Trudging through Noir to Oblivion

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from my novel, working title Shiva’s Dance. Play the music attached at the bottom if you wish for some moody atmosphere.

Saturday, December 6, 1980

Brooklyn, New York

After Ellen threw me out of her apartment, I was lost and alone during what are poetically called the wee small hours of the morning but was, as everyone knows, that haunted time of night when only blood suckers and rippers of human flesh roam the streets sniffing for fresh meat.

night 2

I lugged a suitcase in each cold hand for several blocks of stores and old brownstones that were mostly empty and boarded up. I knew the lay of the land: to the east, the sun would rise, hopefully soon, at which time it would illuminate the Manhattan skyline to the west; to the north was Albany, mountains, Canucks and beyond that, Eskimos and polar bears; Jersey junkyards westward across the river from Manhattan, cowboys and wild Indians beyond that, then the Rockies and then the sunny surf of California; Philadelphia and Washington to the south, then hillbillies and Caribbean pirates once you get to the water; angels and aliens among the night clouds scattered above; Murphy men in the doorways and hobos in the alleys and zombies in the sewers; the subways to Manhattan somewhere that way, if I remembered correctly, which I hoped I did.

I headed for my friend Jeff’s apartment in the Village, knowing that it will take forever. I stopped for a moment under a streetlight and threw the stuff I didn’t want into one suitcase and the stuff I wanted in the other.

A half block further, I decided to throw the toss suitcase into a smoldering garbage can in a trash-filled alley. I noticed two scarecrows leaning up against a wall trying to keep warm. “Here you go, gentlemen.” I placed the discard suitcase in front of them. I turned to walk on. “Fuck it.” I set the second suitcase down. “I can keep both hands warm now.”

One scarecrow laughed, coughed and wheezed, “Gotta smoke?”

“No,” I lied.

“We don’t need suitcases, you dumb fuck,” screeched the other scarecrow.

“Look inside or just burn em.” I kept moving and tried not to show any fear. I figured I’d walk until daybreak and then, even on a Sunday morning, I’d be able to get a cab to Jeff’s.

A little later, I couldn’t tell when, I was damp, chilled and desperately needing sleep. I flung a half-smoked cigarette to the sweaty, smelly pavement. A muted trumpet, the steam from the manhole covers and, oh yeah, a dog barked somewhere.Noir. Deep Noir. That’s where I was.

I trudged along to Benny’s Goodman’s forlorn “Goodbye,” or the somewhat sinister “Nightmare” by Artie Shaw. I thought I heard a torchsong-singing incarnation of Ellen slurring “Cry Me a River.” That kind of music was still played on a few big city radio stations and could be heard from juke boxes in musty taverns; faint echoes from a time when love was either all or nothing. Not like it was today when love can be customized to fit practically any situation you need or want.

I heard myself reciting a tough guy Philip Marlowe voice-over: Love’s funny, know what I mean? Funny how it can make a smart guy stupid.  You go in one side cocky and thinking you’re bullet-proof. You come out the other side riddled with holes and bleeding to death. Course I ain’t talking about bullet holes; it’s arrows, Cupid’s arrows. That little troublemaker, always waiting to ambush a guy just when his hopes are up and his guard is down. Like I said, it’s funny how stupid a smart guy can be when it comes to love.

Anything was possible that time in the morning. I turned a corner, came upon the coffee shop from Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks, the iconic four-person portrayal of late night urban malaise. I always thought of that place as a kind of waiting room for oblivion. There was nowhere left to go so I walked in. The guy behind the counter poured me a cup of coffee. It seems coffee is the only thing served there. Maybe the golden-haired attendant, dressed all in white, is Saint Peter or maybe he is a space alien and the two big metal coffee urns are his jet pack. nighthawks-designboom-04

I finished the coffee, stood without paying and went through the door on the back wall. No lion or lady waited for me on the other side;  no heaven or hell, either—just nothing, nothing at all.



Cry Me a River