Friday, February 26, 2016

Chapter Eighteen.

My Boo. 'Nuff said.

Chapter Eighteen

   In the business of show, there is an old adage: Never work with kids or animals. Whoever came up with that, however many generations ago, can go take a flying fuck. Most of my career has been spent working with either kids or animals (often both), and I love them. Seriously. I know actors who have worked in films and on the stage, who have had way more success than me as an artiste, who would shit themselves and run away in horror if they ever tried to shoot a thirty-second commercial with a six-year old boy and a dog in it. Bring me that stuff all day, jack. It’s chaotic and messy and fun, and I love it.
     But I never wanted kids of my own. And I was very up front about that when I got married. I’ve always loved kids, and my semi-arrested development has endeared me to tons of kids in my life. I never wanted my own because I understood the fucking DNA I came from, okay? Addictive. And psychotic. In my high school yearbook, there was no award for Most Likely To Go Shitballs Crazy, but I would have been a very strong candidate for that honor.
     I still can’t tell you what changed my mind. I can tell you it had nothing to do with passing on my legacy. To date, my legacy would consist of, He was a pretty good friend, loved his daughter, and people used to see him on television. Not awesome. So it wasn’t that. Maybe, ultimately, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could be responsible for another human being without killing myself, either immediately with a bullet, or slowly with booze. Not a super reason for entering into parenthood, I grant you. I’m just being honest.
     So, in March of 2003, our daughter, Ella, came screaming into the world. I believe I’ve already mentioned that we’d prepared (we thought) for her arrival, and that subsequent experience taught us that preparation was mostly the two of us vainly believing we’d be able to manage the chaos. Parenting is one long learning curve, and you are graded by how much of a contribution – or a danger – your child ultimately is to society. ER nurse? Good. Pole dancer? Bad. As Chris Rock has so eloquently stated, “A father’s job is to keep his daughter off the pole.” During my wife’s pregnancy, I made up all kinds of shit in my head about the kind of father I was going to be. I figured the greatest gift I could give to my daughter would be to think and act the exact opposite of my old man.
     When my daughter was two years old, she threw up in me. Right now you grammar Nazis are wagging your fingers at the page and screaming, “Aha! Improper preposition! You mean on, not in.” And maybe I made an honest mistake. The letters “i” and “o” are side by side on the keyboard, and I do have a tendency to type faster than I actually can. In both instances, you are mistaken. She threw up in me, and it was totally my fault.
     We finished dinner one evening, and Boo (her nickname) was feeling particularly playful. So, we played. One of my favorite things to do of an evening after dinner is to leave the TV off and crank up some music. I believe this is healthy for mind, body and soul, and I don’t have to fast-forward through the commercials. I had a mix cd going on the Bose Wave Radio, and we were just goofing around on the floor of our bedroom when Gov’t Mule’s “Soulshine” came on. My daughter looked at me, held out her arms and said, “Dance, Daddy. Dance.”
     And that was the first time I danced with Boo. She stood on the tops of my feet (just like little girls did in the movies!), held my hands, and we danced around the bedroom to Gov’t Mule. I was having a First, and I knew it. My father had never danced with my sister. Not once. I began to leak from my eyes. I caught Tracy out of the corner of one wet eye; she was standing in the doorway of the master bathroom and openly weeping. I never, ever wanted that moment to end.
     The song ended and something a little more up-tempo came on, a signal to Boo that it was time to get rowdy again. She reached up as high as she could and demanded, “Swing, Daddy! Swing!” I would have done anything for her at that moment. I would have bought or stolen for her whatever she desired; I would cheerfully have dispatched her enemies at the Montessori pre-school. My defense would have been ironclad and simple enough for any father of a daughter to understand: she danced with me, Your Honor! With me! So of course I lifted her up by her arms and began to helicopter her around the bedroom. Faster and faster, her little body stretching out, squealing with delight, until I heaved her straight up in the air, her feet the same height as my head, and caught her in my arms. She giggled maniacally, looked deep into my eyes with those beautiful greens of hers. She smiled a wide smile, which caused me to smile a wider smile.
     And then she projectile vomited right into my mouth.
     No shit. I felt it hit the back of my throat. How I kept from instinctively swallowing (or worse, puking right back on her), I’ll never know. Maybe it was because I moved fast. We were close to the open door of the master bathroom. Tracy was standing in the doorway, petrified or paralyzed with revulsion, maybe both. All I kept repeating in my head was: If you don’t make a big deal about it, she won’t make a big deal out of it. You’ll either be a hero to your little girl, or you’re going to pay a shitload of money for her therapy. I spit my daughter’s spaghetti dinner out of my mouth and into the sink. Boo was still working out what had just happened, and looking to both her mom and me to decide how to react. So I ran both of us – fully clothed – into the shower, and yelled, “It’s shower party time!” Probably I yelled this too loudly, because I was freaking the fuck out – just on the inside. So, still holding her, I turned on the water and started to act like being in the shower fully clothed was the single most awesome thing one could do in life. I asked Tracy to turn up the music, which finally got her moving. And we danced in the shower. I cleaned what seemed like ten pounds of pasta and red sauce puke off the both of us.
     I was proud of myself for not freaking out in front of my baby girl. But you better believe that after we got her cleaned up and tucked into bed, I walked out of her room, grabbed an unopened bottle of Scotch, and tried really, really hard to drink that memory into non-existence. I didn’t eat pasta for a year. And I learned to reshuffle our evening family time: play, then eat, and then don’t helicopter your kid around until she vomits violently into your mouth. Lesson learned.
     But I’m probably still going to have to pay for some therapy.
     Ella’s projectile-puking toddler days are long behind her. She’s a full-on tween now. And, like her dad, she has a flair for the dramatic. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was tell her that her mother and I weren’t going to be married anymore. That was the hardest thing I ever did for two reasons: first, we were undoing the only life our daughter had ever known. Second, I had to acknowledge that, for as much as I didn’t want to repeat my family history, here we were, a generation later, doing exactly that. I never did buy into the stuff that friends of mine who were getting divorced (and lots of my friends got divorced over the course of my marriage, because I was married for nearly twenty years) would say about their kids: “They’re doing fine. You know, kids are resilient.”  That always sounded like bullshit on stilts to me. How can any kid possibly be okay with the breaking up of their family? Ella wasn’t okay - for a long time. She had a really awesome counselor who was there just for her. She had good days and bad days, and on the bad days I’d pull her out of school early, and we’d cry and go get milkshakes from Chick-Fil-A. Milkshakes make things tolerable, if not necessarily better. Especially milkshakes spiked with whiskey. (Which, by the way, Chick-Fil-A frowns on, especially when you bring your whiskey into their store to doctor your milkshake. And no, I didn’t doctor my daughter’s milkshake. Only mine. I’m not a monster.)
     I don’t know what the long-term effects of divorce are going to be on my kid. When we were going through all that shit, I was actually grateful that Ella already had lots of friends who had divorced parents. Many of them were (and remain) wonderful kids, who really helped Boo in a way that only friends can. A couple of them were real little bitches, but society wags a finger at any adult who’s willing to call a ten-year old girl out for being a little bitch. (Which, for the record, I never did. But I thought about it. Really, really loudly.) Some days, I’m in a pile on the floor, worried about what this seismic shift in my daughter’s world is going to do to her later on. Or maybe the culture has shifted so much since I was her age, that this kind of thing really is the new normal. Or maybe I’m in ten kinds of denial.
     In the summer of 2014, Boo took an intensive one-week camp for musical theater, and discovered her passion. She’s since been in three musical productions, and at the time I’m writing this is starting a fourth. She’s found a space where she can unleash her creativity, and a tribe of like-minded kids who support and love her. It’s so fucking cool to see your child find their thing. And it makes me grateful, in a strange way, that I never achieved the kind of success that could cast a shadow long enough to engulf my daughter’s light, something she would forever have to live under. Not for Boo. She is her own beast. She already knows more about theater than me, and is probably a better actor, too. That’s just fine. Because when her time comes to shine on the big stage, you can bet your ass I’m going to remind her that the origins of her love for performance began with her old man, the class clown whose DNA she shares – along with a deep and abiding love of fart jokes.

     Next Week, Chapter Nineteen: On The Road (Not Kerouac Style)

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Chapter Seventeen.

     I love New York City. I've had the coolest and craziest experiences there. Like the time I saw Darryl Hall fall out of a limo. I don't mean he got out of the limo and then fell down. He was falling before he got out of the car. His whole body just sort of poured itself onto the curb of Le Parker Meridien Hotel, and then he (kind of) stood up, adjusted his sunglasses (it was 11:45PM), and walked into the hotel at a 45 degree angle. 
     Or the time I went to a classy gay bar with my classy gay friends, and got hit on for two solid hours. Including one lovely and sassy Asian man who kept imploring me to "ditch the bitch, and switch." (My ex-wife did not find that amusing. At all.) Gay men are awesome for your self-esteem.
     But there were some things about life in the Big Apple that just made zero sense to me, and this is one of those stories. And so, here is the next chapter in my memoir Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life. I miss you, New York. Let's get together soon.

Chapter Seventeen
New York (Second Interlude)

  Every place in the world has its weird cultural thing (or things), and New York has one that, often as I had visited, I never knew about until I moved there.  Most parts of the world I’ve been to, when people meet you for the first time they want to know two things: where ya from, and what do you do for a living? Upon my arrival in New York I found a third question almost always followed the first two.
     Who’s your therapist?
     No shit. I could not count on fingers and toes how many times I was asked that question during my first month living in New York. Every time I was introduced to someone new in my expanding professional or personal circles, I got asked that. Who’s your therapist? The way somebody would ask what I gym I worked out in, or whether I preferred boxers or briefs. And every time I responded that I didn’t have a therapist, I got this by way of reply:
     “Oh. Okay.”
     I quickly learned that, in New York, “Oh. Okay,” is the Northern counterpart to “Bless your heart.” It started to get awkward. I began to have anxiety. And so, about a month after settling into my apartment in New York, I was convinced I needed therapy.
     I’d had counseling before that. Never as a teenager, when I really could have used it. After I got married and successful (a relative term) in television, I thought it might be a good idea to once and for all put my troubled family history in front of my adult eyes and deal with it, under the supervision of someone who was supposed to be qualified and helpful in navigating such treacherous emotional waters. Now: before I piss off every professional counselor and therapist in the universe – including some very cherished friends – let me state, for the record, that I do not believe that all therapists, counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists are overpaid, overeducated intellectual and character snobs, with way more degrees and superiority complexes than common fucking sense. Just the ones I worked with. Okay?
     I’m told that, in order for therapy to be successful, you have to be open to it. Maybe that had been my problem back in Texas; I wasn’t open to it. I had two or three counselor types before moving to New York, and felt like they had all been a colossal waste of time and money. I’d had drill sergeants that were better at understanding people, and they didn’t charge me $115 an hour. After a month in New York, my fear (which I developed in the course of making new friends who were New Yorkers) was that living in the city would, in short order, drive one bat-shit crazy unless one had a competent therapist to act as a bulwark against the daily tide of shit and misery that was (supposedly) part and parcel of living in New York City.
     So I got an appointment with a therapist, based on a recommendation from one of my agents in the city. I decided to be as open-minded and truthful as possible, which is never a bad decision, I believe. I arrived at her office at the appointed time, shook her hand, sat across from her in a reasonably comfortable chair, and she began.
     “So, Larry. What brings you here today?”
     Me: “I have no idea.”
     Her: “Well, something must have motivated you to make the appointment. Let’s talk about that.”
     Me: “Okay. I’ve been living here for a month now, and every time I meet someone new, the third question I always get is, ‘Who’s your therapist?’ And every time I say I haven’t got one, people look at me kind of queer and say, ‘Oh. Okay,’ which sounds a lot to my ear like ‘Bless your heart,’ which is really a Texas Christian’s way of saying, ‘You poor fucking bastard. Better you than me.’ So I figured I better get a therapist, so I can at least stop making the natives so uncomfortable when they ask me that question.”
     Her (long pause): “Um, okay. (another pause) Was there, maybe, any other reason you made an appointment with a licensed professional therapist today?
     Me: “I guess I could regale you with my dad’s suicide when I was thirteen, and my mother’s ongoing alcoholism. I’m a pretty frequent masturbator – not, like, in public, or anything, but I do jack off a lot. None of that really is why I’m here today, though. Truth is, I now believe that some of my New York friends collect and try out therapists the way other people do wine, or Scotch, or cigars or jewelry. Seems like a status thing to me. Not that they don’t get any real emotional benefit from it, mind you. At least, I’m sure some of them do. It’s just that I don’t think I need a therapist just because some people find it awkward – or even downright strange – that I don’t have one. Because I don’t really give a shit what people think about me. They can choose to like me without a therapist, or they can fuck themselves.”
     Her (long, thoughtful pause): “Well. Sounds like we’ve made some good progress today.”
     I swear to God she actually said that.
     I did not go back to her, or any therapist, after that day. I did, quite by coincidence, run into her a month later on the subway. What I mean is, I saw her. And she clearly saw me. And then she spent the next several minutes of the train ride studiously avoiding seeing me, which was funny because I was standing right in front of her. I don’t know if there’s some rule, written or unwritten, that therapists are never, ever supposed to talk to clients (or former clients) outside of the office with the reasonably comfortable chair. All I know is that she was doing eye acrobatics to avoid looking directly in front of her. I entertained – just for a second – the idea of opening a conversation, that would begin something like, “Hey, Doc, it’s me! Larry! You know, dad’s suicide / mom’s an alcoholic / raging masturbator from Texas? No? Doesn’t ring a bell?” I managed to keep my mouth shut, and she jumped off the train three full stops from where I knew her office was located. Maybe she was out on errands, and she meant to get off there all along.
     But I don’t think so.

     Next Week, Chapter Eighteen: Boo.

     Make A Contribution To The Book By Clicking HERE.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Chapter Sixteen.

     This is one of my favorite chapters of the book. Not because I think it's the funniest story, and not because I think my writing is so good that Mark Twain would have shit himself being impressed. No, this is one of my favorite chapters because I remember that for the one year I lived in New York, I had this thought at least ten times a day: Did that shit really just happen? Every. Damn. Day.  And so I proudly present the latest installment of Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life. A big thank you to everyone who's made a contribution to the book so far. And if you haven't yet, I can only presume it's because you're trapped under something heavy. Or you have no soul. (I'm kidding. A little.)

Chapter Sixteen
New York (First Interlude)

If you can make it there... then you, too, can piss in the street.

    In 1999 when Wishbone was officially over and done with, I was trying to figure out what to do. I was getting offers for representation from some very respectable agencies in Los Angeles, and also in New York. The thing was, though, they would only represent me if I lived there. I’d been to Los Angeles and New York City several times in support of Wishbone, and they were essentially different planets. In different solar systems. In separate galaxies.
     I love southern California. I love the sunshine, the ocean, the music vibe. It’s all good. The only thing I never liked about Los Angeles was the fact that I could never have a conversation there that wasn’t about “the business.” I’m from Texas, y’all, and what you do for a living – and what industry you do it in – makes up only a very tiny amount of my interest in you as a person. I want to know your story, and only a small part of your story is your job. My experience in Los Angeles was such that, every time I asked a question that wasn’t directly related to the film and television industry, people’s eyes would glass over. There would follow some uncomfortable (for them) confusion, as if I had just broken a rule of the Social Contract, like letting my dog shit on their lawn without cleaning it up.
     I quickly discovered that the easiest way to derail a conversation in L.A. was to ask something like, “So, what do you like to talk about that has absolutely nothing to do with film or television?”  Because it seemed like everybody I ever met in Hollywood only wanted to talk about Hollywood, and what was going on in Hollywood, and who was doing what in Hollywood, and what they were getting up to in Hollywood, and who with. And I mean everybody. I ate in a lot of restaurants in Los Angeles while on press junkets for Wishbone, and I almost always ran into a server or a hostess who couldn’t wait to tell me about the screenplay they had written, or the fact that CAA or some other big agency was seriously considering representing them. I realize how cliché that sounds; people have written movies about that shit. But it was true. And it was exhausting.
     From a geographical and meteorological standpoint, I didn’t like New York City nearly as much as Los Angeles. I’ve always liked visiting the East Coast, but the plain truth is there’s too many fucking people. I don’t like sardines, and in New York City you are the sardine. Also, I don’t like the cold. And I especially don’t like when Wet and Cold get together – like they do an awful lot of the time in New York. What the city did have going for it, in my opinion, was its attitude toward “the business.” Namely, being an actor was just another fucking job. It didn’t define who you were as a person. New Yorkers were way more fascinated that I was from Texas than they ever were about my occupation. “You’re an actor, huh? Cool. Does everybody carry guns in Texas, or just the cowboys?”
     Ultimately the decision was to move to New York. Much like my first foray into television, I had no fucking idea what I was getting into. We moved into the borough of Queens, where, as a diehard Texas Rangers fan, I was relatively safe, as Queens belonged firmly to the National League Mets, and not the Yankees. We got an apartment in Forest Hills, which I later learned was one of the safest neighborhoods in the borough, as several mid-level mobsters lived in the attached houses behind me on Austin Street. There were no muggings or stick-ups, ever. Because one never knew if a potential mugging victim might be related to someone who could put you in a trunk in New Jersey.
     This is a true story about a mob guy I befriended during our brief stay in Queens. I’ll call him Marty, though that wasn’t the name he gave me, and probably the name he gave me wasn’t his real name, either. Pulling my wife Tracy out of her beloved suburbs and into the City was extremely traumatic for her, and so in an effort to make her feel more comfortable I wanted to establish some routine right away. I thought walking our dog down the shaded lanes of Forest Hills would be a good start.
     And so, our very first weekend living in New York, we leashed up our dog, Grady, walked out the apartment building and headed off. Forest Hills is a beautiful neighborhood. Lots of trees, old and well-kept attached townhomes, and plenty of mom & pop shops on Austin Street. What it doesn’t have – at all – is parking lots. So everybody who owns a car parks it on the street. The residential streets are narrow to begin with, originally built for nothing wider than a horse and buggy. And, because space is at such a premium, folks park on both sides of the street, making these lanes all but impassable to anything larger than an obese man on a Rascal Scooter.
     So there we were, walking along an idyllic stretch of old New York neighborhood. I could feel Tracy finally starting to relax a little. And that was when we saw the black SUV coming down the street ahead of us; a behemoth of a car that had no business on these tiny streets. Even though it was moving at a crawl, it still knocked two rear-view mirrors off of two different parked cars as it approached us. Never even stopped. As it got closer I could feel Tracy tense up to the point of simply fleeing, leaving Grady and I to fend for ourselves. I gently squeezed her hand in what I hoped was a reassuring, I’ll-take-the-bullet kind of way – all the time hoping the big bad black SUV would roll right past us. I willed it to keep going. So, naturally, when it came abreast of us, it stopped.
     The driver’s side window powered down, unleashing a wave of Cuban cigar smoke. (All cigars are Cuban to me. It sounds cooler.) The guy behind the wheel was right out of a Sopranos casting call: late forties/early fifties, black hair (colored and permed!), shirt open to his shoes, with several gold chains tangled in a mass of chest hair that looked like it was growing up his neck to stake a claim on his face. Sitting beside him was a bleach-blonde, enormously-racked girl who was young enough to be his daughter (she wasn’t). He took his time eyeing me up and down, and Tracy squeezed my hand so hard that I heard a couple of the minor bones snap. He took the cigar out of his maw, and said, “Yo.”
     So I said, “Yo.”
     “What kinda dog is that?”
     Not what I had expected. I had expected, “You didn’t get my permission to walk in this neighborhood,” or, “How much for the woman?” I had not expected a query into the breed of my dog.
     “He’s an Irish Setter.”
    Pause, with some grimacing. “A what?”
     “Irish Setter.”
     Longer pause. This was the kind of tension that always happens in the movies right before a lot of bad shit goes down. What happened next was even stranger. This guy – who could not have been more mobbed up if he was in The Sopranos, broke out in this huge grin, and exclaimed, “THAT is a beee-autiful fuckin’ dog!”
     I managed to keep from soiling myself and said, “Thanks.”
     “Hey Carmen, look over here. Is that not a beautiful fuckin’ dog or what?”
     Carmen: “Yeah. It’s nice.”
     “Nice? Are you shittin’ me? Look at that coat! Look at those eyes! I never seen a Mick Setter before. Fuck me, that’s a beautiful dog! Say, what’s your name? You new around here? Where you from?”
     These were the questions I had been dreading. But, since he seemed to be enamored with Grady, I decided to keep it friendly and honest. “I’m Larry, this is my wife, Tracy. And this (pointing to my dog) is Grady. We just moved here from Texas.”
     “Hooolee shit, are you shittin’ me? Texas? Dat what the ‘T’ on your cap stands for?”
     It was only at that moment I realized I was wearing my Rangers cap.
     “Yep (in a slight drawl). That’s exactly what it stands for.”
     “Well fuck me. Two Texans and a Mick dog. What a day!” He stuck his hand out the window, and I had an awkward second of prying my wife’s hand off of me in order to shake with him. “I’m Marty. Everybody in dis neighborhood knows me. Hey, you need anything, I’m da guy. Ok, Texas? And that was what he called me always after that day.
     I wasn’t sure agreeing with what he asked was akin to climbing in bed with the mob, but neither was I sure that disagreeing with him was a wise choice. So, putting the drawl on a little thicker, I said, Sure thang, Marty. Sure thang.”
     Marty responded with a toothy grin and a pretty decent impression of me. “Shore thang!” He chortled at himself, and as he and Carmen drove away, I could hear him saying, “Two Texans and a Mick dog. Fuck me.”
     As we stood there, just the three of us, I heard Tracy start to breathe again. When she could speak, she merely asked, “Was that a…?”
     “Pretty certain of it, yeah.”
     Tracy: (pause) “Fuck me.”
     A couple of days after that encounter, I decided to try out the neighborhood pizza shop. I have developed a taste for authentic New York pizza that borders on the suicidal. I walked in and ordered my standard: pepperoni. You judge all New York-style pizza shops by how well they do on this simplest of pies. After the pizza was baked and boxed, I was standing near the cash register doing what I usually do when I meet new people: asking a lot of questions. The proprietor and his family were all immigrants from Argentina, and they all worked in the shop. He asked if I was new in the neighborhood, so I told him where I was from, and then I told a little white lie that I came to instantly regret. You see, I immediately liked this gentleman, and I wanted him to believe that other folks in the neighborhood had recommended me to his shop. So I said, “Marty says you make the best pizza in Queens.”
     The smile on his face during our entire transaction vanished. He pushed the box over to my side of the counter. I said, “How much?”
     “No charge.”
     “Aww, I can’t do that. What do I owe you for the pie?”
     “No charge. Have a nice day.”
     It took me a full minute to realize what I’d done. “Listen, Sir. Marty is not my friend. He’s just a guy I met that told me you made good pizza. Okay?” The elder gentleman searched my face, and seemed assured. “So, how much do I owe you for the pizza?”
     We completed our transaction on friendly terms, and I visited that pizza shop every Friday without fail for our entire stay in New York. And I never – ever – mentioned Marty’s name again, anywhere.
     One more story about Marty. It happened that Tracy had to be out of town for a weekend, so it was just Grady and I at the apartment. I had rented a couple of movies from Blockbuster (a very outdated thing to say), and when Sunday afternoon rolled around, I remembered that I had to take them back. When I walked out of my building the sky was gray and overcast, threatening rain. But I grew up in Texas, where threats of rain are treated with the contempt they deserve. So I walked down to the Kew Gardens station and hopped the train up two stops to drop off the videos. Upon my return, I came up out of the same station to find that rain threats in New York should never be treated with contempt. It was what MeeMaw would have called a “frog strangler.”
     As I had no umbrella or raincoat, I decided all I could do was run back to the apartment. Fortunately it was a short run on a wide sidewalk fronted with shops, most of which were closed on Sunday - except the pub. The pub was always open. It’s called Cobblestone’s now, but I’m not sure that’s what it was called when I lived there. But they still have the big green awning out front. Anyway, I was trotting past the pub, when I caught movement out of my peripheral vision. Toward me. I turned my head in time to duck under a punch that some big, drunk asshole swung at me. I’d vaguely noticed him holding up the wall outside of the pub, and now all of a sudden he was launching a haymaker at my head.
     He was shit-face drunk, and I’ve been holding off on mentioning my experience in martial arts because I am no kind of a badass. The truth is my dad started me in martial arts because I sucked so bad at every other sport, and he was desperate for me to do something athletic. Turns out I was actually really good at that, and I’ve been practicing one form or another for years. Ironically, the pub where this idiot swung on me is two doors down from the ju-jitsu club I was training in when I lived in Queens.
     So I pretty easily dodged his swing, ducked under his arm and gave him a little push, which combined with his forward momentum, sent his big steroid-infused ass to the concrete. He rolled around like an upended turtle for a minute, struggled to his feet, said something completely unintelligible and squared off for another run at me. Just then his buddy (I assume it was his buddy) came bounding out of the pub, grabbed the drunken asshole, and said to me, “It’s cool man. No harm. He’s just drunk.” I didn’t have a witty riposte, jacked on adrenaline as I was, so I simply resumed my trot back to my building, taking care that neither of them saw me go home.
     Now, I can sense your disappointment. You thought you were about to read about the time I got into a genuine street fight in New York. No. Trust me, the truth is way scarier (at least to me). Two days later the skies cleared, and I was down on Austin Street doing the daily grocery shopping. (You shop for groceries daily in New York. Not because everything is fresh daily, but because most apartments don’t have pantries.) I was headed over to the local green grocer, when from across the street I hear, “Hey, Texas!” It was Marty. I waved.
     “C’mover here!”
     I crossed the street with my little red grocery basket on wheels; something I felt made me a true New Yorker. Marty was looking uncharacteristically agitated.
     “Hey, you have some trouble out front of that pub on Queens last Sunday?”
     “Yeah. Heard maybe somebody gave you some trouble out front of that pub.”
     “Oh. You’re talking about the drunk guy? That was nothing. He was just wasted. No big deal.”
     “This was a big guy, right? All muscles and shit? Roid freak in a tight t-shirt with a ball cap on backwards like a douchebag?”
     The description was dead on. I’d told no one about that incident, not even Tracy, and she’d been back two days. Somebody in the bar had made a phone call.
     “Like I said, Marty. He was just a drunk asshole. Probably would have swung at anybody who crossed in front of him. No harm.”
     Marty would not be appeased. “Yeah, well don’t worry about it. He ain’t gonna make trouble for you no more.” And then he walked off. Just like that.
     Now, I’m not going to speculate. Speculation is bad for relationships, it’s bad for the economy, and it’s bad for America. I’m just going to stick to facts. And the fact of the matter is, I never saw the drunk asshole after that. Not once. The bar on Queens Blvd is a local bar. Tourists don’t come to Queens, and if they did this is not a place they’d visit. And experience has taught me that a guy who hangs out in a bar on a Sunday usually hangs out in that bar every Sunday. So, the very next Sunday after my encounter with Marty, I walked into the bar, at about the same time in the afternoon as my little altercation the week before. No drunk asshole. Nor was he there the next Sunday. Or the next. I decided not to inquire as to the drunk asshole’s identity or possible whereabouts, because I didn’t want to put anybody else on the spot the way I unwittingly had my new friend at the pizza shop. I saw Marty a few more times after that, before our stay in New York ended and we packed back off for Texas. He was always friendly, always gregarious, always fond of calling me Texas.
     And we never – ever – talked about the drunk asshole.

     Next Week, Chapter Seventeen: New York (Second Interlude)

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