12 - A ride to remember


            In the vestibule, I stopped Peggy.

            “Don’t you think you ought to get dressed first?” I said. “It’s pretty cold outside.”

            Peggy looked down at herself, the two piece outfit she wore already revealing her cold-hardened nipples.

            She grinned at me.

            “The cold is only half of it,” she said and dumped her street clothing on the small table where during one of Wolfman’s galas, a minion collected the door charge. A flyer from his birthday bash was still stapled to the wall above it.

            From a plastic bag, Petty drew out a thick, black navy-style coat.

            “I got out in my outfit and half a dozen horny cops will have me in the slammer – and I do mean have me.”

            “Are you sure the coat is enough?” I asked, looking over, noting how her long legs seemed overly exposed.

            “It’ll be fine until I get to your car.”

            “My car?”

            “You do have a car, don’t you?”

            “Sure, it’s in the parking lot across the street. What about your car?”

            “I don’t have one.”

            “Sure you do, I’ve seen your drive it.”

            “Well, tonight I don’t.”

            “How did you get here?”

            “Someone dropped me off, naturally.”

            “You mean Tom?”

            “Do you want to drive me home or drive me crazy with your twenty questions?” Peggy asked. “What does it matter who drove me here? I need you to drive me now, and I wish you would hurry, I’m freezing.”

            I led her across the street.

            Main Avenue, Passaic, was a relic of the past, once a prominent industrial town where passenger rail lines ran down the mills of the street as trains made their way from the docks in Hoboken and Jersey City to the Silk Mills in Paterson.

            I caught the last of these as a kids, but as the docks shut down along the Hudson River and the Mills of Paterson ceased operations, trains became less frequent and the city fathers tore up the tracks to install parking with the desperate hope that this might draw back wealthier white shoppers who had fled the cities for life in the suburbs and stores in shopping malls such as Willowbrook where I worked.

            Few of us understood at the time that we were watching the end of an era, the dying of a working class culture as society decided to breed overpaid middle class clerks in a new kind of colonialism that exported labor-intensive jobs to other parts of the planet. While places like Hoboken marketed themselves as the new Mecca for young professionals, places like Passaic turned into a wasteland of cheap stores, medical offices and other dives. Places like the My Way, which had once been some kind of night club serving a thriving downtown, became places of sensual escape for people like me – although even these places would face tough times ahead with the emergence of on-line porn sites as the internet put to death most venues for public entertainment.

            Standing there in that cold night in early 1987, the world was still in transition. Passaic’s most famous theater, The Capital, had already closed. The Central had been torn down to make way for what was a diner, and then later, a Dunkin Donuts. The Mohawk remained, but it, too, had taken on the perverse flavor of the city, a mock tribute to the still thriving porn industry of 42nd Street, a place so connected that even the police chief’s family worked in it as ticket sellers. The only book store left open was near Lexington Avenue at Monroe Street, and men slunk out of it with their purchases covered in brown paper bags.

            Even Helmsley-Speare – the company responsible for most of the area’s gentrification – had abandoned Passaic, leaving the old Tuck Tape factory on Passaic and Market streets a virtual mausoleum for the ghosts of pass jobs now extinct. Not quite two years earlier, I had stood on the sidewalk watching the great Labor Day fire that gutted other, still viable portions of Passaic’s industrial base – leaving even fewer jobs for the local population.

            Plenty of money flowed through Passaic, of course.

            While white people didn’t shop in the local stores, plenty of macho jerks from Garfield took the trip over one of the bridges to visit the open drug markets along Third Street where drug dealers threw themselves at the cars with offers of cheap drug sales. Prostitution was less open, but as wide a condition – although I did not learn about how much of the local economy it represented until later.

            How much the mayor and council knew at the time, remains a mystery, although the mayor would later face charges for corruption, suggesting that he knew much more than he let on.

            The My Way, situated between the offices of some prominent engineering firm and the payment center for Public Service was part of the last block of Main Avenue’s shopping district before the Blue Castle hamburger joint, the Social Security Building, the YMCA began the slow transition into the much more suburban Passaic Park.

            While during the day, when people came via public transportation – often using downtown Passaic as a stop over for connections to buses to jobs elsewhere such as sections of Clifton, Newark and even Paterson – giving Passaic some semblance of its old self – at night with its middle exposed like an unused drive-in movie theater – the place seemed abandoned, the handful of cars parked here or there only making the sense of loss that much more vivid.

            We crossed the two lanes from the My Way to the parking lot where the tracks once ran. I dumped the boxes on the hood of my rusted Datzun, fishing in my pocket for the key to open the doors.

            “This is your car?” Peggy said, clearly appalled.

            “Yes, what’s wrong with it?”

            “It’s more rust than car,” she said, circling the 1978 B-210 as if a landmine. “Does it actually run?”

            “After a fashion,” I said, pulling open the door and putting the boxes into the small back seat one at a time.

            “Couldn’t you afford to buy American?”

            “I did once. A Ford Pinto. When it fell apart, a friend gave me this.”

            “Maybe you should have given it back.”

            “Do you want a ride or not?”

            “I said I did, didn’t I? Does it have heat?”

            “Not much.”

            “Then I’d better get dressed,” Peggy said.

            “Out here?” I said, glancing around at what looked like an empty street, but was not empty. Shadowy shapes inhabited some of the deeper doorways. Someone was always watching.

            “I’m not going to get naked,” Peggy said. “If that’s what you’re worried about. I’m going to put my street clothes over my outfit – if that’s all right with you?”

            “I wasn’t being critical.”

            “You sounded like you were,” Peggy said as she put her bag on the top of my car, pulling her pants out first, and putting them on, then pealing off the jacket in order to slip into a shirt. She put the jacket back on. “Most men I know what me to take my clothes off. You’re worried about me putting them on. Don’t you want to see me naked?”

            “Of course I do.”

            “Ah, the truth comes out.”

            “I didn’t mean…”

            “What did you mean, Alfred? Are you telling me I can’t trust you after all?”

            “I didn’t say that either.”

            “Get into the car, Buster, you’re starting to pant.”

            I got in as she slid into the passenger side seat. I just started out at the street and a cab rumbling by on some mysterious mission.

            I didn’t quite believe any of this, although I supposed in my wildest dreams I had hoped for something like this to happen.

            “Well?” Peggy asked.

            I turned the key. The small engine came to life, coughing a bit at first in the cold, and Peggy didn’t have to say anything, I could see the doubt in her eyes as she frowned at me. I engaged the gears and pulled the car out of the spot, steering it to the exit onto the street.

            “I know you live somewhere down Passaic Street,” I said, turning the car in that direction. “After that, you’re going to have to give me directions.”

            “You know too much already,” Peggy said, looking at me with suspicion.

            “You passed me one night going home,” I said. “I waved, but you didn’t see me. I certainly couldn’t keep up with you. You drive like a mad woman.”

            She seemed a little relieved and nodded.

            “Just drive. I’ll tell you were to turn,” she said, and I drove.

            From Main Avenue to the Wall Street Bridge was among the most familiar landscape of my life, territory I had wandered since the early 1970s and still occupied, my house down at the far end near the bridge, something I pointed out as we passed.

            “Are you suggesting I come to your place?” Peggy asked.

            “I never said that.”

            “No, but you would like me to.”

            “I guess…” I said flustered.

            “So you’re just like all the other boys. All you want to do it fuck the shit out of me.”

            “I never said that.”

            “You mean you don’t want to fuck me?”

            “I didn’t say that either.”

            “I wish you would make up your mind,” Peggy said. “Do you want to fuck me or not?”

            I could not speak. So I just drove, steering the car into Garfield and into my family’s ancestral home, the place where my great, great grandfather had settled after coming over from Italy, and where my family had lived until just prior to my birth. I could feel the bones of my ancestors stirring, I could hear their voices in my head.

            I glanced at Peggy; she laughed.

            “What are you looking at?” she asked.

            “At you.”

            “I mean before that.”

            “The road.”

            “No you weren’t. You were staring into space. Something I’ve noticed you doing a lot.”

            I shrugged.

            “I suppose I do that when I’m thinking about something,” I said.

            “And what in the world would you be thinking about?”

            “Let’s not go back to that.”

            “To what?”

            “To my fucking you.”

            “Is that what you were thinking about?”

            “It’s too complicated for me to go into it.”

            “So now I’m stupid, is that it?”

            “I never said that.”

            “No, but you implied it.”

            “I did not such thing. You inferred it.”

            “I what?”

            “Never mind.”

            “There you go again. I know what infer means. I didn’t know what you meant specifically.”

               “I mean you read more into my silences than they deserve, and I never said or implied you are stupid. Maybe I’m the one who is stupid because I can’t translate my thoughts into words.”

            “It’s not hard at all. All you have to say is that you want to fuck me.”

            “Do we turn soon?” I asked, as we rolled passed Michaels Restaurant with its giant map of Sicily painted on its side wall, and towards the rail road bridge where the road dipped and rose again beyond it.

            “I told you I would tell you when to turn,” she said, glaring at me after her own long reverie out the passenger side window.

            “I know but…”

            “Stop inferring things,” she said. “I’ll let you know where we’re going.”

            I was confused, not exactly certain as to what she meant, and I was afraid to ask.

            A steamy circle grew inside of the windshield. I reached for the defrost switch.

            “Don’t!” Peggy yelped.

            “What’s wrong?”

            “Don’t put on the heat.”

            “But I thought you were cold.”

            “I was. I’m not now. I don’t trust this tin bucket of yours. The fewer switches you push, the better chance we have of getting home.”

            “This car runs better than it looks.”

            “So you say. Just leave it alone. If I get cold, I’ll start a fire.”

            My hand dropped from the dashboard.

            “I’m sorry about what happened at the bar,” I said.


            “Because you lost your job. I never meant for that to happen.”

            “If it was because of you, I wouldn’t be in this car,” she said, staring again out the window. “You didn’t lose the job for me. I walked out. I don’t let anybody boss me around like that.”

            “What are you going to do for work now?”

            “There are hundreds of jobs like that. I’m popular enough to get anyone of them, and he knows it. Besides, you know I have a day job.”

            “You mean that accountant story is true?”

            “I’m not going to repeat myself just because an air head like you refuses to believe me.”

            “Accountants make good money,” I said.

            “That’s true.”

            “Then why do you dance?”

            “Don’t go there,” Peggy warned. “I’m sick of having men ask me that question.”

            “It’s a good question.”

            “So you say.”

            “Aren’t you going to answer it?”

            “Not unless you twist my arm.”

            “Will you stop being difficult. It’s not like I’m asking you your age.”

            “I dance because I like to dance,” she said with an exasperated sign. “Is that such a big mystery?”

            “There are other kinds of dancing.”

            “What other kinds of dancing pays as much in two nights as I make in a week at my regular job?”

            “So you do it for the money?”

            “The money, the drinks and – well, other things.”

            “Like what?”

            “Like the attention. I like having men look at me, reacting to me.”

            “You mean you like making us squirm?”

            “That’s part of it – the most obvious part.”

            “For most men, you mean.”

            “All men react to me when I dace, even those sour-faced farts up at the northend of the bar. The old fakers try not to gawk the way other men do. Sometimes I push them harder to make them sweat. They react. They just hide it better than you do.”


            “You react.”

            “That’s only because you’re crazy.”

            “Am I?’

            “Most definitely.”

            “Is that why you want to fuck me because I’m crazy?”

            “Will you get off that.

            “But it’s true. I see if in your eyes ever time I’m on the stage.”

            “Like hell you do.”

            “I’ll point out the next time we’re there.”

            “There won’t be a next time, remember. We’re banned.”

            “You’re banned. I left on my own. But even you aren’t banned for ever. I know him, in a few weeks we’ll both be back there.”

            “You sound very confident.”

            “I am. He always takes a fit every time I take an interest in someone, and he tries to intimate the man by tossing him out the bar. That’s why I walked out. I wouldn’t have a sex life if I let him get away with it.”

            “You mean you’ll actually let me make love to you?”

            “What do you think?” Peggy said. “By the way, you need to turn left – Quick!”

            I slammed on the breaks and twisted the wheel, forcing the car into a sudden ski, church and school a dark blur on either side of the car as the smell of burned rubber filled the air.

            The car stalled and stopped.

            I twisted the key until it started again, and then I glared at Peggy.

            “I thought you were going to tell me where to turn?”

            “I did.”

            “Not until the last minute.”

            “You distracted me with all your questions. You’re the noisiest person I’ve ever met.”

            “How am I supposed to know anything if I don’t ask questions?”

            “There you go again,” she said. “By the way, you have to make the next right.”

            She pointed at the sharp turn off at Garfield’s Veterans’ Triangle, where three streets intersected – and a lone monument sat on a three sided island dividing them. We turned onto Harrison Avenue – which eventually led into Lodi, passing the offices to the Garfield Messenger newspaper, and passed a bakery my family still owned, these blocks so drenched with my family’s history, I almost felt at home. I had heard the tales from my family about life here since I was a young child, and could almost mark out each location as we drove.

            “It’s my nature to ask questions,” I said, filling the silence that had come between us.

            “Just drive, we’re almost there,” Peggy said, sounding weary or sad, and then after a number of blocks, she told me to pull over.

            I pulled the car over in front of an old shoe store, one of those old fashioned place with yellow clear shades drawn over the window and a parade of shoes decades out of date.

            “You live here?”

            “Upstairs. But you can’t come up,” she said. “Maybe next time.”

            “Won’t you need help with the packages?”

            “I’ll manage,” she said, then got out and waited until I came around and took out the boxes, which she did somehow manage to hold.

            “When will I see you again?” I asked as she turned to go.

            She stopped, and peered around the boxes at me.

            “I’m dancing at the Club House Saloon next Saturday. You can see me there.”

            Then she went to the door next to the store window and vanished into the shadow. I waited until I heard the door open and the sound of footsteps rising on the stairs beyond it.

            But I didn’t leave.

            I went to the corner and the parking lot there, and looked up, watching as one of the two windows on the stop floor lighted up. Then I went back to the car for the ride back to my house, thinking that it would be a whole week before I got to see her again, and this made me sad.




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