Manhattan Dust

Harry sat amid hackneyed remnants of coke needles and Manhattan dust. Lenox’s Deli granted him a free ham and cheese every three days; he always took them up on it. Marlboros and Camels pierced the gallant lungs of passers by in Harlem as if nicotine was a universal celebration of silent mid-summer suffering.

Puff puff.

Below his broken shoes lay the day’s New York Times front page:

Friday, July 3, 1981: A10: RARE CANCER SEEN IN 41 HOMOSEXUALS: Outbreak Among Men in New York and California- 8 Died Inside 2 Years. By Lawrence K. Altman

Harry ignored the voices of the street, those of the Times, and those of the nurses at The Institution, but not the voices of his own head. Self-ignorance was not a choice so his smoker’s chin gargled humanized saltwater and spit it back as his brain gradually entertained itself in the spinning mental circles of disguised trance:

“Trisoresene…” he mumbled.

“A man took off from Earth…”

“Harry.” Talula interjected.

“…to escape the bubbling bubbling bubbling…”

“…of the mother country’s crotch; he eats an apple and…”

“HARRY.”

“…and splits it into two with a butter knife rusted from years of…”

“Oh lord.”

“of other worldly experience.”

“DONE,” Talula said, in her jungle-themed nail polish and leopard-skinned dress.

“I am done with you psychotic speakin’ mother fuckin’ nigger. Done, spell it under my senseful nose, spell it til’ the dawn of day arises as a sweet present wrapped in coke-tinged addictive additive pills. Spell it til’ I have no more, you trite-skinned mother fucker. Harry, get on ‘oer here.”

And he obliged, with an optional yet optimal limp, off-beat tempo, and battle scars of searing mind-fuckery, he followed. He followed Talula to survive the crack-needled, Harlem-aired contemporary junkyard of shielded thoughts and city feelings.

Harry followed.

***

A dozen years before Harry touched Lenox’s curbside, wind blew over grass in the industrial netherlands of New Jersey. One hour outside of Trenton lied suburban circle of weed-infested sidewalks and medium-priced gas stations. Culs-de-sac were home to toddlers learning the here-of-it-all and middle schoolers taking street lessons in how to reach the apex of prepubescent bliss.

One mile away, John Smith watched Caroline Pearl lick a lollipop next to Wilbur Cross High School after he mastered the art of how to reach the apex of pubescent bliss.

After the raspberry laffy taffy core was done with Caroline walked ten feet to a concrete enclave in what she regarded to be a pubescent prison and softly handed a stuttering boy a dime for his own piece of candy at Debbie’s Convenience Store.

Caroline liked the stuttering boy. She liked his redeeming awkwardness, his pretty face, and his precocious hand raising in Miss Nancy’s English class before he had dropped out of prison. But most of all, Caroline liked the stuttering boy because he watched her lick lollipops but with no traces of a shattered moral compass; his gazes were soaked in childlike innocence. And at that age that was all Caroline asked for.

The stuttering boy was less of a mystery to Caroline than to The Others at Wilbur Cross. He was, quite simply, a boy trapped in a teenage body, and seemingly ravaged by an odd adult mind. Perhaps Caroline understood him better than The Others because her father was the town’s premiere psychiatrist, treating the mentally ill, or those who could afford to be treated as mentally ill, that is. It was from the front steps of Caroline’s porch one day that her father watched the boy lightly limp down the street, and at that point in time Caroline witnessed the greatest outpouring of empathy she had ever seen from the man who raised her for 17 years of suburban life.

Mr. Pearl, bespectacled and otherwise cold in temperament, held his shoulders tight. He stared intensely at the limping teenage boy, not with malice but with deep-founded compassion, which Caroline thought was rather unusual. He meticulously scrutinized the boy’s behavior and various mumblings,wishing that the boy’s folks, whoever they were, would send their limping stutterer to the sanitized furnishings of his seventh-story office. Seventh stories were, indeed, made to itch the status quo.

But before Mr. Pearl’s string of thoughts came into full fruition, a black cissy boy donning shiny curls and glittery nail polish made a sweeping street intervention.

The lips on Pearl’s face pursed as suddenly as the cissy boy shook Harry’s shoulders with care-stricken fierceness.

“HARRY!” the he-to-she cried.

All traces of sympathy vanished from Dr. Pearl’s clinicized heart. He knew this type — he knew this type all too well. Some psychiatry big-shots down at Johns Hopkins had told him not to mess with this type. Penises paired with deliberate feminine features were sure signs of insanity, they said. He told them not to worry, that he didn’t want to pay credence to the he-to-shes in the first place. That seventh floors were not meant to itch this status quo. Not even to gain higher posture in their world — just speaking from a place of personal opinion, he said.

So the moment Dr. Pearl saw Talula Bryant on his street corner, he ushered Caroline into the house for a suburban meal of mashed potatoes and racked lamb.

Outside, as wind swept across grass in a cul-de-sac-ed neighborhood, Harry Solomon followed Talula Bryant to the promise of Manhattan dust.