Harlem Street scene, 1988. Photography by Andreas Economakis.
by Andreas Economakis
1988. A summer of cut-off shorts, cocaine, drinking, bicycling around Manhattan, dreadlocks and fun. My girlfriend Marisa and I are hanging out with friends every single night, jumping around bars, ending up in dorm rooms, strange rooms, bathrooms, hunched over mirrors, bankcards and razors clicking the glass, tinfoil and rolled dollar bills powdered white, tongues stinging, noses numb.
Marisa’s pad is up on 139th and Broadway, in a Dominican neighborhood where the music never stops and cars are always triple-parked on the street. The futile horns of the trapped cars sound in sync with the Latin rhythms blaring out of every window and door, out of every orifice. Everything seems to fit. Our bodies are strong and we have no fear. We’re on top of the world.
Friday night we decide to drop acid and head out to Broadway’s lights. Broadway is like magic. It’s the wondrous threshold that pushes us into the high, the avenue that turns it all on like an electrical switch. I feel great. Why shouldn’t I? After all, I finally have a job! No more Reagan-era scrounging for handouts from friends. And screw UPS, come to think of it. Maybe once upon a time I wanted to be a United Parcel Service driver, driving around Manhattan in that big shit-brown truck, in my nappy shit-brown outfit, but no longer. I even got to drive that shit-brown truck as part of the test. The examiner told me I was a natural. Then he handed me a small plastic cup and asked for my piss. My piss! They didn’t even have the decency to call and tell me I failed. But that’s all history.
Starting Monday I’m answering phones in a large law office midtown. And for $10 an hour! Easy money, boy, and I don’t even have to wear a tie! So what if all my co-workers are women in their mid 50’s? Who cares? $10 an hour! And to top it all off, I’ve got a whole weekend to party, lots of weed, a sweet eight-ball, a small sheet of acid and more 24-hour liquor stores than the eye can count. Marisa’s down to party. So is Lou. Tina joins us too.
We burst out of Marisa’s apartment on our bicycles, riding everywhere, the party never ending. Harlem’s a blur of brownstone, white garlic-covered yucca, colorful crack-vile caps, gutted cars and Run DMC. The Jersey breeze in our hair, the twinkling lights of Weehawken across black water and then the Village, a neon vinyl wonderland of coin operated candy dispensers and blonde hair over tight, bulging jeans. Lines and beers and whippets on the old elevated West Side Highway (before they so shamelessly tore it down), buzzing our way cross-town for joints in the warm, dark, narcotic park. Early morning motor-oil sized eggs at the Hudson View Diner under the bridge up on 125th,the old meat market next door an orgy of slaughtered meat and early morning 25-cent hookers in candy-colored spandex over Latin brown skin.
The early Monday sun finds us heading for Marisa’s bed, the Dominicans red-eyed and smiling as we skirt by musical windows and cars, fugitives from a weekend we will never forget but need to leave behind. The growing twilight is cut by white lines and sucked up through hand-twirled $1 tubes, as Paul Simon sings Graceland on the stereo. We finally drift off to sleep, horny as fuck but too fucked up to do anything about it.
At some point the alarm goes off and someone slaps it shut. At ten in the morning Marisa shakes me awake. I beg her to call the law office for me. I bury my head under the pillow, a modern day dreadlocked ostrich. “Uh, he can’t come in,” she says. I can hear them scream on the other end, through the feathers. “Um, yeah, he got a job with UPS,” she says. That was my idea. We fall back asleep.
When I finally wake up, Marisa is playing Graceland again. We wander into the kitchen and pour two piping hot Bustelo coffees as speedy little cockroaches run for cover under the humming fridge. I get dressed and bicycle downtown and get a job as a bike messenger, humming Graceland all the way:
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland,
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now,
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
I guess I’m just not cut out for offices.
This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.
Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.