Just past dawn, at Grand Central, a Boy heard the conductor announce "All aboard." This was for the Boy's train back to college after a long weekend in the city at his parents' Upper West side apartment where his laundry was done for him, he ate well balanced meals in the shape of a pie(whole grains, protein and vegetables) and last, but not least, where he accomplished his goal of cashing in two glass water jugs filled with coins that he had been collecting for the past ten years.
The Boy slipped out of his seventh floor apartment that Saturday through the service elevator. Mom was conveniently at the Columbus Circle farmer's market buying heirloom tomatoes and three different kinds of chard. Dad sat on a bench in Central Park in sweat free running clothes, repeatedly reading an article on "glamping," while watching large breasted women jump up and down behind a volleyball net.
The Boy nearly broke his back trying to lift the first water jug onto the dolly loaned to him by the doorman. Sweating profusely, as he was known to do, the Boy grabbed a silver plated serving tray out of a glass case in the dining room and created a handicap ramp of sorts from the dolly to the floor, and rolled the two glass jugs onto the dolly platform. I should have been an Engineer! he told himself. Then the Boy pushed the now heavy dolly filled with mostly silver coins down the narrow hallway of his pre-war apartment, out the front door and down the service elevator.
His first breath of fresh air upon exiting the building was lovely, a cool seventy six degrees, and represented the feeling of relief he was searching for once the coins were counted and exchanged for dollar bills at the bank. Dressed in flip flops and a brazen blue Giants hat which held back his thick, dark, dirty, curly hair- he pushed the dolly down three blocks to Broadway to cash in the jugs of coins.
When he began to fill the jugs, at age nine, he told himself This money is for emergency use only. Or(even better!) to pay for backpacking around the world. Now, at age nineteen, he pushed two of these glass jugs into his local bank, where the patrons looked at him - astonishingly - and once he made it to the teller booth - it was Saturday after all and the bank was busy and filled with people - the teller asked the Boy, politely, "How are we supposed to get the money out of the glass jars to count it?" Then the Boy lifted up a giant sledgehammer - also borrowed from the doorman.
After a few minutes in handcuffs, put on by an obese and winded security guard -who would win a side bet with his ball breaking brother-in-law for having gotten to use them for once - the jars were taken in the back and broken, and the change counted would add up to a total of $739.14. After the Boy slowly recounted his cash, the same cash that the teller had meticulously counted in front of him a few seconds earlier, the Boy looked up at the teller and said, (unknowingly) just like his father, "Glad to know my money is good here. This is still America, isn't it?" To which the teller just thought(not said) - this kid watches too much Fox news and - I thought I'd seen it all - a sledgehammer!
The Boy pushed the now empty dolly out of the bank and down the street with the fresh cash in his pocket, only stopping at a bodega for a second to buy a few lottery scratch cards, which he proceeded to lose, while eating a giant Snickers bar(Mom said nuts = protein.)The money from the coins were going to be used to pay off the Boy's bookie at school, to which he owed $800. He would use his parents credit card to buy beer at a discount in exchange for cash, once he got back to school, to come up with the rest. It was an emergency situation - the bookie was a janitor on campus whose office was in the same building as the incinerator - and the Boy had made a few bad hockey bets lately.
He promised his parents he would stop gambling before school had started his sophomore year, but he just couldn't help himself. He was addicted. He promised them(in his brain) that when he graduated college, he would join a Gambler's Anonymous, or something like that. The gambling was actually used for the Boy to deal with stress, as he was a straight A student and always on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown - and gambling - as well as drinking - took the edge off.
He was okay with using his emergency fund as without the help of a nitrous tank, he would never be brave enough to fly overseas (again.) Because he did, a lot, as a child - fly - even laughing when turbulence hit the plane and jumping up and down in his seat to ride with the waves.
Then he went through puberty - and the fearlessness disappeared, and his parents traded in the South of France for the Catskills and the Boy chose a school - a great one, actually - in Cambridge - that he could reach - by train.
His parents - who were Libertarians who sent their son to a Quaker high school - thought it best he refer to university as: "In Cambridge" rather than "Harvard." "It was the right thing to do," his mother told him when he got the acceptance letter, "you wouldn't want anyone to feel inadequate."
The Boy just thought, "You people(i.e. my parents)just claim to be Libertarians because you are afraid to admit you are actually Republicans because you live in New York City. You say it's because you don't want anyone to feel bad, but its really just because you are afraid you might get blacklisted from your liberal friends and might have to leave your Upper West side rent controlled digs for the Upper East. Admit it, Fuckos!"
That morning, in Grand Central, the Boy was sleepy, with bed head hair, the result of having stayed up all of that previous night to finish a paper on astronomy of all things.
"Science lab requirement," his mousey and anti-social adviser had advised him that Spring.
"But I'm an English major!" the Boy had yelled back. The anger having been a direct result of the pounding headache from a hangover from drinking Absinthe the night before. This perfunctory meeting had also taken place at the crack of dawn. The Boy's least favorite time of day. His roommate had conveniently disappeared from the dorms that morning - not around to answer the Boy's cries for Ibuprofen.
The Boy remembered his parents had sent him to school with a jumbo bottle of the coated brown pills from a much referred to trip to Costco that Christmas break. Whenever the Boy complained on the phone to his parents that he was without something his mother would say - but didn't I buy you a giant box of it at Costco? Like, how could you be out of toothpaste already? I sent you there with a six pack!
Now it was the Ibuprofen that was missing! The Boy thought, if I had a pocket knife I would cut up my roommate's pillows and mattress looking for it, like I was a heartless and empathy less DEA agent. That boy is a thief!
The roommate - actually having scored with a freshman girl the night before, woke up to warm sticky lips on his hairy belly and thought, "The Boy is such a loser. Drinking Absinthe, now? It's legal. Tell me it's 1991 and then we'll have a story. I'd rather take Molly! Oh...yes!"
The Boy searched the whole dorm room that morning and found nothing to ease his pounding head. He went into the bathroom and took a leak in the toilet under a sign that said "City Dump." I am never going to be able to bring a girl back to this room, am I? And - She will hate me! To make himself feel better, before he rushed out of the crowded room with enormous bay windows, he wiped his still wet, urine dripping dick against his roommate's folded clean towels. "Take that, you bastard!" the Boy thought, mightily. He picked up a t-shirt from the wood floor and put it over his head and slid his feet(second toes bigger than the first)into flip flops. The Boy raced out the door to meet his adviser - without brushing his teeth - again. Where were those goddam six tubes of tooth paste???
The whole time the Boy was in his adviser's office he was irritable and sweating. All he wanted was a handful of brown over-the counter pills to relieve his headache. The Boy never experimented with recreational drugs as the mere thought of accidentally ingesting them caused a reaction so bad that he might land in the local ER in a panic(again.)
And then the Boy's anti-anxiety medication would be increased(again.)
And then the Boy's sleepless and now travel-weary and red-eyed parents would drop the Boy back off at his dorm room(again.)
When asked where he was from, the Boy would answer his classmates "the Bermuda Triangle."
The Boy was a sophomore, dammit - he wanted to live, off-campus! But the Boy's parents told him - no. The Boy's parents were less happy about this decision than even the Boy was. They wanted to say - yes. They wanted the Boy to spread his wings(again.) They missed watching the Boy spread his wings. They missed spreading theirs.
Sitting behind a giant wooden desk, the Boy's adviser looked even smaller than usual. All the Boy could think of was This guy(my adviser) is an idiot. I need Ibuprofen. I am going to kill my roommate when I see him. He is a thief. He stole my mother's toothpaste. My head is throbbing. How am I going to pay off my bookie? Why is this meeting so goddam early??? Why don't I have a girlfriend? Do I smell bad? I need to brush my teeth more. Remember to buy Listerine. Should I tell someone that I just started pulling out my arm hairs? I hate science. I just want to be a writer. Even if I'm a rotten one. Stop being so self-deprecating - girls won't respect you!
That morning at Grand Central, track eight, the Boy winced from his first sip of espresso after sucking on a mint flavored Altoid. He was extremely conscious of having fresh breath now. Yuck, he thought, not a good combination. He checked his messages on his phone and raised his eyes to find the source of the sound of flip-flops and a spanish accent.
"Ah-lo! Boston, si?" the Girl sang. Okay, it sounded like a song, to the Boy.
The Girl was also heading back to school and she was also carrying a backpack. It was late spring and warm outside. The Girl was wearing sandals. The Boy was happy for this, and grinned widely, as it was the Girl's fuchsia toes which first caught his eye when he heard her voice and looked up. That flash of hot pink - so early that morning - was unsettling - but caffeinated - okay, maybe not the best metaphor, he thought. And seemed to wake up a sleeping giant better, he thought. Finally, a reason to wake up early...
That morning, both the Boy and the Girl, walked quickly through a few cars of the train, trying not to hit any of the seated passengers in the head with their elbows or heavy, book filled backpacks. Well, the Girl at least tried not to hit any of the passengers. The Boy, on the other hand, just kept walking forward, not noticing anything but the scent of the Girl's hair. Reflective sunglasses rested on the top of her delicate head and freshly washed and still moist strands of long black hair. The Boy thought he identified the scent of coconuts and mangoes through his nostrils. The Boy thought he noticed a navy bikini top strap slide off the Girl's golden shoulder. For once, he wasn't nauseous or angry early in the morning. He was...smiling. The Boy hoped his breath was fresh and minty and that those teeth whitening strips he stole from his parents' medicine cabinet weren't bullshit.
The Boy followed the Girl all the way into the club car, where she finally stopped and threw her heavy backpack into an empty, grey pleather booth. Upon release of the backpack, the Girl emitted an exhaustive but alluring - sigh. Was it loud enough? She wondered...It was.
Friendly and brave and sane like his father - unlike his mother the Boy asked the Girl where she was from. The Girl placed a dated hardbound copy of Jules Verne's "Mysterious Island" on the table before her and held a large Smart Water bottle in her other - tiny and tan - hand. The Boy wanted to tell her that he loved old books - especially hard covers - but held this information back(for once.) He wanted to hear what she had to say - this Girl who reads "Mysterious Island." Did she know that it was campy? Was she using it to practice her English? Did she buy it for the title? Or the art on the cover page?
The Girl pursed her lips quickly after swallowing her Smart Water in the hopes that her lip gloss was still sticking to her full lips. Her mother(sane) told her from the time she was a young child, that her lips were her finest feature. The Boy thought it was her toes.
"Argentina," the Girl answered.
The Boy - smiling even wider now - answered her - ecstatically - "I LOVE Argentina! I, I, I used to travel - a...a...lot...when I was younger."
The Boy then told her this story - about playing soccer there as a child - and even shared with her a photo - on his Iphone - of him kicking the ball mid-air - on a long, long time ago, family trip. A time when his whole family was in love. The Boy loved that Boy.
The Girl acknowledged the Boy with a curious smile and asked him if he liked the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, to which he answered her, rather quickly, "Of course, but I prefer to read him in Spanish."
The Girl asked him what his favorite part of Argentina was.
The Boy took his time in responding to this question, as if Regis Philbin was standing in front of him with a flash card on the television game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire and asking the Boy "Final Answer?"
Slowly, the Boy answered the Girl, "The Stars" and he became a little less mad about having had to write the astronomy paper the night before. He could talk about stars for hours now. When he closed his eyes, he saw only the stars, and their bright lights, and complicated but meaningful patterns. His heavy eyes were pried back open as all the Boy wanted to do was stare at this young, bright object before him.
"Do you like stars?" he asked this Latin Goddess whom he now deemed worthy of her own constellation....
"Si," the Girl said and darted her small brown eyes to the rising sun behind the Westchester countryside. The Girl wondered if the Boy knew how striking and powerful and direct his blue eyes were. Wondered how soft his curly hair could be if he only washed it. Then the Girl remembered the first boy she ever loved, back in Argentina, at age sixteen. His eyes were also blue, and beautiful, to her(a Girl with a Spanish accent, pink toes and brown eyes.) She had found those eyes so beautiful, so beautiful that she used to kiss that Boy's eyelids. She had only kissed that Boy's eyelids. She had never thought there would be a time when she would kiss another's. The Girl feared she might blush if she looked into the (new) Boy's (American, nervous) blue eyes any longer...
The Police song "Be My Girl" started blasting in the Boy's (already crowded) brain. His dad would often blast his "Outlandos D'Amour" vinyl album on Saturday or Sunday mornings after waking up in bed alone, singing loudly to "So Lonely" and "Next To You" while counting down the always busy but painfully boring hours until Monday morning when his return trip to the office arrived. The Boy's brain had been imprinted with these songs from an early age. His mother was smart, beautiful, charming - but absent. All the Boy's father ever wanted was to be near her. All the Boy's mother ever wanted was to be far far away.
Because of the Boy - and his overcrowded brain - both mother and father had to be - grounded. Out of respect for one another, the Boy's parents never blamed one another for the Boy - and the Boy's anti-aviation attitude. Out of respect for one another, the Boy's parents lived polite and mostly separate lives, together. The Boy knew he was responsible for his parents happiness, long, long ago; and that now he was responsible for their unhappiness. But, as hard as he tried, and he swore(in his brain) that he tried really really hard, he couldn't unhinge his feet, and take off...
His father had told the Boy that his mother was the first woman to speak to him, on the inside. That, long ago, before the Boy was born, it was the Boy's mother who taught him how to quiet his brain(which was also crowded.)
The Boy remembered this as he looked across the train table, at the Girl.
"Es verdad?" the Boy replied, laughing slightly and still giddy and hopeful about the Girl before him.
The Boy's silly sounding Spanish made the Girl laugh and then the Boy and Girl laughed together. And now the Girl couldn't help but blush - and the Boy noticed! For the first time, in a long time, the Boy hated his mother and his roommate and his adviser a lot less.
The Boy wanted to travel, for the first time, in a long time, to this coconut and mango scented mysterious island. He wanted his passport, stamped. Yes, that metaphor would have to do.
The Boy hoped their train was running late.
The Boy hoped that one day the Girl would visit him in his dorm room.
The Boy promised himself(in his head) that he would clean and remove the "City Dump" sign from the bathroom - just for her.
The Boy promised he would always brush his teeth and wash his hair for her.
The Boy stared at the Girl.
The Boy wanted to look inside the brown Girl and the Girl wanted to look inside the dirty Boy.
The Girl thought about the Boy for a moment, seriously - and - trusting his eyes - smiled back at the Boy - warmly - and offered the Boy safe passage.
A Pool Hustler's Daughter grows up in subterranean America. She dreams big, hustles daily and loves her Daddy. With empathy, fascination and grace she navigates and inhabits every tier of society; sees beauty and hope and magic in all things; respects and lives by the "mitzvah."
A Pool Hustler's Daughter calculates the trifecta payout at the racetrack, hides money on three parts of her body, has an arsenal of "Uncles," and keeps a baseball bat by the front door. She values friendship, loyalty and experiences over "things." Like her father, she seeks to learn "The secrets of the universe" and believes "Life ain't on the square." She applauds the self-made and those who learn to "overcome" their circumstances. Her door is always open for a sofa to sleep on, a hot meal, or an eager listener for a life story.