Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Bronx Tale

Walk with me into the urban jungle. Watch the refuge of leafy Pelham Parkway fall quickly away as we soak in the angular vistas of Williamsbridge Road, scenery chewed by a topography of utilitarian brick and concrete; where the strict lattice of pavement-choked blocks spoils the asylum of absent parks, and trees seldom rupture the swelling asphalt sea. Ungiving brown storefronts and banks and bodegas blend dispassionately into the ubiquitous haze. Sepia glazes the hard lines of body shops and service stations, exhaling their angry oily fumes, while side streets languish in a starving artist’s palette of washed dull grays. Follow me down Haight Avenue, ascending an insufferable staircase to an iron-ringed slab of scorched cement. It functions, barely, as an observation platform from which to marinate in the stewed tang of the sewer and trash bins and apartment cooking. Cough as you may, even on this heightened perch one can never clear the city from the lungs or its cynicism from the throat. Above us the metal forest of rooftop antennas skewer skyward the basin of humid air – themselves the spiky bards of a pre-cable citizenry left behind – and further away the hulking masses of water towers, all gun-metal black, form a watchful clogging ring around the neighborhood sweatbox; a panoramic blockade from what vibrancy exists, if at all, beyond the leathery streets of Morris Park.

We begin and end here. From whence we came is unimportant. Witness the misuse of three years in this stinking hovel, where a helmet-headed friend lay stagnant within its faux wood paneling as the Bronx burned and made mincemeat of his New England pedigree. Before law school. Before anything. Enter the masturbatorium of exhausted ambition, of $25,000 civil servant salaries and cheap pasta dinners, of adolescent black light posters hung clumsily in the hall, themselves the detritus of bygone lodgers. Admire the rusting refrigerator, landmark and icon both, meeting place of half-baked ideas and pressure cooker for asinine schemes. Respect the outmoded kitchen where grandma filled oil drums full of sauce before ratcheting into senility, now an improvised court for indoor beer pong and its distillery stench. Shield your eyes from the blazing mosquito light, crassly revealing the cigarette smoke which rolls thick in the air, burrows in clothing, and rubs grimy into pores cultivating ugly acne. Obey Leatherneck – breaker of backs, human truck, avenue juggernaut and landlord – who was never above dispensing a proper throttling or, for conduct unbecoming of a tenant, a punishing yet deserved sodomization behind drawn dusty blinds. Of that, we must not speak further. Avoid eye contact as he lumbers obtrusively from inner stairways, damning any consolations of privacy with his gigantic pulsing neck and military fatigues, endlessly ferreting through a back rumpus room bursting with transistor radios, toolboxes and the worrying risk of decayed corpses. There will come a time, not today, when he will surely kill us both.

What kind of loathsome reformatory, so polluting to the mind, breeds furniture demolition as a recreational pastime? When does spearing chairs through entertainment centers, smashing cabinets full of flatware, or maniacally ramming tables through walls become encouraged so easily, or attributed so nonchalantly to tequila and loud John Mellencamp? The insane toothy grin, the drunken sweaty brow, the simian roar, the crash of wood against metal as table legs joust wildly through the air, all dead ringers for the man in a low income holding pattern, the hip-hop jackass with no regard for his gear. How could the wreckage of the morning after be regarded with such hilarity? Pointed questions all, yet answered in the corrosive hodgepodge of two parts collegiate invincibility and one part disposable cash, a healthy dollop of accessible malt liquor and a ghetto blaster. Mix and blend.

Understand that I have no history here. No roots to lay claim. I was an occasional tourist with years to burn; an active accomplice with an hourglass of time. Only when I stopped meandering did I finally push beyond, leaving sloth to murder those who remained. And the world moved forward at dizzying speed, away from the street grids and potholes, the clotheslines and antennas, Mother Mary bathtubs and plastic window canopies, chain-link fences and weed riddled stoops. Outside, at last. Allured by opportunity the story plays out as expected, as it always does in sunny suburban landscapes and quaint walking villages. Within later chapters thrive successes familiar: mental reparation, love chosen, career flourished, and rewards generously reaped, each awash in rich reds and golds, deep blues, and bright yellows. Were I to lose myself here, again – shoehorned amid the Grand Concourse and Pelham Bay in the gray space linking adolescence to adulthood – it would serve as a poignant testament to the virility of youth and the transience of days. But more importantly, perhaps, as a lost chance to toe the divide between what society has expected of us and what we hope to become. To concede or release. To walk or to fly. And for this I sometimes mourn.

3 comments:

Darren said...

Uh...what? Seriously, this reads like "Finnegan's Wake" by James Joyce. I'd rather vomit scorpions than read this again. Too much sizzle and no steak.

MVD said...

To the above comment, The Essential Bastard recommends a remedial grammar and vocabulary seminar. Come back in the Fall when you’re ready. We can have a spelling contest or something.

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