Tag: New York

Saved by a Motown Girl

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?

Nowhere.

Come on in then — don’t you have a bag or something?

Just me.

Man, that’s what I call traveling light.


 

Notes for ‘A Million Miles Away in Fishkill’

Day 97 of Formulating a Plan

A man pushing seventy over a cliff… adrift… Dodge Charger… 300 hp… charging.

Interstate 87… Interstate 84… Route 9… Mid-Hudson Bridge… Route 9W. No fixed address, weekly rate motels, extended stay hotels, $100 a night, $3,000 a month, not that much more than the $2,000 rent plus $600 in utilities he was paying for the apartment in Piermont (don’t do the math).

No utilities now, no lease, the freedom of that; no landline, just a cellphone to take calls from puzzled relatives.

Where the hell are you?

I’ll tell you when I see the next exit sign.

You’re too old for this, dude.

This guy, being pulled around the Hudson Valley by 300 horses, a man without a compass, drinking too much, eating too little, up half the night, nothing ain’t right.

Next day back on the road, you could say lost, Bob Dylan whining from the stereo, Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime… How does it feel, to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone…

He’s not reliving a lost youth, he really is lost; although when he thinks about it, lost has been found and now found is lost. Write that down, old man. Instead, that midnight in a gin and tonic, he writes down: A dying man dreams. Some are beautiful. And then they stop.

In the Turnpike Tap Room an even older man inquires, Is one ever too old to be a struggling writer? To which the younger old man replies, Is one ever too old to die? The old drunk is looking for his brain. I’m not sure I understand your meaning. The younger old man can no further elaborate than put flesh on the older old man’s bones.

New York City is never more than a three-hour drive away but in towns like Colonie and Cohoes and Coxsackie (gotta love the name) it might as well be a million miles… blah blah blah…

He ends up in a village called Fishkill. I’ll go crazy here. What the hell will I do? —This is the guy talking to his Charger. I’m less than two hours from New York City, so how come I feel I’m a million miles away?

First of all, you are crazy—(this is his Charger piping up)—and second of all, you will write.

What will I write?

‘A Million Miles Away in Fishkill,’ dummy.

Blah blah blah…

And then the caregiver dies

Harry’s wife was gravely ill. Harry put his work aside and devoted all his time and energy to helping her get better. She was in and out of New York City hospitals for two years. One operation after another. Twice she nearly died. When she was finally released from hospital and allowed to come home, still quite ill and facing a dire prognosis, Harry looked after her around the clock, changing the dressing on her surgical wounds, bathing her, feeding her, nursing her back to health, pushing himself to a punishing degree. He was not a young man.

Gradually, against the odds, Harry’s wife began to get better. Almost immediately, Harry got sick and was hospitalized with pneumonia. The doctors found cancer in his lungs. Harry phoned his younger brother, Bill, who lived upstate, and said, “We can’t seem to catch a break.” Bill said their situation reminded him of something the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote more than 1,800 years ago: Living is more like wrestling than dancing. To which Harry replied, “Most of the time we were dancing.”

FINAL DAYS

Harry was given just weeks to live. He chose to die in his own home. Bill moved from upstate to the New York area and rented an apartment near his brother’s house. In those final days the cancer raced through Harry’s body and mind and he slipped in and out of consciousness. When he was conscious he could only speak in an inaudible whisper. He couldn’t eat. He was deathly thin and couldn’t raise his arms.

On a Friday evening, Bill stood by his brother’s bedside. Harry was trying to say something, but Bill couldn’t hear the words, The younger brother was getting ready to leave. He took Harry’s hand in his in an attempt to shake it and said to him, “I’m leaving now. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Harry was still trying to say something but the words would not come out. All he could do was nod his head.

Their eyes locked on each other. And then Harry tightened his grip around his younger brother’s hand. He held it so firmly that Bill was taken aback. Harry summoned up a last ounce of strength and held Bill’s hand in that strong grip for three or four seconds. Three or four seconds is a long time when you have nothing left.

THE HANDSHAKE

Bill went back to his apartment and was still asleep early next morning when the phone rang. It was Harry’s wife. She said Harry had died an hour ago. Bill said he would come over to her house to be with other members of the family as they congregated there throughout the day. He then phoned a friend, Bob Baxter, a poet and author who lives in Niagara Falls, New York, and told him that his brother had died. And then he told him about the extraordinarily strong handshake his brother had given him the night before, even though he had been so thin and weak he couldn’t raise his arms and the poet said, “Your brother put everything he wanted to say to you into that handshake.”

That was the best thing anyone could have said about Harry and his death and the younger brother’s sense of loss.