My good pal, Jonathan Ames, recommended me for a cool project that he got involved in. The editors invited me to contribute a short essay to their book collection titled, 40 THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU TURN 40, to benefit the American Cancer Society, due out this Fall. I turn 40 at the very end of May, so, I figured it was okay to cobble something together. My unorthodox nature married two old anecdotes I wrote on my blog awhile ago with some necessary glue to tackle the requisite subject matter. Unfortunately, my piece was too unorthodox and was rejected. However, I got SBX and buddy/writer, Tim Hall, in the book, and it's going to be a great read despite my absence.
I'm riding my bicycle down Clinton Street when I see an ambulance blocking the middle of the road. I look to see what the cops and paramedics are looking at and it's a well-dressed, white haired old lady, cuddled next to the back wheel of a parked car, clutching her cell phone. She's beside herself. She's trying to push the right numbers to reach her husband but she can't. She's weeping and repeating, "I need to call my husband. I need to call my husband." She says this as if she needs to call him to say goodbye. A paramedic leans in and tells her to calm down. That, "everything is going to be okay." The paramedic wants the old lady to hand over the cell phone so they can pull her out from under the parked car. The old lady won't let go of the phone. She needs to call her husband one last time. I feel a chill crawl up my spine and it makes me dizzy. I feel bad watching. I can't stand it when I can't do anything to help, even when professionals are doing the job. As they figure a way to pry her from the space she fell under, I hop my bike and cycle slowly around the ambulance, silently wishing her well. On the other side of the ambulance is a sports car with two Spanish thugs dressed in gang gear looking white as a sheet. They're clutching their cell phones, too. Their eyes are guilty, full of remorse, and locked in on the old lady's plight. I put two and two together and realize that they were the ones who called 911. I bike past their sports car and look back one last time. Splayed across their windshield is a one-word decal painted heavenly white in a hip-hop font. It says, BREATHE.
I ride my bike over to the end of Red Hook and admire the Statue of Liberty. I look at her holding up that mighty torch and I think about the old lady under the car and wonder how will I end up? Since age 12, I wanted to write and draw the stories I wanted to read and, at age 40, that's exactly what I've come to do. My only regrets are that I have yet to marry and call someplace “home.” Why is that? Is it because I subsist on cheap ethnic food, comic books, and B-movies, in fear of “growing up?” I think about my beautiful, powerhouse girlfriend, a single mother of two daughters, juggling "real" jobs with her responsibilities and a retreat in the Catskills, and I kick myself for being selfish. Despite my lone wolf status, I got it good and I shouldn’t complain. And, by the time I shrug off my anxieties and take on more than my comfort zone, I might actually have something useful to impart when I’m 50. Meanwhile, the streets, mountains, and sea, feed me the stuff of stories every time I put foot to peddle, compelling me to make art.
I hop back on my bike towards Carroll Gardens when my hip vibrates with a digital jingle. I skid to a stop near a schoolyard to answer my cell phone. Did that old lady dial my number by accident? By the time I flip open my clamshell the signal goes dead. That's when the rubber bounce of a ball catches my ear and my eyes snap to the left. I see a basketball coming down, smacking concrete, and making small hops until it dribbles towards me like a magnet. I look up and see a hulk of a black man walking towards me. I make eye contact with The Hulk and he looks at me with a cold stare. The ball has rolled to a complete stop perfectly between us. I should feel a sense of danger but there is a puzzle piece missing to this picture and so I feel nothing but a hook caught in a gill. The Hulk stops before the ball, bends down and that's when the reveal is made. Behind him, a good 30-feet away, is a wheelchair parked under a basketball hoop. In the wheelchair is a little boy wearing thick eyeglasses. His arms are mangled yet spaz and wriggle uncontrollably with hyper activity. He has stumps where his legs should be. The hulk retrieves the ball, looks back up at me with those far away eyes, cracks a tired yet genuine smile, and turns around. It doesn't matter how many times he's got to go get that ball or if it takes all day, that kid in the wheelchair is going to get one in the hoop.