Ghosts of South Street
The voices I heard on South Street weren’t just any old voices. They’re ones that months ago that I had also heard in a dream . . .
I was a man possessed, acting like a mad dog. And I was loose on South Street by the old Fulton Fish Market. I was in search of something that seemed to exist in a far corner of my mind.
It was the dark of early evening, and a cool breeze carried a hint of the East River’s sea scent. From the elevated FDR Drive overhead, there came the whispering hum of rush-hour traffic.
I stalked away from the heavy pedestrian traffic by Fulton Street and the Seaport Mall, past the dilapidated, old fish market offices. My gut seemed to be telling me, “keep going, keep going, getting closer . . .”
The voices weren’t becoming louder or clearer, but I knew I was getting closer.
“Baldie, what’s going on?” my lady friend(LF) asked, hot on my toes. “Where are you going?” The pizza and Chinese delivery guys(aka num and nuts) were a half-step behind her. They had their eyes tight and faces scrunched in determination, to show that they supported her.
Afraid I would lose my direction, I didn’t respond.
When I came to the cobbled Peck Slip, I felt a sudden tug to my left. I raised my palms as if to feel my way through the spiritual ether. A second later I slipped into a well-known café and bar near the corner.
I walked into my dream.
There was a decent crowd spread throughout the place. Three men standing at the corner of the bar caught my eye. I knew my search had been a success.
I slinked closer to them.
The bartender served a fresh-faced group of college grads and then took an order from the three men. He pulled back the Guinness Stout tap and poured three pints. He set four shot glasses on the bar and poured Glenfiddich in each.
The three slugged down the shots and sipped the stout. One man downed the extra shot.
They had sad eyes and wore heavy woolen shirts and pants. Their bodies seemed solid, though with an insubstantial layer of film over them, as if they were both physical and nonphysical beings.
I thought that I was witnessing some secret of space and time.
My LF and num and nuts were sitting at a table and had ordered a round of drinks. My LF held up a pint of a light-amber-colored beer for me to see. I shook my head; afraid if I moved, I would never find my way back to the three men.
When they began to speak, I recognized their conversation. I had heard their words in a dream months ago, though as I remembered, in the dream the voices had seemed to emanate from a pitch-dark place.
“ . . . dark and heavy skies seemed to open up,” said the man who was the most inebriated of the three. He was hunched over the bar, head hanging above a half-empty pint of stout and two empty shot glasses. “And dumped two feet of mud, like a snowstorm of sh-t.”
“Sure, the next day they woke and named it Five Points,” the oldest of the men said, laughing, covering his mouth with the back of his hand and gave a mucous-filled cough.
The third man had straight-blonde hair and a rough-hewn chin. He looked at me and gave an amused wink. “Heard there’s a gang up there called the Fairy Godmothers. Known to sing nightingales and get into each other’s inexpressibles.”
“Is that true, now?” muttered the drunk.
“Why? You interested in joining em’?” the blonde retorted.
The three men laughed in a raucous, cartoonish fashion. Their bodies rose in unison as if they sat on an inflatable.
“Has the creature got you yet, mate?” the old man said who was slim and had a light scar that ran diagonally down his forehead and between his sky-blue eyes.
“I was thinking about that whore” the blonde said. “Still won’t marry me.”
For a few moments, they became frigid. I edged in closer. Then a spark of life came over them as all three lifted their heads. They all seemed to rise up on their toes.
“Passed out drunk and every guy took a turn!” the drunk blurted. “Bled for days, puking up fish bones, bleeding, and bleating like a billy goat. That little scum. Did you know Sergeant Al threw it into him?”
“No,” said the blonde.
“Why, you interested in Sergeant Al?” the old man said. “Eh, Nancy-boy?”
“You had better stop, mate,” the blonde said cheerily, though with a feral light in his eyes.
“No, with his shillelagh Sergeant Al got him,” the old man said, and held up the collar of his shirt and coughed into it. “But it wasn’t him, you know. It was Pretty Boy. ‘Take that Pretty Boy,’ Sergeant Al says. Pretty Boy used to brag about all the ladies he gave it to. ‘Never paid a red nickel in his life,’ he says. Well, you know Marcie’s kid sister, Dolly. Pretty little kid with the curls and blue eyes. You know her. Slipped some gin into her and had his way. Well, he got what he deserved. Angus, Marcie’s new guy, he rammed a few onions up his arse. He had it coming. Pretty Boy no more. Chopped meat face. They were gonna throw him in the water, but Sergeant Al said leave him for the dogs. ‘I don’t want any trouble,’ he says.”
“Don’t move,” the drunk said, pushing his groin into the bar.
“It’s this damn seaport,” the blonde said. “It’s on the edge of the world. Dogs, rats, and foreigners. Swear to God I saw a Chinese. We’re all going to pony up to Christ’s for it.”
“Too many kinds,” the old man slurred. “A bunch of croakers here for the knock-me-down.”
“I’m pissing, don’t move,” the drunk said.
“God’s sake! Smells bad enough,” the old man cried.
“Ah! Cant a slug into your breadroom!” The drunk cried, buttoning up.
“Have a drink, yeah.” The old man agreed.
There was another inanimate pause. And I couldn’t move! Or at least, that’s what I had thought. I was relieved when they resumed their conversation.
“This guy was taking a sh-t off the side of a boat, and I pitched a rock and knocked him in the arse,” the blonde said. “The bastard chased me through the streets, all the way to the goddam Bowery. Frenchified froglander, a foreigner for sure. Called him a hooey, while the Bird B’hoys was there. Figured they’d give him a scare and send him on his way. But he said something foreign and somebody stabbed him in the throat with a left-handed screwdriver.”
“Ha!” the old man cried.
“Tis’ sadly true,” the blonde said. “And they had a brawl less than an hour previous with Pig Shite and his b’hoys. They were flying high. Felt bad though. Stupid scamp, shouldn’t have chased me.”
“Imagine if we could sell mud?” the drunk said, throwing back a shot. “We’d be millionaires. All these foreigners, some of the bastards–flush in the pocket. Got their socks lined with piss and money, too.”
“I know. I know,” said the old man. “Tell them, tis’ New York City gold.”
“Love to cram a wad in Mayor Dewey’s trap,” the blonde said.
“He’s dead, no?” the drunk wondered.
“Can the air get any worse?” the blonde said. “Miama, miyeeama, me-as-ma–smells like someone took a sh-t on my head. Can’t get away from it.”
“It’s the birds,” the drunk slurred.
“Are you kidding me, you get used to it?” the blonde said defiantly.
“You do,” the old man said.
“Ha!” the blonde laughed. “I’ll smack you in the face every morning when you get up and stop only when you tell me it doesn’t bother you anymore.”
“I don’t sleep,” the drunk said.
The three of them froze, and I felt like I was losing my balance. If I moved, I would certainly fall. I couldn’t see a thing below my knees. The only people around me that had a definite shape were the three men. I began to tremble though was relieved when they resumed their conversation.
“Whores!” the drunk cried.
“It’s good work,” the blonde said. “I wish I could throw it into some old trot for money. Barney’s kid, Dooley, he f—s some worn-out ol’ harlot up on Fifth. Lives in a mansion. Gives it to her every night. He’s got his own place, she pays.”
“Unh,” the drunk said.
“Oh, I saw it,” the old man said. “He had a bottle of wine with a gold label. He says she gave it to him. Expensive, but tasted like sour grapes.”
“The creature’s chewing on my plums,” the blonde said.
“Stop,” the drunk said.
“I know, my kid’s three, and he know ‘ma,’ ‘da’ and ‘f—k,’” the blonde said
“Flip,” the old man said.
“Yeah, I’ll be lucky if someone pisses on me in hell,” the blonde said.
“Check your leg,” the old man said.
The next thing I knew my LF had her arm tight around my neck and was leading me away. I persuaded her to pause long enough so I could take a big sip from my pint.
I looked around and the lights in the bar seemed more like dull, wavering points. I didn’t know we were outside until I felt an icy chill. By then it was much colder than when we had first gone inside.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Twenty-Two – November/December 2009