MORE IN THE MISADVENTURES OF GUIDO MICHELINI, VAGABOND WRITER
For a long time he lived in his car. He showered in the homes of one-night stands.
All his belongings were in the trunk of the car, a 1975 Monte Carlo with Florida plates. Clothes, books, typewriter, newspaper stories, manuscripts, a few photographs of the past, a copy of the divorce.
His ex-wife had most of it. The house, the furniture, the library of books, the record collection, the photo albums, the dog, the cat, the nine-year-old boy.
Guido wrote to him from the front seat of his car, parked on city streets in America.
He was in a bar in New York City when the car was towed from an expired meter. The cops had it towed to a cavernous shed on the West Side. Guido hadn’t paid the insurance. No insurance, no car. The hell with it. He transferred his stuff from the trunk to a battered tan suitcase and walked to Port Authority Bus Terminal.
He phoned a former girlfriend in Detroit and said he was down on his luck. She had a big heart. Get your ass here.
The Greyhound rocked west. Filled with losers and lost souls. Empty beer cans rolled down the aisle. A guy plucked away at his guitar. A black girl’s baby cried. Guido slept.
The bus rolled into Detroit. He walked around the side of the bus to get his suitcase. The driver unloaded them all. Except his.
Where’s my suitcase?
They’re all here pal.
Mine’s not here.
I don’t know what to tell you pal. See the baggage claim office.
Guido asked the baggage claim clerk, Where my suitcase, man? My whole life’s in that goddamn suitcase!
No one had a clue what happened to Guido’s suitcase. Mystery of the ages.
Guido filed a Lost Baggage claim and walked to his girlfriend’s apartment in the Cass Corridor.
She opened the door. She looked like she jumped out of a Motown song. She gave him a sideways look. Where you been?
Come on in then — don’t you have a bag or something?
The sirens go all night in Detroit. Eight hundred homicides the first year I was there. the majority listed as police briefs in the newspaper. Every now and then a killing warranted a separate story.
A 12-year-old Free Press carrier girl was shot to death in a hail of bullets early Tuesday as she delivered a newspaper to a house on Joy Road. Jenny Peach died in hospital, her body riddled with at least 15 bullets. Her father and sister, who were helping her with the paper route, witnessed the shooting from their car. When police arrived at the house, it was empty. Two hours later, in a traffic stop on Cass Avenue, police arrested Goyo Velasco, 23, and charged him with first-degree murder. Velasco, a convicted drug dealer told police he fired the shots because he thought the car that was driven by the girl’s father was that of a hired killer. State police said there was a contract out on Velasco for a botched drug deal.
Sirens directly below my window now. You won’t get me, death screamers! My name is Guido Michelini. I am an alien with a green card in love with America.
I’m lying on my bed in a room on the fourteenth floor of the Jefferson Hotel. It’s really the thirteenth floor. In the elevator the numbers jump from twelve to fourteen. Who are they kidding? As if that would change anyone’s luck in this city.
The Jefferson is a residential hotel on the corner of Bagley Street and Cass Avenue. I have a corner room. Small bathroom, double bed, chest of drawers, two chairs and a table. A window directly behind the bed looks out onto Cass Avenue—the “Cass Corridor,” a surreal strip of sex, drugs and death. There is no screen on the window.
The room contains all I need. No TV. The mind-deadening box is gone, a portable I threw out the window in a state of stoned drunkeness. I’m lucky I didn’t kill someone. It ended up a busted boob tube on the sidewalk. Pedestrians walked around it until a homeless man put the pieces in a shopping cart and pushed off down the street. The absence of the TV gives me a sense of freedom. I just have the Sony radio and tape deck Lynda left behind. Lynda, nineteen years old, long brown hair, slim taut body.
I’m listening to WRIF Rocking Stereo: The soul’s escaping through this hole that is gaping… and smoking a joint. I’m waiting for Barbara to come to my room. Another woman was in the room earlier, Darlene, eighteen, skinny and black like she jumped out of a Motown song. The contrast between our bodies tangled up in black and white was startling in the half-light on the room.
Sirens swirl around in the darkness outside. I look out the window, looking for Barbara, aka Vampira, long black hair, pale face, bright red lips and long red fingernails. She’s a reporter at the News, the evening paper. I’m a reporter on the morning Free Press.
While waiting around for Barbara, I messed up my chances with Lynda. I phoned her around 8 p.m. She’s a reporter in Windsor on the other side of the border. She told me she was on her way out with another guy.
“You’re too late,” she said over the phone. “I’m not going to sit by the phone waiting for you to call at the last minute. Fuck you!” That had been the general idea.
The sirens stop below my window. What’s this? Is the hotel on fire? I’m too stoned to move. Barbara, where are you?
I’m asleep in my clothes when she comes to my room around 2 a.m. We’re sitting on the bed, both still fully clothed for the first time of being on the bed together. It’s lucky we are.
That last siren. We smell smoke and see it coming through a vent in the wall. I jump off the bed and open the door. Smoke filling the hallway. People in night attire running from their rooms. I grab a reporter’s notebook and Barbara snatches two towels from the bathroom and we start running down the hall. Barbara knocks on doors to rouse residents as we head for the stairs.
The stairwell is filling with people and smoke. We run down the stairs with the towels over our mouths. Around the fourth floor the smoke is black and there is a moment of real fear when we wonder if we should keep going down or go back up. We go down.
We reach the ground floor and run outside. A crowd is gathering in the street. Tenants who got out are guzzling beer out of cans and laughing with the sheer joy of being alive. A crazy, drugged, drunken carnival.
Everybody is looking up. Flames are leaping up the Cass Avenue side the building. Faces of people in the windows, a wall of smoke behind them. A woman on the top floor leans out the window screaming. Horror. Fear. Firefighters doing their thing. Ambulances arriving.
I tear a handful of pages from my reporter’s notebook and hand them to Barbara and we start talking to people in the street, emergency workers we can intercept and the assistant fire chief when we get the chance. We run across the wet black street tangled in fire hoses to the Picture Bar and phone our respective city desks with what we have so far and then run back to the scene.
Four people die in the fire. Many others are taken to hospital. I spend the night at Barbara’s apartment.
If she hadn’t come to my room at 2 a.m. I would have been asleep when the fire spread and it might have been too late to escape. I’d be another frightened face hanging out the window. Saved by a slender young woman from the northwest side, five-feet-five, 108 pounds, raven black hair.
It is in this manner that I am introduced to America.
I don’t know which was worse: losing my girl or my white‐over‐blue Monte Carlo.
My friends in the Midwest had warned me about New York.
“You’re crazy going there without job,” they said. “New York will chew you up and spit you out.”
“Look,” I told them, “I’m 35 years old. Time is running out for me. I’ve got to take a chance. What have I got to lose?”
For starters, my girl and my car.
Sue, the girl, had green eyes and chestnut-brown hair. She was 22 years old. Everybody in town wanted her.
Blue, the car, had a big eight with overdrive. Nobody passed Blue on the road. He had a white landau roof and a deep blue body.
Both bodies were beautiful.
I was making good money at the paper. I spent it all on Blue and Sue. Blue had the best in tires and motor oil from the Eight Mile Sunoco. Sue had the best in shoes and dresses from Ann Taylor. We had some great times together. Me and Blue and Sue.
What makes a man give up all that? Like Edward G. Robinson as Johnny Rocco: I wanted more. It had come to me in a slow moment of panic. Possibly, I had lived half my life; but more likely, I had a mere 15 years left, less than half of what I had lived so far. I figured 50 would be the cutoff point. My father had died at 50. It became imperative, therefore, to try and DoSomething with the few years left to me.
“Damn your midlife crisis,” said Sue. But her green eyes cried and she said she would wait for me and be true to me and so Johnny Rocco roared down Interstate 80 in his powerful blue machine with a lot of big dreams in his head.
I rented an apartment on East 69th Street at First Avenue. Money evaporates in New York. I found it difficult to earn any. I started laying down bad paper for goods and services.
OLD BLUE BLUES
Blue was costing me a bundle in parking fees. I missed Sue so much I was spending a fortune calling her long distance ($328 in one month) and flying back to see her every weekend ($168 round‐trip). I became a regular in the bar at La Guardia every Friday afternoon while waiting to board American Airlines Flight 649. I grew to love that plane. He became my Old Silver. But Old Blue was languishing. One raw morning in March I took him for a spin. I parked at a meter on 48th Street near Seventh Avenue. I came back two minutes late. The tow-truck cop was already attaching the hoist to Blue’s bumper.
“Hey, it’s okay, I’m back,” I said, relieved that I had made it in time. “When da hooks are in it, it belongs to the city,” said the cop, and he towed Blue away. I had the towing fee of $65, but “I had fallen way behind on the monthly payments and the insurance. I had also let the registration lapse. No insurance, no registration; no registration, no car. It would cost me $1,079 to get Blue back. I didn’t have it. American Airlines had. Bell Telephone had it.
I never saw Blue again. I left him in a cavernous shed on the far West Side.
That Friday I sat in the bar at La Guardia. I told the barman all about Blue and Sue. He told me: “Go home to Sue and stay there. Forget New York. I know what this city can do to you. It can turn you into a geek, your mind shot to hell, pounding out your frustration on the sidewalks, mumbling to yourself like a fugitive from an insane asylum.”
Sue and I had dinner at Joe Muer’s.
“I’m too young to handle a long‐distance relationship,” said she, more beautiful than ever. “All the airport farewells, the phone calls, the lonely nights, I don’t know how to deal with it.”
I told her New York scared me now and I wanted to stay with her forever and hide under her bed and be a normal person but I had to go back. I couldn’t give up yet.
We screamed at each other on a frigid street in the Midwest. The telephone wires dripped ice. We ended up at the airport, hugging for dear life.
I flew back to New York in a snowstorm. The city below had vanished. But I knew it was there. Waiting to devour me.
Mercifully, the pilot announced a holding pattern.
I figured that was the best place for me. Circling New York forever.