Emma, a girl I knew from college, offered up the use of her fuchsia moiré satin sofa, “for a week or so, until you find a place of your own.” Emma’s trust fund took care of the details of her comfortable life. This included the ground floor of a townhouse on the Upper East Side. Half way along a leafy side street, down one step to a sunken courtyard the heavy front door was couched beneath a stone archway. This opened to a living room of oversized furniture in shades of Gothic and blood, and in an alcove the fuchsia moiré satin sofa now converted to my bed. From the living room a corridor with kitchen and bathroom to either side and in the back one enormous bedroom with a fireplace and a four poster bed laden with frilly pillows, and trays of soiled crockery and upturned egg shells filled with a thousand cigarette ends. Beyond a set of French doors was a petite garden, with a wrought iron bench and an actual grass lawn the size of a bathmat.

I did not see much of Emma, and since I could hear her television constantly on I imagined she lounged in bed all day. Emma was not a talker, and her reputation at college was that she was a little ‘slow’. Occasionally, often after I was tucked in on the sofa, Emma would slink out into the night, all dressed up in fancy clothes. She never said goodbye. When I left for work in the morning I presumed she was returned to her four poster bed, but I did not think to check. In spite of her hospitality her existence scarcely scratched my consciousness. In any case, she could not compete for entertainment value with the sights I saw on my daily jaunt to and from work. Like the guy in a green tutu and high heels and full on make-up, his well defined solid ass muscles gyrating out there for all to see. Or the little old lady, in an electric chair, speeding in amongst the taxicabs down the center lane of Fifth Avenue, a male nurse chasing, hollering.

My commute entailed twenty minutes of zigzagging from the Upper East Side to the axis of bedlam, otherwise known as Times Square. Each day I passed a schoolyard, half a block of cement and basketball hoops with no nets. In the morning it teemed with boisterous small kids, hunchbacked by book bags. And in the evenings, on my walk home the courtyard was empty on the school side, but on the street side of the chain link fence lingered a throng of men in hooded sweatshirts and baggy jeans and peacock flora sneakers. They were always there, and when I walked by them they hissed: ”Sess, sess, sess.”

For the first few days of this I was keenly terrified and kept my sights trained on the ground and scurried by them. But after a while my curiosity was tickled. One evening, coming up on the gang I stopped, and asked, “What the hell is ‘Sess’?”

“Sessamilia.” They burst into a chorus.

“What the hell?”

“Watch your language,” said the tallest and widest of the group. He then took it upon himself to explain his was a marijuana outfit and that he and his men owned that particular corner. He flashed me a wad of cash from his pocket. Some of his cohorts also pulled out rolls of bills.

“Can I work with you?” I asked, semi-serious.

“This work is for men.” The tall wide man began, and then he stirred with righteousness and doled out a lecture with threads along the lines of what did I think I was doing walking around in the evening by myself at my age? And on he sermonized. This was not what I had expected from New York City. I was so stunned I meekly took the scolding. At least now I had a supplier. Nights I began letting myself into Emma’s bedroom, to access the garden, and the wrought iron bench upon which to sit and smoke a joint. I was tiptoeing through her room for some time before I noticed the mass of flotsam on the bed was not Emma. Thus I learned she did not always return from her nocturnal forays.


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