Everything Must Go
By Eric Darton
Editor’s Note: The short piece below is excerpted from Notes of A New York Son, a memoir in process. It describes events during a three-day riot on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the summer of 1970.
In daylight, it was easy for Steve and me to laugh at the bullet holes pocking the tin cornice. Even the pigeons laughed, but it wouldn’t have been so hilarious if we’d caught one of them.
This was our first day up on the roof in a week. The last time we were there was under considerably different circumstances. One, two, three we had shouted and heaved the gallon zinfandel molotov jugs as hard as we could toward the intersection. Sixth and C was being held by two squad cars and a line of tactical pigs in their crowd control finery. Steve’s jug went about twice as far as mine, a lovely arc, glimpsed by firelight and cherrytop, primarily on account of his maximally pumped upper body. This is what happens when you read comic books and realize there is an alternative to having sand kicked in your face. My solution had been to avoid the beach, but Steve – since he had genetically topped out at 5’ 2” opted to expand laterally. This effort had certainly gained him lebensraum, though this came with a price. I noticed that despite being temperamentally much more easygoing than me, he got into a lot more fights – his knuckles were endlessly iodined. I ascribed this – particularly when zombified on his state-of-the-art marijuana to the blurred circularity of form and function.
Damn he must have put some english on that cocktail because the sounds that came off that streetcorner were cong-fucking-crete: A) the dead silence before the concussion; B) the fusillade immediately after impact, followed hard upon by C) the wounded sirens of retreat. But by the time they’d gotten off their volley we were halfway back across the rooftops to our building, vaulting the interceding walls, trying not to fall down the airshafts.
That might have been the night I felt totally legitimate, like whipping out plastic and feeling alright, like everything could be gathered together – that successful resolutions were possible – that I was bound for glory and the neighborhood was coming with me. But it was also the night of the young – stoned – clinicians and if we had rained brimstone down to liberate our corner, the street did not shrink from favoring us in return with an unsought baptism. It was the first time I had seen arterial blood. We’d improvised an aid station in the ground floor apartment, patching the walking wounded – victims of the supermarket gate removal – this accomplished by a wondrously effective form of urban tractor pull employing chains and the vigorous locomotion of the Pontiac V-8. Other patients had encountered the flying byproducts of the shopwindow deglazing during the putative fire sale. Then they brought in a live, almost dead one. He – but it might have been a girl – was so thin, it was like cradling a bunch of sticks and even if he hadn’t been pretty much exsanguinated, would have still been nodding out. The only other thing I noticed about the arm was how white it was, like furry alabaster, and thanks to Steve’s undulating reefer, how absent of veins, how spiked out, how unrivered, how desertified. We managed to stop the blood with one of the suspenders I had gleaned on my first pass at the haberdashery – they were to go with the corduroys – which, in my haste turned out to be the reverse of my waist and inseam measurements – this before the cops even showed up, before they’d tried to advance – I swear – in a phalanx down Fifth Street to whirl in jumbled retreat under fire, but two whole convulsed days after they’d beaten some kid from Pitt Street into a coma – which was the flashpoint – and after years of the supermarket jacking up the prices thirty percent on check day. And now Steve is holding the door open for me – and shit, there’s Old Hickory, old trail of tears himself winking at me off a twenty dollar bill, just lying there on the bloody tiles and I tell myself I’ll come back for you later but of course he’s gone by the time I do and outside there are no pigs anywhere and only one car, driving north, its trailing muffler abrading fireworks left and right and now Steve is waving his pumped little arms, running in front of the Pontiac and it hits him, spreadeagles him on the hood, but the motherfucker stops and in that second I whip open the back door and lay my little tourniqueted bundle of sticks shaped like a child across the seat and in my best dispatcher voice command: To the Beth Israel E.R. good coachman, and don’t spare the horses! They zoom up Avenue C looking very much, from my perspective, like a miniature Chinatown dragon parade. Steve is in the passenger seat with his arm convivially round the driver’s shoulder, making sure he keeps the hammer down.
Amazingly enough, Al’s store didn’t get looted. Maybe he had forgotten how, or else never learned to treat poor people like shit. For some reason – though he had no window gates and ropa para niños always travel fast in times of civil unrest – no one touched the place. I’ll never be sure why. But Al was no slumlord. His – ours – was the only building he owned. And he seemed to be under the delusion that this was still a Jewish neighborhood because his daughter – and though shy, she wasn’t bad looking – was his most prominent display, perched in her pillbox hat on a cardboard carton pedestal amidst the markdown tables spilling onto the sidewalk. He tried to fix her up with Steve – a full-blooded Yid, but who, alas for Al, was into black girls and kohl-eyed, Sabra types. Rebuffed, Al got so desperate he turned to me – a stone polymorph. Even then he must have known that if it could be done, I’d be the one – though I’d never make it through med school – to perfect the painless operation that dissolves connective tissue, but leaves visible form in place.