So I had to run some errands today. Nothing major, just some local, round the neighborhood stuff. The bank, the dry cleaner, the tobacconist to pick up a carton of cigarettes, the nail place for my regularly scheduled mani/pedi, the drugstore to pick up Aloe Vera (I got zero color during my weekend out East, but my face feels like it’s been on the inside of a frying pan, so I must moisturize the hell out of it)…y’know, ERRANDS. I don’t drive. I have a license (how and why the New York State Department of Motor Vehicle ever saw fit to let me on the road is a mystery unto itself), there IS a car, but the car pretty much sits in the driveway. The car never goes in the garage because my youngest sister’s old drum set (she doesn’t live here right now, but at one time she did and played drums in a band) is occupying the garage like the protesters are occupying Wall Street.
So I set out on foot because, well, I feel like such a lazy bitch using car service to run a few local errands, and anyway I could use the exercise. I was on the Avenue (4th Avenue, although, come to think of it, around here, we also colloquially refer to 3rd Avenue as “the Avenue), coming out of the tobacconist and about to hike to the bank when Anthony pulled up in that ridiculous vintage car he likes to tool around in. Anthony lives down the block from me, I’ve known him nearly twenty years, he’s what you call a “neighborhood guy”, as in, if we didn’t live in the same neighborhood, we’d never have known each other. His father bankrolls “art films” (and by art films I mean pornography) in return for an executive producer credit, and my dad teaches university level biology.
“Hey,” he said, honking the car’s horn at me as he pulled alongside me, “where ya goin, what’re ya doin today? You wanna ride anywhere?”
“Hey, Ant,” I said, “fancy meeting you here.” I gave him the half-smile. Because I was only halfway glad to see him. He was a neighborhood guy, but not an actual friend. A neighborhood guy is somebody you’re familiar with based solely on proximity, whereas an actual friend is someone you seek out based on common interests and whatnot. Ant, with his ostentatious car and lifestyle to match it, wasn’t, and would never be, a true friend of mine.
“You wanna ride or not?” He asked impatiently.
It was hot out, and I’d been stupid enough to forget my sun umbrella. So yeah, a ride would’ve been nice. But as I looked at Ant, I noticed his hands shaking as he held the steering wheel. He’d most likely done a bump of the Bolivian marching powder and that had him all twitchy. Admittedly, there was a time I wouldn’t have CARED, would’ve got in the car with him without noticing. But not today.
“No thanks, Ant,” I said, “I’m gonna walk, it’s good exercise. And if I were you, I’d get off the Avenue…never know when you get pulled over and end up subjected to one of those ‘random’ searches. Go home and relax, Man.”
“Oh, what,” he said, “lush like you gonna tell me about IMPAIRED driving,” he made a face at me.
“Tellin you to go home and relax is all. Hot out here, it’s the end of the month. We both know that’s when they do their ticket blitz to make their quota, so they’ll be pullin people over like mad. But hey, you don’t gotta do what I say just because I say it.”
“Listen to Miss High and Mighty,” he said, “this is ME you’re talkin to. I remember when you used to have to be carried out of basement parties and bars because you blacked the fuck out. And now you stand there judgin me for doin a little line or two.”
“Oh you’re right about me, Ant,” I said, “many a time I blacked out and had to be carried out of places. There’s a lot of basement parties and nights at the bar I don’t fucking remember, and probably a lot of mornings after when I shouldn’t have woken up. There was even an afternoon I got so goddamn drunk, alone at home, yeah, you never heard about this one before, but it happened. Was an afternoon I got so goddamn drunk alone at home that when the delivery guy from the liquor store showed up with more scotch and I went to get his money, I tripped, hit my head on some fuckin thing or other, knocked myself out, and woke up in Lutheran hospital.”
“And you’re givin me shit?!”
“I’m givin you shit BECAUSE after that afternoon, I realized my options were get sober or get dead. Y’understand?”
“So what, you got religion or something?” He scratched his head.
“No, Ant. I got sanity, or at least the start of it. And you’d do well to do likewise.”
“Whatever,” he said, “if you don’t want a ride, then I got places to be, things to do.”
“Go your way,” I told him, “I’ll see you on the block.” He pulled away, speeding erratically toward a red light, and I shook my head.
But I hiked up to the bank, continued on with my day and, truth be told, by the time I picked up the dry cleaning, got my mani/pedi, and made my way home, I’d forgotten all about Ant and his car. I walked into the house, cut up some melon and ate it, called my middle sister in Garden City and had a brief chat with my 2 ½ year old niece. I put pajamas on, very gently washed my makeup off and slathered my face with Aloe Vera, waited for it to dry, then went and sat in the yard to smoke a cigarette.
It was already dark when I heard noise from outside. Being sort of a hermit crab, I tend to stay in the house most of the time, so I hardly ever KNOW what my neighbors are up to. At first I thought the noise was people celebrating over a World Cup soccer match, but then I realized NOBODY WAS SCREAMING OR SINGING, it was just a bunch of people gathered outside, talking. I peeked out a second storey window and saw that they were all gathered in front of the house where Anthony lived, with his mother and his father (when the father wasn’t busy with his big film career) and it was then I remembered I’d seen Ant earlier in the day.
All of a sudden I didn’t CARE that I wore pajamas (and no brassiere), I jumped up, stepped into my Vera Bradley flip-flops, and ran out the door. I got to Ant’s house and the first thing I noticed, other than half the neighborhood standing out there, was that HIS CAR WAS NOT PARKED OUT FRONT. That did not bode well.
“Mr. Rene,” I said to the elderly Moroccan-French gentleman who’d lived across the street from me my whole life, “Mr. Rene, what’s going on?”
“The DeLuca boy,” at first I thought it strange of him to refer to Anthony, who was pushing forty, as a boy, but then I remembered Mr. Rene must be ninety himself, so yeah, compared to him, Ant is a boy, “was in a wreck.”
“Holy fuck,” I said.
“Language, young lady,” Mr. Rene admonished me, “I know your papa didn’t raise you to speak like that.”
“It’s just shocking,” I said, “was it a fender bender or a bad accident?”
“Well he’s DEAD,” Mrs. D’Angelo from ‘round the corner butted in, “that sound like a fender bender?”
“Well no,” I made a face at her for butting in, “that’s as serious as it gets, thank you very much.”
“I heard,” some know it all with her back to me said, “he was drunk as a skunk behind the wheel.”
“No, not drunk!” Again, Mrs. D’Angelo butted in, “he was high on cocaine.” Well, I was right about that, though for once I took no pleasure in having been right.
I looked at Ant’s house itself. Not a single light was turned on inside the place. Either Mrs. DeLuca wasn’t at home or she was so grief-stricken over the loss of her only son (the DeLucas had three daughters, none of whom lived at home) that she was holed up in there in total darkness. Neither scenario would have surprised me.
“So why the hell are we all standing around here?” I asked nobody in particular.
“We’re waiting for the news media,” Mrs. D’Angelo answered me, of course. “The father is a so-called film producer, the son died in a car wreck due to driving under the influence. You KNOW the media will come, they always do when something like this happens, and when they come, they ALWAYS question the neighbors.”
“So you’re waiting here like a goddamn vulture to WHAT????? To have the TV camera aimed at you and tell stories about how your neighbor’s dead son was a junkie and got what he deserved?”
“What, you want me to lie and say he was a choirboy and I’m shocked?”
“No,” I shook my head, “no you say the thing about how he got what he deserved. But right after that, you make fucking sure you tell the camera how you WATCHED it all and you didn’t do a goddamn thing to help him.” I turned on my heel as best as my flip-flops allowed me and stomped off.
“Where the hell are you goin’?” Mrs. D’Angelo called after me. “You can’t speak to me like that and then walk away!”
“I can and I am,” I informed her, “and for your information, I’m retiring to the privacy of my own home. I’ve no wish to speak to the TV cameras or speak to you anymore.” I blew past Mr. Rene, whose mouth hung open. Obviously, he’d never seen anyone tell Mrs. D’Angelo off before. And I did exactly what I said, I retired to the privacy of my own home. I’m sad to say a TV news crew did show up, but happy it was only the local Brooklyn cable access channel. At least the whole country won’t have to fucking see what vultures my neighbors are.
As for Ant himself, well, I can hear NOW what people would say about him in six months, a year. “Didja hear about Ant?” “No, what about him?” “He went to hell in a fast car.”