The Demolition Man’s Secret
(*Homes in Queens)
At 96th Street in Manhattan, I jumped on a downtown subway line. A duffle bag of clothes was slung from one shoulder, and I had a laptop bag on the other. There were plenty of places for me to go. But I didn’t want to explain the clothes and the need for a bed or a couch or the floor. I didn’t want to fake it.
For the time, my lady friend and I are heading our separate ways. But I don’t want to go into that right now.
It didn’t take long to conclude that there was only one place to go, my boss Nick’s house. He owns the demolition company where I work. Not much “human anything” takes place around him.
Everyone calls him Nick, though he has a real fancy first name and an old money last name. He has a son in Brooklyn, who never comes to see him, and an ex-wife that I know nothing about.
Two tall blondes in the subway car caught my eye. A time nearly three years ago came to mind. It was just after I had started working for Nick. I remembered how a pretty Russian realtor in Manhattan Beach failed to spark the man to life. After we had gutted one of her homes, she showed up on-site to pay the bill in tight tan riding pants and high black boots. She had cash, too. Yet neither the cash, nor her handsome face or curvaceous figure managed to illuminate Nick’s face.
But he’s not dead inside—not completely.
Nick’s like a summer home on the beach where a storm blew through, stripped it bare and left only the shell. Unfortunately, “this home” is beyond repair. He’s like Nick Adams without Hemingway.
In Times Square, I hopped on an eastbound line that went across Manhattan and the East River, out to his house in Queens.
His house is one of the thousands of humble, semi-attached vinyl dwellings in that borough. For some reason, they stuck all these in Queens. Probably because Brooklyn didn’t want them, Staten Island doesn’t do humble, the Bronx is just plain too gritty for much vinyl, while Manhattan is all about the bedrock.
During the work-week, when I shoot by there to pick up tools, the door to the house and garage are always unlocked. Countless times I’ve told him someone might rob him. “Nothing to steal there,” he had said once, the sentence in itself a marathon of words for the man.
(“Open door in dark room” – Photo art by Joe)
When I opened the storm door to Nick’s house, through the inside door, I saw him seated in front of the TV. I rang the bell instead of knocking or just letting myself in, thinking it would make him notice me a little more.
Surprisingly, he rose to open the door, though I guessed it would save him the human connection of waving me in.
Fully gray, in his late fifties, Nick is a powerful man, and it shows in his broad shoulders and equally wide frame. He has a small pot belly and arms that dangle like clubs at his sides from his height of over six feet. There is a hint of waddle in his walk as he leans forward in stride. Knowing first hand his brute strength, I sometimes think he’s ready to break into a sprint and tackle someone.
From the elevated doorway, Nick looked over my head and held the door open. “Cats,” he said, and stared into the street as I passed. By his tone, I figured he had a problem with them.
He was watching college football from an old cloth-covered recliner. I dropped a bag of chips on a cluttered table by his knees and set a can of Budweiser. He snapped open the beer and tore open the chips. I went and put the rest of the beers I bought in his refrigerator. The fridge, like the house, was cluttered with crap, but it was kinda clean. A wife of one of the guys at work cleans the place a few times a month. That was my doing.
Nick rarely lifted his eyes from the 35 inch CRT TV. Occasionally, he called his bookie. That call was unintelligible.
Jumping from channel to channel, the games did elicit slight facial changes from Nick. Already before him were a few empty cans of beer. Soon he retrieved a somewhat suspect can of Coke. He would alternately take a sip of the beer then the Coke. I figured he had “mother’s milk” in the Coke can.
Well, I thought that was cute, trying to hide his alcohol. I didn’t think he wasn’t a drunk. He just likes to drink. Not like he is saving himself for anything or anyone.
Over the next few hours I relaxed somewhat. I had a few beers and a cup of Jack that I’d sip from.
I fell back and spread my arms over the couch. It was an old couch. Nick had probably fallen down on it face first, drunk and exhausted, hundreds of times over the years. Some of the men from work slept there, too. A few were transients.
After a time spent with muddled thoughts, a moment of clarity came over me, and I noticed the darkness in the living room. I was impressed by what seemed palpable layers of midnight blue haze. It seemed as if the light from the TV and an incandescent shining through the kitchen archway couldn’t reach me.
The windows were shaded and had curtains pulled tight. The room had a tall ceiling, about nine feet. It looked dingy and didn’t reflect the light very well. Stairs on one side of the room led directly up to the second floor.
My eyes returned a few times to the ceiling. I thought I might drift off to sleep. But I kept looking up and had no idea why, except that maybe I found the ceiling more interesting than the football, especially because Nick kept switching channels.
I felt so alone.
On the ceiling, I perceived a shadowy outline and cracked a smile. It was in the shape of a body. It clearly wasn’t a living body, or even an apparition. It was just a shadow on a dirty ceiling. I smiled because it was in such an interesting position. The shape looked like that of a person who had fallen backward into the ceiling. Or one that was hurled into that position, arms and legs turned out.
I got another beer and some more Jack. When I next cared to look up, the shadowy figure was gone. I switched my position around and still saw nothing. I took a swig of Jack and watched the football games for a while.
My attention drifted to the right of Nick. From the corner of my eye, I saw another shadowy outline of a body on the wall. A cluttered dining table cut off my view to the body’s lower half. I could just see how the face was angled perfectly toward Nick’s head.
All at once, I became certain that the linear figure was an evil spirit. I reached for the silver cross around my neck that my lady friend had given me. I thought of a **house blessing I had heard her say. As I spoke, I could hear her voice echo mine.
“We believe in living deeply, laughing often and loving always . . . We believe that everyone’s feelings count, and that the uniqueness of each of us strengthens all of us–”
The evil spirit’s face turned to me. I saw it had big, black, watery eyes. They were like that of an anime character. It struck me as the face of a young girl.
” . . . We believe in the power of forgiveness to heal and the power of love to carry us through. We believe in one another, in this family, in this home.”
Nick looked over at me with a dull look, though the light of curiosity came to him. It was strange, because I knew “words” were gathering in his head.
I began to think of another house blessing.
“Waaa you doing?” Nick said.
“I’m aaaa,” I started, not knowing how to explain the blessing, or if he knew or believed in that type of stuff–evil spirits included. I didn’t know anything about Nick other than he liked Bud, Jack, and college football.
His eyes opened wide and he perked up in his chair. “No house blessings,” he said.
“It’s a good thing,” I managed to say, wondering what had just taken place with him . . .
“Stop it,” he said, looking me square in the face.
All I could think was that the evil spirit had spoken to him. There was no way he read my thoughts. Not Nick. It was her. She had told him what I was doing.
I looked around and thought about how I had also just been under the spell of a demon.
“And don’t do what you’re doing with the cross,” Nick said motioning with one of his big hands.
“She’s evil,” I said, my thumb behind the cross, which I held out to the evil spirit.
“If it’s dead and it’s still here, then it’s probably evil.”
“Are you gonna stop?” Nick asked.
It was then, in this lowest of low whispers, I heard someone pleadingly whisper: “Nathaniel.” It was Nick’s Christian name.
Nick planted his hands on the armrests of the chair and lifted himself a few inches. His brow furrowed with deep concern.
“Nick?” I said and let the cross fall back inside my shirt.
“You best be goin’,” he said.
I was slow to my feet.
“You need money?”
“I’m good,” I said.
Nick stood tall with a firm stance. I put on my jacket and hefted both my bags.
“Lock the door on your way out,” Nick said.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Thirty-Three
(*Archie Bunker’s House, 89-70 Cooper Ave, Queens, NY- uncredited)
**House Blessing: “We believe in living deeply, laughing often and loving always. We believe we were brought together to support and care for each other. We believe in celebrating together — our faith, our heritage, our traditions. We believe that everyone’s feelings count, and that the uniqueness of each of us strengthens all of us. We believe in the power of forgiveness to heal and the power of love to carry us through. We believe in one another, in this family, in this home.”
Update: The above is a traditional house blessing, and not necessarily a ditty that will rid your house of ghosts. It’s a little more involved. See Google for more.