“Whew, you smell like your father when he’s been out working on his machines,” Mom said to me as she gave me a peck on the cheek. She wriggled her nose.
She hated the smell of gas and oil. Beetles had that trait of making you smell like the engine compartment. It’s one of the idiosyncrasies that you had to love to put up with.
“You too,” she said to Tim as she kissed him, “Glad you’re here.”
“Me too, Mrs. Langer.”
“Hi, Katie,” Mom squealed as she bounced over to Fitz.
“Hi, Mrs. Langer. How are you?”
“Great, now that you’re all here.” She gave Steve a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Ooh, sandpaper face.”
“What do you expect, Mom?” I said, “we have all hit puberty.”
Tim slapped me on the ass for being smart with my mom.
I looked over my shoulder at him and said, “Thank you, Dan.” The comment shocked him at first but then we both got broad smiles across our faces.
I got into the truck and backed it into a space in the far back, just as Dad would want it, then walked back and parked Sammy in the garage. I took Tim’s and my duffle bags into the house where Mom was already making sandwiches for all. Steve had the pleasure of receiving my baloney and cheese sandwich and then I made my own.
Mom caught on, “Sorry,” she said sheepishly.
“Not to worry, Mom.” I paused a second and then said, “I remembered what happened.”
She looked at me with stark terror in her eyes.
“I’ll have to live with it. I’ll be OK.” I’m glad she was too scared to say anything. I didn’t want to talk about it either.
We piled into my old room, with the double bed and the bunk beds.
“I’m sleepin’ in the double,” I said as I jumped on the bed, “Y’all figure out who sleeps where.”
The other three joined me and we giggled at the silliness of it all. Mom came in the room, looked, then opened her mouth and pointed with her finger. She shook her head then spun around and left and never said a word. We dissolved into hysterics.
Steve got up, “I always wanted to sleep on top.”
We burst out laughing some more because we were absolutely punchy due to lack of sleep. Fitz took the bottom bunk. Tim nuzzled up to me. We were all asleep, still dressed, in less than five minutes. It was dark when I awoke. I looked around. Tim was on his back snoring. Katie was up in the top bunk with Steve. I looked at Dan’s watch and then mine. They were on opposite wrists. It was just after seven. I took his watch off, and his and Jason’s rings too. I looped them together and hung them on a carved leaf on the headboard. I kissed Tim on the forehead. He snorted and then began to rally.
Fitz cracked an eye and said, “Hungry?”
“Yep, let’s go see what’s goin’ on. You can be my assistant now.”
She laughed and then jiggled Steve’s belly. “Sounds empty to me.”
Steve shook his head and began to awaken. “Wha…hey.”
“Hungry?” I asked. He nodded yes.
Tim kissed me and then nodded too.
Mom had made a huge batch of spaghetti sauce…with meat, of course. She remembered when it was too late. I think subconsciously she hoped I would return to eating meat. I couldn’t blame her for it though, and she did make a wonderful salad. As Katie reheated the sauce and boiled water for the pasta, I found a head of cabbage and a can of Navy beans. A half a head of cabbage shredded along with the beans and a bunch of spices over a bed of pasta made a great dinner. I was happy. Katie was amazed that I pulled that recipe out of my head.
I said, “No, it’s one in the book. I made it once, but I did do it from memory.
She said, “I think you have a little bit of Dan in you.”
I smiled and blushed. That was the most flattering thing anyone had ever said to me. Mom came over and tasted my dinner. She was impressed. She still thought I would starve to death being a vegetarian.
The next morning I called the architect whom Dad had put me in touch with at his home in Northern New Jersey. He was glad to hear that I was finally here. He asked if I had found an apartment yet. I said no, but that I was ready to start as soon as possible.
“Go find yourself a place, first. Then let’s say we see you two weeks from Monday. I can’t wait.”
He can’t wait I thought to myself! We had talked a few times while I was still in New Orleans and I had sent some copies of my work. He was very impressed and he wanted me to work for him. This was not a favor to me. That was the best part of all.
By nine-thirty, we boarded the train and appeared on 34th Street an hour and fifteen minutes later. My new boss had sent me a list of brokers to talk to about apartments and I had set up a bunch of appointments.
We looked at high rise after high rise, even when I said, “No high rises!”
My opinion of real estate brokers was crashing fast and they tended to look smarmy too.
I began to introduce my entourage as, “My lawyer, my banker and my physical therapist.”
Steve almost slugged one of them when they inferred that Fitz was a whore.
We walked out of the last office when he showed me brochures of high rises.
It was just past three when I said, “Let’s eat! Veselka!”
They all looked at me funny. We had snacked on a few things but we all needed a good meal. We boarded the “6” train at 77th and headed downtown. They all stared at the mural of the cast of characters that typically invade Veselka as we waited for a table.
“What are you going to eat in here,” Katie asked as she stared at the large kielbasa being served up.
“Oh, they have a vegetarian platter here. Dan dared me to order it once. I didn’t.” I paused at the memory. He had said, “Oh, I’ll get you to eat it someday.” I didn’t share that with the rest of the group. The lump in my throat wouldn’t go away for the longest time.
After dinner we wandered around the East Village for a while and then continued down past Houston Street. The group was astounded by the change in character this city had as the blocks went by. We were worlds away from the Upper East Side. Amongst all the grit, desolation and despair of these neighborhoods we found one street, tree lined, the buds just beginning to sprout. It was quiet. It seemed cleaner, at least in my mind. I got a shiver.
“OK, be on the lookout,” I said, a little nervously.
“For what?” asked Tim.
“I don’t have a clue…antennae up, that’s all.”
Steve was the only one who knew that I got these things. He understood. We came to a street in mid-block, one of those funny side streets that doesn’t run for very long. I saw a five storey brick building on the southwest corner. The deep red bricks were blackened with soot but glowed in the multiple reflections of the setting sun from windows across the street. The first and fifth floor windows had arches. The first floor was up six steps on a heavily rusticated stone base.
“Wow, I like it,” I said with enthusiasm.
Katie had a scared look on her face. I saw a man in his sixties banging at the trash cans in front of the building. I didn’t look as I crossed the street and a cab blasted its horn at me. No other moving cars were in sight. I shook my head. I could hear in my head Jason chastising me about staying aware. I smiled.
“Excuse me, sir, do you know of any apartments for rent in this building and whom I would talk to about them?”
“Ja,” he said in a heavy German accent.
I waited for him to continue. He didn’t.
“Who would that be?” I prodded as politely as I could.
“Who vants to know?”
“Me, Peter Gerhard Langer, that’s who.” I pronounced my name with the proper German inflections, just as my grandfather had taught me. I thought if I played the heritage card it might get me a bit of respect. It must have. He turned and looked me up and down. He grabbed my chin and turned my head to the side for a profile. I began to get nervous.
“I’m zee zuper here. Klaus. Ja, I have apartment. For you? Vat about zem?”
“Just for me. They are my friends. They already have places.”
“Gut, come.” I waved them to follow.
We climbed the stoop and entered through the double doors of the foyer. The fluorescent light flickered and hummed. The pale green walls and the brown tile floor reminded me of a grungy version of the hospital I hated so much. We passed two doors, one to either side. At the end of the hall the cast metal stairs with marble treads wound up to the right side. At the end of the hall across from the stairs was a door.
“Zees is zee only von open.” He juggled the knob as he turned the key and the door creaked open. We entered a ten by fourteen foot living room, with two windows that faced onto the side street. To the right through an archway with two fluted Ionic columns was the kitchen, modern for the late1940’s. It had a window that faced the side street, a back door and a window over the sink that faced the rear. Leading from the corner of the living room next to the kitchen was a short hall that had the bathroom to the left. It had beautiful old cast iron fixtures and exquisite tile work wainscoting that was in good condition. The plaster walls above were coated with too many bad paint jobs. A small window with a stained glass upper sash looked out to the back yard. A bedroom as big as the one I grew up in was at the end of the hall. It had two windows to the back. All of the windows had bars on them. I spun around in the bedroom. I had the biggest grin on my face. My three friends had looks of horror. I walked past them and into the kitchen. I tried the back door. It was nailed shut.
“Can I see the back yard? Do I get use of the back yard?” I peered through the gray curtains.
It was a junk filled hellhole about ten by thirty feet with a cinderblock wall to the rear, a brick wall to the side neighbor, both about eight feet tall and a low chain link fence with a gate that faced the street.
“Back yard iz yeors to do vit as you please. Only allow access by fire ezcapes above. Ja.”
“Not a problem. What’s rent?”
“Tree-vivty, fus monse plus lass. You pay ‘lectric, I pay gaz and vater.”
“OK, what are the problems here?”
“New Yawk iz problem, gut people in building. Neighborhut iz eeehhhh,” Klaus said, wobbling his outstretched hand back and forth.
“What about repairs? What if I do them?” “I vill fix vat I can vin I can. You fix vat you vant, show me, give me receipts, I deduct from rent. Ja?” “OK, Who owns the building? You?” “Nein, my vife, she gut voman. She vill like you,” he said nodding his head. “OK, let’s do it! When can I move in?”
“Yeah, Tim,” I said with a grin.
“Are you sure about this?” I looked at the three best friends I had in the world. Their faces showed serious concern.
“This doesn’t look like the greatest neighborhood in the world,” Steve said.
I looked at him funny.
“Oh, great neighborhood I moved into with you! Within the first two months I had a gun stuck to my head and robbed, not fifty feet from the front door, and I’ve had my car busted into twice. Ya know that’s why it was so cheap, Steve, no radio.”
I gave him a smirk, but then smiled. “Look y’all, I know in my heart and soul this is where I want to be. This apartment, the backyard, my life they all need some rebuilding and care. Maybe the neighborhood will come in time. I’ll be OK. It’s only two blocks to one subway stop and three or four the other way to another one. I saw some grocery stores around. I think I can get by.”
“What about Sammy?” Steve asked.
“Who Sammy?” Klaus asked.
“My car, I have a ’69 Volkswagen Beetle. His name is Sammy.”
“Ja? Zey are gut cars! You are gut kid!”
“I’ll leave Sammy at Mom and Dad’s till I find a place to park him.”
We tromped upstairs to the second floor. Klaus and his wife had the whole floor for their apartment. I signed the lease and gave them a check, plus four hundred in cash so they would believe my check from New Orleans. They gave me keys and told me that I would have to have the electric transferred to my name by the end of the month. I thanked them profusely. They kept calling me a “gut kid” or a “gut boy” the whole time.
We went back downstairs and into the apartment. I was glad I watched Klaus open the door or I would have never gotten back in. Walking back and forth through the apartment I made mental notes about bad areas of plaster and paint colors. The general furniture layout now came to mind. I knew that I would have to tear down the rickety half-assed bedroom closets somebody had built out of dark brown paneling and 2x4’s at least a decade ago and replace it with something a lot more efficient. At least the floors were in decent shape. Well, I knew the subfloor in the kitchen was good because the linoleum was worn straight through. The backyard was another story all unto itself. It would have its day all in good time.
“Well, let’s head home. Tomorrow is going to be a long day of cleaning and prepping before I can think about moving in.”
They still stared at me in disbelief. I locked the door. I opened the mailbox. It was stuffed with junk. There was nothing addressed to anyone but occupant. I asked Steve for his little pocketknife. I cut a blank section from one of the sale postcards and wrote “Langer” in block letters. I had to think twice about not writing “Elliot” next to it. There was room for it although I would have had to be creative to fit Godcheaux too. I slipped the name into the slot on the mailbox. It was dark when we walked out to the avenue. It seemed pretty safe to me. I hailed a cab to take us to the Path station at 6th Avenue and 9th Street. We were home before ten.
Mom was not too pleased, to say the least, about me not being in a high rise. I think she had some visions of the “Jeffersons” or something like that.
“Surprise,” I exclaimed.
Dad shook his head and laughed. I called Egil and told him to get his ass to my house before eight AM. I needed his help. Dad and my brother Jamie were going to come too. Mom and my sisters would come after I moved in.
“Well,” I exclaimed, sarcastically incensed.
The seven of us left in one of the dump trucks and Dad’s work car. I drove the dump truck with Tim beside me and Egil hanging out the window beating the rhythm to the song on the radio on the door of the truck as we sailed down the highway to the Holland Tunnel.
After five minutes of giving it the once over I said, “OK, tea party’s over, time to get to work!”
Dad, Egil and Jamie laughed. It was one of Dad’s classic work lines. Steve and Katie took to the bedroom to tear down the closet and scrape and patch the ceiling and walls. Egil did the same to the walls and ceilings in the living room and hall. Tim used a flat shovel to scrape up all of the linoleum in the kitchen. Dad went to work on the back door so that it would open, and then close with security. Jamie started hauling all the scrap steel and junk out of the back yard. I promised him he could keep the money he got at the salvage yard. It kept him very busy and away from me. I certainly didn’t want any of his needling today. I went to work fixing the plumbing and cleaning the bathroom. It really needed it and I knew that Katie would appreciate it at some point today. She was already so brave about dealing with New York I wanted to give her a bit of comfort.
Once Dad got the back door open, we could clearly see that the back steps were shot. Jamie bitched for the half-hour it took him to demolish and load them up. He knew that he couldn’t get any money for it and he let us all know about that. I threw a twenty out the back door at him.
Dad yelled, “DON’T DO THAT! He’ll expect money any time he bitches. Anyway, you need to save your money so you can buy something better.”
I laughed. No one here but Tim knew how much money I really had. That brought on a serious thought. I needed to talk to Dad Elliot about doing a will.
By lunch we had gotten the vast amount of the dirty work done. Tim had finished getting up the old floor and had even done a few small patches to the subfloor. He had talents I was just learning about. He started on the ceiling, which wasn’t too bad. It just needed a little scraping. It was the only gypsum board ceiling in the place. Then he and Katie went at all of the cupboards. I heard quite a few “Eeeeewwwwws” from them while they did it, especially when they pulled the stove and refrigerator out. Steve and Egil had finished all of the patching of the plaster by the time Jamie came back with a late lunch. It was the best damn pizza I had had in an awfully long time.
Dad and I left after lunch to see if we could find a hardware store. We found one not too far away on 1st Avenue. I bought a couple of gallons of ceiling white paint, some rollers and painting accoutrements. I asked what vinyl tiling they had. They showed me a lot of cheap crap. The only thing that they had that was of worthwhile quality they didn’t have in enough of any one color. The only two colors I could relate to were a deep blue and bright orange. I bought equal amounts of both. My dad looked at me like I was from Mars.
“Pete, are you nuts or what?”
“They are beautiful together,” I replied simply. I bought glue and tools to do the job. Dad got what he needed to fix the front and back doors and the windows. I charged it all.
“Pete, I can help you out, you know.”
“I can help you out if you need me to,” was all I said in return. I gave him my wise-ass smile. He knew something was up but didn’t ask. We were back in the apartment ten minutes later.
Jamie was out back building a set of temporary steps out of stones, cinderblocks, 2 x 12’s and any other object that looked like it would work and he couldn’t sell. He did a damn good job too. It worked very well. The yard had been through the first of what would be many overhauls and variations. He called me out there and showed me what he had left behind; things he thought would be useful for me to create a garden. He made a lot of good choices. He also showed me the far end of the yard. My garden to be had been and probably still was, a major shooting gallery for heroin and God knows what else. There were hundreds of needles, vials and all sorts of paraphernalia strewn about.
“Shit,” I said, “this is going to be a fuckin’ dangerous pain in the ass to clean up.”
“Thought you’d like to know.”
“Thanks, Jamie. Oh, and thanks for the stairs, they’re cool.”
“No problem. I’ll shovel and rake up as much as I can today.”
“I really appreciate you helpin’ out.”
“No problem,” he repeated.
That afternoon was the turning point in my relationship with my oldest brother. I think he finally understood who I was and what I was about by the way that I continued to pursue not what was easiest but what was best for me in the long term and he could respect that.
The guys had finished sanding all of the patches and had begun to paint. I asked them to do the kitchen first so I could lay the floor. As they painted I made some rough measurement and sketched with a pencil on the subfloor for what I wanted to do. I tossed about a half a dozen ideas before going with a square orange field and a blue border. Tim helped me snap the lines and I got started. After the glue set up I was done except for the cut edge pieces in less than an hour. I would save that for later. I started helping everyone else finish up what they had been doing. Then we swept, mopped, scrubbed, dusted and vacuumed throughout. Katie announced even she would cook in this kitchen now.
“Well, good cause maybe you will tomorrow night,” I stated. “Time to go home.”
We all took one wander around. The walls and trim would have to wait for their coat of paint, but overall the place shaped up better than I had expected for one day’s work.
“Maybe not such a bad choice after all,” Tim said.
“Thanks,” I kissed him on the ear. “Tomorrow it will be my home.”
I bought a couple of six packs from the bodega down the street. I handed out beers to everyone but Dad and me and then drove home. The eleven o’clock news had just come on when we poured through the back door. Mom had been worrying for the past two hours.
Steve, Katie, Tim and I crammed ourselves into the cab of the truck the next morning. We took all of our stuff. It was moving day for all of us. Our new base of operations would be New York City. I took an air mattress and some sheets for Steve and Katie to sleep on. We found a parking spot on the side street, in front of the rear gate. It took us less than an hour to unload everything. Steve and Katie then headed out for groceries. I gave them a hundred bucks.
“Spend it all,” I insisted, “I’ll need all of the extras.”
Tim and I started to arrange the furniture and put the boxes where they needed to be. We spent the most time unpacking and arranging the kitchen.
He walked to the sink at one point and looked out the window as he rinsed off some pans and said calmly, “Where’s the truck?”
“Don’t fuck with me, Tim, I’m busy.”
“No fuckin’, Pete,” he said calmly.
“They didn’t buy that many groceries. Did they,” I asked half jokingly.
I walked out the back door and saw the shattered remnants of a car window right where the driver’s door had been.
“Got some dimes…I mean quarters, Tim.” I called the police. I called the truck company. They said no problem, I was insured; I just needed a police report. I called the police again. I would have to call them eight more times over the next four hours before they showed up and wrote out a police report.
“Welcome to New York,” was what the cop said to me. I wanted to deck him.
Steve and Katie came back while I was calling the police the second time.
“See, that’s what this place is all about.”
“Oh, Fitz, you’ll love this place someday. It will be your home and you’ll raise little Danny here.”
“Peter Langer, YOU are certifiably insane!”
As I dealt with the police Katie cooked an early dinner. Steve hung the shower curtain and prepped the bathroom for use. Tim put the bed together. We all met an hour later at the red Formica table with the ribbed stainless steel edge and sat in the four bent metal chairs. I had centered the table on the window that faced the side street and had placed Jason’s stool in the corner by the back door. I wondered if, in time, someone would come to use it on a regular basis or would it become just a memorial. Even in these completely new surroundings, I expected to see Dan and Jason any second. I had a tough time choking my first meal down in my new home with my best friends on Mardi Gras Day.
After dinner, I apologized to Steve and Katie. This move turned out to be a lot more work and not much sight seeing or enjoying New York, but I said I would make it up to them tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. We had all day to enjoy the sights before they left Thursday morning. Tim had taken a week’s vacation, much to Brad’s dismay. He wouldn’t be leaving till Sunday.
It was eight o’clock by the time we all had showered and dressed. Tim and I had begun to shower together. We all decided to go explore. My phone would not start to work till tomorrow at the earliest. Tim needed to call Brad and Steve wanted a few beers.
We stood on a street corner on 2nd Avenue watching the flow of people on the sidewalk. Tim tried to carry on a conversation from the payphone.
Fitz told me, “Look, it’s Mardi Gras up here 365 days a year.”
“Hafta agree with ya there, darlin’,” I replied.
“I’ve never seen so many pierced, tattooed and dyed people in all my life,” Steve added.
“Don’t worry, Fitz, I won’t be one of them,” I said with a smile and a wink.
Tim ended his call in with, “Geez, Brad, just stop it. I’ll see you Sunday night. Bye…yes…bye!” He had this look of consternation as his eyebrows dove into his nose. “Shit, he’s a pain in the ass sometimes. He wanted me to make sure I took notes of all the times we had sex together while I’m gone. So we can ‘review’ it when I get home…asshole.”
“Did you tell him that we haven’t had any?”
“Do you think he’ll believe me?”
We wandered past a bar called “The Bar.” We looked in the door as it swung open. Two guys holding hands came staggering and stumbling out. I smiled at them. I was glad to know that there was a local gay bar. They both wriggled up their noses at me like I just farted in their faces.
“Am I that ugly?” I asked Tim.
“They’re just jealous that they aren’t as handsome as you,” he replied.
“Breeders,” the two drunks turned around and screamed. I grabbed Tim’s hand.
The one drunk yelled, “Fags who hang with breeders!”
“There’s many reasons not to drink,” I said softly into Fitz’s ear. She stared at me out of the corners of her eyes. We continued our cruise up the avenue from pool to pool of yellow light watching the nightlife float by us.
We ventured up to Union Square. I wanted to do a lap around for old time’s sake. I wanted to absorb any energy of Dan and Jason that might still exist. When we got to the statue of Lincoln I looked through the trees and saw the lights in Andy’s window. I could see the silhouette of his wig.
“Come on,” I screamed, grabbing Tim’s hand.
“Wha….” He said before my jerk cut him short.
“Follow me!” They chased me as I crossed the street; the door was ajar and we ducked into the doorway near the corner. I pushed the button for the third floor on the elevator.
“Peter Gerhard, what are you doing?” Katie asked with trepidation in her voice, sounding like my mother.
“Andy,” I replied cheerfully and smiled as broadly as I could.
The door slid open. There were a bunch of surprised faces staring at us, Andy among them. He cocked his head to the side, smiled and walked over to us. He pointed his finger three times at me before he said, “Pete.”
I smiled, “Hi, Andy, I’m back in town. I’d like for you…” “Where are Jason, and Dan?” he asked, seriously. I was stopped short. I frowned and stared into Andy’s eyes.
“They died,” I said, only a whisper above the music that was playing on the stereo. Andy’s eyes widened, he took a step back. I could see he was emotionally detaching himself from the situation. He wrung his hands.
“So am I,” I said honestly, “Anyway these are my good friends, and Dan and Jason’s too, Katie, Steve and Tim. They helped me move here this weekend. I have a place in the Lower East Side.”
Andy took another step back.
“I used to live down in that neighborhood a long time ago.”
I could tell he was getting uncomfortable.
“We need to get going. I just wanted to tell you that I was here. I saw you in the window. I hope you don’t mind the intrusion. We’ll be going now. Thanks again for the artwork. Dan, Jason and I hung it in our bedroom. We ‘mooed’ it all the time…and Jason used to moon it as he ‘mooed’ it too.” Andy put three fingers over his mouth and began to laugh.
“Peter, thank you for making me laugh.”
“Well, Jason is the one that always made us laugh.”
“How true,” Andy said looking upwards, “Please come by again so we can talk some time, please. Sorry, I do need to get some work done.”
He shook all of our hands.
When he shook mine he put his other hand on top and said, “I truly am sorry for your loss.”
I sighed heavily as the elevator door closed.
I would go to that studio and his final one many times in the five years before his death, usually after leaving work early on days when I couldn’t stand to think about architecture another second. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes I would read or sketch while he worked or talked on the phone. Sometimes he would invite me to have dinner with him and whoever was occupying the office. Occasionally I would go out and get food and the two of us would eat alone in his studio. I’m sorry I never asked him to do a portrait of me, but I didn’t see the purpose at the time. I should have paid him to work his magic on the photo of the Three Musketeers from that glorious Mardi Gras, but I was content for him to just be a friend. I believe so was he.
“How’s dat fer seein’ the sights of NooYawk?” I exclaimed when I bounced out onto the corner.
Fitz shook her head as we crossed the street, “I reeeaaalllly thought that you guys made that all up when you brought that poster back last year. You scare me Peter.”
“Not me, it was all Jason. That kid was fuckin’ unbelievable sometimes,” I paused and then screamed across the square, “I love you Jason Godcheaux!”
I looked at them, “Do you think he heard me?”
“Don’t know, but Andy sure did,” Tim said pointing up to the window. Andy was up against the glass, his hand like a visor.
Down 4th Avenue we went, past Cooper Union and onto Bowery Street. The bums were a bit much for Katie. We picked up the pace and made it home ten minutes later.
I thanked Dad in my mind for fixing the front lock. I would have hated to jiggle it all the time. It was the type of thing I probably would have put off for a while. I clicked on the living room light. I heard noises out back and looked out over the sink. We had guests and they were stumbling over themselves to get out.
I opened the back door and screamed, “STAY OUT OF MY FUCKIN’ YARD!”
“Crap,” I said. I started to root out a certain box that had a clip on light with one of those spun aluminum domes. I found the box and pulled the light out. I clipped it to the wooden curtain rod above the kitchen sink. I plugged it in, turned it on and pointed it out into the back yard.
“Last thing I need is more fuckin’ needles to clean up.”
I turned to see the three of them standing there staring at me.
“What! Me and my domain, that’s what I need to take care of from now on...till I think I’m ready to fall in love again.” I kissed Tim on the lips, paused, then kissed Katie and Steve.
“What needles?” Katie asked with serious concern.
I looked back at her with my serious face and said, “They’ve been using the back yard as a shootin’ gallery for a long time. It’s thick with ‘em out there. Jamie pointed it out to me.”
“And you’re gonna dig around on your hands and knees…I don’t think so.”
“Katie, I know. I’m going to have to dig down at least a foot, eighteen inches maybe, and sift the whole back yard. I sort of thought about doin’ that anyway. It’s the right way for a garden…but I hafta now.”
I blew a sigh out through my cheeks. “Wouldn’t want to stay and help?” I asked smiling, knowing I didn’t have a chance.
After we had bellyaches from laughing in our adventure in blowing up the air mattress with my old 1930’s Electrolux vacuum cleaner, we all climbed into our respective beds. I covered the aluminum light so that it would shine into the back yard and let Steve and Katie sleep. I got down on my knees at the head of their mattress and looked at them upside down.
“I’m glad you two are here, my first guests, my best friends. You are always welcome here, and I expect you to come back…soon! I promise I will invest in a good fold out sofa. Of course this mattress episode will go down in history.”
They both smiled. It is so funny to see people smile upside down. I started to giggle. I kissed them both and started to get up.
“I love you, Pete,” Katie said. “I’m concerned about you here alone, but if anybody could do this it would be you. You are the survivor…sorry…I didn’t mean it in that way…”
I nodded that it was OK.
“I still don’t have high opinions of this place but we’ll be back this summer, I promise. Right, Steve?”
“Yep,” he said a little surprised.
“Good, I love you two, too.” I stood and turned to go down the hall then turned back. “Oh, and if you want to christen my living room by being the first…well of my habitation, to have sex in it, by all means, please do.” I smiled.
Steve rolled on top of Katie and said, “Not a bad idea.” She pushed him off.
“We’ll think about it.”
“Good night, I’ll shut my door.”
I crawled into bed next to Tim.
“Hey, good lookin’.”
He peered into my eyes by the light reflected into the window from my makeshift security light. He pursed his lips and then cracked a smile.
“Should I get my notebook and give him something to really read about?”
“There is no one else on this earth that I would want more to christen my new room with than you!”
I pulled the sheet over top of us.
I got up just before sunrise, found some boxers, pulled them on, and then kissed Tim, he snorted. Opening the door, I saw the other half of the apartment being christened. Steve saw me, smiled, but never stopped. I ducked into the bath to pee, wash my face and brush my teeth and hair. I heard a light knock at the door. It was Tim. His eyes were still closed and he was naked with a hard on. I pulled him in and shut the door. I guided him to the toilet and sat him down to pee. He cracked an eye, yet he really was still mostly asleep. He hadn’t noticed the show that was going on. He was still too modest toward the rest of the world to have walked out naked in front of even Steve and Fitz, especially with a hard-on. I sat on the edge of the tub and kissed him on the cheek.
“Mornin’, love,” I said.
“Mormum,” he mumbled.
I ran my hand up and down his thigh lightly. He rested his head on my shoulder. He must have been done because he turned around and tried to hit the lever, but kept missing. I reached over and guided his hand. He flushed. I pulled him up and put my arm around his waist. He was finally coming to.
“Want to brush your teeth or just go back to bed?”
I opened the door. Steve was standing there about to knock. He had most of his hard on. Tim’s eyes opened right up.
“All yours,” I said to Steve, “No, that’s NOT yours,” I said to Tim as he reached for Steve’s dick with a very silly grin.
“Now you’re awake,” I said, “Now, moon Fitz for me.” He turned around to see Katie’s smiling face, then tried to cover his butt with a hand as he raced into the bedroom and flung the door closed. Steve and I were up against the walls laughing as hard as we could.
In under two hours we were at the water’s edge in Battery Park standing in line for the ferry to take us to the Statue of Liberty. The wind off the water had a real bite to it. Tim and Katie stood behind the wall of Steve and me. The cold wind and the smell of the salt air invigorated me. Steve had red cheeks and a wide smile. I couldn’t tell if it was just a grin and bear it attitude. I took a step away, much to Tim’s chagrin, and snapped a few photos. This was the first time I was using my camera since Grand Isle. I couldn’t believe it survived the accident. The camera bag had been between my feet. I only got the equipment and film back from Steve. The camera had been professionally cleaned. I found a sticker on the inside. The three rolls of film I took that weekend are in the refrigerator still. I haven’t had the balls to get them developed yet.
We got on the boat for the ten-minute ride. Out of the wind and into the sun the day was pleasant. We were on the first boat out to the island that morning. Except for a grumpy guard or two it’s the best time to be out there with Miss Liberty. It was a quick spin up that double helix spiral staircase to the crown. I took a few photos of the three of them each up next to a window with the golden morning sun lighting their faces. We spun our way back down and wandered the island for a little while. We stood awed by the skyline of lower Manhattan.
The rest of the day we hit as many sights as we could - a walk down Wall Street to Trinity Church, then over to stand between the Twin Towers and on to the 1/9 to Christopher Street to see the kids making their way home from last night’s forays and tricks. I was snapping pictures continuously now. I had found the joy of photography again. We wound our way to Washington Square. Steve wanted to buy some pot. Tim kept singing “Twist and Shout.” I almost…almost went along with it. Katie put a stop to us, although I did take a picture of Steve with the drug dealer. We jumped on the “F” train and popped up at Rockefeller Center. We stood at one of my favorite spots, the backside of Prometheus, and looked across the sunken plaza. Tim turned to me and said, “I sure would like to caress his butt.” I kissed him and then keeled over laughing. He had never seen the picture of Jason doing that. I told him about it and we repeated the shot.
We found a place to have a late lunch and then roamed our way to Times Square. We stood on the Father Duffy Triangle, where the TKTS booth stood and slowly turned around to take in the sights. They all wanted to walk down 42nd Street but I advised them not to. I told them the story about Dan’s and my first visit here. As we walked down the street a hooker propositioned him, “Hey, are you free?” “I maybe am, but you’re not…and besides you don’t have a dick,” he replied. We both laughed so hard. The four of us laughed at Dan’s joke all over again.
“Come on, Central Park,” I said as I pointed up 7th Avenue to the wall of trees. We meandered through the park until we came out on 5th Avenue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I said the Met was out, too huge, but we could choose between the Whitney and the Gugg. I was outvoted for the Guggenheim. I only wanted to go to the Whitney to see Arshile Gorky’s painting of his mother and himself as a child. I’ve always loved that hauntingly beautiful painting. It made Jason cry when he saw it. I kept the photo of him and his mother that was eerily similar to the painting.
I hated the exhibit in the Gugg but love the building. To me, it is one of the most incredible pieces of architecture that I have ever seen. I had to caress that building the entire time I was there.
Tim noticed this and said, “Is its butt cuter than mine?”
“No, just colder, that’s for sure.” He smacked me on the ass with a laugh.
Katie had been told of a place to go for dinner. We didn’t need to be dressy for it. It was pricey but supposedly very good, and they had a good vegetarian menu. We had a great time. The food was excellent and the service was exceptional. I paid the bill as my treat to my moving slaves. We cabbed it home. Our legs had stiffened up during dinner from all the walking we had done that day.
“Bloody stumps,” Steve kept saying, “I’ve got bloody stumps!”
I saw that the window over the sink and the light had been busted out with a rock when we came through the door.
“Assholes…this means war!”
“Pete,” Katie said, “Don’t go overboard.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t fire the first shot till you’re gone.”
I gave a curt smile. She got out the broom and started sweeping up the glass. I went out in the back and got a piece of plywood, cut it to size and screwed it over the upper window sash. The whole time the wheels in the head of Mr. Planner Man were whizzing wildly.
We stayed up till four AM talking and laughing. Steve had gone out and gotten a six pack for Tim and himself. The air mattress had gone flat during the day. The jokes as to why and a somewhat saner repeat of the filling of it kept us rolling with laughter to the end.
It was tough to rouse them all by seven for the ten AM flight from Newark. It got close to the four of us having to shower at the same time instead of in two pairs. We dragged ourselves out the door and hailed a cab. Tim didn’t have to go but he insisted, since it was only fair. He didn’t want the guilt of other people’s resentment hanging over him if he had gone back to bed.
After four years Steve was not my roommate any longer. This man who had been my friend, confidant, dinner date, play mate, therapist, nurse, and sometime sex partner was not going to be in my daily life anymore. The lump in my throat got larger and larger as the cab made its way through the Holland Tunnel and into New Jersey. I sat between Steve and Fitz. I looked at her knowing I would not be the person I am right now without her. She terrorized me into the best shape of my life. I’ve begun to run now because of her, in addition to the yoga. She did it for love too. She saw the fear in my face and stroked the back of my head.
“How am I going to live without you two?” I cried, “Why didn’t I stay with you in New Orleans?”
“Did you want us to adopt you as our first child?” Fitz said quietly, “Then you could have three sets of parents.”
I smiled weakly. Steve put his hand on the inside of my thigh and squeezed.
“I’m going to miss you. Who’s going to take care of the Elephant Ears?”
I poked him in the ribs with my finger, “You, Bubba, you know how to take care of the Garden. You watched me for all those years. You just have to make certain that you still tend to it even after you fall in love. That’s where I got into trouble.”
We dragged their bags and ourselves through the airport and down those insanely long walkways to the donut where the gates were. I cried into Steve’s shoulder for five minutes after their flight was first called. I didn’t want to let go of the bear hug I had on him and neither did he.
“I love you,” he whispered into my ear. “I’ve been looking into getting my first real job in New York ever since you and Dan told me y’all were going to move here. Katie will just have to get over it if she really loves me. We will definitely come for a week this summer.”
I pulled back and stared into his eyes with the biggest grin on my face. “I LOVE YOU,” I said, a little too loud and kissed him on the lips.
“What did you say to him?” Fitz asked Steve.
“I told him our wedding is set for June 9, 1984.”
“What,” I yelled.
“Oops, got to go, they’re callin’ our row,” Steve said.
“I’m gonna knock you to that row. We were supposed to tell Momma first,” Katie said, winding up a fist.
She was mad but she sported a smile. I hugged Katie and told her I loved her with all my heart and that I couldn’t wait for the wedding. She returned the same thoughts to me. Tim got his hugs in and said he would call them next week to go to a movie. They turned, smiled and waved over their shoulders as they went down the boarding ramp. I moved from window to window to watch the plane back out, taxi and then take off.
I turned to Tim and said, “Sorry, you can’t leave. I don’t think I can handle that.”
“Come on,” he said, “Let’s go home and make war…then love.”
When we got home, we put into action Tim’s deceptively simple plan: flood the back yard into a mud pit. What grass and weeds there had been between the junk had been ripped up by Jamie. I bought a lawn sprinkler and a new length of hose at a hardware store on the way home and we set it up and let it go. This also allowed me to see clearly that the whole yard sloped the wrong way, for a garden that is. Now, it just flooded into a big muddy pool.
We spent the afternoon naked on the kitchen floor cutting and fitting all of the edge tiles for the kitchen. We would glue them down in the morning before we left for a day of sight seeing. We rolled out our yoga mats on the big orange square and practiced for an hour. I loved doing it naked with Tim. We got in the shower afterwards and then made love. At dark we pulled the hose and sprinkler inside. The phone finally worked and I ordered in Thai food. We sat in bed eating by the light of the streetlamp and looking out the window.
We never saw a soul. We just heard the gate squeak, and then a series of “fuck,” “shit,” “goddamn,” “motherfuckers” and “assholes” along with some suction noises and slipping sounds.
I turned to Tim, “ I’m going to have to order a load of soil to cut into that shit in the back. I can tell it’s too clayey from the sounds the mud made.”
“You amaze me, Pete.”
Each day for the rest of the time Tim was here we would do something touristy but he really wanted to help me make a home more than anything. We picked paint colors for the apartment and painted the bedroom and its trim. We found a thick Tibetan rug for the living room. He picked out and we had delivered and filled a large bookcase for the north wall of the living room by the front door. He helped me place and hang all of the pictures. By Saturday night, I was feeling that this was our place.
As we lay in bed, snuggling with one another and regretting that our time together was short I said, “Tim, I won’t tell you what to do, but I’m going to tell you what I see happening. OK?”
“I love you very much. Give me a year to let my heart heal. I still feel I’m in a relationship with Dan and Jason. It shocks me a bit when I open my eyes in the morning and don’t see one or the other. I also feel a little guilty having sex with you, Brad notwithstanding. I hope you understand…I think you do.”
“After a year and you are available, I will ask you to marry me and you can either move here or I’ll move back to New Orleans.”
“Yes, to you and New York,” he said softly. We kissed and fell asleep.
I was surprised to see Tim instead of Jason or Dan when I opened my eyes the next morning. We spent half of the morning taking a bubble bath and drinking coffee. We cabbed to Newark, holding hands the whole way. We cried and hugged, but I didn’t feel the loneliness as when Steve and Katie left. In a year and a half we could all be in New York together. It was going to be great. I had a lot of work to do at home, at my new job and on my heart. I was ready. Things were looking up again for the first time since I opened my eyes in the hospital five months before. It seemed like yesterday. It seemed like an eon.