The store closed down due to an infestation of rats…. a metaphor for the whole goddamned city. I bin’ a New York city cop these past fifteen years and, believe me, it ain’t no coincidence that the initials of the department motto -“courtesy, professionalism and respect” – spells out just what’s keeping this town going, constant massaging at the heart of it, to keep from drowning in its own blood and tears.
Folks rushed by the diner, intermittently highlighted in sickly pools of yellow lamp light. Folks with places to go, families to love’ em, and a sense of purpose in their long strides.
Me? Hey, for a cup a’ cawfee and a shrug, I’d tell ya my life story, but I guess a guy like me ain’t gonna draw a crowd for that.
Summer in New York is like being mailed, second class, to the bowels of hell – a long, slow descent into madness. I used ta sleep with a wet towel over an electric fan, ‘til water got in the workings and blew the fuses in the whole damn building.
The Super got the wrong guy an' bawled out the old man downstairs who used ta play Hank Williams records all day n’ night on a player he made himself from parts of a Chrysler Royal he swore used ta belong to Eisenhower.
So, there I was, sittin’ in the diner, contemplating another one a’ Joe’s shitty cups a cawfee – the kind that leaves ya tastin’ burnt grits for a week – when this broad walks in…
Now, I ain’t no Romeo, ya know what I’m sayin’? I can’t lay out the way to a woman’s heart anymore than I can build ya a house, but, I gotta tell ya, when she came through the door that night, I was ready to bet any high-roller a million bucks that I was gon’ get her by any means necess’ry.
She had the face of a streetwise Madonna, sexy and pure, all at once – like she knew exactly what every guy who looked her way was thinkin’, but none of ‘em stood a chance of gettin’ it.
She took a seat next to me at the counter and tapped a blood-red fingernail on the scarred surface, commanding Joe to bring her cawfee.
Even Joe, the crankiest ol’ dude in the city, looked as though he was about to splinter his wig over this flame-haired dame who’d appeared off the street like some kinda alabaster angel.
My mouth was dry, like I’d gargled with fresh ashes, but I hadda start it somewhere.
“Hey,” I tried, but she cut me dead.
“Okay, sailor, don’t hand me no applesauce. I just walked out on a hundred grand’s worth a’ diamonds and a husband who couldn’t get it up for Rita Hayworth, never mind yours truly here, so forgive me if I’d rather drink muddy water and sleep in a hollow log than start anything with ya”.
I paused, just for a second.
“Well, if it’s muddy water you’re after, you come ta the right place. Old Joe couldn’t raise ten cents for parts from that thing he calls a coffee machine, but it’s the best we got in this neighbourhood if you’re craving caffeine after dark”.
She looked me straight in the eye and I thought I saw her mouth lift a little on one side.
I didn’t need to be a detective to sense she might have decided to like me, in spite of herself.
I never coulda dreamed of what was to come.
To be continued…..