Harlem Rottweilers, Failed Real Estate Investments, Dirt Bike Gangs, & Admiral Farragut

Captain R,

By the time this reaches you, I trust you will either have returned home from your salty Massachusetts adventure or be resting peacefully among the broken sea shells of Davy Jones Locker. The latter is more romantic actually, but you seem to have found a way to stay afloat in the brine ever since your death dance with the brown waves of sandy Nicaragua. I can almost hear the rushing roll of the Atlantic surf about you now, Wild Bill…at least tell me that you butchered a clove hitch in my honor. I’m convinced that that knot (among others) will forever elude me. In hindsight it’s best that I didn’t set sail with you and the crew. I’ve got so much pent up consternation these days that I’m almost sure I’d have polished off the Mount Gay and convinced Michael and the Junce to climb to the crow’s nest at midnight in nothing but our socks with a megaphone to assault the sleeping Cuttyhunk harbor with shouts of “DAMN THE TORPEDOES, FULL SPEED AHEAD!” You know who said that don’t you? How you disappoint me, Billy – it was Admiral Farragut. The Battle of Mobile Bay is all but forgotten in 2019, but my granddad, a silver-starred WWII marine, was a Farragut man, so I’m always ready to damn a torpedo or two. Speaking of ocean mischief, I was also thinking we should get a 4o foot submersible glow-in-the-dark whale to scare the shit out of Marion’s placid moorings one moonless night when Moby Dick is lurking in the shadows of every mariner’s subconscious. I just think we should remind people that the ocean is wild and Herman Melville didn’t just write fiction, Billy.  Your dad would do it with me, you know – wouldn’t even need to hand him a stiff Samara Punch first.

Tell me, Billy, how are our real estate ventures performing? I haven’t gotten any texts from Isaac recently about the DEA and U.S. Marshalls night-raiding the 3rd floor bedroom, so that’s pretty good. I wanted to let you know too – I read in New York’s The Real Deal that cap rates are expanding. What do you think of that? I don’t know what it means but we should probably take it into account, so definitely make a note. Also who the hell is Jordan Janski? An overzealous Pittsburgh realtor? He got my email and sends me his monthly newsletter about how hot the western Pa housing market is – probably explains why we’ve been bleeding tenants like a flayed anemic the last 18 months.  I think I’m about ready to trade you my share of the LLC in exchange for a hot bowl of porridge – not to say that wrestling toilet johnny rings into place and staring mystified at dark electrical panels hasn’t been a lot of fun, but I just think my gifts might shine a little brighter elsewhere. If we ever need another drug dealer as a tenant down the road though, I’m confident I can find one.

I have a confession for you Billy – now that you’ve left your blue Ninja out to rust all winter, I can tell you that Michael and I were the ones who ripped your motorcycle cover in two – it wasn’t the wind. It was an accident though – that thing doesn’t stretch at all as well as you’d think it would. Tore right down the middle with this horrible popping sound. We agreed to keep it a secret at the time, but I feel bad, and I’m sure Michael would be more than happy to buy you a new cover at this point because he definitely had a tighter grip on it than I did.

Did I tell you about the Harlem motorcycle gang? It’s not at all like that grizzled Hell’s Angels crap you’d think of. They’re all like 17 year old kids on these deafening 2 stroke dirt bikes. They come ripping down Cathedral Parkway – 20 of them in brain buckets and black bandanas doing full wheelies and tearing apart the evening peace like a furious hornet in an old cobweb. I was sitting at an outdoor café talking to a jazz pianist with delicate hands the last time they came through – circled the Frederick Douglas statue in a cloud of exhaust before popping their front wheels and jerking up the hill to Morningside Heights. I actually thought about seeing if I could join up, but I figure the Nighthawk is probably too classic to fit in with their green plastic bikes. It’s a shame though – those kids are positively immune to the laws of the road – red lights, street signs, one-ways – they flout all of it right in front of the cops. I don’t understand, but maybe it’s cool as long as they stay in Harlem.

I don’t try to describe New York neighborhoods that much really. Most of them would be too hard for someone like me to pin down and get right – especially a place like Harlem. The other day though I felt like I almost grasped some of it for a moment. I was walking down 128th Street around 8 o’clock by myself when I passed by a big Rottweiler on a concrete stoop chewing an orange construction cone that he’d hauled up from the street. He just looked up at me in a tough, tired sort of way without ever stopping the grind of his powerful jaws. It was like he paused for a half-second to let me hang awkwardly in his air and then spat, “’chu lookin’ at muthafucka?” I moved along briskly then, but I felt like that right there – that was Harlem – at least the vibe above 125th Street. Unconcerned, cool, a tough edge, born out of a deeper and more complicated existence than you should try to understand. Harlem. It’ll let you walk by if it wants to, but you can feel that it knows it doesn’t have to.

I feel like living uptown should bestow some semblance of credibility on me, Billy. I don’t think it does though. There’s no acceptance here. I feel alien, an outsider who fights through some intangible, unspoken friction in the air each day, but it’s ok. I think it’s kind of like that in every neighborhood here because it’s the city that starts that kind of ambivalence, not necessarily the people. New York doesn’t welcome anyone – it just puts up with humans, maybe passively ignores them and then a few longstanding residents delude themselves into thinking that they somehow made a mark on the city and it actually holds a sliver of affection for them. It’s just mechanical though, like a cold reptilian eye blinking on an instinctual cadence bereft of emotion. The thing is, then the New Yorkers, get like that too – like just totally ignoring each other. I feel it on the 2 Train at rush hour when we’re 60 to a car, all packed in and wrapped up in an armless involuntary hug – still no one interacts. I counted this girl’s eyelashes who was butted up against me the other day – could smell the last shampoo she used on her hair as her shoulder bumped repeatedly into my chest. We didn’t say one word. It’s weird.

Have you been running Lucifer’s Ladder lately, Billy? I daresay I almost miss the endless climbing sag of that cement staircase like an old friend. I run 2 miles south down the Riverside Park trail sometimes, but it’s not the same at all. I push it enough to be in a good bit of pain and it’s kind of cool to be on the verge of greying out when the metal hulk of Intrepid aircraft carrier comes into view – right then it’s like you hear the spirits of all the naval men shouting inside your brain “suck it up, you bitch!” You can’t let yourself stop until you pass the tower of its imposing stern.

Ah well, Wild Bill, the Tuckerman Ravine run is going to come early next year. That icy headwall’s beckoning in a fearful, adrenal sort of way even now.  You know we can’t hope for fog to save us from throwing our formerly athletic selves over its 50 degree lip two years in a row. I say we drag Meredith along for counterintuitive inspiration. Her profound fear of heights might just bolster our own tenuous courage into holding a steady line on the edge of that frozen abyss. I’ve always been braver in a dumb sort of way whenever a woman is around too. I think I’m going to wax my board end of August just so I don’t forget, but let’s not go up during Holy Week again – just weird timing to be taking that kind of risk.

Well, that’s about all Captain R. I trust you will continue caking yourself head to toe in talcum powder and drooling small ponds into the couch cushions while episodes of “Stranger Things” flash on autoplay over your open mouth. Ah the thought almost makes me smile. You’re still my favorite person to watch TV with, Billy – as long as it’s raining out.

Don’t fly the giant kite at Hartwood without me – it’s too much to bear even though I love to think of you taking involuntary flight under its bright sail and then crashing your decrepit body to earth like a wet butterfly.

I’ll move back into the attic one of these days, and we can overcook sweet potato fries like old times.

Sincerely Yours,

The Dipper fff