We’re doing it again, cats and kittens. Noir at the Bar in New York City at Shade on the corner of 3rd street and Sullivan. Don’t know the official roster yet, but there will no doubt be a fine grouping of ruffians, ne’re do wells, roustabouts, thugs, drunks and scoundrels.
I’ll be reading from my story “One More Day Can’t Hurt,” available in the current issue of Thuglit that you can purchase here.
It’s always a good time and hey, if you aren’t having fun just start drinking. Why do you think we hold the thing in a fucking bar?
Come and press your face against the musky, sweaty odor of New York noir.
It’s a fancy Japanese restaurant now, some kind of fusion cuisine where diners kneel at the low tables that make dinner an endurance exercise. When I was a boy in 1986 it was an empty storefront with rails and diamond relief metal for steps. That homeless man, he slept on those rusty diamonds and turned his coke bottle glasses to sunlight that crept in between the buildings at certain hours of the day. He was always so grave, so watchful and would salute me when I passed with my step-mother, holding onto her with one hand and returning his greeting with the other. The homeless in New York City are often ignored or feared, but they entertain us on our subway rides and call to us during our commutes like ghosts in the corners of our eyes. They laugh at the air and speak to people we can’t see, share their smells with us on hot subway cars in August or March. Poke at our guilt and privilege, giving us a chance to soothe both with a bright coin in a dirty palm.
George Orwell wrote that beggars are despised not for being indigent, but for choosing a trade at which they make no money.
TriBeCa was almost empty then except for two bars and a ragtag bunch of lost boy artists, some now trying their hands at raising children. Nearby a hardware store had bins of random junk you could buy for a dollar and I rummaged there for hours, finding treasures in bits of stove and car parts, once a mild burn from some mild acid that had leaked all over everything.
He never asked for anything, just lay wrapped in his sleeping bag with an ear turned toward a radio that was always silent. Once after we greeted each other I asked my step-mother why he couldn’t afford batteries for his radio.
“Some of these guys, the real crazies, they have rolls of money in their pockets. The radio probably works fine.”
It’s strange how different a reply is from an answer.
Behind him the empty storefront sat like a cave with a glass door. Open sesame or even a key would reveal a hidden wealth of dust, copper wire and silence.
And one day he was gone.
“Where did he go, mom?”
“Probably just wandered off.”
The landscape of a child’s world is made of many strange things, some of which become the ghosts of adulthood. Every time I pass that Japanese restaurant, now full of light and rice paper, I imagine him reclining still and listening on his radio for a song I’d never hear. I remember his coke-bottle glasses and ragged sleeping bag, the way he never smiled. I will remember him and that New York City forever, no matter how many times they pave it over with boutiques, restaurants and strollers. My fingertips will always recall the difference between a subway token and a nickel from the way they felt in my pocket.
What did I just say? You people don’t fucking listen.
Five years ago I had to stop boxing because I broke my eye socket for the second time and they installed a little silicon ramp held in place by a screw. My doctor very gently and slowly, because he must think I’m defective for this to be my idea of fun, explained that perhaps I wasn’t designed for this sport and perhaps knitting would be more appropriate. Kinda funny, I literally might have a screw loose, but probably not because every once in a while I jump up and down to see if I can feel anything rattling around in there. So far all is well. A year after that I tore something in my left shoulder and had to give up Brazilian jiujitsu because I couldn’t even lift a glass of water.
Spent two years trying to rehab the fucking thing with weights and in the process learned the proper way of strength training, learned to squat and deadlift and all that is good and useful about picking heavy shit up off the floor. I still missed fight sports, but I had to make due.
But the shoulder never really got any better and I couldn’t even do a push-up without serious pain that I couldn’t push through.
So shoulder surgery, which was by far the most painful surgery I’ve ever had and I’ve had a few. I’d have preferred to break an eye socket again that go through the pain of rehabbing my shoulder. But I kept going, listened to my physical therapist even though I was chomping at the bit to get back to the iron and one day jiujitsu. Eventually I did and a year after shoulder surgery I worked my way to a 475lb one rep deadlift without any grip aids other than chalk.
In the words of Bill and Ted, excellent. If you don’t get this reference it’s fine, I’ll be shopping for a walker and adult diapers tomorrow.
Then my neck started to hurt. A lot. Okay. Round the clock headaches, pain I couldn’t push through and not sleeping more than two hours at a time without waking up in pain. More physical therapy, a year of being stubborn and finally I make plans to get an MRI.
Four herniated discs in my neck alone.
Steroid injections, more physical therapy, fired one physical therapist and literally an entire office of doctors before I managed to get somebody used to working with athletes. My physical therapist’s exact words:
“You’re kinda stupid. I can work with that provided you listen.”
Okay. Five months of physical therapy. Five months away from the gym and I can feel my strength flowing away, my manliness diminishing, any minute now I shall buy some skinny jeans, grow an ironic mustache and be slightly effete and oh so cool. I shall pass myself in the mirror and my reflection shall laugh, point and ask:
Now after another five month break I’m working my way back to my previous numbers, but carefully and calmly, understanding now that the world of physical culture is not a series of tests or levels, that it’s a constant stream from birth to death and to treat it as a series of levels to be passed is to treat oneself to the feeling of constant failure, the gym becomes a chore and a goal in the ever-increasing distance. I have found this to be true with writing, with love, with everything that you run across in this thing called life. What you choose to fill your time with, it’s all life and life is to be experienced and enjoyed. This does not mean do not struggle and this does not mean do not fight to achieve.
Fight. Struggle. Work. Challenge yourself. Live.
But I was looking at this all wrong. If I just do this one more thing than all will fall into place. One day I will “get it.” And every day that I didn’t “get it,” was another day in which I had failed myself.
Obviously, it doesn’t work like that. But I need to pound myself against that immovable object until I began to understand this. And I’ll get it wrong again, I’m sure, before they nail me into that pine box. Or shoot my ashes into space strapped to a rocket that has “deez nuts,” written on the side.
I haven’t decided yet.
Make sure that you dare to fail, fail often and fail better. But you never fail yourself. That’s bullshit. Each failure I have broken my teeth against and bled on while I caught my breath has led me to a lesson that I will take to my grave. Or space. I haven’t decided yet.
And I’m probably not saying anything that anybody doesn’t already know if you haven’t picked up a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul. That’s why I told you not to read this nonsense. But since you did, I threw in a bunch of swear words because I’m macho as fuck.
Thuglit Issue Five
The good people at Thuglit have been
foolish generous enough to publish my story “One More Day Can’t Hurt,” which takes place in the 1950’s in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. The main character Ralphie is a man struggling, with junk, with dreams, with life and love.
I’m honored to be in such company for this issue, you’ll find stories by:
A GOOD MARRIAGE by Ed Kurtz
HAPPY ENDING by Rob W. Hart
GATO NEGRO by Chris Murphy
WITH ONE STONE by Brian Leopold
KILLER, DUCK AND THE BOYS by Shannon Barber
VIDALIA by Edward Hagelstein
JERRY’S DEAD WIFE by Chris Mattix
For this piece I returned to my roots of writing, the world of noir. I hope I’ve done it justice, but that’s not for me to decide. Here’s an excerpt and a link where you can purchase the collection if you so desire.
One More Day Can’t Hurt
By Justin Porter
He played his fingers across the mother-of-pearl inlaid arabesque of the wooden box. These old twigs, he thought, old twigs across the surface of something lovely. Had they ever been good fingers or were they always just old twigs?
Always have an exit strategy. An older soldier’s advice while they shared a raw potato during a break in shelling, the last two men in a trench of bodies, the harsh bite of the tuber and the flash of the knife as they cut it into tiny pieces to make it last. The moonlight overhead seemed like a blasphemy and the cold had sharp teeth, but at least it masked the tang of the dead. Always have an exit strategy, Ralphie, the old soldier said and laughed, handing him the last of the potato as they waited for daylight and for a rescue they both knew was not coming.
Now, all these years later and alone in his single room, he opened the box and looked at the nickel fittings of an old syringe nestled in the velvet lining like a viper in a feather bed.
“Exit strategy.” He whispered before closing the box and picking up his proper rig. 1941 was a long time ago, he reminded himself as he tied off with his belt, one more day can’t hurt. Warmth washed over him while he rolled down his sleeve and lit a cigarette, holding it in his teeth while he slipped his coat on.
I should have trusted the drift,
for every time I’ve driven in my oar the boat has turned on its own ripple and carved a path unseen and chiseled in the clear surface.
Is resignation the same as trust in the end?
I only know where I am when I cup a hand and dip, either salt or sweet upon my tongue.
Do I judge the heading true by the bitter or the sweet?
The stars overhead are as strange as the signs, green with white letters and as much a mystery as any augury of feathers, entrails or leaves.
Am I truly as lost as I am found?
I can decide until the sweat beads on my brow and every lie sounds like gospel, sureness will continue to elude me.
As long as there is another horizon I’ll never have to admit a thing, not to you or any of my reflections.