THE KNIFE

“Nestor! Nestor! Ayudame! Joe quiero mi matar!! El tiene uno cuchillo en su mochila! Ayudame!”

Which, roughly translated from Spanish, means:

“Nestor! Nestor! Help me! Joe wants to kill me!! He has a knife in his backpack!! Help me!”

Ah yes - that is La Senora crying out…this is taking place in the same decrepit apartment building in the Jersey City Heights described in my last blog. The reason it is in Spanish is because La Senora doesn’t speak a word of English. Now, I know I’ve had a somewhat contentious relationship with La Senora in the two years that I have been here, but by no means do I want to kill her! Even though she permits me in the kitchen for only 5 minutes to make my shake (and grudgingly at that!), while she spends 16 hours a day there, and even though she once thought my rather expensive piece of oatmeal soap, which I had left on the bathtub, was a cake - and tried to bake it…still, I have no reason to want to kill her!

Well, apparently, she walks through my bedroom again, as usual, and in this instance, she spies a knife that I use for peeling mangoes in the webbed front pocket of my backpack. Somehow, she contorts this into some kind of diabolical plot to asassinate her!

When I arrive home later that night, her son, Nestor, confronts me.

“Joe - why are you trying to kill my mother?!”

I mean, what do you say to that?

Places I Have Lived

THEY’RE they were. The two of them. Nestor, and his mother, La Senora (they’re from Peru) standing on top of the decrepit apartment building steps, arms folded, a collective sneer of disgust creasing their faces. I trudge reluctantly up those decaying steps, trepidation filling my entire being, as I sweat profusely on this boiling July day.

“Oh shit - NOW what?”

They lead me to the ancient sink counter in the kitchen, on which stands an empty plastic gallon jug. MY jug.

“Why?! Why?!” asks Nestor, since La Senora doesn’t speak a word of English, a tone of utter exasperation clearly evident in his voice.

First, let me give you a bit of background information, so I won’t appear COMPLETELY insane. Nestor is a catering co-worker; upon my return from my fourth trip to Ecuador, totally penniless, I DESPERATELY needed a place to stay, and took his offer of a room - sight unseen. Uh oh. The building is located in the derelict-ridden section of Jersey City known as The Heights. It is a railroad flat. For those of you who don’t know what a railroad flat is - it’s basically a long hall with rooms to the side. Bad enough. I am in the middle room - between La Senora in the front room, and Nestor in the back. Or vice versa, depending on the way you look at it. In any case, I’m in the middle. They often argue with each other, yelling between the rooms like an old married couple.

My room is a crumbling disaster. NO windows, paint peeling from the walls, the bedposts tied together by rope - and VERY narrow. Depressing, to say the least. Now, La Senora has to walk THROUGH my room to get to the kitchen, where she spends 16 hours a day. In order for me to get from my room to the bathroom in the kitchen (especially at night), you have to pass through a veritable gauntlet full of murderous obstacles, including various mousetraps placed strategically around the floor. There are the glue traps and the snapping traps. In the winter, when I wear socks to bed, the glue traps stick to them, as I blindly move forward, while the snapping traps snap my toes. This causes me great agony as I attempt to muffle my screams of horror in order not to wake up the sleeping Nestor, whose room I am walking through. Or, to be more exact, clumping through, with the glue traps stuck to my socks. When I FINALLY do reach the bathroom, the ceiling collapses on to my head. Finally, I’ve had ENOUGH!

I pee into my gallon jug at night and empty it into the toilet in the morning. When La Senora isn’t looking, of course. I sleep much better. This one time, however, I leave for my parent’s house down the Jersey Shore for three days, somehow forgetting the erstwhile gallon jug in my decrepit closet. This has been a particularly humid July, and the mysterious smell is driving them mad - until they detect the source of the offending odor.

Agghhhh….here we go…

Sinister Summer Pastimes...

Voices - ahh, the exquisite pleasure of doing voices! I LOVE doing voices. The accents, the rythms, and - especially - the intonations. Yes, indeed, I love those intonations! Mainly from old movies. Classics. 'Casablanca and 'It's A Wonderful Life,' to be specific. I know pretty much every line from each character in these movies, and I like to practice them till, in my mind, I have them perfected...I like to do them while walking somewhere...when I think I'm probably alone.

So, every August, I go up to volunteer at this Buddhist Center in Vermont - waaaay the fuck up in Vermont, out in the country somewhere - not too far from the Canadian border. Far. Every evening, I walk down this country road to this general store about a mile and a half away, talking out loud to myself  - and believe me - it's quite a hefty task!

"Now do you want a drink - or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer? Nick the bartender from when Bedford Falls is Pottersville).

"That is my least vulnerable spot." (Captain Renault's response when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) says he has the gun pointed right at Louie's heart.)

So, I'm strolling along, really satisfied with myself, enjoying life, until...THE UNDERPASS. Tremendous echo. It's IRRESISTIBLE.

"SILENCE! You dare to question the great and powerful Oz?! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!!"

I can't help it! I am COMPELLED!! Compelled, I tell you! Immediately afterward, I return to my regularly scheduled voices. Now, as I am making my way back to the Buddhist Center from the general store, I am consuming a Tall Boy ( a big can of beer), when I finish, I promptly deposit the can in a roadside mailbox - making sure to reserve the Bud Tall Boy for the American Flag mailbox. I have been doing this every August for 4 years now.

 

THE ZONE

The Zone...the zone, man - that's the place where every writer wants to be. It's magical...it's kinda - like... a miracle! Every writer - or, in fact, anybody who's ever done a creative project - or has been passionate about something they are working on - knows about The Zone. It's not like you can get there all the time, either. Actually, it's kind of a rare and difficult place to be in, never mind STAY IN - but when you are in it - the last thing you want is to be interrupted, y'know what I mean? So, I'm in my favorite writing spot - Panera in Hoboken, NJ - and I am IN IT! Locked in. NOTHING else matters.

Suddenly, a familiar, but dreaded presence, hovers over me.... STEVE! Now, most people wouldn't bother you when they see you so - inspired - but not Steve. NO-NOTHING can stop him!! 

"You know...."

"Steve, I'm really trying to work on something here..."

But this seems to spur him on even more!

"You have to work in a school cafeteria - but you must apply IMMEDIATELY - this one in Jersey City. I know the school Chancellor there - he is a Greek. I can talk to him about getting you in, but you have to go there the day after tomorrow! They have excellent benefits, you work there for 10 years, they even have a dental plan...you will be set."

I'm trying to remain in this rarified state I've attained.

"Yeah, Steve, I'll look into it, ok?"

Oddly satisfied, he strolls off down the aisle, seeking out his next victim...ten minutes pass....I am - writing furiously, man. All in.

" You know - the next book you should write is about the Mafia - and their relations with the black community."

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