I worked on the garage with Barry again the next two days, but it was a lot slower going with Ken home and people stopping by all the time. Jerry and Richie and Tim all came over at one time or another, plus a whole lot of people I didn't know. Around noon on Friday, Ken came down to Barry and me and said we should go for a swim before lunch. It sounded good, but I didn't have a suit. Ken said I should just empty my pockets and go in my pants, that they'd dry off. It was hot, so I figured it didn't matter. We got into the pickup truck and headed down the driveway just as Tim was walking up He jumped in the back with me.
We turned left at the end of the driveway and onto the dirt road, which turned left again just past a fence. It was the road that went between the two ponds I'd already seen. It turned right and went behind the fish pond, then started going uphill. The hill got real steep for a while, and we were right on the edge of a cliff. As soon as the road leveled off, Ken stopped the truck. I stood up and could see that we were about thirty feet above a big pond that had cliffs going straight up almost all the way around it.
"What is this place?" I asked.
"It's an old rock quarry," Ken said, "It's been closed for years, and got all filled in with water."
"Are we gonna swim in it?"
"That's the idea."
"How do you get down there?" I asked nervously.
"JUMP?" Suddenly I was panicked. I liked to swim okay, but I never liked to be in deep water, and I didn't like to dive. I knew damned well I wasn't jumping off any cliff. "I ain't jumpin' in there!"
"Suit yourself," Barry said.
Ken and Barry were wearing shorts anyhow, and they just emptied their pockets and took off their shirts, shoes and socks, and tossed everything in the back of the truck. Timmy did the same, only he was wearing pants, and he rolled the cuffs up a little. Looking at him, I wondered how I ever beat him up. He was bigger than me, and looked pretty strong without his shirt on.
He ran on ahead a little, kind of hopping because the ground was all covered with little sharp looking rocks. When he got to a certain spot, he backed up, then ran and jumped way out off the cliff, with one hand pinching his nose and the other straight up in the air. He made a big happy scream on the way down, then I heard a splash that sounded pretty far away. I went over near the edge, but I couldn't see to where he landed, so I moved near where he had jumped from. I laid on my stomach and looked over the edge. He was swimming out away from the cliff. Barry jumped off right beside me and I could see him all the way to the water. He went in feet first, then came up and started swimming away. Then Ken came running by and took off like Superman, but it turned into a dive and he went in the water head first with his hands pointed out front. They all swam back towards the cliff, then disappeared from view. I wanted to get out of there.
In a few minutes Ken, then Tim, then Barry came climbing over the top of the cliff about thirty feet to my right. They were all winded, but laughing like crazy. Ken was telling Tim to dive in head first.
"Come on, Dave! Try it!" Barry hollered.
"Davy doesn't wanna play!" he taunted.
"Come on, Dave, it's a blast!" Timmy said.
"Not this kid. I ain't jumpin' off there."
"Told ya! Davy won't play," Barry said.
"You're right! Davy will not play! You're all nuts!" I hollered.
They gave up on me and jumped off again, then again. After climbing back up the third time they looked kinda beat, but happy. They sat on the edge of the cliff with their legs hanging over. Looking at them, I started to wonder if Tim and Ken were related somehow. I mean, Tim was only thirteen, but their long hair was an identical sandy blonde, and they had the same coloring and a bit of a similar look to their faces. After they dried off for a few minutes, we got back in the truck and had to drive backwards to get down the hill. That was scarier than sitting on the edge of the cliff. A few times I was certain we were going to go over.
When we got to the house, Ken got out some food and told Tim to throw some sandwiches together. After we ate, Barry and I went back to work. It was really hot by then, and we both had our shirts off. Ken and Tim came down with a camera. He wanted a picture of his construction crew. We smiled at the camera, but Ken said we should hold something. Barry handed me a small sheet of plywood and picked up his saw like he was cutting it and we posed like that. After Ken snapped the picture, him and Timmy burst out laughing. Barry did, too. I asked what was so funny and Tim pointed at the board I was holding. I looked at it. In magic marker it read, "Davy Will Not Play." I was embarrassed, but ended up laughing myself after I called them all assholes.
When we were done for the day, Tim walked with me to my house. On the way there he was telling me about old bottles and how some were worth a lot of money. He was hoping to find a used book about them in New York. He said they sold the books here, but new ones were too expensive. Richie was sitting on a swing when we got there. Mom made hot dogs and potato salad and we ate at the picnic table. When it got dark, we went in and took turns taking showers, then put pillows and sleeping bags on the floor in the living room and watched TV until we fell asleep. I awoke to the phone ringing. It was Ken saying he'd be there in about a half hour.
When he got there, we piled into the car. Timmy sat up front and Rich and I sat in the back. Ken didn't look too good, like he didn't get much sleep. He hadn't shaved or combed his hair, which never seemed to make much difference anyhow. He was pretty quiet, and when we got on the highway he pulled into the first rest stop. He got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side and opened the door to look at Tim.
"Me?" Tim asked.
"Yeah, I gotta sleep. There's a rest stop right after exit two. Pull in there."
Tim didn't say anything. He just got out and went around and got in behind the wheel. He pulled the seat forward and adjusted the mirror, then started the car and pulled out onto the roadway. He seemed pretty confident, so I guessed he'd been doing this for a while. He drove well enough that I half fell asleep myself. I'd hear Rich or Tim say something once in a while, but only their voices. It took about an hour and a half to get to the rest stop. It looked like it was going to take that long again to get Ken to wake up, but he finally jumped awake. We all went in to the rest area to pee. Ken got a coffee and put some cold water in it from the fountain and drank it down. Then he got another one and brought it with him. He started driving pretty fast, passing everybody, and the road was narrow and twisty even though it was a highway. Pretty soon a sign welcomed us to New York, and not long after that we were driving past buildings instead of trees. The closer in we got, the closer the buildings got to each other. Ken pointed out a racetrack and a few other things, then showed us Yankee Stadium.
He took an exit right after that and we crossed a river, ending up in a scummy looking area that was all warehouses, with an elevated train track overhead. He pulled up to a warehouse and we all went inside. It looked like a supermarket, but all they had was beer and soda. We ended up with fourteen cases of beer, which we had to fit inside the car because Ken needed the trunk for other stuff. We left the warehouse and got on a road called the Harlem River Drive.
"Are we in Harlem?" I asked.
"Beside it, more than in it. This is the best way downtown," Ken said.
"Where we going?"
"Visiting, then breakfast, then chop."
"Who we gonna visit?" I asked.
"Friends of mine. You'll like 'em."
We ended up in a really awful looking section of town. The buildings were mostly brick, but they were filthy with black grime. The streets and sidewalks were covered with litter. The air had a smell that stuck to the inside of your nose and mouth. Ken pulled up next to the sidewalk and parked. He led us into a building with no front door, then up four flights of stairs, and down a hallway with only one light bulb. He banged on a door and it opened almost immediately. Ken headed inside and I started to follow, but he was hugging what looked like a grizzly bear. When he moved out of the way I could see it was a man with a big fat beard and big fat hair, though the guy himself wasn't much bigger than Ken..
"This is Jimbo. This is Dave. You know Rich and Tim."
Jimbo smiled, "Hi, guys. Welcome to Hell!" He had a loud voice, but it wasn't very deep. It sounded kind of metallic. I shook his hand and he asked us in.
We were in a kitchen, but it had a bathtub built into the wall. The rest of the wall was papered with parking tickets and pictures of nude women. The room was about ten feet across, and there was a filthy window over the sink. On the right was a little hallway that went into another room. On the left was a door to a room that looked all brick. Jimbo pushed me out of the way and hugged Tim, then Richie. He told us to come in the living room. That turned out to be the room on the left, and I thought it was pretty neat, even though it was dark. The walls were all brick and there were all kinds of things hanging on them. Old tools, pictures, brass pots and pans. There was a couch and a shiny wood table, a stereo system, and bean bag chairs everywhere. A good looking redhead came in and I got introduced to Jimbo's wife, Sherry. She was real happy to see Ken, Tim and Rich. She offered coffee or juice, then went to get it.
I said, "Man, this is a neat place. I was expecting a real dump from outside, but this is cool."
Jimbo said, "Thanks. We like it. The price is right."
"What's it cost?"
"The landlord got murdered after we were here a few months. We haven't seen another rent bill in almost three years."
My eyes were wide, "Murdered?"
"Yeah. A tenant in another building got mad and killed him, shot him and pushed him out a window."
Ken and Jimbo started catching up on things, and we just listened to them. They were pretty funny and we laughed a lot, especially when Jimbo got excited. He was so loud I thought he could probably break glass with just his voice. Finally, Jimbo said, "Let's go eat. There's a new Rican place where you can get half a pigs head for fifty cents!"
I naturally thought he was kidding, but we got there and Jim ordered for everyone in Spanish, and we were soon looking at plates with rice, beans and half pig heads. I started picking at the rice, my appetite seeming to have disappeared, when Ken said "It's pork, Dave. Pork! Just like a pork chop only better. The best part's the cheek, but I like the ears, too." Everyone else seemed to be enjoying it, so I hesitantly sawed off a piece from the cheek and tried it. It was delicious! Melt-in-your-mouth delicious. My appetite suddenly back, I tore into it until I couldn't find any more meat. I watched Ken saw off the ear and start chewing on it, so I did that too. It was good, but extremely tough. You couldn't really eat it, just chew until all the flavor was out.
Jimbo left us after we finished eating, saying he had to go to work. Tim asked Ken if we could go to Fourteenth Street for a while to look at stuff and, he said ok. We went back to the car and started driving through the city, with Ken pointing things out along the way. Ken parked the car, and we started walking down the most amazing couple of blocks I had ever seen. They were selling stuff everywhere. Racks of clothes were on the sidewalk. Tables against the storefronts were piled with everything from toys to TV sets. Music was blasting everywhere. Timmy grabbed my arm and dragged me around a corner into a used book and record shop. He was looking at books while I stood beside him. He pulled one from the shelf.
"What's wrong?" He showed me a book that looked like a catalog, sort of a giant paperback. It was about antiques and collectibles.
"They want ten bucks. I only got five."
"I got three. See if they'll take eight."
He looked at me in surprise, "Really? You don't mind?"
"I think I owe ya somethin', Tim."
He went over to the clerk. The clerk was telling him he didn't own the place and there was nothing he could do. I walked over. "So, who's the owner?"
"Charlie ain't here. He's in the other store."
"Where's the other store?"
"Around the corner. Regal Electronics."
"Let's go Tim."
We went around the corner. We couldn't see the signs from where we were, so I ran across the street through traffic and found the Regal sign. It was right where Tim was standing. I went back across the street and we went in. Ken and Richie were getting a demo of a colossal boom box. "You buying that?" I asked.
"I might," Ken said. "It's really neat. Look! Two tape decks, and if you open this door it's like a little recording studio inside."
I could tell Ken was on the edge of getting it. "Ken, if you buy this, let me know before you tell the clerk."
He just looked at me, then shrugged and went back to the boom box. He asked the guy, "What's your best price?"
"Three Twenty. I'll eat the tax."
I ran up. I was, after all, my father's son. "Two Eighty. Cash. But you gotta throw in batteries and a book from the other store. Last offer!"
"Who's dis Kid?" the astonished clerk asked.
Kenny looked at me and back at the clerk. "My accountant."
The clerk looked at me again, then at Ken, "I gotta talk to da boss. Be right back." He left and came back in about a minute. "At Two Eighty you gotta pay the tax, and no book over twenty bucks."
Ken thought about it. He had his hands playing with the buttons on the boom box. He reached in his front pocket and pulled out a wad of cash, counted out fourteen twenties, and put it on the counter. "Two Eighty. Fuck the tax."
The guy picked up the money and showed it to his boss, who nodded. I told him to call the book store, and Tim ran over there to get his treasure. When he came back he showed the guy that it was a ten dollar book, and the deal was done.
We were walking back to the car when I thought to ask Ken why he wanted a boom box that big and fancy. He had the carton in his hands and was reading the features. "I don't know, really. Because they make 'em them, I guess."
When we were back in the car, Ken said, "Let's go choppin!"
I laughed, "I thought we just did!"
"That ain't choppin, that's just buyin' stuff. We're goin' to Chinatown!"
And we did. We drove back towards where we came from at Jimbo's, but took a different street, and suddenly everything was in Chinese. Ken took some more turns, and we might as well have been in a different world. The streets were real narrow and twisty. Everybody looked Asian . It seemed like if they weren't buying something they were selling it. The stores were real tiny, and a lot of them had dead birds and dead pigs hanging in the windows. Kenny told us all to roll our windows down and listen for bangs.
It didn't take long. Kids were lighting firecrackers, then dropping them on the street and in garbage cans to go off. Ken saw one kid do it, and honked the horn. He stopped the car and the kid came over and got in, making Tim almost have to sit on the shift lever. He pointed the way, and pretty soon I think we were going back the way we came from. We stopped in front of a garage with a gate in front. Ken wanted Richie to go with him, and me and Tim to either stay in the car or go look around. Tim wanted to stay and look at his book. I wanted to see more of Chinatown.
I got out and started to walk back down the street. When I got back to the busy area, I just started looking at everything, and all the stuff for sale. Even the phone booths were different, looking like little red pagodas. I looked in store windows and went into a few stores. I couldn't figure out what much of the stuff was, but it was fun to look at. There were a million people in the streets, most of them Chinese.
After what seemed like about a half-hour I thought I should head back to the car. Chinatown was amazing, but after awhile you didn't see much different. I started back the way I came, but now it didn't go there anymore. I ended up on a different street with just walls, so I turned around and went a different way. I was definitely back in Chinatown, but I didn't recognize anything. I walked up and down streets, beginning to get nervous. Everything looked the same, so I couldn't tell where I'd been and where I hadn't. I didn't know street names or where the car was, so I couldn't ask.
I began to panic and just started to run. It didn't take too long to get exhausted, and I was really getting scared. I finally just stopped and leaned up against a building. I had to think! I got lost by not paying attention, so if I started to I could figure out my way back. Chinatown had edges, I'd already found that out. You'd get somewhere and suddenly it would't be Chinese anymore. I figured that if I walked the length of the street I was on and didn't find anything, I'd come back down and take the side streets one at a time, but never go more than a block. I'd remember the street names, then I'd take the next street to the right and do the same thing. I'd find my way.
I didn't. It was too much the same, and half the street corners didn't have signs. I started to cry a little, then a lot. When I was crying, an old Chinese lady grabbed me and looked at my face, but I guess she couldn't speak English. She started gesturing with her hands, but I didn't get what she meant. She did keep pointing one way, so that's the way I went. I just got to another edge of Chinatown. I really burst out in tears. I was scared to death. I kept walking, but couldn't see where I was going any more. I bumped into a lot of people and just kept going. One of the people I bumped into grabbed me, then hugged me. "Jesus, man. You OK?" It was Timmy's voice. I looked up and, through my tears, I could see that it was him. I was found!
"Get lost?" he asked with a wry smile.
He had his arm on my shoulder and was leading me. "We'll wait on Canal Street. Kenny'll keep checkin' there. You scared us, man."
"You were scared? For me?"
"Course we were. This ain't no place to get lost, 'specially for an Italian."
"They got gang wars here - the Chinese and Italians. Ken thought you'd be okay during the day, but if it was night you'd probably be hangin' in a store window. Lucky it's not too big an area."
"Can we sit?" We sat down on the curb at Canal and Mott. There were signs there. Tim had his long arm across my shoulders, and I put mine around his back. "Thanks, Timmy. I was really scared." I leaned my head against him.
"Who's queer now?" He started to laugh. I really did like his laugh, and started to laugh with him.
In a few minutes we saw Ken coming in the car, and jumped up waving our arms. He stopped and we jumped in, but Richie wasn't there. He was still looking for me. We drove around in heavy traffic for awhile, and Ken finally spotted him.
There was barely any room left in the car. Beer cases were everywhere, and now there was the stereo and other boxes.
We pulled over and rearranged stuff so we could at least sit. Tim and I ended up in the back seat separated by beer cases, with our feet on more beer cases, and a case of beer on each of our laps. Richie also had beer underfoot and beer in his lap. Nobody was comfortable except Ken.
"Where we goin' now?" I asked.
"Home," Ken said. I didn't think I'd lose an hour lookin' for ya."
Ken was driving relatively slow even considering the traffic. I guessed it was all the weight in the car. Either that or his cargo. I was curious, "What'd ya buy, anyhow."
I swear he said "Swerks." I didn't want to sound as dumb as I felt, so I just said, "Oh." Swerks. Of course.
It took about two hours to get to Ken's, and he pulled the car right up to the front door so we could unload. We all carried box after box into the empty room next to the kitchen. It turned out that swerks were fireworks. Lots of fireworks. Case after case of fireworks. Most of the boxes were Black Cats and bottle rockets, but he had two cases of M-80's and package after package of skyrockets. Ken brought in the tube crammed with toilet paper and laid it on top of everything else.
"What's that thing for, anyhow?, I asked.
Ken looked at it, "Snowstorm, I hope. I gotta figure a way to get the paper out of the tube. I didn't think it'd get stuck."
Timmy said, "Put a little hole in the bottom and blow it out with your mouth. That's how I get dog food outta the can."
Ken looked at Tim, then left. He was back in a minute with an electric drill. He drilled a hole just through the metal on the bottom of the tube, then put it to his mouth and started to blow into it, his cheeks puffing out red with the effort, but the paper started to move. Pretty soon it was far enough out for him to pull it the rest of the way. He was hefting it in his hand and smiling. He mussed up Tim's hair and told him he was pretty smart. His smile turned into a grin.
"This is gonna be great! Feel it." We passed it around. It was amazing how heavy it was. "I gotta dry it out some more." He put it in a baking pan and shoved it in the oven, which he lit with a match. Then he had each of us grab a box of Black Cats and led us outside to a picnic table. He had a big roll of wide tape. He showed us what he wanted, which was to open each pack of firecrackers in a certain spot, then pull the wicks together, then tape the packs together. He said to start with twelve at a time, then go to twenty-four, then half-mats, then whole mats.
We started in on it, and after a few minutes we had a little system and it went pretty fast. I pulled the packs out of the wrappers, Rich worked the wicks, and Timmy taped. Ken came and grabbed one of our little bombs. He set it down next to the cannon, then lit the wick and stepped back. It was wild! Twenty four packages containing twenty four firecrackers each all exploded in about two seconds. It was a giant ripping sound, and we all cheered. Jerry came running up the driveway and begged Ken to do some more. It didn't take much coaxing, and he let off three more.
Jerry started helping us and we were going even faster, talking about nothing in particular. I started to tell about getting lost in Chinatown and how scared I'd gotten. I told them about the old Chinese lady who tried to point the way for me.
"She saw you were Italian and pointed you to Little Italy," Ken said. "You should'a gone that way. You'd have found us."
"Little Italy? I thought we were in Chinatown."
"Dave, we picked up the trail in Chinatown with that kid. We went up to Little Italy to get the swerks. It's right next door."
I exploded, "Little Fuckin' Italy? Dammit! You could 'a told me where we were! How would I know? I never been to New York! I could'a got killed! What if Timmy didn't find me? What if you found my ass hangin' in a window with a dead pig? What if you never found me?"
Everybody was grinning at me. "What now?" They all burst out laughing. "WHAT?"
Jerry finally said, "Man. I heard about Italians talkin' with their hands. Do you know how many times Timmy and Rich had to duck? You're a wild man!"
I looked at my arms, one at a time. They were still in the air. I blushed and slowly lowered them to the table. Everybody started laughing again, and I joined them. When we quieted down everybody was still looking at me. Still smiling at me, but now they were nice friendly smiles. I think I blushed again. I'd never felt quite like that.
Ken looked right at me and grinned. "Davy, that's the way to get mad. Yell and wave your arms. Don't hit people. Don't call them names. That was good! Perfect!"
Timmy stood up and got behind me. He wrapped his arms around me and put his chin on my head. "I'm startin' to like this guy." I felt real good right then. "Tell us, how do we tell your ass from a dead pig's?" He let go and ran. I jumped up and started to chase him, then I stopped.
"I'll show ya!" I dropped my pants and mooned them all.
... to be continued
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