ANTHONY MUNDINE is a very good boxer. One time he was ranked twenty-sixth in the world by the WBC. That doesn’t sound very high, but it is. His record was 10-0 with eight solid knockouts. Often times a super middleweight provides little to watch. They aren’t as quick as the lighter middleweights or welterweights and don’t pack the hard punches of the real strong heavyweights. But sometimes they really give you your money’s worth.
Last night Anthony Mundine lost all of his rankings. The same day Oklahoma lost its place in the BCS, losing big to Nebraska in Lincoln. I had thirty dollars on that one and lost it. That is the way college football goes. It all works on this poll ranking system. It confuses most people but some get it. It takes many things into consideration like record and strength of schedule. The WBC takes things into consideration too, like what comes out of your mouth.
Anthony Mundine said that America got what it had coming. He is a Muslim from Australia. Before boxing he had been a pretty good rugby player. Americans don’t know the first thing about rugby and would like to keep it that way. They don’t know much about Islam either, but that is changing. Mundine became a Muslim because he thought it would make him more like Muhammed Ali. Now the WBC says he will never be Ali. No one will stay champ long enough to be anything close to Ali anyway but the WBC isn’t taking any chances on kids with big mouths. The IBF doesn’t care about that though. Over at the IBF they have him ranked eleventh in the world. That isn’t bad at all, especially for a Muslim from Australia. It wouldn’t be bad except that no one in the world gives a damn about the IBF. It’s got about as much opinion as Rolling Stone.
I sat at the bar alone at Rive Gauche and drank a cold Artois from the bottle and read this in the New York Times. The cold weather had started to come on strong in the last few days and the darkness was here earlier and earlier. The bar was very quiet and pleasant and I finished the beer and lit a cigarette. The paper was a decent read so far and took my mind off the office and all the talking for a while until I ran into another article about the whole thing I had worked to forget.
Last week a Saudi prince had been in New York to give a big check to the mayor. He smiled real nice on camera and now the paper had him making his own kind of remark that America had it coming to them and they really should get to know what is going on in the rest of world. He said it plain and simple that now America was like the rest of the world. Nobody here likes that kind of talk. The check was returned and the prince was back home now, sipping tea and maybe watching us all on satellite television. I had seen something on television about him doing that before, in the desert with all his pals and a whole mess of television sets and some rugs and tea.
I ordered another beer and spread the paper out over the wooden bar. I hoped hard that the sports pages could be better. There was some good news on the late season horse racing and early season football. There was also a nice sized article about boxing in the back of the section. I saved it until the end, thinking it would be something good. When I had finished reading about the looks for the Breeder’s Cup and the Giant’s tight loss I found and then read the latest article about Mundine.
The rest of the news read pretty boring and I was anxious to see what Mundine had to say now. In the article he said that he had been misunderstood and that the press had messed up everything for him. He said his heart was with the dead people and that the man in the papers was not the real him. His trainer said the same kind of things. I mean what the hell. They wouldn’t let Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame for gambling. He never changed his story though. The prince still hadn’t said he was sorry for anything. I drank the beer down and read on that the boxer wanted another shot. He wanted another shot and thought he deserved it, like Ali might. Ali never apologized though. That just wasn’t his style.
I folded the paper and took a drag and a long sip from the bottle. It was dark outside and by the sound of the wind the cold had set in. There was one more football game tonight so I grabbed my coat and walked home. Maybe it would be a good one and there would be some big hits.
The next day at the office was nothing. Tuesdays usually go like that. It went smoothly and I avoided all the conversations I could on the way back and forth from the bathroom. I had some papers to get out if I wanted to leave the office on time today. There were a lot of invoices and I had to go through every one of them. I had most of them done early and I got a lot of work done even before lunch. It is a good thing to have the work under you before lunch. I knew the rest of the day could slide downhill and I would have a decent shot at leaving right on time.
The conversations kept you from ever leaving on time. The women at the office always wanted to stop me and start talking. I think it helped break up their workday. All the old women ever wanted to talk about now was how many bodies were still down there underneath the piles of buildings and what brave men all those cops were to rush into the scene like that. It had been over a month and none of the women or men wanted to stop talking about it, like it helped to make it all go down better and feel good on the inside when you talked it all out. It was like a leaky faucet to me. The whole show was some faucet and their mouths too. It was like the kind that even when you twisted the wrench hard right, it kept dripping out like drip, drip, drip.
People have always talked about where they were when John Kennedy was shot in that limo ride. My old man even talked like that. He used to tell it over and over to me like it was a war story or something. I never did understand that. You were just where you were when you were there. It seemed pretty simple to me. The women at the office wanted to talk like that now. I think some of the men did too. One guy told me when I came out of the bathroom last week how our innocence was lost. He said all of our innocence had been lost. I thought those were pretty big words that didn’t mean anything to me. He said it was a big symbol for something. I can’t remember what he said it was a symbol for. I was getting a drink of water and he was still talking and then said it was a symbol we could all take stock in. All together, I thought it sounded like a pretty good story for him.
There was no story for me to tell. I had no idea where I was when those planes smacked right through the towers downtown. Maybe I was asleep. I don’t really remember. I could have been on the street on Second Avenue. When I had thought about it for a while I reasoned out that I probably was in the train station down on the platform waiting for the 6 to come. I really had no idea about that thing though.
By the time I had gotten up into the office that day, the second building was already falling down on itself in a big cloud of smoke and dirt. A lot of the men and women were in my office because I had a television. It didn’t seem like a real thing. It was just pictures on the screen, like a movie and something awful but not real. You couldn’t believe it and it was not real. The news made it worse, with them talking on and on like that. Then there was the scene where the first plane came flying in over top. Someone had shot it on their own personal camera. That had made it feel pretty real. I stopped watching after that. I had put my head down and then turned around to leave. All of the people were still in my office. The women had their hands over their mouths and then one by one they all started to cry real loud.
All of that was over now. Not the news, but the rest of it. The crying had been over for some time. The talking didn’t stop though. You couldn’t stop the talking or the news. All you could do was avoid it. The news was an easier thing to miss. You just shut it right off. People were much harder but you could still do it.
In the last week I found a new place to escape to at Barclay’s. It was a good, quiet spot that you could use during the day. The place was close to the office and had a small lounge in the back where you could smoke and get some coffee. The front end was a cigar store. It was as good a smoke shop as any, and I decided to go there when I could feel the talk creeping up late in the afternoon. Most days were ike that. Today was starting to be just like that.
Inside the place smelled like cedar and the smooth, dry flavor of cigars and good smoke. I bought a small one, had it clipped then lit and went to the back sitting room. I poured some coffee with the milk and sugar and found a seat on one of the big leather chairs that faced away from the mounted television. The cigar was good and the room was quiet. I enjoyed watching the smoke rise up and I smoked on for a while in the soft emptiness of the room. The cigar took all of the office away and I thought about tonight and the plans for downtown with my pals and the fun and the dancing and all of the drinks and the girls.
I had smoked for a while before I started to drift. The warmth of the coffee and the milk was working on me and my eyes went heavy. I put the cigar in the tray and leaned back.
When I woke, it was to the talk of several men in the room. They were sitting on the couch together and in the other two chairs. All of them were smoking and looking up at the television through the clouds of heavy smoke while they talked. They were all older business men in suits and one of them looked like a doorman. His uniform said he was from the Waldorf. I could hear the television and it was an address from a defense secretary or general and I tried to close my eyes again.
“These damn generals better get some balls and stop wasting time,” I heard one of the men say. The man was the oldest one there and had white-grey hair and no tie and had hung his jacket up on the wall.
“They’ll do the right thing,” another one of them said.
“They better. We don’t need another Saddam running around loose. His father messed that one up for us you know.”
“That’s right,” the other man said.
“You know,” a third man started talking. He was the shop keeper. He had on a dark blue suit and was smoking the big Churchill he had when I came in. “This really is our fault anyway.”
“How you figure something like that,” the old man said.
“We’re the ones letting all of these damn terrorists in and out of our country. We pretend we’re all free and easy and look what happens. Those filthy bastards turn around and laugh at us.”
“You got it,” the second man said and took a long drag.
“How you go and get an idea like that?” the old one asked again.
“Come on. Those bastards trained right here in our own country. We should be holding every last one of them at the border. Anyone who looks like a filthy Middle Easterner or Pakistani or whatever you call them. We should hold them in a cell, woman, kid, man, no difference, until they prove who they are and why they deserve to be here anyway.”
“Now that’s the real idea,” the second one said.
I had my eyes opened now and watched them without looking. The quiet joy of the room and the cigar were gone. I tried hard to close my eyes. They didn’t close. It was still too soon to go back to the office. I lit the cigar again and took in some smoke, leaned my head back and blew it up and watched it curl up towards the ceiling until I lost it. When they saw me watching after a while, the old one and the second man who was younger with a sharp suit and dark balding hair, nodded at me. I nodded back. Then they went back to the television.
“I’ve been over there you know,” the sharp dressed one said. “Yep, I’ve been there. I spent a while in Egypt on business, doing some deals a few years ago. Let me tell you they are just a different people.”
“It’s a different world over there all together,” old man said.
“I know it. They aren’t like us one bit,” the sharp one said.
“No, not at all,” the shop keeper said. They were all still looking up at the screen. “You should see the way they treat their women and the things they do there. There is nothing like a third world country to see.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” the sharp dressed one went on.
“They got no place in this country. We should hold them all and not let everyone of them in like it’s their fucking right or something.”
“Now you’re really onto something.”
“You know these Indians and Afghani’s have more rights in this country than an African-American?” the second one said.
“Isn’t that funny,” the shop keeper smiled.
“They do, they got more rights than one of them.”
“Now where you going,” the old one said.
“You can just pull over a Black man anytime you feel like it down there in Florida where those terrorists were learning to fly. You can pull them over just for driving a shiny new car.”
“Oh, don’t get me started there.”
“Hell, I’ll listen to you friend, but don’t go talking up the niggers now. They are a whole other problem.”
“I’m just saying, these Indians and such got more rights than a tax paying Black man that’s all.”
“I bet the niggers are happy as a pig in the mud right now. Let’s go and start dealing with all of these filthy Muslim bastards but those niggers are a long term problem. We should have never let them in our country either.”
“He’s right you know,” the doorman said.
“They think they made it just because they can play ball and act like us now. You watch it. These Muslims will start doing the same before too long. You just watch it.”
All of the men were smiling at this. The speaker on the television said he promised a quick set of new air strikes and the minimal loss of lives. He said that this was a war on terrorism and that the whole world was behind it. He said a lot more things and sounded real good and strong and the men watched and smiled as he spoke. I sat there and didn’t look at them or the television and just watched the smoke curling up into the air as I let it out.
“But you know,” the old one started in again after a while. “He’s right. But if it was me, I’d do it all different.”
“Would you now? And how’s that?”
“I’d just get some of those old bio-chemical containers we took off Saddam and fill them right up. Fill them right to the top with some real mean shit. Then I’d roll them into Afghanistan and that would be then end of that.”
“The end of what?”
“You know they are training little kids now over there. We could wipe them all out just like that.”
“No, that’s not it at all,” the sharp one said.
“Sure it is. And they would have Iraq written across the side of every container,” the old one laughed.
“Now that’s a real plan,” the doorman laughed too.
“And no one would say a thing about it,” the third man said. “Everyone would just back us right up.”
“But you know,” the old man said. “None of this would be necessary if it wasn’t for those stupid Brits. Some friends they are. We wouldn’t have any of these problems if they’d just taken care of their business.”
“I want to hear this,” the sharp one said and then he sat up in his chair.
“It was the stupid Brits who marched right into India and made them all hate us. They couldn’t get the job done over there and walked right out and handed the keys to those filthy savages. They just handed them the keys you know.”
“It’s their fault. Gandhi and his poor-man strut and the whole damn thing. They should have killed them all before they left and none of this would be happening. You don’t just walk out and leave them running the place after all those years. You just don’t do it like that.”
I opened my eyes and looked around when I heard the old one say that. The rest of the men were silent and then after a while they all started to laugh. The old one looked at me and nodded. I didn’t move. I sat there and smoked the rest of my cigar. It was getting late and I stood up and straightened out my pants and finished down the rest of the warm coffee and walked out into the cold and back to the office.
The rest of the day went pretty easy and I left the office around six. I cleaned up at home and read a few articles in Sports Illustrated. There was an ok one about college football but I had no interest in the two teams and stopped reading after a little while. Then I changed clothes and headed downtown for dinner. After dinner, I took a cab with Thomas and his friend Mandip. We met up with the rest of our pals at Joe’s Pub to hear one of Thomas’ DJs, and the place was filled up and hot.
It was filled but not like it was supposed to be. This was a bad thing for the DJ, but not for the rest of us. It all depended on how you looked at it. It was one of those things. People had already stopped coming out in the last month. I didn’t care about that. There were no lines and it left room for us to sit. There were only a few girls though and we sat over next to the ones who were there and ordered the drinks.
The place was warm and darkened and a good joint to see a show in. The DJ is up on the stage and it makes him put on a real show, with the people watching and everything. Tonight they all had their eyes on him, and our friend was putting on a good show up there. He was deep into some smoothed our drum ‘n bass after playing several Indian songs and the whole vibe was on, people swaying and nodding and I leaned back deep into the soft couch and lit a cigarette.
The dinner had been good and I was full and happy again with the drinks. The big words and the news had slipped away. I closed my eyes and let it all slip down and away. I sat back and soaked it all in and didn’t have to say a thing. The music was coming on strong and a few of the people even started to move. The music was exotic and the crowd was really into it now. It was good to see people dance again and I watched them for a while. Then I was off watching a brunette sitting across on a couch lighting her cigarette and I knew this could be a good night.
“He’s killing it tonight isn’t he,” Mandip leaned over and talked loudly in my ear.
“He’s doing his thing.”
“No, man he’s really killing them now.”
“Sure, he’s doing it good up there. Too bad there isn’t a bigger crowd for him,” I said.
“It’s no big thing. He’s working it anyway,” Thomas said.
“So how was the work today.”
“The same,” I told them.
“Nothing at the office? Nothing doing?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Except for that one over there.” I pointed to the girl and changed the subject.
“Ah yes, nothing wrong with that one,” Mandip smiled.
“Healthy, real healthy,” Thomas said.
When Thomas wasn’t flying back and forth from Las Vegas or Texas he was getting our man on stage his gigs. He said it was hard work and that he was making sure this new management thing went well. Times were hard now though, he said. All of the flying had stopped. In the cab he had told me it was all benefits and fundraisers now for the victims. It was a real shame, I thought, and took away any real shows from him. Thomas said all these people wanted our man to perform for free and give his time to one benefit or another down or across town. And you could forget about going oversees now he told me. That was a real shame to me. I thought he was good at what he did but there was no work now for him that paid any real money. It’s a shame to be good and have no real work. Benefits meant you didn’t get paid, Thomas told me. You didn’t get paid and they said all the money went down there. It probably did. Still, you can’t go on doing these benefits, Thomas said. It didn’t help one bit he was named Sandeep. No, that shit didn’t help one bit. It was about as good for business as his turban was. Yes, that was some awful shit at a time like this, Thomas told me. He said that made it into a real bad thing at a time like this.
The waitress brought another round of drinks and we lifted them and smiled and knocked glasses and all took real long sips and put them down on the glass table. I lit Thomas’ cigarette and we sat back and watched three girls come into the bar and sit down at a corner table.
“I got that kid Maneesh a gig last Saturday,” Thomas said.
“It was awful man,” he said. “Real awful.”
“You don’t even want to know. It was some hall down on 14th Street for Communists.”
“No, for real. Mandip was there.”
“Terrible place man, it was real funny over there.” Mandip laughed.
“There are still Communists?” I asked.
“You wouldn’t even believe it. There were all of these Socialist speakers. They were rallying on and on about Tom Ridge and hunting off liberals in Indonesia and South Africa. It was some real wild shit.”
“You got to get some new clients,” Mandip told him.
“Tell me about it,” he laughed.
“Yeah, no good messing with our kind.”
“No one wants to let us brown people work,” he laughed again and clapped Mandip on the arm.
I smiled and then wanted to say something so I asked how his guy did.
“Oh, he was real fine. He didn’t care about it at all. He just got up there and played the guitar and they rocked pretty hard and everyone looked at them like they were real crazy.”
“At least we were safe there. Those Communists got nothing on us,” Mandip smiled. I smiled and didn’t have anything else to say so I went off again watching the corner table and the girls.
Sandeep finished his set and another DJ took over and he came over to sit with us. He had to work his way through a small crowd of people who wanted to talk to him. It must be a good life when it goes well, I thought. Not anything like the office and the same thing all the time.
When he came over we shook hands and smiled and I felt real good from the music and asked him if he wanted a drink. He told me he didn’t drink. I had forgotten all about that and felt pretty dumb. He brought over a few girls with him and we all talked and smiled and I couldn’t hear most of what they said but I just kept on smiling and drinking and listening hard. One of the girls was a writer for the Times and another was from a publicity firm and the other I didn’t hear about. She was the prettiest and had on a tight white sweater and I moved over to her and bought her a drink and another round for me and Thomas and we all smoked some more and laughed and then listened as the DJ switched into something we knew and we are all lost in it, nodding along on the couch.
When we were bored of the place we all got into a cab and went further downtown. Mandip went his own way with the publicity girl and it was down to the five of us. We ended up at Washington Street and a small, loud club. The place was new to me. It was real dark inside and we all went in and found a group of seats near the bar. The show was in the other room with the dance floor. The music really pounded though and you didn’t have to go into the main room to hear it. The music was shaking the walls. We sat on in the bar under the dim lights and Thomas and I talked about boxing while the girls went into something all their own.
When I looked around after a while Sandeep was gone. We went back to talking and this time Thomas bought a round. We said cheers with the girls and I knew there could really be some fun tonight if this all held up. Thomas switched places and it was even and I sat next to the pretty one I liked. She told me her name was Tabatha and we talked while she drank her wine and I sipped at my drink. I lit her cigarette and we smoked as the music went louder and the talking was held off. I saw Sandeep then walking back to the far room. I guessed he wanted to check out all of the DJs. Thomas said it was hard for him to sit still and it made it all the better for me anyway since it was even with the girls now. I smoked on and listened and wondered how far Mandip’s luck was right now. He was pretty far into lucky by this time, I thought.
It was some time before Sandeep came back and sat down with us. A friend of his had been doing a set downstairs and he filled Thomas in on the music. Thomas was pretty far gone now and I was getting close to it. I listened to our friend talk about the music and put my hand on the girl’s leg. She didn’t move so I kept it there and then she leaned over and put her head down on my shoulder.
After a while Sandeep was pretty bored he said. He wanted to go down the street and see what was doing at another place. It was an ok place and I had been there a few times. It was pretty close but Thomas didn’t want to move and neither did the two girls. Sandeep asked me if I could go with him. I didn’t want to leave either. The thing with the girl was going alright and I wanted to keep it just like that. He promised it wouldn’t take long and that the other place was real close across the street. I knew it was close. I knew right where it was. That had nothing to do with it.
We sat there for a while like that and listened as the music went on. The girl looked sleepy and she reached out and held my hand while I smoked and listened. Sandeep kept on pressing me and asking if we could just go for a few minutes. I didn’t want to move. He told me then it would mean a lot to him and he didn’t want to go alone. He didn’t want to go alone and got a weird look about it. He said it again a few times. Then I figured what the hell when I knew Thomas was already pretty gone after all the drinks. I stood up with my coat and finished my drink down.
“You’re a real pal,” Thomas told me. “That’s what you are, you’re a real pal.”
Tabatha smiled at that and I saw Thomas’ hand go deeper into his girl’s lap. I thought it would be ok. I told the girl I would be back and kissed her on the cheek and she smiled so I smiled back and I put on my coat and walked out the front of the club and back out into the cold night.
The next place was called Apt. It was modeled just like someone’s apartment and used to be more chic, but now had lost some of that appeal. The actors and models had moved onto a different party more downtown. It was still a good enough place though and it was just up the street, around the corner off Washington.
The cold woke me up a bit but my head was already a pretty gone. I thought about the girl and hoped this didn’t take too long. Still, I told myself it was good to see the action at another place. I went right on telling myself that one. As long as I didn’t lose the girl it could all go ok. I didn’t know him too well and knew it could be some real fun to be out with someone new like him. And besides, I went on telling myself, the more places you stacked up in the night always made the next day at work go a lot easier. It made it better and made you feel like at least you won something the night before.
Inside the joint was steamy after the cold. We went down the stairs and across the small room to the backside. We found some stools lined against the long center table and sat down. I lit a cigarette and we watched the crowd.
“This place is alright tonight,” I told him.
“Yeah, it can go ok sometimes. I haven’t played here in a while.”
“Which one is your friend?”
“I don’t see him yet. You don’t mind waiting a minute do you?”
“As long as that chick’s still there. You know, Thomas is likely to run off with the both of them.”
“Nah, she’ll hold. They always do. I think she was into you anyway,” he smiled. “Besides, he’s too far gone to be much help to them.”
We both smiled at that.
He gave me some music instructions on what the guy was playing and I bought him a Coke and one for me too. My head was spinning a little and I thought the drinking should be done for a least a while. After we had been talking for a little, he touched me on the arm and pointed with his head over at a group of guys leaning on the wall by the bar where the DJ was set-up.
There were about four guys there, three of them looked white and another one who was Black. They looked like just a couple of regular guys. It was the first I had seen of them.
“Those guys have been staring at us since we sat down in here,” Sandeep leaned over and told me in my ear.
“Well, at me probably. Don’t know what they’d have on you.”
“You sure about that?”
“Yeah I’m sure.”
“They’re staring alright.”
“Man, I don’t think they’re staring.”
“Trust me, those guys are staring.”
“No. Maybe they’re just trying to look like a bunch of tough guys, you know.”
“Hell man, I think I know what it’s like to get stared at,” he said and pointed to his head.
“I didn’t mean anything by it. You know, I just don’t think they’re a thing to worry about.”
“They are fucking fratboys in suits.”
“Those guys are just whatever.”
“They’re still staring you know.”
“Just don’t worry about them.”
“I’m not worried, just telling you that’s all.”
“You think you’re friend is going to show. It’s getting kinda late you know.”
He told me then we should go look upstairs. We crossed the room, in front of the group of guys and I didn’t want to look at them at all. I kept it straight and we walked back up the stairs and across the lobby to the other main room. The room was bigger than downstairs and more filled up. We walked past a few tables and found a seat on a side booth. The room was much better looking than downstairs and it was like you went from one apartment to another, ending at the more expensive one. I finished my coke and ordered some straight rum from the waitress. Sandeep said that his friend was already on and pointed to the back where he was putting on a new record. I nodded and he got up and left me to go talk.
I sat back and lit a cigarette and watched the crowd. There were some interesting things to look at, and a few real cute girls. I looked at my watch. It was almost three. We were only supposed to be gone for a few minutes. That is what he had told me. If he was on his pace, Thomas was asleep or passed out by now. We hadn’t been gone that long but I was already pretty anxious to get back. All I could do was sit here and make the best of it.
When he came back, Sandeep sat down and tapped me again and moved his head to the right. At the entrance to the room were three of the four guys from before. I had forgotten all about them. Now they were back and staring hard. I told him it was no big thing. I said that maybe they knew him from his DJ sets.
“Of course they do. I saw them earlier at Joe’s.”
“See, maybe you got some fans.”
“I got enough fans, and I don’t need them like that.”
“Sure, fans are fans.”
“You don’t get it do you?”
“Get what? Why you getting so tight?”
“I’m not tight. I’m not tight at all. You just don’t get it do you?”
“Yeah sure I get it just fine. You just don’t have to worry so much.”
“You don’t have to worry so much,” he said.
“Yes, let’s not worry so much.”
“You got no idea about this do you?”
“I get it. Just don’t think everybody’s staring at you, that’s all.”
“You been friends with Thomas this long and you don’t get a thing about it.”
I looked down into my drink. I felt pretty bad he was so tight now. I didn’t know what I said. He was just real tight. Maybe he really did know those guys from somewhere, I thought and looked back at them. Maybe he did know them from a show or something. I looked up at them and then at their faces and they looked at me and then turned away and walked over to the bar.
“You get what’s going on don’t you?”
“Sure,” I told him.
“Tell me then, what’s the deal?”
“I get it just fine. Don’t worry.”
“Come on, be a pal and tell me.”
“I get it just fine, I told you.”
“No, tell me. Be a real pal and tell me how it is.”
“Don’t be so tight. I get it all just fine.”
“You think you do, don’t you,” he said.
“I’m not thick you know. I’m not dumb or something.”
“Good,” he said.
“Yeah, I know. I’m just saying that’s all.”
“I know. You’re just saying.”
“Yes, I was just saying, that’s all.”
“Sure, try it saying it sometime when they think you look like one of those idiots. You just try it on for size then.”
“They were just looking, that’s all. You want another Coke?”
“No, I don’t want a Coke. Those guys think I’m one of them. They think I look just like that bastard because I have this turban on my head. They think we’re all the same you know. Now, isn’t that some shit.”
“Sure. It’s a damn shame,” I told him.
“They think I’m some towel head. That’s what they think.”
“They think we’re all the same, like I’m from the same country and we all look just the same to them. They don’t even know the half of it.”
“It’s a shame really.”
“They think we’re all the same and keep looking at me like I flew those planes in.”
“Sure, it’s a real shame. Them staring like that. It’s a real shame,” I said.
“No, it’s not a shame. It’s past that. It’s way past that.”
I didn’t know what to say so I shut up and drank a big, long drink of the rum. It was sweet and burned going down. I drank another long drink. The rum tasted good and took some of it away. I got it just fine. I got all of it. I was sure he didn’t think I got the first thing about it. Sure I did though. I got it. It was all words and big thoughts and you pushed them to a point and then in the end it didn’t make a difference. I got it. You pushed and said a whole lot of things but in the end it all ended the same way and it didn’t make a difference.
I picked up the glass and smelled the rum and then sat the drink back down on the table counter. Sure, I got it just right. I felt bad for him, real bad. He couldn’t get the work he deserved and it was for no good reason. I got that. I looked over at him watching the DJ work. Then I thought about the cigar store and all those things they said there. Those men didn’t get the first thing about it, that’s for sure. But you ask them and they thought they had it just right too. Sure, you ask them and they had it all laid out and clean and simple like when you know something clearly as if it already happened. That is how they had it.
Those men had it just like that. I thought about sitting there and hearing them talk. It was just all words. They said them and they got it all out of the system. They talked some mean shit but that was that. They were like the old women back at the office. They didn’t keep it inside and they felt like they got real far from it if they talked it all out. It made you feel real strong and big like when on a Friday a quarterback tells the papers all the things he’ll do or on a Monday when he tells all the things he should have done. It was just a lot of talk and made you feel good and strong but it never had anything to do with all the things you did.
The music was pushing up louder and I looked down into my drink and then back up at the people and then two girls dancing over in the far corner back by the bathroom. He didn’t know. But I got it just right. Two weeks ago I had been standing around outside the Garden after the Knicks game and these Africans were selling the t-shirts on the street. They had all of the t-shirts set out on these fold-out tables. They had a big crowd around the tables and people were smiling and laughing and everyone was getting the t-shirts and then walking down the escalator to the trains. When I got over to the tables, I had pushed through the line and picked up one of the shirts and held it up. The shirt was a black and white picture of Osamma with a red crosshair on his forehead. I looked over and saw a kid holding up another one that had a big bomb on it and below the bomb it read Afghanistan. Then the African had shouted at me, and I looked up at him and then his handful of dollars while he went on shouting at people. I had put the shirt down then and walked home.
I knew it was just like that. All of these people bought the shirts and smiled and laughed but it didn’t mean a thing. It was just a stupid shirt. It made them feel better. I guess that is something. If it made them feel better that could be something. They couldn’t do anything while the soldiers were over there in the desert hunting down the Taliban. So they bought a t-shirt and tried to make things go ok, or said a whole lot of big, tough things like “Let’s Roll” or what they said over at Barclay’s.
It was like that with my friends too. Not just them, but a whole lot of Indians. I knew Sandeep wasn’t like that though. I looked over then and saw him still watching his friend work on the turntables. No, I couldn’t imagine he was ever a thing like that but plenty of the others were. They bought t-shirts and stickers that had big sayings like “These Colors Don’t Run” and “United We Stand,” on them. It was either like that or they bought the flags. Everyone had the flags now it seemed. They had them in the delis, the storefronts, on trucks and in all the restaurants you ate at. The Afghan restaurant down on Third had a big one across all the windows that had been smashed in.
My friends had the little flags. They didn’t wave them though. They just had them attached to their cars. Some of them also had the shiny little pins. They wore them on their suit lapel or had the red, white, and blue ribbons crossed over and pinned on them. At first, when they had smiled at me with them on it made a dull, sick feeling deep inside me. It looked like the Jews in those black and white films they show on the History channel. They looked like the ones in the camps who had the yellow stars pinned on their dirty suits and dresses. It was just like that. It didn’t make me feel so bad now. I understood it a little. It was how they had it and now the Indians had it just like that too. When they smiled to say hello, having forgotten for a while about those colors pinned on them, I said hello and tried hard as hell to smile back. Something they probably once loved was slipping for good and meant nothing anymore except a desperate plea not to have their walk interrupted.
Sandeep looked over and smiled. His man had done his job alright. The whole place was moving now and some girls in front of us were really getting into it, with their hands all over each other. Sandeep looked over again and I smiled and he nodded. I looked at my watch. We were past late. It was three thirty already. I don’t think the girl would be sitting still over there at this point. Maybe she fell asleep with Thomas or they all passed out at the bar. Either way, it wouldn’t be such a lucky one for me tonight.
“What you think?”
“He doesn’t do it like you do.”
“No, he’s onto his own thing. Not bad though right.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said.
“What you think about getting out of here.”
“Sounds even better to me.”
“Let’s do it then,” he smiled. “I’ll just say bye to my man and then we’re off.”
I told him I’d wait at the door and picked up my coat, crossed the room and went up the stairs. If things held, she could still be there. That was all I could care about now. I was glad his tightness seemed to slip. DJs can be funny like that, I thought. The music seems to alter their moods up and then down. It didn’t matter now, as long as he was cool with me. I had no desire to make any more mistakes talking politics or things like that with friends. That was a real nothing that no one won.
We opened the door and hit the street. The wind had picked up and was howling down the long, empty street. I buttoned up and then raised my collar.
“Damn cold,” he said.
“Sure thing. I could really use some coffee now.”
“Your head hurting?”
“You know an awful lot for a man who doesn’t drink.”
“I got friends,” he laughed. “They got coffee over on the corner at the bodega.”
We started off down the street. The coffee would be good and wake me up for the long cab ride home.
“What you doing tomorrow?”
“I got another gig for something. Thomas can tell you about it.”
“Sure. I was just going to see if there was a fight on.”
“You into the fights?”
“Yeah, love them. Tomorrow they got the Spanish ones.”
“Those skinny little ones?”
“Yeah, still it’s something.”
“Sure, I’m like that with soccer. I’ll watch anything.”
“You can’t be so picky these days.”
“You got it right. What happened with that Muslim kid though?”
“Looks like he’s finished.”
“I was hoping for the best with him.”
“Yeah, damn shame about him,” I said.
“Worse that he changed his story.”
“Tell me about it. I was hoping someone would stick to their guns. Guess he wasn’t the one.”
“That’s for sure. Still he’s not so bad.”
“He’s no Prinse Nas.”
“Now that’s my man. He would never change his story.”
“Not till he gets his ass knocked out,” I told him.
“Nah, he’s been down before. Besides, it’s his style I like.”
“He’s got plenty of that.”
Inside the bodega, I got some coffee and walked back outside, sipping it slowly.
“What about those two girls in there though,” Sandeep slapped me on the arm.
“You know them?”
“Not yet,” he smiled.
“I hear you. I wouldn’t mind that. I’d rather be get back there though before Thomas has that kind of luck.”
“He’s asleep and you know it. Just let me take a piss first and we’ll be there.”
“Can’t you hold it?”
“Not good. That’s no good at all for you,” he laughed.
I leaned up against the wall and sipped my coffee. Over to the right, all of the trucks were already pulling down the street and their back-up sirens were beeping off. They were all meat trucks making the morning deliveries. During the day, the whole area is for butcher shops. They call it the Meat Packing District. The whole place smells like blood. Now at night, it smells like old, dried blood. Sandeep had gone off around the far corner to take a piss. Over there were the docks. If you didn’t go pretty far you were bound to get approached by one of the hookers still working. Most of them down here were gay ones or the Black shemale kind. Most them were pretty scary and didn’t look like a woman at all except for the wigs. That added a whole new way of looking at meat packing districts. I figured I had a few minutes so I lit my last cigarette and drank the coffee down, feeling warm and good and thinking about how much warmer and better I’d feel when I saw my bed and the covers and the sleep.
A group of the Black hookers walked across the street then. The bunch of them stopped and lit some cigarettes and then looked down the far end of the street. It would be a nice miracle if they didn’t go down there after him or come over here and mess with me. I looked down into my coffee. When I looked back up, they were still staring down the street. Then the whole group of them headed on south down the street, and I exhaled. It had been a minute. I walked over were they had been and looked down the long, dark street. I called out his name but Sandeep didn’t say a thing.
I walked further down the street. I took the last of the cigarette in and tossed it across to the curb. Then I walked on a bit further. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and I passed a group of dumpsters. I heard some grunting noises. I walked on and heard more noise and when I got back around the trash I looked over and saw Sandeep standing there.
I saw him just standing there. My eyes adjusted and I looked over at him then standing there and watched as he took a hard shot right in the face. He just stood there and there was a loud crack and I watched him go soft just like that and then I saw his legs go weak right under him. I stood there and couldn’t move. My coffee dropped to the ground and I didn’t hear a thing except for another hard slap as he took a shot in his face. Two guys were smacking him and shouting something and I saw Sandeep put his hands up then. He was trying hard to cover his face while the two went wailing off on him.
When I could feel my legs, I didn’t think anything or know anything. I moved over quickly to where they were and saw their backs getting bigger and bigger. When I was up next to them, I balled up my right hand and slugged the one on the left square in the back of his head as best I could and then shoved the other one down to the wet street. Sandeep had snapped up too then and went off on that one and was slapping him hard on the ground in the jaw and belting away.
My guy had fallen down too. I moved closer and kicked him as hard as I could flat in the stomach. It felt like I hit a hard wall and I kept kicking him harder and harder and felt the blood pushing up through my neck to my head and my teeth grind down. I was on him then, falling down. He got me in the guts right then, punching hard and taking my air out. It hurt real good. Then I reached back and grabbed his shirt and we went scuffling like that on the ground, pulling on each other. I was on top then, and had one of his arms pinned down with my leg while he was off slugging me in the side, punching the ribs hard. I let it all go then. I pushed his head down with my left hand, holding tight to his hair and punching him right in the face and heard the sloppy sound of flesh as I went crack, crack, crack into his jaw and check and then the nose. He was bleeding real good all over his face. He stopped punching me. I was hot and the blood was all over my hands and I could hear my heart pounding somewhere deep down in my chest.
When I stopped punching I looked down at his face. It was one of the guys from the bar. His eyes were closed and the blood dripped off his cheek down to the street and made a small puddle there. I took in a deep breath. When I looked back again at his face his eyes were open and I got the idea that he looked like me. I shook my head and wiped the sweat from my eyes and looked back. I started to smack him real strong at that. I started hitting him good at that one. I was slugging him real hard, watching the blood come pouring out and muddy up his face in a red brown puddle. I grabbed his hair again and pulled back real far and closed my eyes and let go and heard the thud, thud sound as my fist hit him square in the face and his head smacked against the cold, wet street.
I got up off him. My ribs were sore and I put my right hand over them. When I looked over, Sandeep was laying on the ground and the other guy was up off him and backing away. He looked me in the face. I walked over there. The other guy was another of the white guys from the bar. He was backing up slowly and not taking his eyes off me. I turned around and his friend was getting up back across the street. This could really be it, and now it was down to two to one. I could hear my heart go off racing again. The closer I got to Sandeep, the more the other guy was backing off slowly. I saw his lips move and he motioned his friend. He cocked his head to the side and then walked backwards. I saw a small glimmer in his right hand when he backed under a street lamp. He kept walking back for a while like that and then turned around and started running down to 14th Street. The other guy crossed the street behind me and started off running too.
The wind had stopped howling down the street. Sandeep was still on the ground. When I got over to him he was in a ball, holding himself. His turban was knocked off and fanned out on the street and his hair was all laid out. I leaned down and touched him and rolled him over on his back. His long black hair was shining wet and I saw a lot of blood all over the street and his hair was out in a clump, matted together with the blood. He was still in a ball on his back and holding himself. His eyes were opened and I moved his hands and saw a dark brown patch on his jacket. It was dark brown on the grey of his jacket and I saw where the blade had gone in. He was screaming then and I tried to quiet him best I could. He was screaming real loud and trying to hold himself. I got him sitting up and took his jacket off slowly, and felt where the cut was. It was small but the blood was pouring out. I didn’t know what to do so I took off my jacket and then unbuttoned my shirt. I shivered in the cold and wrapped the shirt around his waist, tying it real tight across the cut.
The blood wasn’t coming through the shirt yet, and I picked up his turban off the ground. I folded the turban up and put it in my coat pocket. I got him up and was talking to him but all he could do was scream back, so I stopped that and sat him up and I put his jacket back on him. I looked around but there was no one anywhere. I didn’t know what to do so I sat there and pushed my hand onto the shirt over where the cut would be. After a while I felt in my pocket for my phone. The phone was cracked right down the screen. I dialed Thomas and nothing happened. I couldn’t hear a thing and the screen went blank.
We just sat like that for some time. The trucks were really coming in now. I saw two workers moving a forklift and shouted. No one stopped working. I knew it would be no good like this. The lights were going off on the streets and the whole place was really starting to stink. The smell of fresh blood was coming on strong, and blowing slowly up the long, wet street.
I grabbed him carefully and stood him up on his feet. He was real soft and fading. I stood him up and put his arm over my shoulder and we walked back under the street lamps to the corner. I found a cab and waved but he didn’t stop. Two more cabs went by and no one stopped. I was waving real hard after that but still no one stopped. I guessed they thought he was drunk. It wasn’t any good to get a backseat full of throw up. It would be a hell of a lot worse to get it filled up with blood.
I kept moving up 14th Street, past the workers and the butchers and the trucks and the smell coming on strong with the meat and the blood. The cobbles were wet and Sandeep went heavy on me then. All of the workers were just looking at us and we kept moving up the street, and Sandeep held his side tight while we walked. About half way up the block a cab stopped next to the curb. It was an Indian driver and I told him Sandeep was drunk and that it would be ok, and that no one was throwing anything up. I just said it like that. It just came out. He unlocked the doors and I slid Sandeep in quick to the back and slammed the door.
I couldn’t think of a hospital. I told him to drive us across town to 33rd. It was the only one I could think of, over by NYU. We took off and Sandeep slunched over and knocked against the far door as the tires squealed over the wet street.
The sun was coming up now and the coldness sliding down. I looked out the windshield and watched as the orange of the new day came up and the streets went light. I squinted into the brightness and held my side. In the light I saw on the dashboard a small American flag sitting there. Underneath the flag was a sticker pasted on the dashboard that read “United We Stand.” The pain came on and I held my ribs tight. I took a deep breath and looked at Sandeep curling himself up on the seat and reached over felt the shirt over the cut. The blood was stopped sure enough. The shirt was stained red and I looked down at my hands and saw how red they were and caked up with that guy’s blood and then shoved them deep in my coat pockets.
I watched the flag bouncing on the dashboard. Maybe if Sandeep wore a pin. Maybe if he had it on, I told myself. I had it bad now, and pushed hard against my ribs and felt around. Maybe if he had worn one of those stupid pins a thing like this wouldn’t happen. I had that real soreness. The whole soreness and the anger crept up real strong just like that. Yeah, just maybe if he’d been wearing one of those pins. I looked at the flag bobbing on the dashboard and then at Sandeep, I touched him then and he was awake and looked at me and winced. I saw the flag bobbing again on the dashboard and thought if they even knew he wasn’t one of them. The flag kept shaking as we drove. Maybe they knew. Maybe they knew he wasn’t even from the same country and it didn’t matter. Sure, they had no idea. Sure, they didn’t have it at all. They didn’t have the first thing about it. I looked at the wet shirt tied tight across my friend’s chest and knew coldly that they didn’t have the first thing about it.
We turned quickly onto First Avenue and moved north uptown. The sun was up now and the streets were drying and the wheels didn’t squeal anymore. The flag was bobbing up and down on the dash and I looked straight past it up the street and knew we were closer to the hospital. They would ask all sorts of things. There was nothing to tell there except that we’d been attacked and we don’t know who did it.
It didn’t matter then and you could just tell them whatever they wanted to hear. I knew then though it didn’t matter like wearing a pin on your jacket didn’t matter. It came on me like that. No matter what you said it all kept coming and they would ask a million questions. You could never explain enough. It didn’t matter and I guessed it never stopped the stares from coming anyway. It just came on me like that right there. It didn’t stop them from interrupting your walk either or knocking you square in the face like you had it coming. It was like the news and the talking and it never stopped any of that and kept on and kept on and kept on coming no matter what you ever did.
The cab moved on as the lights went green all in a row. I leaned back into the seat and pushed my hands deeper into the pockets. I saw the flag bobbing again ahead of me and then I closed my eyes and tried hard to put it all down and away.