About a billion years ago, when Raquel Welch was still wearing a fur bikini, I had a sort of friend who had a brother who really, really liked me. A crush, I guess. Well a big time crush. He was young, he was in film school, and there was ever so something slow or backwards about him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It may have been a speech impediment. Well it wasn’t a diagnosable one, like a lisp or that thing where you can’t say the letter R, he just said “like” every other word. “Here, like, is. like,a present, like, I like , got, like, for, like you.”
Drove me nuts. Hippies and surfer dudes said “Like” a lot, but not every other word and it seemed to display a shyness coupled with a lack of vocabulary. It may have been his ridiculous enthusiasm for things that did not merit a raised eyebrow, even. He would come to my shared railroad apartment in Brooklyn, which overlooked a sodium street lit basket ball court. He came with an ever increasing supply of strange courtship gifts. Boxes of welfare farina which were out of date, stockpiled in a basement in Detroit in case of nuclear attack. Lots of things involving fake blood and gore. I’ll get to than in a minute. Dead flowers. Very dead. I remember this one in particular because I half smiled and said “Wow, dead flowers.That’s a new one. Is it a goth thing or something? I’m not a goth.”
“They, like, are not, like , dead. They are dried. They were like hanging on a lamp post. There were like, lots. They will never miss them. Like for some guy called Denzil. But like, he never took the other ones, so like he won’t like miss these”
“You’re kidding, right?” No response. Just a big, proud of himself slightly drooling love sick grin. He really didn’t get it.
“No, sorry, they are dead, rotting, even. My guess is that Denzil got stabbed or shot by that lamp post. And the flowers are in memory of him. I know the difference between dead and dried. I’m no botany expert, but these are dead. But it’s the, uh, thought that counts? Um, what was your thinking?”
“Well, like, guys who like girls, like, get them flowers.But you are like a different kind of girl, like, kind of weird, but like good weird, so I got you like a different kind of flowers. Stolen, like dried ones for like Denzil. But like if he’s dead, he’ll never, like, know.”
“Well how thoughtful of you. Let’s put them in water and see if they come to life, like sea horses you get by mail order in the back of comic books.” I found a vase and , like all his visits, I invited him in for instant coffee (Bustelo, Puerto Rican and cheap and I developed a taste for it) and to play records and practically every record I played, he’d say “Wow, like, my sister has gone out with one , of like, those guys in that like band.”
I am ashamed to say I don’t even remember his name, though his sister was one of the coolest girls on the planet. She had rock star boyfriends, multi coloured hair, she was funny, she had a good job and was also really nice . It was certainly an unfair genetic distribution. She got the looks, the brains, the fire and wit, he got, well, he got into film school and as such, frequently raided the props and make up department and often came to visit me with horrific fake injuries. An arm that dropped off and spurted blood. An ax in his head. Nose and moustache glasses, a pair for both of us. Once he came up the stoop, rang the bell and the instant I opened the door he started bleeding profusely from the mouth.”
“Oh my God, ” I said. “What happened.”
He grinned a bloody grin and gave me a little box. “Blood capsules. You bite on, like one, or a whole bunch, like I just like did, and people will like think you are like , bleeding to death,like.”
“Fucking fuck. Why the fuck would you want someone to think that?”
“Like, to surprise them. Here, like, have one.” I did. I bit. It tasted like a chemical, and I spat it out.
Another time he got me fruit well past its sell by date. “They were like, in a basket on someone’s doorstep for like a week. So I figured, like, Michele really likes, like, fruit. You can like, cut off like the brown bits. But you should eat the white fur cos like I remember in science it could be like, what’s that stuff that cures infections. Penis,like, cillin.” Dear oh dear, he was inserting it into the middle of words.
So I took the farina, the flowers, the comedy nose glasses, but I felt that by accepting these I was somehow giving him hope and encouragement for some sort of courtship. I knew I had to stop the visits.
Now this was a funny time in my life. I was a newly qualified teacher in primary school and I hated it. My salary was poor, I was sharing a railroad flat with two other girls and had very little money left over after I paid my rent for my little shoebox room. The city was dirty and everybody wanted money for drugs all the time. Rents were creeping up. There were lots of people living on the streets, thrusting Dunkin Donut cups under your nose and asking you for a quarter, a dollar, whatever you could spare. It wasn’t like it was in the movies, particularly not West Side Story, though the basketball court looked quite like the court in the final scene of West Side Story. I dunno, maybe all basketball courts look the same under sodium lights at night. I liked to sit up out on the fire escape with my Bustelo and a cigarette and stare at the court, the way the light hit it, and I imagined all the dancing Jets doing their Jet walk dance, with the arc legs and splayed arms. I loved this image so much that I thought about it most of the time I wasn’t doing anything else, like teaching or trying to figure out what else I could do for a living. I knew my plan for getting rid of this kid would somehow involve the basketball court, and probably West Side Story.
So one night the kid came with some strange present, I think it was single , broken drumstick, and he said he brought a video over, a horror film. I said I didn’t like horror films, I liked musicals. This was probably the only information I offered about myself to him. I said I just adored West Side Story, and New York , well, wouldn’t it be more fun if we could just sort of live in a musical? Did he like musicals?
“They are a little gay but you know like, I think that one has some fights in it so it’s OK. Sure, I know like every movie ever, but it there are too like many songs and dances I get like bored. It’s better when there’s killing and stuff.”
“Oh, there’s killing. It’s a good game. You will like it. You can even fake bleed if you want to.”
This was too strange, even for him, but he smiled nervously. I led him to the fire escape. I put my hand in the small of his back. I think this drove him wild with excitement, this physical contact. I said look how beautifully the court is lit. I think we should go out there and play.
“What? Like basketball? You have like a basketball?”
“No, we can play West Side Story.”
“You have like a video player you can play outside, not like plugged in?”
“No, we play West Side Story. We pretend we are in the movie.”
This foxed him. He smiled shyly. “Is there like, kissing.”
“Not really, not in the bit I want to do. Well a bit, but you have to pretend you’re dead.”
“Wow, like you are so a goth. That is like awesome. ”
“No, I just really like the lighting of the court and West Side Story.”
We went downstairs and over the court. He was transfixed with excitement. This was new mental turf for him. I was freaking him out and kind of enjoying it.
We stood there, and he moved closer to me and I said , no, you can’t do that. It’s not part of the game.”
“Well how do you play the game?” It was the first time he didn’t say “like” which made me feel a little, but not very, sorry for him.
I said, “Well, in the story, as you know cos you say you’ve seen it, you know in the end Tony gets stabbed and Maria goes and sort of sings and weeps over his body only it’s not Natalie Wood, it’s probably Marnie Nixon but that has nothing to do with it. And then she sort of walks away and the light, man, the lighting is really good and sad.”
“So what do I like have to do, like?”
“Well, you could be Maria but that would be strange, I want to be Maria, and you be Tony. You could use a blood capsule and everything. You lie down on the court and….”
“And I die and then you like kiss me, kiss me , dead.”
“No, as it’s your first take, I think we’ll just hold hands”
“Like a real hand, or my fake arm, you want me to get my fake blood arm?”
“No, this is fine. Your real arm will work.”
“Not if I’m like dead.”
“Look that’s all technical detail. I can lift it. But it has to be lifeless”
He lay on the ground. Even though it was approaching summer, I could feel the tarmac was cold. He shivered and smiled, grinned ear to ear.”
“No, don’t smile, you’ve been stabbed, you are dying. ”
He tried really hard not to smile but sat bolt upright and said “You are like a very strange girl.”
“GET DOWN AND PLAY DEAD.” I barked.
He did as I told him, but still smiled.
I kneeled over him and tried to look tragic. “Tony, Tony, ” I said. “Boohoo, Tony, you are dying”
He sat up again, for fucks sake. “Um, my name is not like Tony.”
“It fucking is in West Side Story. Now get down and die.” I was starting to say fuck as much as he said like. I am sure that was an indicator of some sort.
He did as he was told. Sort of.
“Hold your breath. I can see you breathing.”
He held his breath like a little kid learning how to swim. He took a deep breath and his cheeks puffed out. I decided to let it go.
He waited for something to happen. After about 30 seconds he gasped for breath.
“Do it again. Hold your breath again. Lie there and don’t move.”
He did. And I said, now you are dead I am a just all tragic and sad and have to leave.” He still lay there, not moving. I backed away, then took my shoes off and tip toed out of the basketball court and back up the stoop to my apartment. When I got there he was still lying down on the court, waiting. I went to bed.
I never heard from him again. ENDS