(Wavertree sailing ship/South Street Seaport, NYC – Photos by Joe)
At South Street Seaport to meet my friends, I was aware a tall white guy had tailed me since I came out of the Fulton Street subway station that was a four block walk. Just to be certain, I moved away from the sparse, early evening crowd between South Street and the three-story mall set on Pier 17. I made my way over to the old boats moored on the other side of the wooden pier.
Next to an old tugboat sat an iron-hulled sailing ship called the Wavertree. A few weeks ago I had met a man who told me that his 76-year-old uncle had recently made new yardarms for the vessel. He had made them over at a warehouse in Mariners Harbor, Staten Island. He said his uncle was a shipbuilder from Scotland. It was where the Wavertree was made in 1885.
I eyed the rigging on the Wavertree. The ship is one of the last large sailing vessels constructed out of wrought iron. A moment later I turned to see the white guy amble nearby. He was my height of 6’2”, weighed close to 300 pounds, and seemed to regard me with a bit of trepidation. He gave an abashed smile and continued closer. “Joe, can I ta-ta-talk to you,” he asked, twisting his mouth as if to push out the words. He wore a black T-shirt, fashionable jeans, and had a milky white color.
“I know-na-know of you,” he said, stepping within a dozen feet.
“You’ve read Bald Punk’s stuff. It’s all fake, made up stories.”
“I knew about a-a-bout you before the blog,” he said with a shy grin, having plump cheeks that gave his handsome smile a clownish appeal.
“Is that right?” I said, puckered and noticed how his pale skin shone brightly against the black T-shirt. It had been a hot sunny day. The stranger had followed me from Fulton Street, yet I still wondered if he’d spent even a moment in the sunlight that day.
“Terr,” he said, a spark of both fear and excitement seeming to light his gaze. “That’s my name, Terrence.”
“What’s your problem?”
“I want um, um, your help,” he said, his voice having a nice tone as one does with a good sense of pitch.
What was he afraid of–me or . . .
“You have aaaa, the gift of sight. I do too, not as good as you do–as you do, but I can see certain aaaa-things and can’t make them out–you could. I know, um, that you could.”
(Pier 17 – South Street, NYC)
“The first chapter of your book, yeah, aaaa, in the first chapter, Max–” Terrence began, referring to the main character named Max Beckley in a manuscript tucked away on my laptop. He was a Revolutionary War soldier abducted by demons in the Battle of Brooklyn. Countless times on this blog I’ve mentioned both Max and the book, but never his adoption after being reincarnated or whatever it was that had happened to him; which I’m still trying to figure out.
“–he-he-Max wasn’t adopted in, aaaa, in NYC. It was in Miami.”
I tried to remain nonplussed as I wondered how he could have known the particulars of the first chapter.
“When the step-parents a-a-a-left with him,” Terrence continued, his stuttering growing worse, “it was a hot summer day, really hot and humid. You had that right, but the orphanage was in Miami.”
I knew he was right. In the draft, I had put the scene in NYC because the visions I have of Max’s are not only entirely set there, but seem tied to the very soul of the city. But now that he said Miami, it felt right, especially because the image of the orphanage that I have is of a white-washed building surrounded by heat-scorched trees and shrubbery. It’s unlike any place I had ever seen in NYC.
“Is that worth something?” Terrence asked.
“Ya-your words come to me, the words from your book,” he said.
“Save yourself the purchase price,” I said, eyeing him severely. I thought if I told Terrence to get the F outta my face. He would run off. He seemed to be the very essence of “milk toast.” But in the same moment, only now do I realize that his timidness had forged a connection. And to offset his uneasiness, I continued to joke. “You’re a cheap bastard.”
Terrence gave a hearty guffaw and spoke. “Max’s story needs to be-to be told. Many like you and I, people like us, want it to be known.”
“Why do those images remain?” I wondered and looked searchingly into his brown eyes. “In some instances I can see the images with my eyes open, as if they were filmed and are broadcasted from the spot where they occurred.”
“I almost think someone left a trail, um, left a trail, images remain, are there for those who have sight,” he said, seeming to repeat much of his dialog for clarity. “Images of people and places are everywhere, in, throughout NYC. They want a-the story, a story, unh, to be told. I can, I get them confused with ghost sightings, too.”
“So if you have sight, what do you need me for?”
“The same reason your friends do, because you see and hear things real clear, much clearer than-than they do.”
A bolt of tension froze my body. How dare he–!!!
–By friends I knew he meant my lady friend and the pizza and Chinese delivery guys(aka num and nuts), who at that very moment waited upstairs at the seaport mall for me. “I don’t feel comfortable that you know so much about my book, and it pisses me off that you refer to things about my friends that I don’t mention on my blog.”
“I can’t control what I see and know, I’m sorry, I was being honest.”
“So what is it you need from me?”
“There’s a place on South Street, a few blocks from here. Everyone once in a while I can just make out a blue neon light coming from there. Um, I have a sense ghosts or something, um, sweep in and out of a door. But I can’t–see it. It’s already started to glow this evening, um; it will be more visible tonight.”
“What do you think it is?” I asked.
“I don’t know. There’s a strong pull and it upsets me that I can’t figure it out. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt.”
“Now knowing everything you know about me, why do you think I’d show you the doorway?” I asked.
“Because,” he began with a hint of confidence, “on your blog, you do say all the, all the time, you don’t want to see-to see things. But it’s clear you do! You keep writing about Max, you practically live here on South Street, which is ghost central, not to, um, mention all the images, and you go in Central Park all the time at the gloaming hour. You, you, you want to know even though you say you don’t.”
“You’re f–king milk toast,” I cried and gave a sarcastic laugh. “Where do you get off telling me this crap?”
“Um, it’s true!”
To be continued . . .
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Thirty – June/July 2010
Wavertree Sailing Ship – Restoration Research (Outside link)