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I think about my friend from back in the day, Marvin Greene. I first remember his smile, his overall body language, his strut and his distinctive voice. Then something else pops up and I get distracted. Last time that happened, I made a serious mental note to find a quiet time to reflect.

I’d always promise to take that time and sit down to remember Marvin Greene. To recall when we met and became unlikely friends. And how sadly, our friendship lasted less than a year.

I finally did.

*****

I graduated college in 1973.

Recession time.

My only immediate option: to continue driving a taxi at night. It became five nights a week. I got to experience the street even more intimately than I ever realized I would.

The bouncers, hotel doormen and hookers, started giving me that nod of recognition. That translated to:

You belong.

Where else and who else would have me anyway? My best friend left for the Midwest to graduate school with his girlfriend. Another friend became a bank teller. The taxi route seemed the easiest and most cost effective path for me.

This taxi lifestyle started giving me the chalky pale complexion of a vampire. That registered from sleeping most of the daytime and living under the cool neon glow of the nighttime. I discovered the cleanest bathrooms Downtown, Midtown and Uptown. I lived on greasy fried food, pizza, hot dogs and potato knishes, washing it all down with those omnipresent Papaya Stand drinks.

I realized it became time to get out when I started working the Cocaine Bars uptown on Broadway in Harlem. Some Super Fly guy I met would throw down a fifty and give me an address in Brooklyn. I would drive him there. I’d wait ten minutes. Super Fly would score his coke for the night. And I’d drive him back uptown. He’d sell the shit in the bar. I guess he trusted me because I didn’t want to be paid in cocaine. We started to become friends, but my gut told me not to trust him.

I ain’t no chump.

The cops figured guys like my pal Super Fly only took illegal Gypsy Cabs to Brooklyn. They also knew drivers of legal yellow cabs (like me) wouldn’t take anyone to Brooklyn. But some yellow cabs would work the Harlem streets. I survived the jungle for a year, so Harlem didn’t scare me.

I devised a plan to negate the boredom of my life.

I’d call Super Fly at one of the bars he’d be working. He’d say “10:15.” So I’d plan to cruise by the bar he selected at 10:15 PM.

It appeared he was grabbing a taxi. We’d run a decoy ride uptown a bit, making sure we were not followed.

I’d soon head downtown on the West Side Highway and out to Brooklyn.

One night a bunch of Narco cops surrounded the taxi, at gunpoint they pulled Super Fly out and told me to get lost. I must have looked innocent. Super Fly never gave me up. They wouldn’t have believed him anyway.

That ended it for me. No more Cocaine Bars. My slow insidious slide into the vibrantly exciting, but toxic uptown sewer ended abruptly. I returned to watching Soul Train on Saturday morning for my Negro Fix.

*****

I got a job as an Actuarial Assistant at some company on Park Avenue by answering an ad for “College Graduate.” I guess I cleaned up pretty good back when I was 23.

That’s where I met Marvin Greene.

*****

Marvin worked in the Mail Room as a Messenger. The people who worked for this firm were uptight Business Administration bozos. I never understood why they hired me, but they did. I didn’t last that long, and neither did Marvin. We both became members of the 1973 unemployed on the same day.

I don’t like numbers. Never did, never will. It turned out to be an amicable split. They also expressed their concerned that I hung out with Marvin as well. That fact nudged their judgement even more to let me go. I was not salvageable.

I really didn’t give a shit.

But Marvin was a different story. Marvin, a reformed heroin addict, was working as a graduate of “Wildcat,” a drug rehab program. The owner of the Actuarial firm was a super limousine liberal. He and his wife wanted to be seen by their UESL (Upper East Side Liberal)friends as compassionate. Both gladly offered employment to Wildcat “clients.” I wonder if that putz realized that might have been the problem when shit was disappearing from the office (Typewriters, etc.) when he started to employ the Wildcat guys?

But Marvin, as I later found out, was Marvin. And Marvin, “don’t play that shit. Marvin was able to navigate living in both the world of the street and the world of the normal (or as I called it, the mundane.) But he had a low level for taking bullshit. Marvin did not like wearing a pale blue jacket and being referred to as a  messenger boy.

I returned to being a Taxi Technologist and only drove part time on weekends. Staying below what I renamed 86th Street: The DMZ (The Demilitarized Zone.) I still would sing my favorite Chambers Brothers song Uptown:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IE6o7lk0Ec

*****

Marvin got a job at a messenger service. That’s when he met Sharon Cohen. Sharon worked as a personal assistant to the President of a top modeling agency. The agency shared a name with the guy who is credited with inventing the automobile assembly line. It was a very famous and glamorous place to work.

Marvin only did white broads, usually he would hit em and quit ‘em,” or as I would so eloquently used to say: pump em and dump ‘em.”

But to my surprise, Marvin moved in with Sharon.

She was not that attractive and kind of a dizzy broad. But she had a kind soul and a good heart.

They rented an apartment in Brooklyn Heights. He instinctively knew she was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

He really loved her and she really loved him.

A nice Bronx Jewish girl and a North American Negro from New York? A super head turner in 1973. But they made it work.

Sharon once confided in me that she was visited early on in their Brooklyn Heights apartment by a plain-clothes detective. The visit was timed by the cop when Marvin was not home. She was shocked when the cop wanted to make sure she was OK. I calmly told her to chill. It would be years before their situation would become socially acceptable, if ever. Marvin didn’t need to know.

Marvin and I continued to hang out.

We had a blast uptown at The Apollo seeing Redd Foxx Live. Sure, Marvin had kicked the heroin habit. But he still liked his Vodka and OJ.

We hit a liquor store right out of the subway.

Marvin got drunk and started acting like a jerk. I stopped him from getting into a fist fight. Getting fucked up because of a stupid macho street perception of slight? That shit could have escalated into something more serious like getting locked up, cut or shot.

*****

A natural leader: That was Marvin. He loved being the center of attention. He resented he had to constantly tell his uptown “bruthas” that I was cool. He’d be calling out their hypocrisy, labeling them as “George Wallace Wannabes.”

“MAR-VINN” as he was known uptown, wanted me to run with his old neighborhood crowd. I was out of place. Truth be told, I didn’t want to hang out uptown. I never had a big circle of friends anyway.

Marvin wanted me to accept them and wanted them to accept me. Equal Opportunity Running Buddies.

But that didn’t work. They seemed like assholes who would drag Marvin into some stupid shit and he’d fuck up and lose Sharon. Worse yet, he’d wind up in the can or get clipped.

But I said nothing. Marvin soon let the idea go. He soon realized he had a choice: Either the bruthas or Sharon.

Marvin and I now decided to hang out exclusively in Greenwich Village. We’d talk about everything. That was the only place we could be comfortable.

He actually admitted to me he hated being black. The race bullshit landed heavily on his shoulders. Don’t get me wrong, Marvin was not an Oriole.

But It was killing him. He now thought it was all worth it, because he had found Sharon. “Me and Sharon would build our own life and Fuck everyone else.”

Marvin withdrew from his uptown lifestyle of his own volition. And with that, dedicated himself to Sharon.

Marvin and Sharon were to be married.

Some dictate no matter what you do, things have a way of getting fucked up. This is why I truly believe life is not fair. “There is nothing looking out for us. We’re all floating and whatever happens, happens,” I would tell Marvin.

He disagreed by laughing and dismissively calling me a “Jive Assed Turkey.”

“You make some of your own shit happen.” I would counter to Marvin. “But some shit is beyond your control and some shit isn’t.”

“Man, you so dark, you belong uptown!” Marvin would laugh.

*****

Sharon called me.

She was crying. Marvin was in the hospital.

I had noticed he was starting to look a bit under the weather, tired and sluggish for the past few months.

The tests showed Leukemia at an advanced stage. He would die soon.

Sharon cried.

She left the room.

Marvin looked up at me and said in a low and raspy voice: “I finally got everything together. I was going to start at Manhattan Community College to be something for Sharon. And now, I’m fucked! I did the right thing and now I’m fucked!”

I’ll never forget looking at him. It took every ounce of strength he had to put that rage in his eyes.

“It’s not fair!” He gasped.

Marvin died early the next morning. Sharon was at his side. I showed up about an hour after he passed.

Sharon seemed content and happy. She said she had seen Marvin’s spirit leaving his body. Marvin told her he loved her and not to worry. He knows things will work out.

“Marvin is not bitter.” she said.

I smiled and dismissed that as Sharon being Sharon.

Within in the month, she left New York, we both moved on and lost touch.

*****

After finding the time to ponder everything it all becomes quite clear. I now realize, it was all Sharon being Sharon in the hospital the day Marvin left.

After all these years, I believe I always knew, but wouldn’t admit it to myself. Sharon told me of that last alleged spiritual encounter with Marvin, knowing it would comfort me.

Sharon being Sharon. Yes, kind of a dizzy broad, with a kind soul and a good heart.

She was being strong and wise for both Marvin and me.

 

End

Stephen A. Murray will be publishing his first novella The NYPD Chronicles of Frankie Neptune in December. It will be available at www.notpcfiction.com and Amazon.com

 

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