*by someone who isn’t well read*
(frankie leone, just a man)
*the corner of n6th and bedford’s his. the neighborhood street vendors know it. his voice, tempered with a bronx accent, will fill them in if they don’t.
if someone pushes the issue he’ll inform them with a fist.*
*he’s almost fifty and a former teacher. once i asked why he’s not teaching anymore.
“a guy like me doesn’t last in academia. i’m from the streets. not westchester or connecticut. someone’s not telling me what i can and can’t say because they paid eight years worth of tuition. fuck ‘em. i’ve lived in the real world for free my whole life. on my corner no one tells me what to do. “
when he finished his explanation i decided to like him.*
*there’re moments he comes off heavy handed but he’s not a thug. the product he pushes isn’t sensational.
books. he knows what the neighborhood wants- bukowski, kerouac, sedaris, marukami, blah blah blah. if you ask about the titles on his tables he’ll express contempt.
“these people don’t read. they follow trends. if i didn’t have rent to pay i’d dump most of this garbage in the east river.”
he won’t be talked down on his prices. not ever. burning blue eyes set in a sun-soaked face will blast young hagglers before responding, “price is on the cover money bags. better call home.”*
*it’s wednesday morning. his table’s out early and the streets aren’t fully awake. only a few people are heading into (or away from) their days on bedford avenue. the sky’s cloudless. its blue’s forgiving.
last night i punched a guy in front of a bar. the place is a block from his corner. most have heard the streets talk but there’re many who think they don’t say anything worth hearing. he’s the kind of man who knows they do. he knows how and when to listen.
i walk towards him to banter before heading into my grind.
after our ‘hey how you doin’s’ he says, “heard you smacked somebody in front of the charleston yestaday.”
“you heard right,” i answer.
his face is stern.
“gonna tell me why you’re hittin’ people on a crowded block? why you’d risk getting locked up?”
i like him enough to answer.
“guy was my friend and did me dirty. i felt those punches way before he did.”
he shakes his head while saying, “bad fuckin’ form. i’d be proud of you if it’d gone down over money.”
“sorry to disappoint you.”
his hands raise in an offended gesture. his face scrunches.
“don’t get fresh. did you love her?”
he looks confused.
“why was she worth hitting a friend then?”
“didn’t have anything to do with her. had to do with him. loved him like a brother.”
his face relaxes. he nods.
“betrayal. got it. sorry you did it?”
i knew he’d get it. my tone’s remained soft.
“i regret it. not sorry though.”
“sounds about right. i might’ve done the same. think he knows he deserved it?”
“no. says i’m unstable,” i respond.
“old money rich boy?”
“makes sense. they usually don’t get others’ pain. they’ve never felt it. listen to me- known you for a while now. this world’s knocked you around enough to put some hardness into ya.
“i’ve seen a little bit on these streets. i know hard men are also gentle men. i’m not talking about tough guys. they’re fulla shit. i’m talking about hard men. we understand what it’s like.
“you’re not any crazier than any of these slippery bastards out here thinking they’re civilized. don’t let anyone tell you that.
“you’ve just got too much passion for your own good,” he finishes.
i let a few seconds of silence help me understand. then i speak.
“thanks. i mean it. you’re a good man.”
he looks embarrassed for the first time.
“i don’t know about all that.”
“i do. you just don’t like yourself. i don’t dig myself either. get over it for a sec and accept the compliment,” i say barbing my voice.
his smile pulls stronger.
“thanks kid. hope you know you’re a stand up guy too.”
“i have a moment here and there.”
“don’t be a fuckin’ hypocrite,” he growls.*
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