“The Daze Of Old”
by Andreas Economakis
You turn yourself on. The images that pop out in front of you are colorful, ethereal. Your mind is fleeting, like the musical notes thumping out of your old Yamaha speakers, the ones your cats have scratched to pieces. You break the bounds of your small East Harlem apartment and head straight for the sun. Sundrenched Jamaica. You lie on the beach with big fat toasty lips. That night you find yourself in a club whose name you don’t know but whose baseline you recognize. For a split second you’re back on the beach. You open your eyes and realize you’re staring at a travel commercial on your 13-inch Trinitron.
Snack time. You haul yourself to the kitchen and crack the door to your refrigerator. Some scary stuff inside stares back at you, making you cringe. You slam the fridge as hard as you can and spend the next twenty-eight and a half minutes trying to find your wallet. You finally locate it under the couch. Now, about your keys… To hell with them, I’ll leave the door open, you think. On the way out you forget about the door and find yourself locked out of your apartment. What a bonehead!
You decide on Chinese, ‘cause it’s closest. When you finally get there (and you nearly freeze your ass off in the process) the gate is halfway down and they’re mopping up. You have intense cottonmouth and can’t help but stare at the shiny poster of steaming chicken legs that’s Scotch-taped to the window. A whole bunch of pedestrians walk by, looking at you. “Check him out, homey’s buggin’… Ha, ha, ha!” You feel like a village idiot. The Village Idiot. Did the Village People have an Idiot? You make a fast break and cut into the Palestinian grocery store two buildings down. Your heart is thumping.
Mohammad says “Hello, my friend!” You gasp “Hi!” in response. Shit, why did I spill the beans? What a dunce. You stall at the beer section. You try to hide behind the indecisive chin-scratching gaze of comparison-shopping. You finally snatch a rack of Buds and a can of minced clams. Then you freak out because you can’t find your wallet. You’re making a spectacle of yourself, rifling your pockets like a junkie looking for his last rock. Your heart is about to jump out of your chest and run for cover. You find your wallet comfortably ensconced in your left hand. Been there the whole time probably. You look around and notice that this big guy to your left is staring at you like he wants to kill you. You look at Mohammad for help.
“Everything okay, my friend?” Mohammad says, suspiciously, as you approach the counter. Blind confusion. You vow to never set foot in this joint again. Better yet, you vow to never ever smoke again. Sam’s stash is bug-out stash. 100% no-doubt-about-it, freak-you-out-like-a-nuclear bomb-to-your-brain-this ain’t-no-medical-marijuana-dope-this-is-the-apocalypse-now stash. You remember the good old days of yore before all this shit. One day these will be the good old days. The good old daze. You bust out into the cold and crisp street and decide to run home. By the time you reach your front door you’re sprinting as fast as you can. There’s a tremendous sense of relief hiding in your own vestibule. Shit… no keys! It gets about fifty degrees colder in a matter of seconds and you’re not sure which part of your face is chattering so loudly. The scent of junkie urine rises to your nostrils and you turn blanch white, like a Disney cartoon. You wonder whether the local shelter has got a bed before you even ponder tracking Jose down, the only other human being with keys to your apartment.
You decide to act quick. You head straight across the street to Jimmy’s under-stocked grocery/dope-dealing front to score a tub of Visine. There’s no way you’re going to confront Jose with red eyes. He’ll barrage you with tricky questions and scan you with that retired cop glare he scans tenants with. Your mind goes blank under that stare. Why on earth does your landlord have to be an ex-cop? Besides, are cops ever ex? You ask Jimmy for the eye juice. His store always carries Visine and Bamboos, if nothing else. While digging for your wallet in your jacket pocket, you find your keys amidst some old Bazooka Joes. You break into a smile and call it your lucky day.
You’re on a roll now. You beeline for your apartment. By the time you’ve cracked your first Bud, you’re already bored with the TV. Need more excitement. Maybe I’ll ride my bike, you think. Your thoughts quickly drift and settle on the image of Vinnie on his Harley. Vinnie is a small dude with long balding hair, lots of Hells Angels tats, an 883 Sportster, a shiny Bowie knife and a big attitude. Everybody knows a guy like this, right? Guys like Vinnie (plus or minus the Italian name and Hell’s Angels tats) are standard issue to every every neighborhood in the world. You remember yesterday’s conversation with Vinnie. He was cutting down your Honda CM400 when you said: “Vinnie, a bike gets you from here to there, no?” Then Vinnie replied: “Figures a Rice-hopper would say something like that about his ride.” You smiled and recalled the time Santana yelled out “The plane, boss, the plane!” when Vinnie walked by, alluding to Fantasy Island’s small man. It was quite appropriate, considering all the tats and Vinnie’s size. Since then everybody’s called Vinnie “Tattoo”” behind his back. Only Santana can call him that to his face. No one fucks with Santana. Not even little psycho-wired Vinnie and his freaky Bowie knife.
You check the blinking clock on your VCR and it flashes back 12:00 A.M. No, it always says that. You jump up from your couch and head to the kitchen. You woof down some pasta with clam sauce (a bachelor’s best friend) and note the time. Its 11:37 P.M. You pick up the phone and call your buddy Kendall. Kendall will want to go downtown.
Kendall’s machine kicks in with some weird-ass Indian music. You figure he’s probably right below his apartment, in the West End Bar, hitting on the new crop of fresh-women from the esteemed university across the street. Or maybe (and more probably) he’s in the bathroom with Tito, scoring an eight-ball. Who knows? You muffle your voice and leave a threatening message about how Kendall shouldn’t have messed around with your sister and that you’re coming around to square things with him. You hang up.
You’re really bored now. You try juggling some silverware that’s on the counter and a fork flies off and nearly beans Billy. Billy and Kaya are your two plain tiger kitties. East Harlem originals. You recall how when you found Billy under the fire escape, he was all puffed up with worms and crawling in ear mites and fleas. Don’t know why, but you started calling him Baby Billy with the Baseball Belly. You notice that Billy and Kaya’s food bowl is bone dry. You grab some Cat Chow and totally miss the bowl. The smelly stuff scatters all over the dirty hardwood floors, the majority lodging itself under the fridge. You can almost hear the roaches rustling under there with great enthusiasm. ”My enthusiasm? Baseball!” Shit… Deniro’s Al Capone was badass. While cleaning up the mess you turn on the paint-spattered Sony cassette player-radio in the bathroom. The dial’s been frozen on WNWK for a long time now. Cool. Robert Nesta Marley’s in the house, crooning “Chances Are.” You grab another Bud from the fridge and head for your electric green couch. Feet up, your mind begins to drift again (must be the damn couch). You close your eyes and vow to motivate as soon as the song ends. The song never ends.
When you open your eyes you’re driving across country in a green school bus with two miniature white dragons in the cab. Every gas station on the way is out of gas but sells fireworks. When you finally run out of gas you’re in a town you remember from your childhood. There’s a big red brick building on the right. You decide to go in and ask about gas. When you come out the dragons are gone and an air raid siren is going off. At that moment you wake up to the sound of an Emergency Broadcast Systems test and the phone ringing at the same time.
Someone on the other end of the line says: “That’s not too cool bro, setting me up like that. You better bring that shit over now.” You recognize the voice from somewhere and it brings you great dread. You quickly hang up the phone. The phone rings again, almost instantly. Hesitantly, you pick it up. “Don’t fuck with me like that, dude!” It’s Kendall. You ask him how he dialed you back so fast. “What are you talking about?” he replies. You ask him about what set up he was referring to. He’s completely lost. Confusion. “Aw, come on Kendall, stop messing with me,” you say and instantly goose bump all over your body. You just placed the voice, the first phone call’s voice, to a face. Georgie. Georgie is your ex-roommate’s psycho drug dealer crackhead gun totting ex-boyfriend who won’t go away. “What the fuck is Georgie doing out of jail?” you mutter aloud. “What’s that?” you hear Kendall say, from somewhere far off. You spit out “Gotta go,” and hang up.
The phone rings again. That’s when you wake up. Back to today. The TV is blaring: Bin Laden is dead, shot in the face by CIA-led US soldiers, Greek national debt is out of control, powerful women are unfaithful in their relationships, gas prices are out of control. You swallow hard and look around. No crackhead Georgie or Bowie knife Vinnie, no wack-out weed or cockroach apartments or electric green couches. No vestibules that smell like urine. Maybe you’re a sap after all, or maybe you’re a romantic. It might sound crazy, but life sure felt simpler back then, more “alive.” That’s the funny thing about memories.
This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.
Copyright © 2011, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.