split between twenty-somethings and early-middle-aged relatives of the groom’s mother. To him the younger women, contemporaries of the bride, all sounded as if they were breathing helium. In addition to high inarticulate voices, their conversations were filled with up-talk, conjunctions conjoined to conjunctions and OMG’s in various flavors.

He was not drinking. He had been dry for three months and this was his first social gathering. He’d flown in from Paris, not so much for the wedding, but to be together with his brothers for probably the last time. The previous time they had all been together was fifteen years ago at their mother’s funeral.

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The Butterfly Effect

This is my first creative non-fiction story. It was published in the multi-media magazine Mad Hatters’ Review (Issue 13, May 2012; homepage). The Butterfly Effect was a designated “Notable Story” by storySouth Million Writers Award.

Click on the magazine cover to hear/read my story. (The printed version is updated from the earlier read version.) Elsewhere in the issue is my music Mouth Parts, performed in Paris by Trio Rare < here >

mad-hatters-review-issue-13-copy

Black Widow

He had become an accessory to a murder. He didn’t drive the getaway car, didn’t arrange the setup, didn’t provide the weapon, and didn’t know the victim. He had unwittingly provided an alibi for the murderer. And all because of a chance encounter. Out of the blue. It was, he thought, a kismet of the most unusual kind. It happened on a bridge, the Pont Neuf in Paris, on a cold, foggy night.

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How Was Your Afternoon, Dear? Reading, with Sound Design:

The publisher of PANK asks all the authors to read their stories. I recorded myself reading How Was Your Afternoon, Dearwhich was published in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of PANK magazine online.  To hear me read the story with my sound design and music, click here and click on the audio play button.

 

Reckonings: A Western

The angry man drove into the setting sun.  He was tired and fought to keep his ‘69 Volkswagen squareback from skidding off the unplowed snow-covered road. He slapped the steering wheel mouthing a vulgarity when he lost control of the car.  Why did he agree to drive his estranged wife from Chicago to her sister’s home in Los Angeles? Their marriage was over. Why this last chivalry?

According to his wife, there was a small county park where they could car-camp for the night off this side road. That wife was sick with the flu, sleeping in the back of the car. They had spent the first night in a similar park in Oklahoma. Now he was on a narrow back road looking for the park twenty miles off I-40, west of Albuquerque. He had been driving for twelve hours and had to piss.

To make extra money for her move to Los Angles, his wife took a job substitute teaching in a Chicago junior high school between Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations. She caught a virulent flu from her charges.  Even though, as she claimed, she was being “extra careful” because she knew she was coming down with something, she lost her wallet with her driver’s license. She couldn’t help with the driving. But nothing could protect her from the approaching full moon in Ares. She was in for a spate of turbulent times. No amount of precaution could stop the power of the cosmos. What bull shit. She was an idiot. Astrology crap drove him crazy. It excused all sorts of nonsensical behavior. Now he could feel the flu coming on: scratchy throat, fever, headache, stomach cramps. He slammed the steering wheel with his palm and cursed his wife.

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Showtime

A man in a black wool overcoat stood at an ATM in the lobby of a bank on Broadway. A black and white Shetland collie sat at his right foot. It was after 1 a.m. The man withdrew $100, put the money in a trifold wallet, and returned the wallet to the inside breast pocket of his tuxedo. The man snapped his thumb and middle finger. The dog, ever alert to his master’s movements, walked out of the bank lobby, his head even with the man’s right knee.

Man and dog walked two blocks down Broadway to a produce market. The man purchased a Gala apple and a Bosc pear. The store clerk, a sullen man, put the purchases in a small plastic bag.
—No dog in store.
The man ignored the clerk.
—Every night the same. Next time, no dog in store.
The man turned and left the store, the dog heeled next to his right knee.

The man and dog continued down Broadway. Near the corner of 79th Street, the man stopped. In the window of a women’s boutique, stood five naked, bald mannequins.  A lithe, athletic woman, early thirties, was dressing the mannequins. The window display lights were not on. The only light was a bare bulb in a clamp lamp attached to the back of a metal folding chair. The store specialized in women’s dance and exercise wear. It was called Femme Nikki.

Man and dog watched as the window-dresser removed an exercise garment from her body and put it on a mannequin. After she dressed the mannequin, the woman seductively removed another layer of clothing and dressed the next mannequin. When all five mannequins were attired, the woman wore only a scanty white leotard. The striptease took a half hour. At no time did the window dresser make eye contact with the man or the dog. But before she left the window, the woman looked upon her observers, waved, and switched off the light. The dog barked once, jumping against the window. The man snapped his finger and the dog trotted to his post at his master’s right knee.

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