St. Valentine’s Day in Tribeca 1999

Don and I spent the whole day customizing Al’s loft to accommodate his increasing disabilities due to cancer. Our mission was to make his place a little more user friendly and give his wife Debbie a chance to leave the loft on her own for the first time in a month. As Al put it, we were to be his babysitters and we were glad to do it. We started at 8 in the morning, hauling sheets of plywood and 2 x 4’s up four flights of stairs. When we finished around 9 PM, I was very tired and hungry, but pleased. Don and I said our goodbyes and I walked the six or so blocks home, picking up some takeout chicken and fries on the way. After dinner I cleaned up, changed my clothes and headed out into the neighborhood for the proverbial “couple of drinks”.

First I stopped at Puffy’s and had a couple of drinks with Susan, who had just begun her Saturday night shift. Then I wandered over to No Name and found it crowded with strangers. The phrase we used then for this situation was “House of Strangers.” I walked across the street to No Moore, which was also filled with strangers and I began to feel like some weird hipster dude. I had a drink and talked with the bartender and the owner for a while, but quickly tired of shouting over the band. People were beginning to file in for Salsa Night. A couple more drinks and I had a good buzz on. Several (some might say, too many) tequilas with beer chasers at this point and I went out the door headed for home.

I was in Puffy’s. Why? Don’t know. Maybe because it was on the way home. Maybe because I saw someone I knew or thought I wanted to know. More probably because I didn’t know when to say enough is enough. I sat with Rob near the front door and ordered a cup of coffee with a shot of tequila on the side. It seemed like a sensible thing to order at that point, I thought. Bordering on responsible even. Rob and I argued art. With Rob, you never talked art. You argued. The night’s discussion was when, if ever, and under what circumstances would we ever change our art to be more successful, if success ever came our way? Again I was in a place with hardly a familiar face. An attractive blonde with glasses was trying to get Rob to dance. “I don’t dance.” was his response. She asked him with each new song on the juke, swaying to and fro. Still no go. I thought it was such a waste to let this young woman’s needs go unfulfilled. I myself never needed much encouragement to dance. “Wanna dance with me?” I asked. She accepted and I managed to keep up with the beat and not trip over my feet. I surprised myself with the energy I mustered from my stair weary legs. After the dance I returned to my stool and laughed it up with Susan, Rob and the blonde. She still wanted him to dance and he still declined. I’m thinking about another dance when some guy came running through the door yelling: “Quick! Call the police! Some guy’s trying to steal this guy’s car!” I looked out the window, and in the half-light of the parking lot across the street, I saw one guy chasing another around the cars. I went outside with three other guys, all 20 something strangers.

There were two white guys in the parking lot. A fortyish balding guy ran up to me, “Help me. He’s going to kill me.” A younger longhaired man was screaming obscenities. I immediately thought that this is some guy love thing gone bad. I asked them if them if they knew each other., but they were both so hysterical, I got no answer. I got between them and Longhair started yelling at me. I said the cops are coming and he should cool it. Susan was there now and said that 911 was not responding, that they wanted the license plate number of the car that was being stolen. Longhair screamed: “Who are you? Who the fuck are you? Get away from me!” Yelling “I’m going to kill you.” To Baldie and the rest of us. He kicked Baldie in the ass.

I said “Stop that.” He kicked him again. I said, “Stop that.” He kicked him a third time and I shoved him away.

He screamed at me: “I’m going to shoot you, you motherfucker.”

“What?” He was gesturing wildly with his hands and darting back and forth trying to get at the other guy.

“You heard me! I’m going to fucking shoot you!” In an instant I was sober. This was real. It took me a second to realize that I couldn’t walk away from this. I didn’t think waiting for him to pull a pistol and shoot me in the back was a good idea either. So I jumped on him, wrapped my arms around him, and fell on him. He resisted for just a moment, crumbled to the pavement and laid stock still.

I said to him: “You must think I’m fucking stupid if you think I’m not going to search you after what you just said. Hold his arms, guys.” Two of them pinned an arm each and I frisked him. Chest, armpits, waist- band. He started to make cooing sounds as I went lower. Asked me if I was getting off on it. I gave his crotch a firm squeeze and he shut up. I patted down his legs and ankles. “No gun, guys. Let him up.” He got up and started yelling. I looked at him and said: “”I’ve got enough shit in my life without adding you to it.” and walked back into the bar.

Inside Susan was on the phone screaming: “He’s threatening to shoot people now. You better send some cops right now.” I told her that he didn’t have a gun. I looked out the window and he was yelling at the other guys. I saw a car pull out of the lot real quick and speed up Hudson. Baldie had made his escape. One of my backups, tall, young with red hair said to me, “You did the right thing.”

I shrugged. Right thing. Staying in the bar would have been the right thing. Going home much earlier would have been the right thing. Staying home and reading a good book and going to bed at ten would have definitely been the right thing. Longhair was standing in the doorway threatening everyone in the bar until he saw the first police car coming down Harrison St. and broke off his tirade in mid-obscenity to make a run down Hudson. I couldn’t see him, but I could see another squad car, coming the wrong way down Hudson, then another that came from Worth St. One cop ran by the window with a drawn pistol, holding it in both hands over his head. I heard someone shout: “Put your hands on the railing. Don’t fuckin’ move!” I thought: “O Christ. They’re going to shoot him.” Susan went out for few minutes and came back and told me that the cops wanted to talk to me. I went out and met a very calm and serious woman police sergeant. “What happened?” she asked.

I told her that someone came into the bar. Said someone was stealing a car. I went out and saw one guy chasing the other.

“Where’s the other guy?”

“Gone.”

“Did this man threaten you with a gun?”

“He said he was going to shoot me, so I jumped on him, had the other guys hold him while I searched him. He didn’t have a gun.”

“Do you want to press charges?”

“No, I just want him to go away.”

“We can do that,” she said in a quiet voice.

Then she was gone and I was back in the bar with Rob and the blonde. She was still trying to get Rob to dance. What was this guy’s problem? I was saturated with adrenaline and after a couple of songs I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t sit still. The blonde and I started dancing again when who comes through the door? It was none other than Frank, the bar owner. He had on his normal “I don’t give a shit” smirk. I grabbed him by the shoulders in a tight grip and started bouncing him up and down. He was scared, but still smiling. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on. He tried to get away, but wasn’t strong enough. I had a real lock on him. His forte was passive aggression so he went limp, but I was so pumped I just held him up, bouncing him up and down in rhythm to the music. Everyone in the bar was laughing like inmates in an insane asylum. Susan was chanting something I couldn’t understand. “Was it: “Kill him! Kill him!”? People were clapping. Frank started to loosen up. People were paying attention to him and laughing. (Believe me when I say, a most unusual event for him.) The song ended and I put him down on his feet, and with a slight bow, returned to my corner of the bar. Susan poured me another drink.

Then he accepted a dance from the blonde. Susan’s mouth dropped open: “ He never dances.”

I yelled out to her: “See? I taught him how to dance.”

Rob asked me why he didn’t resist.

I said because he liked it.

“Because he’s into S and M?”

“Nah, Just passive.”

 

Rob offered me a hit on a roach he had. I said: “Only if it’s on my way home.”

 

He said: “Nah, man. Stick around. You’re the man of the hour right now. Why leave?”

 

“I’ve had enough for tonight. That was stupid out there. And stupid to dance with him. I usually can’t stand him. I’m going home before I do something even more stupid.”

 

We walked out and I took a couple of hits, said
Thanks” and walked home. There I chased four aspirins with a tall glass of milk and two large peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and went to bed.

 

When I woke up in the morning, it took me a couple of minutes to remember. My first words of the new day were “Oh shit.”

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