This letter, number 26 from a collection of letters written the first two years I lived in New York City, tells the story of the evening before Thanksgiving 1989 (the holiday described in number 23). After posting these letters I've come to think that an appropriate label for them might be "The Colt 45 Chronicle," since the malt liquor is usually what I ended up writing about.
This epistle is to my friends Greg and Tresca back in the Bay Area. I must say the final paragraph -- coming home at night after work to an empty apartment and seeing my wife's red comb on the counter next to a sink full of dirty dishes -- is a perfect image of my marriage at the time.
Just stuck my head out the 30-degree window and took a few good puffs on a Cuban which was old and crumbling but once I got it lit and slobbered on a bit the crumbliness disappeared. The weather has been very cold the last two weeks; shit, we were even treated to several inches of snow on the eve of Thanksgiving; the papers said it was the first white Thanksgiving in 51 years, which was all right by me. Ashley and my buddy's wife were baking pies in the kitchen, and my buddy and I were in the living room drinking beers and smoking a joint and listening to a Leadbelly album. We, my Buddy and I, had gone down to Harlem earlier in the evening, had taken the 1 train down, to a wholesale beer warehouse and purchased a case of Harp specifically for the Thursday holiday. It turned out to be not such a great deal. We paid $23, which breaks down to a little under $6 a six pack. For New York, this is not bad, but no great bargain. Anyway, it was all worthwhile because it felt good hauling that case over my shoulder back home on the subway. When we got home and for the ladies already at work with flour sprinkles and melting butter we couldn't help but bust into the Harp, even if it was only Thanksgiving eve. The problem came at 10 o'clock when we realized that the case was already half gone. The wives told us that this wouldn't do, and that we must trudge back out and get some more beers and possibly a bottle of wine or two for tomorrow's turkey feast. We protested. We were happy and warm and stoned and it was damn cold out there. But they persisted. We resisted some more but then acquiesced and slung on coats.
When we got outside it was cold -- very cold -- but the air was moist, not dry and cutting. On the top of the hood of a Ford Ltd something stood thin, white and dirty. Right then something landed on the bridge of my nose. And just like that I figured out what was happening. -- Nothing hits your nose like that, not rain, not hail, not beer foam or pigeon feathers. -- It was snow!
It was snowing, and the snow was sticking. The black top of Haven Avenue was turning gray as the flakes stacked on each other. Gary and I were tickled pink. It was the first snow of the year -- the first snow after another grievous summer of subway sweat and air-conditioned beermares -- and we were out in it. We giggled up to a bodega on Broadway and bought two six-packs of Colt 45 talls and a bag of potato chips. The problem here was that at this bodega they didn't put price tags on anything; sometimes you'd go in and get it cheap, other times they'd tack on a dollar here and a dollar there. This time they added a few dollars. I gave the guy $20 and he gave me back $6 and change. I knew something was up. I asked him about it. He had a shitty look on his face, a combination of fear, hate and boredom. He repeated the total. I asked how much for the Colt. He said a buck a can. Bullshit, I thought; but fuck it, it's only money, which must've been more important to him since he was taking the time to fuck me in the ass. I had known what I was getting myself into; it had happened to me before at this bodega; in fact, it had happened to me there one too many times. So I had stopped shopping there. But I'd started going again, after work, because it was close to where the subway spit me out, and I could get quarts of Colt for $1.50 -- a good price in Manhattan. Gary and I turned the other cheek and stepped out the doorway. We turned the corner and a group of Puerto Rican kids stood huddled on the sidewalk. As we passed, they radiated powerful prickles of hatred. And I radiated 'em right back.
I guess nobody likes whitey, even if the snow is falling for the first time. Even more troublesome than that realization was the realization that both times Gary and I had gone to get beer we'd ended up with less than what we could feel truly thankful for. I thought about that for a second or two as we walked home, and about stuff like whether the pilgrims drank beer with the Indians, or whether it was supposed to have snowed on that original Thursday, but nothing amounted to much. I went back to appreciating the fact that it was the first snow of the year. I tilted my head back and took a good pull at the snow flakes; they were falling through a street lamp's yellow light.
Anyway, enough of that. How's everything going folks? Tresca, thanks for writing; and Greg, I could feel your presence. I hope to see you guys in the not-too-distant future, maybe late spring. I've got to save some money, and I haven't been very good at that. I wanna fly out to Oregon and buy a car for cheap and spend some tine in Portland and Seattle. Anyway, it's pretty much a pipe dream at this point. I might be stuck here for several 49er seasons to come, which would be a crying shame. I'm working at a law firm on Wall Street; I'm a proofreader; they take my soul from me bit by bit; I hope I can make it. But the money's not bad, and I can work a lot of overtime. The subways are a bitch, but that goes without saying. Ashley said I had to reduce my drinking or she'd take a hike. I've cut back quite a bit; no more late night gin shots or Jack Daniels lunches. Physically, I feel a helluva lot better; but mentally, I think I'm operating at half capacity. The problem with most people is that they're so full of fear that they don't ever want to leave the cave. Taking a couple shots of whiskey is too risky for them. They don't know what they'll do once they're drunk or how they'll feel. So they stay in their crab cave huddled next to a small fire and they roast marshmallows on rabbit ears and whistle out into the dark. Fear. It eats people up from the inside and makes 'em go home and eat a lot and watch TV. Everybody thinks they're going to live forever -- that's the problem. And I think it's TV's fault. Nobody pukes and dies and is willing to leave it at that. There's always a tomorrow and a new music video to take a picture of a Lean Cuisine body. There's always that. I don't know if I'm making myself clear -- about television and fear I mean -- but it seems to me that it is an important and primal issue, namely, desire getting put out of the body, out of the trunk, and stuffed into the eyes (and brain), with no way of getting back into trunk. All we can do is think about it and watch some more, watch some more and eat some more.
I came home tonight. I walked in the door and turned left. The light was on in the kitchen, but Ashley wasn't home. I saw was her red comb sitting on the counter next to a sink full of dirty dishes. It hit me hard. I don't know why. A comb shouldn't be there -- in the same picture with a sink full of dirty dishes.