Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Box

When I woke up last Saturday morning, I thank God that I could wake up with a roof over my head.

I went to my little bathroom that’s part of my little apartment on Elizabeth St., in the Bowery section of Manhattan. I turned on the faucet in the tub, hoping to take a warm bath, but the fixture burst water out of the wall.

“Fucking shit,” I muttered before I went to my bedroom. I went under my bed, pulled out my toolbox, opened it and got out my monkey wrench. With it, I fixed the fissure.

What I didn’t know was there was another one.

It was spraying water behind the wall and flowing into the hallways and apartments below mine. The tenants were fucking pissed. Five firefighters—one was a lieutenant—came knocking.

“These old buildings,” the lieu said, shaking his head, “Damn these old buildings.”

He ordered his men to shut down the water main for the whole building. They did. Bob Garcia, a bloated pear of a landlord, caught hell from the tenants and firefighters for being an asshole of a landlord. Me? I got a little homesick for my box.

Before I went to the local public bath house, I went by my box, my home on the street. It was still there on Broome St, long and low like a frontier coffin. Had four, small wheels. A heavy chain attached it, through a hole on the side, to a “No Standing” sign. No one in the area gave a shit about it. No one except me.

I took out a key out of my jeans, leaned over and worked the padlock on the chain. I opened an end of the box on its’ hinges and looked inside. A bag of underwear was the only item in there. It was for emergencies. I took it out, closed the box and sighed. I missed it. The box.

How I got into it was pretty shitty, if you think about it. I was the middle child of seven children, raised by Greg Moynihan. He used to own Pally’s, an old school Irish bar before he died. My mom, Sarah, used to be a secretary, working at St. Clare Roman Catholic School. She’s in a retirement home in Florida. We all used to live in Rosedale, Queens in the 1950s and 1960s. I attended Springfield Gardens while working on the side as the assistant of a local exterminator. Stan Ellison was an old friend of my dad. He looked like a science teacher. He never got married, and the collection of comic books and smut magazines he had in his basement made sure he couldn’t. I remember one job, in St. Clare Church, which was part of the elementary school I used to attend, the rats there were big as shoes. Stan and I used baseball bats to kill them. Those were good times.

So good I didn’t go to college and took over Stan’s business when he retired to Florida. I was in the Yellow Pages: Peter W. Moynihan, Licensed Professional Technician. I took down water bugs, rats, roaches, mice, maggots, termites and any pest.

Business was good. Shoeboxes filled with money were under my bed.

Then, I got a little addicted to the chemicals I used. Sure, they were dangerous. Dangerous and fun. I needed something better. I got reacquainted with some old pals from high school, and we did some drugs. I had a love for heroin. At first, I didn’t think I couldn’t get hooked. I thought I could quit anytime I wanted, but I was so fucking high, right was left and left was right to me.

When I turned twenty-four in 1979, I celebrated with a bit of a hit before getting on my Harley Davidson bike and visit a strip club in the Bronx. I was so high on my Harley; I barely avoided an oncoming car by my right. I swerved, landed near the Van Wyck Expressway, fell unconscious and woke up in the hospital with a cast on my right leg. The cast was on for over two months. I now limp a bit, and there’s a scar below the knee.

But back then, I couldn’t take the pain. Painkillers helped, but they made me dull, sleepy and lazy. I had a lot of drug runs in Manhattan. Not renewing my license got me in trouble with the city, and my habit got me kicked out from my family, let alone my parent’s home. I moved to the Bowery in 1984, specifically the Providence Hotel. It used to be a SRO (Single-Room Occupancy) building for people down on their luck. Now, it’s a home for high-pocketed assholes. While I was there, I kept to myself. Misery loves company, they say, but I had enough shit on my end, and I didn’t want someone else’s shit being stacked on me.

If I wasn’t at Providence, I was spending time in Ryker’s for possession of drugs or drug gear. Eighteen times out of twenty-five. The rest were for some street brawls. Some asshole, who thought they were a big, bad boss, either lost an eye or an ear, if they were fucking stupid to fuck with me. My Irish blood keeps me alive.

Then, one Friday morning in 1995, after being in the slam for a night, I ate some half-eaten hamburger I took from the ground. My money ran out, and I started sleeping in alleyways. I saw a guy, moving his head like a cobra as he walked. I went to him and gave him a piece of my food. Dodge was his name, like the automobile line. I thought he was trouble, at first, but he had a smooth voice and attitude. With those qualities, he got free stuff from local stores if he did some odd jobs, like cleaning up the windows or the sidewalk. Many times, we shared a bottle of $10 bourbon, when Dodge got paid. He was from North Carolina. When he turned sixteen and got fucking tired of his father beating the shit out of him for being “a queer”, he came here. Dodge was no queer when it came down to a fight with suburb kids harassed us. No sir, he wasn’t. He knew how to handle a broken bottle.

One day, I found him with the box. He dragged it behind him all over the Bowery, like a kid with a toy wagon. He was going to live in it, but he also found out that a cousin he had was living in Brooklyn. Of all the bums he met, he trusted me with the box.

With a discarded black marker, I wrote my name with a phony address on the side of the box and chained it to the pole on Broome St. The cops gave me no grief as long as I behaved myself. I did. I then found a battery-powered nightlight and slept between two sleeping bags. They were old and fucking smelly. My feet always hung out the open end, and I would drape a tarp over that end. Somebody could have bashed my head with anything hard and solid, if I slept the other way. The box was okay for the first three weeks, reading old copies of Swank, the Village Voice inside. When it got dark, I spend the time asleep and awake. Friday nights, Saturday nights and some holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve were hell. Drunks went by, teasing me by banging on the box and pouring some liquor. Assholes. Every single one of them.

Then I remembered I was six feet and two inches. I had to move around to sleep comfortably. When it rained or snowed, I snuggled tight to the bad. I could have died, but I didn’t want to. Hot nights were shitty too; the box became a sweatbox. One time, Billy, a street acquaintance, thought no one was in the box. The fuck didn’t bother to knock when he took a rock and unchained the box, while I slept in it. It rolled off the curb. A car horn woke me up, and I got sideswiped. Like a grizzly bear, I stumbled off the box, cursing up a storm. Billy ran away when he saw me. A woman with her son—probably five years old— went quickly back inside a newsstand. I knew I had enough of this shit and did something I’ve never did since I was thirteen.

I prayed. Inside the box, I prayed.

Two days later, Abe Fogell, a home improvement contractor, went up to me. He saw what happened to me with the box and offered two things: a job working for him and sharing his apartment, that’s around the corner from the box. $300 was my rent price. I took it.

Being a home improvement contractor nowadays isn’t so bad. It reminds me of the good old days, without the drugs. Alcohol’s out of my life, too. When I’m not working, I usually head to a methadone clinic on Cooper Square to stop my opiate cravings. I’m getting a lot better. Life’s getting a lot better. I do miss the box, though. It saved my life, even when I didn’t deserved to be saved, from life on a public bench or a shelter. I’ve heard bad things about shelter. You might as well be naked if you want to be in a shelter. Not me.

As I closed the box, I saw a homeless man—dirty, unshaven and lost—on the corner, going through a garbage bin. I looked at the box. I then walked over to the homeless man.

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