Tag Archive for 'Cuba'

DRAFTED/Part Three

Part 2


It’s 1962 and the center is crumbling.

In Centralia, Pa. a garbage dump built over an old coal mine catches fire. The slow burning anthracite under the landfill is ignited and smolders unabated. The town is slowly consumed. The people endure heat, pollution and disease without protest.

In Union Square the Committee to Defend the Cuban Revolution preaches armed struggle against the US. The speakers are young and neat in dress shirts and pressed khakis–some even wear clip-on ties. They look over the heads of the crowd and speak through bullhorns in alien twangs–southern, mid-western.

“Resist the US Imperialist war against Social Democracy…”

An old man, trembling on a cane, warns: “Don’t sign their petition. It’s an FBI trick to get your names.”

A fat kid in overalls jumps off the platform and screams in his face. “All power to Fidel and Che and the brothers and sisters of the Revolution.”

The old man flinches but holds his ground. “Ask them who paid for the leaflets and the fancy loudspeakers.”

Across the park members of the Nation of Islam are handing out copies of their newspaper, “Muhammad Speaks.” Heads shaven, standing at attention in suits and bow ties, they surround their speaker like a Secret Service detail.

“Democracy and integration are the tools of the white oppressor,” he says. He advocates separation of the races and the establishment of black Muslim republics in the former Confederate states.

He is challenged by Mr. McManus, an elderly black Communist, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, who sells his mimeographed autobiography–”Brother Under Arms”–from a shopping cart.

“Segregation in any guise is just a ploy to fragment the working class and thwart the Revolution,” Mr. McManus says.

“Your revolution will never happen, my brother,” the speaker replies.

Mr. McManus’s voice cracks in frustration. “You don’t have the political, economic or military power…”

“Allah will liberate our people,” the speaker interrupts in implacable tones. “Your movement will be a footnote to history…”

Behind the speaker I see Andrew, a kid I’ve known since Brooklyn Technical High School. Just a week before we had split a reefer and gone to the Jazz Gallery to hear Gil Evans. I wave. He stares through me without recognition.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy has announced a campaign to crack down on Organized Crime. He has proposed legislation to make gambling a federal offense.

“It’s a message to the Syndicate,” explains Sal, the bartender at the Park Circle Lanes, across the street from the Brooklyn Riverside Memorial Chapel. “He don’t want them to think they own the White House just because old man Kennedy was partners with the bootleggers.”

Sal has a mountain of prematurely white hair, each ridge carefully tended, over thick black eyebrows and black eyes. He’ll make you a drink, take a number, book a bet, lend you money–anything you want. On Ladies League Night you can’t get near the bar. Housewives on their night out drink Seven and Sevens and Whiskey Sours . “Hey Sal, how come you never bring your wife around?” one of them flirts.

“Why take a ham sandwich to a banquet?” Sal says and they screech with laughter.

Sal’s “gummare” Diane sits at the end of the bar. “Her husband’s upstate on a business trip,” Sal confides with a wink. “An eight year business trip.”

Diane’s got a blonde beehive, wingtip glasses, boobs jutting like cow catchers, capri pants and mules– a style that has tormented me since puberty. She smokes Kools, leaving lipstick smears on the cork tips. She has a way of sucking on the cigarette that drives me to demonic masturbation.

I run back to the chapel looking for a free bathroom and am confronted by an old man in a prayer shawl.

“It’s a shandeh (shame) what’s going on here,” he says.

It’s Mr. Wolfe, a “watcher,” hired by Orthodox Jews to sit all night before the funeral and recite Psalms for the deceased.

“I found a policeman on the sofa,” he says. “Shoes off, gun on a chair, sleeping in the same room as the departed. I asked him to leave and he said the person was dead, he wouldn’t care if Hitler was in there…”

“The cops don’t understand,” I say.

Hashem (God) looks at the sin, not the reason,” Mr. Wolfe says. He digs his nail into my wrist and whispers harshly. “I’m coming here twenty-five years. Police came in and slept. They even brought women. But they never did it in a room with a soul whose fate has not been decided. They had respect for the dead…”

I play the numbers with Sal, a dime a play. With a 500 to 1 pay off I can make fifty bucks if I hit, minus the two-fifty vig. One night Sal slips a five into my hand.

“I’m givin’ you a refund ’cause you’re such a good customer,” he says. “But you gotta do me a favor, okay.” He points down the bar to a swarthy, morose lady staring into a cup of coffee.

“That’s Terry, Diane’s sister-in-law. She brings her in to make everything look kosher. But tonight her car’s in the shop. Could you drive her home.”

In the garage police cars are blocking the station wagons, but they’ve left the keys so I move them out of the way.

Terry is waiting outside the bowling alley. She presses against the door, sitting as far away from me as she can.

“I live on E.19th. and Ave. R,” she says.

She’s silent for a while. She looks out of the window, but I get the feeling she’s watching me.

“Workin’ your way through college?”


“Medical school?”

That would be too big a lie. “Dental,” I say.

“My girlfriend Camille married a dentist. Artie Levinson. He’s a good provider. Gave her a mink for her birthday…The family was against it but now they love him. He fixes everybody’s teeth for free…”

It’s a dark street.

“You can pull into the driveway,” Terry says.

There’s a light on in her house.

“My daughter must be home,” Terry says. “She’s starting at St. Francis next year.”

Oh great, I think, she’s going to introduce me to her swarthy, morose daughter. Instead she reaches out and puts her hand in my lap.

“Can you keep a secret?” she asks.

She slides over next to me and unbuttons her bowling shirt. No bra. I almost lose it.

“How old are you?”


“Nineteen,” she says and repeats “nineteen, nineteen,” as if it’s a magic mantra.

I’m usually done before the zipper is down. This time I grit my teeth and think about baseball. But I don’t make it past the first inning.

A few nights later I go into the bowling alley and am greeted by Sal.

“Hey kid, how’s the Revolution?”

I panic. How does he know about my secret political life?


“Yeah you know, 1776? Terry says you’re a regular Minute Man…” He laughs. “Now you know. Broads talk, too.” He slides me a triple shot of J&B. “Next time have a few of these. It’ll make you last longer.”

A few hours later I’m puking between cars on the D train to Manhattan. I see a piece of pepperoni from a slice of pizza I’d had a few days before.

At nine the next morning I go downtown to Selective Service headquarters on Whitehall Street. It’s across from Bowling Green where Rip Van Winkle took his twenty year nap There must be a couple of hundred kids. A guy in a khaki uniform is at the door.

“Down the hall…”

We enter a large room with picnic tables. An older guy in a white shirt with a lot of ribbons repeats:

“Take a form and a sharp pencil, find a seat and and fill it out…Take a form and a sharp pencil, find a seat and and fill it out.”

In the front of the room a man with a khaki shirt with red Sergeant stripes and blue pants with a stripe down the middle says in a loud, ringing voice:

“This ain’t the prom, gentlemen. Don’t look for a dancing partners. Just find a place to sit and fill out the form. Answer all the questions. Print clearly and legibly. Make sure you check in the boxes. The quicker you do this, the quicker you get out of here.”

A big, shaggy kid gets up and lumbers toward the door.

“Where you goin’, sir?” the Sergeant asks.

“Lookin’ for the bat’room.”

“Sit down and finish the form.”

The big kid keeps walking. “If I sit down I’ll piss in my pants.”

“If you piss in your pants make sure you save enough for your urine specimen or you’ll have to take the physical all over again.”

The kid sits down.






It’s 1961 and the CIA has decided to ruin my life. It wasn’t enough that they created Islamic fundamentalism to overthrow the Government of Iran, provoked, funded and then ignored insurrections in Eastern Europe, slipped LSD to unsuspecting dissidents, destroyed democracy in Guatemala to save United Fruit, masterminded a disastrous invasion of Cuba to prevent it from falling into the Soviet orbit half a planet away, etc. Now the alcoholic Yalies who run the agency have managed to convince new president John F. Kennedy that military intervention in Vietnam is an absolute necessity. Fighting International Communism is just an excuse. They really want to get me in their clutches.

I’m 18, a simple creature, one phylum above a paramecium. My moods travel between hunger, lust and dazed perplexity. During the day I snooze undisturbed in the overheated classrooms of Brooklyn College. At 5:30 I report to the Riverside Memorial Chapel across from Prospect Park. From 6 to 9 I direct visitors to reposing rooms. From 9 to midnight I load a Chevy panel truck with bodies collected from homes and hospitals and bound for the basement embalming room. Sometimes I am accompanied by Marshall, the night porter, a wiry black dude from the tobacco fields of South Carolina. Fastidious as an ancient Hebrew, Marshall refuses to touch a cadaver. He watches, arms folded, as I mummy-wrap two sheets around the deceased before gingerly helping me transfer it to a body bag.

My other partner is Rizzo, a limo driver working doubles to pay his shylock. By his own proud admission Rizzo is a gambler, adulterer and “cat boigler.” He is shaped like an eggplant, his hairline begins a wisp above his eyebrows, his oft-broken nose zig-zags across his face and he smacks his thick lips with glee when recounting a sexual conquest.

But Rizzo is frustrated. “Didja ever wonder why there’s no money on a stiff?” he asks me one night. “You go into a bedroom and there’s no loose change on the night table. Look in a dead lady’s purse. Nothin! A guy in a nice suit drops dead on the subway and his wallet’s empty? That’s not normal. Remember last year when the TWA plane crashed into the United over Staten Island? 100 bodies laying on the streets in Park Slope and not a dime on any one of ‘em. Everybody’s goes out with a little walkin’ around money in their pocket, don’t they? How comes stiffs are always clean?”

I confess I never thought of it.

“That guy who keeled over on the subway,” Rizzo says.” The passengers go through his pockets. Then the cops come and give him a toss. The ambulance guys have a look. And the vultures in the morgue pick the bones. By the time we show up there’s nothin’ left…”

Rizzo shakes his head at the perfidy of humankind. “You think they’d leave a coupla dollars for the sweepers…”

Rizzo brings little things to my attention. The indentation on a right ring finger where a heavy ring had undoubtedly lain for years before it was brutally yanked off. The faded circle on a left wrist where a watch had been. A broochless dress. “Didja ever see one of these old broads without a little pin or somethin’?”

He is especially incensed by Shultz, the morgue attendant at Jewish Chronic Diseases. Shultz is a scowling hunchback, who won’t trade pleasantries and never helps take bodies off the slabs. “He looks like Rumplefuckin’stiltskin, don’t he?” Rizzo says. “Betcha he’s got a nice taste stashed away. Somebody’s gonna hit his house one of these nights while he’s workin, mark my words.”

One night Shultz pulls open a drawer on a big, middle-aged man. Mound of fish white belly, crinkly gray hair on his chest. I’ve been told that people who die suddenly have their last living expression on their faces and this guy looks like he was really happy.

“Prick always puts the fat guys on the top row,” Rizzo says as we horse the body out of the drawer.

On the way out Schultz hands us a shopping bag with the man’s effects. In the truck, Rizzo looks at the crumpled suit, shoes, stained underwear with disgust. The jacket is empty, the trouser pockets have been turned inside out.

“No respect for the dead. They’d take the pennies off his eyes, but they’ll leave the shorts where the poor bastard crapped himself.”

He rips out the soles of the man’s shoes…”Nuttin!” Shakes one sock out. Then the other…

“Hey look at this…”

A ticket has fallen out of the sock.

“It’s from Belmont,” Rizzo says. “The guy played the daily double for Chrissake…”

“Maybe that’s why his pockets were empty,” I say. “He lost all his money.”

Rizzo snorts at my ignorance. “A guy don’t hide a losing ticket in his sock.” But then his eyes narrow and he puts the ticket in his pocket. “Ah, you’re probably right.”

An hour later I’ve smoked a reefer and am enjoying a meatball hero in the embalming room when Rizzo sneaks in. “Can I talk to ya for a second and drags me out to the garage. “Okay, you little prick, ” he says. “I’m tellin’ you because I don’t want you to blurt out the wrong thing at the wrong time…That was a winning ticket. The guy hit the double–Handsome Teddy and Sayonara Baby.”

“How much did it pay?” I ask.

He shoves me with the heel of his hand. “What are you, a big fuckin’ handicapper all of a sudden? It paid thirty-eight hundred, but you ain’t a full partner because I found it and you thought it was a loser. I’ll give you a hundred bucks to keep your mouth shut. And…” He gets a shrewd look. “Another hundred plus gas money if you go to the track and cash it in.”

As always my timidity trumps my greed. “I don’t wanna get in trouble…”

He pokes me again. “No trouble. I’m just busy tomorrow…Alright, you little chickenshit, if you don’t wanna make an extra C-note that’s your lookout…”

The meatballs soon combine with the marijuana aperitif and I repair to the one of the reposing rooms to sleep away the rest of my shift. But I am shaken awake. Two shadowy forms are standing over me. My mind screams. Cops!

“Did you remove the body of Sherman Flinker from Jewish Chronic?”

“I don’t remember the name…”

“What did you do with the ticket you found?”

I yawn and cover my fear with pretend drowsiness. “I didn’t find…”

“Your partner says you found a winning ticket from Belmont,” a cop says.

I calm down. Rizzo would never give me up because he knows I would implicate him. The cops have overplayed.

“I didn’t find nothin’,” I says.

“Mr. Flinker’s wife says he called her from the track all excited ’cause he hit the double,” a cop says. “But she couldn’t find the ticket in his effects…”

Years of lying to parents, teachers and lately to girls have taught me to stick to my story.

“I didn’t find nothin’,” I say.

A cop grabs me by the shirt with a hard hand “Sit up…” He shines the lamp in my face. “You better not try to cash that ticket you little wiseass!”

Next night Rizzo sits in the truck bemoaning his bad luck. “I had to catch a pussy whipped husband,” he says. “He’s probably one of these guys who calls his wife after he takes a shit…”

I feel I have to defend the deceased. “Hitting the double is a big deal after all,” I say.

“So you buy yourself somethin’ nice,” Rizzo says. “You spend the money on a broad. You never tell your wife nothin’ she don’t have to know.”

He stares at the ticket. “We can’t cash it at the track. No bookie’ll take it for us…We got six months before it expires…”

“Why don’t you just send it to the widow,” I say. “It belongs to her…”

Rizzo is outraged. “Why? Because she married the bastard? She didn’t pick the horses. What do you wanna bet she was humpin’ the plumber while he was thinkin’ about buyin’ her a fuckin’ fur coat to celebrate…” He shakes his head doggedly. “I got just as much right to it as she does. I found it, didn’t I?” He gets that shrewd look again. “I could go over there. Offer to split it with her. Didja see her at the services? Nice-lookin’ woman, takes care of herself…” But then he comes out of his reverie. “Who am I kiddin’? She’d want it all for herself, greedy hooer.” He repeats in despair: “Who am I kiddin’?”

Rizzo never cashed the ticket.

It probably fell out of his sock when they were taking him to the morgue.