Two years ago I passed a long Thursday at the diamond exchange. Manny was worried about money and Richie Boy showed up late and shikkah or drunk. His father checked his watch. It was a little before noon. They argued the rest of the day about business and family. I stayed out of it and we closed a little early for a change.
We left the store and Richie Boy headed home to his wife and his pillows.
My wife and family were far away in Thailand.
Very far away.
I walked over to Grand Central Terminal for a bowl of New England clam chowder at the Oyster Bar. The expansive train station bustled with homeward bound commuters. I hugged the wall to avoid the crush and regarded the well-fed faces. They all had someplace to be and someone to see.
Everyone, but one gaunt and gray man in dark suit.
His pace across the Tennessee pink marble was slow. I stopped to watch his head bounce up and down in a heroin nod and thought, “William Burroughs.”
Years ago I had spotted the author of JUNKIE shuffling across Grand Central Terminal.
No one else had recognized the writer.
I had wanted to ask the grey eminence of heroin for an autograph, but had respected his privacy and granted him unhindered passage.
I caught sight of him several more times. He had been always high. Grand Central Terminal must have been close to his dealer. My attention had been obvious. He had assessed me as a fellow traveler and acknowledged our narcotic affiliation with an uplifted finger to his head.
Today was different.
Different, because Burroughs had died in 1997.
Fourteen years ago, but the approaching phantasm was familiar for another reason.
It was my old friend, Davy.
The ex-doorman was younger than me by a decade. He had once been the desire of every gay boy in New York. He now looked twice my age, although just as likely to survive every person in the terminal with a junkie’s determination. I almost let him walk by, then called out his name.
Davy’s yellow teeth gleamed in the half-light of the sunset streaming through the terminal’s cathedral windows.
He blinked to awareness.
It sounded like a groan.
“You look good.” I would have said the same about anyone whom I thought was dead.
“Yeah, I’ve seen you worst.”
I kept the one-sided conversation short and sweet.
Davy was happy that I didn’t ask many questions. Even happier that I didn’t ask him if he was holding any dope. I would have loved some. A little smoke would take away the pain of being in New York without my family.
I mentioned an upcoming soiree featuring punk rock.
“Emily and Pat are showing their film NIGHTCLUBBING at NYU.” Davy had loved punk rock, but said, “I really don’t go out much anymore.”
“Neither do I.” We had our reasons. His were more believable than mine.
“I have a picture of you, me, Barney, and Phillip.” The four of us had worked at clubs together. We liked doing drugs. Any kind of drugs. Barney and Philip were gone. The only bad boys left were Davy and me. ” We looked like an old rock band re-uniting for an oldies tour. I’ll send you a copy.”
“I’d like that.” My friend bid me farewell. “And do me a favor.”
“What?” I reached into my pocket. I wasn’t rich, but I had an extra $20.
“Don’t tell anyone you saw me. You know people we know.”
“I won’t, but one last thing. When I saw you a couple of minutes ago I thought you looked like William Burroughs.”
“Fucking William Burroughs.” His eyes widened in horror. “He’s dead.”
“Adn you have more hair.”
“The living William Burroughs. Not the dead one.”
“Thank heavens for that and don’t tell anyone I look like that old queeny junkie.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
“Okay.” I was happy he didn’t want my $20. I only had $40. “I’ll see you around.”
“Not if I see you first.” He managed a smile and followed the same course as William Burroughs.
Davy was a bad boy and I was glad that he was alive.
There were too few of us left on the books and one day I might need to ask him for help, because my days of being a bad boy aren’t over, simply delayed to a time near death.
My wife thinks that date is years away. For my son’s sake I hope she’s right. I wanted to live to 78.
Fenway would be 20 then.
And Mem, my wife, only 46.
So fleeting and wasted on the young.