Blue Nikes

No Blue Nikes were harmed in the writing of this little ditty.

The TV went dark. “She shoulda paid the electric bill. What’m I gonna do now?  Two words. Blue Nikes.” It’s so dark he can’t see his hand in front of his face. “Basement apartment. She’s gotta get a better place.”

He gingerly slides off the bed and lands on his knees.  Socks in the dark. Sticky underwear. “Pants, pants, pants. He reaches under the bed. Dust bunnies cling to his fingers. He shakes his hands. Clots of hair cling to his skin.

On the other side of the bed. Russian hands and Roman fingers find a pair of crumpled panties, which he reflexively lifts to his nose. His pulse quickens momentarily as a chthonic olfactory wake parts the waters of his chi.

“Blue Nikes.” His mantra brings him back to the task at hand. His fingers go slack and the panties fall to the carpet.

She heaves a sigh followed by a stifled whimper. A teacher once told him dream utterances flow up from the unconscious. He holds his breath to listen for somebody else’s name. Her breathing resumes its autonomic rhythm. No deep insights tonight.

He crawls across a deep pile tundra and aims in the direction of the unseen door. Blue Nikes keep him going forward. A smile brushes his lips.  The suede tickles his fingertips as he caresses the swoosh. “Upside down Pumas.”  Click. The door closes behind him as he slips into the night just ahead of Young Dawn’s fingertips of rose. His Blue Nikes squeak on the marble floor.

Chester Green Backstory

By profession, Chet was a lineman for the phone company. His leisure time was spent in compulsive industry that often involved hard physical labor. Whether it was tending to his nursery, fixing the cars, making repairs around the house, burying the phone and electric lines.

From the point of view of people of Jerry’s friends’ families who had only recently moved from tough working class neighborhoods in New York City, Chet seemed like a bit of an anachronism. He spanned the gap between rural and suburban Bayview. Through no intention of his own, Chet’s house found itself in in the middle hundreds of brand new houses. He maintained his home impeccably. He stood bolt upright and walked with determination and economy. He drove his vehicles for 200,000+ miles at time when most American cars were ready for the junk yard by 80,000. But of course he could because he maintained everything mechanical in his life scrupulously.

The Greens in the Eyes of the New Comers

The Greens led the life to which the Levys, Kupczeks, Scabelli-Gugliermos, and Colellas aspired. To most of the newly transplanted city dwellers who were the offspring of recent immigrants, the Greens represented the perfect suburban still life. Dad worked, mom cared for the kids, the house was maintained to perfection, meals were on the table at the exactly the same time every day, the kids were happy, and did fairly well in school. Jerry was already shaping up into a modestly good athlete. The girls belonged to the Brownies and Girl Scouts. But most importantly, the Green family had roots in the community. Their family had lived in Bayview for the last three generations–one generation before most of the city folks’ forbearers had even left their respective European countries.

They seemed to posses that sense of fitting in, of having a place in the world, of being connected. Families like the Levys, Kupczeks and Colellas were from “The City” and before that from unpronounceable municipalities throughout Europe so they felt in a state of transition–sort of like a plant growing in the air, reaching and hungering for soil in which to grab root. City living for immigrants proved to be a purgatorial existence. People had the resources to get out of their home countries and that was it. They settled in New York by default and bided their time until they could find jobs, save money, and move out. Unfortunately for most, temporary became permanent but they impressed upon their children the imperative of moving out to the suburbs or the country. The eagerness of the newly transplanted suburbanites to root themselves in the community made them seem grasping to the firmly established.

Most people who live in cities don’t buy their homes in the city; they don’t really settle in a community for any great length of time. Rather ghettos or slums become a way-station for social climbing ethnic groups causing neighborhoods to change in composition from one generation to the next. What was an Irish neighborhood in the late 1800s became an Italian neighborhood at the turn of the century became a Jewish neighborhood in the thirties, became a black or Puerto Rican neighborhood in the sixties.Nonetheless, he didn’t sleep well on Saturday night. The blood oath disturbed him. No one had ever admonished him against swearing oaths but there was something about the symbolism, not to mention the words which made him feel uneasy.

Blasting Gophers

Sunday morning November 1, 1970. I’ve decided to cut this from the main narrative of Hunter’s Moon because I think the story demands focus on Art Drinkwater, Joe and Joey, and the Levys. –BJC

In his waking life, rationalization and denial came easily to Jerry because he tended to live in the moment. Yesterday’s mistakes were yesterday’s worries. He fell asleep Saturday night to “They probably put out the fire before anything bad happened.”

In the still hours between midnight and sunrise, Jerry dreamed of sitting around a circle in Chris Levy’s fort dressed in flowing white robes. The walls glowed red and black instead of their usual green and white. He saw himself and his friends slicing huge gashes into their bodies then pouring the blood into a a mason jar. They all stood and watched Joey mix everyone’s blood into one container and then pass it around, urging them to drink deeply. The dream’s imagery took on the lurid appearance of a black and white horror movie. Long shadows fell across the floors at harsh angles. His  friends’ features took on a sardonic affect.

Moments after drinking the blood, his body purged its fluids and waste. He watched them vaporize before touching the ground. The world deconstructed and regenerated itself before his eyes. Fascination overcame his fear. Objects devolved into shape and color, metamorphosed into texture and value, and regenerated themselves first into mathematical representations of form and then three dimensional objects. Jerry marveled at the converging lines in the hooch’s interior; at the irregular forms of his friends arranged in a circle within the hallowed rectangle, occupying the surrounding space, forming an object for which he had no name; at the curves of Joey’s face–the spherical eyes, the way his nose protruded from his brow, then drooped towards the ground, curving up at the last possible moment. For a fleeting instant, everything made sense. He saw his place in the universe as a singular being with no boundaries between himself and infinity, essential to its strength and integrity. The previous night’s vision faded into the the dark.  The group emerged as foremost. He resolved to keep the secret. No matter how hard people questioned him about Saturday night’s adventures at Dill’s house, no matter who it was, he knew he had to protect his friends.

Jerry woke to the sound of his mother calling his name from the kitchen on Sunday morning, “Hurry up and get dressed. Everyone else is waiting.”

The Greens followed the same Sunday routine week in and week out. Jenny and Chester woke up around six in the morning and had sex. They roused the kids around seven and prepared for church. Both quickly showered after which Chester went out to the mail box, retrieved the Sunday paper. He sat in the parlor reading his Newsday until  Jenny announced breakfast. The family sat down to a big meal pancakes, bacon & sausage, orange juice, coffee, and milk.

A few hours later everyone changed out of their Sunday clothes and  Chester, accompanied by his son Jerry, went to the backyard and walked the property insuring that all was in order.

Most recently Chet Green’s had a gopher problem. During the summer of 1970 his backyard had turned into a grid work of gopher tunnels and dying plants. His vegetable garden and flower beds and his grass all suffered mightily. He tried everything short of dynamite but nothing worked. Not the humane traps nor the inhumane traps. He tried flooding the tunnels. Then he tried poison. But they were too smart to eat the tainted food. In an act of desperation one Sunday morning in mid-September he went out and put a handful of carrots near one of the tunnel’s entrances and waited patiently behind a tree with his pump action 20 Gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot.

“It’s me our you gopher,” said Chet wearing a determined look. The little guy popped out of his hole and cautiously nibbled the food. Bam! Gopher parts lay scattered about the bait.  Thereafter, Chet made it a point of going out a few times a week armed with his shotgun and whatever vegetables he could find in the refrigerator. The varmints could not resist the allure of a free meal. “Ah, but there are no free lunches my furry litter friends,” Chet would laugh as he waited for yet another critter to have its last meal. Sunday, the day of the Lord, saw no pause in the war.

“C’mon son,” said Chet. “It’s time to blast some gophers.”

Jerry giggled dryly with anticipation while his father left the table to retrieve his gun from the basement weapon cache. He was an avid hunter and a Lt. Colonel in the National Guard. He kept shotguns of various gauges, several hunting rifles, an M14 carbine, and  assorted pistols.  After a few moments he emerged from the basement door with a pump action 20 Gauge shotgun and a box of shells, “Here son,” said Chet, proffering both to the boy. “Load’er up and let’s get going. Mind where you point that thing.”

A look of excitement blossomed on his face as he grabbed the weapon and stepped out onto their breezeway, a concrete walk connecting the house with the garage and covered with a roof. Jerry loved everything to do with guns: holding them, loading them, firing them. But, having been an adolescent himself and understanding the fascination young boys had with guns, Chet double secured his weapons by keeping them in a gun safe in a locked room down in the basement. Only he knew the combination. Only he had the key.

Jenny wanted nothing to do with the guns and wouldn’t take the key nor would she learn the combination. “That’s your thing Chet,” she’d say. Throughout the entire gopher ordeal, Jenny busied her self around the house doing her best to ignore the entire affair. The traps and poison bait were bad enough. But, “Shooting off that gun.” Many of the old timers remembered the the not-too-distant past when all of the surrounding area was woodland. They were every bit as likely to solve their gopher problem in a like manner. So long as the shot didn’t wander over to their property, they would be content to put up with a few cracks of the gun. The new people, that was another question.

Blasting gophers was but one of the chores on the day’s agenda. Chet maintained a  winning nursery in his backyard complete with a greenhouse where he kept both tropical plants and also where he grew the seedlings and so on that he planted in the spring. He spent all day Saturday the 31st winterizing the backyard: that is, wrapping tree trunks in burlap, building wind/snow barriers for various bushes and shrubs, and so on.

When the father joined the son on the breezeway, they looked like a study of the much discussed generation gap. Jerry sported a mess of coarse blond hair parted in the middle. He wore a brightly colored polyester shirt with extra big collars, hip-hugging bluejeans held up by a big-buckled garrison belt and a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars on his feet.  In contrast, the shotgun wielding elder Green wore his greying blond hair in a crew cut. A flannel shirt hung on his narrow shoulders and heavy khaki pants clung to his waste. Well worn work boots covered his feet.

Too all appearances, Chester Green was a stereotypic ’60s Republican, Vietnam war supporter, America love it or leave it type. He was a hard working man about 5’10” tall. Up until the early ’70s, he wore black plastic framed “safety” glasses–circa 1955–which hid the way his eyes set in his face as well as the fairly high cheek bones. His ears were big and floppy and his lips long and thick. He wasn’t particularly muscular but a lifetime of physical labor gave his slight frame a solid appearance. When he was in his twenties, he was very thin. Married life and prosperity added a few layers to his waist line and in his face, which but for extra pounds, would’ve looked cadaverous.

Unlike his new neighbors, who commuted to New York City every day, he spent time with his son and taught him how to hunt and fish and how to fix things around the home. He was a great provider. He served in the Korean war as an enlisted man and worked his way up to Lt. Colonel in the National Guard, which was as much a beer drinking fraternity as a military outfit. They drilled once a month out east on the Island and drank the nights away.

But his experiences in the Korean war along with another 18 years in the service of his country taught him to value family and hard work above all else. Those were the things that sustained life. Petty disagreements over politics or dress were precisely that–insignificant. Not that he liked the way his son dressed or wore his hair but understood their impermanence whereas bitter arguments over haircuts and presentable clothes lasted a lifetime. All things considered, he opted for pragmatism.

The two walked north from the breezeway and headed toward the middle of the yard. “I found another entrance near the oak tree cluster,” said Chet. “C’mon son. Put the food where I showed you and we’ll wait. The little varmints’ll be out looking for a free meal before you know it.”

Jerry complied with his father’s instruction and they withdrew upwind from the hole and sat down on a pair of webbed folding chairs. “Now don’t move and don’t make a sound,” said the elder Green. A short while later, as Chet predicted, a gopher popped his head out of the hole and quickly scanned the perimeter. Not sensing any danger it bound over to its last meal. BAM. Click. BAM. Chet let off two rounds and watched the gopher transform into red mist. Jerry let out a whoop, “Got ’em!”

Satisfied that he was ahead in the Gopher War, Chet, handed the weapon to his son and said, “Take this to basement and give it a thorough cleaning. Rest it on the bench when you’re done. “He watched his son pass through the kitchen door and turned toward an arrangement of azaleas around which he’d set up a burlap wind/snow barrier.

Sympathy for the Devil

The blood oath ceremony disturbed Jerry deeply.  When it was his turn to leave the hooch, he flashed the “thumbs-up”, gripped the ersatz door jambs, and propelled himself into a frenzied run for Chris’s garage.  He grabbed his bike, and pedaled east at a furiously pace.

He stared down Canterbury Street’s dark asphalt pavement, focusing on the black strip   bordered by a white cement curbs on both sides.  It seemed to him the earth had split open and was quaffing the light in huge gulps as it spilled into pools from the two street lamps and from behind the curtained windows of the houses.

Imagination and reality commingled.  Nothing looked familiar as he pedaled toward home, not the cars, nor the houses, which now seemed dull and lifeless, almost as though the evil power at work that night had already sucked the people into the earth’s rapacious gullet.

Crossing Bayview Road to 40th Street did not help.  He was haunted by the feeling that something awful would happen for having set Dill’s house on fire.  And that feeling dogged him as he turned the cranks on his bicycle.

40th Street stood opposite Canterbury. 14 high ranches in seven neat rows measured the space between old and new followed by an abrupt transition.  Well-manicured lawns and an expansive road gave way gravel and mature overhanging trees.  The only sign of life were rural mailboxes and lights twinkling through dense woods.

The lower portion of 40th Street was among the oldest byways in Bayview.  Formerly a narrow country lane called Rabbit’s Run that provided access to an enclave of early black settlers and Secatogue Indians, it was widened to accommodate cars in the 40s and given a layer of gravel in the 50s. The road perpendicularly intersected the main north-south road just shy of the border between Baywood and Bayview proper, from which the narrow byway led east three quarters of a mile into the woods until it dwindled to a small footpath, leading finally to a small shanty village that straddled Stewart’s Creek.

Jerry gripped the bike’s handlebars harder and compulsively ran  his left thumb over his now bloodless index finger, feeling the cross shaped cut as he steered his bicycle onto the gravel road of lower 40th Street.  The upside down cross dripping with blood cast a dark shadow on in his mind.

The blood oath played in a loop. The light from the lantern took on a more sinister greenish yellow glow, the background transformed from dark to red, Joey’s features–lost in the gloaming–took on villainous affect.

His scarecrow face wore a look of terror, the china blue eyes swept the road before him. Jerry shuddered.  “I made a deal with the devil.  I’m going to hell.”

Just past the place where 40th Street changed, Beelzebub sat in the back seat of a candy apple red ’57 Chevy Bel Aire.  The car had a fully worked 327–balanced and blueprinted, bored and stroked, two Holley 1200 CFM carbs, Accel Distributor, uncorked headers.  It was jacked up in the rear with Gabriel air shocks to accommodate the 12 inch wide L 50s mounted on Cragar SS mag wheels.  In the front were a pair of G 78s, with chrome moon hubcaps.  Two of the devil’s minions idled against the trunk.  Both wore black boots, black peg-leg jeans, black T-shirts, black leather jackets, and their black Ray Ban Wayfarers hung rakishly on their pointed ears.  There was no escape.  It was if Jerry a whirling vortex drew him inexorably towards the barrier.  He veered to the left to avoid capture.  The nearest thug reached for his handlebars.

“Where you goin’ in such a hurry kid?”

The Fiend himself emerged from the car.  A black cobra skin shoe, topped with a black silk sock, lowered from the open door.  The other foot followed. Beelzebub effortlessly climbed from the car’s back seat.  He stood bolt up right and reflexively smoothed the wrinkles of his black jeans.  Bub’s outfit (that’s what the Minions called him) was completed with a black silk shirt, and the same sunglasses as the minions.

Wearing a toothy smile, Bub reached into the wallet pocket of his jacket and produced a folded contract and a fountain pen.

Jerry knew what it was and wanted to run away.  The black clad flunkies held tightly to his bicycle.  His urge to resist diminished as Beelzebub drew nearer, until finally all will was gone.

Bub laid the contract on the hood.  “Sign,” the fiend demanded.  He twisted the top of the fountain pen off and, with a manicured hand, proffered the writing instrument to Jerry.

Trembling, the frightened boy scrawled his name on the dotted line in red ink and Bub said, “Glad you could join us.”  A broad, toothy grin grew across his face–both his upper incisors were gold plated.  Bub and his minions started laughing.

When Jerry came to his senses, he was lying on the ground in a pile of rubber and metal. Chester Green, his father, stood over him with a good-natured grin on his face. The first thing the boy felt was embarrassment followed by twinges and burns from the bruises and scrapes scattered along the right side of his body.

“What the hell’s ‘smatter?  I heard a loud crashing against the garage door and found you on the ground.” Said Chester.  He started laughing.

Tears leaked out of the corners of Jerry’s eyes.  He started moving after he realized that the laughing came from his father’s mouth.

Sensing his son’s embarrassment, Chester asked, “You okay?”

“Yeah I’m fine.”

“Why the hell did you ride your bike into the garage door?”

And then answering his own question, Chet added, “You been drinking son?”

“No dad,” replied Jerry in a deadened tone.

“C’mon get yourself up and c’mere. Let me smell your breath.”

Jerry complied. He crawled out from under his bike, stood up and brushed himself off.  He walked toward the breezeway, where his father stood.  Against the light, Jerry still saw a hulking silhouette and an image of his meeting with Lucifer.  The vision barely lasted an instant.

Bending down to Jerry’s face, Chester said, “C’mon now.  Blow.”  Satisfied his son hadn’t been drinking, Chester Green started to laugh again, “Damnedest thing I ever saw.”  And he walked away, “Pick up your bike and put it away.”

Just as they closed the garage door, a throaty rumbling disturbed the silence. The sound approached slowly.  After a few minutes a red ’57 Chevy Bel Aire slowed to a stop in front of the Green’s house.

The engine idled roughly from the racing cam.  The window rolled down.  A voice called out,   “Hey Mr. Green.  It’s Glimpy, uh, Bob Fallon.  Everything okay with Jerry?  We were parked up a ways enjoying the night.  We said hi.  Kid screamed and rode off like he was being chased by the devil. ”

“He’s okay.  What’re doin’ around here?” replied Chester. The sound of two girls giggling tumbled out of the car .  “Never mind.  Thanks for stopping by.”

The Chevy made a U-turn and rolled slowly away.  A few moments later, thunder and squealing erupted followed three loud chirps as Glimpy ran up the tach and power-shifted.  “That guy’s got some car, huh?” said Chet

Jerry grunted and put away his bike.