New York City was a ghost town in 1978.
The Twin Towers rose over Manhattan, but the city was bankrupt.
Seven million people were living in anarchy.
The landfill along the Hudson was a long stretch of desolation.
Sand blew in all directions.
The wind obeyed no rules around the Twin Towers
The rich knew nothing of the poor.
The Concorde flew them direct from JFK to Paris.
Every morning in the East Village Sean Coll heard its take-off.
The Rolls-Royce engines were loud.
Sean was living with a blonde model in the East Village.
At night Lisa dated a tennis player.
“It’s good for my career.”
She came home at dawn.
Sean never asked any questions and wrote poems about the waiting.
Lisa never read his journals.
No one did.
Poetry paid nothing.
Sean worked at night.
When people wanted things, they called him.
Sometimes it was a girl.
There were plenty of girls in New York.
Most of them were good fun.
Lisa liked playing hard to get and she knew her role well.
They never mixed business with pleasure.
Sometimes his work was a breeze.
People did what they said they were going to do.
Other times people were cute.
Cute got them hurt.
Sean came from Jamaica Plains and kids grew up tough in the shadow of Mission Hill.
In the end people ended up being nice.
It was part of human nature.
But New York was New York.
This city had different rules from Boston. Sean understood some of the city’s game, but no one understood everything, although a Mr. Klaus thought he was smart enough to know all the answers.
Tony introduced Mr. Klaus at a party.
Sean was not in best form.
Lisa had not come home for two days.
“I might have some work for you.” Klaus had a German accent. “But I have one rule. You do what I say.”
“I don’t have a problem with that. You know my price?” I spoke pure Boston.
“Then call me.”
A day later he asked Sean to meet a woman named Clover at the New Lost Bar in Times Square.
Tony came over with the cash.
Sean gave the photographer his finder’s fee.
“You trust this Klaus?”
“I trust no one.”
“Me neither.” It was the first rule he had learned in New York.
Sean showed up on time.
Clover arrived ten minutes late.
The blonde teenager was no woman, but she was no girl either.
“I was a mistress to a Texas oil baron at 13. Does that make me bad?”
“No, but it doesn’t make you good. Let’s have a drink.”
Sean ordered a gin-tonic. Clover had a martini.
The bartenders at the New Lost Bar never checked any girls for ID.
“Do some of this.” She handed him a vial. “Mr. Klaus wants you to.”
“You always do what he says?”
She smiled with a laugh.
“When it comes to Mr. Klaus, yes.”
Clover danced at a bar.
Or at least Sean thought it was Clover.
In truth it didn’t matter, because Lisa was erased from his mind.
By the time they left the New Lost Sean was feeling no pain.
Times Square looked like a pinball machine.
Clover was the flippers and Sean was the ball.
Somehow they ended up in the subway.
Clover was taking him to see Mr. Klaus.
Sean asked the subway conductor for help.
“You don’t need any help, if you got her.”
Everyone in New York was an expert at minding their own business.
The next stop was at Mr. Klaus’ penthouse.
“Willkommen, time for some business.”
Sean was in no condition to refuse him anything.
“Do you feel different?”
“No.” It was a lie.
“Gut, I have a job for you. It might require violence.”
“I wouldn’t be here, if it didn’t.”
“An ex-associate has something of mine.”
“A ball on a box in a refrigerator.”
“But you only want the ball?”
“What does the ball do?”
“Does it really matter?”
“Clover really likes you.”
Mr. Klaus had the young blond show Sean how much.
Mr. Klaus drove him to a townhouse on the Upper East Side.
The street was quiet. The rich could afford order.
“That’s Cookie’s house. I’ll take care of her.”
“Why do you need me?”
“There’s a man with a gun.”
“Does he know who to use it.”
“Then he is just a man.”
“Why should I do this? Because of your rule.”
“Maybe, but more because things will go bad for Clover.” He showed a photo. It was Tony’s style.
And then another.
Mr. Klaus was worse than Clover’s Texas oil baron.
“Bring back the ball.”
Sean couldn’t say no.
The man with the gun was a young boy.
Sean strangled him till unconsciousness.
He was too young to die and too pretty too.
The steel ball seemed like a steel ball.
Until Sean held it in his hand.
He could see things.
He could break Mr. Klaus’ rule.
Mr. Klaus had Cookie.
She looked tough.
Sean could see the word Baltimore on her face.
Like Boston it was a tough town.
Cookie yanked on the rope.
Mr. Klaus rolled down the stairs.
He didn’t stop until the bottom.
Sean left with the ball.
He was his own man again.
He found Clover in a bag.
He wrote on her thigh before freeing her.
“I thought you’d never come back.”
“You were wrong.”
“What did you write?”
“A poem. You can read it later.”
Sean took her to his place.
Lisa was gone.
She had taken everything, but the TV and a set of weights.
Clover picked up a dumbbell.
I want to be strong like you.”
It was a good idea.
New York was a tough town on the weak.
Sean turned on the TV.
Clover lifted the weights and read the words on her thigh.
“I like your poem.”
“I wrote it for you.”
Her smile told him that she would be a good roommate.
He had the ball and he had Clover.
And both were good things in 1978, because the windblown sand had no rules.
Not in New York.
Fotos by Anthony Scibelli and Peter Nolan Smith