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Children of Avarice Vol.I: Eric

CHILDREN OF AVARICE

VOL.I: ERIC

 

BY BOA ORTIZ

 

 

 

 

Edited by: John Paine

 

CHILDREN OF

AVARICE

VOL.I: PAOLA

 

BY BOA ORTIZ

 

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Children of Avarice Vol. I is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2016 by Francisco Jimenez

 

Cover design by Francisco Jimenez

 

CHILDREN OF AVARICE

VOL.I: ERIC

BY BOA ORTIZ

Prologue

Past: Eric

CH. You Have to Be Somebody

CH. Gail Novoa

CH. Gibran

CH. Deborah

CH. Conversations

CH. The American Dream

CH. On the Night of the Fight

Present

CH. Teeth

About the Author

CH. Paola

 

 

Most debut novels are “chipped” away towards completion. Meaning they’re worked on whenever one’s busy work life would allow it. That wasn’t the case for me. I was able to dedicate days and nights to this story without the worry of having to hold a job to pay the bills hanging over my head. Having to hold a job to pay the bills was my family’s concern and I am grateful for that. I am grateful for them. Like the saying goes (or I think), you don’t get to choose your family. Francisco Jimenez Sr., Kenia Gil, Luis Jimenez, Gertrudis Jimenez, Lourdes Jimenez, Ermira Tolentino, this novel wouldn’t have been possible without you. Thanks.

 

Prologue

 

 

December 28^th^, 2014

New York City, NY – Noon

 

 

“Mister Bilodeau. Mister Bilodeau,” says Grosso, the young waiter.

But Mister Bilodeau seems not to have heard. A slight nudge on the shoulder and a moment later the young man asks if he’s ready to order to now. Walter Bilodeau looks at his watch as if to consider the suggestion but he had made up his mind to proceed only after his date arrives, who’s 21 minutes late. “We’ve become so prim,” he croaks instead. “…I betcha he’s reading the Wall Street Journal on that thing. Look at him! Look at him!” “Him” is a man seated to Walter’s left, two tables down. And he’s right; the man is reading the Wall Street Journal on the “thing”, an electronic device. “Whatever happened to the newspaper? We’ve gone from tablets made of clay to tablets made of wires…and thing-a-ma-jigs.”

Grosso can only smile.

“The world is changing my friend. Hell the world is always changing. What am I talking about? You have to be ready. At any moment technology can…” Walter looks at his side. “Imagine this place all modernized…I could just see something like a a a touch screen apparatus installed next to your seat right here, you know.” Poor Grosso, itching to serve his other customers, just humors the man. “And from it you can take your order with its apps, you know, apps. You can pay your check on it; you can even send for a taxi.” Wistfully looking away he then declares, “times are a changing my friend. Hey you remember when—”

“Signore,” the waiter interjects as carefully as possible, “would you like for me to get you anything?”

“Oh,” Walter’s become a burden and he knows it. “No. No. Thank you.”

Before Grosso had passed by, Walter was lost in a memory of this restaurant. It happened 20 years ago, dining with the mistress; Walter points at all the guests in attendance, the bantering and circulating happening between fast-pacing waiters and polished managers to describe their view as one of the most expensive to afford in the world.  Now he closes his eyes but can’t return back. What’s the man to do? Luckily for him, Grosso had placed the day’s New York Post on the table. Walter gets to reading.

 

 

A smell pervades his nostrils. Walter raises his head with the words Trés Bon and Eric in mind, and turns around to the find the latter standing alongside the waiter. Eric, the late date, immediately blames his tardiness on a last second business inconvenience, all of which seems unnecessary to do with Walter smiling as he is.

“Trey bun,” Walter points out, “you and that cologne were made for each other. How was your Christmas?”

“Good.” Eric replies as Walter settles himself back down again. “How ‘bout yours?”

 “Ah…Another year of watching the Pistons get the shit kicked out of them. But all in all it was good too. The kids came and brought the grandkids. It was very nice. I enjoyed my time.”

 “Man,” Eric says out loud. St. Cecilia’s he then whispers. Looking over his shoulder, he spots the CEO of Chase Bank: he knows it’s him because he saw his face on a book cover. And the guests behind him must be real estate tycoons and big time bond traders, he thinks, accompanied by the brokers, lawyers, and fiduciaries that serve them.

“There’s a guy in attendance,” Walter carefully mentions, “who’s created a billion dollars fortune for himself selling yogurt.”

“I remember when all I ever wanted was to eat in here,” Eric replies faced forward. “To feel like I belonged in this place.”

“Now you do,” Walter affirms with a proud grin. “You’ve done good for yourself Eric. Even in down times you still got a give a tooth and a nail to get in this place [then he whispers] it’s even harder to get a seat if you’re not white. But hey enough of that! You belong here.”

“The table’s under Bilodeau,” Eric reminds him.

“Doesn’t matter.”

All the praise raises suspicion and soon Eric asks for the reason that brought on the meeting. Walter also feels discomforted by his actions and immediately removes all the cheer from his face to inform that the record label will not be resigning Trey Mundy, the artist Eric manages, who’s currently on tour.

Eric grins, nods, presses his lips and looks away upon hearing the news.

“This could’ve been done over the phone,” he then says, but not in a resentful tone. In fact he looks quite indifferent. Eric gets up and with a handshake, thanks the man who made the last “8 years of surreal success” possible not only for Trey but for him as well. “This could’ve been done over the phone,” Eric adds, “or through an agent but you did me the respect of telling it to my face, in person, and I want you to know that I appreciate it.” Walter stands to receive Eric’s handshake, but doesn’t reciprocate the same grateful feelings.

Eric gets on his phone a few walking paces before the exit door and unknowingly is led into a taxi by the restaurant manager. “Eighteen and ninth avenue please,” he says once inside the vehicle, and doesn’t give the driver any more of his mind until an unnecessary turn is made minutes later. He’s running the meter Eric thinks to himself and continues chatting away business plans on his phone. Then another illogical turn is taken. Now there’s genuine concern. He remains on his phone, absentminded to the person on the other end of the line, with a keen eye on his driver.

“Excuse me,” Eric says a few seconds later and in a feeble tone, “can you let me off at the next corner?” The man goes about his driving as if Eric hadn’t spoken at all, so Eric repeats; once again no answer. Taking notice of the driver’s swarthy neck and Turban wrapped around the head, Eric begins to make some dangerous assumptions about the man. “Don’t worry,” the driver then says passing the corner Eric specifically asked to be dropped at.

Eric leans forth and notices the meter’s off.

“Hey my friend,” he says as nonchalant as can be, “just let me off at the next corner there…or wherever you like.” The next corner comes around and once again the order is disobeyed, and even more, the driver runs the yellow light onto the next street. Eric’s stomach begins to churn. The phone conversation has been long over, yet he still keeps the device on his ear. Just open the door, Eric advises himself. No way that’s crazy, his conservative side replies. You’re not going to die, the daring side continues. People only do that in the movies. Eric sits up and frantically knocks on the thick, bullet-proof glass wall separating them and demands to be let out, but the driver doesn’t even bother to look. Eric sits back and now more than ever wrestles with the idea of just jumping out of a moving vehicle.

“If you don’t let me out,” he yells waving his phone around, “I’m calling the police. I have a tracker on my phone man. Are you sure you want this huh? If you let me out, you hear me, if you let me out I won’t rat you to the cops ok.”

“You do know the police can track us with my phone?” Eric continues before the driver makes an abrupt turn into the sublevel of a residential high-rise.

 

 

It’s dark. The car passes one fluorescent light bulb after another at almost the same speed used above ground.

Eric has stopped pleading with the man and now waits silently with a different key clenched between his fingers ready for whatever comes at him. “He’s in for one hell of ride,” he repeatedly mumbles.

The car stops right in front of an open parking spot. Eric’s heart rate climbs; it’s show time he says. The driver steps out and walks around as if waiting for someone (maybe his murderous accomplice?). When this happens Eric becomes re-motivated to escape again. He pulls on the lever and pushes the door, but it’s locked. He expected that. Then after leaning forward to spot the man outside, Eric pumps himself into a hardcore mindset and runs his shoulder against the door with the determination of doing so as many times as possible until it opens. Then after 4 blows, he quits.

“Hey! Hey!” Eric hollers through the rolled-up passenger window, spotting the man right upfront again. “I can give you whatever you want. Just let me out and I can get you money. Please man, I beg you!” He takes a quick break to accumulate breath and saliva. “Hey man, I don’t know you. I promise I won’t tell if you let me out. I have lots of money man.”

The driver pulls out a cellphone and makes a call. After the conversation he returns to his seat and passes the phone through an opening on the glass wall. “It’s ok my friend,” says the driver, a Hindu, “Walter wants to talk to you.”

The driver’s name is Alouk. Eric learns this during an exchange he witnesses soon after Walter’s arrival: Walter hands Alouk a white, letter-sized envelope and displaying a mild grin, thanks the man for completing the job. Alouk drives off afterwards.

“Are you fucking crazy?” Eric spits in a whispery tone, a minute later.

“Good,” replies Walter looking rather flippant, “keep it low!”

“That, that, that guy…”

“Who, Alouk? I know him, he’s a good man. I needed a favor and I knew he would be the guy to carry it out.”

“A favor,” continues Eric, frantically pacing across both driving lanes with the money exchange picture shot burned in his mind, “I thought he was going to kill me. I thought he was one of those, those Al-Q—”

“Hey cut it out!” Walter admonishes. “It’s over. Nothing happened. Now get in the car!”

Both men settle inside Walter’s Mercedes Benz.

“Ok…”

Walter lets out a tired type of sigh. He scratches his right temple, glances at his tinted window, scratches the same temple once more and heaves another deep sigh before talking again. “Over the last few years…” Another pause follows. “Over the last few years, there have been some…changes going on…Oh and what I’m about to tell you stays between us you hear me? This Alouk thing, it never happened. What happened in the restaurant? Yes. But this—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it,” Eric responds.

“Now I also have to warn you that this might be (god what am I doing), this chunk of information might be a bit hard to chew.”

Another pause is taken.

“Over the last few years the label has experienced a significant amount of…infrastructure change and without my permission either. I made some inquiries to the people even higher up than me a couple of times when I sensed some movement but all I got was mish mash, the same a child gets whenever he asks his parents if they’re getting divorced. ‘Just focus on the talent’ is all they’d tell me. Because of that I’ve long parted with the belief of being the god I once thought I was. Operations continue right under my nose. Then one day I get word that the company is making a ‘change’. Wow. Three major players had been acquired by the label and a new name was given to the company because of it: Prime Records. With much of the heavy competition gone, I have no doubt that’s exactly what this label’s going to be. But this is where it gets interesting. There were actually four companies acquired. I initially said three because the—”

“Wait!” Eric interrupts. “If you were left out of the loop, how do you know this?”

“Seek and you shall find son. Seek and you shall find.”

Walter slides up his seat and tells the driver to keep circling the area.

“As I was saying…On the other side of the this deal was an ‘eccentric’ hung at the heels by all the overhead his tech start-up had accumulated, and made it very clear that he’d only dance if Ralph Records agreed to take that extra baggage off of him as well, the fourth company. These guys said yes figuring to turn the company around and dismantle it afterwards, but one of the Ralph majority shareholders had something else in mind. Inspired by I don’t know what, he vied to run the company and the others agreed. You know how it goes: give the kid anything to play with, so us adults can get back to work without interruptions. And after strong management and capital inflow, NAMEe was born.”

“Name-ee,” Eric says with a dubious expression.

“Yup.”

“Name-ee,” he repeats once again in a tone of underwhelm.

“Yes.” Walter cries out. “You know you kids have weird names for everything these days.”

NAMEe’s the brain-child of two Cal Tech graduates whose names and background, for the sake of this story’s progression, are not important enough to mention. NAMEe’s purpose is to quantitatively predict the future success and value (mostly monetary) of an artist by gathering and calculating social media parameters, digital music sales, concert performances, TV ratings and other criterion using a designed set of algorithms. “Simply put,” Walter says, “they’ve cut the middle man out.”

Eric looks on not knowing whether to believe Walter or just wait on him to reveal that this is all just a prank. But since when does Walter joke around the young man then thinks to himself.

“They also have this camera they’re developing that scans facial expressions and based on the extent of your smile, your reaction when exposed to the ‘stimuli’, whatever, the computer can measure if the person’s interest in the artist is set to decrease, increase or remain the same. Calculating and anticipating human emotions: another small step for man. Weird stuff…but if it works, it’s the perfect tool for scouting talent; you install that thing in the small time venues…”

“Venues,” Eric mumbles.

“Yeah. They’re going to put it to the test. What is it that the geeks call it, Beta phase? Whatever. All I know…is that things are different now. But isn’t that what computers are made for? To do the things humans can’t.”

Eric leans back, still seemingly unconvinced.

“I know the entire story sounds far-fetched, comical for anyone with the right sense of humor, but you must…”

“Um…I’m just going to leave,” Eric says turning towards the door. “Nam what again?”

“Name-ee.”

“Right. You know what? I’ll keep it in mind. Well, I’m really tired; got a long flight ahead of me, so I’m going to go. Once again thank you for taking out the time to tell me…”

“You don’t believe me don’t you?” Walter asks.

“No I’m just…”

“Eric.”

Walter lunges forth and grabs Eric’s shoulder only to have his hand violently swatted back down.

“Eric you have to…” Walter continues. “There’s more…”

“No,” Eric replies fighting his way out.

“You need to…”

“You know what I need?” Eric responds with flaring nostrils. “I need to get out of here because right now you’re just wasting my goddamn time with your little made up story. Holy shit. You know what? I don’t care. I’m not going to let this get the best of me. I don’t care about whatever little scheme you’re brewing in that head of yours because nothing is going to happen to my boy; nothing. Not you or anybody with an even crazier story can knock him off his throne, or take him away from me at that. Goodbye.”

By now the car had stopped but Walter, desperately wanting Eric to believe him, asks the driver to step on the gas again, which pushes Eric back onto his seat.

“A few weeks ago,” Walter continues as if Eric’s tumbling hadn’t occurred, “I was invited to a corporate retreat nestled in some New York countryside to meet the majority shareholders, and it was there that I became acquainted with the, the, the thing; the computer thing.”

 “So why are they letting go of Trey?” Eric asks. Trey Mundy: a star since his mainstream inception. At 18, he became one of the youngest solo musical artists to ever reach multiple diamond status (6 × 10,000,000 copies sold) in album sales. With time came more honorary awards and the lofty homes to garner them in. Trey’s done music videos, commercials, TV shows, Hollywood movies; he’s hosted the ESPYs Awards and has even performed on Broadway. Midway through a sold-out concert in Venezuela not too long ago, Trey turns his attention to a screaming fan a few rows back, to the right. At first, it sounds like heckling but the girl means no harm. She hollers Trey Mundo repeatedly as if her life depends on it. Trey goes still, silent, and clueless as to what the second word means unlike the other 14,999 people in attendance that within seconds follow behind the girl’s lead. They chant Trey Mundo, mundo in Spanish meaning world, Trey World, in perfect unison.

“Why are they letting go of Trey?”  Eric asks, and when Walter doesn’t give a quick answer, continues, “This is bullshit.”

“What do you want me to say?” Walter says keeping his poise, “You see the world we live in today. It’s all about the blipping lights; touch-screen this, touch screen that. But besides that, you have to remember Eric, and I’m speaking objectively here: this business is no different than the stock market. Buy low, sell high, and bank on the dividends in the time between.”

“Well, if artists are stock then tell them to hold on to Trey because my boy’s ticker is only going to climb higher and higher.”

“Exactly,” Walter responds which instantly derails the flow of Eric’s bickering.

“What?”

“Now if you were listening to me, what goes up must come…”

“What?” Eric continues still confused. “Whatever. Are you serious, a computer? They’re going to use a computer to…What they need to do…What they need to do is put their ear to streets, that’s right. Forget this whole computer business! What the hell does a computer know about…They need to put their ear to the streets and and and and listen to the name the entire world is chanting; that’s right Trey Mundy. Yeah.”

Walter just rolls his eyes.

“Have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, things don’t last forever?” He then says.

“You’re lying! You’re lying! This is all a lie. What you want…”

“No,” Walter thunderously interposes, “no, no, not what I want.” Then he groans. “Are we going to go back and forth with this the entire day? Look around Eric. You’re living in an unprecedented era of human ingenuity. But you already know that don’t you? Technology rears its ugly head, we marvel at its offspring, and after much ooing and aahing, emotions subside, and complacency settles in. And the pattern continues. Product launches, it becomes a must have, then an already have, and soon everyone’s all stir-crazy waiting for version two point o. Another product launches, it becomes a must have…” Walter leans in towards Eric carefully. “This is the next product Eric and everyone’s accepted it. Why won’t you?”

“My boy is not done,” Eric returns with a grating tone.

“I’m not saying he is,” Walter replies, “I’m saying he’s about to be. You’re golden horse may still have the crowd, but according to the machines, many eyes are starting to drift.” Eric remains silent unable to match wit. “And in the event that ‘disco-bot’ is wrong about your boy,” Walter continues ensconced in his own corner again, “Prime have for themselves a little contingency; whoever wants to buy the technology, which I hear is every surviving record label, must agree to one stipulation: hands off…”

Eric rushes in to see if Walter lies through his eyes.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Walter continues unmoved by Eric impetuousness, “Trey’s not the only one getting the boot. I’ve been given the pink slip too. What do you need to pay an executive four million dollars a year for anymore? You have computers now. Any grunt work can be handle by a gaggle of Ivy leaguers willing to work eighty hours a week for the ‘promise’ of a six figure salary job. The indie industry has demonstrated that all you need is a smartphone and a computer to brand yourself across the country. Once they sophisticate that, it’s bye-bye to the marketing department as well. So as you can see Eric, we’re all hitting the road jack.”

Eric slides into a pocket of darkness. “I don’t know whether to believe or…” he says compulsively rubbing on the door lever’s posh veneer.

“Well I did my job,” Walter says in a bright tone, “you don’t want to believe me. Fine! But as a wise man once told me: the hits the hurt the most are the ones you don’t see coming. I gave my life to that company; I created that kingdom; I broke it into the billion dollar level and markets nobody thought was possible; I created all those headquarters around the world and they kept me in the dark about everything. That Walter chump.”

The car comes up near the exit and Walter lets Eric out before going through it.

“Remember what I told you Eric,” he says with his head sticking out the window, “This never happened.”

“Why is this so important to you?” Eric asks. “Those people don’t owe you anything.”

Walter takes another pause.

“Beware of the foot that you step on today Eric,” he then replies calm and cool, “‘cause it could turn into the ass you’ll have to kiss tomorrow. Buck up kiddo! Look on the bright side: now we get a chance to rest on our laurels.”

The window comes up and off goes the black automobile, disappearing into the clear 25 feet up ahead.

 

March 21st, 2015

Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

A magazine article published a few years prior to the point at which this story is currently taking place describes international pop sensation Trey Mundy and his longtime manager Eric Riis as two halved, iron pendants, distinct in feature, wrought by the ethos of their race and environment; yet when brought together prove to be each other’s perfect complement.

The magazine also goes on to mention Eric as a rising star in the music industry who one year is sought after for guidance by the leaders and founders of a New York University summer school program, created for selected New York City high school students interested in pursuing a career in the music industry. One visit to the program leads to many, and after a joint agreement with the head members, Eric becomes an adjunct professor. The next summer, Eric meets a 14 year old kid from the Bronx called Trevor Mundae (Trey Mundy). Trevor aspired to become a Hip Hop and RnB producer as he wrote in his acceptance essay, but Eric saw a different potential in the lad. When Trevor, a soon-to-be sophomore at William Taft High School, was asked to try his vocals in one of the school’s recording booths, he was instantly met with terror and shied away from the challenge. With patience and encouragement though (this done on the part of Eric) he eventually made his way to recording—on the last week of the program to be exact—and absolutely stuns the entire class with his talent. Belief begets more belief. Trevor imagines a new path for himself, and sets in motion to taking it. His first task becomes to bring his first fan, Eric, along for the journey and Eric, having been moved by the boy’s performance, agrees to take on the goal with him.

The two scour the streets of New York City, one as an amateur singer and the other a first time manager, for gigs and a record deal. Early failure turns them into disciplined workaholics which when coupled with the gumption and the grit to press beyond future rejections, eventually lands them inside the lush quarters of Ralph Records’ CEO Walter Bilodeau. The rest is history. So the story goes…

9:00am

 

Trey faces a different dilemma in present day: just recently, many populated areas in New Jersey were met with what’s supposedly considered to have been terrorist bombing, and his greatest struggle is finding the right words to express how deeply he laments the plight of those unfortunate people. Reporters line outside his suite at the Sofitel Legend hotel to chronicle what he has to say.

Eric stands by, deliberately keeping out of any cameramen’s way. 2 months have passed since the learning of his artist’s impending doom and Walter’s words still echo in his head as if the information was received the day before.

An image consultant is brought in to help Trey make the best of the interview: a slim, blonde, an elegant thing of a woman. She advises him to wear a significant amount of white when on camera: white’s the color of peace and purity; to mention the word god every now and then; bless all the residents of New Jersey (actually say the word bless), not just those affected by the tragedy; when seated, to hunch a bit: such posture shows humility. And when describing your feelings, don’t use the word sad because it doesn’t sound very sincere or heartfelt; use devastated instead.

That’s one of the things Eric is definitely going to miss about the job: the experts, the agents, the bullshit. It’s not like we’re saving lives out here, he once thought when the job was taken for granted; now he weeps in private as it slips his grasp. Common sense suggests finding another prospect but admitting to being ill-accustomed, as he describes it, to Trey’s level of talent, he fears ending up disappointed. But do they have to be like Trey his conscience once spoke out, can’t they just be…good? Noooooo his irrational side fired back, and moments later Eric’s bogged down with feelings of helplessness and despair.

Trey was a golden nugget, a phenomenon anybody with a brain could’ve stumbled upon; to find another artist like him…Eric grits his teeth at the odds.

The interview session ends around 12 in the afternoon. Latrell, Trey’s personal barber, and the only African-American in his retinue, comes in once the last reporter is out the door and asks if his services will be needed. Drew, Trey’s physical therapist, enters right behind him on the belief to have spotted a slight grimace on his client’s face a few minutes prior. Efran, the agent, tells Trey that the tickets for tonight’s show have sold out and his business partners have also called: they want to speak with him on a live feed. Trey faces the men’s blockade in silence and calls on Eric to his left: because of what occurred in New Jersey, Trey wants to finish the rest of the tour with his girlfriend, Paola, by his side, and he wants Eric to make the arrangement. Eric nods for the sake of avoiding any awkwardness or tension; flying someone in is grunt work suited for an assistant to carry out which Trey also employs—her name is Eva.

Trey then makes an issue about Eric’s face which everyday seems to be getting a little worse by his hidden despondency and the piece of paper he’s clutching onto. Eric replies nothing for his face and tucks the paper under his armpit. Trey insists on knowing his pain and Eric maintains the resistance. The paper contains all the stops remaining on tour.

8:00 p.m.

 

For tonight’s performance Trey will be singing an additional song dedicated to the people of New Jersey. Also, he’ll be presenting a new line of technological glasses created by a company he holds a minority stake in. The glasses only cover one eye and it’s said to display movies, the weather, time, and GPS on the lens.

“Fucking technology,” Eric mutters upon sight of the thing. The business partners who were said to be available to communicate through live feed instead make a surprise visit all the way from their Silicon Valley headquarters. Trey starts a dance routine in the dressing room as soon as he has the product on, not for show, he claims, but to get accustomed to wearing it. To watch the product stay put as Trey spins, slides and steps only festers Eric’s already resentful attitude: he pictures himself walk over, yank the thing from Trey’s face, slam it on the floor and stomp it to bits.

Trey removes the glasses and beams with delight upon inspecting it. Out of nowhere, he brings up the issue of his contract renewal. “We’re working on it,” replies Eric before Efran could get a word out.

“I know this is going to sell,” Trey blurts out like an exuberant little boy, “but that doesn’t mean it has to go without marketing. You know what I mean? Eric, how’s the whole contract issue going? E!”

“We’re working on it,” Eric repeats, telling Efran to keep quiet with his hands.

“I want seven figures on the advance, Eric…Eric…seven figures.”

“We’re working on it.”

“I’m not signing for a penny less.”

“We’re working on it.”

“I deserve that type of respect.”

Trey looks serious.

“We’re working on it,” Eric stolidly continues.

Eric looks serious too.

 

8:14pm

 

16 minutes to show time! The apparatus was put away and is out of sight. When Eva asks for it, Trey promises to put it on the following show, which he will not do: after wearing the glasses for a few minutes, a pain began to form around his temple and the few available features weren’t at all impressive.

Wardrobe selection stretches down to the final minutes but it looks like Trey will be stage ready on time. Then, out of nowhere, he darts back to the dressing room couch and rummages within his Louis Vuitton travelling sack for a notebook and voice recorder. The stylist looks as stunned by Trey’s capriciousness as all the other workers around, and like her colleagues, she doesn’t dare make any orders upon the singer to return back. Luckily Eric witnesses the entire thing and appears on scene to take care of the situation. With a hand up, he lip syncs I got this.

“Hey champ,” he says meeting Trey at the couch’s arm rest.

“Just a moment,” Trey answers, hunched over and writing down whatever he speaks into the recorder.

“Champ what are you doing?” Eric asks with a genuine sense of curiosity growing inside of him.

Trey slowly raises his head, shows an intense, focused expression then sucks his teeth—he just lost an idea. “Lately I’ve been getting…I have all these songs inside of me,” he claims. “At first I was like whatever, then I got this little…pad and stuff and I started writing them down little by little you know.”

Eric nods feeling the pressure of the performance slowly beginning to stir him.

“At first they were half-complete and not good at all. But then…you know what I think? I’m going to write from now on.”

“Write? Write what? What are you going to write, songs?”

Trey rises to play an A Capella recording but Eric waves the device aside and implores the singer to go back to the clothing racks in order to get ready; there’s 11 minutes left to prepare.

“Have you gone out there?” Eric asks. “Twenty thousand people who worked or begged their parents for tickets to see you perform are now waiting for you and you’re not even dressed.”

“I know. I know. But listen to this song I wrote…”

“No! This is not the time. We have a performance to get through.”

“I know Eric. I know. But please, please, just listen to this one song so you can see what I’m talking about.”

“How ‘bout I make you a deal huh? Huh? If you dress up and go out there and perform, I’ll listen to whatever you got ok. Ok. That’s my offer!”

“How ‘bout if you listen to it now and then I’ll perform all you want,” Trey counters with an impish grin.

“Champ I’m not playing.”

“Come on it’ll be real quick.”

“Trey…Please so many people are counting on you.”

“Counting on you.” Trey sits down and begins to build on the words immediately.

“Trey,” Eric responds looking exhausted now.

“Wait it’s coming to me.”

It’s coming to you Eric says to himself. Please help me god! I can’t take this anymore! Eric turns to his cellphone and sees that there’s 9 minutes left to performance now.

He grabs his head and begins to walk in circles. Images of the technological glasses, Walter, and Trey writing songs invade his mind.

Moments later he lets out a madman’s cry.

The entire staff turns towards him and witnesses Trey have his notebook be snatched away, closed and slammed on the magazine table. Eric grabs Trey by shirt, lifts him up on to his feet, and tells him to “stop the nonsense! Do your job!” Trey does so, but not without giving him the nastiest stare he could possibly form. All heads lower once Eric turns around and whoever he calls shows up at his side immediately.

In the magazine article it stated that Eric and Trey met while at a university high school summer program but that isn’t true; neither was the part about Eric being a rising star in the music industry. Trey Mundy’s real name is not Trevor Mundae, its Gibran Binghams and in the next section you will discover how he and Eric really met and how their illustrious careers really came about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past: Eric

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH. You Have to Be Somebody

 

 

June 3^rd^ 2007

New York City, NY

 

 

6:00 am. Mornings are always busy at Hassan’s Deli. Orders come in and its owner, Hassan Murad, roams behind his cashiers, patiently watching the lines grow. 30 minutes past 6am, you’d catch him with his sleeves rolled up, squeezing himself in between registers, elbowing crowns as he passed food away screaming, “ness customah, ness customah.” When it gets too busy and the fear of fleeing customers pervades, Hassan taps on the slowest cashier, orders them to help around elsewhere and handles their register always reminding them upfront that if the cash register ends up short (missing money), they’d be blamed for it since he never makes any mistakes. And this madness would continue until 10 am.

Once the store settles into a mild-paced rhythm, Hassan does the same with his own body. He moves back behind the staff and keeps an eye over the place even though his attention wants more than anything else to focus on the great job recently done, except for today. There’s one customer who hasn’t showed up, and Hassan can’t help thinking about it since this customer is more than just a customer but also a friend.

Then the front of the register area clears completely and Hassan spots the friend to his left, slouched over a chair, mindlessly catching the daily hustle and bustle of the city through the glass wall.

“Eric ma boy,” Hassan says walking up on him, but Eric keeps still and silent.

“Every morning for the last two years man,” he barely says, “I would pass by that restaurant and tell myself that one day I’d walk through those doors and…”

Hassan takes a seat to better listen.

“That’s what got me up every day,” Eric continues, “that’s why I grinded it out every, single, fucking day. So I could just stroll on in…”

“My boy what’s going?” Hassan whispers. “Where do you want to stroll in?”

Slow and somber-like, Eric turns his head and gives Hassan a look.

“I passed by earlier this morning. Rupert was outside taking a smoke, watching the street get its usual wash. A part of me wanted to just walk on in. Just do it. Not care and just enter.”

“Who’s Rupert?”

“He’s the manager.”

“Manager? What manager?” Hassan replies while fighting to maintain his patience.

“I walked over. I was so close. I stared at him. He stared at me and set some cigarette smoke between us. Then I just walked away.”

“So this Rupert guy, you got problems with or something?”

“No. Rupert’s the manager of the place, the restaurant.”

“Oh. Ok so you want to work at a restaurant?”

“No.”

“Then what ma boy? Because you’re not making sense to me!”

Eric straightens up and leans in.

“Rupert looked at me the way that he did, all keen and suspicious and defensive (that ‘are you shitting me’ look), because he knew I was aiming way out of my league…I have no business even thinking about entering that place. Only the crème de la crème deserve admission. I’m a nobody. I tried though.”

“So you want to—”

“Man even the Yankees eat there!” Eric rambles, catching another glimpse of the passersby.

“So let me get this straight,” Hassan says joining his fingers at their tips, “you want to go this place, this restaurant, but this Rupert guy won’t let you.”

“Not that he won’t let me enter. It was a feeling…the way he looked at me. The…”

“Why don’t you just go Eric? Maybe he was just looking at you. That’s all. You’re a customah. You want to be a customah. I bet you he wasn’t even thinking about that. If you want to eat somewhere, you should be able to do that. People are not like that. Now what’s this restaurant you want to eat at?”

“I can’t…”

“You can’t what? Of course you can! Now what’s thi—”

“No I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because you have to be somebody.”

“What do you mean you have to be somebody? You are somebody! Yes you can my friend. If you want to eat at a certain restaurant, then you can. Now what’s this restaurant you’re talking about?”

“St. Cecilia’s.”

“St. Cecilia’s,” Hassan repeats with an alarmed expression on his face, “…oh shit.”

He sits back, places his hands on his thighs, moves them up to his paunch mid-section and fixes his turban. “Whoa my friend.” Hassan giggles afterwards. “I know about that place. That place is is…is up there.”

Eric flops back on his seat again and Hassan, feeling somewhat like a culprit, offers him his usual—a garlic bagel with cream cheese and a bottle of Tropicana orange juice—free of charge. “Go anyways,” he then says but Eric rejects the advice as well the consolation gift. Now both sit back on their chairs.

“You never know my boy, they might let you in,” Hassan continues after a brief pause.

“Are you serious Hassan? You’re still asking me to go?”

Hassan breaks out in laughter and contaminates Eric with some of his lightheartedness as well.

“You just don’t walk in there with an accountant’s salary and expect someone to serve you?”

“Oh you’re an accountant!” Hassan replies looking surprised. “I never knew that. That’s nice!”

“No. I’m not an accountant. I’m just trying to make a point.”

Greater laughter ensues and after that, a period of silence.

“Did you know,” Eric comments, “that that’s one of the few restaurants making a million dollars a year in revenue…in New York City.”

“St. Cecilia’s?”

“All these restaurants out here have modernized with websites and whatnot except for St. Cecilia’s, and they’re still not even a pinky of what that place is man. If you don’t know about St. Cecilia’s, that’s because nobody thinks you’re important enough to know about St. Cecilia’s.”

Hassan catches an idle employee in his periphery and excuses himself to address the issue. When he returns, the topic of St. Cecilia’s million dollar revenue is continued.

Eric learned of the restaurant’s success through his boss, Walter, whose decision to fire him the week before, he believes, thwarted any possibility of fulfilling the life-long dream he’s currently sulking over.

“Eric what do you do?” Hassan asks in a winding tone.

“What?”

“What do you for a living? I don’t know what you do for a living.”

“I’m an A and R rep. I was an A and R rep.”

The answer leaves Hassan as confused as when he initially tried to figure out the reason behind Eric’s gloom.

“Artist and Repertoire. I’m the guy who goes out and finds singers, you know like those on TV and the radio and stuff, and I get them signed to my asshole boss’s record label so he could keep his job all the way up at the food chain. I also pair them with the right producers; oversee the beginning of their career. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.”

“Wow that sounds like a cool job.”

“Kind off, but it doesn’t matter anymore because as of last week I’m no longer that my friend.” Eric reaches for some Splenda packets on the table and fiddles with them. “I was offered a job in the marketing department though, but I didn’t take it.”

“Why didn’t you take it?”

“No.” Eric sharply replies. “The reason why I took the A&R job in the first place was so I could climb up the ladder and make CEO someday but now…He gave me the job because my uncle used to run the place before him. That’s why. Guilt. I don’t want to seem ungrateful so let me give my mentor’s loser nephew a job because he’s my mentor’s loser nephew. I hate that prick.”

“Brother you need to calm down,” Hassan advises before catching the arrival of the window cleaning man. He gets up and signals the man to wait by the door while he wraps up the conversation.

“How old are you Eric?” Hassan says standing over him now.

“Thirty-two.”

“Thirty-two, really? I thought you were a bit younger than that.”

“How old did you think I was?”

“That’s not the point.” Hassan shifts his eyes between washer and customer. “The point is that you’re a young man; you got your whole life in front of you. What would I do to be your age! Don’t let this restaurant get to you. Just go! If they don’t let you in, it’s all right. If they do, that’s fine too. But don’t get yourself upset over something like this. You’re a good guy. Go to your new job and earn a paycheck my boy. Live your life!”

Eric gives Hassan’s advice some thought but only the last part about living life, and after a few seconds of quick contemplation, he takes out his phone and decides to do just that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH. Gail Novoa

 

 

Gail Novoa: Eric doesn’t remember where, when or how he met her, and doesn’t fear the consequences of having to do so if she ever asked. Gail’s fun and compassionate. Eric says she’s one of those girls who just shrugs her shoulders at everything (i.e. missing the train, getting a parking ticket, being skipped in line, waiting too long on a line etc.…); one of those girls who consistently claims she “is not one of those girls” that judges men based on societal and or financial status.

He meets her later in the day, around 4 o’clock, at the Bryant Park New York public library. Gail scampers up the library’s steps and hugs him vigorously. She leans back to marvel at his eyes, and rubs on his golden buzz cut. Eric suggested seeing a Mets baseball game today under the pretext of having to unwind after a long day of work and Gail agreed, but now in person, she thinks over the idea again, and in rather silly manner too—with her head tilted as she looks up at the sky. Then a phone call interrupts her process. Gail heads downstairs to answer. Upon returning back she agrees to go to the game again. Then another call forces her back down. Eric stands in front of one of the library’s portico looking like a fool. Facetiously, he asks Gail who it was upon her second return, and Gail responds just somebody in the same manner. “Tweet,” Eric then says to soften the girl’s resistance, but Tweet dishes out some more vague replies.

Luckily for Eric another call comes in and still determined to know her business, he pries the phone away. 

“Who’s this?” He asks looking at a screen that only displays a phone number. Gail lunges across his chest for her phone back but Eric just extends his arm even further, almost poking a stranger’s eye in the process.

“Who is this?” Eric repeats.

“Nobody,” Gail replies.

“Then why won’t you tell me?”

Gail returns to the balls of her feet and steps back for the sake of not looking anymore ridiculous than she already is.

“It’s some woman,” she answers after some groaning and whining done on her part.

“Some woman?”

“Yeah or I think it is. She keeps hanging up.”

“And why is some woman calling you and why does she keep hanging up?”

Gail begins to swivel her right foot against the pavement. Eric asks again and Gail groans again.

“I think,” she then mumbles, “I think…I might’ve slept with her husband.”

“You think you might’ve slept with her husband.” Eric repeats in a careful cadence.

“And I,” Gail continues joining her fingertips, “kind of knew beforehand.”

Eric storms away.

“Come on just forget about it.” Gail advises backpedaling in front of him. “Let’s go to the game. Come on.”

“Get out of my way!” Eric cries deliberately looking over her.

Gail steps aside but doesn’t let Eric go 5 paces before blocking his way again.

“I don’t know why you’re so upset; I haven’t heard from you in the longest.”

“I said get out of my way!”

“You’re making a big deal out of nothing Eric. It was a mistake and besides it’s not like we’re going out. Remember the last time we met?”

The question brings him to a halt.

“‘I’m just not emotionally set to get into a real relationship with you right now’: wasn’t that the bullshit excuse you told me. And don’t pretend like you’re not seeing other people too. We’re not in a relationship so there’s no reason why I should get mad for whatever it is that you do on your time and you should get mad at me for whatever it is that I do on my time. [Gail sweetens her tone] Besides…I miss you Eric bear. It’s not serious. It was just a one-time thing. The guy’s a loser. You know I’m yours…That is if you want me to be yours.”

Gracefully, Gail puts her hand around Eric, turns him in the direction of the 7 train station and leads him over there. Moments later, Eric stops and spins her around in the middle of the street. “I miss you baby,” he whispers in her ear once she’s set on the ground again. “I miss you too,” she replies.

 

 

“So we’re going to a baseball game baby?” Gail asks feeling the heat of their previous argument recede behind them.

“The Mets and the Rockies,” Eric replies, radiating a masculine form of energy that makes him sound somewhat indifferent.

“Mets and the Rockies.”

“The Mets and the Rockies.”

“Sooorry…You boys and your sports.”

Gail looks away for a brief moment and then asks if some “us” time will follow afterwards. The question startles Eric; going to the Mets game is us time he claims.

“We’re only going to see the Mets?” Gail says in a childish tone.

“The Mets are playing the Rockies,” Eric emphasizes.

“Like I know who they are.”

Gail returns to silence again but doesn’t plan to leave her issue unresolved. “You’re coming to my place afterwards!” She affirms.      

“Can we first get to the game?” Eric points out.

“Come on baby I haven’t seen or heard from you in a long time. I miss you, and this is how you treat me?”

Gail’s whining derails Eric about 10 feet away from the train station. With open arms, he looks to the sky for help with this situation. “What are we doing?” He then asks her. “What do you mean what are we doing?” Gail responds feeling his agitation as well. “This is not quality time?” He continues. Pass Gail’s shoulder, Eric spots what he believes is a young salesman and immediately shuffles towards him seeking refuge from the confounding feministic paradigm.

It turns out that the young man is not a salesman but actually a non-profit company employee rounding up donations—and, technically, he’s not a young man either, he’s a teenager.

“With a donation as small as five dollars you can help bring clean water to poor villages in Bangladesh, Ethiopia…” says the teen upon Eric’s arrival.

Eric takes a quick gander towards to his left and catches another kid across the street—stationed in front of a clothing store—holding a binder similar to the one in front of him: he wonders if the same hustle, as he calls it, is being ran over there. It doesn’t seem to matter much because Eric still reaches in his pocket for money. Gail comes up as Eric struggles to unstick a $10 and a $20 bill and digs in her purse and donates as well. Stirred bitter by Gail’s presence, Eric focus on a younger kid behind the teen, leaned against a parked car, contently faded in the background. “Is that your car sir?” The non-profit employee asks following Eric’s eyes. Eric shakes his head almost unconsciously. “He’s my little brother,” the teen says, attempting to clear Eric’s fogged-out expression.

“He works with you?” Eric inquires.

“No I pick him up and he stays with me until my shift is over. My mother works late and we live all the way out in Eastchester; it’s pretty far and my mother doesn’t like him travelling alone.”

“Where’s Eastchester?” Eric asks though indifferently.

“It’s in the Bronx; you have to take a train and a bus to get there.”

“Why don’t you get a job over there?”

“Because I go to school here sir. The schools are better; if I go to a good school, I can one day get a good job and help my mother ou-”

“Ok. How much for a donation?” Eric butts in.

           “You can make a donation as small as two dollars.” Staring over Eric’s cash a bit closer he then blurts out, “Yeah I go to Beacon High School…I’m a senior.”

Eric parts with his money. The kid sounds sincere enough, he thinks. Joseph, as the boy says to be named, is handed a $10 bill.

 “Go and buy him something to eat ok,” Eric mutters. Gail, looking as if to begin bawling, gladly offers up an uneaten carrot muffin. She insists it hasn’t been touched.

Eric rolls his eyes, grabs the girl, and heads towards the 7 train again.

           

 

They’re back in Manhattan by 11 o’ clock at night, standing on the corner on 47th and 6th Ave. Gail’s tipsy, hungry and, fastened to Eric so she won’t fall. A McDonald’s banner a few blocks away immediately calls at her and so she asks Eric to make it the destination. Eric begins walking.

“Go upstairs and save us some seats!” He says once inside with 3 bodies in front of him at the cash register line.

Gail instead creeps up behind him and asks if he’s mad. What the fuck do you think? Becomes Eric’s inward response as he shakes his head at the embarrassing images from an hour ago still playing in the mind.

8,009 people rise at the bottom of the 7th inning as 4 military men and women, each wearing a different color uniform, make their way onto the field. US Army Sergeant Flori Davis then steps out of the bunch and sings God Bless America.

By this time Eric had already made up his mind not to sit through the 8th and 9th innings of the game seeing as how the Mets, after an arduous rally just a few minutes before, only managed to cut their deficit to 12-2—but more importantly he needed to save everyone from anymore of Gail’s antics.

Disappointed with Eric’s unwillingness to allow for some “us time” after the game, Gail drank up her 2 legal pints of beer as well as 1 ½ of Eric’s making her even more irritable in the effect. The Rockies’s early pounding quieted most of the crowd and because of that Gail’s slurring projected over all three of the stadium’s tiers. “Baby we will, baby we will,” was all Eric could think of saying whenever Gail got too rambunctious, and this stirred the girl even crazier whenever he did. “Are you shamed of me?” She would return back to him and fluttered her tongue like a grade schooler afterwards.

Eric keeps his focus solely on the burger menu as Gail still stands behind him, silent.

“Baby answer,” she then says, “I said I’m sorry.”

“What’s there to be sorry about?” Eric snaps back. “Just go upstairs and save us a table.” And when Gail finally moves to do so, he continues, “yo’ what do you want?”

“A double cheeseburger with a small sprite,” she responds with a fist over her mouth. Eric harshly repeats the order for confirmation and she hums for being correct. Gail rushes upstairs to find a table as way to make up for her misbehavior.

A few minutes later, a clamoring noise breaks out above. Eric’s reached the front of the counter by now, and doesn’t show the slightest interest in looking up to see what’s going on until everyone around him does so. It’s nothing to worry about, he believes, as well as the cashier-girl tapping on the touchscreen register and the manager salting the fries just removed out of the deep fry. Then someone cries. Two voices compete for attention after that, and Eric’s no longer in line. He dashes upstairs. One of the voices sounded like Gail.

Ah you see my man is here is the first thing he hears Gail say upon arriving. She looks more belligerent than ever, and has even managed to bring out her Russian accent in the current ruffled, drunken state.

Entering the crossfire, Eric notices a mob of African American people occupying the opposing side.

“Whatcha going to do now?” Gail slurs on. Out of the lot, appears Terrence, the tallest one, in a plain black shirt stretched down to the knees and a Doo-Rag on his head, ready to defend these people from the intruder. Eric, standing before the strong individual, doesn’t feel the same way for Gail but he still musters the courage to say, “What seems to be the problem?”

Gail’s voice goes thin in Eric’s head with his keen focus on Terrence, and Terrence concerns himself with the sense of withdrawal from the backing force.

Nomads one would call them: they move all around the city in search for restaurants to slumber in, staying in certain locations long periods at a time. Vagrant could be another term to describe only they don’t beg (these people wouldn’t deign). By day they hold down regular jobs like everyone else, playing to the status quo illusion with the trinkets and fripperies they sport (one can only wonder where they shower since they carry no foul odor). And at night they buy cheap products from the restaurant menu like 32 oz. Styrofoam cups of iced tea or chicken sandwiches to secure their lodgings. You can’t throw out paying customers.

Gail claims she was denied the use of the bathroom—a right, she points out, she’s entitled to exercise (she actually uses the word exercise as drunk as she is). Terrence responds by mentioning that it was already in use at the time Gail stepped up to the door: a homeless woman was occupying it.

“Why aren’t you talking that trash anymore? What? What? What?” Gail hollers. “What happened? Why ain’t you acting tough now?”

“Look man she was kicking and banging on the do’,” Terrence replies.

“I wasn’t kicking the door,” Gail talks back.

“She even took my cup,” some old lady adds in.

“Yes you were,” Terrence continues, “as I was saying…She was kicking and banging on the do’. There’s a lady in there that’s sick and she needs to use the bathroom. We told her politely to just wait a few minutes or, if she needs to use the bathroom so badly, simply go to another McDonalds: there’s one on Fifth Avenue. The lady in there is an elder woman who’s having problems…”

Eric listens attentively to avoid insulting Terrence in any way. But Gail acts without fear of consequence.

“Go to another McDonalds?” She cries out. “What the hell? Who the hell are you to tell me which McDonald’s to go to? Don’t tell me where to go!”

If Eric takes sides against Gail, he loses her (and maybe her respect too), but taking sides against Terrence is not something he wants to do either.

“See this is exactly what I’m talking about.” Terrence points out.

“We’re sorry,” Eric replies and pulls his girl away towards the steps. Terrence just nods his head.

“He called me a bitch,” Gail speaks low into Eric’s ear, but not low enough for Terrence to miss and deny the accusation.

“Yes you did you call me a bitch,” Gail then blares out. “Don’t call me a bitch you bum.”

Eric turns back to Gail with eyes as wide as a Lemur’s. To think he was almost home-free, just a pace or two from leaving the situation unscathed. He stands before Terrence with profuse apologies in mind but another black man disrupts his path, this one considerably shorter, darker, old and pudgy; his serene countenance paints him as the wise, venerable leader of the tribe; the keeper of the peace. “Bru, bru,” he says real easy, “she started it. She hadn’t been here two or three minutes before getting all reckless and shit.” Eric nods intensely keeping his eye on Terrence at the same time. Terrence hunches a bit and whispers something in the man’s ear.

“You calling me a bitch to your friend again?” Gail yells. “Instead of making fun of people why don’t you get yourself a place to live in huh?”

Gasping noises sweep the entire floor the second time around. Eric’s eyes look ready to pop out. Strangely, in the midst of impending bedlam, his mind turns to the marketing job he didn’t attend today which would’ve sent him home tired afterwards instead of on a date with “batshits crazy girl over here.”

“Hey, hey, hey now!” the calm-looking fellow responds with a sharp tone. “You need to control yours playa. She can’t be talking like that in front of us you hear now.”

“Don’t call me a bitch then,” Gail responds.

Surprisingly, the third N-word doesn’t stir the crowd that badly; everyone around has figured Gail as a pitiful girl.      

“Miss, nobody’s calling you a bitch,” Terrence adds in.

“Sir I am really, really, really sorry,” Eric replies as polite and deferential as can be. “She’s drunk; I took her to a bar after a baseball game…” But the man’s shriveled up face tells Eric he’s not in for hearing any excuse, so Eric doesn’t continue. Knowing no other way to quell the tensions, he then grabs Gail by the wrist once more and, showing her his own bitter expression, leaves the place.

“You can’t be talking like that,” the old man continues.

“Oh whatever. You started it!” hollers Gail.

“I started it!” The old man replies in astonishment. “You know what I’m not even going to get into this.”

The manager saunters her way up to the second floor just as Eric and Gail round the garbage shoot and head towards the exit, unscathed.

 

Eric manhandles Gail up two blocks before letting go. “You really hurt my wrist,” Gail says in result. “Shut up!” Eric returns looking back to see if they were being followed.

From there they continue up the avenue at normal walking speed: Gail, taciturn now that the booze effects are dissipating and Eric feeling the same way minus the drunkenness. Then Gail makes an abrupt stop.

“What?” Eric says scrambling his feet.

“My purse,” Gail replies with the utmost shocked expression.

“What about it?”

“I don’t have it on me. I think I left it back-”

“You think you left it back at the what?” Eric asks with flaming eyes. “The store?”

Gail doesn’t answer.

“Oh my god!” Eric feels lightheaded all of a sudden. Walking in circles, he talks to the sky.

“What are we going to…” Gail dares herself to say.

“Are you sure you even brought it because I don’t remember…”

“Of course I did,” Gail cries out. “What the hell? I’m not going to walk out of my apartment without my stuff, my money. You have to go back and get my purse.”

“I have to go back?” Now Eric looks shocked.

“Yes,” Gail simply says.

Eric’s angry groan travels up to the end of the block. Afterwards he asks if that’s necessary. Now Gail explodes. “What do mean?” She says. “Of course; that’s my purse Eric.” Eric groans again.

“You know what,” Gail says moving her feet, “whatever.”

She mumbles I’ll get it myself next but not low enough for Eric to miss.

“Fine!”

Gail stops.

“I’ll get it,” he mutters passing her by on the way back to the restaurant.

Bum: Eric couldn’t even get himself to fully pronounce the word in his head and looked over at Gail with utter disappointment at how she could’ve ever have gotten herself to say it out loud. “Don’t do anything while I’m away,” he turns his head back to say.

“What do you want me to do then?” She hollers.

“I don’t know,” he replies without turning this time, “…look at the buildings or something.”

Eric crosses the street and reenters the restaurant. He clenches his fist as the entrance glass door closes behind him; he marches upstairs. As feared, the group is right where he left them, ready to go to sleep for the night. Terrence lifts his head to see who has everyone acting so keen all of sudden. “Yeah man,” he then says when Eric is spotted. Keeping close to the stairs, Eric asks everyone if they’d seen a purse. “No one’s seen a purse ‘round here,” says the old man with the same distasteful expression from before. Eric valiantly takes a few steps forward and searches under some tables, keeping his movements as inconspicuous as he thinks possible. Some of the regular customers when they’re asked the same question reply that they hadn’t seen a purse while others refuse to speak to him altogether, afraid of becoming associated with the person who brought in a racist. After checking out the more spacious area on the other side, Eric turns, faces the direction in which the nomads are sleeping and grimaces. Damn he thinks. That’s the only part of the floor left unchecked now. Was she even over there? Nah she wasn’t over there. Maybe it’s in the bathroom. Eric walks on over. Wait a minute He stops. She didn’t get a chance to use the bathroom.

“Hey can I help you man?” The old man asks Eric looking as cool as his first impressions depicted him, “hey man can I help you?” Who’s stupid enough to leave a purse behind? Eric continues trapped in his own thoughts this is her fault and I’m the one dealing with this problem.

“Hey man.”

“Oh, no, no, no, it’s ok. I’m leaving,” Eric replies and just as he does spots the lady who claimed to have had her cup taken by Gail holding a small, stainless steel Starbucks thermos, which examining her threadbare appearance, doesn’t seem like it belongs to her.

 “What are you looking at?” The old lady blurts out as Eric passes by.

“Yes,” she continues. “Can I help you?”

“Nothing,” he answers, “sorry for the trouble.”

To spite the old lady and even bother everybody around her, Eric starts another search, this one much thorough than the last. After not finding anything again, he sits down on one of the back tables and gives himself a few minutes to stare out at the world through the large floor to ceiling window, in tranquility. Somewhere along his train of thought he wonders if Terrence had called Gail a bitch; if so, he thinks, the girl had the right to defend herself but not like that. What was most pitiful, and Eric recalls the experience now, was seeing how weak and out of control and frenzied she looked as the nomads made a case against her. Maybe it was right of Gail to act this way Eric continues in contemplation or maybe this was all blown out of proportion and Gail was just acting like a plain, stupid drunk.

Then he hears a voice: a faint melody in the air, carried sweetly from note to note. It comes from the third floor; Eric looks across to see if the music reaches the other side. No it seems. Eric’s interest grows sharply. The singer can carry a tune he thinks…What am I talking about? He says after a few more seconds of listening. The singer sounds amazing!

He creeps closer, sitting on the edge of his seat. The voice grows louder and poignant, adding embellishment between the phrases for the emotional punch; it’s a boy Eric guesses, mezzo soprano maybe. He must meet him. And so Eric swings one leg over the flimsy chain put up for blocking access and then the other. He creeps upstairs like a scoundrel and barely peeks over the platform to find an African-American boy putting on the show.

Eric’s enjoyment last for 2 minutes before his cellphone goes off.

A message comes in from Gail. Startled by the ringing, the boy turns around but only catches a streak of blonde come and go. He doesn’t look frightened or any other emotion of the sort; just concerned. Eric reveals himself eventually, seeing the ridiculousness and immaturity in hiding.

“Hey. Hi,” he says with his hands in the air, embarrassed. Taking a few careful steps forward he adds, “I don’t mean any trouble. I was downstairs and I heard you sing and I…” Only two people occupy the floor: the singer and another African-American kid seated further back before a table full of stuff—he looks older but not by much. 

“I just heard you a bit downstairs…” Eric mutters. “And I wanted to hear some more and…Ok. Well…” He turns around and makes like to leave, stops, turns towards the singer, then back to the stairs, ultimately turning back to the singer, smiling at his clumsiness. “Hi my name is Eric,” he feels the need to say. Then a thought hits him. Frozen in his path, he recalls their faces: these are the two kids from earlier in the day rounding up donations for kids in India. Or Africa, which one was it? He thinks. The singer was the pudgy, fuzzy-haired little brother leaning against the car in the background, and the one sitting down was the self-less high school student working up the pedestrians. Eric hears the word Eastchester murmur in his ear. A negative emotion overcomes him.

“Yo what does he want?” He hears the one sitting down whisper. Suddenly, Eric remembers his name; it’s Joseph.

“Thank you sir,” says Joseph using the same form of polished talk from their first encounter. He expected Eric to take a leave after the feigned form of gratitude, but Eric lingers. The singer on the other hand remains quiet and somewhat perplexed about it all. “Yes…” Joseph continues.

“Have you guys seen a purse?” Eric asks, breaking the cycle of thought.

Joseph shakes his head and so does the singer. Eric takes a few more steps. “It ain’t here,” Joseph claims, standing up.

“I see…” Eric says faintly, stretching his neck to see what lies on the table, and he does this with unabashed curiosity. 

“Hey, we don’t got your stuff man,” Joseph affirms.

“I’m not accusing you man,” Eric returns light in tone and with hands out in front of him. “Take it easy!”

The singer gets in between the two, smelling a scuffle in the air.

“So what do you want?” Joseph continues, showing some poise himself. “I would really appreciate it if you could leave us alone.”

The request goes in one of Eric’s ears and out the other. In fact, he actually gets closer to the two.

“You got some pretty expensive stuff over there.” The singer’s face begins to whiten. “Pretty expensive.” Eric mumbles, singling out a brand new set of headphones, a box of basketball sneakers, and a red sports watch. “Hey what do you do for a living man?” Eric asks with a glowing expression.

“What?” Is all Joseph can say.

“Do you have a job?” Eric bluntly adds.

Joseph slowly leans over his stuff.

“You don’t remember my name do you?”

His words bring silence. Joseph’s blank expression makes Eric giggle. “Wow,” he says in between chuckles. “Seriously? Seriously man?”

Joseph still can’t figure out this man’s motives and his own defense reaffirms the claim of not having Eric’s purse.

“Once again with the purse man. I’m not saying you stole the purse; I don’t care about the purse.” And with a sharp, sinister quality to his tone continues, “But I am curious to know just how you got all that expensive stuff working for that nonprofit.”

Within seconds Eric’s flashed with slips of receipt paper, but he plays it cool.

“Hey, no one’s stolen anything around here.”

“Of course not,” Eric replies. “You probably saved your money and purchased all those things right? Or maybe you took all those donations you rounded up from everyone and spent it.”

Eric pushes Joseph’s hand out of his way; he says he’s no cop too. Joseph’s face becomes flushed with embarrassment; still he has the audacity to play the confused one.

“Hey kid you ok?” Eric asks the singer.

“Hey man I don’t know what you’re talking about?” Joseph says.

“Right,” Eric replies without giving him a look. “Don’t worry. I don’t want my ten dollars back.”

The boy gets a warm smile and effusive praises; he’s even asked if he’s serious about singing; the boy finds it all charming. Joseph feels the awkward chill of being ignored and frantically reaches into his pocket for any cash.

“Is money what you want? Here. Here. I don’t have your purse or whatever it is that you’re talking about but here man.”

“Oh you don’t know what I’m talking about?” Eric asks glancing back at him.

“No,” Joseph fires back, feeling his heart about to shoot out his chest.

“Really? ‘With a small donation you can help a kid in India get clean water,’ or whatever it is that you said. That you don’t remember?” Eric leaves Joseph speechless.

“Hey man, stop talking to him,” Joseph blurts out.

“Stay out of this,” Eric orders, again not bothering to give the teen a look. “Hey kid you know this guy?”

Joseph inches closer and gets pushed aside by Eric for it. The singer’s scared now.

“Hey kid what’s your name?” Eric asks as if the push hadn’t occurred.

“Hey man, don’t push me,” Joseph replies, swelling up with anger. But Eric ignores it completely when he’s robbed away from the conversation by another incoming message from Gail.

“What’s your name really?” He asks Joseph upon returning moments later, “whatever; you’re probably going to lie about that too.” Eric turns to the boy, forcing on a smile now. “Hey champ my name is Eric and I’m A&R at-” Gail interrupts again; a text reads that she’s downstairs. With a frown on, Eric heads on down informing the boy that he’s to return. “My name is Abraham,” says the other one. Eric just continues downstairs as if he hadn’t said a word.  

 “Didn’t I tell you to stay put? And what the hell are you doing back here, are you crazy?”

“They don’t care,” Gail answers. “I need my purse. I have all my stuff in there. I can’t lose my purse. I just can’t.”

Eric drops his shoulders. Light rumbling sounds go off above them and Gail moves to the stairs to find out why.

“What?” Eric asks blocking her way. “You weren’t up there.”

“Still,” Gail replies, “maybe someone can help me.”

“Or maybe no one will. Maybe someone found it and, and gave it to the manager and she probably has it in some, some, some type of lost and found box in her office and stuff.”

“No, I spoke to her and she said nobody has given her a purse.”

“Well, how about the cleaning the person? Yeah the cleaning person! Let’s ask him and see if they found it or something. Maybe they placed it in one of these closets or something.”

“Why would the cleaning person hold a lost purse and not give it back to the manager?”

“Really?” Eric cries sharply. “You’re going to leave a purse, a purse, with money and credit cards and other valuable shit and expect to find it minutes later where you left it, in a fucking McDonald’s, really?”

Gail opens her mouth but the words get stuck in her throat.

“Let’s go! It’s lost.”

“So we’re really not looking for my purse?”

“It’s not my fault,” Eric replies and in a careful, whisper-y, tone, “who the hell told you to use the ‘n’ word?”

 

 

Gail arrives home and, upon flopping down on a daybed, puts her worries about the purse to rest, but makes a mental note to cancel her Amazon credit card the following morning.

“You’re going to sleep here tonight,” she says with closed eyes.

“Nah I can’t,” Eric replies as equally languid as her.

“Yes you are. I got a spare toothbrush, or if you want you could use mine; either way you’re staying.”

“Nah Gail I can’t.”

“Yes you are. You’re not leaving. It’s not like you have to be somewhere.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Eric’s wildly curious.

“What?”

“You said ‘it’s not like you have to be somewhere’: what’s that supposed to mean?”

Now Eric stands over her.

“God Eric why do you have to make things difficult now. Just stay! I’m going to cook—but in a while though. Sleep over. We’ll have some sex later on; lord knows I need it after all I went through tonight.”

“Answer my question? Gail…Gail!”

Gail reaches for a stuffed caterpillar right above her which Eric immediately snatches away.

“Oh my god! What?” Gail cries.

“What the fuck did you mean?”

“Nothing, Eric. Shit.”

“No it meant something or you would’ve never said it. Are you saying that I’m some sort of loser, that I got nothing going for myself so I might as well be here with you right, since I have nothing else to do?”

“Dude, are you fucking serious?” Gail responds propped on her elbows. “You want to make a big deal out of this? Why didn’t you make a big deal out of my purse being stolen or the fact that I was harassed by all those idiots back there?”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“Oh so now it’s my fault that you got drunk, picked a fight over a bathroom, a bathroom, like your some kindergartener or something, and then called somebody…called them… I mean what were you—”

“What word? ‘Bum’, that word? The word you can’t even say in private?”

“Hey they were not…And even if they were the proper word is homeless.”

“Homeless? Oh my god! This world is so ridiculous. You’re sleeping in a fucking burger joint and you have the nerve to call people names? Fucking incredible! Just full of morons, this world is.”

Gail rises up and storms towards the back of the apartment removing her top mid-journey. “You want to go,” she hollers. “Go! I don’t want you to wake up late tomorrow and get in trouble at your job.

“Excuse me?” Eric says running after her.

“Whatever. Chop, chop! Go and earn your paycheck! You’re a working man right?”

“You know what? I never realized it before, because you hid it so well under that ‘flower girl’ façade of yours, but you’re a little cunt.”

“And you’re a loser without a job.”

“Watch your fucking mouth!” Eric yells.

“Or what?” Gail fearlessly turns back. “You’ve never told me what you do for a living, you’ve never invited over to your job; I don’t even know where you live.” She leans in and does a quick examination. “You probably still live with your parents. You look like you still live your parents. Do you still live with your parents?

“I have a job,” Eric utters with noticeable twitches.

“Doing what?” Gail fires back.

“I work in the music industry as an A and R representa—,” Eric says before watching a giggle slip out of Gail’s mouth.

“I do work in the music industry.”

“Sure you do.” The girls responds, all blasé.

“So this is what you’ve thought about me all along? That I’m some loser who you’re seeing as a charity case or something? Aww you feel sorry for the guy.”

“What the hell?” Gail giggles some more. “I just said that I’ve never been to your job buddy, and I’ve never been inside your own place. I didn’t say any of that other stuff. See it is stuff like this that tells a girl—”

“What?”

“Nothing, Eric. Forget it! Can we just let this go?”

“Stuff like this tells you what Gail? What does it tell you?”

“Eric can you please get over your ego and just…”

“No. No. No. I want to know, what do the signs read?”

“I’m going to go and cook. What do want to want to eat?”

“Don’t you fucking patronize me like I’m some worthless shit,” Eric requests in a mad tone.

“Ok. Can you lower your tone?”

“Don’t tell me to lower my tone either!”

“No,” Gail feels the need to point out, “lower your tone because some of your spit just landed on my lip. Calm the fuck down! This is incredible! I’m the one who lost my purse and didn’t get any help in finding it and you’re mad.”

“I thought you said you didn’t care anymore.” Eric finally lowered his tone.

“And I don’t but still…You know what? I don’t ask for much but one thing I expect from a guy is to possess a certain level of maturity; to not pretend to be bigger than what you are and just be with me, and Eric, in my opinion, you don’t meet that requirement so I think it’s best if we just end this here. Ok. It was nice; we had some good times, but I think after tonight we can assume that this isn’t going to work. And what type of guy takes a girl to McDonalds to eat.”

“But that’s what you wanted.”

“Tonight wasn’t the first night. I mean my goodness. You want to leave, you can go. Matter of fact, I need you to go. I need you to go right now.”

“But I didn’t know you didn’t want McDonalds,” Eric replies, the bass quality stripped from his tone.

“Whatever. Go!”

 

 

 

CH. Gibran

 

 

Browsing the web once, Eric stumbled upon an article which purported that walking as straight as possible with a tight abdomen increases one’s chances for growth past the pubescent stage (it had something to do with the release of spinal pressure between vertebrae). So Eric, 5’ 6’’, decides to try it back on the street betting on the long-shot that he’d grow a few inches from here to the next traffic light—perhaps the manhood stripped away by Gail could be restored this way, he believes.

He walks the streets feeling naked and embarrassed as if the whole world had witnessed the tongue-lashing. How could she call me a loser? Eric thinks. I thought she liked me, I thought she really liked me.

Eric doesn’t go 10 paces before slumping back down to the original position. Somehow he ends up hating the environment: the few loners passing by him radiate a sort of negative, haughty vibe, he thinks; Chelsea, Eric mutters. He slides in between two parked cars onto the edge of the street and hails a cab home, where his mother lives as well.

 

 

If Eric wanted to he could dine at St. Cecilia’s. He has the prestige; the problem is that it wasn’t cultivated by him but by his uncle, Tobias Riis, the late and former CEO of Ralph Records and Walter’s mentor. Because of Uncle Tobias, Eric grew up in a downtown luxury condominium, where he never shared the floor with any other tenant and had the mail delivered to his door every day. He rode the subway train for the first time when he was 18, and visited his first ghetto (Harlem) a few years earlier than that through a school charity project.

Eric’s mom, April, was an indolent city girl who bore no shame in depending on her older brother unlike their oldest sibling Ellie who vowed to live a simple, blue-collar lifestyle.  Eric’s dad was a simple townie making a living part time as an Oregon state trooper and part time as a forest guide. The summer before 21, April impetuously went on to visit the beaver state, and it was out in the wilderness that they met and fell in love. Around the time April was 6 months pregnant with Eric though, Eric’s dad, while on the job, was bitten by a Death Adder snake and died 5 hours later of respiratory failure. Learning the odds of a Death Adder (found only in Australia and New Guinea) inhabiting Portland and realizing how short their relationship had lasted, April figured she was marked to suffer a bleak existence from then on.

Living with April isn’t so much a problem as it is relying on her to carry out the most minimal tasks like opening the door when Eric’s forgotten his keys. April took up photography 3 years ago and swore it’d be her profession, but that hasn’t been the case. At times the art would enrapt her: they’d be stacks of photographs pocketed all over the apartment while she, ankle deep in photographs herself, examined shots not knowing exactly what to look for, but looking nonetheless. And other times the discipline would wear her down like when she bought a printer. April ordered a large, $4,000.00 dollar, Epson printer capable of printing images 44 inches in width, and she was all girly about its arrival until she actually received it. The task of delivering the box inside the apartment needed the strength of two men to carry and both entrance doors to be completely open. “Who in their right mind would make such a thing?” April said upon witnessing its size. “Who in their right mind would pay so much for such a thing?” Eric followed. After handing over a generous $5 tip to each man—or what April thought was generous—she stood in front of the box a significant amount of time before walking over and prying the thing open. A dense layer of Styrofoam covers the machine up top and right there, the light in her eyes, which the essence of photography kindled, goes out.

 

           

Eric arrives home from Gail’s place almost exactly at midnight; since he had forgotten his keys again, April had to get up, ring him in and open the door—which upon his entering she shows how loathsome it was to do so.

April rarely leaves the apartment. At first it was unfair personal standards that kept her inside but now with a plump figure, she claims, “technology’s made everyone lazy, even me!” April gets everything through the computer: she orders food online; she orders clothing, make-up, hair products, even carpet steam cleaning services.

“There’s some food in the fridge,” she hollers from the living room couch.

Eric instead goes for the soggy Panettone French toast. After reaching in the fridge, he makes his way again round the u-shaped quartz countertop littered with salt particles, cheap Oyster Bay white wine sludge and upside down martini glasses. Suddenly, Eric stops. Out of the corner of his eye he spots a Saks Fifth Men’s fashion catalogue in the trash bin.

“How many times have I told you not to touch my stuff?” Eric says on his way back to April’s area, holding the magazine barely at the tip.

“Good evening to you too,” April responds in a nasal-y tone, “you come in here and don’t even say hi.”

“Don’t touch my stuff!”

“I don’t know…” April looks dazed and confused. “Wait! What are we talking about?”   

“My magazine, you threw my magazine in the trash!”

“How do you know it was me?”

“Because it’s always you,” Eric yells. He collects himself. “The next time you feel like throwing away a magazine, throw one of your Crate and Barrel ones instead, and stay the hell away from my stuff you hear me!”

“They’re not even yours,” April replies now struggling to sit up. “So why are you making such a big deal about them? What do you want with those magazines anyways; they’re for men.”

They’re for me. Eric begins to simmer up.

“Don’t throw my shit in the trash again,” Eric says with the same ferocity used on Gail, “the next time you do, throw yourself out as well.”

“Hey where were you?” April asks as if she hadn’t heard her son’s impudent command. “I need you to make a phone call over to uh, uh, uh…They’re not taking my orders anymore. They say it’s because of technical difficulties (‘the site is being reconstructed’). I think it’s because I’m not some powerful Jew they can kiss up to.”

“They’re not taking your orders because you don’t tip ma,” Eric answers.

“Because I don’t tip? And who the hell said that’s mandatory? I’m already doing them a solid by buying their stinking food. I also got to tip too?”

“Whatever.”

Eric walks around coffee table, sits down and begins sifting through the magazine’s pages aside mom.

“Where were you today,” April leans in to say all warm and caring, “at work baby?”

 

“Yeah.”

“How are they treating you over there? How’s it going?”

April believes Eric spends his days doing low-level office work like photocopying, coffee runs etc., And it irks him every time he has to re-describe his former work duties. “Sure baby,” she’d always say afterwards.

“What do you want that magazine for anyways? You don’t dress like those men. That’s not your style.”

“What do you know about my style?”          

“Ay Eric. What-is-your-problem? Everything is good. We have everything we need. We have money, we have…we have money. I don’t know why you’re working. You should be out there living your life. Maybe get yourself a little girly friend huh, and bring her over so mama could see.”

“Don’t talk like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like that. I’m a grown man, so stop treating me like a fucking kid.”

“Listen at how he talks to his mother!  Eric what is your problem really? What has gotten into you?”

“That’s my magazine,” he continues standing over his mother now, half wounded up as before, “and you have no business touching it ever!”

“Eric.”

Eric storms towards the entrance door.

“Where are you going?” His mother asks.

“I’m out of here. I can’t stand this place. I can’t stand being around you.”

“Boy, where the hell are you going at this time of night? Ok I won’t throw your magazines away anymore even though I don’t remember even doing so. I never remember anything.”

“I hate it here. I’m never coming back.”

And he slams the door.

 

April can’t get herself to say how worried she’d get over the phone, so she expresses it through a text message instead. Eric replies he’s alright using the same medium and feels somewhat bad for the way he behaved until his mother continues by mentioning how unsafe it is for him to be out so late. Because he’s in a taxi at the time of receiving the message, Eric exerts tremendous willpower to remain at ease, and replies that he’ll be spending the night at a friend’s. He turns the phone off afterwards.

This friend is called Nadia, and she’s more than a just friend, but less than a girlfriend since she’s already set to marry an Air Force pararescueman once he returns from his current tour in the Kandahar Province. Nadia is a beautiful 26 year old Puerto-Rican girl who absolutely hates being alone and Eric helps his cause by travelling all the way up to Morningside Heights to keep her company. He admits it’s pathetic to have the partner of a person who willfully puts his life at risk to protect the freedom he and every other American takes for granted; sleep on his bed, lie on his couch, watch TV shows on his TV; play his video games; shit in his toilet; use his toaster. But it’s either this or going back to his mother’s.

Unlike Gail, Nadia doesn’t mind being taken to McDonald’s on a date, but she does inquire as to why she’s taken across town to a specific one the next day. “It’s nice here,” Eric replies. Eric breaks off near the restaurant stairs and halfway up towards the second floor asks Nadia to order for the both them—his way of forcing the task on her.

It’s 9:16pm. Eric wanted to pass by the same McDonalds from the day before at a later time but Nadia, having grown accustomed to spending most of her day outside of working hours at home didn’t feel comfortable with that. Eric walks up the steps, lowers the brim on his ball cap to the eyebrows as he passes the nomads, who were sleeping in for the second time, and briskly continues up to the third floor which disappoints him to see that its entrance is not chained up. His gut had already warned him the trip could be made in vain, but Eric walks up anyways—and the pain stings doubly upon realizing that the boys and their junk are not lying around.

Eric makes it to the railing he hid behind the first time he saw them and leans over it as the thought of maybe never seeing the brilliant singer again sinks his spirits. Nothing good ever happens to me he whispers in his head. A text message from Nadia comes through asking what he’d like to order. He responds fish filet with extra tartar sauce, no fries and a medium coke.

Later, back on the streets, Nadia feels a slight pull at the arm and turns to find Eric with a grimacing expression on his face and the desire to walk off the meal. Nadia instantly accepts the idea. Eric winces a little harder and adds that he wants to do it “alone”. Nadia’s assured that nothing’s the matter with her; the man just needs to think. “Is it the problem with your mother?” She asks and Eric wanting to her to leave badly agrees that it is and promises to return home immediately after the contemplation is over.

Eric walks, but not around the block; instead up to the next crosswalk and then back down. Returning to the entrance door, he decides to go in and buys a large cup of Iced Tea (something he learned from the nomads) and waits for the boys up at the 3rd floor. Two hours later, the old cleaning man announces to all the customers that the 3rd floor is closing and the little chain is going up. Eric goes downstairs and waits another 10 minutes on the second floor before finally leaving. Then outside, walking up the avenue, he stops at the sound of an incomer customer and immediately rushes back.

“Yo, let me get aah…” Abraham says arriving at the front of the cashier’s line seconds later, “double quarter pounder meal; four piece chicken nuggets, and make a meal out of a double cheese burger, no pickles on the cheese burger. Oh and to drink, two medium Sprites, light on ice.”

“Would you be also interested in apple pie?” The cash register girl asks.

“No.”

“For just a dollar you get two.”

“No man. I said no…Always trying to take someone’s money.”

“Ok sir. Your total comes out sixteen o’ five; cash or credit card?”

Out of nowhere a $20 bill is passed over him and into the hand of the cashier. Abraham follows the hand back to its torso and discovers that it belongs to Eric. “Hey,” he says, “it’s ok; it’s on me.” Abraham looks further back, and spots his partner with arms open and shoulders shrugged.

“You can take it,” Eric tells Abraham when the receipt is handed back.

“What the hell am I going to do with the receipt?” Abraham fires back.

“How are you going to know your order then when they call your number?” Eric replies calm and collected.

Abraham goes quiet.

“You guys mind waiting here while I order myself?”

Abraham, feeling somewhat obliged to reciprocate, nods his head and excuses himself with the singer to get some ketchup packets at the condiment area which is next to the garbage shoot which is next to the exit door.

Eric leans against the glass top as he looks at the menu. The manager who responded to the bickering between Gail and the nomads now tends to the cash register. Eric taps on his lip and mumbles as he wrestles with the idea of eating another fish filet, extra on the tartar sauce. At the end he decides on a soda only. The manager taps in his order, and comes to a sudden stop right before telling him the total. “Is there a problem?” Eric asks watching a scowl grow on her face. “They’re with me,” he adds assuming that she’s looking at the boys. The manager continues to look though.

“Hey I said they’re with me,” Eric reiterates.

“That homeless is with you,” the manager replies in a thick Spanish accent, “stealing all my ketchups?”

“Whoa they’re not homeless, they’re paying customers.”

Eric finally looks back, and lucky for him he does so at that moment because if not he would’ve missed the boys’ escape completely.

Without a care, he runs after them. Jostling through the crowd Eric spots Abraham up front. Because of the singer’s slowness, he’s forced to hold back, and finds Eric within short distance at the crosswalk section behind him, as well as three blocky, thick-jawed police officers to his right.

“Put your hands against the wall,” admonishes the one who grapples Abraham into doing so when the boy tries to explain himself. Gibran goes still and avoids brutal manhandling.

“Sir, is everything ok?” The freed up officer asks Eric once he’s arrived. One officer’s on Gibran, one on Eric, and another on Abraham.

“Yeah,” responds Eric desperately trying to look over his officer’s broad shoulders. “What’s the problem? What has he done?”

“You know them?” The officer asks reading the panic on Eric’s face.

Eric almost doesn’t answer worried over how the boys are being confronted. “Yeah,” he blurts out. “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Tell him to let the boy go now.”

The officer asks Eric to calm down but to no avail. “Those kids are with me.” He cries.

To get a sound conversation out, the officer asks his colleague to lessen his force if Abraham cooperates. Abraham looks at Gibran and Eric and calms down.

“They’re with me,” Eric continues. “I I I I run a basketball program and and and they’re in it…Well, the tall one’s in it; the, the, the, short one is his brother but he brings him along; not to play or anything but…yeah, they’re in my basketball program.”

Another padded wagon wails by and stops at their location. The officer turns around, and blocking Abraham’s view, asks if the claim is true.

“Yeah,” Abraham answer.

“Where is this basketball program?” The officer quickly asks.

“Look officer are we done here?”

Eric gets all eyes back on him. “The kids were just running and fooling around. If there’s anyone to blame, it should be me. I won’t allow it again. Now will you please let these innocent kids go so I can take them home?”

“Sir I suggest the nex—”

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” Eric blares out. “Can we go now?” He throws Abraham a furtive glance. “But first let’s get something to eat right?”

“Right,” responds Abraham.

With the good deed, Eric’s able to get a song out of the boy as well as his name, Gibran. Gibran sings a song called Shower Me with Your Love. The kid heard it passing a record store inside the 42nd St. train station once. Abraham lurks behind bitterly opposed to this whole arrangement; it’s just the three of them upstairs in the third floor again. Gibran sings happily; he actually wants to put on a performance—a little part of him even desired a bigger audience. The boy sings and Eric’s left smiling as he’d be. After the performance, Eric too feels obliged to disclose himself. Betting on the hunch that his employer hasn’t updated the company website, he takes out his phone, taps on the screen, and types in Ralph Record’s internet address. Gibran glances at Eric’s profile and smiles. Eric glances at it too and smiles even brighter. Eric suggest that he enter a talent show he knows of; having established rapport, and a pinch of liking for him, Gibran instantly accepts the offer. As for sour-faced Abraham…the $1,000.00 dollar first place prize hooks him in.

“Where is it?” Abraham asks.

“I can take you guys there if you want.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH. Deborah

 

 

There’s another reason why Eric strives to reach the top, and it’s because of a girl (this he didn’t tell Hassan because it felt to embarrassing to disclose), but not just any girl like Gail or Nadia—the girl.

Her name is Deborah, and a portrait of her hangs vividly in Eric’s imagination.

If Gibran lives up to his hype Eric can sell him off to his boss. The boy becomes a star. Ralph Records makes money. Eric gets his job back and convinces Deborah to enter a new relationship with him. Eric eventually ends up CEO of Ralph Records (a decade later he projects). He marries Deborah, buys an eastside penthouse where their kids will be raised, and spends the summers at a vacationing home in Catskills, New York. Sounds like a longshot, but that’s what Eric feels Deborah deserves. If he could, he’s said, he would buy her the moon.

 

 

“Where’s the banner?” Abraham asks.

“The what?” Eric can only say.

The banner; every talent show has a banner, Abraham says. They have banners displaying the talent show “…name thing-y”. They also has fathers in attendance preparing their camcorders for recording; mother circling the area trying to calm down the crying little ones; balloons parading the ceilings; flyers and food being handed out; timorous tykes waiting on to be called for performance near the stage. Abraham sees none of that around; the place just looks like a regular bar to him full of booze and boisterous chatter. A brick wall supports a small stage about 30 feet away from where he stands: that’s the only thing consistent with his understanding.  Eric feels the same tepid form of energy from the environment, but in no way will he confess to lying about there never having been a talent show.

The boys battle the cigarette odor trying to pervade their nostril; the clamor makes it difficult to focus on any specific table conversation ahead. There are “brothers” in scenery but too few for Abraham to make him feel comfortable. Abraham’s eyes continue to scan. Up front, the stage is finally tended to: one guy tweaks the knobs of the lead house guitar while others position the drum set in the middle. A young man wearing a filthy white apron emerges from a sublevel entrance to the right of the stage with a grey bucket full of glasses and hands them to the bar area. Right in front of him, a big, burly guy wearing a rolled up flannel shirt, covered in tattoos, sits beside a woman with a slick, combed back hair due, sits beside: her arms are covered in tattoos as well.

Abraham thinks it’s time to leave but Eric keeps him and Gibran—the silent observer—put with food. The bar doesn’t serve much but the beef sliders grab the singer’s interest. Abraham doesn’t accept Eric’s offer remembering what came about as a result the last time he did.

Four small cuts of toasted bread burdened with stringed up beef all on a small rectangular white plate show up before Gibran 15 minutes later and Eric takes them away instantly. Can’t eat before a performance, he says. Then why offer them in the first place? Abraham thinks confused and frustrated. Eric reads the expression on his face and pays him no mind. The current band on stage gives their bow; there’s another up to perform and after them, it’s the boy. Eric walks Gibran upfront, positioning him in between the far end of the bar stool, the far end of the stage and the top step of the sublevel. He says something to him, smiles, pats him on the head, hugs him—hesitantly—and returns back to the table. Abraham sees the entire thing and just as he’s about to ask what the whole moment was about, Nadia, the hostess, comes by and whispers something into his ear. Only on Tuesday can regular guests perform on stage; Fridays are reserved for the local talent but thanks to Nadia and her ties to the owner (who secretly wishes to sleep with her), Gibran was given the rare opportunity to showcase tonight.

“She said that?” Eric responds to her, deep into a conversation.

“Yeah. She’s on her way.” Nadia replies.

“She coming with anybody?” Eric continues.

“She didn’t say…I don’t think so though.”

“Who’s coming?” Abraham asks deliberately impertinent.

“Ok. So this isn’t a talent show per se,” Eric ends up admitting after all, “but…But it is a place to showcase your talent and if your brother….brother…Wait! Are you guys related in some way?”

Abraham rises from his seat without answering and heads in the direction he believes the bathroom is located.

“Hey,” says Eric grabbing onto his right tricep.

“Abraham violently wrenches away.

“What’s your problem man?” Eric inquires.

“Who are you?” Abraham returns.

“What? What do you me-”

“Who are you man? What do you want with us?”

Eric jerks his head back. “Look,” he says as serious as can be, “my name is Eric Riis. I’m A&R at Ralph Records. You ever heard of Ralph Records? I act as a liaison between the artist and the record label. I oversee their development by pairing them up with producers and songwriters that best complement the artist….their personality…vocal range?”

Abraham’s bottom lip hangs low.

“If Gibran wants to make it,” he bluntly states, “he has to go through me first.” Abraham turns in the original direction and continues forward. And Eric makes another reach.

“Hey man I don’t know you.”

Out of nowhere, all eyes fall on Eric; Eric just smiles benignly and waves with his hands as if to say everything’s ok people. “So there isn’t a thousand dollar reward,” he continues with his crooked smile lingering on, “even so, the boy has an amazing talent. Don’t you think the world should see it? Come on man. I know you….”           

A wiry rocker wearing a sleeveless shirt passes their side and Abraham turns to him for succor. “Sir,” he says showing the utmost form of decorum, “this man asked me to go to the bathroom with him so he can see what’s in my pants. Can you please help me?”

“Yeah. Nice try,” Eric comments in between hysterical laughter.

“That’s funny to you man?” The chiseled figure asks with a stare.

“Hey man we know each other,” Eric answers un-phased. “We’re here with the boy who is up to perform next. The kid’s just acting like an asshole.” Eric explains who he is, points at Gibran who points back, and prevents anything else from escalating. Abraham walks away after noticing the man’s won-over expression.

A loud screech directs everybody’s attention to the back. Gibran appears on stage and his presence calms the clamor. A bar employee playing the DJ stands before a laptop. Gibran gives him a head nod. The music starts. He moves to the mid-tempo jam off rhythm at first. Then he opens his mouth and sings. The crowd erupts with hollers and whistles almost immediately: women rush up to capture the singer on their camera-phones while men struggle to maintain reserved and cool. Eric’s line of sight diminishes—not that he’s upset about it. It seems as though everywhere the boy goes, the watchers eat up him ravenously. The world accepts him, Eric thinks, and this brings a pleasant smile to his face. He closes his eyes trusting that no one will disturb him…Then he feels a tap on his shoulder. Eric turns his head. Deborah’s arrived.

 

 

Eric looks across and into her hazel eyes and she into his, but without the fervor. Can the night get any better? The lad thinks. Her presence smells sweet; her golden hair, long and bouncy, seemingly illuminates the dark setting. Deborah’s the best thing Eric will die ever knowing: she’s far less rambunctious than Gail and more self-assured than Nadia. She wears a tight, black Harley Davidson shirt that makes him jealous for the reason that it looks amazing on her, and the assumption that other guys would feel the same way.

Gibran steps off stage after only one song and walks through the divided crowd to reach Eric, giving low and high-fives along the way. “This is Gibran!” Eric tells Deborah with open arms once the kid arrives. Abraham stands near, frowning at the engagement. Earlier, during the performance to be exact, Eric overheard a conversation he had with a stranger. They talked about the good ol’ days: high school.

“I remember back in high school,” says the stranger, “when the girls used to go crazy for that song.” The song Gibran was singing on stage.

“You don’t got to tell me,” Abraham agrees. “I’m the one who taught him that song!”

“Oh you know him?”

“Yeah.”

“Quit Playing Games”, the song Gibran sang, was a single by the Backstreet Boys released in 1996, and if Abraham claims to have heard it back during his high school years then that means…

“So,” says Eric putting his arm around Deborah.

“So,” replies Deborah feeling slightly uncomfortable with the move. 

“I brought you here because I wanted you to be one of the first to see the future.”

“The future huh,” Deborah says with a giggle and walks over to give “the future” a handshake.

“Yeah. You saw how he owned the crowd right buddy? I’m going to make sure the whole world hears him out” And stepping in front of Deborah he continues, “and with this I know I can move on up and prove to you…”

“What? Prove to me? Prove to me what?” Deborah interposes.

“Prove to you that I’m worthy of yo—”

“Eric…” Deborah rolls her eyes in disappointment. “Eric stop!”

“No. No. No. No. Just hear me out. If I get him signed and he becomes a star, they’ll take notice in me and I could get my job back.”

“Get your job back? Wait! You lost your job?”

“Yeah but that’s not important. I’ll work hard and move on up. I know I have ways to go, but it’s a start in life don’t you think?”

“Eric I thought you brought me here to have fun; see I knew…I don’t care about…I accept you for who you are. Just be yourself. Is this what you brought me here for? When I spoke to you on the phone you told me we were just going to hang out.”

“You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I invited you here to hang out, and uh that’s what we’ll do.” He steps aside, puts Deborah’s hands in his and smiles.

 

 

Deborah grows to like Gibran and Eric, taking notice of this, invites her the following day to what he calls a “singing practice session”: it’s his way of wanting to help the kid improve his singing skills. Deborah agrees to go.

She’s led into a small rental studio just a few blocks away from Madison Square Garden filled with a lot of “music stuff”, as she puts it, inside: bulky guitar amps lined all around the wall, music stands clustered up on one corner and thick XLR microphone cables stringed on a hook on another with a box of Shure dynamic microphones right below. The walls are white and the floor is covered with cheap grey carpeting but even still, Deborah anticipates a delightful evening and quickly makes her seat behind an 88 key KORG Triton keyboard / arranger with an overwhelming display of buttons and faders. Accidentally, she discovers a glockenspiel programmed to the keys. The girl turns the dial on the machine and plays the orchestral strings, the xylophone, some staccato violin next, pan flute, fife. Eventually Eric sends a sharp look her way and she stops.

At first, hearing Gibran carry a tune is entertaining, but with every repetition of the song, familiarity lulls Deborah into boredom and uneasiness.

“Time for chow!” Eric announces an hour later.

“I’m paying.”

Deborah’s slow to rise; she’s exhausted and relieved that it’s finally over.

Abraham settles his chair on four legs again, takes off his headphones but doesn’t ask for the announcement to be repeated. Deborah furtively asks Eric if he’ll be joining and, after getting a confident but subtle nod, makes her way out of the room.

“What’s this?” Gibran asks pointing at a large electrical box with a strip of buttons and switches lined up at its top once Deborah’s out of sight.

“That right there is a Peavey amp my man,” Eric answers. “It’s for electric guitars; it makes them louder.”

“How?” The singer continues.

After taking in a deep breathe, Eric bends down and flips on the machinery. A small bulb turns red and the box whirs. “You see,” he continues with the nonchalant air of an expert, “without an amp, which is short for amplification, the electric guitar doesn’t make a sound unlike an acoustic which has an open space where sound can reverberate in. You plug one end of a wire to the guitar and the other to this hole right here and when you strum the guitar, you know you play it and stuff, the sound comes out through this speaker here. The guitar sends a signal to the amp and the amp plays it back depending on how you modify it to sound. You modify the sound with these knobs. You just turn it like this and you get many different sounds.”

“What type of sounds can you make?”

“Well there’s reverb—that gives the sound an echo; gain makes it louder; chorus makes it sound like more than one guitar is being played and treble, and bass thin out or fatten the sound.”

Gibran becomes confused by it all and instead of asking more questions turns to the main reason for starting the talk. “Is that your girlfriend?”

“Girlfriend? Who, Deborah? Nah champ,” Eric replies.

“Why not?”

“Well she’s a good friend; a very good friend of mine.”

“You don’t want her as a girlfriend?”

“It’s not that I don’t want her as a girlfriend is that…Well it would be nice to have her as a girlfriend but if the girl just wants to be…We’re great friends champ and that is good enough.”

“What is she?”

“What do you mean what is she?”

“Like where’s she from.”

“Oh.” Eric chuckles. “She’s black, you know African American, and white; Caucasian. I also think she has some Brazilian in here.”

“Oh.”

“She’s beautiful isn’t she? We practically grew up together. Her family used to live right above mines. She’s a rich girl. Her family’s worth like a billion dollars or something.” Eric takes a pause. “She likes the finer things in life, and she deserves it too.”

Eric suggests creating a handshake and Gibran, unable to understand the depth of Eric’s longing for Deborah, agrees. The first variation is a hand slap then wiggling of the fingers, but because Eric claims to have seen it before, it’s quickly discarded. The second’s a hand slap then pointing the thumb behind their shoulders: “Nah. That’s from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Next comes a hand slap and fist tap: “Ah come on we can do better than that.” Through more experimentation (fooling around) the boys finally come up with something Eric can’t instantly recall: two hand slaps—on each side—followed by a fist tap then an explosion; Eric pretends to have a bow and arrow and aims one of those arrows at Gibran’s chest and Gibran pretending to fall, takes out a laser gun from his holster and shoots Eric (peeoon, peeoon, peeoon he says) dead. The boys break out in laughter after the first successful performance then exit the room.

Outside, Deborah turns to Gibran and asks him if he’d like some steak from “Bobby Van’s” just a short walking distance away.

“Don’t act like you don’t like this,” Eric whispers into Deborah’s ear a few seconds into the foot journey, “where else would you rather be than here huh? So?”

“So what…” Deborah replies.

“So what’s going on with us?”

Oh my god Deborah thinks. She sighs greatly and hurries on over to Gibran for refuge. “Don’t ruin the moment,” she turns back to say.

“How am I ruining the moment Deb? How am I ruining the moment? You’re acting like we haven’t been hitting it off, like you’re not having a good time with me.”

“I am having a good time with you.”

“Then what is it?”

Deborah returns.

“Just because we’ve been hanging,” she whispers, “doesn’t mean anything. Eric can’t we just chill?”

“Why do you keep coming then if we’re just friends?”

“Because you invited me idiot.” She answers. “I came here for him.

“And me too?” Eric returns with a foolish grin.

“Oh my god.”

“Look,” he says slowing Deborah down some, “I’m doing big things with my life but I know that saying it is not enough, so I’ m going to show it and prove to you…”

“You still live with your mother?”

“If I still live with my mother? What’s that supposed to mean? What a low blow!”

Deborah bursts in laughter.

“Do you know him?” She whispers back to being serious.

“Do I know who, Champ? Of course I do. Why?” Eric responds in the same way.

“No I mean do you know him, know him? Do you know his family, where he’s from, where he goes to school? He wore the same thing yesterday,” Deborah claims, “and he looks like he hasn’t eaten.”

“Oh my god. I’m sorry Debby that not everybody’s insanely rich like you.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Then what do you mean?”

“Look I’m a bit concerned. You picked some kid from out of nowhere—I mean look at him, he, they, both look like, like, like…homeless.”

Eric rolls his eyes to make Deborah—and himself—believe that her concerns are none to worry over. But it’s true; even Abraham carries an unpleasant odor.

“You talk about changing this kid’s life with signing him to a record label in the future,” Deborah continues, “but what are you doing for him, them, now?”

Eric wishes he hadn’t talked so much. Deborah knows about how he met Gibran at a fast food restaurant which hints away at homelessness. But Deborah makes a strong point and because of that—not to mention her influence over him—he buys into the idea of making meaningful contributions to the boys now. Unfortunately he doesn’t follow through with the task; instead he continues to see more of Deborah.

 

 

Weeks after their trip to the rehearsal studio Deborah throws a get-together at her SoHo flat. Eric makes himself a compelling invite by offering to help prepare and DJ the event.

Setting up the digital turntable system he overhears Deborah talking to friends by the patio door about what happened on some one day she didn’t hang out with him. Deborah met a guy; not much is said about the person in terms of appearance or personality but an outburst of girly giggles when recalling the encounter shows he’s held in high regard. Eric grows sullen eavesdropping. Deborah walks over for a chat minutes later but every attempt she makes at starting a conversation is quickly thwarted by Eric’s grumblings and mutterings.

“So what does this do?” She then says seeing if by appealing to his musical interests he’d thaw out, but Eric only sharpens his concentration. “What is this supposed to be?”

“Quiet!” Eric blurts out loading up a song queue.

“Excuse me.” Deborah transfers her weight to her back foot. “Don’t tell me to be quiet in my own place! I was just trying to see how this works. Watch yourself!”

She walks away without saying another word.

Around 8 p.m. people begin to arrive and by 9 p.m. the party’s in full swing. Instead of DJing, Eric creates an automatic music queue so he can use his focus for finding this person Deborah spoke of earlier. His name, as it turns out, is Chaz Von Queen and finding him isn’t difficult—Eric just follows the mob surrounding the guy. Some don’t believe that that’s the guy’s name—Eric including—and others instantly become fans of his at sight. By the time Eric’s made it halfway in Chaz’s circle, Chaz is talking about how he held up as a judge at this year’s New York Knicks Poetry Slam. Eric tiptoes around and spots his dreadlocks. Is that his real name he hears around him Yeah. Cool right? “Why do you have a problem believing Chaz’s my real name?” The keen name bearer catches the inquiry. More bodies step aside and Eric gets his first look at Chaz’s tall, lanky frame, his hook nose and the blond-tip of his dreadlocks. Chaz claims he’s 50% British, 25% Puerto-Rican and 25% Jamaican. His mother’s a City College of New York alum and former professor who actually got to meet Colin Powell in her school days. She taught Africana Women Poetry Studies: Chaz says she’s his inspiration.

The ladies say aww. He shifts the mood when confessing to have never known his father who supposedly was a “cool cat” and the owner of a record store in Manchester. The girls get closer and it is right here that Deborah jostles through and settles herself alongside the poet.

There’s a smile on that girl’s face Eric in all his life has never been able to arouse, and it is because of this realization that he does some jostling himself and heads out. To his dismay, the automatic queue was not set up properly and the music stops. The crowd instantly grows concerned; even Deborah breaks out of her Von Queen enchantment.

After finding a vacant DJ station she scans around and spots Eric reaching the exit door.

“Eric,” she says running towards him.

Eric pulls away but eventually stops.

“I just need to go and take a break,” he replies in a guttural tone. “I need a smoke or something.”

“But you don’t smoke,” Deborah points out.

“It’s about time I started.”

“Ok.” Deborah takes a deep breath. “Look you’re my DJ. You can’t just leave us with no music.”

“It’s not like you’re paying me.”

Soured by the fact, Deborah responds, “What’s your problem man?”

“What?”

“The whole day you’ve been acting weird. I tried talking to you earlier and you just brushed me off. Is something going on?”

“Look just click on the play button and the music will continue. It doesn’t take a genius to work the program.”

Eric turns and walks and Deborah reaches in for him.

“Eric what’s your problem?” She persists.

“I said leave me alone!” Eric spats off.

Deborah quickly steps back.

“Eric,” she whispers, “I made it perfectly clear that we are not getting back together.”

“It’s not that.” (Eric lies.)

“Then what is it?”

“Nothing,” Eric fires back, “I never…Whatever.”

“Whatever. What?”

“Yes I know I never meant anything to you…look it’s easy to work the thing.”

“Are you really going to go?”

“Don’t mess my stuff up! I’ll come back for it tomorrow.”

“So this is how it’s going to be between us? And in front of Gibran?”

Eric flexes his jaw.

“Look,” Deborah adds in closing the door on Eric, “let’s not do this! Let’s be mature. I bought them some clothes and…”

“You did what?” Eric makes a dramatic turn. “Are you fucking serious?”

“Excuse me,” Deborah answers forming another sour expression on her face.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“What? I don’t understand what you’re saying?”     

“I bought them some clothes,” Eric repeats in a mocking manner, “whoop-tee-doo. You bought them some clothes. What the smells got to you?”

“What?”

“Oh no, no, no; that’s not it. Charity; it’s charity right? ‘Just doing my part’ as they say. Oh mama would be so proud.”

“I just want to help that.”

“Guilt, that’s it! You just want to help him because you’re guilty. Aww she has the I-feel-bad-because-others-don’t-have-as-much-as-me bug. ‘Maybe with this I can finally punch my ticket to heaven.’ How prudent not to mention tax-savvy. Go and chalk that up with the accountant!”

“Why are you saying these things?” Deborah replies, turning weak and vulnerable.

“Look do me and him a favor and don’t. Gibran doesn’t need your pity money. That kid is tougher, more resilient…he’s a bigger person than you’ll ever be.”

“Eric, stop it!” Deborah’s eyes begin to water. “You’re starting to hurt my feelings.”

“One day in his shoes you won’t survive. What the hell do you know about hard living? Aww you spent a few months in Guatemala wrapping arms in bandages; yeah you’re the true soldier. You’ve never worked. You’ve never worked.”

“Get out…leave now!” Deborah cries.

Luckily for the both of them, the guests, lost in their own bantering, can’t hear them. Eric, staring at Deborah coldly with a fully flexed jaw, opens the door again and heads out.

“I’m going to find him and I’m going to help him,” Deborah says in a spiteful manner.

“Whatever.”  Eric shouts growing the distance.

“You’re not doing anything for him; you and your stupid music, feeding him lies. You don’t know what you’re doing. You never know what you’re doing.”

The final comments forces Eric back up until his brimming red face is within inches of hers.

“I’m calling child services and I’m going to help him,” Deborah continues.

“You want to mess with me,” Eric mutters back, “you want to mess with me?”

“I don’t want anything to do with you. It’s the kid I care about. He needs help.”

“Stay away from us!”

“I won’t stand by.”

“Stay away from us!”

“I care about him.”

“Stay away from us!”

“This is not about you,” Deborah screams agitated with the repeated expression. And Eric screams back, but he adds the spectacle of slamming the door behind her over and over again until his lungs can no longer sustain the horrifying “ah” sound.

Rumbling occurs from deep within the apartment. Moments later a group of Samaritans show up at the door only to find Deborah standing in a cringed position, hiding behind her hands from apparently nothing.

 

 

The following night the boys find Eric at their McDonalds, sitting at the table they first met. His eyes look heavy and somber. For no particular reason, they find it necessary to approach him with caution. Gibran gets the closest and grows fascinated with Eric’s unblinking ability. He’s startled by a question.

“Can we talk?” Eric mutters.

Gibran looks to Abraham as if for permission. “Come on,” Eric continues sliding out of his seat, “let’s go!” And just as Gibran moves to follow orders, he and Eric are met with Abraham’s resistance. 

 “You’re no music guy,” he says.

“I’m no music guy,” Eric replies all nonchalant. “Seriously? So what am I?”

Abraham squints as Eric casually makes his way around him. He continues on downstairs and tells Gibran that he’ll be waiting “but not for long.” Moments later Gibran appears on the second floor before him.

“Hey do you want to blow up?” Eric asks, and anticipating Gibran’s speechless expression, he continues, “because you have what it takes to do so in my opinion, but only if you want to. If you like the way things are for you, traipsing from McDonalds to McDonalds, sleeping in them, eating in them, wearing the same clothes, begging, running scams for dollars…smelling bad, then go ahead and continue living this way my friend…but without me. I’m looking up, and from now on I’m only giving my time to those who do the same. So again, if you’re happy with this, the way things are, it was nice to meet you, I wish you the best and I…wish you the best…yeah.”

Gibran gets to thinking, but the period doesn’t last long. A sudden holler breaks the normal, indistinct chatter around. Abraham rushes downstairs, brushes Eric aside and saves Gibran from whatever evil he inferred was said to him. “Yo Pernell!” says Gibran, motioning Abraham to relax. Pernell Eric says to himself. Eric watches Gibran be pushed along towards the steps. Eric hurries to the top step and calls Gibran once he’s on the first floor. Gibran looks up and exchanges nods with him.

 

CH. Conversations

 

 

Days later Eric uses the subway for the second time in his life to go to the Bronx. There’s a lady living in that borough by the name of Bailey Cash who he must talk to. Ms. Cash lives around Intervale Ave, right up the hill from its B and D train station. Ms. Cash doesn’t know Eric’s coming—doesn’t even know who he is—and so he plans to wait outside her building for a tenant to come by and open the door. He arrives at the building to spot a light-skinned Hispanic lady in a burgundy nurse’s uniform leaning against a car parked out front, and rationalizes a dozen reasons why she wouldn’t help him enter. Then 10 minutes later, an African American lady pushing laundry on a cart appears on the scene. Yes he thinks and begins wallowing forward, but then something crazy happens—or at least crazy to him. Eric wasn’t paying attention but the African American lady had been staring at the Hispanic lady from the moment she could identify her. At the door the African-American lady finally breaks the silence. “You got a problem with me bitch?” She says with a sour expression. What astounds Eric even more is how poised the Hispanic lady remains in the face of the other lady’s threats.

Pushing her golden tresses to the side, the Hispanic lady responds, “No I don’t got a problem.”

“I see you looking at me all the fucking time. What if I were to take out my knife and cut your face right now bitch? What’s up?” The African American lady looks serious.

“I’m not looking at you,” the Hispanic lady claims, “and I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say that I look at you. I never look at you.”

The other lady threatens some more until she realizes the ineffectiveness of continuing on, and enters the building. Eric, left completely petrified, watches his opportunity go by. “That lady’s crazy,” he then hears the Hispanic lady say as she works up the concentration to continue reading the pamphlet at hand. “She’s all talk. I don’t pay any attention to her.” She sounds as if she’s trying to reassure herself. “I have a daughter coming over; I’m not going to get into a fight with her. Hey you need something? You want to go in or something?”

Eric doesn’t let this opportunity pass; one doesn’t know how many more enemies this lady has rolling around.

He ends up in front of apartment 5C; the “crazy lady” and the incident are set to be forgotten at this point until the door opens and the crazy lady is in front of him once again.

“Yes can I help you?” The African American lady says, still fuming from the argument she had downstairs.

“Excuse me ma’am I’m looking for apartment five C.”

“This is it.”

“Right. Well…Do you know the name of the person who lives in this…umm excuse me, can I speak with the head of household if possible?”

“What do you want?”

“Ok ma’am we’ll I’m looking for a Miss Bailey Cash.”

“Yeah.”

Eric’s fidgeting increases as Ms. Cash grows more and more agitated.

“Oh, well. Hello ma’am. Hi my name is Benjamin…Moore (like the paint manufacturing company). My name is Benjamin Moore, and I’m here to speak to you about Gibran Raymond Binghams. I’ve been assigned as his new case worker. My records show that you’re the biological mother.”

Miss Bailey sloughs the anger from her face. She gives the door a slight push and asks Eric to enter.

“What is it that you want?” Ms. Cash continues, shuffling up to the kitchen window at the other end. Eric walks in but only up to the rusted, white stove top at first. There’s a litter of small children in the living room beyond the wall to the left of him. One of them—a boy—sneaks into the kitchen around the time Ms. Cash starts prating about her personal misfortunes, the unfair government, and the difficulties of raising children “and shit”.

Keeping on the topic of feces, Eric detects that particular scent and looks around until he finds the small, snot-faced boy, in diapers, turning a stove knob on tiptoe. Bailey turns as well and hurries over to the kid before Eric develops the comfort to touch him himself. “We don’t do that Byron,” she says in an easy tone Eric doesn’t believe she uses when the kids are up to trouble, and carries the kid away with an airplane sound. Left alone, Eric looks in the sink and fills with pity upon noticing ragged baby clothes and a bowl of dried milk and Cheerios cereal in the sink. He finds no other adult around and a thought hits him—she left these kids by themselves. Oh my god, what if something would’ve happened to them?

“So…” Bailey appears back in the kitchen, wiping her hands with an alcohol baby towel.

Eric stares at her intensely. “Those are your other children right?” He asks.

“Yes they’re mine.”

Eric opens a folder on hand and begins to nod to himself like an informed professional. He might as well be one: Gibran’s background was made available to him with just a relatively small payout to a government employee. It’s good to be rich is all Eric has to say about that.

“Do you know what’s happened with Gibran Miss Cash?”

“Yeah,” she replies lowering her head a bit. “He ran away from his foster home. They told me, you know, you guys. What can I say; the boy hasn’t…the boy hasn’t been dealt the best hand in life. Part of that is my fault.”

“I have him.”

“What?” Bailey looks up completely shocked.

“He’s with me. Gibran, he’s with me. But here’s the thing…”

“You know where he is? Where?”

“Yes I know where he is. And please don’t interrupt me again!”

Eric saunters the short distance from the stove to the second opening on the other end of the wall, near the window.

“Where the boy is doesn’t matter;” he continues leaning against the door’s frame, “what matter is where he wants to go.” Eric closes his folder and raises it in the air. “Ms. Cash, in my hand I have a list of several families. Several families willing and ready to give your son the one thing every kid in the system yearns for but unfortunately will not get.”

“What’s that?” Bailey responds, drawing into Eric’s zeal.

“Opportunity Miss Cash,” Eric replies emphatically. “An ideal setting: mother, father, maybe siblings, all living under a stable roof with oak trees planted right up front and a walking pavement scribbled with hopscotch chalk colorings; a shot at living the American dream. And your son is within a hair’s breadth of attaining it. But…”

Bailey withdraws a bit emotionally here.

“But,” Eric continues, “here’s the thing: they would only take your boy, Gibran, if all parental rights are relinquished.”

“If all parental rights are relinquished,” Bailey sounds confused. “No.”

“Huh?”

“I, I, I want to retain those rights so when I take him…What if I want to take him back?”

Eric turns his face to where the children are.

“Miss Cash.” He sighs. “Tell me, by retaining your rights what can you offer Gibran?”

“What?”

“You want to retain your rights for the possibility of reclaiming full custody of him right? And if you got him, what would you give him?”

“I don’t understand your question sir,” Bailey continues with a tone growing weak.

“For example can you consistently provide him food, water…a clean, safe environment, love…”

Looking into Bailey’s shimmering eyes, Eric could see her power slipping away and because of this he presses the issue even more.

“These families can offer those things and some.”

A crashing occurs outside, or at least that’s what it sounds like. Both Eric and Bailey turn to the window to find out what caused it. Two men pass by, break a car’s window, strip the car of its radio and speed up the block, but Eric and Bailey get to the window fast enough to see only their backs as they go.

“Where he’ll live,” Eric whispers into Bailey’s ear, “there won’t be any of that. That’s if you you know.”

Bailey turns back to the kitchen, forcing Eric to give her some space.

“I just can’t,” she replies shaking her head.

“Miss Cash.”

“No,” Bailey fires back.

           “Now wait a minute,” Eric says adding energy to his voice as well. “So you’re telling me that you’re willing to forfeit this wonderful opportunity for your kid. Don’t tell you’re going to let pride interfere in the matter?”

“Excuse me.”

“Huh? Miss Cash.”

“What type of social case worker talks to people like this? You can’t talk to people like this. I’m not liking this. I’d like for you to leave my home now.”

“Ok. Ok. Ok. I’m sorry Miss Cash; please forgive me.”

“No I need you to go.”

“It’s just…it’s just that when I feel strongly about something, I tend to go a bit overboard. I really care about my job, I really care about these kids…I really care about your son. This can set your boy on the right path. Come on Miss Cash do the right thing. I can only imagine the amount of heartache you must feel right now knowing of this great life your child can have, but not being able to give it yourself. As a parent you want to be the one to give that child the world. But sometimes in life we must look past our own desires, Miss Cash, and just do what’s best. I want you to think of this as a relay race in the Olympics. You ever watched the Olympics? Do you know what a relay race is?

Bailey nods her head.

“Well let’s try to view this scenario using the same concept. The goal is to win, to reach the finish line, so what do we do? You run, do your best, and when another opportunity presents itself (the teammate), you pass on the baton and the other person continues from the point in which you released it. Think of Gibran as that baton. Our goal is to get him to the finish line, the finish line of life, but in order to do that…”

Bailey looks accepting of the idea for a moment.

“No. No.” She then says. “I want my rights. I want my rights.”

“But Miss Cash…the consequences we could be facing here.”

“No. No. I won’t. He’s my son. I won’t. I refuse.”

“Miss…”

“No, I said no.”

“Miss Cash.”

“No. I want my rights. I’m getting better and, and, and, and soon I’ll be able to convince the city to give him back to me and I’ll raise him.”

Eric walks in a small circle and gives Bailey his back. He stands there and thinks, rubbing his temples harshly.

“Thank you mister Moore,” says Bailey.

“Who are you kidding?”

Eric turns around and shows his best devil imitation. “You’re getting better. You’re getting better. Let’s be honest; we both know that’s not happening.”

“Excuse me. You know what? I want you out of my house right now!”

“Or what,” Eric continues, “you’ll cut me with your knife?”

Bailey’s eyes shoot wide open.

“Oh you didn’t I think I saw that did you? How could you, so hell-bent in trying to hurt that innocent lady. Now tell me how are you going to convince the city to let you have your boy back, let alone take care of him, if they find out you’re hacking people away in between grocery visits? Oh and don’t forget about that unattended brood over there.”

Eric confidently closes the distance between himself and the crazy lady.

“Now you listen to me, in this phone, I have the proof to make your life very miserable (yeah I recorded it) but it can all be avoided if you just cooperate. Go down to the agency, relinquish your rights, and then, and only then, will I delete your threats off my phone. You got that!”

The little boy who played with the stove knobs returns to the kitchen and Eric backs off in his presence, smiles, and leaves. Eric didn’t record a thing, but seeing how he took control of the situation, one could’ve easily mistaken that he did.

 

 

Before Abraham rushes down the third floor steps of the McDonalds and takes Gibran away, Eric slips a $20.00 prepaid, cellphone in Gibran’s pockets and mumbles to wait on a call. That’s what the head nods were for. And this is how their phone conversation—days later—goes.

 

ERIC: Hey little man.

GIBRAN: Hey.

ERIC: Can you talk? Is Abraham around?

GIBRAN: Nah.

ERIC: Where is he?
GIBRAN: He’s outside.

ERIC: Where outside?

GIBRAN: Actually I’m in the bathroom and he’s outside.

ERIC: Ok. Cool. Cool. Cool. So as I was saying; I’ve been talking to some of my connections in the industry and you know that video we made in the bar? You got it kid. You got what it takes. The ball is rolling on your side of the court, and I think it’s time for us to take things to the next level; go legit; start making demoes; creating an image; start knocking on doors. But in order for us to do that I need to know that you’re here with me; I need to see that you’re serious; I need to know you’re a hundred percent into this. We can’t have any distractions.

 

And by distraction Eric means Abraham which Gibran instantly figures out.

 

GIBRAN: Abraham comes too Eric.

ERIC: Gibran.

GIBRAN: No we roll together.

ERIC: But I feel like he’s…

GIBRAN: Nah Eric I can’t do that to him.

ERIC: Champ, everybody loves you. You have the ability to capture an audience like I’ve never seen before, and trust me, I’ve been around talent. I want you to get what you deserve in life, and the only way that can be possible is if…

GIBRAN: Nah I can’t do that.

ERIC: You know what? I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s talk about something completely different what do you say?

GIBRAN: Eric I got to go.

ERIC: No. No. Come on let’s talk. I don’t know when I’m going to see you again. I want to talk to you little buddy.

GIBRAN: I got to go Eric.

ERIC: Come on let’s talk. You’re my friend. Uh, uh, uh tell him that you need more time in the bathroom or something.

GIBRAN: Ok. What do you want to talk about?

ERIC: Ok. So the other day I knew I had to tell you something. Have you ever been to a baseball game? Do you like baseball?

GIBRAN: Yeah.

ERIC: Yeah you’ve been to a game or yeah you like the sport?

GIBRAN: Yeah I like baseball.

ERIC: Ok. Well I was wondering if maybe you could let me take you to a game, a Mets game. The Yankees suck. Would you like to go?

GIBRAN: Sure.

ERIC: Wait. Wait. Wait. Before I go and make this commitment I need to be sure you know the game; that you’re not just jerking me. I don’t want to sit next to someone in the game who doesn’t know what their looking at.

GIBRAN: Ok.

ERIC: Ok. So how many outs does each team get per quarter?

GIBRAN: Three and there’s no quarters in baseball, there’s innings.

ERIC: Hmmm. You don’t say? Ok. So what do you have to do to score a point in the game?

GIBRAN: Yo Eric.

ERIC: What?

GIBRAN: You’re trying to play me.

ERIC: How?

GIBRAN: First with the quarters now points.

ERIC: So it’s not points that you score?

GIBRAN: No.

ERIC: Then what is it? Ok. Ok. That was too easy for you. Let’s say there are no outs and you got a man on first with a so-so hitter at the plate. What do you do?

GIBRAN: Don’t I just call for a hit.

ERIC: If he’s a so-so hitter with no outs why don’t you put the runner to steal? This would rattle the pitcher and by stealing second not only do you eliminate the chance of a double play, but you put the runner in scoring position as well. A single, if he’s fast enough, drives him in then.

GIBRAN: Oh my god, who could think of something like that?

ERIC: Someone who knows the sport.

GIBRAN: Whatever.

ERIC: Ok. I’ll make it easier for you. How do you steal a base?

GIBRAN: By stealing it.

ERIC: Obvious dummy. Tell me the specifics!

GIBRAN: Oh my god. You first have to get on base.

ERIC: And…

GIBRAN; Then you get off it a bit to get a head start. Then when the pitcher throws the ball at the hitter you run. Actually you run before the pitcher throws the ball.

ERIC: And what’s the name of the guy who the pitcher throws to?

GIBRAN: Oh that’s the catcher.

ERIC: And what happens if the catcher catches the ball and makes a throw to second base and you haven’t made it to second base?

GIBRAN: I’ll run back to first.

ERIC: And what if the person who catches the ball at second throws to first?

GIBRAN: I don’t know. I’ll stop in the middle.

ERIC: Why because you’re trapped right?

GIBRAN: Yeah.

ERIC: Come on say it!

GIBRAN: Say what?

ERIC; Say that you’re trapped!

GIBRAN: Ok. I’m trapped.

ERIC: There’s no way out right? Wait a minute. Why don’t you go around them, just swerve around them?

GIBRAN: Ok Eric that’s it!

ERIC: So there’s no way out.

GIBRAN: Yeah.

ERIC: Say it! There’s no way out.

GIBRAN: There’s no way out. Why are you making me do this?

ERIC: How about hitting? You got pop on that bat? Have you ever hit a ball?

GIBRAN: Nah man.

ERIC: What do you mean you don’t bat?

GIBRAN: The few times I’ve played I’ve never batted.

ERIC: Why not?

GIBRAN: Because I’m scared of the ball.

ERIC: Scared of the ball.

GIBRAN: Yeah Eric. Ok I really got to go. Peace out.

ERIC: Hey put Abraham on the phone.

GIBRAN: What?

ERIC: Put Abraham on the phone. I want to talk to him.

 

 

Later that night, Abraham makes it to the 86th St C train station as instructed to do so over the phone. He emerges and walks directly towards the dark figure right across the street in front of Central Park. “Where’s Gibran?” Eric asks in a navy blue sweater combination upon receiving Abraham. Abraham doesn’t utter a word, as Eric expects. Eric turns and asks to be followed. Abraham keeps his fists clenched every step of the way, resisting the petty impulse to attack Eric blindly from behind; he wants a fair fight for that’s what he believes he was called to a dark, secluded part of the park to do. Eric said: “let’s settle this,” over the phone.

“You left him locked up or something?” Eric says walking.

“What?”

“You got him locked away in your secret dungeon or something?”

“What the fuck?”

“You know I’m the best for him; you know he belongs with me.”

“He belongs with me.”

“Oh really? You’re such a good guardian you’ve left him, a minor, god knows where, in the middle of the night by himself. Yeah he belongs with you alright! Are you guys even related? Oh I already know the answer to that.”

Eric stops about 30 feet from the crosstown bus lane, turns around and plants his feet on the chipped bark.

“I know who you are,” he says staring at what he can of Abraham in the current conditions.

“What?” Abraham continues to say.

“Cut it out man, seriously! I figured out your pull. I’m going to give you one chance to quit this and leave; leave Gibran and go wherever you like.”

“All you do is talk.”

“Oh really, all I do is talk Pernell Sanka, age twenty six, born March thirteenth nineteen eighty one in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn; arrested for multiple misdemeanors, assault and battery since the start of the millennium.”

Pernell charges forward and even with the fair distance between them, Eric doesn’t prepare fast enough for him.

Pernell rams his right shoulder into Eric’s torso, brings him to the ground and pounds away. “Yo Abraham,” Eric cries out with his mouth bathing in blood. “It’s Pernell motherfucker,” Pernell replies using a left-right combination. Once the hits begin to blur his vision, Eric musters the strength to put Pernell from under him and unleashes his own battery of blows until it feels cruel to continue to do so.

“I never liked you,” Eric squawks, standing over him. So immersed in his rage and tiredness he fails to~~ prevent the tip of Pernell’s foot from running into his crotch area.

Down goes Eric.

Pernell feebly gets back up and stomps and kicks him. “Stay away from us!” he then says watching Eric hold onto his ribs. “Don’t let me say it again.”

He walks away with all defenses dropped. After about 10 paces, he feels a tap on his right shoulder and upon turning around meets with Eric’s fist. Eric gets Pernell to the ground again and returns the same amount of pain he just received in the rib area plus performs a wrestling move on him he remembers watching as a kid. It’s called the Walls of Jericho: Eric turns Pernell on his belly, sits on his buttocks, grabs his legs, picks them up, holds them under the armpits and pulls, pulls through a screaming and begging of mercy. Eric lets go when weeping begins, gets up, and watches his victim crawl a few feet before sitting on him again. “Listen,” he whispers before taking out his phone and playing an MP3 recording of the phone conversation with Gibran.

ERIC: Hey little man how’s it been?

GIBRAN: Hey.

ERIC: Good. Good. Hey sorry about what happened the other night. I didn’t mean for things to go the way they did. What’s up with Abraham? What’s the deal with that guy?”

GIBRAN: I don’t know.

ERIC: That level of hostility makes me think if he’s ever expressed some of it on you.

GIBRAN: Yeah.

ERIC: What? Then why the hell do you keep hanging out with the guy?

GIBRAN: I’m trapped.

ERIC: You’re trapped? No you’re not. Just tell him to leave you alone.

GIBRAN: There’s no way out.

ERIC: There’s no way out? What do you mean? Wow little man hearing this makes me feel so sad; sad for you actually. You should ask for help.

GIBRAN: No

ERIC: Why not? This is outrageous! This is your life we’re talking about here.

GIBRAN: I’m scared.

ERIC: Gibran…I’m scared too.

 

Eric stops the message and leans on Pernell’s upper back. “Now you listen to me and listen to me good,” he mutters before spitting some blood, “if you value your pathetic, little life you will never see Gibran again because I will not hesitate to show this to the police. You know how long that boy’s been missing for?”

“He ran away and I,” says Pernell before being buried in the bark.

“You know you won’t win with that in court.” Eric pulls Pernell’s head back up. “I never want to see you around me or the kid ever again. The mere sight of him should make you run for the hills. A multiple-offender kidnaps a defenseless youth. You want that to show up on newspapers because I can make it happen. No, you don’t want that do you? So disappear my friend, and when you do I’ll delete this file off my phone…and my computer…and my friend’s computer.”

Eric gets up.

“You’re petty,” he says holding an imperial stance over his opponent, “you’ll always be petty. That boy’s too good for you; he’s above you. Now I’m going to trust you to turn my back and walk away; please don’t disappoint me.”

Eric shuffles towards the park’s exit and makes it to the curb before remembering to ask for Gibran’s location.

“Fuck you,” Pernell hollers.

“I respect that,” Eric responds and exits the park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH. The American Dream

 

 

Searching the fridge at home, Eric overhears April talk on the phone with aunt Ellie about his cousin Patrick and the marital troubles he’s facing. Patrick’s staying over at aunt Ellie’s house because of it and Eric, fresh off his latest con, decides to run another one right there and then.

 

“So what type of music are you into?” Eric asks Patrick settling onto a table at a little hipsters performance bar located on the broad street of East Houston. Eric takes Patrick into the city “just to get away from it all” he states “and listen to some music.”

 “Hey bro I’ve been meaning to ask you since we got here,” Patrick replies, “what happened to your face? I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ask.”

“No it’s ok,” Eric says putting on an easy grin. “I got into a bar fight with some guy the other day. I mean some huge gorilla-looking animal. He looked like one of those Hell’s Kitchen, I mean, Hell’s Angels, sorry, Aryan brotherhood types and stuff. He won but I made him earn it you know what I mean?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Right. Oh yeah. You were saying something about what type of music I like?”

“Yeah.”

“You know I’m into regular stuff…Top forty, contemporary Rock; I still listen to Matchbox twenty: those guys have some good tunes.”

“Cool. Cool. Cool man.”

“So what’s on the menu today?”

“The menu? No this is a…”

“No,” Patrick replies before giggling, “I mean in terms of music.”

“Oh. Yeah. But first you mind telling what’s going on with your uh…situation?”

“Marriage is not easy brother.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah man.”

“So what are you going to do? Are you going to…you know?”

“Twenty years is twenty years man,” Patrick says and Eric exhales in sudden relief.

It’s amateur night at the bar. Eric points to Gibran sitting up front, waiting for his turn to sing, and describes him as the kid he’s mentoring through a Big Brother program. “His name is Gibran,” Eric says. Patrick erects his stance to get a good look at the lad.

“He sings?”

“Yup,” Eric replies, “You know, RnB and Pop and stuff.”

At the end of the show, back on the street, Patrick’s asked for feedback on the kid’s singing; Gibran walks ahead of both adults without a clue as to where to go.

“He’s amazing isn’t he?” Eric whispers.

“He sure is something.” Patrick agrees. “Wow. Yeah man. Amazing.”

“So you’re getting a divorce?”

“Yeah man.” Patrick reduces his smile. “That’s what it’s looking like.”

Eric stops at a Chinese restaurant and leaves Gibran in it before continuing the walk with Patrick alone. “So you’re getting a divorce?” He repeats. “Yeah,” Patrick answers, seemingly more light-hearted about the topic now, “I don’t know…Yeah. Maybe…Hey why is this so important to you?” Eric reaches up, wraps his arm around his cousin’s shoulder, and slowly forms a grin. “I have an idea,” he then whispers. “This kid is amazing don’t you agree? You think what you saw in there was something? I’ve taken him all over the city to perform, and it’s the same madness everywhere.”

“What?” Patrick says with a giggle.

“I mean the talent show at the Brooklyn Festival,” Eric babbles on, “subway station performances…the Knicks Poetry Slam performance, contest, thingy. This kid is the real deal! I want to get him signed.”

“What?” Patrick can only continue to say.

“I want to get him a record deal, but in order for me to do that the boy needs a guardian. And I think that guardian can be you.”

“What?” Patrick repeats again, this time in a wildly exaggerated manner. “Did I just hear what I think you just said? You want me to adopt him?” So much for confidence being contagious; Eric stands firmly on the same spot the wild favor was made, now quiet and inwardly timid.

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. What the hell is this?” Patrick asks.

“Patrick, listen to me,” Eric begs.

“No. No. No. Eric, what are you…Are you crazy man? Me, adopt, with what I’m going through? Let alone the fact that I don’t even know this kid.”

 Eric grabs Patrick by the forearm and pulls him back to the restaurant’s glass wall.

“What do you see?” He then says.

“Look man.”

“What do you see?”

Patrick bothers to turn and look. “I see the kid,” he replies. “What?”

“Nope. You’re wrong. That’s not a kid; that’s opportunity; that’s a new life; that’s abundance, decadence, affluence…If this kid gets a record deal, when this kid gets a record deal, and the whole world sees who he is, me and you as manager and parent—that’s if you’re up for this—will become two very rich fools. Not a bad for a divorced man huh?”

“You don’t care about my problems,” Patrick slowly mutters.

“What?” Eric’s suddenly stunned.

“No, you didn’t pass by my mother’s place to see how I was doing; you passed by my mother’s place for this. This was your plan all along, to make me a pawn in your little get rich quick scheme. You don’t care about my marriage; you just need someone to do your work. Unbelievable! You’re unbelievable. Really you are.”

But even moral shame can’t keep Eric from pushing his agenda forward. At a loss of words, he decides to show how popular the boy’s become with the general public by accessing his first performance uploaded onto the internet through his phone. Patrick declines the view using a simple no and when Eric, seemingly out of options, forces the video on him, he cries out, “What the fuck man! Aren’t you listening?”

The small space between them drastically widens. Patrick walks off his pent up emotions in circles while Eric remains still.

“If he’s so special, why don’t you become his father?” Patrick hollers.

“Because I’m not good at any of that stuff,” Eric admits.

“Neither was I but then I did a little something called learning and what do you know, I’m a competent dad. I suggest you to do the same.”

The bickering’s put to a halt when a trio passes between them and stops in front of the restaurant. “He’s so cute,” says the girl in the group while taking pictures of Gibran alongside her companions. Shortly thereafter, they leave.

Patrick’s eyes follow the group’s movement until they met with his cousin’s. Eric moves his lips but Patrick can’t make out the words. He actually lip syncs you see.

“What’s next?” Eric then asks when the space between them clears up again. “You get divorced; she takes half your money; you sublet with a friend in the city and see the kids Saturdays and Sundays as the court orders. You’re left with this small space in your roommate’s refrigerator for peanut butter and jelly and a stale loaf of bread.”

“Why me?” Patrick asks.

“Why not you?” Eric answers in an eerie tone. “What’s thicker than blood?”

Patrick looks around. “Putting aside your cruel plan,” he continues, “I still have a problem doing this; it’s wrong man, wrong. There’s just something so ethically…”

“Ethics is all relative my friend. Strap a bomb to your chest and blowup alongside a horde of well-meaning people: at the end you’ll be a hero to some and a monster to others. Patrick you’ve been married for ten plus years which shows you’re committed. You’re a father, a provider, a taxpayer and you have no criminal record. In short, you’re the American dream.” Eric starts to close the distance between them now. “You’re a family man who happens to be facing the great possibility of divorce at the same time I need a…family man. Now if this is not divine order, then I don’t know what is.”

“What do I have to do?”

“When Providence knocks on the door, answer it!”

“No really, what do I have to do?”

Eric retires his mysterious voice and persona.

“Just keep being the boring man that you are and sign the dotted lines I point to.”

Patrick does another circle lap.

“Hey if it’s ethics you’re worried about,” Eric continues, “what better way to rear a child than with a strong father figure huh? There you go; some moral points for you.”

“How do you know this is going to work man? How can you be so sure? What if this kid doesn’t turn out to be what you expect? It sounds good in theory…”

Eric, feeling victorious already, leads his cousin back into the restaurant for a meal, on him, and promises to finish conversation after “making a phone call.”

Up the block and out of sight, the trio waits for Eric. Eric walks up to them and reaches in his pocket for $15 dollars: $5 dollars for each one. “Five man?” says one of the two males with the bill on his palm.

“If I could, I would’ve hired chimps for this job.” Eric replies. And without a tad of remorse, makes his exit.

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH. On the Night of the Fight

 

 

Eric crosses the street and makes it up to the corner of 87th St and Amsterdam before waiving for a taxi. 2 minutes later, one arrives.

The driver looks intently through the mirror as Eric relaxes back on the seat. A strange minute passes and still they remain in the same spot. Eric engages the man and, in what sounds like gibberish to him, is told to step out of the vehicle—his battered face doesn’t elicit confidence in paying. “Look,” Eric then says after pulling out 5 $20 dollar bills, and rubbing them together. “Where to?” The driver simply replies next, and Eric gives him the address to the only place he knows Gibran to be at this time of night.

The car pulls up in front of the McDonalds 20 minutes later. Eric steps out of the car and tells the driver to keep the meter running. He goes in and upstairs. Gibran flinches upon sight of Eric’s bloodied face and Eric orders Gibran to get his things quickly.

They head further downtown to a music studio in SoHo. Eric tells Gibran he needs the studio experience, so 1 hour of recording time is purchased which comes out to $500 dollars. An employee at the counter offers Eric a bandage for the nasty cut running into his hairline but Eric denies it as well as the recording engineer services each sessions includes.

Eric enters the room after Gibran and locks the door behind him. He shuffles towards one of the rolling, ergonomic chairs. “Look around man,” he then suggests. Gibran walks over to the wall housing the stacked up analog processors distinguishable by color. “What do they do?” He inquires. “They alter sound.” Eric answers. “Remember the amp we saw? Well this is the same concept.” The mixer board calls the boy’s attention next. “Hey,” Eric says, “you want to…” Gibran follows Eric’s eyes into the booth and immediately shakes his head at the request. “Come on! Go! You’ll get experience,” Eric continues. “You’ll have to do it eventually.”

“Can I…” Gibran says, pointing at the red and gold Neumann microphone with his nose.

“You want to use that one?”

Eric leads Gibran into the recording booth and leaves him inside once he’s sets up the microphone. “Let me find you an instrumental,” he talks into the mixing board’s communication microphone. “What’s an instrumental?” Gibran asks after hearing Eric’s voice through a pair of headphones.

“An instrumental is just music; beats you know.”

“What?”

Eric turns his eyes back to the slanted glass separating them.

“An instrumental is music with no vocals; no vocals to the music. Just music, you know, beats.”

Eric decides to skip the recording; there’s too many buttons and knobs and sliders than he knows what to do with. He calls Gibran outside for a talk.

“Gibran, do you know what the word pretext means?” Eric asks solemnly and looking in front of him. Gibran, sitting beside Eric, shakes his head.

“Well,” Eric continues before wincing in pain a bit. “Pretext means…When a person does something under pre…Pretext is when you do something for a reason that’s not the reason you tell people when they ask why you did it.”

Gibran does not understand.

“Ok. Hmm…” Eric moves in his chair to find the least aggravating position for his ribs. “Pretext is when you do something and you tell people that you did it for a certain reason that is not the real reason why you did it. You got it now?”

“Oh. Ok.”

With the said, Eric unzips his hoodie pouch and takes out his cellphone. “Now I want you to tell me,” he continues as he searches within the phone’s contents, “what was the reason behind doing this?” “This” is a picture of Pernell running his usual charity scam with Gibran standing nearby.

“Did you participate in this behavior, condoned this behavior, because you wanted to or was it a pretext?”

Gibran just shifts his focus between Eric and the device’s screen, growing more and more confused by the second.

“Hmm. Did you con other people (and yes this is illegal) or watch someone else con people under the pretext of not wanting to do it so…”

Again Gibran doesn’t respond.

“Did you pretend to want to scam with this kid so you can eventually report him to the authorities with enough proof or something? Or did you, in fact, like to take people’s money? Come on! We got to clear this up before we go to the cops.”

“Cops,” the teen blurts out.

“Oh you didn’t think…You didn’t think I was just going to let this slide right? No sir. Why don’t you see Per…Abraham around? He’s already been dealt with. Now I want to find out if you deserve the same treatment.”

“I didn’t…”

“You know what I think? I think you wanted to commit those crimes with him. I think you liked it.”

“No I…”

“Let me finish!” Eric interrupts sternly. “No, no, no. You know what? I think he preyed on you, on your vulnerability. A runaway with no one and nowhere to go to, and then he comes along.”

“Eric.”

“I said let me finish. He tells how similar you are to him and sells you this story about the world being a cruel place and how the both of you should stick together. You’re-my-brother- you’re-my-buddy pitch. And you fall for it as well as the other lies he tells you. You hop in the sidecar while he takes the wheel; Batman and Robin. Hah you’re not alone anymore! You’ve found someone who accepts you, who appreciates you. And to keep this person around what would one do? Anything. And that’s the sad part. Or was this, desiring to become a delinquent, as I say once again, a pretext? Was it fear? Fear was what made you do it? Fear of rejection? Fear of disappointing, is that it? Gibran. You’re a good kid but you did the wrong thing. I just hope the cops see what I see and show you some mercy because of it.”

Eric gets up and so does Gibran but in an abrupt fashion that pushes his seat all the way back to the processors.

“Sir please,” the boy says in desperation.

“Don’t sir me,” Eric replies maintaining his frigidity, “this has to be done. It’s not fair that people are being taken advantage of or a company is wrongfully, fraudulently, being represented by two delinquents.” “I love you kid,” he continues watching tears roll down Gibran’s face, “but actions have consequences.”

“I didn’t want to do it. He made me.” Gibran claims.

“I’m sorry but I don’t know whether or whether not to believe you. What I do know is that you’re an accessory to the fact. Why didn’t you tell the police?”

“I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.”

Eric takes a careful look at Gibran’s trembling expression, leans in and says, “and I hope the police see it that way. Now come on let’s go!”

Eric turns and Gibran instantly clings on to his forearm.

“Please sir,” Gibran continues whimpering away the words.

“Don’t sir me. I don’t want to hear it!”

Eric moves and Gibran attempts to hold the man in place but his used-up sneaker soles slide him along.

“Sir please.”

“Come on grab your stuff; we’re going to Bookings. Grab your stuff and come with me because you’re a criminal and criminals go to Bookings.”

“I’m not a criminal sir,” Gibran replies with free flowing tears running down his cheeks, “I swear I’m not.”

“Of course you are.”

The exit door opens abruptly. “Is everything ok?” Asks the man from the counter with a horrified expression on his face.

“We’re busy in here,” Eric whispers and closes it back.

“No I’m not sir. I swear. I swear please sir. I swear.” Gibran continues.

“Gibran, I’m not going to tell you again to grab your stuff.”

“No sir no.”

The teen begins to wail like a small child which forces Eric to move him away from the door. “Quiet!” He then whispers. “Quiet! You’re not a criminal? So prove it to me. Prove to me that you’re not a criminal.”

“How?”

“You say you’re not a criminal right?”

“Yes.”

“So you’re going to stop hanging with that pathetic loser Pernell right?”

“Who?”

“Boy!”

“Yes.”

“Because you’re better than that right?”

“Yes.”

“You’re a good kid. You’re smart, talented, and obedient right?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re going to do what I say because I have your best interest in mind.”

“Yes.”

Eric puts his hand over the singer’s mouth after the last yes; it sounded shrill. He smothers him altogether eventually.

“Quiet!” Eric continues while caressing his head. “It’s ok. It’s ok. Your loyalty’s with me now.” Gibran shows no sign of acknowledgment but Eric doesn’t worry. He breaks apart from him moments later and exits to look for the recording engineer. Eric doesn’t find him, so he engages the lobby attendant who tried entering in the room earlier and asks for where to get some tea. The boy’s voice is going hoarse, he claims. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Present

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH. Teeth

 

 

March 23^rd^, 2015

Antwerp, Belgium

 

 

Watching Trey go about his life one would never think the New Jersey bombings had left a profound impact on him; outside of the normal, distraught reaction bad news brings about on almost every human being he looks the way he always does—professional. But the tragedy got the famed singer thinking: thinking about life, its impermanence, its unpredictability; all of sudden Trey had become fearful and hasty—this is why he demanded that his girlfriend be flown in.

Her name is Paola Lanchero and Trey met her at a Thanksgiving charity event 4 months ago. Now he’s going to propose, and this is how he plans to do it…

First Paola will be picked up at the Antwerp International Airport by a personal chauffeur and driven to the Sportpaleis arena. Outside of the venue, her eyes will be covered with a red handkerchief and an appointed someone will escort her in. The handkerchief will come off upon setting foot on the floor level. Paola will see are a few engineers going about their usual routine of prepping the stage for the night’s performance. Then the lights will go out.

A spotlight will focus on her, and then another will shine on Trey, walking slowly, closing the gap between them while he sings a slow ballad. Disco ball lights will enhance the mood. Up close, Trey breaks out into a speech describing all the wonderful emotions Paola has made him feel in such a short period of time, and gets down on one knee after this outpour. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out the 25 karat diamond ring he bought (note: Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world; the timing couldn’t have been better for the guy) and waits for an answer.

This is the way Paola’s arrival actually goes.

During flight, Paola calls with airsickness and is immediately taken to Trey’s hotel room after landing. Trey suggests seeing a doctor, but Paola believes a few hours of sleep will do her better. She makes frequent trips to the bathroom and Trey shadows every feeble step, offering assistance along the way. Paola locks the door behind her always.

2 weeks ago, she visited the doctors to have a procedure called Dilation and Evacuation done (‘a D & E’ is what the professionals call it). Her legs go up and wide on stirrups; she’s knocked out of consciousness. The OB-GYN picks up the Spectulum from a neat assortment of silver instruments gleaming under the surgical lights. The aiding nurse removes the Laminaria from the cervix: a small brown sponge that looks more like a rolled up marijuana blunt than anything else. The doctor penetrates Paola and begins to open her up slowly. A suction tube is inserted and begins to suck: pale, yellow liquid runs its course through the catheter and into a disposable container. When the uterus is drained of all its amniotic fluid, they move to removing the baby—the one she made with Trey.

During the consultation, the doctor puts out his hand and tells Paola that their child is expected to be ‘that’ size not including the legs; if the baby is pulled out, Paola could be ripped apart. This is where the Sopher clamp comes in. 13 inches long and scissor-shaped, the doctor shows Paola it’s carved out, abrasive end: they’re called the teeth…Because once it holds onto something, it doesn’t let go.

The first thing it holds onto is a leg, rips it from the baby’s torso, carries it to the outside, and spits it onto an empty silver platter. It goes back in and returns with the other leg, then the left arm, the right arm, the spine, the intestines, the heart, the lungs, the remaining part of the upper torso. Even now the baby (or the head to be more specific) is too big to pass through so once again the Sopher clamp takes a bite and applies force. The doctor knows the skull has been crushed when white goo oozes out of the cervix—that’s the baby’s brain matter. The remaining bits and placenta are scraped out; all the parts (the parts!) are reassembled to make sure everything is accounted for. Then the abortion is complete. A picture of the child is taken for proof.

The doctor warned Paola that if she goes through with the procedure, she might not experience another pregnancy, and if she does, it could suffer a premature birth. And rightfully so, Paola thinks, standing before the sink, catching the most despicable person she’s ever met. The hospital administration asked Paola if she’d want the picture of the baby, and she said yes. It’s been two weeks since the delivery and the email with the photo still hasn’t been open. She made a decision to open it during the trip—that explains all the lonely visits to the bathroom—but so far all she could get herself to do is look down at her smartphone and look away…Eventually, Paola would get around the task and when she does, she’ll have a hand towel to cry into, hard, and a toilet to stand over and puke.

 

 

On the 5th trip to the bathroom, Paola almost reduces the mirror to shards. “I can’t do this anymore,” she lip syncs at the gaunt-looking figure on the other side of the sink counter. It’s 6:27pm and Trey has a performance in a few hours, but he doesn’t want to leave before completing a task in mind so he makes a holler. Paola comes out, and Trey meets her at the bedside with a surprise.

She makes like her eyelids seem heavy and overall body drunk with tiredness; still Trey brings out the engagement ring.

“So?” He says pressing down on the mattress with both elbows. The gem’s sparkle opens Paola’s eyes immediately.

“I promise,” Trey continues, “I promise you that if you say yes, Paola, there will be bad times, I will disappoint you, I will anger you, embarrass you, lash-out, blame…But one thing I will never do, and that is quit on you. I will never quit on us.”

Out of the corner of the eye, Paola notices one of her hands gravitate forward, as if it had developed a mind of its own, towards one of Trey’s. She begins to weep and verbally accepts the proposal.

Trey says he’ll send Eva upstairs to look after her until his return. “Then we’ll celebrate for real.”

Paola just smiles. No later than 5 minutes after Eva’s arrival, she orders for some Ginger tea, but to be purchased outside of the hotel: she figures the travel gives her enough time to get dressed and leave the great person she knows she doesn’t deserve without being caught. And it does!

 

 

About the Author

 

 

Boa Ortiz conceived the idea of Children of Avarice Vol. I while studying music at the City College of New York. Doubtful of his chances of making it as a professional songwriter, he drops out of school and devotes his days to crafting the story into a novel as well as developing his writing skills (Which has been a pain!). He lives in New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Don’t Miss…

 

 

CHILDREN OF

AVARICE

VOL.I: PAOLA

 

BY BOA ORTIZ

Available at

 

Amazon.com

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BN.com (Nook),

iTunes,

Kobo,

Scribd

 

But you can get it for FREE if you sign up for my email newsletter. Click here

 

Here’s a special preview:

CH. Paola

 

 

Summer 2001

New York City, NY

 

 

At the end of every school year, Ashley and her parents drive to New York City and visit tio Nelson.

Mami and Papi always announce the trip inside the living room of their home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. They say it’s an important trip to make…Actually Papi alone says it’s an important trip to make; Mami mutters away her lament in not being able to skip the visit and head straight to the other vacation spot planned. Papi just ignores her. He’s said it many times—and in front of Ashley too—that he doesn’t care if Mami isn’t fond of tio Nelson or his family; tio Nelson is Papi’s only brother. They’re going to visit him.

If you didn’t know them beforehand, you’d think tio Nelson’s family was sophisticated. Tio Nelson, Mari, their children and Tio Nelson’s love children. The way they greeted you at their door—posing as if for a Christmas post card—hints at class. But none’s the case. Tio Nelson, outside of the house, never wears pants; Mari rarely puts on makeup, and the kids let wild and loose with the tongue about 10 minutes after greetings are said and everybody is back inside.

Once everyone’s through with the formalities, tio Nelson invites the adults to sit in the living room, pointing out the black leather recliner as his to sit on, and tells the children off to play video games. And if the kids don’t follow, Mari’s yelling certainly gets the job done.

The Pimentel brothers speak mostly about sports when they get together. Mari always makes herself in charge of getting everyone beers; even one for Ashley’s mother, who in the past has made it clear about her not wanting to drink. Mari places a bottle on the floor beside her anyways. “Just in case,” she tells Mami.

Every now and then, the kids are checked upon to see if Ashley is been treated fairly. Mari shows up at the bedroom door of the only bedroom the apartment has and startles the brood with her ear-ringing shout. Ashley’s found taking up a corner of the grown-up’s bed she’s made favorite over the past visits, watching the others either play video games or perform wrestling moves while they wait their turn to play video games. When Mari speaks, all 4 boys turn: two of them reply mami and the other senora Maribela. Mari asks why Ashley isn’t playing and the boys hide behind the excuse of there being only 2 video game controllers to go around. Ashley speaks up and says she doesn’t mind though. Mari in a soft, motherly tone tells her not to cover for the boys, but Ashley swears she’s content as an observer, because, in fact, she really is. Visiting Washington Heights brings contrast into her life. Before visiting tio Nelson, never had she seen graffiti walls, gated windows, or open fire hydrants spraying the streets. She also finds tio Nelson’s place charming with its bags of stuff found on different corners, washed underwear drying up on the black, paint-crusted fire escape (even the fire escape itself is fascinating), a picture of Jesus Christ hung over a table covered with silk fabric and tootsie rolls (those are their offerings to the higher god) and baseball equipment strewn everywhere. Ashley sees herself visiting Washington Heights every year; every year keeping in mind that at the end of the day, no matter what happens, she’s to return back to congenial settings and the ghetto, this bizarre dream, painted like so in her young mind, would’ve been just that—a dream.

And then she had to move there.

In year 2000, the tech bubble pops and many overleveraged companies go belly-up—one of them being Papi’s. Seemingly overnight, Ashley’s father goes from being the plant manager of a booming fiber optic manufacturing company to a supermarket clerk. And to make things worse, Mami has to work as well.

Both parents toil but even still, the family couldn’t stay afloat. So at the end of 2nd grade, Ashley is sat down in the living room for the usual trip announcement to tio Nelson only this one would be different: they’d be staying a “little” longer than before, Papi accentuates. Though Ashley’s 8, she’s clever enough to interpret moving boxes and a downgrade from a Toyota SUV to a U-Haul rental truck as not a good sign. Still the young girl keeps optimistic, and believes her parents won’t completely distort her reality of the world. She imagines a special lot in tio Nelson’s neighborhood, unbeknownst to her, where they’ll be staying, with semblances to the utopia she’s leaving behind (white fences, lush lawns, and quietude), but instead the truck stops in front of familiar territory. Papi tells tio Nelson, who’s helping out with the move, that the truck can’t fit another person, but tio Nelson waves at Papi as if to say no worries and asks him to open the rear door.

They end up at a building just two minutes away.

A stench of urine instantly grabs Ashley upon entering the building’s small corridor, which leads to an expansive lobby area. Telling by Mami’s twisted expression, the smell had hit her too.

The lighting’s very dim and the walls are covered with porcelain except for one on the far left where a large array of dingy-looking, brass 3×5 ½ mailboxes are located. Some of them are vandalized in black marker; Ashley tries to read the messages but Mami keeps her close at the hip.

The following autumn, Ashley attends PS. 88, Michael J. Dyer School—named after a police officer who lost his life rescuing a little boy from a burning building. She has to get there on foot, which is first, and with Plinio, the neighborhood walker, which is another first.

Short, swarthy, wrinkly and threadbare, Plinio made walking kids to school, whose parent’s job didn’t allow them to do it personally, a business, accepting whatever petty change coughed up for his services. Ashley’s parents turned to tio Nelson before deciding to employ the old man as well, and tio Nelson gives them one sure nod.

In the group there’s a girl as old as Ashley named Paola that no matter the time of the day, whether a miserable, frigid morning or a tiresome, sultry afternoon, is always cheery and gay, skipping, and jostling the other kids into laughter as well. A spirit impossible to ignore! Paola succeeds in entertaining all the kids except for Ashley who, though accompanied by many, always seems alone, aloof and despondent. Paola makes many attempts to befriend her the first month of school and fails each time, but the girl believes better days lie ahead in the future for them.

 

 

“Pick a number,” Paola says walking up in front of Ashley with an Origami fortune teller on an ordinary October day. As usual, Plinio walks ahead but slightly disconnected from the children today because of some new New Balance sneakers he has on. The whiteness of the shoes clearly stands out from everything else.

“Pick a number!” Paola continues.

Ashley can’t; the thing seems to have left her paralyzed.

“Pick!” Paola’s goads on. “Pick a number!”

After enough pleading, Paola picks the number 7 for her and moves her fingers within the paper vertically and horizontally. “Ok now pick another number,” she then asks as if Ashley had participated the first time around. Surprisingly Ashley does participate this time and picks the number 8.

Paola moves her fingers again, peels back one of the sides, then reads Ashley’s fortune to herself: you’re going to be hit by a truck. It’s funny—untrue of course—but not appropriate for a depressed looking person, so Paola improvises. “When you grow up,” she says instead, “you’re going to fall in love and get married with a man and have lots of babies with him.” Paola looks onto the paper as if that was actually written. Ashley blushes and Paola celebrates seeing so. She feels she’s finally gotten through to the girl.

Paola and Ashley are always the last two girls to be returned home. On this day Paola seizes the alone time with Ashley to ask her nationality. After some stammering, Ashley answers Dominican. Paola didn’t think any different, and after a series of short and quick head nods she replies being Venezuelan herself, “born and raised in Washington Heights though.” Coming down a long, winding hill, Paola invites Ashley to her home for the following weekend seeing as how they finally had a conversation and even shared a smile—this making them friends in her mind. Paola’s building is next to hers. Unfortunately, Ashley, fogged in by her negative perception of the environment, doesn’t see it the same way.

 

 

Paola goes upstairs. Knowing her mother doesn’t arrive for another hour she turns on the TV, flings her shoes off in opposite directions, lets the straps on her plaid French Toast uniform jumper dress fall to the sides, lies on the couch, and enjoys some Hey Arthur. 50 minutes later her mother furtively enters the apartment so as to catch Paola mindlessly in front of the TV, but the little girl is clever. Leona, Paola’s mother, also known as Pookie by her high school friends who still remain, tiptoes pass the living room and towards the bedroom to find Paola dressed down to her usual orange shorts and white summer camp shirt, sitting on her bed with a textbook on her lap; the dress uniform is also put away. “Hi mami,” Paola mutters supposedly immersed in the book’s material, but Pookie’s not convinced. Somewhat serious, Pookie orders Paola to put down the book and help with dinner: tonight she’s making Moro de Gandules (Pigeon Peas Rice), so that means plucking the peas from their pods. Out of nowhere a silly refrain enters Paola’s mind—pluckthepeeeasfromthepodpluckthepeeeasfromthepod. “What’s so funny?” Pookie asks. “Nothing,” replies Paola looping the bit.

After food prep, Paola is to shower, then do homework, eat, and if there’s some time left, watch TV again for at 9:00pm she has to go to bed. Pookie enforces all this discipline because she desires for her daughter to do good in life, be successful; not end up a vaga (lazy); not end up a statistic; not end up “stuck in life” like her.

Pookie became pregnant with Paola while in high school and at first having her felt burdensome—a thought reaction Pookie would go on to regret her entire life—as many girls she grew up beside felt when bereft of their youth and tacked with the responsibility of child rearing on little resources. Luckily, Pookie had Paola’s father to help along the way who’s very much in both their lives. Like Pookie, Paola’s father dropped out of school and started off earning a living working at McDonalds (as embarrassing as it seemed for him at the time). He worked many more low-paying jobs until he found a great opportunity working as a residential doorman: one of those jobs that depends not on what you know but who you know, he says. It pays $18.00 dollars an hour, which almost floors Pookie, with a fixed 40 hour shift and eligibility into a surviving union after 6 months of work. Paola heard her parent’s struggles enough times to recite it herself. Luckily for her on this day she’s found a wonderful distraction to get through Pookie’s lecture. Pluckthepeeasfromthepodpluckthepeeasfromthepod.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Children of Avarice Vol.I: Eric

On December 28th, 2014, music manager Eric Riis gets an inside tip that his singer, international Pop sensation Trey Mundy, will no longer be a part of Ralph Records once his current world tour is over. Not only that but under an agreement made between all major record labels in the industry, he won’t be able to sign anywhere else either. This spells trouble for Eric! With his only client soon to be out of work permanently, what is he going to do? Find another artist, common sense would suggest but Eric shakes his head at the possibility of finding another Trey Mundy. Trey Mundy was a rare boon to him and all the fans the singer delighted, and his past can best explain why.

  • Author: Ortiz Ortiz
  • Published: 2016-11-12 01:05:16
  • Words: 31772
Children of Avarice Vol.I: Eric Children of Avarice Vol.I: Eric