Category Archives: flashing fiction

you were the understanding branch manager who let me make a cash withdrawal without my bank card or id (at 386 knickerbocker avenue and himrod street) – 28 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

-education-
*by someone who believes
ignorance can be bliss*
(frankie leone, just a man)
*

*he always sits by himself on a bench in the corner of the yard. i watch him with a musing curiosity.

about twenty pounds overweight. white, probably italian. full head of thick gray hair slicked back with water. his uniform always fresh and clean. rarely mixes with the rest of us. usually doesn’t speak much. always eats and smokes like a king. his commissary fund must have thousands in it.

we speak occasionally. eaten together a few times. there’s a superficial friendly rapport between us. he even laughed and smiled once, saying i reminded him of him when he was young. we usually chat about writing and movies.

he avoids every personal question i ask him so i know he’s got a story.

i want it.*

*

*i approach him and watch him draw the last cigarette out of a soft pack of marlboro reds. my brand too.

sitting down next to him i ask, “is that your last one?”

“yeah, didn’t get my commissary request in on time,” he answers, voice deep and scratchy.

“i could spot you until you get in your next one. i know you’re good for it.”

“what the fuck do you want kid?”

i smile. he’s smart and hard.

“your story.”

“yeah,” he replies drawing in a lungful of marlboro.

“yeah,” i reply.

“you’re not going to get it. tell you what though. you spot me until next week i’ll teach you something worth thousands of what you’re giving me.”

“deal,” i respond without thinking.

something tells me i might not get ripped off. i settle in to listen, resolving not to interrupt.

he starts speaking in a low relaxed voice.*

*

*”never run into a check-cashing place. those guys are armed to the teeth and can physically lock down a place in a second. they can trap you in a box of bulletproof glass and shoot your crew and you like fish in a barrel. hit corporate bank branches. worst you’ll have to deal with is ink bags, homing devices, and alarms.

“the key to it is not hitting the place hard, it’s to guide the flow of the cops elsewhere.

“do your research beforehand. count the squad cars of the town precinct. see how many can respond. if another town’s station is near your target scope that out too.

“don’t bother with a city bank. look for small towns. response times are slower. multiple precincts won’t respond to an alarm trip.

“get professional disguises. no rubber masks. fake beards, mustaches, wigs, costume scars, sunglasses, and hats are smart. anything that can conceal your face and confuse your identity.

“don’t leave any souvenirs for the cops. take a good hot shower before hand to get out loose skin and hair. wear a hairnet under your hat or wig. wear surgical latex gloves. unpowdered ones.

“when the time comes to approach the target, put in a 911 call about the town school. say there’s an armed intruder in there. all units will respond, and at most one car will respond to an alarm tripped at the bank. that makes it easier to blast on your way out.

“in that case if only one car comes with a single officer he won’t get out of the car until back up comes. don’t aim for the driver’s side windshield. light up the front tires of his squad car so he can’t follow your exit. most cop cars are front wheel drive. no one has to die.

“come prepared. it’s not about how big your gun is, or how flashy your mask is. that’s for amateurs. a clean fast exit is most important. get two stolen cars, make sure the plates are stolen and changed too. park one a mile from the bank. roll up with your crew in the other one. make sure to burn the second you switched into later. don’t leave any prints or hair in the first. those kind of forensics can put you away for life.

“get a small police scanner that receives all channels. one you can clip to your belt. crank it loud so you’re sure to hear if you’re getting company.

“get in there on the first of the month. the place will be fully stocked with cash money for all the people coming in with social security or social services checks.

“don’t get there at opening. armored car deliveries could be there or coming soon. the men with those are strapped and will blast like soldiers of fortune. right before the bank staff is supposed to go on lunch break is the best time.

“no one inside the bank but the manager has the key to open the teller’s cage. don’t rush in guns out. keep your pieces concealed and ask for the bank manager. once he comes out of the teller’s cage to greet you pull the pin and pull out metal. have him open the teller’s cage and go in yourself.

“never let bank staff handle money or count on them to fill bags from outside the cage. that’s a sure way to get an ink bomb or homing beacon in your cash. an ink bomb will at the very least ruin a heist. the money will be useless and the ink won’t come off your skin for months.

“don’t worry about the teller’s drawers. that’s small potatoes for amateurs. hit the central cash drawer where the tellers fill their drawers from. there’s three large drawers and no time to empty them all. hit the drawer second from the top. that usually has the largest denominations and most money.

“the vault is a different kind of operation. you need a crew of three guys inside for that, plus the given one waiting in the car. only one guy in the vault at a time. if all three of you go inside they can hit a switch that will swing the door closed and you’ll all be locked inside until s.w.a.t. comes to pick you up. make sure only the second barred gate is closed before you try for it. it’s on a timer so if the main door is closed it’s just a no-go.

“only hitting the tellers cage is usually around an 80K score. the vault is usually 300K plus.

“when having the manager open anything don’t yell at him. speak normally and assertively. if you shout his hand can shake while he’s fiddling with keys or locks. and that can cost a lot of valuable seconds. time is more precious than platinum.

“when it comes to guns, you don’t have to look like rambo, but you should make an impression. if you go with handguns make sure you bring a larger sporting model, not a compact one. like, a glock 17 instead of a glock 16, or a 1911 colt .45 automatic instead of a colt commander. if you go with shotguns or assault rifles make sure to saw off the barrels and stocks. easier to conceal and ditch.

“for ammunition go with hallow points. if you fire a warning shot, hit a body, or throw one onto a vest the cops can do ballistics much easier on a slug. you don’t want to make it easy for them to put you in a cage.

“don’t get fancy when it comes to your words. communicate what you have to when you have to. when you set things off a simple ‘get away from your desks and don’t even think of touching a smart phone. no alarms, no ink bags, no heroes. we’ll be out of here in a minute. no one hast to get hurt.’

“if you’re unlucky enough to get in a gun fight make sure to dispose of weapons properly afterward. disassemble them as much as possible. run steel wool through the barrels to change ballistics markings. dump each piece of each gun in a different place. sewer drains and off bridges are best.

“get out in under four minutes after you’ve set things off inside. three is ideal. don’t waste time. response times to robbery calls are usually under five minutes.

“the bills could be marked or the serial numbers recorded. at least some of them. you need to clean all of them. go to ac or vegas. buy eight grand in chips at a time and cash them in after the casino’s shift change. that amount won’t attract attention. don’t gamble while you’re there. that’s a way to have to hit another bank as soon as you get back.

“that’s about a packs-worth of knowledge. hope you enjoyed bank robbery one-oh-one kid.”*

*

*i don’t say anything for a few seconds as a digest everything he’s told me. he smiles and lights another one.

finally i ask, “what are you in for?”

“tax evasion.”

i laugh and whisper, “strange world.”

“you’re damn right,” he answers.

“i think i’m going to stick to writing.”

“probably a good idea. i get out next year. i’ll give you the address of where i’ll be. just in case you change your mind. i could use a smart kid.”

“i’m good,” i respond.

“i understand.”

“yeah, it’s nothing personal. just don’t want to spend the rest of my life here.”

“you’re smarter than i thought.”

“have my moments,” i reply and put my hand out to shake.

he grins and grips it. his pointer and middle finger are extended, touching my wrist. a roman legionaries’ handshake.

“you take care of yourself,” he finishes.

“i’ll do what i can,” i conclude.*

*


our fight sent me to a county jail in new jersey (at 15 elizabeth plaza). – 28 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-closure-
(part iii of a series)
(part ii: -brawl-)
(part i: -dice-)
*by someone who’s chosen to walk in the light*
(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*janis joplin was a liar. i’ve lost it all, but don’t feel free.

acidic rage creeps through my veins. images of those i’ve deemed responsible light up my thoughts like muzzle flashes. i feel more a prisoner than i did on the inside. unanswered questions about events passed bloat and blacken my heart like a tropical disease. there’s no escape from my thoughts.

creating a hit list and turning myself into the count of monte cristo isn’t appealing.

he has answers. i don’t have anything left to gamble or trade with, but something in my gut suspects he might work something out with me. fear isn’t in his vocabulary but i have a feeling respect is.

i text his number with the gimmicky triple-six area code.

“i need them, but don’t have enough to shoot dice.”

to my surprise his response comes right away. the text reads, “will you fight me for them instead?”

i don’t formulate anything witty. i type back, “i can’t fight anymore.”

minutes pass. more characters jolt onto the screen of my obsolete blackberry.

“so you’re signing it over?”

“it isn’t with me,” i admit.

no answer comes until a few hours later. just as pink and orange starts coloring the sky for dusk.

“had a chat with the boss. they’re bought and paid for. see you soon.”

i despise taking charity but don’t have a choice. an odd mixture of anxiety and relief fills me.

the gates to east river state park are closed and locked after sundown. time to hop the fence for another late night meeting. *

*

*the skyline doesn’t make anymore dangerous promises to brooklyn’s shore where i stand. it’s lights don’t tell any more sexy lies. wouldn’t matter if it did. it can’t play on my emotions. i don’t feel much these days.

the cool night air caresses my skin and the illuminated concrete and glass juggernauts of the city stand solemn and silent. it’s a weeknight and williamsburg is mute behind me. it seems like i’m experiencing a new york city night objectively.

i scan the park for him. he’s not here yet. i light a marlboro and relax. his gangly form arrives when it does. i run my eyes over my clothing to see what colors i should search the night’s silhouettes for. black may be chic but it was a poor choice.

some time passes and someone walks towards the river bank. before the details of the tall slim figure are discernible i notice it’s gait- graceful and steady, moving with purpose. it isn’t him, a cop, or park ranger.

her form comes all the way out of the darkness and i see her face. tears well up in my eyes and i begin to tremor with violent intensity.

she still has the beauty of a siren.*

*

*she comes to an easy stop a few steps in front of me. i’m too consumed with emotion to speak.

i seize her in an embrace. she doesn’t recoil, but drapes her arms around the bare shoulders jutting from my dark wifebeater, and rests her chin on one. i squeeze her so hard i have to check myself. she’s delicate. a few minutes pass like this.

eventually i stop sobbing and shaking. pride is among my greatest weaknesses. i don’t want her to see my face marred with tears, so keep her squeezed tight against me. despite the yearning to look at the contours of her cream-colored skin and chocolate eyes.

tears keep flowing but i unearth the strength to speak into her ear.

“i didn’t think you really loved me. didn’t think you really cared. i thought i outlived my purpose. that i’d lost you forever.”

she doesn’t respond. i continue, “is this real? are you really here? are you going to stay? will you let me hold you and take care of you again?”

silence.

i offer more words, “i’ve missed you so much.”

i wait. no answer. panic overwhelms me. i keep speaking, “without you i’ve given away everything. please love me. even though i have nothing.”

another quiet pause. despair starts diluting anxiety. my speech turns desperate, “i promise i’ll get it all back. my money, our cat, my friends, even my loft at 151 kent. i’ll go back to the clubs. i’ll build you a beautiful life again, just like i did before. i can save both of us. i promise. i promise baby.”

her reply doesn’t come. his does. in his voice. or mine. i’ve never been able to differentiate the two. the sound of it crashes my heart lower than the end of a five day amphetamine binge. the sound of him pours from her mouth into my ear. slow. i resign to listening.

“she’s gone and she’s not. what you’ve resisted understanding is that it’s never been about keeping who you have. it’s about experiencing who you have while you have them.

you still have her. just in a different way.

“i’m sure you’ve heard the jesus freaks say ‘he giveth and he taketh away.’ well, he’s giveth’d you this so you’ll let him fucking giveth again.

“it’s not over. it’s not the end. it’s another beginning. take care of yourself. you and her weren’t meant to swim together. drowning people can’t save each other. find your shore and search again.

“you may not discover who and what you want, but who and what you need will discover you.”

i relax my grip on her and start to draw away, but her arms hold me fast with a strength matching my own. more words come.

“her, you, him, me, and all of them on the streets around us are cards in the same deck. we’ll always shuffle so you can be given another hand. he’s waiting for you to realize it’s not about what you’re holding. it’s about how you play it and how thoughtfully you bet. the pot is forever growing. you can’t fold whenever you don’t see the cards you had yesterday. wipe your fucking eyes and pick up the cards in front of you today.”

the tears stop and i start to process his words. before my thoughts reach a conclusion a final string of speech comes.

“they all end, but he plays innumerable songs in his set. everyone can dance again. choose to move on the streets of brooklyn, not to wait for the avenues of the afterlife. put the needle back on the record and move those damn hips.”*

*

*can’t remember how we let go of each other. didn’t notice the apparition leaving. there was no watching it walk away.*

still in the park, i find myself sitting on a piece of driftwood waiting. not for him. not for her.

for the sun.*

*

*it actually comes. for the first time i can remember i witness the night turn all the way to morning. the sun falls on my face and i can feel it. something inside me feels excited.

as the horn of the ferry blasts an epiphany hits me- it’s going to be different.

i realize i’ve always known this day would come. i learned long ago the only constant in our concrete jungle is change. in these moments this brings me comfort. a new sensation.

a smile spreads across my face when it dawns on me. the devil, after everything, turned out to be a stand-up guy.*

*

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we opted against san loco (on 160 n 4th street) to get something more authentic at the taco truck on the side of n6th. – 28 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-the crystal death-

*by someone whose time to die hasn’t come*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*i walk the streets after 12am on a muggy august night without tangible purpose. the exact hour’s obscured by apathy.

my thoughtless hope’s to find her even though she’s long gone. lost to me and our city.

she haunts me still and i search the streets of downtown manhattan for her specter.

i remember her beauty. i remember her warmth. i remember her coldness. i remember her horror. i remember her in every light. flickering dim ones and blinding bright ones.

and i know i’d do it all again if another six shooter of love, with only one round in its cylinders, found its way into these long scarred tattooed fingers.*

*

*my mobile phone’s fished from the pocket of skin tight levi’s and i search for a replica.

something i can grasp and gasp onto through this night. it’s dark enough in my mind and on these avenues to get black lung from a breath of after-dusk air.

even though the street lights shine onto my five o clock shadow i can’t feel them anymore, but i will feel something with someone.

desperation can be a wild sexy beast. especially in a city that can’t lower its lids.*

*

*he’s a pretty man, looking much younger than his years. i assume the soul that might reside inside him matches his youthful looks.

jonathan young.

a makeup artist i met by chance in the waiting room of her rehab clinic midtown, on the east side.

i went there to support her. him and i exchanged cards after a pleasant chat. gorgeous blonde hair, feminine mannerisms, and pretty features caught my eye.*

*i text him at this inappropriate hour to see if he’d like a cup of coffee. i love gay guys.  they are always ready to get a cup of coffee.

…as the kids call it these days.*

*

*”hey you. >=)”

“hey handsome devil. :-) what’s up?”

“nothing just wandering around downtown. wanted to know if you’d like to grab a cup of coffee. ;-)”

“i’d love to but i’m in for the night and live in harlem. you could come up here. i don’t have any coffee but i have something 5000 times better.”

“sounds interesting. :-) i’m close to the train at union square.”

“oh great. i’m on 127th between park and lex. take the 5 train uptown a few stops to 125th. the night can go wherever you want. ;-)”

“i’ll text when i get off the train.”*

*

*the neighborhood’s desolate except for blatant crack spots every two blocks. one is right on his corner. it’s staffed by a fat look-out in his 40s, three teenagers from the neighborhood, and a silent og sitting high up on the building’s steps.

the people on the streets greet me with unusually friendly salutations for our city. even men who seem like they don’t often talk to strangers. a lot of what’s goods, what’s poppins, and ‘sups are thrown my way. even by those who aren’t peddling controlled substances.

i’m used to this when passing through the hood. 

a man who used to be famous once referred to my look as “80’s junky rock star.” it’s out of the norm here and people are welcoming the rough-around-the-edges novelty that happens to be me. despite the combination of the depth of the night and my white skin*

*

*jonathan young lives in a rooming flop house on 127th street. i text i’ve arrived from the front door.

a disheveled looking woman runs down the hallway steps as he lets me in. a large man wearing a gold rope necklace walks coolly down the steps behind her from the common restroom on the second floor.

i mind my own business and walk through the door with three locks into his room. 

the bed’s on fire and the room’s filled with smoke.

it takes a few minutes to put it out  and open all the appropriate doors and windows.

luckily there are no smoke detectors.*

*

*he apologizes profusely in the most charming manner i’ve seen in a while, and invites me to sit on the damaged bed with him. 

jonathan offers me a 4 loko- 22 ounces of candy flavored malt liquor. i decline.

a flash of her lightnings through my psyche and i agree after his second offer. it’s funny how little i’d missed the taste of alcohol in the five years i’d been free of drugs and alcohol previous to this first sip.*

*we speak candidly and flirt without restraint on his singed sheets. a connection is there.

he tells me he’s of lithuanian descent. i notice his arms have almost no hair.*

*

*time passes towards dawn and many verses of conversation are exchanged.

in our words jonathan shares the secret to his success as a seven-day-a-week hustler in nyc’s fashion industry- meth amphetamine

i’ve never seen it before. it’s more of a west coast and midwestern thing. except in small pocket’s of our city’s gay community. 

he offers me some. it looks like splintered quartz. i love pretty things, but hesitate anyway.

the ghost of her floats through my mind. as it does most moments of most days. i accept on his second offer. 

“it’s better when you smoke it,” he explains, and takes out a water pipe he uses to smoke the drug.

instead of water i see he’s it filled with pink fruit drink from the corner bodega.*

*and so it began.

mind-blowing sex. stealing. exposure to dark pornography. a return to hustling various things. the most intense one month relationship of my life. lying. brutal physical fights. the rise and fall of a small club kingdom. deals gone terribly wrong. my forgetting of her. loss of my friends, sanity, money, job, home, and even bicycle. the end of my will to write until now. 

it’s nearly been a year.*

*looking back from the end of the line with sobered eyes i blame no one.

not her. not jonathan. not even myself.

it’s simply the way the cards had to fall.

but unanswered questions haunt me.

why am i still here? why have i survived when so many i’ve known, who were better people than i, have fallen after less insanity? why have so many of the fires smoldered out, but my passion for her memory still burns like an inferno through my core?

i call upon him to answer to these questions. i challenge him to show up, if only to finally kill me after all his reaper’s attempts at seduction. i want to know why. in my heart i know he’s not coming.

i know the hard truth. the replies to my questions will come as my personal answer is lived. or they won’t at all. either way, i’ve got to keep putting one of these battered wing tips in front of the other. 

the angel of death is looking for action somewhere else, for now.*

 *

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at avenue nightclub (on 116 10th ave and 17th st) the cherry of your cigarette showed me some light. – 27 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-mummy-

*by someone looking to join the living*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*i’ve always felt like a mummy wandering in the mist. other people are droplets of moisture hanging in the air. i grasp and grasp trying to dampen skin parched dry by a lifetime of isolation in my thoughts. sometimes i feel the coolness of other people’s compassion and kindness. 

most of the time i’m not aware enough to see my own skin absorbing enough to look human.*

*

*in my efforts to hydrate my form i’ve journeyed into a world where fog is the deepest but hardest to grasp. the nightclub. i use free alcohol as dry ice, creating a fog around me so deep my vision is obstructed but these lanky dry limbs feel more among red-blooded beings than ever before. i pour drinks for ever-shifting smokey forms around me, wrap my arms and lips around phantoms, and watch them disappear in instants.

i know what i’m doing. self-awareness avails me nothing. i’ve ventured so deep into the fog i can’t see a way out but long for one with desperation. looking for sunrises and roses in a place the sun never shines and the flowers are all plastic has taken my hope.

in this place without love or light i look deep into the darkness to see a firefly. it’s the cherry of a burning cigarette. her. the reason i’ve stuck around so long. in a city that’s given me no answers to questions like, “why,” i’ve given her the responsibility of my solution. a solution to the problem of myself.

on the balcony of avenue nightclub on 10th avenue and 17th street i watch her kissing another man on the club floor. the fog clears. i feel dry but free. i start thinking about an exit.*

*

*it’s passed three am. most of my beautiful people, and her- my answer, have gotten in cabs tipsy off the complimentary champagne, vodka, and tequila my employer’s provided. a girl i was infatuated with a while ago is the only person remaining on the balcony with me. i recline on leather-upholstered booth smoking an electronic cigarette and grasping the last bottle of free booze the club provided me.

she’s not my solution but looks like a bandaid. i stumble my tattooed fingers across her smooth face and down her long neck. i grip her slim waist and draw her close. i press my lips on hers and tell her she’s gorgeous. an image of her is one of my fondest memories in this nightclub.

i tell her about it, “once, on the club floor, i watched you dance. you had a red mohawk and a cut up t shirt. you swayed and closed your eyes dancing. i’ll always remember it. thank you.”

“what song,” she asks.

“something with kanye west and jay-z.”

she laughs, “niggas in paris?”

“no, something about driving through brooklyn and the south side of chicago. it had a bumping beat. watching you made me feel alive.”

we continue to kiss. i grip her with all my strength by her hip and neck. i know she’ll be gone soon.

she draws away.

“i feel guilty kissing you,” she admits.

i look into her living blue eyes and ask in a low tone, “why?”

“i know this means more to you than it does to me.”

i think for a moment. “it is what is is,” i respond, pausing before questioning, “why don’t you want me?”

she laughs. “because you’re a promoter. it’s your job to make me feel wanted. why would i want an animal like that?”

“i understand. you know i don’t want to be a promoter right? i think you know why i’m here. i don’t want to be what i am just like you don’t want to be what you are.”

“i’m young and dumb,” she smiles in response.

“so we are what we are,” i answer refrain for a few seconds of a thousand years then say, “i’m going home.”

she looks shocked and offended, “fine, go. who’s going to pour the drinks though? who’s going to host your people. won’t you get in trouble?”

“they’ll be fine. liquor will find them. as for getting in trouble- i do what i do. always have. for better or worse. i’ve chosen to represent chaos.”

i hand her my bottle and she dumps it into her rocks glass.

“you’re so weird, but you’re the most interesting person i’ve ever known.”

i head towards the door.*

*

*and so my career as a promoter ends.

i get in a cab back to brooklyn. when i get home i start drafting resignation letters from a new macbook-pro. my “vintage” (ancient) macbook was stolen by a party guest i let crash on my torn-up couch a month ago. 

i send them a week later.*

*

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you turned my poorly insulated loft (on 151 kent avenue between north 4th st and north 5th st) into a penthouse in chelsea. – 27 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-savage-

*by someone who did the best he could*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*she’s my first assistant in a place of bright lights, devious dancing, and ill intentions. a night club. i need her to help me pack a table of drunk beautiful people to create a spectacle for not-so-beautiful people spending exorbitant amounts of money to drink around us. i’m a night club promoter and she’s my sub-host.

i chose her because her beauty is beyond describable. tall, thin, and powdered white angled features overtoned with an exotic ethnic twist. there’s this, and my biggest rival at the club has blacklisted her from his parties too. she’s a beautiful switchblade in my hand jabbing into his side.

i never asked her her age and won’t find out for some time to come. the driver’s license in her wallet says she’s twenty-one and from pennsylvania. i don’t care if it’s the truth or not. she’s enough.

her eyes are post-mortem. i can tell she’s had a hard life. this makes me feel deep affection for her immediately. she doesn’t speak much but when she does it’s loud, fast, and portraying a nervous persona i easily recognize. this endears her to me and makes me thirst for who she really is.

as we drink, dance, kiss, and serve our purpose at our employer’s club i don’t suspect my twenty-seven-year-old-new-york-born hustler self will fall in love with this beautiful nineteen-year-old from kentucky.*

*

*our first night hosting together goes well. we pack the table. we get our models, pretty girls, and gay men obliterated drunk and dancing on top of the tables. our employers are pleased. my rival, a tall thin gay man with a firm stranglehold on the promoting angle of the club is displeased. i see him whispering in the managers’ ears. i overhear bits of conversation passing the whispering duos to get more alcohol or request drink straws from the bus boys.

“he’s unstable…

“he’s an ex-convict…

“he has not morals and will sleep with anyone…

“he draws other promoter’s people to his parties and has no ethics…

“he’s ruthless…

“you should fire him.”

the manager’s look bored. they occasionally look into his contorting features hearing a voice sped to light speed by a mixture of cocaine and vodka waiting until he finishes. then they return to business they consider important.

i’m unbothered.

then he approaches her. i’m bothered. he puts his arm around her and gives her a kiss on the cheek. over the blaring hip hop and house music the club’s dj have chosen i hear him charming her.

“i have no problem with you…

“why would you join forces with this thuggish scum…

“let’s hang out soon…”

she looks happy and thrilled. i’m jealous. i’m going to lose her. i decide to handle this business after the party.*

*

*as we walk out of the night club at the night’s end i sweep an evil eye over my rival. he’s smiling from one side of his face to the other. he knows he’ll play the gossip and political angle of nightlife until i’m out of a job.

i tolerate gossip. i tolerate thievery. i tolerate most aspects of shit behavior some human beings put into action. however, i’m italian. please don’t touch my money or my woman.

his boyfriend walks sheepishly to the side of him. i tell him, “you better get your man in a cab and out of my sight. he’s not safe right now.”

my rival laughs and giggles with a maniacal fearlessness provided by narcotics and alcohol.

“don’t worry sweetie, he isn’t going to do shit. even this baboon knows i run shit around here.”

he continues to walk with a group of people down 10th avenue towards a club down the street to an after party. he thinks he’s safe in his group. he’s wrong. i chase him. none of his friends follow us to help.

he flails his arms running down a deserted 10th avenue. he screams, “he’s crazy! call the police. he’s trying to assault me.”

he’s right. with his face pressed against the hood of a car outside a gas station and convenience store i give him a harsh lesson on messing with a man’s income and woman.*

*

*she misses the action. just hears all the screaming. i’m walking briskly away from the scene of the unpleasantry.

“what happened,” she asks in a frightened tone.

“i handled business,” i reply in a soft voice, “let’s hail a cab. the cops are on their way.”

she looks terrified but follows me to the corner of 9th ave and 13th st to get in a cab. we hail one and i slump low in the seat before giving my brooklyn address.

“baby,” i say calmly, “i chased him to talk to him and he fell down drunk and high. that’s the story. understand?”

she nods.

a line of police cars with sirens seizuring head towards the scene of the unfortunate incident. we pull away to brooklyn.*

*

*we have sex. she doesn’t seem fully present as we fuck. this disturbs me. still, i’m fascinated with her. i want to know her story. i want to take care of her. i don’t know it yet, but i want to love her. i sense my pain behind her vacant eyes. her pupils are often pinpricks. i know what this means- heroin. i try to turn off my emotions when i see it. someone so sublime deserves better.

she lives in greenpoint with two gay men. her mattress is on the floor without a frame. the two men are cruel to her. they’re active drug addicts and leave notes knived to her door expressing displeasure with roommate behavior they dislike. they keep the dishes hidden in their rooms so she can’t use them. whenever i leave her place all i can think about is how i can save her from herself.*

*

*i don’t have much money but the clubs pay me ok. one of my greatest pleasures is taking her out to eat. my favorite place to take her is the cubana social club on n6th street and berry street. sometimes during our meals she’ll answer her carefully passworded cell phone. an older man’s voice is audible through the turned up speaker. she keeps her responses brief and cold while making plans to meet him.

i know it’s her sugar daddy. she’ll lie about it for quite some time. it crushes my insides into broken glass. i want something better for her. after the third or fourth time i witness these calls i decide it’s time she moves in with me. she has to survive in this city but i can’t leave her with certain animals of our concrete jungle. i decide i’m the better of two evils*

*

*she moves in and we start something wonderful. i hold her and kiss her. we begin telling each other our love for one another. she starts smiling. she starts being there during sex. she finds a job. our lives intertwine and she becomes more beautiful every day. i force her to leave heroin and her sugar daddy through tears and fight and strife.

one night she tells me, “i’ve never felt loved before. ever since i was a little girl. you’re the first person to make me feel loved. i used to hug a pillow when i was young hoping some day a man would hold me and love me. you’re that man. thank you so much.”

i shed tears of joy silently as she drifts to sleep next to me. i’ve never been happy before.*

*

*i’m never able to trust her. the history of our early relationship made it impossible for me. i never know whether she wants me or just needs me. i’m jealous when she talks to other men. i’m constantly paranoid her sugar daddy or someone similar will come back into the picture. i work six nights a week and get little sleep. the only moments i savor are the ones with her. holding her. watching movies with her. 

i start losing my mind. 

italo svevo said in zeno’s conscience the two biggest indicators of love are jealousy and obsession. our relationship proves this correct. i watch her read culture blogs and correspond with friends on facebook. paranoia overwhelms me each time i see this her text on her phone. love, lack of sleep, and an uncontrollable killer instinct to protect her from the world she’s left drive me insane.*

*

*she leaves me. i have a nervous breakdown. the sky burns. my insides rot.*

*

*(ALREADY CONTINUED, prequel: “-musician-“

http://boroughoflostboys.com/2012/04/01/musician/)

*

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when i get to pick the restaurant you’re frustrated i always choose the cubana social on 70 north 6th st (between wythe and kent). – 27 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-musician-

*by someone who’s heard

the music plays on*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*most in new york city have an opinion about williamsburg, brooklyn.

there are those who hate the locale, some who love it, and others who don’t care enough to voice thoughts about it.

i’ve found those harboring resentment do so because they don’t live here. this section of the wildest sexiest beast of a city on the globe (populated almost exclusively by the young, attractive, artistic, intelligent, and wealthy) is a gigantic bullsesye for negative attention. these individuals are interesting to me.

people who feel the need to lie to themselves about the roots of their disdains remind me of me. they make me uncomfortable. more often than not i engage them with a ruthless drive to instill clarity.

experience has revealed those who love it generally feel this way because the smoke and mirrors of “hip” and “cool” have seduced them to a point where snarky remarks and jealous avoidance is easily resisted. these individuals aren’t interesting to me.

their delusion is beautiful, in its own way, and i don’t feel compelled to dispel it.

those that are indifferent have dull opinions. they don’t interest me either.

they are comfortable enough inside their own flesh that they don’t feel the need to conjure disingenuous beliefs to compensate for insecurity. there’s no reason to engage them in debate.

i put myself, after desperately trying to do the opposite, outside these three groups. i do my best to just exist here and study what i’ve been struggling to understand my whole life- other human beings.*

*

*there’s a sadness saturating the five foot five bodega man who runs the store on the corner of north 6th street and kent avenue one block from my williamsburg loft. his rotund frame moves through the few narrow aisles, and behind his counter with a slow despair i detected early in our acquaintanceship.

his soft-spoken voice carries the marks of his homeland of yemen. it floats passed his lips to express only what he needs to when he needs to because he needs to. he reminds me of me.

he makes me uncomfortable.*

*

*she’s gorgeous and she’s mine.

her skin’s snow white, and her body is tall and thin. it moves with a grace only the unconsciously extraordinary can. when looking at her statuesque features i feel like i might’ve cheated lady luck for us to come to possess each other. she articulates her inner beauty and i remember i did.

when i go to his bodega every day to buy her her favorite bagel sandwich (without being asked) i know i’m not doing it because i should or can. i’m doing it because i want and need to.

when buying things for herself sometimes she’s with me and sometimes she’s alone. it’s become clear whether she’s with me or alone he expresses that he sees the same things in her i do. he throws words like “sexy,” “wonderful,” and “lovely” across the counter whether i’m there or not.

i don’t like this.

a man can’t keep someone like her as a pet or prisoner. the beautiful go where they want when they want if they want, because they can. i know this, and i’m sure if i force her to figure it out she will too. with expedience.

i decide to mind my own business and let her deal with it in her own way, if she wants to deal with it.

every time he asks me where she is (with a wall of cigarettes and $10+ items as his backdrop) i feel my fists beginning to clench. it’s a good thing i’m not young in my mind anymore- the son-of-a-bitch would take a nap on his bodega floor after each reference.*

*

*my ben and jerry’s purchases at his bodega are at an all time high.

she’s decided to walk out of my life and has bought a one-way amtrak ticket out of town. i’ve spent the entire day staring at the empty space in our clothes rack where her tailored jackets and body-gripping button-ups used to be.

she’s coming back tomorrow to get her boxed up things out of the common space.

my eyes spike continuous tears down the unshaven skin of my face. she hasn’t always been kind to me, but the void she’ll leave (represented by the missing clothes) is more than i can bear.

it’s time for a number nineteen from his bodega. a “how do you do.” chicken cutlet, beef bacon (islamic storeowners), lettuce, tomato, avocado, onion, and honey mustard. a space heater for a chilly soul.*

*

*his unshaven face (whose growth is more substantial than mine) smiles and asks how i am in a routine tone.

“i’m getting by,” i reply.

he laughs lightly and changes the subject, “where is your friend? you know who i’m speaking of. the sexy one.”

today i’m not going to gloss passed this.

“it makes her and i uncomfortable when you flirt with her. it’s probably part of the reason she doesn’t come by here a lot anymore,” i respond, “it’s fucking inappropriate.”

he falters in himself, surprised. i’m one of his store’s best customers. i’m there multiple times a day getting things for myself and six roommates. he knows this and grants special prices on some items, a line of credit, and access to less-than-legal services the bodega can provide. i’m also six foot four, covered in tattoos, have significant muscle mass, and mentioned in passing i grew up hard.

he’s watching his step as we both suffer in uncomfortable silence.

“i’m sorry. i didn’t know you didn’t like when i play with her.”

i answer, “when you flirt with her. especially in front of me. you know she’s my girlfriend.”

i don’t feel compelled to tell him we’re now severed from each other, but he understands the history leading to this exchange. his expression is defeated and he isn’t maintaining eye contact anymore.

“i’m sorry,” he concludes quieter than usual.

i have no desire to beat this man down, emotionally or physically. i try to resolve this awkwardness i’ve created.

“it’s ok. it’s really not a big deal. i’m a lot more upset about things outside this store. there’s a lot going in my mind. don’t worry about it.”

he nods in unsure understanding. i pay for my sandwich, some electronic cigarette refills, and a bagel sandwich to give her for her trip tomorrow. as i turn towards the door he breathes, “i like your writing.”

i stop still and turn around. this is unexpected- he’s pretty far outside my usual demographic. i answer, “thank you for reading it. sincerely,” and wait for him to talk.

“you know i used to be artist too. long time ago. played music.”

“what instrument,” i answer.

“sitar,” and our silence resumes.

a few moments pass in his empty place of business before i ask, “why don’t you play anymore?”

“war. the south of my country, where i’m from, got fucked up ten years ago. i came here and started running stores. now i am old. i don’t have it anymore.”

“do you know the expression ‘cop out?'”

he nods with an expression of shame.

“you just told me a tragic story. it’s the kind of bullshit i write about. but the real tragedy isn’t the one you think. it’s that you’ve given up. i think you should start practicing.”

i can tell he’s really listening, but he doesn’t feel compelled to respond.

“have a good day sammie,” i say and offer my hand.

he grips it and responds, “you too frankie.”*

*

*heading back to what used to be “our room” in my raw loft on kent avenue and north 5th street i think about sammie. then i think about myself. an epiphany burns bright in my mind as my feet tread the sidewalk- we’re going to be ok.

if we want to be.*

*

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we never paid our open container tickets from drinking in tompkins square park when we were seventeen, and were arrested eight years later on old warrants. – 27 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-brawl-

(2nd part to “-dice-“)

*by someone who doesn’t know

if he’s won more fights than he’s lost*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*the street fight has stopped being romantic for me.

there was a time i’d drain a pint bottle to its last cheap drop. it’d dull my mind to sharpen principles of streets that don’t have any. then i’d prepare.

everyone has a different ritual getting ready for work. two bic lighters would find their way into my pockets. (one gripped in each fist lands blows with twice the consequence.) a heavy buck knife would tuck itself into the back pocket of my levi’s. (plan b.) laces would pull steel toe doc martens tight around my feet and ankles. (they’re appropriate for certain kinds of dancing.)

the driver seat of an old cadillac el dorado would fill with my body, and it’d drive me towards another haunting memory. a cool feeling of calm would sweep through me during the ride.

looking back from the last stop i know why. i found relief in the possibility i’d found an adversary who could finish a job i didn’t have the courage to complete.

during my time behind balled fists i got in a few scraps. sometimes over women. sometimes about money. sometimes strangers. sometimes friends. there was only one common denominator through it all- me.

during my existence i’ve looked down on bleeding boys and men, and i’ve felt my own crimson soak into concrete. each time the feeling was the same. it never satisfied. i never came across an opponent who could give me the brawl i wanted.

now, after unclenching my fists and putting down my weapons, i’ve found him.*

*

*i can’t remember if he called me out, or me him. doesn’t matter. i’ve come to face him.

our meeting place is east river state park in brooklyn, two blocks from the converted factory i’ve lived in for some time. him and i used to play dice here.

it’s been dark for a while. in fact, i can’t remember feeling daylight.

whether it be for friend, foe, or lover i pride myself on showing up, and on time. sometimes i fall short, like tonight.

i’m late.*

*

*sitting on a large piece of driftwood he waits by the water.

he’s staring over the east river towards the island of broken promises. i soak in his features- unusually tall, lanky, and covered in a patchwork of tattoos. his attire is appropriate- guinee-tee, levi’s, and a black bandanna wrapped around his brow in a headband. couldn’t have done better myself.

a familiar pain creeps through me looking at him. he stands and his voice floats through the air. it has a feathery softness.

“you’re late,” he says looking me into my eyes with a calm intensity. his eyes (and what should be the whites around them) are still black. i falter into seconds of silence.

“yes,” i respond.

the left corner of his mouth draws back into a half smile.

“afraid?”

there’s no point lying. not to him.

i whisper, “when am i not?”

his smirk fades, bringing his face back to its default expressionless state. he nods.

“at least you’re honest.”

after a pause i say, “i’m tired of talking.”

“you do so much of it already. a little more may not kill you.”

“what’s there to talk about,” i ask.

he answers, “the rules.”

“we don’t have those.”

he shakes his head slowly.

“we make our own.”

“i won’t be bound by our rules anymore,” i reply.

his crooked grin returns.

“you have since you could swing those hands at another person. you always will”

i stay quiet and eye him up and down. i know how he fights. we learned together.

he won’t talk anymore, use surprise, and come in faking a left jab following with a strong right straight. he’ll aim for my nose or throat. if he breaks my nose i’ll be blinded by tears and blood. if he connects with my throat i won’t be able to breathe. either way i’ll be done for the night. (or probably a lot longer.)

he doesn’t move and cuts into our silence after a long moment.

“ok. we’ll get to business. take out what you’re holding.”

he’s upping the ante already. fuck it. i’ve come this far.

i take my buck knife out of my jeans and open it. it’s gripped blade up in my fist. (i was taught amateurs hold it steel down.) the smirk chiseled onto his face disappears as he reaches into the back of his levis. he’s reaching high on his waist. i lose hope.

our pistol still has an evidence tag on it. i recognize it. a colt commander, .45 caliber. i’d only take it out of my top drawer on special occasions. it taught me there’s no bad situation a gun can’t make worse.

i whisper, “cool with the boys at the precinct now?”

“think i only played dice with you? there’s lots of other losers out there,” he responds.

he can hit a street sign twenty feet away holding it with one hand. we were never coordinated enough to be decent at sports, but are sure-shots with a pistol. we’re only standing, slightly slouched, seven or eight feet apart. i stare into his black eyes.

i wait for him to raise the piece of metal. this is it.

he presses the release on the magazine, it falls to his feet, and he snaps back the slide. a hallow point flies out of the chamber hitting the sandy ground without noise.

his smile returns and his arm goes to work. the colt’s rocketed into the east river. the throw is impressive. it flies too far to see a splash in the darkness.

he turns back to face me.

“come at me,” he says in a full speaking voice.

knife at my side, i gaze in disbelief. he knows he can’t win now. but he has.

he’s here for the same reason as me.

i think for a few moments of infinity as i look at him.

then, against everything i’ve learned about facing an enemy, i turn my back on the devil to walk the streets (home).*

*

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when it was warm out we had ice cream on the bench in front of tasti d-lite (on 193 bedford avenue and north 6th street) – 27 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-a kent avenue super gets around to it-

*by someone getting more assertive

with his building’s management company*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*things are changing, but everything is the same.

she still smiles with goofy sexiness. her eyes are still so breath-taking i can’t maintain eye-contact when we speak. her body, even when clothed in a dirty hoodie and loose sweat-pants, still helps me feel ashamed of my thoughts (when i lose consciousness of my staring).

i sit with her in her bedroom.

there’s three or four feet between us. she speaks for over an hour. i genuinely listen, not saying much- something unusual for a man like me. intermittently i interject relevant anecdotes from my life. she doesn’t seem concerned, shifting the conversation back to her friends, ideas, assessments, life.

i’m not offended. i listen and am present (kindof, sort of, maybe, i hope).

i know my favorite lie. it’s a pair of blinders blocking most things from sight. not now though. right now a crystalline probably-never looks like a sink with a blocked drain inside my ribs. it’s overflowing into my mind.

her appearance is at the front of my consciousness (sometimes it overpowers my ability to focus on her words) along with paranoia my eyes will leak the beautiful hopelessness i’m feeling into her bedroom. it already comes down the walls of apartments of everyone close to me in torrents.

i know if i flood this room she might pity me, and tell me she feels strongly about me too, as a friend. there’s little doubt this pulses quietly through her mind every once and a while, but if it comes off the tongue inside her face, a face that flashes lingering lightning through my thoughts, it’ll sound like rusty razors tornado-ing through my ears.

the streets near the north brooklyn waterfront aren’t accepting apologies from anyone this frozen january night. all the pretty ones, along with those turning shadowy eyes to sunless heavens for answers, are hidden indoors.

like four angels with touches of dirt on their faces, my neighbors move around a muraled loft needing more insulation. they speak, smile, and laugh without deliberateness, as the truly beautiful do.

i don’t have a view of a moonless ceiling of our cityscape at the moment. i move to the common space, listen, watch, and dance to songs of crossed over men with vibrant souls.

i leave the room for a moment and hear them from the bathroom.

“she treats men that fall in love with her terribly. he sleeps on the couch here waiting for her to fall in love with him. she tells him ‘i have a boyfriend’ and he keeps dying inside, pathetically hopeful.”

laughter echoes. i zip my pants, mouth ajar, skin colorless.

i take a long moment, put pieces of myself back in place, and reclaim a seat on the dingy greenish-gold velour cushions of an old couch i’ve come to love too. i start listening to her again. intermittently i interject relevant anecdotes from my life. she doesn’t seem concerned, shifting the conversation back to her friends, ideas, assessments, life. i’m not offended.

i sit listening and wrestle with my eyes. it’s an easier fight. they’ve become weaker than an old man’s.

the stopped-up sink in my ribs, slowly, begins to drain.*

*

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you kissed a guy for the first time at hotel chantelle (at 92-94 ludlow street and delancey) – 27 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-predator-

*by a savage*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*she almost makes being a junky look good.

the skin on her face is ghostly and marble-esque. i love touching it. a girlish smile is usually set into it. looking into her sapphire eyes i see my own pain and know the expression is disingenuous.

this helps me like her more.

hair falling out of a loose beanie is greasy but compliments the drug addict chic permeating her aesthetic. looking at her i think calvin klein himself couldn’t create a better image.

i’m disgusted with myself for being so attracted to it.*

*

*we’ve made out a few times in crowded night clubs but that doesn’t mean much- she’s a lesbian, or tells me she is.

when someone claims they’re straight or gay i usually disregard it. after last call i’ve seen homecoming kings go home with class queens too many times. i’ve seen dread-locked liberal arts commandos get in cabs with pretty men wearing bridge and tunnel uniforms more than once too.

someone’s sexuality always stays a question mark to me, but something i know for sure is i want her- wrong or right.*

*

*she’s kicking and knows i know what it’s like.

i’m just a man, but am aware if i stay with my norm of giving into animalistic urges she’ll never forgive me a few stops down the line. that’s just the surface of the glacier- i’ll never forgive myself either, and there’s no ignoring my psyche’s text messages.

i’ve been invited to watch “law and order” at her place this cold saturday night. my thought process is far from pure while i get dressed. i try to bleach my intentions for the occasion.*

*

*the wind sinks its teeth into me as i ride my bike to her place in bushwick.*

*

*255 mckibbin street, my destination.

the mckibbin lofts- hipster mecca, bed bug haven, and a good place for a sleepless night listening to college students vomit in the hallway. i’ve always thrived off chaos.

i feel right at home.*

*

*her hug makes me feel like a soldier coming home from war- disarmed. i don’t miss the arsenal of defense mechanisms i brandish in the street. the default smile shines from pretty features. she’s tall too. i don’t have to bend to get my arms around her.

she’s in her third day of withdrawal from a not-so-heavy heroin habit. she’s wrapped in a few blankets inside the already warm loft, but seems fine otherwise.

we watch “law and order svu” for an hour. detective stabler twists himself into knots serving justice to our city’s sexual predators. oh the irony.

the sheen white curtains covering the wall of windows behind the tv remind me of wedding veils.*

*

*we’re bored and i feel tension. i storm my brain for a solution.

i throw out, “want to go to a strip club?”

“i’m not going to manhattan to spend twenty bucks on a cover and another on a two drink minimum. especially while i’m dope sick.”

“there’s one a few blocks from here.”

she laughs.

“you want to take me to a ghetto strip club in bushwick?”

“yes,” i answer.

still grinning she picks up her iphone.

“i’m not walking in this shit. we’re splitting a car.”*

*

*the bouncer at pumps on the corner of metropolitan and grand frisks me for weapons and searches her bag. we sit at the bar. i buy us redbulls and take out my electronic cigarette.

“you can’t smoke in here,” a cocktail waitress tells me in an aggressive tone.

i show her the e smoke and reply, “it’s just water vapor and nicotine.”

“bet you think you’re pretty fucking cool,” she answers.

i don’t respond and put fifteen singles on the bar. it seems like an appropriate budget.*

*

*we watch the girls move up and down the poles.

turns out we have similar taste in women. riley is our favorite- a tattooed girl with small breasts. doesn’t have the best game dancing but is endearing with words.

the working girl asks, “either of you sexy kids want a dance?”

i can’t afford to be here but that didn’t stop me from coming. explaining this isn’t appealing.

“baby, i’m sorry. i’m gay,” i explain into hustling eyes.

“awww sugar, it’s ok. so am i,” riley smiles turning to her, “how about you pretty lady? you gay too?”

i watch a hand creep onto a thigh.

she diverts from riley’s question to ask me, “should i tell her?”

“sure,” i reply, “considering our environment i’m sure it won’t shock.”

“i’m kicking dope. that kind of fun is the last thing on my mind.”

riley understands, offers kind words, and moves on to a desperate looking guy a few bar stools down.*

*

*after we leave no cab will stop for us. we walk the fifteen blocks back to her place.*

*

*i ask if i should crash on the couch or in her room.

“you can come up with me if you want.”

i’m losing control. i try to steady my hand to ease the throttle of my hedonism back.*

*

*the bedroom of her ceiling isn’t high enough for either of us to stand straight up. clothes hang on a pipe running through the center of the room. there’s not much here besides them, a bed, nightstand, and some guitars.

she strips down to her underwear and gets under the covers. i stay fully dressed and join her. we stare at the ceiling talking about our trials and tribulations. something else is on my mind.

fuck it.

i get on top of her and kiss her neck. then her lips. she’s into it. having a conscience is inconvenient in moments like this. i say aloud, “i’m taking advantage of you.”

her smile hasn’t faded a shade. she whispers, “yeah. you couldn’t find someone in a weaker place.”

i climb off and apologize. we resume our conversation.

minutes pass and i ask what’s the most uncomfortable part of her withdrawal.

“the muscles in my back.”

“want a massage?”

“please,” she replies.

after twenty minutes she thanks me.

“i think i’ll sleep tonight now. you’re damn good with your hands.”

i’m grateful i wasn’t weak enough to show her how good.

we hold hands and drift towards unconsciousness.*

*

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you could move at the house of yes (on 342 maujer street between morgan and watersby) – 27 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-technical-

*by someone terrible at calculations*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*i like people with technical jobs.

engineers, architects, programmers, designers. they know how to get out of their heads, or were never there to begin with. they can focus on things other than themselves.

they have different eyes than me and those like me.

intensity is an addiction of mine. gripping someone fiercely. forgetting myself and those around me. losing sight of a world that watches me a lot less than i think. they know it isn’t. if it does they usually aren’t too concerned.

artists are high maintenance and mirror my laundry list of character defects. even a narcissist can tire of looking at himself.*

*

*having been ground into hamburger enough by the young and beautiful i’ve vowed to avoid those under twenty-one.

i found her on facebook in a creepy search for another way to create trouble for myself. she’s twenty-two and looks like a high school student. being a pervert, i like this. after she tells me she’s an architecture student i express interest in hanging out.

she’s down.*

*

*we sit on her bed in a park avenue apartment.

the plasma screen tv on her dresser intimidates me. cypress hill flows with clear precision from speakers of a thousand dollar stereo. the place smells like someone else’s money. i don’t judge- this place is a break from my heatless loft in brooklyn.

i touch the perfect skin on her face and tell her it’s beautiful. she laughs disingenuously.

“thank you,” she responds.

“i like your awkward laugh,” i continue.

“shut up,” she says with a nervous smile.*

*

*i also promised myself i’d never smoke cigarettes again.

when i commit to a negative behavior it’s never half-assed. i’d have to smoke at least a pack a day. it’s hard to find cigarettes in new york city for less than ten bucks a pack. that’s not my scene.

since i can’t go all the way i decided on foreplay. i started smoking electronic cigarettes.

they’re like mini hookahs. for twenty dollars you get an e cigarette, charger, and two flavored nicotine cartridges. refill packages of five are ten dollars a piece. each refill is the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes. this works with my financial restraints.

i ask if she minds if i charge my cigarette.

this strikes her as strange. an addiction is an addiction. i ignore her reaction and start charging my cigarette in the usb port of an open macbook pro on her down comforter.

she asks if i smoke weed.

“no, i fly into a paranoid psychosis. there’s too much chaos in my mind for me to handle it. don’t mind if you do though.”

“weird. want some vodka?”

“no, it turns me into a scum bag.”

she laughs.

“yeah? what would make you say that?”

“i’d drink the vodka, get a bottle, drink it, and start looking for cocaine. that’d only be the start.”

“oh, you’re a drug addict,” she sighs rolling her eyes.

“yes.”

she starts grinding weed in a heavy silver grinder. there’s a high-tech marijuana vaporizer on her bedstand. she punches buttons under its digital display. after setting up her apparatus she presses a “start button.” a large plastic bag fills with thc vapor. when it’s done she inhales it into her lungs through a mouthpiece.

watching her eyes i see a lot of her leave the bedroom. she gets up and starts dancing. i’m in the mood. i get up to move my hips.

“i’ve always wanted to dance with a devilish man from brooklyn,” she says.

“be careful what you wish for,” i respond.*

*

*she wants me to finish on her face. i oblige.*

*

*she texts on her phone across the bed not long after. she doesn’t seem like the cuddling type.

“my friend eddiy wants to hang out. i need to start getting ready.”

this is one of my least favorite situations- i’m being told to leave. i may be a slut but i’m not a prostitute.

“sure baby,” i say smirking. my expression’s insincere.

i put on my clothes and kiss her. she seems elsewhere.*

*

*as i head to the elevator she bursts from the door of her apartment and runs towards me. i’m excited.

“you took my phone!”

we have the same model blackberry.

“oh,” i begin quietly, “i’m sorry.”

she hands me mine. i dig into my jacket pocket and hand her’s back.*

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you got the check at 67 burger (on 67 lafayette and fulton st) and screwed my brains out. – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-parakeets-

*by someone who takes his coffee with milk and sugar*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*she’s tough.

after working shifts at two different jobs she has energy to fuck through our voids and the night. despite being a hundred pounds and barely five feet tall she pleads for bedroom brutality. when i get coffee in the morning she reminds me no milk or sugar.

she doesn’t speak much but doesn’t need to- her actions always flex who she is. thinking of her it’s easy to forget she’s from upstate. i believe she’s all new york city.*

*

*she makes money.

and spends it.

her boots are always more than a couple hundred. the jackets covering her slim frame are tailored. her make-up and banged black hair reflect fashion mag ads. the tattoos of mermaids and women accentuating her thighs (revealed by short skirts) aren’t bargain pieces.

all this money isn’t wasted- natural beauty aside, when she walks into a room her miniature stature doesn’t stop everyone from suffering whip lash.

when we eat out she picks up the check. as i reach for my wallet her dismissals are brief, polite, and hard as granite. she’s one of the few people, besides myself, who’s ever taken care of me.*

*

*winter weather on brooklyn’s waterfront doesn’t forgive kent ave’s residents. the wind bites through skin into the spirit. my loft building doesn’t have heat (in a real way) either. this doesn’t stop her from coming to see me after work for conversation and relief from deviant itches on her soul.

she sits, legs crossed, on the faded plush of my rust colored couch. “get by” by talib kweli spills from a blown out speaker. we talk about her job, my financial despair, and our mutual dysfunctions. two mice fight in my kitchen. it’s too loud to ignore. i must look embarassed.

with graceful nonchalance she remarks, “i’m just going to pretend you have parakeets.”

i smile, kiss her, and we walk up shoddy stairs to my bedroom.*

*

*she has work in the morning and doesn’t want to spend the night.

i watch her dress. i love looking at her naked. her ribs are decorated with colorful classical tattoo art and her stomach’s defined- she calls this “ninja abs.”

she puts herself all the way back together, even her hair. i haven’t put any clothes back on. she stares at me without speaking. i don’t realize she’s waiting. it takes me a few moments to get it.

“baby, is it ok if i don’t walk you to the door tonight?”

“that’s a deal breaker for me. i like to fuck, but i’m still a lady,” she answers. steely strength’s detectable in her quiet voice. i get dressed.

when i open the door for her the dead bolt behaves, for once.*

*

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you ran away to find your drunken friend while i hit on you outside the kenmare (on 98 kenmare and centre st) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-le bain-

*by someone who doesn’t want to be here

when he’s thirty*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*the door’s locked and my hands nestle around her throat.

i’m not strangling her in a bathroom stall on the standard hotel’s 18th floor- just feeling vibrant life run through her. she kisses me with fervor. her hands course from my neck down and across my chest, eventually trickling down to grasp my belt buckle.

“you’re so hot,” she exclaims with frustrated intonation, “but no matter what you say i won’t go home with you.”

she might be drunk, but i can’t tell. not enough guilt’s involved to not proceed. i raise an eyebrow and half smile.

“no matter what i say?”

i grip her hips and pull them close to mine

“uhhhgh,” she says before closing her lids. biting her bottom lip she raises them and blasts a stare straight into mine with volcanic blue eyes. “everyone’s just a booty call to you.”

“why would you say something mean like that? i’m being nice to you,” i say moving her hands behind me onto my back pockets.

i tug the back of her dyed red mohawk towards her ass. her head levers back so i can kiss just below her jaw. she moves her hands to grip the outside of my fly and offers, “i could blow you in here.”

“don’t you deserve a little better than this,” i ask and point to the room length window next to us, “we may have a night view of the skyline through this glass but a toilet’s still a foot away.”

“i’ve hooked up in here a lot and probably will lots more,” she says in justification.

this makes my decision.

“i don’t hook up with people i like in bathrooms,” i state and take her hand off my dick.

she pushes away from me entirely and laughs, “what a gentlemen.”

sliding hands down her face she groans, “i’m such a mess.”

“i know,” i answer her unasked question.

she’s stern.

“aren’t you?”

“yes. that’s why i’m in here. but i think it might be better if we both leave now.”

“i’m tired of being a mess,” she confesses.

“so am i,” i agree.

we don’t kiss good bye. she unlocks the door and we head back to throbbing bass and artificial lights together.

but separately.*

*

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you said i’d “make a piss poor fag” after we left the dream hotel (on west 16th street between 8th and 9th ave) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-fag-

*by someone who needs to get up on current events*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*we walk out from the same party at the dream hotel to turn up our jacket collars to a cool night.

the air’s dark. it smells like it’s time to go home. he asks, “i’m in brooklyn too, greenpoint. aren’t you in williamsburg? how about we split a cab sweetie?”

it’s my experience there’s two types of gay guys- sweet and caring or mean and bitchy. he’s a fun hybrid of both. i’ll probably laugh on the way back to my borough, and lonely cab rides aren’t a financial option.

i agree.

“mind if i smoke before we hail one?”

“no, go ahead. might be a little hard to get a match lit out here though,” i warn as he fishes out a pack of matches. a drizzle has ebbed to mist on west 16th street.

the damp wind takes three matches. he gives up and walks towards two chubby thirty-something men and a six foot woman with eerily emaciated legs- probably a model they recruited. even with her they can’t get in. she looks bored and angry standing outside the club’s ropes with them.

“‘scuse me boys. could i use your lighter?”

they smirk to each other, pull on their cigarettes, and don’t acknowledge his request.

“okay,” he answers their non-response. he stretches the “ay” sound.

he walks back and i ask, “know those guys?”

his voice sounds wounded.

“don’t think so. do i look like the kind of guy that would steal someone’s lighter? why do people act like that?”

i know why. when i look at him i brawl my envy. his skin’s bleached paper, his bone structure shouts feminine beauty, and his eyes are so dark you can’t tell if he’s making eye contact. these men don’t walk passed thirty person lines outside clubs without a word. he does.

they know it and feel safe punishing him for it- he’s a queer.

it’s fortunate his naïveté shields his eyes from their ugliness. my vision rarely spares me clarity during these sights. this one feels like a floating eyelash soaked in bacardi 151.

their feeling of security is incorrect. i approach the taller of the two men and position my body inappropriately close to his. he’s wearing too much cologne.

i ask, “you’re really not going to give my friend a light?”

“what are you? some kind of gangster?”

as he slurs his words together there’s no eye contact happening. his friend laughs with him. i’ve given him a fair enough chance to correct his behavior. while i seize the hand of the wrist holding his cigarette he looks me in the eyes. there’s a sludgy stupidity behind his gaze.

tearing the cigarette out of his hand isn’t difficult. i tap the tag heur watch he’s wearing before letting go.

“nice watch you fat fuck,” i comment. 

the woman turns away in aggravation. with her back to us she chimes in with an eastern european accent, “if you fight this man i leave now.”

nobody else speaks. my friend uses the cigarette as a lighter.

“fucking thuggish babboon. who do you think you are,” he stammers while we walk away. i look back.

he reverts to not meeting my stare. enough of a point’s being made by that. more lessons in manners are unnecessary. i stare from fifteen feet away until the cigarette’s finished.

it’s a decent kick off for a ride back to brooklyn.*

*

*in the cab i receive lectures on the recent death of amy winehouse, the current tragedy of kate moss, and the pros of fixed lighting over track. i don’t have much to contribute. his world is dynamited by my ignorance.

“what country do you live in?”

“i don’t own a tv,” i respond.

“whatever thoreau. you’d make a piss poor fag,” he remarks with disdain and pauses.

changing his tone he finishes, “thanks for the display of testosterone. didn’t know you were such a tough guy.”

i respond, “don’t mention it, and i’m not. i just never underestimate the cowardice of others. thanks for helping me improve my credentials as a u.s. citizen and i’m sorry for your losses of kate and amy. “

“kate’s still alive, amy’s dead, and you’re hopeless.”

i smile while the cab stops and step out onto the corner of n5th street and kent avenue. i see his eyes roll through the window as the yellow car pulls towards greenpoint.*

*

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you shouted my friend and i were cute as we left avenue (on 116 10th ave and 17th st) at 3am – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-“broken hands”-

*by someone trying to piece it all together*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*sometimes i drag myself through days, my fingernails sunken into a chalkboard. others i march mechanically, eyes locked forward until i close them in sleep. now i’m not doing either.

the sun has resigned and i float through my mind listening to the buildings of manhattan whisper to me- their nothings are especially sweet on the roof of the standard hotel. i sweep my gaze over crowds of people watching everyone watch everyone. a fall breeze massages my skin.

light brown hair falls around his long face. he pushes it back. looking at me with a smirk he remarks, “we’re just kings being king dude.”

“my thoughts exactly,” i laugh and we breathe in the city silently.

his eyes are red. whiskey hasn’t been easy on him the passed few days. still, a raw energy breaks from his eyes through his pain. a bandaged hand brings a rocks glass to his lips. the dressing on it’s fresh but blood still seeps through. the opposite hand has a ceramic cast over it.

he tells me, “a song found me the other day dude. it was magic.”

i reply, “oh yeah?”

“yeah man, it was so sick. after all the shit that’s gone down the universe finally sent me something.”

i don’t understand but sometimes this guy’s tough to understand. while i wait for an explanation i take in his features. he’s one of the tallest (and thinnest) people i know. his hair flows passed his shoulders and his arms are blanketed in black tattoos representing occult culture.

he’s weird so (of course) i feel deep affection for him.

the explanation isn’t coming. i shift our topic, “you never told me what happened to your hands.”

“dude, no way. don’t want to talk about it.”

“you can’t show up with two busted hands and not tell your boy what’s up.”

lifting the bandaged hand he says, “bartending dude. sliced the shit open on a broken glass. piece of shit manager wouldn’t even pay for the e.r. guess my bad luck hasn’t run out yet.”

“what about the other one? the one in the cast.”

angles of his face pronounce themselves more as its muscles constrict in anger. after prying apart clenched teeth he whispers, “her. she took my hand along with everything else. i can’t even play guitar anymore.”

“what? that’s fucking heinous. she broke your hand? how’d she do that?”

he answers gripping the center of his chest, “she stabbed a rusty ice pick right here dude.”

his eyes have gone over the edge of the roof deck. he’s looking west over the hudson river. at new jersey.

“oh,” i reply keeping my voice calm, “that fist found the other guys’ face a few dozen times?”

“no dude. she was the only face in that equation for me. this fist found a cinder block wall a few dozen times instead of hers.”

the gaze he’s shooting across state lines should burn newark to the ground. his apocalyptic stare rampages east towards the loisada projects.

he continues, “when i think of her i can feel all the pain and hate in this city. every white collar dip shit who just lost his job. every hood mom who can’t make rent. every junky in every shooting gallery. i feel it all at once and want to scream it.

“but she took my hand so i can’t even blast it through my guitar.”

i don’t know what to say so i say nothing.

eventually i decide to snap our conversation back to his magical song. “what song found you playboy?”

he smiles and thinks for a second, then sings softly, “it only fell apart ’cause you let it, all the blood you had to lose, pick up the pieces with your broken hands, it only fell apart ’cause you let it, all the blood you had to lose, pick up the pieces with your broken hands.”

the left side of my lips glide back as i half smile.

“who’s that? sounds pretty fucking metal.”

“damn fuckin’ right dude. lamb of god. gets me fuckin’ rad every time. metal is salvation dude. it’s magic.”

he’s beaming.

happiness breaks through me. i smile with both sides of my mouth. i don’t know what to say.

i answer, “we’re just kings being kings dude.”*

*

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you threw a drink on me at dominie’s hoek (on 48-17 vernon boulevard between 48th and 49th avenue) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-boxing-

*by a southpaw who still has a good right*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*happy childhood in a long island suburb.

blonde.

only wears abercrombie.

no piercing or tattoos.

teaches me how to punch her face without leaving a mark.*

*

*my bedroom has no windows.

red numerals of a clock radio glow onto us with sinister appropriateness. it provides enough light for me to line up my knuckles flat against her cheek bone and jaw.

she whispers, “draw them back a few inches and bring them down. your fist should land so the hit distributes across the centers of all four knuckles. hit me as hard as you like.”

we’re naked in a spooning position. she’s skinnier than i am. i like that. my left arm is wrapped around her body. it hugs her close.

i hit her.

“harder. i won’t break,” she says elevating her tone.

nervousness begins to tremor through me. i hit her again.

“harder. be a man.”

she means it. it feels more wrong because she’s so damn pretty.

my knuckles land against her face one last time. this one feels the way she wants. aqua eyes radiate ecstasy before they shut. she bites her bottom lip.

can’t say i get it. that doesn’t matter though- she does. we kiss slowly.*

*

*sometimes i eat non-breakfast burritos in the morning.

everyone has their thing.*

*

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i remembered my love for brooklyn walking through prospect park with you. – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-knife fight-

*by someone who gets creative*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*i always feel like a dirt bag drifting towards unconsciousness post sex. they’re awake and very aware i’m falling asleep moments after.

i know what they’re thinking:

“he’s such a man.”*

*

*daylight and nudity betray my body’s been a few places. exhaustion pulls back curtains around my belief i’m the center of the universe.

i’ve dealt with a myriad of dysfunctional personalities working since sunrise in three different boroughs (biking nearly twenty miles) and still made half the money i think i deserve. tonight’s self pity feels justified.

it’s nearing eight in the evening and i’ve been at her place on caton ave and east 18th st about forty minutes. our plans for an informal hang out were made days ago.

the bitter-sweet apple’s been rough on her recently. i heard it in her voice on the phone. her room reflects the same. clothes litter the floor. sheets are balled up at the foot of her bed. there’s a broken open capsule of m.d.m.a. on the bedstand.

it hurts seeing her eyes look so beaten.*

*

*our skinny bodies screw.

i start to fall asleep. a wounded voice says, “baby, it’s only eight thirty.”

i’m consciously fucking up. i feel her disgusted green eyes while i fade out of reality.*

*

*i wake up at six and remember what went down. she’s still checked out. watching her sleep usually makes me happier about where i am. this morning guilt vibrates appropriately through my brain.

seems like a good time to clean up.

she doesn’t own a laundry bag so i fold clothes cluttering the floor and pile them. i move onto collecting delivery food bags and cans next. she wakes up to the percussion of cans and bottles being thrown into a plastic bag.

“what’re you doing? don’t worry about that, i’ll take care of it later.”

i ignore her and collect some scattered papers into a stack. she repeats herself.

“seriously, stop. i can clean my own room.”

i gesture to the drug paraphernalia on her bedstand, “need this empty capsule of molly?”

“what’s your problem?”

i don’t respond, just stare blankly.

she answers, “ugh, you’re so stubborn. no.”

i throw it in the trash bag. a blanket stretched across the floor begins to fold in my arms. she gives up and returns to her dreams.*

*

*breakfast is two egg sandwiches i buy from the bodega by the q stop. the panamanian woman who made them doesn’t speak english so both our orders are wrong. we’re used to this. after unwrapping them on her bedroom floor we’re pleased they’re right enough to be palatable.

she asks, “working this morning?”

“of course.”

i see disappointment in her expression. her face is beautiful. it has a unique round shape. her skin’s pale and clear. i don’t like to smudge it with unhappiness.

“what’re you doing?”

she responds, “probably hanging out here. i don’t work until twelve.”

“you mean you’re going to sleep the morning away in this windowless room? no way. walk with me through prospect park. i’ll walk to the g instead of taking the q.”

“you’re not my father. plus, it’ll take you twice the time.”

“i’m ok with that.”*

*

*the air in the park smells slow and safe. the emotion saturating the ground feels breathable. her shoulders look less weighted outside her bedroom.

she speaks to me.

“you used to fight a lot when you were younger right?”

“i’ve been in one or two,” i say smirking.

she laughs.

“right. well, right now i’m outmatched. i feel like i’m a little girl who’s never been in a fight and a much bigger older guy’s kicking my ass.”

“who’s the guy?”

she pauses to think.

“life i guess.”

it’s my turn to think.

eventually i say, “sounds like you need to change up your fighting style.”

her face smudges in a frown.

“everything seems insurmountable. i feel like i couldn’t ever hit hard or fast enough.”

“find a way to pull a knife.”

this sharpens her frown into a smile.

“what if i don’t have one?”

“then don’t wait for one to drop out of the sky. get creative. pick up a chair or bottle.”

it feels good to hear her laugh again. we’re reaching the edge of the park. the g train’s not far.

“thanks for cleaning my room,” she tells me after some silence.

“‘course baby. once a bartender told me a clean room makes for a cleaner mind.”

she doesn’t say anything back for a little while.

“thanks for forcing me out of my apartment.”

“didn’t mean to be forceful. just felt like i had to make an executive decision.”

we’re at the edge of the park and almost at goodbye.

“could you do me a favor?”

“sure thing. what do you want,” she asks.

“look around the park for a blade a little before going home?”*

*

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you had a bite of my chicken cutlet sandwich from north 5th deli (on 20 n5th street and kent avenue) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-delivery boy-

*by someone with a “colorful” work history*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*no new york neighborhood boasts pure hopelessness. even the worst ones are cut with chances for gentrification. five to ten minutes by subway or bus and someone can find an organic salad.

there are cities where both sides of the tracks are the wrong ones. l.l. bean doesn’t send catalogues to any of the buildings unsolicited.

one of these is through the holland tunnel or over the george washington bridge. it’s a city that hasn’t recovered from riots decades and decades ago. its political system’s so broken a trillion dollars would pass through it like water in a sieve.

i’m talking about newark, new jersey.*

*

*the caddy i drive from age seventeen to nineteen idles in the daylight. i’ll total it in about a year. my eyes absorb the harshness of downtown newark while her and i wait in bucket seats for him.*

*

*he knows what i pass him through the rolled down window of my early nineties el dorado isn’t mine. there’s a chance he’s aware whose it is. doesn’t matter though. even if he is he doesn’t care.

this is clinton avenue, cocaine capital of jersey, and i’m just an errand-running white boy working for another white boy. this is his neighborhood. i’m just passing through.

he’s wearing workout gloves. it’s fall but i’ve seen him wearing them in the summer time too. it’s not hard to guess why.

nodding, his gloved hand turns the package. he seems unconcerned with the neighborhood’s police. his corn rows are freshly twisted. like an investment banker in a cornflower button-up with a white collar, he looks the part.

“we straight,” he says and begins to turn away.

this is bad.

i insist, “where’re the bills?”

he smiles, “don’t trip mah dude. takin’ this one on credit. i got you later.”

she’s riding shotgun. we don’t talk much about my after school job. she’s gathered enough to know what’s happening isn’t good.

i find the handle and begin opening the heavy door.

“hold up,” his jagged voice warns.

his left hand lifts his t shirt exposing a pistol tucked between ck boxer-briefs and sagged jeans. his right brandishes a pointer finger at her.

“i ain’t playin’,” he informs without emotion.

there’s something wrong with me. being shown a gun doesn’t bring out much of an emotional response. it probably should.

this situation’s the exception. she gets him. her face shows the beginnings of hysteria. my hand sprint away from the door’s handle. both hands grip the wheel where he can see them.

“smart mo’fucka,” he says and jogs towards a building door fifteen feet away.

he must be pretty unintimidated to turn his back on someone he’s robbed for almost a thousand dollars. my ego bleeds. *

*

*the scary part’s here. letting the property’s owner know.

through a prepaid phone my voice tip toes, “he took it without paying.”

he never sounds angry. that’s what’s most frightening about him.

“i’m coming to pick you up now. don’t make me wait outside. we’re day-tripping to jersey.”

“ok,” i say because it’s the only thing i can.

“what do they call this clown again?”

“big rell.”

“sounds like a tough guy,” his vocal chords smirk into my ear before he hangs up.*

*

*1988 monte carlo super sport. fresh electric blue paint. clean factory rims. it’s fucking beautiful. i make sure i don’t slam the door getting in.

looking at him always jars me a little. his head’s shaved to the scalp. “queens, new york” is tattooed in gothic lettering across its left side. eight of the fingers gripping the wheel have a letter of “skin head” tattooed on each knuckle. his long sleeve ben sherman button-up’s orange. no one looks good in orange.

he skips pleasantries.

“did the joker have a gun?”

“yeah.”

“what kind?”

“probably a glock. there was an extended magazine sticking out of the handle too.”

he doesn’t react. just opens the glove box and removes his hardware. he makes sure every chamber’s full and spins the cylinder of the large revolver. after clicking it back into place he tucks it between his legs almost out of sight.

“you should be able to do everything with eight shots you’d want to with sixteen.”

“i’d rather not use any shots,” i say softly.

“that’s why you got bitch made by a faggot amateur.”

i don’t respond. we start driving towards the tunnel in silence.*

*

*the glass panes of the bar’s front haven’t been washed in a while. a neon colt 45 sign hangs behind them.

i had a twenty-two ounce draft here the one time i met the poor bastard who robbed me. it was a dollar. the whites of the bartenders eyes were more of a yellow.

“this shit-hole’s where he hangs out?”

“think so.”

“makes sense. that rimmed out rice rocket an inch from the ground’s his?”

he gestures towards a modified foreign car parked near the bar’s open door.

“think so.”

“you think so? you’re not brave or bright i guess. he usually alone?”

“i don’t know.”

“what fucking use are you,” he asks bringing another instrument out from under his seat. a section of the barrels have been sawed off. i’m pretty sure that’s illegal. doubt that’s on his list of concerns.

this has gotten way too real.

pushing the shotgun into my grip he says, “make sure we have privacy when i get him out on the street.”

“i don’t shoot people,” i whisper.

“‘fuck was that?”

“i don’t shoot people.”

his right knuckles, bearing the “head” part of “skin head,” hook into my sol plexus. i lose my wind.

“you’ll be able to breathe again in a second. listen good- you could trade places with him if you’d like.”

when i’m able to get air back in my lungs i re-grip the shotgun thinking about my options. the decisions i’ve made up to now haven’t left any good ones. he sees i understand this and starts rolling up his sleeves. i notice a “u.s.m.c. death before dishonour” tattoo on the back of his forearm.

after tucking the pistol into the back of his pants he walks into the bar. his gait’s casual.*

*

*the door’s open but the thief exits the bar through the window panes.

my employer walks out the door with the same nonchalance he walked in with. the gun gripped in his hand isn’t the revolver he’d brought with him. it’s the automatic i’d seen in the offending party’s waist earlier.

no one runs out of the bar to help the man lying on the ground surrounded by broken glass. i’m afraid to close my eyes. the shotgun rests in my lap while i stare.

it’s a hell of a thing watching a man get beaten half to death with his own gun.*

*

*he shuts the car door as carefully as i did when he gets back in. he starts rolling down his sleeves and buttoning the cuffs. there’s blood on the ugly shirt.

“want to get a sandwich? i ain’t buying though,” is the first thing he says.

i don’t answer.

“suit yourself. i’m getting chicken cutlet on white. cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, vinegar, mayo, salt, and pepper. if you’re hungry you better get your own when we stop. i’m not sharing.”

i don’t answer. he shifts the gears, starts driving, and sighs.

“maybe you should start thinking about delivering pizzas instead.”*

*


we had a moment where i was born [at beth israel medical center on 286 1st ave (between 15th and 16th)] – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-syphilis-

*by someone who learns the hard way*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*be gentle with razors.

use enough shaving cream and moisturizer too.*

*

*it isn’t working out. she knows it. i know it. we’ve talked and set boundaries.

tires of surrender which could carry us to romantic progress are nestled in a rut conversation can’t level. whenever we move forward they blow out in post midnight pot holes of loneliness, fear, or drunkenness.

a.m. text messages help us find comfort in each others’ bodies. the day after’s never easy. new york isn’t a city where people line up to help strangers with car trouble.

like every night our minds drive on this street tonight feels different. 

 she’s calling. it’d be soothing to hear her voice. i think. pressing the phone to my ear i resolve to not spend a week stranded along a west side highway of regret.

“you filthy son of a bitch. if i have herpes i’ll fucking end you.”

her tone sounds unhappy.*

*

*i’m sitting on my building’s roof feeling sorry for myself when she calls. now i’m doing it even more effectively. panic gives self pity an accelerated edge. i unbutton my levis to examine the accused.

after minutes of scrutiny something presents itself.

enlisting internet help seems logical. i walk downstairs to my crime scene and stare at photos of lesions, warts, and chancres on my laptop’s screen. there are resemblances in every photo illustrating every ailment acquired through fun mistakes.

terror.

a viral game over blankets my consciousness.  flowery notes followed by dives from roofs flicker in my brain. rational thought calls me a drama queen.

i opt for a trip to the emergency room.*

*

*i was born in the east village’s beth israel hospital. in the waiting room i feel odd this is the first return i remember.

two well-dressed gay men and a morbidly obese jamaican woman keep me company. we don’t speak but the woman breaks our silence with intermittent screaming. this doesn’t bother me.

will smith’s “hancock” plays on a television. it’s fastened in a cage high on the wall. the entire film, with commercials, finishes before i’m called back to be seen.*

*

*the nurse’s arms are thick. they look strong. i unbutton my jeans again. her eyes scan with simultaneous disinterest and thoroughness.

she gives a diagnosis in a firm voice.

“isn’t genital warts. there’d be more of ‘em. isn’t herpes either. you’d have screamed in pain when i touched it. if anything it’s a syphilis chancre.”

“thank the fucking lord,” i exclaim.

i try to hug her but she slaps away my arms with two efficient strikes. they sting.

“hands off,” she warns and continues, “lab’s backed up. we won’t have blood results to know for sure ’til next week. want the penicillin shot now anyway?”

“god yes.”

“it’s a huge syringe filled with a glue-like substance. another nurse’ll inject it into your glutes. it’ll hurt. we’re short-staffed tonight so you’ll be waiting a few more minutes,” she states with the detachment of a butcher repeating an order.

“thank you so much,” i say.

she turns toward the door.

“use protection kid. there’re sicker people in this hospital than you.”

with a soft click it closes behind her.*

*

*a half hour later a male nurse gives the shot. he wants to get better acquainted while administering it.

“do you work out at a ymca or an equinox sort of place?”

“neither,” i answer.

our conversation doesn’t go further.

after finishing he asks, “want a second opinion on your chancre?”

“ok.”

i unbutton one last time. he looks and laughs. i don’t appreciate this.

“what’s funny,” i demand.

“that’s a razor bump dude.”*

*

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we shot dice at east river state park (on kent avenue between n 7th st and n 10th st) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-dice-

*by someone losing the strength

to lift them*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*he walks out of the water.

his clothes drip. close-fitting jeans, wife-beater, hole-filled shoes, and a bandanna folded thick over his brow. i recognize them- they’re all mine.

after he sits down on the bench next to me i look into his blind eyes. the irises and pupils are missing. they make him impossible to trust. 

i breathe,  “you’re late.”

“that’s your opinion,” he replies in a familiar voice. it’s almost a whisper but impossible to not recognize. i’ve felt its vibrations my whole life.

“where were you,” i ask.

“with another gambling man in manhattan,” he shuffles the topic, “your threads are pretty casual for the occasion aren’t they?”

his face has no expression. it looks a lot like mine. i’ve never liked it.

“how was the last guy dressed?”

“a lot like himself,” he answers.

i press forward.

“are we going to talk fashion until sunrise?”

“no pleasantries? not one drink or dance first?”

“this a business relationship. we can’t dance anymore.”

a smirk breaks through his unpretty features.

“sure about that?”

“there’s never music in east river park this time of night regardless.”

“the music plays when i tell it too,” he shoots back.

“that’s your opinion,” i respond.

tense quiet soaks into us before he picks up again.

“isn’t the first time you’ve skipped foreplay. it’s your prerogative if you want to try barreling right in.”

opening his bag he gestures towards the skyline and continues, “sublime isn’t it? always makes a special kind of promise from brooklyn. a dangerous one.”

“or tells a special kind of lie. a sexy one,” i contradict.

“i’ve heard them say that too,” he says drawing out a faded canvas pouch.

three dice spill from it and thud onto the ground. they’re too big and heavy to be casino dice. a gambler would need two hands to roll all three. the corroded metal they’re cast out of probably isn’t regulation either.

leaning forward i notice where dots should be are tips of .45 caliber bullets and caps of 25g syringes. i read the letters etched on the die’s upward faces- “colt automatic model” and “microlance hypodermic needles.”

an impressive attempt to ruffle me off my game.

“now i get why you didn’t take the l train.”

he winks a sightless eye and grins.

“needed a dip to clear my head anyways. found the materials next to crab traps. shame you didn’t keep them. you don’t mask your fear as honestly these days.”

i breathe deep and reply, “couldn’t afford them anymore. you’d know. you were my running partner while i spent everything in me.”

“what makes you think you can afford the veils you have now?”

i don’t answer.

“can you afford tonight’s stakes?”

he isn’t asking out of consideration.

ignoring the question i proceed, “find a craps table at the bottom of the river too?”

“you know cee-lo’s my game. this might be the burg, but it’s technically brooklyn.”

we start pitching.*

*

*it’s a long night. they always are. whether i’m waiting for him or we actually play. i can’t recall the last time i wasn’t doing one or the other.

tonight’s game’s finished. i only rolled four-five-sixes and there’s no double or nothing in games like ours. for the first time he has nothing to say. it’s been quiet over a minute.

this shouts he’s enraged.

i’m enjoying the silence but ruin it to whisper, “bring my winnings?”

his teeth are clamped in fury. i see his jaw muscles bulging.

they pry apart long enough to say, “how’d you win? even you know the dice are always loaded. you practically shave them for me.”

“did you bring my winnings,” i repeat.

“how’d you win?”

i doubt he’ll pay out until i answer.

“i stopped caring if you beat me,” i tell him.

despair dominates his movements. he raises his tattooed arms and the moonlight shows we have the same taste in artists and designs. his hands cup my ear.

the pot’s delivered at a softer volume than his normal bantering.

“you don’t have to play anymore. you never did.”

after he draws away i see tears coursing down his face. i lean back to watch him.

i don’t want to forget the night i made the devil cry.*

*

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on the corner of n6th and bedford you told a kid, “get outta here before i take your dad’s credit card.” – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-hypocrite-

*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 grins.

“a woman?”

“yeah.”

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?”

“no.”

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?”

“yeah.”

he laughs.

“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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you asked if my mother had facial hair at the 2nd ave deli’s new spot (on 162 east 33rd street and lex) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-jew-

*by a dego*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*her grandparents are ukrainian jews but that hasn’t stopped her from not knowing shit about the ukraine or judaism.

she grew up in windsor terrace, brooklyn. most of her childhood friends are offspring of anglo park slope yuppies. rent’s cheaper in prospect park south- the hood. it’s where she lives these days. we watch rented movies and sin together there.

she defines the idea of a nice american girl. every time we’re together her normalcy dynamites my mind. my friends are shocked she’s into me.

most mornings i tell her, “you look gorgeous,” “you’re so pretty,” or, “god damn you’re beautiful.” usually her response is nervous laughter, “stop trying to flatter me,” or silence wearing an uncomfortable expression.

i think i understand.*

*

*she lies in bed half asleep. her nightie’s light pink. brown lined plaid’s mixed into the fabric. its hem’s pulled up her slender waist. a lot’s showing. like leagues of pale legs that are always shaved. she’s not wearing underwear either.

her landing strip looks like my kind of trouble.

the long brown hair falling around her shoulders was cut yesterday. i didn’t notice at first. she mentioned it and pointed out i hadn’t. this let grains of guilt into my shell. there’s a chance my insides are irritated because i know i act like an asshole.

there’s a better chance they are because she knows i act like an asshole.

her bedroom’s quiet. i can’t stop looking at her and want to rip myself from guilty thoughts. it feels seedy watching her. i decide to wake her by getting into trouble.

two pigeons with one bb.*

*

*afterwards she lights a parliament light and glides towards the bedroom window.

she smokes in a plush-upholstered chair. a trash day find. the deep red fabric cushioning her body vibrates into my eyes. she opens a lap top resting on the side-table. i concoct a compliment and resume my gaze.

“your new hair helps keep your spot as the prettiest jewish girl i know,” i say smiling.

she fires a quick glare before shifting her eyes to the screen. there’s no response and it’s plain she’s avoiding eye contact.

“what’s wrong?”

her wounded voice responds, “why would you think that’s a compliment?”

“what?”

“i don’t want to talk anymore. be quiet.”

humid tension hangs in the air while confusion soaks my consciousness.

“why? you’re insulted?”

tears vine down her cheeks. overwhelmed, i press her.

“what’s wrong? is it because i said something about being jewish?”

she doesn’t respond. panicking, i insist, “baby?”

“yes.”

her voice is soggy with tears.

“i’m so sorry. i don’t understand though. why does that hurt your feelings? didn’t you grow up around jews? aren’t you proud of your roots? we live in brooklyn after all.”

“i’m sorry too. i’m overreacting,” her words sigh, “i didn’t grow up jewish. my family didn’t go to temple and i hung around christian kids.”

“and they gave you shit for being jewish?”

“no. no one knew unless they heard my last name or asked. my whole childhood i still heard, ‘he jewed me down,’ or ‘that dude’s got a jew nose,’ though. it made me think jews are cheap and ugly. it made me feel like i was. being a jew didn’t do me a lot of favors outside a jewish community. even in brooklyn. people just don’t like us.”

“damn. wish we’d had this conversation before. i really am sorry,” i repeat softly as possible.

“it’s ok. no way you could’ve known about my complex. sorry to get all neurotic on you.”

she wipes her face and continues, “you dumb wop.”

a grin overpowers tear stained skin. i shine one back at her.

“it’s all good baby. you wouldn’t be an authentic jew if you weren’t neurotic. just like i wouldn’t be a real italian if my family didn’t get me used to dramatic behavior.”

i see her shoulders relax before she says, “glad we’re on the same page.”

“damn right we are. and next time we eat on 7th ave i’m staring extra disdainfully at blue-eyed yuppies discussing furniture.”*

*

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you made fun of the napkins at 151 kent avenue (between north 4th and north 5th street) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-napkins-

*by a proud cliché*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*brushing blonde hair out of her face she asks, “what are these?”

“sometimes i walk the streets at night…”

“like a prostitute,” a giggle-soaked question interrupts.

“…and i stop in bars to watch people drink and dance. i take breaks to write on napkins. that’s what they are,” i finish.

sliding a sacagawea coin in my fingers her image comforts my green eyes. my irises are close to hazel (in some light). her eyes are green. closer to blue.

biting her lip she grins the grin of a sweet girl. not a devious adult. a sweet girl’s voice dissolves a brief quiet.

“ohhh, like a tortured poet.”

another pause.

winking, she proceeds, “going to get breakfast with me baby?”

“hell no,” my vocal chords vibrate through a smile, “you’re talking smack about my cliché.”

the cursive covered napkins are tacked to the low cross-beams of my bedroom ceiling. i often bump my head into this obnoxious lumber.

brushing her fingers over the flimsy papers she whispers, “yeah, but it’s a wonderful cliché.”

“stay put for a second,” i say picking up keys and starting towards the door, “i’ll be back in a few.”

there’s an over hyped brunch spot on the corner of north 5th street and bedford avenue. two orders of eggs, bacon, and hash brown are almost twenty dollars. the to-go containers are nice. maybe that’s what i’m paying for.*

*

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i dug your new threads (on 132 2nd ave and st. marks place) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-“the rain man”-

second part to “-promoter-“

*by someone planning to get a netflix account*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*i purchased less-than-legal goods more than once in yesteryears. sometimes i patronized a vendor introduced to me as ‘the rain man.’

he stood on his block year round making a living. a boxy rain coat always hung over his torso. he wasn’t burdened by mental illness or deficiency. when he claimed the street with a shout no one dismissed him as crazy.

everyone in his neighborhood knew why he wore the rain coat- under it was a sawed off shotgun. double barreled. twelve gauge.

he wasn’t modest about this artillery. flamboyant would be more accurate. part of his business was everyone knowing that part of his business.

once i asked ‘the rain man,’ “wouldn’t something smaller make more sense?”

“ain’t ’bout the kind of sense you thinkin’ on. think i tote this heavy-ass bitch for fun? wear a damn rain coat year round cause it look fresh? hell no. she good for bidness. helps chumps pay attention.”

i didn’t understand. he sensed this and tried again.

“know ’bout vanna white? wheel of fortune bitch? why you think that snow bunny’s turnin’ letters?”

i understood.*

*

*stepping onto 10th ave between 17th and 18th i notice a strange feeling in my mouth and lips. throat too. the taste isn’t unusual.  just a vaguely familiar sensation. numbness.

i’m disgusted, mostly with myself, as i realize the cause.

cocaine or heroin’s been part of her night’s substance regiment. she’s a good kisser. still, i make a mental note to avoid a phone number exchange. breathing deep i feel bass pulse through the club’s doors.

a lanky frame sachets out of the crowd of smoking people. the promoter. his voice sounds like soiled silk glittered with gay mannerisms. i’ve always enjoyed it.

he asks, “how’re we doing beb?”

“i’m getting by.”

“aw. frankie, such a dark sensitive soul. brighten up,” he says.

his words hit the wrong spots. i get plastic. a smile airbrushes itself across my face.

“i’ll do what i can for you. thanks for another invite sugar.”

“of course. how could i not have the hard core bukowski boy of brooklyn at my table?”

this characterization embarrasses me. it also massages my ego. at least he’s not introducing me like that. not now. i leave it alone.

“how’s everything with you?”

“you know how it goes gorgeous. these idiots take forever to get new bottles to the table. the coke-dealer’s always late. my friends leave. everyone in this town’s unreliable. i’m going to skull-fuck some bitches. you’ll see. get some drinks?”

“haven’t had a drink in years.”

“i forgot you don’t drink. i love that about you. i have to ask- why do you come to my parties?”

he giggles.

“i’m hooked on beautiful people, the appearance of glamour…”

he cuts me off.

“who isn’t?”

he lights a cigarette. marlboro light 100.

“and i hate myself,” i finish.

with gusto he pulls on the marlboro while nodding his head. through a cloudy exhale the corners of his mouth slide almost to his ears.

“you’re right where you should be beb. papa’ll love you if you can’t love yourself.”

i force a laugh before changing the subject.

“i made out with another one of your kids. she numbed out my mouth.”

his smile fades. frustration dominates his tone.

“which one?”

“the pretty skinny young-looking one.”

“are you autistic? that’s all of them. listen to me- slow down your perversion with my friends.”

i raise my eyebrow but don’t respond.

he continues, “try to wrap your little mind around this- i get them young to earn loyalty. nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two. they grow with me. it’s my career. there’s lots of divas in there. you start drama with your smooching they might not show up. that’s wasted time and effort for me.”

this registers.

i respond, “sounds familiar. like you’re leading a gang.”

“of course i am. how do you think this spectacle you enjoy so much happens? this is ‘gangs of new york’ in the clubs of chelsea and i’m bill the fucking butcher. do what you like tonight but if it happens again i’m trimming the fat you bitch.”

any trace of our previous moments’ theatrical affection is boroughs away.

my face betrays rage. his eyes are wide in anger. i look into them. his irises, already near-black, are covered by saucer-like pupils.

cocaine’s taken potential for fear from them.

noticing balled fists at my side his grin returns. he nods towards three enormous bouncers less than ten feet away. their bald heads shimmer in the street light.

he laughs. his voice shakes the shells from both barrels of my hands.

“all your tattoos and bad boy history mean nothing here.”

he breaks through another giggle before talking again.

“awww. the big man stands all by himself.”

it’s two-thirty a.m. and time to get some sleep. the bouncers lift the rope and i walk passed a row of waiting cabs towards the 8th ave l stop.*

*

*lady luck forced me into lifestyle changes long ago. business trips to ‘the rain man’ don’t coincide with them. i never returned to his block.

we saw each other years after my last visit though. at dallas bbq on 2nd ave. wearing a leather pelle pelle jacket he sat across from a woman eating a fried fish sandwich. didn’t see a point in being rude.

i walked over to say hello.

after skin deep ‘how you beens’ i asked, “no more rain coat?”

“nah, had to change up my style.”

“vanna white wasn’t worth the trouble?”

it took a second but he got the reference. his laughter was warm.

“nah player,” he answered.

we did ‘take-care good-to-see-yas’ before i walked back to my table.*

*

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we learned what a rough day was speaking to a waiter at villa berulia (on east 34th street between park ave and lex) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-tired-

*by someone who could use rest*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*his bar’s beautiful.

the bar itself is oak and the lamps have been chosen carefully. still, it’s plain he doesn’t enjoy being here. work’s work.

i look at his nose. slightly hooked, croatian, not pretty. it’s a man’s nose. i sweep my eyes over the rest of him. an untrimmed beard covering his features betrays scars. despite his ratty skull cap and musky smell he doesn’t give the impression of a messy man.

he pours me a glass of water. we meet each others’ gazes without restraint or aggression. his irises are amber. the eyes they color don’t look tired.

they are tired.

“how you been,” i ask.

“ok.”

“yeah? doesn’t sound convincing.”

almost curt but not quite he responds, “i plan to drink today. not talk about feelings.”

“fair enough,” i answer his answer.

“nothing personal of course.”

“of course.”

he reciprocates the formality.

“how’ve you been?”

“getting by.”

“doesn’t sound too bad.”

i respond, “what’s the alternative?”

he gives soft notes of laughter.

“best point i ever heard.”

i shift the topic.

“how’s milos?”

milos is the bouncer and close friend. an intriguing sentinel three nights a week.

“trying to look out for him more lately.”

“he having a hard time?”

“no more than usual,” he says.

i think he wants to laugh again but can’t.

“why’re you worried?”

“he’s been a professional boxer, junky, and every other shade of good and bad. comes from a communist country on top of it. he’s seen and done too much. now he’s working the door of my bar.”

his tone of voice says patience for questions and small talk’s disintegrating. i don’t know what to say. experience has shown me the best thing to do when you don’t know what to say is say nothing.

he shakes his head.

“sorry. you’re young. you shouldn’t get it. let’s say this- when men get to milos and my age, when they’ve had lives like ours, they can give up. that’s a dark fuckin’ thing. we need to stick together.”

“he working tonight?”

“yeah.”

“i’m going to stop by and say hello,” i decide aloud.

“milos’d like that.”

his attention’s diverting to a gray-haired man at the bar. looks like he’s assessing whether the guy should be cut off. he drinks hard himself but has special disdain for those starting in the morning.

“take care of yourself man.”

“yeah,” he says distracted.*

*

*by night i forget milos is sitting outside the bar on the corner of north 6th street and bedford ave. my self-obsession’s intensified by a purgatorial new york day.

lucky thing i walk past his corner on my way home from the subway. my commitment’s honored accidentally.

he sees me first from his perch on a stool and calls out. his voice shocks me back into the world. i walk towards him.

his skin has a just-showered look. a dress shirt’s rolled up thick forearms revealing his tattoos. some look like they weren’t done in the free world. his nose has been broken a few times.

he looks good. 

the first time i met him he had my respect without saying anything. i definitely wouldn’t talk shit if he told me i couldn’t come into the bar. he’s tough enough to not care if you believe he is.

or if you believe you are.

“how you,” his accented voice says.

we shake hands. it feels like it means something- a refreshing change.

“one of those days,” i say looking around the street bustling with people in fashionable clothing.

i keep complaining, “on days like this all this doesn’t seem real. none of these pretty people. this nice bar. sometimes not even these streets.”

he holds a cigarette. smiling he takes an easy drag.

“i know what you mean. i feel this all time. come have drink?”

“i quit drinking years ago. you know that.”

“i forget. we stay and drink these streets in then.”

he takes another focused pull on his cigarette. i draw in a deep breath.

“today the asphalt’s going down like a broken promise,” i say.

his laugh somehow sounds somber. “poet too eh? what you mean broken promise? you americans. such children. a man’s promised nothing.”

i want to argue nothing but realize i’ve gone to the dark side. my speech will only jack-hammer our evening’s mood more.

“you know i love seeing ya milos but i got to get some rest.”

“yes. i see it on your face. good seeing you too. see you again soon, no?”

“course. unless you do something dumb like give up,” i say without thought.

he smirks.

“not me. even if blinded by own blood and fighting in dark it changes nothing. i fight to end.”

“do me a favor milos?”

“sure. what this favor?”

“stay out of the dark.”

his smirk transitions back to a smile.

“i try. have good night. you stay out of dark too.”

“i’ll do what i can.”

“make sure you do no less and no more.”

“good night.”

i return his smile knowing we’ll both be ok. we’re just tired.*

*

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at mars bar (on 25 east 1st street between 2nd ave and bowery) you said, “no respectable outlaw comes here anymore.” – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-tough guy-

*by someone who’s never seen a guinea cowboy*

(frankie leone)

*

*hollywood fabricates glimpses of tough guys.

even the conjured pain of convincing actors can’t be expressed well with words. the thudding fist, song of a barrel, or introduction of a knife articulates it best. the loathing of their existence is clearest while their agony’s shared with others- as they kill more of themselves.

directors show sublime journeys of these men. the romance of their phantoms has marked me forever. still, i hate them for their lies of omission. not one master of the screen lets on where the pursuit of tough ends for those who survive it. they never show how a man knows he’s reached this imaginary place.

bleeding memories of avenues and alleyways aren’t welcome mats outside its door. scars or passed friends don’t equate to cards validating membership.  one gets there when the camera crew of other’s eyes are closed.

it’s not cinematic.*

*

*the fight’s over and it wasn’t much of one. more accurately- it wasn’t one. even a fifteen-year-old who’s spent the past three years in schools for delinquent youth’s no match for five kids three years his senior.

they shuffle towards the car double-parked where they spotted me. i’m not getting up anytime soon. the police aren’t coming. they take their time getting in.

as the car drives off i watch the rear window. all of them except the driver look at me. their mouths aren’t moving in speech. i expect their faces to smile or laugh. they don’t.

returning their stares hatred burns and throbs inside. the infection rots my guts, brain, and heart. i taste the most rancid flavor i’ve ever known. injuries from the beating aren’t comfortable either.

no posse materializes around me. i don’t call on any saint or devil for vengeance. just make myself a silent promise-

those faces watching me will look more concerned next time they see mine.*

*

“what you need guns n’ roses,” he asks nodding his chin upwards.

i assume the “guns n’ roses” bit is a joke about how i’m dressed. the guy he stands with by the public rest room in tompkins park doesn’t speak. they’re both wearing fitted mets caps with intact stickers.

they don’t look like baseball fans.

i scrutinize the right hand dangling at his side. he notices. from his wrist to the nail of his pointer is a column of uppercase letters spelling, “power of god.” this is the guy. he probably doesn’t want to be friends so i get to the point.

i make a fast gesture with my fingers. “caliche said you’d hook it up. my name’s frankie.”

“frankie huh? didn’t know my cousin be down wit’ rock and roll white boys. i’ma holla at him to make sure you legit. like a background check. if he say you cool i’ll be here tuesdee this time. caliche’s mans or not, you bring five-oh up in here somebody migh’ leave in cuffs but you ain’t leavin’ at all.”

i nod. “see you tuesday.”*

*

*from the park we don’t start a thrilling journey to a bat man cave. we walk on the street in silence. hazel searchlights in his eye sockets sweep the streets.

the trip ends at the bottom of a stairwell on avenue c. no heavy machine guns or gold-plated forty-fives hang on the walls. the dark basement reeks of reality. i don’t like the smell.

a mop-bucket filled with rags is in the corner. he kneels beside it and starts removing rag-wrapped bundles. his eyes don’t leave me. “you’s never had a strap before has you?”

“i have.”

“yeah ok,” he dismisses. “what you tryin’ to get into? sumthin’ small to bust shots at cans wit’ your boys an’ impress shorties righ’?”

i resent his words. “you’re the professional. show me something.”

“what kind of paper you workin’ wit’?”

“fifty bucks.”

his face clenches. torrents of angry spanish spew from his mouth. it’s not my language but i understand the expletives. “caliche gone get his ass whooped for this. trust and believe maricone. i’m a bidness man. how dare you clowns waste mah time coming at me wit’ chump change? i look like k mart to you nigga?”

i don’t say anything. he sighs and digs to the bottom of the bucket for a bundle. “fifty,” he say and passes it into my hands. “bitch is a three-eighty. bullets run a dolla a-piece.”

i unwrap it. there’s discoloration all over the cylinder and short barrel. someone’s filed down the back of the hammer. old tape’s wrapped around the handle and trigger. i don’t see a safety.

it looks like murder.*

*

*”i saw your cousin.”

“i heard,” he says pointing to his busted lip.

“sorry. you know i’m just as broke as you.”

“it’s all good. i’m not trippin’. let’s see it.”

i reach into my jacket pocket and hand it to him. his laughter speed bags my ego.

“you got played. my cuz musta boosted this from some wild west museum. shit’s probly got more bodies on it then a funeral parlor. kk and his team’s gone laugh their asses off if you go see ‘em wit’ this.”

he hands it back and i point my six shooter at his face. i think i’m joking.

“how funny is it?”

his tone changes. “i’m just playin’. be easy killer.”*

*

*olde english 800 isn’t meant to be sipped. when its warm gagging becomes part of the experience. unless of course someone’s very dedicated to malt liquor. i’m not there yet.

the forty’s gone in under ten minutes. cool night air helps it go down. the city warps into somewhere more comfortable while i stare at the east river from my spot at the end of houston.

i turn the cheap pistol in my hands. it’s so ugly and little. doesn’t seem like something that should exercise the “power of god.”

i remember something momma said- “only men with small dicks feel like they need to keep a gun in their pants.”

i laugh to myself and remember a kid from my neighborhood doing time.

he’s not much older than me. shot some kid in some place for some reason. something about a girl. i see his mom at the grocery. she smiles at me. it’s not the same smile i remember before he got put away. might just be in my mind though.

i look at brooklyn. then the water. my pitching arm goes to work. the throw’s kind of weak. i watch its arc into the water. should’ve been a little higher.

looks like tough’s still a few years away.*

*

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you had indigestion at tammany hall (on 152 orchard street between rivington and stanton) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-promoter-

*by someone who can’t resist a decent party*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*he makes an honest enough living hustling a sexy lie.

i’m trying to score.*

*

*his hair’s shaggy. black clothing grips his frame. watching his unsteady stance on the sidewalk of orchard street i’m reminded of a chic jack the pumpkin king. we’re both on the same block but this lanky figure’s swaying  in a different night than me.

i read his face. it isn’t a complaint form reporting a rough day. it’s a police bulletin on a brutal month. regardless, jealousy stagnates my thoughts. he’s still an exceedingly pretty man.

his hands occupy themselves. the left’s operating a marlboro light 100. it burns frantically. the pointer and thumb of the right clamp the bridge of his nose. i’m grateful i’m not close enough to hear his wet inhales.

he hasn’t seen my friends and me walking towards him. joy masks his features after dark eyes find us. we hear words vibrating with enthusiasm.

“frankie! what’s up beb? who’re your friends? i’m…”

the introduction stops and his expression goes blank. before moving an extended hand to his mouth he apologizes, “sorry i’m going to puke.”

six feet and three inches of him scurry toward the curb to feed the asphalt a brownish geyser. time syrups while i anticipate the coming awkwardness. even if a clock won’t agree the process seems to last minutes.

wiping his mouth with the back of his hand he says, “i’m so sorry. this is humiliating. it’s the heroin. i’ll be fine though. the coke should kick in soon. i’m really embarrassed.”

i fear my friends aren’t in the mood for dinner, drinks, and dancing anymore. even if it’s all free and the professionally beautiful are decor.

blasts of silence feel like a weekend in a holding cell. my friends turn wide eyes onto me and one another.

i strain a smile and force a laugh.

and keep laughing until it avalanches. authenticity buries awkwardness as our group warps its sense of humor for the occasion.

a joyous mask mutinies over a pained expression again. his voice is saturated in gratitude. “let’s get in there and party!”

lips sliding into a casual smirk, a three hundred pound earpiece and suit lifts the rope.*

*


at patrizia’s (on 35 broadway and wythe ave) you exclaimed, “i thought we were in williamsburg? there’s enough food on my plate for a human being” – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-django reinhardt-

*by someone toe-to-toe with the music*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*death looked sexy in my grandfather’s hands.

the lit fuse to his mortality always burned in one of them. he gave everyone he met a good look at it. that fuse looked like lucky strike unfiltered. two packs a day.

the smoke’d mesmerize me creeping from nostrils of his roman nose. it reminded me of silk. the kind that lines luxurious caskets. those grey rivers flowing from under his black mustache thrilled me. they poured like twenty-year-old scotch. the same they serve at plaza hotel funeral parties.

he presented grand spectacle after spectacle. each started with the click of a worn zippo. their level of skill was impressive for anyone. especially for a perpetually broke bus driver, card shark, and thief.

one born to illiterate parents who’d just stepped off ellis island.

to me those cigarettes smelled like the american dream. like everything he did, for better or worse, my poppy smoked like he meant it.

even during chemo.*

*

*no one except him could touch his guitar. ever.

“why’s it have that design around the hole and not the black tear-looking thing,” i ask.

he flips the instrument around and holds its back towards me. my green eyes absorb it. “made in spain” is branded onto the polished wood in neat stick letters.

poppy explains, “’cause spicks made this one. not uh bunch uh hick cowboys. those bastuhds know how tuh make sumthin’ beautafull.”

a seventeen year old’s musical tastes ask, “can you play any punk rock?”

leaning forward he lights a lucky with his tarnished silver zippo. the words “fuck karl marx” are etched on it.

a hundred proof stare smacks me behind the ear before he extinguishes the lighter’s flame. “shut ya stupe-it face,” he says glaring into me.

his face holds chestnut-brown ice-picks. after a frustrated drag he continues, “askin’ me sum garbage like that. yuh got rocks in yuh hed?”

i’m struck silent. his voice and the things it says are mysteries i’ll never truly understand. he was born to a different new york than me. that city only exists as ruins.

ruins in the minds of deceased immigrants’ dying children.

few have ever earned both my fear and respect. poppy has. my automatic beef with anyone over thirty won’t step up to defend punk rock. i ask a more careful question.

“what do you play then? whose songs?”

he places his cigarette far to the left between his lips. both hands begin tuning the guitar. after a grey exhale he responds. his enunciation’s just as clear with the lucky in his mouth.

“jang-go’s,” he says.

“what’s that?”

“yuh mean ‘who.’ only thuh most beautahfull sunuvabitch yuh ever heard. was missin’ uh bunch uh finguhs. uh gypsy. only one i evuh trusted. uh frog too. been worm food in some graveyard for uh while now.”

“never heard of him. sounds cool. why’s the guy your favorite?”

“only mans ever made me jealous. plays thuh kinda stuff makes yuh sane, drives yuh crazy, and takes yuh back again. day yuh great nan sent my ‘ole man off uh ruff-top in harlum he was lissnun’ tuh jeng-go. we know ’cause he lef’ the reckuhd on the playuh. jang-go played music tuh live tuh. played some tuh die tuh too.”

as he finishes he makes the sign of the cross.

“everyone told me he fell. your mom pushed your dad off that roof?

“ma weren’t on tha’ roof with ‘im but she shore as shit pusht him awff. thuh way the ole’ man foldid ain’ uh simpull thing. you’s too young tuh unerstan’.”

“i’m not a little kid. only a couple months ’til i’m a legal adult. dad isn’t big on talking about dead family. i might never hear and really want to know. tell me. please poppy.”

still tuning, the half of his mouth not holding a lucky glides into a smile. he lays the guitar across his lap and moves the cigarette into his fingers.

“yuh know my folks came from naples righ’? tha’s in itlee.”

i feel a little insulted. with instant regret i interrupt.

“i know where naples is.”

he doesn’t care for this. his index and middle fingers point into my face. the lucky between them irritates my eyes.

“shuttup kid. i’m tawkin’ here.”

“sorry, sorry, sorry,” i repeat quickly looking towards the floor.

he continues, “naples, in itlee, is uh city where dumbies don’t las’. it’s uh city uh thieves. yuh learn quick an get tough fas’. if yuh don’t sumbuddy tha’ did might intraduce yup to uh straight razuh or pistull.”

he pauses. his expression seems more thoughtful. his words are slower when he resumes.

“tuff don’ always mattuh though. my ole man’s proof. even thuh streets uh naples din’t get ‘im ready for guinea brawds. they can put yuh six under jus’ as easy as any gun or knife. get wha’ i’m tellin’ yuh kid?”

“great grandma was a handful?”

he smiles at me.

“yuh got tha’ righ’. wanna hear sum jang-go?”

“hell yeah,” i whisper with awe-filled anticipation.

poppy puts the lucky back in his lips to play his guitar.*

*


you said, “it’s your own fault if you get fat,” at popeye’s chicken and biscuits (on 2137 nostrand ave and flatbush ave) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-the devil has blue eyes-

*by someone who kisses with them open*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*it isn’t reality.

but it is. i’m ambling through the basement of my psyche to find him. or her. the one who blew the fuse to the light. one foot dream-stepping in front of the other i’m looking for trouble.*

*

*with clumsy purpose i wander to the street he lured me years back. the stretch of asphalt where i got a few of these scars. he’s still here with his friends in my memory.

the driver of the mercedes sedan holds the same glock 17. he’s nervous. he brought the tool of a killer without the right mind to operate it. the lump of metal and alloy’s more of a menacing accessory in his grip. he must be new to this.

the others are experienced craftsmen. they’re working with their hands though. they did the night i remember.

they all act like i’m not here. the streetlights are sparser in this part of my mind but i know they see me. i’ll wait. i’ve always waited years for this single moment of reckoning.

it’s my experience devils have blue eyes and darken a spirit as long as its owner needs them to. the same’s true for this guy who calls shots in the dark here.

his posture, as usual, is slouched. the windows to his soul are clear and lifeless. in this timeless neighborhood i can stare into them with nothing to lose. he knows why i’m here.

a toothpick moves around in his lips but doesn’t fall as he speaks.

“why you here playa? i ain’t tryin’ to beef wit’ you. i’m a business man. weren’t nothin’ personal.”

the toothpick’s spat on the ground. he turns his back and walks towards the car. opening a rear door he finishes.

“you politickin’. think you’s the only punk i twisted up? some other mo’fucka probly done handled my ass by now. i suggest you get to steppin’.”

in his own way he’s never lied. i can’t see why he’d start now.

the frightened driver turns the ignition key. i turn up my collar to the twilight of my neurons and stumble faster.*

*

*my stride focuses on my way into the bedroom.

this is where i shared newports (among other things) with him. he’s still here- wasting away below the surface of my consciousness.

i think he was a man once. where a soul used to be is a vacuous space now (and then). he offered it to me her with a clean syringe and an introduction to inner city projects.

an overflowing ashtray smolders. daylight’s filtering into the after-hours of my skull through drawn shades. i stand and watch him come in and out of consciousness.

his pollack face is still prettier than mine. his volcanic blue eyes still brim with dull energy.

during a slip into existence he notices me. a smile finds his lips before they mumble, “why the fuck would you come back to this shithole? there’s nothing here for you. what’re you going to do? kill me?”

he forces a weak laugh and fumbles for a smoke. he resumes after lighting the last cigarette in a soft pack of newports.

“i’ll save you the effort soon. if i haven’t already. you’re wasting your time. get out of my god damn bedroom.”

in his own way he’s never lied. i can’t see why he’d start now.

lids close over his dilated eyes. he drifts back into non-existence and i take the burning cigarette from his fingers. before starting a quicker gait i fill my lungs with a long drag.*

*

*here she is. sitting at her kitchen table in my mind.

it’s definitely her. barely pretty, exceedingly intimidating, and eerily charming. i’m sure her androgynous hair cut still encases surgically sharp intelligence. her eyes project the mean brand of assertiveness i remember.

i burned my peace, self-worth, and pride in her name.

my insides fester while i stare. it feels like hatred.

a pen in her short digits marks an onion crossword. as usual she’s unaware. i’m not discouraged because i have all night. in my cranium that’s an indefinite amount of time, and i’ve already given her most of myself.

standing toe-toe with her a truth connects a haymaker to my thoughts- this isn’t an act. it never was.

she’s oblivious to herself. oblivious to me.

in her own way she never lied. i can’t see why she’d start now.

she finishes her crossword. my visit’s finished. my sprint starts to the only one left to blame. the person i’d prayed i would never need to look in the eyes again.*

*

*the dead-bolt on the door to this apartment of my brain’s tricky.

i manage none-the-less. a misspent youth helps with misbehaving locks. i drop my bag next to the door and take a piss. aggravated, i notice there’s no toilet paper in the bathroom.

it’s unfortunate there’s no one else here to hold responsible.

after washing my hands i look into my bathroom mirror and smirk. i’ve always wanted blue eyes.*

*


i enjoyed wasting money buying you drinks at the kid cudi show at the roseland ballroom (on 239 west 52nd st between 8th ave and broadway) – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

 *

-bitches over money-

*by someone who appreciates friendly customer service*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*i always want to lie about that afternoon. say i heard shots cry out from his pistol. describe to my friends how stuyvesant park’s pigeons scattered like winged buck shot. how they fell. or how he fell.  the final scene of my imaginary western set off the myrtle ave j in bedford stuyvesant, brooklyn.

or some bull shit.

mean truths aren’t as pretty as mean girls. they aren’t made for the silver screen either. i won’t see flaco again but whether he’s dead or alive the last time i saw him on his stoop he was breathing.*

*

*six of them stand like the concrete columns holding up the myrtle avenue subway trestle they’re under just outside the park. most are around my age- sixteen. except one. he’s in his thirties. none of them are dressed for a game.

pants sag down their hips. light glints off gold or silver when they smile. red’s their clothing’s predominate color. even a white boy knows what’s going on with that, they aren’t keeping it a secret- they’re “gangster killer” bloods. 

chains around their necks tell the neighborhood they don’t experience the daily grind. they’ve chained themselves to the game. they’re on the grind.

someone wiser than i taught me something that’s made life safer: not making eye contact with those who intimidate you is folly. someone keeping his eyes stuck to brooklyn concrete stinks of fear. troublesome cologne sprays on him or her without hesitation.

soft tourists give contradictory advice to other soft tourists. i raise my eyes and nod in acknowledgement before accelerating my walk.

i don’t know them except the oldest. actually, i only know of him. i don’t want more knowledge. the feeling isn’t reciprocated. he speaks.

“what’s poppin’ young buck? knows you ain’t tryin’ to diss a nigga frontin’ like you doesn’t know why we out here. let me talk to you. we holdin’ triple stack mitsibuishi e pills. nicks of coke too. it’s that fire! i knows you coppin’ ’round here. i got you.”

i stop walking. bad move.

“no disrespect man. flaco’s got me. he said to drop his name on anyone that talks to me on my way to his spot,” i answer without thought.

the kids look at each other and smile. this is a problem  i don’t need.

the man responds, “that so white boy? that’s what he said? where that spic be at now? he still posted up on pulaski street? i want to holla at him.”

i stay quiet.

“‘ight. i respect that. listen, these little niggas ain’t gone run your pockets. they ain’t gone whoop your ass neither. they even gone let you walk back to the train with that enchilada eatin’ mo’ fuckas shit. you gettin’ paid with all that. paid to tell him somethin’ for me. feel me?”

it’s too late to start walking again. i’m committed to the conversation. i stay quiet. he moves his body within a few feet of me. a large finger rests on my chest. a bracelet with heavy gold links and a plate engraved with the letters “gkb” slides around his wrist. 

he gives me his message.

“he ain’t workin’ ’round here no more. if he does he works for me. you heard? tell him i know where he’s at.”

my eyes had broken from his. i engage his glare again. he finishes.

“aight then. have a nice day bitch.”

a cold smile splits his features while the j train’s din consumes myrtle avenue.*

*

*fall’s wilting towards winter. still, flaco sprawls on the stoop in an over-sized white tee and baggy shorts ending below his knees. i’ve never seen him anywhere else. seems like he never leaves. he usually has a black and mild, tall boy of bud, and bag of utz potato chips. there’s a bodega down the block. i wonder if they deliver.

this dilapidated building’s stoop always struck me as a strange place for a twenty-four pharmacy. he sees me and sits up straight.

“que pasa little homie? what you need? holdin’ double stacks today. teddy bear pills. i know you feelin’ my x. for you i can do two for twenty. ain’t got yayo for you. gone have to come back mignona for that.”

i don’t know what to say. my mediocre poker face speaks before i do. he responds to it.

“what you trialin’ and tribulatin’ ’bout pobre sito? nice day. you gone get high. you ain’t got kids. you ain’t got bills. yo’ rock star lookin’ ass probably got a fly shorty. you kissin’ lady luck nigga.”

he laughs. i give him the message i carry. he leaves a laughing mood.

flaco’s silent, contemplative. his eyes stab across pulaski street. they seem to pierce the blocks of section eight housing, ninety-nine cent shops, bodegas, and liquor stores obstructing his stare.

the absence of words roars my heart to a drum roll. he lights a black and mild with a white bic. i notice an old cigarette burn on his right palm.

not knowing what to say i ask, “how’d you get that scar?”

i point to it.

“fucked around and slapped hands wit’ el diablo a while back. you ain’t got to worry ’bout that though. sit yo’ ass down.”

there’s a bulge under his shirt at the waist. i have a good idea what it is. looking this problem in the eye seems better than it putting holes in my back. i sit down.

i’m hesitant to blunder into the quiet. he doesn’t say anything for a few moments of forever.

“tell me what you know ’bout hookers chico.”

“sorry flaco. just did what you told me to. can’t blame me. i promise not to come around here anymore.”

he spits back, “you listenin’? i ain’t talkin’ ’bout them niggas runnin’ they mouths in the park. i asked what you know ’bout hos.”

i’m not in a position to argue about our discussion’s topic.

“i don’t know. used to be a lot on kent ave before hipsters started coming to williamsburg. they’ve got diseases. shoot smack. get slapped around by pimps. that kind of stuff.”

his eyebrows wrench down in anger.

“you dead wrong ’bout all that son. that’s some ignorant shit. mi madre was a ho. she weren’t sick or a fiend. more’n anything though: momma weren’t givin’ her loot to no nigga with a feather stickin’ out his dome. you hear me maricone?”

it isn’t my day. this is twilight zone material. i wonder if he’s high. this could be my last conversation on earth.

“yeah man. definitely.”

he takes a long drag off his black and mild.

“my momma used protection. you know ’bout that right?”

“condoms?”

he shakes his head.

“ain’t that simple. she handled business like a professional. weren’t no one’s poota. some mug didn’t want to wear a rubber she’d bounce on his ass for sure. with or without her paper. my ma dukes got wit’ a union though. you know what that is?”

i proceed with caution.

“they protect workers. didn’t know there were unions for hookers though. it’s not legal.”

one side of his mouth lifts in a smirk.

“your mind es paquito. you needs to think like peecasso. abstractly. my moms had dignity. that was the union she got down with. that was her protection.”

i don’t understand why he’s telling me these things. i’m just grateful i might leave bedstuy.

“that was smart. she made her own union.”

his expression’s pacified.

“damn right. i’m gone keep it real with you though. some faggot ass nigga thinkin’ he was some kind pimp tried to fuck with her shit. i was mad young. almost lost my momma to that maricone. she told me all ’bout it. know who save’t my moms chico?”

“who?”

“her union’s rep. nigga brought her in.”

“i don’t understand.”

his tone sharpens. 

“quit interruptin’ then. her union rep was a cheap ass bottle of rose sittin’ on a motel table. cut that bendajo’s throat wit’ it. ear to ear. mad surgical. stained them sheets up so bad even one of them hood ass motels couldn’t keep them shits.”

if there’s an appropriate reply i can’t think of it. i’m beginning to understand what he’s saying though. i let the sounds of his block have a turn in the conversation. across the street a fat landlady reminds a tenant it’s the sixth of the month at the top her lungs.

eventually i take a chance.

“you don’t have to kill anyone flaco. if anything you should just set up shop a little ways out of the neighborhood. it’s a big city.”

he smiles.

“you know what my momma’s pain show’t me playboy?”

“what?”

“bitches over money. lots of hustlin’ niggas, like these ones talkin’ tough by the park, got shit backwards. think they pimps. they gone get they minds right.”

“what’re you going to do?”

“not a damn thing. the union rep’s gone holla at them niggas.”

he pats his waist. the butt of his union rep’s outlined through his tee shirt. it’s plain he’s made up his mind.

i ask, “in broad day light?”

his smile seems appropriate.

“momma always said when you fuckin’ leave them lights on.”

he laughs. we listen to the land lady and sirens of a passing ambulance for more moments of eternity.

“november’s gone turn to july ’round here. best get to the train. le’me bless you wit’ a couple hits. they free.”

“good looking out man,” i reply.

i palm two plastic-wrapped pills and start walking. half-way to the j train i regret my mediocre thank you.*

*

(details modified out of respect and fear. also for the page.)

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you bought me bondage gear at the leather man, inc. (on 111 christopher st between bedford st and bleeker st) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-“go in and get your dog collar”-

*by a grateful kid*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*”what do you want for your birthday kid?”

“a spiked collar. one like sid vicious had.”

dad doesn’t like this. his expression says it with emphasis. he’s old. he’s italian. he’s from brooklyn.

his childhood hasn’t prepared him to appreciate punk rock. it definitely hasn’t prepared him to appreciate it around his thirteen year-old son’s neck. i already have my answer. he reiterates it.

“one of them leather things the perverts wear while they smack each other around? forget about it. what else you want?”

i usually seethe at the old man. these moments bring me to a boil. i unclench my teeth long enough to breathe, “nothing.”

we sit across from each other in a pastry shop on bleeker. i’ve had a cannoli. he’s had espresso.

he glares in silent rage. his stare beats me with a bat while i hear slow quiet words.

“ok kid. let’s go.”

“where?”

“christopher street.”

he pays. we walk in silence.

we start down christopher. i’ve never seen it in daylight or on a weekend. doesn’t look too different from any other west village block. the gavones at school made it sound like i’d get propositioned by a gay guy after a few steps.

i’m unimpressed.

we stop in front of a store. i know i don’t belong in it. the window boasts an anatomically correct manikin wearing leather. it’s inside a cage. the store’s sign reads “the leather man.”

the olive oil in his veins has stopped boiling.

i should know better than to relax though. he’s taught me to cook. i’ve been warned oil can melt your skin after a half-hour off the stove.

dad hands me a fifty dollar bill.

“go in and get your dog collar.”

i understand. embarrassment’s an effective tool of his.

“can’t i buy it on 8th street or st. marks,” i ask.

“give my money back.”

“fine,” i surrender.*

*

*i’m in and out in two flicks of a dom’s crop. the sales associate in the mask with un-zippered mouth and eye holes is helpful. the collar’s mine.

one like sid vicious had.*

*

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you gave me freight elevator eyes at the sycamore (on 118 cortelyou road between e 11th st and westminster road) – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-our 37th birthday-

*by someone who usually despises singing*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*she invites me over around ten pm.

i start the trek to the church ave q stop near the border of flatbush, brooklyn. the subways can be ruthless with a person’s time. it takes an hour to get there.

soon after arriving i realize i’ve forgotten condoms. it’s her roommate’s birthday at twelve am this heartlessly cold night. she realizes she’s forgotten a gift.

rock, paper, scissor, shoot.

“enjoy your stroll baby,” my voice winks.

her middle finger extends close to my face before she walks into the night.*

*

*entenmanns’s cake- vanilla. chocolate frosting.

three pack of condoms- lubricated trojans. black box.

can of 4 loko- twelve percent alcohol by volume. twenty-three point five ounces.

birthday candles- twelve pack. blue and pink.

she comes back with it all in a plastic bag emblazoned with a smiley face. after a few moments of laughter she speaks. her words are saturated with embarrassed amusement.

“my sweet bodega man will never look at me the same again.”*

*

*while his candles burn she sings with sugary affection in short shorts. my lack of enthusiasm’s jerry-rigged out of sight. i sing in a wife-beater and boxer briefs. he wears an oversized queens college t-shirt. his voice trembles with ecstatic gratitude. i initially mistake it for panic.

the living room’s dark. he’s perched on their sofa bathed in the indifferent glow of a television.*

*

*he’s turned thirty-seven years old. his body’s pale, pink, and portly.

at twenty five he left the orthodox jewish community he’d spent his entire life in. he’s unsuccessful as a professional and with women. it’s clear he feels he doesn’t belong anywhere. i know that when i see it.

he articulates all this shortly after our introduction.

him and i converse longer than necessary. her expression urges me to move onto the night’s next activity. he rambles awkwardly and i hear a self-destructive obsession with cards lady luck’s forced into his grip.

he makes me uncomfortable. i ask myself why but can’t put my tattooed finger on it.

i don’t know it now but even though we’ve never met before we’ve known each other our whole lives. looking at him i see my mirror image.*

*

*she has multiple roommates and thin walls. this considered it could be said the volume of our morning sex is inconsiderate.

all good things must come to an end. it does.

audible foot steps walk away from the bedroom door moments after. i ask, “is it just me being paranoid or did he listen outside the door?”

she whispers, “i’d love to tell you, and myself, he didn’t. it’s pretty likely we just gave a birthday performance though.”

i muffle my laugh and sing happy birthday with genuine enthusiasm.*

*

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Protected: at legion (on 790 metropolitan between graham ave and humboldt st) you didn’t understand why i wasn’t thrilled to be an artist – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

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the food at peaches (on 393 the corner of lewis ave and macdonough st) was rad after you booted me out – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-racist-

*by someone who needs to get p.c.*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*”you’ve never been an escort?”

the blade of her words glistens with flattering surprise. the question doesn’t offend me. it probably should.

i parry, “no. why would you ask?”

“it’s not unusual for lonely and good-looking guys with some charisma to brush with it. you’d make good money.”

i don’t respond right away. the compliment sharpens the double-edged steel of my ego. this dysfunction irks me.

i suppress a smile. with wooden pride i feign sarcasm, “thanks for telling me i’d be a successful hooker baby.”

her bed’s smaller than i’m used to. it forces us closer to intimacy.

the whetting stone of her words continues, “sorry casanova. sensitive after we come aren’t we?”*

*

*”sin city” pushes pins and needles of romantic carnage into the night that follows.

her friend joins us. amiable and full-figured with guarded sharpness. seemingly latina.

my thoughts wander to an e.r. doctor i know. he’d told me the majority of injuries he sees are kitchen related, self-inflicted, and involve knives.

a samurai sword wielding prostitute cuts street justice across the screen of the old tv. the butcher knife of my voice slips, “asians freak me out.”

“why,” her friend asks. i don’t notice their winces at my carelessness.

stealthily, my speech gashes me. “i don’t know. unfamiliar features. generally cold cultures.”

“i’m half nepalese,” the friend informs me.

i panic. thoughtless torrents of speech flow. “damn. well, you don’t speak with an accent. doesn’t count. plus the clerks at the st marks grocery are nepalese. you look nothing like them.”

the wound i’ve made needs stitches. cheap band aids’ve only exacerbated the problem.

her small bed’s a sexless e.r. waiting room until dawn.*

*

*i’m just a man.

i try to make her horny enough to get some in the morning. she starts giving in but kicks me sheathless before the point of no return. before getting up to take a piss i scratch a dishonest smile over my blued expression.

her bathroom lights have red bulbs.*

*

*scabs form over my sexual frustration by the time i got back. across the room on the small bed she scrapes them off.

she’s naked on all fours. her blunt voice rakes, “fuck me.”

i’m just a man.*

*

*”can i write a few hour before work?”

“i’d rather you didn’t. i need more sleep before i leave. we don’t know each other that well and i really like my things,” she replies.

this answer’s brutally efficient- a guillotine blade. before getting my shit together i scratch another dishonest smile onto a decapitated head.

my headless body walks to the g train.*

*


i dug your show at lulu’s (on 113 franklin street between greenpoint ave and kent st) – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

 *

-bleach blonde freedom-

*by someone who understands

more than he’d like to*

(frankie leone, just a man)
*
*she moves like falling dominos. improperly spaced.  placed at thoughtless angles.

her hair’s bleach blonde flax. it was spun by a strung out rapunzel.

she’s losing her grip on youth. the tune she sings is a weary plea for its return.

grains of it remain in her palm. they’re moistened by blood trickling from small cuts. girlishly manicured fingernails are double-edged swords guarding sand of a time passed.

i lean on the railing of this damp balcony watching. it’s plain i’ll never speak to her. i won’t see her again either.

still, i watch while she moves with a desperate version of grace. i watch while her ballad carries a strained version of freedom to my ears.

i can’t see her eyes. i imagine an icy blue. eating-sized fish are frozen still inches below their surface.

my heart lowers.

i don’t get warmer. i don’t get colder. there’s no time for good-bye.

i turn my collar up to the night before facing it.*

 *


i clock watched at five leaves ny (on 18 bedford ave and lorimer street) during my private writing lecture from a non-writer. bad first date. – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-critic-

*by someone who hears but rarely listens*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*she stands in front of the table.

the man’s long arm flexes as he writes. a cheap pen moves across the paper. the little girl watches with intense disappointment.

no quill or stylus. the much-anticipated typewriter is absent. sleek cursive isn’t written onto papyrus or into a leather-bound notebook. only ripped newsprint holds his words.

the child’s displeasure honestly dominates her expression. the man’s unaffected. with tired grace he keeps writing.

she asks, “what do you write about?”

“things i want to forget,” he says pen moving. his voice is nearly a whisper.

her face scrunches in confusion.

“why?” she pursues reflexively.

“so other people can remember them,” he answers.

the young girl senses she’s reached a dead end. she takes her questioning in a different direction. “why do you want to forget them?”

“they’ve forgotten me.”

she takes a moment to digest this. he picks up a loose cigarette and lights it with a fluid movement.

he inhales. he exhales. he resumes his work.

unsatisfied, she speaks again, “why do you care about people who don’t care about you?”

a column of smoke passes his lips. it pan cakes over the paper. in seconds it disperses around his thin body. “i can’t remember.”

she crinkles her nose. her questions are innocent. like the colorful print of her dress. she asks another.

“who wants to read about forgetful people?”

his words fall onto the page. his patience stands tall. “people who’ve been forgotten.”

a short moment passes while she processes this. she volleys back, “mister, are you crazy?”

he stops writing. smiling, he puts out his cigarette and folds tattooed arms. an understanding gaze meets the girl’s.

“depends who you ask,” he pauses before resuming, “you could write things i’d like to forget too if you ask me.”

giggling she responds, “i don’t know anyone who’s forgotten you. what would i write?”

his pen goes back to work. he answers, “reviews.”*

*


i still smile about how you blew off that drunk guy at the levee on 212 berry st and n 3rd st – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-our scars-

*by someone who doesn’t do romantic comedies*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*her dirty blonde hair’s in the arachnid of my hand. the digits of my other move down the side of her face. i look into her eyes and can’t decipher them. i try desperately.

i hope to conjure a cinematic moment but expect failure. in a voice my roommates won’t hear through thin walls i say, “tell me something.”

there’re moments of comfortable silence. she answers, “i love the way you touch me.”

for vain reasons i ask, “how do i touch you?”

she pauses and creates the moment without me. blowing away the dust of negative expectation she exhales, “you reach into me and shake me out of myself.” 


it’s said slowly and without deliberateness.

i’ve heard men with ivy-league educations and platinum card filled wallets stand up the truth. i’ve watched hustlers with hearts colder than the metal in their waists stomp it into the gutter. she speaks in a voice familiar with silver polish inches from my face. i believe her.

her words and i are shamed. my only response is, “that’s beautiful.”*

*

*it might be in a time before my memory, but my skin’s never looked like fate and fortune forgave it. hers looks like it’s never offended either. at first glance.

per usual, my judgment’s wrong. she has scars too.

earlier, but still after twelve, our breathing begins to accelerate in my dim bedroom. i see them for the first time in the glow of street-lights filtering through my window. fearing the obvious i ask in a whisper, “how’d you get those?”

she looks into my eyes without much of an expression on her pretty face. her voice rustles, “i made them.”

anguish, sadness, and guilt sweep over me like spilt whiskey on a cherished record. i’m only a man. we stop speaking. our breathing gets heavier. eventually it returns to normal.*

*

per usual i stare at the ceiling. the living dead.

still whispering she speaks, “do the scars bother you?”

lying isn’t my tightest game. i go with what i know.

“yes, but not for the reason you think. it bothers me you were in that much pain.”

we kiss. with no cloth touching my body i tell pieces of my truth. pieces that mar skin that’s made a few ignored apologies.

“…this one is for my ma and little sis…

…this one happened when i was 16. i got jumped…

…this one is for my old man. it’s his favorite waitress…

…this one happened when they cut a tumor out of my chest…

…this one’s for nickie noche. he was taken four years ago. a stand-up guy…” 


i go on and on. it takes too long.*

*

*we whisper more in the morning. i need to know.

“when you first saw me why did you want me?”

she answers, “i didn’t see your nice clothes, mean scars, or pretty tattoos. i saw your face. i trusted it.”

i feel a small wave of panic crash onto me.

“i’m not an easy person to like. people i care for are forced to dislike me. i mean it that it makes me glow that you’re into me. try to believe me when i say i don’t want to watch you to walk away but i can’t promise you won’t.”

she puts her arms around my skinny waist. she draws herself closer. staying true to our whispers she says, “i know.”*

*


i was the lousy painter walking to 151 kent avenue from north greenpoint – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

published by thewgnews.com

 *

-christ on kent avenue-

*by someone desperately trying

to “get off the cross” erected in his mind*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*she doesn’t smell like hope. we’d smell the same if i’d been born beautiful.

she’s sitting in the passenger seat of a rental van i paid a hundred dollars for at a williamsburg penske lot. the television i don’t own could show a pacific coast.

its water would massage my eyes with only half the strength of the blue filling her irises.

doesn’t matter. i’m on the clock and watching the road. not admiring the ocean with a corona.

at a light she looks into the shadows in my eye-sockets. i nearly believe she sees what i want her to.

we ride over the williamsburg bridge. it’s early. the street-lights are a ways off. i’m grateful there’s no coins on those eyes while i ferry her out of the borough of lost boys onto the island of broken promises.

i ask what her passion is.

“i write too,” she offers.

when asked to describe her poetry she replies, “dark and lustful.”

it’s been a while since i’ve been in a church. still, my thoughts turn from poland springs to dark and lustful boones farm wine.

my best impression of a gentleman endures.

she expresses gratitude for the paid service i’m providing. i respond.

“you’re welcome. i’m glad i got to find out who you are,” and tap on the breaks of my boat loaded with her worldly possessions at the red light on clinton and delancey.*

*

*“will you paint my bedroom tomorrow? it’s small and the ceiling doesn’t need painting. i don’t want to deal with it. just need my security deposit. two-hundred dollars? tomorrow at five?”

she doesn’t know. i’d paint her whole building to barter time there. even alone and working as the help.

my features are heavy. the crocodile smile disturbing my stubble appreciates the break. it adjusts to speak.

“love to. i’ll be there.”*

*

*it’s noon two days later.

i’m out of bed feeling like things are going to happen for me. three days of work gave me sleep that usually only happens underneath headstones.

i slouch on a broken couch upholstered with dirty gold velour. my attire consist of an undershirt, grime-stained bandanna, glasses, and thoughtlessly low shorts. it’s all covered in paint stains. pronounced hip-bones of a body momma complains is too skinny are exposed.

the girls next door are making everyone french toast. i haven’t had breakfast beyond cereal in what seems like years.

a delfonics song breaks from my phone. fingers covered in primer paint reach for it.  they silence “hey love.”

“morning.”

“good morning frankie,” my piece of metal and plastic passes along in an edged tone.

“how’s the paint looking? everything ok?”

“it doesn’t look finished. there’s paint on the floor and furniture. i’m about to cry.”

“i’m getting on my bike now. i’ll fix it. be there in twenty minutes.”

verizon wireless yawns behind a executioner mask. its axe falls.

“i’m not concerned with the money. keep it. i’m doing it myself. good bye frankie.”

the call ends. that’s what they do.

something inside twists and snaps. something inside freezes and shatters. i want to believe it’s my heart.

untrue. i’m saturated with an anguish that’s been with me much longer than her. 

something in my back pocket’s nauseated.

folds of vinyl alligator skin bought in a jersey thrift shop for a buck fifty vomit two-hundred dollars into an envelope. my warped romantic ideas dash towards a similar restroom.

a bic pen places an apologetic plea for acceptance across it. my camouflaged hope for sympathy colors a sunset of sincerity a muddy brown.

in reform school an older boy with home-made tattoos on his face passed a life-long see-saw of half-truth to me-

“all chicas are bitches or whores except the virgin de guadalupe and our moms.”

the latter gave me an enormous box of mentos for my birthday. it’s shaped like a stack of printer paper. the envelope finds its way inside.

i borrow a bicycle built for someone who isn’t six-feet four-inches of lanky limb. its owner’s head’s is level with my sternum. she urges me to stay calm.

“it’s not the end of the world.”

a shaking hand of clarity floats in my din of frenzied emotion. it uncocks a saturday night special of misplaced rage. i don’t have the courage to put it against my temple.*

*

*it’d be liberating to paint the logo of bitch or whore on my idea of her. i search my mind for the stencil.

lady luck smirks with a dash of sadism. it isn’t there.

my vision’s clear enough to see a near-stranger wanting to help a broke guy. her intention wasn’t to get fucked.

i start pedaling down the long stretch of road along north brooklyn’s water-front. the sky’s cloudless, electric blue, and pelting over-enthusiastic rays. i don’t interject it’s too rough.

it’s caught up in our moment’s passion.

i try to believe i’m peddling towards an act of fate-altering devotion. i try to believe i’m peddling towards affirmations of nobility and beauty. i try to believe i’m peddling towards personifications of hope and salvation.

all bullshit. the present’s fogged the thick-rimmed glasses on my face.

it’s ok. i won’t need them soon. lasik surgery waits in greenpoint with a girl who has enough money but no time or emotion to spare.

i’ve stuffed two-hundred dollars of forgettable romance movie into an envelope. mismanaged funds financing delusion-fueled melodrama.*

*

*in the suburbs there’re paper-boys. i never knew one. through a blind-fold of fear i couldn’t see another way.

sight isn’t needed to wring green paper out of flexible morals. it’s been a long time since i’ve felt the rush (guilt, and consequences) of stuffing someone else’s livelihood into my pocket. old memories still crawl around the inside of my skull- ugly little flies with their wings ripped off.

there’s no room for a de-feathered swan.

the fact i wasn’t a paper-boy shines. my tattooed arm tosses the package of refined sugar, unwelcome apology, and ten worn portraits of andrew jackson past her building’s front fence towards its door.

lady luck sips a martini and turns her head in disinterest. dupont street’s asphalt writes her fake phone number on the cocktail napkin of my flesh.

my elbow shreds. my wrists let loose crimson from gravel-filled scrapes. four gashes appear along my legs. skin on my ankles and tops of my feet take a vacation. worn canvas slip-ons soak up a long swig of me.

part of the truth is i don’t want her to see these things. i pick up the rest of it off the ground almost as fast as myself-

this beautiful stranger might see the extent of my ability to lie to myself.

i throw the chain-less bicycle across my shoulders and bolt from those eyes. i don’t realize i’m running blind more than figuratively.

i leave my dignity, delusion, blood, and glasses on dupont street.*

*

*later i’ll lie out of shame why i’m not riding the pint-sized bicycle home. it’d lower the widow-maker’s blade on this long hour of self-pity.

i leave the chain off and carry it on my back. red-smeared hands hold it level with my shoulders.

i want blood. i want tears. i want a narcissistic performance of agony for an audience of one.

i want to walk along the water.*

*

*they see me before i see them.

a teenager with androgynous-features and man with a camera. the smell of success bought with someone else’s credit-card fills my resentful nostrils.

i have to give it to them- they pull it off. the noon sun looks good on their hollywood personas. the man with the camera speaks accented words intended to be heard by me.

“when we got in the cab on 11th avenue did you think we’d find ourselves a hip jesus with a bicycle walking to martyrdom on the other side of this river?”

the model’s response is in french. i don’t understand the language. none-the-less, it irks me more than the photographer’s unwelcome playfulness.

more sound-waves find their way out of the big deal, “hey handsome, have you considered modeling? without all that blood and dirt you might be able to kill a few ladies with that face and body. all those tattoos too! may i have a photo of my lord and savior?”

this isn’t flattering. or insulting. it’s only singing a love-song to a special kind of vanity. it’s an offer to prove this hasn’t happened only in my mind.

my stride stops. he raises his camera to etch another soul. there’s no flash. i wince after the camera’s mechanical noise anyway.

finished, he approaches to put a business card in my shorts’ pocket. i ignore the lack of boundaries.

“so, who’s your roman cheri? the one that left you to walk to the hill all by yourself! delivery truck? pot-hole?”

i start walking. under my breath i speak from the old testament. my words are worth fifteen pieces of silver.

“me.”*

*

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i was infatuated with who i needed you to be on the willyburg bridge – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

 *

-hand tattoos and a creep staring-

(predecessor of -christ on kent avenue-)

*by someone who believes

without a dream new york forgets you*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*“i’m afraid of her.”

“why?” he says, irritated.

“she’s gorgeous.”

“that’s ridiculous. it’s just a face, an ass, and legs. she’s got no control over it. i could take it all away easy. the razor in the glove-box would handle the job in a few seconds.”

silence settles over us. we stop at the light on broadway and havemeyer street. using a rolling machine he makes a cigarette quickly. he isn’t rushing. just fast.

the fingers handling bugler tobacco are attached to hands covered in colorful tattoos. the ink’s fading like an innocence bled gray decades ago. i remember machines at bushwick laundromats.

one of my calloused hand grips the steering wheel of the van i drive for him. the other feels stubble on my face. my thoughts vibrate with her.

but not really. only an idea seizures through my brain. an idea that won’t be chased the way i pursue it.

inaccurate statement. there’s no pursuit. through dim lights lining the dive bar of my mind i’m staring. i hope it’ll notice and sprint towards me.

the sun relaxes in a sparsely clouded sky. no angry glare.

my disinterest needs a work out. it’s gotten flabby. i flex it by taking off prescription glasses and putting on scratched aviators.  the skyline becomes hazy.

we start across the williamsburg bridge. i release my thoughts. 

“i need to be in love.”

his eye-brows reach up in puzzlement. the cherry of his lit rollie grows long and orange .

this van’s not the place. this afternoon’s not the time. this guy in the passenger seat’s not the audience. that was not the thing to say.

he’s made it through some unforgiving alleyways and avenues. dues have been paid to my city. once and a while i consider his words. 

exhaling thick smoke he speaks in an authoritative tone. his voice is slow.

“there’s ideas blowing bubbles in your skull but listen my man- you’re in a place, at a time, where there’s no room for unrealistic motherfuckers.

“especially one’s trying to live poetry that’ll always pays less than me.”

silence takes control again. feeling nothing i decide to not react. the conversation turns to mutual acquaintances and music we feel lukewarm about.*

*


i was your chauffeur from lorimer and jackson st to a hip hop producers funeral in brownsville, bk – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

 *

(published by freewilliamsburg.com)

 *

-ponce funeral home-

*by someone who’s found self-awareness

won’t get you on the l train without a swipe*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*i lied myself into thinking i did it for sex. this lie coursed through my veins and i believed it would’ve been better to have done it for sunrises and roses.

i see more truth now. i did it trying to feel a few rays from a sunrise and catch a whisp of a rose.

looking backwards from the end of the line i know i should’ve done it for sex.

she did it because she could. she did it because she knew i would.

we both did it because it was where we were.*

*

*she wears impure thought-inspiring skirts and red lipstick. it sticks to my lips without forgiveness. i wear scars and a version of my truth. she reads both through my eyes like a pulp novel.

i ask her why she likes me. she bites words into my earlobes, “i love the way you touch me.”

i love to touch her. especially her legs. in braille they tell me my favorite lies.*

*

*we’re in my dimly lit bedroom way past midnight. my left hand creeps across her features. she says to me, “you’re like a blind man.”

i tell her, “there’s a lot of dim lights in this city. they usually only tell half the truth, if any at all. i normally wouldn’t want to see anything you wouldn’t want me to. sorry baby, i’m reading your truth and i won’t ask for permission”

i know i’m lying. the darkness only betrays our silhouettes. still, i see the scoreboard shining brighter than the afternoon sun. it laughs onto both of us.

i know we’re both losing these frigid february weeks*

*

*she walks out of the cold and draws the door of my battered car shut. i put my lips on hers. they almost seem there. the corner of lorimer and jackson might feel embarrassed.

it has no reason to. our kiss is passionless. the fog on the windows is my faulty defrost.

we speak a lot about nothing. it’s time to shift the gears of my jalopy’s automatic transmission. i do, steering towards the fourth street-light on the left and straight on ‘til dusk.*

*

*following their usual m.o. the streets gusting around the outside of my car are disinterested. i sense they feel like an exhausted woman after work having a glass of wine at a neighborhood bar. the passengers of my 96′ toyota camry are tipsy players coming out of the shadows to get lucky.

it’s clear crossing the bushwick border into east new york the street-lights, glowing under the prematurely falling winter sun, are reaching into their purses for spray bottles of battery acid.*

*

*i know i don’t belong. i think she does too. not certain though.

the neighborhood smells like bodega beer on the concrete, the police blotter, and forgetfulness. this is ironic. no one standing outside our destination has forgotten a damn thing.

the sky’s gray and unconcerned with the mirthfulness of anyone’s expression. definitely not the people at the ponce funeral home in brownsville, brooklyn.

their skin swirls with coffee. their eyes with espresso. skull caps hug their heads and cigarettes burn matter-of-factly between their fingers. when they speak it’s to the point. they don’t speak much because there isn’t much to say.

i admire them for this.

i realize the absence of something to say doesn’t stop me from writing volumes of nothing across yawning air.

one man’s expression remains onyx when i say like a fucking asshole, “sorry for your loss. i didn’t know him but i’m sure he was a stand-up guy.”

his eyes breeze freon into mine. his short response, bristling with unconcerned intensity, etches itself into my psyche, “he was playboy.”

we walk around. she holds hands, is sad, and speaks soothing words softly and sweetly. i stand silent and nod with nervous politeness; the only white boy in a room full of people who don’t know me. i don’t belong.

nothing new.*

*

*his (?) mother is beautiful. her hair’s straightened and pulled back into a bun with streaks of gray. on her thick body is a black dress and blazer. she probably puts the other ladies at church to shame most sundays.

for some reason she directs a space heater at me- the cold white boy in a room full of strangers.

she grips her husband’s hand while they sit in the first row of folding chairs in front of his (?) casket. full lips covered in red lipstick part to smile. she asks in a confectioner’s voice, “did you know him (?)?”

“no miss. my friend did,” i point to her and continue like a fucking asshole, “but i’m sorry for your loss. i’m sure he (?) was a wonderful son”

i know she’s going to walk with her head away from the concrete and her back straight most days. even if tears escape those light brown eyes. she continues to speak to me like she’s known me longer than an instant.

she sounds like a violin solo absent of self-pity. “at least i had him (?) for thirty-two years. i tried to raise him (?) the best i could.”

i feel everything i can.

i know beyond any shadowy doubt i love her*

*

*we leave the ponce funeral home passing groups of men and women wearing dark sunglasses. this sunless day is over. we step onto atlantic avenue and into my car.*

*

*it’s after dusk in brooklyn and my skull. she tells me about her other men while i grip the steering wheel with one hand trying not to listen. a dirty-south hip-hop song plays through blown-out speakers.

it tells her, and me, it doesn’t care. the tires spin with indifference as i feel as little as i can.

we cross into bushwick but my thoughts are back in the brownsville of my brain. they’re scouring the alleyways of my psyche. i need to find the woman i love more than drawing breath. i need to apologize and give the embrace i was too afraid to give.

i need to find momma. she’d been sitting in the first row of folding chairs in front of his (?) casket.*

*


american spirits are fifty cents a piece now. still, you bummed me a newport and a sucker punch. – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

 *

-a number and his number seven-

*by someone fighting himself

for the freedom to find her*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*our cigarettes burn but hope’s been in the butt can awhile. fear and distrust smolder even through torrential rain. no matter what burns and what doesn’t this place is dark on sunny days. 

we don’t smoke here because it’s an option. we smoke because there isn’t another. we all have full packs of the same cheap brand of resignation.

the little clarity i’ll gain later will reveal i smoked it long before getting here. memories of this harsh brand will keep me coughing through too many brooklyn nights.

*

my green eyes take in too-familiar concrete, asphalt, and dirt. breathing deeply i inhale razor wire and chain-link through the marlboro in my long fingers.

i exhale the scent of a petrifying heart.

i stare at him with squelched curiosity and ingrained intensity. my cigarette’s taken in more dramatically, desperately. ineffective forgetfulness curls slowly from my nostrils.

i ask grayness loitering in still air, “why does that dude always hang by himself?”

“slow your roll playboy. i know you ain’t trying to parle with father time. you straight wildin’,” a fellow number with a face answers.

wiping droplets of sweat off my cheek i heel out my cigarette in the dirt and get up. i start walking to approach a man i’ll see later as a brother.

this man walks alone but is spared by jackals. he isn’t spared because of his clear ability to fight. he isn’t spared because he’s kin.

he’s spared because he’s locked in a scrap. he’s thrown down on himself believing he’s kin to none.

any jackal who’s seen enough knows a few important things. one of them is that if you don’t want to risk joining the loser don’t approach a man handling beef.*

*

*as i ease onto the ground next to him, against an unremarkable concrete wall, he chooses not to make eye contact.

i speak, “my man, can i get one of your newports? on my mother i’ll pay you back when i get my commissary.”

not changing his expression he stares straight into something, somewhere, or someone i can’t see. i’ve seen enough to know it’s there. i almost want to see it too.

he speaks in a calm tone, “didn’t the other young bucks school you to ease up off me baby boy? didn’t they drop on ya that i’ll make you smile with your neck like i was brushing my damn teeth?”

i should be afraid. this day i’m not.

i answer, “nah. they said you’re a prince. a regular mother hen around here.”

a smile disrupts his features. his teeth are rotted in a way i’ve never seen; mostly there but eroded to less than a quarter their original girth. rotten sawed-off toothpicks fill his mouth.

“you’s some kind of joker ain’t you little homie? even you gots to know it ain’t never christmas round here. i’m gone bless you. never again though. you heard?”

he even lights it for me.

while he strikes the match i see numbers one through seven tattooed on seven dark knuckles. all of them were done with a machine except one. number seven’s homemade. done here. on the back of his hand is a name in stylized cursive.

a woman’s name.

“what’re the numbers for?”

“you writing some kinda book?”

there’s silence. a long silence, before he speaks again.

“to let the devil know how many times to whoop my ass after the reaper hollers last call.”

he doesn’t need to explain. i understand. those numbers are men.

men not with us anymore.

“why’s seven a stick and poke?”

he surprises me by answering, and answering more quickly, “you seen’t any tattoo spots round here?”

“nope.”

i hesitate then continue, “but the captain said nobody’s dropped a body in the twenty years he’s run shit.”

“ain’t no guy. she was a woman. she was my woman. dead last year. i done kill’t her. shut the fuck up and puff your port. you getting on my last nerve white boy. i fucked with you too much already.”

i can’t say why i keep talking. it’s not because i don’t know better. i do. these moments help keep my fear forgotten.

“you’re doing twenty-five with no wake up. you’ve been here way more than a couple years.”

he looks at me.

no. he looks into me. he speaks into me. there’s no anger, hate, love, or hope in the tone of his voice.

“i’m gone spit some shit. best listen. i ain’t said this much in a good minute. you pop off shit after you in the morgue. feel me?

“i snatched my boo’s life.”

he points to the number seven and proceeds.

“she was finer than foxy brown until she weren’t no more. whole time ’til then she waited on my black ass.

“there’s plenty ways a nigga can murc a bitch. the way i deaded this one’s colder than a blade, burner, or louisville. i been contemplating how i done it. i ain’t mack diesel. i ain’t the first to kill a bitch behind a wall.

“mad niggas kill bitches on the street the same way. they even be sexing they shorty on the regular.

“ain’t no thing to the bitch though. she still waiting for the nigga in her to come home.

“just like she done.”

he points to the number seven and pauses again.

“we done white boy. dip and stay gone. keep them eyes off my face too.”

he stops for a few seconds before resuming. his voice never raises.

“don’t trip about the smoke. you gone get me back now.”

he kisses the number seven and presses it against my temple to collect.

a loosie can cost a half-hour of consciousness.*

 * 

(out of my norm- significant details modified.)

*


you stopped being a white girl at sugarland (on 221 n 9th st and driggs ave) – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-every three years-

*by someone that tries to record

most of his “…truth ~ (pause.) ~ and lies”*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*every three years she makes a mistake with a man. thirty-six pages have evaporated off the calendar.

she’s on the other side of an uncrowded bar on north 9th street. i watch her run her eyes across me.

looking around i realize most of the women here stopped making mistakes with men in high school.

the clock smirks with intact inhibitions. it shares the early hour.*

*

*my friend’s drinking. sticking to his m-o he’s over-shot the mark. his androgynous face is inches from my ear. the volume of his voice is past the border of comfort. a thin arm wraps around my shoulders.

i’ve never had rigid boundaries. disregarding this proximity isn’t difficult.

he speaks. i listen. “don’t let the boyishness throw you a curve ball. you can see she’s got a lot going on even if she isn’t plugging it into amps at the garden. don’t think i’m lying. definitely don’t think it’s a hopeless cause.

“a couple guys have felt those lips.”*

*

*“you’re not a midget. you and i could dance.”

she laughs warmly. my out-of-place bluntness makes her uncomfortable.

“yeah, i’ve always been awkwardly tall too. it makes dancing with most people comical. it’s no tragedy. i’m terminally a white girl on the dance-floor.”

we’re standing close to each other. my eyes half-smile into hers.

“the caucasian cop out gets over-abused. it’s a handicap overcome with a sex-driven beat. a touch of apathy breaks it down. add recklessness and it crumbles.

“someone else’s hand in your back pocket doesn’t hurt either.”

her smile continues. even though it sounds like i’m almost joking she seems interested.

“ok. help me stay alive in brooklyn. how do i know if my crumpets and tea are turning to guava juice and soul food?”

she plays along, and well. however, she hasn’t mastered rolling the dice with confidence. unlike mine her discomfort’s displayed honestly on her features.

my eyes don’t fade. i wink, blow on the dice, and roll again.

the music’s loud. not too loud. my body moves close to hers. i speak into her ear anyways.

“hypothetical situation: we’re dancing. hip-hop’s playing. this place is full of white people originally from the suburbs.

“everyone should gawk in disgusted judgment. if we feel disinterest we’re still sipping high-balls on the golf-course.

“want to take a ride on the j train away from manhattan?”

smiling and laughing she nods with eyes locked into mine. something with fun mistakes in the bass courses through the speakers. it helps me bite my lower lip.

impure thoughts project themselves through pores of my scarred and illustrated skin. it’s satisfying she doesn’t seem to want to leave my theater.

my wrists are sore from manual labor. my calloused hands find their way to her hips. i pull her against me completely.

she’s been honest. her movements brawl the beat.

eventually she submits. her hips allow my hands to guide her to its will.

our movement intensifies and her gaze escapes the windows to my soul. for once this doesn’t spark self-consciousness. i believe she wants back inside.

we move. it becomes clear to me, and i conjecture her too, where our subway ride on the dance floor is taking us. the room reeks of sweat and forgetfulness.

we grip our wallets in a neighborhood of our minds with no tourists.

i smile and lift her arms onto my shoulders and around my neck. she reacts with shy laughter. my hands grip her hips firmly. in moments it isn’t a laughing matter.

my fingers curl around the back of her neck drawing her ear close to my lips. i speak with deliberateness, “i heard you only mess around with men once every three years.”

her nervous laughter makes more brush strokes on the air between us. i continue, “how long’s it been?”

“three years.”

my palm’s on her neck off-center. my thumb’s resting lightly on her chin. the music plays with intent.

i move. she moves. our lips move onto each others.*

*

*eventually the song ends. that’s what they do. there are more words, “i’m not going to leave with you tonight.”

my half-smile does what it can, “i’m into exactly what we’ve had.”

“you seem like you do this a lot.”

“i don’t know what you mean.”

i know what she means. she explains what i already know. half-disputing i give my version of my truth.

she seems satisfied.

“this is uncomfortable. i’m used to seducing straight girls. i don’t like having no control. you have it all.”

“you’re right. you don’t. you’re wrong though. i don’t either. neither do they,” i gesture at the masses of dancing strangers, “some just think they do.”

it’s hours past midnight. the clock’s irritated. glaring at me, it ticks angrily at my work day starting at nine am. i put my tail between my legs.

i explain then move closer to whisper. it’s my experience things mean more said this way.

“i know this probably won’t happen again. i dug that we rose above the caucausian cop-out after midnight together. please, let’s try not to be awkward if we see each other again.”

in silence we stare at each other for a few moments. point-blank.

i finish, “good night.”

we move our lips onto each others. our lips separate.

that’s what they do.*

*

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*


we left the blackbird parlour (on 197 bedford ave and n 6th st) to fuck at my place (on 151 kent ave between n 4th st and n 5th st) – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

*

-one night stand-

*by someone who can swim

in an empty idea until he drowns*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*“you brought me here to fuck me didn’t you,” she says with a cigarette a half-hour later in her voice.*

*

*i lie myself into believing i want to understand why she’s here. i look through the windows to her soul. they’re light blue, her eyes, and have a calm intensity. they say something terrifying. i lie myself into believing it’s a promise, lie, or both.

i desperately want to believe it’s hope i see. like a miniature sail-boat on the pond in central park during the summer. it could be the hope of a drunk who’s had enough floating down the east river on a winter morning. my truth keeps repeating i’m full of shit.

it’s passionately ignored.

she’s been drinking but isn’t slurring her words or stumbling. this helps me not loathe myself (more than usual) for her presence. without breaking eye contact she bites her lip. she sees it makes me nervous. the guilt i’m fighting’s harder to detect.

“you brought me here to fuck me didn’t you,” she says with a cigarette a half-hour later in her voice.

there’re a few moments of silence. i’ve had enough. softly, my voice jumps into the east river.

“i’m only a man.”

her expression changes with the speed of a hustler hearing sirens on rivington and allen. (back when they still stood on the corner. when they didn’t have to hand out business cards for tutoring services subtly referencing narcotics. when i wasn’t on them.)

she waits before replying, “yeah, you are.”

she looks away from my green eyes and turns her gaze to the coffee table near her knees. it might not be meant for my ears but she whispers, “i guess you aren’t my prince either.”

i decide no response is best. i look at her. she doesn’t look back. i can’t see her eyes well.

i make due. i like looking at her hair. it’s blonde. very blonde. bleach-blonde. almost white. i ran my fingers through it when we spoke in the dimly lit blackbird parlour a block from the bedford l stop.

the blackbird isn’t far from the loft building i live comfortably uncomfortable. we’re inside its thin walls these moments. our skinny bodies are seated across from each other on vintage furniture found on trash days.

on trash day lady-luck smiles at my mild-mannered, 35 year-old, kind, gay, and corporately cordial roommate.

i rise to my feet speaking quietly, “i’m going to get a piece of fruit. would you like one? there’s apples and bananas. the bananas are really brown though.”

she doesn’t speak. only shakes her head. my lanky body rises, walks, and picks up one of my roommate’s apples. it’s difficult to tell which are bruised in the dark kitchen. the street-light filtering through the windows near us doesn’t reach the bowl. i pick one at random.

i look at her. she continues staring at the coffee table. there isn’t anything interesting on its surface.

my spirits are ground out on the sidewalk. i sit down and shift the apple from one hand to the other without biting. getting it was unnecessary. i’m not hungry. i feel childish. a few moments pass.

she speaks. the guiltless passion’s left her voice. “that tattoo in the crook of your left arm has scabs on it.”

“yeah. it’s new. i got it last week.”

“why?”

“it would’ve happened a month ago. the guy that put it there cancelled twice. same day. guess life happened to him twice without caring about ink getting into me.”

the muscles around her mouth seem to tense and relax. i think she almost smiled.

“that’s not what i’m asking. why’d you get it? why’d you get them all?”

this question’s asked a lot. i volunteer the answer even when it isn’t. i don’t need time to formulate a response.

“it started because of my scars and bad skin. i wanted distractions.”

i point to a pronounced scar on my upper cheek. i pull down the guinea tee inside my open short-sleeve shirt. this exposes a deep scar on my sternum. it’s ugly but she doesn’t wince. if she did it wouldn’t bother me much.

it’s a response i’ve grown accustomed to.

“there’s more. a lot more. eventually the reason changed. i started commemorating people, places, times, emotions, or just where i was in my mind. it wasn’t intentional. my skin, with all these scars, tattoos, and unpretty marks is my scrap-book.”

“that’s poetic. almost admirable.”

when she finishes i pause. there’s no emotion in her voice. she said “almost admirable.” it’s unclear if she’s being sarcastic. i decide it isn’t important.

she asks, “what’s the scabby one about?”

“it’s about my ‘good’ ideas after midnight. it’s about wanting sunrises and roses. it’s about trying to substitute one for the other even though it’s clearly failing. it’s about loathing myself while i’m lost in brooklyn.”

“that’s poetic. almost admirable.”

there’s more silence before she resumes with aggression.

“revolting. i’m one of your ‘good’ ideas after midnight aren’t i? you’re on another break from hating slash feeling sorry for yourself? i could end up a tattooed scrapbook piece from this cliche period you’re searching for love?”

“yes.”

i pause, look into her eyes, and see what i need to. i whisper, “and i don’t think i’m something too different to you.”

she looks back into me like she’s searching for something. i think she finds it. this might be bullshit though.

she speaks with calm matter-of-factness.

“sounds about right.”

our business is concluded. we’ve gotten what we need from each other.

a few moments pass.

she speaks.

“should we kiss?”

it’s too long after midnight to act surprised.

“do you want to?”

“not really.”

she lights a lucky strike. my roommate and i don’t smoke in the loft. i choose not to object. through the dirty windows the sky looks lighter. the sun’s probably rising. it’s difficult to tell through thick clouds.

her and i don’t speak anymore. however, the awkwardness drowned during our time together. every once and a while there just isn’t anything left to say. i enjoy the silence and feel a pang of hunger.

i take a bite of my roommate’s apple.*

*


at the coffee shop (at 29 union square west) you looked like the biggest reason people go there – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

 *

-coffee date coming back declined-

*by someone who’s a creep

just like the rest of you*

(frankie leone, just a man)

*

*my breath leaves me after a look at her connects with my sternum.

i stir my coffee with nervous purposelessness. fortune dealt this girl a royal flush her first hand at the table. a tired expression tells me the dealer that’s life in the bitter-sweet apple’s bled a few of her chips recently.

her light brown hair won’t stop it. it shines and falls without apology to the small of her back. i imagine my fingers running through it. i imagine my other set of lanky digits touching the pale skin of her face. these fantasies course guilt through me.

that’s a lie. these thoughts came without guilt. it’s the grimier current flowing through my brain that’s turned it on. dirty protons power neon bulbs glowing onto a hand criss-crossed with scars. it holds her locks in a fist.

in the red-light district of my skull this hand tugs that hair down her back. this glow of impure thought shines through my eyes while looking into hers.

with the best and worst intentions.

in this cheap romance novel that never was i say everything with closed lips. my phantom bodice-ripper keeps ranting from the rack of a non-existent supermarket in my mind.

i struggle against these thoughts. they’ll earn slaps as sound waves. through this battle with myself she keeps earning. her expression’s bored. she isn’t thinking about a man with an unbleached mind at the counter.*

*

*my single-propeller fighter’s fueled with cheap champagne. it dives through indifferent air.

i ready my machine gun hoping its blast will sound like a cliché love song. resting my finger on the trigger in the musty cock-pit i take a drag off a french cigarette.

i exhale irritating hope.*

*

*doing my best gentlemen i smile with vanilla amiability. my vocal chords vibrate into the dog-fight, “miss, what’s your name? been here a couple times. seems like a great thing to know.”

“********, what’s yours?”

“frankie.”

her features warm, but don’t glow orange. it doesn’t matter. i gasp for something beautiful.

she lets smokers lungs have pretty air.

in my seat i write words in bleeding black ink onto the pages of a coffee-stained notebook. as my pen moves i feel her light brown eyes breeze over me. i’m aware the sensation might be there only because i’m been desperate to believe it is.

wiping the counter with bored purpose she’s close enough for me to touch her hand. the feel of her skin would turn a tesla coil flowing from mind to heart to pelvis. her understandable recoil would drop an anvil on my spirit.

i’m grateful the fleeting impulse ceases. looking up at her i smile as mousketeerishly as rough features can.

“your hair’s amazing. it’s so long.”

her hands are covered in flawless skin. they run through a portion of it. i envy them.

“it stopped growing when it got to this length.”

i suspect my smile’s looking more like late-night tv.

“what do you use to keep it looking like that?”

“nothing,” she says with a smile and growing interest in our conversation.

“just naturally beautiful i guess,” i answer a question that hasn’t been asked.

she looks at me. then away. her expression transitions back to blank. she’s remembered there are other things to do and walks to another part of the counter.

the way her body moves says she’s unconcerned with posturing. it whispers her grace isn’t forced. it fluidly articulates there’s no desperation to appear free.

trying to escape detection my eyes brush her again. they’re a green pair of tipsy tourists unaccustomed to no personal space on the n, q, r, or w during rush-hour.

awkward and conspicuous.

judging by the cloth and metal touching her form she doesn’t hear the dreaded series of beeps often. the beeps an atm makes before it sneers out a slip of paper bearing the verdict “insufficient funds.”

our hypothetical future, existing solely behind a face i’ve never considered pretty, fades like tattoos on an old sailor. that skin won’t be complimented by metals and fibers paid for with my condemned debit card.*

*

*catching myself, i decide to shelve my favorite cop-outs in the top drawer of my psyche.

self-pity, feelings of inadequacy, and narcissistic love for my cliché nestle in perfectly with my dirty magazines, broken lighters, yellowing ticket-stubs, photos of misplaced people, and dimly lit memories smelling like bloody tears on ripped sleeves.*

*

*i ask for her attention.

i ask for my check.

i ask her to coffee.

“i’m sorry,” she says in a series of beeps wearing a sympathetic smile, “i have a boyfriend.”

i flash a twelve dollar canal street smile that stops ticking moments later.

i try to dispel the awkwardness with twenty dollar space-heater warmth.

i put the final nail in a two dollar and fifty cent cup of coffee.

i reach into faded skinny jeans to fish out a dollar fifty tip.

i cover the windows to my soul with eight-dollar shades.

i walk out the door and towards the l train free(./?)*

*


french girl that grabbed my ass at the blackbird parlour (on n6th st & 197 bedford ave) – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

 *

-paper lily prostitute-

*by someone who knew too much then

to feel self-pity now*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*i tell her to keep her eyes open. to keep them fastened onto mine. she humors me.

our stares bind us together. we kiss with a special desperation. it’s reserved for those whose feet can’t touch concrete.

“you’re so cerebral,” she says with surprise. her accent glistens with red wine, thrill-seeking pain, and her hometown of paris.

we continue our dance in my tiny room with great windows. my clock radio snitches to the crooked cop inside me- delusion. it whispers it’s too long before midnight for tangoing on faded sheets to be meaningless.

“not today darling,” she says before the point of no return.

her brown eyes die to embers. a petite body wrapped in pale skin taunts me. this has happened with enough men for her to know i’m uncomfortable. she gives what sounds like a genuine apology.

there’re moments of silence.

i ask, “why not?”

“because this will become the only thing it can.”

“so?”

“i’ve had too many passionate lost boys. i’m too old for this. i need a man that can keep me on the ground.”

my mouth shuts. her hollow point words break up inside me. i falter. saccharin lies in sweet rejections only pierce as deep as the tattoos covering my skin. the kill shot of this truth can’t be removed by the most skillful surgeon. i force a knock-off rolex smile.

this lost boy asks, “who says i’m lost?”

she responds like an adult.

“baby it’s probably been written on your face since birth.”

my smile maintains the authenticity of a canal street designer purse. i do what i can.

“i guess i better buy better clown make-up.”

i put my drug-store undershirt over my thin frame and stretch long. i stare at the ceiling while she touches my face.

it’s too numb to feel her caress.*

 *

*there’s a knock on the heavy steel door of a mistake. the heavy steel door of apartment 216 in an old warehouse building on kent avenue.

i open it. she’s drunk.

it isn’t difficult to guess why she’s standing in my hallway. her beauty’s smeared with top-shelf forgetfulness bought by older men. rouge is caked on her voice. i’ve seen women wear this make-up during cameos for casual sex before.

i want her but i want more than she’s come to offer.

a dedicated hustler never turns away a trick. i pull her short hair back and kiss her. her darting tongue pushes stepped-on hope passed my lips and into my mind. i’m a fiend for it.

i’m not afraid of shame beating me down later for getting strung out on hope. shame gets a cut of my thoughts. i get to have my kicks.

after pulling me into my bedroom. she asks with half-interested suspicion, “i’m not complaining baby, but is this real? is this just you on a porno set?”

the cement of this question’s troweled onto my psyche.

i feel obligated to lie.

the cement dries and i realize my voice has worn torn fish-nets and patent-leather boots since we’ve met.

we fuck. it’s good.*

 *

*she was never present but she’s leaving. leaving my city for a country where baguettes are world-warping.

a place where men on the screen are overly emotional and weak. their women are colder than the steel door of apartment 216. like many americans i’ve been educated mostly by movies.

there’ve been moments she’s shown warmth. i worry how she’ll get by back home. i smile and joke with plastic confidence, “you’re not good at being a french woman.”*

 *

*i bring her cheap flowers to say good bye. lilies.

the stems, petals, leaves, and stamens made out of free newspapers. it’s all i can do. my stack of raw materials comes from newspaper boxes near the subway station.

i take them during the day. while i walk away a pale man wearing an airport-bought tie gives a harsh-spoken lesson in manners.

“one paper says the same thing as five. how about some consideration?”

my gait stops. i turn and remove my sunglasses. in my city something can mean nothing. especially if it isn’t said into someone’s eyes.

i say something.

“how about the golden rule of staying safe in new york? mind your own business.”

he detours into a crowded pizzeria ten feet away. i turn, put on my shades, and move on to make flowers.*

 *

*night invites itself into brooklyn.

it’s a short walk to the blackbird parlour. the place is filled with the beautiful, hip, disillusioned, privileged, and alone. tonight i feel like i belong. the clothes on my skin impress enough to receive some stares.

she looks breath-taking and radiates sensuous energy from a barstool. she wears a black cashmere dress, evening make-up, and four-inch heels. i hand over the lilies with a few words.

she grips my sides. she kisses my face. she touches my ass. it’s too long before midnight, if only in my mind, to see her the way i might another night.

a pretty man with long auburn hair and john varvatos sneakers insists on buying her a drink. in this moment i realize this stunning woman, and myself, will end up where we should.

if we don’t it’s just where we need to be.

her brown eyes watch the man pay the bartender. i see an opportunity walk away from a truth and take it.

a pair of worn wingtips find the sidewalk on the corner of north 6th street and bedford avenue. i walk the streets (home).*

 *


the “we’d work better as friends” line totally made that night at the bushwick country club (on 618 grand st and leonard st) – m4w – 26 (williamsburg, borough of lost boys)

 *

-self hating egoist-

*by someone staring without anesthesia*

(frankie leone, just a man)

 *

*a muggy summer day vibrates through her voice.

“what’s his new girl look like?”

“she’s hot,” my fear of drought says. i’m hoarse.

without faltering her noon sun shines, “yeah, i heard she was cute.”

“hmm. cute’s more accurate. i could tell she could fuck though,” i comment into our uncomfortable temperature.

they say it can’t rain all the time. her reply doesn’t concur.

“ugh. creepy and derogatory. aren’t you his friend? you’re saying his girl’s slutty-looking.”

sticky with a humid truth i retort, “he is. i’d give him the thumb of my writing hand. i didn’t call her slutty-looking. i said she looked like she could fuck.”

“what’s the difference,” she inquires cumulusly.

my muscles ache in a calm voice, “i saw passion and pain. i bet she’s never had it easy.”

irritated storm clouds darken her eyes.

“what do hard times and pain have to do with good sex?”

my words rain dance. it’s lewd. i explain, “there’s a direct correlation between passion and pain. when someone’s felt enough pain they fuck with passion. when they’ve felt too much they fuck with desperation.”

her thunder rumbles through tense air, “that’s a sick sad thing to say. you enjoy fucking out of desperation?”

i knife the clouds with my answer, “no, i don’t. the best sex of my life has been fucking with desperation though.”

“where’s all this written? you make outlandish statements like they’re fact. who are you? how can you see these abstract things in people,” her droplets fall on my ears with steady anger.

i put up my umbrella calmly.

“it’s not written anywhere. it’s just my experience. i enjoy making blanket statements. they feel powerful. why do i believe i see these things? i think the lost see themselves more than anyone else.”

her words freeze to sleet, “is this morbid bragging about being a good lay? who talks like this? you’re so arrogant. i’ll give it to you though- you’re unique. egoists gushing self-hatred have to be rare.”

long moments of silence freeze her over my emotions.

i put an ice-scraper to work just above a whisper, “remember the last night we spent together? before you decided we’d work better as friends? not a bad time right?”

her face tenses to the dead of winter. those eyes gust to the floor. i’m frost-bitten by more miserable silence.

her blue-black december sky concludes our exchange.

“i hope you rot in hell forever you piece of shit.”*

*


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