OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES: An Excerpt

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Lindenhurst-Temp and Elim-Elev-EastI go to an Allman Brothers concert with Rocky.  It is at the Fillmore.  We take the train in.  I stare out the window at the rows of identical houses rushing by, thinking in terror that I must take myself with myself, no matter where I go.  I am a statistic now, a statistic and a cliche.  It feels like watching a car wreck happen slowly in a dream.

It’s a Saturday, and St. Mark’s Place is teeming.  The  head shops that line the street emit a pungent funk of patchouli and strawberry incense every time someone goes in or out.  A black guy with a tall ‘fro mumbles at us as he passes, threadbare dashiki fluttering about his skinny frame.

“Acid, acid, rainbow acid.”

He opens his hand and I get a second’s glimpse of what appears to be several baby aspirins before he closes it again.  He wears no coat, and I turn to watch him go.  Isn’t he cold?

The sun is bright and high but it is so cold out it hurts my teeth when I breathe.  Rockypretzel vendor buys me a hot pretzel from a vendor.  The smoke from his cart wafts skyward lazily.

“So, you know I’m pregnant,” I tell Rocky casually.

Rocky does a broad double take.  I laugh.

“Jim?” he says.  But it isn’t really a question.

I hug myself with both arms, jigging from foot to foot on the street corner, my silence answer enough.  We have hours to kill before the show.

Rocky puts his arm around me.  A bearded guy in army fatigues is yelling at a woman on the street.  A little boy watches them from the stoop of a brownstone.  He is crying in hicketing sniffles.  His nose runs like a faucet.  He is wearing too-short bellbottoms and sandals with no socks.

Rocky asks, “What are you gonna do?”

I shrug, shaking my head.  There’s nothing to say.  The bearded guy spits at the woman and swings off down the street, bumping into people as he goes.

“Peace,” the woman calls after him.  And in a conversational tone, “Asshole.”

Her hair is long and frayed at the edges.  After a minute she picks up the little boy and disappears into the building.  I wonder what their life is like.

We walk under the arch into Washington Square Park.  A thin, gruel-colored crust of snow still covers the lawns, but the walking paths are icy slush.  A couple of cops pass us.  They are both young.  The good-looking one catches my eye, winks.

“Hey, you wanna share that pretzel with me?”

I smile at him, and quickly look away.  The policeman is your friend, we learned in kindergarten.  Now they call cops pigs.  They are the sworn enemy, not to be trusted, like people over thirty, like your parents.  My father is a cop.  It is everything he never wanted to be.

nyc demonstrationA small crowd has gathered up ahead.  People are holding signs aloft.  Some guy is making a speech, in a high voice that cracks when he emphasizes a point.  His untidy frizzy hair bobs with every exclamation.  Something about a collective lie.

“What’d he say?”  I ask Rocky, puzzled.  “The path at twenty-one?”

Rocky says, “The Panther 21.  It’s a demonstration.”

The crowd shuffles, forms itself into a ragged line, and begins to move.  They are mostly kids, not much older than we are, but they have an alluring city-ness about them.  The front marchers link arms.

“Join us,” a girl shouts in a ringing voice.  “Join us, join us!”

It is not immediately clear what the specific beef is about.  More troops to Southeast Asia, guardsmen shooting students,  it’s always something.  The signs say simply, “Stop the War,” or “WAR IS OVER (if you want it)”.  Stuff like that.

Rocky says, “Want to march?”

I don’t even need to think about it.  “Uh-uh,” I tell him.  “No way.”  A few months ago, forget about it, I’m there.  A march would have been a goof, an afternoon’s good time.  Nothing much like that happens where we live.  In fact, nothing much at all happens where we live, come to think about it.

Standing in the cold, clear-headed, needing to pee, slightly queasy, the marcher’s fervor seems suspect to me all at once.  They’re just spoiling for a fight themselves, I think suddenly.  I watch them go, ninety or a hundred strong.  I feel contemptuous.  I can’t help but notice that many of them sport fashionable combat boots, Doc Martens in fine repair.

“Well-shod,” I tell Rocky, not expecting him to understand.

He looks at me in mild surprise.  “What?”  he asks.

“Forget it,” I say.   My stomach settles gently, thanks to the pretzel.  Now I’m famished.  “Let’s eat.”

The Fillmore is packed for the eleven-o’clock show.  We have pretty good seats in the Fillmore exteriorupper mezzanine.  Our coats bunch uncomfortably behind us in our seats.  The theatre is close and smoky.  I feel terribly sleepy and full.  Rocky is pumped, getting up at intervals to whistle shrilly and clap some, by way of encouragement for the headliners.  A fat guy behind him keeps yelling, “Siddown!”  I personally wish he would stop clapping in my ear, but because I love him and he is happy, I keep it to myself.

Allman Brothers at FillmoreThe Allman Brothers take the stage at last.  The crowded house goes nuts.  Now everybody is up.  Duane Allman’s famous licks curl through the air, as high and sweet as birdsong.  Rocky screams, exultant.

I can’t stand up.  My body feels too heavy.  All I can see are moving backs.  I am hunched in a forest of swaying, grooving bodies, lost and still.  My eyes are scratchy, and the lids are heavy.  My head drops to my chest.  I sleep deeply.

Rocky is shaking me and laughing.  “You slept through the entire thing!” he is saying, incredulous.  He turns to the fat guy behind us, who is shrugging into his pea jacket.  “She slept through the whole fuckin’ thing, man!”

The fat guy looks at me without interest and shakes his head sadly back and forth.  “Her loss, my man,” he says.

The Allman Brothers are gone.  The roadies work the lit stage.  The smoke in the auditorium is heavy enough to chew.  My mouth tastes like a sandbox.  It’s time to go.

In the lobby I kick a Marlboro box out from underfoot, and Rocky quicksteps in to pick it fillmore east signup.  He’s out of smokes and hopes for a freebie, and — windfall! — a fat joint is nestled in the otherwise empty box.  The streets are quiet.  It is very late.  Rocky lights up, inhales deep.

“Hit?”

He offers me the joint and I take it, inhale, realize that oh-shit-I’m-pregnant, spit out my hit, and then deliberately, fuck it, take another, and I am high and calm in the winter night.

*  *  *

DISCLAIMER:  Stephanie Silber owns the copyright to the foregoing and gives permission only for the sample herein to be distributed free of charge, and without alteration.

 

 

 

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6 Responses to OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES: An Excerpt

  1. Nina dillingham says:

    This excerpt is amazing! The first I’ve read of “other peoples houses” I hope to read it in its entirety when it is published. The old photos are amazing also … This just makes me want to cuddle up on the couch tonight & read the rest!

  2. Stephanie Silber says:

    Thank you so much, Nina dear. That means a lot to me. I would love to have you curled up on a couch reading the rest. It’s all about making stories. And then more stories…

  3. David Byler says:

    Ok, where do I find the book? Can’t wait.

  4. Stephanie Silber says:

    Hey, David, I wish! But I really like my agent and he really believes in the work. So fingers crossed. Thank you as always for your kind support! That good stuff goes a long way when you toil in anonymity!

  5. Kristine says:

    Hi, Steph – I vividly imagine the scenes in this excerpt, which evoke the time and place of our youth to a tee. And the pix choices are perfect. Since your responders, Nina & David, would love to read the book from whence it came, might I suggest letting them read the manuscript (like I did)?

  6. Stephanie Silber says:

    Kris, that’s music to my ears that you could see it in your mind’s eye. What a time it was. It had a very dark side. I think that era is often sentimentalized, and OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES explores that side, amid its other themes. I would really like David and Nina to have a signed hard copy! Of course I’d send them the ms — but I’m leery of doing it unless specifically asked (as another of my pals did), because it’s difficult to read in ms form, even if it’s printed out. Though I suppose it could be downloaded to a device, but I’m such a Luddite…

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