Wednesday, June 30, 2010



The platform was cold. Not freezing. Not winter or anything. But all I had on was a T-shirt and jeans - the day had been one of those autumn days when summer had rushed back in on a Gulf Stream wind but as the evening had set the wind had circled - and a chill night air was dropping from the streets down into the tunnels, and I was shivering, waiting for the train to come.

I was working, but, it was hard to really understand that. I wasn't carrying a gun or a shield or even an ID card. I didn't have a bullet-proof vest on. I sure wasn't wearing a uniform. I hadn't been in a police building in almost two weeks. I was young and very thin and dirty and jumpy. There were no displays of confidence dressed with mirrored sunglasses. Just small wads of cash spread here and there among my clothes and six cigarettes and four joints in the Camel box jammed into my left front pocket. If I might have been professionally identified at all it was by a small code stamped on the back of a driver's license that had a name that wasn't mine anyway. But no one outside a very few would know that. If a cop busted me, and ran either that name or my name through the system though - they'd assured me of this - they'd be told to call a special number. "What happens after they call?" I'd asked. "Well, that depends," they'd answered.

Today I'd sat near Tompkins Square. Getting high, drinking awful beer from a paper bag, and just listening. Trying to find the right group to slip into. No, not that fast. Trying to find the right group to target, so I could think about slipping in. I was new to this depth of disguise. And scared. and cautious. "Where you been sleepin?" Short-Leg Johnny had asked that afternoon. We'd shared smokes three of the last four days. I figured he'd lost a chunk of his leg in Vietnam? Maybe, but you couldn't really know. "Just on the trains for now," I'd said. "That's bad shit," he told me, "You decide you need something better you talk to me." I'd wondered if I should. Johnny was no target, but Johnny had a rep that would give me a rep, and that might help with the guys over there by the corner of Tenth and B. Guys that probably were the targets. But I had to wonder, if I did that, could I get Johnny killed? I already knew he wasn't gonna outrun them.

When Johnny went to the church for dinner, I slid the other way. He knew I didn't much like being inside. He told me he'd seen that in my eyes "right away." You know, you try to hide everything when your act is in play, but you just can't. Trying to think, I'd just started walking: south on Avenue A, across Houston, right on Stanton. I walked along the crumbling buildings of Eldridge Street down to Delancey. Everything was grim and grey and clouded over with confusion. Even the occasional neon lights just bounced off that fog spinning in my head, and pointed to nothing. At the Bowery I'd climbed down the stairs and jumped the turnstile on the run, sticking to character. It got me out of the wind, but not the cold.

I knew that I really could go home from here. Get clean. Sleep in a safe bed. Eat like a real person. But I just didn't think I should this night. So I got on the train. I guess going uptown. The doors closed. And I just rode along.

copyright 2007-2010 by Ira Socol

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