Just a nervous guy
(No real conflict in this monologue, just a character sketch and a slice of life)
Everybody knows what a nervous guy I am.
That’s why I smoke too much, and why I hate meeting strangers or going anywhere different.
Part of it comes from when I was still in school.
When you’re as small as I am – 5 foot 3 inches – bigger kids pick on you.
And with a first name like Free, what else would you expect?
I got tough just surviving the jocks, and crafty when dealing with everybody else, but I never stopped being nervous.
Grown up is no easy chore either.
My mother – that gray-haired bag of bones that lives in the apartment upstairs from mine on 87th Street and 7th Ave – still treats me like I’m a kid.
I guess it’s because she missed my father so much, and since my old man kicked off from a heart attack when I was still a teen, my mother keeps him alive in her mind by treating me as if I haven’t aged a day.
I do everything I can to stay out of the building just not to hear her yelling “Free” down the stairs night and day, though when I’m home I go up and help with whatever she wants.
We’ve lived all our lives in this one old tenement building, my mother born in as was her father after her grandparents came over from Italy at the turn of the century.
Sure I’ve wanted to move out, and wandered away for a while only to come back, drawn in, never comfortable any place else.
Even as work, I feel the need to get back as soon as possible, though when I get here I want to leave again, the echoes of my name mingling with all the other screaming going on.
Of all, the Henderson’s are the worst.
They fight night and day, using language so rich I learned all my swear words from them instead of the back alleys like everybody else.
Mary Miller, the building’s oldest resident, believes one of them will get charged with murder some day, and I don’t doubt it.
The newest resident and the nearest to my age is a woman named Taylor, who lists her name as Ms Taylor on the mail box, though no one knows much about her, except that she dresses well, goes out a lot and gets a lot of fashion magazines in the mail.
I always hope I might catch her eye when I pass through the halls, but even when I see her she doesn’t see me.
Just like it was with the popular girls in school – always looking over my head as something or someone else.
We had one death this month: Mrs. O’Leary.
She was the oldest tenement for the longest time, with a living memory of my mother’s father, and his kin before him.
When I pass her door I keep expecting to smell her cooking, and feel her vacancy now because of it, like the space left by a pulled tooth.
I keep expecting the woman to pull open her door and invite me to sit down for a bowl of some Irish dish she cooked for herself, a pot always boiling with more than she could ever eat herself.
I keep thinking her place is haunted since the landlord hasn’t yet come up with another tenant. But Mr. Billo – superintendent who lives on the first floor – tells me she lived in the place so long and cooked so much that he needs to have the whole place done over and repainted just to get the scent of Irish cooking out of it.
Most days, when I’m caught between wanting to leaving and fear to go to far from the building, I sit on the front stoop smoking, drawing Mr. Billo’s complaints about the pile of butts and ashes I leave, telling me to use the coffee can he put out there for me. I always forget.
He tells me I ought to quit smoking.
But I’m a nervous guy I tell him, and light up another cigarette.