Friday, May 25, 2012
When The Ride Is The Destination From Hell...
The Civil War had been over less than 10 years, and Patrick Murphy had survived the gunfire of Gettysburg and a handful of smaller, though no less potentially lethal, engagements. He’d been a sergeant then, and barely two years off the boat from his native Ireland, where he’d fled year after year of failed crops and a century of cultural despotism. After the War Between The States, he’d discovered the rule of “NINA” (No Irish Need Apply) was in full effect throughout the counties of Northern New Jersey, almost as if he was in Ulster. Yet his days of moving west in search of the perfect life were now over, and he got his rights and recognition the hard way — through the ballot box. And on this blistering hot day in June,1875, he was a foreman on a construction crew, laying a 36-inch water main prior to the cobblestone paving this broad stretch of a boulevard would shortly receive.
The broad boulevard ran along a ridge top that extended from the northernmost point of North Bergen, NJ, to the open water of the Kill Van Cull at the southernmost stretch of Bayonne, NJ, passing through Union City and the growing expanse of communities that would emerge as Jersey City. Through this huge pipe would surge fresh, clean water to refresh the throats of a million people, many of whom were immigrants, whose drinking water currently came from dozens of questionable sources. The work was hard and fairly technical. But it paid well for the time, and Pat was grateful for a job that covered his needs, and that of his new wife and growing family.
A vacant field opened to the west of the ridge top. It was filled with wild grass, a few trees, and a lot of little yellow flowers that were nothing but weeds. It would have been a grand place to build a house with a little yard front and back. Kids could play in the front yard, and a few chickens could roost out back. This was a luxury in concept and possibility that Pat would never have had back in Ireland. The field would have accommodated a hundred such houses, and horses too, as it sloped away from the ridge line. But this field was one of many still available in the vicinity, and the word was it had been purchased by one of the local churches for a cemetery.
“Ye’ll get more accomplished looking in the damned trench than at the horizon,” said the job superintendent, Tim McNulty.
Murphy was a “hands-on” foreman, and just as likely to be found wielding a shovel as opposed to telling someone else how to do it. He resented the constant jabbing from McNulty, who was the kind of Irishman who served as a landlord’s agent or an informer in “the old country.” He also knew that his team was far ahead of schedule, and leading other crews in the laying of new water mains throughout the county. But there was no arguing with a man such as McNulty, so he just looked up and smiled.
“Laying this pipe is a lot different than laying your wife,” he said to McNulty. “It’s more satisfying and will serve the public a hundred years.” Then he threw a shovelful of dirt on the superintendent’s shoes.
Thirty days later, cool, clear water roared through the iron pipe, which remained filled and under constant pressure for the next 100 years. Yet nothing lasts forever, and tiny casting imperfections, considered well within the manufacturing tolerance of 1875, began to fail with the next thee decades. Weak spots grew into cracks, that ultimately oozed water. The water began to dissolve the earth that nestled the pipe, creating subterranean channels that quenched the grass above the graves, in the cemetery that sat on the western shoulder of the broad boulevard.
Creton had been drinking at the bar in the “Bucket of Blood,” for the better part of the afternoon, while putting the moves on Lori, a brunette with big eyes, big teeth, and big tits. Unfortunately for him, she also had big ideas on what constituted a romantic evening, and returning to an apartment that qualified as one of the world’s biggest shit houses didn’t quite cut it. In his hour of desperate need, Cretin turned to me and asked, “Want to trade keys for the night?”
“Why? What’s in your apartment that could possibly benefit me?”
Creton lived in an apartment building that had been built in the 1930’s, with huge rooms and high ceilings. The structure clung to the side of an abrupt cliff, and was three stories in front and six in the back. His digs were on the first floor, with a bedroom on the street, but on the fourth floor in the back, with a breathtaking view of Midtown Manhattan from the living room. A cigar store Indian could have gotten laid on the strength of that view alone.
My apartment was a townhouse on Boulevard East, built in the late 1960’s, with an equally breathtaking view of upper Manhattan, including the George Washington Bridge. I had a much smaller living room, and a tiny kitchen, but I also had a built-in bar and a terrace, overlooking the tree-lined boulevard. Both apartments were great babe magnets. The primary difference between the two was in the living style of the tenants.
My place was spotlessly clean.
Cretin’s place looked like a Middle-Eastern bazaar that had recently hosted a car bombing. There was shit all over the place. The living room was decorated with 1930’s furniture that he had planned to have reupholstered, but never did. There were parts and frames from three motorcycles on the floor, illuminated by lamps missing shades. The plaster walls had been punctured by hundreds of “BB’s,” fired by a drunken Cretin on the night he tried to shoot a mouse. The kitchen was decorated in a more contemporary style, with piles of unwashed dishes in the sink, dozens of pizza boxes stacked here and there, and a collection of science experiments (that may have started out as Chinese take-out) in the refrigerator. The bedroom featured a mattress, festooned with balled up blankets, and a window with shades pulled down tight.
Everything throughout the apartment was covered by clean, folded laundry. Cretin had a thing for clean clothes, sometimes changing his jeans and tee shirts several times a day. He had more clothing than any other guy I knew, with jeans, shirts and underwear ensembles numbering in the hundreds. And these were stacked everywhere. He once brought a hooker home, who said upon entering, “You wouldn’t have to pay for sex if you just cleaned this place.”
“C’mon, Reep,” Cretin said, rolling his eyes.”I want to make it with this chic and the apartment I described to her was yours.”
Now I was perfectly willing to give Cretin the keys to my bike, my apartment or anything else I’d had under normal circumstances. But pure mayhem had ruled the last time he’d brought a woman to my place. For one thing, he told her that my caged birds were all finger trained. (I collected and raised finches back then.) They were not. He released a dozen of them into the apartment, and tried to lure them back by sprinkling a can of bread crumbs all over my book shelves. (Finches do not eat bread crumbs, nor Chinese dumplings, which were his next idea.)
He then took a series of “art” photographs, using his girlfriend “Susie” as a model, with a camera of mine he found in a closet. There were 18 pictures left on the roll and Cretin fulfilled some fantasy on each one. He neglected to tell me about this. The first 18 shots were of a trip I had taken with my girlfriend and her dog. I didn’t remember shooting the whole roll, but I popped it out of the camera and gave it to her to get developed. The looks she got at the photo place made her really mad. The only thing that saved me was Cretin had taken a close-up of his Johnson, and it was substantially different than mine. (It probably had two heads.)
Finally, he got really smashed and took a piss off the balcony. That means he stood out on my terrace, balls-ass naked, and pissed over the rail, onto the street below. The only saving grace to this was that he did it in the middle of the night, and managed to hit his Norton, parked on the sidewalk. (I later found out he and Susie were both out on the terrace naked, and that he was letting her “aim” while he unloaded.)
“I can’t tonight,” I lied. “The princess is coming back on a late flight from Arizona and we are planning a lovers’ reunion.”
“You can take her to my place,” Cretin suggested.
“Only if I want her to go back to Arizona,” I replied.
“Where else can I take Lori? It took all day but I finally got her eating out of my lap.”
“Stick her on the back of the bike and head up the Hudson toward the Tappan Zee Bridge,” I said. “There’s a cheap motel with a view of the river in Stony Point, and a cheap steak place with a bar across the street. The hotel is called the ‘Maple Leaf,’ or something like that.”
“Is it clean?” asked Cretin.
“It’s cleaner than your apartment... But so is a Port Authority men's room,” I pointed out. “You could always take her into one of those.”
It was getting dark when the two them pulled away.
Two hours earlier, a chunk of iron the size of a tea cup blew out of the great pipe that had been carefully laid by Patrick Murphy, one hundred years before, under the pavement of what was now one of the busiest thoroughfares in Hudson County. It is estimated that six or seven hundred gallons of water a minute was shooting out of the main. But no one knew this as the original cobblestone pavement, covered by seven layers of asphalt, held tight.
Since the water couldn’t go up, it went sideways... Blasting a subterranean passage-way into the cemetery on the west side of the boulevard, ten feet under the street. Once the dirt securing the pipe had thoroughly dissolved, bigger chunks blew out of the rotten main, releasing a rocket thrust of water into the ground. Water is one of the most democratic substances on earth. It finds its own level without regard for the living nor the dead. The uncontrolled torrent began to soak through layers of the deceased with a fury.
Cretin and Lori peeled off into the gathering dusk with high expectations. She’d expected a night in one of the world’s shittiest apartments, hastily cleaned, if at all; and what she was about to get was dinner out and a night in a dumpy hotel with a view. (I’d exaggerated the qualities of the restaurant and the hotel. But a night in purgatory is better than the same time in hell.) Cretin expected to be peeling the panties off of Lori in less than 90 minutes. He considered himself a kind of Saint Francis, releasing flawless breasts trapped in confining brassieres, to the freedom of his hands. He and Lori were happily lost in their own shallow interpretation of lust’s promise.
The Norton had roared to life on the second kick. Cretin opted not to take the “Boulevard” north, but shot straight down to US 1-9, which ran parallel to the foot of the ridge. He effortlessly threaded through light traffic, at about 65 miles per hour. The route was fairly straight and sort of industrial, with residential spots here and there. The exception being where the old cemetery on the hillside appeared on the right.
The water from the broken main opened more than a dozen graves on its mad course downhill, strewing the contents of caskets with reckless abandon. New burial regulations call for modern interment within a concrete containment vessel, though this was not always the case. Several of the deceased found themselves liberated from the tomb, and headed downhill. Most of the bodies became entangled with tombstones. little fences, and other grave ornaments. Yet one gentleman, in a now tattered suit, seemed more determined than the others. He made it to one of the paved roadways in the cemetery, which offered the water an unhindered exit onto the highway.
The pavement on Tonnele Avenue was a smooth as a Congressional promise, and the Norton jolted from one patched pothole to another. The headlight never offered much in the way of contrast, and was virtually washed away in the foot-deep lake that now surged across the road. But Cretin was alert and started to brake, though the nature of the pending threat had yet to fully register. The Norton hit the water a split second later, still moving at 40 miles per hour, drenching the two of them. He released the brakes and concentrated on remaining upright, with the throttle completely chopped. Nearly through the water, the headlight picked up the prone figure of a man in a suit, face-down on the pavement.
Cretin’s first thought was to swerve, and he downshifted while the giving the bike some gas. He was out of options, however, and he hit the person dead on, with the bike bouncing over the man’s body. Cretin brought the bike to a halt on dry pavement within 30 feet, and yelled for Lori to get off. Making sure she was out of the path of approaching traffic, he then dismounted and ran back to help the poor bastard he had just hit, and probably killed.
Cretin was still a few feet away when he yelled, “Buddy, are you okay?”
Critical descriptive details of the “victim” were obscured by the darkness. As gently as possible, Cretin rolled the gentleman on his back. The headlights of an oncoming car starkly illuminated the facial features of a middle-aged man, who’d been dead for at least 30 years.
Lori said Cretin’s scream could be clearly hear over the sound of approaching sirens.
He fell over backing away from the soaked cadaver, and watched as a car came through the water, and ran over the body again.
It was then he noticed the water gushing from the cemetery grounds, the remains of shattered coffins caught by the property’s rusting iron fence, and other debris, which enabled him to conclude that he was more of the effect than the cause of this situation. Consequently he got back on the Norton, restarted the bike, and took Lori straight to his apartment.
I saw them both in the bar the next day. Lori was wearing a pair of Cretin’s pants and one of his tee shirts.
“So how was the ride last night?” I asked.
“Fucked up,” said Cretin.
“Why? What happened?”
“Cretin killed a dead person with his Norton,” said Lori. “So we had to spend the night in his shit house, drinking Jim Beam straight from the bottle because there were no clean glasses.”
He gave Lori the kind of look that I knew meant he was torn between spending another night with her, or just writing off the loss of his favorite Grateful Dead tee shirt. I knew he bit the bullet when I saw him wearing the same Grateful Dead tee shirt three days later.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2012
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