Harlem Sketches #3


Bodega left. Bar beyond (two blocks).

Bodega. 136th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. 2 AM

It’s a bender and I want one more beer so I wander downstairs to the 24 hrs service window at the bodega. I start to make my order through the glass shield that separates me from the attendant when a dude shows up with some ladies on his arm. He’s middle aged, short, got a belly, and is decked out in nice threads, a gangster cap, and a gold chain. He barges right in on me and begins making his order, talking a mile a minute.  “Excuse me. Boss [referring to the attendant], give me Miller Light, tall boys. Two of them. No, make that Bud. And ladies, wait, what do you want? Cigarillos? Boss, two cigarillos, wait, what? No cigarillos, oh Newports? Excuse me. Boss, Newports.” He looks at me and I’m just smiling, tired, a little drunk, and amused. “Sorry boss,” he says to me, “I’m just making a quick order.” I nod, “Sure man.” He looks at me, “I know you. You hang around here.” I cock my thumb behind me, “Yeah, I live right back there.” “Yeah, boss, I’ll only be another minute. I know you.” Looking back at the ladies, “Girls, you want something else? Miller Lights? Ok, boss, two more Miller Lights. Come on, boss, hop to it!” Turning my direction but speaking rapidly to no one in particular, “Damn hot night, these nights. Damn hot.” His money goes into the turnstile window, it spins and the goods arrive. He’s off as quick as he arrived.

“Alright, boss,” I say to the attendant, “A tallboy, St. Ides.” It’s a rapper’s beer. I don’t like rap, but 8.2% works just fine by me.

Bodega. 136th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. 11 PM.

Standing in line. Kid behind me starts mouthing off about something. He’s eleven or so. He’s from the neighborhood. He and I’ve have smack talked each other on occasion. Turning, I give him a look—jokingly annoyed. “What?” he asks me defiantly. “Nothing,” I say with a laugh. There’s a pause. He’s composing a comeback and lets it fly, “A’s hat, blue shirt, red shorts, brown shoes, you look like a clown, man.”

Ok, ok, it’s late, I threw some stuff on. Lay off it, kid.

Harlem Nights (bar). 138th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. 11pm

It’s late and we just got back into the city. It’s been a long day with traffic delays, a drop off in Jersey, and then we caught a delayed train back to the City. The liquor store is closed. We head up two blocks to the bar. Big black bouncer stops us at the door and asks us for IDs. This is typical. He then asks to search our bags. This is less typical. He then pats me down. This is absurd. “Dude,” I say in a light tone, “You been having issues here?” “We do this to everyone who comes in here this time of night.” He goes to check the lady’s bag, and I keep an eye on him. He doesn’t pat her down.

A friend later tells me, “He totally did that because you were a white dude and he could.” I could be pissed, but I guess it’s payback and I won’t begrudge him for it. Turn the other cheek.



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