Man it was fucking hot!
It was March 1977 in New Jersey, and what was worse I was back inside the good old Pathway Bakery down on Broad Street In Newark. I had finally given up hope, thinking that I was destined for a life spent better than those who’d gone before me in my family and had quit school half way through my senior year at Clifton High School.
I had done so on the advice of my guidance counselor with the vice principal in attendance. My guidance counselor told my Mom, “You have two choices: you can sign him out right now, today or we will kick him out, right now, today.”
I’m pretty sure I was in the running for “Worst Student Ever” in the annals of the Clifton education system. The day that Mom signed the papers, Crappy informed me that I couldn’t lay around the house. He gave me three choices: go to work at the bakery, find a job somewhere else, or, to put it in his words, “Join the fucking service and get them to make a man out of you.”
The first choice sounded best. I didn’t feel like being the new guy somewhere and I didn’t feel like serving my country, so I opted for the relatively sweet and sugary comfort of the bakery.
At least I knew what to expect there. Pure and utter hell. But at least it was a hell I was familiar with plus I knew all the good hiding places.
So I got my bakers whites out and like a flour-dusted Dante, I made my descent.
I was assigned to the back production area running the pound cake machine. This fucker was known as the man-eater. A couple of bakers had gotten their fingers jammed in the exposed gear box that ran this behemoth. On more than one occasion fingers had been lost. It was always a quick way to get money too; lose a finger and Tony the owner would slip you some cash to make up for the lost digit. He figured it was cheaper than having to buy a new machine.
There was a huge hopper on top that was loaded with the yellow sticky batter. You placed a sheet pan loaded with five two-pound forms and slid it under the hopper, then hit a footswitch that unloaded a big wad of batter into the pans.
Non-mental menial, just perfect for how I felt this morning. I was hung over big time. The night before I’d been at drowning night at the Spider Web Inn over on Crooks Ave. Me and my boys from the hood were there till closing time. After a quick stop at the Egg Platter for some over-easy’s and disco fries, I had about an hours sleep before Crappy woke me up for the drive to work.
In case you don’t know: a drowning night is where you pay five dollars for a two quart plastic beer mug and it’s all you can guzzle down your hole all night. That and a bottle of Seagrams, and a few joints out in the parking lot and you were one set fucker.
I was relatively enjoying the mind numbing effect of the hum of the man-eater when Albert approached me. I could tell from the sheepish look on his face and his heavily lidded eyes he had been up to the soul brother equivalent of what me and my Clifton brethren had doing the night before.
“Hey Nicky what’s goin’ on man?” He just stood there half nodding.
“Christ!” I thought, “He must’a just shot up in the bathroom again.”
His ass was on the line. Everybody at work knew he was a junkie. Hell he came to work so high a few months back that he brought his dog, a fucking behemoth of a Doberman pincer with a pronounced limp. To make matters worse, he was only wearing one dam shoe!
“Nicky, Nicky, Nicky …” He kept repeating my name like it was some kind of mantra that would bring some kind of relief.
“What the fuck do you want?” was the only thing that I could think to say back to him. Buddha I was not to the brother.
“You holdin’ anything man?”
What the fuck did he want?
“What do you want Albert?”
This guy was a royal pain in the ass but he was an easy mark.
“Man, Nicky, I just need to get well brutha’, I need something to get me through the day, I had a rough night and …”
I cut him off. “What do you need Albert?”
I was getting impatient. He was harshing my hangover with his bitchy nagging.
“I’ll take whatever you have on you.”
“Bro, I don’t have shit on me; can’t help you out. Go ask Billy.”
Billy the Kid was Randy’s brother and my Newark running buddy, we usually helped each other out when we needed a little something something.
“I already asked Billy and that kid ain’t got shit.”
“Well Albert I guess you gotta’ suck it up and haul your ass through the rest off the day like the rest of us jerk offs.”
I had no sympathy, he pretty much got away with murder around here. If I’d pulled any of the shit this clown had, Crappy would have had me strung up by my nuts and had me plunged into the doughnut fryer. Or worse, banished me back to the bucket room with señor Miguel.
Over the years I’d risen in the ranks a little at the bakery. I’d actually learned a few things and had proven to everyone including Crappy that I had a fucking clue. Then I had an idea.
“Albert I’ll tell you what. I can bring you something tomorrow, something real special.”
“What‘s that man?”
“Have you ever tried Acid?”
“No man. Isn’t that what hippy men take before they fuck them one of those nasty hairy legged hippy bitches?”
“Yeah it sure is man.” He was pretty much right wasn’t he?
“I ain’t never tried that shit. I wouldn’t mind eating some of that and fucking a hippy bitch. Do you think that might happen Nicky?”
I fuckin guarantee it man.” Visions of Albert, high on some windowpane at some fucking place like Woodstock flashed through my foggy brain. Albert wearing one shoe and his Doberman. A truly classic scene. The irony almost made me smile.
On the ride home that day Crappy quizzed me on my conversation with Albert.
“Why was that lazy fucker bothering you today?”
“I don’t know, I think he has a crush on me.”
“Don’t get smart with me! You know what’ll happen.”
“He was pretty high. He was just bullshittin’ around I guess.”
“You stay away from him. He’s bad news. Probably lose his job soon enough. You’re not messing around with any of that shit are you?”
“Shit? What is this shit you speak of sir?” I laid a little extra sarcasm in there for him to chew on.
“Keep it up smartass and you get dropped off in fuckin’ Nutley!”
I kept my mouth shut after that and settled into the rich Corinthian leather for the ride home.
Poor Crappy. He didn’t have a fucking clue. He was so uninterested and uninvolved with my life that he couldn’t see a fucking thing. Did he even really give a fuck about me? Maybe. In some kind of way. But after nine years of his shit, I really didn’t want him to anymore. As long as he took care of my Mom I didn’t give a fuck; I’d let things go on the way that they were. My time in the house of pain was coming to an end and for that I was damn glad my friend, damn glad.
Working at the bakery really sucked, but at least I was making money and that would afford me the freedom to get away from Crappy and live my own life. A life beyond Jersey, beyond the shitty streets that I walked every day following in Crappy‘s footsteps. I would not become him. I was determined. There was a big wide world out there and calling my name, telling me to get my ass in gear.
For dinner that night we had one of my Moms specialties, pasta fazoul. Except if you were one of those proper sounding central or northern Italians who pronounced it pasta fagoli. It was pasta and beans, served in a light tomato broth.
When I was a kid we ate a lot of macaroni and spaghetti, it was never called pasta. When did that stuff come along? 1970? This meal was one of my Mom’s best. My grandmother taught her how to make it and Tessie did a damn fine job of replicating one of Grandma’s signature dishes.
When me and Mom lived with Grandma and Grandpa there wasn’t much of a need for her to cook, and Grandma didn’t really want her in the kitchen anyway. It was okay to make a guest appearance every now and then for a performance featuring pancakes or some gingerbread. But Grandma cut it short at the savory. That was her territory and she wouldn’t be relinquishing it anytime soon. Grandmas kitchen was grandma’s kitchen, and that was it. End of story.
Not this story though. This, unfortunately for me, was just getting started.
Mom, just like Grandma, would start with a quart of dried Cannelinni beans. She didn’t believe in using canned beans. She thought the beans had more potential for being more fully flavored when they were dry.
The night before she’d place them in just enough water for them to soak over night. The next morning she’d change the water, give them a quick rinse and then place them into her gallon pot with a yellow onion cut into quarters, a half bunch of celery, two coarse-diced carrots, a few garlic cloves and a bay leaf or two. She’d bring it to a boil and then lower the flame, bringing the beans to a slow simmer.
While the beans cooked she would medium-dice another onion, the other half of the bunch of celery and another carrot. Then she’d get her other gallon pot, pour enough olive oil in it to coat the bottom, heat it up and start the process of sweating all the veggies. Two garlic cloves were next, then chicken stock and a small can of tomatoes. She’s bring the whole thing to a boil and simmer it, reducing and concentrating the flavors.
Mom would drain the beans and save the liquid. She would divide the beans and put half through a food mill, adding enough liquid to make it silky smooth but keeping it as thick as she could. She’d add everything to the reducing tomato and chicken stock, bringing it to a nice soup-like consistency.
Meantime, her elbow macaroni was cooked to a firm, toothy state. As soon as it was done she added it to the chicken stock and bean mixture. It was always a great meal even in the summer time.
I went up to my room and got out the cigar box where I kept my stash. All I had in there tonight were a few roaches and a couple a “pinks and blues” which was street slang for Tuinal a powerful barbiturate. Perfect for a baby shower. Hell perfect for any occasion.
There was also five pellets of synthetic mescaline. Now this wasn’t the kind of mescaline you would find wandering around the desert with Carlos Castenada and his brujo buddy Don Juan. This was the shit that was cooked up in the kitchen of a biker named Garbage in Bloomfield.
I had met him through some friends at a poker game one night and he’d been more than generous with the crimson colored pellets. I ended up on the front lawn at three in the morning in just a pair of jeans, unbuttoned and with the zipper opened, staring up at the clear mid-February sky.
Mom and Crappy pulled into the driveway while I was doing my sky gazing. Lucky for me they’d had one too many whiskey sours and had a buzz going. This was one of the few times I had seen them drunk. My Mom was so plastered it was the one and only time I saw her hug the toilet and call out the name of that great porcelain god Ralph.
I grabbed the mescaline the next morning and headed out to Newark with Crappy. It was a Wednesday which meant I would probably be down in the roll room on tray duty.
Snot’s mixed these huge 500 pound batches of Kaiser roll dough one at a time. As soon as one was finished it was dumped in a cart, wheeled across the back room and dumped into a huge hopper in the floor. From the hopper it went to a huge machine that divided it and formed the glutinous orbs into raw Kaiser rolls. They were dumped on to a small conveyor, sprinkled with poppy seeds, picked up by two losers at the end of the line, placed on sheet pans which were placed on racks and then shoved in the freezer.
Today it just so happened to be me, Albert and Randy, who was kind of Crappy and Alex’s assistant. He’d worked at the bakery a long time but was too much of a fuck up to be given any kind of supervisory responsibility. He also happened to be Billy the Kid’s older half-brother. He was a family man with a wife and two kids down in the shit town of Metuchen. A hellacious place that practically stood in the shadow of Rahway state prison.
In between batches of dough Randy went upstairs to use the can and left me and Albert to do our thing. Albert looked a lot better today. I guess knowing that he would be on roll room duty today made him take it easy on his body last night. I really didn’t give a fuck as long as I didn’t have to pick up the slack for his lame ass. The roll room could get pretty brutal once you got a load of dough in the hopper.
You couldn’t stop the machine because the dough would start to proof. If it did it was ruined, and if it was ruined that meant big trouble for the crew that was on the business end of the machine.
“Hey, Nicky did you bring me something?”
I was in a teasing mood so my reply for Prince Albert was, “Yeah, I got some bubblegum and hard cock and I’m all outta bubble gum asshole,” grabbing my balls for emphasis.
“C’mon Nicky, you told me you was gonna bring me something! Did you or what?”
“Hey relax man, relax. Doctor Nicky has the cure for what ails your black ass bro.” I pulled out the baggy with the pills and showed them to him.
“That’s the shit you were telling me about?
“Yeah man it sure is.”
“Nicky, I heard somewhere that if you eat this shit, it will make you see God.”
“Albert my brother, you eat enough of these, you will see God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary. I guaran-fucking-tee it.”
“So how much do you want for them?”
I feeling generous, so I asked him the all-time stupid question to ask in a situation like this. “How much you got man?” I was ready for any kind of bullshit answer he gave me.
“I got a few dollars, lemme see what I got.”
“Al, just gimme five bucks and they’re yours, but from now on my price is three dollars a hit for one hundred. You get another hundred, I’ll knock a dollar off the second bunch. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds good to me man, sounds real good. I’m gonna have some of my friends try these, and we can really start movin’ this shit. Sounds good to me man.”
We heard footsteps on the concrete floor out in the storage part of the basement. Albert pocketed the pills and we both put on the innocent look for Randy as he walked through the door way.
“Okay fuckers! Let’s roll!”
That was Randy’s idea of a joke. As lame as it was I actually cracked a smile and chuckled and so did Albert. We worked our asses of the rest of the day, but it wasn’t too bad being down there with these two guys. You could easily tell by looking at them they had both come up the hard way and that as they got older life hadn’t gotten any easier on them. Shit! They both were under thirty and they looked like death warmed over.
Randy was only twenty eight and already had three kids and a wife that was a stay at home Mom. I knew from Crappy telling me that he brought home just about two hundred dollars a week and with himself and four mouths to feed he had a rough time making ends meet. But there was always a super-coolness about Randy that I admired. I had known him now for something like four years and he was definitely someone who I had respect for at a time in my life when I respected just about no one.
Albert? Well he was another story. One that was sick and twisted and that would probably end up bad for the brother. Yet just like Randy there was something about him that said “fuck you!” to the way that his life was. He did the best he could. Sad to say for Albert though, his best was far from good.
The next batch of dough hit the chute and away we went. Before I knew it we had gone through four more batches. Sure enough that last batch came and went and we were free for another twelve hours or so, which was mostly spent trying to forget the work.
The next day me and Crappy showed up first as usual and got underway. After a while I noticed the other guys coming into work, but no Albert yet. We had a seven o’clock call time and Albert was usually late. He came bouncing in at about ten after. This morning he was wide eyed and extra bouncy.
“Hey Nicky!” He was approaching me with a big shit eating grin on his face and a slightly crazed and dazed look in his eye.
“What’s up man?” I was opening number ten cans of apricot glaze into a thirty gallon stock pot, to heat up and brush on assorted Danish that were too sold out front.
“Man! Nicky! I took two of those pills last night and shared the rest with my buddies. We were some trippin’ niggas last night!”
“That’s cool brother Ah, just don’t tell the whole fucking bakery about it. Turn it down a notch or two will ya?” Man he was fucking loud. We were lucky everyone around us were too caught up in their own bullshit to care about what we were saying.
I had to go down to the basement to get some more glaze. Albert followed me to the elevator like a lost puppy dog looking for his place in the world. I put my lips up to my lips to silence him until we got on the elevator. As soon as the doors closed he was all twenty questions.
“So can you get me more of those pills?”
“I sure can Albert. I can get ya as much as ya firkin’ want man.”
“Can you get me a hundred Nicky?”
“Sure as shit can bro. I’ll have it for ya the day after tomorrow.”
“Great Nicky. Great.”
“Yeah Nick. What?”
“Yew got to keep your fuckin’ mouth shut around here. Crappy finds out. I’m dead shit and so are you. Got it?”
“Got it Nicky don’t worry. I can keep my mouth shut when I need to.” There was a tone that he used that let me know I could trust him to not open his mouth. Something like the sly dude that you see in movies at the Central Theater on a Saturday afternoon. Why the fuck was I talking about Saturday afternoons at the movies for? I was a working stiff now. My world had taken quite a few turns since the days when I could ask my Mom for a few bucks to go to the movies with my friends. I really missed those days though. The world had seemed like a nicer place back then. Now it was all hard edges and reality. No light and very little color anymore. Sort of faded around the edges now, like old newspaper.
I started to get a sharp pain in the back of my neck. The rush of cool air that filled the elevator as the doors opened up brought me back to my reality.
That night I gave a call to my guy Garbage and put in an order for a hundred pellets of mescaline. He told me to meet him at one of the many bars that line Clifton Avenue. I had my mind on the money that I was going to be making off this deal and getting my mind in the game for tonight. I met Garbage at the bar around eight o’clock, shared a few drinks with him, shot the shit, took care of business and I was on my way.
The next day I completed the deal with Albert and my little drug empire was underway. It became a weekly thing for me and Albert. Some weeks he’d get three hundred, some weeks two hundred, but pretty steady all in all. I never asked him what he did with it. I didn’t want to fucking know. Our business ended the minute he gave me my cash and I gave him his shit. That was that and we both liked it that way.
I was making a lot of money. More in a week than I would make in a month of working at this shit-hole. Fuck, it wasn’t even a goddamn bakery really. It was just another kind of fucking factory! There was no joy here, no passion for pastry. Christ, these guys could all be building fucking cars for all they cared. Crappy included.
It was always funny seeing him when he met people and he told them he was a baker. He looked like he was a little ashamed sometimes. He never smiled when he told people. He wouldn’t even tell people about what he did on the job. He’d say:
“I’m a baker.” Flat.
And that would be it.
The weeks wore on and Albert and me kept our thing going. Winter turned into spring and it was the end of March before anyone knew it was Feburary. Time went like that when you worked at the bakery. One day it seemed liked it was dragging but the next thing you knew months had gone by with your life ass-deep in sugar and flour.
It was the beginning of April. I was looking forward to my eighteenth birthday on the seventh. It was another Wednesday and as usual I was down in the roll room with Randy and Albert. It was mid afternoon. I was having a pretty good day joking around with the guys downstairs and telling lies about pussy. We had a break in between batches of dough so I went upstairs to take a piss. I was coming out of the bathroom when Alex, the other foreman of the bakery came walking up to me. He had a pretty weird look on his face. I thought nothing of it. Everybody at the bakery always seemed to carry a look like that around. Ass-deep in the flour and sugar.
“Nicky I need to talk to you.” I was pouring myself a cup of coffee. I needed a little boost of caffeine to get me through the last few batches of dough.
“I’m hear Alex.” I always hate conversations started with “I need to talk to you.” It’s always the preface to bad news. Why the don’t people come up and just start to talk?
“Nicky, Crappy had to leave. He got a call. There’s something wrong with your mother. He had to take her to the hospital.”
What? Mom in the hospital? Again? She had just had heart surgery last year. It was a big deal. What the fuck could be wrong now? And why the hell would my stepfather not come and get me? I guess he thought the rolls were more important than my mother. What a prick!
Alex said he’d take me home at the end of the day. Crappy’s car wasn’t in the driveway. I let myself in the house. There was nothing I could do so I went upstairs and smoke a little bit of pot waiting for Crappy to show up. An hour or so went by and still no news about Mom. About a half hour later I heard Crappy’s car pulling into the driveway.
He walked in with more than the usual look of misery on his face. He looked beat. Like the whole world had decided that it was his and his day only to get his ass beat. He gave me a strange look. He looked like he wanted me to tell him it was alright or something. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it was there.
“How’s Mom?” That was my big question for him.
“They think she had a nervous breakdown.”
My Mom? No fucking way man. She might be a little on the sketchy side, but then again, who in this fucking family wasn’t. Between Mom and Crappy's family we were a pretty screwed up bunch. Mom’s side was much better. Crappy’s? They were another story.
But Mom was tough as fucking iron. She’d been through a lot. She survived my father. I found it real hard to believe that my Mom would break down. I couldn’t accept it. I would find out for myself soon enough.
Crappy had come home to change out of his bakers whites and get me. He took a quick shower and changed. We made a quick stop at Burger King for dinner and made our way to the psychiatric ward at the hospital. Funny thing. No matter what hospital you go to, the physic ward is always on the top floor.
The elevator door opened and a press of crazy people rushed to the opening door. They looked like a bunch of curious chimpanzees at the zoo. I guess they were in the zoo. We walked down a side hallway to my mother’s room and found her lying in bed. I could tell right away that she was doped up to the gills. I guess the doctors didn’t want her to hurt herself or some other stupid shit. She made eye contact with me and I could read her mind practically. She had that “what the hell is going on?” look that I had seen numerous times over the years. It’s a mother son thing. If you’ve been up in a tree hanging from a branch, or come running into the house after the kid next door bounced a lead pipe off you head you would know what I was talking about.
“How you doin Ma?” It was the only think I could think of to say. I didn’t want her to think I was too worried about her or anything like that. She barely could answer me. She was doped up to the max.
A little part of me died when I saw her like that. I know it sounds like a cliché, but here was the woman that brought me into this fucked up planet of a world. She had been strong. I mean shit, my father had beaten her so bad that she had lost two kids before she had me, and here she was. My Mom. Lying in a hospital bed, in the crazy house in fucking Passaic, New Jersey. She was only fifty two years old and this was it. At least that’s what I thought. I was pretty pessimistic for a seventeen year old.
We didn’t stay long. I spoke very little to her. She was out of it. She was gone. Crappy and me went through our usual routine for the next couple of days. We got a lot of phone calls at the house about Mom and we would go visit her. She was sort of coming out of it but what I saw was that the woman who was my Mom was gone. Overnight. It was like in those old science fiction movies where they transplant the personalities of two people. The woman that was in my mother’s body was a different person. Tessie, my Mom was gone. I didn’t know who this lady was, but I sure as hell didn’t fucking like her.
We had finished up work at the bakery on Friday when Crappy told me we were going to have dinner at his son’s Bert’s house that night. His wife Patty would be cooking dinner for us. I always liked Patty. She was an outsider to the family like me. She also hated Crappy with a passion and that scored big points with me.
Crappy and me got home from work, got cleaned up and headed over to Bert and Pat’s. They lived in Fairlawn. It was on the other side of Passaic. The plan was to grab dinner there and then go see Mom at the hospital.
I got a weird feeling from my stepfather as soon as we got in the car. He was stone cold silent and he also didn’t turn on the radio. I always took that as a sign that he was going to be doing some talking, and that was exactly what he wanted to do. I braced myself. Something inside told me this was going to be a long hard ride this evening. He finished the cigarette that he was smoking by throwing it out the window and then he started to lay in on me. He started with a question.
“Do you know what caused all this with your mother?”
I didn’t know how to answer this one. So I said the most logical thing that came to mind.
“I know that the doctors told her not to smoke anymore after the heart surgery.” That made the most sense to me.
“No that’s not it.” he answered, It’s your fault your mother got like this. You quit school and it gave her a breakdown. That and all the other stuff you’ve been doing to her all your life.”
Something inside of said to just punch this motherfucker in the face and jump out of the car, but I knew it would only make things worse. I just took what he had to say inside of me and buried it. He kept going on and on and I just kept taking it all in, burying it all deep down somewhere.
We finally made it to Bert and Patty’s. I pretty much threw myself out of the car and went into the house. I was pretty much shut down by now and barely said anything to Bert and Pat’s two kids Little Bert and Nicky. Dinner was already on the table so we all sat down and started to eat. The table looked great. There was roast beef, roasted potatoes, green beans, a mixed salad, Italian bread all the stuff that I loved. Only thing was I wasn’t hungry.
Patty urged me to fill up my plate and dig in. I told her I wasn’t hungry and that I didn’t want anything. Her and Bert urged me to eat, and my stepfather? He just filled up his plate and began to feed his face in some kind of sick and twisted mouth orgy. He knew that he had done his job on me and now he would celebrate by stuffing his hole with as much as he possibly could. It was his way of letting me know that he was the man and I was his boy bitch. He topped his meal off with a cigarette and a cup of instant coffee and we were soon on our way and at the hospital.
We made our way to the top floor. Mom had more than just me and my asshole of a stepfather as visitors tonight. My grandmother, my aunt Rose and my uncle Angelo were there also. We talked for a bit outside my Mom’s room and then made our way in. I really needed my mother to be my Mom tonight. I needed that reassurance, that love, that signal that it wasn’t my fault. I was the first one in the room. My Mom lay on the bed. She wasn’t in pajamas. She had on a pair of slacks and some kind of blouse. I was focused on her face—especially her eyes. I was looking in her eyes for her salvation for me. She looked at me and I greeted her with a hello.
“Hi Mom. How are you?” She looked me straight in the eye and all she had to say to me was, “Who are you?
That was it. That was all I could take. Between all the drugs and booze I had been stuffing inside of me, the stress of having Mom here and Crappy’s pep talk in the car, I lost it. I went off like an m-80 on the fourth of July. I started to weep a little and then I began to sob uncontrollably, and then I got violent.
Someone, I don’t know who, led me out of her room and into the nurse’s station. The first thing that I spotted was a wheelchair. It seemed good enough to me, so I grabbed it and threw it across the room. I could hear words like “Calm down!” and “Take it easy!” but I just kept going. The rage consumed me and man it felt so fucking good. I wanted to kill. I wanted blood to drip from my hands. I wanted to make somebody pay for all this.
I was so caught up in it that I didn’t even think about turning it all on my piece of shit stepfather. He was the one. He was the one who had caused this all. Everything. My mothers illness, all of it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was him. This poor excuse for everything. Every title that he had laid on him. Father, stepfather, grandfather, uncle, brother, son, friend. All those fucking words. He was a man that had no reason to be any of those. He was a miserable, unfriendly, unhappy soul and I hated him. I hated him in this Moment. It was like the burning tip of a match. I just wanted him to be dead. Be gone away from me and the rest of my family.
And in the middle of all this I heard the voice. The only one that could bring me back.
“Grandma!” She looked at me with the worried look of a thousand.
“Nicky! Sweetheart what’s wrong?”
“I did this to Mom! I did this! It’s my fault Grandma!”
Then she spoke the words to me that released me all those years ago, I didn’t hear them until I typed these words tonight.
“Nicky …” She took my face into those old leathery hands. The hands that had brought and that had said many a good bye in her time.
“Nicky. Sweetheart. You can’t do something like that. Only God can, and you’re not God.” I knew that in her way my grandmother didn’t believe in God, but in her own way she did.
She questioned me. “Did someone tell you this?”
I looked around and made eye contact with Crappy. He just stood his ground and looked straight back at me. I could see a single drop of sweat run down his furrowed forehead. I had this cocksucker right where I wanted him. One word from me and my grandmother Antoinette would have been all over him. I don’t know what it was but I actually pitied this piece of shit of a man.
I answered my grandmother with a chilled “No” while looking him straight in his fucking eye. By that time visiting hours were over. I rode back home with not one word being said. I balled my fists in the car. I didn’t know who it was but there was someone out there tonight who was either going to get the shit kicked out of them or was going to kick the shit out of me. And in between there would be a lot of drugs and alcohol consumed and maybe even a little sex. It was Friday night in Passaic County. Pick the town and you could find that all and more, and I was hell fucking bent on finding more than my share of it.
After that, the days just began to string along into one long regular pattern. It was work, go the hospital and then get as ripped out of my mind as I possibly could. There wasn’t enough booze or drugs for me in all of North Jersey. I just waded my way through every day keeping myself as numb as I could. Albert and me kept our little business going, but I was losing interest in it. It became boring.
Mom’s condition didn’t change. She pretty much stayed the same. The doctors and were convinced that she’d had a major nervous breakdown and that’s what Crappy believed. Since he was the guy paying the bills that was that. The doctors were going to run more tests and to try and find the cause.
Weeks went by. The first week of April came around and on the seventh it was my eighteenth birthday. It was just another day to me. I didn’t feel anymore adult or any less a child.
I had to go to the wake of a close friend’s brother who had just died of cancer. He was only twenty three years old. I got home from work that day, got showered and changed. After a visit with Mom at the hospital I made a stop at the funeral home and paid my respects to my friend and his family. I didn’t even really drink much that night. I thought about going over to the City to get a hooker but that didn’t even appeal to me. There was something inside of me that needed to be satisfied and all of the usual things that I used for that weren’t quite doing the trick.
I had grown up way too fast, but I also still felt like a little kid. I missed my Mom. She was gone to me. I knew that she would never come back to me again. First Crappy had taken her and now God or whoever else ran the fucking show had completely taken her away. I believed in my grandmother’s words but I also believed in Crappy’s. I had caused this. It was my fault and it would always be my fault. I didn’t know it then, but it was going to talk a long walk down a long dark road before I would able to figure all this out and I hadn’t even started out yet.
The days went by quickly after my birthday. Finally towards the end of April, Mom underwent some more tests and the doctors determined that she’d had a stroke. It was good news. She didn’t have a breakdown after all. The doctors were also pretty confident that with the right treatment she would be able to recover.
It was good to finally hear some good news. I was actually able to let up on myself a little bit and give myself some breathing room. Crappy even seemed to be a little bit more upbeat about the whole situation and he started to lighten up. In a weird way I felt like we’d actually gotten a little closer since Mom had been in the hospital, and that was fine with me. I just wanted to get along with the old bastard. He could blame me as much as he wanted to for his shitty life. I just didn’t want to hear it all the fucking time.
At the end of May Mom was cleared to be released and come home. My grandmother came to stay with us for a week or so to help out. It was nice to see the two of them together. Mom adjusted well to her new life and things were looking up for all of us at 38 Brookhill Terrace, but there was a part of me that knew this wouldn’t last. There was something on the horizon that was coming. I didn’t know what it was but it was out there sharpening its teeth getting ready.
It was a sweat nasty Thursday afternoon at the bakery. I just wanted the day to be over with. I had started dating the owner Tony’s niece Angela and she was one high maintenance girl. Wanting to go to the disco and dance and all that bullshit. She was also big on going to see Broadway shows.
I was making three dollars an hour at the bakery and with the extra money I was making selling the mescaline to Albert I was still broke all the time. I started dealing pot in addition to the mescaline so I could bring in more money. It was like I had three full time jobs; working in the bakery, dealing drugs and being Angela’s boyfriend. Something had to give. Lucky for me Angela lost interest in me and started going with a cop from Nutley. Good for you Copper was all I had to say.
Funny thing was that Angela went from one side to the other. I was finishing up dumping brownie mix into sheet pans when I saw Albert coming my way. He had that look in his eyes and that meant he wanted more mescaline. “Shit,” I thought to myself, “does he have all of fucking Newark taking this shit?” He was going through a lot of it, but who was I to complain? I was turning a good profit and with Angela out of the picture, I was back to saving up money to get the fuck out of Crappy’s house and maybe even out of Jersey.
“Nicky, Nicky. My main man.”
“Hey Albert. Give me a hand.” I was scraping the last of the brownies out of the mixing bowl and as long as this prick wanted to stand there and talk he was going to fucking help me. I was also feeling a bit edgy because I hadn’t eaten my lunch yet. I had both eggplant and chicken parmigana warming up in one of the ovens to remedy that situation. They were both leftovers from last night’s dinner. Mom and grandma had cooked up a shit load of really great grub. Crappy had been so satiated he barely grumbled during the meal, leaving the rest of us at the table to actually enjoy what we had laid out before us.
Ah. Parmigana. Whether it be veal, chicken or eggplant there was always something about these dishes that made me feel like everything was well in the world. Breaded it, fry it, top it off with sauce and some mozzarella and I just knew that everything was going to be okay. What Grandma and Mom could do with eggplant and chicken was nothing short of a miracle. They both made it the same way. The eggplant wasn’t your typical breaded soggy mess. It was sliced to about a quarter inch thick and salted to purge the acid. If the eggplant was on the small side you could avoid that step. The sliced eggplant was lightly floured and then brought to a shade of golden brown in a skillet with olive oil then placed on paper towels and to cool off. Then they were placed in a eight by twelve Pyrex glass dish. Sauce was placed on the bottom to prevent it from sticking. Next up was another light layer of sauce, then sliced mozzarella was placed on top of that. A light dusting of pecorino cheese and some fresh chopped basil finished the layer. This was repeated about three times and then placed in the oven until the cheese on top was melted.
Chicken parmigana simpler. The chicken breast was butterflied and evened out to with a meat pounder. It was then floured, egg-washed and breaded with homemade breadcrumbs. You’d fry it to a golden brown in olive oil, top it with the same sauce/mozzarella/pecorino/chopped fresh basil mix and then bake it until the cheese began to melt.
I was amazed once again at the miracle of food. How it could take someone who had a shitty day, year or life and let that poor fool transcend all that with a well prepared meal.
I looked at breakfast lunch and dinner as more than just meals. I looked at them as respites from this fucked up mess of a word. No matter how hard a day I was having, if I knew that there was some kind of meal in the not too distant future I was able to pick myself up by the balls and keep going just a little bit longer. It was all I needed.
I could smell my lunch warming up in the oven, smell it over all the sugar and flour that was killing me and it was just enough to help me deal with this industrial fake chocolate brownies and my brown skinned partner in crime Albert.
“Nicky I need some shit for the week end. Those white boys at the college are having a big party and I want to sell them some shit.”
That was cool with me. Maybe I could make a killing this weekend and sell some pot too.
“Hey Albert. You think they might need some weed too?”
“Man, I can move reefer for you kid.”
Kid? What the fuck was up with this clown? Did he think he was Super Fly or something?
“Nicky I need about 500 on the mescaline for Saturday. Can you do it?”
“Sure man I can do it, and how about a quarter pound of weed?”
“That sounds good to me Nick, oh yeah and …”
I saw Crappy coming towards us so I turned my back on Albert and finished spreading the last of the brownies. He asked Albert what he was doing and before he could say a word, Crappy told him to go out front and help load the delivery truck.
“And you. Get the rest of those brownies dumped and get them in the oven chop chop.”
Crappy was looking extra miserable these days. I guess dealing with my Mom post stroke was getting to him. Like I gave a fuck. It was getting to me too. The woman that had been my mother was gone. There was a new woman here. A stranger. The woman that had carried me in her womb, had taken me to the Bronx Zoo every week, who had walked me to kindergarten that first day. Shit, even the woman who had told me she was going to marry Crappy was gone. I didn’t know this lady and I didn’t really like her all that much.
I would look at her with the taste of guilt filling my mouth all the time and it would get so bad it would start to choke me and I would have to spit it out, usually in anger and rage. I couldn’t look or talk to my Mom without hearing Crappy’s words over and over again. And the best way for me to shut him up was for me to drown him out with as much drugs and alcohol as I could get a hold of.
The spring of ’77 was the time in my life that I came across Heroin and punk rock. The heroin I would dabble in a little bit with a laconic interest. I didn’t care much for needles.
The punk rock though. That was a different story. Listening to the Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash was like listening to the inside of my head. I was resigning myself to the path that my life was taking, but at the same time there was something inside of me that said don’t do it. Don’t become your stepfather. Be angry. Fight for your life. Don’t settle for less than what those who came here wanted for you.
I admired my grandmother and my grandfather and what they had done. They hadn’t settled. They had left Italy and had come to America and had done what they had to do to make it. They fought, scratched and survived, and I had their blood running through my veins. I was going to bring it to a fucking boil and turn it into steam. I would not settle for the mediocrity of the bakery and the unintellectual sidewalks where I threw one foot in front of the other, day after day, never getting anywhere and never leaving anything behind me. I just carried it all on my back and the weight of it was bending my soul, strangling me and leading down the well worn trail of self destruction.
I embraced it. I truly hated myself for being where I was at the age of eighteen. I felt like I was over and done with and I hadn’t even started to live my life. I needed to break away from this, and it would take something huge to start that for me. I felt like the charge was all set to make that happen. All I fucking had to do was light that bitch of a fuse.
I gave my man Garbage a call and set everything up for Friday night. I would swing by his place, pick up the pot and the pills and then hit a poker game that a few guys that I knew ran on Friday nights. It was in the neighborhood behind the Dunkin Donuts on Main Ave in Clifton. I could play cards, get as fucked up as I needed to and make a quick hop up route 46 and be home safe in no time.
The last few Fridays or should I say Saturday mornings had been a little sketchy. Too much booze and I had started to partake of cocaine. Like I needed another fucking drug in my life. I guess that I did. I needed something to get me through all this and the coke seemed to adds life.
I met Garbage around 8 o’clock or so at one of the bars down on Clifton Ave. It was a perfect pick up point for me on the way to the card game. I entered the bar to find Garbage waiting for me. He sat close to a pool table, smoking one of his ever present Camels and sipping on a seven and seven. I grabbed a High Life and a shot of Jack Daniels and joined him.
“So what do you know Garbageman?”
“Just waiting for your sorry ass to show up Nick. What’s new with you?”
“You know the usual man. My stepdad is an asshole and my Mom is crazy.”
“We’re all crazy youngblood. Haven’t you figured that out in you short sorry time on this earth?”
Garbage may have been a loser on the fast track to being a three time loser, but he was pretty smart for someone who had quit school at fourteen. I usually listened to what he had to say.
“Yeah we’re all crazy Garbageman. Just gimme my shit and I’ll be on my merry fucking way.”
“It’s out in the car dickhead. Finish your drink and we’ll take a walk out there. There’s a couple of Clifton’s finest in here right now and I don’t want to make our business too fucking obvious to them.”
We enjoyed our drinks in a slow way and when we were done walked out to his car. He popped the trunk open and handed me a Grand Union shopping bag, but not before he gave a hard look to the parking lot where we stood. He handed me the bag and issued a few words about being careful.
“I’m always careful Garbage. You know me.”
“That’s the problem fuck face I know you and I don’t want you to screw up. Okay?”
“Okay Garbage. I hear ya man.”
“You fucking better kid. If you don’t it’s you’re white ass going down the chain to Yardville not mine and I sure ass hell ain’t going to be able to hold your hand down there. Especially when Leroy and Tyrone are taking turns on that tight white butt of yours.”
“Okay man! I got ya already. I gotta go and take these guy’s money. I’ll give you a call tomorrow and I should have your money by the end of the week.”
“I know you’re good for the money, but you need to be careful. The cops are looking to make some big busts in this small burg. So take it slow Nick.”
I grabbed the shopping bag and threw it on the floorboard on the passenger side of my car and took off for the card game.
There was nothing interesting about the card game that night. Just the usual bull shit session. I didn’t even really know what I was doing there. These guys really weren’t my friends and I didn’t live in the same neighborhood as them. They were just guys that I knew from school and since that was history for me I didn’t even see them on a regular basis anymore. We wrapped the game up around two. I had to be up for work at five so I needed to get the fuck on home. I told the guys I’d see them later and started to leave. This guy that I kind of knew named Bill asked if he could grab a ride with me. I knew where he lived and it was on my way.
I dropped Bill off on the corner of Maple and Luddington, hung a left on Luddington and then a quick right onto 3rd.
That fucking car was still tailing me. Something was up.
I kept driving down below the route 46 underpass, curved right and was passing Christopher Columbus junior high school when I noticed the car behind me coming around from beneath the underpass was picking up speed. Before I knew it he got about fifty feet behind me and all of a sudden there were blue and red lights flashing from underneath the grill.
“I’m fucked” was all I could think. I had all this weed and all this pills and I was getting pulled over by a narc in Clifton on an early Saturday morning. Way to go Nick.
I took my foot off the gas, let the car coast over to the side of the road, hit the brake and sat there getting my story ready. If you’ve ever been pulled over by a cop, unless you know that you are doing something terribly wrong like carting around a dead guy in the trunk, you go through the initial panic of, “What did I do? Just what the fuck did I do?”
I didn’t have to ask myself that question. I knew what I did. I had 500 hits of synthetic mescaline divided into 4 100 each bundles, a baggie with 70 in there and then another baggie with 30 for my own consumption for the camping trip, along with a quarter pound divided into nickels and dimes. I knew exactly what I was doing. I take that back. I didn’t have a single clue at all.
It took forever for the cop to come up to me and in that instant, the fear drained from me and like anyone who has been raised among Southern Italians, I hit the bullshit switch in my brain and let the circuits connect and the current flow.
“Good evening son. Did you know that your tail light was out?”
I turned to answer. It was Fetcho the Narc. This guy was a legend among the Clifton Police Department. He was a legend among all of us pot smoking, pill popping, wannabe youthful law breakers in Clifton. He had racked up a shitload of busts and wasn’t going to stop. Worse yet ,he wasn’t going to decide to stop before he busted me.
“No officer, I didn’t know it was out, I’m just a mile from home, I can get it fixed first thing in the morning.” was all I could manage to spit out. “Hope it sounded genuine enough,” was all I could think to myself.
“Okay son, lets just see your license and registration.”
I reached over to open the door to the glove box. And as soon as I did, in truest Cheech and Chong fashion, my pipe falls out of it.
“Son. Whats that?” Fetcho knew what it was. He didn’t have to ask.
“I don’t know officer. I’ve never seen it before in my life. If that’s all I could think of to say in a situation like this. I was truly, most truly fucked in my ass. Worse yet I didn’t have the registration.
“Son step out of the car.”
Luckily I had the pills in my jacket pocket. I got out of the car and Fetcho directed me to stand in front of it. I made my way to the front of the car and spied a sewer grate there at the curb. They might as well have put a sign up that said, “This is the place to throw the fucking pills kid,” and that’s exactly what I intended to do.
Fetcho was rooting around in the front seat of the Torino and all of a sudden he bent down out of sight. Here was my chance. In one motion I jammed my hand in my pocket grabbed the pills took one giant step towards the grate and tossed those red motherfuckers down into the sewer. They were gone! Even better, there was there was a flow of water down there that night that would carry them away. Carry them away to the Passaic river and with them the intent to distribute charge that rested in the center of each and every pill.
Just one thing. I had bundled all the pills for Albert together, which left my stash of thirty still in my pocket. I had to move fast. Before I could Fetcho came back into sight.
“Don’t you fucking move motherfucker!” He screamed at me from inside the car.
He swung around to get out and as he did, I jammed my hand into my pocket, got the pills out and tossed them under the car. “Fuck it!” I thought to myself, “its only thirty.”
He was on me in a flash.
“Come here. I need to show you something,” he said with a real sneer to his voice, like I was a bad little boy. He pulled a brown pill vile out of his pocket, popped the lid off and held it up to my face.
“Son, do you acknowledge that this vile is empty?” he said like he was the fucking king of France and was getting ready to send me to the fucking guillotine.
“I guess so. It looks pretty empty to me fetcho!”
I was done being polite, I had been thought this before and knew the next step.
“Son, here’s what I’m going to put in it.”
He shined his flashlight down on the floor board and in the beam of light there were a few seeds, a stick or two and a bud the size of nothing. But it was just enough to start the whole process.
“Son that’s marijuana and I’m going to place it here in this vile.”
“Go ahead,” I thought, “wait until you get to the trunk asshole. Hope you got a vile big enough for the quarter pound jerk-off.”
He placed the miniscule amount of pot in the vile, placed the lid on it, then jammed it in his pocket.
“Son do you have any other drugs? Lets see what you got in your pockets.”
I emptied them out, pulled them inside out. Nothing for you there asshole.
He told me to stay where I was, took the flashlight and began to walk around the car. “He’s walking around the car, he’s walking around the car, he’s walking around the car, … ” was all I could repeat to myself over and over.
He crouched down. “He’s looking under the car, he’s looking under the car … ” became my new mantra of doom and despair. He passed the flashlight beam under the car, froze and then crawled underneath. “He found it!” was all I could think, “he found the fucking pills.”
He stood up and started to walk towards me with a shit eating grin on his face and the mescaline in his hands.
“Look what I found son!” He barked out in that fucking condescending voice I was beginning to loathe.
“Son are these yours?”
“Never seen before in my life officer, they ain’t mine.”
“Bullshit, they’re under your car, they’re your pills,” he jammed those in his pocket too.
“Stand right here don’t move!”
He walked to his car and got on the radio. I was pretty sure he was calling for back-up. I’m sure he wanted to get the rest of the boys in on the fun. It must have been a slow night in Clifton. Within minutes there were two regular cop cars and a unmarked, all showing up for little old me.
Fetcho huddled his boys together for a quick pow-wow.
“Son were gonna take a look in the trunk.”
“Go ahead,” was all I could say at this point. “lets get this the fuck over.”
One of the uniforms pulled my keys out of the ignition, went straight to the trunk and popped it open. It looked like a run of the mill trunk, spare tire, jack, some rags for wiping the dipstick, brown shopping bag with a quarter pound of pot divided into nickels and dimes.
The uniform noticed the bag in a heartbeat, called over the other cops, and then I was called over.
“What’s in the bag?” Fetcho asked me.
“I don’t know. Never … “
“Yeah I know asshole, you never saw it before.”
The honeymoon was over between me and my new-found love. He opened the bag, looked inside and sported the grin of shit devoured once again.
“Boy you are so fucked.” His tone changed. He went from courting me to breaking up with me in less than six seconds. He issued a few orders to the uniforms, called a tow truck, and all that procedural bullshit. He came up to me and told me to turn around and put my hands together.
“Time to take a ride,” was all I could think.
While he was cuffing me the other narc read me my rights, delivering it with a monotone elocution. It was obvious this guy had not studied with Strasberg. They gathered up the weed, threw me in the back seat of one of the unmarked’s and took me over to the police station over on Main Street.
At the station I was uncuffed and ordered to sit down. Me and the two narcs were the only ones there.
“Son we want to ask you a few questions,” Fetcho told me as narc number two began to rifle through a filing cabinet for the necessary forms to book my ass into the system.
“I need to make a phone call,” was all I said.
“You can do that after we book you.”
“I wanna make my fucking phone call now. I know my rights.”
Next thing I knew I got a hard smack from behind.
“Shut the fuck up kid!” narc number two screamed into my ear, “we tell you when you can what, understand?”
I didn’t quite, but I was starting to, … I was starting to. This wasn’t a game anymore. This wasn’t cutting class and hiding in your basement to smoke a joint. This was real. This was crime and I didn’t fucking like it one bit.
I didn’t say another word.
Narc number two took me downstairs, got me photographed and printed, had some bullshit paper work filled out at the sergeants desk and then took me to another office with a phone in it.
“Make your phone call kid. You got five minutes and one call. Don’t try to sneak in another!” he barked as he slammed the door.
Fuck the silent resignation bit. I dialed the house and braced myself. It rang about 5 times then Crappy answered in a groggy voice of dreaming of being in a better place than the sad pile of shit that was his sorry life.
“Crappy its me. Hey I’m in trouble.”
I braced myself for the spewing that was a comin’.
“Trouble? What kinda trouble you little cocksucker?”
“A hardy good morning to you too asshole,” was all I could think.
“I was pulled over for a broke tail light and they found a seed on the floor.”
I wasn’t about to tell him the whole story, he would’ve never showed up.
“You fucking little cocksucker. Your mother just got out of the hospital. This will give her another fucking stroke!”
“I need you to come and bail me out Crappy.”
That shut him up. He knew that if Mom woke up to a house without me there would be a major freak-out scene.
“I’ll be down there in a bit, when I get a hold of you …”
I could feel the words choke in his throat. “Fuck it,” I thought, “enough.”
I hung the phone up. A uniform came in and took me upstairs where Fetcho and narc number two were waiting. Fetcho was the first to speak.
“Son we want to know where you got the pot and the pills from. Tell us right now and well let you go tonight.”
They already had me processed. They would take any information I gave them, use it and still stick my ass into a fucking jail cell anyway. At this point being a rat would not help. It was too late.
“I’m not saying anything. I’m not telling you anything.”
Narc number two begged to differ. This time he grabbed a telephone book and introduced it to the side of my head. It made such an interesting sound. A dull, sick thud. Hurt real bad too.
At this point I was pretty fucking dazed from all this. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. That was all I wanted. I thought about my grandmother. I thought about my Mom. I knew that they would find about this sooner or later and that it would break their hearts. I’d pretty much been doing that slowly but surely the last couple of years, but this would be the capper that would put them both over the edge.
I was hoping to get another blow from the phone book, but just then a uniform cop walked into the room and told the detectives that my stepfather was at the desk making my bail.
I was not looking forward to this one least bit.