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Between The Doberman And Bruce Lee

Everybody’s a dreamer, and everybody’s a star
And everybody’s in movies; it doesn’t matter who you are – Ray Davies

September 8, 2003

I see the poster for Hollywood’s latest in the Seventh Avenue tunnel. Christopher Walken in The Rundown with somebody called “The Rock.” I say “somebody called The Rock” not because he’s unfamiliar, but because this is how he should always be billed. When did single-named actors become acceptable? Did Cher open these floodgates? I can save the ten bucks anyway. Celebrities abound in this town.

Totie Fields, F Train, uptown, Wednesday, noon. Despite advanced age, she’s decked out like a senior Spice Girl, practicing oral skills on a doomed cough drop lodged between upper lip and tooth. There’s the sound: a small, inward suck-squeal like a geezer’s pigeon call. I glance over and she feigns disgust, moving to the empty three seat across. Doors open at East Broadway and in strolls a monstrous lad, the embodiment of a Far Side behemoth. He immediately occupies four-fifths of her bench, leaving Totie with a difficult edge. The sucking stops.

Kato Kaelin, gone to seed at the Roxy on Smith at Bergen. I watch from six stools down as he courts a woman of similar circumstance on the eve of her office skills placement exam. He’s on his fourth house rum, explaining how some people “just don’t test well.” I catch the conversation from a distance, using direct mirror-stare, a practiced bar technique. She leaves and Kato makes the short move down, adopting lucky me as new neighbor. I learn that he was in the Navy, where he “bonged out” and did meth at port. Like everyone, he “rolled the dice on the piss test.” He met a girl in Thailand who knew exactly how to start his mornings, but it wouldn’t have worked in the states, as he lives hard. It’s just who he is, and his family has already accepted it.

Kato’s got me thinking, as I approach my first bartending interview in Red Hook, a deserted industrial section of Brooklyn not accessible by subway. I walk twenty blocks to the B77 and have a seat. Noon buses draw an older crowd; not spry enough to stand clear of the subway’s closing doors. Women in pink terrycloth surround, comparing prices on individual grocery pushcarts. “I got this one at the Bargain Mart for thirteen dollars. I like it; it’s small.” I feel lonely as the bus waits for prone drawbridge and access across green canal. It’s a residual emotion from last night, as I lay on somebody else’s bed in the new sublet, digesting my own company.

Do I want to work in Red Hook? Do I want to deal with Kato? Will the pink terrycloth set put me straight?

I leave the bus at Dwight, one block and an hour early for my interview, and check out the neighborhood. I’ve heard Red Hook is the last pure vestige of South Brooklyn, an in the know retreat and creative haven for artists. But that must be in the other direction. I find only decaying brick, imposing projects, and an NYPD vehicle impounding lot. A few blocks up I run into a dead black cat, clearly days past last breath, innards surfacing. This dulls lunch plans, but blood sugar is low and I search for somewhere to get a bite. I find only a fried chicken stand that makes the Colonel look like Julia Child.

I turn down the gig, making the leap from desperate to selective in a heartbeat. Maybe it’s the chicken settling or perhaps the owner’s uncomfortable tics, but I call back the next morning and decline politely. The neighborhood may be on the upswing, but until the subway reaches and somebody scoops that cat, I’m looking elsewhere.

After, I scan a used Times in the cafe, my mind wandering to how much mileage can be gotten from a single can of shave cream. Thoughts shift to senseless thrift when compensating for lack of steady work. The Metro section runs a photo of a dreadlocked cop who may have saved a Brooklyn woman’s life the day before. He chased and cuffed her assailant in Prospect Park after the man attacked, breaking her jaw. The incident, which occurred blocks from my apartment, is reminder that New York’s edge is not always poetic. I catch the local hero later, accepting praise from a woman with baby in stroller. Another mom beams, waiting in the wings with thanks.

Ads for new police recruits have been gracing the subway all summer, but the application deadline has passed. It’s September now and there’s refreshing snap in the air. Maybe I can serve drinks to cops, or even write about them.

2003 Rick Monaco All Rights

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