Harlem Sketches #2


Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Ave.) between 135th and 136th


7th Ave. between 135th and 136th


Boys playing catch with a tennis ball on the street. I slip into the corner bodega, grab a beer, and emerge to find one of the boys up on the fire escape. He’s retrieving his ball while his friend yells at him to hurry. Kid has some jumps. The end of the ladder is eight feet off the ground in front of my apartment door. The kid begins to descend the ladder and then I see the father (only he could have lifted him that high) waiting for his son to descend, blocking my way. Stuck, I watch, amused. “I’m going to jump!” declares the kid. The father, dismissive and annoyed, “No you’re not,” as he reaches up to help his kid down.

In South Dakota you get stuff stuck in trees. In Harlem, it’s the damn fire escapes.

7th Ave. between 135th and 136th


It is a grey, cold day. Habit: I glance left then right as I emerge onto the street before heading left to the bodega. But this time, glancing right, I see a solitary man stumbling in my direction. He is lurching along the sidewalk with a large black bag in tow, loudly talking to no one in particular about nothing in particular. Gravelly voiced, he follows behind me, seemingly directionless. I pay him little heed. Strange folk abound in the city. And then I am struck in the leg from behind. I jump, startled, and turn my head quickly even as I begin to flee. The man had thrown his bag, had hit me, and now runs full tilt in my direction. His eyes do not see me, though. Only the bag. I quickly slip into the bodega. Flustered: I had been attacked by a stranger. Attacked, no, that’s ridiculous. The guy must be crazy. And then he comes flying into the bodega. I am cornered. He does not see me even as I stand next to him. He fumbles with the bag mumbling to himself.  I quickly buy my coffee and as I leave the contents of his bag spill out on the floor: baseball hats—scores of baseball hats.

Assailed by an unconscious but animated stranger with a bag of baseball hats, I figure that will be a first and a last.

7th Ave. between 135th and 136th


Phone. Tall boy. Cigarette. The roof. The usual.

I take a swig of my beer and set it down wrapped in a black plastic bag. I head east across and then retrace my steps across the roof back west towards the beer. Listening to my interlocutor, I brush back the plastic and take a swig. Odd, thicker than normal plastic blocks the opening of the can. The hell. I lower the can and squint in the dark at the dark hole. Nothing. I felt something. And, yes, this is my first beer of the night. Suddenly a panic sets in. My friend is still speaking as I shake the plastic bag off the can and flip on my phone light. GODDAMIT. A cockroach goes skittering out of the bag. “Ok, ok,” I interrupt my friend, “Hang on, oooooone second.” I don’t swallow. I scurry across the roof to my staircase, fly down the steps, pull out my keys, open the door and walk quickly to the bathroom.

I haven’t had my mouth washed out with soap since I was a kid and I told my parents something was “stupid.” Well this situation is stupid. I scoured my mouth with a fury fit for purifying.




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